I love AAA games like God of War Ragnarök, but big-budget productions rarely take risks, or delve into niche topics or themes. They simply can't afford to try something too different. That's why indie games (often made with love by small developers) are where you can find hidden gems brimming with innovative gameplay, and interesting stories. While Sony has been racking up top-tier AAA titles for its PS5 console, Microsoft's Xbox platform has a bunch of indie games that are worth checking out. In fact, they are the reasons why I keep coming back to my Xbox Series S, especially since they are included with an Xbox Game Pass subscription (S$9.99 a month). Here are my current top 5 indie games on Xbox Game Pass (they are also available for PCs via Microsoft's PC Game Pass).
I'll be honest, I probably wouldn't have tried Pentiment if it wasn't part of the Xbox Game Pass. I can't imagine how the pitch went — a medieval mystery adventure where you spend most of the time reading onscreen text (albeit rendered beautifully in stylish fonts). Yet somehow it works. I did have to change the fonts to a more readable form, but everything else is simply top-notch. Pentiment feels like a passion project, a true indie game, even if developer Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas) isn't your typical indie studio. If you have even the slightest interest in history, and religion in 16th century Europe, this is your game of the year 2022.
With its colourful palette, and cutesy fox protagonist, Tunic feels like your usual indie game. But don't be fooled by its Zelda-like setting, the gameplay feels more like Dark Souls. If you thought Souls games deliberately made things difficult for players, try Tunic, which gradually reveals its control scheme as you progress. At the start, I had no idea what the various bars in the user interface even meant. I was just randomly pressing buttons. The level design is excellent, with plenty of hidden items just out of sight due to the game's isometric view. And combat is challenging, to say the least.
Norco is an unique point-and-click adventure set in a surreal, alternate South Louisiana. It's a mix of sci-fi and gothic that's conveyed through excellent music, pixel art, and writing. It's funny, sad, and captivating at the same time. Probably not everyone's cup of tea, especially in terms of gameplay. There are puzzles and some quick time events, but you're mainly reading. An unforgettable visual novel, in short.
Point and shoot. That's PowerWash Simulator in a nutshell. You point a high-pressure jet at dirty objects, and clean them. The gameplay is so simple that your brain can take a break, and you can just enjoy the satisfaction of seeing objects revert to their clean, shiny selves before your eyes. It's like those adult colouring books, but you do it with a mouse and keyboard, or controller instead.
Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator
The other game with a medieval setting on Xbox Game Pass, Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator is very different from Pentiment. Sure, you'll get a similar vibe from its art style, but Potion Craft's gameplay is more involved. I liked how you uncover new potion recipes, such as a healing potion, or an explosive one by traversing a map through mixing herbs, each of which offers a different path to your goal. It's also very fun to think of the right potion for each customer — some of their requirements are very interesting, one would say nefarious.
Any purchase you make through our links may generate a commission. It supports our work, but does not dictate our editorial reviews. See our FAQ here.