Essential indie games for Windows Phone (January 2013)

Last month I spotlighted a clutch of games created by independent—or “indie”—developers that had either caught fire among Windows Phone owners or impressed the folks here who review apps for a living (yes, I’m insanely jealous). The response was so good—obviously, lots of indie game fans out there—that I decided to make it a regular thing. So here’s the first monthly list of most promising indie titles to debut or receive big updates during the previous weeks.

To me, the explosion of indie smartphone games is one of the most exciting recent developments in entertainment—and the Windows Phone Store has been absolutely flooded with fun titles. What I love about this genre is how it forces the people who craft them to be creative, since most games are made without the luxury of massive budgets or staffs. More typically, they’re labors of love. And the best of them—like The Path of Kara and Chimpact below—are practically indistinguishable from any big studio release.

The downside of indie games? Finding the gems can take a little time and effort. But that’s where this column—and Store collections like Next Big Thing—come in. So here’s my list of not-to-be-missed indie titles this month. Which new ones can’t you stop playing?

__________

The Path of Kara

The Path of KaraThe Path of Kara

The Path of Kara has an intriguing story, Celtic-inspired music, and gorgeous visuals right out of Lord of the Rings or Pixar’s Brave. You take on the role of Kara, a young shaman on a quest to save her island. Solve riddles, gather supplies, and use your shaman skills to defeat dangerous creatures through 70 levels. $0.99

Haunted

Haunted

Avoiding monsters – or outsmarting them – is the trick to this dungeon maze adventure, with clues and brain teasers along the way. Great for all ages, Haunted has 27 monsters to worry about and new maps every month. $1.99

Dummy Defense

Dummy Defense

Explosions, boulders, spiked walls and more perils await in this game of ragdoll physics and quick wits. Build a structure to protect your dummy, with the ability to see areas of strain in your design so you can shore up defenses. The cheaper your structure is to build, the more stars you earn. $0.99

Paper Dash

Paper Dash

Accidents happen, but this one was a doozy. Now you’ve got to start a paper route to pay for damage to a neighbor’s car, collecting bottles and soda cans along the way for extra cash. Earn superpower to deliver more papers…and make more cash. Free

Chimpact

ChimpactChimpact

Springing a rubbery, happy-go-lucky chimp around a lush jungle to the beat of native drums makes for a wildly enjoyable game in Chimpact. Help your monkey collect bunches of bananas, discover gems and medallions, and explore secret paths as you advance him through the different levels. $2.99

Sketch Taxi

Sketch Taxi

Updating a classic ‘80s video game for Windows Phone, Sketch Taxi puts you in the driver’s seat of a flying cab, picking up fares and delivering them to different levels of a Jetsons-like landscape that’s sketchy, not cartoony. The more fares you deliver, the more you make. The better you drive, the bigger your tips. $1.99