With the indie category at The Game Awards this year only representing the tip of the indie game iceberg, we decided to list the 10 best indie games of 2021 that aren’t at the show but are brilliant in their own right.
10. Deltarune Chapter 2 (Metacritic – TBD)
‘The next adventure in the UNDERTALE series has appeared! Fight (or spare) alongside new characters in UNDERTALE’s parallel story, DELTARUNE…!’
Let’s be honest here, you’ve probably already played this one. Like Toby Fox’s previous two titles, from which Deltarune Chapter 2 continues, this game exploded onto the internet before the game had even actually been released. Building on the story and mechanics from previous games, Deltarune Chapter 2 takes you to a new world with new characters and plenty of new enemies to (not) fight. With another fantastic score by Fox himself, and some of the best humour in the series so far, this game was destined to be a big shot.
9. Demon Turf (metacritic – 68)
‘The Demon World is inhabited by all kinds of nasties, each led by its own head honcho. Beebz, a young demon, decides it’s time for her to kick every turf leader’s butt and become the Demon Queen’
This cute little action-platformer could be called this year’s indie darling. The lead-up to this game saw fanart and magazine covers and interviews, and for good reason. Sporting a 2D-3D artstyle and some fun combat and traversal mechanics, Demon Turf is full of creativity and fun. With lots of freedom to experiment, things to find, and a healthy length, you’re sure to get your game’s worth from this hellbound romp.
8. Mundaun (Metacritic – 72)
‘After learning of his grandfathers mysterious death in a fire, the protagonist travels to Mundaun for the first time since childhood. He will soon discover that something old and diabolical is haunting the remaining inhabitants.’
With a healthy mix of combat, puzzles and exploration/survival, this game manages to feel totally different and unique whilst still remaining highly accessible and familiar. Mundaun may struggle to scare some horror fans, but it’s fantastically-realised aesthetic and immersive portrayal of rural Europe, it definitely won’t fail to sink its hooks into any player who wants to brave its mystery. With multiple endings and plenty of secrets to find, this is one that may even keep you strung along for more than one playthrough.
7. The Medium (Metacritic – 75)
‘Become a medium living in two different worlds: the real one and the spirit one. You travel to an abandoned hotel resort, which many years ago became the stage of an unthinkable tragedy. As a medium with access to both worlds, you can see more clearly that there’s no one simple truth to what others perceive.’
Bloober Team is slowly becoming one of the go-to studios for premier horror games, and this one is possibly their most high quality and most unique outing yet. This entry in their gameography takes clear inspiration from games like Silent Hill, particularly Silent Hill: Origins. The big selling point of this game is the dual-world system that still blows my mind even months after finishing the game. Simultaneously you see the real world, an abandoned hotel, and the Zdzislaw Beksinski-inspired spirit world, where nothing is as it seems. If you want a game made at indie scale but that feels like a AAA experience, then this is for you, and at the same time, if you want a throwback to classic fixed-camera survival-horror, then this is for you. This is a game with a lot going for it, that has perhaps been sadly sidelined.
6. Mind Scanners (Metacritic – 76)
‘Greetings. Your Mind Scanner request has been approved. Your duty is to diagnose and treat the citizens of The Structure. The patient list is long so don’t waste your time. We’ll let you see your daughter soon…’
At first, this game can easily come off as being derivative of other things like ‘Papers, Please’, but pretty soon the game shows it’s true colours and creates a very distinct identity through its great artwork, engrossing minigames and concerning player decisions. Whilst not the longest game on this list, it paces itself perfectly through its myriad of ‘cases’, and who knows, maybe the choices you need to make will have you coming back to test your moral compass.
A video game protagonist wakes up in an on-fire science lab with nothing but an AI and a high-tech gun to…
5. Genesis Noir (Metacritic – 77)
‘A noir adventure spanning time and space. You play as No Man, a watch peddler caught in a love triangle with other cosmic beings, Miss Mass and Golden Boy. Jump into the expanding universe and search for a way to prevent or destroy creation and save your love.’
Describing itself as a ‘non-traditional point-and-click adventure’, this visually stunning puzzle game is full of creativity and vision. It maintains a challenging level of difficulty whilst managing to healthily pace out an emotionally-resonant story of love, loss and betrayal; with a killer soundtrack to boot. Genesis Noir acts as a fantastic example of an artistic achievement that can only be achieved in the medium of gaming. Every moment of this game finds some way to top the last in how it can visually blow you away, and coming in at a healthy 4-5 hours, it’s well worth the money and the time.
4. Cyber Shadow (Metacritic – 82)
‘The world has been taken over by synthetic lifeforms. A desperate plea for help sets Shadow, the sole survivor of his clan, on one last mission to uncover what started the path to perpetual ruin.’
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Throwback retro platformer games aren’t exactly a rarity, and a lot of people may have overlooked this game as something they’ve seen before, but where Cyber Shadow succeeds isn’t in what it does that’s new, it’s how perfectly it homages and oftentimes supersedes classic games in it’s genre. However, this Ninja Gaiden-esque slice-em-up fits in a surprising amount of modern sensibility into its NES-style facade, making it comparable to something like Shovel Knight (from the same publisher) in its blending of more modern, smoother gameplay and faithful retro visuals.
3. Unpacking (Metacritic – 83)
‘Unpacking is a zen puzzle game about the familiar experience of pulling possessions out of boxes and fitting them into a new home. You are invited to create a satisfying living space while learning clues about the life you’re unpacking.’
Unpacking is a deceptively simple experience. Whilst at first glance it’s just a zen block-fitting-style puzzle game, it quickly becomes evident that this game is hiding a deeply personal and heartwarming story, told wordlessly through nothing but the items you gradually unbox as you progress through each level. There’s no rush here, no timers or deadlines, you just have to take your time decorating the spaces you’re given, and it’s surprisingly emotive on top of it all.
2. Outer Wilds Echoes of the Eye (Metacritic – 83)
‘A new museum exhibit that marks the trailhead for one last journey into the wilds. Should you pull at the thread and unravel the solar system’s deepest secret, or is some knowledge better left in the dark?’
Sure, it’s technically a DLC, this expansion is not only the same length as the original game, but adds in so many new mechanics, whilst putting its own twist on pre-established ones, that it acts as a fully-fledged sequel. Fans of the original game will definitely love this, and now that it’s bundled with the original game in the ‘archaeologist edition’, it’s by far the best version of the game to buy. Many call this one of the best games of recent years, and with the addition of this it’s now twice as big and twice as worthy of your time.
1. Omori (Metacritic – 87)
‘Explore a strange world full of colourful friends and foes. When the time comes, the path you’ve chosen will determine your fate… and perhaps the fate of others as well.’
Whilst Omori isn’t exactly a gameplay showcase, it takes its inspiration from Earthbound and, of course, Undertale. What it is a showcase of, however, is artwork and storytelling. This is a lovingly crafted and visually wonderful story about catharsis, friendship and loss. It’s not a bleak experience by any means, it’s got its fair share of humour and light moments, but those are contrasted with moments that cross the line into being straight-up horror. It’s best to go in as blind as possible, so I’ll stop talking now, but we can happily say that this is the best indie game that didn’t make it to The Game Awards.