Big-ticket games like The Division 2 and Sekiro are great, but sometimes you might be in the mood for something a little different — and maybe a little cheaper, too. Thankfully, we’re living in the golden age of indie video games that you can download right to your console or PC for a pittance.
Here are five great indie games worth playing right now:
Baba Is You
Puzzle games are more fun when you get to break the rules. Baba Is You developer Hempuli Oy understands that, because Baba Is You is all about changing the rules of the game in your favor to win.
The setup is simple—players take control of Baba, a cute little 2D animal, and try to reach to a flag. If Baba touches the flag, the player wins the game. In doing so, Baba has to navigate around walls, push rocks, avoid drowning in water, and dodge jellyfish.
What sets Baba Is You apart is players’ ability to change the rules of every puzzle. Scattered around the maps are simple noun and adjective statements such as, well, “Baba Is You,” “Flag Is Victory,” and “Wall Is Stop.” Like the rocks Baba can push around the map, Baba can move these noun and adjective statements around and change everything on the game map.
In one map, an impenetrable wall circled the flag I needed to grab for victory. I moved the sentence fragments around to create “Wall Is You.” Suddenly, I had full control over every wall on the map. I scooted the wall to the side, collected the flag, and won the game. On another map, I changed the win condition to read “Baba Is You and Victory” and instantly won the map.
Players navigate a Super Mario World-style overworld of 200 different puzzles in Baba Is You. As the game progresses, it adds more complications and elements for the player to manipulate, until, at the end, I was juggling a dozen different noun and adjective statements, desperately trying to figure out the best way to break the world and achieve victory.
Available on Steam, itch.io, and the Nintendo Switch.
Risk of Rain 2
Few good things in life come without a little risk. That’s one of the principles behind Risk of Rain 2, a 3D sequel to the classic 2D role-playing game from 2013. In Risk of Rain 2, players land on a hostile alien world and set off to master it. Each planet is procedurally generated, and the longer a player survives, the harder the game gets.
Like Dead Cells or Dark Souls, players will die a lot in Risk of Rain 2. But every death reveals something new about the world. The longer a player survives and the more they explore, the more they’ll unlock new character classes, weapons, abilities, and information. The game world resets with every death, but unlocked character classes stick around between runs — so even when you die, you’re always progressing.
Mercifully, players don’t have to take on the game alone. Risk of Rain 2 comes with a multiplayer mode in which up to four players can team up. A meditative soundtrack, tough but fair challenge, and low price come together to make this indie darling easy to recommend.
Risk of Rain 2 is in early access on Steam, and is set for console release in 2020.
Do you miss the old internet? You know the one I’m talking about—that pre-millennium cyberspace where every other website was a hamster dancing to MIDI music, GeoCities and Angelfire ruled the day, and every site was “under construction.” Hypnospace Outlaw asks you to return to those wild and innocent days of the internet and police them.
It’s 1999 and everyone surfs the ‘net while they’re asleep using tech called a Hypnoband. You’re a content cop — a volunteer who browses the mean screens of the Hypnospace looking for infractions. On the surface, things are sublime, but the darkest corners of Hypnospace hold strange secrets.
Hypnospace Outlaw is a brilliant parody of both 1999 internet culture and modern day paranoia. I interacted with Hypnospace through a fake desktop, complete with an email app, garbage box, and Winamp-style music player. My first case was simple: track down images that infringed the copyright of a cartoon fish owned by a Disney-like megacorporation. I felt bad when I shut down a fan site, but I was rewarded for the task with a new skin for my music player.
As Hypnospace Outlaw progressed, I found myself taking on stranger tasks and uncovering grotesque mysteries just below the surface of its idyllic cyber utopia. Who, exactly, is spreading shock imagery like a virus? What is cool punk and why is its music so catchy? Where can I find a recipe for Granny Cream’s Hot Butter Ice Cream? To answer these and other mysteries, enter the world of Hypnospace Outlaw.
Available on PC and Mac via Steam.
A horror game from Taiwanese studio Red Candle Games, Detention is set in the 1960s amid Taiwan’s “White Terror,” a nearly four-decade period of martial law during which nearly 4,000 people were executed. Students Wei and Ray fall asleep at their high school, and wake up to find that everyone has evacuated the building to avoid an incoming tsunami. Finding the exits blocked, Wei and Ray decide to wait out the storm. Then things get creepy.
Detention is a side scrolling adventure game in the Monkey Island tradition. You’ll wander the school’s halls, click on objects, work puzzles, and avoid spooky monsters as you uncover the mystery of the haunted building. What sets Detention apart is the way it mixes traditional Chinese mythology, buddhism, and the horror of history to tell a heartbreaking and terrifying tale.
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
Apes, ultra-violence, and jazz make Ape Out special. The story is simple: you play as an ape attempting to escape captivity. Each level begins with a bright orange ape busting out of a cage and ends in carnage and blood for the ape’s captors. The goal is also simple: smash and grab (the game’s only two buttons) your way through guards to escape the randomly generated levels.
The ape is fragile, but strong. He can only take one or two shots from his human tormentors before he’s dead and the level starts all over. But strength and smarts will keep clever players alive. Human guards are as fragile as the ape, who can punch his victims into bloody goo or rip them limb from limb. The ape can even grab hold of guards to use as human shields before hurling the bullet-riddled body into still more enemies.
Ape Out is a simple game with a striking art style and music that elevates the experience. The player’s view is isometric and 2-D—you’re always staring down at your ape as if you’re helping him navigate a foosball table. The colors are simple and muted. The ape is a large orange outline, the guards vibrant white, and the blood garrish pools of crimson. Over this chaotic gore, a jazz soundtrack drums and thrums in response to the players actions. Cymbals and drums mix up the music, reacting as the ape slaughters his captors, giving each level a unique rhythm and a soundtrack that’s different every time.
Available on PC and the Nintendo Switch.