Double jumping out of obscurity.
Indie platformers are quickly taking over, and whether you think that’s a good or a bad thing, you can’t deny there are some stunning contributions to the run and jump genre. Super Meat Boy, Celeste and Shovel Knight all lead the way in shining lights, but what about the platformers that flew just under the radar? Here we’re counting down the top seven most underrated indie platformer games. The games that you may have heard of, but only on the periphery, never quite getting their chance to glisten.
Gunpoint occupies a strange liminal space between stealth and platforming puzzles. As spy Richard Conway, you’re tasked with infiltrating a series of highly guarded buildings, using your hacking skills to rewire lights, security doors, and alarms in order to prowl undetected. More and more tech is handed to you as you progress through the levels, unlocking new ways to alter the building around you. Quickly, you’ll be viewing the cross-section of the targeted skyscraper as a navigational puzzle, with strictly defined rules blocking easy progression.
There’s just the right amount of freedom to solve these puzzles. There’s an element of creativity in which security measures you choose to take down and where, and yet the logic of the game prohibits anything from going too wrong. Gunpoint is a strangely relaxing exercise in careful planning and quick escapes, sure to make you feel badass.
You’ve got to marvel at a hero’s resolve. It’s easy enough to get distracted by side quests in a main campaign, or even just spending hours in skill or ability tree menus, but Reventure is an adventure platformer that revels in procrastination. There is, of course, a princess to save, but along the way, players are encouraged to digress from their main objective and explore some of the hundred different endings available to them. Most of your time in Reventure will be spent in a ‘what if’ state. Exploring every option available to you is only part of the magic of this incredibly funny rogue-lite. You can choose to explore all of the different endings to their full, or simply sit back and watch all the ridiculous ways to die.
Reventure is a hugely underrated platformer, full of wit and charm, packed with pop culture, and bursting at the seams with cheeky personality.
A puzzle platformer that takes its colour palette incredibly seriously, Hue is the product of Fiddlesticks development team Henry Hoffman and Dan Da Rocha. A young boy is on a journey to find his missing mother, and must brave the greyscale worlds of the town around him to survive his adventure. The puzzles come from your use of colour in this black and white world. Different doorways and platforms can be revealed once the background colour changes, leading to a series of increasingly satisfying puzzles and tricky platforming manoeuvres. Jump from one platform and change the colour of the backdrop in mid-air to reveal the next, or match the background to an obstacle’s colour to pass straight through it. Travel through the dark streets and dusty buildings, uncovering new colours to add to your arsenal that will aid you in later levels or allow you to access new areas in previous ones.
Hue takes the platforming genre and adds a central mechanic that uses the background as a main driver of gameplay. It’s very original, taking a usually passive part of a platformer’s offering and making it a core gameplay feature, an idea that hasn’t seen much replication since.
4. Valdis Story: Abyssal City
Endless Fluff Games’ mythical platformer Valdis Story: Abyssal City refuses to hold your hand. It’s a Castlevania homage with a healthy arsenal of skill decisions, extra gameplay options and an open world for the taking. Play as either Wyatt or Reina and take on the fantastical sunken city of Sitheil, wielding magic, melee weapons and your good old fists to defeat the enemies and bosses in your way. Valdis Story shines in its responsive and snappy combat system, where a good pace keeps action tense but every attack lands with purpose. Attacks feel fluid and stringing together a combo of epic proportions feels both wholly achievable and incredibly satisfying when pulled off.
You can expect all the unlockable weapons, skills, and abilities from a Castlevania-esque experience with the option to hone your playstyle across three trees of progression; offensive, defensive and magic. With its impressive combat and alluring game world, Valdis Story can’t be missed if you’re a fan of the Metroidvania flavour.
3. They Bleed Pixels
A gothic, nightmarish beat ’em up, They Bleed Pixels tells the story of a young girl slowly transforming into a terrifying monster. Every night in her dreams, our protagonist enters blood-soaked platforming levels full of horrific enemies and Super Meat Boy-esque gore. Use your razor-sharp claws to slice and gouge your enemies, avoiding spike traps and double jumping your way through each encounter.
The gameplay here takes no prisoners. If you make one wrong move, you’ll find yourself reduced to a mound of red sludge in seconds. Thankfully, you can gather up all that life fluid along your way to create your own save points and jump straight back into the action after a grisly end. They Bleed Pixels is a frenetic experience in which you’ll need to remain constantly aware of your surroundings. The controls are suitably simple for such a high difficulty of combat, so keep your slashing thumb limbered and your claw hands sharpened.
Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV has been kicking around the internet for a while, but rarely picks up a spot in discussions of indie platformers. Originally a Flash title, Simon Roth took the game to Humble Bundle in 2011 and eventually to Linux and Nintendo consoles. Accordingly, the puzzle platformer has seen little in the way of limelight, perhaps due to its restricted release line up (though it is available on Commodore 64). Nevertheless, the cult following it has carved out for itself speaks volumes for the sophistication of this idiosyncratic platforming experience.
As Captain Viridian you must search the inter-dimensional world of VVVVVV for your missing crewmates who have been separated following an evacuation of your spaceship. It’s by no means a unique storyline, but this title isn’t too concerned with plot. VVVVVV flips the platforming rulebook on its head, literally. You don’t jump per say, but rather, switch gravity off for a few seconds when standing on a platform to navigate each level. There are no powerups, skills, abilities, or weapons to gather, and no collectable items to store in your stick figure pockets, rather this is a game that takes a central, gravity-defying mechanic and pushes it to its full potential. It’s a unique title that’s now playable pretty much anywhere on the internet, so there’s no reason not to give it a go.
1. Life Goes On: Done To Death
Death is rarely the goal in a puzzle platformer, but Life Goes On: Done To Death laughs in the face of danger. As you reach your first insurmountable pit of spikes your first instinct may be to retrace your steps. There’s definitely no way I can make it across this, you think, you must have missed something back there. But you’re wrong. Well, you’re right, there’s no way you can make it across but you don’t need to head back to the start to figure it out. Nope, just die. Next time you come across the spikes you’ll see your previous corpse spread across them – hey, that makes a nice bridge – and now you know how to play Life Goes On: Done To Death.
The King wants to live forever, so he has sent a swarm of knights out into the wilds to locate the Cup of Life. He’s willing to send his armies to their deaths to retrieve it for him, and you’re oh-so-obliging in your puzzle-solving adventure. Each puzzle requires a unique method of executing your character in order to allow the next to progress further, forcing you to rethink your approach to danger in a game, no longer considering survival the aim but instead prioritising a death that satisfies a number of independent conditions. Life Goes On: Done To Death offers a strategically novel puzzle platforming adventure with a morbidly comedic tone that exemplifies trial and error progression.
With so many quality (and not so quality) titles hitting the marketplace every day it can be difficult to unearth the gems from the rubble. Nevertheless, there are always novel experiences waiting for you to stumble upon whatever platform you find yourself browsing, so get out there and get hunting!
If you’re after something a little more recognised, check out our Top 100 Indie PC Games article!