Braid is an innovative puzzle platformer that was released back when indie games still had promise. It tells the story of an average Joe on a journey from his small house in the city through a series of alternate worlds in a bid to rescue a seemingly abducted princess. Notable for its striking hand-drawn art-style and its quirky time manipulation mechanics, Braid is remembered as one of the breakout indie successes of the period.
Featured in Indie Games: The Movie, including the game’s creator, Jonathan Blow, Braid became synonymous with the indie scene and came to embody the idea of what an indie game is. Its creativity was clear, and its fresh take on the platformer genre had a huge impact on the indie scene. Despite its traditional appearance, it subverted many expected norms in video games at the time and surprised the community with its inventive approach to game design and narrative.
It remains today as one of the forefathers of the modern platformer that helped reignite the genre back into popularity. Still considered one of the most successful indie games of its time Braid has lost none of its impact as a game and remains as entertaining today as it was at launch over a decade ago.
19. Gone Home
Gone Home has been lauded for its narrative design by a number of prestigious awarding bodies, a grand coming of age tale of identity, sexuality, and the complexities of love all told through an empty house. As student Katie Greenbriar returns from a study year abroad, she finds the house that her family moved to strangely empty. Moving through eerily silent rooms full of half unpacked moving boxes and the knick-knacks of everyday life, you begin to piece together the last few months of your family’s life. Without spoiling everything, there’s a lot to pick up on, and every item will give you a unique insight into the movements and emotions of your parents and sister.
You’re searching for clues that your family are safe, or at least alive. Soon enough you’ll find out everything you need to know as empty rooms quickly turn into hives of information, telling the story of your family through the objects they left behind. Gone Home is one of the first titles mentioned when walking simulators are celebrated, and it’s for the mystery, attention to detail, and masterful environmental storytelling it championed for the genre.
18. What Remains Of Edith Finch
Exploring the house of the Finch family after the death of the matriarch never feels intrusive. After all, you’re a member of the clan yourself, and your journey through the history of your family members feels more like innocent curiosity than malicious snooping. This innocent curiosity drives each action you complete in What Remains of Edith Finch, a story of a family cursed with the bizarre death of all but one of every generation. It’s a whirlwind of stories, each room providing a snapshot into the death of an unlucky Finch. As you trawl through the house, you’ll come across perfectly preserved bedrooms acting as shrines to the deceased family member. Entering such shrines opens up a new and distinct level of gameplay, one from the perspective of the unlucky Finch family member.
Every death is played out in a unique manner with its own art style, atmosphere, and mechanics and all come together to tell the story of the Finch family from generations before. It’s a sad tale of love, loss and acceptance that revels in the fantastical stories we tell ourselves about our ancestors, and the mundanity of life continuing after our death. Heavy stuff, but well worth the venture.
17. Shovel Knight
The 8-bit era of games was a beautiful time. Colourful visuals and chirpy 8-bit soundtracks combined to solidify some of gamings most iconic characters and mascots. Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man all became household names and continue to be sources of nostalgia throughout the gaming community. Shovel Knight was a homage to that excellent hero of video games built to embrace the 8-bit aesthetic of the time.
This retro styled indie game, originally funded on Kickstarter, has gone on to be one of the most successful indie games of recent years proving that they do still make them like they used to. Our hero, a knight armed with, you guessed it, a shovel sets off on an epic quest to take down the nefarious Order of No Quarter and their menacing leader, The Enchantress.
The game has since expanded since its release to include campaigns for some of the Order of No Quarter themselves as well as a four-player battle mode featuring the game’s cast. In his own right, Shovel Knight has gone on to become a modern-day mascot of 8-bit gaming and character we’ll no doubt see more of in the years to come. So, Ready Thy Shovels and prepare for his nostalgic adventure into the past to continue.
16. Salt And Sanctuary
Indie games haven’t shied away from the Souls-like. With a number of titles offering players a breadth of variation of the classic roguelike permadeath set up popularised by Dark Souls, none have been quite so prolific in their delivery as Salt and Sanctuary. There’s something so smooth about Salt and Sanctuary’s gameplay, with a strong library of skills and weapons to experiment with as you journey through an island to, of course, save a princess.
Salt and Sanctuary is definitely punishing, as all Souls-likes should be, but there’s an element of achievability that feeds the Continue button like no other. With every death, more is learned, more is parsed from the lore of the strange world you find yourself in, and more is unveiled about your own strengths and weaknesses. The hand drawn visuals aren’t to be expected from such a complex game as this, but they turn out to be just the ticket to this moody, almost wistful experience. Much of Salt and Sanctuary’s core gameplay is, it has to be said, ripped straight from Dark Souls and plastered with a new name, but the game is upfront about that, and innovatively builds on its source content to provide another angle to the genre that so many fans have fallen in love with. After all, if something’s not broken, don’t fix it, but Salt and Sanctuary does go a whole lot further than others to make it even better.
Out of the many gems on this list, Minecraft is perhaps least in need of an introduction. Though not technically an indie game since Microsoft acquired it for $2.5 billion in 2014, it would be remiss to forget its humble roots as a game developed by a single man through a development process that paved the way for the now-ubiquitous Early Access model.
Few could have predicted Minecraft’s meteoric success, beginning as a personal side project and ending up as the best-selling video game of all time. Its cultural impact also cannot be understated, in helping to bring gaming to the masses, the proliferation of its merch across stores and its particular success with the younger generation – sure, they may have moved on to Fortnite and other newer crazes since, but Minecraft is anything but forgotten.
Ask around and it’s likely that most will have fond memories of Minecraft, and maybe a story or two to tell. The first night they spent in Minecraft’s world during which they learned first-hand the importance of building a shelter. The hours they whiled away building a mighty fortress or blocky pop culture replica while chilling out to the relaxing C418 soundtrack. Above all, you’ll hear how Minecraft brought people together, playing online with friends across the world, or mums, dads, sons and daughters playing together in the comfort of their living rooms.
A grainy black and white world awaits in Limbo, a side scrolling puzzle adventure with no holds barred on grisly death sequences. A young boy travels across minimalist platforms, leaping onto small ledges and dragging objects around his environment to progress. Everything seems pretty standard at first sight, but once you make one wrong move, you’ll realise you’re not exactly playing Super Mario Bros. With each dramatic death, the player grows more and more cautious. That is, until you eventually realise that trial and error is the only way to succeed.
The atmosphere of Limbo is unparalleled in the independent sector. With muddy tones and coarse visuals drawing you deeper and deeper into the hells cape of its setting, Playdead’s platformer soon swallows its players into an odd combination of aesthetic beauty and terror. The story of Limbo is left intentionally vague, with developers working towards an openly interpretive environment rather than a prescribed plot. While this does leave the ending and other plot points throughout the game slightly lacking in context, the ambience of the title ensures that players are encouraged to interpret the game’s progression however they want to. Limbo is one of those games you just have to give yourself over to in order to appreciate fully, but once you do you’ll understand why it’s the poster child of the video games as art debate.
The highly anticipated follow-up to the aforementioned Limbo, Inside took the concept one further diving deeper into the surreal universe PlayDead Studios conjured. Although unconnected narratively, the stark, artistic themes carry over into Inside as its monochromatic world, punched with bursts of colour, confounds with metaphors and abstract meaning.
Similar to Limbo, you start off in a misty wood during what seems to be an escape of sorts as you’re being pursued by uniformed men and dogs. Stumbling and clawing through the wood you evade your captors as you see other citizens being round up and put in trucks. It’s a haunting image and only the slightest hint at the bizarre reality of what is happening. Later you see people enslaved in factories and controlled by brain alternating parasites, so, as you can tell, things get pretty weird.
The greatest thing about Inside is its clear artistic ambition. Drawing from minimalistic art forms and silent cinema it combines a raft of modern techniques to convey its dialogue-free story. Often cited as a clear example of video games as an art-form, Inside is widely open to interpretation in what it conveys or means and entertaining mechanically as a game. No doubt we will look back on the work of PlayDead Studios as modern masterpieces that foreshadowed the dizzying heights video games can reach as medium.
12. Divinity: Original Sin 2
Following on from its critically acclaimed predecessor, Divinity: Original Sin 2 cemented the series as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Applauded for its depth and attention to detail, Original Sin 2 takes the story to another level of excellence. And then there’s the character creator, and what a marvel it is. You can be, almost, whatever you want with the world around you reacting different depending on your origin.
Mirroring the freedom of paper RPGs in many ways, Original Sin 2’s real hook comes from its in-depth combat approach and personal touch in its character generator. NPCs will react in a huge variety of ways even remembering early interactions with a character from the start of the game to finish and that shaping how they interact with you. It’s a true RPG that drops the frills of high-end graphics for deep combat, dialogue options and customisation.
11. The Stanley Parable
Starting life as a mod released on ModDB, The Stanley Parable is a first-person narrative-driven experience created by Davey Wreden. The story follows the tale of Stanley as he hears directions from the narrator of his experiences making choices along the way. As the experience continues, depending on the choices you make, the story diverges off into several branches many of which lead to a variety of game endings.
What was really interesting about The Stanley Parable was how it dissected what a game was and why people play them. It drew back the green curtain of game design and suddenly allowed the player to choose their own destiny, or not. The clever structure and witty narrative quickly gained attention in the gaming community with it going on to receive several updates with a new, refined version due to release soon. It continues to be a representation of what experimental game design can achieve and, may go down in history as one of the most creative games ever created. A Bold statement we know, but well deserved.