As gamers, we like to think that the developers of our favorite franchises and hotly anticipated titles have our best interests at heart.
We want to believe that developers will always include the features that fans have been crying out for since the last release, and we wholeheartedly expect them to give it their all to create a game that meets our expectations are more.
However, in the current gaming landscape, which is governed by corporate suits with eyes on sales projections and profit, this is becoming more of a rarity in truth.
A lot of games lately have been hitting digital shelves unfinished, full of bugs, or have committed the cardinal sin of not offering a quintessential experience for fans of an established property.
When this happens time and time again, this often leads to fans taking things into their own hands by creating fan games. Games that take the source material and tweak it to offer an experience that fans just couldn’t count on the developers to provide.
Fan games are a wonderful outlet that lets rigid properties off the leash and sometimes outshine their predecessors even with much less experienced developers at the helm. They may often be tweaked AAA entities, but we would say this is about as Indie as a gaming project gets.
So, with that in mind, we have put together a list of the Best Fan Games of All Time, allowing you to see what happens when fans have free reign to create an established video game in their own image. Without further delay, here is Indie Game Culture’s list of the Best Fan Games of All Time!
Before we hop in, we need to establish some ground rules so we can primarily establish what constitutes a ‘fan game.’ Here are the criteria we decided to run with here:
- All games must have been created by a small team, without the help of existing developers or publishers
- Even if games have been created using source codes or existing game builds, we will be allowing for that
- All games must be finished, and currently playable projects
- All games must have a strong fan reception
- Only one fan game per established property
- Games that were later published as retail releases will also be considered
Okay, let’s see what happens when the fans take control. Off we go!
The Best Fan Games of All Time
Made By: ColonelSalt
Original Game: Pokemon Fire Red
We begin with a Pokemon ROM hack, and quite frankly, there is a treasure trove of options to choose from in this category. You have full-fledged stories like Pokemon Uranium, Pokemon Dark Rising, and Pokemon Unbound, and then you have fan games with cool gimmicks like Pokemon Infinite Fusion and Pokemon Snakewood. However, this is a game that has both.
In Pokemon Rocket Edition, you play through the events of Pokemon Fire Red from the perspective of a Team Rocket Grunt who must rise through the ranks, impress Giovanni, and take down Red, the protagonist of the main game.
Plus, you don’t primarily catch Pokemon in this game. Instead, you steal them from weak children and elderly trainers; how on brand is that?
It’s a fun story with a cool gameplay gimmick baked in, and it’s well worth checking out if you want an entry-level Pokemon ROM to get you started.
#2 – Black Mesa
Made By: Crowbar Collective
Original Game: Half-Life 2
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that Valve isn’t exactly known for its consistency when it comes to producing sequels for their biggest IPs, which is perhaps why we haven’t seen a mainline Half-Life game since way back in 2004.
This is what prompted fans to create Black Mesa, a remake of the original in the series, which overhauls the experience in just about every way imaginable.
Not only does this game drag this beloved relic into the modern era of gaming with style and class, but it also makes gameplay smoother through quality-of-life changes, adding mechanics from Half-Life 2, and vastly improves the Xen portion of the game, which is hands-down the weakest segment of the original.
Black Mesa now serves as the most modern and refined way to experience the original Half-Life, and rightly so, as it’s a work of art lovingly restored by die-hard fans of the series. If you haven’t played this thrilling remake, now is the time!
#3 – Legend of Zelda: The Missing Link
Made By: Kaze Emanuar
Original Game: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
While there is a lot of competition in the ‘Best Games of All Time‘ discussion, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a game that regularly comes up in that discussion.
It’s a revered adventure RPG and is widely regarded as one of, if not the best Zelda game ever made. Bold of a fan to think they could add to the appeal of this title, but somehow, that’s exactly what they ended up doing with Legend of Zelda: The Missing Link.
The Missing Link is a fan game that adds a prequel chapter that takes place between the events of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, effectively acting as OOT DLC that we never got.
It’s a wholly darker affair than the original OOT, which has you explore The Lost Woods for the most part in a search for your travel companion Navi.
It has brand-new areas, puzzles, weapons, core mechanics, soundtracks, and so much more, plus it looks much more polished than the N64 outing. All of which make this a Zelda fans’ dream come true and an absolute must-play!
#4 – The Forgotten City
Made By: Modern Storyteller
Original Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It’s crazy to think that The Forgotten City began life as a Skyrim Mod, but that’s the reality. This title rose to prominence as a mod of the same name, and after completion and critical acclaim, was then picked up by publisher Dear Villagers and crafted into a fully-fledged game, retaining all the brilliance of the mod, but adding refined visuals and assets to bring the pocket-sized Roman City together.
The Forgotten City is a game of mystery and intrigue that will see you explore, complete quests, get to know the locals, and ultimately create a time paradox to save those trapped in this city and avoid invoking ‘ The Golden Rule.’
Despite being a fan project, this game has a story right up there with some of the finest within the genre, hence why this game has scooped so many awards.
It’s a puzzle game, a detective game, an RPG, and an open-world action-adventure game all rolled into one. It’s my personal favorite on this list, and a game you should absolutely check out for yourself.
#5 – Sonic Mania
Made By: Christian Whitehead
Original Game: Sonic The Hedgehog
It’s rare that a fan game is so good that a global conglomerate stop and take notice. In cases such as this, it usually leads to a cease and desist as companies fear their profits are in danger, but in the case of Sonic Mania, it led to SEGA buying the project and publishing it themselves.
What’s remarkable about this story is that SEGA has arguably failed to produce a Sonic title that fans have unanimously adored since the side-scrolling 2D SEGA Genesis days.
Yet, with limited resources and experience, Team Sonic managed to produce a retro-inspired platformer that united Sonic fans for the first time in decades, offering quintessentially fast-paced and fluid Sonic gameplay.
SEGA decided to concede that they, after trying and failing, didn’t have the talent in-house to produce a Sonic game that could capture the lightning in a bottle the original games did and instead placed their trust in Christian Whitehead and his crew. Which, as we now know, worked out pretty well for them.
You’ll have 12 zones, including new areas, Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails to play as, remastered and reworked sounds and visuals, and so much more. So put on those running shoes, roll up into a tight ball, and get moving!
Made By: Bohemia Interactive
Original Game: Arma 3
There have been quite a few notable games that have come from Arma 3 Mod content, such as DayZ and Aftermath, but none are quite as impressive or well-known as PUBG, the game that arguably started the Battle Royale boom.
This title began as an Arma 3 mod, and now serves as one of the most popular fan mods of all time, but would eventually be released in its own right and would also enjoy a period as the closest direct competition to the massively popular Battle Royale game, Fortnite.
It’s exactly what you would expect this title to be. You drop in on an island, battle tooth and nail to get a gun and gear to stay alive, and the last one standing at the end is the winner. It’s that simple.
We have obviously seen other incredible iterations of this format over the years, such as Call of Duty: Warzone, and Apex Legends, to name a few, but it’s worth noting that PUBG was the first, unless you start digging into Minecraft Hunger Games servers. But that’s a conversation for another day.
Made By: Davy Wreden & William Pugh
Original Game: Half-Life 2
I know we have already had a game formed from Half-Life, but the walking simulator, The Stanley Parable, is a game, so out of left field, I think we can make an exception here.
This game is a fourth-wall-breaking, narrative-driven title from the mind of Davy Wreden, the creator of The Beginner’s Guide, which sees you control Stanley, your typical office worker who must either accept the monotony of his job or break free.
Thanks to incredible narration, expert storytelling, branching paths, and player autonomy, The Stanley Parable has enjoyed widespread success after it was pivoted from a fan mod to a full-scale release.
In the same vain as Bioshock, Braid, Portal, and a handful of others, The Stanley Parable is a game intent on asking the player why they make the choices they do within a game, and actively encourages them to explore alternatives to see the humorous outcomes that await them.
The game has also been released rather recently as The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe, which adds new content and refined visuals, so there’s no time better than the present to enjoy this self-aware narrative classic!
Made By: Team GoldenEye
Original Game: GoldenEye 007
There are some games that we fondly remember as games that raised the bar, offering rich, refined gameplay and hours of fun. Yet, when we return to them, our rose-tinted glasses promptly shatter as we are left gobsmacked and appalled that our brains would fool us this way.
Well, GoldenEye 007 is perhaps the epitome of this phenomenon, as, simply put, the original is damn near unplayable in the modern era, with clunky controls and dated visuals being the standout issues.
However, thanks to Team GoldenEye, we can play the multiplayer contingent of this beloved FPS relic in all its glory today. Team GoldenEye has recreated the multiplayer aspect of this game, reforming the maps, character models, weapons, gunplay, and more from the ground up, while offering new maps, game modes, and more for players to enjoy as well.
While the single-player campaign remains a relic best left in the past, this free-to-play multiplayer remake is a triumph and a great way to get a hearty dose of nostalgia.
Made By: Prism Game Studios
Original Game: Portal 2
It was a toss-up between the wonderful Portal Reloaded and this one for the best Portal fan-made representation on this list, but I think that Portal Stories: Mel takes the cake, and that’s no lie.
This game is a free-to-play mod that sees you take control of Mel, a fellow test subject alongside Chel at Apature Labs who has been released from Cryo Sleep and must try to find a way to escape the facility in a story that takes place in between Portal and Portal 2. Plus, there’s more Cave Johnson in this title, which is always a welcome bonus.
You’ll work alongside a Wheatley-adjacent personality core in a game that essentially plays like Portal 2 DLC, more or less, with 22 new levels, and lots of intriguing unique storybeats to keep returning Portal fans on the edge of their seat. Plus, if you aren’t a Portal veteran, you don’t even need to have Portal installed, as it’s a standalone game.
No excuses; go play the game, and we promise we will give you some cake when you’re done!
Made By: ConcernedApe
Original Game: Harvest Moon
We are probably getting into spiritual successor territory here with this one, as it’s not a game that takes Harvest Moon’s source code and builds on top of it, but equally, if you had told me that was the case back in 2015, I would have probably believed you.
Eric Barone has never been shy about his love for Harvest Moon, and how it serves as the farming simulator blueprint for what Stardew Valley would become.
However, what he did with this core concept is phenomenal. He would create a game that expanded and refined just about every aspect of what Harvest Moon had established as common practice in games of this nature, and to this day, Eric Barone continues to add value to his incredible title.
To call it a fan game is a stretch, as this is a brilliant game in its own right, but considering that Barone made this game as a tribute to Harvest Moon as a die-hard fan, you could definitely make an argument for this game as perhaps the most successful fan game ever.
#11 – AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake)
Made By: Milton Guasti
Original Game: Metroid 2
While a lot of the games on this list take games and go on to make projects that take the source material off on a tangent, AM2R is a remake that aims to take what was great about the dated Metroid 2, and use all the games in the series that would proceed it to create a comprehensive Metroid 2 experience.
An arduous task that we have to say, Milton Guasti has accomplished and then some.
The game is a reworked version of the GBA title Metroid: Return of Samus. This game acts as a base, which Metroid 2 is then built on top of to great effect. The game offers much more refined platforming, better UI and mapping, player upgrades, and a log system akin to Metroid Prime.
Not to mention that the game offers never-before-seen areas, mini-bosses, and an art style that is to die for.
Sadly, as Nintendo has been known to do, they issued a DCMA takedown of this game to protect their IP, making this game one that is very hard to get your hands on unless you know the right channels, but if you know where to look, you can still play this outstanding remake that arguably even surpasses Nintendo’s 2017 remake of their own.
Made By: BatteryStaple Games
Original Game: Mega Man X
There have been some pretty abysmal Mega Man fan games that have come to pass over the years. Mighty Number 9 is the obvious one that springs to mind.
However, there have also been some pretty cool ones, and 20XX, the successful Kickstarter formerly known as Echoes of Eridu, is probably the pick of the bunch. 20XX is a Megaman-X-inspired title that takes the traditional Megaman formula and shakes it up a little.
The shakeup is courtesy of the roguelike system that is employed and the procedural generation of level segments throughout.
This swaps lives for a permadeath model where players will gradually upgrade their hand-cannon-wielding hero, and gradually grow in aptitude as they platform and blast their way to the finish.
It’s a game that captures the same look and feel of a SNES Megaman title, only with enough polish and new features to appeal to modern audiences. Plus, it has co-op, which is another big selling point. So if you’re a Megaman fan, 20XX is one to look out for.
Made By: Chaos Forge
Original Game: Doom
DOOM is the original boomer shooter that really emphasizes fast-paced, ‘pull the trigger and ask questions later’ gameplay.
This makes it quite difficult to imagine a successful spin-off that takes DOOM and pivots the content to offer a top-down roguelike. Yet, through the brilliance of DRL, we don’t have to imagine, as the game exists, and it’s free for all those who want to play.
It offers methodical turn-based gameplay with an old-school ACSII overlay, allowing players to plan their next move and upgrade their weapons, skills, and traits.
We will concede that this game isn’t anywhere near as intricate as the mass of roguelikes that flooded the market after the success of Hades, but considering that this game first popped up in 2002, it’s a staggering achievement.
Also, if you want a more modern spiritual successor to this title, and a way to support the developers for their hard work, you can check out Jupiter Hell as well. Thank me later.
Made By: Broken Glass Studios
Original Game: Doom 3
Speaking of Doom, how about a game that takes the base game of DOOM 3 and alters it beyond any recognition to offer fans of the Thief series one of the best standalone stealth game experiences on offer today?
The Dark Mod essentially bottles up all that was excellent about the older Thief titles and recreates an immersive gothic stealth sim world well worth getting lost in, all the while avoiding being too true to their inspiration to avoid legal action, which can be a hard line to walk at times.
This title serves as a beacon of hope for all Thief fans, as after the underwhelming soft reboot, we can only live in hope that the stealth-sim sleeping giant will return to the forefront of gaming. But until then, The Dark Mod is a great alternative.
Made By: The Men Who Wear Many Hats
Original Game: The Oregan Trail
At a glance, you may have misread this entry and assumed we were referring to the 1971 Classic title ‘The Oregan Trail’, which sees players hoard supplies in the hope of reaching Oregan without catching Dysentery. Well, this one is a little different, as it’s a zombie survival title which is a parody of that old gaming antique.
The premise is still largely the same. Within a party of survivors, you must hoard supplies, use careful resource management, and make tough decisions in the hope of making it across the country to a zombie-free zone known as Safe Haven. The key difference here is the need to blow zombies to kingdom come and avoid turning into one yourself.
It’s a great retro-inspired zombie title, and it also retains the same charm and style of Oregan Trail to boot. Plus, you can still catch Dysentery as well, which is all you can really ask for. It’s a novelty entry for sure, but it’s a lot of fun, so give it a bash!
Then, lastly, before we sign off, I want to leave you with a few extra projects that might not have the same quality or acclaim as the best of the best on this list, but they still deserve a mention at the very least. Here are some extra fan games worth looking into:
- STALKER: Call of Chernobyl
- The Dark Mod
- Sonic and the Seven Rings
- Tomb Raider: The Dagger of Xian
- Pokemon Uranium
- Pokemon Unbound
- Pokemon Dark Rising
- Mushroom Kingdom Fusion
- Portal Reloaded
- Streets of Rage Remake
- Dear Esther
- Killing Floor
The Fans Know Best
As you can see when developers simply won’t do what the fans want, the fans will usually just do it themselves, and on occasion, they end up doing something pretty damn special.
Many of these games have ended up winning awards, kickstarting budding developer’s careers and, most importantly, providing thousands of gamers with a gaming experience that the industry simply couldn’t.
So we salute all of you fan game developers out there, and as always, thank you for reading Indie Game Culture!
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