The Best Indie Games of 2019: This Week – My Time At Portia

Underneath the new world of Portia are a number of interconnected caves and abandoned ruins. As well as providing ores and materials that are essential during the game, you’re likely to find old relics which piece together the story of Portia’s history.

Similar to the Animal Crossing franchise, you can pour weeks of your time into this game and never feel bored or as though the content is repetitive. Monster battles and farming mix things up, and discovering the truth about the post-apocalyptic event that drove everyone underground is another draw.

If you’re looking for a post-apocalyptic game unlike anything out there, or simply want a relaxing life-sim, My Time At Portia is well worth a look.

Keep reading to find out our favourite games from 2019!

 Figment – Developed by Bedtime Digital Games 

On the surface, Figment is just another colourful action adventure game. But delve deeper, and you’ll find an inventive and meaningful portrayal of mental trauma.

Set in ‘The Mind’ you play as Dusty, an old warrior who used to hold the title of Courage of The Mind. Joined by his sidekick Piper, the two friends pledge to fight against the evil that’s poisoned their home. The two share a lot of comedic banter, and depending on your particular brand of humour you may find this hilarious or grating.

Gameplay-wise, Figment is an isometric platformer with puzzle elements across a number of colourful and wacky worlds. Levels are decorated with giant pencils, toy instruments and other cutesy paraphernalia, all incorporated into The Mind as obstacles and the tools to get past them.

You quickly learn that the quirky world used to be bright and colourful, but that a brood of monsters has transformed The Mind into a darker, more toxic version of itself. Dusty must fight against these foes and solve a series of puzzles in order to return The Mind to its former glory.

Combat is simplistic but usually fun. Likewise, puzzle-solving is often repetitive, but at least the formula the game is repeating is an enjoyable one.

Whilst it has a few minor flaws, Figment is an entertaining and ultimately worthwhile experience. For a more in-depth game assessment, check out our 4/5 review here.

Available now on on PS4, Switch and PC

Pikuniku – Developed by Sectordub

It may sound like a new Pokémon, but Pikuniku is actually a charming and colourful indie game that revolves around a cast of barmy characters.

Gameplay mechanics are relatively simple, with protagonist Piku (a kind of blob with legs) interacting with doors, boxes and switches to gain entry to 2D rooms and levels. Piku can also twist his body into new shapes to reach areas that were previously inaccessible, meaning that there are several different ways to progress through each level.

The game runs around five hours long and, during most of it, you’ll find yourself helping the quirky characters in the game solve a handful of missions. As you complete these tasks you’ll uncover the narrative of Pikuniku which, despite its cutesy appearance, delves into revolution and deep-rooted dystopian conspiracy.

Pikuniku also has a two-player mode which allows a second player to engage in local co-op. This mode features nine distinct stages, with the second player controlling Niki alongside Piku. Teamwork is essential to get through each level and puzzles must be approached in a different way to the single-player campaign.

Whichever way you choose to play, Pikuniku is a bright, lively experience which is well worth picking up.

Pikuniki is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC

Trüberbrook – Developed by btf 

A twist on the classic point and click adventure, Trüberbrook tells the story of young physicist Hans using a hand-crafted, 3D model world that is genuinely stunning.

As Hans arrives in the West German town of Trüberbrook, an alluring sci-fi mystery presents itself and, over the four chapters of the game, Hans must finely comb each area he visits for clues as to what’s going on.

Game environments range from snowy mountain tops to charming rural hotels, to gloomy caves. The world is meticulously put together via photogrammetry; a method that involves building the model set for a scene in real life before digitally scanning it into the game. The result really is exquisite, and this is one of the most uniquely beautiful indie games out there.

The game’s narrative is a little short, and Trüberbrook should only take you around eight hours to complete. But constant thrills, twists and turns make Trüberbrook engaging and exciting enough to warrant a second and even third playthrough.

Available now on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC

Jupiter and Mars – Developed by Tantalus/Wicked Witch

Jupiter & Mars is a futuristic underwater adventure game which follows two playful dolphins named Jupiter and Mars. There is a meaningful story here as well, with humanity having been wiped out by climate change and the toxic oceans they left behind only now beginning to regain their former natural glory.

The narrative sees an elite race of whales call for the help of Jupiter and Mars. The whales want to destroy the few remaining man-made structures which are still poisoning the ocean around them, preventing marine life from prospering as it otherwise would.

You’ll have to solve puzzles and find pathways by using echolocation to locate key objects or have Mars break through obstacles opening up the way forward. Jellyfish and electric impulse-firing fish will offer some level of threat, but they can easily be pacified by a dolphin sound pulse.

Though interactions with enemy fish and puzzle-solving make up a good proportion of the game, it’s exploring the depths of the sea that is much more rewarding. The game’s underwater world is an almost recognisable one, but you can really see the devastating impact of what we humans have done (and are still doing) to the planet.

Jupiter and Mars works best as a PSVR game. Playing in this format, you can truly appreciate the scale and detail of the ocean around you, but, however you play, Tantalus Media have certainly succeeded in creating a relaxing and worthwhile experience.

Available now on PS4 and PSVR

Hellblade – Developed by Ninja Theory 

After enjoying success on PS4, Xbox and PC, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has finally arrived on the Nintendo Switch.

Hellblade is a dark fantasy action game with strong psychological components reflecting the mental illness central character Senua struggles with as she attempts to save her lover’s lost soul.

While Senua physically travels alone to Helheim (Norse for Hell), she is accompanied by the anxious voices which whisper in her ears. These harrowing voices (even more inhibiting when Hellblade is played with headphones as the game suggests) replicate those experienced by sufferers of psychosis, the condition Senua is afflicted with but believes to be a curse.

Hellblade looks incredible. The graphics are AAA standard and it’s a huge achievement to get something that looks this good to run on Switch, even if it does take a hefty 18 gig game file to do so.

The gameplay is relatively simple with sword combat and rune-based puzzles the main challenges on offer. However, it’s the narrative that’s the real core of the game with Senua’s journey punctuated by enlightening glimpses into her tragic backstory.

The game’s voice acting is incredible and only strengthens the power of the writing, especially with Melina Juergens delivering an incredibly emotional mo-cap performance. Ultimately, Hellblade is an experience you will think about long after the final credits have rolled.

Available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.

Unravel 2 – Developed by ColdWood Interactive

A local co-op game at its heart, Unravel Two is a charming, imaginative and incredibly fun 2D platform-puzzler.

Unravel Two sees Yarney (a lovable red creature made of wool) return from the first game, now accompanied by a blue yarn creature who works with Yarney to progress through a series of ingenious, macro-inspired levels.

The Yarneys can be controlled by two people in local co-op or by one person in single player mode, with the ability to switch between either Yarney at any time or intertwine them into one.

The Yarneys have the ability to tie strands of yarn to platforms, or to lasso hooks dotted around the stages. They can also create yarn bridges and swing each other from one platform to the next. It’s a seriously enjoyable gameplay dynamic added to the fact that the macro-scale levels are gorgeous to look at.

As the Yarneys press forwards through the game’s seven chapters a ghostly tale unfolds in the backgrounds of the levels. While it’s shrouded in mystery and often open to interpretation, it eludes to a deeper, darker narrative hiding beneath the game’s cutesy surface.

When it comes to difficulty, the game’s puzzles quickly become tricky and a Challenge Mode ramps this up to extremely tough. But with unique mechanics every moment of this game is enjoyable and, as a co-op puzzle-platformer, it’s right up there with the very best the genre has to offer.

Available now for PS4, Xbox, Switch and PC

Where The Bees Make Honey – Developed by Wakefield Interactive

Where The Bees Make Honey is a story about memory, reflection and nostalgia. Playing as Sunny, an overworked woman at a crossroads in her life, you look back on childhood memories, all whilst yearning for simpler times gone by.

The game employs multiple styles of gameplay to convey its message, from sandbox puzzle sections to first-person exploration segments.

But, whatever style the game chooses, the graphics are constantly delightful and always artfully done.

The most enjoyable of the game’s mechanics are the sandbox puzzles which are similar to those featured in Captain Toad Treasure Tracker. 

These pint-sized worlds are populated by cartoony trees, structures and creatures, but they also contain devious puzzles which can only be solved by rotating the world and examining the landscape from different viewpoints.

There are more realistic first-person sections too, and each unique perspective and art style says something meaningful about different parts of Sunny’s life.

The game isn’t very long, but it manages to pack a lot of content into its short running time. However, with such varied mechanics, a couple of technical issues taint the experience slightly, including a rabbit that is frustratingly difficult to control.

Overall, though, Where The Bee’s Make Honey is a beautifully-crafted, touching story about reflecting on the good times and moving forward in life.

Available now for PS4, Switch, Xbox and PC

Symmetry – Made by Sleepless Clinic

Set on the surface of an unknown planet, Symmetry is a game about survival, trail and error and collecting the resources necessary to return home to Planet Earth.

Gameplay involves managing the lives of crash survivors, tending to vitals such as hunger, thirst and even mental health. Once these stats are stabilised, you can turn your attention to fixing the survivors’ broken spaceship, utilising materials from the cold planet they find themselves marooned upon.

Symmetry teaches you through your mistakes, but you need to learn quickly. Unlike long-term survival games such as Subnautica or The Long Dark, you only have a specific amount of time to save your survivors as temperatures plummet and alien, or perhaps even supernatural phenomena, become more frequent.

The game’s colour scheme radiates a sense of hopelessness. Dominated by pale yellows and greys, the surface of the planet is bare and desolate.

But when you finally do come across plentiful areas, a sense of optimism is all the more powerful because of the muted colour pallet.

Overall, Symmetry is an excellent sci-fi indie game, one which is addictive and provides ample challenge, all whilst making you care immensely for your little band of cosmic survivors.

Available now on PS4, Xbox, Switch and PC

Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings – Made by Blindflug Studios

Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings released for PlayStation and Xbox last year, so it was perhaps only a matter of time before this twin-stick shooter appeared on Switch.

Blindflug Studio’s mesmerising looking indie tells the story of Amelia, a young woman living on the floating island of Granaria, high above the clouds.

Amelia scrapes a living as a lowly sky fisherman but dreams of hunting the elusive Sky Whale in hope of achieving fame and everlasting glory.

Gameplay sees you control Amelia’s plane and your main objective is to catch as many sky fish as possible.

Each haul of fish can be traded for money which in turn can be used to upgrade Amelia’s plane, allowing her to explore ever loftier heights and protect herself from the ruthless pirates that plague the skies.

The actual stages you’ll be traversing are always built on top of the one below giving a wonderful depth of field aesthetic, as well as the ability to put your plane into a nosedive and barrel downwards.

Whilst the story is simplistic and the gameplay is a little repetitive, Airheart is an indie game that’s ideal for quick fixes of gameplay, and therefore perfect for Switch.

If you have a busy lifestyle then Airheart may just be the game for you.

Available now on PS4, Nintendo Switch and Steam

Pode – Made by Henchman & Goon

Pode’s story revolves around themes of friendship, co-operation and selflessness. Our playable characters are Glo (a fallen star) and Bulder (a small rock). Together, they must find a way to return Glo back to the sky where she belongs.

Standing between Glo and Bulder are a collection of devious puzzles, ranging from simplistic to brain-teasingly intricate.

The game can be tackled in single player, but it’s local co-op that matches the thematic core of the game best, and this mode provides some serious fun.

Even so, it is perhaps the visual style which is the stand out aspect of the game.

Inspired by Norwegian nature and art, Pode’s graphics are delightfully pleasing and the cheerful score will leave any gamer with a smile on their face. Two smiles if you play with a friend.

Pode is available now on PS4 and Nintendo Switch

The Kings Bird – Made by Serenity Forge

Indie games often prioritise story and soundtrack over graphics and dialogue and The Kings Bird is a good example of this. Gameplay centres around a young girl and her ability to leave the shackles of gravity behind and glide through the skies.

Once she builds up momentum and jumps, the girl can sail from platform to platform, effortlessly dancing through the air as you progress across a set of 2D levels.

The controls are fluid and enjoyable, and each section utilises unique colouration to set it apart from the blacked-out platforms in the foreground. These colours softly ombre into nothing, creating a stunning depth of field effect.

Colour is also used to convey emotion in the game and, in place of dialogue, characters are each assigned a particular musical instrument to represent their inner feelings and personality.

However, The Kings Bird isn’t without its flaws. Sequences with the need for incredibly precise jumps and glides are a little too frequent, dispelling the carefree feeling of the earlier levels. But, for the most part, The Kings Bird is a welcome addition to the 2D platforming genre.

The Kings Bird is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Steam

VANE – Made by developers Friend & Foe

Set throughout a vast, sandy plane, Vane’s playable character shape-shifts between boy and bird as you hunt down desolate structures and solve the puzzles housed within them.

Although built with simple graphics and soft colouration, the world and the art style are stunning.

Vane’s narrative is also incredibly simple, with the focus instead being on a free, open experience and the joy of exploration. In fact, soaring over the open world and basking in the atmospheric musical score is when Vane is at its best.

It’s a perfect example of how games don’t need to be overly complicated to create a relaxing and compelling experience.

Vane is available now on the PlayStation 4 Store

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