A Gaming Expert Gives Us the Ultimate Indie Games Cheat Sheet

Make sure your controller's plugged in

CANNES, France—We ran into Jason Parmar in the Blizzard cabana here in Cannes while grappling with a session of Overwatch. He plugged in beside us, started talking shop, and suddenly we had a ton of new indie games to play. (Also, thanks for all the candy, Candy Crush!) 

Name and title?

Jason, sales manager at a large games company.

Whose work do you envy? 

Some of the Fortnite game integrations are really cool. Marshmello's concert is almost in parallel with the move toward VR/AR, even though Fortnite is obviously not that. 

The idea that there was a concert you could go to in-game was really cool. Also, their partnerships with Marvel have been really sweet. They've made game characters from partnerships; I find it incredible how quick the turnaround is, and also quite fun. It's cool, but difficult to do. 

What do you look for in a game?

When I play a game, I like story-driven narrative or interesting game mechanics. Portal, I'd say, is one of the greatest just because it's such a simple concept that's really difficult to build. The first time I got into it, I just fell down a hole forever and was like, "This is mind-blowing. This is absolutely absurd and incredible."

With Braid, you have two of yourself and can rewind time. Those mechanics are learned—undoing your mistakes is super interesting. 

There's also Firewatch. They did something really interesting with the ending that goes against generic games. Journey's another one—you can't communicate with the person you're with. You only see their username after you've seen the journey. 

By not being able to talk or communicate with anyone other than using this one flash, you end up interpreting things the way you see fit ... and actually everything comes across really friendly. In the end, I went on this journey and essentially felt like I had a good relationship with this person, like we were full-on friends. 

I heard that, actually, the developers did that because when they did actual text, people would just troll all the time. By doing this thing where you can't talk, you just have this one light that people have to interpret, [the interactions were] overwhelmingly positive. 

Like with this guy I journeyed with. He'd unlock this thing I needed, then I'd do that for him. Not knowing who this person was, you just work together on this journey that's really emotional at the end; I was like, wow, I'm way more connected to this person than I would normally be. It's crazy.

Language is important, right? We rely on it to make connections. But it's also really constricting. Do you think gaming can sometimes give us a way to bypass it?

I think so, yeah. It's probably similar to coding languages. In solo games online, yeah; you don't need language for that. Candy Crush's gameplay mechanics stay constant. But also look at Overwatch or League of Legends, or any game where people play with others across the world, and there's not really a language barrier. 

What's the first game you fell in love with as a kid?

Probably Crash Bandicoot. 

I haven't thought about that game in forever!

They revamped and rereleased it recently! It's all updated, the same original trilogy but in HD. It's pretty fun. 

I picked Crash because of the age I was at. The actual first game was probably Wario on Gameboy. I played it on the first original Gameboy, so it was the OG Wario. I think it was the first game I played loads so I can't really remember, but I do remember Crash Bandicoot. It was on PS1, so I was still a kid; since then, I've always loved platform and jumping games.  

My little sister would play beside me with a controller that wasn't plugged in. It was like a bonding experience for us, and we kept that going, even as we got older. She'd honestly play alongside me with a controller unplugged, trying to mimic what I was doing on-screen, even when we were way too old to do that. So gaming brought me and my little sister together. 

How old's your sister?

She's four years younger than me. She plays games now; she has an Oculus Quest. We play Beat Saber. She's better than me at that … but she still needs my help on platform games. 

Jason's top indie games, which he keeps on his phone just for moments like this:

Jason's Top Indie Games

1) Portal: Can be completed in a few hours. One VERY well executed game mechanic that at times is mind blowing combined a strong story that makes it a cult classic. One of Valves finest "mini-games" that spawned the fan favorite Portal 2. [PC, Mac, Android, PS3, Xbox 360]

2) Limbo: Black and White dystopia with minimal design and controls, little story but you work it out. Very mysterious and kinda creepy (but not scary), relatively short. [PC, Mac, Xbox, PS4, Switch, iOS, Android]

3) Inside: (stand-alone but kinda like a sequel). Play if you like Limbo. It's better quality than Limbo, almost 3D but in 2D playing field, much more weird and high end graphics but more complex and longer too and amazing puzzles. [Xbox, PC, PS4, iOS, Switch]

4) Braid: Self funded game over 3 years by legendary Jonathan Blow, Star of "indie game movie", a puzzle game that looks like a weird version of Mario searching for a princess with very interesting game mechanics that focus around time manipulation, complex story [Xbox, PC, Mac, PS3]

5) Fez: Puzzle-Platformer with one core game mechanic that is honestly quite mind blowing the first time, a 2D game in 3D where a "fez" lets you rotate the platform between 4x 2D views to solve puzzles. Some puzzles are genuinely ingenious and complex. 5 years development and strong focus on discovery and freedom to complete the game as you want. [Xbox, PC, PS4, iOS]

6) Firewatch: Adventure Game following a "lookout" in Yellowstone. It's supposed to be relaxing but weird things are happening. Multiple awards it keeps you guessing and has a controversial but amazing ending [PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox, Switch]

7) 140: Not the most popular, but I LOVE this short music puzzle game with epic visuals and sounds. He went on to make Limbo. It's an old school platformer. [Windows, Mac, Xbox, OS4]

8) Thomas Was Alone: Indie puzzle platformer where you play some pixels that have personalities in a computer mainframe. The ability to evoke player emotion towards shapes is amazing. [PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox, iOS, Android]

9) Cuphead: Run & gun indie game in the style of old school Disney animation. 1-2 player requiring high concentration and beating a host of weird and wonderful bosses (it's almost entirely boss battles) which is actually challenging [PC, Mac, Xbox, Switch]

10) Journey: One of the most beautiful games I've ever played. An indie adventure game with extremely few instructions, controls or guidance. It's just you exploring a vast and beautiful desert with an incredible score and work out puzzles as you go. Sometimes you're joined by someone else, sometimes you're not, you have one way to communicate and on completing the game you find out who you met on the journey. It's incredible and has been a PlayStation exclusive until this year! [PS4, PC]

11) Little Nightmares: A "puzzle-platformer horror adventure" that is very creepy. You play a very small hungry girl stuck on a mysterious vessel. Perhaps too short but the graphics, sound and general atmosphere is incredible and the story, although disturbing is fascinating and spooky. [PC, PS4, Xbox, Switch]

12) Hue: Puzzle Platformer all about color and manipulating color to solve puzzles. You start off grey and unlock colors as you go [PC, PS4, Xbox]

13) Duet: Action mobile game playing as two dots that spin and avoid obstacles. Incredible design, incredible music, incredibly hard (obviously I played until I completed it). [iOS, Android]

14) Monument Valley: Indie Puzzle game famously featuring on House of Cards. Minimal puzzle game using optical illusions. Won countless awards and notably the Apple Design Award. Apple called out this game as why they're making Apple Arcade in their keynote, enough said. [iOS, Android]

15) The Stanley Parable: Known as an "interactive storytelling and simulator game": you control Stanley and are faced with dozens of decisions which the narrator comments on throughout, you chose to ignore or follow with many different endings before you restart in a loop [PC, Mac]

Honorable Mentions: 

• Super Meat Boy
• I am Bread
• Papers Please
• The Swapper
• Superhot
• Oxenfree
• The Witness
• The Room
• Oddworld New & Tasty (remake for Xbox/PS)
• Crash & Spyro (remake for Xbox/PS)

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Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.