Sometimes it’s easy to forget that amidst the swarm of AAA games populating online ads, trailers, and TV air-time, there lies the “lesser” games. The games that house just as much hard-work, dedication, commitment, and gun-firing bullets. I think that casual gamers are too often suckered into the sizable budget of household names such as Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty etc. If you penetrate the smoke and mirrors illusion of mass advertising, you’ll notice that your eyes become bigger, wider, and acknowledge that greater, simpler delights await beyond. Indie games can stand their ground and then some. Some of these meticulously crafted titles usually have smaller teams rife with passion and are usually not constrained by yearly deadlines. The last few years have produced some stellar games that can even go as far as being regarded as all-time greats, and I’m going to identify some of these masterpieces today. All subjective of course, but let’s give praise to what I believe to be the 12 best indie games from the eighth generation of gaming.
“In this world, it’s kill or be killed”.
Possibly the quintessential independent game of the generation. This bizarre RPG is truly the encapsulation of solid execution, ironic really as the game encourages the player to pacify every enemy in the game. Undertale is a true underdog that makes the most of its retro image and celebrates its visual representation of a bygone era by filling itself with so many memorable characters, foes, situations, and catchy-as-hell spooktunes!
There’s a reason why Undertale is still frequently talked about several years later. This is the lasting impression that Sans, Papyrus, Flowey, Professor Alphys, and many more have left on society. The ingenious nature of the gameplay and the way in which the game effortlessly flows like a fart in the wind is something that every gamer should welcome into their hearts.
Hotline Miami was recently covered in our 10 Sequels We Desperately Need To See on PS5 piece, and it’s absolutely reappearing here too. Any excuse to talk about this slick franchise is a privilege that I will never pass up. Two games that essentially spawned a new genre. Breakneck puzzle murder. Kinda catchy isn’t it? Hotline Miami unashamedly revels in its dark themes and appropriately rewards players for their quick, thoughtful, killing. The games feature small levels filled with mobsters out for your head, only your head can only take one hit and flatline Miami. The beauty of each “puzzle” is working out the best route, the most efficient route, and the most score-worthy path of destruction.
Throw in an arsenal of fiendish life-ending implements, a collection of diverse levels rife with replayability, and you have two games that amassed a big cult following for these very reasons. Now we can have Hotline Miami III? Please?
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
The game that truly opened my eyes to the ever-changing universe of the roguelike. A series of foe-filled-funhouses that randomly generate every time you step into its lair. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a far more complete version of its 2011 counterpart. Our tortured protagonist, Isaac, is innocently enjoying the fruitful nature of youth, when his dear sweet mother is overcome by the religious voices inhabiting her sound waves. Believing Isaac to be fueled by sin, she seeks to rid him of his non-existent torment, in-turn, forcing Isaac into the house’s basement, AKA his test.
A game that truly opened the world’s eyes to the roguelike genre – with myself being a proud beneficiary of this near-infinite concept. Every run feels unique, every room feels different to the last, and your run will be determined by what mysterious loot you can desperately get your hands as you venture further. Isaac’s tears can only do so much, which is why tarot cards, laser tears, and poop will all be necessary evils to tackle the lord of Hell himself.
Enter The Gungeon
It’s only fitting that we segue from one insane roguelike game…to one that ups the ante even more. “What can be crazier than a small child blinking knives from his eyes?!”. Then picture an almighty priest with a gun for a head battling a Marine wielding a frog. No? Ok. How about incurring the wrath of a living Iron Maiden whilst wielding a shell that fire shotguns? NO? Fine. How about having your arse chewed up by a giant, ripped eagle, with a Gatling Gun sporting more abs than The Expendables whilst you defend yourself with a banana???? There you go.
Needless to say that Enter The Gungeon doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s for the best really. This game is equal parts hilarious, and fiendishly difficult. Utilizing the same formula of The Binding of Isaac, Enter The Gungeon offers multiple characters – each with their own idiosyncrasies – the chance to descend into the Gungeon and find different weapons (usually parodying popular culture) and items to overcome the odds. It’s endless replayable and brings a whole new meaning to bullet time.
You knew it was going to feature in this list at some point, so let’s just acknowledge this sumptuous side of sadism right now. A huge game now, but originally Cuphead was still a little under the radar. It looked like a cute oddity, but could it deliver on its promises of being a brilliant barrage of boss battles? Yes there are run and gun levels, but that’s not why we play this game people. You live for those 2-minute affairs with amusing opponents that want to end you quicker than a chocolate bar in a child’s hand. Who knew a clown could be so vicious? I just didn’t see IT coming.
There are few, if any, bosses that don’t leave a lasting impression. Cuphead is the definition of magic in a bottle. Millions of sales later, a belated Cuphead PS4 port later, and this game is very much in the conversation for indie game of the generation. Wallop!
Dust: An Elysian Tail
Suffice to say this will be the most unheralded title of the bunch. Just another free PS Plus game that nearly eluded me, until I decided to give it a crack one day. Boy am I glad I did. Its entrancing art style is something to marvel at and it would sit comfortably in the Louvre. Dust is a strong protagonist capable of ending enemy hoards and Fidget…Fidget is so frickin adorable! The environments are all popping and feature lots of intricate details.
The action is crisp and fluid, the enemies are varied and vicious, and did I mention this game is breathtakingly gorgeous? It’s not too late to dip your toes into this rich, bountiful tail.
I feel Guacamelee doesn’t get even half the love that its outlandish nature deserves. A brave luchador that can seamlessly transition between realities, using his famed wrestling moves to topple overwhelming odds is a strange mix that works far too well. Did I also mention that you turn into a chicken that hold its own and completes clever puzzles that make Lara Croft look like a novice?
The platforming in the Guacamelee games is criminally overlooked in favour of more established franchises. It’s true that the sequel is very similar to its predecessor, but that’s not a bad thing in anyway shape or form. Guacamelee! 2 had me crying laughing for the most part and crying at its difficult endgame sections. It certainly had me intensely focused to the very end. A worthy addition to the Metroidvania genre and absolutely needs to have Juan more match on the PlayStation 5.
From the outside, TowerFall Ascension looks like a complicated, construction of chaos that requires you to have 6 eyes, lightning reflexes and tactical nous – and that’s exactly right. There is so much going on during a game of TowerFall Ascension that it’s easy for you to become transfixed on the wrong aspect of the screen, and before you know it someone is plunging from the top of the screen straight into your bested brain.
Battling through the campaign is an arduous slog (a fun one) that will test every facet of your patience and skill, whereas multiplayer will do exactly the same, but also test the friendships you’ve built up in your life to this point. A classic multiplayer title that will arrow its way into your serotonin levels.
Described by its heinous creators as “Rhythm Violence”. Thumper is an outstanding example of ingenuity and sadism. Each level of Thumper’s brutal brilliance is narrated by a sinister tune that increases in speed and difficulty, and its united by a time signature indicative of the player’s point in the level. Your faster-than-light beetle’s torment is being controlled by a creature that becomes more grotesque and devilish with every new chapter. Which is why its imperative you match the beats of the level to stop your beetle being beaten into juice.
Thumper is undoubtedly my favourite rhythm game ever. I’ve noted that several games on this list require a little bit more in the awareness department, but the passive-aggressive nature of the game’s ferocity, mixed with the breakneck speed of the later levels mean that Thumper is hypnotic, must-play torture-fun.
When Dark Souls Met Sally. Kind of.
Hollow Knight beats to the familiar, an unfriendly, drum of having a cutsie-tootsie looking game that will systematically break you mentally, and physically, if you do not adhere to its tight – and brutal – gameplay. The game really NAILS the combat as it feels super responsive. The world of Hallownest is populated by lots NPCs that all contribute to the lore of this mysterious kingdom. It’s all very Soulslike, even losing your currency when you die and it having to be retrieved lest it be forsaken forever.
You’ll explore deep, dark mines in the deep, dark night. You’ll wage war with massive monsters that are a fearsome sight. And you’ll walk away with supreme satisfaction after barely surviving a fight.
One final extract from the repertoire of roguelike randomness. I imagine that if roguelike isn’t your cup of tea, then you’re already retching at this list in disgust – but opinions!
Rogue Legacy is a prime example of a roguelike game. A game in which you continually progress…by dying. With each death dawns a new generation of warrior, or ninja, or knight to avenge your fallen ancestor. You must conquer the randomly generated rooms of particular stages to unlock your final challenge. But along the way, you’ll face goofy skeletons, tough bosses, and even remixed versions that are seriously up there in terms of all-time boss difficulty.
As you resurrect through a new character, you maintain keep all your unlocked skills and continually add to them until you’re brushing off Terminator in an arm-wrestling match with one finger. The soundtrack is also the hidden gem of this game too as the music is as endlessly replayable as the game itself. After many years of success, a spiritual successor – Rogue Legacy 2 – finally beckons!
Naturally inspired by masters of a similar craft – Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon – Stardew Valley is a continuation of the simulated life. Stardew Valley dispenses with the premium, high-end graphics that its peers have geared towards in recent years and focuses on delivering a more complete simulated experience. Whereas Animal Crossing: New Horizons has a feeling of brief, day-to-day maintenance, Stardew Valley is a sim to lose hours and days to without a second’s thought for your cat that’s crapping on your carpet in protest as we speak.
Stardew Valley is an all-encompassing game that take hints of Minecraft, Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and others to create a wholesome package that people can become invested in. I mean, where else are you going to raise kids and grow food? Real-lif…..oh.
There you have it. Did you inevitably disagree with any of my selections? Then please hound me in the comments below and let me know which games would have made your 12 best indie games from the eighth generation of gaming.