Indie games are a labor of love, literally. Without the same resources as bigger companies, indie studios have to work twice as hard to get their games finished, much less marketed, played, and updated. I wanted to put a spotlight on some of my personal favorites, and invited fellow Punished Backlog writers to contribute.
When your summer gets too toasty and you want to sit inside with a new game, I invite you to check out our Punished Favorites Indie Showcase, a three volume series in June (Read Volume 1 here!), July (Read Volume 2 here), and August (right here). Volume 3: five more great indie games for the end of the summer.
Nominated by Sam Martinelli
What impressed me the most about Inside, a splendid but brief experience, was the physical toll it took on me as a player. During this three-hour sidescroller, which can best be described as an interactive nightmare, I found myself breathing multiple sighs of relief throughout some particularly terrifying instances, and the last 20 minutes or so literally made my jaw drop. The ending was so jarring yet poetic that I seriously uttered, “WHAT THE F**K?” and just stared at my screen for another few minutes, trying to grasp the totality of the experience. At multiple points, my hands were shaking, not from any terror or fear, but from the adrenaline of escaping the clutches of mysterious foes.
Inside certainly isn’t the first game to take on a pseudo-horror premise with side-scrolling action, but the way it presents its environments and leaves the player with nothing to realistically expect is marvelous. The experience is only a few hours long, but there is more substance crammed into those few hours than just about any other horror or horror-adjacent game I’ve played. I’ve never experienced anything with the kind of perfect, seamless progression found in Inside, and few other games have taken the same kind of physical and emotional toll on me.
Inside MRSP and platforms
- $19.99 on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Yes, Your Grace (2020)
Nominated by Amanda Tien
Yes, Your Grace is a grim but compelling Ned Stark simulator. Over the course of a year, each week, you play as King Eryk, who hears requests from peasants, plays politics with lords and ladies, and checks in with his family. The game opens foreshadowing a massive battle, and as the player, you know the fight is coming before King Eryk does. This foresight is needed, as you work to protect Eryk’s family, subjects, and kingdom. This medieval management game requires a deft hand with resources and time, a constant balance of which decisions will most benefit your kingdom. I was impressed how quickly I was emotionally attached to the story and its characters, and I furiously replayed a swath of weeks in order to best take care of “my” villagers and three daughters.
The three princess daughters and their individual hopes and dreams are the heart of Yes, Your Grace, and unfortunately, it’s also where the game missteps a few times. That said, Yes, Your Grace is still intriguing and worth mentioning, especially if you enjoy games like RimWorld, Cities: Skylines, or Frostpunk. If you’re looking for an indie management game that flew under the radar, I hope this listing encourages you—I only found it by trolling through the Nintendo store.
Yes, Your Grace MSRP and platforms:
- $19.99 on Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac via Steam, Xbox One
- Also available on Game Pass
A Short Hike (2020)
Nominated by Sam Martinelli
What works so wonderfully about A Short Hike is how it built an environment that serves as a playground but not a theme park. Its overarching narrative is incredibly touching (and fairly relatable), though what makes it work so well is that each step toward achieving the plot’s climax involves interacting with the world and its people in a genuine manner.
A Short Hike allows the player to take part in typical summer fun, like foot races, volleyball, rock climbing, and fishing with other adorable animals. Sometimes these actions help push the narrative forward, but other times they exist just to exist. Everything and everyone belongs exactly where they are, and the player’s engagement in such activities is largely determined by their own volition; you’re never forced to do anything, therefore you do whatever your heart wants.
(This blurb originally appeared in Sam’s List of Top Quarantine Games).
A Short Hike MSRP and platforms:
- $7.99 on Nintendo Switch, Mac, and PC
- Coming to PlayStation 4 in fall 2021
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights (2021)
Nominated by David Silbert
If you’re a Metroidvania fan in 2021, I’m willing to bet there are two games absolutely on your radar: Metroid Dread, coming this fall, and Hollow Knight: Silksong, due out… whenever that game’s ready. Here’s the thing: There’s already a game this year that scratches that 2D exploration itch. It’s a fantastic addition to the genre, yet one I fear may come and go unnoticed.
In Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, you control Lily, a White Priestess tasked with cleansing a kingdom from a sickness known as the Blight. With the help of a stoic spirit called the Umbral Knight, you’ll purify the Blight-infested spirits strewn across the land, gain access to new powers, and solve the mystery behind the world’s decay.
Like the best games of the genre, Ender Lilies presents a mesmerizing world for players to explore. Its solitary gameplay and somber music draw immediate parallels to Hollow Knight, while its vibrant, storybook-esque visuals echo those of Moon Studios’ Ori games. All the while, Ender Lilies breaks away from the pack with a command-based combat system reminiscent of Pokémon or Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories.
It’s hard to encapsulate what exactly makes Ender Lilies so special in just a few hundred words. Instead, I advise you to take a leap of faith, immerse yourself in its world, and give this sleeper indie the limelight it deserves. The Metroidvania genre may be full of heavy hitters, but Quietus of the Knights shows it can swing with the best of them.
(For more on the game, check out our Ender Lilies review.)
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights MSRP and platforms:
- $24.99 on PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5
Nominated by Amanda Tien
I unironically considered writing a whole blurb dedicated only to Supergiant Games, the maker of everyone’s 2020 favorite, Hades, but Sam Martinelli has already done that. Instead, I must submit their 2017 release Pyre.
I believe Pyre is lowkey a perfect game. And it makes me kind of insane that Sam won’t try it. Pyre is heart-warming, under-dog-sportsy, uplifting, devastating, fun as hell (not an intentional pun re: Hades but IT CAN BE!), beautiful, thoughtful, super replayable, well acted, well drawn. Like damn, Sam, what else do you want?
I’ve replayed this game at least four times, and I may just have to again. (It’s best played with toggles and buttons versus a keyboard, so if you’ve got a computer, hook up that old Xbox controller.) Now, if only they’d port it to Switch.
Pyre MSRP and platforms:
- $19.99 on PlayStation 4, PC, and Mac
More Indie Games We Loved:
- Volume 1 of our favorite indie games includes Genesis Noir, Battle Chef Brigade, Ikenfell, Solasta: Crown of the Magister, Titan Souls, Spiritfarer, Shantae and the Seven Sirens, Celeste, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Cat Quest.
- Volume 2 of our best indies list includes the Banner Saga Trilogy, Call of the Sea, Nidhogg, Overboard!, and Murder By Numbers.
Want More Fun Indie Game Recs?
We’re looking forward to Kena: Bridge of Spirits, which releases on September 21, 2021, and we have two upcoming retrospectives of indies we love: 1) The Return of the Obra Dinn in October, and 2) Dream Daddy… sometime soon.