IndieCade 2012 was home to some of the most thought-provoking, bizarre, innovative and downright fun games we’ve seen in awhile—from work-in-development demos to games that have been looking for audiences for up to a year now. Games on display also included some staples of the 2012 indie game landscape such as Journey, Beat Sneak Bandit, and Dyad—all of which are beautiful independent games that have thrived in the independent game community (see the full list of nominees).
Each deserve special recognition and are thriving examples of the kind of creative energy that exists in independent game movement right now. These 10 games surprised us and sparked hope for the future of the movement. If you’re curious to see where videogames are heading, keep your eye on these 10 games and developers from IndieCade 2012:
by molleindustria for PC
Release: ">Available Now
The winner of the Grand Jury Award this year, this experimental split screen action game took some big risks in both its thematic materials and its gameplay mechanics. Unmanned has you playing the scenes of the life of a drone-strike pilot—from shaving in the morning and driving to work to actually performing the drone strikes on unidentified targets. The way the game treats this very sensitive subject is undoubtedly heavy-handed—but we found it hard to walk away from the game unaffected by the experience.
by DrinkBox Studios for PSN and PS Vita
Release: Q1 2013
This 2D Metroidvania beat-em-up was definitely one of the most polished and fully-featured games we got to play at IndieCade this year. The art style was smooth and Saturday-morning-worthy, as were its whimsical play mechanics. It’s the kind of independent game that is as accessible to jump into as it is unique and full of character. It’s the kind that that will immediately be heralded as the next big thing—and with a level of polish this high, rightfully so.
by Nyamyam for iPad
Tengami might not have the deep gameplay mechanics to make it a “fun” game or the kind of pick-up-and-play iPad game you might be used to. But there’s no mistaking that the game’s incredible art design and music are immediately engaging and calming. The game has a slow pace—not more than a walk through the woods to begin with. But as we were absorbed into its beautiful world of traditional Japanese folk culture, Tengami’s pop-up book style leapt up off the screen and offered an experience that left us excited to get to play more of.
by Amanita Design for PC
Release: ">Available Now
The festival booth setting was definitely not the time or place to be playing a game like Botanicula. But even still, the game’s depth of character and gameplay truly shine and transform what would be a cute point-and-click adventure into an artistic accomplishment. Funny, clever, and gorgeous—the team behind Machinarium have clearly delivered once again.
6. The Stanley Parable
by Davey Wreden for PC
Release Date: Available Now (Steam release TBA)
We’re still not entirely sure what The Stanley Parable is a parable about. Living in an eternal white-collar office space? Playing in the mind of a mentally insane person? Or perhaps the game is trick on the player themselves. It’s short and simple, yet it provides a situation that gives the player some very raw, basic human decisions to make that kept us thinking about this game for days after we played.
by Ramiro Corbetta
Local arcade-style multiplayer games were definitely a big theme at IndieCade this year, but Hokra is the cream of the crop. Minimal and simplistic, Hokra takes the unnecessary complications out of the way and focuses instead on the social interaction between players. It’s a simple sports arcade game—but as one of the keynote speakers from the conference said: a good multiplayer game can make the experience just as interesting as the opponent you’re playing against.
4. The Unfinished Swan
by Giant Sparrow for PSN
Release: October 23
This PSN gem was our favorite playable game at E3 this year and since then, the experience has only become more refined. The game puts you in a completely 3D world in which you have full movement from the first-person perspective. There’s just one catch: the world is a completely white blank canvas. The only way to explore this hidden world is to toss your spheres of black paint across it—a unique enough concept in its own right to hold our attention. When the demo ended and we saw the footprints of the swan walking into the distance, we couldn’t help but want to follow.
by Subset Games for PC
Release: ">Available Now
FTL: Faster Than Light has been out for a few weeks now, but it still hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves. This roguelike starship simulator puts the player in command of a Starship simply trying to stay alive and move forward in an incredibly hostile universe. A crew and ship full of weapons are at your disposable, but FTL isn’t the kind of game that’s going to pull any punches—and that’s what makes it such an honest and rewarding experience to load hours upon hours into.
by Jason Roberts (platform unannounced)
There was a moment during one of the “Well-Played” conferences where Gorogoa was being played on stage. The audience gazed at the gorgeous hand-drawn visuals in awe and wondered at what might unfold from the small window we had into the game’s world. Then we shouted and clapped as the window got pulled into four and the pulling apart of environments was used to solve surreal puzzles across and from within the frames. Though hard to describe in words, Gorogoa was the most breathtaking and exciting single-player experience at Indiecade. But don’t take our word for it—download the free demo up at their site and try it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
If there’s one experience we won’t forget from IndieCade 2012, it was watching a hundred people sit down at Night Games and play a cooperative multiplayer game called Renga. The game calls upon the massive group of people to use their laser pointers to work together as a team and save their spaceship from wave after wave of incoming enemies. The surrounding hordes of people crowded around the massive projection screen and cheered their fellow man on as they scrambled to work together. Renga might not be the next big indie blockbuster—but it was the one game that had us most convinced of the communal power of video games. If the future of video games are in the hands of developers like these guys, we’ve got a long and exciting road ahead of us.