Often, at the end of the year, we all tend to get together and think about what we’ve accomplished and 2018 has been a solid year for games. Monster hits like Fortnite and Red Dead Redemption 2 stole headlines and attention among the more hardcore crowd but a steady stream of excellent smaller, unnoticed releases made me wonder where the time had gone. Since it’s the season of reflection, I thought I’d look back on some of the most unique gaming experience I had. Here are six smaller games that I’m thankful I got to play this year.
6 Indie Games to Be Thankful For: The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories
Have you ever loved a game from afar? Deadly Premonition is that game for me. Its awkward controls and long-winded nature aren’t my thing, but its characters, world, and its quirky sense of humor has guided me through numerous Let’s Plays all the way to the end. This is all thanks to Hidetaka Suehiro, a Japanese developer more commonly known as Swery65.
His next game, D4, became an unfortunate casualty of the Xbox One’s sloppy launch and the death of Kinect. He brought his next idea to crowdfunding, and it took several rounds to push it through. Then, all of a sudden, The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories appeared, which was a new game from Swery and his new team at White Owls. It had no clunky peripherals, no funding campaigns, no publishers fiddling with it; just pure Swery.
Puzzle platformers are a dime a dozen in 2018, and you really need something interesting to stand out. Anyone with even a passing interest in the genre has seen all the tricks. The Missing‘s standout feature is that unique character that Swery brings to his games. While it isn’t even close to the best game of its type, it does feature a donut man that greets you at checkpoints, which is reason enough to play The Missing. It also tells its story through text messages with imaginary friends and goes places you’d never dream of. I’m thankful that I got to go on that journey, and I’m thankful that there’s more to come from White Owls in the future.
6 Indie Games to Be Thankful For: Dusk
In the indie space, 2018 has brought a wave of retro first-person shooter revivals. Perhaps its the requisite ’90s nostalgia or perhaps its Overwatch reminding folks what a speedy FPS looks like. Either way, there are plenty of great options for folks who never got tired of slaying demons in Doom. New Blood Interactive’s Dusk is on the forefront of that trend.
Modeled graphically like Quake, Dusk is fast and furious. It has a satisfying shotgun, which is half the battle right there. The other half is the enemy variety, which Dusk also has in spades. There are clever secrets, tough as nails boss encounters, and a fair level of difficulty. It’s very easy to make a retro FPS feel cheap with monster closets and other damage traps but Dusk doesn’t pull those traps. While it’s still technically in Early Access until early December, I think I’ve played enough to say that I’m thankful that it has led the way for a true renaissance of Doom clones.
6 Indie Games to Be Thankful For: The Messenger
The Messenger takes the best bits out of NES and SNES action platformers and brings them together in a modern package. It’s got great writing, interesting mechanics, and a wonderful sense of humor. It strikes the tone between goofy and serious just right, leading to an adventure that players won’t soon forget. All this is wonderful, but it’s not why The Messenger is a game I’m thankful for this November.
Beyond being one of the best games of 2018, The Messenger provides a great service. If you’re someone who plays a lot of retro and retro-inspired games, you have a nostalgia problem. You might start to think that you’re just chasing your childhood. Maybe these games you love aren’t up to snuff compared to modern hits. Perhaps the old school graphics are a smokescreen to hide an inexperienced developer. A game like The Messenger tempers all those fears. It innovates in ways games never have and leaves the door open for future iterations. It makes you believe that games of all shapes and sizes are still viable, and that’s retro done right.
6 Indie Games to Be Thankful For: Donut County
A raccoon really wants to buy a drone and fly it around town. In order to afford it, he has to deliver donut holes to his friends and neighbors. Only, they’re not the scrumptious nuggets of dough you can get at your local bakery; they’re actual holes deep in the ground. Every time something goes in the hole, it inexplicably grows. You’ll start off consuming rocks and cow skulls and eventually get to entire buildings. That’s Donut County.
Donut County is a small game. It can be finished in a few hours and there’s almost no replay value. It has a single novel mechanic and does what it can with that. Donut County is representative of a whole swath of bite-sized experiences you can finish in one sitting. The perfect respite after grinding through a AAA goliath, Donut County is just plain chill and a hilarious way to spend an afternoon.
6 Indie Games to Be Thankful For: Dead Cells
Much like puzzle platformers, roguelikes are also a crowded genre in 2018. Even games that don’t focus on procedural generation have learned the lessons of these games, so a pure random arcade experience feels lesser now than it used to. Thankfully, Dead Cells proves that there’s still life in the category. It’s an addictive Metroidvania that strips out the backtracking, which is the perfect way to show more arcade-focused player why you like Symphony of the Night so much.
Like many other games in the genre, variety is key. Dead Cells provides countless weapons and powers to test for yourself. The realization that the giant wall of vials you see in the opening moments represents a count of the available collectibles is enough to drive me ever onward. While runs can get a bit long as you keep progressing, the constant updates even after the final release mean that Dead Cells still has room to buff out any imperfections.
6 Indie Games to Be Thankful For: Yoku’s Island Express
Who doesn’t love pinball? Well, a lot of people, but hear me out. A pure arcade experience, pinball has proven difficult to translate into the digital realm. Games that incorporate pinball into more traditional designs often stumble over their own ambition. Even straight translations of tables like Pinball Arcade lose something in the move from physical buttons to gamepads.
However, Yoku’s Island Express does what I once thought was impossible. It’s a pinball adventure that captures the fun of an indie platformer and the feeling of racking up a high score in pinball. Incorporating flippers and bumpers into a large explorable world, Yoku gives the best of both worlds. Plus, it has a party horn button you can press at any time. I’m thankful that the team at Villa Gorilla came together to deliver a dream experience for pinball fans everywhere.