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Top 10 Indie Game Cliches We're Sick Of

VO: Dan Paradis
Script written by Nathan Sharp Tell me more about your pixel art retro throwback metroidania soulslike roguelite spiritual successor indie platformer with a synthpop soundtrack - it sounds like such a novel idea! Cliches are in right now so don’t worry, indie dev, you’ll definitely meet your crowdsourcing goal! Welcome to http://WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down the Top 10 Indie Game Cliches. Special thanks to our user “nathansharp28” for suggesting this topic using our interactive suggestion tool at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Indie Game Clichés

Please, tell us more about your “pixel art Metroidvania Rogue-like genre deconstruction.” Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 indie game clichés.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most notable indie game tropes and clichés and poking a little fun at them. We’re not saying that these clichés are inherently bad, or that they make the games we mention bad by extension. In fact, many of the games we’ll use as examples are actually really, really good.

#10: Synth Soundtrack


We don’t know what it is with synth and indie game developers, but they certainly seem to love it. Many games have incorporated a synth-wave sound in recent years, including “Hotline Miami,” “Furi,” and “Defragmented,” and while we certainly love us some badass 80s synth, it’s starting to get a little old. If the game isn’t incorporating synthwave, it will undoubtedly be chiptune, that gloriously retro, 8-bit sound from the 80s and 90s which is made from synthesizers. The emergence of this type of music is probably due to its low cost, but regardless of the reasons, synthesizers and indie games go together like peanut butter and jelly.

#9: Vague Plot


To go with their synthwave/chiptune soundtracks, indie developers absolutely love writing vague stories and characters, usually as a means to be “artistic.” These vague plot elements come in a variety of factors. Some games have vague characters with unclear motivations or relationships, like “Braid.” Sometimes entire stories are left open to interpretation, like “INSIDE,” and “Journey.” While we love a little bit of interpretation, you can almost guarantee that an indie game will leave some form of its story incomplete and intentionally unclear.

#8: Minimal Instructions


It seems like indie game developers have taken a page from the FromSoftware design book: when it comes to instructions - the fewer, the better. In many indie titles, the player is simply plopped into the game with no idea of what to do, where to go, who you are, or even how to play the game. The developers are simply saying, “Here you go. Figure it out for yourself” – which is both a relief and often times an obstacle. Some upcoming games like “Fe,” are considering this approach, but the key is striking the right balance and communicating the game mechanics to the player in ways that feel natural, which many indie games do really well.

#7: Breaking the Fourth Wall


If the story isn’t vague or confusing, it will break the conventions of its genre in a way which screams “Look at me! I’m so clever!” While we aren’t knocking these incredibly gifted writers, you can only subvert expectations so much before the subversions themselves become cliché. “Undertale” is a prime example of this convention, as it plays on RPG tropes, and other games, like “The Stanley Parable” break the fourth wall and experiment with the conventions of games as a storytelling medium. While this trope is not as common as some of the others on this list, it’s beginning to crop up more and more. Now it’s time to start subverting the subversions!

#6: Pastel Colors


Indie games can be fun and innocent little experiences. It stands to reason, then, that they employ some fun colors. Many indie games love to use the pastel color scheme, with colors ranging from light green to baby blue. Games like “Braid” use a lot of greens, yellows, and blues, while other titles, like “Fez,” employ a wide variety of colors in a pastel scheme. While it’s certainly true that not every indie game does this, there’s no denying that many of them love to use childish, bright, and innocent colors. It gives them that cute characteristic that the indie market is known for.

#5: Highbrow Writing


A lot of indie games feature storytelling flourishes that some would label “pretentious,” and as a result, we get a lot of games with extremely highbrow writing, leading to online discussions about what the game “means.” Jonathan Blow, creator of games like “Braid” and “The Witness” has become the poster boy for this sort of thing. However, he’s not the only one. Games like “Loved” also employ this sort of thing to a similar effect. We aren’t saying that intelligent and thought-provoking writing in games is a bad thing. These are all great games and interesting stories, but they contribute to the reputations indie games have for taking themselves too seriously.

#4: Spiritual Succession


How to market your indie game: say “it’s like X meets Y” and throw around the words “spiritual successor.” These are the games that are clearly inspired by extremely popular franchises and toe the line between inspiration and copying, but that are made for 1/10th of the budget. “Mighty No. 9” was a failed spiritual successor to the “Mega Man” by people who worked on the franchise. “Torchlight” is basically a love letter to RPGs like “Diablo.” There’s an entire genre colloquially known as “Metroidvania” for crying out loud!

#3: Flavors of the Week


Popular games come and go, and with them, you can be sure that a million clones will sprout up to leech off their popularity and goodwill. Unlike the other entry, which focused on the influence of older games, these games are just straight-up ripoffs. Once “Minecraft” shot to stardom, there were a million games in its wake that were more or less the exact same thing, including, “Cube World” & “FortressCraft.” While they are noticeably easier on our wallets than the real thing, indie games are supposed to be about innovation! Be on the lookout for a tidal wave of “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” copycats to start rearing their heads – oh, wait, it’s happening.

#2: A Kickstarter Campaign


With most indie games comes a Kickstarter campaign, and as we’ve learned throughout the years, most of them come to nothing and end up being a massive disappointment to all involved. Kickstarter, for the few of you who aren’t aware, is a website in which fans give the developer money in exchange for exclusive goods and services. It’s a great way for legitimate developers to earn some money and have their dream financed, but many campaigns come to nothing, as the developers all but take the money and run. Nowadays, it’s all but unheard of for an independent game to surprise us. They all go through Kickstarter now, both the good and the bad.

#1: Retro Graphics


We get it. Developing video games is expensive, and for independent companies (or individual developers), it’s just costs too much money to produce a AAA-worthy graphical experience. As a result, a large amount of indie games have retro-style graphics, usually in the style of 8 or 16-bit. Many games, like “Braid” and “Spelunky,” have adopted the side-scrolling gameplay and graphics of old, and titles like “To the Moon” and “Hotline Miami” employ the old school top-down perspective to give an authentic, nostalgic experience. If you want to re-live the classic games of old with a modern twist, the indie market is where it’s at.
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