Missed any of the previous awards? Catch up here!
The awards keep rolling along! This time, we’re looking at the best smaller or independent game.
As always, there are just a ton, many of which I wasn’t able to get to. It Takes Two picked up a ton of awards this year, including Game of the Year at The Game Awards, though you won’t find it on my list as I haven’t played it. Inscryption is another one that has had strong word of mouth and while it looks really interesting, that’s another one I just haven’t had a chance to check out. Still, there are some worthy names below!
So, without further adieu, here are the nominees:
Hot Wheels Unleashed – Milestone
Growing up, I had a ton of Hot Wheels and could play for hours building my own tracks. Hot Wheels Unleashed manages to capture that part of my childhood in the best way possible. While the driving is spot on and incredibly arcadey, which is important for any racer, there’s one element that really helps it stand out: authenticity.
I was blown away by the attention to detail the developers managed to add here. The Hot Wheels tracks look like ones you could go and buy at any department/toy store, and seeing them set up in a way that an actual human would in various locations like living rooms and garages is really cool. However, the standout aspect are the huge variety of cars themselves which feel like they were taken off a store shelf and somehow shoved into the game exactly as they were.
Loop Hero – Four Quarters
While it’s not going to blow you away with its retro style visuals, Loop Hero‘s simple premise is more than enough to hook you into its gameplay. Essentially, you play a nameless hero who awakens in a camp after an evil lich has essentially ended the world. Seeking to rebuild, the player will come across other survivors who can’t remember the world, though over time, you’ll be able to expand your camp and unlock new abilities.
Again, the gameplay is seemingly simple on paper but has a lot of nuance. Your character auto moves along a loop, unlocking loot and new cards which the player can put down on the loop. Typically this adds obstacles and hardship on the path, but in doing so, the character gets stronger and finds more resources to bring back to the camp to expand. The longer the player is able to stay alive and navigate the loop, eventually, the boss appears for that world. Win and move on to the next chapter, die and lose most of the resources you’ve collected to that point. However, you can escape the loop back at the start, ending it before the boss arrives.
Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon – Yacht Club Games and Vine
It’s crazy to me that Shovel Knight originally released all the way back in 2014 and yet, the character is not only still going strong with expansions, but the IP is crossing over into other indie titles as well as completely new genres. Cut to Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon, a collaboration between Yacht Club and Vine and a game that I had no idea was a thing until like days before it launched.
Essentially a roguelike, dungeon crawler, puzzle game, players control Shovel Knight (or a ton of unlockable character each with their own playstyles) as they move through iconic locations trying to defeat enemies while keeping the puzzle board clear. It’s fun, frantic, and surprisingly, has an interesting story that seemingly reveals a little more each time you die and are sent back to your camp. Plus, the game comes with a ton of different modes if you want a break from the main Adventure.
Psychonauts 2 – Double Fine
This may be a bit controversial for some of you since Double Fine is now owned by Microsoft, but if you follow the development history, Psychonauts 2 has been in development much longer than Microsoft’s acquisition. In fact, prior to that, the game had all sorts of ups, downs, and delays, so there was plenty of hardship in addition to success prior to getting big money backing. Long story short, Double Fine was deep into development before Microsoft appeared at their door.
I don’t have a lot of familiarity with the original game so I’d imagine longtime fans would get a bit more out of it than newcomers like me, but what I played was phenomenal. The platforming felt great, characters memorable, and being able to constantly get a little stronger through upgrades was just spot on.
Splitgate – 1047 Games
While this has been available in Early Access on PC, in 2021 it finally arrived on consoles which is when I checked it out since it is free to play. The best way to describe this game is that it feels like a love letter to the classic Bungie produced Halo games. The modes, maps, and most importantly, the gunplay feel ripped out of time in the best way possible.
However, instead of stopping there, Splitgate adds a very unique twist. In addition to running and gunning as you’d expect, players have a portal gun which can not only be used for traversal, but setting up some crazy kills in a match. It’s unique and just a ton of fun.
And my favorite 2021 small/indie game is….
Congrats to Tim Schafer and the Double Fine team for really knocking out of the park with this one.
I was massively impressed with the game’s narrative ability to toe the line between humor and heart. I was surprised at the messages present in the game as each of the levels felt so hand crafted and wonderful. Bob’s Bottles was a particular standout and the fact that the game was able to address mature topics like mental health without being preachy or in your face was a major plus. Overall, art, sound, and gameplay came together beautifully to make an experience that everyone should check out.