Every time we come to consider the past twelve months of independent games, we find a completely different array of genres, experiments and innovation. From games that seek to push the boundaries of storytelling, to those that simply aim for arcade perfect gameplay and that compulsive need for just one more try, it’s almost unfair to lump so many of these games together.
A running theme through this year’s winners is one of refinement. These might be genres we’ve seen done countless times by smaller developers, or sequels to beloved indie hits of the last few years, but they’re taken to new heights of polish and excellence.
Dead Cells has been fantastic ever since it hit Early Access, but this is the year it got a full release and spread its slightly decaying wings to fly to other platforms. There’s often talk of things being perfect on Switch – something which has fast become a bit of a cliché – but with Dead Cells, it really is perfect for Switch.
Each run in this roguelite metroidvania can last anywhere between 1 minute and an hour, and being able to just dip in when you feel like helps stave off any frustration from the later challenges that throw themselves at you. This game has been slick since its first public release and every success you have has always been satisfying, but it also feeds into meaningful progression. The upgrade system is easy to understand and the weapons are all built around allowing for a different style of play every time, if you want it.
The combination of great visuals, a fantastic soundtrack, and the incredibly addictive gameplay make for a masterpiece of a game and one that is more fun than it should be given how often you die.
– Jason C
Guacamelee! 2 – Runner Up
A long-awaited sequel to a real fan favourite, Guacamelee! 2 picks up a few years after the first game ends. Juanhas hung up his spandex and traded his life as a luchador for that of a family man. You’re Juan happy guy. But then all hell breaks loose, the entire Mexiverse is in trouble and you’re the only Juan who can save its many dimensions from certain doom.
Self-referential, and laden with puns and weird jokes, Guacamelee! 2 will keep you entertained for hours. The exquisitely polished metroidvania gameplay coupled with the ability to swap between the worlds of the living and the dead makes for an engaging and genuinely challenging game. Also, you can become a chicken, which is still pretty cool.
Guacamelee! 2 is a celebration, not only of Mexico and Mexican culture, but of games in general. It’s an amazing game that I cannot recommend highly enough.
– Nic B
Yoku’s Island Express – Runner Up
In 2018’s flood of quirky 2D platformers, Yoku’s Island Express possesses a certain uniqueness that’s allowed it to stand out in a saturated genre. It’s simple premise and beautiful, hand-crafted levels allow for focus on it’s intriguing pinball-esque platforming mechanics that throw you to and fro throughout it’s 2D levels.
The game’s choc-full of zest and personality that seeps out of all it’s pores. Whether you’re completing quests for estranged island inhabitants or being batted back and forth like a ragdoll through its pinball-style environments and puzzles, every aspect of Yoku’s Island Express is wonderfully charming and joyous to play.
– Nicole H
Honourable mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Into the Breach