Remember like a decade ago, when it seemed like indie games weren’t indie games unless they were
self-indulgent tripe “unique experiences” that employed shallow “minimalistic” gameplay and shoehorned pretentious cliches into their freshmen-level storylines “expressed the artistic visions of their auteur creators in their groundbreaking narratives?”
Thank merciful heavens those days are (mostly) behind us. It seems as of the last couple of years, indie games have realized the novel concept that video games should have some sense of fun about them. Lo and behold, indie games have been all the better for it. Shocker, I know.
Yes, it seems like once indie games removed that giant stick out of their collective ass and stopped looking down their nose at other games, they actually started to deserve the praise that was thrown their way. The pompous self-insistence of the likes of Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish are now but a bad memory. Long live the Shovel Knights of the world.
In short, indie games are pretty great these days. 2018 was no exception, and saw some excellent indie titles. Which one was best?
I struggled between choosing Celeste or Deltarune: Chapter 1 as my best indie game of 2018. Deltarune is certainly shaping up to be a great follow-up to Undertale, but seeing as what we have of the game so far is just the first part of a game that may or may not be finished in the next few years, I decided to go with Celeste.
Celeste is a truly clever puzzle-platoformer that makes use of a few simple key mechanics: jump, dash, wall jump. It sounds simple, but like the best platformers, Celeste has so many creative ideas up its sleeve that these simplistic elements end up being the only tools it needs to build a great game.
Much like a certain plumber’s classic adventures, Celeste features some remarkably clever level design, with new ideas, twists and gimmicks added into the mix at every turn, which showcases the true depth of its seemingly simple design.
True, the storyline – though emotional – does feel a little disconnected from the game itself, both Celeste’s gameplay and narrative halves prove memorable. And the things this game has to say (mainly focused on anxiety disorders) are certainly more meaningful than the forced commentaries of the indie scene of yesteryear.
In a time when indie gaming has produced some all-time greats, Celeste proves to be one of the best of the lot.
Runner-up: Deltarune: Chapter 1
2014: Shovel Knight
2016: Stardew Valley
3 thoughts on “Video Game Awards 2019: Best Indie Game”
Yeah, how the gaming press treats the indie scene nowadays is really weird. If you were to take their writings at face value, you’d get the impression the late 2000s/early 2010s was a halcyon period for indies when that manifestly isn’t the case at all. It seems like the exact second developers started making stuff the average person would actually want to play, journalists dropped the indie scene like a hot potato. To be completely fair, it could be attributed to the fact that there are just so many more indie games now than there were then, but it’s still terrible how these talented developers struggle to get a second look from critics just because they don’t dance to their tune. Every single triumph the indie scene has had in the past few years is because of the gamers themselves – journalists, focusing more on poorly researched clickbait features, have had practically nothing to do with them.
For that matter, I also have to remark that where the indie film scene is now reminds me a lot where the indie gaming scene was at the beginning of the decade – the boringly pretentious, audience-hostile fare A24 regularly doles out really wouldn’t feel out of place next to Braid or Limbo with critics accepting their flaws as features rather than calling them out for what they are. None of those critics seem willing to accept that the indie gaming scene became better once they dropped the very unappealing “indie ego” and began focusing on the games themselves. My guess is that critics mistake the “indie ego” for the (often tyrannical) practices of certain directors considered auteurs, but it’s not something gaming needs because the medium is and always has been at its best when it marches to the beat of its own drum. I can only hope that films follow suit one day.
This brings us to Celeste. I don’t think I would’ve heard of it had you and the other people in this blogosphere not been talking about it at length, but I’m glad all of you did because it really is a well-designed game. It’s interesting playing it after having experienced Mr. Thorson’s earlier works such as Jumper and Dim because I can see a clear evolutionary path between those games and Celeste. It really is quite the journey and I’m glad to have witnessed it every step of the way. Plus, as you say, it really helps that Celeste touches upon its themes in a very personable way; it’s almost like connecting with your audience is a good thing or something (hope you’re taking notes, Paul Schrader!).
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I think the most impressive thing I’ve heard about this game is how it handles anxiety and other mental health issues in a respectable mannner, a 2D platformer of all things.
I think the full version of Dead Cells dropped this year and that’s the only indie game I recall playing in 2019, it was pretty good!
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