Dominic’s Indie Picks Of 2021

A bad year for Earth, a great year for games.

Here we are again, staring 2022 in the eye. Needless to say, 2021 was rough. It was also fantastic for videogames — so great it feels almost impossible to keep up with anything. So let’s celebrate this excess with a huge pile of indie picks from this year to fill your holiday shopping list!

Just some of the games released this year!

If you like this piece, check out my 2019 and 2020 (with bonus content) roundups. If I’ve helped you find something you really enjoyed, consider dropping me a couple bucks on Ko-fi or Paypal. All proceeds go towards supporting more of this nonsense. Or you can just share this page with friends. Thanks!

You can also check out my absurdly huge Steam wishlist here, a spreadsheet of 400 notable indie games of 2021, and my ongoing list of indie games using the Doom engine. Just in case you’re still short on things to play.

The Rules:

  1. These are only the games I played this year and liked. My wishlist still stretches to the heavens, and there’s more that anyone can cover.
  2. All released in 2021. Definitive, into or out of early access or re-launched.
  3. I consider them to be indie — by a small studio — even if they’re published.
  4. I’ll be skipping on any games I did PR work for, for professionalism’s sake.
  5. Prices listed are RRP, as I can’t be arsed to update to adjust to holiday sales.
  6. Store links are to Itch.io if available, Steam second. Shop around, shop smart!
  7. I may bend the rules slightly because this is my article and you can’t stop me.

And so — in intentionally shuffled order — my indie picks of 2021:

Bright Memory: Infinite$19.99

A stunning (if short) FPS showcase of what a small team can achieve with modern tools. Developer FYQD is primarily one person, with voicework, music and some art assets being outsourced. It’s a hybrid of stylish character action and twitchy FPS; think a hybrid of Devil May Cry and Call of Duty and you’re close. Stylish melee combos, ugpradeable weapons and fun guns to use on swarms of expendable mooks and some multi-phase bosses over its 2–3 hour playtime, and pushes the Unreal engine to its limits. It’s gorgeous if you’ve got a modern raytracing-capable GPU.

Originally launched as a $5 proof-of-concept game on Steam, the original Bright Memory was so successful that the whole project was rebooted with extra ambition. Anyone who owned that original release (myself included) got the upgrade to Infinite for free. Whether this is worth $20 is up to you to decide. Personally, I hope it gets a horde mode or similar extra time-filler. Still, what it lacks in padding, it makes up for in spectacle and surprisingly satisfying DMC-inspired gun n’ sword combo combat.

Coquette DragoonPatreon

If I had a penny for every gay disaster giant robot visual novel drama I’ve played/read in the last couple years, I’d have three. Which isn’t a lot but it’s clearly a growing niche. Originally a webcomic, now adapted and relaunched as a Patreon-funded VN series, Coquette Dragoon tells the story of several mecha pilots across both sides of a centuries-old space conflict, and their lives, losses and loves.

Despite the soft, squishy and mostly-pink art, Coquette Dragoon pulls no punches. Its protagonists were messy, conflicted and occasionally perverted women even before being thrust into a deadly, lethal conflict. A lot of complex adult subjects are touched on even in these early chapters, and I’m eager to see where the rest of the story takes these girls. $1/£1 gets you access to the latest chapters.

Library Of Ruina$29.99 or On Game Pass

A returning favourite from last year, now graduated from Early Access. This quirky visual novel/card-battler RPG hybrid grew into a real monster, dozens of hours long and packed with creative systems, fun characters and dozens upon dozens of challenging multi-phase boss battles. The Steam version even has full mod support, and there are now hundreds of user-made battles to play, new stories to follow and new cards to earn, and I’m sure it’ll continue to grow for years to come; Project Moon’s fans are a loyal, dedicated bunch.

It’s also a fine introduction to an interesting setting which Project Moon have used in their previous game, Lobotomy Corporation, as well as an official webcomic and web-novel side stories. Now they’re hard at work on their next game now, Limbus Company. A mobile dungeon crawl set in the abandoned, haunted parts of Ruina’s dystopian city setting, and apparently starring a cast of characters inspired by classic literature. Exciting stuff.

HighFleet $29.99

Highfleet is a game that largely defies definition, but I’ll try here. It’s a semi-roguelike strategy sandbox with physics-heavy arcade combat set in a dieselpunk post-apocalyptic world. Think Dune plus FTL and a shot of Sid Meier’s Pirates.

It’s a strange, heady blend of inspirations. It’s an extremely intense game, putting you in the shoes of a sky-fleet captain from a fallen empire, trapped behind enemy lines and trying to capture a high enough value target to be able to bargain your way out with your life. There’s roleplaying, radar management, tapping into enemy comms with a diegetic radar UI and (if you’re really dedicated) a full ship-builder letting you create your own aircraft from scratch.

There’s really nothing quite like it. Highfleet is of the most creative single-player games of the year, and it looks and sounds gorgeous too. Tons of detailed art and illustrations, plus some of the prettiest smoke and fire effects I’ve seen in a game.

Baba Is You$14.99

Baba Is You? More like Baba Is Two. This was one of the best indie games of 2019. A brilliantly creative block-pushing puzzle game where blocks could contain parts of the game’s internal game logic, and spelling out sentences using them changed the fundamental rules you’re playing by. So, why is in the 2021 roundup? Because of Baba Make Level, a free update two years in the making that’s practically a full sequel.

For reference, the original Baba Is You launched with 200 levels. This free update adds another 250, plus a level editor and a cross-platform curated selection of the best the community have created. There’s new art, new tiles, new words and game systems. It would be an impressive update even if the community wasn’t poised to expand and iterate on it almost endlessly. A fantastic piece of work all round that is going to grow for years.

Ashes: AfterglowFree

Ashes: Afterglow was, until recently, a mod for Doom 2, which everyone should own. Thankfully it’s an easy inclusion now, as its final update was accompanied by a standalone release. So, this is a fantastic 80s-inspired pulp post-apocalyptic FPS adventure. You know the drill here; cannibal mutants, irradiated city ruins, scattered camps of survivors and shadows of the past threatening to destroy what’s left of humanity.

There’s a bit of Build Engine vibe here. Duke Nukem-esque recognisable city environments and bullet-heavy combat. Even in the more linear first episode, there’s a bit of immersive sim spirit too. Crawling through vents, scavenging for scraps, trading stuff in the towns for healing and other consumables. These feel like surprisingly real spaces too, intuitively explorable, even before you get into the much larger, more open-world spaces of Episode 2. Ashes has the look, the feel and an absolutely fantastic retro synth-heavy soundtrack.

Hedon: Bloodrite $16.99

If the archetypical retro FPS is an inherent power fantasy, then Hedon: Bloodrite is what happens when you double down. The protagonist? A half-orc, half-demon amazon with six-pack abs, standing a full head or two above any human, and able to chop down several enemies at once with a single axe swing.

This is heavy metal fantasy for sure. Goofy at first, but I found myself slowly becoming invested in its high fantasy world and characters. The writing and pacing are surprisingly good, and the game blends huge explorable levels (with a bit of Thief-inspired freedom to explore) with some decent puzzles and huge swarmy combat against dozens of enemies at a time.

Technically, Hedon came out in 2019, but 2021 saw a sequel — Bloodrite — released as a free expansion, tripling the length. The original Hedon was a semi-linear fight from one map to the next, but Bloodrite takes place across two open-world regions with multiple quest solutions and many secrets. All together, you’re looking at 20 hours of solo adventuring at least.

Into The Radius VR$29.99

One of my favourite VR games of the year, although technically it didn’t so much launch this year as re-launch. The original version of Into The Radius was an interesting if rough STALKER-like. It was a solid concept, but had a lot wrong.

This new version — an enormous overhaul — has addressed pretty much every complaint I had. It runs smoothly, the areas are more navigable. There’s greater enemy variety and the story is clearer and easier to follow. Due to it being a lower-budget indie production, there’s no NPCs, just audio logs and horrible otherworldly ghost-monsters, which gives the game a truly desolate vibe. It’s just you, and whatever you can scavenge (or buy from vending machines) against a deeply uncaring and deadly haunted wasteland, and it nails it. Really satisfying gunplay too, with realistic ammo management.

Everhood$9.99

One of the weirder indie picks this year. Explore a disjointed dream-like world as a silent wooden puppet and challenge people to dance battles while unravelling a philosophical tangle of a story. I’m not entirely sure how much of it is profound and what’s just intentionally disjointed, but the game’s art, script and even music have a refreshing feel to them.

Gameplay-wise, it’s a bit more like playing a simplified shmup than a rhythm game. While enemy attacks are launched to the beat, dodging them is just a matter of being in a different lane by the time they hit. It’s less demanding and technical than it looks, which is good, as it lets even ham-handed fools like myself experience the whole thing (including many hidden bonus batles) without too much frustration. And it is absolutely worth exploring every ounce of content Everhood has to offer. There’s some great, trippy and playful stuff to be found, and some cool tunes.

While there’s no in-game method to share them, there are a ton of user-made fights available to play now. Check out the official Discord for downloads.

Hrot$19.99

What if Quake was set in 1980s Czechoslovakia, instead of lovecraftian cyber-hell? Perhaps a little reductive, but still an accurate enough description of Hrot. An extremely authentic-feeling retro FPS. It looks, sounds and feels like a long-lost artifact from a parallel 1996, and a damn fine game in its own right, at least so far. The guns are punchy, the enemies weird and the secrets plentiful.

Hrot is still in early access and only contains the first episode and a bit of the full game, although if the change in environment and enemies in the second episode is any indication, there’s plenty to look forward to in the rest of the game. The only complaint I can really level at Hrot is that it’s a bit brown even by Quake standards. It’s a very consistent aesthetic, but the occasional splash of colour that isn’t beige or grey would be nice.

Dread X Collection: The Hunt$9.99

I think I might be falling in love with this whole indie horror anthology format. Spooks and scares are hard to keep up over multiple hours, so why not bundle together a collection of short, scary adventures from a variety of artists? The Hunt is the fourth Dread X anthology, and continues the Tales From The Crypt-esque meta-story from the previous three, but as the title suggests, it’s a bit more action-oriented. So, seven short horror shooters.

Theres good variety here, with games ranging from an extremely cursed take on Pokemon Snap to the lurid and psychedelic Rose Of Meat, and a Fatal Frame-inspired ghostbusting simulator with some quietly heartfelt storytelling. Between hunts, you explore a frozen arctic facility, restoring systems and unraveling the story of the disaster that befell it. Great stuff.

Paint The Town Red$19.99

When Paint The Town Red launched into early access in 2015, it was a fun, if limited, first-person barroom brawler. You ran around, grabbed furniture and items, hit dudes with them (to smash them into juicy voxel gore) and repeated until bored. Oh, how it has grown. This is the poster child for scope creep.

While the core combat engine hasn’t changed much, there’s now a variety of environments to break heads in, an arcade arena mode with more creative battle scenarios, and… oh yeah, an entire procedurally generated fantasy roguelike set across multiple dimensions. Oh, and a full set of mod tools and nearly 8,000 levels in the Steam Workshop, many being story-led scenarios. Not bad for a game that started as a ‘hit a dude with a chair’ simulator.

Backbone$24.99 or On Game Pass

Leaning more towards visual novel than point-and-click adventure than the early trailers (and even demo) suggested, Backbone’s launch was accompanied by a wave of bad reviews by people upset about what it isn’t.

But if judged as what it actually is, then Backbone is great. A brooding noir furry detective/mystery story about a raccoon private eye investigating a series of missing persons cases. There’s not much challenge, but a lot of branching dialogues letting you decide — Telltale Style — what kind of private eye you want to be, and deciding the tone of the finale, if not the broad stokes.

My only real complaint is that it’s a bit short and that the ending (like life) comes at you fast. Thankfully the developers have said there’s a new story set in this world due next year, and I’m hyped to see where they’re taking things.

Phantom Abyss $24.99

Still in early access with room to grow, and great fun as-is. Phantom Abyss is the closest thing we’ve seen to a first-person Spelunky. A procedurally generated 3D platformer where you whip-and-fedora your way through a haunted temple full of treasures and traps, with levels increasing in scale and complexity.

What makes Phantom Abyss interesting is that the dungeons are designed to be slightly unfair. The traps will likely kill you, and you only get one shot at each dungeon. To even the odds, you’re accompanied by the recorded ghosts of every other player that tried and failed your current run. Follow and learn from their mistakes. If you clear a dungeon, it’s deleted permanently, along with all those ghosts, and the players are filtered into another set of maps. The conquest of a run is a trophy that only you get to hold.

It’s a really clever concept, the platforming is solid and the rope makes for some fun grappling-adjacent action. I’m excited to see what new environments, gameplay elements, traps and enemies get added before this one fully launches.

Spookware$9.99

Some say that 2021 was bad for games. I say we got two equally great Wario Ware games, and somehow this gore-soaked indie take on the microgame formula is the more traditional of the two! This is just the first episode of a planned series, itself split up into several chapters, each one with a distinct theme tying together its sets of minigames.

It’s an exciting and fun twist on the formula. One set of levels is rhythm-themed as you put together a skeleton high school band, another is mouse-based as you solve a point and click adventure, and a third blends Diner Dash management gameplay with cooking themed minigames. There’s also a surprising amount of walking around and talking, and thanks to the cast and world being adorable (if spoopy), it feels well earned. I know I’m buying the next episode the moment it lands. There’s also a generous demo available.

Astalon: Tears Of The Earth $19.99

Sometimes you just need a bit of gaming comfort food. Something big and popcorny if not wildly demanding. Astalon is a rock solid exploration platformer. A huge tower filled with monsters, secrets and alternate routes, with simple-but-satisfying combat. Astalon’s main twist is that you’re controlling a whole party of heroes, initially swappable only at save points, but later letting you tag-team your way through puzzles.

The sprite-work is on point, the music is great and the dungeon is extremely complex. If you liked La-Mulana’s core gameplay but found the instant death traps and convoluted puzzles a bit much, this might just be the game for you. If there’s any complaint I could level against Astalon is that there aren’t as many bosses as I’d like, and the final battle is a cakewalk if you’ve been shooting for 100% completion, but those are only nitpicks with a great game.

Severed Steel $24.99

A fantastic bullet-time arcade FPS inspired by Max Payne and FEAR. Severed Steel is short and sweet — only a few hours long on a first playthrough, but designed to be replayed, explored and challenged on higher difficulties and with optional modifiers.

Severed Steel has two big gimmicks; the entire world is made of destructible voxels and you cannot reload your weapons, on account of the protagonist’s other arm having been replaced by a wall-busting plasma cannon. This means that you’ll be constantly switching weapons as you wall-run, slide under tables and dive through windows in slow motion. Blast a guy with a shotgun, pull the pistol from another guy’s holster, use that to take out a sniper and catch the falling weapon all in one balletic combo.

There’s new content, playmodes and features still yet to be added, and a Steam Workshop-supported editor means that even if you exhaust Story, NG+ and Arcade modes, there’s still more levels to enjoy. Great in short bursts.

Subnautica: Below Zero $29.99 or On Game Pass

Another game leaving early access this year, and sequel to 2018’s much-loved Subnautica. Once again, it’s a more structured, narrative-driven survival adventure. You’re thrust into a deadly alien landscape with only the barest of equipment, and nary a gun or spear to be found. You’re not here to become the alpha predator of this world. You’re here to study it and figure out a safe way home.

Below Zero mixes up the formula a bit with more story focus, and more opportunities to explore the surface. This time you’re in a region with populated ice shelves and islands, meaning that not every second is spent panicking about where your next breath of air is going to come from. You even get to hang out with adorable (if slightly terrifying) alien penguins. It’s more of the same, but given how good Subnautica was, that’s just fine. The only thing missing is official VR support, but the community have fixed that.

Fish Person Shooter $12.99

As one game about peaceful coexistence with weird fish leaves early access, this game about shooting them full of holes enters the scene. Thankfully, these fish are all pirates of the scurrilous cartoon variety, and you’re a swarthy hook-handed beefcake well versed in battling all manner of aquatic beasties.

Fish Person Shooter, as well has having a clever acronym, is a fun retro FPS. The core action is undeniably Doom-like, but your grappling hook hand allows you to traverse vertically, so long as there’s something wooden to skewer. You can also pull distant enemies to you, if snipers are giving you a hard time. Apparently it’s also inspired in part by Brazilian soap operas, which is just a cool thing to mention as well.

The Eternal Cylinder $29.99

Ever since their earliest days making Doom mods, Chilean studio ACE Team have made weird, vivid alien worlds their bread and butter. The Eternal Cylinder is their weirdest and most vivid. A third-person survival adventure about a tribe of psychic elephant-snooted orb creatures on the run from a colossal tube that’s steamrolling their entire planet flat. To survive, you need to eat strange plants and bugs to absorb their abilities, adapting to each new biome.

It is a riot of colour and surreal creature designs, with the spawn of the Cylinder having echoes of humanity, both in form and culture. Despite being a challenging survival-focused game, this is a linear, story-driven affair. After all, you’re being pushed from one environment to the next by a cosmic rolling pin. While perhaps there could have been a little more depth to the player’s interactions with the environment, this is an aesthetic triumph, and proof of what a small, talented team can do with modern tech.

Northern Journey $11.99

One of the strangest, most singular retro FPS games I’ve ever played. Northern Journey is a surreal and massive adventure through the haunted fjords of Norway. The environments are beautiful in their bleakness, and packed with strange locals, horrible bug-creatures, undead, trolls and other beasties. It also has a slightly off-kilter aesthetic that I didn’t fully understand until someone pointed it out; this game has no lighting, despite using a recent generation Unreal engine.

Between the strange environment, characters, art, weapon handling and music (a mixture of medieval instruments and weird synths), there’s a lot in this game that SHOULD be awkward and offputting. And yet it somehow works. It’s like a game made entirely out of pieces that shouldn’t fit together, and yet they all lock into place perfectly. It just helps to further convey that feeling that you’re a stranger lost in an even stranger land.

Eye Of The Temple $19.99

While 2021 didn’t have a huge number of new VR releases (plenty of updates and expansions for existing games, though), Eye Of The Temple stands out as a real indie gem. Played entirely physically, you’re an Indiana Jones’y adventurer plundering a trap-laden temple for its treasures, whip and torch in hand.

There’s no teleporting or even sliding movement here. Every platform needs to be hopped onto in real, physical space, and thanks to some clever use of world scaling and rolling barrels that require you to keep pace with them or risk falling off. There’s minecarts, sliding platforms and traps that you need to duck, dodge and weave to avoid while snagging levers with your bullwhip. It’s a fun workout, and one that wouldn’t work outside of VR at all. Great stuff.

Mecha Knights: Nightmare $15.99

Inspired by both the cornball Earth Defence Force games and the (remarkably grim) Muv-Luv visual novel series, Mecha Knights: Nightmare is a mecha-scale horde shooter. Gear up a walking tank with enough guns to destroy a city and try to hold back waves of thousands of building-sized meat mutants. Considering that it’s the solo developer’s first commercial game, it’s a stunning success, delivering a campaign full of gigantic pitched battles between the last of humanity’s armies against a tide of angry gore.

Similar to the EDF games, you get a constant flow of new weapons and mech components, constantly escalating in power as you work through the campaign and replayable skirmish battles. There’s a lot of room to tweak your stompybot to fit your personal playstyle. I personally lean towards group-softening artillery followed up with close quarters automatics, but your mileage will likely vary. My only gripes with MK:N is that it’s single-player only, and that some of the spoken dialogue is a bit overbearingly edgy. Good fun otherwise though.

Unexplored 2$24.99

Still in early access but already well worth being excited about. The original Unexplored was one of my favourite action-roguelikes, stripping out XP and stat bloat in favour of creating complex, reactive dungeons that felt almost hand-crafted.

Unexplored 2 doubles down on that concept, creating a multi-generational story that reacts to your choices. Win or lose with each character, time will pass, the evil empire’s grip on the world will expand, and your quest will develop new wrinkles. As well as traditional dungeons and ruins to explore, there’s pseudo-DM’d events where you can spend resources, roll dice, leverage your stats and push your luck to effect further change. There’s still a good chunk of development left to go, but this already comes close to capturing the feel of a tabletop, authored and reactive fantasy adventure. Top stuff.

Fuga: Memories Of Steel $39.99

Bending the definition of indie a bit, given that Cyberconnect2 are a prolific studio responsible for games like Asura’s Wrath and the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm games, but Fuga is the latest in their self-published Little Tail Bronx games, a series sharing a beautifully illustrated world of furries.

Fuga is a bit darker than their usual fare. A turn-based, combat-heavy RPG set during Furry World War 2, you lead a band of NotFrench orphans on a mission to rescue their kidnapped townsfolk from the NotGermans. They do this with the aid of a giant, ancient mega-tank, armed with an arcane superweapon fuelled by sacrificed souls.

Boss fight got you down? About to lose? Shove a kid in the furnace for a quick fix! Of course, you’ll be down one character (and wracked with guilt) for the rest of the game, but it works. It’ll take some strategy and management to avoid grim fate, but it IS an option… and the optimal speedrun route.

Strangeland$14.99

A short, sweet and gorgeously illustrated point-and-click adventure from the developer of Primordia. Absolutely drenched in metaphor and allegory, there’s a surprisingly personal story behind the development of Strangeland, but it’s not necessary to know it to understand it or enjoy its well balanced puzzles.

Playing as a bedraggled man awakening in a strange floating void-circus, you’re got to puzzle out who you are, who’s the mysterious woman seen falling into a well, and why you seem to be calling yourself on the phone. None of the puzzles are especially tough here, but just complex enough to be satisfying, and nothing overstays its welcome. There’s some great voicework, and plenty of memorable scenes to think your way through. Some have called this game pretentious, but I feel it’s quite the opposite; it’s painfully sincere.

Cruelty Squad $19.99

One of the most viscerally unpleasant games of 2021. Cruelty Squad puts you in the sludge-caked boots of a bio-modded corporate killer, depressed, detatched and so expendable that dying gets you scooped up and reconstituted.

It’s brilliant stuff. A psychedelic blend of Hitman and the early Rainbow Six games. Tactical yet unhinged. As you complete missions killing rich people for increasingly petty reasons, you’ll earn the money to buy new upgrades, like a grappling hook made out of your own gene-modded appendix. The fancier stuff (like a home) will be too expensive to ever buy via hard work, so you’ll have to invest in the stock market, gamble at casinos and even go fishing mid-mission. What do you do when you’re rich? Oh, there’s so many secrets to be found once you’ve mastered the High Net Worth Grindset lifestyle.

Death Trash $19.99

Horrible meat-worlds seem to be a bit of a recurring theme in indie games recently, and Death Trash might be the meatiest. Even in early access, this is an excellent RPG with no shortage of dark humor and surprisingly compelling real-time combat.

Death Trash is the sort of RPG that has a dedicated ‘vomit’ button. And multiple uses for the pile of chunder that you can then harvest from the floor. There are robots that would very much rather you didn’t procreate, colossal megafauna made of meat that don’t comprehend the difference between ‘befriend’ and ‘devour’, and some surprisingly chipper nudists. I guess you’ve got to laugh when this is your world. For all its gore and weirdness, it doesn’t feel *edgy*. Just wet. Squishy. Gooey. I’m excited to see where its main story will take us over the coming months (or years) of early access development.

Rhythm Doctor $14

Just how much mileage can you get out of a single button? A whole lot, if Rhythm Doctor is any indication. A brilliant little one-button rhythm game, framed as the ongoing and escalating challenges of a musical hospital.

A patient is so lovestruck their heart is skipping beats? Fill in the missing notes. A virus is infecting your UI? Keep the beat even when your UI and audio is glitching. A duet with weird time signatures being sung? You’ve got to hit those percussion notes on BOTH songs. Each stage is a visual treat too, with lots of bespoke art and effects to accompany each song. This one’s still in early access, but great as-is, and they recently opened up Steam Workshop support, albeit limited to tracks that artists have pre-approved the use of or released under creative commons. You can get other tracks elsewhere, of course, and the quality of user-made stages has been stunning so far.

Axiom Verge 2 $19.99

The original Axiom Verge was a rock solid back-to-basics Metroid-alike with a couple fun twists. Still, the main complaint levelled at it is that it played it safe. It didn’t have too many new ideas. The sequel goes a very long way to address this.

Fundamentally, Axiom Verge 2 feels familiar. If you liked the first game it’s easy to jump into this one, but the structure is strange and refreshing. Combat is generally de-emphasised. Bosses are largely optional, and can be neutered by tactical application of your hacking abilities, rendering them mostly safe to bypass if you don’t want to destroy them. Oh, and the story is exactly the kind of wild high-concept sci-fi that I love, and I wish that developer Tom Happ would just write a novel so I can get my fix without waiting for Axiom Verge 3.

SkateBIRD$19.99 or On Game Pass

Tiny Hawk: Pro Skater! Sometimes all a game needs is a very silly joke as a foundation and everything else just clicks into place. Skatebird fits the bill. It’s a Tony Hawk inspired arcade skating game where instead of a heavy and breakable human body, you’re in control of a soft, very round bird that harmlessly bounces and rolls off their board when they bail. Adorable.

There’s more to it than a joke (and a double-jump, because wings) too. The environments are creatively designed spaces built to a vastly larger scale than you. The music is just fantastic — an assortment of overtly political indie hip-hop, ska, punk and more — and the writing is a barrel of laughs too. Each mission is given by some manner of bird-brained new friend, each one weirder than the last. And they start out pretty weird to begin with.

Spectacular Sparky — $14.99

I’ve a soft spot a mile wide for Treasure tribute games, and Spectacular Sparky is absolutely, unquestionably one of those. A frantically paced platform shooter blending elements of Dynamite Headdy, Gunstar Heroes and the legendary Alien Soldier, but with a few weird ideas of its own. Mostly in terms of writing.

While a short, sweet (and replayable) game, Spectacular Sparky dedicates a lot of its play-time to fully voiced mission briefings and dialogues with its weird assortment of space monster bosses, and they’re honestly pretty funny. Imagine if Max from Sam & Max decided to go solo as a space bounty hunter and you’re halfway there. The sprite art is on point (really capturing that Mega Drive look, minus pallette and widescreen limits), and the soundtrack is just a banger start to finish. Short and sweet — I just wish there was more of it!

Clone Drone In The Danger Zone$19.99

At the intersection of Jedi Knight and Roblox, you’ll find Clone Drone In The Danger Zone. Leaving early access this year after years in development, it’s a cute little arena hack n’ slasher where weapons cut through metal voxels like hot butter, making for some tense, quickly deadly fights.

On top of having an active online multiplayer scene, Clone Drone’s biggest perk is a positively overstuffed Steam Workshop. Literally tens of thousands of user-created stages, and most of them can be downloaded hundreds at a time, thrown into a randomized playlist (sorted by difficulty) and the game will smartly and seamlessly integrate them into arcade mode. The story mode is fun enough (featuring some deadpan voice-synth delivery of terrible jokes), but there’s surprising depth to this one, and the community prove it.

Valheim$19.99

Procedural sandbox survival games are not normally my jam, but even I have to admit that Valheim has a spark to it that many other games lack. Perhaps it’s the consistent art style? The clever physics engine? The big monsters providing genuine threats to the forts and houses that you build? Probably all of that, honestly.

Another key part of the formula is the progression systems at work. Similar to Terraria, content is gated by bosses slain. Once you’ve progressed as far as you can within a region, you go off on a quest to kill some manner of big boss beastie, with its death altering both the world and opening up new avenues for you to upgrade your character. It’s deliciously moreish and fits in nicely with the Viking fantasy setting, slowly escalating from relative medieval restraint to grand adventure as you unlock more features and surprises.

Dread Templar$14.99

Another day, another Quake-inspired retro FPS. Dread Templar is a deeply unpretentious game in the vein of Dusk — weird monsters, satisfying shotguns, chunky low-fi pixellated textures and all the gothic architeture you can eat. Oh, and a thundering electro-metal soundtrack. Lots of good energy here.

That isn’t to say it’s devoid of ideas. There’s a perk-based persistent upgrade system, and several cooldown-based abilities for you to use, including bullet time, air-dashing and the ability to throw your melee weapon as a high-powered spear. While the opening levels are very Quake dungeon/castle’y, it looks like this one’s going to open up into much more weird and lurid environments with plenty of fun new enemy designs. Dread Templar also isn’t afraid to drop you into a surprise boss fight mid-level, or give you a signposted optional area to explore for bonuses. Good stuff, even in early access.

Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator — $19.99 or On Game Pass

From the strange minds behind An Airport For Aliens Currently Run By Dogs comes the most honest capitalism simulator since Cruelty Squad. Buy organs low, sell them high, become a market-shattering force of nature until a talking labrador named Chad Shakespeare undercuts you on kidneys. God damn that adorable bastard.

SWOTS is a surprisingly fast and simple game. If spreadsheets and math are weaknesses for you, don’t worry — this game doesn’t require much beyond being able to figure out which number is the bigger of two. A skill you will need to apply extremely quickly, as each trading day is just a couple minutes long, and the organ stock floor is crowded. It’s an aesthetic treat too, with a stylish, chunky UI and fantastic music. Surprisingly deep as well. Remember to load your game after seeing an ending and credit’s roll — there’s plenty yet.

Unsighted$19.99 on On Game Pass

The sleeper indie hit of the year. Launched to almost zero fanfare, Unsighted is now a major fixture in a lot of game-of-the-year lists, and rightfully so. A fantastic fusion of Hyper Light Drifter, Zelda, Metroid, Dark Souls and more, this is a heady cocktail of ideas that only gets better with time.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world full of sad lesbian robots, Unsighted has you scrambling around its world, trying to complete your quests before the magical fuel providing androids sentience runs out. Some characters are closer to running dry than others, and once their time is out, they turn into feral robot monsters that you’ll have to put down. Yes, even the adorable robot grandma. Yes, even your Navi-like fairybot buddy, unless you can refuel them.

It’s all a bit Majora’s mask, and your first playthrough is likely to be bittersweet or outright tragic. But Unsighted is designed to be replayed, revealing new depths and features (and intentional sequence-breaks) as you dig deeper. It’s a compelling structure, paired with extremely solid parry-heavy combat, great audio design and some absolutely fantastic music.

Gorilla Tag Free

A simple gem of a VR game, and for the best price of all: Nada. Gorilla Tag is exactly what it sounds like; it’s online multiplayer tag, but you’re a bouncy little cartoon gorilla with no legs. Okay, maybe that last part is weird, but it’s what makes it work. You navigate purely with your arms, swinging them to walk along the ground, bounce off walls and swing from ropes. Want to tag someone? Just touch them.

The only thing I can really hold against this game is that playing on public servers means you’re either going to be dealing with children or weirdoes hurling slurs constantly. Or children hurling slurs. Best played with a group of friends, ideally — if you’ve got VR-owning pals this is a no brainer, and a great playground to goof around in. Reject expensive games, become monke.

REKKR: Sunken Land $6.99

Originally a Doom mod (and even included in Bethesda’s recent Doom port), now expanded into a standalone game with an extra episode. Rekkr is designed to exacting 1996 standards, and designed to run even on DOS machines, although if you’ve a modern source port, there’s some extra bells & whistles.

Fans of Heretic will feel right at home here. Rekkr’s pseudo-viking fantasy world is full of strange creatures and demons, and even stranger weapons. Who needs a rocket launcher when you can just shoot rocks? Granted, they’re magical rune-stones that explode after impact, but the force of smacking someone with a boulder is enough to kill lesser monsters. It really does feel like a long lost Doom spinoff from a parallel world. I’d have played the hell out of this in the 90s, and that, I feel, is pretty high praise.

Hypnagogia: Boundless Dreams$9.99

Sequel to the excellent (and free) Hypnagogia, Boundless Dreams is a beautiful, chill and whimsical wander-about through a series of PSX-styled dreamscapes, plus a few nightmares. While there’s some low-level spookiness and the occasional bit of platforming to be done, mostly you’ll just be exploring strange environments, meeting stranger characters and enjoying the sights and sounds, and that’s all it really needs to be.

While easily recommended at the going price, especially if you’re after something more chill to play, Boundless Dreams is still expanding, and recently recieved a major content update adding yet another dream to explore, a developer commentary mode, some new secrets and a bunch of quality-of-life features. It sounds like developer Sodaraptor has a few more of these updates in store. I’m looking forward to revisiting this one later.

Adios $17.99

A movie-length piece of interactive storytelling. A pig farmer that has been disposing of bodies for the mafia decides that he’s had enough. A hitman is sent to talk the farmer down, or snuff him out if he insits on ‘retiring’. A dialogue ensues.

Adios is a character study, both of your character — the farmer — and his would-be executioner. Two men in situations they’d rather not be, both searching for ways out of a very final end to an otherwise fine day. There’s as much said by what goes unspoken in this script, and a constant, looming sense of dread that’s hard to shake. It might only take you a couple hours to play through, but you’ll be thinking about this one for days, weeks or months.

Synthetik 2 $19.99

The original Synthetik was an action roguelike that played like nothing else. A fast-paced tactical sci-fi robo-shooter with surprisingly involved gunplay. No run-and-gun. Headshots count, accuracy tanks on the move, and guns can overheat, jam or easily run out of ammo if you’re ejecting your mag early.

Synthetik 2 recently launched into early access and takes everything from the first game and transplants it into a modern 3D engine, albeit with the same locked overhead perspective. This time round, the game is designed to be modular and easily expanded, and launched with a suite of mod tools. Not only will the core game be expanding and evolving over the coming months, but the best community-made mods will be featured in-game. A cool idea.

The Binding Of Isaac: Repentance — $14.99

An expansion rather than a full game, but an extremely good one. Over the years, The Binding Of Isaac had gotten a bit wonky in terms of balance and bugs, and players had been losing interest in it. So, lead dev Ed McMillen reached out to the developers of Antibirth (a fan-made expansion mod that was broken with the release of the previous official update) and asked them to make it official, with a bit of his help, of course.

And so they did, and then went an extra few miles on top of that. Repentance adds an enormous number of new environments, enemies, music, items and playable characters, as well as a new definitive ending to the game and a spectacular True Final Boss to challenge across many thousands of permutations. This is set to be the last official BoI expansion, but the game’s moddability means that there’s a long, bright future ahead of it. A fine send-off to one of the first big action roguelikes.

Cloud Gardens $17.49

Another returning game from last year, now graduated from early access with another year of development under its belt. Cloud Gardens is apost-apocalyptic gardening puzzle game, asking players to beautify a series of run-down vignettes. You seed them with both plants and lived-in clutter, encouraging the greneery to spread and flower, providing you with more seeds to further expand.

The final version of the game has a surprisingly extensive campaign, featuring a huge number of scenes to decorate, and plenty of plants to unlock to help you in your mission. It’s a quiet, medidative experience, occasionally challenging but mostly just relaxing. Enjoy the sounds of nature as you spread flowers and vines, and if you really don’t want to deal with all the pesky ‘game’ stuff, there’s an option to just unlock everything and garden to your hearts content in Creative mode.

Super Raft Boat VR Free

What started as a cute little 2D game jam project has grown into one of the better VR freebies of the year. Super Raft Boat VR is a simple, unpretentious arcade game with some roguelike inspirations. You’re on a crumbling raft, the ocean is trying to murder you, and you have to continually build as you fight. Simple.

It’s just fun all round. A 360 degree scramble for resources and repairs with a little sharpshooting for flavour. Enemies and obstacles destroying parts of your raft make you think a lot more about where you move and stand, and there’s even some neat boss fights to be had. If you’ve got a pair of fancy space googles hooked up to your PC, this is a no-brainer at the low, low price of $0.

Jupiter Hell $19.99

Another early access graduate, and one I’ve been looking forward to for years. Jupiter Hell is an expanded commercial followup to Doom: The Roguelike. How does Doom’s combat translate to turn-based, tactical grid movement? Shockingly well, and without overcomplicating things, making this a very comfortable game to play with a gamepad, and a good pick for genre newbies.

Jupiter Hell’s combat is simple but gratifying. Standing at a corner lets you shoot around it, providing cover, while fast movement also gives buffs to evasion. Standing and shooting out in the open then becomes a liability, giving this a more mobile feel than other projectile-heavy rogulikes. There’s a good range of character classes and perks, with plenty of freedom in how you build your arsenal and customize your guns over the course of a run, and despite the game being turn-based, the physics and animations are all real-time, making it look and sound like an action game, even if it’s not.

Special mention should also be made to getting Mark ‘Shepard’ Meer from Mass Effect to voice NotDoomguy. He’s clearly having a lot of fun swearing up a storm, though if he’s a bit much there’s an option to make him cuss less. Good if you want to listen to the crunchy guitar-heavy soundtrack.

Critters For Sale $9.99

A deeply surreal and dread-laden fever dream of a game. The world is coming apart at the seams, and incoherent forces of evil and entropy are set to destroy everything, and you’re helpless to stop them. Explore a series of short adventures — light on puzzle, high on weird — as an assortment of characters across time and space. Hang out with Michael Jackson. Become a founding member of Death Grips. Die a lot.

Critters For Sale does a whole lot with just two colours. Its monochrome interface and slick but grainy animations are sometimes hard on the eyes, but entrancing to look at. The soundtrack is cool, exciting and channels a lot of 90s survival horror vibes. There’s really nothing else quite like it. It’s a truly phantasmagorical experience, funny one moment, existentially horrifying the next, and it’s never clear which way it’s going to drag you next.

Ynglet$4.99

You’ve probably never played a platformer quite like Ynglet. Playing as some kind of abstract space fish, your planet has been exploded and you’ve got to swim/hop through the floating chunks of reality to find your pals and bring them home.

Rather than walk on platforms, you swim through them, leaping dolphin-like from floating puddle to puddle, and occasionally using a dash move to cover longer distances or ricochet your self off rigid, bouncy platforms. It sounds weird and confusing but within minutes it becomes second nature. That’s not to say it’s an easy game — far from it — but the controls are never an issue, and the procedurally generated and reactive soundtrack is extremely chill. It’s just a treat to look at, play and listen to, and it deserves to sell a lot more copies.

Live In Dungeon $9.99

Sometimes an idea strikes that’s just so silly that it HAS to be made real. I can only imagine that was the process behind Live In Dungeon, a short but sweet little dungeon-crawl RPG where your character class is ‘livestreamer’. Poggers!

Armed with a camera and a Twitch chat feed, you wander around, fighting monsters in simple Active Time Battle style combat. The complexity comes in trying to react to your chat audience mid-fight via a multiple-choice dialogue panel. Crowdpleasing responses will boost hype, speeding up your attacks and healing you, and Likes gained from winning fights, showing off cool scenery or playing with your cat provide currency that can be traded in for new gear. It’s only a few hours long, but tells a cutely self-contained story that never forgets the core joke of being an adventuring streamer. A charming romp.

Streets Of Rage 4: Mr X Nightmare$7.99

Another expansion, but worth including in this roundup as it elevates the game to new heights. While last year’s Streets Of Rage 4 was a solid return to form for the series, it was perhaps a little safe and familiar. Mr X Nightmare mixes it up, adding a roguelite arcade mode of surprising depth, as well as new characters, weapons, moves, music and more to SoR4.

This new arcade mode completely recontextualises all the content of the original game. Throwing all the enemies and bosses into a blender with a continually evolving player character makes it all feel fresh again, and there’s a surprising amount of strategy in picking your perks after each round and developing your character build. Extensive play also unlocks new alternate move-sets for every character, in turn refreshing the campaign mode. The new characters are a joy to play as well, giving the roster some extra depth. It’s all just one huge positive feedback loop and exactly what the game needed.

Death’s Door $19.99

Followup to the excellent (if extremely minimalist) Titan Souls, Death’s Door is a charming isometric action-adventure with a strong focus on precise twitchy combat against challenging monsters and some great boss battles.

The art and character design in Death’s Door does a lot of heavy lifting. While it has its own style, there’s a clear bit of Studio Ghibli inspiration in the charming crow protagonist and some of the stranger characters and bosses. It’s a genuinely charming world to see and explore, making the moments when the game piledrives you into the ground all the more palatable. The music and sound design are peerless too. Charming and sinister in equal measure, giving weight to the occasionally grim (although frequently funny) story of your crow helping a world without death shuffle off its immortal coil.

Snap The Sentinel: Episode 1Free

The first episode of a planned full commercial game, but a great time in its own right. Snap The Sentinel is what happens when a bunch of Sonic The Hedgehog fans take on GZDoom. The result is a bouncy, bright arcade FPS with a funky FM synth soundtrack and big retro Sega vibes.

If the Mega Drive could do 3D, this is what a Sonic Team FPS would look and feel like. Nice simple controls, complete with a gamepad-friendly lock-on system, and a simple weapon system. Your default 7-shooter pistol reloads automatically after each burst of fire, and special weapons replace your main gun until they run dry on ammo. They’ve even taken out the Use button from Doom, replacing it with a kick that hammers enemies and opens doors alike.

Snap The Sentinel was originally developed in just seven days as part of the 7-Day FPS Jam. The version available now is a much more polished version, approximately doubled in length, and now featuring online co-op and an arcade horde mode. A great first chapter, and for the best price of all.

Viscerafest$14.99

A recent Early Access debut, and a ton of fun already. Viscerafest doesn’t look too different from the current crop of retro shooters, but has a very distinct feel. It’s hyper-aggressive and very challenging, with enemies doing brutal damage, and ammo — while powerful — being in short supply, forcing accurate, fast shooting and mixing in melee where possible to execute safely. It’s an entrancing dance. It doesn’t quite play like anything else, and I’m eager to play more as this grows.

The protagonist, an unhinged space bounty hunter Caroline, certainly feels she fits in here. She’s borderline rabid, howling, hooting and hollering as she punches aliens into clouds of gibs. She’s like a less restrained version of Caleb from Blood, and while it’s only briefly touched on in the current early access episode, she might have similarly eldritch roots. It would explain why she has the ever-so-slightly uncouth habit of eating the fresh hearts of her enemies.

Madness: Project Nexus$24.99

Madness: Project Nexus is an anomaly. A colossal indie hit with a preposterous number of glowing user reviews, but not a single review from any major site. Based on the popular old Newgrounds stickman gun-fu animation series (and developed with the aid of the original animator), this is a twin-stick shooter/brawler hybrid with a tactical slant and a LOT of content.

Playable solo or local co-op, there’s a love-it-or-hate-it weightiness to combat, matching the hefty weapon swings of the old flash animations. As in the animations, ammo is in short supply, but guns are everywhere, so it’s not unusual to change weapons several times in a single fight. It gives it an interesting rhythm that there’s plenty of room to experiment in.

And boy does Madness give the combat room to blossom. The mostly-linear story mode is a solid 6–8 hours long, which is hefty stuff for what amounts to an arena shooter. But that’s just half of it. There’s also the misnomered ‘arena’ mode, which is more like a hefty side-story with more RPG elements, squad building and some surprising (if glibly delivered) plot twists. It’s also replayable, with new character classes unlocking over time. There’s a lot here.

Vomitoreum$9.99

Scumhead is an absurdly prolific developer. With several games under his belt last year, Vomitoreum was his biggest project this year. Once again using the GZDoom engine, it’s a first-person Metroid-alike set in an incredibly bleak, dying world.

For some strange reason, rather than break the game up into separate levels, Scumhead decided to create an entire world in a single map, with multiple distinct zones, biomes, side-areas and secrets to explore. The combat is a bit simplistic but it’s satisfying to explore and pick apart the secrets of this strange environment. Vomitoreum is a short, bittersweet single-serving adventure that took me around four hours to complete. It’s a trip well worth taking if you’re looking for something a bit more offbeat in your retro FPS’ing.

Minute of Islands $19.99

A deeply melancholic adventure about a girls’ journey to try and salvage what she can of a biomechanical world on the verge of death. The game is constantly narrated by protagonist Mo’s inner monologue, and it’s not pretty. Bitter, frustrated, self-loathing, self-doubting. It colours the entire journey with a deep, sickly melancholy. Even without the very world becoming infected and visibly diseased, this would be a pretty grim story.

While there are puzzles, and even a little bit of platforming, they’re far from the focus of Minute Of Islands. This feels like an interactive and lushly illustrated graphic novel, every screen rich with detail and unsettling implications. It’s grim, poignant and frequently tragic and if you’re after something crushingly sad, this is a wonderful experience. Just be warned.

Dreamscaper$24.99

There are no shortage of action roguelikes, but few are half as pretty as Dreamscaper. Set primarily in a fragmented dream-world, each beautifully lit and detailed scene is a joy to look at, even if much of it is procedurally generated. Enemy designs are strange and exciting, and the storm of particle and lighting effects accompanying almost every attack just elevates the look of the game further.

Dreamscaper leans harder into the narrative and progression side of things, ala Hades, with progress in dreams opening up more options and character interactions in the waking world and vice versa. Conversations (following Persona-like social link rules) and events will unlock more upgrades, letting you customize your character build further for the next night’s sleep. If I had to level any complaints at Dreamscaper, it’s that the character animation doesn’t live up to the high standards set by the environment art, with combat looking a little stiff at times. Otherwise, a compelling adventure.

Wildermyth $24.99

The War Of The Chosen expansion brought a whole new social angle to the XCom games. Characters developing bonds and relationships was a great concept, and Wildermyth feels like a whole game built around it, and expanding on the idea.

So what we’ve got here is an XCom-esque squad tactics RPG set in a high fantasy world, but with procedural storytelling front and center. Every character you create will have their personality, aspirations and fate decided through multiple-choice dialogue options and the occasional roll of the dice, and the story spans generations, giving characters plenty of time to become memorable, live long lives and potentially die dramatic deaths. Or even retire!

Wildermyth also has a clever magic system. Instead of just casting spells summoned out of nothing, mages draw spells from sources of power around them. Draw an essence of binding from a tapestry to tie up an enemy, or a flash of light from a torch in order to blind a room full of monsters. That, plus a world largely free of traditional fantasy critters gives it a refreshing feel when so much else is just Tolkien-adjacent elves, orcs and goblins.

Boomerang X $19.99

A fast arcade FPS that reminds me of the Dreamcast era — there’s something strangely Sega-esque about this one. Wielding the titular oversized cross-boomerang, Boomerang X demands players survive a series of frantic and escalating arena battles in increasingly vertical and trap-filled halls. Touching the ground is dangerous, so you’ll want to keep yourself aloft by constantly zipping through the air to the current position of your thrown projectile, bouncing between targets in slow motion. It’s common to clear an entire level without landing.

I can’t imagine playing Boomerang X on consoles, but on PC it’s a joy. Once you get up to speed, each level becomes a frenzied haze of teleports, dashes and room-clearing special attacks. Boss fights are an aerial ballet, with you flitting through the air to get a clear shot at each weak-point in turn. There’s really never a dull moment, and it looks and sounds an treat, too.

The only thing I can really complain about here is that Boomerang X is a short game, only a couple hours long. Fortunately, there’s a second loop for those after more of a challenge, and a recently-added endless arcade mode, too.

Inscryption $19.99

Barely worth mentioning on this list thanks to the enormous number of awards and glowing reviews it racked up, Inscryption is the latest from Dan Mullins, developer of Pony Island and The Hex, and applies that same brand of metatextual rug-pulling to the modern Collectible Card Game (CCG) formula, with a dash of horror.

In other words, it’s Slay The Spire, but haunted. Trapped in a spooky woodland cabin, you’re playing a life-or-death card game against a mysterious figure in the shadows, while occasionally getting up to explore the room and puzzle out some of its secrets. Of course, this being a followup to The Hex, expect the unexpected. There’s more to this than (surprisingly compelling) roguelike deck-building. Far more. And there’s free DLC yet to come.

Webbed $9.99

Spiders have never been so cute. Webbed is a relentlessly chaming little platform puzzler set in the wilds of New Zealand. A nasty bird has kidnapped your little spider’s boyfriend, and you’ve got to unite all the local bugs to stage a rescue mission.

Webbed is one of those games that has a single, extremely flexible mechanic and stretches it out until every possible permutation has been explored. Your spider-webs can be used to lift objects, swing from trees, gum stuff together, catch bugs and help you pull off some extremely rad skateboard tricks in an official Skatebird crossover level.

Cyber Shadow $19.99 or On Game Pass

The spirit of NES Ninja Gaiden still burns. Cyber Shadow is a pure, simple straightforward ninja platformer. Run and jump through a post-apocalyptic world, stab a ridiculous number of robots and occasionally backtrack to open up branching level paths with newfound abilities.

If you enjoyed 2018’s The Messenger, but felt its latter half was a little flabby, this is absolutely the game for you. It has similar multi-jumping, familiar combat and no shortage of cool boss fights. It also has better enemy variety, putting the focus more on forward movement and combat challenges than Metroidvania-lite exploration. There’s really not much to complain about here. It’s not overly long, and refreshingly tough while not being unfair in its checkpointing. A good couple afternoons of cyborg ninja melodrama, cool sprite art and catchy tunes.

Rolled Out! $19.99

You wait 15 years for a new Super Monkey Ball game, and two come along at once. While the excellent SMB: Banana Mania has replaced the Gamecube originals as the definitive version of the classic games, it is a remake with limited new content. If you want new levels (and new cute animals in orbs) then Rolled Out is where it’s at.

Rolled Out is absolutely, 100% Super Monkey Ball with a fresh set of levels and a few new gimmicks. And honestly, that’s all it needs to be. The music and audio (even the announcer voice) capture that Sega AM2 vibe almost perfectly. It’s currently in early access but steadily growing, and is likely to expand more rapidly in future once the current level editor adds full Steam Workshop support for sharing creations.

Demon Turf $19.99

A massive and highly creative 3D platformer from the developer of the underrated Slime-San. This one hasn’t been selling as well as I’d like, which is a crying shame, as it has it all. Complex, technical movement, tons of levels, boatloads of secrets and even a powerful level editor. There’s real depth to its central mechanics.

There’s a lot of focus here on chaining the abilities you unlock into fancy movement combos. A long-haul dash into a floating triple-jump to air dash to dive into water. Speedrunners will have a field day. Demon Turf is held together with a cute aesthetic — 2D sprite characters on a chunky but gorgeously lit polygon world — and a fantastic soundtrack highly reminiscent of Splatoon. If you like garbled pseudo-lyrics and funky hip-hop beats, you’ll be well served here.

Chicory $19.99

A wonderful followup to 2018’s Wandersong, and sharing in a lot of thematic elements. Chicory is an easygoing puzzle adventure — part Zelda, part Mario Paint. Set in a world of cute animals named after food, you play as a janitor dog that ‘borrows’ the magic paintbrush that defines the entire world’s colour. Antics ensue, until things take a (slightly) darker turn and the world needs saving.

Chicory is 95% exploration and puzzling, with combat only happening during a handful of setpieces. A great decision, as it gives the game plenty of time to explore its mechanics, with your growing number of tools and brushes, you’ll likely spend more time colouring in the world and drawing in details than solving problems, and the game remembers. By the time the credits roll, your copy of Chicory will be as personalized as a coloring book. Very relaxing.

Wolfenstein: Blade Of AgonyFree

With Machinegames preoccupied with other projects, it falls to Wolfenstein fans to fill the gap. Years in development, the final version of Blade Of Agony rolled out in 2021, delivering a huge new Weird War 2 adventure for BJ Blazkowitz running on the GZDoom engine. It’s entirely free, standalone and self-contained.

The combat feels snappy, responsive and twitchy, often forcing players to scramble for cover and tactically pick off targets one at a time when in close quarters, but still leaving enough wiggle room in the AI for the occasional heroic guns-blazing advance. It looks and feels like Wolfenstein. Not quite any specific game in the series, but rather drawing inspiration from all of them.

Impressive as BoA is, it’s worth noting that the game launched with some pointlessly edgelord easter eggs and ham-fisted references to real-world atrocities. These were removed in the current version of the game, but the update was accompanied by a passive aggressive non-apology. So, make of that what you will. At least it’s free.

Undertale 2Free
Not only did we get more Deltarune this year (see below), but we got another Undertale! Or at least, a glorious RPG Maker/MSPaint shitpost bearing the name, and it’s better than it has any right to be. It’s the kind of stupid that only a smart person could have written.

Undertale 2 is a surprisingly lengthy game, and packed with weird jokes, weirder characters, and surprising story tangents. Whatever you think this game is doing after the first hour is almost certainly wrong. Surprisingly, Undertale 2 is also remarkably well balanced. While it uses a pretty standard RPG Maker combat engine, the fights are smart, full of sight gags and strategic challenges. Like I said; smart person’s stupid. There’s surprising depth to this, even if you’ll come out the other side feeling dumber for it.

Deltarune: Chapter 2Free
This one hardly needs mentioning. Toby Fox and crew still have it. While the first chapter of Deltarune felt a little limited, it’s now clear that it was just a prologue to a vastly bigger and more ambitious game than its predecessor, Undertale.

Deltarune Chapter 2, while still technically a free demo (Chapters 3–7 will cost money) is nearly as long as Undertale and every moment of it is packed with goofball jokes, pathos and challenging bullet hell-esque combat. The music is fantastic, the pacing is breakneck and there’s a shocking degree of reactivity. Any fear player choice would be ignored has been fully dispelled. There’s even an alternate, darker route hidden in there, and it’s shockingly engaging, story-wise. The wait for the next few chapters is excruciating.

Dead Estate — $14.99

Dig The Binding Of Isaac, but not vibing with the grossout poop n’ dead baby aesthetic? Or maybe you’re just looking for a fresh shooter roguelike? The isometric Dead Estate is a charmer. A goofy, fun cartoon style despite gallons of gory monster designs, plenty of content, 8 playable characters and layers of story and branching areas to peel back until you see the (satisfying) True Ending.

It has a whole lot going for it. Good music, good sprites, an extremely good hot witch who sells you stuff (unless you play as her, in which case her doting mother runs the stores) and a dedicated development team. There’s already been a couple notable content updates since launch, adding new items and weapons to the mix, and it seems they’ve got plans for plenty more.

Exo One — $16.99 or On Game Pass

There’s really nothing quite like Exo One, aside from possibly 2011 mobile hit Tiny Wings, and that feels an almost insulting (and mechanically reductive) comparison. I guess it could be described as a UFO simulator, or an interactive post-rock music album. In Exo One, you pilot an orb-shaped craft, capable of rolling at high speed and multiplying its gravity to accelerate it down hills, allowing it to ramp high into the sky, where it morphs into a flying disc capable of travelling for miles.

You’ll need to master this strange conservation and creation of momentum, as there’s a long way to travel. Exo One has you taking a journey through and far beyond the solar system, past ancient alien megastructures, ruins, and forests and some stranger locations besides. It’s not really a game about exploration — it’s usually clear which way you’re meant to be headed — but the environments feel bafflingly huge, and your vessel so very small and lonely.

It feels poignant, almost to the point where it undermines its own story in terms of gravitas. Either way, Exo One is a trip absolutely worth taking. The only thing I’d warn about is that the game was only about three hours long for me, and others have finished it in less. Still, if you’ve a Game Pass subscription, there’s no excuse. Go forth and ponder space orbs.

It’s… well, I’d like to say it’s over, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This year was absolutely preposterously packed with exciting indie releases. Here’s 400+ of them to pick from, and I only played a fraction of this bumper crop.

At the time of writing, the winter sales are in full swing, with the Epic Store running another loss-leader, offering downright silly discounts on many of these games. Shop smart, have fun, and if you’ve a few bucks left over, consider helping me buy more games to keep doing this via Ko-fi or Paypal. Or attempt to make sense of my Steam Wishlist. Good luck with that.

Thanks, and happy gaming!

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Geek for all seasons. Freelance gaming & tech writer + PR. Indie advocate. E-Mail: jdtarason@gmail.com, Twitter: @DominicTarason, Discord: Dominic Tarason#5970

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A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Dominic Tarason

Geek for all seasons. Freelance gaming & tech writer + PR. Indie advocate. E-Mail: jdtarason@gmail.com, Twitter: @DominicTarason, Discord: Dominic Tarason#5970