It’s the end of the year, which is usually the time where people usually compile their Game of the Year lists. However, Indie Hell Zone isn’t doing that this year! Game of the Year lists are kinda boring, and their outcomes are usually a given. So, I thought that I should do something different – shine a spotlight on a bunch of games that came out this year that may have flown under the radar! No Trombone Champ, no Peglin, and certainly no Dwarf Fortress (congratulations on finally coming out, though!). This list is aiming for variety, here!
The list consists of things I’ve seen for my Daily Game tweets (when I actually remember to refill the queue) and stuff that people submitted. That said, this is still unlikely to represent the full breadth of games that released this year. However, we make do with what we can. You can also see a few other games that I feel is interesting over here.
Fashion Police Squad
Though, maybe you’re not into the violence of FPSes, even if they’re abstracted like that. Is there such a thing as a non-violent FPS? Well, we can argue over the technicalities of whats considered violence or not, but here’s an interesting looking “non-violent” shooter.
In Mopeful Games’ Fashion Police Squad, you set out to shoot clothes at the dripless and fight the boring corporate overlords pushing for the most boring suits possible. While it’s stylistically like a boomer shooter, your “bullets” convert fashion criminals into tasteful chic bystanders, maintaining the soul of such games while orienting the aesthetics toward something friendly. In a sense, Fashion Police Squad converts the image of a boomer shooter into something glamorous to people that’d normally balk at such games.
But maybe you want something a big calmer. Maybe give a puzzle game a shot.
Taiji is an open-world puzzle game by Matthew VanDevander with music by Grzegorz Bednorzs. It’s openly stated to have been inspired by Jonathan Blow’s The Witness, but rather than dealing with drawing lines, you’re inputting combinations of tiles on grids scattered around the world. With the environment and symbols acting as the only clues to solve puzzles, you have to build up your knowledge of puzzle rules as you explore and and solve your way around the place. If you were a fan of The Witness, this game may scratch that itch.
Ctrl Alt Ego
Or, how about we fuse an FPS sensibilities with puzzle game logic? MindThunk’s Ctrl Alt Ego is an immersive sim where you’re a roaming consciousness capable of transmitting yourself into the robots and devices of a facility. While you have a primary body, that body can be destroyed and easily remade, so you have freedom to experiment without lasting consequences getting in the way.
Besides, you’re not expected to stick to that one body. Sure, you can grab a gun with that primary body to blast an enemy robot, but maybe you can transmit yourself into the enemy to make it a non-threat. Can’t open a door? Just become the door and make it unlock itself. Or heck, why bother walking around when you can hop along a bunch of electrical appliances within line of sight? The mechanical beings of Ctrl Alt Ego all offer some form of utility, and as an immersive sim, you’re encouraged to explore what you can do to get ahead.
MOONYOLK is a pretty short game by Xiri, who specializes in making a lot of short games about gay identity. In this short visual novel, a young man bears witness to a cosmic horror story unfolding, but it’s in that universal connection that he finds a connection to the roommate he loves. It’s short and sweet, one of those things that I’d say “why not take the time to look at this, anyway?” If you enjoy it, the rest of this creator’s works seems to have similar vibes.
Queer Man Peering Into a Rock Pool
If you want a different chill experience with gay mean yearning, here’s something different.
Fuzzy Ghost’s Queer Man Peering into a Rock Pool is a contemplative walking sim centering around an amnesiac man living in a house surrounded by flooded land. As the waters start receding, the man goes out to explore the gradually expanding land, finding left behind objects to get a better understanding of himself. Really, the only thing he can really remember is a man named Darl, who he writes letters to as an exercise. Even if there may be no one around to answer, writing exercises is good for the soul.
Of course, you can’t list a bunch of games without mentioning at least one platformer. You see that new Sonic game but you’re one of those nerds that says that Sonic had a rough transition to 3D? Here’s something that might be appreciated by the 2D Sonic fans out there.
Panic Porcupine is a game by Shiny Dolphin Games, where you play as the very fast Panic Porcupine. However, there’s a distinctive difference between Sonic and Panic: Panic dies in one hit, no matter what. Panic Porcupine takes 2D Sonic design sensibilities and combines it with the sensibilities of massocre platformers like Super Meat Boy. With that in mind, you can’t really blame this porcupine for looking like a nervous wreck.
Sure, Voracious Games’ Potionomics was published by XSEED Games, but it’s also had far less attention than the average Devolver Digital game, ostensibly an indie publishing company, so (shrug).
After the death of your uncle, you’re thrust into the role of being a potion brewer to a growing RPG world clientele. Figure out how to effectively brew the right potions that fits the needs of adventurers going out in the world, then try to seal the deal with some deckbuilding action. As you gain the skills to be a good brewer and seller, you also build up relationships with clients.
From my own personal experience, Potionomics reminds me of Recettear with a far greater focus on management and relationships. Regardless, it feels like one of those games that has something for everyone (except people that like fighting, I guess).
But forget about arguing what counts as an indie game, how about we argue about what qualifies as a 2022 game? This game was actually originally made in 2002, but just this year got a big translation that effectively exposed it to a wide new audience – so would it be considered a 2022 game in that case? I dunno, whatever.
Nepheshel was originally made by Studio Til and was translated by Vittone. Washed up on the Confined Isle with no memories, the main character has nothing to do but explore the dungeon underground. This was an early ambitious RPG Maker game with open-world RPG sensibilities that was reportedly influential on the Japanese side of things, and while it probably doesn’t seem impressive today, it’s a historically important release.
If you have an itch for some old point-and-click adventure game action, Three Bees’ Perfect Tides might be the game for you.
You are Mara, a girl living on the island on Perfect Tides who hasn’t really tasted that island life, instead opting to be completely online. When she finds out that her only real-life friend is no longer a virgin, she feels the pressure to go out and finally live life. It’s a very story focused adventure game, dealing with Mara’s teen experiences with family, friendship and love over the course of a year.
Perfect Tides is a game that lasts for a few good hours, and it currently has a sequel in development that’s due to come out in 2024.
Though, if you’re looking for something weirder for your point-and-click escapades, like an Eastern Mind-type beat, I got something else for you.
Manglepaw is a first-person point-and-click adventure brought to us by resnijars with an emphasis on the moody and the surreal. Explore the strange train station, talk to weirdos like a singling lizard, and engage in puzzle minigame action to head toward an ending. I… really can’t tell what the game’s about, but the vibes are impeccable.
This is actually a game I want to check out sometime for the site, because whoo boy, I sure do love religious trauma. Mind those warnings going in.
Apocryphauna, primarily by Claire Mulkerin and Valerie Dusk, places you as a child sent to a private boarding school with the goal of “correcting” you. In true Satanic panic fashion, the nuns have also confiscated your Apocryphauna trading cards, under the belief that they’re demonic. And, well, they might be right, but do you think this place deserves your respect? Nah. Go around and talk to fellow students, collect cards that’s scattered around the place, and maybe end the world.
I dunno, these guys have it coming.
For people that want a different sort of creepy vibes, here’s stuff for the liminal space lovers out there.
Interior Worlds is an atmospheric walking simulator by sodaraptor and normalhumansixx. Armed with nothing but a camera, you delve into worlds that’s both familiar yet alien. Go around places like a dead mall and an empty movie theater after dark, play around with whatever’s left lying around, and snap pictures to take in all those good vibrations.
The version here is a short experience made in 2 months. However, the developers are currently working on an expanded version for a Steam release, so if you like the vibes here, consider giving it a wishlist.
14 Minesweeper Variants
Let’s take a step back from the horror-tinged stuff and go back to the universal language of puzzles.
Artless Games’ 14 Minesweeper Variants is… uh, exactly as the name suggests. Well, actually not really, because more variants are being added. Whatever.
Your classic Minesweeper experience gets spiced up with various rule variations that require more thought in figuring out what tiles to mark off. One variant has all mines connected to each other. One variant has mines count as two to the number indicators if they’re set on differently colored tiles. One variant just straight up lies to you. Just some nice spins on the Minesweeper experience if you’re looking for variety but not something grand as, say, DemonCrawl.
Like bullet hells? Like lesbians? Well, you got Touhou covering both bases, but, what if you also liked rhythm games? Do I got something for you.
NOISZ STARLIVHT is a mobile-only game by Anarch Entertainment, blending a mix of visual novels, shmups and rhythm gameplay. You play as an idol group aiming for the top, but that road to success involves fighting interdimensional music monsters as well as their own corporate bosses. Most importantly – it’s a mobile game that has everything all in one purchase.
NOISZ STARLIVHT is actually part of a greater franchise and is a sequel to NOISZ, a similar game that you can play on your computer if you don’t got a mobile device. Alternatively, if you just want the visual novel side of things, you can check out the 2ECONDS TO STARLIVHT sidegames.
Life After Magic
Though, if you want a different flavor of magical girl visual novel, here’s something else:
Life After Magic, by Team Starlight, is a visual novel about settling into adulthood. Once upon a time there was a magical girl squad that regularly saved the world. However, with the problems gone, they’ve all grown into jaded 20-somethings trying to find a sense of magic in their mundane, pointless adulthoods. Fun times!
This was a game made for SuNoFes, and gotta say, if you’re looking for variety – especially if you want shorter experiences – you should also be looking at game jam games. Like hey, check out the time I looked at RPG Maker game jam games.
Fear & Hunger 2: Termina
One of the unfair parts of game of the year stuff is that anything that gets released in the last two months tend to get shafted, so let’s give those games a bit of love. So, speaking of RPG Maker…
Fear & Hunger 2: Termina is by Miro Haverinen, and it’s a brutal mix of turn-based RPG and survival horror. Tired of Earthbound inspired RPGs about depression (a genre of only two games)? Well, here’s a Berserk inspired RPG about the struggles of man against the unknown. In this installment, a group of strangers find themselves at the town of Prehevil, which is due to celebrate the completely normal Festival of Termina. Explore, fight, and try to survive to the end of the festival.
I’m actually currently playing through the first game and it’s due to be one of the first things up next year, so look forward to that!
Super Lesbian Animal RPG
As you all know, I’m extremely RPG pilled, so here’s another recently released RPG that targets the complete opposite sensibilities.
Super Lesbian Animal RPG is by ponett (who you may know for her work covering Sonic Archie comics), and the game is… exactly as it says in the title. A fox trans woman decides to support her girlfriend’s dream of becoming an adventurer by tagging along with her as a healer. Teaming up their other friends, they head out to go on some fun adventures that may or may not cross the path of forces beyond their control. It’s some real turn-based RPG comfort food with fun vibes and cute relationships.
Making games is hard, a fact that a lot of people don’t get. I mean, the game above has been in development for years and has only come out now. So, how about a game about that hard process?
One Dreamer, by Gareth Ffoulkes, is a narrative-driven game about a burnt out indie developer trying to push out his debut title. While dealing with life and the stresses of being an indie developer, you’re also doing coding based puzzles, putting you directly in the shoes of helping this developer fulfill this dream. Is it a dream that will pay off? I dunno, but maybe you can support the real world developer’s dream by checking this out.
Speaking of game development, a pretty important part of games is music. Personally, I use public domain music like Rrrrrrrose‘s, which the aforementioned MOONYOLK also does. But there’s a bunch of music tools to use out there to play around with. I won’t/can’t do it, but maybe you’d like to look at this.
picoSYNTH is a music tool by Johan Peitz that was made in PICO-8. Presenting you with a digital workstation and instruments, you can get right to creating simple synth beats in a playful way, with a handy PDF manual to help act as a guide. As an example of what can be made with this, here’s somebody’s recreation of the Team Rocket theme from the original Gameboy Pokemon games. Most importantly, if you plan to use this for your own works, you can easily export WAV files from it.
But why just make one aspect of a game when you can make a whole big game? And so, we’re ending things off with a game engine that released early this year.
SHMUP Creator is an engine by bulo studio that’s specifically geared toward creating shmups with as little code as possible. Make something in 2D or 3D and set up levels that got your ship (or whatever’s shooting the bullets) traveling through a layout of guys to shoot. Learn to create bullet patterns to create some real bullet hell and fuck around to make bosses. It probably can’t be used to create things beyond shmups (at the current moment, at least), but you know, you get what you paid.
So far, it’s kinda hard to judge how the engine is, as reception hasn’t been huge, which is understandable given the genre. The fact that the engine also semi-regularly gets bug fixes and new features makes it hard to make a truly definitive opinion on it. However, some games have been made with it, like Project V by Aru and OPEN ARMS MAXIMUM by Kanzaki Shintarou, so it can very clearly out working games, even in this state.
And… that’s all I’m really willing to share, for this. You might be thinking, “why didn’t they put Glup Shitto Quest in here, does she not truly know what’s obscure?” Well, first of all, maybe you should have submitted something, then. Secondly, there is a massive flow of games out there and it’s hard to pick out interesting experiences within all that noise. The gaming never stops.
What’s a good way to learn about other games? Well, you could always look at the front page on itch.io, but I also say that you should look at game jams. A lot of the bigger ones tend to bring interesting heat. Like, you know that Anger Foot game that Devolver’s putting out, right? Well, it started out as a 7DFPS entry. So who knows, maybe there’s another Anger Foot out there hiding as a game jam game that wasn’t afforded the same chances that might be worth looking into.
Besides that, you should also frequently check the #screenshotsaturday tweets on Twitter. Well, for as long as Twitter will still be around, that is. Unless you follow a wide variety of people, you won’t get a good glimpse of the variety of games out there and the stuff people work on if you don’t make the effort to try.
Anyway, happy 2022. I became a worse person, but the gaming… the gaming was good. Except playing Cosmic Star Heroine, to be honest.