Challenging Indie Games (Part 3)

Challenging Indie Games (Part 3)

From rockin' out to biking downhill

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for Rapid Fire Reviews on

Games that offer some sort of rewarding challenge come in many forms so here are 8 such indies that I've been enjoying recently.

No Straight Roads Review PlayStation 4 ★★★★☆

You have to hand it to indie devs who create something truly original and with that in mind, here's the wonderful No Straight Roads.

No Straight Roads screenshot
Mayday and Zuke are in for one trippy adventure

When I started playing No Straight Roads, I didn't quite know what to think of it but after beating a couple of its bosses, I found myself hooked on its strange and colourful world. You basically play as a rock duo named Bunk Bed Junction while you try and fight enemies that represent EDM with the power of rock. Right away, this premise really captured my imagination but where No Straight Roads shines is in its off-the-wall presentation that's filled with humour as well as its unconventional gameplay. It's essentially a 3D platformer brawler where the enemies move with the beat and it's your job to avoid attacks while unleashing your own moves. The highlight of the gameplay is the boss fights which offer oodles of variety and may have you scratching your head at times yet they remain rewarding and exciting to battle. Throw in nifty unlockables and upgrades and you're left with a brilliant blend of mechanics set in one imaginative world.

No Straight Roads is one of my favourite indies of the year and it made me have renewed faith in game developers' sense of creativity.

No Straight Roads gameplay video →

Raji: An Ancient Epic Review Switch ★★★★☆

Some games do an excellent job of capturing a culture or period of time and Raji: An Ancient Epic does just that and it's great fun, too.

Raji: An Ancient Epic screenshot
It's like Prince of Persia but better

Raji: An Ancient Epic tells the tale of Raji who's a young warrior sent by the gods to take on demon invaders. It takes place in ancient India which I found to be quite eye-opening seeing as not many games are set there. The first thing that impressed me was the fantastic voice cast, beautiful animations, and lovely environments but what kept me playing was its spot-on 3D action. It plays a lot like Prince of Persia as you can climb and swing around stages yet, dare I say, the gameplay here is much better. What makes it stand out is the combat which allows you to leap off walls and poles in order to perform devastating attacks. It takes a lot of practice to get the moves just right but once it starts to click, you'll have a blast taking out hordes of demons as you watch Raji gracefully fling herself around the arena. I wish the campaign was longer because it truly is an evolution in 3D action and I highly recommend it to any genre fan.

Few 3D action games feature the level of finesse and originality that Raji: An Ancient Epic boasts and it's quite captivating, too.

Raji: An Ancient Epic gameplay video →

OkunoKA Madness Review Xbox One ★★★★☆

Mastering fast-paced 2D platforming stages is nothing new so does OkunoKA Madness offer gameplay that stands out from the crowd?

OkunoKA Madness screenshot
What if Super Meat Boy had clever puzzles?

There's no denying that OkunoKA Madness plays a lot like Super Meat Boy as you scale walls and leap around stages in the hopes of reaching the goal. However, one aspect that makes it feel like the next step up when compared to similar games is that there's a strong puzzle element. In other words, figuring out how to master stages is often as challenging as the platforming itself. For example, you'll acquire the ability to solidify certain platforms at the tap of a button and you'll have to regularly toggle them as you carefully weave between them. Plus, there are a ton of stages to master and boss fights to take on, too, so you're looking at a huge and varied campaign. If you really want to test your skills then you can try to climb the leaderboards and take on the speedrun modes, too.

OkunoKA Madness proves that games inspired by Super Meat Boy don't have to be copycats by offering plenty of enjoyable mechanics.

OkunoKA Madness gameplay video → More games that play like Super Meat Boy

Evergate Review Switch ★★★☆☆

Here we have another game about mastering tough 2D stages so let's enter the Evergate and see what this indie brings to the genre.

Evergate screenshot
Figuring out these stages sometimes feels like homework

Evergate's gameplay may take a while to click but once it does, you'll realise that it's a rather simple game at its core. You basically jump and aim a light at white surfaces with an object in between in order to leap away from it while you try and work your way to each stage's goal. Along the way, you can try and beat the stage in under its par time, acquire all of the collectibles, and utilize every object. Although all of this works, there is a decent amount of variety, the graphics are lovely, and the overarching tale is quite heartwarming, the fact that many stages rely on trial and error more than pure skill kind of annoyed me after a while. For example, it's not always easy to tell what you'll need later in the stage so you may end up working your way to the end only to realise that you screwed yourself over by using an object prematurely earlier in the stage. Other than that annoying aspect, I had a solid time with this clever platformer.

Even though its premise has a lot of promise, Evergate's reliance on trial and error makes the experience feel more frustrating than fun.

Evergate gameplay video →

Collapsed Review Switch ★★★☆☆

For whatever reason, roguelikes and twin-stick shooters go together like peanut butter and jelly so with that in mind, here's Collapsed.

Collapsed screenshot
Hey, don't all gang up on me at once!

Collapsed is a typical twin-stick shooter platformer where you run and jump around while shooting at hordes of enemies to thin out their ranks. When I started playing it, I was put off by the poor graphical aesthetics which feature dark environments and cheesy sprites that appear dated. Unfortunately, I didn't end up enjoying the visuals the more I played it. Its gameplay is fairly standard, too, yet it's solid and the amount of character growth options in place make progressing feel rewarding. Plus, this component acts as an impressive driving force that encourages you to keep trying your best even after you perish. That being said, the core gameplay doesn't really evolve much as you play and as a result, diving into a second playthrough after you master it (which doesn't take long) is likely to feel like a chore.

Although it isn't much different to your standard twin-stick platform shooter, Collapsed certainly offers some enjoyable roguelike action.

Collapsed gameplay video → More roguelike twin-stick shooters

Descenders Review PlayStation 4 ★★★☆☆

Riding a bicycle down a hill while performing tricks makes for a fun formula so does Descenders offer an enjoyable take on the genre?

Descenders screenshot
It's no Downhill Domination but it'll do

I remember playing Downhill Domination for PS2 which featured an intense sense of speed, outstanding gameplay, and graphics that still hold up nowadays so when I saw a game with a similar premise, I just had to play it. When I jumped in, Descenders disappointed me because I assumed that you'd be whipping down steep mountainsides at breakneck speeds but instead, it's about navigating through procedurally generated courses. To be clear, there are levels where you'll zip downhill but the sense of speed just doesn't quite live up to the PS2 classic. Anyway, working your way through the node-based campaign as you try to complete every event while mastering their optional challenges by performing tricks and such is definitely fun. However, I felt that the procedural generation actually took away from the overall experience as certain tracks didn't do a good job of complementing the core gameplay and there's a lot of repetition, too.

Descenders is one of those rare games that procedural generation makes it less fun. I wish it was a fine-tuned experience instead.

Descenders gameplay video →

King of Fighters R-2 Review Switch ★★★☆☆

King of Fighters has been around for a long time and we've seen many ports so here's a 1999 classic from the Neo-Geo Pocket Color.

King of Fighters R-2 screenshot
Iori's so tough, he doesn't need a team

With such a vast library of top-notch arcade games, it's odd that SNK decided to port some of their portable titles considering they simply don't live up to their arcade counterparts. With that being said, there's a certain charm to these games that's hard to deny. King of Fighters R-2 is a team-based fighter which features 14 characters that belong to 5 teams. Seeing as it only utilizes 2 buttons, the fighting is surprisingly solid although performing special moves requires some practice as you'll have to flick the stick in all sorts of directions while learning how to time moves appropriately. There is an RPG-style Making mode included, too, although I found the simplicity of the main mode to be more immediately gratifying. It's certainly a charming game but I hope SNK ports something that isn't a fighter next.

Fighting games have come a long way since 1999 and this portable fighter is fun but King of Fighters R-2 can't help but feel dated.

King of Fighters R-2 gameplay video → SNK Gals' Fighters Review

Samurai Shodown! 2 Review Switch ★★★☆☆

Here we have yet another SNK pocket fighting series port but does Samurai Shodown! 2 come close to its arcade counterparts?

Samurai Shodown! 2 screenshot
I wonder if actual samurais could jump 10 feet in the air...

Just like King of Fighters R-2, Samurai Shodown! 2 originally released for Neo-Geo Pocket Color back in 1999 and it pretty much does a similar job of translating the arcade fighting gameplay to the portable 2-button console. In this adaptation, you play as 1 of 15 characters in 1-on-1 battles that feature the franchise's distinct devastating attacks which can deplete your health bar a great deal if you're not careful. Each character has a Slash and Bust technique variation just like in Samurai Shodown III: Blades of Blood and there's a survival mode, too, as well as a versus multiplayer mode although it's weird playing via 2 separate virtual screens. Overall, it's a solid chibi version of the iconic arcade fighting franchise but it really isn't anything more than that; purely for collectors of retro nostalgia.

For better or worse, Samurai Shodown! 2 is exactly what you'd expect from a portable adaptation of the arcade fighting game.

Samurai Shodown! 2 gameplay video → Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection Review
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Gameplay video playlist for Challenging Indie Games (Part 3) 36:54
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