10 indie gems on Steam that are worth your time and hard-earned dosh

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It's basically raining indie games on Steam, all the time. You can't go a day without looking at the New Releases section of the Steam Store and seeing a list of indie games. They're everywhere! But if you've dipped your feet into the indie pool before, you know they can be a gamble without some research.

What's the best way to find indie games on Steam you'd like? Well, going to a game's Store page, checking out the similar titles at the bottom of the listing, and checking their reviews and discussion forums are technically the best way.

But man, that takes effort.

More often than not, I just buy my indie games based off recommendations from other similarly-minded individuals. Most of my friends also make their purchases based off word of mouth. You can make a bad purchase even when going off recommendations -- but that's what refunds are for. Sweet, sweet refunds.

There's a lot out there to wade through, and you mostly base your indie buys off word of mouth anyway. Don't lie, I know you do. Why not take a look at some of mu suggestions? You (probably) won't be disappointed. I think. Maybe.

Only one of these games is an early access title, and many have demos. What's there to lose? Aside from your future.

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Desktop Dungeons

Standard price: $14.99
Genre: Turn-based roguelike
Demo: No, but you can try a prototype from 2010
Steam Store link

Do you like math? No? Me neither, but man I love me some Desktop Dungeons.

The game may seem like your typical roguelike at first glance, but it quickly becomes apparent it's not like its brutal brethren in one key way: it requires the player scope out a floor, check out enemy numbers and available resources. Once you've done so, you plan your strategy based on your level and enemy levels, your HP, MP,  and spells.

Desktop Dungeons is definitely one of the more planning-intensive roguelikes I've delved into over the years and I'm not ashamed to say I've whipped out a calculator on multiple occasions to plan my strategy.

If you like roguelikes and want something a little different, this may be one of the best options out there. The gameplay depth paired with unlockable races, classes, and other goodies makes it a well-rounded and excellent addition to any roguelike library.

Valdis Story: Abyssal City

Standard price: $14.99
Genre: Metroidvania action platformer
Demo: Yes
Steam Store link

Like Metroid? Castlevania? Devil May Cry? Why the hell haven't you played Valdis Story yet?

This little gem was a surprise Greenlight in 2013, and despite the late release of the third and fourth characters last year, it remains one of the best games of the genre on Steam at the time of writing.

Valdis Story: Abyssal City's plagued with absolutely awful things like:

  • Great music
  • Beautiful semi-3D visuals
  • Responsive and flexible combat
  • Secret areas and items
  • Cool bosses
  • Weapons, armor, and skill points to fit most playstyles

...All right, so those things are actually pretty great and so is Valdis Story.

The controls definitely take some getting used to, and wall-jumping can be pretty awful at times. But if you can get over those points, you're in for one fun ride no matter the character you choose. A great buy for any action platformer or Metroidvania fan.

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Road Not Taken

Standard price: $14.99
Genre: Turn-based puzzle roguelite
Demo: No
Steam Store link

The trailer in the header may not make Road Not Taken seem like a stellar puzzle game, but there's so much potential gameplay here for puzzle fans it's hard not to recommend.

Road Not Taken has you wander into the cold, unforgiving wilderness to save lost children -- which, as you may expect, is not as simple as it seems.

Players must pick up items they come across and toss them to open doors or combine them to make new items. Saving children is done much in the same way, as you unceremoniously toss them at their parents.

As Road Not Taken is a roguelite, it has infinite replayability and there really is no getting tired of befriending or wooing townsfolk, especially since things often do not turn out the way you expect.

Truly a fantastic puzzler from Spry Fox and worth every penny.

Risk of Rain

Standard price: $9.99
Genre: Action platformer roguelite
Demo: Yes
Steam Store link

I don't think I could put into words how great Risk of Rain is if you're the type who prefers games that are tough as nails.

I also don't think I could put into words how upset I am the PC version's netcode is so awful while the upcoming PS4 and Vita version is getting dedicated servers. My butthurt on that point is very real. But that isn't what this article is for.

Risk of Rain is still an amazing game on Steam if you don't have a PlayStation 4/Vita, even if you have to jump through portforwarding hoops to make online multiplayer work.

Things start out soft in a Risk of Rain run, but don't worry: there's plenty waiting to kill even the most seasoned player. Pushing through, your enemies become more wall than beast or machine -- and you, with luck, will become more weapon than man and escape the planet.

The controls are tight, the music is amazing, and the variations between characters and their synergies with particular items is a delight.

I can't think of a single bad thing about Risk of Rain outside of its janky multiplayer, and that is something I'm going to complain about until I'm on my deathbed trying to get in one more round with Acrid with Spite, Enigma, Glass, and Spirit activated.

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LISA

Standard price: $9.99
Genre: Side-scrolling turn-based RPG
Demo: No
Steam Store link

I know, RPG Maker games don't have the best reputation and LISA certainly was an RPG Maker game, as you can see in the trailer -- though developer Dingaling did port it out of the engine not too long after release.

What a boring way to start a description of what may be one of the strangest RPGs to see release, and what is certainly one of my favorite games of all time.

LISA puts you in the shoes of Brad Armstrong, and you're out to save the last girl in the world -- whether it's the right thing to do or not.

It's difficult to describe this game even as someone who has played it several times. It's dark and uncomfortable, a stark contrast to a certain other indie RPG (you know what it is). The music is catchy and weird, sometimes grating. The battle system is basic but has its merits.

The story and characters are where it's at in LISA, but the game is not for everyone. It's not for the sensitive or squeamish, but it is for the adventurous gamer with a twisted streak. And if you want a game that utterly confounds you and ultimately makes you feel like trash, this is the way to go.

Spoilers: You do want a game that utterly confounds you and ultimately makes you feel like trash, you just don't know it yet.

Vagante

Early Access price: $14.99
Genre: Action RPG roguelite
Demo: Yes
Steam Store link

Wary of Early Access games? Me, too. But this is definitely not one to worry about. It's been in Early Access since late 2014, but developer Nuke Nine has packed to the brim with content and quality of life updates since the beginning.

Vagante is like Spelunky with far more RPG elements, action, and sheer ruthlessness in design. It's slower than Spelunky, more complicated than Spelunky, and may just be the better game for you if you'd like a more serious RPG tint to your dungeon and cave-diving.

This game is not even remotely for the casual gamer.

Of all the roguelites on this list, Vagante is the one that took me the longest to get the hang of and progress in, thanks to the random unidentified drops (thanks cursed equipment) and RPG stat/skill leveling. It's worth it, though: Just about everything in this game is stellar, and at the current rate of updates the full release version is shaping up to be amazing.

If you like roguelites and are comfortable with being even worse at the start than usual in these types of games, you have nothing to lose but hours of your life with Vagante. Especially once online multiplayer is released.

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SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition

Standard price: $7.99
Genre: ASCII turn-based RPG roguelite
Demo: Yes (On the Steam Store link)
Steam Store link

Stop, don't go! ASCII games need love too, even in this day and age. And SantuaryRPG: Black Edition may just be the one that fits perfectly in your Steam library.

SanctuaryRPG is a curious game. Despite sticking to some seriously classic RPG traditions and visuals, it's a peculiarly modern game with an addictive battle system that requires the player to pay close attention to enemy states and chain ability usage.

While it seems a serious, slow game, it couldn't be more the opposite. What we have here is a fairly silly procedurally-generated RPG with more charm and secrets than you can shake a stick at, not to mention combat is pretty quick once you've got it down. And let's not get into its great soundtrack.

This is one ASCII game that any PC RPG player can chow down on, even if they're unfamiliar with ASCII graphics. Definitely try the demo if you're even remotely curious.

Wings of Vi

Standard price: $14.99
Genre: Precision action platformer
Demo: Yes (On Steam Store page)
Steam Store link

You may as well move onto the next slide if you don't like ramming yourself into one set of obstacles dozens of times -- Wings of Vi probably isn't for you even on Easy Mode.

But hey, if you're cool with that you're in for one of the best precision platformers in a long time. Plus you get to play dress up, what's not to love?

Don't let the angel protagonist fool you: Wings of Vi is an absolutely brutal platformer both in terms of combat and the platforming itself, and it is not about to let you finish the game without pulling your own hair out or breaking a few keyboards/controllers in the process.

There's a lot of care put into the game's music and visuals, and it plays exactly the way you'd want -- except weapon swapping is sometimes a hindrance.  There are plenty of secrets to be found, specifically new weapons and cosmetic items for Vi. It's just a joy to play if precision platformers are your type of game.

If you make it through Wings of Vi, you get some serious bragging rights. But good luck with that, grasshopper.

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Cook, Serve, Delicious!

Standard price: $9.99
Genre: Cooking sim
Demo: Yes
Steam Store link

I'd be willing to guess you probably haven't played a cooking simulation game before.

Okay, you might have. They're not the rarest genre these days, but they are certainly not common.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! is a particularly charming brand of cooking sim, with a heaping helping of muscle memory and stress with a side of nice-looking renders of food and a refreshingly appropriate (cheesy) music.

While the sequel is on the horizon, the original game has more than enough content to keep the virtual cook busy for now.

Climbing the restaurant ranks is quite the feat in the standard campaign mode -- don't let the "casual" tag on Steam fool you. You have to memorize dozens of recipes, rotate out menu items based on your recent menu choices and challenges, and excel at your craft when catering and when appearing on famous cooking shows.

Did I mention there's a ton of muscle memory involved here? Remembering each recipe isn't easy, and every customer wants something different.

The Battle Kitchen update released in 2014 brought new challenges, leaderboards, and a New Game+ mode for veteran chefs. It's a lot easier than actually running a restaurant, that's for sure.

Endless Legend

Standard price: $29.99
Genre: 4X turn-based strategy
Demo: No
Steam Store link

It's hard to say this one is a "hidden gem" considering how often it goes on sale, but when Civilization V is still the top 4X game on Steam, I can't help but bring this baby up in this list. It's fantastic.

Endless Legend is exactly the type of evolution I, as a regular 4X strategy player, would like to see in ground-based entries (as opposed to space titles like Sins of a Solar Empire) to the genre. Instead of taking pages from popular staple Civilization V, developer Amplitude Studios went in their own direction and created a basically triple-A quality 4X with more of a focus on unit management over city management.

The game's Hero system, which has players customize Hero units' skills and equipment to better lead their squads to battle or oversee their cities, is fresh, fun, and adds an additional layer of strategy,

The gameplay variety between factions (and your ability to customize your own faction) means you can play pretty much the way you want -- within reason.

If you like 4X games, there's pretty much no reason to not pick up Endless Legend. Except maybe the $29.99 price tag with additional paid content DLC. But you expect to put that sort of investment in a high quality strategy game.

Published Feb. 25th 2016

Associate Editor

Ashley spends all her time playing games, cooking, and studying languages. It's a miracle she's not burned out on the whole thing after being a game addict since '89 (I'm old, deal with it). Classic annoying Sega kid, still hasn't let go of Sonic and prefers arcade-style games. Final Fantasy and SaGa rock whatever it is you like, chump.

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