Top 10 Best Indie Games of 2011 – Indie Game Reviewer’s Favorite Game Picks of the Year

top-ten-indie-games-of-2011

Best Indie Games of 2011 – Very Honorable Mentions: (con’t.pt 2)

Tobe’s Vertical Adventure

(Secret Base)

With two year’s best votes from our reviewers, it’s always nice to be able to shine a light on a title both meriting and yet mostly unacknowledged, after all, we are here to discover those underrated gems and give them their proper respects. As reviewer Bill Whorton puts it:

“Tobe is an Xbox Live Indie Games native ported to PC, apparently born from the goal of making a game that could have come straight out of the early 1990s. Tobe’s graphics are 16-bit, and would have been right at home in an old Genesis or SNES game. Even the sound and music is what one might call Megaman-esque. Plug a controller into your computer and you could easily mistake Tobe for a console ROM.

Tobe’s content is one of the areas where Tobe really excels. There’s a lot here for enthusiasts of the game. Players can go through the levels with either Tobe, Nana, or cooperatively as both with a friend. Each level also has several different collectibles, which will appeal to completionists. Viewed from afar, the levels do suffer from repetitiveness, but that may be more a function of the genre than of this game in particular.” – from the review by Bill Whorton

To The Moon

(Freebird Games)

A witty, beautiful story not unlike Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” as told through a classic JRPG layout, To The Moon took us, narratively to some brave emotional ground. If Gemini Rue was Blade Runner for Sierra lovers, then To The Moon was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

“I had stepped into the game expecting melodrama and a labyrinthine, too-hip-to-make-much-sense narrative experience (possibly because the JRPG aesthetics evoke that sort of genre expectation in me), but instead, what I got was much better: a mature and courageous tale that sidles whimsical banter with emotional breakdowns, reflections on personal grievances with future dreams.

For all of these elements combined, it is unerringly accessible. To The Moon is best described as an interactive novel that will stay with me. I can imagine that I will remember certain themes in To The Moon with sudden clarity in seemingly unconnected conversations and activities. Play it, and you will find that you are enveloped into a game world that has a unique standard of storytelling all of its own.” – from the review by Darklights (Tanya Kan)

For its deployment, sentimentality, humor and all around engaging experience, it easily rode into our HM list.

Avadon: The Black Fortress

(Spiderweb Software)

Makers of Geneforge and the Avernum trilogies, Spiderweb has always seemed to nail the 3/4 view RPG epic right. Avadon: Black Fortress maintained this standard and arguably improved on it.

Per the official site description:

“Spiderweb Software brings you Avadon: The Black Fortress, the first chapter in a new, epic fantasy saga. You will serve the keep of Avadon, working as a spy and warrior to fight the enemies of your homeland. As a servant of the Black Fortress, your word is law.”

Proun

(Oogst aka Joost van Dongen)

Proun is a great-looking 3D psychedelic racing game by indie developer Oogst. Find out why it became so popular after its release (over 1.2 million HTTP requests) that its website went down for the entire weekend.

“You’re a 3-D ball of some sort, racing against other 3-D balls… on a cable…or wire. Anyways, this wire loops and twists and turns its way past 3-D obstacles that you must dodge during the race. One of my favorite features about this game though, is the ability to make your own tracks. If you have any background with 3D Studio Max, you can design your own tracks to share with others or play on your own.” – TCRandall2

Inside A Star-Filled Sky

(Jason Rohrer)

The latest labor of visionary indie game developer Jason Rohrer whose game Sleep is Death topped our 2010 Best of the Year list, comes Inside a Star Filled Sky, the so-called “infinite, recursive, tactical shooter for one player.”

“Simply fighting waves of enemies is old hat. Inside a Star-filled Sky is all about fighting the enemies within an enemy within yourself (and you are inside yet another enemy). Confused yet? If you crave shoot-em-up games, but hate when they end, you need to be playing this.” – from the review by Callabrantus

SpaceChem

(Zachtronics Industries)

From the creator of Infiniminer which some would argue was the main basis of the cult indie game Minecraft, comes a sort of puzzle / strategy title quite unlike anything else we saw in 2011. Here you are cast as “reactor engineer” who has been tasked with “creating circuits through which atoms and molecules flow with the aid of Waldos to produce particular batches of chemical shipments for each level”. Sound like a migraine? Many others thought so too. But for those who persevered and dove in, SpaceChem was a highly polished, brilliantly realized challenge that, in spite of topping several GotY lists, may have become a victim of its own damned cleverness.

The Binding of Isaac

(Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl)

Edmund McMillen’s of Team Meat’s side project is the procedurally generated side-scrolling “shooter” that had many a gamer wiling away hour upon hour as they explored what new oddities it might spawn. McMillen is arguably the Syd Vicious of the gaming world in that he bucks the establishment but still gets widespread attention, and exerts massive influence on the culture surrounding him. Binding of Isaac throws the Bible, mothers, and childhood trauma into the ring and sees what explodes, or lights up. We thought it was pretty neat too.

Clones

(Tomkorp Computer Solutions Inc.)

In the “games you probably didn’t play” sleeper category, comes Clones – a game that is NOT Lemmings.

“The developers at Tomkorp Computer Solutions Inc. (wow, that’s a mouthful) must have a sense of humor because Clones is exactly what the name implies, a clone of Lemmings. “But I’ve already played the hell out of Lemmings,” you say, “why would I bother to pick this up?” Twenty years of evolution is why, smart ass.

On to what’s fun and new:

Because your clones are some sort of Power Ranger, they’re capable of morphing into, and doing, a lot of things that a lemming simply isn’t capable of, including flight. They can also, on certain levels become light and dark versions of themselves, enhancing their capabilities (No force powers. Sorry.)

Whether or not you take advantage of all the extras, the core single player experience is well worth both your time and your money. It’s a manic mutation of the Lemmings concept that will make you fall in love with critters without a sense of self-preservation all over again.” – from the review by Patrick Bartholomew

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

(Fuelcell Games/Gagne International)

“Five years in the making, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet – released as part of the XBOX Live Summer Arcade and the brainchild of Joe Olson, CEO of Fuelcell Games, and filmmaker and animator Michel Gagne – is the product of two very talented gentlemen who decided to take a break from what they were doing in the animation industry and dive into the world of video games with little gaming experience but a plethora of ideas.

Perhaps the most significant selling point for ITSP is as an interactive ultra-hip animated work of art, though again, it is a full on game in its own right. Sometimes meditative, sometimes maddeningly hectic, and mercifully devoid of any implementation issues, it is well-deserving of a look. At the time of this writing, the game is exclusive to XBOX 360 Live Arcade, but we can’t wait to see a port to Steam so that it gets more of the attention it deserves.” – from the review by Indie Game Freak

Universe Sandbox

(Giant Army)

To be honest, only minor stability issues kept this deeply ambitious, scientific simulator from landing in our best of the year list. But we don’t blame the game, just the load this title may require on some systems.

What other interactive title afforded us the opportunity to steer a supernova into a blackhole and behold the result?

This offering, wholly meriting of as much tinkering as you can stand, is also available on Steam.

Frozen Synapse

(Mode 7 Games)

In spite of a tepid review at IGR, several of our writers chimed in with a chorus of gamers about the merits of Frozen Synapse, a strategy title not unlike playing Chess as a covert ops rendition of lazer tag. Complex context sensitive menus provide a method for outlaying your near future in hopes that you can guess what subsequent countermoves will allow you to live another round, let alone a day.

A Knight’s Dawn (iOS)

(Visionary X GmbH)

“A Knights Dawn hits all the right buttons as a tower defense game. There is a high level of replay value for perfectionists, and it even comes with a glut of achievements to unlock. Graphically, the game captures the Tolkien-esque feel by implementing beautiful sprites (which I believe are hand drawn).” – from the review by Callabrantus

Tiny Bang Story

(Colibri Games)

Our reviewer ZombieGrl emphatically requested we give Tiny Bang Story a second look and we are glad we did. In spite of some odd crashes (Steam + laptop), this kind-of-casual puzzler featured excellent illustrative graphic design, and an adventure style game that rode shotgun as you put a fascinating world back into place. This is a winner for the “escape the room”, point-and-click crowd, and deserving of your attention.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth

(11Bit)

As far Tower Defense games go, few were better in 2011, let alone for the iOS than this twist on the genre from indie devs 11Bit.

“You have control of only one man, and this is the Commander. He plots the course of the convoy, for which, at first, APCs and Crawlers are the only thing available. As one might expect, more vehicles are introduced as the game progresses. The Commander must control the convoy so it avoids dangers and destroys targets with the aim of reaching a specific way point.

The real twist here, you may have inferred by now, is that in being the one leading the convoy, and plotting how to destroy enemy bases, 11bit is in fact reversing the typical tower defence strategic and making it a tower offense.

I usually say a solid story (where this pretense is in effect) can make or break an otherwise steady outing, but tower defense-like games are generally accepted to have rather weak stories in exchange for good gameplay. Here, the Commander guides you through a tutorial in a way that blends the story and game well enough, though it covers a good portion of the first half of the game and then tapers out before the game is half done. That said, Anomaly’s story is still surprisingly above average.” – from the review by MJBrune

Interestingly enough, the iOS version, which is almost identical, but streamlined so as to exclude the Commander himself (you only steer the actual vehicles you purchase whereas in the PC version you guide the Commander along in front of the convoy) played better for us. Despite the fact that we loved the role-reversal of the “tower offense”, the added layer of complexity from controlling the commander on the “fuller” PC version actual felt like it could get in the way.

Click Next to check out IGR’s Most Anticipated Indie Games for 2012 and beyond…

Top 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. HM1 HM2 HM3 MA

17 comments on “Top 10 Best Indie Games of 2011 – Indie Game Reviewer’s Favorite Game Picks of the Year

    1. Thank you for posting 🙂 Not sure that Unepic is anything like a AAA title in the contemporary sense, but it sure it as worthy of attention and your money 😉

  1. Wow! This is an incredibly comprehensive list. Though I may not agree fully with the top 10, you’ve done a wonderful job mentioning all these fantastic indie games (some of which I haven’t heard of). I’ll definitely go through this list later to check out any awesome indie game I may have missed. Thanks for putting this list together.

    1. Thank you for your kind acknowledgement. It was a spectacular year and it sure kept us very busy. 🙂 2012 will not slow this trend down one bit.

  2. Man, the Binding of Issac, to me, was the game of the year. I pumped more hours into that game than any other indie game I’ve ever played (we’re talking 40+ here). Plus, I don’t know if you guys heard this, but they’re working on DLC for it that is said to “nearly double the size of the game”, to which my free time responds “Ah crap….”

  3. Thanks for compiling such an extensive list! I missed out on quite a few of these games, unfortunately, but at least now I have a great reference point. One game I am very happy to see included is Rock of Ages. I don’t think that title got nearly enough press, considering how much fun it was.

  4. Great article, and nice to see some titles get acknowledged that didn’t get the press deserved in 2011 by the mainstream media 🙂 Couple of other titles to watch for in 2012 are StarDrive, Kenshi and Airmech, all look really nice, and we have to plug our own title Star Prospector that will be released very soon!

  5. “When we saw the first trailer for Hawken, we thought it was an April Fool’s joke. There was no way the gameplay could look as good as what we were seeing. And yet as further gameplay clips emerge, it seems to hold to its promise. With a fast growing user base who play the beta, it seems it is more than just smoke and mirrors”

    What beta ? Does hawken have a beta running ?

  6. what no machinarium? it’s a great game and deserves to be here! i couldn’t help but not to fall in love in that game and i usually don’t like puzzle games and it was a lot better than tiny bang story

    1. Thanks for commenting. We loved it too. Machinarium, however, was release Friday 16 October 2009…

  7. At first I was disappointed with your list. Especially when I saw Bastion as number one. An average game with a good voiceover seems to have stunned everyone…

    But the rest of your list and the sheer number of Honourable Mentions has really made this a great reference for anyone casually looking around the indie scene. Great range from things like Spacechem and Solar 2 through to odd little gems like To the Moon. Great list, thanks for the (no doubt) many hours that must have gone into putting this together.

    1. It’s always interesting when, in disagreeing with a carefully thought-out and presented opinion, one’s only argument is “no way.”

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