A return to the 2nd dimension

When it comes to indie gaming, there is less of a focus on expensive graphics engines and gleaming eye-candy because the indie community is way past that. Game play and story have reemerged as priorities to those of us who are tired of the same monotonous stream of First Person Shooters on the next-gen systems.  Back in the 90’s there was less technology with which to fool slack-jaws into buying the newest edition of Madden, so storytelling was an integral part of gaming and the driving force behind the whole media presentation.

Think back to the original “Super Mario Bros.,” a game that defined stylistic 2D side-scrolling and set the foundation for later developers to build on. Pressing A to jump is ingrained into our hardwiring, and occasionally superb storytelling can collide with familiar and innovative mechanics to create a work of art. Granted, “Super Mario Bros.” did not have the weightiest storyline, but the point is that people have taken the formula and have run with it, creating original Indie masterpieces within the visual constraints of yore, oftentimes with emotionally engaging stories.  Here are three of the best retro indie games out there:

“VVVVVV” – Terry Cavanagh

This gem of a “Metroid”-style 2D explorer takes the simple jumping mechanics of side-scroll platforming deep into space

"VVVVV" screenshot courtesy of mac.brothersoft.com

where the player controls the gravity of the avatar. With a plotline favoring a simpler style of storytelling, all that the player knows is learned through interactive dialogue located all over the enormous space station.

Even though the exploration aspect of the game is in the two-dimensional plane, the map is immense and hidden passageways lead to even further unexpected exploration. The story mode itself isn’t too long, but it will be hours before you quit playing, because you will die a lot. “VVVVVV” has a rather punishing learning curve near the end of the story mode, but persistence will be rewarded if you stick with this deceptively deep indie side-scroller.

“Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony” – Final Form Games

"Jamestown" screenshot courtesy of finalformgames.com

This top-down shooter is stylized to look exactly like its 16-bit predecessors, but the game itself is a pleasant surprise when more closely examined. In an alternate history steampunk 17th century, the story begins on Mars, which is colonized by the British, contested by the Spanish, and garrisoned by the indigenous Martians. As ridiculous as that may sound, the writing is never too over-the-top and the story flows unimaginably smooth as the difficulty ramps up.

The fine developers at Final Form Games even did a service to the players; “Jamestown” supports multiple peripheral devices for varied game controls. Not only is this a streamlined and accessible version of old-school top down shooters, but also the story is unique enough to be budgeted for a huge Hollywood blockbuster.

“Alien Hominid” – The Behemoth

Originally released on the website newgrounds.com, as a short flash game, “Alien Hominid” soon grew into a full-sized game due to audience demand. Once a studio was formed around the original two-man machine of Tom Fulp and Dan Paladin, the final result was a staunchly nostalgic take on the run-and-gun genre with a bunch of offbeat humor spliced in.

The goal of the game is simple; leave Earth. The way you go around leaving Earth is by shooting everyone and everything

in your path. The boss battles are ludicrous by nature of the subgenre, but even more so since the guys/gals at The Behemoth have some really warped minds. Oh, and try not to swear too loud during the snowmobiling level. Have fun!

"Alien Hominid" screenshot courtesy of newground.wikia.com

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