Top 10 Indie Dreamcast Games 2016 - As Voted By You!
Let's start with some stats though: 46 different games ended up being voted for - a couple were discarded as they weren't actually indie games. I mean, really...who voted for Headhunter? You know who you are, you sneaky little scamp. Of these, 22 were commercial releases, and the remaining were a mixed bag of homebrew, mods and even a couple of unreleased titles getting some early praise.
For most of the voting period, it was a real fight between 3 titles to see who would come out on top, and this remained so until the last few days, where one game pulled away from the rest. Enough already though - on with the list!
2009 Hucast / 2013 Hucast
Hucast's horizontal shmup has seen several releases, including the reworked Redux which isn't included here, and it remains popular enough with the DC gaming community to see it sneak into the top 10. The game's distinctive look, a stylised, minimalist, futuristic design aesthetic is mixed with a decent Euro dance soundtrack, but can suffer from high difficulty. 1.5 refined rather than changed things; it switches the respawning of your craft to where you died rather than at the last checkpoint as originally designed, ironing out some bugs and putting the bullet soaking mechanic even more central to the gameplay. 1.5 is the better game here, and sticking through the games frustrating elements will be rewarded, as later stages are even better looking.
Hucast can be found here (their website re-directed to their facebook page at the time of writing), and our developer interview is here.
Ghost Blade just pips fellow Hucast title Dux to the number 9 spot. It's a game which divided opinion on release, and there is no denying that there are some faults and flaws within the game. It's still an enjoyable vertical shmup, with decent aesthetics and interesting bullet patterns, and the graphics look good - but it is a bit easy, to say the least, which will turn off the hardcore shmup enthusiasts quite a bit, and that's not a particularly useful thing to do when they are the primary audience. As a non-fanatic myself, who has nevertheless put hours into all the DC shmup library, I have to say it's an enjoyable enough title which doesn't do anything particularly exciting but does enough for a few play throughs.
We did 2 in-depth reviews of the game here at the DCJY, the novice review here and the standard one here.
Hucast can be found here (their website re-directed to their Facebook page at the time of writing).
2007 NG:DEV.TEAM / 2009 NG:DEV.TEAM
The first of 3 NG:DEV.TEAM titles in this top 10, and one of the first commercially released Indie titles, Last Hope and it's update Pink bullets is still highly regarded amongst DC fans. The initial release, ported from the Neo Geo, revels in both being old school in it's look and play, and having a difficulty level sitting somewhere between insane and evilly horrific super insanely hard. It boasts colourful, varied graphics (ranging from Geiger inspired space ports and aquatic landscapes to eruptive volcanic backdrops), excellent soundtrack and interesting level design with loads of smart little background additions, and really does play homage to Horizontal shmups of the past whilst having it's own identity. But it was just so damn tough that it was hard for pretty much anyone without the reflexes of a particularly nimble cat to make any progress. Fast forward 2 years, and NG:DEV.TEAM deserve credit for listening to initial criticism and returning with an improved version of the game. It makes the game a little easier, with your ship adorned with more powerful weaponry to begin with, meaning quick, unseen death is a little easier to avoid, and it turns enemy projectiles a little easier to see (the 'Pink Bullets' of the title) as they come hurtling towards your ship. It's still tough as old boots, but it at least feels a bit fairer now.
NG:DEV.TEAM can be found here.
2004 Senile Team (original release)
Senile team developed this Streets of Rage game engine in 2003, before it was ported to the DC in 2004, and ever since there has been a steady stream of fan made games using the engine, covering practically every video game, movie and TV franchise you can think of. Some of these are great (Battletoads, Crisis Evil, Aliens vs Predator), and could stand as excellent stand alone scrolling beat em ups on their own. It's ease of use makes it a favourite amongst wannabee game makers, and the engine is robust enough to allow memories of playing Streets of Rage 2 to come flooding back to those with nostalgic memories. Several BoR mods received votes themselves in this poll, but it's the original itself, and the whole library of mods, that are ranked here.
Senile Team can be found here.
NG:DEV.TEAM's follow up to Last Hope was another Neo Geo port, this time an enhanced version of Fast Striker, a vertical homage to 16 bit shmups. It's a faster, more maniacal approach to the genre than Last Hope was. The difficulty levels present different forms of game, with higher levels requiring supreme reflexes and mastery of the games ship shield mechanic, whilst all levels require getting to grips with chaining. It looks good, sounds good and, as with much of the DC's indie library, has some absolutely incredible artwork on the games box art. The game feels fair throughout - death is avoidable if you're skilled enough, and not overwhelmed by the kaleidoscope of colour and sound the game produces.
NG:DEV.TEAM can be found here.
2015 Crazy Viking Studios / Marc Hall
Crazy Viking studios kickstarted this homage to early 80's action-platformers successfully back in 2013. It was well received, noted for it's incredibly tough difficulty level but balanced gameplay and great design. Fast forward to 2015 and 2D viking platforming action came to the DC, with the full permission of the original developers, and the talent of Marc Hall who was responsible for the DC port. For a game which received no commercial release (well, read on for a bit more about that), it's popularity is a fantastic sign that the DC scene is alive and well, and for a while in the voting it seemed like it could spring a surprise and be even higher. The DC port is still tough as nails, but it's a great addition in a genre that needs some loving in the Dreamcast indie library. There were 100 pressed copies of the game made available, by auction, on a German forum 'Circuit Board', which made the rest of us very jealous.
The Volgarr site can be found here
2008 Yuan Works
Narrowly missing out on the 4th place by just a couple of votes, Wind and Water Puzzle Battles recently received a re-release which no doubt helped put it back in the public eye. Actually, that's a bit mean, as the game is every bit deserving of it's position. Yuan Works puzzler made it to number 127th in the 2013 DCJY poll, and it's simple yet deep gameplay continues to gain new fans. Whilst on the surface it may appear to be just another block matching puzzle title, it offers loads of extra content; mini games, well written story, puzzle and versus modes, and a constantly evolving gameplay that will keep you engrossed. It's full of subtle and not so subtle references to the DC, looks lovely and feels far more than just 'another' Indie title.
We recently did a developer interview with Yuan Works, which can be found here. Yuan Works blog/site can be found here.
2009 Senile Team
Senile team showed their versatility with the release of overhead racer Rush Rush Rally Racing. Control is key in this type of game, and the cars in RRRR drive perfectly, around well designed and varied tracks with plenty of little touches in the background to rise a smile or too. It's colourful, well presented and never takes itself too seriously, with great multiplayer options thrown in as well. Tracks need to be learnt to make progression, and the difficulty can be a tad too hard at times, but with that great soundtrack playing in the background you're not going to mind having to redo a couple of tracks. Another great, polished Indie release.
We reviewed RRRR here. Senile Team can be found here
Taking third place after an almighty tussle in the voting, Gunlord is a game which DC gamers have taken to their hearts. NG:DEV.TEAM are one of the most prolific of DC supporters,and Gunlord really is their crowning glory. This adventurous, variety packed, Neo Geo ported run and gunner wears it's Turrican influences proudly for all to see. It has expansive stages full of hidden bonuses and superbly realised enemy characters. Bosses are huge, challenging and impressive, and the platforming action is engrossing from the get go. It's tough, boy is it tough, but the enjoyment level is so high you won't mind repeated plays. The soundtrack is excellent (so many Indie games on the DC have fantastic soundtracks, we really should collectively push for a 'best of' CD from all of them), and the artwork throughout, including the packaging, is just superb.
NG:DEV.TEAM can be found here
Highest placed Indie game in the 2013 DCJY top 200 games, it seems Sturmwind has been knocked off it's thrown as best Indie title - but it was close. Top spot beckoned for a long time for Duranik's horizontal shmup masterpiece, before slipping behind the eventual winner late on. Despite this, I cannot rate Sturmwind highly enough. It is beautiful, both in craft design and backdrops, quite possibly the most visually impressive DC title, indie or licensed inclusive. It may be 2D, but the worlds are brought to life with impeccable quality. The soundtrack is excellent, and the stages are long, impressive and always interesting. There's tons of little touches in the backgrounds, and bosses are never less than amazing. The game isn't really a 'hardcore shmup' title, but more an everyman's Shmup, as even those who don't like the genre will be impressed. The 3 weapon system ties in with the life system, so getting hit loses the currently equipped weapon, which can be restored by picking up the power up of the relevant colour - this would usually upgrade the weapon. There's plenty of depth in this system and is a far fairer one than usually used. Even though the game can claim influence from older similar titles, it's visual splendour elevates it past just being a homage to older games. I put this game on when I want to impress non DC gamers, and to a man they think it's a top level XBLA game rather than an indie release running on a nearly 20 year old machine. It even boasts support for the DC SD card reader, for goodness sake. A classic, a beautiful classic. Top spot had better be damn good...
We did a developer interview with Duranik which can be found here. Duranik can be found here.
Watermelon kept us waiting with the release of Pier Solar, but the wait was worth it. A late surge made sure of it's victory in this poll, which shows how quickly we've taken the game to our hearts. After years of shmup gluttony, a decent RPG was well overdue, and Pier Solar's HD upgrade of it's indie Megadrive release is our resulting role playing dessert. A digital love letter to old school RPG's, it can revel in some beautiful design with fantastic artwork throughout. The story is strong; criticised by some for being a weak point, I found it actually to be a rather well written plot with good dialogue, and strong character design. There's a healthy element of puzzles to work out, and the adventure itself takes you on a journey through varied locales. The battle system works well too, although it must be noted that it's not universally acclaimed. It's also another DC indie title with an outstanding soundtrack, which just adds to the games appeal.
Watermelon must also be credited for the work that went into the packaging of these games, whether it be the feature rich special collectors editions or just the choice between packaging which fits into each of the 3 regional designs. Pier Solar won't be everyone's choice of best DC indie release, let's make that perfectly clear, but RPG fans desperate for a new adventure are well serviced here.
The Pier Solar website can be found here.
(A quick mention of those titles that just missed out. NG:DEV.TEAM's shmup-tacular NEO XYX, Orion's charming platformer Alice's Mom's Rescue and Retroguru's cheap and cheery puzzler Fruit'Y were all whiskers away from making the list. Next time maybe?)
So there we have it. 10 (well, technically, 11, and that's not including updated versions) indie titles that the DCJY reading public have ranked as the best for the system. Thanks to everyone who voted, and let us know in the comments or through the usual social media channels, what you think. As always, if you don't agree with the end results, feel free to use the hashtag #DCJYmademecry and let the world know about it!