Indie games on all fronts, from consoles to PCs to your iPhone, often arrive with little fanfare. We need to change that. Let’s encourage the daring, the new, and the innovative. Step outside your gaming comfort zone and try out something that might not fit on your normal game shelf. Here are five PC indie games worth your time and a couple of them are worth your dollars. You can always download the demos if you’re feeling a little timid. For once in your life, be the cool kid who introduces everyone else to the great games.
Let’s face it; dwarfs are a big deal. The game Dwarfs!? takes these tireless workers and puts them on a collision course with disaster as they mine for gold, coins, and other riches. As the overseer of this underground operation, your job is to keep your workforce moving and as safe as possible when you’re in a pit miles underground. You don’t have to worry about a unionizing workforce, instead there are pockets of water flooding the tunnels, lava flows killing everything in its path, and monsters seemingly just hanging out in sheer darkness just waiting for someone to come along. Maybe those monsters should think about unionizing. Protect the base as long as you can because all it takes is one wrong move to make it all go away.
You don’t control any of these dwarfs directly, but instead issue orders by placing arrows in the caves. These little guys will blindly follow your advice for a price. Direct your workforce for any real distance and you’ll run out of coins quickly. And you need that money, not just because it feels good to roll around in it, but there are also supplies to buy. Walls will stop water. Dynamite places holes in the ground for lava. And good guards don’t come cheap. Every problem has a solution and every solution, a price tag. Get too greedy and you can quickly find your pockets empty. There’s a great leveling system as well that puts another spin on things. Sending out your best miner will make the digging go faster and you’ll collect more money at the risk of losing your top guy. Dwarfs!? is a great game that gives you all the tools you need to survive along with just enough rope to hang yourself.
This game starts out like half a dozen other games – Middle East, US army, lots of yelling and shooting. You know the deal. From out of nowhere, a meteor hits one of the towns and encases it in a force field. As you and a couple of your units enter and explore the inner dome, you quickly find that aliens have set up a series of turrets and other weaponry along the route to impede your progress. To fight off the invasion, you’ll need to get at the heart of the matter by navigating the twisted paths throughout the city, destroy alien towers for profit, and upgrade your own units to become the best fighting force around.
At first glace, Anomaly is best described as a backwards tower defense game. Instead of setting up towers and stopping the mad rush of enemies, you're playing as the moving forces trying to reach the end. There’s more to this game than spamming the cheapest units and hoping for the best. At most, you only have a handful of units at your disposal and sometimes, fewer than that. As the commander of this little convoy, your boots are on the ground sometimes scouting ahead or supplying items for the trucks such as repairs or decoys to throw off the enemy. You can also buy more trucks, upgrade the ones you already have, and setup the route for them to travel. Anomaly is not walk in the park. You often have to double back to take out a couple of enemy towers or restart from previous checkpoints just to keep that last truck alive. With a variety of vehicles, items, and routes to take; experimentation is not only welcomed but may be your only chance at survival in this explosive strategy game.
In this Metroid meets Halo indie title, you play an astronaut lost in space and on an alien world where you are not at the top of the food chain. You can explore this strange environment to pick up new weapons but you’ll have most of the tools you need from the very beginning. Your little spaceman carries around a very powerful beam that can lift objects or move you around the area. If you can’t find anything to grab onto, just kick in the jetpack for a fuel-burning boost to any area you can see. Capsized gives you a sense of power from the very beginning before throwing a world of aliens right at you. This is the kind of game that never lets you take your finger off the trigger for a second.
Featuring lush and detailed environments, hand-drawn designs, and the organic quality sprouting from every enemy; one of the most remarkable aspects of Capsized is that of the visual design of the game. The bright colors and intricate details of the world all add to the remarkable presentation. From the large flying sac-like aliens to the vine-tangled predators leaping out from darkened corners of the world, everything fits and feels natural to the world. It’s not just a world that you need to explore to survive, but one that you want to explore to find out what’s around the next bend or through that dark tunnel up ahead.
Blendo makes games for people who love games, and if I ever taught a class in game design, I would make Gravity Bone a requirement for the course. This ingenious group of developers takes basic design and twists it around in the most brilliant ways. The same goes for Atom Zombie Smasher – Blendo’s version of a zombie survival game. Instead of having to just watch your back, you have to keep an eye out for the population of a whole city. Instead of shotguns, you wield cannons, dynamite, and a tireless chopper to pick up survivors. If you hope to save the city in this horror game with a dash of strategy tossed in, you’re going to need one thing – brains. Lots of them.
The game is played with you surveying a map of the city showing streets, buildings, and little yellow dots. Those are your people. You need to save them from the pink dots. Those are the zombies, or zed. You start by placing weapons, mercenaries to slow down the approaching horde, and the landing spot for the helicopter. As soon as you hit go, screams fill the speakers and zombies start to pour in from all sides. If you want to save even just some of them, you’re going to need a strategy. Just one zombie can quickly infect a crowd of humans trying to make it to the landing pad. I often had to make tough calls and use groups of civilians as bait to save the larger population. In the end, you save what you can and hope that you'll be able to look at yourself in the mirror. After each section, both the human and zombie teams are given points which unlock new abilities for each side. Items upgrade but you'll often have to choose between two very strong abilities. Much like the real zombie apocalypse, saving people is not an easy feat. You’re going to lose. You’re going to have to try again. And more than likely, you will learn the true meaning of fear from little pink dots.
If there is one indie game that’s on everyone’s lips right now, SpaceChem is it. This breakout hit will test bits of your brain that you never thought possible, tax your mental reserves, and reward you in ways few games can. With more than 50 puzzles to work through, you’ll run into moments of brilliance at practically every turn. SpaceChem, also and most unfortunately, has probably one of the un-sexiest descriptions for a game everyone is already talking about: you create production lines that assemble molecules. See, you’re already stifling a yawn, but trust me when I say that this is a game you need to get your hands on.
Controls and setup are very simple and straightforward. As you assemble your lines, plans and molecules start to dance in your head. You often need to setup two lines to bond molecules together, rotate them, or add additional units. With every successful step, the next puzzle only gets harder as you use the previous solution molecule to create a bigger an even more complex beast. It’s a game better experienced than explained. Download the demo and try it out. You might find yourself creating a whole new world with just a couple of lines and a molecule. Plus, it's science in a game, so you're learning something. Right? Somehow? Tell your parents it's educational, and dive in.
What indie titles are you playing on your Mac or PC?