By Justin Angebrandt
Growing up, I was an elitist little shit. If the game wasn’t published by Nintendo, Square Enix, Capcom, etc. I wanted nothing to do with it. This mentality stayed with me well into emerging adulthood. I would scoff at my brother for playing The Binding of Isaac. It looked simple and repetitive with questionable graphics. I know, I was the worst, right? Unfortunately, my mind was made up that all indies were unpolished, amateur games with no merit. Then Shovel Knight dug his way into my heart! I’d like to say that’s what happened, but it didn’t. Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope, from Yacht Club Games, was another game and character I mocked. Relentlessly, I might add. “A knight who wields a shovel? What, is his villain a sentient garden gnome named Chompsy who fiendishly steals Shovel Knight’s rutabagas?” I said to myself with a dumb, ignorant, little snicker.
A year or so later, an unholy beacon of cuteness would arise from the shadows: Plague Knight! Unbeknownst to me, Plague Knight wasn’t a new character, but actually, one of Shovel Knight’s villainous roadblocks he encountered on his journey to save his beloved Shield Knight. I can’t resist a sinister, chibi, soft boy. I had never seen a game have a playable plague doctor before. My macabre-loving heart overpowered my antagonistic views of Shovel Knight. A soft revolution occurred within me. I devoured Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows and became completely enamored with Plague Knight. He was everything I wanted in a character. So, I decided to give Shovel Knight’s story a playthrough since I enjoyed his adorable, little antagonist’s game so much.
I loved it. Both games were challenging and full of collectibles, but what impressed me were the charming characters, beautiful world, and whimsical enemies.
Shovel Knight and Plague Knight’s gameplay were difficult but in different ways. Shovel Knight has less mobility than Plague Knight, but he has much more control of his attacks due to their straightforward nature. These distinctions were tailored into making the same world and stages different to suit their abilities. Shovel Knight’s stages didn’t have as many strenuous jumping puzzles as Plague Knight but remained challenging with his kit. Despite their differences, both campaigns are enjoyable from beginning to end and aren’t too punishing due to checkpoints at various milestones. The characters you meet are eccentric yet lovable, from the majestic Troupple King to the chest-dwelling Chester to the wicked Enchantress. Even the monsters are adorable, such as the Propeller Rats, which are rats that fly around with propellers. I was honestly mesmerized by how beautiful and sleek pixel art and indie games could be.
After completing Shovel Knight’s glorious campaign, I spiraled, blissfully, into an entirely new realm of games: Castle Crashers, Don’t Starve, Hollow Knight, Armello, Darkest Dungeon, Monster Sanctuary, Streets of Rogue, Rivals of Aether, Boyfriend Dungeon, A Short Hike, and more. My list of played indie games soon started to surpass my AAA games list, not a feat I thought I’d ever reach, to be honest. Today my stance on indies is in stark contrast to what it was years ago. I no longer see these works of art as amateur or uninspired, but rather as someone’s aspiration to create their own unique star amongst the sea of stars that dot the gaming heavens. Indies have something for everyone, and I truly believe that.
My favorite video game series is Mega Man Battle Network (MMBN). When the final MMBN came out, I realized just how unique this series was and that I’d probably never see another of its kind. Especially since Capcom had put Mega Man on hiatus for a decade. I was wrong. I wasn’t the only fan who clamored to have more from the series and gameplay. MMBN has seen fan-made remasters and entirely new fan-made chapters in Mega Man’s journey in games such as Mega Man Battle Network: Chrono X. Indie games also took many of my favorite mechanics from this series and built games like One Step From Eden that take the card-collecting battle gameplay and add a new twist to the formula. A game with this niche was able to find its way out of MMBN’s hiatus and was revitalized through fans. That’s just it. Indies are games made by dedicated fans; game designers who are as much our peers in the gaming world as they are peers of those who designed titles like Legend of Zelda.
If you are reading this and think of indie games as unpolished, amateur games with no merits as I did, then I implore you to give them a chance. Maybe you’ll turn into an indie-holic like me? Indies can be an overwhelming place to find a starting point, but the best thing about indies is that they are made by lovers of a game type or mechanic. You’re sure to find something you’ll like. Do you like Super Smash Bros. but want something new? Brawlhalla, Rivals of Aether, and Brawlout might be what you’re looking for. Are you single but not quite ready to mingle? Well, there are games out there for you, too, such as Coming Out on Top, Dream Daddy, Arcade Spirits, and Boyfriend Dungeon. Love stories about animals? There are most definitely games for you, too! Armello, Night in the Woods, Cat Quest, Kitaria Fables, A Short Hike, and Banners of Ruin are waiting for you. I could go on forever!
If I haven’t sold you on indies yet, there are upcoming games that might. Palworld is Pokémon, but with guns and crafting. (Seriously! It looks like it’s going to be a wild ride.) Cult of the Lamb, another game with a sinister yet adorable character, is a fusion of a cult-building sim and hack-and-slash combat. It is my most anticipated indie for 2022! You play as a sheep about to be beheaded, but you are “saved” at the last minute by a demon who possesses your body. During your escape, you convince other cute woodland creatures to join you. Why be the sheep when you can be the shepherd? (Or I guess, in this case, you’re both!)
One of the cool things about indie games is that many of them are not surrounded by secrecy like the big games from companies like Nintendo, Sony, and more. Often you can even see the games’ progression as the developers post updates on social media like Twitter or even be able to play the games in early access or open betas. This level of interaction between the developer and the player is rare for many big games. Yet, for these indie games, there are often ideas and improvements taken directly from the communities playing these games. The broader indie community is supportive of one another, and you will often find these independent, small teams of developers boosting each other’s games.
The price tags on these games are much easier on your wallet as well. There are certainly $60-$70 indie games, but you can often find fascinating, enthralling games with fulfilling, heart-wrenching stories for a fraction of that price! It is not uncommon to find your new favorite game for $20.
There is a world of games out there beyond the big titles that dominate the video game industry. From fantastic stories to beautiful art to engaging gameplay, indie games really have everything that big studio games have. If you remain open to a variety of styles and genres, there is an almost unending supply of new games to play. And who knows? Maybe you’ll find your new favorite game!
P.S. Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon, the newest title from the Shovel Knight series, was recently released. It’s a fun, unique puzzle-based game that is worth checking out if you like Shovel Knight or other puzzlers!