Gaming hasn’t been spared the allure of the age old story of rags to riches. No better niche of the industry personifies this better than indie games. Rising from the ashes of long, tortuous, and understaffed development, certain titles manage to pierce through the proverbial glass ceiling and rival the biggest titles. Here are 8 indie games that broke through to the mainstream.
Braid is arguably the game responsible for changing the industry’s perception of indie devs, carving a path for smaller titles to gain widespread recognition. Using clever and at times frustrating puzzles, a unique time warping mechanic, and a compelling narrative, Braid took stage time away from mainstream titles when it was first released. It remains to this day an example of the value of independent game development.
A top-down melting pot of oddities, ultra violence, Florida neon, and lots of blood, Hotline Miami is a game in equal parts stealth and all-in shouting from the rooftops weirdness. The inherent difficulty, stunning music, and downright bizarre narrative won many players over and still does to this day.
Who would have thought a game about the mundane bureaucratic concerns of a border agent in a fictional Soviet-esque nation would be so popular? In many ways Papers, Please is a fast-paced decision making sim, but delve deeper and it raises many questions about the morality of self-preservation at the cost of others. With speed and accuracy at the core of success, players must juggle humanitarian concerns, quotas, and government corruption to ensure personal survival.
FTL: Faster Than Light
Subset Games’ procedural-generated rogue-like spaceship simulator is more akin to a management game than anything else. Balancing the never ending problems ranging from technical issues affecting the ship and crew death to hostile enemies is a nerve racking experience to say the least. But, in this lies the beauty of FTL: Faster Than Light, no two games are ever the same and completing the game gifts an unmatched sense of achievement.
Super Meat Boy
From throw away flash game to award winning staple of the platforming genre, Super Meat Boy is among the most meteoric success stories in indie gaming. Taking on the role of a literal pound of flesh, players navigate increasingly murderous levels with unforgiving, yet extremely polished controls and obstacles.
We often forget Stardew Valley was created by one single person. We can be forgiven for this slight given the huge success of the title, which resembles the pull and sales of any triple A game worth its weight. From farming crops to interacting with a smorgasbord of quirky townsfolk, Stardew Valley continues to attract new players with a Switch port and upcoming multiplayer.
Minecraft’s rise to gaming phenomenon needs no introduction, but what is worth pointing out is that this creative block building gem continues to suck in new players, notably a younger audience who revel in the freedom on offer. Third-party merchandising, a feature film, and a library of DLCs help too.
Spelunky is another rogue-like where players navigate procedural-generated cavernous expanses warding off hostiles and amassing riches. Arguably responsible for a rebirth of the whole rogue genre, Spelunky is the oldest title on our list, yet remains popular to this day and has been ported to every platform under the sun. A sequel is in the works as well.