Playing indie games is a great way to find inspiration to help you come up with new game ideas. As a developer, the more involved you are in the indie game scene, the easier it is to get creative and brainstorm winning concepts. It’s important to play a lot of different indie games from classics to newer popular titles to everything in-between. Variety is key. It’s the best way to jumpstart your creativity.
So to help get you started, here’s our list of 12 indie games that you should play and study for inspiration.
Let’s dive right in!
1. Terraria (Available on Steam / PC, Consoles & Mobile)
One of the first titles on our list of must-play indie games is Terraria. Developed by the teams at Re-Logic and 505 Games, Terraria is a 2D sandbox-style action adventure. In the game, players get to dig, collect, explore, fight and even build their own city.
Exploring, crafting, and building is the central focus of the game. However, what makes this indie gem stand out is the insane amount of content and replay value. There are multiple worlds filled with endless enemies to fight and items to collect.
Thousands of different types of items can be collected or crafted to build platforms, advanced weaponry, armor or accessories in the game. In addition to mining, players also encounter EPIC boss battles which take on a life of its own. To battle some boss characters, players have to create their own arena and craft unique weapons and armor.
The challenge and variety in Terraria is a great example of how you can use items and different modes to add replay value to your game. There’s always something new or challenging to do in Terraria.
2. Limbo (Available on Steam / PC, Consoles & Mobile)
Playdead’s Limbo is a unique puzzle platformer that takes players on a bone-chilling adventure through a dark, mysterious world. As players, guide a lost boy through a pitch-black forest they’ll run into hidden traps, rolling boulders, and even giant spiders.
Out of all of the indie games on this list, Limbo is probably one of the darkest and most praised. Playdead did an excellent job of creating a dangerous world that’s as challenging as it is terrifying. From the black-and-white minimalist art style in Limbo to the game’s perplexing puzzles, it’s no surprise why it’s won so many accolades. Limbo was named ‘Game of the Year’ and ‘Best Indie Game’ in 2010. It also earned numerous awards for innovation and visual art.
3. Fez (Available on Steam / PC, Consoles & Mobile)
Although epic boss battles and giant menacing spiders can be cool, it’s not necessary to make your game great. Giving players a unique gaming experience and a real challenge can be just as effective. An excellent example of this is the puzzle based platformer called Fez.
In Fez, players must help Gomez, a cute 2D creature living in a 2D world that’s suddenly disrupted when a hexahedron rips through the fabric of space and time. Now gifted with the power to manipulate his world by rotating platforms and landscapes 90 degrees to the left or right, Gomez must restore order back to the universe by finding all of the lost cubes, and it’s fragments.
There’s no enemies, special missions, or bosses to conquer in Fez. The only task is finding those missing cubes. The game’s environment itself is the puzzle.
“Perspective is reality.” – Fez
Fun Fact: Fez influenced hit mobile games like Monument Valley and Crossy Road with its colorful visuals and game mechanics.
4. Super Meat Boy (Available on Steam / PC, Consoles & Mobile)
Super Meat Boy is one of those indie games that stick with you. Not only is the name memorable but the 300+ challenging levels are something that’s not easily forgotten. In the game, you must help Meat Boy as he tries to rescue his girlfriend Bandage Girl from the sinister Dr. Fetus. Sound fun, right?!
The game features a retro art style and mechanics similar to the iconic Super Mario Bros. It’s easy to learn but hard to master. Like most basic platformers players have to run, jump and maneuver up and down walls but the game’s strategic enemy placement makes it difficult. You’ll find yourself determined to beat the game. Super Meat Boy also features fast respawns and tight controls that are worth observing.
Fun Fact: Both indie games, Super Meat Boy and Fez, were featured in the documentary film, ‘Indie Game: The Movie.’ The film documents the struggles of independent game developers Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes during the development of Super Meat Boy as well as Fez creator, Phil Fish.
5. Stardew Valley (Available on Steam / PC, Consoles)
Stardew Valley is definitely one of those indie games that’s sure to inspire you. It took four years in the making, but developer Eric Barone managed to create the entire game solo. He was inspired by the simulation and role-playing game called Harvest Moon and went to work on making his own masterpiece. Published by Chucklefish, it went on to sell well over one million copies.
In the game, players inherit their grandfather’s worn down farm in a small town called Stardew Valley. They have to rebuild the farm and create a new life for themselves in the remote country setting. There’s a variety of tasks that players have to complete from tending to crops and livestock to crafting goods and mining for resources. There’s also a social aspect that requires players to build friendships with the local townspeople, search for romance and even get married.
6. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (Available on Steam / PC, Consoles)
Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is a retro-style 2D platformer comparable to Zelda II that uses a unique digging mechanic. In the game, players must guide a knight armed with a shovel on an epic quest to collect treasure and take down an evil militia known as the Order of No Quarter. Instead of the traditional sword, players use a handy shovel to destroy the baddies, find treasure, break through walls and save the day. There’s also a variety of unique levels, hidden zones, upgrades, and power-ups. Shovel Knight is an excellent example of a solid retro platformer.
Also like many indie games, Shovel Knight was developed after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
7. Minecraft (Available on Steam / PC, Consoles & Mobile)
You can’t have a list of indie games without mentioning Minecraft. Currently, it’s still one of the top-ranked games on mobile and the second best-selling video game of all-time with over 120 million copies sold. Minecraft is a legend. From the numerous awards to the loyal hardcore fan base, there’s something special about this game. If you haven’t yet played, it’s worth experiencing.
Modeled after Dwarf Fortress and Infiniminer, Minecraft is an open sandbox style building game where players explore, mine resources and create their own world using blocks. What you create in Minecraft is entirely up to you. The game is all about mining, building and crafting different objects to help you survive.
Although Minecraft might not be your cup of tea in terms of gameplay, there’s always something that you can learn or that might inspire you in your own game development. In upcoming posts, we’ll be exploring Minecraft and Markus ‘Notch’ Persson’s development strategies for success further, so be on the lookout for that.
8. Rocket League (Available on Steam / PC, Consoles)
Rocket League is one of the rare indie games that has managed to cross over and become extremely popular with mainstream players. Developed and published by Psyonix, Rocket League is a soccer game on wheels. Players are divided into two teams to face off in a dome arena soccer match while driving rocket-powered cars. Creative, right?!
Similar to a regular soccer game, players must knock the ball in the opposing team’s goal while protecting their team’s goal area. When you add rocket-powered vehicles into the mix, it’s nothing short of amazing. The game also features some advanced game modes that allow players to participate in ice hockey and basketball style matches.
Fun Fact: Rocket League is the sequel to a previous game called Battle-Cars from 2008.
Indie Games in the Mobile Scene
9. Angry Birds (Available on Mobile, Consoles, Steam)
One of the first indie games to take the App Store by storm was Angry Birds. Released in 2009 by Rovio Entertainment, it’s a casual puzzle game that’s as addicting as it is challenging. In Angry Birds, players are in command of a group of angry birds that are on a rescue mission for their stolen eggs. A gang of greedy pigs have taken them and are hiding out in little shelters made of wood, glass, blocks, and stone. Armed with just a slingshot players must fling the wingless birds to knock down the structures and take down the pesky pigs.
Since it’s release, Angry Birds has sold millions of copies and won multiple awards. There’s over a dozen spin-offs of the game, merchandise, toys, TV series, and even a successful animated film based on the indie hit.
10. Geometry Dash (Available on Mobile, PC & Steam)
Geometry Dash is cool rhythm-based platform game created by Robert Topala. Although the primary concept is simple, a cube character that jumps over obstacles, the game is much more than it appears at first glance. Players have no control of the speed that their character is moving, it’s entirely synced with the rhythm of the soundtrack playing in the background.
Players must tap to jump or fly over spikes and attempt to squeeze through tiny passageways. The timing and rhythm of the game’s music are what makes it exciting as well as challenging. Each level features a different soundtrack and colorful visuals.
There are 21 core levels in Geometry Dash, but the game also features a level editor and millions of user-created levels that can be played. It’s a great example of how a relatively simple concept can be tweaked into something unique and fresh.
11. Color Switch (Available on Mobile)
Of course, we can’t talk about inspiring indie games without bringing up Color Switch. The game was originally created by David Reichelt in under a week using Buildbox. Since it’s release, Color Switch has amassed over 180 million downloads. It’s also managed to hold its position at the top of the charts consistently. In fact, it held the No.1 spot on the U.S. charts for a ground-breaking 27 consecutive days, demolishing Flappy Bird’s 22-day streak.
Color Switch is an addicting arcade game with a simple objective: Tap to pass through the obstacles. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Players have to tap to get their ball through different rotating shapes. The ball will quickly change color along with different sections of the obstacles. The ball must match the color of the barrier to pass through. If you try to pass through after the color has quickly switched, it’s game over.
12. Monument Valley (Available on Mobile)
Last but not least, on our list of inspiring indie games is Ustwo Games’ Monument Valley. If you haven’t played this game yet, you’re in for a treat. Monument Valley is a beautiful puzzler that feels more like a piece of interactive art than a game.
In Monument Valley, players must guide a silent princess named Ida through different deserted monuments on a mysterious mission of forgiveness. As you travel through each maze-like memorial, you’ll encounter pesky crow people who try to block your path, hidden levers, and secret pathways. There are only ten levels in the game, but it’s engrossing. It’s easy to get lost in this picturesque world.
Monument Valley has sold over 26 million copies and won the 2014 Apple Design Award along with other accolades. There’s also a sequel to the game that’s worth checking out too. It’s called Monument Valley 2 and was released exclusively on iOS this year.
What are the indie games that inspire you to make games? Share your favorites with us in the comments section below!