Thomas Brush hit indie fame with his Steam release of Pinstripe in 2017. Brush cut his teeth on Coma, however, a small flash game that introduced him to the scene. Players will easily see the resemblance between the two games. The warped art style and darkly menacing tone of Pinstripe can be traced back to Coma’s own watercolour-esque painting, with similar point and click mechanics and characters. At the start, Coma’s palette is far lighter than that of its offspring, however, with a gorgeously autumnal rural setting and a collection of weird and wonderful characters.
Playing as a small blob figure called Pete, your task in Coma is to rescue your sister who has been trapped in a secret basement. The sidescrolling puzzle adventure is typical of Brush’s work, and the art style quickly changes the reflect the darkness of his ideas. Rolling hills and charming treelines are replaced with stark black and white shadows and spikes around halfway through the approximately 15-minute ordeal, culminating in a collection of mechanics and ideas.
9. Meat Boy
Before he was Super, he was simply Meat Boy. In 2008, Edmund McMillen and Jonathan McEntee created a small flash game entitled Meat Boy. It took players through the journey of a single cube of meat as he rescued his girlfriend from the clutches of a fetus. It’s a classic story we know and love, and can be played in its original form for free!
It turns out McMillen was sadistic right from the very beginning. Meat Boy is insanely difficult and a true testament to placing trust in your player’s hunger for satisfaction. More than that, Meat Boy shows us just how far we’ve come since the days of this flash prototype. This original is a little rough round the edges, as a flash demo would be, but still offers the classic gameplay that millions of players have fallen in love with since its offspring was released.
8. Samorost 1
Samorost is one of those games that pop up every now and then in a screenshot or demo but rarely gets the attention the series deserves. The first instalment in the whimsical world of Samorost, Amanita Design’s first iteration of their wooded fantasy land is every bit as charming as its latest.
A simple point and click design that has since gone on to define an indie genre, Samorost paints a weird and wonderful world of mischief and awe. Taking delight in the smallest things, players are encouraged to explore and discover their game world through puzzles and progression challenges.
Centred in nature, Samorost takes us to a place of simplicity and organic bliss. Every challenge is rooted in the interplay of the natural world and every character is imbued with magical surrealism that draws players further into the mystical atmosphere. The fact that two further games have spawned from this gorgeous love letter to nature is testament to its long-lasting appeal.
We’ve all heard of QWOP, we’ve all played QWOP. A ten-year-old viral sensation, this ragdoll physics-based puzzler took the world by storm on release in 2008. Fittingly for so many players spending time mastering this game, developer Bennett Foddy created the game as procrastination from finishing his Philosophy dissertation.
Players control each section of a runner’s legs using the Q,W,O and P keys with the goal ranging from making it all the way around the course or just taking a few steps. The first few hours will be a finger-tip burning collection of face plants if you’re going in without a guide, of which there are many online. Nevertheless, QWOP taps into that quintessential addictive dopamine cycle that feeds so many games like it. You’ll be picking yourself up off the floor, dusting off, and returning to the start point without even realising you’re being sucked in.
6. Yume Nikki
A social recluse hides away in her apartment, the outside world offering nothing to motivate her to step through her front door. When she falls asleep, however, she is free to explore without the threat of harm. In her dreams, protagonist Madotsuki ventures through different surreal worlds to collect ‘Effects’, small charms that ultimately provide her with extra abilities to use during her dream sequences. Return to the real world and you’re met simply with a lonely apartment and a dream diary, your save point and the translated name of the experience.
An oppressive atmosphere and general sense of foreboding makes Madotsuki’s story one of creeping unease. Its defiance of common video game elements like dialogue, narrative direction, and game over conditions create a feeling of uncanny agitation. Combine all that with the bizarre dreamworlds at your disposal, and the top-down RPG itself becomes an enigma.
More mysterious is the experience’s creator. After developing Yume Nikki on RPG Maker and releasing version 0.1 in 2007, designer Kikiyama disappeared for a decade. Indie fan sleuthing took over, with the identity of the mystical developer with a story about loneliness to tell becoming the subject of many an online investigation. That all ended when Kikiyama announced a return to Yume Nikki on Steam last year, providing fans the assurance that the developer was still alive but no further clues as to their identity.
The first chapter of Deltarune, Toby Fox’s celebrated continuation of Undertale, is available for free. In it, players will once again return to the top-down RPG set up of Undertale but set against the backdrop of a completely new world. As you crawl through the dungeons of the Dark World, you’ll come up against all the monsters and tricky decisions you could ask for. And, though the visual style and general gameplay mechanics are reminiscent of Undertale, Fox is adamant that his latest project is far from his development origins.
What Deltarune is, or isn’t, is still the question on many fans’ minds at the moment. With Fox himself unsure of when the next instalment will be available, it’s difficult to position the game outside of relation to its ancestor. It does, after all, share significant similarities with its predecessor. Whatever Deltarune is, it retains the spark that ignited the Undertale frenzy and continues to utilise it well.
The Stanley Parable is one of those iconic games that just doesn’t go away. It’s an indie classic that opened the door for another game on our list, Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, And The Terribly Cursed Emerald. Guiding Stanley through the abandoned office he’s found himself imprisoned within, the player only has the assistance of a sassy narration courtesy of Kevan Brighting. An elaborate exploration on the function of the rules governing our video games and everyday lives. If you’re just after a taste of meta existential crises, you can grab the demo absolutely free.
As you progress through the increasingly bizarre gameworld, choosing to ignore or respect the narrator’s wishes, you’ll quickly gather that there’s far more going on beneath the surface of this dingy office. The demo offers a quick insight into the way the game works, giving players just enough to raise some of the questions debated in the full game but still leaving a hunger for more.
One of indie games’ most prolific roguelikes, Spelunky was lauded for its complex gameplay and organic discovery process in 2013. Before that there was Spelunky Classic, the original flash demo prototyping the early version of the game that laid the foundations for the review-busting full release.
Play through the entire early adventure as your pixelated spelunker journeys underground in search of precious loot. Standard roguelike rules apply; delve deeper into procedurally generated caves and grab extra tools and weapons to perfect your run and wind up at the start again when you ultimately come across a new enemy. Classic platforming goodness awaits with a slice of indie gaming history to go with it.
When a game is said to have influenced Minecraft, you know it’s going to be big in the indie scene. When that game is, and always has been, available for free you know it’s going to be big on this list. Dwarf Fortress is a construction management simulator which hands you the reigns over an entire colony of dwarves. Under your supreme rule, your tiny bearded subjects will be taking over the world, taking on threats, and building a civilisation.
Balance individual personalities, skills, and cultures to develop your dwarf colonies into powerful civilisations. Dwarf Fortress is a hybrid of text and symbols, so it takes some getting used to especially if you’ve been spoiled with lush graphics your entire gaming life. Different creatures and objects are denoted by special characters or codes while the map itself is a collection of this text arranged in the shape of your world. Dwarf Fortress is far deeper and richer than any list entry could possibly begin to cover, but it really warrants a deep dive if you’re a fan of simulation, fantasy, construction, or the rich heritage of indie games.
Lucas Pope made his name with Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn, so he’s no stranger to critical acclaim. Pope is rapidly becoming one of the biggest names in indie game development, so when he released his latest Ludum Dare project Unsolicited, the world was already waiting.
Filling out corporate forms as a downbeat employee against a time limit sounds more like a job you put off too long rather than a fun way to spend some free time. Unsolicited revels in this monotony, basing its entire premise around the creation and delivery of junk mail. Turning one of the most mind-numbing tasks in the world into a highly engaging video game is a feat worthy of the top spot on this list. Unsolicited transforms itself from the mundane to the exciting in just a few clicks on the first drop-down menu of your first form.
Soon, you’re racing yourself to send as many questionnaires, timeshare invitations, or credit offers to unwitting victims as possible. Throw in some corporate bullshit phrases and shallow motivational buzzwords and you can almost feel yourself being sucked into the machine.
There are so many free indie games out there, waiting for your attention. Exploring the landscape reveals a sub-culture of developers making games purely for their passion for the medium, purely to tell their story. Take a leap into this world of often bizarre experiences and you never know, you might just find the next Spelunky, Super Meat Boy, or Samorost.
If you’re ready to flash the cash, take a look at our Top 100 Indie Games collection for our best picks!