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Explore new and different gaming worlds with 15 of the best indie games

As video games have gotten more expensive to produce, big publishers have naturally become a lot more risk averse. The list of today’s most popular games will be flooded with all manner of sci-fi shooters and games of all genres with MOBA-style mechanics.

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For those who want games that break the mold and not the bank, the indie market is a great place to look. There are lots of new and interesting game concepts coming out of indie studios, and the games they’re making can be rays of light shining through large AAA clouds. Here are some of the best indie games available right now.

Thumper ($20)

Gliding down one of Thumper’s psychotropic highways for the first time, you may feel a sense of passive awe as you gaze at the mercurial shapes floating in the distance. Then the metallic screeches and thunderous drums kick in, and the road before you becomes a twisted, nightmarish gauntlet. Thumper does not reinvent the rhythm-game — after all, the influence of Audiosurf is apparent — but it does give the genre a terrifying new coat of paint.

The game puts players in control of a silver beetle that’s perpetually racing down a track. Players use one button and movements to navigate obstacles; holding the action button and leaning left or right to take hard turns, for example. Players must progress through nine worlds with increasingly complex tracks, each of which culminates in a boss that players defeat by executing certain movement patterns. Thumper is probably the most frightening rhythm-game ever made, particularly when played with a VR headset. The horror comes not just from the visuals, but also the oppressive industrial soundtrack. Easy to pick up and challenging to perfect, Thumper is one of the most spectacular rhythm games in a long time.

Buy it now from:

Steam PSN

Jackbox Party Pack 3 ($25)

After an uneven second outing, Jackbox Games is back with the Jackbox Party Pack 3. As with the previous Jackbox collections, JPP3 contains an assortment of party games that players participate in using their smartphones. Each game has a unique premise and a “host,” who will give the players information and provide commentary on their actions. Typically, information intended for all players will be shown on a television screen or an accompanying monitor. Players will also use their phones to receive secret instructions meant specifically for them, and to enter their answers.

Party Pack 3 features the return of one of the best Jackbox games, Quiplash 2. As in the original, players will be given prompts on their phones, and must enter a clever response. These prompts and responses will then be shown on the main screen, and players will vote for the response they like the most. The other big draw is Tee K.O., a game in which players draw pictures and write slogans; other players then mix and match these images and phrases to make t-shirts, and everyone votes on which t-shirt they like the best. All of these games are easy for anyone to get into, making the Jackbox Party Pack 3 a great experience for any group of friends.

Buy it now from:

Amazon Steam

Crypt of the Necrodancer ($15)

One of the great things about indie development is that, without pressure from financiers, creators have a lot of room to experiment. This results in oddities like Crypt of the Necrodancer, which combines the essential traits of rhythm games and roguelikes for a truly unique experience. Players descend the floors of a randomly-generated dungeon, collecting treasure, evading traps, and fighting enemies. The twist comes in the controls. Each floor has its own soundtrack, and players must move and attack on the beat. (Don’t worry. There’s a visual cue on the bottom if you can’t step in time.)

Floors are further divided into grids, and players move using the four cardinal directions. Each enemy has its own movement pattern — and some have unique abilities, like one that turns each square it walks on into a slick ice patch — and players must learn and react to each enemy’s patterns. The game becomes hectic early on, but players can find and equip various items and spells to make things easier.

Buy it now from:

Steam PSN iTunes

Darkest Dungeon ($25)

Many games, particularly those based in fantasy, place characters into so many dangerous situations that one wonders how they avoid developing PTSD. If the rigors of real warfare can leave many a mind reeling, how do video game characters not break down in the face of dragons, ghouls, and other abominations? In Darkest Dungeon, they do. The game casts players as the inheritor of an old estate which, due to the occult activities of the previous owner, is now overrun by monstrosities. The player must recruit heroes to explore the various corrupted environments, slaying monsters and collecting resources to build up a home base.

The defining mechanic of Darkest Dungeon is stress. As heroes explore various dungeons and face the abominations within, they will grow stressed and may develop various neuroses that can be problematic. A character who develops paranoia, for example, may refuse the player’s attempts to heal them. Combat plays out much like classic JRPGs, with characters lined up on both sides, but positioning plays a role; whether an ability will hit depends on the user’s position and the target’s.

Buy it now from:

Steam PSN

Towerfall: Ascension ($15)

Although online gaming has allowed people from disparate countries to connect, there is something special about sitting on a couch with friends, watching them grimace as you dominate them in your game of choice. Many of the best local multiplayer games in recent years have come from indie developers, and Towerfall is one of the them, pitting up to four players against each other in a frenetic game of skill. Matches in Towerfall take place in various levels consisting of platforms and paths. Players fire arrows at each other, with each shot being a one-hit kill. These arrows are in limited supply, but remain on the ground and stuck in walls if they miss, so players can replenish their stock if need be.

Because of the verticality in the levels, Towerfall rewards good platforming as well as sharpshooting. Various power-ups can appear through the match, giving unique advantages to those quick enough to grab them. If players grow bored with the default rules, the game includes several modifiers to shake things up (for example, giving everyone explosive arrows).

Buy it now from:

Amazon Steam

Hyper Light Drifter ($20)

The first emotion one is likely to feel in Hyper Light Drifter is unease. Following a wordless, nightmarish opening cutscene, the game drops players in a ruined world with nothing but a sword, a gun, and their wits to get by. The world of Hyper Light Drifter is gorgeous, painted in neon hues and augmented by a melancholy soundtrack. Behind that beauty lurks danger, however. The game is very difficult, throwing hordes of enemies at players, who must use careful timing to dodge attacks and strike back.

Buy it now from:

Steam GOG

Nuclear Throne ($12)

Death comes fast in Nuclear Throne, a roguelike shooter from Vlambeer. The game lets players choose from a dozen characters — each with their own unique abilities — and try to shoot their way through a series of randomly generated levels, gathering new weapons and perks along the way.

There are no frills here, no quests or frivolous dialogue trees. Nuclear Throne is purely top-down action, and it delivers. The game moves quickly, with dozens of projectiles flying at any given moment, and the player’s health is low enough that any stray bullet could mean the end. Thankfully the controls are tight, and skilled players can survive the hectic battles with quick reflexes and a little luck.

Buy it now from:

Amazon Steam

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