best indie games to play on steam deck

Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck

The Steam Deck, released in 2022 to massive acclaim, is essentially a powerful gaming PC in a form factor that is only a bit bigger than the Nintendo Switch. Given that it’s so versatile, you can do practically anything on it, and to prove that I wrote this portion of this guide on my own Steam Deck, it just works for everything.

However, it does have its shortcomings. Since it’s a Linux-based system, a few games cannot run on it, and since it doesn’t exactly have a keyboard and mouse, many games are better played elsewhere. This list is a compilation of indies I think shine on the system and are sure to give you hours of great portable gaming.

Bottom Line Up-Front

Pretty much any Deck verified game will be great on Steam Deck, as well as most games marked playable and even some that aren’t on Steam. Terraria, Hollow Knight, and Stardew Valley are some of the best to entertain you.

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What Games Work on Steam Deck?

What Games Work on Steam Deck?
Image by Monica Phillips

Generally, if you want to play your Steam library on your Steam deck, you’ll be fine 90% of the time. Games with a verified rating work well (usually at low-medium settings), games with a playable rating can vary, and games marked unplayable or untested are the wild west and usually either don’t run or take a ton of workarounds to get going.

Playable isn’t always the end of the world. For games like Outer Wilds, it refers to the not-insignificant performance issues and frame drops you’ll see playing that game on Deck, but for Here Comes Niko, the game runs perfectly fine; it just shows keyboard prompts instead of buttons. Always try these games out and give them a fair shake.

The games marked unplayable may not always be so; specifically if you use ProtonUpQT in Desktop mode to download Proton GE, you can play and run many of these with improvements. Always check https://www.protondb.com/ to see if your game will run. Untested games are usually newer or smaller, so test these out and see if they work.

For non-Steam games, you’ll often need a bunch of configurations. If they have a native Linux port, right-click the launcher to add it to Steam, and you’re good. For anything else, you’ll probably need to add it to Steam and run it with Proton Experimental or get something like the Heroic Games Launcher.

The Selection Criteria

For this list, I’m choosing games that are best on Deck. They don’t necessarily have to be Deck-verified games; they just have to work well on the hardware and benefit from the Deck’s unique qualities. I’ll compare them to any other portable version of the game (usually the Switch version). Here are my criteria for this list:

  • Verified helps, but they must run well enough and work properly to be considered.
  • If they’re not on Steam, they should have a minimal setup. If I go through many steps to get a game to run, it’s already not the best deck experience.
  • Mods, Texture packs, and other PC-Exclusive features are considered. One of the best parts of the Steam Deck is that it’s just a PC, meaning you can easily access fanmade content, unlike the Switch or any other console. This will mostly only be considered with Steam Workshop support or an easy mod loader.
  • Utilizing the Deck’s controls isn’t extremely important, but having things you want to map to those trackpads or back buttons is a plus, often making games comfier than anywhere else—extra points for fitting the 16:10 resolution.
  • Not requiring an Internet Connection is a pretty obvious plus for a portable system. Despite what all the cloud ports to Switch would have you think, trying to play a game portably and getting hit with a required internet connection sucks; this also applies to things like Denuvo or EasyAntiCheat.

That said, let’s get into my top 15 games I think are fantastic to have on your Steam Deck that you should check out if you have one.

Terraria

Terraria Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips
  • Rating: Verified (Playable for TModLoader)
  • Suggested Modifications: Mapping Left Stick to WASD
  • Mod Support: Through the free TModLoader DLC and Steam Workshop

If you haven’t heard of it, Terraria is a 2D sandbox RPG with incredible bosses, fun progression, and a ton of content to dig through. When you get good at it, it almost feels like a roguelike where you can delve into caves, fish, fight a bullet hell boss, build houses for NPCs, and build a calculator.

Terraria Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

I’ll say it; this is hands down the best way to play Terraria on the go. The trackpads help it feel much more natural than on a standard controller, and you can play it like you’re using a mouse and keyboard; the only issue is you can’t move with the inventory open anymore, which can be remedied by mapping the left stick to WASD in the Steam controller settings.

The best part is that TModLoader works perfectly on it. You can download it as free DLC, run it, and download all your mods in-game; all of them work well and only cause frame drops if you add a ton of mods. Overall, Terraria is excellent, and I’ve sunk thousands of hours into it, and this is one of the best ways to play it.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
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Stardew Valley is a farming sim that brings more than just a boring simulator game might. It’s inspired by Harvest Moon and has fishing, foraging, mining, and combat on top of its enjoyable farming mechanics. On top of that, it runs on practically anything, including the Steam Deck, and man, is it fun on there.

Stardew Valley Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

First, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Stardew’s controller support isn’t great. Still, the best part of the Steam Deck is changing these inputs to keyboard and mouse instead, and using the trackpad for your mouse controls feels incredibly comfortable once you’ve mapped everything to your liking.

There are also a ton of mods for Stardew Valley, and the mod loader SMAPI has a tutorial meant for Steam Deck specifically. I’d recommend giving Stardew Valley Expanded a shot; it practically doubles the game’s content and is excellent to play in a portable fashion; you can’t get that anywhere else.

Slime Rancher 2

Slime Rancher 2 Valley Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
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To be clear, the original Slime Rancher works better, but I wanted to go with something that wasn’t on Switch for once, and also, It’s fun to keep up with the development of this game on a handheld. Slime Rancher is a great “farming” sim where you care for adorable and rowdy Slimes, explore an exciting world, and get into excellent automation.

Slime Rancher 2 Valley Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

As previously mentioned, Slime Rancher 2 is only really playable portably on a handheld PC, and wouldn’t you know, that’s what the Steam Deck is. The trackpads feel great for any FPS, and adding Gyro is unnecessary for a game as (generally) chill as Slime Rancher, but it still makes camera movement a bit smoother if you want it.

There are a few mods for Slime Rancher 2, and the mod loader works on Linux, but honestly, I’d recommend saving that experience until the game is finished. Since it’s still in early access and getting constantly updated, you can keep this on your Deck, relax, and enjoy the new content whenever there’s an update.

Minecraft

Minecraft Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
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  • Rating: Non-Steam game, but Verified in my heart
  • Suggested Modifications: Downloading and trying Community Layouts
  • Mod Support: Through Fabric and Forge, both available on the PolyMC launcher

I think there is no point in explaining it, Minecraft is the best-selling game in the world, and you’re familiar with it. Some would say it’s no longer an indie game since it started as a one-man project, and now it is owned by Microsoft. But, hey, you can play the Alpha and Beta versions on Steam Deck if you want.

Minecraft Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

While Minecraft is on literally every platform known to man, I honestly think that playing it on Steam Deck is the best experience I’ve had playing it on anything other than a keyboard and mouse.

It’s great once you find a community layout you like (I use one with a mouse controlled by the trackpad and Gryo on touch), and feels very natural. It’s surreal playing my childhood game portably and having it not suck.

The best part is that it’s the only way to comfortably play Java Edition portably, with all its benefits. I’d recommend launching it with PolyMC, which you can find on Discover in Desktop mode, as that gives you easy access to mods and makes things like playing Hypixel better when you have the best performance.

Celeste

Celeste Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
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Celeste is another game you’ve probably already heard of, but if you haven’t, it’s a challenging 2D platformer with a ton of content for a game that’s only about $20. There’s an incredibly told story about anxiety within it and an absolute ton of great visuals and stellar music; it’s one of the easiest indies to recommend to anyone.

Celeste Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

On Steam Deck, you get the back buttons compared to Switch, which means you can keep your thumb firmly pressed on the jump button and easily access the dash and climb buttons. It’s also got an actual D-Pad, and considering the Joy-Con and Pro-Controller D-Pads suck, this version already makes a better portable option than the Switch.

What enhances it is the unofficial but pretty easily achieved mod support. There are many mods for Celeste, and most are exciting and creative-level packs that sometimes feel like official DLC.

This is pretty easy to do by downloading the Linux version of Everest, linking it to your Celeste files, and then downloading the mods you want in its browser; I’d recommend the Strawberry Jam Collab.

A Hat in Time

A Hat in Time Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips
  • Rating: Verified
  • Suggested Modifications: Mapping the D-Pad to the back buttons for easier taunting and hat swapping
  • Mod Support: Officially through Steam Workshop

Hat in Time is a Gamecube-era-inspired 3D platformer that brings back much of the original charm and gameplay people loved about older 3D Mario titles. I think it’s one of the better 3D platformers out there. It’s got a Switch port, but it sucks, and if you’ve seen it struggling to run, you’ll be relieved by the Steam Deck’s performance.

A Hat in Time Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

This platforming collectathon might look visually less impressive than Mario Odyssey, but the switch struggles to keep a stable framerate with it, and it’s at the lowest settings possible. On Steam Deck, you can run with the defaults on medium settings and play this game with no issues.

Some of Hat in Time’s best features never left the PC, too, namely Online Party and Steam Workshop modding support.

There is a smorgasbord of mods for Hat in Time that turn it into a brand new game with hundreds of hours of content you could download and save on Deck, and Online Party is a fun platforming battle royale, highly recommended.

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips
  • Rating: Verified
  • Suggested Modifications: Mapping Dash and Map to the back buttons
  • Mod Support: Through the fanmade mod loader Scarab+

Undoubtedly one of the best indie Metroidvanias, Hollow Knight is a cult classic that prides itself on exploring a desolate but fascinating world. It contains some of the most insane platforming challenges and a massive amount of extremely tough combat encounters.

Hollow Knight Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

Even without utilizing the PC-exclusive things you can do, the Deck version of Hollow Knight just feels better than the Switch version.

Firstly the back buttons are extremely comfy places to map the dash and map, and the PC version has fewer frames of input delay than the Switch, making it feel way more responsive. Below is a comparison I recorded of the two.

This input delay might not seem like a big deal, considering it’s only 2-3 frames (more when the Switch is docked), but that makes a huge difference in places like the Path of Pain and Pantheon of Hallownest. Also, you can easily mod the game using Scarab+, which has a native Linux version, and doing Hollow Knight randomizers on the go is fantastic.

Neon White

Neon White Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips
  • Rating: Verified
  • Suggested Modifications: Adding Gyro if you’re into that
  • Mod Support: Kinda? There’s a Windows-only mod loader, but you probably don’t want any of the mods that badly

Neon White is an insane combination of genres that works way too well. It’s part shooter, part card game, and part platformer, and all of these things are always in sync, constantly pushing you to go fast and get your times lower and lower, and the fact it shows your friends’ times on every level lights a fire in my heart to speedrun.

Neon White Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

The reason it’s on this list is it just works so incredibly well on Steam Deck. On a typical controller, aiming is stiff and difficult, but you miss out on the analog movement on a keyboard and mouse. This version of Neon White gives a great compromise, with Gyro and the trackpad allowing me to beat all my friends who play on a keyboard and mouse.

There are not many features here you won’t find on Switch, there are mods for Neon White, but they’re few and far between, and the mod loader is Windows only, so I haven’t bothered trying to put that on Deck. Overall, this is the best way to play the game portably, especially if you want to compete for great times.

Risk of Rain 2

Risk of Rain 2 Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

Now onto another shooter with you doing much more than just shooting things. Risk of Rain 2 is a challenging game to describe to people who aren’t in the know about it. I usually introduce it as something along the lines of a Roguelike Metroid Prime with an enjoyable co-op and a ton of items you’ll find on each run you do.

Risk of Rain 2 Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

While this game is on plenty of platforms, it controls supremely well on Steam Deck, like Neon White, the Gyro controls and trackpad aiming will help you keep pace with your friends in co-op and help you tackle all the massive threats in front of you in singleplayer. Doing runs of roguelikes on a portable console is just fun, in general.

Unlike Neon White, there are also many mods for Risk of Rain 2, from adding Link from Breath of the Wild to ones that add tons of new items, locations, and enemies. If you want to fully customize the existing experience or get a brand new one in this game, mods are pretty straightforward, and there are several tutorials on how to do it on Deck.

Slay the Spire

Slay the Spire Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips
  • Rating: Verified
  • Suggested Modifications: Mapping mouse controls to the right trackpad
  • Mod Support: Yes, through Steam Workshop

If you want a challenging game that you can optimize forever and play for thousands of hours, Slay the Spire has your back. It’s a roguelike deck builder where you have to get a perfect deck of cards to take on all the tough fights and difficult bosses and maybe find some entertaining characters along the way.

Slay the Spire Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

I don’t like how this game works on a traditional controller, and thankfully, the Steam Deck has two options. Firstly, you can control it entirely with the touchscreen if you want, but the better way (in my opinion) is switching to a community layout that makes good use of the trackpad, feeling about as good as Keyboard and Mouse.

There’s also a built-in mod loader that works with Steam Workshop. These mods range from performance-enhancing ones you might want if you’re going to use a ton of mods, to some Quality of Life mods, to ones that add entire new campaigns, characters, and a ton of new cards and items and enemies to find.

Cassette Beasts

Cassette Beasts Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
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Ever wanted to play Pokemon, but Pokemon isn’t cutting it anymore after not innovating for the last ten years? Well, Cassette Beasts are just taking Pokemon, throwing out the outdated and not-so-great foundations, rebuilding it to be way more fun and engaging, and being a proper open-world adventure.

Cassette Beasts Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

This game is on Switch, but because it’s the Switch running a not too optimized game, it doesn’t look great. You can turn up most of the settings on Steam Deck and still get a smooth 60fps once the shader cache stuttering is over. It looks beautiful and plays fantastic out of the box, and there are plenty of ways to make it even better.

There are a few mods for Cassette Beasts that are easy to do with its native mod support. Since it’s a newer game, the mods are still rolling in quite slowly, but there are some nice things, like a Quality of Life mod that lets you fast-travel to campfires or others that add aesthetic changes.

Considering there’s a built-in Nuzlocke and Randomizer, you’ll always have something to play if you try this on Deck.

Rivals of Aether

Rivals of Aether Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips
  • Rating: Verified
  • Suggested Modifications: Not many; this game feels perfect on Deck with no changes
  • Mod Support: Yes, through Steam Workshop

Rivals of Aether is one of the easiest games to recommend if you’re a fan of Super Smash Brothers. Specifically, it’s geared toward Melee and is a super fast and fun platform fighter with exciting and engaging twists like not having shields or ledges, which (more or less) removes camping or boring strategies from the game.

Rivals of Aether Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

This game feels enjoyable and responsive on Steam Deck, and if you want to play online, most players are on the PC version because you can use Steam Workshop content. You can essentially play matches with people online with modded characters and stages, and man, is it fun.

There’s a massive modding community for Rivals; it’s my favorite part of the game. It’s like if Smash Ultimate had 500+ characters on an enormous amount of stages to pick from, and while not every single one is fun or balanced, characters like Kris from Deltarune, the Knight from Hollow Knight, and Goku are cool.

No Man’s Sky

No Man's Sky Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
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An extremely controversial game at launch, No Man’s Sky has become a sleeper hit with many free updates, making the game a pretty great time. It’s a space sim, crafting, and sandbox game with a procedurally generated solar system, multiplayer, fun missions, and about a million things you can do.

No Man's Sky Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

Given that the Switch version runs at the lowest possible settings and usually below 720p, and the Deck provides better controls with the trackpads working great as a mouse stand-in, this is the definitive way to enjoy No Man’s Sky portably. If you want to continue on your PC, the cloud saves work wonderfully.

You can even get mods on Steam Deck, which has a decently lengthy process but is pretty worth it for mods that add even more content and optimize the game further. I’d recommend messing with the performance settings on this game to either go low for 60fps or around medium settings for a locked 30fps.

Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

As mentioned in the introduction to this article, Outer Wilds is marked playable due to performance issues, but they’re not much worse than any current-gen game.

It’s a game I can’t say much about because not being spoiled on it is integral to the experience. Still, it’s an exploration-based puzzle game and a Metroidvania where you get information instead of items.

Outer Wilds Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

This is my favorite game of all time, you’ve been seeing the mousepad in every picture, and when they announced a Switch port, I was so happy because I’d be able to explore the Outer Wilds whenever I wanted.

Fast forward two and a half years later, and we’ve heard nothing about the port since, so it’s safe to assume the Steam Deck is the only way you’re playing this game on the go, and it runs alright.

I don’t think you need to make any controller modifications as the game is designed around a traditional controller (though you could add Gyro, I guess?) You do have to turn down most of the settings, and you can also mod the game to add more planets, do a randomizer, or recreate the Island Flyover part of Wii Sports Resort, which is funny.

Cookie Clicker Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips
  • Rating: Playable
  • Suggested Modifications: If you don’t want to auto-click, try mapping clicking to the thumbsticks
  • Mod Support: Yes, through Steam Workshop

Let’s finish this list off with an odd one. Cookie Clicker is a game you’ve almost certainly heard about at some point; it’s an idle game where the entire objective is clicking on cookies, but it has a surprisingly comedic, horrific, and frankly insane story going on almost entirely in the background, with an incredibly satisfying progression to boot.

Cookie Clicker Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck
Image by Monica Phillips

I recommend downloading this one to your Deck, just leaving it running for a while, occasionally checking in to buy upgrades, or manually clicking the cookie.

The default layout comes with a built-in auto clicker when you click in the right stick, but you can change the sticks to input as D-Pads with all the inputs left-clicking for max speed manual clicking.

There are quite a few mods for Cookie Clicker, but the game takes weeks to complete thoroughly, so I haven’t exactly run out of content and need more. Still, modding the game through Steam Workshop is straightforward, then having your Deck on the side while you work or do things on your computer, returning to a few quadrillion more cookies.

Discover the Enigmatic World of Hollow Knight | GOG

Immerse yourself in the hauntingly beautiful world of "Hollow Knight," where every step unveils secrets and challenges waiting to be conquered. With its captivating art style and intricate gameplay, embark on an epic journey filled with mystery, danger, and discovery unlike any other.

Check Price
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

FAQs

Question: Can the Steam Deck play every game on Steam?

Answer: No, but it can play a surprisingly massive amount of them, and support for more is on the way.

Question: Can I put Windows on the Steam Deck?

Answer: Yes, but you’d be surprised at how much better most games run in Linux; I’d recommend giving everything a shot before committing to Windows.

Question: Can I mod games on Steam Deck?

Answer: It depends on the game, but yes, most of the time. For Steam Workshop mods, absolutely. Anything else usually requires the mod loader to work on Linux or a complicated process for Windows mod loaders, or sometimes it doesn’t work.

Best Indie Games To Play On Steam Deck: Conclusion

The Steam Deck is an absolute beast at running some of the best indie games, usually looking better than they do on any other portable system and almost always playing better due to the numerous control options.

Mods are also a great benefit to have on the side, adding a lot to some games and letting you get even more hours in on your favorites.

I’ve used the Steam Deck an absolute ton in the half year I’ve owned it; it’s replaced my Switch entirely whenever there isn’t a new game that just came out. I love playing games like Outer Wilds or Neon White in bed or on my couch, where I can relax and enjoy all the best parts of PC games but not sit at a desk.

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