While 2019 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 31 titles to keep in mind.
A small note with the below list: all games included either released in 2019, or came out of Early Access this year. Some titles also got a second lease of life on PC or consoles, but were released on other platforms prior.
This post has been updated to feature only indies that released this year.
Baba is You
2019's The Witness: the puzzler that makes you feel supremely dumb, until the moment where everything clicks and you feel like a genius. One of the smartest games of the year, by far.
There’s a certain trick that smart game designers use to mess with their players. You’ll finish a level, all satisfied and cocky about it, and then the next stage will look exactly the same, with a twist. Maybe it’s missing the crate that was the lynchpin of your first strategy, or maybe there’s an extra enemy blocking the path. “Ha, you thought you were better than me,” declares the game. “You are not.” Baba Is You is the master of this design trick.
A pixel art platformer where you play a wizard in a world where everything is physically simulated. That means if you start lobbing fireballs everywhere, the entire level will become engulfed in flames. Pools of blood overflow and stick to the character until you wash them off. Water has special properties that you'd expect water to have. You can freeze liquids to mess up enemies, and the game will give you new wands that can mix and match in wonderful ways.
Noita, out today via Early Access on Steam, comes from some of the creators of the excellent indie games The Swapper and Baba is You. Both are puzzle games focusing on taking rules to their extremes, using the lenses of body-swapping and computer programming, respectively. Noita does the same, but without the puzzle aspect. Everything in its world has physical properties, and what you do to things has both immediate and far-reaching consequences on your journey through the game’s caves.
A Metroidvania where you also tame and train minotaurs, fungi, wolves, and other types of wild creatures. The monsters have talents a little akin to World of Warcraft, with the gameplay revolving around 3v3 battles.
A Dune-inspired game where you make runs through space to learn more about the Empire, commanding a space fleet along the way. Strong FTL vibes but with more of a focus on story.
What if you were in Hamlet, but every time you died the game restarted ... and you could change the events of the story? That's the pitch behind Elsinore, an indie that dynamically reacts to your choices and the decisions you make
You're a little girl ... and you're destined to die. But what do you do before those final moments? That's the story behind Little Misfortune. It's an adventure about a girl who can't help but find herself in trouble, whether that's by dancing with a blunt smoking duck, hanging out in the demon realm, and the general loss of trust, innocence, and childhood.
"Happiness to everything!" This is the mantra of Misfortune Hernandez, the sassy protagonist of Little Misfortune, a spooky game where children go missing and foxes lurk in the woods. She's a sweet little girl — but she's in a bad, bad world, and by the time her game ends, Misfortune will die.
Slay The Spire
Available for a couple of years in early access, Slay the Spire hit consoles this year and the Switch especially. It's perfect on the latter, particularly in bed, but it's one of the best roguelike deckbuilders you can play today, regardless of where you buy it.
On Thursday, Slay the Spire finally arrives on Nintendo Switch, completing its slow creep from Early Access PC hit to finished, widely-available gem. I’ve spent the last couple of days with the Switch version, and it’s incredibly exciting that more people than ever will finally get to play it.
Frog Detective 2
The indie comedy game from Australian Grace Bruxner, Frog Detective 2 carries on the humour of the original Frog Detective with panache. The hook is simple: you're a frog. There's a mystery. Go solve it.
Also, there's a wizard.
There is no formula for surefire success on Steam, but there are at least some commonalities among games that pull ahead of the rest of the 30,000-strong pack. A big name. Roguelite elements. Survival. Multiplayer. Hundreds of hours of content. Frog Detective, a game about a detective who is also a frog, has none of those things. It is nonetheless beloved on Steam and is now getting a sequel. Or six.
Risk of Rain 2
It's the classic Risk of Rain roguelike charm, but this time the world's 3D. Like the previous game, you start by picking a unique character and then working your way through a level to find the teleporter. Find the teleporter, spawn the boss, and get out of dodge.
Risk of Rain 2 surprise launched in early access last week. The game is a followup to Hopoo Games’ 2013 Risk of Rain, a 2D roguelike platformer. Though it makes some changes to the original formula, Risk of Rain 2 is less a sequel and more the original game remade in 3D. This is great.
A driver packs up her life and moves to Los Ojos at the urging of an old friend. It's a story set in a time where automated cabs have taken precedence over traditional taxis and services like Uber, but for whatever reason - nostalgia sometimes - some riders still prefer that human interaction.
You play as Lina, who drives around Los Ojos wondering why her friend got back in touch, and exploring the city through the lives of your passengers. One of the best games on Apple Arcade, but it's available on PC and consoles directly as well.
Available now on PC, Tetris Effect is one of those games that is functionally perfect. The only thing that would be better is if there was more music and more levels, but what's there is hard to fault. The ultimate form of one of the greatest games.
Tetris Effect blends the world of visionary studio Enhance with the time-tested, near-perfect rules of Tetris for a euphoric sensory experience. I reviewed it last year for the PlayStation 4, and today, it’s finally out on PC. With enhanced visuals, it looks better than ever. Check out the video to see it for yourself on high-graphics settings.
A game from the makers of Oxenfree, Afterparty is all about getting dumped into the bowels of hell - and binge drinking your way out. Colourful, funny and a great way to burn an afternoon, Afterparty has a great dynamic dialogue system underpinning it all.
Afterparty, the latest from Oxenfree developer Night School Studio, is out October 29 (and rated M for Mature, like all the best night clubs). It’s a story-based adventure game written in the snarky spirit of its point-and-click predecessors, full to bursting both with witty one-liners and signs that the writers maybe got a smidge too attached to some of the pop culture and philosophy references they penciled in. It’s a touch overdone, but games of this genre tend to be indulgent by nature. For the most part, it’s real good, knuckleheaded fun.
A pixel-art adventure about a character who discovers themselves when they find the local arcade. But rather than laying through the game as a standard adventure, you play through five '80s-style arcade games.
There was a time, I’m told, when arcades were everywhere and kids spent long summer nights pissing away whatever money they had just to lose over and over again in games like Sinistar and Out Run. I missed that period of time by a decade, but that hasn’t stopped me from pining for it, like someone lost in the desert thirsty for water and a shady spot to rest their tired soul.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Few games out there have the sense of style that Sayonara Wild Hearts does. It's technically an on rails rhythm game, but thematically its a story of a young woman suffering heartbreak and working her way through the machinations of the universe. Amazing narrator, and really clever use of level design.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a shining example of using a game’s design to say something meaningful while also making it look cool as hell. The game controls simply with the analogue stick and a single button. What makes it stand out is its music, its look, and its mood.
kind words: lo-fi chill beats to write to
Out now on multiple storefronts, kind words is a game about supporting other people. You write letters from a place of need, and anonymously, people from the void reach out to help. It's unusual and more akin to therapy than an actual game, but if you're so inclined, it's a very sweet experience.
If Twitter was less of a hellscape and had lo-fi beats playing in the background whenever you scrolled through your feed, the experience of it might be a little like Kind Words.
Want a more anime, sci-fi version of Slay The Spire? That's basically NEOVERSE, a deckbuilder where you pick a main class and then slowly, like the Harry Potter board game, build up an unstoppable deck.
Untitled Goose Game
If you haven't played this already, you should.
Not just one of the best indies released in years, Disco Elysium is one of the best RPGs released this decade. It's a natural successor to Planescape: Torment in a lot of ways, where your interactions and progression are done wholly through your roleplaying and how your character is built out - there's no combat in this game.
Also, your tie occasionally talks to you and tries to convince you to get drunk.
I get a lot of emails. Too many. But out of all the emails I do receive, none of them were about Disco Elysium, which is a crying shame given it's easily one of the three most interesting games I've played this year.
One of the surprises at the very end of last year, Ashen is now available through Steam after its exclusivity on the Epic Games Store ended. One of the best games to come out of New Zealand, Ashen is a stylish action game with solid controls, a great art style and a massive open world that offers passive co-op multiplayer. Definitely one for the Souls crowd.
I’m a voracious Souls player. From multiple playthroughs of the Dark Souls trilogy to games like The Surge and Nioh, I can’t get enough of moody exploration and tough boss fights. Ashen, a new Souls-like published by Annapurna Interactive, released last week on the Epic store and Xbox One, and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, its small refinements have made for a memorable journey thus far.
A game where a gorilla can punch a man so hard they explode, and then you can use the residual parts to peg at other people on the level. It's King Kong meets jazz meets Hotline Miami.
Deliver Us The Moon
A short single-player adventure about travelling to the moon to save humanity after the world's resources are depleted. Great atmosphere and visuals, backed up with a melancholic story about the fate of our race.
A tactics game with a heavy dose of Indiana Jones, Pathway is set in 1936. North Africa and the Middle East are being ravaged by Nazis searching for archaeological gems, and it's up to you to stop them.
The year is 1936. Nazis are sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East excavating tombs and pillaging archaeological dig sites for mysterious artifacts. The only way to stop them is through a choose-your-own-adventure-style strategy game where death comes swiftly and often.
It's Advance Wars in 2019 but you have a Very Good Boy who gets missions of their own.
There are two things you should know about the indie game Wargroove, which comes out for PC, Switch, and Xbox One on Friday. The first is that it’s a smart, challenging turn-based strategy game that’s essentially Advance Wars for the modern era. The second is that you get to play as a puppy who wears armour.
Remnant: From The Ashes
One of the sleeper hits of the year, Remnant asks a simple question: what could we do if we took the Souls formula and added guns? As it turns out, a hell of a lot. The game's just come to Xbox Game Pass, but if you're on PC and you have some like minded friends it's worth grabbing on sale. The game supports solo play, but it really shines with a squad.
A week after its release, Remnant: From The Ashes remains at the top of the Steam charts. It’s safe to say that its core conceit—what if Dark Souls, but guns—is resonating with people. Is the game living up to lofty, gothy expectations? For the most part, so far, so good.
Take the Warframe model and insert it into a top-down ARPG that plays a bit like Diablo, a bit like Helldivers. Still in early access, but has enough content to keep you going for 20 or so hours as is. Good fun with friends, too.
Look at this sassy lady. You know she's ready to wreck your shit, which basically describes how Killsquad plays, an action-RPG that's just launched in early access this week.
The Outer Wilds
Hands down one of the games of the year and one of the smartest space exploration games of the generation. Very, very clever at everything it does.
If you put me in a room with ten executives and asked me to pitch Outer Wilds, here is what I would say: “It’s got the exploration of a Metroid game and the structure of Majora’s Mask crossed with the interstellar wonder of No Man’s Sky and the narrative framework of Return of the Obra Dinn.”
Another Aussie-made game, Void Bastards mixes up the roguelike genre with a comicbook artstyle and spaceships that are begging to be explored. You keep your gear and weapons when you die, but you lose all your currency, fuel, ammo, food and merits.
Void Bastards is one of those games that just stands out. It's one of the most eye-catching games of 2019, easily.
This Land Is My Land
A stealth-action sandbox adventure about exploring the frontier as a chief of a Native American tribe, battling back the oncoming settlers. Players will hunt and search for resources, managing the warriors in your tribe, settling your own reservations, and reacting to the world as it responds. One for fans of the Far Cry games who want more challenging mechanics from the survival and tactical elements.
The latest narrative adventure from Sam Barlow, maker of Her Story, Telling Lies is about piecing together information from four separate characters. All four have been secretly recorded by the NSA, and its up to you to work out why, and the mystery underneath it all.
Streets of Rogue
Nuclear Throne meets GTA, essentially.
I thought I was done with roguelikes, but Streets of Rogue has pulled me back in. The game sprinkles gobs of Deus Ex DNA into the mix, resulting in a series of procedurally generated sandboxes where just about anything can happen. It's fantastic.
A gorgeous city-building game, Islanders gives you a tiny selection of buildings to start with. You then branch out, maximising the placement and positioning of the buildings until you accrue enough points to move to the next island. It's a game for those who love worker placement, the min-maxers, the fans of Rimworld and Cities: Skylines. Also, it's incredibly gorgeous.
When I first saw Islanders last month, I thought it was going to be very chill, but also barely a game. I was only half right.