A few games in the ecosystem blur the lines between being educational, entertaining, or outright chores to get through. To consider an experience legitimately disturbing while also remaining entertaining is a curious crossroad of its own, but it is where Ninja Theory brought us with Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. There's a simplistic action game to be found at a quick, unfocused glance here, but anyone willing to truly pay attention will find an eye-opening journey laid before them. That journey landed Ninja Theory the title of Shacknews Best Indie Game of 2017.
The combat and puzzles sprinkled throughout Hellblade aren't incredibly complex, save for a few moments in the later portion of the game, but each conflict is a wonderful stroke for the game's bigger picture. Each moment is a crucial step in Senua's search for closure and understanding, building in intensity fittingly without breaking the immersion with menial tasks. There are a couple optional finds in her world, but even they fit snug into the puzzle.
One of the most impressive threads knitting this indie experience is the sound design. Not only does Melina Juergens perform beautifully as Senua, the developers utilized binaural audio to accent every moment (ex: the voice cues in combat) and immerse players into Senua's grueling journey through the grief of loss. The development team shared a good portion of their process with regular videos on their YouTube and it's cool to see the creative ways they used a limited budget to get the sound effects the team desired. That innovative approach to game development has lead Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice to the title of Shacknews Best Indie Game of 2017.
Despite all the delays during development, Cuphead delivered in a big way. The hand-drawn art is as beautiful as the game is difficult, but each segment overcome offers a true sense of achievement. Games like Cuphead are why many got deeper into gaming in the first place and it's refreshing to be able to experience such nostalgia in a modern release.
- Night in the Woods
- Hollow Knight
- The Long Dark
- What Remains of Edith Finch
- Shovel Knight: Spectre of Torment
Be sure to keep up with the rest of The Shacknews Awards as we celebrate the Year of the Games: 2017.