Indie games are awesome, and that’s why we’re here: This column is a celebration of all those projects made by teams or even one single person that, on their own, went and did whatever they wanted. We tell you on a monthly format our newest discoveries regarding any games outside the AAA landscape, shading light into the indie games we love, gush about them, and maybe even help you find a new favorite game!
Returnal|$69.99 on PlayStation 5
For anyone who has followed my adventures through indie games, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that the first game I bought for PS5 was Returnal. It’s a roguelike FPS from Housemarque, whose other games, Dead Nation, Alienation, and Nex Machina, built enough goodwill with me to warrant this purchase right off the bat.
I have to say: it does not disappoint. While I enjoyed my time with the previously mentioned games, Returnal is on a whole other level. It seems like Sony agrees with me as they bought Housemarque a few months after Returnal dropped. So what’s so good about this game? What’s the deal? This game is the Alien game I always wanted. It’s got elements of horror, discovering secrets of unknown alien species, and a gameplay loop that keeps me coming back for more. I don’t know the ins and outs of the haptic feedback feature of the PS5 controller, but using the left trigger button to both aim and use the alternate fire mode is surprisingly intuitive and, if anything, introduces a bit of mechanical ease once you are used to the control.
I’m not very far into the game because I’m very bad at video games not named Bloodborne (not including the DLC because I’m bad at that.) But I’ve run into a healthy amount of enemy variety and “plot elements” in the context of being a roguelike to keep my interest piqued enough. I use the word enough because this is not a perfect game. One major gripe I had read up on before my purchase and reached out to my friend about was that it seemed a bit too harsh on resetting progress. I’m inclined to agree with this gripe, although I don’t think it’s a game-ruining shortcoming.
With that said, I’m not very far in, so that’s still up in the air, but with the gameplay feeling this crisp, it won’t be long before I am very far in. I’m a self-professed absolute dogshit FPS player, I cannot use controllers and have basically sworn to buy FPSs exclusively on PC because the mouse is a godsend, but the aiming in Returnal keeps the difficulty in dodging enemy projectiles and maneuvering the map to manipulate the combat rather than me being completely incapable of moving the reticle to where I want it to be. This, on top of the incredible graphics and the story elements in a post-Hades world, makes Returnal a top-notch entry into the roguelike pantheon and a worthy buy for those looking for another game in the infant PS5 library.
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon | $19.99 on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch
A long-time fan of the Shovel Knight franchise (which was the origin of my obsession with indie games), I knew I had to give the newly released Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon a try. This game is different from the platformers in the rest of the series and is instead a time-based puzzler. I usually am not a huge fan of games like this, but Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon’s straightforward yet challenging gameplay and returning cast of lovable characters keeps me hooked in and slashing away at enemies.
Artistically, this game has a sense of whimsical charm, even more so than its predecessors. The characters and enemies are chibi versions of the original characters’ designs, while the colors are vibrant and nuanced. The designers at Yacht Club Games and Vine have also created new characters that are fascinating additions to the continually evolving world of Shovel Knight.
What is great about this game is that while it is easy to get sucked in, you can also play just one or two rounds in some free time. And if you’ve been distracted by other games for a few weeks, it is easy to jump right back in. The controls are simple, allowing you to focus on the strategy. These puzzles can get quite complicated, but through power-ups and patience, you can fight your way through.
The replayability of this game is incredibly high, as each of the playable characters has a different ability and stats. This means that each playthrough is different, and you might find different challenges with each new character. My favorite character to play as Plague Knight, a plague doctor who gets tons of alchemical bomb power-ups to use!
If you are looking for a fun, new puzzler or looking to get into the world of Shovel Knight, I highly recommend Pocket Dungeon as a great place to start, especially if you are not a big fan of platformers and so haven’t played the prior games. And besides, who doesn’t love playing a cute little plague doctor who gets *so many bombs* that he literally blows his enemies away!