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, and August. Volume 2: five more great indie games you may have missed.
Banner Saga Trilogy (2014, 2016, 2018)
Nominated by Amanda Tien
The Banner Saga was the first game that made me love turn-based combat. I am a generally impatient person, and yet this game made me embrace the moments it took to carefully plan out my strategies and moves. The trilogy features gorgeous art and music with well-woven story threads that carry throughout the series. Choices matter here, which makes sense given Stoic Studios was founded by three ex-BioWare employees in 2011. The game saves automatically, and when I finished the third game and read about something I could’ve done in the second game to alter the results, I just straight up played both games again and I didn’t even mind.
Repackaged in a set and ported to the Switch, the trilogy looks better than ever. The Banner Saga world is built with care and finesse, and its surprising success made it a leader in the indie world of the last decade.
Banner Saga Trilogy MSRP and platforms:
- $19.99 on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
- Also available individually for $9.99 each
Call of the Sea (2020)
Nominated by Sam Martinelli
Call of the Sea, a lush, colorful first-person adventure title from developer Out of the Blue, tells a story of one woman’s quest to not only find her lost husband, but to learn who she really is. Through a litany of environmental and occasionally brain-busting puzzles, the game challenges the player to not just try to make their way through a mysterious island with seemingly supernatural inhabitants, but also ponder how such a mysterious locale exists and why the protagonist feels so welcome in an otherwise hostile environment.
While the mystical island setting may come off as culturally insensitive at times, the beautifully adorned set pieces, complex puzzle design, and compelling narrative make Call of the Sea a must play for anyone yearning for a (nonviolent) escapade full of curiosity and wonder.
Call of the Sea MSRP and platforms:
- $19.99 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S
- Also available on Game Pass for PC and Xbox consoles
Nominated by Eric Tate
Half competitive fighter, half party game, Nidhogg surprised me with how entertaining and addictive it is. What I enjoy most about the game is its unique approach to the 2D fighting genre. In most popular fighting games, like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, you must deplete your opponent’s health bar to win. Nidhogg breaks away from this formula and instead tasks both players with stopping each other from reaching their respective goals on opposite ends of the map.
This seemingly simple concept changes the dynamic of the game dramatically. It shifts the game from “fighting” your opponent to thinking about how to best get around them or stop their progress. There’s even a bit of platforming involved, as each map has different lethal obstacles for players to avoid. It helps that the game is extremely balanced, with players having access to the same set of weapons and moves.
If you’re looking for a new and unique fighting game to play with friends, Nidhogg is a must buy.
P.S: The sequel, Nidhogg 2, released in 2017 and has more weapons and maps to add to the fun!
Nidhogg MSRP and platforms:
- $9.99 on PC and Mac; $14.99 on PS4 and Vita
Nominated by Amanda Tien
After the first minute of Overboard!, I said out loud, “Wow,” and my husband asked what I was doing and I said, “Playing a game about covering up the murder of my husband,” and he said, “Cool cool cool.”
Overboard! is a brand new release by Inkle, interactive novel extraordinaire. (I still find their 2014 launch, 80 Days, to be extremely replayable.) It features their signature gorgeous art style but with a bigger dose of early century glamour, a little bit of fantastic voice acting and music editing, and a delightfully dark sense of humor.
You’ll play through multiple runs of this reverse detective game as Valerie, a young British theater star on her way to America who’s just thrown her horrible husband overboard, desperately trying to scheme her way to freedom before the ship lands. The game necessitates replayability with a variety of endings and avenues to explore. You’ll piece together creative ways to befriend or betray other characters, find and plant evidence, ask snarky God NPC for advice (yes, you read that right), and/or just kill everybody.
Good luck, and enjoy.
Overboard! MSRP and platforms:
- $5.99 on iOS, $14.99 on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac
Murder By Numbers (2020)
Nominated by David Silbert
I love Murder by Numbers. Not just because it’s a detective game, or because it features a bopping soundtrack from Ace Attorney and Ghost Trick composer Masakazu Sugimori. I love it because it puts a Black woman in the driver’s seat, while bucking almost all stereotypical trends.
You play as Honor Mizrahi, an American actor who must put her fictitious detective skills to real-world use to discover the truth behind a series of murders. Aiding her is an exuberant robot, named Scout, who has lost his memory.
Murder by Numbers doesn’t hesitate to comment on the state of inclusion, particularly with regard to women and queer folx. It’s in these meta moments, when Honor and Scout help each other through adversity, that Murder by Numbers truly shines. Their interactions are electric, supported by sharp writing and excellent humor.
Over four interlinked cases, players get to experience first-hand that Honor Mizrahi isn’t just a great Black character—she’s a great character, full stop. We need more stories like hers.
(This blurb was previously featured in our list, David’s 5 Most Inclusive Video Games of 2020.)
Murder by Numbers MSRP and platforms:
- $14.99 on Switch, PC, and Stadia
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.
Want More Fun Indie Game Recs?
Check out our Volume 3 in August, featuring, among others, Pyre and Yes, Your Grace…