With the end of the year fast approaching, and video game awards season having all but come and gone, we thought it’d be a great time to look back on the last 12 months of indie video game releases. As it turns out, it’s been an absolute banner year for independent games, with the likes of Cult of the Lamb, Stray, Scorn, Vampire Survivors, Sifu, Tunic, Neon White Immortality and more enjoying viral success and hoovering up end-of-year accolades.
What we wanted to focus on with this list isn’t those bigger names in the indie space, but the other games that released this year that we reckon are just as deserving of your time, no matter what kinds of games you’re into. This is by no means an exhaustive list either, and even picking only 22 banger indies for 2022 was tough so we’ve popped a few more highlights at the bottom. But hopefully you’ll find something in the below list (which is in no particular order) that’ll pique your interest and maybe take up some of your time over the holiday/new year break!
I Was a Teenage Exocolonist
An unapologetically stylish timeloop narrative deckbuilding game packed with hundreds of possible story events that deal with love, politics, coming-of-age, survival and everything in-between. If you enjoy visual novels, RPGs, narrative sims or anything of the sort you owe it to yourself to check this game out.
Sporting one of the most unique and enthralling visual styles I’ve seen in a game this year, Saturnalia is a roguelite survival horror that tasks players with navigating an ever-changing village full of secrets. The Italian folklore-inspired horror and impressively contextual puzzle designs here are just as much a highlight as the art style, it’s a strange one for sure but well worth any old-school survival horror fan’s time.
A beat-em-up point and click adventure RPG? It’s possible! BROK manages to merge these genres together effortlessly, making 90s nostalgia feel fresh with gorgeous Saturday morning cartoon-inspired art and plenty of great quality-of-life features and flexibility in playstyles.
Mario isn’t the only one capable of starring in a paper RPG, and this one really nails the hand-drawn aesthetic. After nine years in development, this boundlessly creative pseudo-RPG has charm in spades. It’s a case study of style over substance to be sure, but it’s simple and accessible enough for gamers of any age or taste to get a kick out of.
I love a good escape room, and plenty of video games have tried to capture what makes escape rooms fun, but Escape Academy easily does it best. Most of this is down to how well it uses the video game medium to go far beyond the traditional escape room experience, injecting a genuinely interesting story into the gradually-escalating series of puzzle areas and wrapping it up in a great aesthetic. Plus, there’s co-op!
Card Shark makes a completely captivating and thrilling game out of being a dirty cheat. Set against the backdrop of an enthralling story of nobles and scoundrels in 18th-century France it spins easy-to-learn but tense and exciting minigames out of cheating at cards and helping to drain rich folks’ pockets. It’s gorgeous, well-written and well worth your time.
Citizen Sleeper has to be one of my favourite games this year, a minimalist sci-fi narrative adventure that tasks the player with navigating a semi-derelict space station full of a cast of interesting characters all trying to survive against oppressive systems. Using a combination of a daily cycle and dice rolls, it’s up to you to figure out how best to live your life on The Eye, or escape it, and whether you tread on or lift up the lives aboard to get there. This is an absolute must-play.
Here’s a game as bleak as it is utterly captivating, presenting a grim mix of dystopian sci-fi and real-life events that grabs your attention and forces you to hold it even in its most confronting moments. It’s actually quite accessible as well, inviting players in with fairly simple point-and-click mechanics and writing that’s undoubtedly dark but with enough colour and character to make it digestible.
Beacon Pines is a cosy, story-driven adventure with a unique mechanic that makes it feel nostalgic and fresh at the same time. You’ll help shape a charming story by uncovering new words to change the potential outcomes of its narration, leading you to even more new words, new possibilities and new endings. It’s a storybook come to life where your help is needed to decide on its conclusion and it makes for a great lazy weekend play.
There’s a reason Wylde Flowers has managed to snag its fair share of accolades. With a cosy farming/life sim vibe, a charming cast of characters, a keen eye toward inclusion and diversity and a touch of witchy magic it’s a winner (and a great example of locally-made indie goodness!).
Bear and Breakfast asks the question – what kind of bed and breakfast would a bear run? And it’s entirely up to you to answer it. The result is an incredibly charming, chill, low-stakes management sim with a heap of customisation and a heart-warming tale to tell.
This gorgeous, pixelated cyberpunk adventure deftly mixes 2D action and 3D exploration to great effect. You’ll shoot, slash, chat, solve, explore and even fish as you delve into its engrossing world. Style and substance are hard at work here and it’s one you shouldn’t miss if you dig razor-sharp aesthetics and kick-ass heroines.
Choo-Choo Charles is one of those games that manages to be as essential as it is egregious. It’s janky, often frustrating and ill-advised and rarely reaches for anything beyond a single idea. But what an idea. Being trapped on an island and terrorised by a murderous train with giant spider-legs is the stuff of creepypasta legend and makes for such a threadbare but compelling video game concept that you can’t help but feel like you’re in on a wonderful, genuinely unsettling joke the entire time.
Paging all my Pikmin lovers – this is the modern indie puzzle-platformer for you. It’s a wholesome, laid back and adorable adventure where you’ll command hordes of “Tinykin” to help you navigate and overcome obstacles in a larger-than-life world. If the striking 2D animation-meets-3D platformer visuals and solid collectathon gameplay loop don’t grab you, the stress-free puzzles and swarms of little cuties will.
Garden Galaxy is the very epitome of chill. A relaxing, chance-based sandbox where you’ll slowly grow and cultivate your own garden from a steadily-increasing selection of randomised item drops, this is the perfect game to take a break or wind down with as well as just looking gorgeous no matter what form your little, isometric landscaping journeys take.
Rhythm Heaven in a pastel-soaked dreamscape? Sign me the heck up! Melatonin is easily one of the most gentle and therapeutic rhythm games I’ve ever played, with beautiful hand-drawn visuals and easy going levels as well as a custom editor and an optional challenge mode there’s a lot to fall in love with here.
Ship of Fools takes the fun of challenging, roguelite couch co-op to the high seas with a great, cartoon-y aesthetic and a challenging but accessible core gameplay loop that makes for fun and exciting cooperative play. Rope in a friend or loved one who you trust to make a stellar crewmate and you’ll have a blst.
Here’s a truly special title that does what indie games do best – trying brand new things that make use of the medium in ways only video games can. Set aboard a hospital on an airship above rural Australia, Wayward Strand plays out like a theatre production in real-time where the residents and staff live their lives regardless of your input, offering you the chance to see and do something completely different depending on where you are at any given time. It’s also just a lovely slice of Australiana that touches on themes of age and mortality, of mental and physical wellbeing and childish curiosity via a cast of infinitely charming characters.
Speaking of survival horror nostalgia, Signalis is a gem of a throwback that does more than enough to set itself apart from the PSX-era classics that it’s a clear love letter to. It’s got a fantastic, tense atmosphere and a gripping, surreal story that’s sure to capture anyone even remotely curious about its old-school flavour. An absolute must-play for survival horror fans.
A Memoir Blue is an Annapurna Interactive joint through-and-through, a wordless rumination that’s short on both plot and overall runtime but makes for a unique and memorable trip no matter how brief. There’s something to be said of games that don’t ask much of your time or reflexes and instead simply guide you gently through a thoughtful and heartfelt experience, and that’s exactly what’s on offer here.