26 Best Indie Games of the 21st Century

There used to be a time when the best indie games would go unnoticed, whispered about on gaming forums and rarely in contention for awards.

Not anymore.

Since we all started worshipping the internet, all kinds of games are getting the attention they deserve. More often than not, it’s AAA titles that are being hyped to the moon and back, but with the right innovation and audience, an indie game can become just as praised and popular, if not more so. You need only look at Stardew Valley, one of 2016’s most profitable games on Steam, to see this.

Better yet, it was made by one guy.

Indie games prove that you don’t need a huge budget, several teams, and a whole lot of hyperbole to sell a video game in the 21st century. Here are some of the finest examples that the smaller guys have to offer. This list, which is in no order, will no doubt be redundant by tomorrow when the next big little thing comes around.

 

26. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

The Binding of Isaac
Source: The Jimquisition

A macabre game about a damned boy shooting tears out of his eyes to defeat aberrations may not sound like a big seller on paper, but in execution, few roguelikes do it as well as The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.

It’s a bizarre adventure that deals with the impact of domestic abuse and one that has to be recommended, if for nothing but what else it’s inspired over the years. Once you play The Binding of Isaac, it finds a way of burrowing into your brain until you’re on the umpteenth procedurally generated level without having had any respite for hours.

 

25. Furi

Furi

I really feel like The Game Bakers might have to start paying me for how much I wax lyrical about Furi at every opportunity. It’s one of 2016’s finest, owing a lot to how exhilarating the pure simplicity of taking on a series of bosses in a neon nightmare setting can be.

Boasting a killer soundtrack, gorgeous visuals, and a punishing difficulty that’s almost charming, Furi is a fever dream of guns and bullets that more people should play.

 

24. Braid

Braid game
Source: learningworksforkids.com

Possibly the indie game that started off the demand for titles off beaten track the most, Braid is seen as a masterpiece by many. It’s hard to argue with that – it blends its retro stylings with a gutting narrative perfectly.

Largely a puzzler, Braid features Prince of Persia-esque mechanics that allow you alter time, but the real attraction here is the story. I won’t spoil things for you. Just go and play it if you haven’t yet.

 

23. Superhot

Superhot

Time may only move when you move in SUPERHOT, but try stopping time in the real world when hours upon hours pass you by in the quest for just one more Hollywood worthy kill. It’s hard to pinpoint when SUPERHOT first truly grips you as you probably won’t even realise it, but once you’re in, you’re in.

SUPERHOT Team took a crazy idea and ran with it, and whether they realise it or not, created one of the most memorable FPS games in recent memory. The most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.

 

22. Rise & Shine

The newest entry on this countdown, Rise & Shine is a gripping love letter to gaming that is far deeper than you first expect. Bring dexterity and patience with you and this run and gun from Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team (yes, really) gives you plenty back in return.

As challenging as it is beautiful to look at, Rise & Shine revels in its homages to the heroes of gaming while also feeling like something totally fresh. Many might overlook this in 2017, but they really shouldn’t.

 

21. Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami

Brutal. That’s probably the word that sums up Dennaton Games’ cult classic the best. If you come into Hotline Miami expecting an easy time of things, you’re going to wind up confused, quickly annoyed and suddenly be inexplicably obsessed with synthwave music.

With lashings of eighties aesthetics and just-one-more-try gameplay, Hotline Miami is absurdly good fun. Better yet, it’s going for relative pennies and cents now, so if you’re yet to jump aboard the train and find out if you really like hurting people or not, now’s the time.

 

20. To the Moon

To the Moon
Source: lgdb.org

If you want your indie games to make your cuticles bleed and brain ache for days, To The Moon may not be for you. However, if you want to connect with something really wonderful that will leave you sat in silence as the credits roll, this is for you.

It revolves around two scientists who are trying to implant memories into an old man’s mind so he can die peacefully and yep, it’s suddenly raining on my cheeks.

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  • Randy Tan

    I cringed at the absence of Crypt of the Necrodancer from this list.

  • Jay Brittenham

    This was a bad article. The author spends 80% of his space prattling about how great these games are. But a lot of these entries give you very little idea of what these games even entail. It’s shoddy, amateurish writing.

  • Reversed this list makes more sense.

  • John Louis Evans

    the absence of Axiom Verge really de-legitimizes this list, a lot.

  • Masoud Darvishian

    What about Ori ?

  • Jakob Schneider

    I agree that it often fails to explain what these games are actually about, though self-upvoting your own commet is pretty shoddy, too.

  • Jakob Schneider

    Having a double-entry for both Inside and Limbo doesn’t seem right.

    I’d probably have gone with Limbo and mention Inside, then consider if it can keep that rank as a single entry.

    Otherwise you might as well add The Binding of Isaac Rebirth and its original Flash iteration both as one entry and rank them higher.

    Then again, it seems pretty ridiculous to rank it last in a list of 26 entries to begin with.
    The argumentation of the first paragraph used to put Undertale at the top applies to the community of that game as well – which has not only immensely helped shaping the expansions, but even created an exhaustive list of mods.

    There’s also been a lot of speculation about the story as in Undertale, as well as fanart.

  • Jimmy Donnellan

    It’s in no order.

  • Jimmy Donnellan

    It isn’t in any order.

  • Jimmy Donnellan

    Thanks!

  • Jimmy Donnellan

    Haven’t played it properly enough to add it!

    Though the fact that I only did 26 bugs me. May update it sometimes and take it to 30.

  • Jimmy Donnellan

    Damn. Totally forgot that one. Good call.

  • Ante[CT]

    “God help us, we’re in the hands of shoddy writers.” – dr. Ian Malcolm. 😛
    Seriously, thank you for including The Talos Principle on this fine list! We strongly believe that the game belongs here, although we tend to be just a little bit biased. :* Croteam

  • Manuel Cascallar

    I disagree with Braid being so low. Not only is an excellent game, it gave birth to the figure of Jonathan Blow, whom would rise to controversy with The Witness, but was also a key foundational figure in the ‘new golden era’ of indie games.

    Also, Enter the Gungeon over Nuclear Throne is inexcusable.

  • Jimmy Donnellan
  • Flo Largier

    Where is the Darkest Dugeon ? 😮

  • Akaxegamer

    Wait a second, there’s “papers, please” but not “Ori and the Blind Forest” on the list??? You are kidding right? Have you ever play Ori? Is even better than many of this games in my opinion, definitely better than Fez and Papers please and even Rogue Legacy which i love.

  • Jimmy Donnellan

    Opinion is not fact.

  • Jimmy Donnellan

    I have only played an hour of it! May update this at some point.

  • Jimmy Donnellan
  • Luka

    Don’t know if you’ve tried Volgarr the Viking but, not having grown up playing arcade games, learning to finish the game in one go is such a fulfilling experience. Beautiful graphics, controls tight as hell.
    Also OlliOlli, really inovative gameplay, and Gunpoint (great and also made by one guy).

  • Akaxegamer

    And what are your “facts” based on if not in the opinions of many or is there a supreme scientific research that backs your list?

  • Jimmy Donnellan

    This isn’t factual, this is an opinion list.

    You’re getting wound up over nothing.

  • Akaxegamer

    You are absolutely right about that this list means nothing. Only next time do a bit more research or just call it “my personal top indie games” just by looking at the overall reviews on steam your list would be excluding big indie titles.

  • Akaxegamer

    I agree

  • Jimmy Donnellan

    Hahaaaa you’re so quick to anger. Yes, okay, I will absolutely do that.

  • Jakob Schneider

    Oh, whoops.

    I originally came here from a post from Team Meat which apparently made the same mistake, linking this article with their assumed rank.

    Why then are they numbered (particularly in descending order) nonetheless? Can the restriction of the platform then be blamed (i.e. was there no way to create a list without numbering them?)
    Because starting at 25 if they’re unranked seems very misleading at least.