Independent games have always been the place to go if you want to see something unique, as their creative freedom means they can offer ideas we didn't know we wanted or were possible in the first place. They're occasionally weird and wonderful, and we've got five that showed just why they shouldn't be flying under anyone's radar this year, since they can offer just as much enjoyment as the big guns we've seen.
5. Dead Cells / Motion Twin
From the charming platformers to the more brutal, as Dead Cells is a roguelite mixed with a metroidvania that really ups the ante. It's a challenging experience that's firm but fair, drawing comparisons of course with Dark Souls, and the interconnected world you explore is not only a ton of fun, being packed with enemies for you to dispatch, but also incredibly colourful and vibrant at the same time.
As with many roguelites before it though, this is all about the loop of learning from your errors and getting better, earning upgrades and becoming more proficient with the many weapons as you head back into the fight. When you are back in, there's a relentless mix of fighting and platforming, all of which is executed at breakneck speed, making every run a rollercoaster ride that's hard to put down.
4. Forgotton Anne / ThroughLine Games
There are worse things to be inspired by than Studio Ghibli, and ThroughLine Games' Forgotton Anne has much the same visual charm as the famous Japanese studio. It's a wonderful journey through an almost fairytale world where Forgotlings - forgotten objects from lamps to socks - come to live their life after they're discarded in our own world, and you play as Anne investigating some disturbances for the world's ruler.
Throughout this journey, your own morals will be questioned as you interact with all the various Forgotlings with their own charming personalities, and you quite literally have the power of life and death over these creatures. It's a joy to simply explore this 2D platformer and the world the studio has crafted, and with excellent voice acting and a gripping narrative, Forgotton Anne is certainly one of our highlights from the whole year.
3. Rimworld / Ludeon Studios
After spending years chugging through early access, Rimworld was finally considered finished in late 2018 and what an experience it offers. Players must settle a small corner of a harsh and unforgiving alien world full of raiders and organ harvesting scumbags, carving a life for themselves, often literally as bases are usually best built into the rocky outcrops that cover the different biomes. Once you've settled down and got a foothold it's time to expand your operation, but throughout the experience a clever AI storyteller keeps things spicey via the introduction of different scenarios.
That level of macro is engaging on its own, but things get altogether more fascinating when you zoom in and check out the micro. Each of the survivors has a distinct personality that constantly interacts with those around them, creating a bespoke narrative defined by the characters in your care as much as it is by the events that befall them and the decisions you make in your role as omnipotent overlord. It makes for a thoroughly engrossing melting pot of ingredients, and no two playthroughs will ever be the same. If you've ever wanted to play something with the emergent potential of Dwarf Fortress but were put off by the sheer complexity of it all, Rimworld, despite not being a simple game, is definitely worth a look.
2. The Messenger / Sabotage Studio
We had a pretty strong feeling that The Messenger would end up somewhere on this list after playing it for review earlier this year. The action platformer is fast and fluid with your every move building to one big crescendo as you slide down walls, toss shurikens and grapple hook your way to the next platform. There's plenty of different ninja skills for you to learn and master and its self-aware script isn't without its laughs and stand out moments. It's an obvious love letter to the NES classic Ninja Gaiden but it goes one step beyond simply paying its respects as it features its own innovations such as a time travelling mechanic where the pixelated world around you transcends between 8 and 16-bit.
We handed this one a perfect 10/10 score back in August but since then it's continued to grow even stronger cementing its status as one of the year's must-haves. A recent updated has added a New Game + mode and there's now the option to cycle through tracks at the merchant's store as well as many other quality of life improvements. Developer Sabotage Studio also recently revealed that a tropical themed DLC will be arriving in 2019 and this will be completely FREE for existing Switch and Steam players. We recommend that you keep close watch on The Messenger as we approach the impending Christmas sales across both platforms.
1. Celeste / Matt Makes Games
Despite being released in January this year, Celeste is a game we absolutely cannot afford to forget. It's a self-professed game about climbing a mountain, but it doesn't take long to realise that this platformer is actually tough as nails, since you'll be darting and dodging around obstacles like falling debris and lethal spikes to make your way up the trail, all of which is bathed in a lovely and colourful retro pixel-art style.
One might be forgiven for thinking that this is where the appeal of Celeste stops, but interwoven with this hardcore platforming is a touching story that's as surprising as it is affecting. It's a tale of relationships, of friendship, and our hero Madeline's own personal journey, bumping into a colourful cast of characters as she makes her way up. There's so much to see without complicating the basic principles underlying it all, and that's why Celeste has captured the hearts of so many.
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