While 2018 has provided plenty of notable blockbusters, the year has provided plenty of indies that have gone under the radar too. If you're looking for something fresh to play, here's 56 titles to keep in mind.
A small note with the below list: all games included either released in 2018, or came out of Early Access this year. Some titles also got a second lease of life on the Switch, but were released on other platforms prior.
This post has been updated twice since its original publication, first in August and again in December to include titles released in the second half of the year.
A short Australian-made tale about love and loss, beautifully told without a single word of dialogue. Well worth the few dollars it'll set you back on iOS or Android.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
What happens when CD Projekt Red take Gwent and use it as basis for a puzzler/light strategy game centred in a time just before a Nilfgaardian invasion. A surprisingly clever adaption of the card game, spanning 30 hours with over 20 branching endings.
I’ve been playing the same fight in Thronebreaker, Gwent’s standalone story, for a few hours now. I still haven’t beaten it. In most games, that would make me frustrated with myself or furious at the designers. But thanks to Thronebreaker’s unique mechanics, I’m itching to keep trying.
A homage to '90s shooters with surprisingly clever design, tight mechanics and a fantastic horror shtick that gets creepier and cooler over the course of thirty levels.
In an age of analytics, where publishers looking for more ways to keep players engaged, legacies of the past have been discarded or stripped away. One such legacy that's still clinging to life is the art of the singleplayer FPS campaign, with the wide sweeping levels, full of secrets and monsters hidden behind corners, largely done with.
Similar to DUSK, AMID EVIL is a retro-styled shooter but more in the vein of the original Heretic or Hexen (minus the hub-world style design of the latter). Lot of visual pop, lot of gore, and a lot of circlestrafing. Highly recommended for fans of the original Quake campaigns.
Don't Forget Our Esports Dream
The visual novel sequel to SC2VN, Don't Forget Our Esports Dream is a surprisingly effective tale about a StarCraft professional and the unseen trials and torment of the esports lifestyle. Wonderful mix of traditional visual novel elements with some interactive StarCraft sequences, although no prior Brood War/SC2 experience is required.
A game about consuming your enemies from the maker of Sunless Sea, Cultist Simulator is a complicated, often obtuse card game about discovering immortality and knowledge beyond the mere realm of mortals. A ton of great writing and backstory to discover, but also definitely not a card game for the faint of heart. Fans of Gloom should definitely check this out, but steer clear if you don't like being frustrated.
A short indie platformer that's a coming of age story wrapped in a truly beautiful aesthetic. A wonderful visual treat, let down only by a short four hour length. Definitely grab on sale if you enjoy walking simulators or relaxed, moving adventures like ABZU and Journey.
I don’t normally shed tears when a video game ends. I hardly ever pause in the middle of a playthrough to appreciate a clever game mechanic. I do stop to listen to game music, but it’s rare I spend minutes trying to get gameplay and soundtrack to sync in order to recreate a perfect moment.
A modern Rollercoaster Tycoon with the isometric viewpoint. Parkitect focuses more on the management side of a theme park than modern takes on the formula, and is a true spiritual successor to the Chris Sawyer classic.
Released on the Switch this year, Hollow Knight remains one of the best Metroidvania-style games in years, and comfortably one of the best games ever produced from Australia. It's less than $20 on the eShop - get it now, and enjoy with sound.
The Gardens Between
An elegant, relaxed platformer about two children going through their memories of growing up. Two buttons handle all your movement and interactions, and the moving, colourful islands are a pleasant treat to wind down after a long day with the soothing music. Meditation in a video game.
A game where you have only 60 seconds to survive, Minit hit multiple platforms this year. It's a compressed Zelda experience, which also has an option in the menus for vegans.
That aside, Minit is really clever in how it forces you to become as efficient as possible.
An oldschool platformer about a ninja trying to save his village from an army of demons. Looks like a classic title, but there's actually a ton of modern advancements here (much in the same way Axiom Verge introduced new twists to Metroidvanias). Very highly recommended.
For The King
A bit of a cross between a board game and an RPG, For The King is a solo or co-op rogue-like about a group of adventurers on a journey across the high seas, frozen wastelands, jungles, and more. Good for sharing with a friend, but be warned: this isn't one for people with a low tolerance for RNG.
A 2D puzzler from the makers of Fe - about flipping between two worlds. One starts the world of the living, with bodies to possess, and the second is the underworld.
It's a game that's got a lot of love for the LucasArts classics, but instead of bogging you down with inventory Flipping Death focuses on the abilities of the characters you can possess. There's a good amount of humour too, particularly when you jump into someone's head and start having conversations with them. A+ to the lonely crab.
How Tetris should be played. The game doesn't require PSVR, but if you've got Sony's headset, it should be the next game you grab for it.
Slay The Spire
Imagine a game where the roguelike advancement of FTL gets blended with a resource-based deck-builder. Gameplay is simple and straightforward, the UI is easy on the eye and there's plenty of variation in the cards.
Technically Spire is still in early access, but it's already feature complete and the Switch version is in development as well. Check out Ethan's take below if you're still on the fence.
Slay the Spire, a roguelike where you try to deckbuild your way out of brutal dungeons, went into Early Access on Steam last November and has since been slowly winning over unsuspecting players who go into it with low expectations. I am one of those recent converts.
Finally out of Early Access this year, the underwater survival game provides users with lots of caves, volcanoes, coral reefs and other aspects of the underwater world to explore. It's a game about balancing your natural curiosity versus the need to survive. The full game is out on PC, and it's in the Xbox preview program.
Panic Button, the studio famous for their skilled Switch ports of DOOM, Rocket League and Wolfenstein 2, were supposedly working on Subnautica's PS4 version, which was also due out sometime this year.
Most of your time in Subnautica is spent deciding whether to listen to your curiosity or your terror. It's a tough choice.
It's a modern Theme Hospital. I don't think I need to say anything more.
The Banner Saga 3
All the agonising decisions your viking tribe has taken has led you to here, the culmination of the Banner Saga trilogy. Most of the nuts and bolts about the game are the same, but it's definitively meant to be played as the end of a series.
Stoic's adventure is absolutely worth seeing through to the end, as Luke wrote below. But if you haven't been introduced to the series yet, it's worth picking up the first and second games during a sale, and then coming back for the finale.
A US99c point-and-click adventure from the makers of A Date in the Park, Football Game is a short story about local high school football hero Tommy. Set in 1987, the game runs for around an hour and takes heavy inspiration from David Lynch. Good for fans of creepy vibes and banging tunes.
Metroidvania fans, roll up. If you're after a platformer with more intricate puzzles and a stronger dose of character, courtesy of the mechanic Robin and the people inhabiting the dying planet of Iconoclasts, Joakim Sandberg's creation is worth a look. Also worth considering for those intrigued by the genre, but not after something billed as brutal as Dead Cells, Hollow Knight, and so on.
Meanwhile: Interactive Comic Book
Little Jimmy comes across three things on his way home: a time machine, a doomsday device and a mind-reading helmet. What do you test first?
In 2010, Jason Shiga took the idea of a choose-your-own-adventure and adapted it to a comic book. That was Meanwhile, and earlier this year Zarfhome Software digitised the idea. It's faithful to the original in that it's a pure comic experience: you're going along for the story, and how it unfolds, rather than a traditional game experience. But by being a game, Meanwhile is able to live up to the idea of the infinite canvas principle a lot better.
Another PSVR highlight for the year, Moss sees you helping an adorable little mouse as they try to traverse their way through a lush little world. It's available for the Rift and HTC Vive, if you want to play it on PC.
The Red Strings Club
A cyberpunk game about manipulation, lies and serving drinks: welcome to the Red Strings Club. It's a point-and-click adventure from the makers of Gods Will Be Watching, a short but intense experience that comes full circle. I won't spoil anymore.
The Red Strings Club starts, and ends, with a character falling out of a high-rise window. There's no indication that you could do anything to stop this from happening, or even that you're supposed to. The game is more interested in how you get to that point — and the web of lies, manipulation, and tough choices you leave in your wake.
The Horus Heresy: Legions
Stay with me here - a Warhammer 40,000 card game. Ethan found it was a surprisingly metal take on the Hearthstone formula, with lots of existential dread and blood splatters to go with some reliable CCG mechanics.
It's modern Descent. Not literally, of course, but you get the idea.
Tell Me Everything
A cross between a word puzzle and a murder-mystery, Tell Me Everything is a five-part episodic series, with the first two episodes having already shipped.
You unlock new words by asking the right questions, and finding the right questions to ask so you can ask the next questions you need can be a bit tricky. But it's a fun concept that L.A. Noire fans will appreciate, particularly for US99 cents.
Yoku's Island Express
A Metroidvania crossed with pinball. I need say no more.
I’ve just finished a super little game called Yoku’s Island Express on my Switch, a pinball Metroidvania featuring a tiny red ant rolling a lil’ rock around.
A bundle with FRAMED and FRAMED 2, but as of this year it's become available on PC and the Switch instead of just mobiles. Great little Australian puzzler.
Into The Breach
It would be remiss to not play Into The Breach, the latest strategy from the makers of FTL. We've waxed lyrical about it already this year, but if you need a reminder, here you go.
Like mechs, but want bigger ones? BattleTech would like a word.
If you do want something more brutal from your platformers/Metroidvanias, however, Dead Cells is the place to be.
My favourite moment in Dead Cells so far came right after I won my first boss fight. I gained the ability to make climbable vines sprout from certain surfaces, allowing me to access areas I hadn't previously been able to. Classic Metroidvania stuff, right? The twist. Dead Cells' levels, unlike those of a Castlevania or Metroid, aren't permanent. But my new ability was.
A gorgeous sandbox, if the sandbox was set in a frozen wasteland that wants you and everything you love to die slowly and painfully. It's a city builder from the makers of This War of Mine, which tells you the kind of brutality you're in for.
Frostpunk is an oppressive game where the world has been covered by snow and humans have to rely on ingenuity and sacrifice to survive. It's difficult, and it's kicking my arse so hard that I don't want to play it anymore. But like the frostpunks themselves, I persevere.
Jurassic World: Evolution
Build a dino park. Prey they don't break out. It's a Jurassic Park management sim from the makers of Planet Coaster, although sadly the licensing deal means no official mod support.
A hand-animated indie from the Square Enix Collective, Forgotton Anne is part-light platformer, part puzzler, and part anime. To give away much more would risk spoiling, so I'll leave it at the trailer.
39 Days To Mars
A solo or couch co-op experience, 39 Days to Mars is a game about sharing a perilous steampunk expedition to Mars. Control HMS Fearful as Albert and Baxter - or the ship's computer-controlled cat if you're playing alone - while navigating your way through odd puzzles.
If you want more of a sci-fi flavour to your colony builder, then Surviving Mars does what it says on the box. It's a game about managing resources with the constant to and fro of sending colonists from Earth, balancing the need to expand while not getting thrashed by the harsh Martian atmosphere.
I'm using Paradox's new space colony sim Surviving Mars to see what would happen if I tried to establish a Mars colony full of people like me. First, though, I need to make sure they have a worthwhile colony to live in. That part's been tricky.
A dating sim where you have three weeks to get a fellow monster for the prom. Includes potential for banging gorgons obsessed with money, vampire weebs, oafish werewolf jocks, demon convicts, genocidal mermaids, and more. Jokes aside, the artstyle is neat and you won't find many dating sims that have multiplayer (outside of Monster Dating Monster in the latest Jackbox pack).
Tower of Time
A dungeon crawler cRPG with real-time tactics, Tower of Time came out in April but has gotten pretty little buzz since then. It's better thought of as a cRPG-lite, really, and worth considering for people who enjoyed the idea of Pillars of Eternity or Divinity: Original Sin but felt too intimidated by the size of the world and the lengthy playtime.
An Aussie-made mobile game about a wombat exploring for food, Paperbark is one of the most beautiful games on mobile right now.
Ever wanted to remodel your own house, with as much brute force as possible? Don't. You live there. But in House Flipper, you're a one-person demolition crew, able to knock down every wall, window and fitting by hand.
There's also the bit where you remodel it and sell it for profit, but to be honest, the smashing is the truly fun part.
Through The Ages
Vlaada Chvatil's Civilization-esque game came out on mobiles late last year, and while it's great there it's much nicer blown up on a bigger monitor with a CPU that can fly through AI turns faster. One of the best digital adaptations of a tabletop game in a while.
Vlaada Chvatil is a bit of a legend in board games, having made Codenames, Mage Knight and Galaxy Truckers. And recently, one of his earlier hits got released on mobile. Through The Ages. It's basically a Civilization inspired card game, and it's been keeping me up all week.
Demoed at PAX Australia last year, Grabity is a Kiwi-made couch co-op game where up to four players basically peg giant crates at each other. It's ridiculously fun; grab it for your next game night.
An "unconventional" game of billiards, where billiards is used in the same kind of way golf gets used in Golf Story. But with the Adult Swim-esque off the wall humour.
The Adventure Pals
A light-hearted comedic platformer with a charming art style. Also, you have a pet rock. Available on PC and the Switch, Adventure Pals is a good platformer if you're looking for something kid-friendly.
FAR: Lone Sails
A game about travelling across the remnants of a decaying world, FAR: Lone Sails gives you a battered vehicle and tasks you with maintaining it on your perilous journey. FAR has some light puzzles along the way, but it's mostly about enjoying the journey as you reproduce and repair your way across the changing landscape.
A simplified spin on the RTS formula, Element gives you a planet and tasks you with building a small army while you mine energy and elements. Fun for those who want the oldschool flavour of games like Total Annihilation, but in a shorter timeframe.
Heaven Will Be Mine
A queer sci-fi mecha visual novel set in 1981, Heaven Will Be Mine features three characters who are deciding which awful decisions to make while battling giant robots. It's ultimately a game about blurring the lines between things people ordinarily see as diametric opposites, while also offering the opportunity for making out between mecha pilots.
A game for fans of Abzu or Journey, InnerSpace is a serene, peaceful game about exploring through flight. Small tip: this game absolutely requires a controller on PC, although you can enjoy it on the Switch or consoles just fine.
A Way Out
Shawshank Redemption: The Video Game, albeit with less interesting characters and a vastly less interesting prison break. Still, great fun to share with a partner.
Re-released for PC and consoles this year, Lumines Remastered is basically a spin on the Tetris formula where you rotate squares to match colours. It's an amazing time sink, but you can see more through the video below.
A Metroidvania where your character can only bounce from wall to wall, rather than running and jumping like a traditional platformer. The movement will throw you initially, but once you get it down pat you're able to explore with some incredible speed. Hard game, so be warned.
A tale of Madeline's attempt to conquer a mountain, courtesy of one of the best mid-air dashes in video games.
Last weekend, I spent hours chasing after a single elusive strawberry in Celeste. Over and over again, I kept dying to the toxic muck surrounding my collectible prize. Hundreds of wasted lives, an endless number of fuck-ups, a complete halting of progress. There was only failure, but I was stubborn. I was going to get that fucking strawberry if it was the last thing I did.
Ever remember that classic Rush Hour puzzler, where you had to maneuver cars to escape the gridlock? Swim Out is a little like that, except you're in a pool and you have to navigate people like on floats, kayaks (!) and other swimmers. Very chilled, very pretty and very cheap ($5.40 on the Switch right now, or $US5.99 on Steam).
This is unbanned in Australia, and came out of early access this year. You're welcome.
Days before the game launches out of Early Access, publishers Devolver Digital confirmed that the flaccid, penetrative party game will finally be available in Australia and New Zealand on Steam.
A game about controlling Viking figurines over some spectacular dioaramas. Actions are cooldown based, and the whole thing is designed more like a "living and breathing tabletop" game.
A cutesy rogue-lite about blending an action-RPG with a very different kind of role: being the shopkeeper. It's essentially a management sim that turns into a dungeon crawler at night, blended with some adorable music and pixel art.
A game about chasing controlling an American whaling ship, while chasing after Moby Dick. Fantastic art style and very challenging.
A game about exploring a forest as a woodland animal, singing to the other creatures to band them together and solve puzzles. Very pretty game, although can get a little frustrating as it pans out.
Destruction Derby with lawnmowers. Obviously, there's cars and regular vehicles as well, but crashing ride-ons is way more fun.
An episodic narrative adventure set in 1973 about a secret society. Three of the five episodes have been released at the time of writing, so you're looking at around 7 hours gameplay thus far. Worth a look for Life is Strange and fans of Telltale games in general.
Isle of Skye
A digital adaptation of the board game about developing territory and trading with other clans. Shares some similarities with Carcassonne, but with a cooler acquisition mechanic. Each player sets their own prices for the tiles they want, and if nobody buys at that price, you have to forfeit that amount to the house.
It's available on iOS and Android now, and worth a look for anyone who picked up 7 Wonders when the mobile version dropped.
Warhammer: Vermintide 2
Basically a new Left 4 Dead 2 but with lots of hordes of Skaven and Chaos, instead of zombies. Vastly improved from the original Vermintide and highly recommended with friends.
A text-based adventure with robots from the maker of Thomas Was Alone and Volume, Subsurface Circular dropped on the Switch earlier this year. Unsurprisingly, a story about talking to robots going about their daily lives on the commute is a great fit for your own commute. Having touch controls actually makes a huge difference to the gameplay too, so definitely pick this up on the Switch over PC if you have the choice.
A top-down 2D arenashooter that tries to mix the style of Bit Blaster XL with the build depth of Path of Exile. Seriously. The skill tree has over 900 nodes.
Night Dive are the best in the business when it comes to bringing games back from the past. Forsaken came out of absolutely nowhere, but it's wonderful to have it back. It's essentially a 3D shooter in the style of Descent and Terminal Velocity, where you nip through underground tunnels on a hoverbike scavenging for weapons and gear.