First drawing attention at E3 2014 thanks to its beautiful hand-drawn art-style Cuphead has gone on to be one of the most popular indie games of recent years. Inspired by classic cartoons of the 1930s the frantic, boss rush style action game brought bullet-hell to the masses to mixed reactions.
Although praised for its painstakingly recreated visuals Cuphead started a debate in the video game community about the difficulty in games that continues to rage on to this day. Albeit no longer associated with Cuphead. At the time, the game made numerous headlines challenging its extreme difficulty curve as unreasonable and unnecessary.
Despite this Cuphead went on to sell millions of copies worldwide across multiple platforms and went down in video game history as not only one of the most channelling games but also one of the prettiest. With new DLC launching soon it seems Cuphead’s frantic mix platforming and shooting mechanics will once again invade our lives. What could be worse than the Devil himself? I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.
9. Papers, Please
Papers, Please may be set in 1982 but it’s as relevant today as it ever could be. Working at a checkpoint on the border of two politically hostile countries, it’s your job to allow or deny passengers entry into the fictional country of Arstotzka. Each day is timed, and it’s up to you to process as many travellers as possible, allowing certain immigrants through and detaining others for further assessment, interrogation, or arrest. Efficient work will be rewarded at the end of the day with a supply of credits with which you can purchase food and shelter for your family, while breaking protocol will bring penalties. As the world around you evolves, so do the rules with new scenarios and requirements being added in response to political tensions rising between the two countries.
Papers, Please is outstanding in its ability to translate a highly complex social, economic, and political message into a relatively simple gameplay mechanic. It’s been praised as such, having won a number of awards for its innovation, narrative, and the implementation of strategy mechanics.
Spelunky Classic originally appeared in the world of freeware way back in 2008. The platformer took early punters on an adventure through previously unexplored tunnels as they maximise their loot and fend off the enemies of the world below. Since its original inception, Spelunky has appeared on a number of consoles in a remastered form, as well as having an official PC release in 2013. Fans fell in love with the game in its original form, and that love only swelled as more and more players got involved through the experience’s snowballing popularity.
The roguelike takes players through distinct areas of randomly generated levels as they collect jewels and weapons on their run. Derek Yu’s cult classic has been hailed as a seminal independent experience, one that shines through the obvious care and attention to detail that can only come from the passion of a creative doing what they love. Its art has aged supremely well, with the HD remaster serving those with more crisp tastes beautifully. Through its unique characters and charming style, Spelunky still holds a place in many a gamer’s heart even ten years after its original release.
7. Stardew Valley
It’s a rare feat for an indie game to ape its AAA influence so well that it actually exceeds it in quality and popularity. Not to mention when said indie game is made by just one guy. Stardew Valley is a marvellous achievement, a phenomenon and above all, a damn good farming sim. While Harvest Moon held the crown in its genre for years, its middling recent iterations have paled in comparison.
Stardew Valley’s setup isn’t anything out of the ordinary – you inherit a dilapidated farm from a deceased relative and jump on the opportunity it presents to escape to the countryside. But it’s the freedom of what you can do when you’re there that sets it apart.
You can explore the town and its surrounding lands to forage for wild produce. You can participate in seasonal events and build relationships with the townsfolk, perhaps even marry one of them. Or you can delve ever-deeper into the mines to battle monsters and uncover treasures. And of course, there are excellent farming mechanics, letting you slowly expand your agricultural empire. But with limited time and energy each day, you can’t do it all. Choose wisely.
6. Disco Elysium
ZA/UM had never made a game before Disco Elysium, and the now famous hotel room opener does little to prepare audiences any further for the stunning RPG heading their way. As soon as that character creation screen hits, however, we’re all aware of just how special this indie experience will be. It’s an RPG down to its most traditional form. You’re not fussing around with weapon management, open world maps, and collect and retrieve missions here – you’re playing a role that you created in a gorgeous and well realised game world packed with its own nuances, conversational threats, and charm. One wrong dialogue move can be far more distastrous than a failed parry, and there’s no reloads here, you’re simply going to have to get creative.
Before Celeste came along many people thought the platformer genre had reached its zenith in the early years of the indie game revolution with the like of Super Meat Boy and Braid. Celeste changed that by breathing life into a tired genre with a unique mix of inventive game design and a touching story of personal struggle. Presented as a colourful pixel art platform adventure, it tells the story of a young woman determined to overcome her demons as she climbs a mysterious mountain.
The art is cute, the music is funky and the gameplay has that addictive ‘just one more go’ style of hook that can keep you playing for hours. From the creators of Towerfall, this charming adventure captured the hearts of players across the gaming community for its narrative-driven story and accessibility. Its simple playability belies its complex design and continues to make it one of the most successful platformers of all time.
It’s not often that a game as significant as Undertale comes along. Created by solo developer, Toby Fox and funded on Kickstarter this small game became one of the most talked about indie games of recent years. Based on classic RPGs, Undertale took everything that makes a video game and spun it on its head, subverting expectations and turning game design into its own special kind of satire.
Famed for its humour and genuine storyline, Undertale follows a human child who has fallen into a world of monsters. Exploring their way through the Underground, your character finds a host of weird and wonderful characters from pun-loving skeletons to cute doggos. Its characters ooze charm with their witty lines and visible emotions, it really humanises digital characters in a way very few video games have before.
One thing that really set Undertale apart was its optional combat. Players can choose to play the game completely not violently as a pacifist harming no character throughout the game. This is achieved through an intricate combat system that blends turn-based strategy as well as bullet mini-games. The most interesting element of this is the fact you can talk people out of a fight and complete the game with zero violence, something not often seen in video games at the time, or even now. Undertale has gone on to become a cult classic, and with good reason. It’s an exceptional tale that isn’t afraid to break the fourth wall and evolve the player in the world they’re exploring.
3. Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania that consistently surprises. Its RRP is almost charitably low at just over a tenner. It just keeps going and going, with tens of hours worth of gameplay as you head further into the depths of its world. And along the way, you’ll keep discovering new mechanics, monsters and beautiful environments that keep the experience captivating.
Your little bug knight protagonist may look cute, but Hollow Knight’s world of Hallownest is surprisingly dark and grim. There’s a definite flavour of Dark Souls in its gothic overtones, interconnected levels and tough combat that’ll make you lose (and have to retrieve) your gathered experience should you die.
Hollow Knight was already a fantastic experience at launch, but what really makes it stand out is the development journey it’s been on. Despite not actually achieving all of its stretch goals on Kickstarter, developers Team Cherry added most of them in anyway, and for the following few years have kept releasing substantial new DLC updates completely free of charge. These have added new enemies and bosses, items and areas of the map to explore. You’d be mad to miss out on the incredible value Hollow Knight offers, and with its sequel Silksong on the way, now’s the perfect time to dive in.
2. Hotline Miami
Quite possibly the coolest game ever made, Hotline Miami is a surreal splurge of violence through the criminal underworld set in 1989 Miami. This high-octane, top-down shooter mixes hard-boiled gunplay with lightning fast action. It’s a rampage set to one of the most colourful video game soundtracks of recent years.
Receiving strange messages from your answering machine you’ll set off on a bloody path to the truth behind the cryptic instructions you’ve been receiving. Blazing through choreographed violence you’ll have to master the art of being outnumbered against impossible odds.
Its charm comes in its unmistakable visual style and audio excellence. The music becomes almost as important a part of the action as the killing itself, pumping in the background as bullets fill the air. The bizarre story takes you on a journey away from reality and thrusts you into a world of crime, violence and manipulation. It’s a none stop rollercoaster from start to finish al leading up to a climatic ending.
1.Return Of The Obra Dinn
Coming from the creator of Papers, Please, Return of the Obra Dinn is the story of a ship lost at see and one insurance investigators job to solve what went wrong. Now, whilst at first that might not sound very exciting, as the mention of insurance brings a certain dryness to the mouth, this game has a lot to offer. Winning multiple Game of the Year awards during 2019 as well as a BAFTA, it’s an easy choice for our coveted top spot. But, beyond its prestige, Return of the Obra Dinn is a truly innovative indie game that brought something new and fresh to a crowded industry.
Drifting into the port at Falmouth missing its 200 tons of cargo and crew, it’s your job to get to the bottom of this mystery in a very unusual way. Using a strange artefact, you can rewind time and observe snippets of the events that happened abroad the doomed vessel in a bid to reconstruct the events. It’s a challenging and obscure puzzle presented through stark, monochromatic visuals and unusual mechanics.
Pickling apart the story and filling in your assessment of damages you’ll discover the strange voyage that the ship has been on and hopefully satisfy your employers in the process. Following up Papers, Please was never going to be an easy task, but Return of the Obra Dinn demonstrated that its predecessor was not a one-off occurrence and that Pope’s unique spin on game world’s and their mechanics are here to stay.
This first-person mystery will keep you enthralled for hours as you strive to unravel this bizarre adventure and settle the fate of the Obra Dinn and her doomed crew.
With so much on offer, there’s no reason not to jump onto your Steam (or Epic, we’re open) account, hit up the indie tag and download some gold. Name a genre and an indie developer somewhere has reinvented it. Name a franchise and you can bet there are bedroom coders working on an homage right now. And it’s all available on your PC. Plus, the beauty of indie games is you rarely need the showstopping machines to run most of your independent library, so catch a mouse, warm up your wasd fingers and get cracking. If you’re really stuck for cash, you can always check out the Top 100 Best Free Indie Games Of All Time, or if you want the industry cream of the crop head over to the 100 Best Indie Games Of All Time.