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The best indie games for 2021

The best indie games push the boundaries of what’s possible in a video game. From party experiences like Among Us to wonderfully unique narrative adventures like Lake, there’s an endless sea of excellent indie games to choose from. Sorting through the massive pile is a chore, though, which is why we rounded up the top indie games you should play in 2021.

From gritty detective dramas to farming simulators, there’s an indie game for everyone. If you’re shopping for a specific platform, make sure to read our dedicated guides:

No Man’s Sky

No Man's Sky beach location.
Hello Games

Despite its incredible scale and growth over the past few years, No Man’s Sky is still an indie game. Developed and published by Hello Games — and led by Sean Murray — the exploration title has seen a complete turnaround in 2021, becoming one of the most popular games of the year.

Numerous updates have filled the gaps left by broken promises at launch, giving you the option to play in VR, invite your friends to your game with multiplayer mode, and reworking its base building system. If you were excited about the indie game back when it first launched but passed on it due to poor reviews, now is finally the time to give it a second look.

Golf Club Wasteland

Simple level in Golf Club Wasteland.

A bizarre golfing game set in a post-apocalyptic future, Golf Club Wasteland sees Earth transformed into a golf course for the elite. At its core, the indie game is all about golf — but each level tells a unique story about the culture of an Earth long since gone and the misfortunes that fell upon its inhabitants.

If you’re looking to learn everything about its narrative, you’ll need to piece together information from a variety of sources. You’ll also get to listen to a DJ that keeps the dystopian world from becoming too dreary — although who could possibly be sad while they’re golfing?

Splitgate

Shooting a portal in Splitgate.

Splitgate burst onto the scene in early 2021 — and got off to a slow start. Fast forward a few months, and the game was so popular its servers couldn’t keep up with demand. Its popularity makes sense, however, seeing as it’s a perfect blend of Portal and Halo.

Whether you’re zipping across the map with well-placed portals or using them to safely snipe across the map, Splitgate gives you hundreds of ways to reinvent your typical FPS playstyle. Toss in a transparent dev team and plenty of unique maps, and you’ve got one of the best indie games in recent memory.

Steam

Just Die Already

Just Die Already players in a meeting.

From the creators of Goat Simulator comes another off-the-wall indie gem. Just Die Already sees you stepping into the wrinkly skin of “old people” who have just been kicked out of their retirement home. What happens next is entirely up to you.

Want to fly around in a jetpack? Want to flop down a set of stairs and see how much environmental damage you can cause? Or would you rather complete a variety of challenges with a few of your fellow retirees? Nothing is off-limits in the bizarre world of Just Die Already, making it stand alone in the world of sandbox indie games.

Death’s Door

Death's Door Guardian of the Door boss fight.

Devolver Digital has been pumping out hit and hit over the past few months, and Death’s Door is among its latest masterpieces. You’ll be tasked with collecting the souls of the dead — although it’s not as macabre as it sounds. Played similarly to classic top-down dungeon crawlers, you’ll experience some of the best indie game design in the business, along with top-notch storytelling and polish you’ve come to expect from Devolver.

Our review found it to be one of the best games of 2021 — indie or otherwise — and a game that any ARPG fan needs to experience firsthand.

Omno

Omno player skating on dunes.

Omno‘s eye-catching graphics might pull you in, but you’ll stay for its heartwarming narrative and comfort-food platforming. Everything about Omno is lighthearted and inviting — and it was all done by a single indie developer.

Reviews from both critics and consumers mark Omno as a must-play indie game. Whether you’re surfing around its sandy dunes, jumping on the back of massive turtles, or soaring about the clouds, Omno presents you with some of the best platforming and puzzles you’ll find in any game. It’s also incredibly cheap and available on Xbox Game Pass — so there’s no reason not to check it out.

Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami top-down gameplay.

It’s not the newest game on the block, but few indie titles can match the frantic pace of Hotline Miami. Played from a top-down perspective and featuring gritty, pixelated graphics, Hotline Miami sees you gunning down foes as you follow a dream-like story throughout neon-soaked 1980s set pieces. It’s not for everyone, but it quickly became one of the best-reviewed titles of 2012, as few others managed to feature such fluid and rewarding gameplay.

If you love everything about Hotline Miami, you’ll be glad to know that Hotline Miami 2 offers more of the same. Its graphics received a bit of a change, but the fast-paced, over-the-top action is still intact.

Lake

Carrying deliver on a dock in Lake.

If you’re a fan of walking simulators — such as Death StrandingLake needs to be on your to-do list. Instead of roaming around a post-apocalyptic world with a baby strapped to your chest, Lake brings things back to reality as you’ll step into the shoes of Meredith Weiss as she delivers mail in her old childhood home.

The adventure features a heartwarming narrative, a relaxing gameplay loop, and surprisingly well-voiced characters. There are a few twists along the way, but Lake is a game meant to be played at a snail’s pace — so kick back, put your feet up, and enjoy the sights and sounds of this quaint lakeside town.

Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion

Turnip Boy gameplay in town.

No doubt this is the strangest indie game on the list, but it’s also one you won’t want to go without playing. The hilarious 2D adventure game sees you guiding Turnip Boy as he — well, commits tax evasion. Beyond that unforgivable crime, you’ll also solve a variety of puzzles, fight giant rabbits, dismantle “the system,” and tear up plenty of legal paperwork along the way.

It’s a quirky game no matter how you cut it, but there’s not another indie game available in 2021 that’ll have you laughing as much as Turnip Boy. From its incredible writing to its adorable art style, Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion is one of the best indie games you’ll play this year.

Among Us

Among Us screen flashing red.

Made by just three indie developers at InnerSloth, Among Us took the world by storm as a way to remotely connect with (and murder) your friends while stuck indoors. The gameplay is simple but endlessly repeatable. In each game, crewmates complete mini-games to fix malfunctioning ship or base parts, while randomly chosen imposters disguised as crewmates pick off the good guys one by one. If a body is found, people accuse one another and supposed imposters are booted out of the airlock.

You can play with strangers or in a party of friends, but it’s especially fun to interrogate your friends over voice chat or study their faces on video calls, trying to guess who is lying about their alibis. Or, as the imposter, you’ll have to improvise on the fly to come up with excuses and fake tasks that hide your true murderous actions.

Among Us is only available on PC, but we wrote up a workaround for Mac users.

Celeste

Celeste player dashing over spikes.

Celeste, an indie game from Towerfall developer Matt Makes Games, is a deceptively simple game. Ostensibly a game about protagonist Madeline’s journey to the top of the titular Celeste mountain, we gradually learn about her emotional troubles, as well as the colorful cast of characters she meets along the way.

But this isn’t actually an adventure game at all. Madeline climbs the mountain with simple yet deep jumping mechanics that make for some tremendously creative levels. The hazards thrown in your way later in the game are always just challenging enough to slow you down. With tons of collectibles to find and special “B-Side” levels to unlock, Celeste keeps you climbing the mountain for hours.

Celeste is available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

Read our full Celeste review

Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium messy apartment.

Developed by ZA/UM, Disco Elysium is a stylish-yet-gritty isometric open-world RPG. Players assume the role of a detective who initially wakes up mostly naked on a dirty hotel room floor. Problem is, this guy has an alcohol problem. It escalates to a three-day drinking binge that ultimately leaves him with amnesia. Thanks to his inner demons, you’re not only tasked with solving the murder case he originally worked on before his breakdown, but you must discover the character’s hazy identity.

Players roam the streets of Revachol, a 1970s-esque city infested with crime and poverty. Overall, Disco Elysium is dialogue-heavy, even during violent encounters. There’s no real combat system, but rather branching trees based on your actions. It’s an interesting twist to your typical isometric RPG and gives Disco Elysium more of a storybook feel versus an interactive indie game. Over time you’ll focus on four major abilities — intellect, motorics, physique, and psyche — as the murder mystery unfolds and you level up the detective.

Disco Elysium is available on Windows and PS4, with Xbox One and Nintendo Switch ports in the works.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Fall Guys players running up slippery slope.
Provided by Devlover Digital

Mediatonic’s Fall Guys has proven to be an utter success among indie game fans. While most battle royale titles tend to stick thoroughly to the “battle” part of it, Fall Guys approaches it from a different angle involving whimsical platforming gameplay.

Using adorable avatars, players can partake in multiple events, including soccer, foot racing, “Grab the Tail,” and more silly games, with each taking place in vibrant and colorful locales. The game is most reminiscent of game shows like Wipeout, as players are consistently bombarded with daunting obstacles. All of this is done as players try to avoid falling off suspended platforms into water, lava, or a vast pit of pink goop.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is one of the most creative platformers in years, redefining the battle royale genre as more diverse than simply hero shooters or survival games. Fall Guys is ultimately a highlight for both 2020 and battle royales altogether.

Read our full Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout review

Hades

Hades player using dash.

If nothing else, Hades is a testament to how far good game design can go. Developed and released by Supergiant Games — the same studio behind Transistor and Bastion — it’s hardly a surprise that Hades is a good game. What is surprising is how Supergiant maintained and evolved the roguelike genre, cementing Hades as one of the best roguelikes of all time.

On the surface, Hades is an ultra-tight hack-and-slash. You move from chamber to chamber, defeating baddies while picking rewards. And for that, Hades is a good game.

The boon system makes it a great game. You can pick up boons from various gods and goddesses during your run. These boons, like the rooms themselves, are randomized each run, combining the excitement of drafting in a game like Magic: the Gathering with the combat of something like Diablo. Hades, like previous Supergiant titles, isn’t content with being another indie game. Take a look at our guide to the best Hades builds to get started.

Loop Hero

Loop Hero map overview.

Loop Hero is one of the more unique indie games to come out in the past few years, and that’s saying something for a category of games known for their uniqueness. It doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, combining elements of card games, real-time strategy, and god games into a roguelike format. Each run starts with a simple loop around which your character moves. From there, you use the cards in your deck to build the world around you, including new terrain and enemies.

Beat the enemies and you’ll earn loot to use in further battles. Loop Hero‘s gameplay loop is all about balancing risk and reward. As you play, you’ll earn resources to upgrade your camp. There, you can unlock new character classes and cards for your deck, pushing you closer to actually finishing the game. You shape the world of each run, so you’ll spend most of your time weighing the risks of continuing a run against the rewards of packing up and going back to camp for a few upgrades. That tension works.

You can pick up Loop Hero on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods player chatting with NPCs.

Returning to your hometown doesn’t always turn the way you expect. In Night in the Woods, anthropomorphic cat Mae drops out of college and heads back to Possum Springs. Mae gradually begins to see that the town and its people — a collection of eclectic, talking animals — have dark pasts full of mysteries. The game plays as a sidescroller, but Night in the Woods can aptly be compared to visual novels and adventure games.

With an emphasis on the stories we tell, indie studio Finji’s first game ends up telling one of the most profound and relatable video game narratives we’ve played in years. Heavily indebted to dark humor, Night in the Woods asks players to make choices throughout the story that affect the way Mae views the happenings in Possum Springs. It even accomplishes the impressive task of making us feel sad and laugh all in the space of one scene.

Night in the Woods is available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, and Android.

Oxenfree

Oxenfree cutscene around a campfire.

Telltale-esque, story-driven adventures aren’t nearly as common as they were prior to the Telltale Games closure. Nonetheless, Oxenfree may very well be the best entry in the popular genre to date. Set on an island, Alex and her friends begin experiencing events that can only be referred to as supernatural. Instead of fleeing, they remain to uncover the island’s secrets. A distinct, 2.5-D art style gives Oxenfree a look that separates it from others in the genre, and the twisting and turning story is undeniably spellbinding.

With wonderfully realized cutscenes, introspective dialogue, and a meaningful choice-based system, Oxenfree is a gripping story that will grip you until the credits roll. Then, if you’re anything like us, you’ll boot it up again to choose differently, and see how Alex’s relationships and the ending change based on your actions.

Oxenfree is available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, and Android.

Spelunky 2

Splenunky 2 player jumping to a ladder.

Spelunky remains one of the best indies of all time, but the new launch of Spelunky 2 took its randomized roguelike formula and perfected it. Like the original, you play as a treasure hunter diving into procedurally generated levels that change every time you die — and you’re going to die a lot. Yet after each death, you’ll improve your skills and learn more about how to spot deadly traps and deal with the deadly monsters you encounter.

While the original had four worlds with four levels each, Spelunky 2 adds branching paths so you can choose different worlds to explore, with seven areas in a single playthrough and up to 16 different areas you can end up in based on your choices. It also includes new doorways — letting you go into caves behind each level that bypass the main area and add new treasure and traps — as well as new weapons, allies, and mounts to ride.

You can now explore Spelunky 2‘s caves in an online co-op with a friend, or compete for the high score in the Daily Challenge mode, which gives everyone the exact same cave configuration. It’s a bizarre game with weird but deadly enemies and comically exasperating deaths. Yet when you reach a new level or discover a new secret, it feels that much more rewarding.

Spelunky 2 is available on PS4 and PC.

Stardew Valley

Successful Stardew Valley farm.

Stardew Valley could perhaps be described best as a small-town life simulator game. The game opens with the player inheriting a farm in a run-down village, and from there it’s all about everyday living.

The game divides into days, months, and years. Players can only accomplish so many activities in a given day, forcing them to choose their priorities wisely. Whether they’re growing crops, helping townsfolk with problems, or exploring caves to find resources, players must decide what they value and pursue it.

You’ll easily get dozens of hours of enjoyment from this game and then can start adding Stardew Valley mods to switch things up once your simple farming life has lost its luster.

Stardew Valley is available on PS4, Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Linux, MacOS, iOS, and Android.

Valheim

Valheim player looking across a river.

Valheim entered early access in March 2021, but it has already cemented itself as one of the best survival games around. The game went viral almost immediately after launching, and for good reason. Valheim understands how to reward the player instead of just throwing them to the wilds and hoping for the best. You’ll still have to fend for yourself, gathering resources to build better weapons and traverse new locations. But Valheim finds a way to make that experience rewarding, from huge boss fights to simply sailing across the ocean.

You don’t have to take the journey alone, either. Valheim supports co-op for up to 10 players, giving your friend group an endless, procedurally generated playground to survive in. It’s rare to see this level of quality in a survival game, much less one that just entered early access. Valheim is worth the hype.

Valheim is available on PC.

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