Skip to main content

The best indie games of all-time

Indie games have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. It wasn’t much more than a decade ago that indie games would only ever be seen by a small community on PC, with no chance of ever getting put on a major console or storefront. However, with platforms like Steam bringing more attention to these projects, plus early initiatives like the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade on the Xbox 360 shining a light on how talented single, or very small, person teams could be, indie games suddenly found themselves sharing the spotlight with the high budget AAA games. In many cases, these rag-tag teams of developers working on a passion project in their spare time, with only what money they could give to it out of pocket, were reviewing better and selling more than their titanic competition.

Today, indie games are more common than ever. Once the wall was broken down, more individuals and small teams started emerging to offer new and unique experiences that the larger developers found too risky. These indie teams are where gamers turn to not for cutting-edge graphics, although the tools they have are allowing their art to rival big-budget games, but for brand new gameplay, narrative, or even fourth wall-breaking experiences that don’t exist anywhere else. In the early days, finding the best indie games was far easier, but now that time has passed and so many amazing indie titles have come along, with more arriving almost daily, there are almost too many to sort through. That’s why we’ve curated this list of the best indie games of all time.

See more

Cave Story
Cave Story
85 %
E10
Platforms Wii, PC (Microsoft Windows), Nintendo 3DS
Genre Shooter, Platform, Adventure, Indie
Developer Studio Pixel
Publisher Studio Pixel, Nicalis, Inc.
Release December 20, 2004
Cave Story has to come first in our eyes for being the first indie game of note to actually break through into the mainstream. This title was first released in 2004 by a single developer known as Pixel. It spent five years working on the game, ultimately resulting in an amazing 2D Metroidvania game staring a robot named Quote who uses its weapons to shoot its way through a cave, discovering secrets and power-ups, while trying to piece together their missing memories. The default weapon gains levels by collecting triangles dropped by defeated enemies, going up to level three, but taking a hit will drop the weapon’s level back down. There’s a cast of friendly characters you will interact with, quests to go on, and tough bosses to face. As the title got more popular online, it was eventually ported to the Wii and DS in 2010, an improved version called Cave Story + was released for Steam in 2011, and even a 3D remake was published on 3DS. You can even get it on the Switch today if you want. Cave Story deserves a spot on this list if only for historical reference, but the game is still so fun and playable today that it holds up as worth your time.
The Binding of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac
83 %
Platforms PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac
Genre Shooter, Role-playing (RPG), Adventure, Indie
Developer Edmund McMillen
Publisher Edmund McMillen
Release September 28, 2011
In the era between when indie games could take off in the mass market, most indie projects found their way onto online game sites such as Newgrounds as free titles. That’s how the now infamous The Binding of Isaac first appeared as a flash game that was created during a seven-day long game jam where two developers, Edmund McMillen (who will show up again) and Florian Himsl wanted to make a roguelike that was inspired by the dungeons of the original The Legend of Zelda. The result was something that took far more liberty in differentiating itself than most projects claimed to be inspired by other games. Playing as Issac, or later one of the over a dozen other characters added in updates and expansions, players explore random dungeons that take place in Isaac’s basement using his own tears as the default projectile weapons against crude enemies like poops, spiders, and flies. Don’t let the surface-level juvenile humor put you off, though, because The Binding of Isaac is probably the only game that can actually back up the claim of being truly different each and every run. As of now, there are hundreds upon hundreds of items randomly distributed in your run, and they can all work together to create essentially infinite possibilities for how your game plays. If you like how the base game works, you could realistically play The Binding of Isaac forever.
The Binding of Isaac: Trailer
Braid
Braid
86 %
E10
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Mac
Genre Platform, Puzzle, Strategy, Adventure, Indie
Developer Number None Inc.
Publisher Number None Inc., Microsoft Game Studios
Release August 06, 2008
Braid put the now-legendary developer Jonathan Blow on the map for being one of a handful of the first indie games showcased on the Xbox Live Arcade in 2008. The art style reminiscent of a classic painting was eye-catching, but what really drew people in was the way the game married gameplay and narrative. Braid is a puzzle platformer with a few major twists. The game begins with Tim, your player character, trying to rescue a princess from a monster, but the reality of that goal becomes more clear over the course of the game, and we won’t spoil it here. The main mechanic that makes this more than just a regular platformer where you go from world to world is how it plays with time. Yes, time manipulation has been done in just about every way you can think of now, but in 2008 this was incredibly unique. At first, you just have the ability to rewind time to fix errors, but later elements make you think about how to use it to solve puzzles, or have time tied not to your direct control, but to what direction you move. Every world adds something new but never lets any element go stale. This is a beautiful, masterfully designed, and highly recommended indie that is well deserving of being ported to every modern system.
Braid Trailer
SUPERHOT
SUPERHOT
77 %
T
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia
Genre Shooter, Puzzle, Tactical, Indie
Developer SUPERHOT Team
Publisher IMGN.PRO, SUPERHOT Team
Release February 25, 2016
Indie games mostly tend to start with a familiar concept, and then either mix it with something that seems too opposite to work, or flips expectations in some unexpected way. SUPERHOT does both. This is a first-person shooter puzzle game where one simple idea — the fact that time only moves when you do — completely reframes how you approach the genre. Again, SUPERHOT had very humble origins as a game jam project that later showed up as a free game online. It was so popular that the developers were able to fund a full release with backing from Kickstarter, and got the first version out in 2016. The game functioned exactly like the prototype, in which you were dropped into various stages and had to figure out how to kill all the red enemies. Usually, you start out unarmed, need to carefully move, and, more importantly stop, to avoid bullets and attacks so you could punch, throw, or shoot to eliminate the enemies. Even when you lose, you know that there was something you could’ve done, another tactic you could’ve taken, or a moment you should’ve stopped time to make sure there was no one behind you. Not only was it ported to the PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, but it also got two new versions: SUPERHOT: Mind Control Delete adds in roguelike elements to the mix, while SUPERHOT VR makes the entire game compatible with VR. The latter is particularly amazing if you have access to a headset.
SUPERHOT Greenlight Trailer
Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy
84 %
T
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Xbox 360, Mac, Wii U, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Genre Platform, Adventure, Indie
Developer Team Meat
Publisher BlitWorks
Release October 20, 2010
We said we’d come back to Edmund McMillen, and here we are. Before The Binding of Isaac, McMillen’s first breakout hit came out in 2010 on the XBLA and PC. Like Braid, Super Meat Boy is a platformer, heavily inspired by Mario games, but with an extreme focus on challenge and difficulty. Again, this would become somewhat of a norm for indie games moving forward, but prior to Super Meat Boy there really hadn’t been a platformer that controlled as well as this, but was also as challenging. The evolution of another flash project, Super Meat Boy features over 300 levels that, when successful, only last a couple of seconds to a minute, but can take much longer as the challenges ramp up. To keep it from getting frustrating, Super Meat Boy featured an almost instant respawn, with your cube of meat ready to go for another attempt the instant he splats, explodes, or falls. It has no real gimmick or tricks, though that’s not to say each level doesn’t introduce new hazards and obstacles. That your success is dependent on mastering running, jumping, and wall jumping. It was given dozens of awards, and by many is still thought of as one of, if not the, best 2D platformers ever created. The only slight negative is the few lackluster bosses, which just come down to memorization more than anything else, but those are such a small part of this massive game it doesn’t bring down the overall experience.
Super Meat Boy - PS4/PS Vita Trailer
Papers, Please
Papers, Please
82 %
M
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, iOS, PlayStation Vita
Genre Point-and-click, Puzzle, Role-playing (RPG), Simulator, Adventure, Indie
Developer Lucas Pope
Publisher 3909
Release August 08, 2013
There’s been a debate among some members of the gaming community about whether or not a game needs to be fun. Whichever side of that argument you fall on, we think it’s more important to focus on the indie game that is largely responsible for kicking off that discussion in a big way. Papers, Please, to be fair, is a fun game … just not for everyone. This is a highly political game and asks some tough moral questions of you as you play. You play as an immigration officer at the border of the fictional country of Arstotzka, which is in a shifting sphere of poor relations with the neighboring countries. It is your job to process as many immigrants trying to enter the country as possible while following the constantly shifting rules and regulations. Is there a passport from a place your government is currently accepting immigrants from? Is their passport legitimate? Are they a criminal? Do you need to inspect them? What if they offer you a bribe? You only get paid for people you let in but are penalized if you process someone incorrectly. Between days, you have to try and budget your measly income on food, heat, rent, and caring for your family. It’s rough, eye-opening, thought-provoking, and even oddly satisfying if you have the temperament for it.
Papers, Please - Trailer
Shovel Knight
Shovel Knight
86 %
E
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), PlayStation 3, Mac, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Platform, Adventure, Indie
Developer Yacht Club Games
Publisher Yacht Club Games
Release June 26, 2014
The second wave of indies came thanks to Kickstarter. While the first wave had to struggle and claw their way to completing their entire games, and then pray to be discovered and shared enough to make money, this crowdfunding platform offered the chance for small teams, or individuals, to sell the concept of their game before sinking years of their lives, and savings, into it. Shovel Knight was the biggest indie success the platform saw for many years, and is the prime example of how it should be done. The game is a fantastic pixel art style game that mixes elements from tons of classic NES series like Mega Man, Zelda, Mario, and Castlevania to name a few, but does more than just pay tribute to those games. It transforms the best parts of those games and crafts something new that feels like it came from those days, though would’ve been technically impossible at the time. The game itself was fantastic on its own, but the developers spent the better part of a decade making it even better after launch with expansions that added new characters, modes, and more. Shovel Knight himself has become an icon of the indie world, too, making cameo appearances in dozens of other indie titles. If you loved the old-school NES platformers, Shovel Knight will bring you right back to those good old days.
Shovel Knight - Official Trailer #1 (Official)
Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight
92 %
E10
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Platform, Hack and slash/Beat 'em up, Adventure, Indie
Developer Team Cherry
Publisher Team Cherry
Release February 24, 2017
Hollow Knight and Shovel Knight have more in common than just similar names. They both share impressive Kickstarter origins, near-universal acclaim, and fantastic post-launch support from the developers. Hollow Knight is also a 2D platformer, and even shares many of the same basic gameplay mechanics, like pogo bouncing, but diverges in its design. Rather than iterate on level-based 2D platforming games, Hollow Knight is a true Metroidvania with some light Souls elements for good measure, all wrapped up in a beautiful hand-drawn art style that makes the bug-infested world of Hollownest enchanting and engrossing to explore. With very little dialogue, you’re free to absorb and reconstruct your own narrative of the world through the sights, sounds, and landmarks you encounter. Movement is tight and incredibly responsive, combat brutal with tough but fair bosses, and every upgrade radically changes how you look at previously explored areas. Speaking of which, Hollow Knight has grown almost double in size thanks to free updates expanding the map and adding new content. The sequel, Hollow Knight: Silksong, was also originally going to be more DLC but grew to the scope that they needed to make it its own sequel game.
Hollow Knight Trailer
Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley
87 %
E10
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, Android, iOS, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Role-playing (RPG), Simulator, Indie
Developer ConcernedApe
Publisher ConcernedApe, Chucklefish Games
Release February 26, 2016
One of the best cases for indie games is that they are so often a labor of love for the small, or in this case, single developer to create a game that they want, but the mass market doesn’t make anymore. For Stardew Valley, that series was Harvest Moon. The closest thing to that calm, relaxing, farming simulator would probably be the Animal Crossing games, but even they don’t quite scratch that same itch Stardew Valley does. The entire game is wide open, letting you build up your farm however you choose, plant different crops, raise animals, start relationships and families with the townspeople, and even go into caves for some light combat. The simple graphics only add to the charm of the game, as well as the soothing soundtrack. Stardew Valley never asks too much of you, letting you take the game at your own pace, and yet you’ll often be surprised by just how quickly the time flies by while playing. You can even play with three of your friends together to create a shared farm and work together to do as much, or as little, as you want. Almost like a bedtime story, Stardew Valley is the perfect way to unwind from the more strict and demanding games we normally play.
Stardew Valley Trailer
Undertale
Undertale
88 %
E10
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Role-playing (RPG), Turn-based strategy (TBS), Adventure, Indie
Developer tobyfox
Publisher tobyfox, 8-4
Release September 15, 2015
We can only hope that if you haven’t played Undertale, it hasn’t been ruined for you. And it can be ruined in two major ways: either by spoiling any of the game’s twists or by how overhyped and overzealous its fan base can be. To be fair, Undertale is a fantastic game we highly recommend, but it is a game far more powerful the less you know going in. That being said, the basic idea for Undertale is a sort of spiritual successor to the Mother series of RPGs. These quirky, offbeat games were way ahead of their time on the NES, SNES, and GBA (though we never officially got Mother 3), and Undertale pushes the spirit of those games to their logical conclusion. The game is more about its writing and characters than gameplay mechanics or graphics, which can be hit or miss for some, as well as a soundtrack that doesn’t have a single dud. It isn’t a long experience, but one that will stick with you for long after you finish, and it offers a ton of incentives to replay it (as well as reasons not to). It’s hard to say more than that, but trust us, give this game a shot knowing as little as possible.
UNDERTALE Release Trailer
INSIDE
INSIDE
87 %
M
Platforms PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, iOS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Platform, Puzzle, Adventure, Indie
Developer Playdead
Publisher Playdead
Release June 29, 2016
Sometimes the best stories are told without words. That’s especially difficult to do in games, but Playdead pulled it off masterfully twice, first with Limbo, but even more expertly with Inside. A lot like the former game, you play as a young boy who, for reasons that will become clear only at the end, is working to get toward a goal through more and more dangerous environments and situations. It is a 2.5D puzzle platformer but introduces a lot of unique mechanics not typically seen in the genre. Inside is a dark game, and not just visually. The whole experience is almost like a nightmare, where the boy is only just barely able to avoid gruesome deaths time and time again, assuming you play correctly. Odds are you will see him perish in very disturbing ways quite often. The environments are technically spoilers to list since they essentially tell the story in this game without words or dialogue. This still leaves a lot of what actually happens, and the implications of it all, up to interpretation. It is a wild ride to play, but even more to think about once it all comes to the climax and the credits finally roll.
INSIDE Trailer E3 2014
Minecraft
Minecraft
84 %
E10
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac
Genre Adventure, Arcade
Developer Mojang Studios
Publisher Mojang Studios
Release November 18, 2011
Yes, even though it might be one of the most popular, best selling, and talked about game of all time, Minecraft was, at least at first, and indie game. Now, the team is owned by Microsoft, but back in the early days, it was the vision of mainly just one man. Minecraft has transformed and evolved over the more than 10 years it has been out, but the core idea of being dropped into a random world with the freedom to recreate it however you want was, and remains, what made it the smash success it is. In those early days, there were just a handful of tools, blocks, and creatures to interact with, but now the base game has hundreds of recipes, secret areas, bosses, and even an “ending” of sorts. If that wasn’t enough, the community has created its own content for the game that expands the game in just about every way imaginable. Want to play a Pokemon game in Minecraft? You can. Want to play a puzzle room? There are dozens. What about a racer, or horror game? Minecraft really is a platform more than a game, and it is so … craftable … that it can be just about anything you want it to be. Again, it feels unnecessary to sing Minecraft‘s praises at this point, but it would be a major mistake to not include it as one of the best indies ever made.
Official Minecraft Trailer
Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire
87 %
E10
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, Android, iOS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Role-playing (RPG), Strategy, Turn-based strategy (TBS), Adventure, Indie, Card & Board Game
Developer Mega Crit Games
Publisher Humble Games
Release January 23, 2019
Card games aren’t for everyone, but something about the way Slay the Spire mixes the fun of deck building with the random nature of a roguelike just hits so perfectly that it can even convert players who normally steer clear of card games into addicts. What makes it so approachable is how each run starts out simple enough. You pick a character with a basic deck of cards and build from there on every run. Each battle you win gives you the choice of one of several cards to add to your deck or skip them all, plus shops to make new builds each and every run. One time you may focus on building a ton of block so you never take damage, plus a card that attacks for your total block, while another could see you stacking up poison on enemies so you just have to wait them out. There are only three acts, so a full run isn’t overly long, but building to the point where you are winning consistently is a slow and satisfying lesson in learning the best way to utilize your cards based on what enemy you’re facing and what they are planning to do. Slay the Spire is also great at scaling to you as you get better, with each win letting you up the ascension rank to add difficulty modifiers for each character all the way up to level 20.
Slay the Spire - Official Launch Trailer
Her Story
Her Story
78 %
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, Android, iOS
Genre Point-and-click, Puzzle, Simulator, Adventure, Indie
Developer Sam Barlow
Publisher Sam Barlow
Release June 24, 2015
FMV, or full motion video games were a fad that never took off. Instead of using computer graphics to make a game, these titles used real, filmed footage to try and make games that looked “lifelike” ahead of what was technically possible. Because they were limited by whatever footage they could film, these gaems were very niche and restrained in player agency. That, plus the generally poor quality of the filming, and acting, lead to the format essentially dying off within a few years. Her Story, on the other hand, revives the real footage format but implements it in a framework that makes complete sense. You’re playing a character looking over interview footage that has been scrambled and cut up in a computer database after some crime occurred. After watching clips, you need to type in keywords to look for more footage related to those words to get more of the story and eventually piece together the mystery of who the person being interviewed is, and what actually occurred. There are tons of twists, which can be discovered in any number of ways since it’s up to you which threads to follow and when based on your own intuiting and searches. Her Story is unlike anything else out there, and is a must-play for mystery or true crime fans.
Her Story Trailer
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
79 %
M
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre Puzzle, Adventure, Indie
Developer Frictional Games
Publisher Frictional Games
Release September 08, 2010
Horror was almost a dead genre at one point. Silent Hill had been lackluster since the PS2 days, and Resident Evil had been moving more and more toward action. Even a new series like Dead Space quickly abandoned the more quiet, psychological, and scary elements for bombastic action in a matter of years. This hole in the market allowed Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a simple game where you had absolutely no options to deal with the monsters except to run and hide, to suck up all the air in the room. The game took advantage of its limitations by shrouding the game in deep, dark shadows to conceal the graphics, and you were even punished for looking at the monsters directly, which prevented you from ever getting a clear picture of what exactly was hunting you. That allows your own imagination to conjure up images more terrifying than any artist could actually design. This game also launched a huge number of YouTube channels into prominence, which in turn reflected back on Amnesia: The Dark Descent with a ton of exposure and sales. It might not be the scariest game today, but did help bring the entire genre back from the dead, and is by no means a walk in a sunny park either.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent - Trailer
The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable
83 %
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac
Genre Adventure, Indie
Developer Galactic Cafe
Publisher Galactic Cafe
Release October 17, 2013
What is a game, really? Is it your ability to make choices? Is it the simple fact that you can interact with it, or even choose not to? The Stanley Parable asks these types of questions indirectly, plus many others. You play as an office worker named Stanley who begins his day in his abandoned office. From there, the narration starts, which acts as your primary form of guidance — or your adversary. The Stanley Parable is all about reacting and adapting to how you do, or do not, follow the direction of the narrator. If he tells you Stanley went through the left door, but you choose the one on the right, what happens? What if you turn around and go back the way you came, choosing neither? There are hundreds of branches, many secret ones, and each one fully accounted for despite you thinking you’re getting away with something the game didn’t plan for. The Stanley Parable is funny, interesting, and all-around strange. It begs to be played over and over, making new choices at different spots to see just how far you can go in different directions and what possible endings there could be. This does fall into the sort of walking simulator genre but is by our measure the best one of its kind.
The Stanley Parable "Raphael Trailer"
Baba is You
Baba is You
77 %
E
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch
Genre Puzzle, Indie
Developer hempuli
Publisher hempuli
Release March 13, 2019
Indie puzzle games are some of the most common. Actually good, challenging, and unique indie puzzle games are the opposite. There are a few standouts, like The Witness, but even that game, as masterful as it is, can’t quite match the level of Baba Is You. This game will either break your mind or, if you’ve got a mind that works in this specific way, will click in a way no other puzzle game ever has. Even if it does click at first, Baba Is You has more than enough tricks up its sleeve to stump even the most brilliant minds. The setup is that you simply need to reach the goal of every level by moving along a grid. However, in Baba Is You, everything is subject to certain rules that you can change by shifting words. For example, most of the time the game will start with the words “Baba is you,” meaning that you are the little white critter Baba, and “Flag is goal,” of course stating that the flag is where you need to reach. But there are plenty of other words creating rules that can, and must, be manipulated to complete the stage. You can change the “Baba” to another object, like a rock, so that you control a rock, or replace “Flag” with something like “Wall” so that all the walls become the goal. Once extra phrases like “is,” “and,” and “not” are introduced, even the most basic-looking maze becomes a mind-shredding exercise in lateral thinking and out-of-the-box problem solving that will be completely foreign to most people. When you finally crack the code, Baba Is You will make you feel like a genius for figuring out what, in the end, seems like such an obvious solution.
Baba Is You trailer (2017)
Cuphead
Cuphead
86 %
E10
Platforms PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Shooter, Platform, Adventure, Indie, Arcade
Developer Studio MDHR
Publisher Studio MDHR
Release September 29, 2017
We’ve sort of touched on how indie games tend to rely on older graphical styles to account for the smaller team and budget sizes that major studios can afford. Cuphead is a game that chose to do both. The 1930s and 40s style of rubbery animation found in the original Mickey Mouse cartoons is one no other game has ever really attempted before, but the team didn’t pick it because it was easy. To make this game look truly authentic to that style, they actually animated it how they would’ve back in those days, meaning drawing each frame by hand. That alone added years to the game’s development, but the result was more than worth it. Cuphead is a cartoon come to life. From animation and presentation to the music, story, and everything you can think of. But again, Cuphead didn’t just rest on its looks to sell itself. This game is a tough-as-nails run-and-gun style game with a heavy emphasis on tough boss fights. In a way, seeing new animations is your reward for overcoming the insane challenges this game throws at you. Thankfully there is an easier difficulty to help you come to grips with how this game wants you to play it, but you’re highly encouraged to play on the normal mode since you won’t actually see the entire game playing unless you do. However you play it, Cuphead warrants a spot on this list for the sheer madness of how impressive what you’re seeing on screen actually is.
Cuphead E3 2014 Trailer

Editors' Recommendations