Indie-Penance Day: A Retrospective

10 brand new indie games that look like they're from the olden days

The Ghost Hunter screenshot
Image: Graverobber Foundation / Kotaku

Of course, by now Indie-Penance Day has become such an institution in the games industry since its inception this morning, that people are starting to get nostalgic about the whole thing. To meet that need, here are ten indie games you likely haven’t seen before that evoke eras of gaming past.

OmegaBot gives off that cosy vibe of comfy afternoons playing Amiga platform games. Except, well, a lot busier. Check out those colors though—games haven’t looked like this since Rainbow Islands. This is all the work of a lone developer, which is damned impressive. It’s aiming to release early next year.

Der Geisterjäger / The Ghost Hunter looks so spooky-cool! A blobber, that even sounds like Dungeon Master, but rendered in what looks like blueprints. It makes me think a bit of System Shock, Captive, Xenomorph and probably most of all, Cyberdrone. But you might not be 100 years old like me, and think of something more modern. Either way, this looks so great, and I hope it comes out this year as promised.

Hack Grid similarly takes me back to my youth in the gaming Stone Ages, with its CRT-aesthetics. They call it a “love letter to DOS,” which is sweet, although it had better not need me to edit my config.sys and autoexec.bat. It’s a puzzle game in which each piece type has its own set of rules, which makes my brain hurt just to think about—but you need not think, you can buy, as it’s already out. In fact, right now it’s 35% off, meaning it’ll cost you a miniscule two dollars.

Dark Sheep does not remove us from this retrozone. In fact, we’re even earlier than the above DOS era, and this time a spooOOOoooky one. It’s a Sokoban sort of deal, but this time the “love letter” is written to the Commodore 64. (The only letter I’d ever send my C64 would be a break-up one, for failing to load Pitstop II for the ninth time in a row.) It came out a couple of months ago on Steam, and is currently under $3.

Time Bandit evokes something more of the late 1990s for me (and not 1985, as you might expect), PSX-ish art, albeit with the sorts of physics developers could only dream of back then. It’s designed to feel like the sort of game you might find on an old demo disc, and crikey, that concept alone deserves overnight success. The game is an anti-capitalist statement about labor exploitation and environmental catastrophes, but it’s also a collection of time control mechanics. Part 1: Appendages Of The Machine is aiming to be out sometime this year. There’s a demo version you can play now, via Itch.

Star Explorers was mentioned last time Kotaku wasn’t paying enough attention, but during that I committed a sin. I made a “retro No Man’s Sky” reference, which seems to rather get under its developer’s craw. And fairly so, since Star Explorers was in development before NMS was announced, and then fell cruelly under its shadow—it’s well worth giving this article a read. Why am I featuring a three-year-old game a second time? Because it’s about to receive it’s 5.0 update, which is going to be a major one, so now might be a good time to jump in, especially while it’s under $4.

There May Be Ninety-Nine Of Us, But We Have To Win In Ninety-Nine Turns! wins best name of the day, clearly. It also wins worst Steam image, which is black Comic Sans on a white background, which is worse than a murder. This complete mayhem is the work of one Damien Crawford, and is apparently a puzzle RPG “where there’s no RNG and it comes down to execution.” I’m not sure to which era this reaches, but it’s probably not one from this planet.

Tentacle Typer is a text editor, and you cannot get more retro than a text editor, unless you’re releasing your game solely for oscilloscope. Except it’s a text editor RPG, and you’re a giant betentacled monster, and you’ve got a magical mechanical typewriter, and you can interact with the game’s world by typing whatever you want. THIS IS WHY WE ARE HERE, PEOPLE. On Earth, I mean. We evolved to reach the point where someone made Tentacle Typer.

Alpha Particle by Function Unknown reminds me of that fantastic top-down art you’d get in late Amiga games, although certainly of a higher fidelity. The game also looks like something from that fast-paced era of action games, although this one apparently starts off more slowly before things get so busy. You play as a particle—which has to be one of the smaller player characters in gaming history—solving puzzles and flitting about at some impressive speeds.

Bahnsen Knights harks back to the glorious days of the Speccy! Sure, I know, you poor Americans never knew the true love that was the Sinclair Spectrum, but trust me, it was when games were good and pure. I honestly know nothing about Bahnsen Knights other than that it’s “a pixel-pulp adventure featuring a world of religious fanatics, F5 tornadoes and Ford Sierras.” But look at this art. It’s actually against the law to want more than that.

DISCUSSION

By
I Was Saying Boo-urner

Retro No Man’s Sky? It looks like Noctis, the retro game NMS cribbed half its concept from! I thought the same thing when I saw Star Explorers ages ago, and completely forgot about it until right this moment. So happy to have been reminded of it.

Thanks, John. I’m really digging the indie revue today.