Here at The Indie Game Website we are the absolute authority on deciding what is and isn’t good. We don’t care about your shouts of “subjectivity” and “taste” – we’re right you’re wrong, and that’s all that matters. So, given our unchallengeable authority, you can be certain that when we make a list of the best indie games, they’re gonna be the best indie games.
Joking aside, we’ve chosen each one of these games based entirely on our own opinions, so your mileage is pretty much guaranteed to vary. But, we’re merciful gods and we’ve left the comment section open so remember to yell at us about all the fantastic indie games we missed and to tell us why we’re wrong and stupid.
Every weird, wonderful and memorable entry on this list celebrates everything that makes indie games so special. This list was assembled by our staff and you’ll find some of our personal favourites scattered throughout.
So, without further ado, here are the 100 Greatest Indie Games of All Time.
What better way to kick off the list then with this esoteric, mechanics driven game about life, relationships and more, from career designer and innovator, Jason Rohrer. Passage is a 2D side-scrolling game in which you move slowly from the left side of the screen to the right, collecting items as you progress. This is about as mechanically basic as they come, but that doesn’t mean that your actions don’t hold weight. As you progress to the right you can no longer move back to the left and your character steadily grows older, so the intention here is to convey the onward march of time. Eventually you have the option to join ways with a partner to keep you company on your journey to the right. But if you choose to have a partner you are blocked off from some paths and collectibles.
To put it simply, Passage is a game that is steeped in symbolism and it is one of the critical titles in the burgeoning art game subgenre, whose impact can be felt through many of indie gaming’s biggest titles. Simple mechanics and evocative results are what indie games are all about, making Passage an essential addition to this list.
In typical roguelike style, to be successful in Cogmind you’ll need to pick up equipment to modify and build your character in order to survive as long as you can before your nigh inevitable death. In Cogmind, however, you literally tear pieces of equipment from other robots and attach it to yourself. You’ll need to source new weaponry, propulsion systems, power sources and more to survive. There’s a massive amount of weaponry with which to arm yourself, from missile launchers to lightning guns to maces. Each playthrough encourages a different approach, depending on what gear you find.
Developer Grid Sage Games has not only produced a brilliant roguelike that easily sets itself above other offerings of the genre, but also a passionate community, with regular updates based upon player feedback. While Cogmind is still in early access, the game will only continue to be built into something bigger and better, not unlike your playable character.
Christine Love deserves a place on any list of the greatest indie games. Her games have always featured innovative gameplay mechanics that alter the way players interact with their narratives. In Don’t Take It Personally, players took on the role of a high school teacher with access to his students’ posts and private messages on the school’s social media site. It played as a standard visual novel, but every so often players could peruse what the characters were saying online and how it related to what was going on offline; this added a new dimension to the experience.
The game’s writing could be painfully awkward, yet it was always charming because adolescence is painfully awkward, especially as it congeals on social media. Christine Love had remarkable compassion for her teen characters, many of whom were queer, and their ridiculous melodrama. She precisely captured how it felt to grow up with the internet, and we dig that.
Bernband is probably the closest you can get to living in an alien city without, you know, actually jumping on a starship and pottering about in space. Created entirely by Tom van den Boogart, Bernband sees you taking control of one of the alien residents of the “city of the pff” and having a jolly old wander around the place.
As a true to heart walking simulator there are no set goals for the player to accomplish. But the stunningly detailed city (realised in a unique 3D pixel-art style), packed full of weird and wonderful aliens and interesting locations makes it one of the most unique game spaces to spend time in. The aliens speak gibberish, everything looks outlandish, but with a little time, you’ll soon feel so at home in Bernband that you never want to leave.
Keep your eyes open for a remastered version that is currently in development.
Firefly Studios was formed in 1999 by two British developers, and its first release, Stronghold, became a true classic of the early 2000s. The aim in Stronghold was quite simply to build a castle. You could then play a tower-defence campaign or an economic campaign, but the mechanics remained the same. Stronghold straddled the line between simulator and RTS, but what made it so great was the unashamed focus on the small details that immersed you into the role as lord of your feudal fiefdom.
Firefly, still an independent studio, have made several sequels to Stronghold, but the original was a masterpiece which, by focusing on quality over quantity, created a near flawless immersive experience which surely merits a place on this list.
95. Beat Cop
New York, in the 1980s. It was a time when cops kicked ass in the morning and took names in the evening, and the streets were as infested with criminals as the hotels were with bedbugs. If you’re looking for a historical documentary, Beat Cop isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a homage to ‘80s cop shows, and to the point-and-click cops’n’robbers games of the ‘90s such as Police Quest, it won’t disappoint.
Beat Cop wouldn’t win any prizes for political correctness with its racy but hilarious dialogue. It also wouldn’t win any prizes for its pixelated graphics. Maybe it was the omnipresent pigeons, or the almost GTA-esque ability to make memorable characters out of the most insignificant NPCs, but there was just something about this game which made it an awesome depiction of the sleazy but colourful street life of the Big Apple in all its glory.
94. Dead Cells
Some may say it’s irresponsible to put an Early Access game in this list as it’s not technically finished. Others may argue when are games ever finished? One thing they can agree on, though, is Dead Cells feels great to play and is an indie success. There are more roguelikes on the Steam store than anyone can count, but Dead Cells has muscled its way to the front. Motion Twin continue to build on the vibrant, 2D pixelated art style and ominous soundtrack, to complement a game which combes metroidvania aspects with permadeath, creating a whole new gaming genre term: roguemania.
It’s no walk in the park, but the way Dead Cells weaves these two aspects of game design together and pulls it off is commendable. It’s fast-paced combat keeps players enticed while exploring Dead Cell’s dark world, looking out for the next upgrade. The tough enemies, though, always have something to say about that.
There are few games on this list which can boast of having more than 2000 levels, but N++ comfortably beats that milestone. But, as always, it’s not sheer volume that counts, it’s what’s inside. Metanet have created a stunningly simple platformer in the form of N++. With its clean, high contrast colours and finessed controls, it brought platformers back to the basics. Forget about an in-depth storyline or quirky characters, this game uses stickmen-like figures and basic geometric shapes to entice.
N++ absorbs the player in a simple try, die and repeat formula which could get boring if the platforming did not feel as graceful and exciting as it does. Leaping smoothly out of the way of death is every second of this game, and with more content to whittle away than hours in a Youtube Star’s catalogue, N++ is a must for any platforming fiends.
92. Cave Story
One of the older and more famous indie game stories is Cave Story, an 8-bit masterpiece in the metroidvania genre. Featuring Quote, a cute, little robot, the player goes from screen to screen, blasting their way around Daisuke ‘Pixel’ Amaya’s sole-created world. In spite of the fact that Cave Story was initially released in 2004, it holds up incredibly well. Its pixelated art style and soundtrack helps this as they harken back to games of old but it’s Cave Story’s fantastic level designer which makes it a brilliant game to tackle.
Cave Story pulls no punches, however, as the player needs skill to get to the end of this experience; dashing and jumping around a variety of enemies and obstacles who are only content when Quote is no longer moving. Cave Story is a popular game and it’s no wonder with its exceptional look, sound and design.
Supergiant Games’ second title, Transistor, takes place within a cyberpunk universe where we take control of Red, a singer that’s lost her voice, and her partner trapped inside a cybernetic sword with mysterious powers. That premise is the shell that contains a story about love, self-discovery and questioning what’s real and what’s not.
Once again the high point of Supergiant Games comes from its Audio Director, Darren Korb, who created one more unique album, in this case to join a turn-based narrative-driven combat game.
Transistor is all about learning what happened to a ravaged futuristic city and to uncover the mystery of the disappearance of some well-known figures that appear to have defied the tyranny governing them.