In a couple of weeks, some of the biggest names in game development will be gathering at DICE to recognize the best among them – and you can be a part of it. The Indie Game Challenge
picks out twelve of the best indie games from last year and lets you reward one with the illustrious Audience Choice award. This isn’t Florida, so your vote actually counts in this election. In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to introduce you to the twelve finalists and try to convince you why they should garner your vote. Each of these games deserves your vote but you can only pick one. So choose wisely, Grasshopper.
We'll be focusing on four of the twelve finalists for each of the next three weeks leading up to the IGC awards at DICE on February 11. Head on beyond the break where you can check out Vanessa Saint-Pierre Delacroix & Her Nightmare
, and Symon
. Once you've heard about all of them, make up your mind and vote
What’s it about: It starts off with a little girl with a really big name who loves puzzles but is constantly bullied by the kids at school. After finding an ancient cube in her father’s antique shop, the kids at school break it - causing her town, and the rest of the world to be sucked inside. In order to get out and save everyone, Vanessa will need to explore this new six-sided world, save the kids who once taunted her, and hopefully get out alive.
When you get sucked into a small cube, you expect to find Pinhead and not a series of tricky and sometimes ingenious platform-puzzles. But that’s exactly what you get here. The two dimensional rooms are set on the six surfaces of the cube. Beyond being able to move Vanessa around each of the rooms like a typical platformer, you can also give each side a quarter shift to the right or the left. Not only does this shift the perspective of the room, but objects such as blocks will fall to the bottom of the screen. You will need to utilize these shifts to move around blocks or access different faces of the cube. The objective is always clear – find the exit. How you get there is the tricky part.
Why you should vote for it: Some puzzle games throw you from one quandary to the next without any real thought of why you need to continue. Vanessa develops a story around the puzzles and puts the main character right into the middle of it. From the soundtrack to the darkened background, it all fits together in a larger story of a girl trying to fight through the biggest problem in her life. I really love the sections where you have to carry one of your tormenting classmates on your back as you try to make it through the level. It’s these little touches that push the gamer to the next level and beyond.
What’s it about: Some top-down shooters put you through space or into alien world where you have to fight through hordes of metallic spaceships just to face the boss. Solace puts you into a world that’s both familiar and alien to most gamers – the five stages of grief. If you happened to have slept through your Psych 101 class, the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These five stages, first introduced in 1969, are now stages that you get to play through with each stage in Solace. While a little on the short side, the five stages vary enough to feel like their own game and express their respected stage through both music and gameplay.
Depression slows down the ship considerably as you trudge through the grey world. Anger, on the other hand, is filled with enemies and power-ups as you speed through with screeching guitars. Even if you didn’t know off-hand that these were the stages of grief, you would still get that feeling just through their gameplay and even the music you help to create as the bullets burst into incoming ships. The tricks seem small – slowing down the ship, changing the tempo of the music – but they have a huge impact on how the player feels and reacts to each of the stages.
Why you should vote for it: Top-down shooters have been used for many different stories but rarely does someone try to use one to express an emotion. No intergalactic wars. No evil empire to put down. It’s all really about how you feel while playing each of the levels. And making that connection through visuals, sound, and design lets the player experience each of the stage without hitting them over the head with symbolism. When you finally get all the weapons at the end of the game, you feel great, as though you’ve passed through a journey. In a way, you have – even if it was just emotional one.
What it’s about:
Read Jake Gaskill’s review of Limbo
. Seriously, we’ve been talking about this game for months now. You know Limbo
. You know everything from the giant creeping spider to the little girl who seems too far away. There are nights where you can still see the buzzsaw rip through the boy or watch him drown for the tenth time. Plus, you'll never forget the first time that enormous spider invaded the screen. You’ve argued about the ending on the message boards. I’ve argued with you about the ending on the message boards. Let’s get on to what’s important about the game.
Why you should vote for it: Forget that it won four Best of the Year awards from us. For me, the moment I fell in love happened when I saw one of the other boys in the game run away. I was tense, afraid, and then angry. How dare they come here. What do they want!? That was the moment I knew that I was hooked. Limbo did something that so many bigger titles have forgotten to do – tell a story through play. Very few moments last year were as intense as seeing the spider crawl towards you or watch helplessly as your worm-controlled character edges towards the water. For a game that used very little in terms of visuals and sound, it did more than most games ever do.
What’s it about: What do you do when you’re strapped to a dozen different instruments on a hospital bed? Apparently, you dream. Symon is about one such man and one such dream. Inside his head, you catch glimpses of memories, anxieties about being sick, and little cracks of hope that run around the edge of despair. In this point-and-click adventure, it’s up to you to find the missing items from Symon’s memory by solving the problems of other people in your head. For this type of game, it’s fairly simple but inventive as you’ll find that items don't always work the way you think they do. You’re in a dream, after all. Things aren't always supposed to work out exactly like you'd expect.
Why you should vote for it: The game doesn’t start in the dream. You’re in a hospital room looking around. You close your eyes because it’s all you can do. A couple of the people and items you meet within the dream are like emotional punches to the kidney. In a matter of moments, you get a sense of what’s going through Symon’s head on a daily basis – the depression, the missed opportunities, his life slowly escaping him as he’s trapped in the bed. Another aspect that comes out is the dream logic. In most adventure games, there’s an odd logic to how things work. In this one, that logic flies right out the window. Different playthroughs even give you different items for you to use and try to wrap your little head around. It might not be one of the happiest journeys you’ll take, but Symon is surely worth the trip.