Even the best indie games can get overlooked when big-hitting titles like Baldur’s Gate 3, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Alan Wake 2 are being showered with high praise from fans and media alike. Which is why, I've written this feature, to shine a light on the best indie video games released in 2023.
I’ve reviewed and previewed all sorts of indie titles this year for outlets such as The Guardian, Edge and WhyNow Gaming, and I’ve been blown away by the quality of games we’ve received in 2023. It’s been a hard job to pick out my ten favourites, but these are the ones that really stood out in my eyes, whether it was for their innovation, polish or simply because they made me laugh.
Good indie games can be a mix of great art, innovative ideas and, well, the just plain weird. If you're inspired by my list to get creative yourself, then read our guide to Unreal Engine 5, as well as a comparison with Unity. AI is also a big debating topic for indies, and I caught up with some leading devs to discover what indie developers think of AI.
And yet, as I write this, the year isn’t done, and there are still highly anticipated indie titles such as Inkle’s A Highland Song and Thunderful’s SteamWorld Build that have yet to be released. So for now, this is my list of the best indie games of 2023… so far. Ask me again in a month or two, and this list could well have changed. As I said, what a fantastic year for games.
The best indie games in 2023 (so far)
Below are my favourite indie games of 2023 so far, in no particular order because I really couldn't judge them like that. I guarantee you'll love at least one of the games on my list no matter your taste or platform, from PS5 to PC and Switch.
Geometric Interactive founders Jeppe Carlsen and Jakob Schmid previously worked at Playdead, the Danish studio behind 2016’s rapturously received Inside. The pair have continued Playdead’s tradition of extreme attention to detail, combined with evocative, wordless storytelling.
Best indie game for mind-bending puzzles
Publisher Annapurna Interactive Developer Geometric Interactive Platform PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch Players 1
Cocoon was some six years in the making, and it shows. Every inch of the game is beautifully polished, and every second of its six-hour-or-so runtime is meaningful, with no filler or busywork whatsoever. In short, it’s beautiful and brilliant.
The game sees your insect-like character plunging vertiginously into spheres that each contain another world. You can carry these spheres on your back, and take them with you inside other spheres, creating a Matryoshka doll-like experience of worlds within worlds within worlds.
Solving the ingenious puzzles often involves hopping between spheres, but the game does a brilliant job of making what could be a potentially brain-melting experience eminently achievable, partly thanks to a welcomingly simple control scheme that maps everything to a single button (which is why Cocoon is one of the best indie games on Switch).
Dave the Diver
Dave the Diver - indie or not?
PSA: Mintrocket is actually a standalone division of the giant Korean Nexon corporation, so if you’re defining an indie game as being made by an independent developer, then Dave the Diver isn’t one. But if you’re defining indie as offering an alternative to more mainstream concepts, I’d argue it counts.
Best indie game offbeat RPG fishing
Publisher Mintrocket Developer Mintrocket Platform PC, Mac, Switch Players 1
Dave the Diver from Korean developer Mintrocket was a bit of a surprise hit in 2023, selling over a million copies in its launch week. It plays a bit like a combination of Vlambeer’s Ridiculous Fishing and Digital Sun’s Moonlighter, where by day the titular Dave goes diving for tasty fish, then by night he serves them up in the local sushi restaurant.
The core gameplay loop of finding ever more exotic fish and selling them for ever more money is compelling, with upgrades allowing Dave to dive deeper and deeper to find stranger and more dangerous marine life. But this is complemented by some utterly gorgeous pixel art and a wonderfully outlandish plot which sees Dave stumbling across clues of an ancient ocean-going civilisation.
A Space for the Unbound
Best indie game for point and click devotees
Publisher Toge Productions / Chorus Worldwide Developer Mojiken Studio Platform PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch Players 1
A Space for the Unbound from Mojiken Studio tells the story of Atma and his girlfriend Raya growing up in a suburban town in 1990s Indonesia. But Raya is soon gifted with mysterious reality-warping powers, and the tale takes a series of wild turns, ending up as a heartfelt meditation on loneliness, companionship and living with mental illness.
For most of the time, A Space for the Unbound centres around solving point-and-click puzzles by finding objects scattered across the town, but it regularly shakes things up with some delightful minigames that pay homage to classic titles such as Street Fighter II and Ace Attorney. And the artwork is sublime, featuring stunning pixel-art recreations of real-life Indonesian locations. (Love pixel art? Read our guide to the best retro consoles.)
Kinmoku was also behind the critically acclaimed visual novel One Night Stand, in which you wake up next to a stranger and have to seek out clues to their identity, and what exactly happened the night before.
Best indie game for bittersweet nostalgia
Publisher Kinmoku Developer Kinmoku Platform PC, Mac Players 1
Created by Lucy Blundell, aka Kinmoku, Videoverse is an emotional journey into the communities that congregate around games. You play as Emmett, a devotee of the mid-2000s game Feudal Fantasy on the fictional Shark console, who steadily builds relationships with other Feudal Fantasy fans on the Shark’s social network, Videoverse - a cross between the Wii U’s Miiverse and Instant Messenger.
But Videoverse is set to be shut down as the Shark is superseded by the new Dolphin console, threatening to destroy the community in which Emmett has found a home. It's a beautiful encapsulation of faltering teenage relationships and nostalgia for ephemeral spaces that are summarily eliminated by the uncaring onward march of technology.
Best indie game for innovative herding
Publisher Enhance Games Developer tha LTD Platform PC, PS4, PS5 Players 1
The aim of Humanity by tha LTD is to guide enormous crowds of faceless, mindless humans towards a glowing pillar of light using a ghost-like Shiba Inu, which is able to command the humans to change direction, jump, and so on. It’s basically Lemmings crossed with a sheep-dog trial. At least at first.
But soon the concept evolves, slipping into genres like stealth and real-time strategy, and introducing antagonists in the form of The Others. It’s bursting with imagination, and dazzling in execution, with hundreds of human drones dashing around the screen. Humanity is even playable in VR, plus there’s a powerful level editor, meaning there’s a giant cache of user-generated content for you to dive into.
Chants of Sennaar
Best indie game for linguistical tricks
Publisher Focus Entertainment Developer Rundisc Platform PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch Players 1
Chants of Sennaar from French developer Rundisc is a game about learning languages. That might not sound like the most exciting of ideas, but I can assure you it is utterly brilliant fun – as Inkle’s Heaven’s Vault amply demonstrated a couple of years back.
As you ascend a Tower of Babel-like structure, you’ll steadily decode the languages of the people who live there by matching glyphs from signs and speech to objects and concepts, jotting down your guesses for each symbol and steadily building up your vocabulary. Importantly, it provides a glowing sense of satisfaction every time one of your guesses is proved right.
Best indie game for unknowable horror
Publisher Team17 Developer Black Salt Games Platform PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch Players 1
Taking its cues from the Lovecraftian tradition of watery, inexplicable horror, Dredge by Black Salt Games puts you in charge of a fishing boat cruising around a cursed archipelago, where night sees your sanity slowly slip away. (Read more about Dredge in our feature on the best horror games of 2023.)
The plot sees you dredging up cursed relics from sunken ships for a shady collector, but you’ll need to upgrade your rickety boat along the way by going fishing and selling your catch. It’s not safe out there though: the slightest collision can damage your hull or even knock out your engine, and the horrors come at night, with hallucinatory rocks appearing out of nowhere, and malevolent shapes looming out of the mist.
Best indie game for black comedy
Publisher Team17 Developer Team17 Platform PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch, Meta Quest 2 Players 1
I was surprised that Killer Frequency (an in-house Team17 game) didn’t make more of a splash this year, because it’s one of the most unique and funny games I’ve played in a long while. Don’t pass it by. You play a disgraced DJ who has been exiled to work the midnight shift at a small-town radio station in the 1980s US; but then a notorious serial killer appears in the town, and help won’t arrive until morning.
Calls start to come in from people being stalked by the murderer, and you have to help them escape by directing them using whatever information you can find, from building plans to pizza leaflets. It’s tense, and success comes with huge relief. But failure is just as enjoyable - and often hilarious, with some excellent voice acting and wonderful set-ups.
Bytten Studio in Brighton is made up of Tom Coxon and Jay Baylis, and there are plenty of British references to be found throughout Cassette Beasts. I can’t imagine one of Game Freak’s Pokémon titles beginning with a quote from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Best indie game for indie-alternative Pokémon
Publisher Raw Fury Developer Bytten Studio Platform PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch Players 1-2
There have been a few attempts to replicate Pokémon’s enormous success down the years, but Cassette Beasts offers a refreshing approach to monster catching that adds a few welcome innovations to the Pokémon template. Developer Bytten Studio takes an inventive approach to familiar game design.
Here, you record beasts onto cassette tapes rather than catch them, then play the tape on your headphones to transform into said beast. You can even fuse with your companions’ beasts to create entirely new, more powerful monsters. Best of all, you’re free to wander around the strange island of New Wirral at your leisure, completing objectives in any order you like.
Planet of Lana
Best indie game for Studio Ghibli vibes
Publisher Thunderful Developer Wishfully Studios Platform PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One Players 1
Planet of Lana by Wishfully Studios feels a bit like a forgotten Studio Ghibli film. Those gorgeous cerulean skies with impossibly puffy clouds could be straight out of Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the main character is a fresh-faced girl with a slightly goofy run who looks like she came from Ghibli central casting. Throw in her cute cat-monkey friend, and you’ve got the makings of a Ghibli classic.
What’s more, Planet of Lana feels suitably cinematic, with Lana’s journey taking her through atmospheric ruins and uncovering long-forgotten technology as she seeks to save her friends, who have been snatched by an invading robot army. But it’s that cat-monkey who’s the real star of this epic puzzle-platformer. What a cutie.