7 More Top Games made by a Solo-Dev
Recently we ran a list of games made by a Solo-Dev. However, thanks to the preamble and a small list of upcoming games worthy of the list. Things got a little unwieldy so now we’re back for a part 2. Check out the first list linked above for clarification on what constitutes a Solo-Dev. But without further digression, it’s time for more games.
Stardew Valley – Eric Barone
Much like a previous entrant (Thomas Happ’s Axiom Verge) Stardew Valley by Eric Barone is a reimagining of a classic title. However, in this instance, the game is Harvest Moon rather than Metroid. Also similar to Axiom Verge the development time for the game was a five year period (from 2011 to 2016). Eric Barone stated that he would not release the game in Early Access, instead, he held out till the game was completed. However, even the completed version received some updates to make it an even better game.
The game was conceived as a way for Eric Barone to get his foot in the door for a job using his newly acquired Computer Science degree. So he started making the game as a visual representation of his skill. But things quickly changed when his passion for a modernized Harvest Moon that felt more like the best games in the series garnered attention from other fans.
And so it was born, Stardew Valley became a widely loved and respected game. And managed to exceed the original vision of what was supposed to be a small stepping stone project.
Iconoclasts – Joakim Sandberg
Joakim Sandberg’s Iconoclasts boasts one of the longest development times on this list and the last. With eight years of Mr. Sandberg’s life spent crafting his indie Metroidvania gem. But it was well worth it because the game looks amazing, plays well, and the obvious labor of love it was shines through. Much like Axiom Verge this game also landed on our best Metroidvania games of the decade list.
While the Metroid/Castlevania influence might be obvious from the genre of game, some of the other influences might be a little more subtle. Mr. Sandberg has listed Monster World IV’s world-building and Final Fantasy IX’s likable characters as elements he really wanted to nail for his game. Was he successful? Well, with many reviews both from critics and general audiences citing the story and lead character Robin as highlights in a game almost entirely composed of highlights, I’d say yes.
Thomas Was Alone – Mike Bithell
Another entry on the list that was also featured on a top ten of the decade list. However, this one was the platformers list, as the game is a quirky platforming game. The stars of the game including the titular Thomas are rectangles and squares, each with their own personality and mechanics. It’s somewhat funny to me that Thomas Was Alone until he met all the other blocks. But for the development, Mike was alone as a solo-dev.
Much like a few of the other entrants in this list, Thomas Was Alone was spawned from a desire to polish a prototype. In Mike Bithell’s case, the original concept was developed for a 24-hour game jam. But luckily Mr. Bithell realized the potential of his idea and chose to refine it. Eventually, he released the game as a flash-based browser game. But once again the game was expanded and refined further for an eventual PC and console release.
VVVVVV – Terry Cavanagh
Following suit with the above game, Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV (not to be confused with the similarly titled VVVVV) was another entry on the top ten platformers of the decade list. Despite the fact that the most notable aspect of a platformer “jumping on platforms” is absent from the game. However, it has been replaced with a “gravity shifting to land on platforms” mechanic.
The game was built in flash much like Thomas Was Alone, and was eventually ported to C++ by Simon Roth. However, the game remained a Terry Cavanagh production through and through. The original idea for the game came from a previous game that Mr. Cavanagh had built called Sine Wave Ninja which included a gravity flipping segment. As is often the case, this got Mr. Cavanagh thinking about other games that had used the mechanic and he realized that while it was included as an aspect of other games. The mechanic had always been a small segment of a game. So he decided to build the eventual VVVVVV around the mechanic, rather than make another exploration in story-telling as his previous games had been.
There was one other developer credited with working on as aspect of the game though. Bennett Foddy was tasked with naming all 400 rooms developed for the game. However, the designs including the infamous Sad Elephant came from exclusively from Mr. Cavanagh (the Elephant was actually an element from dreams he had).
Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy – Bennett Foddy
The aforementioned Bennett Foddy is actually a solo-developer in his own right. As well as a moral philosopher and bassist among other things. Bennett is known for the simplistic yet punishingly difficult games such as QWOP and GIRP and CLOP. But he would probably be known primarily now for the game he added his own name to, Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy. The game is bizarre, starring a muscular bald man in a giant pot wielding a sledgehammer. Simple, gameplay involves swinging the hammer around to move the character via physics, sometimes hooking onto objects or pushing him around. Incredibly frustrating, it’s difficult to make progress and even if you manage to it can all be undone in a single misstep. But most importantly it carries a message.
Bennett Foddy has incorporated his work in moral philosophy into the game via narration. As you progress or even lose progress Bennett’s voice will chime in on the situations giving you encouragement or even wallowing in your misery with you at times. It’s almost more of an experience than a game and it’s an impressive achievement for Mr. Foddy.
Cave Story – Daisuke Amaya
Cave Story and the updated Cave Story + is a Metroidvania action platformer. Designed entirely by Daisuke Amaya or “Pixel” as he is known to his fans. The game was conceived as a love letter to Amaya’s favorite childhood games, notably Metroid. And though development took 5 years of his spare time (through the end of college and into his full-time job), he released the original Cave Story for free. The game was such a hit that eventually it was expanded and updated for console release, which meant a pricetag was added. However, this did not deter fans of Pixel’s work nor did it diminish the praise the game received.
The game is a simple story of an amnesiac boy awakening in a land of rabbit-like creatures. From there it opens up into a fairly epic narrative filled with branching paths, power-ups, and exploration. As well as multiple endings. Another fine example of the solo-dev passion for gaming leading to a huge success.
Tetris – Alexey Pajitnov
Yes, the all-time classic time-wasting puzzle game Tetris was a solo-dev creation. Not only that, but it was created by an AI researcher in what was then Soviet Russia. Tetris is certainly the oldest game on this list, being made way back in 1984. But its arguably still the most well-known game on the list as well. If you were to ask a group of non-gamers to name a few games then you’d likely hear Tetris among the top results. The simple concept of dropping blocks down to make lines has endured and still inspires all sorts of new games. Even fairly recent games like Jelly Blocks owes a great debt to Mr. Pajitnov’s classic.
The game is referenced in all sorts of media, from small nods like a character in The Office (US) playing it instead of working. To overt gags relating to the game in things like Futurama and the movie Pixels. Even the music is still iconic to this day (fun fact, the Type-A theme is actually a Russian folk song called Korobeiniki). They say that one man can change the world, and a good solo-dev proves that they can at least add to it.
Too many Solo-Dev classics
With both lists combined, we have 10 classic Solo-Dev games listed. But there are so many more out there. There are also a ton of Solo-Dev games that are beyond garbage though. So just because it was made by a Solo-Dev doesn’t automatically mean it’s worth playing. But we think the ones we’ve covered so far definitely are.
One half of the YouTube brother duo, The Game Bros with Sirhc and Ar0n, Chris is a lover of games, movies and other great things you can do from home.
Coffee of choice: I like the sweeter kinds, mixed with chocolate, coconut, caramel etc. but I won’t turn down a flat white or a straight black either.