DIYgamer only launched in October, but we have been busy playing independent games all year long. As the year winds down and news comes to a crawl as people head off for the holidays, we’d like to share what we found to be the best, most innovative, most interesting and all around entertaining indie games that came out this year. Our selection process was simple. Each writer here at the site was asked to submit their top five games of the year. We chose our game of the year based on the title with the highest number of appearances in those lists and the runner-up would be the one with the next most appearances. The rest all fall under honorable mention in alphabetical order, as each one struck us in a way to remain memorable and worthy of a top five of 2009 list.
Each writer explained their reasoning for their choices, and because their are only a handful of us, we may have missed something you feel should be on the list. Glaring omissions? Tell us about it in the comments section. We’d love to extend the discussion to you. And don’t forget, these choices are taken across all platforms, so you’ll see everything from iPhone to Xbox Live Indie.
So here it is, DIYgamer’s Best of 2009 Editors’ Picks.
AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity
Dejobaan’s audacious title caught my attention, but I wondered if the game could live up to it. But of course, the name is a perfect fit. The game oozes original style. There’s just something about throwing yourself off a tall building and flipping off the gathering crowds as you fall past at terminal velocity.
(Download it directly from Dejobaan Games for $9.95 or from other major download services)
AI War: Fleet Command
I admit I haven’t played as far into this game as I would’ve liked to to give it a GOTY nod, but I vote for it over some of the other great ones I’ve played because of the philosophy the developer brings to the experience. The space RTS title does something that a truly good strategy title needs to do, evolve. The game has had free DLC released monthly since its launch and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It’s arguably the best post-launch supported title out there, up with the likes of Valve’s Team Fortress 2 and the like. It also supports up to 8 player co-op and competitive play.
(Buy it directly from Arcen Games for $19.99)
As one of the most humble of not only developers but people I have ever come across, indie developer Farbs—whose real name is Jarrad Woods—created an astonishing piece of work that earned him first place at the 2009 IGF China. The game’s addictive mechanic of shooting ships, salvaging their pieces and building up your own was what kept me coming back since I became a subscriber. Farbs followed up this release with Captain Successor, which improves on everything the first one brought forth but Captain Forever takes the cake in this one, as it is inarguably one of the most important indie titles of 2009.
(Play it at the official website)
So fun, so nostalgic and yet such a sting in the end. This Xbox Live Indie was my out of left field game of the year. I never saw it coming, ended up playing it over a couple of evenings and decided it was one of the best sessions I’ve ever had. The simple gameplay really took me back, it was relaxing and yet entirely engaging. As the hands-in-pockets orphan you wanted to explore every frame and talk to every interesting big-eyed npc as you stumbled through a faded, bitter and corrupt world.
(Buy it for 400 Microsoft Points in the Xbox Live Marketplace)
The only XBLIG title on my list, JUMP! is one of the few XBLIG games that I continually return to. It’s a fairly simple platforming game that is splashed with retro-goodness all over. However, what gives it such a unique feel, and a spot on my list, is its unique art style that truly evolves the restro sprite look for the 21st century. Seriously, the game is absolutely brilliant.
(Buy it for 400 Microsoft Points in the Xbox Live Marketplace)
Shattered Horizon was probably the best multiplayer game I’ve played this year, even amongst the mainstream games. It’s a simple concept: FPS in space, but it brings with it a uniqueness not found in the Halo’s and Call of Duties of the world, that being zero-G. With this unique perspective you can go anywhere and do anything. There’s no up, or down. Everything changes when your in space and no game proves this more than Shattered Horizon.
(Get it on Steam or the Futuremark Website for $19.99 or $59.99 for 4 Copies)
Small Worlds didn’t reinvent any wheels, but its perfection lies in its simplicity. The whole experience takes ten to fifteen minutes, but with a mere three pixel character, it encapsulates the wonder and thrill of exploration that modern games don’t always give you. Maps, GPS locators, way-points, we’re so often spoon fed now, but Small Worlds is just about finding what’s around the next corner. David Shute did fantastic work on this small title. It’s a pleasant diversion and a reminder that getting the most basic elements right is the foundation to any solid gaming experience.
The most impressive work by a single person since Cave Story. Derek Yu’s Spelunky took what’s so enthralling about Rouge-like RPGs and applied them to the platforming genre. Every game is different, and every death matters because you’re never going to be in the same situation twice. And because you can’t just throw your extra lives at a problem over and over again, you’re forced to master the controls to advance. Spelunky is one of the toughest, most rewarding games I’ve played in a while.
The game that teaches us a valuable lesson about alternate versions of ourselves and boxes. Time Fcuk has a stark visual style and intriguing platform action that involves everything from gravity flips to layer changes. When I loaded TIme Fcuk up for the first time, I couldn’t get up without seeing it through. Alternate levels, alternate endings. This is such a simple game that accomplishes so much. If you want to ignore the story, it can be a simple run, jump, flip layers. But there’s depth to this flash title as well. Another solid outing from Edmund McMillen.
Time Gentlemen, Please!
Zombie Cow Studios’ sequel to Ben There, Dan That doesn’t have the best puzzles, and it certainly doesn’t have the best user interface. What it does have is humor, oodles of it. I had more fun playing through Time Gentlemen, Please! than any other adventure game this year because none of those other games featured Hitler’s army of dinosaur clones or asked me to save the world from future, evil versions of the main characters.
This iPhone/iPod Touch title that sits in the same vain as Flight Control and glpeas’ Carcophony on XBLIG brings a fresh take to the management mechanic. The Voxel Agents released Train Conductor only several days ago, but the amount that my iPhone has been powered up playing the game has earned me almost a third of the achievements that come with its Plus+ integration. Unmistakably addictive and delicately designed, the fluidity of controls in this title alone works like a charm. Mark my words, Train Conductor will become an instant classic and at its current price of $1.99 is a title no iPhone/iPod Touch owner should live without.
Trine was probably the best platforming game of the year. It combined the uniquen-ness of three separate characters each with their own skill sets and abailities that enabled you to get beyond certain obstacles. Additionally, the game featured some nice RPG-esque character development that provided more depth to the game than many traditional platformers. Wrap all this in a beautiful setting/story and you have one damn good game.
ACE Team’s first-person brawler is the first game I’ve played that gets close-quarters combat right. It’s set in a strange, beautiful world, full of even stranger characters. Games with Zeno Clash’s perspective are usually the stomping grounds for major game developers, and I love to see a small team of indie developers make a game that looks and plays better than most of the games released this year.
INCHES BEHIND THE RUNNER-UP
I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMBIES 1N IT!!!1
ZOMBIES, we’ll call it, is a twin-stick shooter that gained almost unequivocal success on the XBOX Live Indie Games platform. Perhaps creator James Silva had imagined a quarter of the popularity the game received, but because of the simplicity and terrifyingly hilarious soundtrack, this title is at the top of my list. It broke through the mold and spilled itself into the mainstream scene, initializing what I—at the time—felt meant the indie world was coming back with a boom. And, here we are today, with a hell of a year in 2009 for indie releases and an amazing one coming forth.
Another surprisingly great game from the Xbox Live Indie collection. Relying heavily on power-ups, you shoot through zombies, among other monstrosities, on top of an ever changing, and often intentionally distracting background. Certainly the best dollar I’ve spent all year and possibly the best thing ever based on the opening song included in the challenging shoot ‘em up.
Don’t Look Back
Terry Cavanagh’s stripped-down platformer manages to tell a heart-wrenching story with simple graphics over a few short scenes. Don’t Look Back is easily my favorite Flash game of the year. The platforming is tricky, but instant resets keep the game from becoming frustrating.
I played a lot of flash games this year, as I’ve been busy at a desk job. I discovered Don’t Look Back around the same time I found Today I Die (another great flash game), but Don’t Look Back turned into a greater overall experience with me. Its monotonous color palette, its range of ease to extreme difficulty, and the eventual section of the game that reflects its title are superbly orchestrated. It’s simple and quick, but it lingers with you. A great balance of simplicity, story and difficulty that everyone should try.
In the end, the top two games from our lists ended up in a heated tie breaker. I had to resort to averaging out their placement on our lists and our Game of the Year took the narrow win.
Nothing turned me into a dungeon crawling loot lover faster than Diablo, until Runic released Torchlight. Not really a standard indie, with a high replayability and a great mod set that let’s you create and play with literally every aspect of the game. Really only missing a co-op mode to be a near perfect experience, but still far and away my best indie of 2009.
Torchlight is a game that resulted from literally a recipe to success. It had all the elements of an excellent title: engaging gameplay (lootfest anyone?), excellent RPG mechanics, and that old-school nostalgic feel of Diablo revitalized. Runic Games must have known a thing or two about how the game’s future would fare because this type of success was almost unrivaled. Especially for an RPG, Torchlight proved to be a phenomenally popular and well-bred game that had us RPG fans in a binge. With the impending multiplayer and new additions in the future, Runic is aware of where they are taking the game and this means nothing but good news for fans.
Classically styled action RPG from some of the great minds behind Diablo and Fate. There’s little not to like about this game if you were ever a fan of Diablo, with an expansive underground dungeon and unique bosses. The only thing really holding Torchlight back was its lack of multiplayer, which, after Diablo 2, almost feels like it should be mandatory with these types of games now.
Torchlight, much like its Diablo cousins, is a mouse-breaker. The kind of game where you can no longer keep track of the number of times you’ve clicked your mouse, because it would include a terrifying number of digits. For me, there isn’t anything more satisfying than the bodies dropping and loot exploding from corpses. Torchlight has a beautiful polish to it, and if it seems like a AAA publisher could have put it out any day. I’m still working my way through it, but it’s still the most fun I think I’ve had adventuring all year.
GAME OF THE YEAR
You’d have to be crazy not to put Machinarium in your list. Having played the demo, I instantly encouraged friends to try it out. The response I received was overwhelmingly positive and upon the release of the full game, we at DIYgamer were some of the first to have it on hand. What made this specific point-and-click adventure stand out had partially to do with its art style, but even moreso was that it told a story with no words. To bring forth such an emotional attachment to the story by use of gestural dialogue, this is a no-brainer on the 2009 list. It exemplified that often people yearn to care about other worlds— not just their own. Amanita Design, thanks for the experience.
The best adventure game I’ve played in a long time, and certainly this year’s Braid in terms of an indie art style that just blows you away. The emotion the game stirs despite taking place in a world full of machines along is enhanced by a great soundtrack, and the gameplay engages while you explore the reaches of the odd world.
Machinarium was a beautiful game that not only had an outstanding story (surprising because it had no dialog) but it also featured some of the best music and art I’ve ever seen in a game. Everything was hand animated and all the music was recorded explicitly for the title. Not to mention, of course, the brilliant puzzles held within the game. Machinarium was classic adventuring at it’s finest and a game that lives up to the high bar set by classic Sierra and LucasArts titles like King’s Quest and Loom.
My first real games I disappeared into were the King’s, Space and Police Quest series. The level of detail and need to pay attention really stirred up my imagination and logic skills. It’s been many years since I’ve come across something as beautiful and intriguing as those early games. But Machinarium, while I was skeptical from the hype, delivered on all fronts. Its visuals are reminiscent of a kid’s book, and the unique characters telling their tales and woes in sketch are absolutely beautiful. Problems have quirky solutions, and just when you get stuck and have to walk away, you’re drawn right back in because you realize you knew the answer all along. Machinarium delivers a solid experience that makes you think, and therefore makes you feel.
Let us know what you think of our list and which games you would have added. In the indie world on a list encompassing all the platforms out there, it’s impossible to put everything on a five point list.