Indie Games

My Favorite Indie Games From 2021 That Should Be Part of Your Collection in 2022

Now is the perfect time to play Death's Door, Unpacking, and more!

Indie Games

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I feel like I played more indie games last year than I ever have before. There were games I loved because of how wholesome they were, games that surprised me with how much their messages affected me, and games full of such solid storytelling that I’ve played through them over a hundred times and am still uncovering more of their story.

I have a feeling that indie games are gonna hook me, in the same way, this year (I am really excited about Bomb Rush Cyberfunk, Have a Nice Death, and Thirsty Suitors, just to name a few) but until then these are the games I played last year – some of which I’m still playing (or wanting to play, as I still have to play more Garden Story).

Indie games released in 2021 that I adored

Death’s Door

Summary: Reaping souls of the dead and punching a clock might get monotonous but it’s honest work for a Crow. The job gets lively when your assigned soul is stolen and you must track down a desperate thief to a realm untouched by death – where creatures grow far past their expiry and overflow with greed and power.

Why this game is great: This is probably one of the most charming games I played in 2021. The character designs. The dialogue. The gameplay. I enjoyed every bit of this game… even if I died quite a bit.

What can I say, the angry grandma beat the shit out of me.

I also really enjoyed the conversations being had about death. The narrative that death is a natural, and necessary, part of life was coupled with the fact that some characters really just did NOT want to die, which hit pretty hard with everything going on in our world right now. The balance between “death is inevitable and important” and “but why do I have to die” was fantastic.

Also?

You’re a crow.

Who fights a giant castle.

Button City

Summary: Fennel is a shy little fox who just moved into town. After discovering the local arcade, he makes new friends and gets swept up in a whirlwind adventure to save it from being shut down at the paws of greedy fat cat Peppermint Pepperbottom!

Why this game is great: Besides the fun, pastel aesthetic, this game just has a lot of heart. It really does make you feel like the new kid in town and how you know you should bring your mom lunch, but the new kid pressure of making a good impression on your peers is very, very strong. This is also another indie game with some delightful dialogue and has lines that made me laugh out loud when reading them.

A true gem worth checking out.

Some extra words: METAL YOGA!

B.ARK

Summary: Blast through waves of the evil cybernetic fish armada Dark Tide, and fight to take back the Solar System as the members of Team B.ARK: good boy Barker the Dog, Felicity the wise-cracking Cat, Lucio the overprotective Bear, and cautious-but-quick Marv the Rabbit.

Why this game is great: It feels like a Saturday morning cartoon brought to life. If you’re into things like Star Fox but more brightly colored and made to be played with a group, then you should definitely give this game a try. If you’re not used to bullet hell games, this is a good one to start with. It’s not that difficult to get into, as the developers sought to make a bullet hell game that anyone could pick up and play.

Also? Animals flying in ships designed to look like animals? Perfection.

Some extra words: A preview to the game that has all paws on deck!

Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan 

Summary: Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is a wholesome, creature capture, 2.5D Adventure-Puzzle-Platformer with over 30 hours of gameplay! It is a family-friendly, openly accessible, RPG-infused adventure in which you must save whimsical creatures by bringing back color to the world you once knew!

Rainbow Billy tells a universal coming-of-age story about dealing with changes in the world and accepting ourselves and the others around us! Sometimes it only takes a conversation, empathy, and a new point of view to make a world of a difference.

Why this game is great: When I tell you that this game put a smile on my face the second I started it up, I mean it. The art style is so wonderful that the simple act of looking around and interacting with everything gave me an instant boost of serotonin.

The main task at hand is to bring color back into the world, but you go about doing that in incredibly positive ways. Instead of intense battles and major conflicts, your “fights” are actually a chance to recruit a new friend. Your adversaries are generally dealing with insecurities we can all relate to (“does this person really like me” “I’m not perfect enough” etc.) and your job is to, well, talk to them.

Okay yes, those conversations are through mini-games, but when you get down to it you’re basically using RPG “battles” to help people work through their issues. When you succeed, you end up creating new bonds as you work to restore the world to its former glory with positivity.

It’s the kind of wholesomeness I’ve been seeking out since, well, 2020, if I’m being honest. As grim and dark as things can feel, sometimes you really need to play something where kindness wins the day.

Sometimes it’s nice to play a game that’s brimming with optimism.

Unpacking

Summary: Unpacking is a zen game about the familiar experience of pulling possessions out of boxes and fitting them into a new home. Part block-fitting puzzle, part home decoration, you are invited to create a satisfying living space while learning clues about the life you’re unpacking. Over the course of eight house moves, you are given a chance to experience a sense of intimacy with a character you never see and a story you’re never told.

Why this game is great: Unpacking, aka, Feels: The Game is a great example of how a game with a simple concept can make an impact on you. Going through the various times in your life when you typically unpack your belongings (because you’re moving into a new space) is relatable and, in a way, deeply personal.

I recognized all of the game’s milestones, from going to college to that moment when you really move out on your own. There are moments that actually, legitimately, hurt to play through, but unboxing familiar items that came from your childhood offered the same comfort I feel about particular items in my life that have been with me for decades. This ranges from the beat-up stuffed white tiger my wife got me in the early days of our relationship in 2001, to the now very faded necklace my mom got for me when my brother died in 1996.

Unpacking can probably be beaten in a day if you have nothing else to do, but trust me when I say that if you want something that’ll make you emotional over GameCube controllers and stuffed animals (and make you take a second look at your own personal items), then this game is a must.

Tails of Iron

Summary: Set in a grim land plagued by war, Tails of Iron is a hand-drawn RPG Adventure with punishingly brutal combat. As Redgi, heir to the Rat Throne, you must restore your broken Kingdom by banishing the merciless Frog Clan and their ferocious leader, Greenwart.

As you explore the deceivingly charming world, you’ll encounter a cast of unique companions, ready to aid you in your adventure. And you’ll need all the help you can get, whether that’s new meal recipes, blueprints to forge deadly weapons and armour, or even a land-chugging, armour-plated mole mobile!

Overcome your fears. Rescue your brothers. Restore Your Kingdom.

Your tail has begun…

Why this game is great: Filed under “games I normally wouldn’t play but dammit Hades and Hollow Knight got me thinking I can do it,” I genuinely enjoyed this and didn’t get nearly as frustrated about dying every ten minutes as I thought I would.

Okay, it wasn’t every ten minutes but it was a lot!

I kinda have a soft spot for games that have a serious story, but it’s told through the perspective of, in this case, rats. The game is surprisingly gritty, with a lot of violence that makes you wince even if it’s a rat going up against a toad. Redgi has the odds stacked against him from the start, which really makes you feel the heaviness of the task at hand. What struck me right off the bat is that you get to play through the part where your entire Kingdom is decimated by frogs, literally starting from the bottom and working your way toward being skilled enough to restore the land.

It’s rewarding when you succeed in battle and I felt a sense of accomplishment when I began to get a hang of the controls and figure out ways to take out those dastardly frogs… it just took a lot of deaths first.

Indie games I was late to the party on, but I played them in 2021 and loved them

Hades

Summary: In this rogue-like dungeon crawler from the creators of Bastion and Transistor, you’ll wield the powers and mythic weapons of Olympus to break free from the clutches of the god of the dead himself, while growing stronger and unraveling more of the story with each unique escape attempt.

Why this game is great: Besides the fantastic, well, everything (story, art, voice acting, music, everything) I’m still in awe that I have played through this game over a hundred times and I still feel like I haven’t done everything I could. How this game manages to make every run through the same areas feel different is phenomenal, and I’m still in awe that, once upon a time, it felt IMPOSSIBLE to beat Hades.

Now I actually enjoy fighting him at his best, and clearly, Zagreus does, too, as the hostility has long since faded between them for my playthrough.

There’s just so much to love about this game, and as someone who is new to Supergiant Games, I really want to go back and play their other titles. They truly created something special with Hades.

Some extra words: Some of my favorite in-game details about Hades, including the story and the ultimate betrayal.

Hollow Knight

Summary: Beneath the fading town of Dirtmouth sleeps a vast, ancient kingdom. Many are drawn beneath the surface, searching for riches, or glory, or answers to old secrets.

As the enigmatic Knight, you’ll traverse the depths, unravel its mysteries and conquer its evils.

Why this game is great: As someone who would proudly go on about how I did NOT play excruciatingly difficult games, Hollow Knight proved me wrong. To be fair, its look and design made me think it wasn’t going to be hard to play, but all it took was one trip to the first boss to see that this game was a punishing one.

That being said, the game really does teach you how to navigate through it all. I didn’t realize it as I played, but I would unconsciously begin to develop strategies on what items to have equipped, which areas to travel to, and how to maneuver past traps and other dangerous situations in a way that I didn’t think was possible for me to pull off. To this day I have no idea how I managed to survive the Buzzsaw White Castle, or even beat the damn game, but I did.

And I actually want more.

Some extra words: A more detailed explanation of how Hollow Knight made me understand why people enjoy these extremely challenging games.

Ori and the Blind Forest/Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Summary: The forest of Nibel is dying. After a powerful storm sets a series of devastating events in motion, Ori must journey to find courage and confront a dark nemesis to save the forest of Nibel. Ori and the Blind Forest tells the tale of a young orphan destined for heroics, through a visually stunning Action-Platformer crafted by Moon Studios. Ori and the Will of the Wisps takes place after the events of the first game.

Why this game is great: If you want to play something that makes you feel like you’re living through a storybook that makes you cry as you try desperately to save a forest full of creatures you want to adopt, play the Ori series. Everything about it is whimsical and charming and heartwarming, which means you are going to tear up when things go wrong, panic when the world falls apart, and breathe a deep sigh of relief when the flowers begin to bloom again.

Attachment to Ori aside, the game is just a lot of fun to play. Backed to an incredible soundtrack and gorgeous visuals, it really does feel like you’re the main character of a world fueled by pure imagination.

It’s the kind of world I would revisit, even after beating the game, because I just wanted to look at the forest again.

As for the sequel? It’s just as great as the original, just with more characters to fall in love with.

What indie games did you enjoy playing last year? More importantly, what releases are you looking forward to this year? Not just because I want to add them to my list, but… okay yeah, that’s the reason.

(Image: Acid Nerve/Witch Beam/Skybound Games)

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Author
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)