We're almost midway through 2016, and the year has already provided an incredible bounty of indie titles that we can recommend without hesitation. If you're looking for the quick highlights of the year so far, consider these five best indie games of 2016.
Harvest Moon was always spoken of as a game ahead of its time, but it wasn't until the release of 2016's Stardew Valley that I ever appreciated how true that assessment is.
While Stardew Valley is not just a knock-off of the Harvest Moon games, there is no denying that the game's most notable elements are pulled from that famous franchise. However, Stardew Valley adds so much more to that basic experience of becoming a farmer in a small town. There is a real sense of adventure about this game that shines through whether you are partaking on its more traditional RPG elements, or simply deciding what crops to plant for the season. Your every action in Stardew Valley can lead to a series of possible outcomes and this branching style of gameplay lends this indie gem infinite replayability.
Stardew Valley is the type of game that you can play for months and only barely scratch the surface. The really scary part, though, is that the game just keeps growing.
Ah, the walking simulator genre. Despised or beloved depending on what type of gamer you ask, there is no genre more controversial in modern indie gaming than this one.
While Firewatch certainly contains the lack of traditional gameplay elements that have caused some in the gaming community to despise this particular type of game, it also so happens to be one of the most compelling cases yet for gaming's superior ability to present emotional, minimalist narratives. With the exception of the dialog emitting from your handheld radio, much of Firewatch's story is told through how it makes you feel when you explore its dangerous world. Firewatch forces you to confront your emotions as well as the game's more traditional obstacles.
Even if you are not usually a fan of these styles of games, Firewatch's compelling style of storytelling is worth a look.
With all due respect to the many brilliant games that came in-between, 2007's Portal was the most significant entrant to the puzzle genre since Tetris. It showcased that the simple and addictive nature of the classic puzzle game could also serve as the foundation to a more elaborate, story-driven world.
The Witness doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of Portal, but it is the most compelling advancement of that game's innovations. Whereas Portal used its iconic narrator to link together a series of puzzle rooms, The Witness scatters such puzzles across an open world. It was a bold move to deprive gamers of the traditional puzzle game progress system, but the world of The Witness is so compelling that you'll find no trouble coming up with the motivation to discover its many secrets.
Perhaps The Witness isn't as addictive as previous puzzle titles, but it is arguably the most intelligent entrant into the genre in some time.
Stephen's Sausage Roll
Stephen's Sausage Roll is a lot like The Witness, except it's completely different. It's also highly reminiscent of Tetris, but not the same at all. Well...sort of. Maybe. In a way, I suppose.
Ok, I admit that I still don't know how to easily convey just what Stephen's Sausage Roll is. However, I am convinced that the game's inability to be easily summarized is the surest indication of its overall quality. Stephen's Sausage Roll is as much of a puzzle game as it is a glorious tribute to the world of game design. Its mechanics are air tight, its levels are punishingly brilliant and there is an underlying sense of charm about the game that serves as its most endearing quality
Stephen's Sausage Roll will frustrate you with its uncompromising challenge, but you'll find it impossible to not stare in awe at its collection of subtle moments of genius.
I'm going to admit right now that Pony Island is a tough sell, despite its low $4.99 asking price. As if the name wasn't off-putting enough, the game's very description doesn't really give any indication as to what exactly it is. Even those who have played and loved this game often refuse to actually go into details about it to others.
What I do know, however, is that Pony Island is among the most intelligent games ever made. The reason that you hear its fans tell you to not do any research about the game prior to playing isn't because Pony Island contains some grand, singular twist like The Sixth Sense, but rather because its entire narrative and concept are designed to constantly mess with your perceptions of what a game is. No other game - and few other pieces of entertainment - have ever managed to break down the fourth wall as successfully as Pony Island does.
Pony Island plays you just as much as you play it.