The explosion of independent gaming always seemed like it was right around the corner just waiting for the proper events to fall into place. It’s tough to know whether it was the sponsoring of indie games on major consoles (Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare, etc.), the power of viral networking, Roger Ebert’s controversial remarks or the evolution of mobile technologies that made the difference. But it’s safe to say that we’ve entered a new chapter in the young history of video games.
Although the developers of these independently made games sometimes differ widely in their mission or motivation, one thing is clear: independent gaming is beginning to attain a place of influence on par with major developers and has challenged the way we think about our games. Here’s our countdown of 10 independent games that matter.
10. Plants Vs. Zombies (2009)
We want to start off the list with a game that represents one of the primary things independently-made games are doing in the industry right now: widening the market. With the release of the Nintendo Wii in 2006, the “casual gamer” was suddenly the sought-after market that everyone was after. Plants Vs. Zombies was one of the first ultra-successful games that transitioned from being an independently made PC game to gross over a million dollars in gross sales in just its first nine days of release on iOS. Proving that Angry Birds wasn’t just an isolated anomaly, its remarkable launch made it the fastest selling iPhone launch app ever. Plus, its really fun to play.
9. Super Meat Boy (2010)
Super Meat Boy is the product of Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen, two friends who put a staggering, 18-months of development into this 400-level platformer. Don’t let the game’s silly characters mislead you: Super Meat Boy’s grueling difficulty and intelligent level design have caused some to refer to it as this next generation’s Super Mario. Super Meat Boy is a powerful declaration that independent developers could do what major developers were doing (and even do it better without the restraints of publishers).
Available on Steam for PC. Also Available for download at the Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare.
8. Flower (2009)
Flower is in some ways an answer to the industry’s obsession with over-the-top violence. In this game, the experience and perception of beauty, peace and nature by player becomes supremely more significant than “beating the game.” The developers call Flower “an interactive poem exploring the tension between urban and nature.” Flower is a downloadable game on the PlayStation Network that has the player controlling the wind as they move flower pedals through various environments using the accelerometer on the PlayStation controller. In describing the game, one of the developers said they “had this concept that every PlayStation is like a portal in your living room, it leads you to somewhere else. I thought; wouldn’t it be nice if it was a portal that would allow you to be embraced by nature.”
Available for download on PlayStation Network.
7. Machinarium (2009)
While gameplay mechanics might disqualify the medium from being “art” in the traditional understanding of the word, what about when there is awe-inspiring art encapsulated within the game itself? In Machinarium, we follow the simple story of an exiled robot as he makes his way back into the city and help him solve environmental puzzles to move forward. Each scene is beautiful and incredibly detailed, often making playing through the game like getting inside the mind of the artist and playing around with different parts of the scene. Machinarium will stir your senses and leave a lasting impression on you, we promise!
Available for download for PC and Mac.
6. Limbo (2010)
Among the heaps and heaps of games available for download in either the App Store or Xbox Live Marketplace, it’s pretty difficult to stand out in the eyes of mainstream audiences (not to mention that the fact that side-scrolling platformers are one of the most common kinds of independent games these day). Limbo, however, managed to do just that last year. Bringing in an endless string of awards and critical acclaim, Limbo found audiences with not just indie game aficionados, but with gamers of all sorts. The game’s visual style reintroduced gamers to German Expressionism and film noir as they followed the young boy through the edges of hell (or limbo) in search for his missing sister. Like all great stories, the details are left up to interpretation, but the emotion behind the experience is staggeringly heartfelt.
Available for download on Xbox Live Arcade.