The five best indie games of all time

Open your heart to some indies.

Image via Greg Lobanov

It took a long time before the games industry realized just how fantastic indie games can be. Unlike triple-A developers, who are usually told what they can and can’t do with a game, indie developers have the freedom to do whatever they want. Thus, we are able to get beautiful, goofy, and wonderfully crafted games that can sometimes tackle difficult subject matter that bigger developers were afraid to, or maybe couldn’t, talk about. Nowadays, publishers see that games that are different can appeal to players and sell well, so now studios are willing to take these projects on with less hesitation. To celebrate indie games everywhere, we want to take a look at some of the best.

Related: The five best indie games of 2021

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Image via Nicalis, Inc.

Related: What does the Dice Room do in The Binding of Isaac?

In The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, you control Isaac, a young boy who’s escaped into his basement after his very religious mother was ordered to kill her son by “a voice from above” who she believes is God. In the game, you will go through multiple stages, fighting enemies and gaining abilities and power-ups that will aid you in your journey. At the end of it, you will fight your mom. However, your journey with the game doesn’t end there. There are 160 unlockables including new items, stages, and characters. You can spend hundreds of hours trying to 100% of this game and every bit of it is worth it.

The Binding of Isaac features multiple endings, and in each ending, you will gain a new piece of this tragic tale that is Isaac’s life. Players learn more about Isaac and his mother than they did in the original game. You feel for the poor kid in each one of these endings and you wish could take him away to a better reality than the one he’s currently living in now.

OneShot

Image via Future Cat LLC

In OneShot, you help guide a young child named Niko who has been tasked to restore the sun to a world that has lost it for years. This may seem like a typical adventure. However, as you explore the dark world and get closer to Niko, you learn they have their own dream: getting back to their village and reuniting with their mom. So now you’re split between choosing to save the world or letting Niko be with their family because you can’t do both. It lives up to the game’s name: you only have one shot. It’s a very difficult decision because you have to choose between the happiness of the world or the well-being of a child who you just met.

In the original game jam, you could only play through the game once, really emphasizing the point that you only had one shot and you had to live with your choices. With the Steam and Nintendo Switch releases, you can wipe your save and replay the game again. However, the game will remember your past choices and comment on them, a la Undertale. Even though you can play through the game multiple times now, these re-releases still carry the same emotional weight the game jam version did back in 2018.

Our Life: Beginning & Always

Image via GB Patch Games

Related: In Our Life, the ‘childhood friends to lovers’ trope becomes a video game

Our Life: Beginning & Always is an interesting visual novel. Where most of its kind have you playing as a teenager or a young adult, Our Life starts you off as a kid, meeting your respective love interest Cove Holden. The two of you grow up together, from children to adults, experiencing life together. 

There are so many other unique aspects about this title that make it stand out compared to other indie titles. At the start of the game, you’re able to create your own character and choose your own pronouns (which can be changed at any time). Though you never see your character, the game will comment on your appearance every so often through dialogue. Another neat feature is that you can choose how your relationship progresses with Cove. Do you want to instantly fall in love with him as children? Or do you want a relationship where you’re cold towards Cove, but you slowly warm up to him? You can do that and the game won’t penalize you for it. 

Our Life is a comforting game that everyone, even non-visual novels fans should play. It’s free, and honestly? It should be a crime that you can get such a delightful game for free.

Wandersong

Image via Greg Lobanov

Wandersong is a musical platforming adventure game where you play a bard who has to save the world from ending. To stop the world from ending, the bard has to perform the Earthsong but you’ll first need to collect different parts of the melody from various individuals known as the Overseers. So, you’ll be exploring the game’s very colorful world, solving puzzles, and talking to the unique cast of characters to try and get these Overseers to get their piece of the Earthsong.

This game has a lot of things going for it. The writing is really well-done, nailing down the humor and the emotional aspects of the game very well. The gameplay, which has you singing via a color wheel that’s used by rotating the control stick or moving your mouse in a direction, never gets boring, and the game always changes how you use this mechanic. The overall world that Wandersong is set in is just so full of life that you can’t help but fall in love with it. Every bit of this world that you see makes you want to save it and of course, having the dorky and happy bard who also keeps seeing the good in everyone and everything, helps fuel your drive to save this dying world as well. Given the dire state the world is in right now with the climate crisis, Wandersong’s heartfelt message really hits home and gives players hope that maybe if we all do something, we can probably still save this world that we all love so much even if it seems too late.

Yume Nikki

Image via kikiyama

Yume Nikki is a game about a girl named Madotsuki, a hikikomori — a recluse that rarely leaves their home due to severe social and/or anxiety disorders — and you exploring her dreams. When you enter her dream world, you’ll have 12 doors to enter, each one having a different dream that you can go to. You have to collect items called effects, to which there are 24, in total spread throughout Madotsuki’s dreams.

Yume Nikki doesn’t have any combat and it has no dialogue. The game focuses on you exploring Madotsuki’s surreal twisted dreams and it does this extremely well. It makes you wonder what these dreams mean, forcing you to piece together this girl’s story and ask yourself why she’s in the position she’s in. Although the game never says outright what the dreams are, the game’s dedicated community has come up with theories and backed them up with solid evidence of what each of Madotsuki’s dreams means. Yume Nikki is a fascinating game that always will be at the back of your mind.