Holiday buying guide for indie games

We track down games that shun big publisher support and present the best indie games of the holiday period.

Holiday buying guide for indie games

It’s that time of year again: when all of the big publishers race to get their big-budget games on shelves and dazzle players with marketing campaigns to make you buy their game over the competition. The thing is, there’s also a lot of quality indie titles that don’t have the benefit of publisher support or AAA budgets. That said, this year is as big as it’s ever been for indie games, with dozens of titles, across genres, on my list of holiday games that have been released since the beginning of September.

I’ve separated this buying guide into genres to make things a bit easier. To see the first category, open-world games, just click here , and the second for strategy games can be found right here, while the third category for shooters is here. For the fourth category, Xbox One games that can be streamed to Windows 10 devices, click here .

In terms of the fifth and final category, I had an epic short list of indie games that I’ve managed to whittle down to the best of the bunch… but that’s still 20 titles long, so less of me being verbose per title, and more of a succinct round-up for each game to give you an idea of which ones may be of interest. From order of release, here we go.

Do you like scary games? Then the chances are good you’ll like Soma. It’s made by Frictional Games, the same twisted developer behind the original Amnesia game, and it blurs a sci-fi setting with good old-fashioned scares on the bottom of the ocean. There’s even a creepy story buried in the depths here, too.

Assault Android Cactus
Twin-stick shooters are back in a big way, but you’ll struggle to find a better offering than the frantic and relentless pace of Assault Android Cactus. Pick from nine heroes with different abilities and blast your way through increasingly challenging levels alone or in local co-op. It’s Aussie-made, too, so you’re supporting the local industry by buying it.

80 Days
This quirky indie titles meshes RPG sensibilities with an adventure foundation and challenges you to manage resources in a 19th century world with a steampunk twist. It may not feel like much of a game at first, but 80 Days will draw you in with its charm and challenge you at the same time.

Ninja Pizza Girl
You’ll have to overlook some annoying bugs to enjoy the true beauty of this game, but Ninja Pizza Girl tackles the topic of teenage bullying with a protagonist who’s a part-time pizza deliverer and full-time badass ninja. It’s not a particularly challenging platformer, but the core message and straightforward gameplay are well worth a slice.

Prison Architect
It may look like another 8-bit cash-in, but Prison Architect has a lot of depth beneath its core, simplistic visual palette. The best news is you don’t have to dig for too long to discover a rich wealth of gameplay and the possibility for a whole lot of replayability from this modestly priced indie title whose title tells you exactly what to expect.

Read Only Memories
Old-school sensibilities merge with contemporary ideas in an engaging cyberpunk adventure that has a sci-fi setting but feels like an incredibly human story. There’s a big emphasis on characters and storytelling, which helps to make up for the reality that it may feel a tad short (but that’s probably exacerbated by the reality that the game world is so engaging).

Beyond Sol
Buy into the addictive gameplay formula of Beyond Sol to overlook some of the more repetitive tasks. Beyond this, Beyond Sol splices city building, resource management, grand strategy and combat together in a neat sci-fi package that can be enjoyed alone or in multiplayer.

The 8-bit trend persists in the memorable indie space, except for Brofroce that translates to an insane Metal Slug-like action platformer. Broforce uses ’80s action icons as the hero ‘Bro’ characters, which pokes fun at the over-the-top action movies of yesteryear, while providing incredibly addictive action-packed gameplay. Broforce is served best with a friend, but that will make it feel even shorter than what it is.

Rebel Galaxy
Take control of a sci-fi capital ship in this insanely customisable open-world title that has the potential to offer hundreds of hours of gameplay. It’s part Firefly, a slice of Homeworld, a touch of Freelancer, a pinch of Sid Meier’s Pirates, and a little bit of Black Flag thrown in for good measure. In short: it’s great.

Chaos Reborn
When the developer warns you that “superb RNG management skills [are] required”, you know the kind of hardcore strategy player Chaos Reborn is targeting. If that’s you, you’ll find a deep tactical title that can be played alone, or cooperatively; you can even invade other people’s games for the ultimate challenge.

On the surface, Galak-Z looks like another top-down 2D space combat game, but the accessible controls and simplistic presentation mask a wealth of depth. Galak-Z has an anime presentation atop an open-world action title that involves procedurally generated worlds and some clever AI.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth 3
No, that’s not a semicolon typo in the title, but it is a clear sign that this is a game for fans of JRPG adventures. There are hundreds of hours of gameplay here, with challenging gameplay and a bigger emphasis on dialogue and comedy than previous entries.

Bulb Boy
At its core, Bulb Boy is a point-and-click adventure, but with your first look at the distinct visual flair and it’s a whole lot more. You’ll have to best nightmarish monsters and solve puzzles in a game that’s easy to wrap your head around and tricky to master.

Knight Squad
The developer unapologetically describes Knight Squad as Gauntlet meets Bomberman, and that’s exactly what you should expect. You can play by yourself, but it’s really meant to be played with local or online players (up to eight) in chaotic party modes that will entertain as much as they strain friendships.

Thea: The Awakening
Some more turn-based love for fans of tactical gameplay. Thea: The Awakening splices turn-based tactics with survival mechanics in a procedurally generated fantasy world. MuHa Games has created an incredible game world with a compelling game narrative and deep gameplay systems.

The creators of Magicka have created one hell of a game in Helldivers, especially if you’re a fan of games that continually kick the heck out of you and yet entice you to come back for more. Protect yourself from waves of seemingly never-ending hordes in local or online co-op, with full friendly fire across procedurally generated levels that plays like Starship Troopers in fast-forward.

Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign-
It’s been a pretty light year for fans of head-to-head fighting games, but one of the best has been saved for the end of 2015. Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- is a 2D fighter with beautiful stylistic 3D graphics, and requires combatants to have fast reactions and a cool head to come out on top. If you’re into fighters, get into this.

Simple Planes
If you used to (or still do) build model-kit planes as a kid, the nostalgic allure of Simple Planes is almost impossible to ignore. Jump into the cockpit of more than 100,000 pre-built planes, or customise your own as you snap together a flyer comprised of a variety of engines, wings, and every other part that keeps a plane in the air. When you’re done, head to the heavens to see how well it flies, or whether it flies at all.

Turok Remastered
Back when the FPS genre was laughable on consoles and reigned supreme on PC, two N64 titles dared to defy the trend. The first was GoldenEye 007, and the other was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Turok is now available as a remastered version on Steam (it’s even on special right now), and it’s even better than the original fog-simulator on N64 with all of the trappings you’d expect from the ‘Remastered’ classification.

Winner: Rebel Galaxy
Honourable mention: Simple Planes

This is, of course, my personal opinion of the indie category. If you agree or disagree with my final decision or anything above, be sure to let me know in the comments section below. Also, if there are any must-buy indie games released since September, share the love in the comments, too.

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