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Indie Essentials: 25 Must-Play Video Games

IndieCade and Museum of the Moving Image present a playable exhibition of significant independent video games representing the breadth and depth of “indie”: recent cutting-edge titles, including the IndieCade 2013 award winners, alongside a selection of games from the last decade that have had great impact on game design and culture. The designers and developers of these games, individuals or small teams independent of large studios and publishers, take daring creative risks to explore new forms and methods of play. Independent games are a fountain of innovation and experimentation, pushing games forward as one of today’s most dynamic and important cultural forms. Indie Essentials offers visitors a unique opportunity to discover and revisit innovations in independent game play.

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Alien Hominid

by The Behemoth Pennsylvania, USA

A 2-D side-scrolling shooter notable for its comic book visual aesthetic, arcade-style gameplay, difficult levels, and quirky sense of humor. The game’s online success encouraged developers to port it to Xbox

Braid

Braid
by Jon Blow San Francisco, USA

A critically acclaimed puzzle platformer notable for its painterly style and unique time-control mechanics that address narrative themes of causality, desire, and regret.

Canabalt

Canabalt by Adam Saltsman Austin, USA

Canabalt pioneered the endless runner genre, which uses procedural level generation to dynamically create a different level every play. Though it was originally built for PC, the game was an early iOS success.

Dear Esther

Dear Esther
by The Chinese Room Brighton, UK

Forgoing most game conventions, Dear Esther applies the interactive conventions of a first person shooter to craft a non-linear narrative. The game’s atmospheric visuals and haunting score composed by Jessica Curry envelope players in a lonely and isolated world.

Diner Dash

Diner Dash by Game Lab, published by Playfirst New York City, USA

Credited with popularizing the time management genre in video games, Diner Dash places players in a fast-paced system where they must prioritize tasks to make as much money for the restaurant as possible.

Dog Eat Dog (board game)

Dog Eat Dog
by Liwanag Press San Francisco, USA

A roleplaying tabletop game about colonialism and its consequences. Players explore systems of power and complicity as they dive into themes of occupation, resistance, and assimilation.

Everyday Shooter

Everyday Shooter
by Jonathan Mak Toronto, Canada

A traditional shooter placed in the context of a musical album, each level plays a new song that works in congress with the level’s unique visual design, sound design, and puzzle mechanic. The result is an aesthetically cohesive experience, rooted in a conventional genre.

Flower

Flower by Thatgamecompany Los Angeles, USA

A meditative game in which the player controls the wind, guiding petals to bring life, color, and light to a dark and devastated landscape. Flower’s vivid graphics, simple gameplay, and accessible controls made it popular among gamers and nongamers alike.

Gone Home

Gone Home
by The Fullbright Company San Francisco, USA

An interactive story, in which the player explores a domestic environment to slowly uncover the history of the family who lived there.

Kentucky Route Zero

Kentucky
by Cardboard Computer Chicago, USA

A magical realist adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky. The game’s evocative visual design, distinct setting, and original music appropriate the common point and click mechanic to expose characters’ inner emotions.

Killer Queen Arcade

Killer Queen
by Sortasoft New York City, USA

A ten-player real time strategy arcade game, fully realized with a gigantic back-to-back custom arcade cabinet for up to 5 players on each team, creates a complex interplay between teamwork, offense, and defense.

Machinarium

Machinarium
by Amanita Design Brno, Czech Rep.

This point-and-click adventure game is notable for its dream logic and distinctive hand-drawn aesthetic—the player solves puzzles hidden in the game’s visual design to advance the story.

Minecraft

Minecraft by Notch Stockholm, Sweden

In the popular open world game Minecraft, players can explore and craft structures in a 3-D environment made of simple, recombinable building blocks.

N v2.0

N v2.0
by Metanet Software Toronto, Canada

A minimalist single-screen puzzle platformer with more than 100 notoriously difficult levels, where death is frequent and dramatic.

Passage

Passage by Jason Rohrer Davis, California, USA

A five-minute game in which the player navigates a lifetime of obstacles and choices, Passage uses low-resolution graphics and audio to enhance its visual and mechanical metaphors, creating a deeply affecting and emotional experience.

The Path

Path by Tale of Tales Ghent, Belgium

An atmospheric gothic horror story, based on Little Red Riding Hood that uses careful level design to misdirect and manipulate the player into violating the game’s one instruction.

Porpentine's Twine Compilation

Porpentine by Porpentine Boston, USA

A collection of experiments, statements, tricks, stories, and games that explore the edges of poetry and interactivity.

Quadrilateral Cowboy

Quadrilateral Cowboy
by Blendo Games Los Angeles, USA

A hacking game about analyzing, manipulating, and defeating systems set in a cyberpunk world.

QWOP

QWOP by Bennett Foddy Oxford, UK

In this Flash game—notorious for its frustrating yet addictive gameplay—the leg muscles of a virtual athlete are mapped to individual keys that the player must carefully coordinate to move the character forward.

Slash Dash

Slash Dash
by Nevernaut Games / Adnan New York City, USA

A strategic, capture-the-flag game in which two opposing pairs of players dual as ninjas, Slash Dash is part of the recent popular rebirth of local multiplayer games.

Spaceteam

Big Game
by Henry Smith Montreal, Canada

Focusing on shared physical space rather than virtual space, players work together a team of spaceship personnel, shouting nonsensical instructions to each other as they race to keep their ship from falling apart.

Spelunky

spelunky by Derek Yu San Francisco, USA

A 2-D puzzle platformer set deep underground, notable for its randomly generated levels that make no two play throughs the same.

Spin The Bottle: Bumpie's Party

Bumpie's Party
by KnapNok Games & Redgrim / Dajana & Lau Copenhagen, Denmark

A party game for two to eight players, Spin the Bottle’s creative use of the Wii platform and its controllers show how independent developers are creating innovative play experiences for gaming consoles.

Today I Die

Today I Die by Daniel Benmergui Buenos Aires, Argentina

An interactive poem in which the player must interact with words, objects, and characters to save a drowning girl.

Towerfall

Towerfall
by Matt Thorson British Columbia, Canada

An archery combat platformer with easy-to-learn rules and high-energy action, where up to four players battle with bows and arrows.

World Of Goo

Goo by 2D Boy / Kyle Gabler, Ron Carmel San Francisco, USA

World of Goo, an engaging physics-driven puzzle game where players manipulate squirming globs of goo, achieved widespread success on mobile devices because of its natural user interface.