2022 was an unforgettable year for indies. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t say I was paying much attention to the AAA gaming scene because there were more than enough indie projects to keep me going these past few months. From genre-defining titans like Airdorf Games and Puppet Combo releasing projects that have been in the works for almost 5 years, to overnight sensations like Signalis and Scorn, it’s been another great year of celebrating the creativity and dedication of the independent gaming scene. So you can imagine how difficult it was for me to whittle it down to just 5 personal favourites! Though it may break my heart to have to pick and choose, here are my top 5 best indie experiences this year.
- Hypnagogia: Boundless Dreams
Genre: Platformer adventure
Sodaraptor has always been a good developer for crafting colourful, vibrant worlds, and Hypnagogia: Boundless Dreams is a stellar example of that. Playing alongside your adorable pink rabbit companion Gogi, you must travel through a variety of weird and wonderful dreamscapes looking for the eight shards to restore the Dream Crystal. The game is a first-person, platformer adventure that’ll bring you right back to the golden days of Spyro, Crash Bandicoot and Banjo Kazooie with its lovable anthropomorphic cast and phenomenal soundtrack.
The game is a masterclass in colourful, distinct environmental design (even though it certainly has its more horrifying moments when you begin to delve into the nightmare hellscapes) and is just oozing with charm at every turn – anyone who wants their platformer fix, Hypnagogia: Boundless Dreams will most certainly provide.
- Stay Out of the House:
Genre: Survival horror
Developer: Puppet Combo
Puppet Combo has been one of the giants in the indie horror game scene for a while now, and Stay Out of the House is one of their strongest reasons why. The newest addition to the vast Puppet Combo library, you find yourself trapped in a house by a violent killer known only as the Butcher, and you must find a way to escape. While simple in concept, Stay Out of the House’s greatest strength is its execution.
The gameplay involves carefully exploring the house looking for keys, weapons and anything that’ll help you escape, all the while avoiding traps that the Butcher has laid out for you. If he catches you, you’re locked up again and are back at square one, but this time the Butcher will amp up his defences and traps. This game truly felt like a survival experience in every sense of the word, and even if you fail to escape the first few times, you slowly learn the house layout and the Butcher’s habits with each attempt, eventually making your escape all the more sweet. This is a hard game, but by God is it a satisfying one.
Genre: Collect-a-thon platformer
Platforms: PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One
Platformers may be gone from the mainstream gaming world, but they’re alive and thriving in the indie scene – with Frogun being among the best of them. An intensely cute 3D collect-a-thon platformer following Renata, a young archaeologist looking for her parents and armed only with her trusty frog gun (or frogun, for short), this is another game with an addictive playstyle that’ll go down a treat for any old-school platformer fans.
The game’s pixel art design not only feels like an ode to the games of yesteryear, but still maintains an originality that helps it stand out from the crowd and feel like so much more than just an homage. The game’s main mechanic is the aforementioned “frogun”, which you use to catapult yourself over objects, swing across gaps and grab items from afar. Much like the older games it draws inspiration from, Frogun really amps up the difficulty as you progress through the game, and with lots of unlockables, alternate costumes, and time trials, you’re getting some serious bang for your buck with this title. Undoubtedly one of the best indie platformers we’ve gotten in a long time. (And that soundtrack. Man. You’ll be humming those tunes for a long time after playing this!)
- FAITH: The Unholy Trinity
Genre: Survival horror
Developer: Airdorf Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
FAITH: The Unholy Trinity is an impressive game in so many ways. Inspired by the 8-bit era of the Atari 2600 and Apple II, FAITH’s story is a nod to the American “Satanic Panic” period in the 1980s as it follows John Ward, a priest who discovers a cult ritual set to take place to summon a great demon. Keeping in line with the early gaming era it pays homage to, the gameplay in FAITH is simplistic – your only form of defence is your crucifix, but that doesn’t stop the game from being incredibly creative with its mechanics and having some wonderfully unnerving sequences and set pieces, especially in its final chapter.
This is elevated even further by the dialogue and conversations, which makes use of 80s computer-synthesised speech, adding another layer of uncanniness to its aesthetic – not to mention the beautifully animated roto-scoped cutscenes, which are an absolute joy to look at. FAITH is a great example of a game that knew exactly what it wanted to achieve and did everything it could with the admittedly limited gaming era it models itself after, making it a must-play for retro horror lovers – and remember, Gary loves you!
- Heilwald Loophole
Genre: First-person horror adventure
Developer: Jan Malitschek
It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten as attached to a video game and its world as I did with Heilwald Loophole. Very rarely am I completely enamoured by a game’s visual design, gameplay, music, and story as I was with this one. To me, Heilwald Loophole just has it all.
The game takes place in the Heilwald Klinikum, a once-renowned German medical facility, and you’ve found yourself at the centre of it – being hunted down relentlessly by its quirky, absurd cast of characters. But here’s the catch: you can’t die. The Heilwald Klinikum is plagued by a curious time loophole: every time you die or try a different route in an area, it opens a new pathway for you to proceed through the game. On the first run of an area, you may manage to sneak past the enemy, but did you ever just let the enemy find you? Try it, and you may just end up unlocking an entirely new area of the clinic. In this sense, depending on the person, everyone’s experience of The Heilwald Loophole will be different. The mechanic is so simple and yet works so wonderfully well in execution.
But it’s not all doom and gloom at the clinic. The game’s writing and characters are so wonderfully wacky and hard to forget, often combining absurd dark comedy into its legitimately dark tale of hospital mistreatment and neglect. All of this is complemented by the visual design of the game – despite the intentionally dismal array of browns, greys, and whites in the Heilwald Klinikum’s décor, the quirky cast of characters are brimming with life (even if some of them are a bit more murderous than others). From a walking talking humanoid soup pot to an electrotherapist who is literally electrified and jitters from electric shocks every few seconds, so much love and care was put into every character and their place in the game’s world.
It was hard to put down The Heilwald Loophole when I was playing it, and it was even harder to accept I finished it when I saw the credits roll. To me, this game is a shining example of indie gaming and is a strong reason I’m so passionate about the indie scene to begin with – if you like dark comedic horror, this game is a must!
Kate's an undercover weeb with a penchant for anything horror, campy, or colourful - she's still currently on the hunt for a game that fits all three categories.
When she's not busy searching for that elusive game, she's probably spending a shameful amount of time reading about Silent Hill lore.
FLook at Kate's obsessions via the medium of moving pictures over here: youtube.com/@tangomushi
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