IGC’s Best Indie Games of 2023 – As Voted By You

It’s been one hell of a year for indie games. We have seen so many unique and wonderful titles step up to the plate and hit home runs, which has meant that we, as gamers, have had to cram so many gaming experiences into the limited hours available.

If you didn’t manage to play every single standout indie this year, don’t beat yourself up; you’re only human. However, as we are now in the month of December.

The time of year when the gaming industry takes a little holiday, and releases slow down considerably, this is the perfect time to catch up on The Best Indie Games of 2023. 

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.

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As you might know, we hosted a vote where IGC fans could vote for their favorite indie game across a whopping seventeen categories, and we revealed them all on stream, which now exists as a podcast, so be sure to check that out. 

But, for those that want to read all about it in article form, and want to know more about the games that you guys selected as your winners, then stick around. This is Indie Game Culture’s list of The Best Indie Games of 2023, as voted by you! 

Best Game Direction – Sea of Stars

Sea of Stars for Nintendo Switch - Nintendo Official Site

A prize awarded to the game that took the biggest swing in terms of gaming design in 2023, and had that swing pay off:

Runner-up: COCOON

Your Winner for Best Game Direction was Sabotage Studio’s wonderful JRPG masterclass, Sea of Stars. Get used to reading that name, by the way. 

From a directional standpoint, it’s very hard to fault this game, as each aspect of the game comes together beautifully to create a polished and endlessly engrossing RPG, and that is in no small part down to the design and personnel choices made by the developer.

Thanks to the games self-funding Sabotage were free to do things their way, and didn’t they just. The game’s art style is nostalgic get modern, with some of the finest lighting you’ll see in a game like this. 

The game’s narrative is a joy to behold. The soundtrack is a blend of metal-inspired tracks found in The Messenger, mixed with Chrono-Trigger-inspired chiptune symphonies, and overall, Sea of Stars as a product does practically nothing wrong.

It’s a product of love and passion, and that rings true from start to end. So we think this is a very worthy winner indeed. 

Best Narrative – Sea of Stars

Sea of Stars review – like a lost, late classic of the Super Nintendo era |  Games | The Guardian

A prize awarded to the game that offered the most cohesive, gripping, and brilliant narrative in 2023:

Runner Up: Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals 

That’s two for two, with Sea of Stars picking up the award for Best Narrative, and again, it’s very hard to have any complaints as the story within this JRPG epic is wonderful. 

I’ve mentioned before that Sea of Stars may not go out of its way to push the envelope in terms of narrative, sticking quite close to the tropes of 1990’s JRPG classics where through the power of friendship, you kill god. It may be a cliche, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! 

The game offers over 35 hours of main quest content, which is staggering for any indie game, let alone one that never dips in quality throughout the entire run.

The world is fully realized with so many fun attractions and locales to explore, and the characters you meet along the way are delightful. The mere mention of Garl alone should be justification enough to win this category, for crying out loud. He’s a certified gaming treasure, and we love him. 

It’s a game that knows what it wants to be, and executes this vision flawlessly, and the narrative plays a starring role in this. So again, a worthy winner. 

Best Game Art – COCOON

Cocoon review - prepare to be astonished | Eurogamer.net

A prize awarded to the game that offered the most eye-catching art style and overall presentation in 2023

Runner-up: Bramble: The Mountain King

We now have another game that you’ll become rather familiar with by the time you’re done reading. COOCON is Annapurna’s latest foray into the world of Puzzle games, and unlike those that have come before, this one actually stands out as perhaps one of the best puzzle games ever made. 

COOCON offers an experience that isn’t a million miles removed from the Movie Inception, where players will use different colored orbs to flit between different worlds and use assets within each to access new areas, solve environmental puzzles, and generally progress by using a blend of trial and error, and intense braininess. 

However, for many, it was the overall presentation of COCOON that stood out most, with incredible animations that made the world feel so alive, bright, vibrant worlds to explore, and a surreal, otherworldliness to the core themes and art direction. And yes, everything did somewhat resemble a vagina, but we can get behind that too. Viva La Vulva. 

That weird tangent aside, COCOON is a strikingly good-looking game, and it makes exploring the world just as phenomenal as solving the puzzles within. 

Best Game Audio – Bomb Rush Cyberfunk

Bomb Rush Cyberfunk' Review: Too Off-Kilter for School

A prize awarded to the game that offered the best overall score, game audio, or voice-acting performances in 2023

This was easily the tightest category where your votes were concerned, but your choice for best overall audio was none other than the Jet Set Radio spiritual successor, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk.

For me, this was a very fun and nostalgic trip back in time to the early 2000s, and the game offered fun, fluid gameplay that, while slick and satisfying, didn’t set the world ablaze.

However, one thing that did stand out about this game was the carefully curated soundtrack offering a blend of chill lo-fi beats, some hi-tempo hip-hop, and a whole bucketload of EDM. 

Cards on the table, if this genre of music isn’t your thing, or perhaps you weren’t around in the 2000s to really appreciate this genre’s heyday, this soundtrack may be a hard sell. However, for the target market for this game, it’s a perfect accompaniment to this urban extreme sports romp. Also, my favorite track is Condensed Milk by Cyber Milk Chan, just in case you were wondering. 

Games For Impact – Venba 

Venba

For a thought-provoking game with a pro-social meaning or message

Runner-Up: Terra Nil

It may not be the longest game, and there may not actually be a lot of out-and-out gameplay. But perhaps that goes to show just how profound and special Venba is, as you voted it as your Game For Impact in 2023. 

Venba is a game that, even if you don’t come from a family of immigrants, or have any South Asian heritage, you can still relate to from the outside looking in, and I say that as a straight white man who has seen no real hardship.

It’s a window into the lives of others and allows us to see the quiet struggles that immigrants will have with their chosen identity, respecting their roots, and acclimatizing to a foreign culture. 

Creating a moving game such as this is a tough balance, but Venba represents it in a cozy and compact way with plenty of highs and lows packed into its 1-2 hour runtime. While still offering fun food-based mini-games throughout. It’s over before you know it, so savor every bite. 

Best Early Access Game – Valheim

Valheim is serious: 1,00,000 units sold in its early access - Video Games  Guides, News, Reviews, Gameplay, Latest Updates

A prize awarded to the game that offers the best overall experience while still in early access:

Runner-Up: Core Keeper

While I would argue that Valheim got its flowers in 2022, it seems that enough of you have kept playing this early-access survival hit to ensure it wins the Best Early Access game one year on from its viral success. 

Valheim is a title that continues to grow both in terms of content on offer, and in terms of quality, providing a Nordic survival experience like no other, which allows you to be the best Viking you can possibly be.

It’s a multifaceted title where the in-game campaign and story offers a steady progression and challenge, allowing players to get their bearings in the hostile world, and go toe-to-toe with brutish monsters of the realm. 

However, even setting the main quest obligations to one side, the game also offers a wonderful co-op sandbox experience, which can be used as a virtual playground for those willing to brave the wilds of Valheim.

It’s a game that only continues to improve with more time in the oven, and I can only imagine that this coming year will be more of the same. 

Best RPG – Sea of Stars

Sea of Stars review - a traditional RPG with modern wit | TechRadar

A prize awarded to the best Role-Playing Game released in 2023:

Runner-Up: Lies of P 

It will be no shock to anyone that Sea of Stars has managed to trump a handful of very competent indie RPGs this year to win its third IGC award. 

Speaking purely from an RPG perspective, this time, Sea of Stars is a much more boiled-down JRPG when compared to some of its 1990 inspirations like Final Fantasy or Secrets of Mana, but don’t misunderstand, as this works in the game’s favor.

The game does away with intricate party management, limit breaks, and intense strategy to offer a game that is just challenging enough to feel satisfying without ever asking the player to grind or feel uncomfortable to succeed. 

It means the game is paced beautifully; the player never has to go off the beaten track unless they want to, and it allows the game to focus on making turn-based combat more interactive and tactile. If you’ve volleyed Moonarnags 25 times in a row successfully you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

In short, it’s an RPG where struggle and strife are traded for catharsis and fluidity, which is a brilliant trade-off as far as I’m concerned, making Sea of Stars our clear RPG of the year. 

Best Horror – Dredge

Dredge Review: The Best Game Of 2023 So Far – The Indie Informer

A prize awarded to the best Horror or Survival Horror title released in 2023:

Runner up: Amnesia: The Bunker

Indie Horror in 2023 has been quite an interesting sub-genre to follow, as there have been a lot of games that have moved away from out-and-out horror, aiming to be Horror, plus something else, and this is showcased beautifully through Dredge, a cozy fishing resource management game steeped in Eldritch Horror. 

Dredge starts off on an ominous note where the player will be hired as the Marrow’s town fisherman, and you’ll have to head out to sea to catch and sell fish in order to repay your debt and repair your boat.

But before you know it, you’ll be out after dark on the water, and the perils of the deep will come to the surface to show you just how terrifying this game can be. 

Whether it’s Kraken-like monsters ripping your hull to pieces, or a sole foghorn replying to yours through the black of night, Dredge has plenty of chilling moments to punctuate the otherwise cozy and addictive fishing experience.

Plus, you get to play as a boat, which gives me a little nostalgic reminder of Overboard on the PS1. If you know, you know. 

Dredge may lose its spooky appeal as you become accustomed to the game’s underhanded tricks, but for the first few hours on the water alone, Dregde deserves to win Best Horror in 2023. 

Best Puzzle Game – COCOON

Cocoon review: an impossibly good puzzle game that you need to play -  Polygon

A prize awarded to the best puzzle game released in 2023:

Runner-Up: The Talos Principle 2 

As you might have guessed, COCOON has managed to pick up the coveted Best Puzzle award for 2023, beating out stiff competition in the form of The Talos Principle 2 and Chants of Sennaar. 

As much as those two games are phenomenal in their own right, COCOON stands head and shoulders above each of them, and it’s simply because, as a puzzle concept, COOCON is something that we have truly never seen before, and it’s not just a fun concept roughly explored like Viewfinder for example. It’s a game that offers the most polished and refined version of its overall vision imaginable. 

It’s a game that truly made me think when playing, this is probably the most innovative and fluid-feeling puzzle game since Portal, and that’s high praise. It may start slow, and the game may be a little on the easy side for the first hour, but after all systems are explained and tutorialized, the title really steps things up, and raises the bar time and time again to get your synapses firing. 

Not to mention that even boss battles in COOCON were handled expertly, serving as puzzles to be solved in their own right, with an added bit of action to spice things up. In short, COCOON is a seminal puzzle game that not only stands as the best of 2023, but is undoubtedly one of the best Puzzle games of all time. 

Best Action/Adventure – Hi-Fi Rush

Review : Hi-Fi RUSH : What A Surprise : Seasoned Gaming

A Prize awarded to the best Action or Action Adventure game released in 2023:

Runner-Up: Planet of Lana 

We were a little hesitant to put a Bethesda-backed game in as an option on an Indie Award Show, but due to the indie-feel of Hi-fi-Rush, we can probably make the argument that this just slips in as an AA game, and you seemed to agree voting it as your number one. 

Hi-Fi Rush is a game that took notes from games like Crypt of the Necrodancer, and Metal: Hellsinger, and decided to create an action game where all combat is performed to the beat.

This sounds like a tough thing to make fun and fluid, but to this game’s credit, it does a phenomenal job, allowing players to feel like everything they do in this vibrant cartoon world has a rhythm to it. 

Not only that, but Hi-Fi Rush also looks stellar, offers a fun, humorous, and upbeat narrative, and, as you would expect, has a wonderful soundtrack that you can tap your foot to as you open up a can of whoop-ass on your enemies. 

It’s a game that asks you to be one with the world and feel the beat within you to succeed, and this novel approach to game design sees this one stand out from the pack, winning Best Action by a landslide. 

Best Platformer – Pizza Tower

Pizza Tower Part 2 - YouTube

A prize awarded to the best Platformer, Metroidvania, or puzzle platformer in 2023:

Runner-Up: Jusant 

Do you miss when Warioland Games were a thing? Do you miss when cartoons were truly in their pomp? Well, then, you just might get a kick out of our winner for Best Platformer Pizza Tower. 

Narrowly beating out meditative mountain climber Jusant, Pizza Tower is a game that plays very similarly to Warioland in a lot of ways, asking players to focus on moving at speed and reacting fast with the environment around them to generate huge high scores.

You’ll be moving so fast that everything will seem like a bit of a blur, not unlike old 2D Sonic adventures, and you’ll also have a pumping chiptune soundtrack to bop along to as well. 

The end goal is to save your restaurant from closing down for good, so you’ll need to master each stage of The Pizza Tower and climb to the top as fast and as frantically as possible, with style points added for destroying literally anything in your way. 

It’s a platformer for those that thrive amongst chaos. If that sounds like you, then I’m sure you’ll agree that Pizza Tower is a worthy winner. 

Best Cozy Game – Dave The Diver

DAVE THE DIVER | Official Launch Trailer - YouTube

A prize awarded to the best game that finds itself in the category of Cozy Gaming:

Runner-Up: Moonstone Island 

We have seen a number of games that have tried to marry together resource management and Restaurant Management this year, with the recent release Cuisineer springing to mind, but there can be no doubt that the best game that does this, and indeed, the best cozy game overall this year, was Dave the Diver. 

Dave The Diver is a game that rose to prominence out of the blue in March 2023, and, since then, has gone on to become an indie darling, allowing players to enjoy a vast array of silly mini-games, dive deep into the ocean to catch a cavalcade of cool-looking sea critters, and allows players to serve them up as seafood platters in your Restuarant when you take off the wetsuit and slip on your Fedora. 

The day-to-day gameplay loop is super addictive, but there are so many outlandish mini-games packed into this cozy outing that the game constantly throws bucketloads of varied activities at you, meaning the 15-20-hour run never feels stale.  

Provided you can look past the argument that this game is perhaps not an indie game due to its ties to Nexon, then we reckon you’ll agree that this one is a super game, and a worthy cozy champion for 2023. 

Best Multiplayer – Party Animals 

Party Animals Controls Explained - GINX TV

A prize awarded to the best game that offers online multiplayer or couch co-op multiplayer in 2023:

Runner-Up: Vampire Survivors

While it’s a category where I have no dog in the fight as I gravitate towards single-player games, even I can appreciate the great options this year, and of those, your winner was Party Animals. 

This is a game that takes a lot of notes from games like Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout and Gang Beasts, offering no-holds-barred wrestling matches in different arenas where the goal tends to be pretty simple. Stay alive and stay on screen, with the last cute animal standing, earning the win. 

You can choose to be a conservative little Corgi and try to survive by giving everyone a wide berth, or you can be a complete agent of chaos and use everything in the scene to pulverize your peers. 

In short, it’s pure unadulterated fun, it’s unfiltered chaos, and it’s a great multiplayer experience, acting as the highlight of 2023 for co-op fans. 

Most Anticipated – Hollow Knight: Silksong

Hollow Knight: Silksong | Nintendo Switch download software | Games |  Nintendo

A Prize awarded to the game we are most looking forward to playing in 2024

Runner Up: Hades 2 (Early Access)

Realistically, we knew that there would only be two games fighting for the top spot in the Most Anticipated category, and it proved that way with Hades 2 eventually narrowly losing out to Hollow Knight, Silksong. 

It seems like every showcase, award show, or announcement that comes along is going to be the moment that we finally get a concrete release date for the much anticipated Hollow Knight Sequel, but at this moment, we are still in the dark. But that doesn’t mean that fans of Team Cherry’s work don’t live in hope, and it seems most of you believe that 2024 will be the year of Silksong. 

From very limited info and footage of this upcoming Metroidvania, we already know that this sequel having us play as Hornet will be a spectacle to behold, and even if it can match the quality of its predecessor, that will be pretty damn impressive, as the original Hollow Knight is certified Indie royalty. 

Until then, we say hop back into Hollowsnest and prepare to explore a new land ruled by Silk and Song very soon. 

Best Debut Game – COCOON

COCOON (@PlayCocoon) / X

A prize awarded to the best game produced this year that also happened to be the developer’s debut title:

Runners-Up: Dredge/Pizza Tower

It’s pretty hard to believe that COCOON, the game we have already claimed to be one of the best puzzle games ever made, was the first ever game developed by new studio Geometric Interactive.

Amongst an army of very well-produced and well-rounded indies this year, COCOON stands out for its level of polish, almost offering a cohesive experience that could rival a AAA company doing the same thing.

But when you know the background of the team and their pedigree, you begin to understand just how this has come to be. 

Geometric is a studio founded by former PLAYDEAD employees Jeppe Carlsen and Jakob Schmid, who played key roles in games like LIMBO and INSIDE. Hence the game being ‘COCOON’ in all caps to pay homage to their developmental journey. 

PLAYDEAD has always been known for creating a 2D Platformer sub-genre of their own that only a select few developers have been able to replicate, and I reckon in a few years, we will be saying the same about COCOON and, indeed, Geometric Interactive. 

So it may not have been Jeppe and Jakob’s first rodeo, but to absolutely nail it in a brand new genre and create a team capable of doing so is very impressive, and more than deserving of our Best Debut spot. 

Worst Game of the Year – Death or Treat

Death or Treat | GamePlay PC - YouTube

A wooden spoon award is given to the game that offers the worst overall gaming experience of 2023:

Runner Up: Fall of Porcupine

Seeing as I personally reviewed this one, and the eventual runner-up, Fall of Porcupine, I feel very vindicated here. 

What can I say about this game that I haven’t already said with a mouthful of venom in my review? Well, let me sum it up. From a gameplay perspective, It’s a procedurally generated game that isn’t actually procedural at all.

It’s a roguelike that loves wasting the player’s time, doesn’t change from run to run, and doesn’t reward the player anywhere near enough to make the process enjoyable.

Then from a design standpoint, it’s a Halloween-themed game that was released in March; it has this awkward Social Media theme tying the story together that feels cringy and weird; the game is filled with bugs, repeated assets, and broken in-game weapons. Oh, and plenty of rookie errors that just scream lazy, which still haven’t been fixed to this day. 

The only saving grace is that the game has a fun and surprisingly competent animation style, but that only serves to trick the player into playing this game in the first place, before subjecting them to hours of slow-paced, unrewarding garbage. 

Do yourself a favor, don’t play this game. 

Game of the Year – Sea of Stars

Sea of Stars on X:

The coveted game of the year award, given to the game that offers the overall best gaming experience of 2023:

Runner-Up: COCOON

Speaking of vindication, in my entire career, I have only ever given one perfect ten out of ten, and it gives me a warm feeling deep inside that Sea of Stars, the very game that earned that accolade won this year’s Indie Game of the Year. 

At the risk of repeating myself, Sea of Stars is the ultimate balance of modern game design and RPG nostalgia, offering a core experience that takes a little from all the marquee JRPGS of the golden era, but then does enough to set itself apart and find it’s own voice in this competitive genre. 

With the immediate comparisons to Chrono Trigger, and the focus on retro-visuals, many could have written this off as a mere love letter to a relic of gaming past. But it’s so much more. 

It’s a profound and unique JRPG story, it’s a visual and auditory masterclass, it’s a perfectly paced and wonderfully satisfying gameplay experience, and above all, it’s a game that will regularly have you grinning from ear to ear.

It’s rare that a game, even if it wins the top prize for the year, comes into my life, and I know that I’ll never forget the experience it offers. But I know that Sea of Stars is a game that will be calling one of my favorite games of all time, and if that doesn’t make it Game of the Year material, I don’t know what does. 

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.

Thanks For Voting, Everyone!

So there you are, guys, a rundown of all the best Indie games of the year, as voted by you. As we mentioned at the top of the article, if you want to know more about JT, Melika, and my personal picks, then be sure to tune into the Indie Game Culture Podcast. But until next year, I suppose this is goodbye.

Have an incredible rest of the year, stay tuned to IGC for more awesome Indie content, and get ready for an incredible 2024. 

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