It was about a decade ago. This little thing called digital distribution came about, changing the entire landscape of the gaming industry. What this meant was, you no longer needed to buy physical copies of video games from stores. Games could now be distributed as digital content through the internet. This, as you might imagine, started to make things for gaming a bit different than it used to be. With the establishment of digital distribution platforms like Steam, Origin and such, games developed by independent developers began to gain more exposure. And so began the reign of indie game.
Gamers had found the equivalent of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Why indie games became so popular is a question that has a plethora of answers. Mainly it was because this wasn’t some big name publisher trying to make the biggest game for the biggest paycheck. This was mostly a couple of dudes or sometimes just one dude trying to share one’s vision with the world and as such there was a touch of intimacy and care. And now about a decade after indie games had begun to get the love that they always deserved, I will try to inform you of the very best that this medium has to offer.
Now best of lists are almost always entirely subjective, and this is no exception. These are the games I cherish the most, so this list is constructed on my personal opinions and choices but I’ll try to make it somewhat objective. Consider this the beginning of a conversation instead of the final word on anything.
Some ground rules. This list was made in no particular order. As such, this isn’t gonna be a ranking. Also I’ll try to cover games from different genres, because if it were up to me, a best of list could be entirely consisted of RPGs and rhythm games. Lastly, since there’s a plethora of games to choose from across all platforms, this list will contain games that are available on the PC. We might do a few more for consoles later. Cool? Let us begin.
Jonathan Blow. Funny name, genius man. In a way, he was a contributing factor of the indie game boom, with his puzzle game Braid. But this, this is his masterpiece. A puzzle game to its core but unlike any other. You are left with a huge island containing over 600 puzzles to solve. An open world puzzle game of sorts, The Witness with its ambient music and subdued storyline gives you the freedom of exploring and solving puzzles in a way no other game does. The game helps you through it without any sort of tutorial, with a learning curve that you have to discover for yourself. Add a beautiful art design that is both modest and ambitious, the Witness is an experience like no other.
As games are gradually being considered more as an art form, developers are trying to make games more akin to experiences than time sinks. A result of that very mindset is the walking simulator. A form of game that is more about exploring a world and experiencing the various aspects of it. And Firewatch is at the forefront of this advent. You play as a park ranger exploring the Shoshone National Park of Wyoming in the year 1989. You explore an open world on your own with your partner Delilah’s voice over the radio being the only form of social exchange and watching the game’s emotionally engaging narrative unfold at a slow, relaxing pace. But the game’s true beauty lies in the art style and visuals, along with the relaxing music in the background. This game approaches a unique visual style composed of vibrant colors and contrast. Moreover, the game gives you a camera to capture the scenic beauty, but the camera has a limited number of films, so you can only take a certain quantity of pictures on your journey. Although it sounds like a drag, I believe this encourages players to seek out the best scenes they can see in the game and adds more value to each picture, making it a memory to cherish. Fair warning, the game has an ending that is very divisive and will not appeal to everyone’s taste.
There are some things I like so much that I don’t want to talk to people about them. Perhaps it’s something related to my own lack of confidence on if I can convince another person just how much this certain thing might have affected me. Inside is one of those things. I cannot possibly put into words how special this game really is. On its surface, Inside is just another puzzle platformer with a slightly different take on the base mechanics. But there’s something about the game’s melancholic, bleak, ominous atmosphere. Without a single line of dialogue, Inside manages to tell a more compelling story than most games today, and I do not mean that lightly. The implications and subtle hints in this game leave the player engaged in thought long after the quite linear and to be honest, quite short game is finished. It is a unique experience, and one that every person should taste at least once. Play it. Just, go play it. That is the best advice you’ll get today.
If you played any of the Harvest Moon games, this is the peak of the formula laid down by that great series. If you haven’t, firstly, what’s the matter with you, secondly, do I have a treat for you. Though it is expected of gamers today to frown at farming simulators thanks in part to Farmville, this game is nothing short of a magical experience. This game is one of the most enjoyable and thoroughly captivating time-sinks of this generation. You will put in a significant amount of time into this once you get into it, that’s a given. The satisfaction and pride derived from the growth of your virtual farm is too much to resist for long. This game is just so brimming with content that no two hours spent will ever feel the same. A must play entry for every gamer.
Enter the Gungeon
Confession. I never liked Bullet-hell games. The sheer amount of stuff going on in the monitor was always too frustrating for me, until I tried this. This rogue-like bullet-hell dungeon crawler with RPG elements has something for just about anyone. Primary among which is, puns. Every item you find will have some sort of witty legend in the description. And it’s not just the puns, some descriptions genuinely stir your curiosity for the lore of the game, which is in no sense lacking by the way. Some people complain about the difficulty in this game, which is actually perfect in my opinion. Just a perfectly balanced system, gutturally satisfying as you get the sense that you are gradually mastering the mechanics. An all-round fun experience.
To the Moon
I honestly don’t know how to explain to someone how magnificent this game is without spoiling what makes it so. There’s no form of combat in this story driven experience. Just absolutely raw emotional engagement. Everything about this is beautiful in a heartbreaking way. This is one of those games that stands as a legitimate example of video games transcending just entertainment and becoming an art form. I simply cannot tell you how good this game is without perhaps spoiling a bit of the story, something I wouldn’t want to do to my worst enemy. Just know that this isn’t a game you win. It’s a poignant melody that you must feel.
Any of Supergiant’s games could have taken this place on this list, and all of them deserve a mention. But what they had started with Bastion, evolved further into Transistor, has been perfected with Pyre. Every element of the other games is weaved together perfectly to create a most unusual and a most mesmerizing experience. The beautiful visuals, extraordinary music and deeply emotional story all add up to make a compelling combination of sports and RPG mechanics. It is just about everything I look for in a video game executed in an unbelievably flawless manner. The care and creativity put into every frame of this game makes you marvel at the sheer genius of the minds that brought this to life. A vividly lifelike experience.
An exhilarating, intoxicating, high-octane celebration of old school violence in video games. Hotline Miami is the top down shooter with intense gunplay and brutal close combat. Nothing gets your blood pumping like this game does. A thoroughly breathtaking soundtrack to boot, Hotline Miami is the perfect example of telling a story through gameplay alone. The surreal atmosphere and music can put you in a trance like state where you become your character, gunning down enemies in tightly wound spaces. The dictionary definition of addicting gameplay, Hotline Miami will have you die and come back for more each time. Also, check out the sequel, it’s actually better in a lot of ways.
Okay, right of the bat, this game does not hold your hand. There is no character progression, no item unlocks, just raw skill on a gamer’s part. The levels are all randomly generated on this unique platformer, which makes this game endlessly replayable. Since there’s no shortcuts to get better, you always find new interactions and tricks to make your character’s movements more fluid and agile. Your gameplay is forced to become more versatile and refined gradually as you keep playing the game. And you will keep playing it, for difficult it might be, but addictive it is to a far greater extent. This game has actually taught me an important life lesson. Life isn’t a nightmare, it isn’t out to get you. It’s just randomly generating extremely unfair situations.
The term “perfect” should not be thrown around randomly, and this game is perfect.
This is the most compelling piece of storytelling of this generation. And RPG at its core, Undertale challenges every known trope of the genre with fearless wit and confidence, and remains one of the most unique and deeply satisfying experiences conceived by man. Every aspect of this game has been knocked out of the park in terms of excellence. The story is amazing. The soundtrack is phenomenal and it accentuates and underlines everything happening in the game. The graphics might turn some people away. But I say to you, bring those people back, tie them to a chair and make them play an hour of the game because that is all one would need to fall in love with every bit of this game’s formula. Behind a guise of humor and wit, this is a deeply emotional game which makes you think about every choice you make in it. In a time when videogames concentrate on being making profits, Undertale makes us remember why we love videogames so much. Undertale is the one story I wish I could wipe from my memory, just to experience it again, in all its emotional beauty, for the first time, and I am truly jealous of one who is about to experience it for the first time.
So I hope this list wasn’t much of a disappointment to you guys and you all can relate or be motivated enough to actually go through one of these games.