The likes of God of War: Ragnarök will undoubtedly enjoy the majority of the mainstream spotlight when it comes to gaming on PlayStation 5, but the new-gen console is also home to plenty of indie titles. Even without the massive financial backing of triple-A gaming endeavors, many of these smaller-scale games have a team of developers behind them more than capable of crafting memorable experiences.
Perhaps, it’s that more intimate scope in the dev team that helps make indie games like this stand out as much as they do. From PlayStation console exclusives like Kena: Bridge of Spirits to Metroidvania titans like Hollow Knight and everything in between, there are plenty of exceptional indie games on PS5, whether natively or through backward compatibility.
Kena: Bridge Of Spirits
It’s always nice for the gaming space to get a small piece of refreshing originality to complement the year’s mammoth-sized franchise video game releases, and Ember Lab’s Kena: Bridge of Spirits achieved just that last year. It’s not a groundbreaking game in its genre, but it’s a strong endeavor in what it sets out to do in platforming, action, and puzzles — and especially so for the developer’s first-ever game.
Kena follows the titular spirit guide who helps escort the spirits of the deceased from the physical world into the spiritual. The reception was overall warm to Kena: Bridge of Spirits, with the overall art direction and score being particular highlights.
With one of the easiest trophies in PS5 games, the PlayStation console exclusive Stray by developer BlueTwelve Studio is a recent example of one of the more charmingly inventive indie games. As the cover art suggests, players take on the role of a lost cat who finds itself in a mysterious city that’s inhabited by robots and mutant bacteria, with the goal being to return to the surface world.
Stray is presented through a third-person perspective, where the game cleverly blends elements of platforming and puzzle-solving sequences to progress through the story. This unique premise and point-of-view helped make for some interesting creative decisions when it comes to level design.
Tunic is another recent and critically praised indie game that draws inspiration from a couple of revered games to create its own identity. While it’s somewhat gone under the radar, Andrew Shouldice’s action-adventure game does well to combine aspects from The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls to make an experience that manages to stand firmly on its own two feet.
Players play as an anthropomorphic fox traversing across a mysterious yet colorful world with a story behind it that’s uncovered through cryptic notebook entries. The gameplay combines Zelda-like adventurous tones, exploration, and backtracking through its locales, as well as intense combat that relies on well-timed dodges, blocks, and stamina management similar to Dark Souls.
In another impressive indie-game success by publisher Devolver Digital, developer Acid Nerve did an excellent job with the isometric action-adventure Death’s Door. For fans looking for a modern-day take on the classic The Legend of Zelda formula from the franchise’s earlier days, Death’s Door is a worthwhile effort. The game follows the story of a crow working as a soul reaper for a bureaucratic-style reaping agency tasked with venturing into different doors to take the souls of the dead.
However, the story gradually unravels into an enticing conspiracy behind the scenes. The gameplay is complemented by a vibrant and atmospheric world and a mesmerizing soundtrack, as players explore its environments in Zelda-like combat, puzzle-solving, and equipment progression.
For those that want to indulge their nostalgia for the days of 8-bit platformers, Celeste is one of the most acclaimed modern options. Developed by Maddy Thorson and her team, Celeste features gameplay elements that any platforming fan could want, from appealing pixel art to a charming score and, of course, fast-paced and nail-biting gameplay.
What’s even more impressive is the story, as that’s not something gamers flock to a platformer for. Celeste centers around Madeline as she climbs a fictionalized version of Mt. Celeste that serves as a nuanced metaphor for overcoming her inner demons and insecurities. It’s arguably one of the most emotionally rewarding stories one can find in a platforming video game.
Cuphead might be one of the most iconic modern indie games, as developer Studio MDHR put together an incredibly endearing and addictive gameplay loop and experience. Taking a page aesthetically from the cartoons of the 1920s and 30s — as well as the rise of the Jazz Age — Cuphead succeeds right out of the gate in being a visually striking and memorable game.
It’s equally as strong of a showcase on the gameplay front, as its run-and-gun mechanics are simple to grasp yet are engaging and challenging. Likewise, it’s a brilliant showcase of how great and rewarding couch co-op gameplay can be in the modern age of gaming.
What Remains Of Edith Finch
As far as interactive and cinematic experiences go within the video game medium as an art form, What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that will likely stay with players long after its brief runtime. It’s a game that’s difficult to describe on more than one level, as part of describing it would spoil the narrative — and this is a game that shouldn’t be spoiled. On the other hand, it can also be a difficult game to discuss for how deeply resonating its dark, real-world themes are.
What Remains of Edith Finch sees the player take on the role of the titular member of the Finch family as she revisits the strange childhood home that she perceives to be cursed. Giant Sparrow’s game only lasts a few hours, but that’s all it needs for its ingenious game design, unforgettable presentation, and emotionally gripping story to take hold.
Developer ZA/UM’s Disco Elysium helped contribute to the resurgence of the CRPG subgenre — on top of being one of the finest modern RPGs in general. It follows the story of an amnesiac detective trying to solve a murder case on top of discovering the mystery of his past. The world has elements of fantasy and is set in a sort of political dystopia.
Unlike most RPGs nowadays, Disco Elysium makes the bold creative choice to make a game that revolves around no combat. Instead, it heavily uses dialogue and leveling up the protagonist’s characteristics as stats. Regardless, Disco Elysium succeeds in being one of the most captivating and creative RPGs, with many ways to tackle a playthrough complemented by witty, poignant meta-humor.
Built on the inspiration behind the classic Metroid and Castlevania franchises — and the subgenre they spawned — developer Team Cherry made Hollow Knight into a game that can proudly stand alongside its Metroidvania progenitors. Hollow Knight has players control the titular insectoid Knight as he traverses Hollownest, a land of other anthropomorphic bugs and insects that’s fallen victim to disease.
The world has stunning art direction to it and expresses a melancholy sense of beauty that makes it a joy to explore. It features a subtle but no less nuanced story filled with worldbuilding not unlike FromSoftware’s Souls-like RPGs and combines it with exhilaratingly tense combat and platforming mechanics.
2020 was a big year for gaming since both Sony and Microsoft’s new-gen consoles made their debut, but Supergiant Games’ Hades managed to compel gamers to take notice. The game is set against the backdrop of Greek mythology with an original story, and a story that manages to be just as engrossing and immersive as its high-octane roguelike combat.
That’s quite a feat for a game of this genre, as roguelike games tend to intentionally put storytelling in the back seat. Voice acting, stylish art direction, and character-driven narratives make dying and going back to the hub world grip gamers’ intrigue. And that’s especially so, considering the addictive gameplay during Hades‘ dungeon runs makes death a key element to success.