Let’s be honest- NOTHING about life is real fun right now. We’re all under some degree of lockdown or restriction, life as we know it has been dramatically changed for the foreseeable future, and to top it ALL off some of us are stuck inside dealing with this shit while also trying not to lock their toddlers in a closet.
I wanna be a fly on the wall in one of those “cherish every moment” households right now.
So while we’re all stuck inside wiping our asses with all that toilet paper we’ve been hoarding (not us, that was just for the purpose of the joke and if you ARE hoarding toilet paper- knock it the fuck off, you’re not helping anyone) we might as well have a little fun.
I’ve been working my way through a ton of indie games lately and I’m glad I did, cause now I can help you decide what you want to pick up to get you through this whole pandemic deal. This list contains some of the best indie games I’ve played in recent memory and I’m super-stoked to share my thoughts with you, so let’s get down to business!
THIS STRANGE REALM OF MINE
Simply put, I didn’t see This Strange Realm of Mine coming but it’s unequivocally one of the best video games I’ve ever played. It is far from big budget, totally strange, and it is a completely engaging experience that I’ll come back to again and again until my Switch fucks off. Even then, I’ll buy a new one and put this game back on it immediately. Doomster Entertainment has created something incredibly unique and riveting here that deserves ALL of your attention.
I don’t want to tell you too much about it because it was a constant source of wonder to watch the story unfold in front of me and I want you to have that same experience when you play it too. It gets uber-philosophical, deeply existential, and it combines all kinds of different gameplay elements into one shockingly cohesive experience that holds you in its grip til it’s over.
All I’ll say story-wise is that it starts with your somewhat-customizable character’s death. You wake up in a strange place and the game gets started. That’s all you’re gonna get on that front, but I will spill the beans a little on the gameplay stuff. This Strange Realm of Mine combines first-person shooting with platforming, puzzle solving, and visual-novel/narrative style elements to tell its tale of finding answers to some of life’s toughest questions. Questions of self, questions of faith, and questions about what the hell all of this “life” stuff means. Shit, going into too much story stuff. ABORT!
Unlike the rest of the internet, I don’t fucking want to spoil awesome things for you.
Everything is shown in a SUPER rad voxel/pixel art style reminiscent of what would happen if Steve from Minecraft took a bunch of LSD and stared into a mirror for twelve hours (not recommended IRL). It’s gorgeous in a very surreal way and it conveys a ton of emotion through its relative minimalism. The music fits the mood perfectly too, and the sound effects do an outstanding job of making things feel creepy, uneasy, and emotional in equal measure when needed. It’s a stunning effort from a solo team too, I still can’t believe ONE FUCKING GUY came up with this, it’s bananas. I’m astonished at all the ideas and concepts he managed to mix up into this game, and the fact that it all feels so grounded in truth and reality is nothing short of amazing.
The game touches on mental health a little, maybe in a bit of an abstract manner, but it does it with a startling amount of depth and what is obviously the creator’s own experience as well. Themes of depression, self-doubt, anxiety, and fear of the unknown intermingle with even loftier concepts of life and death, what happens when we die, and how we can learn to be more present in our day to day lives to achieve happiness through letting go of our egos. I’ve struggled with literally ALL of these things throughout my life so everything in this particular game resonated with me WAY more deeply than I anticipated.
This game is a glorious ton of bricks to the face, if you’re the “use your brain” type. You are, stupid people hate me.
I was legitimately blown away by this game, I’ll admit that my VERY first look at the game’s icon had me a bit “eh” but I’m extremely glad I dug deeper and saw the potential that was there because this one gets the absolute highest recommendation that I can give a video game. A welcome bonus? The game performs PERFECTLY on the Switch and I never noticed any slowdown, stuttering, or anything performance related at all- no matter which way I played. This might not be the fanciest-looking game you’ll ever see, but don’t let that sway you.
This Strange Realm of Mine is one of the most totally engaging video game experience of my life and I implore you, especially during this trying time for all of us, to give this one a shot and let it take you on the journey it’s presenting. You won’t regret it, I promise.
(PS- After you finish this game once you can go back in. I’m not sure what’s different or if different decisions affect the outcome of the next run but it seems likely. I haven’t had time to jump back in for a second play through yet but I will. If YOU do it, let me know what you find out!)-$12.99/eShop
SUPER CRUSH K.O.
Another game that gets my absolute HIGHEST recommendation is Super Crush K.O. from Vertex Pop. This one’s been out for a while now but I didn’t get my review code til a couple weeks ago so whatever- maybe you’ll read this and give them a little post-launch burst of sales. You should, because to THIS GUY- this is the best beat-em-up on the Switch and an absolute MUST HAVE for your collection.
Seriously, MUST HAAAAAVE!
You’re playing as Karen, and an alien warlord with an army of robots has kidnapped your cat Chubbz so you have to kick some serious robot ass to get it back. That’s it, nothing existential or tear-jerking here, just a cute story to tie all the action together. And HOLY CRAP, what fantastic action it is! This ain’t your average beat-em-up here, there’s also run & gun elements going on and it’s all mixed together with a healthy dose of dashing, insane combos, and some of the best combat in an indie game I’ve ever played. It’s not the same as Dead Cells but it IS just as fun, fast, and fluid.
That’s about it, folks. The bigger your combos, the bigger your score. New moves and mechanics are gradually introduce at JUST the right pace and by the time you’ve fought through its 20 excellent levels you’re capable of ridiculously long chains of destruction. It’s constantly awesome, seriously. I’m not usually a fan of more cartoony/hand drawn art styles but this one is like their other game (Graceful Explosion Machine, also excellent) in that it has it’s own thing going and does what it does very well. The music is energetic, light-hearted, and perfectly suited to the action at-hand, and the game performs FLAWLESSLY in both handheld and docked modes.
I picked this game up and just like This Strange Realm of Mine above- I didn’t stop until it was done. It’s THAT good, and you guys know I shift my attention with games like a cat swatting at a laser pointer, but some games just HOLD me. This was one of those, and I plan to do it all again once I get a little free time to just play for me. Super Crush K.O. gets extremely high marks from The Ghost Generation and as high of a recommendation as my black little heart is capable of.-$14.99/eShop
This one is an interesting beast, I’ve seen some “less than stellar” reviews about it and I’m totally dumbfounded. It’s true, I tend to fall in love with games that a lot of other people don’t like, but I was legitimately surprised to read what I read about this one. Spartan Fist (from Glass Bottom Games & JanduSoft) doesn’t claim to do a lot of different things, in fact it really only does one VERY specific thing, but what it offers is executed so fucking perfectly that I’m hooked with no end in sight.
In fact, I love the gameplay so much I wasn’t even readily aware of the story here. Apparently, you’re playing as Emma Jones, a down-on-her-luck detective who’s working to earn her keep by trucking down the legendary Spartan Fist. How is she doing that? Through a pixel-drenched, voxel-soaked, first-person roguelite where “fists and fists only” is the name of the game.
If you’re giggling after that last sentence you are both a child inside and TOTALLY my people.
You have a right and left fist which can be upgraded with “dips”, some of which will hurt as well as help but most just make your fists more awesome. There’s a decent selection of fists to try out too, my personal favorite is the Stone Fist (you’ll see why). You’ll be punching your way through floors of arena-style rooms and each series of rooms culminates in a boss fight. The floors are procedurally generated so everything is different each time you play, and you will PLAY A LOT. If you’re nothing like me this very simple but also VERY well-done gameplay loom will keep you engaged for HOURS.
It looks gorgeous, the chiptunes slap, and it performs excellently any way you play it. I haven’t managed to beat the final boss yet, but who cares? I’ve still never actually beat NeuroVoider and I’m pretty sure I’m getting close to 700 hours on that one. What I love about roguelikes/lites is that it’s not ALL about the destination, it’s about enjoying the journey- and this is one journey I enjoy the living hell out of.
Spartan Fist rules, and if you’re looking for an endlessly addictive but slightly left-of-center roguelite that’s punchy as hell (pun intended) look NO further than Spartan Fist. Super-high recommendation here too guys, this one kicks ass and it DEFINITELY deserves to take up space on your almost-maxed out SD card.-$14.99
There’s a certain niche of people out there who love games that feel less like fun and more like punishment. Games that are DESIGNED to be hard as hell and only for the toughest of thumb slingers, the hardest of the hardcore. Full disclosure, most of those games get on my nerves very deeply and I don’t spend a ton of time with them before saying “screw this”. I have toddlers so my abuse limit has been reached. Thanks but no thanks!
I did love Super Meat Boy, and one of these days when I’m more emotionally well-adjusted I’ll dive back into Furi and see if I can finally conquer THAT beast. Speaking of Furi, in fact, leads me into talking about Profane (from OverPowered Team & Alternative Software). Unlike some other Uber-hard affairs, I LOVE Profane. It’s very similar in tone and aesthetic to Game Bakers‘ super-rad but terrifyingly difficult masterpiece but take out the swordplay, leave the twin-stick shooting, and you’ll arrive here.
You might cry, but there’s joy in those tears somewhere!
Profane tells the story of the last of God’s seven masks, Tall. Her siblings are power hungry and want to absorb her power and destroy all things that are good so she sets out to stop those assholes once and for all. There are no levels to traverse here, it’s just straight up twin-stick shooting boss rush action. Here’s the rub though, it’s time based. Yep, time is money! Your currency is time, and while there IS a plethora of available/unlockable upgrades, your use of each will consume some of your precious time available. There are some that don’t steal time but the bigger, more impactful ones all come with a cost.
Less time means this- during one of these spectacular multi-stage boss battles you’ll see a timer up top. Once that timer hits 0 it will only take one hit to end shit. One and done. Each time you get hit that timer will get knocked down and if you get hit enough times you might as well just restart cause it ain’t gonna happen for you. No worries, it’s super quick to jump back in and you DO learn a little about the patterns each time.
The game is hard as shit, there’s no way around it. if you’re easily frustrated, or bad at twin-stick shooters, you need to stay FAR away from this one. That being said, if none of that scares you then you’re in for a hell of a ride. This game looks FANTASTIC, and even though it’s similar to Furi it stands tall on its own too. The music set’s the tone, the sound effects are appropriately on-point, and slowdown isn’t a thing-docked OR handheld. There’s a TON of bullets onscreen at any one time too so it’s fantastic that it performs so well.
Slowdown + difficult game = instant rage quit.
None of that really matters though, gameplay is king in titles like this and I’m happy to report it’s EXCELLENT. It’s some of the best twin-stick shooting around, and the controls are JUST right for a game like this. It’s not overly floaty, it’s not aggressively tight either- it flows like it should and that’s what counts the most to me in a game like this.
Another full disclosure- I haven’t beaten THIS final boss either. Nope, this is the kind of game that takes me a while to actually beat if I ever even DO. I don’t care though, because I’ve spent plenty of time playing it to know what’s up. Judge away.
I’d call myself an expert at twin-stick shooters but that makes me sound like an asshole. Let’s just say I’ve spent upwards of 1,000 hours playing them and I know my shit. That better? Good. Profane is a stellar entry in the genre, with a unique and punishing twist, that you absolutely NEED in your library if anything you just read piqued your interest. Is it the “Dark Souls of twin-stick shooters”? No, because we ALL need to stop comparing shit to Dark Souls. Also, I haven’t tried to eat off my own arm while playing Profane so there’s exhibit B. -$18.99/eShop
This list is on fire. Did YOU just read that in song form a la Alicia Keys? Yes, yes you did. I did too, so there. You’re as dorky as me, congratulations!
Anywho, this list IS pretty dope so far and jumping in to finish things off is Underhero. Underhero (Paper Castle Games, Stage Clear Studios, Digerati)flips the usual “hero saves the day” tropes on their heads fairly thoroughly and it’s all the better for it. It seems fairly standard issue at first, the world is in sort of a repeating cycle: a hero sets out to defeat the evil Mr. Stitches, the hero fails, and evil reigns supreme. The Queen, Elizabeth IV, has been pretty well silenced and mr. Stitches runs shit, and through a random turn of events the hero once again gets killed and one of Stitches’s underlings gets tapped to play the part. The kicker is, Mr. Stitches enlists him to play hero for the dark side but he’s secretly working with the hero’s former robot assistant to seize the opportunity and tear it down from the inside. Did I lose ya?
No worries, I honestly skip a lot of the story stuff cause I like to get to the fun stuff. The dialogue and story here are both fantastic though, and everything is written with wit, sarcasm, and a nice edge without being too on the nose.
Cause nobody needs more “on the nose” these days. Life is “on the nose” enough.
You’ll find yourself traversing areas, platforming your way around, and engaging in a combat system unlike anything else out there right now. Imagine if traditional turn-based RPGs weren’t really turn based at all, and more centered on timing. That’s what you have here, the whole thing was heavily inspired by Paper Mario and it shows. Your ability to attack is dependent on your stamina meter so you gotta keep your eyes on that, and as the game unfolds you get access to new weapons, new mechanics, and more flexibility in the combat scenarios. It LOOKS like a turn based RPG situation, but it’s SUPER refreshing that it’s NOT.
The platforming and exploration are nice and tight, but I do wish a little more fat would have been trimmed off. Some of the areas overstay their welcome and that applies to the game itself. It just feels a LITTLE bit longer than it needed to be, but at least what you’re doing is FUN. That’s the kicker here, even the parts that drag are more enjoyable than a host of other games so it’s hard to ding it too much for the padding.
There are MUCH worse offenses than “a little too much of a good thing”.
It must be said that the pixel art on display here is FANTASTIC. Everything is cohesive, the world building is impeccable, and it pops with vibrant color everywhere you look. It’s stunning, these guys really did a phenomenal job bringing this world to life and I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it, no question.
The music is perfectly paired to the mood of the game, the atmosphere is original, and the sound effects hold it down too. The game performs perfectly, docked or handheld, and the sum of its parts equals an invigoratingly original, stealthily addictive, and totally fun package. Underhero excels at what entirely too many games miss these days- just being FUN. Open-world epics and 3,000 hour RPGs are great and all, but sometimes a game that’s a little smaller in scale fits in just where it needs to. Is Underhero perfect? No, but it’s close enough for me and it’s absolutely yet another must-have addition to your embarrassingly large Switch collection.-$16.99/eShop
Switch games are like the Pringles of video games- once you “pop” you’re screwed, cause Switch games are awesome.
Another one bites the dust, Ghosties! I hope I’ve helped you blow some of that Purell fund you snatched from under your couch cushions and maybe you’ll have some rad new shit to get you through whatever the hell is going on out there. I’ll be here, writing, playing more games, and trying to not sink under the crushing weight of anxiety in the midst of existential uncertainty. Happy Tuesday!
A blog/website where these happily married, 30-something parents of 2 little minions rant, rave, and speak in tongues. Raw, honest, and riddled with profanity. Get on board and let’s make The Ghost Generation awesome together! http://theghostgeneration.com Twitter.com/Gh0stGeneration