Indie gaming delivers experiences to gamers that large studios sometimes struggle to articulate. Homages to classic titles, little details that AAA developers miss, and unique graphics often lend a special ingredient to indie gaming.
With so many years of independent game development behind us, the world’s best small development teams honed their craft to a new level of refinement. 2023 has been another great year in a variety of indie gaming genres. Meet the best indie games everyone needs to play from this year!
1. Dave the Diver
Dave the Diver transcends the indie scene and encapsulates everything gamers love about simulation titles. The titular Dave enjoys the daily struggle of entrepreneurship, and the player benefits by escorting Dave through his activities. Cooking, adventuring, fishing, and so much more allow any type of person to fall in love with Mintrocket’s game of the year candidate.
2. Sea of Stars
Sabotage Studio transports gamers back to the days of the SNES with Sea of Stars. A traditional JRPG with turn-based combat, evocative tunes, and cutesy anime characters, the action-packed game will make people reminisce about Square games like Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana.
3. Cult of the Lamb
While it may not win over fans of bigger indie classics like Hades, Cult of the Lamb gives a religious flair to the typical rougelike and incorporates personified animals with a graphical panache. The crux of the gameplay revolves around the protagonist paying back a debt to a higher being by raising a cult in their name.
4. Born of Bread
While Nintendo finally announced a remake of the beloved GameCube title Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, fans of the franchise might still be looking for a novel game in the vein of the masterpiece. Born of Bread delivers storybook visuals, mellow exploration, and turn-based battles that live up to the Paper Mario template. The title arrives on December 5, 2023.
Water can frighten humans and play with the mind more than any other natural element on the planet. Dredge starts out as a simple fishing game in which water appears innocent, but the title slowly dives deeper into the depths of despair underneath the surface, demonstrating the narrative power of the best indie games.
6. Pizza Tower
Another homage game in which the developers send a message to the big guys that fans still want more games in the series, Pizza Tower idolizes and parallels the brilliance of Wario Land. With a pizza maker in Wario’s place, the platformer utilizes puzzles and jumping to remind Nintendo how much life is left in platforming game of this caliber.
From the people who brought gamers Inside and Limbo, Cocoon maintains the horror/mystery/Stephen King vibes of those previous games, but in a different genre. The title mixes storytelling and puzzle-solving to create a universal experience that gives a window into the ominous nature of space and time.
8. Chants of Sennaar
When the indie games go all in on an idea, the results can be devastatingly beautiful. Chants of Sennaar by Rundisc forces gamers to think about the complexity of language acquisition without actually learning a foreign tongue. The puzzles ingeniously lay out how interaction and communication controls the state of the world.
9. Cassette Beasts
Pokemon receives a lot of complaints for stale gameplay and lazy development. Cassette Beasts twists up the pocket monster formula with gratifying monster design and level format. The variety of beast collection in this title should suffice gamers who tire of the regurgitated titles Nintendo releases.
10. Gravity Circuit
Gravity Circuit pulls no punches about which action-platformed franchise it duplicates. Mega Man percolates through the game’s graphics, gameplay, and music. Fans of arduous difficulty and skill-intensive side-scrolling shooters should love the technology-imbued setting and details.
11. Bramble: The Mountain King
Bramble: The Mountain King goes the scenic route with its horror tropes, opting for more realistic graphics and sound design than in titles like Limbo. The 3D adventure game fills the screen with a wide variety of monsters and should be played with other people, lest players get the creeps!
Worldless feels like a mashup of several indie inspirations and big-developer games all at once. Mechanics such as wall-jumping remind gamers of Mario’s adventures, but the science-fiction setting might draw comparisons to Carrion.
13. World of Horror
Many indie titles forge into the past with old-school graphics and design, but World of Horror applies that strategy in fascinating manners. An adventure set in a fictional year amongst a legendary Japanese backdrop, the pixel style somehow adds to the scares instead of detracting.
14. Wargroove 2
A rare indie sequel that matches the charm and format of its predecessor, Wargroove 2 grabs gamers and never lets go. Anyone who loves Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, or other table-based strategy titles will grapple with addiction to Chucklefish’s fast-paced, intelligent level design in Wargroove 2.
Horror games seem to dominate this list, but that might be because the best indie games understand the potential of the genre. Afterdream plays differently from other games in the category because it focuses on the psychological aspects of scares, something games don’t often get caught up in.
Metroidvania-style platform games sometimes overwhelm the indie scene, inundating gamers with too many options. Gunbrella plays like Castlevania and another indie paradigm, Gunman Clive. The player takes control of a cowboy figure with the titular “gunbrella” that gives him the versatility to fire his floatation device as he pleases to defeat massive bosses.
Food often brings family together, mending wounds and cultivating long-lasting love and kinship. Venba leverages the power of cooking with puzzles and conversations that stimulate the player’s senses as they get to live vicariously through the family at the heart of the story.
Lunark should classify as an atmospheric platformer that allows the environment to do most of the work. The controllable character uses a plethora of moves to traverse post-apocalyptic levels and gigantic boss fights.
Strategy titles often run thin in the indie scene, and the ones that do exist copy existing favorites to a tee. Howl mixes the genre up by asking the player to battle wolves and other animals with a variety of weapons. The gameplay board illustrates what’s happening with an ethereal yet cozy artwork style.
Mythforce puts the roguelike genre into first-person mode, a potpourri of genres that other developers never touch. Gamers take control of corny cartoon protagonists that intentionally resemble Power Rangers of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, often recreating the feel of a Saturday morning in front of the TV.
Death doesn’t have to depress, especially when used as the muse for indie game developers. Spirittea puts gamers into the world of an afterlife in which people continue to live daily lives as spirits, and the protagonist runs everything Stardew Valley-style.
22. The Last Worker
Corporate greed and the capitalist apocalypse get satirized in The Last Worker. The player controls the only human laborer in a factory that has decided to utilize artificial intelligence rather than authentic workers. The puzzles and stealth help to amplify the subject matter.