Indie games have seen unprecedented success in 2010, including a couple of real-deal breakout hits for small developers or small dev teams. Which were the best of this great year for independent game development? Let’s break down my picks one by one.
Number 10 – Octodad
Octodad isn’t the most satisfying game so much as it is the funniest premise in indie games in 2010. You play as an octopus undercover as a traditional suburban father who must wriggle his way through life without arousing suspicion among his family or the local sushi chef, lest he be made into dinner. The physics are highly entertaining to overcome, until suddenly they become frustrating and impossible, like in one scene in which Octodad has to squash a group of spiders. A highly memorable and fun title.
Number 9 – Game Dev Story
The biggest iPhone hit on this list, Game Dev Story lets you control a game developer yourself, it’s quite meta. Hire employees and go to conferences all to make as much money as you can in 20 years. Preposterously addictive.
Number 8 – World of Goo on Mac and iPad
An indie hit of years gone by, World of Goo has only this year hit the Mac and iPad so more folks can check out the gooey goodness. If you still haven’t tried out World of Goo, it’s a physics-based building puzzle game using different types of goo as the building blocks. You’ll see the appeal as soon as you give it a shot.
Number 7 – Limbo
A 2D side-scroller game on the Xbox 360, Limbo combines physics with a monochromatic style to make a heart-rending game about a lost boy in the woods searching for his sister. It’s fairly short, but one of the best candidates for a “games are art” discussion on this list.
Number 6 – Amnesia: The Dark Descent
I’ll let you know about this game just as soon as I quit being scared and finish it. But seriously, the best horror game of the year was made by an indie development team and it has beautiful graphics and presentation value.
Number 5 – Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
Take a traditional fantasy RPG, but make the player a shopkeeper instead of an adventurer. That gives you the basic premise of Recettear, a pun on the word “racketeer.” You barter with townspeople and adventurers to buy low and sell high on all the goods you can. Actually remarkably difficult, but a fun idea for a game that only an indie studio could realize.
Number 4 – VVVVVV
It’s a Nintendo-hard platformer (with infinite lives, but still) with retro graphics and sound set in a persistent overworld with a crazy storyline and difficult name. There may be nothing more indie than that.
Number 3 – Machinarium
Though Machinarium was released before 2010, its inclusion in the 2nd edition of the Humble Indie Bundle brought it new recognition. Machinarium is simply a beautifully drawn point-and-click adventure with clever puzzles and an understated sort of emergent storyline, a must-play.
Number 2 – Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy is the pinnacle of the traditional stalwart genre of indie development, the super-difficult platformer. What sets Super Meat Boy apart is perhaps the second-funniest premise of the year (Meat Boy must save Bandage Girl from Dr. Fetus. Yes indeedy) and inch-perfect controls to support each gamer’s personal level of masochism.
Number 1 – Minecraft
Minecraft has been out in some form for years now, but it caught the public imagination this year and managed to sell over 900,000 units in an unprecedented success for a sole developer, all through word of mouth marketing. Minecraft exists in a cubic, almost LEGO-like world in which the player must collect and shape resources to build mines and forts in order to collect more resources to build bigger mines and forts. In one mode, this lets the player protect themselves from several zombie-like creatures and other baddies during the night phases of the game, but in others, the player simply lets their creativity shine as they test the limits of what the world can do. This has led to vast art projects, complete recreations of levels from other games, and even Minecraft-specific sports. Minecraft is the big success of indie games in 2010, and one of the most promising games as well, as it’s still only recently entered “beta.”