The 100 Best Indie Games of All Time
10. Super Meat Boy
Who knew playing as a block of meat, perfecting timed runs and getting stuck in a loop of hundreds of death could be fun? Well, everyone, including Team Meat. Thankfully they’ve created a game which essentially took the classic Super Mario Bros. design, replaced the beloved plumber with a cube of meat, modernised the platforming and made it quick. Incredibly quick.
What’s most notable about Super Meat Boy is the smooth controls and its challenging levels with a bonus bit of delight at the end of each level. Super Meat Boy replays every attempt the player made all at once, creating a barrage of cubed meat bashing itself against various traps and weirdly, it’s addictive watching all of those Meat Boys die. With some strong platforming, lovely animations and a core loop which keeps you coming back for more, Super Meat Boy is an easy game to love.
9. Dear Esther
Have you ever read a book which left you pondering questions such as: “Am I really ‘reading’ this book?” and “What even is a book?”. Probably not. So you would rightly think any other artform which produced this effect must be as strange as it was special. Video games don’t usually incorporate references to St Paul’s ‘Damascene conversion’, or the writings of William S. Boroughs, so Dear Esther is not to everyone’s taste.
But its music was beautiful, its writing exquisite, its visuals near-sublime. Its journey into a disturbed mind, and through a Scottish island’s ghostly desolation, was lonely, harrowing, and utterly consuming. If literary critics try to snatch Dear Esther away from its birthplace in the world of video games, gamers must fight them to our last breath. We don’t completely know what it is, but we do know it’s a work of genius, and we’re holding onto it.
Who would have thought a game about immigration and border patrol could become so popular? Set in the fictional communist state of Arstotzka, you are set to work manning the borders of your country. After six years of war, the people are fearful of outsiders coming into the country, but some are trying to reunite with their families or start new lives. You must look through their documents, looking for any signs their papers might be fake or otherwise deniable. But the people you can accept or reject have consequences down the line! At the same time, you must manage your family and support them.
In this modern climate of fear, Papers Please continues to cut deep. It comes at the player on a personal level, showing a very real future (and present.)
When Phil Fish announced his retirement from game development in 2013 anyone who played FEZ was justifiably disappointed. Whether or not you like Fish is irrelevant as FEZ is a fantastically cute puzzler which combines 2D and 3D elements brilliantly.
The reason FEZ impressed so much from the first instant in its charming world when players see the orbs which need to be snaffled up, they wonder how to reach them and assume there’s an item or ability to reach them later. However, realisation creeps in that everything can be done from the start by understanding its core mechanic – rotating the 2D world.
FEZ gives players that ‘eureka’ moment only the classiest puzzlers can produce. Combined with a lovely, pixelated art style, it’s no surprise FEZ has reached the top ten of our list. It captured most who played it and certainly earned its place here.
What more can you say about Minecraft that hasn’t already been said before? Which is a testament to how big of a cultural phenomenon this simple building game became. Minecraft was the brainchild of now infamous indie developer Markus ‘Notch’ Persson. He launched Minecraft in 2011 after forming Mojang alongside Jakob Porsér in 2010.
The Lego-esque building game was an instant hit, going down in history as the best selling indie game of all time with over 140 million copies sold as of early 2018. Minecraft took over streaming platforms like YouTube and went on to spawn a multitude of spin-offs including a single player narrative experience created by Telltale Games called Minecraft: Story Mode.
Persson sold the the Minecraft intellectual property and Mojang to Microsoft in 2014 for a reported $2.5 billion cementing its legacy and ensuring its inclusion on this list.
Anyone that has ever played or seen Spelunky can generally agree on one thing – it’s a tad difficult. Before the days of journalists comparing every other game to Dark Souls, there was Spelunky, a tough as nails platformer, that was still approachable and understandable at a mechanical level. Difficulty can be a tricky thing to talk about in games, particularly when so many examples of hard games are packed with sudden spikes in difficulty and mechanics that are prone to cheese the player.
Spelunky is something else.
Every single mechanic in the game is clear to the player at the outset. Every time you die or fail it is simply, your own fault. This has made Spelunky a notoriously frustrating, yet addictive experience which tempts players back with the promise that “this time you won’t mess up that jump.”
The significance Braid played in the rebirth of the indie games scene is almost universally recognised. While many indie developers have said that Braid as a game was not a particular artistic inspiration, there has been widespread discussion around how the success of Braid confirmed that there was a market out there for weird, auteur driven games.
The celebration of Braid isn’t just about its legacy though, it is undeniably a well crafted game. Hand drawn visuals, soulful violin music and an interesting central time control mechanic, made Braid a well realised and enjoyable experience. Braid does carry some luggage with it in the form of a navel gazing narrative, but despite its quirks, Braid is the clear vision of a developer outside the constraints of a publisher and it laid the groundwork for what indie games could be and have become.
Honestly, was there ever any doubt that it’d be on this list?
Both Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number have made it to this list, and justifyingly so. Top-down shooters were never really associated with storytelling until Dennaton Games released their first title. Players shoot, stab and punch their way through different closed scenarios in order to make hits on targets they receive via telephone in the 1990’s. Without too much explanation, the game plunges onward until we start to realise that nothing is quite what it seems, and deeper motives become clearer and clearer.
Behind the endlessly fun hardcore fury and mayhem that Hotline Miami poses as its frontline, resides an almost perfect balance of level, sound and mechanical design. Praise has rightfully be thrown to Dennaton Games for this innovative and entertaining franchise which, without a doubt, deserves a place on this list.
As the first title from Danish indie devs, Playdead, Limbo captivated players with its striking monochromatic art-style and rich atmosphere. Launching on Xbox Live Arcade in 2010 this ambitious puzzle-platformer led the way in the indie game renaissance going on to sell millions of copies and release across multiple platforms.
The game chronicled the journey of small boy throughout a strange world defined by black-and-white tones punctuated by bursts of light to a background of ambient sounds. It was appaduled for its minimalistic art-style and narrative interpretation, despite the fact Limbo featured no spoken dialogue. Limbo is often cited as an example of video games as an art form and helped re-launch the popularity of the puzzle-platform genre along with games like Braid.
So here we are, at the end together. That was a rather nice journey, wasn’t it?
Yes, The Stanley Parable is our number one, and yes it’s probably not what you were expecting.
The Stanley Parable stripped back everything that we had come to expect about choice and player actions in games, challenging the notion of player control and pulling core elements of games development from out behind the curtain.
Not only is The Stanley Parable a fascinating game when explored at a higher level, it is also an entertaining experience that can satisfy players with only the most cursory of playthroughs. A masterclass in level design and a demonstration of the power of a strong script and narrator, The Stanley Parable is a game that would simply not exist outside the environment of indie game development and the accessibility that the movement has spawned for game creation tools.
Both of The Stanley Parable’s creators, Davey Wreden and William Pugh, have gone on to do more great work in indie games, repeatedly pushing back the boundaries of how we can express ourselves and understand each other through games.
We think that makes The Stanley Parable more than worthy of taking the top place on our list of The 100 Greatest Indie Games of All Time.
From everyone here at The Indie Game Website, we hope you enjoyed the read and we all look forward to you passionately telling us why we’re wrong.