Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Top Ten Xbox One Indie Games of 2016

2016 was an interesting year for me when it comes to gaming.  I wasn’t really much of an indie game fan when the year started, but after decided to let me go after 11-years I went head first into indie games because no one else was really covering them all that well and I’ve discovered a world of great under appreciated indie games that are among some of the best games I’ve ever played.  Likewise, I’m not really much of a retro gamer, yet 6/10 of my Top 10 games are retro styled.  I also wouldn’t consider myself all that into “difficult” games, yet several of the games on this list are games other gamers / reviewers deemed too difficult, yet I beat them with relative ease.  See, it was a weird year full of changes for me.  With that background out of the way, here are my picks for my Top 10 Xbox One Indie Games of 2016.

Just a note, some of these games appeared on other platformers in 2015 but they came to Xbox One in 2016 so they qualify.

Also, if you see a game you like, why not pick up an Xbox Gift Card at Amazon and buy it.  It'd really help us out if  you do.

#10 - Party Hard –  

Your next-door neighbors are throwing a loud party, but instead of having a rational conversation about it, you kill everyone instead.  That is the crux of Party Hard.  If the game featured realistic graphics and took itself too seriously it would just be gross and wrong, but by keeping things light with a twisted sense of humor and using a retro visual style, Party Hard lets you enjoy the mass murder without feeling guilty about it.  It doesn’t glorify the killing and instead is more a stealth / puzzle game where working your way through the various parties without getting caught is the satisfying part, not the act of killing folks.  In the end I loved almost everything about Party Hard.  I love the visuals and great thumping electronic soundtrack and the gameplay is challenging and enjoyable.  It is also pretty ridiculously funny, especially when playing with friends.  Party Hard is totally fresh and unique and fun and another memorable experience on Xbox One in 2016. 

#9 - Stories of Bethem: Full Moon –  

Stories of Bethem: Full Moon is the type of oldschool sprite-based 16-bit action RPG I’ve been dreaming of since Square Enix and everyone else decided to masquerade interactive CG movies as RPGs over the last 20-years.  The visuals and music hit that pitch-perfect 16-bit style and the gameplay, which leans more toward a Zelda-style action RPG, is a ton of fun.  I also really love the sense of humor in the game and the Red Witch character in particular is hilarious (she really, really takes a liking to your character, if you know what I mean).  The whole package is just full of 16-bit RPG love that I couldn’t get enough of.  Stories of Bethem: Full Moon is one of the great underrated and under appreciated games of 2016.  Watch our Stories of Bethem: Full Moon video review.

#8 - Slain: Back from Hell –  

Slain: Back from Hell is an oldschool gothic horror Castlevania-style 2D action platformer where you play as a resurrected hero tasked with killing demon lords while awesome heavy metal music plays.  If that was just a list of some of your favorite things, like it is for me, Slain is a perfect throwback action game.  It can be very, very difficult – one boss fight in particular took me two hours and a couple dozen tries – but it is extremely satisfying and fun when you pull through a fight by the skin of your teeth and march on towards whatever horror the game throws at you next.  It is undeniably brutally tough, but generally fair and I had a great time with it.  I also really love the visuals and awesome metal soundtrack.  Slain: Back from Hell will test your skills and your patience, but it is a worthwhile challenge that really stood out this year.

#7 - Rocket League – 

The best sports game of the year isn’t Madden or FIFA, it’s Rocket League, a game where you play soccer (or basketball) with cars.  The core concept is simple – use your car to hit a ball around a field and try to score goals – but it is perfectly executed and incredibly intuitive and accessible and a ton of fun.  It is also incredibly satisfying because the skill ceiling is pretty ridiculously high.  It is one of those games that is easy to learn, but hard to master, and putting in the time to really get good at it is very rewarding.  Rocket League is also noteworthy because of the steady stream of free content and updates that have been released that include new arenas to play in as well as brand new gameplay modes like a basketball mode or a crazy battle mode with items.  Vanilla Rocket League was already something truly great and special and it has only gotten better with all of the free updates.  For sheer bang for your buck fun, Rocket League can’t be topped.  Watch us play Rocket League on YouTube.

#6 - Hyper Light Drifter – 

Take one part Dark Souls, mix with one part oldschool Legend of Zelda, and then color it with a neon highlighter set and you pretty much have Hyper Light Drifter.  This retro-style action RPG is brutally difficult, but once you get the hang of the mechanics of dodging enemy attacks and darting in to get your own hits in it is one of the most fun and satisfying games of the year.  One of the most interesting things about Hyper Light Drifter is that your character doesn’t really ever get stronger or powered up over the course of the game, but rather your skills as the player improve as you play so it feels “easier” while not actually being easier.  It respects your growth as a player and rewards your skills like few other games can and I really love that.  It also looks crazy awesome with a distinct visual style and is accompanied by a great soundtrack.  Hyper Light Drifter’s extreme difficulty might not be for everyone, but for those that can “git gud” it is one of the best games of 2016.

#5 - Stardew Valley – 

Taking cues from the beloved Harvest Moon franchise, Stardew Valley is a 16-bit-style farming RPG that is one of the most addictive games of 2016.  The best part is that it gives you a lot of options for things to do so you never have to do one thing for too long.  Raising crops is kind of tedious, so why not go fishing, or fight monsters and dig up treasure in the mines, or romance someone in town, or get crazy into landscaping and turn your farm into a beautiful manicured garden?  Anything is a viable option and it is all pretty darn fun.  Stardew Valley is the type of game that just eats time, too, as you can play for hours and it feels like no time has passed at all.  Rounding it all off are very appealing 16-bit visuals and an awesome soundtrack.  Stardew Valley has consumed me since release and will likely keep hold of me well into 2017, too.

#4 - Axiom Verge - 

This will surely be a controversial statement, but here goes – Axiom Verge is better than Super Metroid.  Super Metroid is great, no doubt, but Axiom Verge flat out plays better thanks to far superior and more precise controls and the benefit of being able to look back at 20+ years of game design progress since Super Metroid was released and improve upon it.  The result is that Axiom Verge perfectly captures the 2D “Metroidvania” feel with outstanding gameplay, gorgeous 16-bit style visuals, and one of the best soundtracks of the year.  It is also deviously challenging in some parts which makes beating those level sections or boss fights all the more satisfying.  Axiom Verge is just pure oldschool-style gameplay fun that rocks.

#3 - Abzu - 

Easily the most beautiful looking indie game of 2016 is the underwater adventure Abzu.  The game is seriously gorgeous and is paired with an amazingly perfect soundtrack that makes Abzu look and sound as close to Disney’s “Fantasia” as any game I’ve ever seen.  It is another game with a mysterious story that you’re left to figure out for yourself, but swimming around underwater and observing all of the various fish species in the great looking environments while that wonderful music plays is an enjoyable experience all on its own.  Abzu is also filled with fantastic little moments where you’re whisked along in the current, or can interact with a school of fish, or catch a ride on the fin of a whale that are just absolutely incredible.  I think that, most importantly, Abzu is a game that you want to share with other people.  Non-gamers will stop and watch because it is so beautiful.  Kids will love it because it is so playful and has so many magical moments.  Abzu is simply awesome.  

#2 - Inside - 

Coming in at a close second is Playdead’s INSIDE.  I honestly don’t like Playdead’s previous title, Limbo, very much even though other folks liked it a lot, but INSIDE does everything Limbo did 100x better and is an absolutely phenomenal experience.  INSIDE is a 2D cinematic puzzle platformer where your character, a nameless kid that looks like Troy from “Final Sacrifice”, breaks into a creepy facility for unknown reasons.  Why is he doing it?  What is the facility for?  No one knows.  You just do it because it’s a videogame and it’s fun and you can draw your own conclusions at the end.  And what an ending it is, too!  INSIDE has easily one of the craziest finales of any game we played in 2016, but it is more than just that shocking ending that makes it great.  The puzzles are perfectly designed and satisfying to solve.  The gameplay feels great and is absolutely precise.  The presentation is also ridiculously good both in visuals and sound.  It took Playdead 5-years to make INSIDE and the amount of thought and care and polish that went into every single aspect of it is easy to see.  INSIDE is great and easily one of the best games 2016.  Watch our full INSIDE LP on YouTube.

#1 GOTY - Firewatch - 

Some might say games like Firewatch are boring because you don’t get to shoot stuff and there isn’t much action, but I’ve become a huge fan of so-called “walking sims” in 2016 and Firewatch really stood out as my favorite.  Perhaps it is because I live in the Pacific Northwest and love being outdoors in exactly the type of natural setting the game takes place in, but Firewatch really spoke to me.  Not only do you get to explore a sizable chunk of beautiful mountain wilderness, but the relationship that builds between your character, Henry, and the mysterious voice on the radio from the watchtower across the valley, Delilah, is real and genuine and awesome.  I also quite like the fact that the story is actually grounded in cold hard reality and doesn’t go all crazy and fantastical.  I love the presentation.  I love exploring nature.  I love the story and character relationships.  I love just about everything about Firewatch and it is my 2016 Xbox One Indie Game of the Year.