Every year, there are quite a few AAA games released on consoles and for PC. These are from big name publishers, including Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. Gamers often wait with bated breath for the next Madden, Call of Duty, or the next big open world title. These games are great and make for a lot of enjoyable gameplay, but they shouldn't be seen as the end-all be-all of the gaming industry. Big titles aren't the only kind of game published every year. Hundreds of indie games are also published.
Indie games are named as such because they are produced and published from smaller, independent companies. Just like indie music or indie movies. If AAA games are like The Avengers, indie games are like Get Out. Not many have heard of them. But those who have are often rabid fans and supporters. Every industry has big and small players. And often, in my experience, the indie gaming space has a lot more creative styles of gameplay than you might find from the big publishers.
Some gamers might frown on indie games because of their simplistic graphics (I know I have in the past). But if you want an original gameplay experience, the indie space is the best way to find it. Games like Portal, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or Horizon: Zero Dawn just don't come around that often. Indie games often have more freedom to experiment because they aren't trying to appeal to a broad mainstream audience. They can afford to take risks. Sometimes these risks fail and sometimes they pay off.
Great examples of risk-taking gameplay can often be found in the puzzle genre. Johnathon Blow has a couple indie games that break the mold and have gained much critical acclaim. Braid is a puzzle platformer where you can control time. Much of the game's puzzles are solved by rewinding time. This causes your character and his enemies to step backward in their actions. Most enemies and trap doors are affected by the passage of time. Others are not. This requires you to put your platforming skills to the test while also piecing together the mechanics of a puzzle. Most of the solutions have to be found through experimentation — rather than sitting around and thinking. The Witness has a similar feeling to its puzzles, but the mechanics are based around drawing lines on a grid to unlock things in a three-dimensional world.
But not all indie games leave the trappings of mainstream games completely behind. Stardew Valley is a perfect example of a successful indie game playing on mainstream tropes. This is a Harvest Moon-esque farming simulator. You inherit a farm from your grandfather and are tasked with fixing it up. While farming is a big mechanic of the game, you can also make friends with the townspeople, explore the mysterious mines, and unlock even more playable areas by fixing up the community center. For $15, this game offers hundreds of hours of gameplay. And it has become a smash hit in the indie space. Concerned Ape, the game's developer, is a one-man show. And he has earned over $30 million from game sales.
And there are plenty more where that came from. Indie games aren't limited to the puzzle or farming sim genres. There are shooters, platformers, online multiplayer competitions, racers, procedurally generated crawlers, and so much more. You know Cuphead? The punishing platformer game every YouTuber has been screaming about? That's an indie game. This space offers a lot of options for any play style. Yes, it might be a risk to invest in an unproven concept or idea. But, at least for me, the pay-off for an indie purchase is much higher than buying a AAA game that sticks to a tried and true (and sometimes boring) formula. Lastly, if you're a gamer on a budget, shopping around the indie space could give you hours and hours of entertainment for a much more affordable price. Whether you're a PC or console gamer, don't count indies out.
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