Let’s face it, video games are expensive and take up a lot of our time, and with trivial things like work, family, friends, and general hygiene getting in the way, finding this time to sink into our pastime can be tricky. Likewise, a majority of AAA titles these days tend to abide to the mantra “if it’s not broke don’t fix it”, which, in turn, means we don’t see much innovation within the yearly release titles.
All hope is not lost, though. Thanks to some incredibly inventive and pioneering game designers, we also have a large selection of indie titles out there that are short enough to cram into a single evening session and, more importantly, are arguably some of the best titles we’ve played in a long time.
They may not have got as much time in the spotlight as other titles, but here are five indie games that will blow your mind that you can play right now.
1. INSIDE (2016, Playdead)
Coming from the development team of Limbo, we never expected anything less than outstanding from INSIDE. Much like their previous title, INSIDE is a 2D puzzle platformer that doesn’t pull any punches.
Taking place in a futuristic dystopian world, players take control of a nameless boy in a red jumper and must solve a variety of interesting environmental puzzles to proceed in their journey, and that’s it. Players are thrown straight into the action and are left to figure everything out themselves. With no obvious plot either, clues to the bigger picture are dotted around throughout; it’s up to you to decide for yourself what’s going on – especially with an ending you need to experience for yourself.
What’s so great about this gem is the sense of awe it instils through trial and error alongside how it continuously subverts our expectations through its gameplay mechanics. Death is all part of the fun here, and the wondrous discoveries you’ll make along the way will leave you stunned for long time to come.
2. What Remains of Edith Finch (2017, Giant Sparrow)
The phrase walking simulator might generate some groans amongst readers, and that’s understandable. But whether you’re a fan of this particular subgenre or not, we’d still highly recommend you check out What Remains of Edith Finch.
When the titular and last surviving member of the Finch family returns to her old home to unearth the truth about a possible family curse, What Remains of Edith Finch is a profound, charming, and emotionally devastating adventure mystery that takes you on a tour of the eccentric house via the rooms of deceased family members to discover how they met their untimely ends.
Whilst this sounds like a rather depressing way to spend an evening, the real joy of this game is in the short vignettes themselves. Each of these sequences work as a clever blend of gameplay and narrative to tell a tangibly heartfelt tale, with each one being completely different from the last. To go into any more detail about the specifics of these sequences would be doing a massive disservice to the excitement of uncovering them for yourself – but you won’t be able to think about frogs in the same way again.
3. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013, Starbreeze Studios)
Before they made co-op adventure A Way Out, Swedish developers Starbreeze Studios gave us Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons back in 2013. When the eponymous brothers’ father falls ill, it’s up to the pair to venture into the wilderness to collect a special plant to use as medicine where they must work together to solve puzzles and navigate dangerous eenvironments. The catch? You need to control both brothers simultaneously.
That’s right, unlike traditional two-player co-operation, A Tale of Two Sons requires you to control each character with half of your controller delegated to controlling one brother. It takes strict coordination and rhythm to pull off some of the feats required, but when you do, the satisfaction is wholly gratifying.
Don’t think that this indie title is nothing but a gimmick, though. Despite all dialogue being spoken in a strange language, A Tale of Two Sons tells a very human story about brotherhood, family, and growing up all wrapped in a beautiful and imaginative world.
4. Virginia (2016, Variable State)
Somewhere between a video game and feature film, Virginia is a thrilling and captivating experience that places you in the shoes of newly graduated FBI special agent Anne Tarver as she investigates the disappearance of a missing boy in rural Virginia.
What makes this game truly special from a gameplay perspective is how it makes use of cinematic editing techniques to convey its plot without the need for any dialogue. When walking down a corridor, the game can quickly cut to the player sitting in a car, and cut again to drinking coffee in a diner. Like film, the editing is used to control the pace of the narrative whilst still giving us the necessary information to piece everything together.
The BAFTA-winning music in this game, which was composed by Lyndon Holland and performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, also plays a huge part in this game’s wow factor. As the game has no dialogue, much of the atmosphere is effortlessly reinforced through its score.
Moreover, this game takes a few pages from David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks. From it’s rural setting to similar musical motifs, to the game’s surrealist and bizarre dream sequences and symbolism, Virginia is a game that gets better with each play through – but don’t ask us what the ending means, we’ve not figured that one out yet.
5. Little Nightmares (2017, Tarzier Studios)
Although Little Nightmares may look like it came straight from the mind of Tim Burton, don’t let it’s colourful charms fool you; playing this 2D horror puzzle platformer after dark is certain to give you a lot of nightmares.
The set-up is simple enough. You play as a young raincoat-wearing girl named Six and are tasked with escaping from a nightmarish underwater structure known as The Maw where you will encounter a host of terrifying creatures from a long-armed janitor to a ghostly geisha. The gameplay consists of solving puzzles and escaping from your ghastly pursuers in adrenaline pumping hide-and-seek sequences that’ll leave you breathless.
Much like most of the other entries on this list, the narrative and backstory is largely left up to player to decipher for themselves. But with the addition of extra DLC levels and comics that add to the game’s mythos, the world-building and subsequent fan theories have gotten more interesting over time. What do you think it’s all about? Let us know in the comments below.
Of course, there are many wonderful indie titles out there, these are only a short selection of some of our favourites. If we missed any of your beloved indie gems, feel free to drop them down in the comments, and let us know why you love them.