If you happen to be a game developer, or at least take a passing interest in game development, you’ll know that creating a successful game is a pretty hard thing to do.
You need to establish a killer gameplay loop, create a world worth exploring, craft a series of deep and nuanced characters, and, most importantly, you have to make sure all the code works. In short, it’s a stressful time.
Most developers tend to settle for getting their base game out the door before they consider adding additional flourishes, but in some cases, developers will bake additional games right into the base game world, offering worthwhile little distractions from your grand quest.
AAA examples would be things like Gwent in The Witcher, Orlog in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, or Machine Strike in Horizon: Forbidden West. However, we aren’t chatting about AAA games here; that’s not our remit over here at IGC.
Instead, we will be looking at the best in-game games presented by plucky indies, allowing players to lose themselves in trivial pursuits instead of engaging with the main quest content.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty easily distracted, and these games have consumed more of my time than I care to admit. Without further delay, here is Indie Game Culture’s list of The Best Games Within Indie Games ever!
Okay, ground rules. What counts as an ‘in-game game’ I hear you ask. Well, these are the criteria that we will be running with when putting this list together:
- All games included must feature in indie games only
- All games listed but be complete mini-games separate from the main game, not repetitive tasks related to core mechanics (such as fishing mini-games)
- All games listed must be engaging, addicting, and fun distractions
- If a side-mission or game mode is more addicting than the core plot, we may include it here too
Okay, let’s break off from the main quest and dive into some mini-game wonders!
Best Games Within Indie Games
#1 – Wheels
Main Game: Sea of Stars
Game Type: Turn-Based Strategy
We begin with the recent classic JRPG-inspired epic, Sea of Stars. A game that I awarded my first ever 10/10 review score, and considering how much of a curmudgeon I am generally, that’s as big an endorsement as I can give this title.
It has incredible turn-based combat, iconic characters aplenty, staggeringly beautiful visuals, and an awesome story. However, I found myself peeling away from the action regularly to play a few rounds of Wheels, this world’s pub game of choice.
Wheels is a slot-machine-based strategy game where players must build XP on each of their figures, build Bulwark defenses, and charge attacks to take down their opponent.
It sounds a little complicated, but it’s actually very easy to pick up, and when you do, you might not be able to pull yourself away from the Wheels Table. You have been warned.
#2 – Journey of the Prairie King
Main Game: Stardew Valley
Game Type: Bullet Hell
Ah, the game that will always haunt me, as I could never complete Vector’s Challenge and beat this mini-game without dying.
Journey of the Prairie King is a game that can be accessed via an arcade machine at the Stardrop Saloon in Stardew Valley, and offers players the chance to play a western-themed bullet hell game, which is addictive but punishing as hell.
You’ll shoot from the hip to take down zombies and monsters across a handful of levels, with a boss encounter splitting the three main stages, and you’ll need to acquire quick pick-up items and upgrades if you want to stand a chance of getting to the end. If you need a hand, we also have a handy guide on hand to help you break through.
Junimo Cart is the other mini-game on offer at the Stardrop Saloon, but it has nothing on this masterful arcade shooter, so when you are next in town, enjoy the Pelican Town nightlife, be sure to check this one out.
#3 – Beachstickball
Main Game: A Short Hike
Game Type: Sports Game
For context, Beachstickball is a mini-game within A Short Hike that has players use a stick to hit a beach ball over a volleyball net. Between you and me, it’s essentially a game of volleyball, but the added whimsy is welcome for sure.
All you need to do here is hit the ball every time your partner knocks it back over to you, and if you manage to get a 30+ streak, you’ll even get a snazzy hat for your efforts, which is all the motivation you need to become a Beachstickball champ.
#4 – Demontower
Main Game: Night In The Woods
Game Type: 2D Roguelike
A Night in the Woods is a pretty special game about exploration, meeting colorful characters in a small town, and finding a place where you truly belong. However, if you feel like it, you can sack that all off and play a surprisingly engaging 2D roguelike dungeon-crawler called Demontower, which can be accessed via Mae’s Laptop.
This roguelike plays similarly to your typical top-down Zelda adventures, asking you to swipe at monsters to kill them, loot chests to gather keys, supplies, and health as you go, and you’ll need to take down a series of bosses into the bargain as well.
Demontower has ten full levels to explore, each with its own boss, and multiple endings to boot. Honestly, this mini-game within Night in the Woods has no right to be so detailed and fun, yet it stands out as one of the finest games within Indie Games we have ever seen, so kudos to Infinite Fall for finding the time to include this little gem.
#5 – Latte Art Mode
Main Game: Coffee Talk
Game Type: Creative Mode
If you’ve played the striking visual novel, Coffee Talk, then you’ll know that the game succeeds on two fronts. It’s cast of intriguing characters living in a re-imagined Seattle setting, and the array of drinks that you can craft as the story develops.
However, despite all this interesting content happening all around me, I found myself playing around in the Latte Art mode for hours, aiming to create the most visually impressive leaf on top of a patron’s coffee before handing it over.
It’s a wonderful distraction that allows you to rotate the cup and steadily add milk to the drink, which, if done skillfully, will allow you to create masterpieces. Plus, it’s actually pretty true to the real-life practice if you’ve ever tried to draw a leaf on your latte before. It’s not so much of a game as it is a gimmick, but it’s a gripping one, let me tell you.
#6 – Papyrus’ Minigame
Main Game: Undertale
Game Type: Endless Runner
Remember Flappy Bird? You know, the mobile game that was promptly ripped off app stores after the developer received ample death threats for their game being too hard. What a weird time that was.
Well, Undertale has its own little version of this title for you to get lost in called Papyrus’ Mini-Game. This is one of two mini-games found in the vanilla Undertale experience alongside Undyne’s Mini Game, and has you play as a Blue Soul and dodge oncoming bones as you would do this game’s typical bullet hell combat.
Only in this game, you’ll be able to record a score for every bone you dodge, and you can even play against other players if you can find someone via matchmaking, which is a rarity in truth. It’s about as minimalist as a mini-game gets, and yet I could spend hours wasting my time on this, and I would wager you could, too.
#7 – Soul Melodies
Main Game: Tchia
Game Type: Rhythm Game
Tchia was a game that disappointed me when it arrived on the scene this year, as it failed to deliver the open-world bliss that I was expecting. However, there were some bright spots in this lukewarm affair, such as the incredible Soul Jumping mechanic, the stunning soundtrack of authentic Caledonian music, and, of course, the Soul Melodies.
This game is packed full of relatively enjoyable mini-games like Totem Carving, Diving, Shooting, and more, but the best in class is definitely the Ukelele-based rhythm game sections.
Players will need to play in time with awesome tunes, and while a lot of rhythm games are patronizingly easy, Tchia doesn’t pull any punches, meaning you’ll need to be an adept ukelele player to succeed.
Then, if you just want a chill time to hone your craft, you can also play the ukulele in a casual mode and put together real-world tunes if that’s your thing. All in all, Tchia may be a bit of a letdown, but the ukulele sections are something you could lose yourself in for hours.
#8 – Shark Teeth
Main Game: Dave The Diver
Game Type: Turn-Based Strategy
Are you aware of the kid’s board game Crocodile Dentist? Well, it essentially asks you to take turns pulling teeth out of a crocodile’s mouth, with one random tooth causing the mouth to snap shut, signaling that the other player has won. It’s just a more modern Buckaroo, but you get the picture.
I bring this up because the Indie smash hit, Dave The Diver, takes this idea and makes it into a cute little strategy game where you will need to avoid finding the cavity in a Shark’s mouth.
You and Junak will take turns, and you will be able to remove 1-3 teeth at a time, aiming to avoid the trick tooth as you go. It’s pretty simple, but it’s pretty fun all the same, and it’s a nice, easy way to earn up to 100 Bei per game. So give it a try next time you’re out on a dive.
#9 – The Model Ship
Main Game: Outer Wilds
Game Type: Navigation
Again, not so much a game as it is a fun gimmick that will take up more of your time than it probably warrants. When you begin your adventure within Outer Wilds on the starting planet, Timber Hearth, you’ll stumble across a model ship that will essentially act as a tutorial on how to fly your real ship.
It’s a cute way to handle the tutorial, and for many, that might be the last time you ever engage with this feature. But what if I told you there is an achievement for landing this little model on Timber Hearth’s moon?
This discovery led to me personally spending way too long piloting this little ship from Timber Hearth’s surface, essentially flying blind to try and touch this little model down on Timber Hearth’s nearly orbiting moon.
If you have played the game before and pretty much have space travel down to a tee, this isn’t the hardest task in the world, but even still, it’s a test of skill and resilience, believe me.
#10 – Celeste Classic
Main Game: Celeste
Game Type: Retro Platformer
Here’s one that popped up on our recent Best Games From Game Jams list, which fits in here quite nicely, too. If you’ve played through Celeste’s main campaign, you’ll be happy to know that the game has a tonne of additional content for you to play around with, including B-Sides, Strawberries to collect, and more.
However, within the third chapter of the main campaign, you’ll potentially discover something else that may eat up a chunk of your playtime, too.
You’ll be able to find an old PICO-8 Console in Chapter 3 if you find a secret path in the washroom of the hotel. Simply interact with this, and you’ll boot up Celeste Classic, a Game Jam build of Celeste from back in the day, which you’ll then be able to play anytime you want via the main menu screen.
Sure, it may just be an easter egg, but Celeste Classic has 30 full levels to explore, and it’s a challenge within itself. So, if you think you’ve milked Celeste dry but don’t know about this little detail, it may be time to hop back in.
#11 – Whack-A-Cody
Main Game: It Takes Two
Game Type: Whack-A-Mole
I’m always a little hesitant to call It Takes Two an indie game, but I’ve seen enough people ignore EA’s involvement to turn a blind eye here. It Takes Two has a number of really interesting and wacky co-op mini-games to enjoy, which see Cody and May go head-to-head.
Some highlights include Laser Tennis, Space Walk, Snow Warfare, and Birdstar. However, our pick of the bunch is Whack-A-Cody.
This is a re-imagining of Whack-A-Mole that sees one player control May, who is the whacker in this situation, and the other player takes control of Cody, the mole. Points are earned by May for successfully whacking the other player when they pop out of any of the four holes.
Whereas Cody earns points for each second they spend out in the open without getting bonked.
It’s simple, unadulterated fun at its finest, and also showcases just how wonderful It Takes Two’s multiplayer design truly is. If you somehow haven’t played this one, find a pal willing to brave the adventure and get going!
#12 – Lighting In a Bottle
Main Game: Spiritfarer
Game Type: Platforming
Then, lastly, we have one that I perhaps found more compelling than other players. I could be out on my own here, but I loved the events within Spiritfarer, and Atul’s Lightning in a Bottle Minigame was my pick of the bunch. Although, it is kind of similar to Giovanni and Buck’s events, if I’m being fair.
This event allows you to collect a resource called Lightning in a Bottle by braving a Thunderstorm and standing in the right sections of the boat to catch the lightning bolt as it happens.
It’s a real test of platforming skill, and your knowledge of your own boat layout, as you’ll need to move fast and plan routes carefully to ensure you get the most resources per event.
There’s no fail state here, no high score, and there are no limits on how many times you can do this, but it is fun to make note of how many you get each time and try to one-up yourself the next time a storm rolls in.
It’s Wheels Within Wheels
As you can see, even within some of the finest indies around, you can find smaller games baked right in there, which will give you hours of fun, and a great way to distract yourself from saving the world, climbing a mountain, or whatever else you find yourself doing.
I hope that this list reminded you of some great distractions in your favorite games, and as always, thanks for reading Indie Game Culture.
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