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Our favorite indies of 2023: 10 unforgettable games you need to try

The main character of El Paso Elsewhere appears in front of a graphic that says Top 10 Indies.
Digital Trends

You could have spent the entirety of 2023 keeping up with new games and you still wouldn’t have played a fraction of the excellent games released this year. That’s especially true for the independent scene, which produced some fantastic works of art in-between gargantuan releases like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. I can’t blame anyone for missing a few — I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface myself — but you shouldn’t leave 2023 without a handful of indies in your backlog.

Some of the year’s best independent games sought to celebrate the human experience in a wide variety of ways. Games like Venba and Tchia both explored cultures that have always been underrepresented in gaming. More broadly, titles like Humanity, Viewfinder, and Chants of Sennaar offered odes to human ingenuity and communication in entirely different ways. Others got even more personal, dealing with complex forms of grief that aren’t so easy to pin down.

Even at their most fantastical, this year’s best indie games offered us deeply human stories from around the world. We’ve included 10 of our favorites below (and a grab bag of honorable mentions), but that’s only a starting point. You might find yourself trying to catch up with 2023 for many years to come. ~ Giovanni Colantonio, Gaming Section Lead

Venba

Venba, Paavaran, and Kavin enjoy dinner together.
Visai Games

Venba barely lasts two hours, but like a great meal, it left me perfectly full. The sleek narrative indie tells the personal story of a South Indian family immigrating to Canada. It’s a moving, era-spanning story that captures the struggle of Venba, a mother trying to hold on to her Tamil heritage and pass it down to her disinterested son. That’s not just accomplished through tight visual novel sequences, but by ingenious cooking interludes that have players deducing recipe steps from a fading family cookbook. It’s a perfect gameplay device that puts players in Venba’s head as her culture slips away like smudged pages in a book. Do yourself a favor and set aside a quick sit-down to devour the story in one bite. ~ Giovanni Colantonio

Chants of Sennaar

A hand flips over a card in Chants of Sennaar.
Focus Interactive

If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language, then you’ll immediately identify with the central gameplay conceit of Chants of Sennaar. This puzzle game is centered around communication, as it tasks players with deciphering languages and their specific grammar with nothing but context clues. Chants of Sennaar thrives on the head-scratching confusion that comes from looking at writing in an unfamiliar language and gives way to utter satisfaction when one learns and internalizes what a certain symbol means. There’s no other game like Chants of Sennaar out there, so it’s a must-play indie experience, especially if you adore a good puzzle. ~ Tomas Franzese

Humanity

Humans bow to a floating head in Humanity.
Enhance

Enhance, the makers of Tetris Effect and Rez Infinite, continues its streak of making aesthetically striking games with Humanity. In this puzzle game, players control a Shiba Inu directing massive crowds of people with commands that tell them to move in certain directions or jump. It’s a simple concept, but Enhance and Tha Ltd. explores the concept to its fullest, creating one of the year’s most mesmerizing games along the way. Humanity is also one of the best games for PlayStation VR2, so pick it up if you’re struggling to find new games to play on Sony’s virtual reality headset. ~ Tomas Franzese

Videoverse

A page for a fictional game called Feudal Fantasy appears in Videoverse.
Kimoku

No game this year hit me as hard as Videoverse — and that’s thanks to some perfect timing. The visual novel pays surprising tribute to the Wii U’s Miiverse, telling the story of an online social hub on the verge of shutting down. It’s a sad, but endearing narrative about digital grief and the joy of online spaces. It just so happened to drop right in the middle of a rocky year for Twitter, which has slowly deteriorated amid its controversial rebrand into X. Videoverse almost feels like it prophesied everything that would happen under Elon Musk’s ownership, from an increase in low-quality posts to threats of forced paid subscriptions that could destroy the internet’s most important communication platform. If you’ve struggled to put words to why that pains you, Videoverse will help you grieve. ~ Giovanni Colantonio

El Paso, Elsewhere

James dives in a meatpacking level in El Paso, Elsewhere.
Strange Scaffold

When a game is truly personal, you can really feel it. That’s exactly the case with El Paso, Elsewhere, a striking indie shooter that pays tribute to Max Payne with its slow-motion shootouts. It tells a raw story about relationships and recovering from abuse all weaved in-between lo-fi battles against waves of vampires. What really sells the entire project, however, is Xalavier Nelson Jr. The game maker didn’t just write the story — he also plays its main character and performs the game’s excellent hip-hop soundtrack. That makes El Paso, Elsewhere feel remarkably intimate in a way that larger action games struggle to reach. ~ Giovanni Colantonio

Dredge

A boat sails through a passage in Dredge.
Team17

Dredge is a horror game unlike any other I’ve played before. On its surface, it looks like a standard fishing game where players pilot a boat around foggy islands. It doesn’t take long before things get … weird. That’s because Dredge is an eerie game built around H.P. Lovecraft’s specific brand of horror. You start reeling up mutated monsters, and a “sanity” meter makes nighttime traveling dangerous as otherworldly hallucinations pop up in the ocean. It’s a deeply unsettling horror game, though one that still contains familiar fishing hooks and Resident Evil 4-like inventory management that’s oddly satisfying. ~ Giovanni Colantonio

Tchia

The player sails to a far off island in Tchia.
Kepler Interactive

Tchia transported me to a world inspired by the Pacific Islands of New Caledonia. Developer Acaweb infuses the culture into every aspect of this The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild-inspired indie. You can feel that in its picturesque visuals and excellent score, which is one of the year’s best soundtracks. Players can also climb most surfaces and possess objects, so I often find myself booting up Tchia just so I could vibe within its world, immerse myself in this unfamiliar culture, and have some fun swinging from tree to tree or sailing across the ocean. ~ Tomas Franzese

Cocoon

An alien structure appears in Cocoon.
Annapurna Interactive

Cocoon is one of those games that I can’t adequately describe in words. You just need to play it. The wordless puzzle-adventure follows some kind of insect traveling around a biomechanical world, rolling around orbs like a dung beetle. Those orbs are used to solve brain-bending recursive puzzles that have players jumping in and out of levels. While it doesn’t have a firm story I could recount to you easily, it does an incredible job at capturing the weird complexity of insects, getting inside their weird little heads. It’s the kind of transformative experience that only video games can deliver, making it one of this year’s best. ~ Giovanni Colantonio

Jusant

A character scales a mountain in Jusant.
Don't Nod

Jusant is a meditative climbing game that gives players back as much as they put into it. Climbing to the top of this tower in a waterless world and slowly unraveling what happened to the people who lived there makes for a contemplative experience that can be surprisingly calming. Those who are just there for the climbing will find a lot to enjoy too, as its unique trigger-based controls and impressive rope physics enhance the free-climbing fantasy that Jusant presents. ~ Tomas Franzese

The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood

Fortuna and Abramar hang out around the asteroid house in The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood.
Devolver Digital

Even as someone with no real interest in tarot and witchy culture, The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is still one of my favorite indies of the year. It’s a choice-based narrative game about a witch reintegrating herself into witch society after being banished for her ability to map out the future. With the help of a demon named Abramar, she creates a tarot deck that can perform prophetic tarot readings. This premise gives way to a subversive game about how our identity, however we choose to define it, is intrinsically tied to our past and future choices. If you like inclusive, emotionally gripping games, this overlooked indie is worth checking out. ~ Tomas Franzese

More favorites: A Highland Song, American Arcadia, Birth, Dordogne, Let’s! Revolution!, Loddlenaut, Patch Quest, Pizza Tower, Season: A Letter to the Future, Sunshine Shuffle, The Banished Vault, The Talos Principle 2, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, Viewfinder, Wargroove 2

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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