The Top 100 Indie Games - Part 4

Mischief Maker 2/2/2008  

Here's a list of 100 indie games that I've enjoyed. This list includes freeware games, shareware games, Japanese indie import games, mods, and works in progress (WIP). It does not include browser games. I've tried to spread different genres more evenly around in the list so take the order as more of a general idea of how they rank than an absolute win/lose situation. This is not an exhaustive list and I encourage anyone with games that I forgot to post them in the forum.

#24 - #1!

#23 - Knytt Stories
#24 Kamui (Import)

Similar to Raystorm, but you also have the option of mixing your lightning shots with your main shots to create a massive bullet-destroying beam. The graphics are done in low-res 2D, but what this game pulls off with those scaling sprites is downright amazing.

#23 Knytt Stories (Freeware)

"Within a Deep Forest" was maddeningly difficult. "Knytt" was too easy. Knytt Stories is juuuust right. It's a nonviolent mix of Metroid and Ico designed to be played in relatively short episodes. Makes good use of contextually enhanced creepiness. It includes a level editor and a big fan community hurriedly creating new episodes.

#22 Perfect Cherry Blossom (Import)

Quite possibly the absolute hardest of the Shanghai Alice Bullet Hell shmups, even on easy mode. Where the other Touhou games all have a super hard unlockable extra level, PCB has an extra extra level called phantasm. It also has some of the most memorable songs in the series.

#21 The Ur-Quan Masters (Freeware)

An Open-Source remake of Star Control 2 mixing the best parts of the PC and 3DO versions, complete with voice acting and remixed background music.

#20 Gish (Shareware)

Cartoony physics-based platformer where you play a 12-pound ball of tar using your properties to fling yourself across levels. Your quest is to save your busty human girlfriend, the implications of which are disturbing.

#19 - Warning Forever
#19 Warning Forever (Freeware)

A shmup that consists of neverending boss fights. Each new boss adapts to your playing style. Concentrate on attacking from the front, expect armor plating in the front of the next boss. Get picked off by a beam cannon? Expect the next boss to be bristling with them.

#18 Chromatron (Freeware)

Puzzle game by a former caltrops alum. It's like the Incredible Machine, but only using light puzzles and running with the concept to amazing extremes. It used to be only the first episode was freeware, now all 4 episodes are.

#17 Twin Seeds DX (Freeware)

Shmup in the style of the Shanghai Alice games. It's really not fair to call it a clone because its emphasis on bullet scratching takes the gameplay in a direction the Touhou games never went.

#16 Cave Story (Freeware)

Possibly the most beloved indie game of all time. It's a fantastic metroid-alike with a weird but interesting plot.

#15 - Blue Wish: Resurrection Plus
#15 Blue Wish: Resurrection Plus (Freeware)

More like Blue Wish: Res-Erection! This is an update to one of the all-time best freeware bullet hell shmups on the net with spiffed up graphics, an excellent remixed soundtrack, and the option of accelerating bullets for all 3 difficulty levels. Gameplay is more DoDonPachi than Shanghai Alice.

#14 Magi (Shareware)

A fun real-time strategy game of ritual wizard combat with some of the best music I have ever heard in a video game, indie or mainstream. Note that this is referring to version 1.3, which greatly sped up the pace and made the gaining of spells and stats more straightforward. If the version you tried had a white main menu, you tried the old version.

#13 Trilby: The Art of Theft (Freeware)

A 2D game of stealth by the author of Zero Punctuation. The graphics are pixelly and the controls are wonky but damn if this isn't the most fun I've had with a stealth game since "Thief."

#12 Mountain of Faith (Import)

The most recent of the Shanghai Alice games and the most beautiful by far. The gameplay is back to basics where collecting powerups gives you options which can be sacrificed for bombs. Also includes a flamethrower weapon (Black Witch #3).

#11 Sam & Max: Abe Lincoln Must Die! (Freeware)

Sam & Max live! In episode style! And they've released the most highly praised episode of season 1 for free! Note that the cockroach can be used on a person and can later repeat what they say.

#10 Decker (Freeware)

Based on the computer hacking from the old Shadowrun game, Decker is just about the perfect roguelike. Randomly generated systems crawling with varied IC to deal with, multiple viable strategies for taking on the system, and leveling up not only increases abstract stat numbers, it increases the complexity of the game. Sure the graphics are ass, but Decker is a fantastic free experience with all the good points of roguelikes and none of the headaches.

#9 Armageddon Empires (Shareware)

A post-nuclear apocalypse game that's a cross between a 4X strategy title and Magic: The Gathering. Your random hand of cards determines the units you have available to build, strategic hexes on the map produce the resources necessary to build them. The random factor fits the ragtag mad-max theme and makes for a gameplay experience that's more akin to Bridge than Chess. The AI is excellent, not just because it plays well, but also because it noticeably reacts to your actions and plays in a very convincingly "human" manner. Just do yourself a favor and don't read the background story. It would be difficult to come up with a more disappointing nuclear apocalypse story even if you tried.

#8 The Desolate Room (Freeware)

The less I say about this game, the better. All I'll say is once the initial fetch quest is completed the game really picks up. I think you'll like what you see.

#7 Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space (Shareware)

A fantastic game that plays like a self-contained season of Star Trek and is designed to be finished in 20-minutes or less. Plot courses to unexplored planets, uncover treasures, install new components on your ship, recruit friendly aliens and mercenaries, fight tactical battles against hostiles in pausable real-time, all with a sense of humor about the game and all its inspirations. Classic.

#6 Immortal Defense (Shareware)

This is the best Tower Defense game of all time, but that's not really a fair description because it's akin to calling Half-Life the best Quake clone of all time. In terms of both gameplay and plot, Immortal Defense is head and shoulders above the bloated and simplistic tower defense subgenre. There's a huge assortment of towers to choose from without any "certain enemies are immune to tower type X" cop-outs to artificially increase variety, and there is much more to placement than maximizing the amount of path that lies within their firing ranges. I would rate this game's plot alongside "Planescape," and its themes of the foibles of immortality mixed with its minimal string soundtrack makes this the closest you'll probably ever get to a videogame adaptation of the movie "The Fountain."

#7 - Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space
#5 The Battle of Endor (Freeware)

Ever since I was a little kid, the one movie scene I most wanted to act out was the space battle at the end of Return of the Jedi. And here it is. You play a faceless X-Wing pilot at the Battle of Endor, specifically one who did not enter the Death Star so that it could "concentrate all firepower on that super star destroyer!" It recreates that moment when the TIE fighters swarm in and the guy says "There's... too many of them!" perfectly. The enemies are so numerous that a strategy of simply targeting and shooting down the nearest TIE won't cut it. You need to prioritize amidst the sea of fighters for tie's trailing wingmen and firing on cruisers, all while taking quick potshots at star destroyers that stray close to the fleet with your proton torpedos. Unlike its successor, Battle of Yavin, the action never lets up for dull turret-strafing levels or frustrating trench runs, it's just a nonstop dogfight against near-impossible odds.

There's an incredible and highly recommended graphics update linked to on the same page, but the update doesn't work unless the game is installed to the default directory in program files. I also recommend you DON'T install the music files from the update because they're the exact same songs as the default install, only they sound like they were recorded off a shitty VHS tape. Maybe they're recorded at a higher sample rate and the update-maker had a "MAME dev" moment?

#4 Aquaria (Shareware)

A HUGE combination of Metroid and Ecco the Dolphin. Everything from the beautiful artwork to the music to the little details and side quests mark this game as a labor of love. Make sure to turn on Frame Buffer effects in the setup screen.

#3 Imperishable Night (Import)

Shanghai Alice makes the best Bullet Hell games and Imperishable Night is the best Shanhai Alice game. The transforming character pairs and their ikaruga-like effects on enemy satelites is interesting and fun. The bullet swarms look gorgeous against the dark blue night backgrounds. Both main characters from the series show up as bosses in the game and EVERY boss has a "final spell" bonus round you can play if you pick up the requisite number of time tokens. There are multiple final bosses you can pick between based on a branching path. There's an english translation patch. And finally, this game has the fairest difficulty curve of the bunch. I could totally expect a beginner to be able to handle IN on easy mode. Other games in the series may do certain things better, but for overall quality Imperishable Night is the best.

#2 Deadly Rooms of Death (Shareware)

The best puzzle series of all time. The concept is simple: it's a turn-based game where your character can move in 8 directions and rotate his really big sword in a grid-based room. The room is filled with nasty creatures that follow a basic AI script who try to kill you. Your job is to slay all the monsters to clear the room. The series starts with King Dugan's Dungeon, an older version of which is available as freeware (Direct Link), then Journey to Rooted Hold begins incorporating cinematic moments within the gameplay ala. Half-Life, and The City Beneath is almost a full-fledged RPG with all the puzzle elements intact. The whole hair-pulling series is highly recommended, but especially parts 2 and 3.

#1 The Freespace 2 Source Code Project (Mod)

There was a time when flightstick-controlled space combat sims, like the X-Wing and Wing Commander series, were as big a part of computer gaming as first person shooters are today. But while Lucasarts really screwed the pooch with the disappointing "X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter" and Origin gradually turned Wing Commander's emphasis away from space combat and more towards creating Z-grade sci fi movies starring the marginally talented Mark Hamill and some malevolent puppets, the genre still died with a bang thanks to dark-horse publisher Volition's Freespace 2. Freespace 2 was the greatest space sim of all time, and in my opinion the greatest video game of all time, but tanked in sales and ended up bringing down the whole genre with it.

Years later the Freespace 2 Source Code was released and several fans decided to do something with it. And wow what they did, and are still doing. I could go on for several paragraphs describing the incredible combat, giant scary capital ships, and top notch mission design of Freespace 2. I could go on for several more paragraphs describing the fantastic changes the SCP Project made to the visuals of this 1999 game, but thanks to youtube I can just show you the awesomeness instead. Note that this guy's using the realistic lighting tags, so that's why everything's so dark. Also this was done with the older media VPs, a new set just came out which looks even better:

#1 - The Freespace 2 Source Code Project
Installing the SCP mod is a real doozy, but fortunately someone's created a web-based installer for those who don't want to go through the process manually. Here's the current guide to installation. And if you're sorting among the many many free missions and campaigns available to play in Freespace 2 SCP, Derelict and the Freespace 1 Port come highly recommended.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some games that didn't make the list because I either hadn't heard of them before I finished the list or they're games I don't care for but other people love.

Cloudphobia (Freeware)

The most drop-dead gorgeous freeware shmup I have ever seen. Take your pick of arming yourself with a laser rifle (boring!) or a vibra-sword (Awesome!) Your desire for transforming mecha porn will be satisfied here.

The Battle for Wesnoth (Freeware)

A huge community-built turn based fantasy strategy game with emphasis on leveling-up units.

Starscape (Shareware)

A very pretty cross between Sinistar and the RTS portions of "Giants: Citizen Kabuto."

Toribash (Freeware but you pay for extras)

A turn-based fighting game where you adjust your guy's joints to pull off moves. Worth downloading just to see the built in replays of fighters tearing their own heads off and throwing them through the other guy's torso.

La Mulana (Freeware)

Gigantic Indiana Jones-styled metroid-alike with 8-bit productions values

Cortex Command (WIP)

Kind of like a cross between "Worms" and "Metal Slug."

Stranded II (Freeware)

A First-Person Robinson Crusoe island survival game with a 3D engine and the ability to generate GIGANTIC random islands. A basic tutorial is included under "Single Islands"

The White Chamber (Freeware)

Sci Fi Silent Hill.

Dwarf Fortress (WIP)

One part Dungeon Keeper, one part Nethack, ten parts insanity. It's amazing what a pair of mentally unbalanced shut-in brothers can accomplish.

Ether Vapor
Ether Vapor (Import)

Absolutely gorgeous shmup that plays like Raystorm with a touch of Einhander. The game comstantly switches perspectives from vertical to horizontal to behind the back to free camera roaming bonus rounds. It just went on sale at Himeya Shop last week.

The Top 5 Most Overrated Indie Games

Picking on Indie developers kind of makes me a cock, but these developers brought it on themselves by charging money for these games.

#5 Galactic Civilizations 2

You create your ships with the absolute most loving attention to detail. Maybe you even write little development histories in the box provided. You carefully reshape nacelles for maximum aesthetic values. You spend hours crafting the most fearsome looking battleships possible. Then you take your creation out into battle...

...and learn that combat success revolves entirely around your boring economy! Ha ha!

This game is a total cock-tease. As Fabio noted, "Why they chose to allow detailed, hands on control of boring stuff like taxes and revenue distribution but abstract and automate fun things like espionage and SHIP COMBAT I do not know. The game seems like one graphics pack away from being a full on business sim."

#4 Darwinia

Dull. That's the word for it. A slow-paced version of Syndicate with the soul-gathering and point-controlling mechanics of Sacrifice. Any sense of urgency is quashed by the fact that you cannot lose, it's just a question of how long it takes to win. The visuals are all abstract and stylish and shit, but there are a zillion other abstract games that are more stylish without having inconsistent framerates that constantly choke up. Shit, the basic enemy is a flat line of triangles drawn directly on the ground. The most ironic part is that the stand-alone rocketship demo is more stylish and interesting than any of the full game levels.

#3 Virtual Villagers

Gametunnel's 2006 Sim game of the year. An ugly and dull game about assigning tasks to your idiot volcano refugees, then waiting several hours of real time for the task to be completed, only to return and find them all dead because your researchers decided it would be more fun to try to push the impossible to push boulder instead of researching farming and thus left the village without food when the berry bush ran out. Fun! The puzzles in the game range from drool bib obvious: use a constructor on the blocked well to give access to fresh water, to Sierra-level insane: research religion to level 3 then dunk a pregnant woman in the lagoon to cause her to give birth to jesus, who proceeds to solve many of the island's problems through deus ex machina. Plus your villagers look like what you'd get if a superdeformed anime character fucked a muppet.

Zzz... huh? Did I just hear a sample of a woman crying in the background music? This isn't a boring game anymore, it's art! ART!!! Damn, I've got some hella indie cred!
#2 Defcon

Defcon is no more "The World's first Genocide 'em up" than Introversion is "The last of the bedroom programmers." Cornutopia created a vector-based "War Games" years earlier. This excruciatingly slow and dull game could easily be a flash game. All the ooh-ing and ah-ing about the diplomacy model is bullshit, there are console-based First Person Shooters with more complex diplomacy. I am convinced that if steam never picked these guys up, no one would have even heard of this game, much less declared it art because the game has sad music. Why steam picks up introversion's snore-fests while turning down awesome games like Determinance is beyond me.

#1 Snood

One of the most popular puzzle games in the world! It's the ugliest Bust-a-Move clone imaginable and it installs spybots onto your computer. Fuck snood.

Mischief Maker