The world of indie games has always been one of big ideas in small packages. Here are developers expressing themselves through the art of video game development, taking risks where many mainstream and AAA games might play it safe. What most of the games on this list lack in big budgets, they more than make up for in creativity and style. From moody Metroidvania sci-fi platformers to a game about the last human head in the universe to a cyberpunk bartending simulator, our picks on this list are truly a bit out there.
Needless to say, we’re big fans of indie games, which is why we’ve decided to keep a running list of the titles we’re most excited for. Here you’ll find games with release dates, those still in early development, and many titles that have been released in Steam Early Access. For the latter, we’ve included links so you can try these games out yourself!
Here’s our list of the top upcoming indie games to keep an eye on:
2016 | Old Moon | PC
Adult Swim Games has one of the most aesthetically pleasing indie line-ups out there, a great mix of ambient sci-fi platformers, challenging dungeon crawlers, and hectic battle arenas. Metroidvania-style sci-fi platformer Ghost Song may be the most impressive of them all. We played it at last year’s PAX East and were immediately blown away by its visuals, a throwback to the grainy days of VHS tapes, and the quiet synth soundtrack delivers on this game’s surreal state. Fans wishing for a proper Metroid sequel from Nintendo cannot go wrong with this gorgeous indie.
TBA | Sukeban Games | PC, Vita | Prologue
Many of the games mentioned in this article were included on our list of the best games of PAX East 2015, and VA-11 HALL-A is one of them. There just isn’t another game out there like this highly imaginative cyberpunk bartending simulator. The game tells a tale of a dystopian society in the aftermath of a political crisis inspired by real events in Venezuela, where the developers currently reside. Think of this game like “dystopian Cheers,” as your patrons come in to tell you stories, order drinks, and get weird.
2016 | Red Barrels | XBO, PS4, PC
There’s not much that needs to be said about Red Barrels’ follow-up to its hit survival horror game except that it looks pretty damn scary. We’re still not quite over the trip to Mount Massive Asylum, and we’re already being dragged to a whole new nightmare. We don’t actually know much about the game besides the fact that it will focus more heavily on religion than the first game’s more sci-fi bend. Whatever it is, we’re kind of NOT looking forward to it. (We are.)
2016 | Xaviant Games | PC | Early Access
This multiplayer battle royale action game looks insane. Sixteen players step into a bloody deathmatch to hunt each other down with all kinds of gruesome weapons and tactics. In twenty minutes, players must find sharp melee weapons or a precious firearm, useful tools and equipment, and plant traps to outsmart and outgun their enemies. Crafting is a big part of the experience, as you not only hunt your enemies but also things you can use to survive the slaughter. There are no respawns, and the final stage of the match includes poison gas. How will you survive The Culling?
April 26, 2016 | Drinkbox Studios | Vita
Here’s another title we played at PAX East 2015 that we absolutely loved. This smart, moody hack-and-slash adventure tells the story of a woman who is destined to become a great warrior and defend her people from an evil that has spread in her village. Utilizing the touch controls of the PS Vita, you must slash your way through a Metroidvania-style maze full of monsters and creatures of the night. This is one handheld game you don’t want to miss.
2016 | White Rabbit | PC
We once lived in a world where Dark Souls-style games were few and you had to wait years for From Software to put out another challenging dungeon crawler full of boss monsters and death. But those days are over. There are plenty of options if you’re masochistic action RPG fan, including the impressive Death’s Gambit, which turns things on their side for a 2D platforming adventure that also includes lots of boss fights and death. Best of all, the visuals are stunning.
TBA | The Behemoth | XBO, PC
We love stopping at The Behemoth booth at PAX East every year to check out what crazy stuff the Castle Crashers developer has up its sleeve. This year, we get Pit People, a turn-based stratedy RPG that allows players to venture into a world unstuck in time due to the radiation from a dead space bear that’s crashed into the planet. There are all the classic RPG elements, including character customization and leveling. Plus, you get to fight killer cupcakes. Buy the ticket, take the ride.
2016 | Studio MDHR | XBO, PC
I can’t get enough of this homage to Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. It’s one of the most beautiful games on this list. Our hero, little Cuphead, must use his wits to fight tons of bosses after losing a wager with the cartoon devil. Now he has to do the devil’s bidding in order to save himself. It’s a pretty dark story for such a bright and colorful game. We can’t wait to play this one.
Killing Floor 2
2016 | Tripwire Interactive | XBO, PC | Early Access
We’re big fans of the original Killing Floor and are very happy with what we’ve seen in the sequel’s Early Access phase. This ridiculous multiplayer survival game once again pits you against the Zeds in a world that has gone to hell. With tons of weapons and maps to choose from, we can think of no better game to jump into with your friends for some violent fun.
The Long Journey Home
TBA | Daedalic Entertainment | XBO, PS4, PC
We were simply blown away by The Long Journey Home‘s first trailer, which promises a return to the classic space exploration RPG games of yesterday, such as Starflight and Star Control. Command your ship through a hostile, procedurally generated galaxy that promises many challenges, obstacles, and space battles. There’s also a neat landing vehicle that lets you explore strange new worlds. Is this Star Trek the video game?
2016 | C3SK | PC | Early Access
This little minimalist survival horror game scared the hell out of us when we played it at PAX East 2015. Developed as an homage to the Lovecraftian mythos, players must make their way through a world infested with supernatural creatures and unspeakable monstrosities, while finding equipment and weapons along the way that will help them last as long as possible. Because once you die, it’s game over. It’s truly impressive how Noct turns the top-down perspective into a showcase of true horror.
2016 | The Game Bakers | PS4, PC
This action game has more than a few nods to Afro Samurai, and that’s not an accident. Afro Samurai creator Takashi Okazaki created many of the designs for the game, including all of the Guardian bosses. Furi tells the story of what we can only describe as a techno-samurai who must defeat a slew of bosses in order to escape his prison. The gameplay relies heavily on one-on-one duels that can quickly turn into precise sword fights or intense bullet hells. Furi promises to be the Afro Samurai video game sequel we deserve.
2016 | Double Fine | PC
Not only does it boast one of the best titles on this list, but it’s also a massive dose of weird science fiction. You see, this game is about the last human being in the galaxy…or what’s left of him. Headlander stars a human head in a puzzle-platforming adventure inspired by 70s sci-fi. But you’re not completely defenseless. The titular head can take over the bodies of robots and vehicles in the game to traverse the levels and acquire weapons. It doesn’t get much more creative or silly than this.
We Happy Few
2016 | Compulsion Games | XBO, PC | Early Access
In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve latched on to a lot of weird indie games this year. We Happy Few might be the strangest yet, as you enter a dystopian retro-futuristic England in the 1960s that has been claimed by a drug called Joy, which allows people to forget every single bad things that’s ever happened to them. You play as a Downer, one of the citizens of England not addicted to Joy, which bodes terribly for you because everyone that is on Joy now wants to attack and kill you. This one might remind you a bit of BioShock. It’s certainly just as creepy.
2016 | Tinimations | PC
Another trend running through this list and this year’s indie offerings is the fusing of several genres into one awesome experience. So is the case with Klang, which is billed as a rhythm action platformer. This game uses rhyhtm controls as the foundation for its loud, rave-inspired gameplay. The game’s titular main character must use the music at his disposal to defeat the Soundlord Sonus and drop some sick beats in the process.
2016 | Alientrap | PC | Early Access
Cryptark is definitely a contender for best platformer of the year, with its highly-stylized take on a science fiction universe where pillaging giant alien derelicts is the only way make a buck. Players must board hostile ships with their handy space mechs in this roguelike 2D platformer that’s heavy on the action and jaw-dropping visuals.
Mages of Mystralia
2016 | Borealys | PC
This colorful adventure game is the story of a young girl named Zia, who has been exiled because of her budding magic powers. Now she must venture beyond her home to unlock the secrets of her abilities, train to become a powerful mage, and meet other magic-users like herself. The game’s bright art style is what’s really hooked us.
2016 | Capybara Games | XBO, PC
Capy’s follow-up to Super Time Force has been a long time coming. This Zelda-inspired dungeon crawler is designed to be a challenging roguelike experience, as the game’s tiny warrior journeys his way into the depths of a remote island, fighting his way past challenging enemies in brutal combat sequences. The top-down perspective also lends the game a mysterious minimalist quality, as shadow interlocks with the faint rays of light coming through the rock walls. Our hero is very small compared to the epic scale of the island. The game’s focus on brutal combat and permadeath guarantees a challenge.
2016 | Pixel Metal | PC
Last year, we fell in love with Duck Game, our 2015 party game of choice. This year, it looks like Sombrero is going to take the cake. This spaghetti western fiesta game has all the trappings of the Old West, including lots of gunslinging and a fistful of bounty money for killing your opponents. We’re ready for this one, six-shooters in hand.
2016 | Playdead | XBO
This one’s from Playdead, the developer behind Limbo, which means that you’re stepping into some pretty dark territory with Inside. In fact, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree with this follow-up, which assumes the same gray ambience of its predecessor. And to top it all off, it seems like pretty much everything is out to kill that little boy. This should be pretty gruesome.
No Man’s Sky
June 21, 2016 | Hello Games | PS4, PC
It’s kind of odd calling this one an indie, based on the game’s ambitious premise that has undoubtedly burned through tons of money. In No Man’s Sky, you are an explorer who must adventure through a procedurally generated galaxy to find strange new worlds and study the exotic creatures and fauna. And you’re not going to run out of planets to explore, either. No Man’s Sky boasts a virtual galaxy of an estimated 18 quintillion randomly generated planets. We’re all going to be very busy this summer.
Song of the Deep
July 21, 2016 | Insomniac Games | XBO, PS4, PC
It was love at first sight when it comes to Insomniac’s upcoming indie offering about a girl named Merryn who has set off on an adventure to find her missing father. For her journey, she builds a makeshift submarine to explore the ocean. This Metroidvania-style side-scroller focuses heavily on puzzle-solving, as you find important upgrades and tools that Merryn will need to travel through the watery depths of the sea. The game is based on Irish mythology and it simply looks amazing.