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Gamasutra's Best Of 2008: Top 5 Indie Games
Gamasutra's Best Of 2008: Top 5 Indie Games
December 12, 2008 | By Staff

December 12, 2008 | By Staff
More: Console/PC

[Continuing Gamasutra's year-end retrospective, the editors pick out the top five independent games of 2008 -- including Cursor*10 and Rom Check Fail -- along with ten notable indie games that get honorable mentions.]

Throughout December, Gamasutra will be presenting a year-end retrospective, discussing notable games, events, developers, and industry figures of 2008, from the perspective of our position covering the art, science, and business of games.

Previously, we tallied up 2008's top disappointments, downloadable titles, overlooked games, and gameplay mechanics.

Now, we're going we take a look at the top five indie games released in 2008, with information from Gamasutra sister site - and ten other 'honorable mentions' also included.

The games picked are the editors' choice, and span PC free-to-play titles released during 2008's calendar year to date, with a mixture of Flash and Windows executable games. (Many other fine pay-to-download games for console and PC that might be considered 'indie' were ranked in the Top 5 Downloadable Games earlier this week.)

5. You Have To Burn The Rope (Kian Bashiri) [video]'s description: "Possibly inspired by Valve's Portal, You Have to Burn the Rope is an extremely short game that features good pixel art and sound production using DrPetter's sfxr tool. There is only one solution to the problem, though the credits will be remembered long after you've managed to beat the final boss."

From the creator of the newer, and equally tart Metro: Rules Of Conduct, You Have To... is a gorgeously cheeky tweak on the nose for games as a medium. It's silly, sure, but if you haven't played it before, it'll make you grin.

4 Rom Check Fail (Farbs) [video]'s description: "ROM CHECK FAIL is a new action game from the developer of Fishie Fishie and Polychromatic Funk Monkey. Players have to clear the screen of all enemies to complete each level, but the task is made a little more difficult by the random switching of gameplay rules where ideas are recycled and remastered as an odd mix of arcade or console classics from the past."

The mashup has been a popular concept in music for some time, further popularized by tremendously complex, skilled practitioners like Girl Talk. Farbs' Rom Check Fail is a dazzling example of this - in no way could the Pac-Man vs. Space Invaders vs. everything mashup ever exist in a world ruled by copyright... but yet it does anyhow. Delightful.

3. Cursor*10 (Nekogames) [video]'s description: "Cursor*10 is a puzzler which involves directing the actions of all ten cursors and clicks, one at a time. Events will loop, but it will take at least a couple of tries to figure out a solution for all sixteen floors."

Another example of the kind of experimental freeware wonder that makes us happy that games exist, this Flash wonder has you playing a cursor, acting on top of your previous actions to explore multiple levels of a stark isometric dungeon. It's difficult to explain, but it's wholly worth trying.

2. Everybody Dies (Jim Munroe/Michael Cho)'s description: "Everybody Dies is an interactive fiction work written by Jim Munroe, with Michael Cho contributing illustrations for the game. The story is centered around three employees who happens to work in the same Cost Cutters grocery store building."

From the creator of the Artsy Game Incubator project, this illustrated text adventure is contemporary, thoughtful, and, as author Emily Short points out in her review: " of the best cases Iíve seen for the potential of illustrated IF not as a poor manís version of a graphical game. but as its own thing."

1. I Wish I Were The Moon (Daniel Benmergui) [video - includes spoilers]'s description: "I Wish I Were The Moon is a short puzzle game designed by Daniel Benmergui, where players must figure out the correct solution to achieve any of the five possible endings in this story. Use the camera frame to take pictures and relocate objects onscreen, or press the R key to reset the scene for another attempt."

Actually, there's now an updated version with even more endings, but this indie title goes to the core of what is fascinating about independent games today. At its best, they're different, they're evocative, they're poignant, and they make you think differently about yourself and your life. Why do you care? Who do you care about? Make your choice in this micro-game, and sink or swim accordingly.

Finally, honorable mentions for some of our favorite indie games in 2008 that didn't quite reach the top five go to: Knytt Nano, Incredibots, Chronotron, Dyson, Nanobots, Shift 3, Barkley Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden, Gravitation, Mighty Jill Off, Iji.

[Do you agree or disagree with these picks? Feel free to comment below. We'll pick the best reader comments on each list for our final retrospective, to debut on Gamasutra close to the holidays.]

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Andrew Hopper
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Honorable mention? You gave Barkley's Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden an... honorable mention?

For shame. For shaaaaaaaaame.

My personal bias may be showing though.

Alan Rimkeit
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Where is Solder X: Himmelssturmer? Has anyone here played this game? It is amazing. If you have a PS3 get it, NOW. At $9.99 it is like getting gold by paying in dross.

Matt Antonellis
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I had to register just so I could tell you how much I disagree with your choices.

However, I do like these games. Itís the games you didnít mention that deserve credit.

Everyday Shooter, Aquaria, Braid, and others are nowhere on your list.

You mentioned Iji, which is good, but not good enough.

Ian Fisch
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Are you kidding me? "You have to burn the rope"? That was more of a joke than a game.

Way to completely ignore things like hard work and artistry that go into creating a genuinely compelling indie game. Where's Braid and World of Goo?

If you're going to go for the artsy choices, at least pick games that experiment with new types of gameplay.

Soren Nowak
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I agree with Ian. The mentioned games are generally more artsy than actual examples of good indie games with focus on gameplay. It's as if commercial indie games didn't even get attention.

"Indie game" is not equal to being free and browser-based!

Daniel Camozzato
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To the people above (Alan, Mark and Soren): please read more carefully. The author wrote:

"The games picked are the editors' choice, and span PC free-to-play titles released during 2008's calendar year to date, with a mixture of Flash and Windows executable games."

Roberto Dillon
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So it seems that "indie games" now means "free web/downloadable PC games or small experiments made by amateurs/hobbysists". How do we "categorize" then "professional" indie developers who release their games commercially (like Braid, World of Goo etc.)?

Jimmy Andrews
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No... 'indie games' doesn't mean freeware now. At least, it's not what I see as common usage. I think the article is just incorrectly titled.

Also, can't we wait until 2008 is over to declare best of 2008? It's not like freeware stops coming out for the month of December.

Peter Parker
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Is "You have to burn the rope" an inside joke or something? That this "game" is in fifth place is an insult to every other indie game ever created. It didn't make me "grin" at all. I want my 30 seconds back right now.

Good pixel art? Meh. I thought this was a serious gaming site.

Fa rbs
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I'd actually like to congratulate one of the devs.

Congratulations me!