Gift Guide 2015: Indie Games

We all like games — it’s why you come to the site, after all. But not everyone has the cash to splash on the AAA titles, even when they’re discounted. You might be a poor uni student. You might not have a lot left over after buying presents for the family. And sometimes you might just want to try something without spending a great deal of money.

So this is a guide to get you through Christmas: a guide to some of the better indies you can find online. Let’s begin.

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I’ll save everyone the trouble by converting all prices into Australian dollars, but keep in mind that the exchange rate and currency conversions may differ at the time of your purchase. Games released on multiple platforms will also have individual hyperlinks, the same way we do with deal posts. With that in mind, let’s move forward!

Downwell $4.10 (PC), $4.49 (iOS)

A strong choice for those addicted to roguelikes

Evan wrote earlier this year how Downwell would be the best five dollars you could spend on a video game in the middle of October. He was wrong: it’s probably the best five dollars you could spend on any game released this year, ignoring whatever insane deals pop up on Steam around Christmas time.

It’s a wonderfully tight platformer that should be in anyone’s gaming library if they’re a fan of games like Spelunky, Nuclear Throne or endless runners. You’ll get more purchase out of the game with a controller and a large screen, although it handles just fine on a decent sized phone or a tablet.

Rebel Galaxy $27.42 (PC, Mac)

Space, albeit in a far more accessible — and affordable — fashion

Rebel Galaxy is close to the upper tier for indies by sitting at the US$20 mark. But if you’ve been looking for a way to scratch that space itch without burning hundreds of dollars or waiting months for the in-game world to fill out with more content, Double Damage’s killer guitar riffs and Wild West frigates is just the treat.

It’s not disingenuous in saying that Rebel Galaxy might very well be the closest game we have in 2015 to Cowboy Bebop, minus the anime, stylised aesthetic. The soundtrack is certainly spot on but the entire game is more about the space opera and far less about the simulation. You won’t find any Newtonian physics or complicated flight models here, but you will find a controller-friendly, naval-esque combat system that is infinitely more accessible — and for a lot of people, more fun — than the likes of Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes $20.74 (PC, VR support)

At most family Christmas dinners, talking usually results in someone exploding

There’s nothing quite like a party game at Christmas time, but what video games hasn’t historically done a great a job of is providing co-operative games that offer tense experiences that require the level of communication and teamwork you’d find from a well-crafted board game.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes does precisely that. One person gets to look at the bomb on the screen, while everyone else is tasked with parsing the bomb defusal manual. It’s especially great if you’ve got access to a VR device — since that way the defuser can’t accidentally cheat — although the game is perfectly functional as long as you’ve got a laptop.

It’s best if you can print out the manuals and put them in old-school binders, although you can fire up the website and read HTML/PDF versions on a tablet or phone. Oh, and in case you’re wondering whether this game is any fun: it doesn’t have a 99% rating from over 1,300 reviews for no reason. It’s hilarious, and absolutely worth your time.

Quiplash $16.45 (PS4), $13.81 (PC, Mac), US$9.99 (XB1)

For people with no soul

The entirety of the Jackbox Party Pack undoubtedly represents better value, and if you don’t mind shelling out a little more I’d highly recommend picking up at least the original Jackbox Party Pack: You Don’t Know Jack is an excellent pop culture trivia game, while the combination of Fibbage (with the extremely cheap DLC) and Drawful is a superb value proposition.

But if you want to save as much money as possible, and only want to pick one game from either pack, Quiplash is hard to ignore. It’s basically a game for people with no soul, since it draws out the darkest, sickest humour imaginable without fault.

I’m a terrible person, so that’s why I’ve opted for Quiplash over Fibbage — but you can have an excellent time with either. It’s the closest you’ll get to the hilarity of IRC madlib channels and anyone that has enjoyed Cards Against Humanity for any length of time would be remiss not to explore the brilliance of the Jackbox games.

Note: I had difficulty loading up the Australian page for the Xbox store, so the price for Quiplash may be something else entirely. You’re best off checking the Xbox Store through the console if considering a purchase.

Hook $3.23 (Android), $0.99 (iOS), $1.23 (PC)

Beauty in simplicity

Sometimes the best games are the ones that provide short but enjoyable experiences, and as someone on Steam said: if you can afford to burn US$2.50 on a stupid skin for a game, you can probably afford to spend an extra dollar for a fun little puzzler.

Hook, which is weirdly cheap on iTunes and Steam but not so much on Android, is almost designed to be a meditative experience. “No menus, no achievements, just you and a puzzle. Player is surrounded by calming sounds and music,” the blurb proudly chimes.

The objective is to clear the screen, which you do by tapping on the solid circles. Hitting those pulls the shapes at the end of the line, which causes them to disappear. It’s ridiculously minimal, and just as simplistic to begin with. Later, however, the difficulty substantially ramps up: lines overlap, switches become convoluted and the few seconds it took you to clear the first few levels seems a distant, almost laughable memory.

Most of us know someone, either ourselves or a family member, who enjoys puzzlers that provide as much resistance as they do relaxation. For those people, Hook is a very cheap gift that, perhaps as Christmas Day begins to wind down or when the noises of holiday dinners and family gatherings get too much, will be warmly appreciated.

Contradiction: Spot The Liar! $13.80 (PC, Mac)

FMV games can still be worth your time

Christmas time is always a great opportunity to give your friends and family something silly, or just an opportunity for everyone to sit around and have a few laughs. I wouldn’t have imagined at the start of the year that I’d be saying such things about a game that relies entirely on FMV and live actors for the punch lines, but the humour in Contradiction — Spot The Liar! is far better than anyone would have ever expected.

It’s a murder mystery where you go around investigating the death of Kate Vine. But what makes the investigation and all of the FMV footage worthwhile is the absurdly tongue-in-cheek nature of the performances. Like many of the best FMV games — and there weren’t many — Contradiction is fully aware of how silly everything is, and the way in which everyone, from the scriptwriters to the actors and actresses, revels in that is what makes this so fun.

Get a few drinks, get the family around and enjoy the stupidity. There will be many things that go under the radar this year, but Contradiction shouldn’t be one of them. It’s so, so much better than it has any right to be, and an must-have for anyone who enjoys B-grade movies or awful flicks like Sharknado.

Euro Truck Simulator 2 $31.81 (PC, VR support)

Sometimes you need the gaming equivalent of white noise

It wouldn’t be untoward to say that Euro Truck Simulator has developed something of a cult following. What’s fascinating about it, however, has been watching people transform their views on the game as a pointless waste of time to a cathartic, relaxing drive that is far more engrossing than it has any right to be.

For some, ETS2 is pure escapism. Others treat it like the gaming equivalent of white noise, something to occupy their hands and fingers while they consume podcasts, Twitch streams, Netflix, or something else on their second monitor. Others just enjoy going for a drive.

Mark thought it was pure insanity upon first describing it three years ago. But it’s actually pure majesty, taking the parts of real life we find relaxing and distilling that down into a virtual experience. That sounds insane. But it’s actually fun, and millions of gamers wouldn’t own ETS2 if that wasn’t the case.

Monstrum $24.89 (PC, VR support)

Indies have a better track record in the horror genre than big-budget titles these days

This suggestion comes courtesy of Hayley, who is far more familiar with the worlds of horror and things that go bump in the night than I am. So when I asked around if anyone had any special indies they’d like to offer, Hayley suggested Team Junkfish’s procedurally generated survival horror adventure.

Monstrum throws permadeath and multiple monster types into the mix, offering more challenge and replayability than you’d normally expect for an indie horror game. And the game also generates the vast majority of the ship (albeit for a few rooms) every time you play.

Undertale $13.85 (PC, Mac)

Bet this won’t be the first you hear about Undertale this month

It’d be remiss to include Undertale in the header and not at least mention it here, although there’s also the small factor that Undertale has steadily gained a very, very strong following since its launch earlier this year.

Nathan unpacked some of the many wonderful things Undertale does in his review last month, and it’d be doing the game a disservice to try and summarise those here. Put simply: it’s very unusual, and if you have any interest in RPGs or adventure games at all you owe it to yourself — or a similarly inclined friend/family member — to give it the time of day.

Duck Game $18.01 (PC)

Quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack

There’s a button dedicated to quacking. I shouldn’t have to say much more.

There’s an Ouya version available as well — that’s where it was originally published — but most people’s experience of Duck Game this year undoubtedly came as a result of its re-release on Steam for a fairly modest price. Either way, excellent party game. Has quacks.

Mini Metro $13.85 (PC, Mac, SteamOS, Linux)

City building for train fanatics and fans of Apple

Much in the same vein as Euro Truck Simulator 2, Mini Metro is for people who take a certain degree of pleasure out of things that are organised and things that are very, very clean.

You’re tasked with building the train network for a rapidly expanding city. It’s about efficiency, planning ahead and exceptionally gorgeous, Apple-esque lines. I remember sitting with a friend watching as he took me through the game one evening. It was pleasant and peaceful, and totally not my jam — but if you’re the kind who got into Cities Skylines, Simcity, Transport Tycoon or anything of that ilk, it will absolutely be your jam.

Elegance in design: Mini Metro in a nutshell.

That’s all for our gift guide this year — what PC accessories are you giving to your gaming friends and family this Christmas? Let us know below!

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