2012: The Year of the Canadian Indie

fez-game

2012 was a banner year for the Canadian videogame industry. From groundbreaking indies to benchmarking triple A titles, there was no shortage of top-quality, Canadian-developed games. And in the year when the full-game download and digital distribution became an industry standard, the gaming community in general was introduced to a number of talented indie development teams through their creative, fun, and genre-bridging games.

What’s interesting about the new indie scene is that games are available not just on PC anymore like it used to be; gamers can now purchase and download indie games on their dedicated handheld systems, their favourite game consoles, and even on their smartphones and tablets. It just shows that the modern gamer isn’t just interested in the triple-A blockbuster, but they’re also willing to play smaller, yet equally – if not moreso – playable productions.

Check out six of 2012’s best Canadian indie developers and their groundbreaking games after the break.

A Sound Shapes level featuring design from Canadian developers Superbrothers.

A Sound Shapes level featuring design from the Capybara team.

Queasy GamesSound Shapes

PS3/PS Vita – Available on the PlayStation Network

What started out as a sidescrolling platformer turned out to be one of the most interesting music games to come out in years. Part instrumental app and part game, Sound Shapes is a platformer that allows players to make their own levels and music to share to the world. Players are cast as a little suction ball that rolls through these levels collecting items; as they are collected, new notes are added to the background music, making each level and song unique and interesting.

While the game has levels built-in, what makes it even better is the Sound Shapes community that continually creates new levels like this one and this to extend the game’s shelf-life. Each of the campaign content can be used as assets to create new levels, and uploaded for everyone else to play; players can also remix these downloaded levels and create an endless stream of new content for the game.

Quico's volatile relationship with the Monster - a metaphor for Quico and his father.

Quico’s volatile relationship with the Monster – a metaphor for Quico and his father.

Minority MediaPapo & Yo

PS3 – Available on the PlayStation Network

Minority Media’s Papo & Yo resonated with me because of it’s deep story and endearing characters. I loved that the game made me really feel for the characters as they dealt with heavy themes/metaphors that are rarely ever explored in the interactive medium. It’s also an incredibly accessible game that can be enjoyed by all ages. It didn’t matter if you got the metaphors or not, you can still enjoy it based on gameplay alone.

Papo & Yo was one of those rare interactive experiences that succeeded in generating player empathy through engaging characters, interactions, and stories. It successfully entertained, but at the same time brought forth real issues that many children and even adults deal with in real life. I loved the entire experience from beginning to end, especially the volatile relationship and interactions between Quico and Monster.

I also loved how one moment the Favela looks like real-world location, and the next it’s transformed (by my actions) into this abstract-art world where buildings become living beings and everything can become a puzzle piece that can help me get to where I need to go.

Check out my editorial on Papo & Yo’s deep story and characters.

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8-Bit open world mayhem full of 80’s and 90’s references and cameos.

Vblank EntertainmentRetro City Rampage

PS3/PS Vita/Wii/PC/XBLA

As a kid who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, I really dug Retro City Rampage’s nods to entertainment and brands of those times. Retro City Rampage played like the original Grand Theft Auto on the PC, yet it also brought along a number of modern game mechanics like shooting from behind cover as well as a cohesive and intersting open-world.

A big part of the game’s charm is seeing the funny/spoof references on many billboards, shop signs, and locations all around the open-world of Theftropolis. There’s always something cool to see at every city block, so many stores to visit, and so many secrets to find. It also helps that the game and story was so unbelievably unpredictable; most missions had me guessing on who else might make an appearance/cameo or even how much more crazy the story can become.

Sure the game had some frustrating difficulty spikes, but I never got bored playing it. There’s just so much crammed into the game that there’s always something to do, missions to accomplish, and challenges to complete.

Check out our full Retro City Rampage review for a more in-depth look at the game.

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I was performing the song through my movements and gameplay in DYAD

][ (Right Square Bracket Left Square Bracket) - DYAD

PS3 – Available on the PlayStation Network

A hypnotic and visually overwhelming/engaging rhythm shooter-racer, DYAD felt like the art style, the gameplay, and the trippy feeling of games like REZ, Wipeout, Tempest, and Child of Eden mixed together to create a multi-sensory shooter that cannot be missed, especially if you loved the aforementioned classics.

The audio and the visuals strongly correlate to everything that happens on the screen, especially the soundtrack. Now I’m not a musician, but I felt like one whilst playing DYAD because each of the levels I played made me feel like I was performing the song through my movements and gameplay.

Compared to a traditional racing game though where you’re only following one line (track), DYAD presents you with a number of ways to build momentum through its levels. On some of the faster speeds, the game also works as a puzzle because you’re overloaded with information and music interaction that you have a split second to make decisions on what combos to make, and to act on them.

As a ninja, you have a number of tools at your disposal to help you avoid detection.

As a ninja, you have a number of tools at your disposal to help you avoid detection.

Klei EntertainmentMark of the Ninja

A few years ago I watched a film called Ninja Assassin. The intro scene in that film showed how incredibly deadly a Ninja in shadows can be if handled properly. And as soon as I tried the first level of Mark of the Ninja I was hooked; not only because of it’s unique art style, but because of it’s infinite replayability and its way of making me feel like the ultimate Ninja – agile, invisible, and deadly.

It’s also one of the first games to nail 2D stealth mechanics previously bungled by older games. Each of the levels are divided between parts that are lit, and those that are dark. It also employs an AI line of sight mechanic that all came together to give players a way to know if they’re hidden or in plain sight. Mark of the Ninja gave players a number of ways to distract and sneak by enemies with tools like the smoke bombs, noise makers, and even a cardboard box.

Those who feel like dealing death have a large amount of moves and abilities that can help them sneak and kill undetected. The Ninja is an incredbily agile hero and can traverse the environments using ventilation shafts, garbage bins, and pretty much any place that can be hidden in to perform his trademark silent kills. I loved sneaking into a room, stealthily taking out all of the light sources, luring a guard inside and introducing my blade to his unfortunate self.

Check out our full Mark of the Ninja review for an in-depth look at the game.

fez-game-screen

This world shifting also doubles as environmental puzzles that push you to think as you interact with the game world.

Polytron CorporationFEZ

XBox 360 – Available on Xbox Live Arcade

This retro-flavoured 2D platformer allows players to shift their perspective in 3D, allowing for the world to reveal new places to traverse and platforms to jump on. I was blown away the first time I saw this happen in FEZ; playing the game without knowing too much about it, it blew my mind trying to figure out how it was possible for a 2D game world to rotate in three dimensions.

FEZ introduces a new perspective to the traditional platforming genre and pretty much revolutionizes it. The game’s presentation is retro-styled but feels modern because the game world is full is ever-changing including moving flora and fauna, a day/night cycle, and visual glitches pop up when the cube introduces the 3rd dimension to the 2D world.

I love playing platformers by nature so when I was introduced to the ability to shift the world in 3D, I was addicted. FEZ’s world shifting also doubles as environmental puzzles that push you to think as you interact with the game world. And this interaction is all the better because of the exploration that the game allows the player, gives them all the time they need to learn the cogs that make each level work.

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So there you have it folks, six of the best Canadian indie developers and their best games of 2012. Which ones did you play and which games did you enjoy the most?

Share with us your thoughts of the Canadian indie scene and tell us of other titles that I might have overlooked. I’m sure all of us are always looking for new game experiences and creative games to play.

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About janhutchings

Canadian Game Industry Blogger / Contributor for @Sonyrumors & @ShogunGamer / Communications and PR Professional. Voice of Canadian and Indie Gaming. http://jtmgames.com/

Posted on December 18, 2012, in Indie Spotlight and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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