The 2019 Indie Game of the Year
Every year we see more creativity in the games we play. Storytelling and gameplay continue to evolve, and indie games are evolving, too. We now see more unique and interesting experiences on a more frequent basis than ever before, and a lot of those experiences are coming from smaller teams. Selecting just one game to award the Indie Game of the Year title to was a tall task. So before we get to the winner, let's take a look at a few other titles that made an impact and were well worth playing this year.
It's impossible to talk about every single great indie that was released in 2019, but it's worth giving a nod to those titles that delivered incredible experiences. Wargroove scratched that itch left by Advance Wars with a highly polished strategy adventure of its own. Baba Is You allowed players to solve its many puzzles by rewiring the levels and game mechanics using block-pushing commands. Heave Ho provided hilarious multiplayer fun with its physics-based platforming gameplay. Then there was Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a true successor to Castlevania that captured that franchise's classic magic.
One of the most attention-grabbing indies of 2019 married Nintendo's famed Zelda franchise with Crypt of the Necrodancer in Cadence of Hyrule. Speaking of Zelda, Forager utilized a similar overworld to that of A Link to the Past, but it turned the formula on its head by introducing grinding and idle-esque mechanics while still offering players plenty of dungeons to explore, resources to manage and cultivate, and bosses to defeat.
Runner-Up: Ape Out (Gabe Cuzzillo, Bennett Foddy, Matt Boch)
Released earlier in the year, it would be an injustice if Ape Out was lost in the shuffle. Escaping facilities and taking on armed enemies is a blast in this explosive game. You'd be surprised just how much variety there is in the level design. While the escaping ape never gets to wield weapons, he can use enemies as human shields, which prompts them to also fire shots that you can use to eliminate other threats. Or you can just use your brutish strength to hurl baddies into each other, splatter them against walls, or toss them out windows.
Ape Out isn't just fun — it's also extremely challenging. Add to the awesome gameplay a sick art style and cool, jazzy music, and you've got a recipe for one of 2019's best action games.
Runner-Up: Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince (Frozenbyte)
The fourth entry in Frozenbyte's puzzle-platform series, Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince, is an absolute masterpiece. Filled with fun puzzles that provide just the perfect amount of challenge, the game is wonderfully paced and keeps you hooked the entire time. It's also incredible to look at, with beautiful, charming, colorful graphics. If you've yet to see what the Trine series is all about, there's no better time to jump in than now. Trine 4 is a standard bearer for puzzle-platformers and a must-play.
Runner-Up: Outer Wilds (Annapurna Interactive)
It's a special type of game that encourages players to jump into its world and just take everything in. Outer Wilds is an anomaly because it has such a big, mysterious collection of planets, but it runs on a 22-minute timer. What you get is a game that's chock full of secrets and marvels, but there's a sense of impending doom as the world's sun goes supernova, so you're tempted to see and do everything before the world blows up. Then you start over and do it all again, now with newfound knowledge of the world and its many wonders.
There are no big action moments in Outer Wilds. You're not running and gunning, and you're not taking down baddies and bosses. Instead, the game focuses heavily on exploration. Outer Wilds is certainly not for everyone, but for those who check out, you're in store for something unlike anything else that's out there.
Runner-Up: Disco Elysium (ZA/UM)
Just like Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium isn't about shooting your way through the game's story. You may be an amnesiac cop who's just gone through a three-day bender, but you're not going into any of the game's encounters guns blazing. Instead, you're interacting with people, building character traits, and talking your way out of — and in some cases into — tough situations.
The world of Disco Elysium is replete with great characters and dialogue. There are funny moments, and there are emotional scenes. The game does a great job of creating a multifaceted world, and it's a true testament to storytelling, character evolution, and world-building.
Runner-Up: Neo Cab (Chance Agency)
One of the best stories of the year — in any medium — comes courtesy of Neo Cab. Set in a futuristic world where automated transportation is the norm, the game follows Lina, the last human ride sharing service driver. While struggling with her personal beliefs and feelings toward automated transportation, Lina is also trying to rebuild a long lost friendship. As if that wasn't enough, the friend in question goes missing shortly after the two reunite.
Along the way, Lina encounters many characters whose unique stories range from highly emotional to somewhat strange. It's through these encounters that Neo Cab tells its story, and that story is filled with realistic dialogue that doesn't read like a script, but rather personal journal entries. It's rare when a game can make its dialogue feel grounded in the real world, but that's exactly what Neo Cab does, and it's what sets its story and characters apart from other narrative adventure games.
Winner: My Friend Pedro (DeadToast Entertainment)
The action is fast and intense in My Friend Pedro, a surrealist 2.5D shoot 'em up that's full of slow-motion acrobatics, high-pressure shootouts, and awesome level design. There's a pleasant degree of absurdity here — you're friends with a talking banana — but it all plays into the game's bizarre world really well. When you're not engaging in tough encounters against armed thugs in slums, warehouses, and other urban environments, you're taking on bad dudes in weird, dream-like levels filled with bouncy, floating platforms.
You simply can't discredit My Friend Pedro by simply focusing on what it makes strange, though, even if that is a part of its charm. For as offbeat as this title may be, it's also mechanically sound, delivering some of the most satisfying shooting gameplay in any game of 2019, indie or triple-A.
My Friend Pedro also does a remarkable job of walking a fine line between difficult and inviting. Yes, the game is hard, but it gives you plenty of tools to succeed. In addition, every single level in the game is an absolute joy to play, with no duds to be found in the mix.
DeadToast Entertainment provided a perfect blend of shooting and style with My Friend Pedro. This is easily one of the best action games of the year. It's one of those “WTF” games that's kind of insane, but there's a method to its madness. In a year stacked with both great indie games and awesome action games in general, My Friend Pedro is at the top of its class.