“Indie” is a pretty nebulous term in that it doesn’t give you a clue as to what type of gameplay you’re in for. Indie titles can be puzzle, action, adventure, or even something that doesn’t fit snugly into an established genre. This is the true joy of indie as, free from the constraints of publishers worrying over the mass-marketability of their product, the small development teams that create these games are able to explore, transform, manipulate, and hybridize the gaming medium in whatever ways most interest them.
While many indie games suffer from the same problems as their AAA peers, getting mired down in retreaded subject material and clichéd mechanics, the most interesting titles recognize their freedom and show no fear in taking advantage of it. To me, the qualifier of “indie” should indicate that I’m in for a unique and inventive experience. So here’s Hardcore Droid’s list of the games most representative of that so far in 2013:
Super Hexagon ($2.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4.8
While it was originally released for iOS and Windows last year, Terry Cavanagh’s near-perfect action-twitch game, Super Hexagon, didn’t make its way to Android until January 2013. Being designed almost entirely by one guy (though the awesome soundtrack by Chipzel is definitely also of note), it’s about as independent as it gets. The extremely streamlined gameplay means your only controls are left and right as you’re tasked with navigating a tiny triangle through ever encroaching geometric shapes. It’s simple, fast-paced, brilliant, and addictive. This isn’t just one of the best indie games of the year for the Android; it’s simply one of the best action games ever, period. Seriously, I’m still playing this sucker to this very day.
They Need To Be Fed 2 ($1.95 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4.2
This game follows the plight of a little dude navigating his way through a gravity-less land with the goal of sacrificing himself to be a meal for a Venus-flytrap-looking monster at the end of each level. Building upon the easy-to-grasp platforming concepts of the first game, They Need To Be Fed 2 adds seeds that let you grow plants that propel you elsewhere in each level. The ease of the initial sampling of levels belies the challenging gameplay to come, featuring some really hardcore objectives for completists. And it all just looks so darn charming, too.
Finding Teddy ($3.50 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4
Though arguably not as fiercely bizarre or quite as engrossing as last year’s stellar Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Finding Teddy is a point-and-click adventure that more than holds its own. Feeling not unlike a combination of all that has defined indie up until this point (pixel graphics á la Superbrothers and Fez; grisly deaths like in Limbo; minimalist music as in… tons of indie games), Finding Teddy still accomplishes a beautiful and unique experience. It even has puzzles based around characters talking by way of musical notes, which, for old people like me, triggers comforting flashbacks of Loom.
The Traveler ($0.99 in Google Play Store; free version also available)
HD Score – 4
I’m amazed The Traveler is as good as it is. I have a bitter relationship with interactive fiction and have grown gradually more dubious that it’s even a relevant genre any longer. However, The Traveler avoids many of the issues that tend to crop up in interactive fiction, largely by just having a straight-up actually good storyline. Basically just pages of text with radio buttons at the bottom of each, the presentation is about as bare bones as it gets. But it’s the story that’s the star here. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic future, it follows a protagonist obeying the commands of a mysterious voice coming from an electronic box. And it’s awesome.
HD Score – 4
In PUK, all you do as a timer ticks down is launch pucks at circles in a series of setups chucked at you randomly each time you begin a new game. With orange backgrounds and distorted, minimalist music and sound effects, the game is strangely otherworldly. PUK almost feels like a casual game, but its challenge and addictiveness raise it up to another level.
The Room ($1.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4
The Room is another game that was out last year, but not available to Android gamers until 2013. It’s a very focused first-person adventure puzzler in which the player must solve consecutive puzzles in an effort to open an extremely complicated box. It’s a gorgeous looking and incredibly detailed game, made all the more impressive by the fact that you’re pretty much staring at a box the whole time. It’s got cool, creepy music and even a bit of a storyline told through journal pages that you uncover.
Scribblenauts Remix ($0.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4
This is something of a merging of the two Scribblenauts titles on the Nintendo DS. The conceit is that you can type in any object you can think of (not to mention modify it with most adjectives) and it will materialize before you instantly thanks to the game’s surprisingly exhaustive knowledge of the English language. Essentially the most open-ended adventure game ever, Scribblenauts Remix ends up being rather on the easy side, but it’s still undeniably fun to mess about with its sandbox gameplay that’s flexible enough to react appropriately to nearly every linguistic whim you might have.
NightSky ($4.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 3.8
This is a lovely puzzle-platformer starring a glowing sphere that you roll through a series of attractive dreamscapes. NightSky does an incredible job of building upon its concepts, introducing inventive new twists in each level. It also, unexpectedly, even follows a subtle narrative. There’s a lot of content here too as, once you complete the original levels, there’s a mode featuring harder, revamped versions of all of them. NightSky can be occasionally buggy, but it’s generally solid.
Astro Shark ($0.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 3.8
This game follows the story of a flying shark (who looks like a whale) in pursuit of an enemy who kidnapped his dogfriend and rocketed off into space with him. The shark orbits around planets trying to catch up with the culprits with murderous rockets constantly on his tail. I have a love-hate relationship with this game. It’s hugely addictive and worth trying because it’s so relentlessly challenging. Just try not to lose your cool and throw your phone.
Hero of Many ($3.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 3.5
An extremely simple to control sort-of action, sort-of puzzle game, Hero of Many puts you in the shoes (or lack thereof) of a little circular blob and his army of what very much appear to be sperms as they attempt to overcome evil shadow sperms in an underwater world. Another surprisingly story-based game (it even has cut scenes), Hero of Many tells an endearing, wordless narrative that quite honestly overstays its welcome a little bit. On later levels, some phones (like my Galaxy Nexus) may suffer some crippling slowdown, but it’s a title definitely worth a look, if you’ve got a device that can hack it.