Developer: Edmund McMillen, Team Meat Platform(s): PC, PS4, Vita, 360, Android, Switch, Wii U
Super Meat Boy really shouldn’t work. You’re a piece of meat jumping around and trying not to fall afoul of the many traps and pitfalls on your way towards saving your girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from Dr. Fetus. Somehow, Team Meat made it all come together wonderfully.
Boasting one of the most marvellously responsive control systems ever seen in gaming, Super Meat Boy is all about the fine margins that can make the difference between life and death. It’s inspired countless indie games down the years since it was released in 2010 and is available on almost every platform going. You have no excuses not to get lost in this chillingly difficult platformer if you haven’t already.
Supergiant Games’ Transistor is certainly no slouch, but their first effort remains their best work to date. They’re unlikely to ever top it, which isn’t meant as an insult – 99% of developers wouldn’t be able to, either. Pyre comes pretty damn close, mind you.
An isometric, visually enthralling title, Bastion charmed critics and gamers alike with its brilliant story and art direction. The big winner for many, however, was the game’s narration, something which could come across as cliched elsewhere, but here it provides a fine example of why we should never take voice actors for granted.
13. This War of Mine
Developer: 11 bit studios Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Android, iOS
Much like To the Moon, don’t come into This War of Mine expecting an opportunity to laugh away the pain of everyday life. In fact, if you allow yourself to get invested in it enough and seriously care about the strife of your ragtag bunch of survivors, don’t be surprised to find yourself shaken up when the inevitable tragedy starts happening.
A war game unlike anything else out there, This War of Mine doesn’t pit you as gun-toting Gruff McCaucasian like so many of its peers do. Instead, you play as the survivors of warfare and feel vulnerable throughout. Go to your fridge and bless the gods of commercialism that you have it easy after playing 11 bit studios’ harrowing game. Once you’re suitably de-harrowed, go play Frostpunk.
14. The Stanley Parable
Developer: Galactic Cafe, Davey Wreden Platform: PC
A lot of indie games try and fail to be funny. They either go for the fart joke or the odd reference that barely anybody would get. Not so with The Stanley Parable: a truly bizarre and self-aware game that took many by surprise when it was first released in 2013.
If you’re yet to experience The Stanley Parable, know that it’s more about the experience than the gameplay — saying anything else might spoil your surprise. One thing, though: don’t trust the narrator.
15. Enter the Gungeon
Developer: Dodge Roll Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch
Another lamentably underappreciated game from 2016, Enter the Gungeon is a bullet hell that is like literal hell to play. You won’t make much progress with it if you don’t have patience and a dash of luck, but once you’re on a roll with Dodge Roll’s debut, it’s impossible to put down.
As soon as you die in Gungeon, you die. No matter how deep into the game you get, death will reset you back to the start. This may turn away a lot of players, but once you start finding a rhythm and raining down death on the game’s many enemies with a ludicrous range of weaponry, Enter the Gungeon becomes essential.
A lot of people might think that the critically beloved The Witness is the greatest thing in the history of gaming and that its exclusion from this list is nothing short of treasonous.
While the adoration for Jonathan Blow’s puzzler is understandable, the similar The Talos Principle from Croteam does a lot of what made The Witness so acclaimed but earlier and even better. It has an enthralling narrative, varied and troublesome puzzles, and stunning horizons to watch and feel at peace in the company of.
Developer: Klei Entertainment Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Vita, XB1, Switch, Wii U, Android, iOS
What do you get when you mix a Tim Burton movie with survival and roguelike elements. Don’t Starve, a game that that I’ve made an effort to dip in and out of every few months since launch. I mean, it’s not like it’s hard to find it anywhere.
There are plenty of games out there that ask you to simply survive, but very few drive that home with as much intensity as Klei Entertainment’s randomly generated world of nightmares. As night comes, the world around you can quickly turn into your grave as all manner of things go bump in the night. Never has a survival game brought out so much panic in gamers and never has an indie developer done it better.
Developer: Red Barrels Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch
Despite having better presentation than 90% of its horror game peers out at the time of its release, Red Barrels’ Outlast is a proud indie. It has the visual sheen of a game built on a far higher budget, along with the atmosphere and tone to match.
For most of its playtime, Outlast doesn’t relent, putting Miles Upshur, the almost defenceless protagonist, and the player under serious duress. It helps that its setting, an overrun mental asylum, is one of the creepiest in gaming. You’re never too sure about what’s ahead as you creep around a corner with nothing but a camcorder to guide your path. Its sequel is also pretty great.
Say what you want about its controversial creator, but Phil Fish crafted something wonderful with Fez in 2012 after years of development and anticipation. Don’t hold out hope of ever seeing a sequel, though: Fish has completely backed away from everything.
It delivered on its promise, helped in no small part thanks to its charming visuals and unique perspective shifts. Fez allows the player to flip between 2D and 3D at will to solve its many puzzles, which is quite the technical marvel when you consider the small team behind it. As much as Fez may have been inspired by games of yesteryear, its inspiration is felt in many more contemporary indie games.
Any Metroidvania will struggle to stand on its own unless it has a certain uniqueness about it. Luckily for Dust: An Elysian Tail, its art style is some of the most beautiful not only in indie gaming, but the industry as a whole. It looks good enough to eat.
Entirely conceived and developed by Dean Dodrill, Dust is a resplendent reminder that you don’t need a weighty budget to make an impact. With a superb story anchored by a an even better combat system, Dust: An Elysian Tail proves that patience pays dividends.