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Greatest indie video games of 2023: the most important hits from small studios

2023 has been an absolute bumper year for video game releases when just thinking of five-star smashes like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3, Street Fighter 6, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Final Fantasy XVI, to name just a few. But aside from the big hitters, what have been the Best indie games of 2023?

It’s also been just as great for indies, games made by small studios but not lacking in ambition, innovation, and vision. Unfortunately, they’re also the games that tend to get lost under the radar compared to the big blockbusters, even though we do occasionally try to cover them when we can.

It’s also become harder to properly define just what is an indie game, which caused a bit of a fuss when one of the year’s viral hits Dave the Diver was nominated in the indie game category at The Game Awards, despite actually being made by a team that’s owned by billion-dollar Korean corporation Nexon. You also can’t think of indie games as just being made with pixel art or in Unity, as advances in technology are also seeing some indies achieve visuals on par with the big boys.

But when putting this list together, it really just came down to picking games this year that had interesting ideas and something unique to say. And what better time to catch up on these than at the end of the year?

Videoverse

Find Videoverse on Steam

This choice-based narrative adventure takes place inside the titular online social network of the fictional Kinmoku Shark game console about to be made obsolete by the arrival of a new system.

While it lovingly captures the spirit of the Wii U’s Miiverse (if it also happened to be the early noughties using only 1-bit graphics), its story about being in a social network’s dying days, whether it’s worth trying to make it a less toxic place, and what happens to the friendships made in that community couldn’t be more timely as we currently observe the slow death of Twitter.

Available on: PC

Cocoon

Find Cocoon on Steam

The party trick that this 3D puzzle adventure shows off in its opening few minutes is one of the most outstanding of the year.

As a mysterious winged bug fella, you navigate worlds within worlds, leaping from one to another but also able to reduce one into an orb that you carry on your back to help solve puzzles. It’s the punchline at the end of Men In Black as a game but also more, with some of the cleverest game design from the makers of indie classics Limbo and Inside that’s both mind-boggling yet carefully crafted so that you never get overwhelmed and lost.

Available on: PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch, Xbox Game Pass

Sea of Stars

Find Sea of Stars on Steam

This may look like another game that evokes the SNES era of role-playing games, but its use of real-time lighting along with expressive character sprites that can climb, swim, and vault around environments in ways that old tile-based games couldn’t show a more modern sensibility.

Its turn-based battles also do away with random encounters while embracing Paper Mario-inspired action in between commands with a clever turn system that you can also try to disrupt to your advantage. With vibrant visuals and a likeable cast, Sea of Stars is an epic adventure with a story that’s as memorable as the genre’s finest.

Available on: PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch, Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus Extra/Premium

Venba

Find Venba on Steam

An emotional narrative cooking game that tells a story spanning decades in just a couple hours, this story about an Indian immigrant mother, her family and how the food she makes, based on authentic South Indian cuisine, form a connection to her culture and between generations.

The cooking is thoughtful as each dish has you trying to restore lost recipes like a puzzle, but it’s in its branching conversations that explore a family changing over the years where it’s at its most heartfelt and honest. It’s like food for the soul.

Available on: PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch, Xbox Game Pass

A Highland Song

Find A Highland Song on Steam

A love letter to the Scottish highlands, as beautiful as they are perilous, A Highland Song is full of stories both historical and fantastical. It also aptly sums up your journey as teenager Moira, who runs away to a lighthouse by the sea where her Uncle Hamish awaits.

You run, jump and climb, trying to figure out the best path to take to reach your goal and when to rest to survive against the elements. With so many routes, secrets and peaks to discover, it’s also immensely replayable. And when a game manages to so faithfully capture the Scottish vernacular, it’s very easy to spend time with this adventurous lassie.

Available on: PC, Switch

Humanity

Find Humanity on Steam

Think Lemmings, but you’re a dog leading a sea of people to the light. That’s the general gist of this 3D puzzle action game that evokes the weird and wonderful era of early PS1 games.

The mechanics constantly evolve with new rules, from new signs that change how your people behave to new threats you have to either avoid or confront, including against another opposing group. Better yet, you can create and share your own levels online. And as it’s from the developers behind Rez Infinite and Tetris Effect, it’s an audiovisual treat too.

Available on: PS5, PS4, PC, PlayStation Plus Extra/Premium

Bomb Rush Cyberfunk

Find Bomb Rush Cyberpunk on Steam

Sega may have just announced that it’s remaking Jet Set Radio, but Bomb Rush Cyberfunk absolutely nails the same early noughties underground street culture and graffiti vibe. With striking cel-shaded visuals and a complete banger of a soundtrack, you just won’t be able to get enough of this game.

It’s not just the excellent graffiti tagging mechanics that makes this game special. It’s not even the fact you can do tricks and combos almost as good as Tony Hawk. The best moments come when figuring out how to tag a billboard that’s seemingly impossible to reach, and makes New Amsterdam a joy to explore.

Available on: PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch

Goodbye Volcano High

Find Goodbye Volcano High on Steam

A narrative game set in a world of anthropomorhic dinosaurs, Goodbye Volcano High is about teenage high schoolers in their senior year whose plans for graduation and beyond suddenly seem futile when an incoming asteroid means their extinction is imminent.

As bleak as it sounds, this emotional drama focuses on the here and now, repairing relationships, doing your best as a band with its own compelling rhythm-based mini-game, and bonding over table-top role-playing. Sharing a similar diverse depiction and emotional complexity as mature animated shows like Bojack Horseman and Tuca & Bertie, the themes of Goodbye Volcano High will no doubt resonate with a generation living in a world that’s often feeling apocalyptic.

Available on: PC, PS5, PS4

Jusant

Find Jusant on Steam

Climbing is such a core mechanic to some of the most popular games, but it’s never struck such a fine balance of being both meditative and challenging as in Jusant.

With the use of climbing tools and a mysterious water-based companion’s powers, your simple goal is to scale an immeasurably tall tower. You must reach new biomes, each with their own environmental and weather conditions to consider, while also piecing together what happened to the inhabitants who have since left. With breathtaking sights, a satisfying tactility and the atmospheric vibes of classics like Ico and Journey, Jusant is the path to a natural high.

Available on: PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S

The Last Worker

Find The Last Worker on Steam

As the titular employee for a dystopian Amazon-like corporation where the workforce has become all but automated, this first-person narrative adventure has you spending your days finding and delivering packages in a giant warehouse the size of Manhattan.

That is until your paths cross with a resistance group and you’re forced to choose between your capitalism and activism. With a comic book aesthetic based on concepts by renowned 2000AD artist Mick McMahon, this is a thought-provoking narrative with an all-star cast, including a scene-stealing Jason Isaacs as your sweary Scouse robot companion.

Available on: PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch

Thirsty Suitors

Find Thirsty Suitors on Steam

Like a South Asian Scott Pilgrim crossed with turn-based RPGs, this narrative comedy sees endearing Jala returning to her hometown after another busted relationship. During this time, she’ll have to make amends with estranged family members, as well as the exes whose hearts she broke over the years.

Emotional confrontations take the form of surreal turn-based battles with all the style of a Bollywood film, while there’s also Tony Hawk-style skating and cooking mini-games. But it’s the whip-smart script that will win over your heart in the end.

Available on: PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch, Xbox Game Pass

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