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.
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.
“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.”
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, XB1, 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 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.
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 another 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, XB1, NS
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, XB1
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 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.
44. Nuclear Throne
Developer: Vlambeer Platform: PC, PS4, Vita, NS
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: Bennett Foddy Platform: PC
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.
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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