I think it’s a necessary disclaimer for this one to say that my playthroughs of 2019 indies were pretty light. I played a lot of older games and, as during over half of the year I was dealing with personal matters, set aside quite a bit of reviewing and saved many of my new releases for later. As such, I can’t in any good conscience call it a “best of the year” list – instead, it’s a tidy little summary of some releases this year that I had a lot of fun with, and would like to pass a recommendation on for.
Song of Horror (Protocol Games)
True atmospheric horror often gets lost behind the easy horror approach of sending demons and zombies and ghouls chasing the player around. You won’t find yourself chased by the undead in Song of Horror, but you certainly are being hunted. Referred to as the Presence, an entity lurks within the walls of the Husher mansion. You never quite see it, but you know it’s there. You’ll have to make your way safely through the house by listening, following clues, and making smart choices – an atmosphere that quickly puts the player right in the shoes of their character. The AI also pays attention to your playstyle and adapts to it, making for a refreshingly tailored experience.
This smart, unsettling game features several playable characters alongside the threat of permadeath. As you choose different characters, you’ll get different bits of information, and a slightly different experience. Knowing I could lose a character at any moment ensured I tried to make smart choices and added to the horror of trying to stay alive when the Presence could be behind any door. Alongside an excellent, suffocating atmosphere, Song of Horror features some of the most incredible sound design I’ve ever heard – it was like truly making your way through an abandoned mansion. Overall, it was definitely my favourite spooky game this year and an incredible experience.
Find it on: PC
This spiritual successor to Momodora breaks away from the previous series’ signature pixelated style, featuring some gorgeous storybook-esque artwork and design, alongside an expectedly stunning soundtrack. Instead of difficulty levels, Minoria adds in a level system. You can play through without worrying too much about leveling up, if you’re good enough with dodging and parrying. If you’re having trouble, kill some enemies and work your way up to a more manageable attack and defense. I like this approach to difficulty – Minoria still features a battle system that relies more on skill than being able to brute force your way through a fight, but allows players to put in some work to ease up the difficulty just a bit.
The ruined locations, now mostly empty of human life, are haunting and beautiful, and occasionally as creepy as any horror game. I loved Minoria’s style and its fluid gameplay, and look forward to picking it up again.
Find it on: PC
Fit for a King (Kitfox Games)
Fit for a King is smart, funny, and – at times – bizarrely silly. This Henry VIII simulator puts you in charge of the kingdom. At first you won’t be able to do much, but there are tons of little secrets hidden in the world, and plenty to explore. Your end goal is to put on a grand display that will shame your rival, King Frank, back to France, but what you do and how you do it is entirely up to you. You can marry or execute nearly anyone – I learned the hard way that M would propose marriage and no one would say no, landing me with a grand total of 8 husbands and wives. You can reform the church and spend money and go to another country to try to charm the princess there. It’s a marvelous little sandbox to play in, with plenty of great references and surprises.
One of my favourite details about the game is that it’s designed to be able to run on just about any computer – you won’t have to worry about heavy graphics or even colour. Fit for a King is accessible to just about anyone. What legacy will you leave behind?
Find it on: PC
Mutazione (Die Gut Fabrik)
Mutazione’s small-town charm had me hooked as early on as the demo, and the final release was just as lovely. Playing the teenage Kai, you’ll adventure to a small place far from home to try and help your grandfather. You’ll do a lot of reading, choice-making, and gardening in this slow, atmospheric journey, making it one of the most calming games I’ve ever played. But what really caught my heart with Mutazione is how much it feels like stepping into small village life.
Small towns have a whole different feel from cities. The way the communities and relationships develop is surprisingly intimate – everyone knows everyone. Nights and evenings are safe for wandering. And, of course, newcomers are extra noticeable. Uncovering the mysteries and love stories and histories of these people had an extra emotional punch to it. There’s something extra special about creating a village that feels so real to step into.
Find it on: PC, PS4
Sky Racket (Double Dash Studios)
Sky Racket is an explosion of fun, fantasy, and colour that’s honestly just so enjoyable to jump into. It features intuitive controls, a variety of gorgeous stages, and plenty of silly details (wait till you see the tentacle banana monster – yes, I did just say that). While it’s quite light on story, the game brings a fun, fresh playstyle in – what you’ll find here is a combination between shoot-em-ups and block breakers that works perfectly and feels really spectacular when you can pull off clearing a stage.
Sky Racket’s colourful arcade imagery and energetic soundtrack should strike a chord with any gamer longing for the old nintendo days. Even better, it features a two-player mode so you can partner up with your favourite teammate and save the galaxy together!
Find it on: PC
If you’re looking for some new titles to snag during holiday sales, these are all great bets to check into! If you get something else you really like, feel free to recommend it to us! For now, I’m off for the holidays, and I’ll be back January 6th with our first Order Up! of the year – a look at my most anticipated indie games of 2020!
Order Up! is a weekly column featuring indie-focused reviews, news, or interviews! We like old games just as much as new ones and are always looking for something to check out. Have a game recommendation, a project, or a company you want to talk about? Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @ArcanaChance