People who know me know that indie games are my passion. Even with the constraints of a small team and a smaller budget, incredible games are made each year that help make the gaming industry better.
Indie games are small, but they leave a huge impact. Even in a chaotic year like 2020, some of the first games that come to my mind are the indies that I’ve played. All of them are little blips of beautiful happiness that I’ve been able to escape to.
While I want to list every single indie game that was released this year because I honestly love all of them, I thought it’d be better to put together a list of the ones that left the greatest impact on me. With that, here’s the Editor’s Pick for the best indie games of 2020!
Editor’s Pick | The Best Indie Games of 2020
Not only was Hades the team’s pick for indie GOTY, it’s also one of my personal picks. I’ve been a huge fan of Hades since its initial Early Access release in December 2018. I’m also a firm believer in the fact that Supergiant has no bad games.
Bastion, Transistor, Pyre, all have become instant favorites, so it’s no surprise that Hades is a favorite for me as well. The art is gorgeous, the story of Zagreus is engaging and interesting, the music from Darren Korb is on point from start to finish, and the gameplay… I mean, c’mon. The gameplay is incredibly fun and addicting.
Death doesn’t feel like a punishment, instead it encourages you to brush yourself off and try again. It’s easy to put several hours into Hades without even realizing it, and even then, you’re already thinking about strategies for playing the game the next day, and the day after that.
Hades is amazing, and worthy of its indie GOTY status here on Prima Games, and elsewhere. If you haven’t played it yet, I highly recommend checking it out.
Can you believe Temtem released back in January this year? I certainly can’t. With everything that’s happened in 2020, it can be easy to forget about the cheerful games we enjoyed pre-pandemic, like Temtem.
People will give it digs for being a Pokemon game in everything but the title, but for something created by a small indie team, Temtem really shines. It’s wild to remember that when the game first released, the servers were overwhelmed as so many people were interested in the game and were all trying to jump in at once.
The team at Crema remained incredibly transparent that entire time, posting updates and promising server improvements, which they delivered. As for the game itself, it’s bright, it’s charming, and it’s a lot of fun.
The unique battle elements alone make Temtem one of this year’s best because of how much thought, care, and time went into the core gameplay. Battling Temtem, capturing Temtem, training Temtem, it’s a blast from start to finish.
As they say, “gotta acquire all of them” or something along those lines.
People who know me know that I’m a huge fan of horror, especially the works of Junji Ito. You can imagine how excited I was to find and play a game like World of Horror. Visually, the game has a clear retro nostalgia feel to it.
Meanwhile, the horror is odd and follows the Junji Ito pattern of unsettling imagery that doesn’t always make sense, but is so compelling to look at, you can’t look away. It’s done really well, and it’s full of surprises. I remember clicking away from the game to look at something online in another tab, then clicking back and seeing a quick flash of something creepy looking.
I imagine the game is designed to do that. Or at least, I hope so.
Even more impressive is that World of Horror was developed by one person, Polish developer (and dentist) Pawel Kozminski. Not only that, but the impressive and detailed images were created in the unlikeliest of places… MS Paint.
Yes, the game’s visuals were designed in MS Paint. That's some serious skill right there.
Without a doubt, World of Horror is one of 2020’s most surprising, and creative indies. And if you’re a horror fan, it’s a must-play.
Yet another game that released at the wrong time was Half Past Fate which hit Steam on March 12. I imagine that had the game released in April when everyone was home looking for something positive, it would’ve garnered a lot more attention. That, and not releasing right before Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but I digress.
Half Past Fate is an uplifting, positive, wonderful romantic comedy game that’s sure to put a smile on your face. The game has memorable characters and some brilliant writing and dialogue that helps keep the game from ever feeling slow or stagnant.
The art style is beautiful, and the game boasts some interesting mechanics like the visual transition that happens when you move from area to area. The music is quaint, and while the gameplay is simple and straightforward when it comes to solving puzzles, this approachability adds to the game rather than detracts from it.
I really don’t want to spoil the story because it's really good. All I’ll say is that the game is a fantastic option if you’re looking for something lighthearted to play.
Another light, relaxing game to play is Coffee Talk. I remember when the game released at the beginning of the year, a lot of people were talking about it. The premise of the game is simple, you’re in a coffee shop and you’re interacting with patrons.
Each of these patrons are unique and in talking to them, you learn more about the world that you inhabit as a whole. All of this is done through some exceptional dialogue that makes you feel as if you are part of the game’s world. The idea of the game also relates back to the world we live in (or used to live in) where you could go to a coffee shop and socialize.
Where, if you frequent a place often enough, the people who work there will begin to remember you. Not only what you like to order, but also who you are and what’s going on in your life. Coffee Talk also has a stellar soundtrack that adds even more atmosphere to an already atmosphere rich coffee shop.
The only thing I don’t like about Coffee Talk is how bad I am at drawing coffee art, but that’s entirely on me. I'm going to keep practicing because the characters in Coffee Talk deserve the best.
A cyberpunk game developed by a Polish team… no, not that game. I’m talking about 2020’s best cyberpunk game, Ghostrunner. The game has a fast-paced, post-apocalyptic setting with one of this year’s best soundtracks by far (no seriously, check out the soundtrack).
You’re playing in a first-person perspective, running through a gritty neon city with your trusty sword, slicing through enemies in a way that never stops being satisfying. Movement is fluid, allowing you to run and grapple and dodge.
It’s a tricky game to master, but well worth the time you put into the game. The better you get at the game, the more satisfying it is to play. As a whole, Ghostrunner is a game that knows exactly what it is, what it’s supposed to be, and what it intends to deliver.
It exceeds expectations in every possible way. If you’re a cyberpunk fan looking for a worthwhile experience, you can’t go wrong with Ghostrunner. Trust us, there’s no disappointment here, only sharp, quick, gritty fun.
Adding to the cyberpunk subject, another indie cyberpunk game released this year that’s worth taking a closer look at, Cloudpunk. If other cyberpunk games have you yearning for a future where you can drive a flying car, you’re in luck because that’s your job in Cloudpunk!
You’re a courier who gets to pick stuff up and drop stuff off. As for what the "stuff" is, well... you'll find out.
The first thing Cloudpunk reminded us of was The Fifth Element, but there’s so much more to Cloudpunk than driving your flying car around the city.
The characters that you meet have interesting backstories, and the “evil corporation” element of cyberpunk is there in a way that’s well-written and interesting to follow. Make no mistake, Cloudpunk has slower pacing than other cyberpunk games both on and off this list, but it fits with what the game is going for. It's wonderful.
You’re meant to take your time and explore, you’re meant to talk to people and piece together what’s going on. It’s not a hack-and-slash or a shooter, it’s an atmospheric RPG with a deep story, and an amazing one at that. Also, I mean, the flying cars are pretty awesome.
Who doesn’t want to drive a flying car?
When I was still at IndieObscura, we did two “indie game direct” shows to help promote indies in the wake of event cancellations. One of the indies shown was Roki, a game that immediately caught my attention after seeing the artwork, reading the description, and playing the demo that was available on Steam.
It was love at first sight with Roki, and it’s a love I’ve carried with me ever since I finished the game. The story follows Tove, a girl on a mission to save her family. To do this, she’ll journey through a magical Scandinavian forest full of mythical creatures.
Don’t worry, these creatures aren’t unfriendly. In fact, there’s more to each of them than meets the eye. There’s no combat in Roki, the game is about exploration and puzzle solving, and it does these things perfectly. The world is fascinating, characters like Tove are well-written and feel very real, and visually… I mean, look at it.
Roki is a gorgeous game, it’s hard to not pause while you’re playing the game to take screenshots. Roki has this feel of walking through a storybook, and I cannot emphasize enough how much joy the game brought me. Roki is truly a masterpiece.
Continuing the IndieObscura direct theme, another game shown was the emotionally impactful, Before I Forget. The game puts players in the shoes of a woman named Sunita who has dementia. As she explores her home and remembers things, you get to learn more about who she was and the amazing things she did in her life.
The game is designed as a self-contained experience, taking around an hour to complete. This works really when it comes to the feelings the game invokes. You feel what Sunita feels, and by the end, you’re able to sit there and properly reflect on what you played.
Dementia is a real illness that affects real people, and the game can really help give you insight into the condition without overwhelming you or throwing too much at you. I won’t lie, I cried at the end of Before I Forget and as I sit here typing this, I feel those emotions stirring within me again.
Some of the best games are the ones that move you and continue to move you long after you’ve played them, and Before I Forget is definitely one of those games.
I remember seeing A Fold Apart at PAX West back in 2019 and being immediately struck by it. Speaking of crying, the demo for the game alone made me want to cry, but in a good way I promise.
A Fold Apart is relatable to anyone who’s ever experienced long-distance love. The game is exceptionally clever with its folding paper, origami sort of puzzles and the journey which isn’t always easy.
The path isn’t always clear, it’s full of ups and downs, twists and turns. You feel like you’re trying to get closer, but the person is still so far away. Even love that isn’t long-distance can be a challenge.
In the end, no matter what, going through all of these things is worth it when you love someone. The message of the game is heartfelt and genuine, and even if you’ve never personally experienced either a long-distance relationship or a relationship in general, it’s hard to not be moved by A Fold Apart.
Speaking of heartfelt, I was overjoyed at the release of Neversong. I first learned about the developer Thomas Brush after playing his game Pinstripe. It’s one of those games where you sit there and go “wow” for many reasons from the art style to the story itself.
Pinstripe is without a doubt one of the best indie games I played in 2017, and Neversong follows suit as one of the best indies I played in 2020. Like Pinstripe, the world of Neversong is a bit dark in a Tim Burton sort of way.
Neversong dials that darkness up even more. In the game, you follow Peet and learn more about why he’s in this creepy, unsettling world full of monsters. It’s got a dark storybook feel to it, and in some ways, the gameplay feels a bit easier than the puzzle solving in Pinstripe.
However, this is to the game’s benefit as you’re able to soak in even more of Neversong’s atmosphere. An atmosphere that’s complemented by some haunting, yet beautiful piano melodies. All in all, Neversong is a piece of art that’ll captivate you from start to finish.
If you haven’t played it yet, I recommend Neversong, and I recommend Pinstripe for good measure as well.
If you like ‘Soulslike’ games you absolutely have to play Mortal Shell. It is by far one of the best of its kind that I’ve ever played. I still return to the game every so often to put some time in, even though I’ve played enough by now that the game is no longer challenging.
The best thing about games like Mortal Shell is when you start out and learn what each enemy hits like and how best to fight them. You also learn more about your character, what they can do, and what they can’t do.
Mortal Shell has an interesting take on “character building” by offering unique shells for you to occupy, each with their own stats. You can also mix and match weapons with these shells to further tailor the game to your playstyle.
It’s odd to say, but I genuinely enjoy spending time in Mortal Shell’s world, even though it’s populated with enemies constantly trying to kill me. If you feel like you have the skill to tackle a game like Mortal Shell, it’s well worth the time you’ll put in to get through to the end.
Out of everything that was released this year, Mortal Shell was one of the most challenging, but also one of the most rewarding as well.
Speaking of challenging, another game that’ll test your skill and your patience (in a good way) is Spelunky 2. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of hours I put into the first Spelunky, but it was a lot. When Spelunky 2 finally released in 2020, I was eager to hop in.
What I really like about Spelunky 2 is that it isn’t too far removed from its predecessor. If you put a lot of time into the first Spelunky, you’ll have some familiarity with the way Spelunky 2 works. That said, there are a ton of changes that you’ll have fun learning about and exploring.
Visually, Spelunky 2 looks gorgeous, and it manages to be even more challenging than the first Spelunky. There’s always a surprise as you work your way from level to level, that’s for sure. Spelunky 2 got a number of perfect review scores this year, and I agree with this scoring.
Spelunky 2 is a perfect game for Spelunky fans, and newcomers alike.
Have you ever dreamed of being a powerful monster capable of ripping humans limb from limb? Well, in Carrion, you can be! Make no mistake, the game’s red blob monstrosity isn’t unstoppable, but it sure feels that way at times.
You slither and sneak through corridors, ambushing and attacking. You are violence, you are death, you are fear itself. You aren’t all bad, though. The people you’re ripping into tiny pieces have captured you, and for that, they must die.
It’s fun to describe the game this way, but it’s even more fun to play. When it comes to horror games, you’re usually the good guy fighting back against abominations like Carrion’s red blob mass.
Being able to actually be the monster is such an amazing feeling, and it helps that the gameplay itself is done superbly well. Everything is fluid and responsive, it’s easy to get the hang of moving your monster around, and visually the game has a really cool aesthetic where the killing and dismembering isn’t overwhelmingly gorey and visceral.
I give Carrion 10 bloodthirsty monsters out of 10.
Last, but certainly not least, is a game that genuinely surprised me. The first thing you’ll notice about Creaks are the visuals. It’s like you’re playing inside a painting. Beyond that, the world is fascinating, having a sort of steampunk vibe to it mixed with post-apocalyptic, magical fairytale.
One thing’s for certain, there’s nothing out there quite like Creaks. The core gameplay is puzzle solving and exploration, which feel straightforward enough. A number of games in the indie realm utilize this type of gameplay.
What Creaks does is that it incorporates it with its visuals to create a living, breathing world. Nothing feels out of place, you don’t see the stitches in the final outfit design so to speak (odd comparison, sorry). All you see is this beautiful work of art, and to quote Keanu Reeves, it’s breathtaking.
If you’re looking for a unique experience that’ll leave you spellbound, you can’t go wrong with Creaks. It’s indescribably good.