Commentary

In love with daringly wacky indie games

Last week, I started playing Depth, a video game where sharks play third-person-perspective brawlers, and divers first-person shooters.

It is a low-budget game with middling graphics. The sharks look goofy and, from a distance, the divers are flesh-coloured blobs. There is not much content either, with no campaign and only online play.

But there is something so ludicrous about the possibility of munching down on an unsuspecting diver or being shaken like a rag doll by a man-eating shark that I keep going back.

For me, the best video games are not the blockbuster, big-budget titles with complex plots and the most up-to-date game engines and graphics.

The titles that stay with me the longest are the ones I stumble upon randomly from smaller developers who dared to do something so crazy that it works.

Yes, games like Fallout 4 and Star Wars Battlefront are epic, rousing and a boatload of fun.

But because safe, accessible games ratchet up the sales numbers, stalwart developers will never be able to infuse their products with the same sort of whimsy, humour and personality that make indie titles sparkle - and make me fall in love with them.

A big studio would have canned Magicka for its overly complicated eight-element spell-casting combinations or spiked time-bending 2D platformer Braid for its ambiguous, trippy storyline. And who would want to just walk around an abandoned office? Any major developer would have said that of The Stanley Parable. And Goat Simulator - yes, you play as a goat - would have been laughed out of the boardroom.

But all these games have gone on to develop cult followings.

Of course, there is always the risk of buying a dud indie game - I have tried a few uninspired, clunky experiments which I abandoned after a few hours.

But for me, this journey of discovery is also part of the fun. It reminds me of when I was a child, browsing the library rack for hours, borrowing books based on their dust jackets. I discovered smaller, hitherto unknown works that shaped my perspective of the world.

Just as thumbing through a new book excites with the thrill of unknown possibilities, so is booting up an unplayed game.

And when you find a gem among the rubble, it is well worth the time and effort.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'Commentary In love with daringly wacky indie games'. Print Edition | Subscribe