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Top 10 Indie Games of the Decade [2000-2009]

DIYlogoIndependently developed games have come a long way in the last 10 years. In fact, 10 years ago they weren’t actually termed “indie games” at all. They were actually called Shareware titles… games that were often free but of lesser quality than the mainstream title. While that definition can still ring true for some games today, the indie games industry has grown exponentially in the last ten years. While I’m sure most of you would have a hard time naming a single indie game made pre-2007, I’m doubly sure you could name at least 5 from 2009, especially if your reading this site regularly.

Anyways, with a new decade just around the corner, I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my indie favorites throughout this decade, one for each year starting with the year 2000. Keep in mind these games are in chronological order starting with the year 2000.

1. Ikachan [2000]

IkachanIkachan was probably one of the first metroidvania genre game outside of the actual Castlevania/Metroid games. It was a very unique game that, while had rudimentary graphics that resembled something closer to the NES than anything else available at the time, was actually a lot of fun. Even today the game’s uniqueness has not been outdone by competing indie metroidvanias.

The game takes place entirely underwater, where you play as a squid named Ikachan. Through a series of earthquakes, Ikachan gets trapped in a labyrinth of underwater caves that he must escape, something that is made harder by the game’s villain Ironhead, a large fish who is also trapped but has begun to manipulate the populace into swearing allegiance to him in this catastrophe. Throughout your journey you’ll collect new items and encounter different obstacles and enemies, just like with any metroidvania.

[download from Tinsanity]

2. Uplink [2001]

uplinkUplink is an amazingly unique game even by today’s standards. Anybody who has played the game before can attest to that. The game was not a traditional platformer, puzzle game, or shooter like many indie games were/are today. It was more of a simulation game.

In Uplink you play as a mercenary hacker in a futuristic digitalized world, not much different than our own today — keep in mind this was 2001 however. You, the player, would accept missions given from a faux forum/internet that would entail you ruining people’s lives, credit scores, or hacking into personal files and databases. From there you’d acquire more money, get new gadgets and tools that would assist you with hacking, and get tougher and more serious missions.

The game had a fairly heavy learning curve, but if you could get beyond that, it was actually a really fun experience that has yet to be repeated.

[Buy from Steam]

3. Black Shades [2002]

blackshadesBlack Shades is an incredibly simplistic game wrapped around an extremely difficult proposition. The game is basically a body-guarding type game. You must follow a man in white and protect him from would-be assassins. While this may sound simple, the game makes this all the more challenging my not giving you any real indicators that somebody is an “assassin” until they are already about to pull the trigger or knife your victim.

The game is actually a FPS, but an incredibly simple one. Not only in gameplay, which is often categorized as brilliantly simple, but also in graphics. While the game is technically 3D, the actual graphics are simpler than even that of the old Doom games. Still though, the game doesn’t require state of the art graphics because what lies underneath is gameplay that is pure and simple fun.

[download from Wolfire]

4. Samorost [2003]

samorostMany will, probably, immediately recognize the Samorost games by now. Not necessarily because they have played the games before, but rather because the game’s designer is none other than Amanita Design, the very same developer who created Machinarium, our game of the year for 2009.

Samorost, like Machinarium, is a simple point and click adventure game. However, what made it different was it’s unique art style and puzzles that entailed the use of common sense as opposed to knowledge of what’s already happened or other spacial type puzzles which are a favorite for the genre.

While Samorost is comparable as a game, it’s clearly the artwork that made this game stand out from the pack in 2003. Much like Machinarium did this year, Samorost in 2003 featured one of the most beautiful games of the year, despite not using a cutting edge graphics engine.

[Play at Amanita Design]

5. 7 Days a Skeptic [2004]

7days27 Days a Skeptic was the sequel to the hit adventure game 5 Days a Stranger. The game actually takes place about 400 years after the original title featuring a story set in space aboard a ship called the Mephistopheles. Upon stumbling across a box that holds the remains of John DeFoe the ship beocmes inextricably haunted by the same apparitions in the first title.

7 Days a Skeptic runs off the Adventure Game Studio engine, which has much of the same functionality found in the old Sierra adventure games. As such, 7 Days plays much like an old Sierra game only with a unique story. In fact, one of the reasons why this game is so good is due to the story, which mixes mystery and horror very well.

[download from TIGSource]

6. Guardian of Paradise [2005]

guardian1Guardian of Paradise will look very similar to those of you who ever owned an SNES. The reason being is because the game instantly strikes a comparison to the old Zelda: A Link to the Past game. Which, as anybody that has ever played that game can tell you, is absolutely not a bad thing. Of course, Guardian of Paradise doesn’t only look like the old Zelda games, it also plays like it. Featuring an expansive world, multiple items, and interesting dungeons/puzzles the game is clearly an indie homage to the great Nintendo franchise.

In Guardian of Paradise you play as Tela, a boy who is searching for a cure to his sister’s illness. Unfortunately, finding the cure seems to be the primary problem as nobody knows exactly why she’s fallen ill. So, banking on a old legend, Tela sets out find the healing waters of Paradise, a fabled land.

While the story may seem a little bland, believe me when I say that the game is definitely worthy of such an honor given it’s brilliant Zelda-inspired gameplay. I’ve seen and played many Zelda-likes in my time, but few come as close to the real thing as Guardian of Paradise.

[download from Pixel Art Games]

7. Knytt [2006]

knytt2Knytt, by developer Nifflas, is an amazing Metroid-like that features an expansive world, multiple/unique items to acquire and with absolutely no combat whatsoever. The game isn’t designed to be a action title, but rather an exploration title.

The game starts out with you playing as a creature called a Knytt when an alien ship abducts you for no apparent reason. From there you must explore the ship, find items that help you overcome obstacles and figure out a way to get back home.

Anybody who has played the more popular, newer Knytt Stories will feel right at home in this quasi-prequel.

[download from Nifflas]

8. Knytt Stories [2007]

knyttstories3I know, I know… two very similar games in a row? But it’s true. Just like Knytt was the best indie game in 2006, Knytt Stories was heads and tales above nearly everything else in 2007. The game is very similar to the predecessor, Knytt, in that it’s a Metroid-like game that features exploration above action/combat. Additionally, the game shares much of the same graphics. However, where the two become different is in the story.

Knytt Stories isn’t about aliens, or escaping from abduction. It, instead, has a more profound message attached to it. One about environmentalism and saving the land. In Knytt Stories your tasked with helping a friend stop a machine from destroying the land and turning it into darkened husk. Before you can do this, however, you must first find the appropriate items in order to stop the machine.

Of course, Knytt Stories goes beyond just the game itself. Nifflas, this time around, decided to include a full level editor so people could create and share their own Knytt Stories with the world. Something that gives this title a near limitless replay value.

[download from Nifflas]

9. Braid [2008]

braid032008 was probably the year that will be marked as the year when indie games and developers were truly brought to the mainstream consumer. No other title showcased this as well as Braid, a small platforming puzzle game that not only captured the hearts and minds of the mainstream press industry, but also the average Xbox 360 gamer as well. The title is still one of the few XBLA games to have sold over 100,000 copies.

Braid is a unique game, and one that is well worth this accolade. Aside from the game’s interesting story and beautiful artwork, it’s the game’s puzzles and gameplay that really excel. Where most games would be content offering a simple puzzle platformer, Braid went above and beyond by incorporating various time elements to each of the game’s 5 worlds. This, inextricably gave the game an immediate memorable feel to it. While many of the puzzles were very challenging, never did the game lose its luster for great gameplay.

Despite worthy challengers such as World of Goo and Castle Crashers, Braid takes top honors for 2008.

[buy from Steam, Xbox, PSN]

10. Machinarium [2009]

MachinariumThis should really come as no surprise for anybody who read our 2009 Editor’s Choice awards. Machinarium is both an amazing adventure puzzle game as well as a brilliant piece of art. While the game hearkens back to the classic adventure games of the mid 90′s, everything else about the game feels very fresh.

The game tells a simplistic story about friendship and love. In a world where robots control everything, the protagonist has found himself on the losing end of a conspiracy to assassinate what can only be seen as some sort of ruler of the robots. Through no dialog whatsoever, a story unfolds throughout the game of betrayal, love, and heroism. Simply put, Machinarium is a masterpiece of story telling and artwork.

Bottomline, anybody who has even a passing interest in adventure games owes it to themselves to look at Machinarium. The story is good, the artwork is amazing, and the puzzles are quite challenging.

[buy from Steam, Amanita Design]

Did we miss a game you really enjoyed? Let us know below!


  • anon

    would it kill you to provide links to download/buy these?

    • Geoff Gibson

      @ anon

      Hm I suppose not… links incoming.

  • salejemaster

    rip em a new one :D

  • agh

    Two Knytts and two Amanita games, but no Cave Story?

    • Geoff Gibson

      Hmmm 7 Days a Skeptic was really good, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include Cave Story which I admittedly forgot about while making this list…

    • Diverse

      Pixel made Ikachan, so it all works out.

  • salejemaster

    …cave story sucks…*jumps trough the window* *glass shatters everywhere*

  • seth

    I like how you recognized 7 days a skeptic. It’s a great series of adventure games, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t played Cave Story yet.

  • Patrick

    wtf?! No aquaria? blasphemy!

  • add cave story plz

    Just say Cave Story is special mention since it since it was a fantastic game or add an honorable mention section and that would be great. I played all the games on the link except uplink, black shades and machinarium. Good list.

    Everyone knows Cave Story and also how many sites do not even bother listing Cave Story on any best of indie games list.

  • Kaworu Nagisa

    Beautiful, well-made, well-written games on this list. Yet, none of the art games found its place here. Just like exploring the metaphysical of medium would be inferior to entertainers.

  • raigan

    Two entries for Knytt, but no Gish, Spelunky, Soldat, or N? Sigh.

  • Noby Noby boy

    Wow, I’ve never agreed with a list before. But I have to say this is the closest I’ve been to. Thanks for the interesting post.
    I guess summing up an entire decade is difficult, nobody will be happy. Cave Story and Gish should probably get the honorable mention. And one game that (I dare say) you forgot is Inmortal Defense, imho, which I would include in my own list. Since I love shmups, I would add a couple of those games, but the list above is pretty neat. Also, I like that you highlight Uplink, it is usually forgotten in favor of Darwinia, but for me Uplink is more interesting and innovative.
    Aquaria, N, etc, they are good games, but I agree with you, they wouldn’t be in my top ten. I don’t think they are as important to indie games as the other.

  • Geoff Gibson

    There are literally hundreds of games that should have made this list. Cave Story, Spelunky, World of Goo, Gish… even from 2009 alone I could have easily gone with Trine, Torchlight, Shattered Horizon, or Emberwind.

    But it was a top 10 list. Maybe if I get bored one day soon I’ll make a top 100 list. I’d need a lot of free time to do that though…

    Cave Story is the only one I considered switching out or making an honorable mention for. Decided against switching 7 Days out for it, however, as 7 Days honestly deserves a spot.

    Still mulling over the honorable mentions idea, however.

  • Ian O’Dea

    Honestly, I’m fairly okay with Cave Story not being mentioned; it’s a great game, no doubt. Probably one of the best, most polished indie games I’ve ever played. But, honestly? Everybody already knows that. Lists like this aren’t supposed to be there to make everybody feel good that they’ve already played something, they’re meant to give people an easy way to see what you recommend; by recommending games people might not have played, you’re giving them a much stronger list than you would otherwise have given.

  • Karies

    IJI!! and Gish are games that should be on this list

  • Togu

    I only approve half of that list.

  • Vitaly Belman

    And of course “Hammerfight” the game with very fun physics (that no one played) and the most epic storyline (that no one understood).

  • Boris

    Dear whoever just read this list: Check out Soldat, Spelunky, Trilby: The Art of Theft, and Iji immediately. They are free, and they are amazing.

  • Peter Rambo

    When you only pick one game from every year, you have to leave off a lot of great games. That’s just how it goes.

  • http://none Pagan

    Cave Story, IJI, Aquaria, Eternal Daughter… ?

  • Pierre

    I’m really tired of seeing machinarium praised everywhere. Yes, its graphics are top notch, but stop claiming that its puzzles are good! After their initial inventiveness (long enough for the demo), the rest of the game is a long string of peg moving, peg jumping, puzzles, with a few adventure puzzle thrown in.

  • Nek

    I’ve already seen there is a discussion about Cave Story missing from the list.
    I see Ikachan as an early experiment of the Cavestory’s author and the Cavestory itself as an essence of metroidvania genre and the best indie game of 2004. Are you sure 7 Days a Skeptic is better? The first time I read about it is this top list.

    Also I don’t get why there are both Samorost and Machinarium. While the both games are good the last one is just the improvement on the original art style. The game is pure art but the gameplay is not too good.

    Same goes for Knytt stories.

    Overall I feel the list is way too much biased by some very personal preferences. It lacks reasoning consistency and some transparency on the qualities the games were judged by.

  • Deceased Crab

    …that brings back memories.

  • Aganazer

    No sign of Cryptic Comet, Spiderweb, Digital Eel, Basilisk Games, or Positech Games. To each their own I guess.

  • Joe

    Aquaria should DEFINITELY have been the 2007 game. Its freaking amazing. Knytt was awesome but Knytt stories is pretty much the same thing.

    Still, not a bad list. I’ll have to play a few of these. :)

  • That guy

    How about “ROM CHECK FAIL” or another great game for Farbs “Captain Forever/Successor”.

  • DPsycho

    I was unaware of several of the games from early in the decade. I’ll bookmark this and refer to it when in need of a deep single-player experience.

    A few nitpicks, though. Primarily, nearly every use of the word “its” has an unnecessary apostrophe in it. I cringe. Second, 2000 wasn’t part of this decade. A true list of best anything of the decade should wait until the decade ends in December 2010.

    • Geoff Gibson

      2 out of the 6 times was incorrectly used… thanks for pointing that out. Remember it’s = it is, its = possessive.

      Also the decade thing can be debated, as it has for a while now. It all depends on whether you count 0 as a number or not. If you do then the first ten numbers go:

      0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

      If not then they go:

      1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

      Personally, I see no reason to exclude zero.

      I think, technically, back in the 14th or 15th century when they were coming up with the Gregorian calendar they may have excluded the year “0″, but I’m not going to base any scientific stance on the timing of decades off logic that didn’t even truly know what the number zero was.

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  • ac

    For sci-fi/space fans some indie goodies:

    Starscape (kinda like SolarWinds, a top down action-oriented save the galaxy with light story and ship equipping stuff, far cry from Star Control 2 / StarFlight though which are a must play if you haven’t)

    A.I. War: Fleet Command (can’t really compare to other strategy games as I haven’t played them that much but I heard Supreme Commander has some similarity)

    I’m hoping to learn theres more that deserve a mention!

  • passerby

    Stop misusing the word “simplistic”. It means overly simple, it is a negative term. The word you were looking for is “simple”.

    • Geoff Gibson

      Simplistic has neither a negative nor a positive disposition. It all depends on the manner with which you use the word.


  • mark

    how could you forget Gish or time gentlemen please