Developer: Toby Fox Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Vita, Switch
Quite possibly the most widely beloved game on this list, Undertale’s excellence isn’t in question. It personifies all that’s great with indie game culture as it brought together gamers by capturing their hearts and minds for months on end.
One of Undertale’s most impressive facets is how it leaves it up to the player whether or not they want to resort to violence, allowing you to take the pacifist route instead. This opens up the game and means that your choices all have consequences, creating a narrative that’s been praised almost everywhere you look.
It’s hard to explain what makes Undertale so special. It just is. If you haven’t played it yet, that needs to change.
Developer: D-Pad Studio Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
A long, long time in the making, it looked for all the money in the world like Owlboy would never see the light of day. Almost ten years after its development began, however, Owlboy finally dropped and showed indie fans that patience is a virtue.
While no game could possibly live up to so many years of hype, Owlboy came pretty close. Boasting a gorgeous artstyle, a wonderfully eclectic bunch of characters, and a hero who quite literally does all of the heavy lifting, it’s hard not to be charmed by Owlboy. As a bonus, it’s a Metroidvania so expect it to hand your ass to you if you’re a masochist.
28. Hollow Knight
Developer: Team Cherry Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
That another Metroidvania lands on this list of the best indie games shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone — indie devs have a knack of falling back on the subgenre and twisting its conventions. Seldom do that as masterfully as Team Cherry with Hollow Knight, however, even more remarkable considering that it was Kickstarted for a relative pittance.
When you die, your items aren’t lost for good — you just have to slay your own ghost. An interesting mechanic and one of many which make up Hollow Knight’s big spectacle. It’s a given that Hollow Knight will push you to the limits of your patience with punishing bosses and a learning curve like the edge of a cliff, but it’s worth sticking with to discover the mysteries of its sumptuous world.
29. Cave Story
Developer: Studio Pixel Platform(s): PC, PSP, Wii, DS, 3DS, Switch
Cave Story is the, erm, story of what you can accomplish when you just keep pushing and pushing to be creative and produce something worthwhile. Over the span of five years, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya worked away on Cave Story during his free time and delivered something that may have changed the landscape of indie gaming forever.
Thanks to an enormous wealth of content, a unique storyline worth investing your time into, and a simple but hugely effective artstyle, Cave Story proved to be the influence for countless games over the years and was even most recently ported to the Switch, almost a decade and a half after its initial release. If you want to understand why indie games are so popular, start off with Cave Story.
30. Into the Breach
Developer: Subset Games Platform: PC, Switch
Fans of Advance Wars, rejoice. It may not be the sequel or even update that you wanted, but Into the Breach brings its sci-fi stylings to ease the pain. The developers of FTL took their sweet time to release a new game, but Into the Breach is just as consuming as the cult classic, perhaps even more so.
Don’t let any screenshots you’ve seen of it make you believe that it’s a simple and somewhat underwhelming game: Into the Breach will have you as invested in your units as much as something like XCOM. It’s a game that rewards understanding its many moving parts, meaning that when you finally make progress through it’s challenging chess-like styles, you will as wise as Commander Adama. Just need to get them to port it to Switch.
31. Darkest Dungeon
Developer: Red Hook Studios Platform(s): PC, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, Switch, iOS
Not many games utilise insanity or mental health in a way that feels like anything more than just a cheap gimmick. Eternal Darkness and Hellblade are probably two games that show exactly how you should portray the deterioration of the mental state, but Darkest Dungeon could be the one that stands out above them all. You couldn’t imagine it without its unique psyche mechanics.
An old-school RPG, numbers and all, is elevated by a realistic approach to mental fatigue from conflict after conflict. You will get attached to your party and their woes: it’s not just HP that you have to keep an eye on. If one of your party members has a breakdown, it could be as bad as them dying altogether. To be fair to them, I wouldn’t hold out for that long if my entire life revolved around fighting evil spirits and wandering dungeons.
32. Dead Cells
Developer: Motion Twin Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
A metroidvania with rogue-lite leanings that doesn’t lean too heavily on the games it was inspired by, Dead Cells is quite simply a treat. You will die and die again until you feel anywhere near competent at the game, and even then it isn’t an easy stroll in the park.
Using more and more outlandish weapons and increased skills the deeper into the island you progress, death is never the end in Dead Cells: it’s just an excuse to jump back on the rollercoaster. Featuring almost endless replayability and a wealth of secrets to discover, it’s one of not only 2018’s best indie games but one of the best of all-time. High praise, but that’s what you get for being an Early Access game that did all the right things ahead of a full launch.
Motion Twin have worked hard to bring tonnes of extra content to the game since launch, so prepare to die and die again — and love every second of it.
“I’ve had to continuously go back in my review and add in mechanics I’ve missed, the little details that make Dead Cells such an essential experience — and I’m sure I’ve still not covered everything. There’s still a little ways to go in 2018, but Dead Cells is a dead cert to find its way onto many GOTY lists, mine included.”
33. Guacamelee! 2
Developer: DrinkBox Studios Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Guacamelee! 2 does everything the original (and classic) game does, just better and on a bigger scale. Anyone who’s played the first game may baulk at that idea considering how perfect it is in the eyes of many, but Guacamelee! 2 somehow finds a way of improving in almost every regard with new mechanics and a polishing of the old ones.
Featuring a greater emphasis on co-op and its effortlessly charming aesthetic, Guacamelee! 2 is a misleadingly irreverent game that is a tricky conquest. As with most Metroidvania games, dying is just a part of the journey in the superior sequel; it should be the -ahem- Juan for you.
“Guacamelee! 2 is one of the best Metroidvanias on the market. The art style is fantastic. The writing is hilarious and will leave you in stitches on a whim. The world is diverse and chock-full of culture, life, and collectibles. And the game’s unique focus on combat and precision platforming sets it apart from the pack. It’s the kind of game you lose track of time while playing, and when it’s over you’ll just want more.”
34. Devil Daggers
Developer: Sorath Platform(s): PC
Based on your first five minutes with Devil Daggers, you almost definitely won’t “get” it. Upon further inspection, there still isn’t much to get, which is why it’s so captivating: it knows exactly what it is and does the basics so well that it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t traditionally evolve.
The premise is simple: you play as a lo-fi character who can shoot daggers out of his hands at demons. It’s an endless onslaught of screen-filling nightmares — you would do well to last for even longer than a couple of minutes. Devil Daggers constantly teaches you to better yourself, fostering a sense of accomplishment that DICE could only dream of.
Developer: Matt Makes Games Inc. Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
A game pulled directly from the Meat Boy School of Inch-Perfect Platforming (should really be a bit snappier, but I digress), Celeste is what you would call the quintessential indie game. Lo-fi and low on outrageous spectacle, it instead focuses on the most important part of any game: the gameplay.
You dread to think how much work and attention to detail has to go in to making platforming feel just right. As you leap and dash your way through Celeste’s gorgeous and understated world as Madeline on her way to the peak of the titular mountain, you will appreciate all the effort from Matt Makes Games.
Even if it’s not just Matt making the games these days, the small team behind Celeste is still quite remarkable in their achievements.
Perhaps a contentious pick based solely on the genre of game it is, you would be hard-pressed to find a 3D world this reactive and alive made by teams with much more manpower. Your actions change how the game plays, so if you are a native murdering madman, expect to get some similarly mad challenges thrown your way.
You play as a father who must find his son after they crash land on a less than friendly peninsula with savages stalking your every move. It’s a survival game, but similarly to The Long Dark, it’s classy about it. Whether alone or with friends, The Forest is a reminder of the power of determination to get the job done: it spent many years in Early Access to help craft it into the gem that it is today.
“If you’re yet to try the game on PC, its PS4 version is a surprisingly sleek and arguably just as rewarding time-sinker that won’t even make you feel bad for being a terrible parent. Sorry, Timmy, I am one with the trees now.”
Developer: David Szymanski Platform(s): PC
DUSK is an absolute marvel of pixellated guts and gore that’s designed to scratch an itch for those who remember when games came on floppy disks. Many games have tried to recreate the old-school aesthetic and feel of DOOM and its kin, but where something like STRAFE tried but ultimately didn’t quite land, DUSK delivers in a primally satisfying way.
With inch-perfect aiming and the ironic kind of coolness that makes it genuinely cool, DUSK has no pretenses about being anything than what it is: pure FPS joy. If you asked me to choose between this or the latest Call of Battlefield game, there would only be one winner.
Developer: Unknown Worlds Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Traditionally, water levels in games are worse than most illnesses. So, when a game is almost entirely water-based exploration, you might be right to approach it with caution. Luckily, Unknown Worlds really nailed the feel of exploring the depths in one of the most inviting and original survival games that’s come along in a long time.
An Early Access graduate, Subnautica drops you on an alien planet with nothing but some flippers, a snorkel, and a lifepod for refuge. You must try to find an escape while also staying aware of what lies beneath the surface.
That’s kind of apt for the game in general: while it may look like any other survival game on the surface, chip away at it for a few hours and you will find that it’s much more than just that.
“Subnautica was one survival game that I didn’t just want to survive in — I flourished and revelled in creating my own life under the sea. It feels unlike anything else in its (rather crowded) genre with its own identity shining through. Quite simply one of the most best and most rewarding survival games you will find on a console — or anywhere.”
39. Pony Island
Developer: Daniel Mullins Games Platform: PC
From a quick glance, Pony Island looks like a game you would pass on to your young daughter to keep her Fortnite bloodlust in check for a few hours. It’s bright, simple, and charming, but the game turns out to be the complete opposite of those three descriptors in quick time.
A mind-warping ride into meta Hell, Pony Island is a “kooky” (and that’s putting it lightly) puzzler that subverts your thinking at almost every turn. Those who struggle to think outside of the box need not apply: Pony Island is a game designed to make you question what you know.
It’s dark, utterly bonkers, and just about one of the most innovative games you will ever play. Barbie Horse Adventures it ain’t.
40. Doki Doki Literature Club
Developer: Team Salvato Platform: PC
When it comes to visual novels, you either really, really love them or your really, really don’t get the appeal. If you belong to the latter camp and played Doki Doki Literature Club for the first hour, you may just think it’s like any other visual novel out there.
Nope. Doki Doki is one of the most brain-meltingly surprising games ever made with a unique twist that’s hard to go into without ultimately spoiling it for new players. All I’ll say about it is this: just like Pony Island, Doki Doki Literature Club doesn’t give a damn about your expectations.
It’s kind of daunting to try and condense the encompassing madness of ZA/UM’s Disco Elysium into just a few lines for an indie games list, but at its simplest, Disco Elysium is a murder mystery where you control a down on his luck detective who drank so much that he’s forgotten who he is.
It’s so much more than that, though. While the murder is central to the plot, there’s so much going on in and around the seaside town of Martinaise that it’s easy to get distracted. Want to try and understand why an angry Scouse kid is the way he is? Give it a go. Interested to hear what kind of cockatoo you are? Sure. Want to get blackout drunk constantly and make everyone hate you? Knock yourself out. Literally.
Disco Elysium is an RPG marvel featuring a level of depth to its writing and malleable narrative that most AAA studios can only dream of. A true indie gem.
“Disco Elysium is an absolute triumph of character, narrative, and player choice. One of the most intoxicating and dazzlingly dense RPGs of its generation that deserves to be in the GOTY conversation.”
42. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Developer: Frictional Games Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
One of the most influential horror games of all time, Amnesia: The Dark Descent took Frictional from underrated developers to the new kings of the genre. Arriving at a time when big publishers forgot that there was a huge audience for horror out there, Amnesia made its name on YouTube with millions of sales to follow.
An indie horror marvel, you play as Daniel, who’s travelled to a seemingly abandoned castle with his memories also having abandoned him. Straying too long into the darkness will cause Daniel to lose his mind, and so will you the first time you encounter the submerged level water. It doesn’t get much easier on your anxiety from there.
43. What Remains of Edith Finch
Developer: Giant Sparrow Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
A lot of people might look at What Remains of Edith Finch and declare it nothing more than a walking simulator, an assessment which would be entirely unfair. While certainly not the most involved, action-packed game, What Remains offers plenty of variety across its many desperately tragic vignettes of a seemingly cursed family.
When a younger Finch relative returns to the long empty Finch household, they uncover the troubled past of the family, ranging from horrible accidents to long battles with depression. You play through all of them, playing as an imaginary king one moment and a sea monster the next.
Even if you don’t like narrative-driven games, What Remains of Edith Finch is likely to leave a mark on you.
A tonne of indies owe a debt of inspiration to Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne, Enter the Gungeon being perhaps the biggest game influenced by the top-down mayhem. And mayhem it is: chaotic, infuriatingly difficult mayhem that may make you go nuclear yourself.
With humanity extinct, you play as a mutant and travel around procedurally generated rogue-like environments and try to deal with the ever increasingly obstacles that are thrown your way. Even when death comes (and it will come often, and right in your face and then laugh about it), Nuclear Throne’s hook is so good that you will be going again almost immediately.
45. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy
Developer: Bennett Foddy Platform: PC
The most annoying game in existence, Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy has very simple gameplay and an even simpler objective: get to the top of a mountain. Using only your mouse to dictate where a hammer held by a man in a pot (don’t ask) goes, Getting Over It is all about using momentum and patience.
It’s also a game about a sarcastic Australian speaking pseudo-encouragingly as you fall time and time again thanks to the game’s wacky physics and fine margin for error. Make one wrong mistake and you could undo the whole journey, sending you tumbling right back to the start. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is a truly horrible game and we love it.
Developer: Supergiant Games Platform: PC, Switch
Roguelikes (and roguelites, and all kinds of rogue spin-offs and suffixes) are a huge part of the indie sphere, yet Hades may very well have perfected the formula. It boasts the kind of attention to detail that most AAA games could only dream of.
Hades casts you as Zagreus, the son of Hades who is trying to escape from the Underworld, but it’s just as hard as it sounds. Don’t be deterred by your failures: Hades is the kind of game that actually makes it fun to die thanks to how much there is to see and people to talk to during the downtime.
It also helps that its combat is best in class and it just keeps evolving once you do manage to escape from the Underworld. Expect to be playing Hades for 100 hours, and even then that’s being conservative.
If you’re looking for indie success stories, you won’t find many better than Among Us. Following solid but not amazing sales, developers Innersloth were ready to take what they learned into a second game, but then Twitch found the game and a new cultural phenomenon was born.
A social game that’s designed to tear friends apart, Among Us involves players aboard a spaceship where one or more of them are Impostors who are trying to kill everyone else off. The brilliant twist? Only the Impostors know who’s who.
While Among Us is kind of contingent on you having a big group of friends to make the most out of it, it’s unmatched as a party game of betrayal that may even surprise you with just how easy you find betrayal and deception.
48. Return of the Obra Dinn
Developer: Lucas Pope Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
It was a long time coming, but Lucas Pope’s follow-up to the seminal Papers, Please was every inch the critical darling its predecessor was, though this puzzler may not be to absolutely everyone’s tastes.
Return of the Obra Dinn follows a trader ship that mysteriously reappears at port after years of being adrift. As an insurance investigator, you have to find a way onto the Obra Dinn and uncover what happened.
It’s up to you to discover the fates of sixty crew members using deduction and logic (and some sailing knowledge), all wrapped up in a gorgeous lo-fi aesthetic. Don’t allow yourself to be put off by the simple visuals — the game itself is anything but.
Developer: Mossmouth Platform: PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Switch
You won’t find many of the best indie games as influential as Spelunky. Even though its more modern, arguably superior sequel could be argued as the better pick here, the original Spelunky has to be included here for just how much it’s done for so many different genres.
A retro platformer that helped to popularise the modern roguelike as we know it, Spelunky sees you descending into many different caverns either alone or with up to three friends. Each run will be different, but one thing will stay the same: you will die in just the most ridiculous way.
Constantly maddening but always charming, Spelunky is a massively influential game from its visuals to its music and even its very DNA. Speaking of, the game’s source code is out in the wild, so anyone can iterate on Spelunky’s excellence, if they so wish.
Developer: Studio MDHR Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
One of the most exciting indie games at the time of initial release on Xbox One, Cuphead‘s early-Disney style belied the truth: this was not a game for kids.
While you could argue that this run and gun platformer was no harder than many of its inspirations from the nineties, that didn’t stop a legion of players from putting themselves through hell and back to save Cuphead’s soul from the devil — and loving every second of pain. And thanks to the game’s easy use of couch co-op, misery loves company.
Thanks to its gorgeous hand-drawn animation, watercolour backgrounds, and even an original jazz soundtrack, Cuphead has gone down as one of the biggest success stories not just in the indie sphere, but the whole gaming industry.
So there you have it, the best indie games of all time. Did I miss any out? Of course I did, and I want to hear them — it’s almost impossible to get through all of the great stuff on the indie scene.
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