Remember Celeste, Dead Cells, Frostpunk, Into the Breach, and Return of the Obra Dinn? 2018 was another year where a select handful of independent games got some serious recognition. These lucky few had the privilege of sitting at the “Game of the Year” table among the triple A elites.
While that’s all fine and dandy, I want to shine a brief light on five games from the past year that I think deserve a little extra attention. Before we close the book on 2018 for good.
Doom 2016 reignited the long dormant genre of excellent, single player, first person shooter campaigns. Two years later, Dusk grabbed the torch and ran with it. Everything there is to love about old school shooters meets new school sensibility. David Szymanski’s love letter to 90’s FPS knows exactly what we want, and delivers.
That beloved, insane speed from the original Doom is back in full force. It’s now, brilliantly, paired with a slide mechanic for extra mobility. There’s a rogues gallery of satisfying weapons, the majority of which you have the option to dual wield. Enemies range from spooky Hills Have Eyes cultists to paramilitary goons who can all be gibbed into a fine red paste. Topped off with a speed metal blitzkrieg of a soundtrack, Dusk is a complete throwback that honestly feels refreshing.
Of course, none of this would matter if the level design faltered in comparison. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Everything you loved about John Romero’s non-euclidean nightmare landscapes from Doom, and Quake are expanded on in Dusk. It’s so pleasing I wouldn’t necessarily hate to play through Szymanski’s Doom fan wad.
Dusk is a twitchy FPS full of piss and vinegar. You’ll love every second of it, even when it’s kicking your ass. To be blunt, this is what Blood should have been.
Dusk is available for $20 on PC/Mac/Linux
Patobox, a man-duck chimera, was the greatest boxer the world had ever seen. At least until his sponsor, the mega corporation, Deathflock, sabotaged the biggest fight of his career. Instead of retiring in disgrace, Patobox has decided to seek his revenge against Deathflock and stumbles across an ever descending world of corporate corruption.
Pato Box plays like part over-the-shoulder walking simulator and part Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! It’s a surreal game that features seven tough-as-nails boss fights with a highly stylized black-and-white backdrop.
While the glitz and glamor of the Sin City overworld eventually wears off by the 100th time you’ve walked it, Pato Box is worth the price of admission for the fights alone. I absolutely love the boss rush genre because few things in video games are as rewarding as overcoming a multi layered, challenging boss fight.
If you enjoyed Cuphead, Pato Box tweaks those same synapses of frustration meets jubilation. You constantly chip away at an increasingly irritating opponent until you can decisively land that last punch.
Pato Box also boasts a surprisingly engaging story, complete with interactive dialogue, and collectibles that can unlock a hidden bonus fight. The walking sections might not be the highlight of the game, but once you gut them out (the destructible environments are a big help here), you’ll walk out the other side feeling like a heavyweight champ.
Pato Box is available for $15 on PC/Mac and Nintendo Switch
A friend of mine sold me on the recent Paddington Bear movies with the elevator pitch of “look at this delightful son of a bitch.” That is how I will now sell you on Wandersong: look at this delightful ass video game.
In a sharp turn from the previous two recommendations on this list, Wandersong is an adventure game about a bard. Determined to stop the world from ending, he’s armed only with the power of his beautiful voice against a planet full of naysayers.
The genre of independent adventure games who bet the farm on being charming, quirky, little darlings above anything else can feel a little saturated at times. What starts out sweet can quickly become saccharine, turning us sour towards the lighter side of things.
If that cynicism resonates with you, Wandersong will snap you out of that curmudgeonly stupor. Much like the bard you’ll be playing as, Wandersong is a clinic in charismatic storytelling.
There’s so much that could have gone wrong in this game. Dialogue could have been tired instead, but it was charming. Instead of being bold and bright, the art style could have felt flat and lazy. Miraculously, it all blends perfectly due to outstanding pacing and aesthetic sensibilities.
I was fully prepared for Wandersong to be another overly sentimental game where we ultimately learn that the real treasure was the friends we made along the way. Instead it was one of the most complete titles of 2018. It left me with the kind of feeling you get after watching a really good animated movie. The type that resonates with both children and adults. It’s the Porco Rosso of indie games from 2018.
Wandersong is available for $20 on PC/Mac, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch
428: Shibuya Scramble
A live action visual novel originally released only in Japan, on the Wii, eleven years ago is a hard sell. You’ll have to just trust me when I say that if you could only play one visual novel, 428: Shibuya Scramble would not be a bad choice.
A collection of full motion video and photographs shot on location in Shibuya itself, 428: Shibuya Scramble is multi genre crime thriller. The game seamlessly blends Japanese comedy with hard boiled drama in a manner reminiscent of the Yakuza series.
Presented in a non-linear format similar to Magnolia, 428: Shibuya Scramble is the story of April 28th from 10:00AM to 8:00PM. All told from the perspective of five different characters. As you play through each character’s April 28th, every decision made has a ripple effect that spans across the increasingly entangled storylines.
While this concept isn’t new, the insane scale of different options and outcomes is certainly impressive. 428: Shibuya Scramble is a game with an insane number of branching paths and a grand total of 87 possible endings. While this might initially seem overwhelming, it actually belies 428: Shibuya Scramble‘s unique strength. It’s a story driven game that puts replayability at its forefront.
After you complete your first playthrough you’ll want to start another one almost immediately. Such is the appeal of this games strange, but fascinating experience. Without giving too much away, it draws you in with it’s absurdity. By the end, you’re glued to your seat waiting for the next story beat to hit. Just like Yakuza.
428: Shibuya Scramble is available for $50 on PC and PlayStation 4
Katamari Damacy REROLL
This is might be considered cheating but MORE PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW. The original Katamari Damacy has been remade as Katamari Damacy REROLL and is available right now on PC and Nintendo Switch.
For anyone unfortunate enough to be unfamiliar with Katamari Damacy, it goes like this: your dad, the King of All Cosmos, got drunk one night and knocked all the stars out of the sky. You, the diminutive Prince of All Cosmos, have to recreate these stars by hand. How are you gonna do that? By rolling up miscellaneous objects on planet Earth with a sticky, sticky ball.
If this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. Does it get boring? Absolutely not. Katamari Damacy has tapped into the same dark magic that was used to create simple, but effective games like Robotron: 2084 and Tapper. You are perfectly content doing the same thing over and over again because it’s so god damn entertaining.
You’ll be rolling up everything from crumbs to sky scrapers in order to meet the increasing demands for bigger and bigger stars from the King, and it never gets old. Katamari Damacy not only has of the most dangerously addictive gameplay loops ever devised, but it also has one of the most unique soundtracks ever recorded in a video game. The music gets stuck in your head right next to the gameplay. If you have never played a Katamari game before, it’s time to change that.
Katamari Damacy REROLL is available for $30 on PC and Nintendo Switch