While most indie games might not immediately seem as polished as mainstream games, they still have a lot to give. Many of them tell impressive and relatable stories, combining those with incredible platform levels, and even random generations within levels, so you never play the same game twice.
The PS4 has one of the best selections of indie games, so whether you want a heart-grabbing story or a random good time, give this list a peek.
Dead Cells combines the trappings of Metroidvanias with a rogue-like progression system. Playing as the Prisoner, a humanoid composed of dead cells (get it?), you make your way through a series of increasingly challenging dungeons. Although you can purchase permanent upgrades at the end of each section, when you die, you start back at the beginning. Much of Dead Cells, like most rogue-likes, revolves around trial and error.
Since Dead Cells has such satisfying combat and a detailed, interesting world to explore, starting back at the beginning upon each death rarely feels like a chore. If you’re a fan of Metroidvanias who isn’t afraid of an uphill battle, Dead Cells is one of the best indie games on PS4 in both genres.
Read our full review of Dead Cells
A Plague Tale: Innocence
Set in 14th century France, A Plague Tale: Innocence gets its power from its well-designed atmosphere. You play as Amicia, a young woman who guides her younger brother Hugo across rural France to look for a cure for his mysterious ailments. A Plague Tale is ostensibly a stealth game, with most of your movement revolving around sneaking past Inquisition soldiers who are searching for the siblings. The puzzles are largely designed around plague-ridden rats, thousands of them. They will eat Amicia and Hugo alive if you don’t stay in the light.
A Plague Tale‘s uncertainty and the historical backdrop make for a compelling adventure. The relationship between Amicia and Hugo is what shines the brightest, though.
Enter the Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon has the fast play of a bullet hell shooter sandwiched inside a rogue-like progression system. Created by Dodge Roll and published by Devolver Digital, Enter the Gungeon is one of the best in the crowded genre. Instead of revamping everything when you die, though, all of the rooms remain intact, but the items, enemies, and coordinates of each room changes through random generation.
Its top-down, pixelated aesthetic makes it feel as if you’re playing a retro game. But its mechanics, lore, and subtle depth make it feel decidedly modern the further and further you dive into its dungeons.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has the lavish look of a big budget game, but Ninja Theory’s dark and stirring game about one woman’s descent into madness is, in fact, an indie game. Senua wades into the underbelly of a hellish landscape inspired by Norse mythology to retrieve the soul of her dead partner. The game uses an effective and disturbing whisper system to repeatedly mess with Senua’s head.
Melina Juergens’ portrayal of Senua is superb throughout, as she accurately demonstrates what it’s like to lose control of one’s faculties. The understated but great swordplay keeps Hellblade in the action game genre, but ultimately it succeeds for its novel approach to storytelling.
Read our full Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice review
Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter is a gorgeous top-down action game with a very distinct graphical style and even better combat. You explore a world in shambles, armed with a sword and a gun to slay enemy after enemy.
Make no mistake, Hyper Light Drifter is one of the most challenging games on this list. It takes trial and error and fast fingers to make it through the dreary world filled with vicious enemies. The moving, somber soundtrack and wonderfully detailed environments will keep you playing as you learn new tricks and make progress.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, the sequel to the standout top-down shooter, ups the ante. Serving as both a sequel and a prequel, Hotline Miami 2 retains the pixelated visuals and fast-paced action of the original but expands on it in new and exciting ways. Instead of playing as just two characters, you can experience the story from thirteen unique perspectives.
All playable characters have different abilities, and each character adds to the story of a world reduced to anarchy. While already difficult out of the gate, you can also play hard mode. And when you’re finished, you can use an intuitive level editor to create your environments and stories to play.
Alienation follows Housemarque’s trend of difficult but rewarding games. Instead of being a twin stick shooter, however, Alienation is a Diablo-esque science fiction adventure with a hearty emphasis on loot. Whether you play solo or cooperatively, Alienation is a grind. Though it never feels unfair, you have to play this action game with precision and forethought.
Excellent shooting mechanics, a satisfying role-playing loop, and a wonderfully realized science fiction setting make Alienation a sure-fire delight for anyone looking to play an experience similar to Diablo. It’s also a PS4 exclusive.
Mark of the Ninja: Remastered
If you let Mark of the Ninja sneak past you in 2012, you can be forgiven by playing the remastered version on PS4 today. Starring a nameless ninja, this action-stealth game made us rethink what was possible in 2D. Rather than being able to see all enemies on screen, if the ninja’s eyesight is blocked, you can’t see them lurking either. Mark of the Ninja emphasizes both sight and sound across its cleverly designed environments.
The remastered version adds a fresh coat of paint to the stylish experience. If you’re a fan of action, stealth, or even platformers, Mark of the Ninja: Remastered should enthrall you.
One of the most gorgeous platforming games we’ve ever seen — on PlayStation 4 or otherwise — Gris isn’t a typical puzzle-platformer in that its challenge is a relatively minor component. You will explore a colorful world complemented by atmospheric music, and the story is told with almost no text so you can experience the game regardless of reading level or language barrier.
For those in your life who don’t typically play games because they’re worried about being able to actually get through them, Gris is a great option, and its arrival on PlayStation 4 just means that even more players can experience it.
Derek Yu’s Spelunky started as an open source game in 2008 before gaining traction and eventually launching on Xbox Live Arcade and PC in 2012. Available on PS4 since 2014, Spelunky is one of the early examples of the rogue-like platforming phenomenon. You play as a nameless explorer known as a spelunker. The goal is straightforward: Make your way through 16 levels across four diverse worlds. You have limited health and only one life, though. Once you die, you lose all progress, including gold and items.
What makes Spelunky so great is its random generation and environmental interactions. Each time you play, the level layout changes, and it’s not uncommon to die from a completely different chain of events than you’ve ever died from before. Spelunky has great controls, a bevy of secrets, and an excellent soundtrack to boot. If you’re not afraid of the challenge, Spelunky is a gripping and satisfying platformer that rewards those who stick around to uncover its nuances and secrets.
Celeste does two things incredibly well. First, it’s an excellent precision platformer in the vein of Super Meat Boy. Second, and more importantly, it’s one of the rare games that tell an authentic tale of mental illness. You play as Madeline, a down on her luck young woman who decides to scale Celeste Mountain, a mythical challenge that is said to help show people who reach the top their true identity. Along the way, Madeline grapples with her self-doubt, anxiety, and depression.
The dialogue is poignant, the characters you meet are memorable, and the platforming, which involves precise jumps and sequences, is expertly designed. The retro-pixelated aesthetic feels right at home here. Thankfully, you can still reach the end of Celeste‘s brilliant story even if you aren’t up for the tough as nails platforming sections. An excellent assist mode lets you modify the gameplay all the way up to the degree of being invincible.
Read our full Celeste review
A Hat in Time
A Hat in Time is a throwback 3D platformer in the vein of Super Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, and Spyro. You play as a young alien girl dubbed Hat Kid. All she wants to do is get on her spaceship and head home. Of course, it’s not so easy. To achieve her goal, she must make her way through four wide open levels containing puzzles, enemies, and items that can be exchanged for new hats. Since she’s Hat Girl, each hat comes with new abilities.
A Hat in Time‘s most recent update introduced local and online co-op for two players. For anyone looking for an old-school 3D platformer, A Hat in Time fares better than most other attempts. It’s charming, cute, and oodles of fun to play.
From D-Pad Studio, Owlboy is one of the most charming and engaging 2D platformers around. You play as a human-owl hybrid named Otus. When Otus’ town is attacked by pirates, he is forced to take action. Impressively, as you make progress, you’ll begin to notice that Owlboy‘s world is far larger than expected.
It’s a cross between a Metroidvania and a 16-bit platformer, excelling in both genres at play. Owlboy oozes personality, featuring clever puzzles, witty companions, and an art style brimming with detail. It’s a beautiful experience through and through and incredibly fun to play to boot.
The only PSVR game on this list, Moss is one of the most inventive platformers we’ve played in recent years. You play as a tiny mouse named Quill, who is chosen for a grand adventure to save the kingdom. Moss takes full advantage of the PSVR technology by presenting a dual control scheme. Quill is controlled with the joysticks, but the motion controls can be used to interact with the environment.
Since Quill is aware of your presence in the story, she will often look up at you and thank you for helping her complete tasks. As the game progresses through deftly realized forest environments, the puzzles and enemy encounters require consistent teamwork between you and Quill. This is when Moss is at its best when the promise of VR is shown off to such a high degree. Charming and a ton of fun to play, the only downside of Moss is that you can finish it in a handful of hours.
Read our full Moss review
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight artfully captures nostalgia while writing its own history. Originally released in 2014 after a successful crowdfunding campaign, Shovel Knight looked like an homage to 16-bit era SNES platformers. And it was, but it also had fluid gameplay mechanics that were far more modern.
Featuring simply gorgeous level design, excellent platforming, and a collection of amazing boss battles, playing as a small knight with a shovel as a sword is a rocking good time. Even better, Shovel Knight is the gift that keeps on giving. Since launch, Yacht Club has dropped two new free campaigns, with the final expansion, King of Cards, expected to launch later this year.
Guacamelee! was already a great Metroidvania, but Drinkbox Studios completely surpassed it with the sequel. Once again you play as Juan Aguacate, a luchador with a unique ability to turn into a chicken. Guacamelee! 2 features a much more spacious map to explore, more abilities, and an inspiring story.
The combat is fluid, the map is loaded with secrets, and the platforming is challenging but expertly designed. It’s also one of the rare Metroidvanias that can be played cooperatively with up to four players. We recommend playing the original first, but both are well worth your time.
SteamWorld Dig 2
SteamWorld Dig 2 offers the same steampunk and Western themes of the original while refining the gameplay and exploration in welcome ways. This time around, you play as Dorothy, a heroine who also wields a pickaxe to chip away at rocks and dig deeper into the earth below.
Unlike the original, SteamWorld Dig 2 has a fixed level design. The change makes for better platforming sections, more diverse environments, and generally better gameplay. With a greater emphasis on puzzles and a neat RPG loop, SteamWorld Dig 2 feels more like a Metroidvania — and a mighty good one at that.
The Messenger is a throwback to old-school Ninja Gaiden games, putting you in the shoes of an agile ninja tasked with saving the world. It starts as an 8-bit sidescroller, where you follow linear levels until a boss battle at the end. About halfway through the game, though, things change.
You travel forward in time to the 16-bit era, which opens up new paths in the levels you’ve already explored. The Messenger shifts from being a tight, entertaining platformer into a full Metroidvania, allowing you to easily transition between eras to uncover secrets and unlock new parts of each level.
After years of waiting, Ben Esposito’s Donut County finally launched in July. It was more than worth the wait. A physics puzzle game, Donut County‘s premise and execution are novelly simple: Swallow objects into a hole to make the hole larger to swallow bigger objects. It has drawn worthy comparisons to Katamari Damacy.
The residents of Donut County find themselves below ground, and to determine how they all got there, they each tell their own story, which always involves dragging a hole around the cartoon environments to send more objects below. It has genuinely funny dialogue and surprisingly deep undertones about social issues. Most of all, though, Donut County provides a couple hours of pure, relaxing gameplay.
The Witness, to put it simply, is one of the greatest puzzle games of all time. That’s even more impressive when you realize the entirety of the game is a colorful open-world island filled with line puzzles. There’s also a lot of weird symbolism going on here, which isn’t all too surprising considering The Witness was made by Braid creator Jonathan Blow.
The line puzzles start off simple and gradually impart wisdom that you’ll need for future puzzles. Some puzzles even use the world around you to provide solutions. From unveiling patterns in the trees to listening closely to the sound of birds chirping, The Witness will test your wit and fortitude. It’s one of only a handful of puzzle games that compels you to work out solutions on paper when you’re stumped. The Witness is a truly mesmerizing experience that should not be missed by fans of puzzle games.
Read our full The Witness review
Just like Playdead’s breakout hit Limbo, Inside is a mysterious, wordless tale set in a dark world starring a young boy. A minimalistic color palette and sound design add to the stripped down nature and increase the suspense throughout. Inside gets straight into the action. There’s no filler here.
Every puzzle you solve teaches you something about future puzzles and the world around you. While we can’t say much about the story without ruining it, by the time you reach the chilling conclusion, you’ll realize how absolutely brilliant Inside‘s storytelling and interactive mechanics truly are. It’s a profound, atmospheric experience that surpasses Limbo in every way.
Read our full Inside review
From the team behind Bastion and Transistor, Pyre was one of 2017’s best indie games. You play as the Reader, a mysterious individual banished from society to live in a sort of purgatory with other, interesting outcasts. To return to society, you must compete in the Rites, a basketball-esque 3v3 game in which you work as a team in real-time to extinguish your opponent’s Pyre.
Each character has a different moveset, turning the game into an action-roleplaying game. In between battles, you travel across the wondrously illustrated world, which simply brims with personality. Pyre is also an excellent visual novel, as much of the time is spent conversing with companions and fellow travelers on the road. There’s nothing quite like Pyre, one of the truly unique indie games on the market.
Read our full Pyre review
Moonlighter is multiple games in one. First, it’s excellent inventory management and town simulator. Second, it’s a wonderful rogue-like in the same vein as The Binding of Isaac. You play as a Shopkeeper who sells his wares to the townsfolk each day. You choose the prices of your items and then use the money you earn to upgrade your shop and town.
To keep your shop stocked, you have to go into the randomly generated dungeons at night to collect items from enemies and treasure chests. It’s an enticing loop that works surprisingly well. Moonlighter has both great action and some of the best town simulation mechanics we’ve seen in a game of its kind. Even if you don’t like inventory management games, there’s a good chance Moonlighter will win you over.
The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse
A top-down action RPG in the vein of The Legend of Zelda, The Swords of Ditto wouldn’t be on this list if it weren’t for the post-launch updates made by developer onebitbeyond. The most recent (free!) update, Mormo’s Curse, completely restructured the experience, removing permadeath to make progression feel much fairer.
The adorable art style, interesting dungeons, and charming storytelling made The Swords of Ditto a worthwhile play at launch last year, but the new changes make it an absolutely wonderful experience for fans interested in old-school The Legend of Zelda-esque experiences.
In Undertale, you play as a nameless child in an underground land filled with various monsters. It’s a retro JRPG in style, but Undertale becomes so much more than that as you make your way through its beautiful, hilarious, and heartbreaking story.
You’ll quickly realize that the combat isn’t where Undertale is supposed to excel. It’s merely there as a device, just like the minimalistic visuals. Undertale will stick with you because of the stories its characters tell you and for the decisions you make. Out of all of the games on this list, Undertale might be the one to make you see the world around you differently.
Stardew Valley, created by lone developer Eric Barone, quickly became a runaway hit when it launched in 2016. Designed as a spiritual successor to Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley takes place in an idyllic town filled with interesting citizens. Your job is to live the small town life, filling your days with farming, exploration, and small talk.
With a great relationship system, beautiful 16-bit visuals, tantalizing daily loop, and multiplayer, it’s quite easy to start viewing Pelican Town as your actual home. Stardew Valley is the sort of game you’ll unwittingly dump 100 hours into, but you won’t regret any of your time spent living the farming life.
Rocket League combines soccer and racing to achieve stupendously ridiculous levels of fun. Each player drives around a large soccer field in a vehicle chasing after a ball to knock into the opposing team’s net. It’s a surprisingly enthralling experience that continues to delight three years after its launch.
If you haven’t tried Rocket League and are fans of sports and arcade racers, Rocket League is sure to entertain. And even if you don’t like soccer or car games, there’s a still a good chance you’ll like Rocket League. That’s how dang fun it is to play.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a great option for hoops fans looking for an arcade experience. In 2v2 contests, you can play as both current NBA stars and all-time greats like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
As a spiritual successor to NBA Jam, Playgrounds 2 is loaded with unrealistic (but very cool) dunk animations and an array of neat power-ups including the on-fire ball. Playgrounds 2 has a neat card collecting system for unlocking players, a no-frills season mode, and ranked online play.
It’d be irresponsible to create a PS4 indies list without including Journey, thatgamecompany’s third and best game that is commonly regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. In Journey, you play as a nameless robed figure. Dropped in a large desert, you must follow visual clues to make progress.
There are no words in Journey, nor is there any real gameplay besides moving and jumping. The world is beautifully rendered and the understated narrative is something that everyone should experience. It only lasts a couple of hours, though it’s a breathtaking couple of hours.
Gone Home tells one of the most stirring and provocative stories we’ve experienced in games. Set in 1995, you play as a 21-year-old woman who comes home to Oregon, expecting to reunite with her family. Instead, she arrives to an empty home. A first person walking simulator, you gradually learn what has happened in your absence by exploring the house, reading notes and examining items.
What’s most remarkable about Gone Home is that although it tells a full story, it’s non-linear, as you discover clues in whichever order you please. It’s a truly moving story about sexuality, family secrets, and love.
Read our full Gone Home review
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods is a biting, hilarious, and ultimately moving story told by anthropomorphic animals. You play as Mae, a cat and recent college dropout who heads home to Possum Springs. Her new perspective allows her to see what she previously couldn’t in the town. Slowly but surely, Mae uncovers the town’s dark past and secrets.
Set up as a pretty sidescroller, Night in Woods plays out like a visual novel. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it might even cause you to laugh and cry all at once. With excellent writing and a cast of memorable characters, Night in the Woods is an absolute can’t miss gem for those looking for a good yarn.
- The best indie games for May 2020
- The best cheap Nintendo Switch games
- The best Mac games (May 2020)
- The best indie games on Nintendo Switch (May 2020)
- The best iOS games you can play offline on your iPhone and iPad