The 100 Best Indie Games of All Time
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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.
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.
99. 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.
98. Dead Cells
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.
97. Dwarf Fortress
The focused insanity and detail of Dwarf Fortress is about as close as we have ever come to a video game version of a deranged professor’s 100,000 page treatise on the plumage of city pigeons. It’s sole developer, Tarn Adams, is committed to simulating everything from a damage model where independent organs have their own hitpoints to the personalities and ambitions of each dwarf.
At the surface level Dwarf Fortress is a city management sim about building a fortress (with dwarves) into the side of a mountain and dealing with all the inherent issues that comes with. Things like drunken dwarves throwing cats at each other, massed goblin attacks and the occasional accidental awakening of an interdimensional horror become commonplace after you’ve spent even a little time with this game.
Realised in gorgeously detailed ASCII graphics, Dwarf Fortress doesn’t have much surface beauty, but if it’s what’s beneath the skin that counts – then this is a right stunner.
96. Prison Architect
There’s a game out there for everyone and for those who like micro-managing, seeing buildings constantly pop and well, convicts, then Prison Architect is a must. With this jailhouse construction and management game comes a whole heap of moral and ethical questions chained to it and Introversion Software thrust these dilemmas over to the player.
Do they want to run a humane prison where no one is content or having fun and will try to escape? Or do they want to be a ruthless drill sergeant in their own concrete and metal boot camp? Whatever the answer, Prison Architect allows players to tackle it however they want as they manage resources and expand on their micro-empire.
Alongside the best management sims, Prison Architect gives players that warm feeling only keeping numbers in check can generate, alongside cute style with self-aware humour.
En Garde! Or rather, En Grand! Nidhogg is a peculiar little beast; a 2D joust fest which sees players pit against their friends in one on one battles, combining the ability to fling weapons at foes like nothing else, superb parrying and swift thrusts to create the perfect local multiplayer game. In 2014 Nidhogg dominated parties. After a few drinks everyone was ready to brandish their rapiers as they fought each other, trying to push their way left or right and encroach on their opponent’s area, chancing their way to the final screen and victory.
However, Nidhogg was never that simple. Although incredibly fast-paced, players would spend a lot of time going back-and-forth as control swiftly changed hands, like a gorgeous, pixelated tug-of-war. Every game of Nidhogg is frantic and fantastic, inevitably drawing a crowd. Although its mainstream appeal has passed, Nidhogg can rest easy knowing it is always the peak of any party.
Numantian Games should first be commended for managing to use zombies in a medium saturated by the undead and somehow still being unique. The second commendation comes in because they’ve created an absolute belter. Although still in Early Access, They Are Billions has a lot going for it. Set in a 22nd century, zombie-infested world, players must build a base capable enough to defend against regular attacks from the plagued foe.
Each day survived in They Are Billions is a success. Players scavenge, build and scavenge some more with a game experience people are delightfully calling Left 4 Starcraft. Creating a base strong enough to handle the next wave of undead nasties is all part of the parcel in this Early Access and game which is only going from strength to strength. It’s certainly worthy of a mention and could become something truly special.
The Friday the 13th game was by no means a success story. Plagued by performance and network issues on launch, it didn’t see much of what could be called favourable reviews. Combine that with the fact that Dead by Daylight had already been doing the same style of asymmetrical multiplayer horror for about a year before Friday the 13th’s release, and you might be rightly wondering what the hell it is doing on this list.
Well, what makes Friday the 13th worthy of its place on this list, isn’t so much that it is a shining example of indie game development done right, but rather what it represents. This was a game that featured one of horror’s most iconic villains, yet it was born out of a fan game kickstarter campaign and developed by a tiny team. Friday the 13th’s existence is what made it interesting, and it raised some interesting questions about where indie games can go and what IPs are open to exploration.
Candleman was a 3D puzzle platformer with just about the cutest and most likeable nameless inanimate object in recent video-game history as its protagonist. It was great fun to play, and proved a match made in heaven for Youtubers, with its pretty graphics and a difficulty level which was not quite too easy, but not challenging enough to have you rage quitting and smashing your keyboard to pieces.
There’s a time and a place for the latter, of course (looking at you, Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy!) but Candleman, created by Chinese studio Spotlightor, was a really fun concept that made for a genuinely entertaining and memorable platformer. It was, in short, everything a good indie game should be.
Rime transported players to the Grecian holiday they’d probably never been on, in the sun-bleached location of this puzzle game.
In Rime the player wakes as an unnamed kid protagonist on a magical island that is half dream world, half desert island. Only able to perform a few actions and without any dialogue, Rime relies on its environment to lead you from puzzle to puzzle.
While there wasn’t any dialogue, the game’s use of the protagonist’s shout to activate certain objects was perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the game; you know you’re near something important if the kid emits an almighty yell and merely standing next to an innocuous pillar if they sing a small tune.
With a melancholy plot haunting each new area, the desire to keep moving onwards is constant, and you can’t help growing attached to the little figure in a red cape.