Wednesday, December 29, 2021
The past year has been an interesting one for video game releases. With the next-gen (or should that now be current-gen) consoles enjoying their first year on the market, we’ve had a few standout games in the triple-A space release in 2021. But equally, we’ve also had quite a few disappointments, with big titles like Battlefield 2042 and Far Cry 6 not quite hitting the heights that we know those franchises can reach.
Luckily, indie games have been picking up the slack this year, but since we’re only human, we’ve not been able to play and review every single cool indie that has released over the last twelve months. In an attempt to make things (somewhat) right, we've gathered up a list of five of the coolest indie games that we played on Xbox this year, just in case you missed them.
Kaze and the Wild Masks
There’s not much more effortlessly enjoyable in this world than a really good platformer, and Kaze and the Wild Masks is simply that. Much like 2019’s Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, the game takes heavy inspiration from the Donkey Kong Country games, specifically the SNES trilogy of DKC titles released in the ‘90s, and if you’re into that specific flavour of 2D platforming, then this certainly isn’t a title to miss.
From catapults that fire you across the screen like DK’s barrels, to collectable letters that spell out the name K-A-Z-E, there’s plenty that’s familiar here then, but Kaze and the Wild Masks is also an excellent game in its own right, rather than just being a good tribute act. The sprite art is gorgeous and clean, the music is pretty damn good, and the level design is wonderfully varied and interesting. Oh, and some of the boss fights can be pretty bloody difficult as well. If you’re on the lookout for a retro-style 2D platformer with all the polish you’d expect from a modern indie title, look no further than Kaze and the Wild Masks.
Unsighted is one of the very best games to release this past year, and yet there’s so many people who won’t have played it. Set in a world full of sentient automatons, the game combines the combat stylings of Dark Souls with the world design of The Legend of Zelda, and it works to great effect. Your character sports a really satisfying parry, letting you deal critical damage to enemies, and you have to watch your stamina bar when attacking and rolling - so far, so Souls-like.
However, Unsighted pairs this combat with some excellent dungeons, filled with puzzles that wouldn’t feel out of place in the very best Zelda games, and with the smart item design to match. And all of this is paired with a genius time limit mechanic, where every NPC, and even your main character, is at risk of becoming ‘unsighted’ (basically a zombie) if you take too much time to complete the game. You can extend a character’s life using an item called Meteor Dust, but with a limited supply, who do you choose to save? It’s a bit brilliant, but don’t worry, if that sounds too anxiety inducing, you can turn it off and just experience the well-designed dungeons and combat instead, thanks to a post-launch update. Either way, this is definitely a game to check out.
If there was an award for most unique visual style in a game this year, Stonefly would be a shoo-in to win. Set within the branches and leaves of a gigantic forest, the game employs a scratchy, pencilled look - all chalk, charcoal, and pastels. It’s a wonderful setting to simply exist in and explore, and luckily enough, that’s a lot of what you’ll spend your time doing in Stonefly.
To get around the world of Stonefly, you’ll need to hop into your bug-sized mech-suit, called a Rig. These rigs are not only the size of insects, but the same shape as well, sporting spindly legs and buzzing wings, and you’ll be constantly upgrading and changing your rig in order to venture to new areas, which in turn, lets you collect new upgrade materials. There is combat, occasionally, asking you to knock the real, non-mechanical bugs off of their perches high in the trees, but even this is never too stressful. Combined with a relaxing soundtrack, Stonefly is rarely anything other than a chill time, with some great movement controls, and a wonderful world to explore.
Playing The Riftbreaker immediately transported me back to being hunched over my family’s single home computer, mouse and keyboard in hand, attempting to command my units in titles like Command & Conquer 3 or Total Annihilation. The Riftbreaker is a quintessentially PC-style game, combining tower defence with bits of Starcraft-esque Real Time Strategy and hack-and-slash combat straight out of Diablo.
It’s perhaps a bit surprising, then, that the game translates so very well to consoles. From the moment you boot the game up, it’s difficult to put down, as you begin to build your very first base, constructing walls and turrets to keep away the alien beasties attempting to get in. But those defences need power, and power requires resources, and the resources you need are now outside your walls? Time to expand again, I guess - it’s a wonderful loop, and one that will make any ex-PC gamer nostalgic for a (not so) simpler time, when you had to work out what games you could play using your rubbish graphics card and minimal RAM.
Tails of Iron
Another indie game, another Souls-like. It’s as common as the Metroidvania genre in the indie space these days, so it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd. Luckily, Tails of Iron does so, with an excellent art direction, and some interesting world building, as you take on a villainous band of frogs in an attempt to protect the rat kingdom.
This is a Souls-like, which means there’s certain things you expect from the combat. A parry? Check. A dodge roll? Also check! Both of these work well in the 2D side-on setting, making combat a satisfying, crunchy affair, and you’re given plenty of nasty bosses to fight (and die) against. The game’s aesthetic is also excellent, with thick bold lines that give the whole game the look of a children’s pop-up story book. Oh, and did we mention that Geralt’s voice actor from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt serves as the game’s narrator? Top stuff.
Thursday, December 30, 2021 @ 02:33 AM
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Wednesday, January 19, 2022 @ 11:36 AM