With next week’s release of the rather charming Yooka-Laylee, we’re reminded that crowdfunding campaigns really can yield pretty great games.
Granted, there have been misfires (here’s looking at you, Mighty No. 9), but among the clutch of crowdfunded games over the past several years there have also been some incredible gems. We’re talking about games that rub shoulders with the best in their class, or so unique and unfamiliar that they redefine genres and pave the way for followers.
And, in some cases, you might not have even realised that some of these games had been crowdfunded – because they wind up being so popular that they transcend whatever status or novelty comes with their background.
In fact, much as we enjoyed Yooka-Laylee, it didn’t even make our final list: the other games are just that amazing. So here are our picks for the 10 best crowdfunded games… that have actually hit stores.
FTL: Faster Than Light (2012)
Platforms: PC, iPad
FTL finds the absolute sweet spot between punishment and reward, as this roguelike spaceship simulator sends you out into the stars – where you’ll encounter threats and opportunities alike.
It can be a grueling adventure, with a permanent death almost assured at some point, but exploring the galaxy with your customized ship proves massively enticing, and the randomised nature means that you can play it over and over and over again. And, if you buy FTL, you probably will.
Platforms: PC, Xbox One
You’ve never played a shooter that looks like Superhot, let alone acts like it. Here, time (and thus the game world and your enemies alike) only moves when you do.
So when you’re still, so are the foes around you. And if you start sprinting ahead, the whizzing bullets gain momentum and the bad guys start doing bad things again.
This experimental game jam concept became a rather brilliant little one-of-a-kind experience – and there’s even a VR edition, too.
Pillars of Eternity (2015)
Have a soft spot for old-school, isometric PC role-players? Then you’ll probably get a big kick out of Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian Entertainment’s exacting tribute to the genre.
This sprawling fantasy adventure holds true to the classic approach of Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, spinning an intriguing narrative alongside engrossing combat and exploration.
It raised nearly US$4 million on Kickstarter and bowed to glowing reviews – while, earlier this year, upcoming sequel Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire topped it with US$4.5 million raised via Fig.
Shovel Knight (2014)
Platforms: PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Vita, 3DS, Wii U, Fire TV
Surely available on some device you own (see above), Shovel Knight is a wonderful tribute to 8-bit action games that feels like a misplaced relic from the actual era.
You’ll wield the garden tool of the titular warrior, battling baddies by swinging the spade or slamming them from above.
It’s massively charming and perfectly designed in the mold of classics such as DuckTales and Mega Man, plus there are now two full bonus campaigns starring other characters.
Elite: Dangerous (2015)
Platforms: PC, Xbox One
The original Elite laid the foundation for the entire spaceship simulation genre and, two decades later, Elite: Dangerous took the premise into the modern era with a vast galaxy to explore and VR support to boot.
This massively multiplayer experience takes place across the expanse of the Milky Way, which should be plenty enough space for you to expand your own narrative starting with just a ship and a pittance of credits. What will you do to write your name in the stars?
Undertale has, by a wide margin, the lowest funding of any game on this list; then again, this scrappy tribute to retro console RPGs was also designed and largely created by just one man.
And then it became a quiet juggernaut, racking up perfect review scores for its storytelling and optional non-violent approach, and becoming the rare game with “Overwhelmingly Positive” ratings on Steam.
It might not look like much at a glance, but this crowdfunded curio could really suck you in.
Night in the Woods (2017)
Platforms: PS4, PC
Released just a few weeks ago, Night in the Woods has a rather uncommon premise: you play as feline-person Mae, who drops out of university and returns home to pick up the pieces of her past life. The town and people have changed – and a friend is missing, too.
This exploration-centric adventure strikes a lot of emotional chords during its quest, and the beautiful 2D artwork and relatable characters (despite being anthropomorphic animals) make a truly powerful impression.
The Banner Saga (2014)
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Vita, iOS, Android
The Banner Saga puts an incredibly beautiful spin on the classic turn-based tactical role-player.
The grid-set battles recall Final Fantasy Tactics and other genre classics, but between the action, you’ll have to make decisions to keep your caravan alive and moving ahead against the backdrop of the end of the world, while narrative choices help shape the adventure.
This Norse-inspired tale features stunning artwork, and it has already spawned a sharp sequel, while The Banner Saga 3 was just Kickstarted early this year.
Hyper Light Drifter (2016)
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Hyper Light Drifter might be one of the most evocative games ever rendered in pixels, with dazzling art design, a plaintive piano-driven soundtrack, and an incredible sense of atmosphere.
This indie straddles the line between Legend of Zelda-like exploration and tough, almost Dark Souls-esque combat – and the result is totally gripping.
If you missed this anime-inspired stunner, be sure to look back on it – especially now that it’s on consoles too. (Fingers crossed for a Switch port.)
Wasteland 2 (2014)
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Fallout went full 3D and looks to be staying that way, but Wasteland 2 reminds us that the old isometric, computer RPG approach suits post-apocalyptic role-playing just fine.
The original Wasteland actually predates Fallout by nearly a decade, but the sensation is about the same: here, you’ll explore the ruined terrain with your squad, make decisions that reverberate throughout the quest, and blast the hell out of any threats that dare cross your path.
Follow-up Wasteland 3 was recently funded on Fig to the tune of US$3.1 million.