Indie games keep getting better every single year, and those released in 2021 are a testament to how much the industry has evolved and continues to improve. With popular releases like Qomp, Loop Hero, and Adios, there are a plethora of indie games that players can choose from.
As is to be expected from the genre, a lot of excellent and innovative games have fallen by the wayside and haven’t really gotten the recognition they deserve. These indie games take fresh and creative approaches through their art style, storytelling, and even combat mechanics. Players ought to take a chance on these hidden gems that truly capture what it means to be a good indie game.
Updated on January 10th, 2022, by Hannah Saab: While major releases like Kena: Bridge of Spirits and Eastward may have taken the spotlight in 2021, there have been some overlooked indie titles released along with them. These have provided players with fun and unforgettable gaming experiences that most indie fans will likely enjoy. As players prepare and wait for more anticipated titles in 2022, it’s worth looking back at some more underrated indie games from last year.
Developed by Skeleton Crew Studio and released in late January, Olija follows the story of Faraday, who ends up trapped in Terraphage after a disastrous shipwreck. The 2D action platformer has players battling what looks to be Asian mythology-inspired enemies who Faraday must beat with his trusty harpoon.
Getting off the island is not an easy task, but along the way, players are entertained by visually impressive cinematics that is surprising for a 2D game. There are also a lot of collectibles, puzzles, and a few other weapons that keep Olija interesting all throughout.
Fans of Undertale and Guitar Hero will likely consider Everhood the mashup they didn’t know they needed. Developed by Foreign Gnomes and released back in March, the rhythm game is a fun spin on the genre that has players engaging in musical battles on a 5×1 grid.
Depending on how players enjoy other rhythm games like Crypt of the Necrodancer, it may be best to choose the easier difficulty modes here. The harder modes are quite challenging, and it can be frustrating to die over and over again during the boss battles. In between these battles, there are also fun mini-games and characters worth interacting with that can contribute to the game’s interesting story.
Wildfire Swap operates on a simple core mission – there are wildfires everywhere, and it’s up to the player to stop them. Published by Ryan Kubik Games in March, the game offers over 120 handcrafted levels where players must swap tiles in an effort to save houses and control the wildfires.
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the game, however, as it’s only the first few levels that are straightforward. As players progress through the game’s several levels, it gets more and more complex. It quickly becomes challenging to figure out how to save the adorable pixelated houses from the spreading fires, which makes it rewarding to complete as many levels as possible.
Curse Of The Dead Gods
In this roguelite game developed by Passtech Games and released in February, players venture deep into an accursed temple, fighting enemies while dealing with ability-altering ‘curses.’ It’s a top-down game that has seemingly endless labyrinths and rooms that players can spend hours exploring.
Although it is a somewhat well-known indie game, its popularity pales in comparison to other available roguelite games on Steam. While players shouldn’t expect it to be as fleshed out as games like Hades, its introduction of the curse mechanics and corruption meter add a unique element to the gameplay, encouraging players to be more strategic about every run.
Habroxia 2‘s non-linear space shooter takes players on a wild adventure where they must battle enemy ships and avoid meteors. Developed by Lillymo Games and released in February, the game follows the events of the original Habroxia game that came out in 2019.
The story of the game is not really the main focus, however, as it doesn’t matter much if players have tried the prequel or not. It’s the retro vibe and the gameplay that are the real stars here, as the game takes the best elements of similar shoot ‘em ups and combines them to create a fun and addictive experience that any indie game fan would enjoy.
This Kickstarter-funded game developed by Feral Cat Den follows No Man as he explores the universe in search of a way to save his love. It’s a point-and-click mystery adventure game that tasks players with collecting clues and solving tactile puzzles found around its black-and-white world.
Genesis Noir‘s unique art style and stunning sequences are meant to be enchanting and be appreciated like works of art. Paired with an emotional but somehow relatable story that’s over too soon, and players end up with one of the best short PC games that leaves a lasting impression.
El Hijo – A Wild West Tale was developed by Honig Studios and released for most platforms in March. The wholesome stealth game follows a 6-year-old boy who must escape a monastery to look for his mother.
The game allows players to see this violent world full of traps and bandits through innocent eyes – through El Hijo, whose sense of adventure and bravery shines through in every step. The perfect pacing, fun puzzles, and beautiful art style make it a must-play for players that enjoy stealth and puzzle games.
Kaze And The Wild Masks
Kaze and the Wild Masks is a brilliant throwback to the classic ’90s platformers that players know and love. Developed by PixelHive and released in March, players must help Kaze navigate over 30 treacherous levels of the Crystal Islands.
The vibrant 2D world of this platformer features funny but satisfyingly hard-to-beat vegetable enemies and bosses. There’s a fun mask mechanic, where Kaze can invoke the power of different animals like tigers and eagles to gain unique abilities during battles.
Rain On Your Parade
Developed by Unbound Creations and released in April, Rain on Your Parade is a delightfully comedic puzzle adventure game where players control a cloud that wants to cause mayhem. From ruining a wedding with a bit of rain to destroying farmers’ crops, players must fly around town to rain on everyone’s parade.
Each of the game’s 50 levels offers up unique mechanics that keep it interesting. There’s a good variety of challenges that are fairly simple, but always funny and fun to complete. The scenarios seem to get more ridiculous as the game progresses, too, which keeps players guessing what the next humorous situation will be.
Cyber Shadow was developed by Mechanical Head Studios and released in late January as an action 2D platformer that takes the best elements of NES games that stood the test of time. The player controls Shadow, who must fight through the ruins of Mekacity to uncover what lead to the demise of his clan.
The game looks a lot like the 1988 cult classic, Ninja Gaiden, as it has much of the same combat mechanics and brutal levels that the action game is known for. While Cyber Shadow doesn’t add anything new to the formula, it does make it easier for players to get through frustrating boss fights by adding checkpoints and unlockable abilities.
In Sound Mind
Developer We Create Stuff gives players a unique first-person psychological horror gaming experience with In Sound Mind, released back in September. Little to no information is given when the initially nameless protagonist wakes up to find himself in a strange and terrifying world full of monsters.
As players venture deeper into the constantly shifting levels, they realize that something more sinister is involved. Each round is dominated by a powerful boss who fans must take down using their level-specific tools. It’s an inward journey that gets more twisted the further one goes and it’s definitely not a game for the faint of heart.
Before Your Eyes
Released in April, developer GoodbyeWorld Games proves there’s still potential for innovation in the industry through the brilliant indie title, Before Your Eyes. Its groundbreaking gameplay mechanic involves using the players’ blinks to progress the story, which meshes perfectly with its poignant and heartbreaking narrative.
Released in April, the well-written game forces the protagonist to confront his past before moving on after his own death. As players learn more about his story, it becomes harder to leave the happier memories behind to face the more traumatic parts of his life. The title’s jarring narrative is arguably just as unique as its gameplay, which says a lot considering how novel the mechanic is.
Players are challenged to commit the perfect crime in developer inkle’s Overboard!. Released in June, the game takes all the wild twists and turns fans may expect from whodunnit narratives and flips them, putting the protagonist in the spotlight as the killer herself.
The goal is to evade suspicion and get away with the protagonist’s husband’s murder. Players have to be cunning and witty enough to convince others on board that someone else is responsible for his mysterious death. While the gameplay lasts only 30 minutes, fans will find that they’ll be replaying the title again and again until they can prove their supposed innocence.
Developed by Something We Made and released in September, TOEM is a quirky hand-drawn adventure title that invites players to observe and photograph the adorable black-and-white world around them. It’s a relaxing game that’s meant to be enjoyed at a slow pace, as it’s full of fun and friendly NPCs that need help with simple tasks.
Whether it’s helping an influencer achieve her goals or scaring away mice from a bakery, TOEM is teeming with tiny adventures just waiting to be discovered. Players can snap as many photos as they like along the way, which never gets old thanks to the well-designed world and all of its fascinating little details.
The enchanting and whimsical world of Wytchwood will cast a spell on any player who is brave enough to embark on a mystical adventure full of crafting and sorcery. Released in December, developer Alientrap delivers a charming but dangerous world full of wacky characters and odd monsters.
While players are given the freedom to do what they want and explore in whichever direction they choose, those looking for a more guided experience can also follow the exciting questline the game provides. Just be mindful not to immediately trust any creatures one might encounter in its dark forests, as things are more twisted than they seem in the dreamlike world.
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