It’s easy to take for granted how huge indies have become on consoles. In short order, all the major consoles not only sell indies, but have bona fide indie hits to their name. The great thing is that many of these indies have also made their way to GOG.com, so if you don’t have one of these consoles or you really are just a PC gamer, you can still get them — and DRM-free, to boot.
This is the latest of the indies in this list to just come out. Developed by Klei and co-funded by Microsoft Game Studios, you play the unnamed title ninja in a whirlwind of a tale of honor, betrayal, and madness. Mark of the Ninja is also known for its unique take on the stealth action genre, with line-of-sight and one-hit kill systems encouraging you to take it slow and truly act like a ninja. It was one of the highlights of the Xbox 360 indie game division and now, you can play it DRM-free on your PC.
Q-Games has made a name for themselves with the Pixeljunk brand. This fourth game is the first one to have a narrative, as you play a search-and-rescue team seeking out scientists lost in a part-subterranean, part-aquatic, part-volcanic world. You use missiles to destroy rock and manipulate different water, magma, and a mysterious third black liquid to facilitate your rescues.
Now, we get a little brutal. Hotline Miami is a top-down noir action game with a distinct aesthetic inspired by Nicholas Winding Refn’s film, Drive, and drug-smuggling documentary, Cocaine Cowboys. You are Jacket, a small-time punk who’s knee-deep in such a drug-smuggling ring, but following the murder of a loved one and possibly under the influence yourself, you go on a vicious rampage. Hotline Miami was rapidly ported to PS3 and Vita following its launch success and in fact, famously came out too early, due to a bug in PSN.
Another Klei Entertainment gig, Don’t Starve made a name for itself as one of the first games to be released on the PlayStation 4. In the midst of the early drought, it thrived as PS4 gamers, hungry to play anything, embraced the harsh survival game completely. You have to take care of your playable character, Wilson, making sure he’s well-fed, that he keeps the monsters at bay, and that he does not go completely nuts.
Dust: An Elysian Tail has a pretty amazing backstory, as the design, programming, voice acting, soundtrack, and much of the story was made by Dean Dodrill. It also impressed Microsoft so much while in development that it won the Dream.Build.Play challenge and was essentially fast tracked to release for the Xbox 360. The eponymous Dust tries to recover his memories as he fights for the anthropomorphic people of Falana in this action RPG side-scroller.
Now, we’re getting to the retro inspired-remakes. La-Mulana is a punishing side-scroller reminiscent of the MSX game The Maze of Galious, although it also borrows from other games, particularly the Metroidvanias. As Lemeza Kosugi, you traverse treacherous dungeons with low health but a lot of items to find and power you up and bring you to certain areas. The key gameplay mechanic is compelling the player to choose between moving forward, with ever slimming chances of survival, or warping out, with adverse conditions preventing you from coming back. This risk-reward system will keep you hooked, cursing and screaming the whole time. Interestingly, the game is one of those rare indies that became a hit on WiiWare and was localized there first before Windows.
Outspoken Renegade Kid founder Jools Watsham says Mutant Mudds was originally intended as a third-person shooter, but after several attempts to get it published failed, it was reworked from the ground up as a side-scroller in the vein of Game Boy platformers, such as Wario Land and Gargoyle’s Quest. As Maxor his grandma, it’s up to you to stop the extraterrestrial Muddy invasion, armed with a jet pack and a deadly water gun. It’s Mutant Mudds‘ unique level design, which has you moving to and fro the foreground and background of stages, that gives it its unique charm.
The sequel to the freeware hit, Octodad: Dadliest Catch finds you once again playing the role of an octopus trying to fit in the mold of a suburban family. Every challenge is an attempt to fit in human existence without letting the world in on the fact that you are an octopus. The hook here is that you have to do these human things using your very nonhuman tentacles, making gameplay simultaneously challenging and hilarious. As an additional stroke of genius, in multiplayer, each player uses a different tentacle, making coordination essential unless you just want to make each other laugh. Developers Young Horses, Inc. originally came up with Octodad as students in DePaul University and found an eager audience waiting for them when they brought the sequel over to PlayStation 4.
We are rounding off this list with two very solid titles. Do I even need to introduce this one to you?
Shovel Knight is an action platformer made by Yacht Club Games, themselves comprised by developers who honed their craft at Wayforward Technologies. As the titular Shovel Knight, you can strike enemies with your shovel or, even better, jump with the shovel pointed down to strike down enemies, as well as bounce off of them. This primary conceit, which Yacht Club insists was inspired by The Legend of Zelda 2 as much as Duck Talesi is at the very center of the game’s design, defining levels, difficulty, platforming challenges, bosses, and more.
Even beyond that, however, Shovel Knight grabbed fans’ attention as a sweeping ode to NES games. Everything about the game, from the visuals, soundtrack, game design, even the addition of game codes, were all informed by that generation of gaming. At the same time, it took the best ideas of modern games, such as the New Game Plus mode from Dark Souls, to satisfy modern gamers as much as retro gamers.
Lastly, Steamworld Dig made headlines as a true indie breakout hit on 3DS. While games like Runner2 also appeared on the console, this was the kind of success that literally made the name of its developer, Image & Form. Somewhat similar to La-Mulana, you have a risk-and-reward mechanic between progressing and teleporting back to the surface. Unlike La-Mulana, Steamworld Dig is set in a strange universe where robots have dominion of the world and humans are unthinking ghouls that strike you, as you dig your way lower into an abandoned mine. Also, it does allow you to pick up items you dropped off again if you die, but the levels are randomly generated, so it won’t be back where you left them.
Did you like this list? You can check out the GOGmix (and purchase them all together) here.