Photo by Ben Helmer

Indie Essentials: 25 Must-Play Video Games

December 14–March 2, 2014

IndieCade International Festival of Independent Games and Museum of the Moving Image present a playable exhibition of more than two dozen games that represent the breadth and depth of the “indie” video game scene. 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. The exhibition features recent cutting-edge titles, including the IndieCade 2013 award winners, alongside a selection of games that have had great impact on game design and culture in the last decade. Independent games are a fountain of innovation and experimentation, pushing games forward as one of today’s most dynamic and important cultural forms.

This exhibition was organized by Jason Eppink, Museum of the Moving Image, Associate Curator of Digital Media; Aaron Isaksen, IndieCade East Chair; Matt Parker, IndieCade East Chair; Sam Roberts, IndieCade Festival Director; and Stephanie Barish, IndieCade CEO.

Compete in one of the Indie Essentials: Mutiplayer Tournaments!

Alien Hominid. 2002, PS2
The Behemoth (San Diego, USA)
A 2-D side-scrolling shooter, Alien Hominid is notable for its comic book visual aesthetic, arcade-style gameplay, difficult levels, and quirky sense of humor. The game’s online success encouraged its creators to develop versions for game consoles.
Braid. 2008, PC
Jonathan Blow (San Francisco, CA, USA)
A critically acclaimed puzzle platformer, Braid features a painterly style and unique time-control mechanics that address narrative themes of causality, desire, and regret.
Canabalt. 2009, iOS
Adam Saltsman and Daniel Baranowsky (Austin, TX, USA)
Canabalt pioneered the endless runner genre, which uses procedural level generation to dynamically create a different level every play.
Dear Esther. 2007/2012, PC
The Chinese Room (Brighton, UK)
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 immerse players in a lonely and isolated world.
Diner Dash. 2004, PC
Game Lab, published by Playfirst (New York City, NY, 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.
Everyday Shooter. 2007, PS3
Jonathan Mak (Queasy Games) (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. 2009, PS3
thatgamecompany (Santa Monica, CA, USA)
The player controls the wind, guiding petals to bring life, color, and light to a dark and devastated landscape, in this meditative game. Flower’s vivid graphics, simple gameplay, and accessible controls made it popular among gamers and nongamers alike.
Gone Home. 2013, PC
The Fullbright Company (Portland, Oregon, USA)
In this interactive story, the player explores a domestic environment to slowly uncover the history of the family who lived there.
Kentucky Route Zero Act I and II. 2013–, PC
Cardboard Computer (Chicago, IL, USA)
Kentucky Route Zero is 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. 2012, arcade
Joshua DeBonis and Nikita Mikros (New York City, NY, USA)
A ten-player real time strategy arcade game, fully realized with a large back-to-back custom arcade cabinet for up to five players on each team, Killer Queen Arcade creates a complex interplay between teamwork, offense, and defense.
Machinarium. 2009, PC
Amanita Design (Brno, Czech Republic)
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. 2011, PC
Mojang (Stockholm, Sweden)
In the popular open world game Minecraft, players can explore and craft structures in a 3-D environment made of simple building blocks.
N. 2004, PC
Metanet Software (Toronto, Canada)
A minimalist single-screen puzzle platformer, N has 500 notoriously difficult levels, where death is frequent and dramatic.
Passage. 2007, PC
Jason Rohrer (Potsdam, NY, 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. 2009, PC
Tale of Tales (Ghent, Belgium)
This atmospheric gothic horror story, based on Little Red Riding Hood, uses careful level design to misdirect and manipulate the player into violating the game’s one instruction.
Porpentine's Twine Compilation. 2012–2013, PC
Porpentine (Oakland, NJ, USA)
In this collection of experiments, statements, tricks, stories, and games, players explore the edges of poetry and interactivity.
Quadrilateral Cowboy. Upcoming, 2014, PC
Blendo Games (Los Angeles, CA, USA)
By manually typing code, players hack through security systems in a 1980s-era cyberpunk world.
QWOP. 2008, PC
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.
SlashDash. 2013, PC
Nevernaut Games (New York City, NY, USA)
A strategic capture-the-flag game in which two opposing pairs of players duel as ninjas, Slash Dash is part of the recent popular rebirth of local multiplayer games.
Spaceteam. 2012, iOS
Henry Smith (Montreal, Canada)
Focusing on shared physical space rather than virtual space, players work together as a team of spaceship personnel, shouting nonsensical instructions to each other as they race to keep their ship from falling apart.
Spelunky. 2009, 2013, PC
Mossmouth (San Francisco, CA, USA)
A 2-D puzzle platformer set deep underground, Spelunky is notable for its randomly generated levels that make no two playthroughs the same.
Spin the Bottle: Bumpie's Party. 2013, WiiU
KnapNok Games & Redgrim (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. 2009, PC
Daniel Benmergui (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Today I Die is an interactive poem in which the player must manipulate words, objects, and characters to save a drowning girl.
TowerFall Ascension. 2013, PC
Matt Thorson (Vancouver, Canada)
An archery combat platformer, TowerFall features easy-to-learn rules and high-energy action, where up-to-four players battle with bows and arrows.
World of Goo. 2008/2011, iOS
2D Boy (San Francisco, CA, 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.
Dog Eat Dog. 2013
Liwanag Press (Oakland, CA, USA)
In this 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.