Developer: Lucas Pope, 3909 LLC, 3909 Platform(s): PC, iOS, Vita
If I told you that one of the most absorbing gaming experiences you’re ever likely to have is digitally stamping papers at checkpoints, you would probably be right to question me. Papers, Please is as simple as that, but it offers a depth that you can only discover the more you become immersed within the world of either subterfuge or loyalty to an oppressive state.
As an immigration officer, your job is to ensure that nobody who doesn’t belong in the fictional Arstotzka makes their way in. At least that’s what it seems like until the game truly unfurls and shows you layers upon layers of intrigue and tough decisions. Who you choose to let in can have wide and deadly implications, so every document stamped feels like the cutting of a wire on a bomb. One of the most utterly compelling indie games you can find.
Developer: Playded Platform(s): various
Is it a cheat to include two similar but very different games from the same developer as one entry? Absolutely, but it’s so hard to choose just one of the pair that’s more deserving of attention over the other. As prettier as Inside looks, Limbo’s simpler aesthetic is also just damn appealing.
Fiendishly challenging puzzle games, both Inside and Limbo go to dark places and almost drag along the player begrudgingly through its many horrors. Tense, challenging, and starkly unique, Playdead represent a lot of what makes the indie industry so appealing with these two modern masterpieces.
23. Shovel Knight
Developer: Yacht Club Games Platform(s): almost everything
One of the few Kickstarter success stories, Shovel Knight is an advertisement for what good crowdfunding can do for indie games. Without the right platform for funding, we may have never been able to get our hands on one of the greatest ever side-scrollers in gaming history. The devs have also repaid that kindness with constant free updates that adds hours upon hours of gameplay.
“History” is the keyword for Shovel Knight as it owes a lot to the stylings of the classics found on the NES. Despite being a game cultivated from many different inspirations, Shovel Knight managed the remarkable feat of feeling old while also brand new. Difficult but never unfair, Yacht Club Games’ debut needs to find it way onto your wishlist if you’re yet to find out what all the fuss is about.
Marketing is everything in the modern gaming industry. The successor to the underloved Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars watched The Social Network, realised that cleaner is better, and became Rocket League: a true gaming phenomenon created by a small team of developers known mainly for freelance work on AAA titles.
Rocket League exploded overnight, turning a huge amount of profit for an independent company who were afraid of failure after their last game struggled to break even. At its core, Rocket League is about hitting huge balls with a car, but when you’re playing with other people its true depth breaks through and allows it to shine.
The work of one man that made a whole lot of men and women around the world feel fuzzy and warm, Stardew Valley is beautiful in its simplicity but deadly in its addictiveness. Before you even know what’s happening, four months have passed and you’re only just regaining consciousness from its grip.
A game so good that pirates even started buying copies of it for each other, you can approach Stardew Valley at your own pace. So whether you want to leisurely maintain your farm or go off on adventures, the choice is yours. In a world that never seems to shy away from conflict, the escapism provided by Eric Barone’s gem cannot be underestimated. If you’re feeling friendly, though, a multiplayer mode is making might help you socialise.
Developer: Toby Fox Platform(s): PC, PS4, 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 quirks 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, XB1, 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, XB1, NS
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, NS
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.
Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.
Gamezeen is a Zeen theme demo site. Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.