Achievement Unlocked: Clearing the ‘Backlog’ of this semester

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A reflection of the games explored this Fall 2020 semester. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

Before finals week ensnares us in its grasp with last-minute projects and big exams to study for, this last official entry of The Backlog for the semester will be reflecting on some of the games we’ve explored this semester. 

Since September, I’ve played through 11 different games that are, more or less, in the indie genre (or just lesser-known, in the case of “Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine”). Most games had their ups and downs, but there were a few that were outright stellar.  

We began the semester with “What Remains of Edith Finch,” a story-rich walking-simulator that’s much more of a memorable experience than it is a game. We ended the semester strong by taking a look at “River City Girls,” a title that revives the brawler genre that was massively popular in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Some highlights of the semester were “Hades,” “Dicey Dungeons” and “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.” 

Now, I know I’m not in any position to grant awards of any kind, but we’re going to do it anyways. 

Best Story 

“What Remains of Edith Finch” takes the cake for best story. It really changes the concept of what a “video game” is or what it can be, and it treats the medium more as an art form and a vehicle for storytelling than anything else. Despite the short play time, it’s a must-buy for anyone who enjoys story-rich indie games. As you explore the Finch household through Edith’s eyes, you’ll find that the house is just as alive as the people who once lived there. You’ll learn about their lives, their deaths and everything in between. Though sad, it’s a touching game you won’t forget about afterwards. It’s a rare example of something I wish I could experience for the first time again. 

A very close runner-up for having the best story is “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.” Its gameplay is nuanced enough that it helps drive the story forward and much of the sound and visual design is crucial in pushing the narrative and immersion in the game. “Hellblade” depicts the main character’s long and arduous journey into Viking hell through a very new and realistic depiction of mental illness. 

Best Visual Design 

“Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” is a visual masterpiece. Yeah, its sound design is also impeccable, but this category pertains to the eye. “Hellblade” presents beautiful and atmospheric environments that immerse players into the game in a way that few other games can succeed in doing. It’s both beautiful and terrifying. The enemies are rugged and decrepit, contrasting the often serene and natural landscapes that Senua travels through. Melina Juergens’ motion capture performance as Senua is raw and real, and brings the character to life. The other characters, such as Druth and Dillion, are portrayed through actual videos of actors that have been superimposed into the game to appear like hallucinations of Senua’s mind. 

Most Creative 

“Dicey Dungeons” stands out as being the most creative concept from this list of games. Roguelike deckbuilding games aren’t always common, especially when the main characters are sentient dice with traditional RPG archetypes. The game also has a crazy amount of content in a small package. Each character has their own unique abilities that not just change gameplay between each run through the dungeon, but also force you to adapt your strategy for each fight. Combined with a good sense of humor and a great soundtrack, “Dicey Dungeons” is definitely unlike any other game I’ve played.  

“Supraland” also came in at a close second for being the most creative concept. It’s a mix of “Portal,” “Legend of Zelda” and “Metroid” that makes for a puzzling adventure as a little red guy through a literal sandbox world. It’s the type of game that will have you reminiscing about childhood games. 

Best Sound Design 

This was a close tie between “Dicey Dungeons” and “River City Girls” since chiptune musician Chipzel works on both soundtracks. However, Megan McDuffee adds another element to the soundtrack of “River City Girls,” granting it the title of best sound design. The score features a mix of energetic 16-bit tracks and original songs by McDuffee (and some guest vocalists), while boss music is done by Chipzel. Not only this, but Christina Vee’s (Marinette in the animated show “Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir”) work on directing the voice actors in “River City Girls” really helped bring the characters to life.  

As mentioned earlier, “Dicey Dungeons” comes in at a very close second with its pumped-up, adventurous soundtrack by Chipzel. Some notable mentions are “Hades” for its score and “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” for its use of sound design as both a narrative and gameplay element.  

Best Gameplay 

Last but not least, the game that had the best gameplay out of all of these was “Hades.” Supergiant Games really knocked it out of the park with their latest title. The combat in “Hades” is buttery smooth, making each fight in Greek hell exhilarating and addicting. There’s a variety of weapons to choose from, each with their own upgrades, and a myriad of artifacts that will help you in your quest to escape the Underworld. As you venture through hell, you’ll gain different upgrades and buffs, making each separate run unique. All of this, plus its fantastic story and soundtrack, make for one addicting roguelike, probably the best I’ve ever played.  

Over the past few months, I’ve learned a lot about indie games and just how important they are. Most AAA titles lack the amount of attention and care that indie games have. Indie games tend to be a lot more creative with its ideas and concepts and, with limited resources and teams, can tackle more niche topics that larger companies and publishers wouldn’t dare to try. This is a temporary farewell to The Backlog, but stay tuned for its return.  

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