Top 10 Best Indie Games of the Last 5 Years

VOICE OVER: Callum Janes
The last five years have produced a slew of incredible indie video games! For this list, we're only looking at indie games released between 2016 and 2021. Our countdown includes “Return of the Obra Dinn”, "Cuphead", “Disco Elysium: The Final Cut”, and more!

Top 10 Indie Games of the Last 5 Years

Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 indie games of the last five years.

For this list, we’re only looking at indie games released between 2016 and 2021.

Let us know in the comments which will stay with you for years.

#10: “Inside” (2016)

The spiritual successor to the wildly popular indie game “Limbo”, “Inside” manages to turn the weirdness up to 11. It’s another side-scrolling puzzle-platformer, but with even stranger puzzles to wrap your head around. While grappling with mind control devices and a particularly violent mermaid, you’ll descend deeper and deeper into an ominous facility – so deep it seems impossible that you’ll ever find your way back out. And yes, there are plenty of horrific death animations, though thankfully none involving a spider this time. But “Inside” doesn’t get really memorable until the very end. We won’t spoil it, but it’s worth checking out just for its unreal finale.

#9: “Return of the Obra Dinn” (2018)

The year is 1808, and you’re the lone insurance investigator tasked with uncovering the mystery of the Obra Dinn, a derelict ghost ship that has just reappeared. It’s got a distinct, monochromatic art style that makes it look far older, and you spend most of the game looking for items, logs, and piecing together exactly what happened. It’s not got complex mechanics and instead shines with its story; it’s the next game from the creator of “Papers, Please”, itself an outstanding indie game, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. You’ll use magic to commune with the dead and hopefully uncover the truth.

#8: “Night in the Woods” (2017)

A story-driven game with platforming elements, “Night in the Woods” is profoundly relatable to anybody in a similar age range to the main characters. Mae is a 20-year-old who’s just returned to her hometown to live with her parents after dropping out of college; it’s not immediately clear why she’s dropped out, but you eventually learn of Mae and her friends and their struggles with mental health. They’re all trying to become adults in a complicated world, growing up without much direction. It’s told in an incredibly profound way, but if that doesn’t strike you, there’s also a conspiracy about the town being run by a cult you’ll need to get to the bottom of.

#7: “Cuphead” (2017)

As many mainstream games seem to get easier and easier with each passing year, “Cuphead” was a breath of fresh air; a run’n’gun platformer lauded from the beginning for its grueling – but incredibly fun and rewarding – difficulty. It can also be played entirely in co-op as Mugman joins Cuphead in trying to beat the devil at his own game. But what really puts Cuphead a cut above the rest is its art style; consistently using animation inspired by 1920s and 1930s cartoons, it’s a refreshing and imaginative journey through animation history. And nothing beats the satisfaction of finally killing that boss of mastering a specific platforming segment.

#6: “Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition” (2020)

The first act of “Kentucky Route Zero” came out way back in 2013, but it wasn’t until early 2020 that the entire game was finished. 2020 saw the release of Act V and an additional interlude at the end – provided you fulfill certain esoteric conditions – as well as a complete port of the entire game, plus interludes, to consoles. It’s a simple adventure game that takes inspiration not only from earlier games through its polygonal art style, but also from literature, frequently incorporating a fictional playwright as well as references to real-world writers like Gabriel García Márquez. It’s a thoughtful and oftentimes incredibly sad look at the world after the 2008 recession.

#5: “Hollow Knight” (2017)

You’ll come to “Hollow Knight” for the atmosphere and beautiful art design, and you’ll stay for the brilliant combat and thrill of overcoming impossible odds. Existing across genres, it’s a 2D action-platformer, Metroidvania Soulslike, featuring the exploration and backtracking of “Metroid” with the punitive deaths of “Dark Souls”, where you’ll lose your currency and your soul itself. The soul becomes a shade you need to defeat to restore your health capacity. With real, hand-drawn animations for its characters, the world of Hallownest really comes to life. It’s a brutal world to exist in, but there’s nothing else quite like it.

#4: “Stardew Valley” (2016)

On the surface, “Stardew Valley” might look like any other farming simulator, but it’s actually one of the deepest games on the market, full of so much content you’ll keep playing for years. Disillusioned with your life working in an office, you decide to up sticks and move to Pelican Town, Stardew Valley, to take over your family farm. You’ll grow seasonal crops, keep livestock, craft increasingly complex items, and even go dungeon crawling in the mine. As well as all that, the romance options are extremely varied; the town is diverse, and sexuality is a non-issue – you just need to ensure you have the right gifts. “Stardew Valley” is escapism at its finest.

#3: “Celeste” (2018)

This puzzle-platformer will win you over with its gameplay as soon as you start playing. With beautiful pixel art, “Celeste” is truly a throwback with many modern innovations to its mechanics. The puzzles might be tricky at first, but soon enough you’ll be getting from point A to point B faster and with more finesse than you ever could have imagined. On top of that, it’s also got a great story, and is a thoughtful meditation on mental health and how simple tasks can sometimes seem impossible. It’s extremely poignant and the icing on this wonderful cake is that its soundtrack is just as great as everything else about it.

#2: “Hades” (2020)

Though it was popular while in early access, “Hades” still seemed to come out of nowhere near the end of 2020. This outstanding indie game is possibly one of the best roguelikes ever created, with superb moment-to-moment gameplay that can be endlessly modified with boons and weapons. It follows Zagreus, the son of Hades, as he fights his way out of the Underworld. Along the way you’ll meet many characters from Greek mythology, all with gorgeous artwork to complement the great voice acting – and you’ll even be able to romance some of them. As well as that, the optional God Mode makes it more accessible, encouraging even more people to pick it up.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few Honorable Mentions:

“Firewatch” (2016)
Become a Fire Lookout and Hope the Paranoia of Loneliness Doesn’t Get to You

“Outer Wilds” (2019)
Repeat the Same Doomed Cycle Over and Over, and Unravel the Truth of the Universe

“Spelunky 2” (2020)
The First Game Was Perfect, but the Sequel Improved on It Exponentially

#1: “Disco Elysium: The Final Cut” (2021)

It’s been hailed as one of the greatest role-playing games ever made, and it certainly lives up to that title. “Disco Elysium” is the story of a washed-up, alcoholic detective in the Citizens Militia, a police force few people recognize the authority of; it’s down to you whether the detective can change his ways or whether he’ll plunge into darkness and destruction forever. While grappling with that personal struggle, you’re also investigating a grisly murder that the local dockworkers’ union seems to be to blame for. The game’s many talking heads will wax lyrical about politics while you take in the beautiful, water-color art style, and eventually, you’ll want to stay in Revachol forever despite its flaws.