GAMINGbible’s Essential Indie Video Games Of The Decade
To complement our 25 best games of the decade list, which you can find here, we've put together this list of 20 essential indie games from the past 10 years.
You won't find Celeste, Super Hexagon or Outer Wilds below, as they made it into our top 25. Some of the games below came very, very close to making that cut-off, too. One thing all of the games here have, however, is something special - a gameplay mechanic, atmospheric quality or stylistic motif that stands the test of time quite triumphantly.
Sam Barlow, 2015
While the rest of the industry was acting like full-motion video games had been left behind in the 1990s, Sam Barlow had other ideas. Her Story is a brilliantly inventive twist on FMV games of the past, where film is cut up and sorted into categories based on keywords and search terms. It asks you to work out if the sole person seen in the game's footage, Hannah Smith (played by Viva Seifert), is guilty or innocent of the murder of her husband. Your tools of investigation: a 1994 PC and over 250 interview clips to work through. Naturally, nothing much is as black or white as it first seems. Mike Diver
Concerned Ape, 2016
Stardew Valley is an utterly charming farming sim that looks simple enough on the surface, but hides an astonishing amount of depth. Starting off as an outsider from the city, it's down to you to restore your granddad's farm to its former glory, engage with a beautifully fleshed-out cast of characters in the rural community, and uncover the many mysteries of the game's whimsical world.
Equal parts Harvest Moon, The Legend of Zelda, and Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley is an engrossing, detailed, and wonderfully immersive experience that continues to surprise, even dozens of hours in... Which is just as well, given that time passes in the blink of an eye when you're playing this one. Ewan Moore
Into the Breach
Subset Games, 2018
Sci-fi turn-based strategy where every wrong move matters, massively, Into the Breach is high-stakes stuff that tests your composure from the outset. Mankind is under incredible threat, fighting back with mechs against an invading alien force by the name of the Vek. Across a series of islands, where the enemy and natural elements alike lay siege to your units, you must repel your opponents and keep humans and essential infrastructure safe from (too much) harm. Fail at any point and your main pilot can teleport back in time to try again - but fallen comrades remain dead in the dirt. It might look cute, but Into the Breach is a harsh game of life, death, and loads and loads of missiles. Mike Diver
What Remains of Edith Finch
Giant Sparrow, 2017
Giant Sparrow's follow-up to 2012's The Unfinished Swan is a provocative masterpiece of interactive melancholy, offering a series of meditative vignettes on death and loss, framed within the structure of an ever-collapsing family tree. What Remains of Edith Finch may look, at first impression, like a very pretty walking simulator; but each and every new play-along excursion into the past of its titular brood reveals uncommon design ingenuity. From left-side/right-side brain reprogramming in the company of a fantasising fish factory worker, to a bathtime tragedy that'll stay with any parent who plays this, Edith Finch consistently rewards with its invention even while turning the heart upside down with its story. Mike Diver
In an era where video games started to become increasingly obsessed with showing off how big they could go, Playdead stepped into the ring with Limbo: a thoughtful whisper of a puzzle platformer amidst the shouting and grandiose of big-budget AAA titles.
Limbo told a wordless - and often shockingly gruesome - story that pushed the player through a series of increasingly unsettling environments, introducing new mechanics and gameplay elements along the way. Most of us probably didn't even know exactly why we continued to press on through Limbo's unsettling world until the very end, which is why it's all the more impressive that we did. Ewan Moore
The game that answered the question: what if a shooter, but also a puzzler, and kind of a racer, too? Hotline Miami oozes style and cool from its title screen onwards. Its music creeps under your skin with the same slow-mo unease that comes through in the game's story. Nothing about this game is healthy, but it all feels so good. And while Hotline Miami's neo-noir influences are worn proudly, nothing about this game feels done before - even played several years later, its blood-streaked freshness is striking. Mike Diver
The first time I played Journey, I felt my jaw genuinely drop and my hairs stand on end at every masterfully executed set piece and playful design surprise. It's a game that's able to do so much with relatively little, eliciting more emotion in the space of a few hours than most AAA titles manage over their entire runtime.
Using a gorgeous, sweeping score, stunning visuals, and simple gameplay, thatgamecompany crafted an experience that will stay with me forever. It's a cold soul that comes away from Journey unaffected. Ewan Moore
Superhot Team, 2016
The central mechanic to Superhot - that time in the game only moves when you do, meaning enemies and projectiles remain stationary until you edge in any given direction - seems like it must've been done before. But while that's probably true - somewhere, in the past, there's always precedent - Superhot's execution of its core idea is so slick and so immediate that it's become the proverbial patient zero of such gameplay. You get it straight away, and from there comes escalation aplenty. It's also one of the most incredible VR experiences you can strap to your face, given the chance. Mike Diver
Night School, 2016
A traditional excursion to a (mostly) abandoned island becomes a nightmare for a small group of teens in this creepy debut from Night School, a studio co-founded by a former Telltale Games staffer. The influence of Telltale's graphic adventures is evident here, but Oxenfree's dialogue system is smoother and more refined than what came before it; and while the game might look simple of visuals rather than being especially showy, it still shocks and surprises a number of times. Oxenfree is a cult horror classic that you're going to have to play twice to really 'get', but when you do, the experience will never leave you. Mike Diver
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
Ninja Theory, 2017
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When Ninja Theory set out to make Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, they aimed to achieve two things. Firstly, to create a game with AAA production values on a budget. Secondly, to portray the terrifying realities of psychosis in the most accurate way possible.
It's safe to say that the studio succeeded on both counts. Hellblade is a stunning piece of work in every sense of the word. A gorgeous, challenging, fascinating effort that puts players in the role of a character struggling with her inner demons - both real and imagined - in unflinching detail. Ewan Moore
Night in the Woods
Infinite Fall, 2017
Night in the Woods is a stunning effort for many reasons, but what elevates it to Game Of The Decade material is the way it treats heavier issues like depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and abuse.
Specifically, it treats them as a part of everyday life - not demons to slay or an issue to resolve before the credits roll, but things that are always there. Things that are part of us and that we simply have to learn to live with as we move forward. The way the game conveys these issues through razor-sharp dialogue and inventive gameplay is inspired stuff, and deserving of all the praise heaped upon it. Ewan Moore
Team Cherry, 2017
I think about Hollow Knight a lot. I'll often sit on the train home and think about its crunchy, exceedingly difficult combat. I think about its charming visual style and masterfully-designed, interconnected labyrinth of a world, with all its rich lore.
I think about the majesty of the City Of Tears, and the game's haunting score. I think about the distant hum of the cartographer, hidden someone just out of sight and eager to sell me a new map. I think about Hollow Knight so much, because it's more than one of the best indie games of this decade - it's quite possibly the best Metroidvania of all time. Ewan Moore
Untitled Goose Game
House House, 2019
Equal parts stealth sandbox and... um, goose simulator, I guess, Untitled Goose Game is the perfect example of a simple concept executed to perfection. Every beautifully animated flap, waddle and honk brings unbridled joy as you familiarise yourself with the goings-on of the town and its residents, and come up with new ways to cause them pain. I don't often say that everyone should play a certain game, but... everyone should play this game. Ewan Moore
The Fullbright Company, 2013
A tender tale told with care and attention, Gone Home is one of the most pioneering indie games of the last decade, embracing the slow burn like few projects before it. At its heart it's a tale of discovery, of secrets being revealed and a family coming to terms with what was under its nose the whole time. Its central themes - awakened sexuality and shady pasts - mightn't have truly universal appeal to the gaming masses, but such is the empathy this game engenders in its player that it can't not affect you, whoever you are. Mike Diver
The Binding of Isaac
Edmund McMillen, 2011
What makes The Binding of Isaac so brilliant is that no two runs through the anarchic dungeon crawler/shooter/RPG/whatever you want to call it are ever the same. Thanks to randomly generated rooms and a (frankly ridiculous) number of items, powerups, enemies, and traps, you can sink hours into the game and never see the same thing twice.
I, for example, once came across a magic poop that let me fire powerful rainbow tears from every direction. I don't know if I'll ever see that magic poop again. Just like life, it's the variety that makes The Binding of Isaac so spicy. Ewan Moore
Yacht Club Games, 2014
The amount of shovel-related puns that were unearthed when Shovel Knight first launched were a miner problem, I admit. Dig a little deeper though, and you'll find that Yacht Club Games crafted a gorgeous love letter to the 8-bit era with its charming 2014 platformer.
Shovel Knight managed to take gamers everywhere on an adventure that paid tribute to the past while still offering plenty of its own ideas. A genuine modern classic, full of tight gameplay, inventive level design, challenging bosses and a soundtrack that slaps... so damn hard. Ewan Moore
Toby Fox, 2015
Sometimes, games are best left undescribed. In the case of Undertale, that's because I don't really know how to best summarise it in a paragraph. Toby Fox's role-player is a cornucopia of comedic monsters, terrifying dread, hellish battles, extraordinary kindness, and life-or-death moments that ripple through the entire experience, their consequences unclear until they slap you in the face. It's so odd, and so extraordinary, that it's best, even with a few years between release and today, to go into Undertale as cold as possible, and let the game carry you in its chosen direction. Mike Diver
FTL: Faster Than Light
Subset Games, 2012
AKA high blood pressure, a sci-fi simulator. There are moments in FTL that will just destroy you, as you fight against incredible odds to keep your spaceship together, moving, fleeing danger. Moments where crew members are cut off and abandoned for some misplaced concept of the greater good; where distress calls can lead you not to the aid of a stricken ship but to your ultimate doom. FTL is hard, hard, hard - and with its roguelike structure, no two playthroughs are the same. Get it right, and the elation is hard to beat. Get it wrong, and the crush is palpable. Mike Diver
Return of the Obra Dinn
Lucas Pope, 2018
Lucas Pope's Papers, Please marked him as a developer with frightening ability, able to reach into the player and squeeze their very soul. Obra Dinn is slightly less harrowing, but its wonderfully minimalist visuals and time-travelling detective work ensure it's a truly singular proposition, again. Cast as an investigator looking into what awful fate befell the crew of a ghost ship, the player works backwards through the history of the vessel, piecing together threads of storyline until a whole is magically created. This is a game that not only looks smart, but really rewards the player for their own intelligence, too. Mike Diver
I've never hated a game as much as I love Cuphead. The impossibly charming, eye-wateringly difficult run-and-gun shooter manages to draw players in with its gorgeous hand-drawn visuals and delightful soundtrack, before throwing you into a fiery gauntlet of brutally challenging boss battles that demand constant attention and the sharpest reflexes.
And yet in spite of that... the feeling of sweet relief when you've finally conquered a boss in Cuphead is a special kind of high - one that's usually followed by the crushing low of meeting a new boss that you feel you're never going to best. Ewan Moore