Indie games are some of the most creative and interesting games around, since they aren’t constrained by the limitations of risk-averse major game publishers who tend to stick to established franchises.
Which is really what makes indie games some of our favorites.
One thing to keep in mind is that indie games are often best experienced or even only available on Microsoft Windows, or at least best experienced on a gaming PC.
However, there are some options on Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and Playstation as well as more esoteric systems and even virtual reality headsets and dance pads for rhythm games, and there are new indie game options being launched every day in 2021 and there will only be more coming up!
Keep up with this post and come back to see the latest and greatest in the indie game realm.
Table of Contents
Best Indie Games on Steam
This puzzle platformer game has players control the character of a boy who must navigate through a mostly monochromatic 2.5D landscape (color is only used to show the player and various parts of the environment).
Unusually, the game is mostly silent with the exception of noises like dog barks and other sound effects that serves as musical cues, along with the boy character’s voice.
The goal of the game is to survive a journey through a series of locations including mysterious laboratories, an underwater realm where the boy gets a device that allows him to breathe underwater, and more unsettling places.
INSIDE is considered a top indie game and has received significant critical acclaim and won numerous awards for game design, user experience, and more.
Warning: Spoiler ahead – This spooky indie horror game has two endings; one where the unnamed boy frees The Huddle, and one where he pulls the plug and ends things, Matrix-style.
“…it almost feels suitable for display in an art museum. This is one hell of a followup.”
This is a puzzle platform video game that involves guiding a boy through a dangerous landscape filled with dangerous traps while he’s searching for his sister.
This is a gruesome game that’s mostly in black and white and was designed expecting players to fail, before finding the right answers to the puzzles, or a “trial and death” game.
While Limbo did receive some acclaim, it was also criticized for its relatively minimal storyline.
That said, it was named one of the top releases of 2010 by multiple publications and the studio that created it, PlayDead, followed up with another popular indie game, INSIDE, in 2016.
This indie game puzzle platform game centers around a common video game trope – the player is tasked with rescuing a princess from a monster.
The narrative unfolds in the form of a jigsaw puzzle that the player has to put together in order to find and save the princess. Braid received significant critical acclaim and at one point was the most popular game on Xbox Live.
“…beautiful, entertaining, and inspiring.”
The Stanley Parable
Considered one of the best indie games on steam, the protagonist of this action-adventure game is a boy named Otus, who’s a member of an owl-like humanoid race.
The game play is centered around finding the lost truth of the owls, which Otus begins to discover when his village is attacked by a band of pirates and the story expands from there.
The mechanics of Owlboy were inspired by Super Mario Brothers 3 (although most of them were reversed in Owlboy) and the game received plenty of props from the broader indie gaming community, including a SXSW award for best single player game.
“Owlboy sets the bar sky-high.”
Image: The Average Gamer
A puzzle simulation game that takes place in the dystopian world of Arstotzka, an Eastern-bloc type country embroiled in conflicts with its neighboring countries including Kolechia, Papers Please is a single player game where the user is a border crossing immigration agent in the city of Grestin that’s located between the two aforementioned fictional nations.
Players of Papers Please must review and check each citizen’s documentation with an increasingly complex series of guides and tools – for each properly processed individual, the player earns a salary that is used to feed, shelter, and clothe their in-game family.
Players can choose from story mode that involves several in-game events and can be completed, or endless mode where the game’s work is essentially never done.
Considered to be more of an “empathy game” or art piece, Papers Please was named one of the top games of the year by Wired and The New Yorker in 2013, among other awards.
“Buy, study, and share this game as an example of video games as true art.”
Best Indie Games on Switch
My Friend Pedro
This first-person shooter game is about a man’s quest to destroy everything in his way because of a sentient banana – and it only gets weirder from there.
The game also features parkour elements such as the ability to perform flips and rolls while shooting at the enemy; players can also dodge bullets by spinning and even slow time down briefly.
“My Friend Pedro Is Basically The Matrix On Every Drug Imaginable”
This role-playing Switch indie game is where players use a roster of heroes to navigate the dungeons located underneath a gothic mansion that the player has inherited from a wealthy relative.
While exploring the tunnels and dungeons, the relatives’ many misdeeds are uncovered and their past gets murkier.
Darkest Dungeon uses a mix of real time and turn based combat; it is characterized by measuring a player’s stress level which changes with each interaction and level – more stress may hamper or enhance their performance depending on the situation.
There are three modes that players can use – normal or “Darkest mode”, “Radiant mode” which is designed to shorten gameplay with looser limitations and higher XP, and “Stygian mode” which is more difficult and involves light depletion, stronger enemies, and a failure condition that can cause the game to restart with no saves.
“If you like Lovecraft and dying buy it now.”
Darkest Dungeon has received critical acclaim and a sequel was announced in February 2019.
“Darkest Dungeon is an incredible take on the classic dungeon crawl.”
Crypt of the NecroDancer
As you might suspect from the name, this is an indie horror game and a rogue-like rhythm game based around exploring a dungeon and set to an acclaimed original soundtrack.
Players must move their character Cadence – daughter of a famed treasure hunter who went missing – according to the beat of the current music playing – they are impaired when they miss a beat, so it is essential to learn the rhythmic patterns that each creature follows.
Collecting new weapons, treasure, jewels, and more is part of the game as players make their way through the zones of the dungeon defeating various monsters, meeting Cadence’s dead mother Melody who is controlled by a lute, and finding their way to a final battle with Aria (Melody’s mother) and ascending out of the crypt to a shrine.
Players can also import their own music and even use a dance pad instead of controllers or a mouse and keyboard.
Crypt of the NecroDancer has won several awards for its music and is considered one of the best audio-based games out there.
“Almost 4 years, 2.4 thousand hours, and some speedrun world records later, I think this game is pretty okay!”
Slay the Spire
A rogue-like, procedural generation indie game that allows players to operate as one of four characters to ascend a spire while being attacked by multiple enemies and bosses.
It operates on a card-based system with the goal of building a deck that is effective enough to finish the climb to the top of the spire.
Slay the Spire is considered to be the original indie game that launched a number of other rogue-like deck-building games; it initially had a slow release but once it was featured by a popular Chinese streamer, sales picked up and it became critically acclaimed for its core mechanics and regular weekly updates that made it an intriguing option to fickle gamers.
A “run and gun” good indie video game styled after the rubber hose animation of 1930s cartoons, Cuphead is a single or two player game where the user becomes either Cuphead or his brother Mugman with the goal of fighting through the game’s various levels and beating each level’s bosses, with the ultimate goal of paying their debt to the devil.
Cuphead has been praised as one of the best retro games and won awards at Gamescom and the E3 Games Critic Awards.
“It is one of the most beautiful games ever.”
Watch the trailer here:
“First look at Bowser’s Fury reveals giant Cat Mario.”
An indie switch game favorite, imagine playing a game that has no health bar and any hit will result in instant death, and you’ve got Katana ZERO.
So how do you actually beat the game in Katana ZERO?
You navigate by side scrolling and tricking your enemies with your blade and environmental traps in the neo-noir world of New Mecca.
Plus, you have your katana sword and the ability to slow down time and predict the future with a drug called Chronos supplied to you by your psychiatrist.
However, your enemies also have access to this drug and overdosing on it can cause hallucinations and other even worse side effects, and the game only gets more complicated and unnerving from there.
The game has been described as terrifying and unsettling and it was actually initially prohibited and then rated as adults-only in Australia in 2019, but it was also described as one of the most impressive games seen at PAX Prime by Polygon.
“Katana ZERO is a veritable wonder.”
Harvest Moon: Light Of Hope
A farm simulation game set in a small seaside with a goal of rebuilding the town’s lighthouse. Players can raise crops, grow livestock, take requests and communicate with the villagers, and even get married.
Harvest Moon: Island Of Happiness
This is a version of Harvest Moon released exclusively for Nintendo DS; similar to the other Harvest Moon games, this is a farming simulation game that involves new protagonists and a new location, although the gameplay is similar.
Players can choose to either play as a male or female, can communicate with villagers, and more – but interestingly enough, in this version, players can’t marry until they speak with all the villagers.
But in this version players can choose from six eligible bachelors or six eligible bachelorettes and have a baby after a “month of marriage.”
The game is set up to take place over the course of a year with each “day” lasting fifteen minutes.
Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands
This is the follow-up to Harvest Moon: Island Of Happiness, and it begins when an earthquake shatters the previously idyllic island. Gameplay is similar to the other Harvest Moon games and picks up where the previous Harvest Moon left off.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
A game inspired by Norse and Celtic mythology, Hellblade is a dark fantasy action adventure game published by the popular British indie game studio Ninja Theory.
It combines hack-and-slash, psychological horror, and puzzle-solving, resulting in a genre-bending game with cinematic cutscenes that has received major critical acclaim and has sold over a million copies around the world.
The main character suffers from psychosis and much of the game focuses around her battle with her demons as she is haunted by an entity referred to as the “Darkness”, memories from her past, and the “Furies” or the voices in her head.
The makers of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice consulted with psychologists, neuroscientists, and other mental professionals in order to make the game as accurate and realistic as possible, resulting in critical praise for its compelling story and design.
“Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is both great and terrifying, taking the player on a journey into madness.”
“Strong psychological thriller with an indescribable atmosphere. The voices in my head still don’t leave me…”
A light-hearted farm simulation role-playing game that starts when the player takes over their grandfather’s farm in Stardew Valley after he passes away.
The farm itself has fallen into disrepair so players must create their own character, choose from different farm maps, and get started on fixing things up.
Stardew Valley players interact with non-playable characters in the town and can trade or even marry them, engage in fishing, cooking, or other domestic pursuits, and more. Later in the game, players can build greenhouses to grow crops all year round.
Farmers are evaluated every “year” but there is no deadline that ends the game.
This was the most downloaded Switch indies game of 2017 even though it was only released in October of that year.
“Far more than just a farming game, this one-man labor of love is filled with seemingly endless content and heart.”
A “rhythm violence” horror game, Thumper is unique amongst indie games because it is one of the few that offer support for virtual reality headsets.
Players guide a creepy beetle-like creature from a third person perspective on a single or dual track through a series of grotesque landscapes; they must press a button in time with the backing track while tackling a series of obstacles including curved walls, spikes, and various enemies.
Levels are broken up into segments and players are judged by their accuracy and speed for each segment.
The beetle can only sustain one hit without damaging its armor and the second hit will destroy it, sending the player to the last completed checkpoint.
Players can redo each segment as many times as they need to. PC Gamer declared Thumper to be “one of the best rhythm games ever made.”
“Essentially perfect realization of its own unique goals and concerns, and a game we’ll be playing and celebrating for decades.”
Best Indie PC Games
This indie PC game’s full title is Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress, and the game is as complex as its name. Dwarf Fortress is set in a procedurally generated fantasy world where the player indirectly rules a group of dwarves who are attempting to build a fortress while battling goblin invasions and building wealth.
There is also a rogue-like “Adventurer mode” that allows players to complete quests and explore abandoned castles and forts in addition to the primary mode.
Perhaps one of its quirkiest elements is that there is no way to actually complete or beat the game – every fortress eventually gets destroyed.
Dwarf Fortress is unique in many ways – it was developed by a two-man team and first released in 2006, and this indie game is credited with influencing and inspiring the creators of the ever-so-popular Minecraft game and universe.
It was also shown at the Museum of Modern Art as part of an exhibition on gaming history in 2012 and has developed a real cult following with the motto “losing is fun” – which is perhaps a perfect way to describe a group of avid players of a game that has no way to win!
Ready to play Dwarf Fortress?
Check out this starter guide:
“You’ve got to play Dwarf Fortress to truly understand the madness of its creators – and of its biggest fans.”
Return of the Obra Dinn
This puzzle PC indie game is set aboard an early 1800s East India Company ghost ship and the objective is to discover how the crew disappeared.
The player takes the role of an insurance adjuster (we promise it is more exciting than that sounds) and needs to discover the truth behind the demise of each passenger on the ship.
When you start playing the Return of the Obra Dinn, you are given a logbook and a “Memento Mortem” that can be activated when you discover a corpse.
The Memento Mortem shows their memories and provides some clues as to how that person died; this whodunit detective game is completed when you successfully solve the mystery of how Obra Dinn became a ghost ship.
“Return of the Obra Dinn is also considered notable because of its unique aesthetics that mimic the look of games on early Macintosh computers, lending it a nostalgic appeal.” – Gaming.Master
Enjoy Relaxing mind-blowing slow-paced adventure, with innovative 1-bit rendering of 3D environments that recreate the grayscale distinctive look of early Macintosh games.
Enter the Gungeon
Any game that follows players into a “gungeon,” or gun-themed dungeon, filled with living bullets and other dangerous creatures is definitely compelling, but this fast paced bullet-hell shooter takes it to the next level.
You choose to play as a Marine, a Convict, a Pilot, or a Hunter at the outset (with the option to unlock more characters as the game progresses).
Each character has different special abilities but as you might imagine, they are all heavily armed. There’s also a co-op mode where the second player can support player one.
The goal of Enter the Gungeon is to descend through an ever-changing series of rooms in order to capture a legendary gun along with rescuing other characters who then reside in the Breach, a safe zone above the Gungeon.
This top indie game has been praised for its unique mechanics including a dodge roll that allows players to dodge several mechanics simultaneously.
“Enter the Gungeon is an absolute masterpiece of the genre.”
Into the Breach
Image: Rock Paper Shotgun
This turn-based strategy game is set in the distant future where humanity has banded together to fight an army of giant monsters referred to as the Vek.
Players must coordinate with their team in response to enemy moves and actions that telegraph their potential attacks.
Players have three different mechanics to use against the Vek and follow along a map that outlines the objectives they need to complete to beat them.
The game is broken into a series of islands with scenarios that are generated in a procedural manner; players can choose which island to complete next and different islands offer increasing levels of hazards that can result in greater rewards.
Into the Breach has won multiple awards for its best indie game strategy, design, and originality and Popular Mechanics named it the best video game of 2018.
Kerbal Space Program
Also known as KSP, Kerbal Space Program is a space flight simulation game that allows players to run a fledgling space program that is staffed and crewed by green humanoids known as Kerbals.
KSP became known for its realistic orbital physics engine which allows for real life maneuvers like Hohmann transfer orbits and bi-elliptic transfer orbits, making this game extremely popular among serious space geeks.
Players can use three modes – Sandbox, Science, and Career – depending on their goals, seriousness, and mood.
This game has become somewhat of a cult classic especially because of its accuracy in design and mechanics, which has led to significant critical acclaim, as well interest from scientists at NASA, ESA, ULA’s Tony Bruno, and the notorious Elon Musk.
A sequel to Kerbal Space Program has been announced for a 2021 release, and there is also physical KSP merchandise like branded clothing and plush toys.
A role-playing video that takes place in an unnamed city that’s recovering from a war, this game veers away from the more traditional types of role playing games in that has no combat or fighting; rather, it involves dialog trees and skill checks based on 24 different elements of the protagonist’s abilities including pain threshold and perception.
There’s also a system referred to as the Thought Cabinet that represents the main character’s ideologies and personality traits – and other players or elements can support or suppress them.
Disco Elysium was originally based on a table-top role-playing game and it has received plenty of critical recognition, including being named Game Of The Year by a number of publications, Excellence in Narrative at SXSW, and awards in Music and Narrative from the British Gaming Awards, along with multiple nominations in many other top categories at the majority of the gaming awards shows.
“Powerful, poetic, haunting, and hilarious.”
“This is art, folks. One of the best games I have played in years.”
Best PS4 Indie Games
This platforming game was originally created in only 4 days during a game jam (similar to a hackathon or other competitive coding event), but the prototype was popular enough that it was eventually built into a complete game and released on multiple platforms.
Celeste is designed around a girl named Madeline who has to make her way up the game’s eponymous mountain using her unique abilities despite an old woman warning her against attempting the feat.
“Celeste is truly a game for everyone.”
The original prototype of this indie game is hidden as a minigame within the game itself, which is one of the most unique aspects of Celeste.
This top indie game also won numerous awards for its game play and musical score.
“…gorgeous pixel art, emotional story, evocative music and loads of content…”
Another rogue-like, unique indie game, this single player game features a child protagonist who has fallen into the Underground, a large secluded region situated under the surface of the earth but separated from the human world by a magical barrier.
Players must battle various monsters on their way to the surface of the earth; there’s also a combat system where players must dodge mini-bullet hail attacks from their opponents.
Undertale was inspired by a variety of sources ranging from Mario & Luigi, Mother, Brandish, the bullet hell shooter series Touhou Project, and even the British comedy series Mr. Bean.
It uses a top-down view and the monsters communicate with the child and tell them their feelings; attacks change based on these interactions. Unlike other games that can be seemingly endless, Undertale is meant to be played through in around two hours.
It’s considered a cult classic and won the Audience Award at the Independent Game Festival in 2016.
“I have a couple of issues with the user interface.”
“Original combat system, very strong characters, remarkable scenes, emotionally engaging story.”
What Remains of Edith Finch
Night in the Woods
A young woman named Mae is the central character in this story-based exploration indie game.
It begins when she returns home to Possum Springs, her hometown which has become populated by zoomorphic human creatures since the coal springs that originally powered the town were closed and needs to discover what exactly happened to the town’s population along with finding her best friend Casey, who has disappeared.
Mae follows the trail of clues into the woods and encounters an array of frightening and unusual creatures during this narrative-focused indie game, with the end goal of figuring out the mystery and adapting to life in the new version of Possum Springs.
This crowdfunded indie game received strong positive reviews and won numerous awards when it was initially released in 2017 and continues to be considered impressive for its strong writing.
“The charming, melancholy Night in the Woods picks up where Gone Home left off.”
“The writing is really good, the art style is superb, the story is touching and makes me feel a bit nostalgic.”
A supernatural mystery graphic adventure game, Oxenfree follows the story of a girl named Alex who’s on a trip to a local island when supernatural activity occurs and prompts her to attempt to solve a mystery.
Oxenfree is a narrative-driven open world game that avoids cutscenes and is filled with bright geometric elements juxtaposed alongside darker organic ones.
“The best parts of supernatural 1980’s teenage horror films and combines it with believable characters, beautiful set pieces, and a haunting VHS synth-pop soundtrack to create a masterpiece.”
This critically acclaimed game is on a list for multiple awards including “Best Narrative” at The Game Awards in 2016.
“Well written story, dark and mysterious atmosphere, solid visual style, right soundtrack and sweet aftertaste: Oxenfree has it all.”
In this tension-filled game, you start as a player on a planet with a supernova sun that is going to explode in only 22 minutes, resulting in your death and the death of everyone else on the planet.
You have to explore the local solar system to discover the secrets of the Nomai, an alien race who had previously visited the planet looking for the mysterious Eye of the Universe.
The goal of the game is to find the Eye and create a new version of the Big Bang, creating a brand-new universe.
Outer Wilds has won multiple awards for its design and general all-around performance, and it was also listed as one of the best games of 2019 by the Washington Post and the New York Times so far.
Best Indie Games Xbox One
This Myst-inspired indie puzzle game features an open world located on an island based on a grid and filled with natural and man-made structures.
A single player game, progress occurs as puzzles hidden on paths within in the environment or presented on panels located throughout the island’s grid are solved.
No direct clues are provided, making it the player’s job to determine what the symbols in the puzzles mean.
The Witness has been praised for its intricate design that allows players to use trial and error to solve the puzzles and work through the game via various moments of inspiration.
Built on its own unique game engine, The Witness team included artists, architects, and landscape architects who designed the unusual structure of the game’s island.
The game has received many favorable reviews, including a 10/10 from Chloe Rad of IGN magazine.
“One of the best puzzle games available.”
A multiplayer open world survival game where the players are commoners rather than heroes, Outward involves some complicated survival aspects, including but not limited to having to watch and maintain your warmth, hunger, fatigue, and thirst throughout the game.
This game starts with the protagonist being shipwrecked outside their home city and still needing to pay the “Blood Price” that was the original goal of the journey.
However, once that is accomplished, there are three parallel storylines with outcomes that depend on which faction the player chooses to join, but all the storylines eventually blend together into one larger story.
“The magic in this game makes you feel like a little kid playing outside with nothing but the best of a child’s imagination.”
Untitled Goose Game
A puzzle stealth game released in 2019, this clever indie game allows players to control a goose that is terrorizing a small English village.
Inspired by Hitman and Super Mario 64, this game originated from an inside joke about a stock photo of a goose shared by the development team who eventually realized it had the potential to be turned into a humorous non-violent game.
Players can use their goose to honk at, run at, flap their wings, and grab objects from unsuspecting villagers.
The village is divided into multiple sections with different objectives, and there are several hidden sections to unlock as well.
IGN magazine called the Untitled Goose Game “brief but endlessly charming” when it was released in 2019, and it won the Breakthrough Award from the Golden Joystick Awards the same year.
Already playing and need an Untitled Goose Game guide?
Check out this walkthrough guide.
“Completely charming and wonderfully presented stealth puzzle game, that turns a horrible goose into one of the year’s most endearing video game stars.”
Free Indie Games
Cry of Fear
Bombergrounds: Battle Royale Available On
To play Coma free online, you’ll need Flash enabled (**sigh).
Image: Rock Paper Shotgun
To play Unsolicited online, you’ll need to enable Flash.
Best Indie Games 2021
A rogue-like “Metroidvania” game that has elements that evoke classic retro games like Castlevania< and Metroid, along with dungeon styling and elements that are reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons, Dead Cells allows players to take on the role of a corpse in a dungeon that must fight their way out.
This game also includes a Twitch integration which allows followers to vote on the paths that the main player should take and help them defeat the bosses which are referred to as keepers.
“Dead Cells is worthy of its own invention. It’s not just a roguevania – it’s a damn good roguevania.”
“The first 1387 hours have been good.”
This 2-D platform procedurally generated game allows players to control a spelunker who navigates a world of caves and must traverse them while saving damsels in distress, avoiding traps, and fighting enemies.
There are nine different characters to play as in Spelunky, and multiple enemies to fight including man-eating plants, yetis, and ghosts. Inspired by Super Mario Bros, Spelunky has sold over one million units so far and is considered to be an indie game commercial success.
“…there’s a science to the way you navigate. It’s no longer about just making it through, but making it through well.”
“The randomly generated level structure keeps it fresh & exciting.”
Best Indie Games of all Time
- Super Meat Boy
- Hotline Miami
- Papers, Please
- The Stanley Parable
While games from big studios certainly have their charms and there’s a reason that many of these big budget and flashy games have become so popular – and in fact, they’ve likely inspired some of our favorite indie developers.
Plus, with indie games, there is the thrill of discovery – you never know what the next big thing, popular genre, or trend might be, and there are indie games for every platform from Microsoft Windows to Playstation 4 to Nintendo Switch and more, with new games being developed every day.
We hope you like this list of the top indie games and we’ll be adding to it all the time – so if you’re an indie game developer and you want us to add yours, just contact us or leave a comment below!