By Mathew Kumar
Independent video games come in all shapes and all sizes, from boxed titles for sale in stores to tiny online games that take a second to download, and in turn have just as many genres and quirks as to make selecting just 20 a rather tricky proposition. But, I’ve tried my best. This isn’t a definitive list, nor it is in order of preference (and it could already have changed) but here’s what currently takes my fancy as the list of games that any student of the art of videogames should seek out.
1. Doukutsu Monogatari (Cave Story) agtp.romhack.net/doukutsu.html
Probably the only game I’ve played in which I played an amnesiac robot “in a world he never made” that transcended cliché, this is a lonely platformer with a gorgeous chiptune score, incredible challenge, replayability and a story that you’d have to be a corpse not to be moved by.
2. Gunroar www.asahi-net.or.jp/~cs8k-cyu/windows/gr.html
Kenta Cho, aka ABA Games, has been firing out heart-pumping, frenetic shooters since about as long as the internet has existed, and his games have incredible challenge, style and rhythmic beauty. I recommend Gunroar, described as simply “Guns, Guns, Guns!” by Cho.
3. 9.05 www.adamcadre.ac/905.html
Interactive Fiction fell out of favour after the death of Infocom, the true pioneers of the form, in the early ’80s, but it’s survived online, with the games often led by either their narrative or their puzzles. 9.05 is the one to play if you want to experience something utterly shocking that could only be created in a game.
4. Nethack www.nethack.org
Not the original “Rogue-like,” but perhaps the best. A randomly generated dungeon hack legendary for its ASCII graphics; few gamers can resist booting it up for a quick game on the occasion they’d like to face off against a demon that looks like an ampersand.
5. Defcon www.everybody-dies.com
The most disturbing game ever made to not feature visible violence, this harsh parable of mutually assured destruction looks like Wargames, but when you see the body counts mounting and the ghostly soundtrack wails, Matthew Broderick is the last thing on your mind…
6. Alien Hominid www.alienhominid.com
A side scrolling shooter in the best tradition of Metal Slug, the Behemoth’s first game features an adorable critter creating absurd havoc and is available on PS2 and Gamecube.
7. Every Extend nagoya.cool.ne.jp/o_mega/product/e2.html
Just released on PSP by gaming revolutionary Tetsuya Miziguchi’s QEnter-tainment, this unusual and abstract bombing simulation remains hypnotically addictive.
8. Armjoe takase.syuriken.jp/ArmJoe.htm
Don’t lie to me and say you haven’t wished to see the cast of Les Misérables fight each other in NO HOLDS BARRED COMBAT. 2D fighter Armjoe makes your darkest dreams come to life with full French dialogue and characterappropriate special moves!
9. Façade www.interactivestory.net
Unfortunately bloated in size, this one-act interactive drama places the player as a guest in the home of a couple in the process of breaking up, and asks them to talk their way out. Unforgettable, even if it takes psychological violence further than any game before or since.
10. Orisina www.ferryhalim.com/orisinal
It’s hard to choose just one of Ferry Halim’s adorable flash games to pick as the best, and frankly if you’re looking to relax in a quick moment there’s little better than picking one at random. You could find yourself catching bees in bubbles, or cast as a raccoon, defending your homeland from pesky gophers.
11. Samorost www.samorost.net
Perhaps the game with the most unusually detailed graphics on the internet, Amanita Design’s title is a short and smart adventure that offers the joy of being lost, simply staring at nature in its unusual beauty.
12. Zookeeper www.bobpitch.com/zookeeper/zk.html
Match the zoo animals so the zoo’s manager doesn’t yell at you in incomprehensible Japanese; the simplest of puzzle games (now available for Nintendo DS) is the hardest to put down.
13. Naked War www.naked-war.com
The Pickford Brothers have been in the games industry for 22 years, and this is the culmination of their work so far; a gorgeous and playable “play-by-email” war game of absurd depth and addictive power far beyond the sedentary nature of what you’d expect from something turn based.
14. Porrasturvat jet.ro/dismount
Make the man fall down the stairs and score points based on how badly he gets hurt. Sounds disgusting, right? Well, with comical ragdoll physics I defy you to not get a kick out of abusing his little body. Didn’t you ever throw your toys down the stairs?
15. Ray Hound www18.big.or.jp/~hikoza/Prod/
An entirely mouse driven game that turns the concept of the 2D shooter on its head, as you capture bullets to spit them right back in the enemies faces. As intuitive as it is hectic.
16. Fate www.playfate.com
Bored of playing Diablo II (hell, it’s only been out for six frickin’ years) and don’t want to sink into World of Warcraft? Why not support the indies by playing Fate, an accessible dungeon hack with some lovely graphics, then, eh?
17. Klass of ’99 retrospec.sgn.net/users/rjordan/klass
You probably don’t get much more indie than the British bedroom coders of the 1980’s, and the dream is kept alive by legions of programmers who recreate the classics on modern PCs; my pick is Klass of ’99, a loving remake of Spectrum title Skool Daze, the best school “simulation” ever.
18. Narbacular Drop www.nuclearmonkeysoftware.com/narbaculardrop.htm
As a princess with the power to create a pair of portals that would allow her to enter one and come out the other, it sounds like it would be pretty easy to escape any labyrinth. But not the mind-bending locale that Nuclear Monkey Software has set up. Has to be played to be believed.
19. Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Spacewww.shrapnelgames.com/digital_eel/Weird_worlds/1.htm
Exploring the universe might have been our dream as mankind in the 60s, but no one’s really that bothered now. Perhaps there’s just not enough action out there; Weird Worlds will remind you what we once hoped.
20. Cloud intihuatani.usc.edu/cloud
We all dream about flying, and there’s not one of us who doesn’t gaze at clouds and wonder what it would be like to be among them; this gorgeously somnambulistic game grants us our fantasy.