The term 'indie' may be difficult to define now companies big and small are exploring new business models, but there's no denying that agile teams have been turning big ideas and limited budgets into incredible gaming experiences over the last twelve months. Many of which have put their stodgy AAA rivals to shame. To try and make sense of it all, we've split this category into console and PC titles since there have been so many worthwhile games that deserve their time in the spotlight. Without further ado: here are the best console indie games of 2014... and the overall winner.
What we said: Octodad: Dadliest Catch is an absurdist delight. It only has one joke, but it's a damn good one. Though the game itself falters perhaps towards the end as Young Horses try to force things a little too much, it is to be hoped that the creation tools and the Workshop included with the game extend its lifespan. A brave and bonkers game, for the most part Octodad lollops along the fine line between fun and frustration with gloriously haphazard aplomb.
What we said: It's a game with a lot of heart and a cutesy art style typical of the studio, with straightforward mechanisms that essentially boil down to shunting objects around a grid and bringing groups of items together. That sounds simple, of course, but the level design swiftly increases in difficulty, and you only get one life before you have to start a completely new run through the fifteen-level story again. It's always fresh, always beguilingly whimsical, and it's always fiendishly challenging.
It's also pretty damn good.
What we said: Shovel Knight is a nigh-perfect retro throwback that manages to go beyond nostalgia by being a legitimately exquisite platformer in its own right. We're thrilled that it finally made its way to Europe after a staggered launch.
What we said: Super Time Force delivers the depth of Braid with the intense SHMUP satisfaction of an old-school run and gunner, letting you assemble a ridiculous army of skateboarding dinosaurs and Uzi dolphins by abusing time paradoxes. Something we don't get to write often enough.
What we said: Transistor is masterful. You'll come for the astonishing art direction and thoughtful storyline, but stay for the sensational combat that continually offers new opportunities and challenges long after your first playthrough comes to an end.
What we said: Futurlabs have nailed two genres here with retro side-scrolling shoot em’ ups and platforming thrown together to fantastic effect. Play the game at speed and you’ll struggle to find a slicker experience on your PS4.
What we said: TxK is a marriage of hectic arcade fun, eyepopping style and impeccably-honed substance, proving that the arcade spirit is alive and well on PS Vita. You'll come for the visuals, stay for the action and fall in love with its irrepressible personality over many barmy hours.
Winner: Shovel Knight
It's a crying shame that Shovel Knight never received a review on-site. This magnificent crowd-funded platformer released exclusively in the United States earlier this year, then eventually made its way to Europe too late for us to give it the proper treatment.
Let's right that wrong immediately.
Shovel Knight is a textbook example of how to create a nostalgic game without cracking any rose-tinted spectacles, delivering a gorgeously authentic audiovisual experience while bringing the platorming gameplay up to date enough to make us forget how unnecessarily brutal and clunky games used to be. The action is superb, the mechanics are exceptional, the challenge curve is silky smooth and the end result is truly remarkable; like a forgotten childhood classic that we never actually played back in the day. Whereas some indie games fall back on nostalgia just because it's easy money, Shovel Knight owns it, refines it, perfects it, weaponises it into an astonishingly great game.