2015 was a pretty good year for the gaming industry. The AAA gaming studios had several major releases, such as The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Bloodborne, and Batman: Arkham Knight (so long as you weren’t playing the PC version). And while the big publishers were stealing the headlines, the smaller studios were having a quietly productive year themselves, if the runaway successes of Undertale and Rocket League are anything to go by.
Alas, not every fun game gets a spot in the limelight it deserves, and who has the time to trawl the mixed bag of Steam consumer reviews and comments for the hidden gems? Well, now you don’t have to. Here are five indie games from 2015 that probably slipped under your radar, are worth giving a try, and will make the monthly dilemma of Groceries or Games or Rent a little bit easier.
Albino Lullaby is all about atmosphere. Rather then jump scares and gore, the game takes a more subtle approach to horror. Your character is dropped into a strange Victorian town inhabited by albino creatures that consider you a worm that must be caught. Obviously, you need to take advantage of the various gameplay mechanics to get away. Dialogue with different characters as well as notes scattered throughout the game shed light into the natives’ bizarre and alien society. The world of Albino Lullaby is one of warped and disturbing imagery, and while never outright terrifying, the game world does contribute to a growing sense of unease.
This is bolstered by an excellent use of sound: squealing doors, creaking boards, clicking gears, and of course, the enemies you know are there only by the noises they make. Coupled with the inhuman voices of your hosts and a soundtrack that only feeds the surreal vibe, the various atmospheric cues of Albino Lullaby come together in a game that manages to be genuinely unsettling. And if the game is for you, you will be pleased to hear I have only been describing the first episode. There is more to come.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
At first glance, Crypt of the Necrodancer appears to be a fairly standard rogue-like game, with the player character exploring a maze with the old standbys of a top-down view, fighting monsters, and collecting gold to trade for new weapons, armor, and spells at the item shops in order to take on tougher monsters once the level is completed. However, playing the game (or just watching the videos on YouTube) reveals its secret. Each procedurally generated level has its own soundtrack, and moving and attacking to the beat builds and maintains a bonus to the amount of gold dropped by enemies. Keeping the rhythm going can be the difference between getting that new weapon or spell from the item shop or not, and by extension, completing or failing the level.
Progressing through the game unlocks more characters, which open up new and more varied ways to play. The first unlockable character, Eli, has no conventional weapons, but does have an infinite supply of bombs, which makes for a very different play style. Of course, if you would like to prove yourself as soulless as the game’s titular antagonist, there is an option to turn off the music and play Crypt of the Necrodancer as an ordinary dungeon crawler. You monster.
Let’s not mince words. Her Story is weird. You are a police detective watching recordings of Hannah (played by Viva Seifert), a woman giving a series of interviews to the police relating to the case of her missing husband. The two hours or so of her speaking directly to the camera are chopped into clips, with few more than a minute long, and some running as little as ten seconds. As you sift through the tapes, it’s your job to work out what exactly happened by cross-referencing the clips with each other using the police computer, a creaky old Windows 95 PC. You don’t get to hear the questions the police ask Hannah, so it’s up to you to work out what she is talking about and make your own conclusions. And that is about it.
Her Story is, in a few words, a detective game. In a lot of words (which can be found with the magic of Google search), Her Story is the sort of game that makes you question what games are. In a middling number of words, Her Story is an interactive, dramatic narrative wedded to a crime puzzler.
Read Only Memories
Read Only Memories is a point and click adventure game, but calling it such hardly does it justice. The year is 2064, and you are a journalist exploring Neo-San Francisco with the world’s first sentient robot. Your current subject of inquiry is the company Parallax, whose product ROM (three guesses what those letters stand for) has replaced all mobile technology. The gameplay is your standard point and click with dialogue options and small puzzles, but Read Only Memories really shines with its excellent writing.
A love letter to the cyberpunk genre, Read Only Memories can get somewhat wordy with its branching conversations and dialogue, but it makes up for it with its charming cast and engrossing story. The game’s artwork is a pleasure, and the soundtrack will probably be stuck in your head within the first hour. Not to fear. The game in its entirety will stick with you long after you finished playing.
Titan Souls is a top-down adventure game that will have your character exploring a vast open world, complete with dungeons to ransack, forests to navigate, mountains to climb, and so on. Ultimately though, Titan Souls is not about the game world, it’s about the boss monsters that live in it. In the same vein as Shadow of the Colossus, the gameplay revolves almost entirely around the big bad monsters you will have to fight.
Alas, you do not even get a sword. The protagonist of Titan Souls is armed with a single arrow. Literally a single arrow. Every shot has to count, because afterward, you need to get your arrow back before you can take the next one, which means surviving unarmed against whatever monster you are currently fighting until you can reequip yourself. The game is all about precision, both in making every shot count, and timing your dodges to avoid attacks that will knock your health to zero with one hit. Titan Souls is a challenge not for the faint of heart, but if you are ready to test your mettle without spending the big bucks, it is a lot cheaper than that other fiendishly hard game with “Souls” in the title.