The 2017 IO 'Indies' Awards

The Indie Obscura staff got together to talk about a variety of indie games that went above and beyond in 2017.

We play a lot of indie games here at Indie Obscura, and have had the good fortunate of playing a lot of memorable titles. We've discovered new favorites, learned more about the indie game realm, and in general have had a pretty productive year.

Heading into 2018, we wanted to take a look back at 2017 and all of the indie games that left their mark on us. Different gaming sites have different criteria for their end-of-year awards, and as you'd expect, our awards will be focusing solely on indie games and their developers.

To give everyone an equal voice, each writer was able to pick out their own winners for each category. So, without further ado, here are the winners of the 2017 IO "Indies" Awards! 

Game of the Year

Nate Hohl - Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

I don’t think there was any game from 2017 (or any game ever for that matter) that resonated with me as much as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice did. I'm fortunate enough to have been raised in an environment where the struggles of mental illness have never really affected me directly.

However, I have several family members who work within mental health fields and who have been exposed to the harmful realities of mental illness firsthand. Not only did Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice allow me to better understand the nuances of mental illness and how horrific they can be, it is also a genuinely enjoyable game to play and well worth my nomination for 2017 indie game of the year.

Morgan Shaver - Cuphead

While I personally wasn't able to best one of the hardest indie games of the year, Cuphead, I nevertheless developed a fierce appreciation for the game. To be honest, it was extremely tough picking a "Game of the Year" title with all of the incredible indie games that released this year.

For AAA, my GOTY is easily Horizon Zero Dawn, but for indie I had a pretty long list of candidates. I think the development process and sheer dedication of the Studio MDHR team is what sold me on Cuphead as GOTY.

The art style of the game immediately pulls you in, and despite how difficult the game can be, it's impossible to set Cuphead to the side as something to finish later. You can't help but keep playing day after day. Plus, the character designs for Cuphead and Mugman are absolutely adorable. 

Larryn Bell - What Remains of Edith Finch

Of all the amazing indie games that released in 2017, the one that will stick with me the most is definitely What Remains of Edith Finch. The game is really a bunch of different short stories wrapped into one, giving players an array of experiences to enjoy.

Developer Giant Sparrow did a great job at characterizing and conveying the personalities of each family member in their final moments. What Remains of Edith Finch is magical realism done right. The creative gameplay and art direction helped to convey stories that packed the right amount of emotional punch. It's an experience I won’t soon forget.

Best Soundtrack

Morgan Shaver - Pyre

Darren Korb is by far one of my favorite game composers. Upon learning he’d be composing music for yet another game from Supergiant, Pyre, I was understandably excited.

The Pyre soundtrack boasts the same style I fell in love with via Korb’s work on the Bastion soundtrack, and a whole lot more. There’s not a single track on the Pyre OST that I dislike. If I had to pick an absolute favorite track, though, it’d probably be “Vagrant” featuring the vocal stylings of Darren Korb himself.

I definitely like how well he and Ashley mesh on tracks like “In The Flame” and “Bound Together.” However, there’s a special something that’s hard to put my finger on in “Vagrant” that makes it stand out. Regardless, if you’re looking for an indie game soundtrack that grabs you from start to finish, definitely give the Pyre OST a listen.

Larryn Bell - Seven: The Days Long Gone

One of my favorite games of all time is The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. When I discovered that the game’s composer, Marcin Przybyłowicz, had also created the music for Seven: The Days Long Gone, I knew I was in for a treat.

Seven: The Days Long Gone was created by several ex-Witcher developers, which explains Przybyłowicz’s involvement in the project. What resulted was an exhilarating new soundtrack for Seven that captures the game’s rogue cyperpunk feel.

The Seven: The Days Long Gone soundtrack combines country western elements with the unique European sounds used in The Witcher 3, conjuring a new, powerful sound that I couldn’t get enough of. Imagine Geralt as a hybrid gunslinger-Witcher in Red Dead Redemption. Yeah, it's that cool. Definitely worth a listen!

Nate Hohl - Hollow Knight

While its Dark Souls-esque difficulty curve is nothing to scoff at, there’s a lot about Team Cherry’s metroidvania platformer Hollow Knight that remain consistently enjoyable throughout.

These include its cute visuals, simple yet engaging gameplay, and of course, its hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. Each unique part of the game felt more distinct and immersive thanks to Hollow Knight’s use of music, and of course nothing makes your palms sweat during an intense boss fight quite like some suitably epic music to go along with it.

Best Art Direction

Morgan Shaver - Cuphead

Studio MDHR dared to do something different with Cuphead, and their hard work and dedication certainly paid off. Cuphead is a visual masterpiece that properly pays homage to animation of days gone by. Furthermore, the animation helps offset the game’s extreme difficulty.

It’s impossible to get tired of Cuphead, even if you’re replaying the same level or boss fight for the umpteenth time. I’d love to see a cartoon release of Cuphead in the future, and I won’t deny that I’ve already purchased Cuphead merchandise. I adore the dynamic duo of Cuphead and Mugman.

In the end, I’m excited to see what else Studio MDHR cooks up in the future, especially after they confirmed they’ll continue to develop using 2D animation!

Larryn Bell - Gorogoa

Gorogoa was a delightful treat to play at the end of 2017. This surreal puzzle game involves sliding tiles around on a grid to match up various illustrations and unveil new scenes. It doesn’t sound like much, but once you fiddle around with the images and solve your first real puzzle, it’s easy to get hooked for the rest of the journey.

What truly makes Gorogoa stand out is its hand-drawn illustrations made by Jason Roberts, who is also the main developer and creative mastermind behind the game. The way that the illustrations of each panel combine with one another is truly something that you won’t experience in other games.

Gorogoa sets the bar high for puzzle games in terms of artistic quality and ingenuity, which has certainly earned it my vote for Best Art Direction.

Nate Hohl - What Remains of Edith Finch

If you consider yourself to be both a connoisseur of the arts and a gamer, you owe it to yourself to play What Remains of Edith Finch. The game plays out through a series of short interactive vignettes, each of which focuses on a different member of the Finch family.

The various visual mediums which developer Giant Sparrow uses to present those vignettes are as diverse as they are engaging. The actual gameplay may not be too complex, but What Remains of Edith Finch is a visual feast of the senses if there ever was one.

Best Story

Morgan Shaver - Night in the Woods

Had Cuphead not come out this year, I probably would’ve given Night in the Woods the “Best Art Direction” nod. After thinking it over, though, I feel “Best Story” is a bit more fitting for Night in the Woods. It’s true that when you play the game, you’re first pulled in by the beautiful graphics which—for me—feel vaguely reminiscent of a children’s book.

However, it’s the dialogue and patchwork presentation of the story that really hooks you. Night in the Woods isn’t afraid to be weird and quirky. If anything, it relishes in its oddity. It’s also not afraid to present a somewhat unlikeable protagonist in Mae Borowski.

As she grows and matures in the game, she becomes easier to relate to. You can’t help but get attached, almost as though you’re another member in her diverse group of friends. Night in the Woods is a slice of life story done absolutely, amazingly perfect. I can think of no better game for this category.

Nate Hohl - What Remains of Edith Finch

It was actually quite hard for me to pick just one game for this category since there were so many awesome indies from 2017 which told equally awesome stories, but in the end I have to give it to What Remains of Edith Finch.

The game’s story is equal parts a coming-of-age tale, a haunting recollection of how tragedy can so deeply affect a single family, and a fascinating look into broader concepts like death and how a family can evolve through different generations.

My favorite kinds of stories are the ones you want to experience multiple times over, if only to see if you can spot any new details you may have missed, and the story behind What Remains of Edith Finch fits that bill rather nicely.

Larryn Bell - What Remains of Edith Finch

For me, the best single-player games present a story that will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished. There’s no other game this year that fits that criteria more that What Remains of Edith Finch.

What Remains of Edith Finch is a surreal tale about death, discovery, and perspective. I appreciate the game’s use of magical realism and creative gameplay mechanics to convey each family member’s final moments and to characterize life and loss in unique ways.

The game tucks several stories into one overarching narrative, which for me is all the more reason to give it the “Best Story” vote. Edith Finch’s story hits all the right emotional notes and sets a standard for what ‘walking simulators’ can achieve.

Indie for Impact

Nate Hohl - Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

I’ll admit Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice wasn’t really on my radar back when it first launched, which is a shame since its August 8th launch date was mere days after my birthday of August 5th.

However, when developer Ninja Theory announced it would be donating all proceeds from sales of Hellblade to mental health charities as part of this year’s National Mental Health Day, I knew it was a game I needed to pay more attention to.

I happily waited to buy the game until the Mental Health Day charity run, and the only thing I enjoyed more than the feeling of knowing I was making a positive impact was getting to play the game itself.

Morgan Shaver - Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Mental health is an issue that hits close to home, as I’ve suffered through depression most of my life. I honestly feel the game did an amazing job portraying mental illness in an enlightening, yet respectful way.

In addition, Ninja Theory donating proceeds towards mental health helped the game in making a greater impact. For me, there’s no other game this year that comes close to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice in terms of impact, and I highly recommend checking out the game if you haven’t already.

Larryn Bell - Night in the Woods

Alongside Hellblade, I feel that Night in the Woods deserves a nod in the “Indie for Impact” category. In many other games, mental health issues are often characterized using unstable villains or other fragile characters grappling with their sanity (Far Cry 3 comes to mind).

However, Night in the Woods did things a bit differently. Night in the Woods portrays the many facets of mental health through the lives of the feline protagonist, Mae, and her three other friends. Each character grapples with their own mental health issues, whether it be depression, anxiety, or other emotional states.

Rather than explicitly talking about mental health issues themselves, Night in the Woods addresses mental health issues through the lens of those who experience it, which is a refreshing take on the topic.

Best Mobile Indie

Nate Hohl - Stranger Things: The Game

I’m a huge fan of Netflix’s horror series Stranger Things, mainly because of the many callbacks it makes to classic movies and games of past decades, so of course I was very intrigued when developer BonusXP surprise-released a mobile tie-in game which honors the retro 16-bit era of gaming while also being just a genuinely fun mobile gaming experience in its own right.

When you consider just how much content BonusXP managed to stuff into the Stranger Things mobile game (not to mention all the post-release updates it has gotten), it’s hard to believe the game is entirely free-to-play. Needless to say, Stranger Things: The Game is mobile gaming done right.

Larryn Bell - Monument Valley 2

When it comes to mobile games, I often have trouble finding games that are worth spending money on. However, Monument Valley is definitely one of those games, so when I heard that Ustwo Games was releasing a sequel to their hit mobile puzzle game this year, I knew it would be something to look forward to.

For those who haven’t played the first Monument Valley, it’s a puzzle game that involves exploring and manipulating stunning M.C. Escher-inspired architecture as a silent protagonist named Ida. Monument Valley 2 continues with the same idea, only this time you’re guiding a mother-daughter duo through the Sacred Geometry.

Monument Valley 2 is refreshingly complex for a mobile game, and its intuitive controls work brilliantly on mobile devices. It’s definitely worth trying if you don’t mind spending a few bucks for some on-the-go entertainment.

Morgan Shaver - Stranger Things: The Game

I’m not big on mobile gaming, and while I acknowledge that mobile games have come a long way over the years, most fail to really grab me as anything special. You can imagine my surprise when I dove into the world of Stranger Things: The Game.

As a fan of the show, I was thoroughly excited to see a game adaptation (even if that adaptation was on mobile). My expectations weren’t high, which definitely helped boost my enjoyment factor even more. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Stranger Things: The Game is one of the best mobile games I’ve ever played. 

The retro vibe of the game works incredibly well on mobile. It transported me back to the days when I avidly gamed via my Nintendo Game Boy. Not only is the design brilliant, but the game has a surprising amount of depth in regards to its characters and quests. Overall, Stranger Things: The Game is a must-play experience for fans of the show.

Best Indie on Nintendo Switch

Morgan Shaver - Snake Pass

Most underrated Nintendo Switch indie? I think so. Not only is Snake Pass a loving callback to the 3D platformers of my childhood, but it’s also incredibly fun to play. The controls are set up in such a way that you genuinely feel like a snake.

The character designs of Noodle and Doodle are adorable, when coupled with the game’s bright and charming world design, it’s hard not to smile while playing Snake Pass. Ok, unless you’re stuck trying to get a coin out from a seemingly impossible location, then smiling might be a little rough.

When it comes to games I played most on the Switch, Snake Pass is right up there with games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I may be a bit biased, but I truly feel Snake Pass is the best indie available on the Switch. No contest.

Nate Hohl - Stardew Valley

It’s still a little hard to believe that Nintendo’s Switch console has become such a prominent bastion for indie developers who are trying to break into the console scene given the company’s somewhat prickly relationship with third-party studios in past years.

However, my mother always told me it’s best not to look a gift horse in the mouth. The list of indie games which are available on the Switch grows longer every week, but if there’s one indie title that absolutely deserves to be on every Switch owner’s "must-play" list, it's Eric Barone’s charming little farming simulator Stardew Valley.

Best Indie Character

Morgan Shaver - Chloe Price from Life is Strange: Before the Storm

I loved Chloe Price’s character in the original Life is Strange, yet I found her to be even more engaging in the recently released prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

The dynamics of her relationship with Rachel Amber help shed new light on her personality, and I think the two bounce off each other a little better than Max from the first title.

It was a breath of fresh air to be able to play as Chloe in Before the Storm, and the developers did a fantastic job of making her feel like a real person. All of her imperfections and flaws serve to create this beautiful, well-rounded mess, and I can’t help but to relate to Chloe in this way.

Nate Hohl - Senua from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Much like with the "Best Story" category, I struggled for a while to settle on a single indie game character who I considered to be the best since there’s honestly so many to choose from, but in the end, I just couldn’t ignore my gut feeling that Hellblade protagonist Senua was the right pick.

Senua’s vulnerability, anger, and pain were brought to life vividly thanks to a powerful performance from motion capture actress Melina Juergens, and her swordsmanship skills meant that she could kick a lot of butt when she needed to. Also, fun fact: Melina Juergens had never acted professionally before taking on the role of Senua.

While serving as Hellblade’s video editor, Juergens was used as a sort of temporary stand-in, but the game’s leads liked her performance so much that she became the permanent basis for Senua’s appearance and dialogue delivery.

Larryn Bell - Mae from Night in the Woods

I happened to really enjoy Mae from Night in the Woods. She’s relatable on many levels, particularly for players who have struggled with certain mental health issues.

She drops out of college to focus on her own well-being, and upon returning to her hometown, she eventually finds support in friends who are dealing with similar problems.

There’s a surprising amount of depth to Mae’s character, which makes for a compelling story that is relatable and even somewhat therapeutic.

Best Indie Streamer (YT/Twitch)

Morgan Shaver - Markiplier

Markiplier continues to outdo himself on YouTube when it comes to indie game content. Being subscribed to his channel, I find that I’m always discovering interesting new indies games to play thanks to the diversity of his uploads.

Rather than simply going with what’s most popular, he picks a variety of interesting games to cover that he himself has an interest in. In doing so, I honestly feel he helps buoy the popularity of those games because of how engaging his “let’s play” videos are.

You can honestly tell he enjoys doing what he does, and no matter what the game is, there’s no doubt he’s having fun. Furthermore, he’s just an all-around decent human being who’s always looking to give back via charity. Plus, the appreciation he constantly shows his fans is nothing short of moving.

Nate Hohl - MrFreeze2244

I’ll admit I don’t really follow any livestreamers on a consistent basis, but YouTuber MrFreeze2244 is hands down one of the best Hitman video creators out there.

MrFreeze2244’s Hitman-related videos and livestreams have helped me conquer many of the game’s more difficult challenges. In particular, his video walkthroughs have helped me master more difficult scenarios like Escalation Contracts and Elusive Targets.

And, perhaps more importantly, repurposing the information I glean into in-depth guides for Indie Obscura (guides in which I naturally credit all of MrFreeze2244’s hard work of course).

Larryn Bell - Extra Credits

While I do tend to watch YouTube a lot, I don’t watch livestreams all that often. When I do, it tends to be streamers who are also known for their video content on YouTube as well. That’s why for this category I’ve decided to go with Extra Credits. The Extra Credits crew are typically known to create informative videos about video game development, world history, and various other topics.

Extra Credits has recently begun livestreaming indie games on Twitch as part of their “Games You Might Not Have Tried” series, and they’ve already featured some great indies like Hollow Knight and The Signal from Tölva. It’s a great series that has already helped me discover some new indies I’ve never heard of.

If you didn't see your favorite indie game on this list, fear not, as we have more "best of the best" lists on the way including our picks for top Nintendo Switch indies and top indies of 2017 (a full year in review).

Additionally, we'll be back in 2018 to showcase even more amazing indie game titles! Thank you to all of our readers who joined us in 2017, we hope to see you again next year.

Do you have picks for the categories above? Down in the comments below, share with us your indie game winners and why you feel they deserve recognition! 

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