Everyone loves booting up the newest franchise release from Nintendo or Sony, but sometimes you don’t want to play a sprawling open-world video game. Sometimes you want something smaller, more intimate, or just more focused.
Games don’t need to be towering 100-hour affairs with hyper-realistic graphics to be incredible. For some games, all you need is a compelling story or an addictive gameplay loop. The best indie titles use their limited resources artfully, creating memorable experiences for a fraction of the budget of most Triple-A blockbusters.
Today, we’re counting down the ten best indie games you probably haven’t played yet. These are games that view a small team and shoestring budget as a strength instead of an obstacle.
Firewatch is an open-world adventure game originally released by Campo Santo in 2016. The game features simple graphics and first-person gameplay set in the wilderness of Wyoming. Players control Henry, a fire lookout who oversees a tower in the Shoshone National Forest.
Henry slowly discovers strange occurrences in the forest while he’s on watch. He begins to notice a shadowy figure watching him from the trees, leading him to explore the surrounding area to get to the bottom of the mystery. Henry talks to his supervisor, Delilah, via walkie-talkie throughout the adventure. The player dictates the tone of Henry’s relationship with Delilah by choosing from various dialog options.
The game features a superb script and excellent voice acting, making it a one-of-a-kind narrative experience. If you’re in the mood for a great story, check out Firewatch.
Have you ever wanted a game that makes you feel like an action movie star? If so, you need to get your hands on Superhot. Time only moves in Superhot when your character moves, allowing players to carefully pick their way through unwinnable firefights like Neo in the Matrix.
The game is minimalistic, with enemies appearing as red and weapons as black. The backgrounds are otherwise white and gray, lending an eerie feel to Superhot’s over-the-top action gameplay.
Developers Superhot Team crafted a game that is equal parts white-knuckle action and tactical strategy. In short, it’s a thinker’s first-person shooter, and one of the most unique action games ever made.
8. Enter the Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon is a tricky and punishing video game. When you die in this heart-pounding title, you lose all your progress and return to the start of the game. If that sounds infuriating, that’s because it is. It’s also rewarding and Zen-like—the game doesn’t ask you to grind out character levels or find new gear. It asks you to get better to overcome daunting odds.
Gungeon features numerous visual gags and hundreds of hours of gameplay. Completing the main game is just part of the fun. Savvy players will find countless hours of entertainment mastering the game’s numerous weapons.
Gungeon oozes style and challenges players to hone their reflexes. Those who stick with the challenging roguelike will find a rewarding and eye-catching action game waiting for them under the surface of this unusual dungeon crawler.
Wargroove is a tactical turn-based war game in the vein of Advance Wars. Unlike its predecessor, Wargroove is a fantasy title that focuses on the conflict between various kingdoms in the fictional world of Aurania. However, the classic risk-and-reward gameplay of the Advance Wars series is on display despite Wargroove’s medieval trappings.
The game’s developers, Chucklefish, felt that no current-generation titles accurately captured the feel of classic military tactics games. As such, they created Wargroove as a love letter to a bygone era of gaming. It features gorgeous high-resolution pixel art graphics and excellent voice acting that brings each character to life.
Fans of turn-based games are sure to love Wargroove’s head-scratching levels and retro art style. Be warned, though—the game is devilishly difficult and highly addictive.
6. Bug Fables
Bug Fables is a feature-length homage to Paper Mario and its sequel, Thousand-Year Door. Developer Moonsprout Games nails the quirky aesthetic of the first two Paper Mario titles without sacrificing any originality. The precious RPG follows the adventures of three heroic insects, Vi, Kabbu, and Leif. These tiny adventurers seek the mythical Everlasting Sapling, which legend holds can grant eternal life.
The game’s charming art style is reminiscent of late-era N64 games. It shares Paper Mario’s storybook-style presentation and clever writing. Bug Fables will crack you up when you least expect it, cutting the tension of dramatic scenes with laugh-out-loud jokes.
Fans of old-school RPGs and story-driven adventures should give this game a shot. It’s one of the most adorable RPGs on modern systems.
5. Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire boasts a combination of roguelike elements and a deck-building card game. Players choose between one of four classes, including a warrior and an alchemist, to attempt to climb the titular tower. Each class uses its own set of cards and mechanics. For instance, the warrior heals after each battle and uses brute force to overwhelm enemies.
As players ascend the tower, they can add new cards to their decks for use in turn-based combat encounters. Players must carefully manage their decks to create the ideal selection of cards for each fight. The game resets if you fall in battle, making things that much more stressful. You lose every card you’ve collected and start from scratch each time you die.
Slay the Spire is an unforgiving and bleak game. Savvy players will find its mechanical depth and brutal story a worthy challenge. Do you have what it takes to ascend the tower and defeat the heart of darkness?
4. Shovel Knight
Can you dig a retro-style platformer in the vein of Mega Man and Duck Tales? If so, you need to try out Shovel Knight. Developers Yacht Club Games found success through a crowdfunding marketing campaign on Kickstarter and created a unique side-scroller that pays homage to the Golden Age of Gaming.
Players control the titular Shovel Knight, an armored hero who faces off against the villainous Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter. The Order is comprised of other Knights, like the regal King Knight and the mysterious Specter Knight. Boss battles against these distinctive villains are some of the game’s highlights.
Fans of NES-style graphics and challenging platformers should pick up Shovel Knight. It’s a charming indie title with old-school sensibilities and plenty of heart.
3. Into the Breach
Into the Breach is half puzzle game, half strategy title. Players control a time-traveling mech pilot who seeks to save the planet from giant bug-like monsters called the Vek. Into the Breach gives players all the information they need to plan out their turns. You can see where the monsters will attack, how much damage they’ll do, and when new waves of the giant beasts will arrive.
Players must untangle the knot of defeating the monsters while minimizing casualties to the civilian population. When you execute your plan expertly, you’ll knock Vek into each other, saving residential buildings from sure destruction. When you make a mistake, you’ll see skyscrapers crumble to the ground, knowing you could have spared the people inside if you’d been a bit cleverer.
Into the Breach features gorgeous retro-style pixel art that belies its thematic gravitas and strategic depth. It’s one of the best strategy games ever made, indie or not.
2. Disco Elysium
What makes a person tick? That’s one of the questions at the heart of Disco Elysium, an unusual detective RPG. Players assume control of a troubled police officer in a city named Revachol. The protagonist is suffering from an extreme episode of retrograde amnesia, which leaves him lost and confused in a society on the brink of collapse.
Players distribute skill points among 24 attributes, ranging from mental characteristics to physical prowess. These 24 attributes aren’t just numbers on a character sheet, either—they’re characters who can offer advice or critical information to the player in pivotal moments. Or, sometimes, they can ask the player to do nonsensical things, like reason with a door to convince it to open.
The game’s central narrative revolves around a routine murder investigation that seems tenuously linked to an ongoing labor dispute with a nearby dockworker’s union. Things quickly escalate, becoming weirder and more interconnected than the player could have ever guessed. Disco Elysium is a breathtaking game, and fans of classic text-based RPGs need to check it out.
Hades isn’t just an incredible indie action game–it’s one of the best video games ever made. In this roguelike action game, players control Zagreus, the son of Hades and the prince of the underworld. The stunning title kicks off with Zagreus diving out of his bedroom window and making a break for the surface world. He’s grown tired of living under his abusive father in the sunless underworld and wants to see what’s out there.
When Zagreus falls in battle, he’s transported back to the House of Hades, where the cycle starts again. This refreshing take on the roguelike genre allows the game to engage in compelling storytelling even when each run inevitably brings Zagreus back to the depths of the netherworld.
The game’s art is a visual treat, with Jen Zee’s scrumptious illustrations bringing the Greek pantheon to life in glorious detail. The voice cast injects so much personality into each deity that it’s easy to see them as three-dimensional characters instead of tropes.
Fans of roguelike games or mythology owe it to themselves to play Hades. It’s a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that offers players pulse-pounding action and heartbreaking storytelling in equal measure.