The 100 Best Indie Games of All Time
No other game captured the feeling of commanding your own Starship Enterprise, Millenium Falcon or Battlestar quite like FTL. The strategic roguelike gave you a scrappy crew and a half-empty ship on your journey across the galaxy. The engaging power and crew management systems were an absolute joy to stay on top of, all layered behind a spartan, efficient interface.
The best moments were the unlikely problems that arose from having barely enough crew, scrap, and fuel to survive. And you’ve never experienced true relief unless you’ve saved your crew with a timely repair of the oxygen room. With fantastic extras included in the Advanced Edition and a devoted modding community, FTL will always be a wonder to return to.
Few games from any studio have had as much of an ambiguous and provocative a narrative as Inside. A young boy trapped in a dystopian factory. A stark, largely monochromatic aesthetic. Lifeless bodies manipulated through mind control. Terrifying underwater creatures. What does it all mean?
Even now, that’s still open for interpretation. What was undeniable, though, was the game’s unique sense of style and ingenious puzzle-platforming that’s been copied by countless other titles since its release in 2016. Playdead’s Limbo may have been the fresher, more original experience, but as a successor Inside took things further with a grim near-future vision that was less fantastical but no less nightmarish. Minimalist in both design and gameplay, it allowed the mind to wander into frightening territory with chilling effect. And the ending? Yeah…no idea…
28. Into The Breach
Subset Games really shook the ground with this turn-based strategy game. If Final Fantasy Tactics was a hit, Into The Breach found in it an inspiration to craft a very well received game. It’s small and it’s deep in the storytelling, but the premise and the gameplay are just over the top and provide with hours and hours of simple fun.
Grab your team of Jaegers (I wanted to say mechs) and face those Kaijus (I mean “Vek”) and command them into victory to save the world from its demise. Failed? No problem, go back in time and start over until you get rid of those nasty bugs. Into The Breach contains so many approaches, playstyles and possibilities that it amazes.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night didn’t launch without its controversy, and while the visual display of these pixelated Castlevania levels is somewhat lacking on certain platforms, it’s easy to see why a mediocre aesthetic didn’t hold this platformer back from stardom. Essentially the gameplay is so damn good, it carries the rest of the experience easily.
You’re getting everything you ever loved in Castlevania, and even better, you’re getting it exactly as smooth and impressive as you remember it to be. Every leap and every parry feels smooth and snappy, and the performative sprite pulling off all these moves pops against the densely layered background.
Beyond physicality, Bloodstained also introduces a number of mechanics, while building on those that sold the Castlevania system back in the day, that expand the experience with a new layer while being careful not to overload the beautifully simple premise.
Amidst the out-of-control popularity it faced upon release, it was easy to forget that the hype for Undertale was completely warranted. Its world reeled us in with its quirky writing and oddball presentation, but its charms were a means to an end: Undertale used these qualities to call attention to the ways the player could grow emotionally attached to the characters, and, in turn, the ways the player could impact their world – for better or worse.
Complemented by a wonderful soundtrack and a distinctive battle system that mixed bullet hell and adventure game elements and somehow made it work, Undertale not only challenged the players relationship to games, but did so with flair and heart.
25. Binding Of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac has been a huge name in the indie gaming sphere since release. Whichever title followed Edmund McMillen’s smash hit Super Meat Boy was always going to have a great deal of attention. Luckily Ed pulled through. Isaac’s dark humour, high replayability, smooth controls and hidden secrets hooked players from the start.
The Zelda inspired top-down tear shooting roguelike has been consistently updated since release. The flash game was completely overhauled for consoles with Rebirth then expanded further with Afterbirth and Afterbirth+. These updates included new items, characters, enemies, bosses, levels, modes, and daily runs. The staggering number of item combinations were the core of what made Isaac so memorable. Sometimes the RNG gods were against you, but there was no other feeling like those one in a million runs when the perfect item changed everything.
Hyper Light Drifter was a stunningly beautiful game, that at times felt at odds between its serene presentation and its wildly difficult gameplay. Packed to the brim with gorgeous pixel art, animations and music, it is an undeniably visually stimulating game to look at and watch being played.
Hiding beneath this rather pretty exterior however, is a lining of razor sharp blades that makes up Hyper Light Drifter’s gameplay. With bosses and mooks frequently as equally challenging, Hyper Light Drifter quickly became a game of extreme skill and patience that has found a dedicated following in the ranks of those poor unfortunate souls who are addicted to overly difficult games.
We’re more than happy to just sit back and look at the pretty screenshots.
If Ori and the Blind Forest didn’t make you cry you’re made of stone. This tale of love, endurance and overcoming of great obstacles hook you from the first few minutes.
The story began with the orphan Ori’s childhood of safety and joy with the bear-like Naru ends abruptly when tragedy tears the pair apart. Ori must from then on navigate the world of Nibel in the game’s Metroidvania-style.
The story was wonderful, but exploring the detailed and vibrant map, with all its hidden secrets, was even better.
This First Person Shooter arcade-like game is not only an innovative title in its gameplay based on time management tied to movement, but also in the concept of breaking the 4th wall.
SuperHot starts as a regular time-passing, very fun game and it slowly transforms into a critique of today’s immersion into virtual reality and mind eroding procrastination. Players will soon realize they’re too engaged to stop and will find themselves wanting to know more about what the hell is going on as they try to solve its combat puzzles that allow for unique approaches to adjust to each different user.
The adrenaline that SuperHot emanates is just too intoxicating to abandon.
21. Gone Home
There’s an achievement in Gone Home for completing the game in under a minute. That might net you some points, but you’ll skip over a rare example of a well-told queer gaming narrative. The game had you investigating the family home for clues on their disappearance through notes and diary entries left behind. In the process, you discovered the youngest daughter ran away with her lesbian lover.
Gone Home helped establish the trend for ‘walking simulator’ narrative games on its original release in 2013, but remains a shining example of the genre. Its atmosphere was dark and haunting, the dusty and deserted house disconcertingly silent. But the writing was exceptional: full of heart and a subtly played queer story. Rarely do games explore queer themes, yet the rise of indies has brought fringe stories to the forefront. Gone Home was short, but its powerful story was not to be dismissed.