It takes a lot of dedicated work to put together any kind of video game, but independent games are labors of absolute love. Indie games are typically developed without financial assistance from a publisher, so the projects are often money-starved and hanging by a thread.
On the flipside, there’s no guy in a suit poking at the developers and saying, “Hey. Hey. This game needs more birds. Kids these days like birds. Put in lots and lots of birds.” That’s why indie games generally turn over some of the most creative and compelling ideas in the industry. That’s also why we feel that we ought to make note of ten of the best independent games of all time.
Super Meat Boy (XBLA, PC, Linux, MacOSX) — With its reliance on super-precise jumps around meat-ripping traps, Super Meat Boy offers up some of the most hardcore platforming challenges that a retro games enthusiast could ask for. It began life as a humble Flash game, and has since spread out to several online markets. If Super Meat Boy‘s challenge doesn’t sell you, consider that it’s the only game on the market wherein the hero makes a distinct, slightly nauseating “squish squish squish” sound with every step he takes.
fl0w (PC, PSN) — fl0w is a charmer of a game. You guide a multi-segmented creature through waters that are rich with cellular life. Your creature grows as you consume smaller critters, and it can also descend down into deeper planes. Though there are several struggles for survival against other multi-celled organisms, fl0w is one of the most calming video games you can possibly experience. Evolution has never been so peaceful. Though a graphically-enhanced remake of fl0w is available on the PlayStation Network, the original Flash version was a school project by two programmers, Jenova Chen and Nicholas Clark.
Another World/Out of This World (PC, iOS, Windows Mobile) — Another World is a dark, atmospheric, and highly unforgiving adventure game that was designed and programmed by developer Eric Chahi. The game was originally released in the Amiga in 1991, though it gained a wider audience in North America (where it was marketed as Out of This World) when it was retooled for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Currently, Another World is one of the most widely-distributed indie games available–and is as worthy of your attention now as it was in 1991.
Braid (XBLA, PSN, PC, Linux, MacOSX) — Braid is a platforming game that’s about a hero rescuing a princess–or is it? There’s more to Braid than meets the eyes, especially as far as story and gameplay are concerned. As you play through dozens of unique levels that combine running and jumping with puzzle-solving, you can pause and scribble down some theories as to what each object in the game represents on a metaphorical level. Try it with your friends!
Bit.Trip Beat (WiiWare, iOS, PC, MacOSX, Nintendo 3DS) — Bit.Trip Beat combines the simple yet maddeningly addictive gameplay of an old Atari game with the irresistible rhythm and beat of some expertly-composed chiptunes. Your mission is to bounce back projectiles, Pong-style, to the tick of the music.
Dwarf Fortress (PC, Mac OSX, Linux) — Dwarf Fortress mixes roguelike-inspired gameplay, city-building, and simple graphics for an exceptionally deep gaming experience that is not for the faint of heart. This is a game that has no qualms about sending you back to “Go” for a single mistake, therefore reducing everything you’ve built up into a fine dwarf-flavored powder. A more casual player might want to dive in with Dwarf Fortress’s “Adventure” mode, which tasks you with chopping up the local wildlife.
Trine (PSN, Windows, Mac OSX, Linux) — Trine is a side-scrolling platforming/puzzle game that’s set in a medieval world. You take control of three separate characters–a thief, a knight, and a wizard (walk into a bar)–and switch between the three to solve puzzles and complete levels. If you have some pals at hand, they can join in, take control of a character, and help you out. Trine looks good, plays well, and has received critical acclaim throughout the indie game community.
Limbo (XBLA, PSN, PC, Mac OSX) — Limbo is another puzzle/platforming game, but with a creepy aesthetic twist. Limbo offers you a desolate landscape that’s washed out in shades of grey and black, leaving even the nameless protagonist a seemingly soulless silhouette. Meanwhile, enemies move with shuddering realism; when you first encounter the recurring spider “boss,” the hair on the back of your neck will surely prickle.
Minecraft (PC, iOS, Android) — Minecraft is the hottest thing to hit the indie game scene in a long time, and you only need to play it for a few minutes to understand why it’s captured the hearts, minds, and precious spare minutes of gamers worldwide. Minecraft is a simple-looking sandbox game that goes on, on, and on. You are given a world that you can shape to your liking, and you can live alone as a hermit, or among friends on a multiplayer server. In Survival Mode, players must build up their defenses and survive attacks by zombies and skeletons.
Cave Story (WiiWare, DSiWare, PC, Mac OSX, Linux) — Cave Story is often the first name that is dropped in a discussion about the best independent games ever made. The original incarnation of the game was put together by one man, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, who programmed and polished the game for five years. The end result is a platformer that recalls the style and challenge of old NES games like Metroid and Mega Man, but is thoroughly its own adventure–with some pretty sweet chiptune music, to boot.