List by Matt S.
The PlayStation 4 has plenty more years in it yet, but one of its most compelling selling points has been the robust support the console has enjoyed from independent developers.
As much as we all like the blockbusters, we also like a good, earnest indie game. A game that a small team of developers (or even a single developer) have poured their hearts and souls into… and often taken a huge gamble with financially as well.
So this week we’re going to celebrate ten of the very finest pure indie games that you can find on the PlayStation 4. For this list we’ve sticking to games that are genuinely indie – either self funded and published, or financed only through a small publisher. Are there any games that you think belong on the list that are not? Let us know in the comments!
One of my favourite games on the PlayStation 4 full stop, Submerged has a powerful environmental message, gorgeous art style and affecting narrative and music. Underneath all that is a relatively simple exploration game, but the purpose of Submerged isn’t so much to play the game; rather it’s about spending some time simply experiencing the wonder and majesty of the world that the talented team at Uppercut Games have crafted. And it is truly wonderful playing within its own strengths.
This Aussie-developed digital board game is brilliant fun. Taking control of an animal-hero you move around the board, completing quests and fighting enemies until you’re ready to either save, or overthrow, a deeply ill king. Supremely well balanced and very much a traditional board game in scope, Armello offers deep and engaging strategy to go with its gorgeous art aesthetic and entertaining characters.
The third Aussie game in this list, Hand of Fate is a superb mix of choose-your-own-adventure, card game roguelike, and counter-heavy action game. That sounds like a mouthful, I know, but the systems come elegantly together to offer us a unique and endlessly replayable pulp fantasy experience. There’s a sequel in the works, too, and I just cannot wait for that to land.
“Walking simulators” are incredibly popular with indie developers, and one can guess why; they allow the developer to explore a story they want to tell, and make use of the power of modern engines like Unity to deliver gorgeous environments to explore, but at the same time not requiring complex combat systems and so on. Despite being a “walking simulator,” Layers of Fear is a horror game of the highest order, featuring psychological terror of a level that we don’t often see in games.
Jonathan Blow’s masterpiece might well be the most ambitious indie game ever produced, and boy does it succeed in its ambition. What could have easily been ignored as a simple puzzle game has layer after layer of depth, slowly revealing a rich tapestry of interlocking narrative threads and puzzles-within-puzzles that are sure to keep you thinking dozens – if not hundreds – of hours after assuming that you have “completed” the game.
I love games that represent culture, and Toren is one of those rare games that represents South American culture, spirituality, and traditions in a meaningful way. And because it comes from a place that is not often explored in games, Toren is also unique. Unique to the point that it will be quite alienating for some players, but if there’s one thing that is truly wonderful about indie development, it’s that it’s okay for the developer to make a game that doesn’t resonate with everyone, because it doesn’t have to sell like a blockbuster to make a profitable return. Toren embraces that fact, and I love it for it.
The Banner Saga is one of the finest tactics RPGs that has ever been built. Set in a very grim world where survival is a series of incredibly difficult moral choices, it’s very hard to do the right thing in this game, and that’s the point; you’re meant to feel internally conflicted from start to finish. Supported by a difficult, but fascinating combat system and an incredible soundtrack and art direction, Banner Saga immediately became a classic when it first launched on PC, and I do think it will be remembered for a long time to come.
So few games focus on the idea of simple joy, but Hohokum embraces it, and it’s refreshing for it. The game is really more interested in being a moving artwork of colour and vibrancy, and an experimental toy than something you would traditionally call a “game,” and that’s part of the joy of it; the innocent, childlike sense of fun and humour is completely irresistible.
I’ve never really been one for bullet hells, but there is something about Kromaia Omega that I find really fascinating. It’s not that it’s a bullet hell in 3D, either. There’s something about the combination of art aesthetic and subtle, obscured narrative that has had me pondering this game when away from my PlayStation 4 unlike quite any other bullet hell I’ve ever played before. I haven’t quite figured out just why I love this game as much as I do, but I really, really do love it.
Never Alone is a very special platformer to me. Not only is it charming – the winter fox character is just adorable, and the fundamental story is charming as a coming-of-age metaphor for a people who have a very different understanding of growing up – but it’s also genuinely educational. I learned a lot about the Inupiat people just from playing this game, and then I was inspired to go and learn more away from the game too. Something I may never have been inspired to do without having played the game first. I like watching foreign films because, while they entertain me, they also help me to broaden my horizons and knowledge base. I love that there are games that indies are developing that can do the same. I want to see a lot more games like Never Alone.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld