With the increasing mainstream popularity and availability of indie games, which is more visible than ever with Nintendo’s “Nindies” campaign this year, it is no surprise that the Wii U and 3DS were home to some excellent titles in 2015. While compiling my “Top 5 Nintendo Games of 2015,” I realized how many amazing indie games came out this year; unfortunately, many were overshadowed by the heavy-hitters from Nintendo and other large studios.
With that in mind, I thoughtfully scoured through the long list of indie games released on Nintendo platforms. I now present, to you, my top 5 Nintendo indie games of 2015.
5. Runbow (13AM Games, Wii U eShop)
If you are looking for a frenetic multiplayer party game, then look no further than 13AM Games’ Runbow. The basic premise of the game involves up to nine players (yes, nine players) simultaneously running across a level and avoiding obstacles while beating on each other in a race to the finish. The real hook of the game comes with its neoteric color mechanic, which changes platform visibility depending on the ever-changing background color. In addition to the changing colors, there are several frantic power-ups scattered throughout each course to ensure insanity levels are topped out.
For a game with a pretty basic concept, Runbow pleasantly surprised me with its massive amount of content. There are several modes to play, including a couple that are fun to play solo or co-op, and each mode offers hours of fun. The art style is delightfully minimalistic, which lends itself well to the game’s vibrant color theme. Add in a dozen or so playable powerhouse indie character cameos and you have yourself a fantastic, well-rounded party game that should find itself installed on every Wii U.
4. Gunman Clive HD Collection (Hörberg Productions, Wii U eShop)
I first played Gunman Clive on the 3DS back in 2013. The presentation looked simple, but the promise of side-scrolling, wild west gun-slinging action and a cheap price point convinced me to give it a shot. Then, it only took a few minutes for me to realize how refined and deep the game actually was. When I found out a sequel was being released, and then both games were going to be packaged together as Gunman Clive HD Collection this year on the Wii U eShop, I immediately knew it was going to be a day one purchase.
The appealing art style, which at first seems very simple, is actually comprised of fully animated 3D models with a graphical filter to provide its charming hand-drawn appearance. The boss battles are epic and clever, the platforming is tricky and top-notch, and the gun-fighting is as smooth as Wyatt Earp’s draw. Anyone old enough to fondly remember dumping quarters into Sunset Riders in their local arcade is sure to appreciate its influence; however, they will appreciate saving their quarters more so with Gunman Clive HD Collection’s cheap price of only $3.99. If you enjoy side-scrolling action/platformers, you have no excuse to not give it a shot.
3. Never Alone (Upper One Games, Wii U eShop)
Heartwarming. That is the one word I would use to describe Never Alone, the video game debut from Upper One Games. Never Alone is one of those games, usually only found through the indie scene, that transcends the medium and truly becomes an experience. With a very unique style of delivery, the game explores Alaskan Native heritage and folklore through an endearing tale of times past.
Through interviews and old footage interwoven throughout the gameplay, Never Alone is one-part documentary and one-part puzzle/platformer with an atmospheric vibe that really makes you feel like you are reliving the stories as they are passed down. With storytelling being such a central feature, players can expect to be engrossed with the fascinating Alaskan Native culture, which adds an extra layer of immersion and investment to the experience. Although the gameplay is simple and occasionally clumsy, the presentation is very emotional and simply enchanting. Enjoyable as either a solitary or co-op venture, Never Alone makes for the perfect game when you just want to sit down, turn out the lights, and immerse yourself in an ethereal experience.
2. SteamWorld Heist (Image & Form, 3DS eShop)
Image & Form, the developers behind the burgeoning hit SteamWorld game series, once again manages to produce a unique, inventive experience with SteamWorld Heist. Taking place in the expanding SteamWorld universe, Heist takes fans of the series on a completely new adventure. Not only does the story take place in space long after SteamWorld Dig, but the genre in which the game is presented has continued to change along with the series.
If you enjoy strategy games, then there is no question whether or not you should play SteamWorld Heist. You absolutely should. The beauty of the game design, however, is that there is plenty of skill-based action to appeal to all gamers. With its innovative game mechanics, SteamWorld Heist maintains the intellectual gratification of strategy games while making the actual battles feel more personal and vivacious by giving the player control of the shots rather than leaving them up to percentages of chance.
Additionally, the charming world is presented through wonderfully rendered characters, animations, and backdrops. Also, the writing is witty and top-notch. It is obvious that the team at Image & Form is not only talented and resourceful, but passionately dedicated to their craft. SteamWorld Heist is a great experience of which there simply is no substitute.
1. FAST Racing NEO (Shin’en, Wii U eShop)
Zooming into first place on the list is FAST Racing NEO, a Wii U exclusive downloadable eShop title that serves as developer Shin’en’s follow up to their 2011 WiiWare title FAST Racing League. Over the years, Shin’en has proven themselves time and time again to be masters of taking a simple game concept, perfecting the core ideas, and squeezing out every last drop of the hardware to deliver a final product that is more polished than many AAA games. With FAST Racing NEO being one of my most anticipated games of the year, I am very pleased to say that this fast-paced racing game is no exception.
FAST Racing NEO is the newest entry in a seemingly dying breed of racing game sub-genres: futuristic, high-speed racing. If you are familiar with classics such as Extreme G, Wipeout and, of course, F-Zero, then you have a general idea of what to expect. FAST Racing NEO manages to execute tough but fair, arcade breakneck-racing that is a blast whether playing alone, online, or on the couch with a friend. It may take a few laps around the track for new players to get a feel for the floaty controls, but once they do, they are sure to get addicted. With sublime track and vehicle designs, stunning visuals, and references to Captain Falcon and company scattered throughout, the game comes extremely close to filling the F-Zero-shaped hole in the heart of many Nintendo fans. Considering the cheap price point and excellent presentation, FAST Racing NEO is absolutely one of the best values for Wii U owners this year.
And finally, after much deliberation and games being repeatedly cut and added, this concludes my top five Nintendo indie games of 2015. Did your favorites make it? What would your top five list be? Let the world know your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media channels — I would love to hear them!