The indie moniker describes a game made by independent creators, i.e., those not under the umbrella of a major publisher. That could mean anything from a solo developer working on a debut title to critically acclaimed teams releasing self-published works. While these games have been around as long as the industry, their popularity surged in the early 2000s. This was partly due to new digital distribution and crowdfunding options, which presented opportunities for some would-be game makers.
Though many of gaming’s best-loved indies belong to this early era, independently made games reached a whole new level of mainstream attention in the following decades. There are so many launching every day now it can be difficult to keep up. So to help, this list explores the most recent titles that have enthusiasts excited. Appearing in no particular order, the games below represent the new kids on the indie block worth checking out.
Earning comparisons to another well-loved indie, Kentucky Route Zero, Norco is a thoughtful, funny, intense, and surreal look at life in the Deep South. Throwing issues like unbridled greed and American society under a microscope, the innovative point-and-click adventure is brought to life with gorgeous pixel art and poignant writing. Players step into the shoes of Kay, whose brother has gone missing following the death of their mother. While searching for her sibling, Kay discovers that her mother was researching a significant discovery before passing away. Following the threads of that project and looking for her brother leads Kay to unravel a strange mystery through swamps filled with oil refineries and fading suburbs. | Our Review
A green-clad fox wakes on an idyllic beach, yawns, then heads off on an enigmatic adventure. The beginning seconds of Tunic give the player a small hint of what to expect from the fantastic game. Its simple visuals, tranquil music, and adorable protagonist create an enchanting atmosphere, while the many mysteries at the title’s heart drive Tunic to be one of the best games of the year. Sharing many aspects with another of 2022’s great titles, Elden Ring, this indie is all about taking a step back and letting the players find their own way. Tunic overflows with singular puzzles and magnificent moments of discovery, many of which are aided by Tunic’s exceptionally designed, in-game instruction booklet. These helpful collectible pages not only offer practical help but also infuse the game with the best kind of nostalgia. | Our Review
A tall tale told by developers with games like Dishonored and Prey under their belts, this wild take on the West earns its name by bringing players to some weird places. How weird? Well, of the game’s five main protagonists, two of them are a pig-man and a werewolf. So, pretty weird. Life on the frontier in this recent indie can be hard. You might worry about fending off vicious desperados one day while confronting a cannibalistic jailer the next. Its twin-stick mechanics work wonderfully for shoot-outs, and the physics system lets you take creative approaches to problem-solving. Find yourself outnumbered? Look for a box of ammunition to shoot; the contents will go flying at any enemies in the vicinity. All of this is bolstered by an intriguing story that manages to thread all the desperate main characters together. | Our Review
Even if deckbuilding games are not your typical cup of tea, don’t miss out on Inscryption because of its apparent genre. There is a lot more going on here below the card table. Starting out as a prisoner in a strange cabin, you find yourself in a horrific fight for your life against an inhuman opponent. The only way, according to your captor, to get out of this situation alive is to beat him at an unusual game. With the wild gleam in his eyes – the only thing you can really see in the dark room – the monster across the table from you lays out the rules for a contest that falls somewhere between Dungeons & Dragons and Hearthstone. Except you can tip the scales in your favor by pulling out your own teeth, and losing is a death sentence. The mesmerizing strategy game comes bundled with a narrative that goes in wildly unexpected directions. | Our Review
Chicory: A Colorful Tale exemplifies indies’ remarkable ability to generate unique experiences. The game, made by a group of independent creators including Wandersong developer Greg Lobanov, works as a coloring book. Brush in hand, you set about painting the world and its inhabitants with color. Besides giving players the creative freedom to tint the environment to their hearts’ content, the artistic implement ties into the game’s practical mechanics. Glowing inks light the way in dark caves and coating particular types of foliage shrinks them down to size, clearing the way for the hero. But Chicory’s narrative, the reason you have the brush to paint with at all, is also uncommon. It thoughtfully explores hard-to-tackle mental health themes like depression and imposter syndrome. | Our Review
Can you save the ones you love from becoming mindless monsters before time runs out? That’s exactly the question this pixelated sci-fi game puts to its players. Acting as the automaton Alma, you watch as the world’s supply of Anima dwindles. Ravaged by war with humanity, Arcadia’s robotic residents need Anima to maintain sentience. Without it, they will transform into machines capable only of brutal destruction, killing those around them with no remorse. However, the game’s clock is always ticking. If you can’t save everyone in time, who will you allow to fall into madness? The unfolding narrative changes depending on who you save (or don’t), so your every decision alters where the game goes. On top of this, Unsighted has laudable, hectic action to keep players on their toes. | Our Review
Adding to the growing list of games that shy away from combat, Sable offers players the chance to explore a vibrant desert landscape, taking whatever road or quest that strikes their interest as they play. The intriguing concept solves the problem many games’ narratives face. Why, if your main quest is so important, would you step away to help the world’s inhabitants with their relatively unimportant concerns? In Sable, you play the titular character who sets off on a ceremonial journey to discover themselves. If you have a primary goal, it’s to collect masks by helping people. When you’re ready to finish your expedition (and the game), you return home to select one of the masks you’ve gathered to represent your future identity. Before making that decision, the game encourages you to wander a truly stunning and unique environment on your customizable hoverbike. | Our Review
There’s only one rule in The Forgotten City: Don’t sin. On the surface, it sounds like a good deal; lead a good life and live forever. However, the punishment for breaking the single tenet is death – not just for you, but for every single resident living with you. The difficulty of this puzzling time-loop adventure is figuring out how to make sure everyone is following the rule without running afoul of it yourself. Does stealing medical ingredients to save a life constitute a sin? As a modern-day traveler that just happened to drop into the ancient Roman community while exploring an ancient ruin, unwrapping the politics of this millennia-old city is challenging. And getting to the bottom of the mysterious edict may take more time than you have until someone breaks the golden rule. | Our Review
Initially coming out in 2020 (though it released on Xbox and PlayStation consoles the following year), Hades is one of the “oldest” indies on this list. Despite the myriad marvelous titles that have hit shelves over the past few years, we just couldn’t keep from giving a shout-out to this hell-raising game. A rogue-lite set in the ancient Greek underworld, Hades follows the story of Zagreus. This errant heir to the realm seeks to fight his way out of Hades and discover the truth behind what happened to his mother. Developer Supergiant Games was already known for its stellar titles before Hades’ release, like Pyre, Bastion, and Transistor, but the studio’s latest game is arguably its most successful. | Our Review
Death’s Door developer Acid Nerve is a two-person team based in the UK that managed to produce one of the best games of 2021. Besides the killer artwork and deadly combat, Death’s Door also manages to deliver a soul-snatching story. Working as a reaper crow, it’s your job to make sure newly deceased spirits pass on. But things go off the rails when your latest assignment goes astray, upsetting the balance of the universe. Your mission to set things right sends you down an unexpected path, one that leads to unraveling an enormous conspiracy embedded in the heart of your own death-managing organization. The compelling narrative is backed by impeccable, fast-paced gameplay that earns it a spot on this list. | Our Review
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