The Best Indie Games Released in 2022
2022 was long speculated to be the best year in gaming since 2017, and despite a multitude of delays, it’s largely lived up to that prediction. Not only have some of the most critically acclaimed AAA titles of all time arrived this year, but the indie output has been both diverse and of incredibly high quality. Be it masterfully-written cyberpunk RPGs, stunning homages to classic Japanese cinema, or what’s perhaps the most addictive bullet hell game of all time, 2022 was proof that independent developers are as imaginative and skillful as ever. Listed in alphabetical order, here are our choices for the 22 best indie games of 2022. Cheers!
A Memoir Blue
A Memoir Blue’s developer, Cloisters Interactive, has described their game as a playable poem–and that perfectly captures what the title tries to be. It relies on visuals above all else. Like a calm ocean wave on a foggy day, A Memoir Blue is a tranquil experience clouded by a heartfelt narrative. Treading a fine line between being an interactive point-and-click game and an animated short film, Cloisters Interactive’s title is a soft and sweet tale that presents players with a spectacle of stylized visuals and simple puzzles to convey all of its points.
In A Memoir Blue, players will watch the silent and lonely journey of a young athlete named Miriam who looks back on the past to explore the relationship she has with her mother. Living through her own little introspective, Miriam travels through locations of the past to reach her ultimate destination; a realization for the character that changes her perspective. A Memoir Blue is the type of game that will find its niche of players, and those who feel connected to its story may even add some water to its vast ocean by the end of it. (Marc Kaliroff)
For as popular as RPGs are today, there aren’t many titles that take the “role-playing” aspect as seriously as Citizen Sleeper does. As a human consciousness inside a decaying artificial body, players start Citizen Sleeper in dire straits. Suddenly everything is about survival, be it making friends on the space station or working to afford life-saving drugs. A hastily-taken action can have dire consequences for you, those around you, and even the outside entities pulling the strings behind the scenes. Developer Jump Over the Age isn’t shy about cutting secondary routes off early to make players commit to their decisions, further adding weight to each of the eight endings and increasing replay value.
The real stars of Citizen Sleeper, however, are the characters and their stories. Each person inhabiting the abandoned space station known as Erlin’s Eye is fully fleshed out with realistic motivations and heartbreaking backstories, and you have total control over who you get to know and who you align yourself with. Despite the dice and clock systems that introduce elements of luck into an otherwise methodical TTRPG-like experience, Citizen Sleeper hits all the right notes of intrigue, desperation, and empathy to make it one of the best-written games of the year. (Brent Middleton)
Cult of the Lamb
There’s just something so delightfully madcap about a game like Cult of the Lamb. For all intents and purposes, cults shouldn’t be cute or funny. However, that’s exactly what makes this game such a total joy to experience. Everything can be adorable when framed through the lens of cuddly forest animals, and the juxtaposition in this particular situation is just all the more amusing.
Of course, that wouldn’t be worth a damn if Cult of the Lamb wasn’t also a really fun rogue-lite dungeon crawler and farming/town sim. Couple this indie gem’s addictive gameplay loop with all of its lovable charm and wit, and you’ve got yourself an absolute winner in just about every category and one of the best games of the year as a result. (Mike Worby)
With absolute class, Cultic claws its way out of the mass grave of classic Build Engine titles, swathed in bruised autumnal shades, backed by a haunting but ripping score, and running on a modern engine. It is the best of the old and the new, fine-tuned down to the absolute essentials and polished.
With a hatchet and mid-century weaponry clenched, a disgraced detective takes the fight to a rural cult. Its level design is impeccably coherent, subtly diving into the logistical operation of the enemy–an enemy that is armed to the teeth, throwing hatchets with precision to be shot in mid-air. Slides, kicks, traps, and weapon upgrades keep the action visceral and mounting through perfectly-paced and memorable set pieces.
It is rare for a title to stay completely engaging right from the start up to the very end, but Cultic is that. With chapter two still to come, it is genuinely already one of the best shooters ever made.
The most stunning part, however, is thrown right at the end credits. Cultic is a solo project – art, code, game/level design, sound, and music by Jason Smith. (Georgi Ferguson)
Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course
Cuphead returned for its encore and finale with style and grace. It’s an expansion that carries the quality of the base package, concentrated and distilled into a potent (and delicious) drop.
Ms. Chalice joins Cuphead and Mugman on this outing; a new island featuring a host of clever secrets, new weapons, and new bosses, all with more frames of hand animation than the base game. Accompanying their rubber-hose-styled antics is the new, awe-inspiring score by Kristofer Maddigan, featuring a larger orchestra this time around. There’s a beautiful blend of styles both vocally and instrumentally that range from Django Reinhardt-inspired jazz to classic Hollywood film scores.
Cuphead’s style is so impossibly authentic that it never feels like a simple throwback title but actual time travel. Not only is this expansion a value package, but it features some of the very best fights and tracks in the whole game, culminating in a fantastic end. The Delicious Last Course is essential. (Georgi Ferguson)
The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow
When Thomasina Bateman comes to the town of Bewlay in the hopes of a once-in-a-lifetime archeological find, she discovers much more than she bargained for. The bucolic town hides terrible secrets, and Thomasina learns that even the most hardy adventurers must question everything in search of the truth. With its striking graphics and subtle storytelling, The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is an updated take on adventure games that still feels comfortably retro.
Point and click adventures have come a long way from their humble beginnings. The best ones pay homage to the classics while still providing something new and memorable. The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is a dizzying blend of tough puzzles, great writing, phenomenal performances, and folk horror, and stands tall as not just one of the best point and clicks in recent years, but as one of the best indies of 2022. (Cameron Daxon)
Dogs and grapple hooks: the best aspects of life itself and most video games. If those two favorites pull at your heartstrings like the retro age of handheld platformers, then odds are that Grapple Dog will throw you a golden bone worth chewing on. Medallion Games’ premiere title slingshots to glory as Grapple Dog masterfully presents an addicting gameplay loop that reminds players why they love 2D platformers.
Inspired by the Game Boy Advance’s very best, Grapple Dog spends its time keen on swinging its way to victory as it never strays from properly exploring one leading mechanic. Grapple Dog constantly rappels upwards as it smashes through its main goal of providing a fun gameplay experience above all else. Aside from some needed accessibility options, Medallion Games created a canine-flinging festival of pure entertainment. For a game that is engaging to simply jump around in, every aspect that surrounds Grapple Dog is practically complementary–and that is one huge compliment. Grapple Dog deserves all the pets it can garner. (Marc Kaliroff)
How to categorize Immortality, the latest game from visionary designer Sam Barlow and Half Mermaid productions? Part film restoration project, part mystery, part mind-bending genre disruptor, Immortality is probably the least-straightforward game of all time. Players are presented with a series of film clips from across time and genre, and by using the magic of match cuts, unlock additional scenes and interviews. Progression is charted by how many total clips the player has unlock, but there is more at play than just passively watching different scenes unfold. There is a dark riddle at the heart of Immortality, and only the most observant and curious players will unlock this game’s many secrets.
That said, Immortality is not entirely perfect: often favoring opacity over clarity, many players may not find anything to latch onto if they don’t find the initial premise engaging. But Immortality rewards the patient player by provoking feelings of confusion, intrigue, and terror in equal measure. A totally unique experience, Immortality is absolutely worth the time. (Cameron Daxon)
What do you get when you combine the relentless difficulty of the original Castlevania with the rock-and-roll attitude and explosive gore of Doom? Probably something along the lines of Infernax, a retro-inspired sidescroller that is deceptively deep and endlessly rewarding. The tough (but fair!) action may serve as a hurdle to overcome, but players who persevere will feel incredible satisfaction at meeting the difficult challenges in store.
Infernax also makes clear nods to Zelda II and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest by including map-spanning side quests without being overly cutesy or referential. For fans of fast-paced action who enjoy overcoming difficult bosses, Infernax is just what the clergyman ordered. (Cameron Daxon)
Black Mermaid’s first game is a unique and stylized one. The colour palette of Moonscars is a muted monochrome on a canvas stained with dirt but slashed with bloody carmine. It’s stretched over a broken world of moonlit ruins with an atmosphere thick like the hanging smoke of a fire pit chamber. Its story reads as if from a forgotten scroll tackling betrayal, loss, and identity.
Grey Irma’s journey of recovering broken memories is violent and full of witchcraft. Fast-paced, liquid-smooth combat and a unique magic arsenal keeps it flowing at a pace that is somehow both rabid and somber. Its soundtrack is dreary and melancholic yet often oppressive with deep percussion when adrenaline spikes in the fights of Irma’s past.
Moonscars shows the delicate dance of anger in toe with sadness. It’s a unique title worthwhile for those looking for gothic drenched stories and may herald a developer worth watching. (Georgi Ferguson)
Neon White is a glorious gift from Donut County creator Ben Esposito and his one-time get-together team, Angel Matrix. Once a player steps into this unholy iteration of heaven and pulls their first trigger, they will be locked into the game’s premise of exterminating every demon inside its stylistic octane bloodbath. Neon White may not provide many revolutionary new ideas to its genre, but the way the game has refined and combined its runner, first-person and role-playing elements together is absolutely gratifying. There is an addicting replay value to Neon White that not many other games in its genre can share.
Between the time challenges, discoverable gifts, standard missions, and side conversations to explore, more than enough content has been elegantly stuffed into Neon White to keep players engaged right up until they see the game’s two credits roll. Even if mission levels are supposed to take less than a minute to complete, it is so easy for players to find themselves replaying each a dozen times before moving on. Ben Esposito may have been aiming to please a niche audience with Neon White, but there is no doubt that this absolute knockout will likely find an audience far beyond the cult following target Angel Matrix was going for. Neon White will keep players running until they reach the finish line of White’s story. (Marc Kaliroff)
Once Upon a Jester
Unabashedly silly and wildly creative, Once Upon a Jester must be one of the most genuine games released this year. This musical adventure follows a theatrical duo on a tour throughout a fantastical kingdom, where players need to improvise the perfect stage play that will appeal to their audience’s interests every night. By its very nature, live improv is hard to capture in the form of a video game, but Once Upon a Jester does so admirably: with each performance, players are given a series of choices that can be made mid-act to determine the course of the production, with a nearly endless array of possible outcomes for each play.
Once Upon a Jester is a wildly funny game–watch out for characters to randomly break out into song, introduce themselves as “Bib Bobbly Bob” for no reason, or for the developers themselves to make cameos explaining each joke–but most importantly, it’s also full of heart. It’s a lighthearted story about being true to yourself, one that emphasizes the importance of being true to yourself and caring for those around you–and in this day and age, what other message could you ask for? The game may be brief, but when the curtain falls on this performance after a few hours of playtime, Once Upon a Jester leaves you with one of the most endearing indie adventures you can ask for this year. (Campbell Gill)
Not since Goat Simulator has a simulation game taken over the industry the way PowerWash Simulator did. Despite generating some buzz during its time in early access, PowerWash absolutely exploded in popularity upon hitting its 1.0 release this year—and for good reason. The team at FuturLab absolutely nailed the simple feeling of satisfaction that comes from methodically cleaning dirty things, and they did it in an easy-to-pick-up, stress-free kind of way.
While the notion of cleaning things for fun may sound ridiculous at first blush, PowerWash Simulator succeeds thanks to three key factors: a content-rich career mode that offers rewards for a job well done, meaningful upgrades available to purchase with in-game currency so players have something to work towards, and a unique variety of environments to clean ranging from an old park to a railway in the middle of the desert. In terms of design philosophy, however, PowerWash Simulator isn’t much different than Animal Crossing: New Horizons; it’s a relaxing oasis where you can feel good about accomplishing something at your own pace. And in a turbulent year like 2022, that was exactly what people were looking for. (Brent Middleton)
Shovel Knight Dig
Soon it will be easier to say what genres the Shovel Knight series hasn’t explored than the ones it has. After dabbling in platformers, puzzle games, and fighting games, Shovel Knight Dig takes Yacht Club’s flagship indie icon into the world of the roguelike—and the results are just about as glorious as one would expect from the series by now. Following the shovel-wielding hero on a journey down a mysterious well, Dig features the same mechanics that made the original Shovel Knight games so brilliant, repurposed in a fast-paced roguelike gameplay loop.
Developed with British indie team Nitrome, masters of the classic flash game, Shovel Knight 2 triumphs so many other roguelikes fail: memorable level design. Where many roguelike levels can feel like the soulless products of algorithms, each and every section of Shovel Knight Dig feels genuinely memorable and intentionally designed–without even sacrificing variety. The game boasts thousands of uniquely designed rooms, which are then strung together and modified in subtly different arrangements in each and every run. This balance between intentional design and constant variety, along with the game’s luscious 16-bit graphics and excellent soundtrack from musical guru Jake Kaufman, makes it easy to get sucked into Shovel Knight Dig for hours on end. Who knows where Shovel Knight will go next, but with spinoffs and side games like Dig, a shining future surely awaits. (Campbell Gill)
Like the art of kung fu itself, Sifu is quick, fierce, careful, and persistent in its design philosophies and scope of craft. Developer Sloclap’s latest beat ’em up adventure is a masterfully articulated kung fu tale that throws every punch and kick it has with pure spirit. Sifu’s focus on surface-level minimalism and combat that dabbles into real martial arts culminates into a thrilling adventure that only lets down those who cannot keep up.
Even though it may present an immensely overwhelming difficulty curve, Sifu constantly keeps its ground and gets players to rise up again and fight back no matter how many times they are beaten down. From its cinematic direction to the usage of motion capture and carefully crafted animations, it lives up to the high quality and ambitious expectations its previews flaunted. While it may only appeal to a relatively closed audience due to its genre and overwhelming difficulty curve, those who are already immersed in the quick-to-respond fighting niche will be more than satisfied by Sifu’s gameplay and presentation. (Marc Kaliroff)
Slime Rancher 2
In a gaming landscape dominated by self-serious narratives and grim realities, little patches of sunshine like Slime Rancher 2 stand out more than ever. The original game tapped into the addicting loop of capturing cute creatures, foraging for food, and tending to their needs, and the sequel ratchets things up to 11. The sheer graphical leap between entries is stunning, something only exasperated by the design of the idyllic new setting of Rainbow Island. This lush paradise is immediately welcoming, and provides the perfect backdrop for slime hunting.
Fan-favorite slime types like the Tabby Slime and Glitch Slime return, but new ones like the Cotton Slime introduce unique wrinkles into how players need to think about building up their conservatory. A wide array of facility and vac upgrades ensure there’s never a dearth of things to grind for, even in early access. There are truly few games that embodied the “just 10 more minutes” mantra in 2022 more than Slime Rancher 2, and we can’t wait to see what’s added over the coming years. (Brent Middleton)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
For decades, the beat ‘em up was, at best, a relic of a bygone era of gaming: a stalwart of coin-hungry arcade galleries, the simple high-score-driven gameplay loop of the beat ‘em up genre was left by the wayside as home console gaming became more ambitious and more prominent. Yet over the past few years, the genre has enjoyed a veritable renaissance, with titles like River City Girls, Young Souls, and Streets of Rage IV bringing it back to the forefront. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, DotEmu and Tribute Games have delivered what might be the genre’s best showing this generation.
Shredder’s Revenge carries on the TMNT franchise’s legacy of excellent action games with an old-school-style adventure. Whether you’re playing solo or with a group of up to four players in local or online co-op, Shredder’s Revenge recaptures the addictive magic that made the series’ entries back on the Super Nintendo so compelling. It’s unabashedly simple—each level boils down to “walk to the right, punch anything that moves”—but it’s the moment-to-moment gameplay, the satisfying mechanics, the expressive character animations, and boisterous personality that make the game so hard to put down. With a varied roster of playable characters and fearsome foes drawn from the series’ golden era in the 80s and 90s, Shredder’s Revenge is like a playable episode of the cartoon in all the best ways. Whether you grew up with the classics or hopped on board with the series’ latest iterations, Shredder’s Revenge offers some of the most bodacious beat ’em up action you can find on modern hardware. (Campbell Gill)
Trek to Yomi
Samurais have always been “cool” in pop culture, but there haven’t been many great representations of them in the video game space. Enter Trek to Yomi, a jaw-dropping cinematic adventure that manages to perfectly blend tight swordplay with film-like story and presentation values. Inspired by 1950s-1960s Japanese cinema, the art direction of Trek to Yomi is its most striking feature. A distinct film grain filter and greyscale color pallet evoke the classic samurai films that defined the genre for decades. Though usually villainized in modern gaming, the fixed camera angles here add to the cinematic nature of the presentation and never impede on exploration or combat. What results is an art direction that’s incredibly clean, well-realized, and stylish.
Outside of its beauty, Trek to Yomi succeeds as both a memorable adventure and a diligent homage to the peak of samurai cinema. Dialogue is consistently strong from both a writing and performance perspective, and the swordplay is tactile and fluid with countless unlockable combos and finishers for players to learn and master. Add in a near-perfect parry system and a unique atmospheric shift in the second half, and Trek to Yomi stands tall as an achievement in action-adventure design. (Brent Middleton)
Sometimes a novel hook is its own reward. Tunic thrives on this principle by dropping you into a world where you don’t know what’s going on and forcing you to experiment to learn what’s even possible in-game. In essence, it’s just a Zelda clone with some souls-like energy grafted onto it, but the ripped-out pages of the manual that you find throughout change so much of how you experience the game that it becomes this odd little mystery box where it feels like anything can happen.
Games like Tunic are just as tough on your mind as they are on your reflexes, and with its hundreds of hidden little secrets, tricks, and messages, the game is as special as it is obtuse. Still, that’s Tunic‘s charm in the end; you’ll likely feel compelled to push past all of the confusion and frustration just to spend more time in its incredible little world. (Mike Worby)
Raphaël Colantonio, founder of Arkane Studios (Arx Fatalis, Dishonored, Prey) started Wolf Eye Studios along with Executive Producer Julien Roby. Their first outing is a trip to the old west steeped in fantasy and the occult, where gunslingers cross paths with old magic and ghoulish, stygian nightmares all in an immersive sim package.
The daunting task of writing a satisfying narrative that adjusts to a player’s every whim is handled with deft expertise and written in a tongue that is familiar yet weird. Fans of the genre will revel in the freedom of this macabre, sandbox wasteland. Banks and shops can be scouted and lifted of keys in the day to be robbed at night. Settlements can be massacred and turned to ghost towns. Enemy hideouts can be stealthily infiltrated or assaulted head-on with hired help. This is all backed by a haunting and visceral score that sounds like music birthed from the land itself.
It’s a rare title that has love infused into every corner and should not be missed. If this is just the start of this team’s efforts, then the future of Wolf Eye Studios looks like a bright one that won’t just set in the west. (Georgi Ferguson)
The original Windjammers, released way back in 1994 on the Neo Geo, dared to ask the question: what if you combined frisbee, soccer, and tennis into the most high-octane sport on the planet? The answer was one of that generation’s most addictive arcade titles, in which two players would duke it out attempting to hurl a disk into the opposing player’s goal. Nearly thirty years later, Windjammers 2 follows up on that classic with a new title that takes the simply addictive gameplay of the original, adds in an expanded roster of new characters, throws in a handful of clever new mechanics, and doubles down on that sweet 90s nostalgia. On top of all this, the game positively bursts into vibrant life with Dotemu’s lush hand-drawn colorful visuals. With Windjammers 2, players can expect just about the purest arcade experience on the market this past year. (Campbell Gill)
There is no game that has had the same kind of momentum that Vampire Survivors has enjoyed over the course of 2022. After a lengthy early access period, Vampire Survivors recently had its 1.0 debut to record-smashing success. A survival-focused auto-battler that throws literal thousands of enemies at the player as they attempt to defeat as many denizens of the night as possible before eventually becoming overwhelmed, Vampire Survivors is one of this year’s most unique indies.
The art style is simple, but evocative, a fun twist on character designs from Castlevania and Ghosts ‘N Goblins. A steady stream of free updates and a seemingly never-ending menu of unlockable items and player characters provide Vampire Survivors with a ton of longevity. It is a timesuck, but proudly so; if it ever comes to the Nintendo Switch, say goodbye to your free time. (Cameron Daxon)
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