Jan 29, 2020

Best Indie Games of the 2010s

The 2010s were a momentous decade for indie games. The rise of digital storefronts and mobile gaming made it easier for anybody to get their hands on games of all shapes and sizes. With the increased access for consumers, smaller indie developers no longer needed the support of publishers to reach an audience. While this access brought more eyes and money to indie games, it also exposed gamers to some of the most ambitious and innovative games of the decade. When AAA titles stuck to the tried and true, indie games were leaving a lasting mark on the art of artform itself.

  • Release: July 20, 2011

    There’s no better place to start than with Bastion from Supergiant Games.

    First released on the Xbox 360 in 2011, Bastion benefited from the pre-release hype-train. In the lead up to the game’s launch, it was nominated for two awards at the 2011 Independent Games Festival award and took home some Best of E3 awards. Moreover, it headlined Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade campaign.

    Bastion throws players into the shoes of “The Kid” as he awakens to find his world destroyed by the Calamity. Despite the world being in ruin, a path forms as The Kid steps outside his house. A path that eventually leads to humanity’s last bastion. While the initial mystery hooks players in, they stay for the beautiful art, great music, deep action-RPG gameplay, and a disembodied voice that narrates The Kid’s every move.

  • Release: September 14, 2012

    If you’ve ever watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and thought, “that looks like fun.” Then, you better add FTL: Faster Than Light to your wish list right now.

    FTL is a spaceship simulator with roguelike mechanics. As the captain, your job is to control a spacecraft and its crew on a critical, cross-galaxy mission. Along the way, you’ll fight hordes of enemy ships, upgrade yours, and (hopefully) preserve your crew until the bitter end.

    Since its release in September 2012, FTL has enjoyed a steady stream of praise. Plus, it’s widely regarded as one of the games to kickstart the modern resurgence of the roguelike subgenre.

  • Release: June 26, 2014

    Developed by Yacht Club Games, Shovel Knight first hit newsfeeds in 2013 for its successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. During a time when many big publishers were holding out on classic franchises like Castlevania and Mega Man, many put their money — $311,502, in fact — behind a game heavily inspired such classics.

    While many would’ve been happy with a competent retro platformer, Yacht Club Games far exceeded expectations. Shovel Knight was a budget title with polish and refinement that rivaled games four times its price.

    However, work on Shovel Knight didn’t end at launch as the Kickstarter stretch goals promised additional content. And boy, did Yacht Club Games deliver. Since launch, the developer has added three full campaigns (King of Cards, Plague of Shadows, and Specter of Torment), two extra modes (body swap and challenge), the ability to play the game entirely in co-op, and a standalone battle mode (Shovel Knight Showdown). All at no extra cost.

  • Release: September 15, 2015

    It’s easy to write off Undertale in favor of bigger budget games. However, players that take the dive are rewarded with an experience like no other.

    Developed entirely by Toby Fox, Undertale is an odd RPG heavily influenced by Nintendo’s RPG series Mother. In it, you play as a child that’s fallen into the Underground, a realm where monsters rule. In order to escape, you’ll have to either spare or kill the monsters.

    While that premise might seem like your typical RPG, the choice to kill or spare your enemies has major repercussions on the story. Repercussions so big that players immediately start a new save file upon beating it.

  • Release: February 26, 2016

    Stardew Valley is the perfect antithesis to the fast-paced nature of modern gaming. If you’re anything like me, you sometimes enjoy kicking up your feet and immersing yourself in a relaxing gaming experience.

    On its surface, Stardew Valley is nothing more than a retro-inspired farming simulator. But beneath the surface, this mix between Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing is surprisingly deep and all sorts of satisfying.

  • Release: March 31, 2016

    Hyper Light Drifter is what you get when you put The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Diablo in a blender. This top-down, action-RPG is stunningly beautiful. In fact, its neon-hued motif and memorable musical score create a lasting impression. It’s no surprise that 24,150 people backed it on Kickstarter.

    While its difficulty has seen comparisons Dark Souls, Hyper Light Drifter’s countless secrets keep seasoned vets coming back for more.

  • Release: August 8, 2017

    In August 2014, Ninja Theory challenged the idea that indie games can’t have AAA production values. In what the company termed “Independent AAA”, Ninja Theory strived for “to make a game that looks and feels AAA, but is smaller, has focused gameplay, and is sold for the price of a DVD movie.” What resulted from such a proposition was Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

    Released on the PlayStation 4 and PC in 2017, Hellblade revitalized the action-adventure game genre by combining hack and slash combat with puzzle solving and horror elements. It also eliminated the heads-up display. Instead, relying on visual and audio clues to signify progression and damage. This results in an intense and immersive experience.

  • Release: January 25, 2018

    Whether you’re empowered by the game’s story or just enjoying its tight platforming, there’s just so much to love about Celeste.

    This one took the industry by storm in January of 2018 — and it’s easy to see why. At face value, Celeste is a precision platformer with stylized pixel graphics. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see how it tastefully tackles mature subject matter like anxiety and depression.

    With easy to learn yet hard to master platforming, masterful level design, a transcendent soundtrack, and tons of post-game content, Celeste is an absolute must own.

  • Release: August 7, 2018

    Developed by Motion Twin, Dead Cells gives the player control of a reanimated corpse and tasks them with traversing the game’s procedurally generated castle. In typical rouge-lite fashion, you die a lot. But your upgrades survive the grave to help you advance further with every run.

    The slick combat, staggering variety, and unrivaled replayability make Dead Cells a worthwhile addition to anybody’s library.

  • Release: September 20, 2019

    Released at the tail end of 2019, Untitled Goose Game captures the very essence indie gaming. It’s unique, it’s memorable, it’s fun, and it gets people talking.

    In Untitled Goose Game, you control a mischievous goose that’s dead set on causing as much havoc as possible. Using the goose’s limited abilities, players complete a checklist of tasks to advance further in the campaign. Tasks range from stealing garden supplies to causing two neighbors to fight.

    Were there more technically sound games released in the 2010s that could have made this list in Untitled Goose Game’s stead? Probably. But specs aren’t everything. People love games because they are fun and unique. And I challenge you to find something more fun and unique than this one.

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