Back in the 70s to late 90s, video games were ripe for experimentation. Many of the first commercially sold titles were electronic versions of games that could be enjoyed in the real world, such as Ping-Pong and Chess. However, as hardware improved, developers took the opportunity to provide new experiences. The platform game genre introduced by Donkey Kong was inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto’s love of Popeye cartoons.
During the mid-2000s, publishers became less willing to experiment, choosing instead to chase the hottest new trends. However, independent developers still continue to play with different genres to provide new experiences. The willingness of indie developers to tinker and subvert is something sorely lacking in the AAA gaming space.
10/10 Players refused the call of Haven Call Of The King
Developed by Traveler Tales and published by Midway, Haven Call of the King was an ambitious mix of platforming, racing, open world and much more. Director Jon Burton was heavily inspired by the Amiga title Mercenarywhich also blended several different game elements into a seamless unified experience.
Midway even went so far as to trademark the term “FreeFormer games”, believing that this title would lead to an entire franchise with a similar formula. Unfortunately, the game bombed commercially. Much of this can probably be attributed to the main character, whose grain and soul patch made for a dorky-looking protagonist.
9/10 Players got some help from their friends in Indivisible
Part platforming Metroidvania, part turn-based RPG, Indivisible put players in the role of Ajna and several other characters as she harnessed their abilities to thwart the ambitions of an evil empire. Players mainly maneuvered by running and jumping in 2D platforming sections, but when it was time to fight, the gameplay would switch to a JRPG combat formula reminiscent of Paper Mario and Valkyrie profile.
Much like titles such as Metroid and Castlevania, Anja would encounter obstacles that required a certain ability to progress. Unfortunately, the dissolution of Lab Zero Games meant the end of continued support for the title.
8/10 Moonlighter is part Dungeon Crawler, part sales management
The indie scene is overpopulated with roguelikes and dungeon crawlers with pixilated visuals. If Moonlights had been content to be just another addition to the deck, it would have been fine, but developer Digital Sun managed to put a nice twist on the formula by adding elements of business management sim elements.
Players can take the loot they have acquired through their expeditions and sell them in shops that they themselves also manage. The funds are then used to maintain and upgrade the shop and town. Needless to say, the resumes of these adventurers are sure to raise an eyebrow or two.
7/10 EA has deliberately kept Brutal Legends’ main game a secret
When players first get their hands on Tim Schafer’s heavy metal adventure, they could be forgiven for thinking of the game as just another hack-and-slash title with some elements of drive and open-world exploration. But after a couple of missions, players are gradually introduced to new mechanics, such as issuing commands to allies, protecting their base of operations, and utilizing the unique abilities of their comrades.
It’s only a matter of time before players realize they’re playing an RTS in disguise. Schafer claims that publisher EA deliberately kept this type of game secret to avoid scaring consumers.
6/10 Spirit dangers show that movements of Kindless are not unimportant
Spirit danger puts players in control of a young girl named Stella, who has just been given the same role and a ship. The job mainly involves traveling the seas, escorting souls onto her vessel, tending to their needs, and then sending them to their final resting place. The game is a mix of open world, platform, management sim and base building.
Players will be able to fully customize their ship to accommodate all of the passengers’ needs. When the time comes to say goodbye, it’s all the more heartbreaking to remember all the lessons the players have learned and the small gestures of kindness.
5/10 The Quest For Glory Tiles mixed graphic adventure and RPG
Conceived by husband and wife duo Lori and Corey Cole, the Quest for Glory titles allowed players to choose between three different character classes to solve the game’s missions in any way they saw fit. The games mixed customization and leveling elements of RPGs with an interface and puzzles reminiscent of graphic adventure games.
The second title, Trial by Fire, introduced a new unlockable class known as the Paladin, which gave players access to exclusive quests in subsequent entries. Best of all, players could import the hero’s save throughout the series, years before Mass effect came to the place.
4/10 ActRaiser gave players the burden of being a deity
Enix’s ActRaiser blended elements of side-scrolling action titles, RPGs and god simulations to create one of the most emotional and unique experiences on the Super Nintendo. Players felt the power, weight, and burden of being an all-powerful deity responsible for protecting humanity while clearing the land of enemies, guiding the people toward progress, and meeting their needs.
The juxtaposition of the fighting and management gameplay styles works perfectly for Enix’s bittersweet tale of humanity and faith. The game saw a sequel that mainly focused on the action and a remaster in 2021.
3/10 Killer 7 took on different tones and gameplay mechanics
The game that put Suda 51 on the map, Killer 7 was an eclectic mix of graphic adventure games, rail shooters, survival horror, and third-person action titles. It is absolutely impressive that the game can boast such wildly varying playstyles and tone shifts while still feeling thematically consistent.
The plot was a mixture of government conspiracy, psychological horror, pulp noir fiction and much more. Upon release, Killer 7 was met with a polarizing reception from players and critics. One of the title’s most ardent supporters was Yahtzee Croshaw of The Escapist, who praised it for challenging conventions and exploring what the medium could do.
2/10 Shadow of the Colossus
Fumito Ueda and his team at Sony Japan Studio proved it Ico was no fluke with their sophomore title, Shadow of the Colossus. The game was an emotional journey that tasked players with scaling and killing several giant creatures to bring Wander’s fiancé back to life.
The game consisted of traversing the barren but beautiful landscape to find the colossi scattered throughout. Once players found them, defeating them was a mix of puzzle solving, third-person shooting, and platforming. Witnessing the death of these majestic creatures is enough to make players question whether their cause is as just and noble as it first appears.
1/10 Undertale never ceases to amaze
Every once in a while a game comes out that experiments with different genres to break boundaries in the medium that players just didn’t notice for the longest time. Toby Fox’s crowd-funded classic Understatement is definitely one of those titles. The game starts out as a sort of riff on JRPG titles with elements of bullet hell shooters and visual novels.
Gradually, even this mix is revealed to be just the surface of an experience that blends multiple gameplay elements to deliver an experience that somehow feels both familiar and new. Just when players think they’ve seen all the game’s tricks, it still manages to surprise.
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