2023 Indie Game of the Year

The 30 Best Indie Games of 2023

Andrew Johnston
13 min readDec 5, 2023
Source for all images: Steam.

It’s that time of the year again — time for video game critics who spent all year talking about the superiority of indie games to declare that some mammoth-budget AAA blockbuster is the best game of the year.

Cynical? You bet, but it’s a product of my position. After all, I didn’t purchase a single AAA game this year. Instead, I spent my time associating with the little guys, reviewing their games and interviewing them for gigantic feature articles.

That puts me in a good position to present a Game of the Year list drawn entirely from the edges of the video game industry.

No time to read? Listen instead!

I can’t claim that these are the absolute best — after all, I only got around to sampling a handful of the roughly 12,000 games that came out this year. Nevertheless, I fell that you would be well-served if you checked out any game that appears on this list. They all have merit.

I played enough games this year to expand this list to the top 30. It’s an arbitrary number, but I didn’t want to leave anyone out — not the little quirky titles, not the spiritual successors, not the ambitious games punching above their weight.

Many of these are games that I reviewed. If there is a full-length review attached to one of them, you’ll see a link at the end of its entry.

Source: Steam.

30. Red Tape

Hell is what you make of it, and in the dark comedy game Red Tape, hell is your co-workers. This short adventure game sends a fallen angel through the nine circles of the underworld, all recast as departments in a diabolical corporation. (Review)

29. The Trasamire Campaigns

Board game-inspired titles have been making a bit of a splash lately, and The Trasamire Campaigns is certainly an interesting one. Unite a fractured kingdom using a deceptively simple set of rules, all while navigating political intrigue in a surprisingly complex plot. (Review)

28. Mask of the Rose

Welcome to Fallen London, where your task is to solve a murder in which the victim got better. Find a way to save an old friend from a trumped-up charge using a combination of mysticism, romance and a wardrobe full of attitude-modifying garments. (Review)

27. Moonleap

There are games that are defined by simple elegance, and Moonleap is one of those games. The time of day changes each time the player jumps, changing the states of obstacles and making enemies move. This means that clearing levels takes as much strategy as precision.

Source: Steam.

26. Daydream: Forgotten Sorrow

2023 was a year of solid puzzle platformers, and Daydream: Forgotten Sorrow is an intriguing entry into the subgenre. In the role of a young boy and his mystical friends, the player works through a series of dream-like areas on a quest to learn the protagonist’s true identity. (Review)

25. Arcadian Atlas

2023 was also a banner year for tactical RPGs, and Arcadian Atlas was one of the standouts. Featuring a distinctive jazz-inspired soundtrack and a 20-hour story with lots of side content, it has a lot to offer any fan of late 90s TRPGs. (Review)

24. Mineko’s Night Market

For anyone seeking a more relaxing gameplay experience, Mineko’s Night Market offers a suitably chill atmosphere. Rebuild a village and help the mythical Sun Cat return to his home in a story that pays homage to the culture and aesthetics of rural Japan. (Review)

23. Pizza Tower

One of the year’s surprise hits, Pizza Tower challenged the conventional wisdom that a traditional sidescrolling platformer can’t sell. With its high-octane, speedrun-friendly gameplay and old-school cartoony visual style, Pizza Tower is a great choice for anyone who misses the days of 2D platformers that made you earn a victory.

Source: Steam.

22. Storyteller

There are few games that people have been waiting for as long as Storyteller, and the story was finally told in 2023. Offering an alternative take on puzzle games, Storyteller challenges the player to manipulate elements in a story to reach a specific end.

21. City of Beats

The well-trod twin stick shooter subgenre received a musical upgrade in City of Beats. You’re still fighting your way through enemy-filled arenas, but now your attacks and those of your enemies are timed to the beat of the soundtrack, a novel mechanic that also gives the game an fresh aesthetic.

20. Bramble: The Mountain King

There are few games this year that had the same grotesque beauty as Bramble: The Mountain King. This dark fantasy follows a child through the more sinister corners of Scandinavian mythology, sneaking away from man-eating trolls on a quest to reunite with his sister.

19. Hexarchy

If you’re interested in strategy games but don’t have the time to play a long campaign, Hexarchy might be just the game for you. Combining grand strategy and deckbuilding elements, it provides the full Civilization experience in a neat, one-hour experience that’s great for tabletop fans. (Review)

Source: Steam.

18. Breakout 13

ALT Lab’s ripped-from-the-headlines FMV game might be compelling even if you’re not normally into interactive movies. High production values highlight a story about a youth trapped in an abusive facility for the treatment of “internet addiction,” struggling to expose the corrupt and violent staff.

17. Full Void

Fans of adventure platformers like Out of This World will be right at home in Full Void. This short but tense adventure follows a child on a trek across a city ruled by strange biomechanical horrors. Worth checking out for its bizarre, dark imagery alone. (Review)

16. The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales

Etienne is a writer with an unusual gift: The ability to enter the world of novels and steal the legendary treasures within. The Bookwalker leads the player on Etienne’s journey, using a combination of wit and the writer’s unique powers to solve puzzles across a range of weird literary worlds.

15. Bat Boy

Fans of Shovel Knight can get more old-school platformer action with this homage to sentai and sports anime. In the role of the titular superhero, fight your way through a series of Mega Man-inspired levels using movement and combat powers won from your old friends. (Review)

Source: Steam.

14. Crush the Industry

I’m a sucker for both deckbuilders and anything that makes fun of the business of video games, and Crush the Industry offers both. The game follows a lost soul on a journey to reach the top of the video game industry, from the sewers of customer service all the way up to the infernal C-suite.

Rather than the by-now familiar deck of cards, the game has the player learning fixed skills that the player can cycle through at the cost of critical resources. It’s a novel take on a well-trod subgenre.

13. 8-bit Adventures 2

There are plenty of nostalgic RPGs out there, but few of them have the substance you get with 8-bit Adventures 2. The game follows an assortment of heroes and hangers-on who are seeking to stop a phenomenon known as “the Glitch” before it consumes their world.

8-bit Adventures 2 features an interesting combat system that echoes old-school RPGs while adding some tactical flair to make it more challenging. You’ll have plenty of time to master it, too — with dozens of hours of story and sidequests, there’s a lot for RPG fans to sink their teeth into. (Review)

Source: Steam.

12. Deathbulge: Battle of the Bands

What if the “battle” part of a battle of the bands was literal? Such is the premise of Deathbulge, which follows a group of bands cursed with the “gift” to receive and inflict injuries with music.

Deathbulge is a comedic RPG that brings a few interesting mechanics to go with its colorful music-themed setting. There are a range of genre-themed classes for the three protagonists to choose, most of whom can inflict status conditions that keep affecting the flow of battle even between turns. A different experience to be sure, but a memorable one.

11. En Garde!

The vintage swashbuckling film genre is brought to a new generation in the action game En Garde!. Taking on the role of the heroic duelist Adalia de Volador, the player must fight through hordes of hapless soldiers to foil the plans of the scheming Count-Duke.

Adalia is skillful in one-on-one combat but fights are seldom that fair, forcing her to use the environment to her advantage — kicking barrels into enemies, bringing chandeliers down on top of them or dropping buckets on their heads in reference to the fanciful and comical exploits of her cinematic forebears.

Source: Steam.

10. Figment 2: Creed Valley

Dusty, the personification of courage, returns in this sequel to Bedtime Digital’s 2017 action-adventure game. Tasked with stopping a mysterious two-headed harlequin known as the Jester, players lead Dusty through an adventure that somehow manages to be a symbolic representation of the anxieties of buying a house.

There’s plenty of challenging combat and puzzles, but it’s the Double Fine-esque visuals and the musical numbers — and the way they’re integrated into gameplay — that really make Figment 2 stand out, turning it into a memorable audiovisual feast. (Review)

9. Tiny Thor

There are many platformers aiming to recapture the feel of the 16-bit era, but few of them actually manage to surpass their forebears. Tiny Thor is one such game. The protagonist’s bouncing hammer is a novel mechanic that also happens to be critical to the gameplay — used for collecting items, taking out groups of tough enemies and moving objects that the player can barely see.

Tiny Thor is a very difficult game, but the challenge always feels fair — even in the brutal end-game levels, every level feels like it can be completed with the right touch. (Review)

Source: Steam.

8. Alien Hominid Invasion

After nearly 20 years, The Behemoth’s very first commercial release has finally received the sequel it deserves. Set nineteen years after the original game, Alien Hominid Invasion sees the protagonist’s home planet staging an attack on Earth in retribution.

While the original game was a mainly solo affair, Invasion is a team effort that lets the player join forces with up to three other aliens to take the carnage to a human defense force that has grown a lot sterner since the 2000s. A perfect choice for anyone looking to kill an evening with friends. (Review)

7. Gravity Circuit

Mega Man spiritual successors are seldom as fast and fluid as Gravity Circuit. Taking charge of Kai, bearer of the titular Gravity Circuit, the player must fight through a series of levels using Mega Man Zero-inspired melee combos and a grapple used to snag and toss enemies and their projectiles.

The controls are tight and the combat is satisfying — it feels nice to fling one defeated enemy into another and then speed through without resistance. Add to that a set of colorful, challenging bosses — a staple of any Mega Man-type game — and you have an old-school winner. (Review)

Source: Steam.

6. Astrea: Six-Sided Oracles

Deckbuilders are a dime a dozen, but what about dicebuilders? Astrea mixes up the formula by swapping cards for dice — some of them safe picks with all fair sides, others being high-risk high-reward die with powerful positive and negative faces.

That’s not the only innovation that Astrea brings to the table, either. Add in the game’s novel life system — where most die faces can be used to heal or harm, and taking damage can unlock new abilities — and you have a real breath of fresh air in the crowded deckbuilder market. (Review)

5. Meg’s Monster

Tragedy is a hard thing to render in a video game, but Meg’s Monster pulls it off with finesse. Following the journeys of a grumpy monster and the small child he finds himself protecting, it’s a story full of well-earned highs and lows.

The game itself is a puzzle RPG with a twist: The protagonist is nearly invincible, but the apocalypse starts if his young ward is overly upset by the rigors of battle. There’s plenty of variety even in the game’s short run, and it’s certainly worth taking an afternoon or two to experience a genuinely touching plot. (Review)

Source: Steam.

4. Tin Hearts

It’s rare to see a game merge story and gameplay as effortlessly as Tin Hearts. It is a simple, tragic tale of a brilliant toymaker and the dramatic steps he takes to protect his family, told through spectral flashbacks woven seamlessly into the levels themselves.

The mechanics are a novel take on the classic puzzle game Lemmings. By manipulating toys located around the house, the player must guide a series of wind-up tin soldiers to an exit. The levels can be very large and complex, but the solutions are organic and it gives a very natural feel to the progression of the stages as well as the plot. Add in the highly detailed setpieces and areas, and Tin Hearts is a game that can genuinely feel alive at times.

Tin Hearts is simply a beautiful game in more ways than one. Another good choice for anyone who wants some emotional content in their games. (Review)

Source: Steam.

3. American Arcadia

Puzzle platformers can be a tricky subgenre to tackle, especially when one is trying to fit in a narrative. American Arcadia nails that balance, presenting the story of a man trapped in a Truman Show-esque panopticon and the activist trying to help him escape before the powers that be cancel him for good. Between the twisting narrative and the highly detailed 70s-inspired visuals, American Arcadia is certainly gripping.

But it’s the mechanics that land the game on this list. The player controls both protagonists at once — one running for dear life, the other manipulating devices in the world to aid his escape. The chase scenes are intense and the puzzles are logical, with each half of the gameplay clicking nicely with its complement.

There are always new challenges coming along, and with the tension ratcheted up to the max, this is a game that will keep the player focused until the explosive end. (Review)

Source: Steam.

2. Sea of Stars

For all the throwback JRPGs we’ve seen in recent years, I can’t think of one that was an impressive as Sea of Stars. This was a highly anticipated title and it managed to exceed the hype. From the lush, detailed graphical style to the tactical combat system to the cast of memorable characters, Sea of Stars hits a lot of high notes.

Maybe the best part about Sea of Stars is that it’s not trying to be another game. While it draws a lot of inspiration from the legendary Chrono Trigger, it’s not trying to be Chrono Trigger. Rather, Sea of Stars creates its own feel, one that weds old-school sensibilities with the refinements we’ve come to expect from modern games. It’s like a 90s game made with 2020s technology, and this makes it unique — though, of course, we all hope to see more like it.

In sum: If you want to see the future of the throwback RPG, Sea of Stars is the game for you. (Review)

Source: Steam.

1. Shadows of Doubt

1979 — a different timeline, a more merciless world. Your home is a city where safety is only for those who can afford it and escape is granted only to those who prove their worth. You happen to be a detective, gaining notice from your betters only when you solve a serious crime. Fortunately, your neighbors have a penchant for killing each other.

So begins Shadows of Doubt, a detective game with an unparalleled level of depth. The player has a wide variety of tools and tactics to solve each murder. Break into apartments, spool through security footage, track down potential witnesses and aid their memories with a little cash…anything is fine as long as you nab the killer and don’t get caught yourself.

Shadows of Doubt sits at the top spot because it is the most innovative and most ambitious indie game of 2023. It’s not a perfect game, but it aspires to something new and bold and unheralded in video games today. It’s a game of organized chaos, where each playthrough and each crime has the potential to turn into a strange and wonderfully unpredictable story. In short, it’s the kind of game that we all want the indie scene to produce — the kind of thing that the AAA big dogs just won’t touch. (Review)

Want to learn more about the indie game scene? Eager to see the guts of development and get a glimpse of how it works? Check out my article on the state of indie, fearing interviews with more than two dozen developers and publishers:



Andrew Johnston

Writer of fiction, documentarian, currently stranded in Asia. Learn more at www.findthefabulist.com.