I love when a game’s story, graphics and soundtrack are so atmospheric and engaging that combat isn’t required to make it exciting. Games that I can play and not have to consider why I’m beating up everything that moves.
2019 was an excellent year for non-combat indie games, with some garnering huge audiences (hello Untitled Goose Game) and a bunch of awards. It awesome see these types of games gaining more popularity, so I thought I’d share my five favourites for the year.
The Stillness of the Wind
The Stillness of the Wind is a game of life, love and loss. Day in and day out Talma maintains the farm. She is alone now, but it wasn’t always this way. The house used to be full of family but one by one they’ve left for the city.
Initially, The Stillness of the Wind was compared with other farming sims, like Stardew Valley but you will be severely disappointed if that is what you’re looking for. This is a slow, meandering game about life, sadness, isolation and the importance of connection.
The Stillness of the Wind won’t be for everyone, as it requires you to slow down to Talma’s level and observe rather than rush rush rush. But if you can take that time, then it’s well worth playing.
A Short Hike
Glide, baby, glide! This game really should be called A Short Hike and a Long Glide because the gliding really is one of the highlights. I’ve seen a few people compare A Short Hike to Animal Crossing but, well, no. Sure, there are animals you can talk to, and it’s super cute, but that’s where the similarities end. A Short Hike is far more story-rich than Animal Crossing and has a linear storyline rather than the sandbox-style of Animal Crossing.
A Short Hike is literally, just that. Clare is, reluctantly, on holiday with her aunt but she’d prefer to be at home to take care of her mother. She complains about not having mobile phone coverage, and her aunt suggests a hike up the mountain, and so starts our journey. A Short Hike doesn’t need to be done quickly. You can explore, collect items and talk to other characters along the way. It’s nice to take your time with the game and just have fun… and glide!
Gris blurs the line between game and art! With its beautiful graphics and incredible sound design, it makes for an enjoyable, immersive experience. There have been some criticisms of Gris that it isn’t actually a game, but I would disagree. It involves platforming, collecting items and light puzzle work to progress the story as well as gaining more abilities as you play.
Gris is a game of sorrow and loss and trying to find yourself after a painful experience. There is no dialogue in the game, and the story is told through symbols and colour as our protagonist comes out the other side of her experience. I enjoyed Gris for the moving experience that it is. I was not expecting it to be full of difficult combat or frustrating puzzles. If you can go into it with this type of mindset, it is a very enjoyable game.
Released in December, Arise is a title I almost missed, but I’m thrilled that I didn’t. Arise is a beautiful and moving game that starts at the end. The game opens to the lighting of a funeral pyre as our character’s journey moves from this life to the next. Momentarily, you wonder what will happen next and then you awake in a snow-filled world with a light beckoning us from the distance.
The story plays out through levels made of memories that follow our protagonist from childhood to death. Each level involves platforming and a time mechanic that allows you to change the environment by going backwards and forwards in time to solve puzzles. Each level differs in feel and tone and is excellent at evoking emotion.
I found myself playing just a little more to find out what would happen next. This is definitely one of my favourite games of the year, and I’m relieved that I didn’t pass it over.
If you’re feeling ill, you should look to the stars for a cure! At least, that is what Simon Forman believed, and so did his clients. Astrologaster is based on the journals of real-life historical figure Simon Forman, a doctor who believed he could cure people by looking to the stars. After gaining quite a reputation when he cured many of the plague in 1592, more and more clients came to see Simon for a cure. Needless to say, the doctors in the area aren’t happy. Astrologaster is part historical fiction (emphasis on the fiction) and part musical comedy with each visitor to Simon’s practice accompanied with a song to tell their tale.
You play Astrologaster like you would read a pop-up book with each scene changing with the turn of a page. After each visit, you get a report to see how well you did on your diagnosis. This is especially useful as you’ll need to try and get a reference out of these poor, misled souls. Gain enough references in time and Simon can become a qualified doctor, if not, well… better not to think about that.
If you want to know more about Astrologaster, I did a review earlier in the year. Check it out here.
I hope you enjoy my favourites and I’d love to know what yours were for 2019!