The 5 best indie games of 2022 you definitely didn’t play
There have been some absolutely excellent games leading the conversation through 2022 – looking at you, Fire Ring – from blockbusters to high-profile indie games. But the flip side is that, as always, many good experiences have simply fallen through the cracks.
I’ve spent the whole year compiling a huge list of amazing indie games that you should pay attention to, and while I don’t have time to go over all 250+ of them, here are five absolute top-tier games you should definitely not miss before you end the year that was 2022.
The Case of the Golden Idol
In a scenario of “it’s so simple I can’t believe this hasn’t been a mechanic in a game before”, The case of the Golden Idol is a brilliant mystery game that requires you to actually Think that about the information presented to you, combining gameplay with story at a deeply fundamental level.
Played out over a dozen scenarios, Golden Idol follows the mystery surrounding said idol with the help of a colorful aristocratic cast from the 18th century. Each scenario is a snapshot in time, surrounding an often gruesome murder. It’s up to you to observe the scene, uncover the identity and motivation of each character, and then piece together the truth behind what actually happened.
Clicking around gives you a list of words – names, objects, emotions and such – which you then have to place in your handy notebook against clues, signs and statements to decipher exactly what’s going on. It’s an excellent system as it really makes you consider how each of the pieces of this puzzle actually fit together.
And if for some reason all that compelling detective work wasn’t enough, the story woven here is exceptional. It’s amazing how invested you become in these characters, and how even though the images you’re looking at are functionally static, the mysteries and revelations are made all the more gripping by your deductive expertise. It’s like—and I know this seems like it doesn’t make sense, but when you play it for yourself, you’ll understand—reading a great mystery novel that you’re also writing yourself in real time.
At first the art can seem a bit gaudy, but after a while the charm shines through – especially in some wonderful facial expressions. For fans of Return of the Obra Dinnthis game is an absolute must-play.
Betrayal at Club Low
I’ve been a big fan of Cosmo D’s work since I fell in love with the surrealists concerned with capitalism and humanity in Tales from the Off-Peak City. But where previous games have been a vessel for vibes and narrative, Betrayal at Club Low is more mechanically focused, drawing on recent hits such as Disco Elysium for inspiration.
Centered around a singular building, Club Low leaning into a wide space of opportunity in a focused place, across a narrow through line in a wider society. Using a dice-based structure for each action taken, a handful of different skills will determine your path through the club and to your goal – often with hilarious and/or thought-provoking results.
For example, first you have to actually get in. There is a bouncer at the front door, but he doesn’t like people pushing in line. If you want, you can challenge him to a fist fight using your Physique if you happen to be buff. Or you can weave your way through the line somehow—perhaps you can be deceptive and sneak past those waiting, or use your wisdom to confuse the crowd with a timeless parable, distracting them and letting you slide on. These interactions pass/fail with dice rolls, and each stat determines your chance of success. Me? I snuck around to the side door and convinced the guard dozing there to let me in by being a witty cheeseball.
Club Low is like an unfolding puzzle box that encourages multiple playthroughs with different styles and stats to find out more about exactly what’s going on here, with 11 different endings possible. This is truly a wonderful tabletop-esque time, and I look forward to seeing how Cosmo D continues to expand this mechanical exploration with their games going forward.
Deadeye Deepfake Simulacrum
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: you’re given an objective like “get the macguffin” – but the cool thing is that you can approach the mission however you want. There have been so many times I’ve read that line where my mind has exploded with possibilities, only to be let down by the realities and limitations of game design that crush my wildest dreams. At least until I played Deadeye Deepfake Simulacrum.
Thanks in part to the more simplistic – but incredibly readable and surprisingly sleek – graphic style, the opportunity space in DDS is incredibly wide. Set in a cyberpunk dystopia, you are graciously given the opportunity to pay off an ever-increasing debt from a megacorporation by engaging in shady corporate espionage. Who you are and how you complete said mission is entirely up to you. Sure, you can take up arms, but that’s about it so many other fun toys to play with.
You can hack approx anything – cameras, turrets, doors, people, their weapons, individual bullets, the fridge, you name it. You can become invisible, or teleport. Hell, you can become a necromancer and raise the dead if you want. True transparency is at your fingertips.
All of this is laid out in a delightful lo-fi aesthetic that extends past the simplistic graphics and seeps into the music, the endless rain, the chat logs with your handler. Best of all, even though it’s in early access, it’s incredibly polished, already playable from start to finish and have a free demo. The early access is pretty easy for the (solo!) developer to add more page content, more fun tools and skills – more of just about everything. This game might legitimately be the best immersive sim on the market right now.
Yes, it’s that good.
Calls Taichi ‘2D The witness‘ is reductive, but it’s also the strongest point of contact for what to expect when you dive into this East Asian-inspired puzzle game.
You have your open world with tailor-made puzzles about the place. There are no words, just puzzles that you have to solve to understand the rules of the puzzles, to solve more puzzles. The mechanics behind these challenges are at once incredibly simple and deceptively deep. They seep into the environment in incredibly clever ways.
A bit like Baba is youyou can sit there and stare at the screen in Taichi don’t do a single thing for 15 minutes, swear up and down that this puzzle is impossible, when suddenly something clicks, you realize the puzzle is so incredibly easy and you’re a bloody genius.
It’s like learning a whole new language. At first, everything presented in front of you looks completely incomprehensible, but as you begin to work through what you already know and begin to push out the edges of what you have not yet learned, you begin to see a whole new world that lies open to you feet.
Grid Slayer is a game that does a lot with very little. Simple grid maps with basic card representations of characters pave the way for a deck-building rogue-like experience that combines the best of Slay The Spire’s deck building progression, Into The Breach’s foresight and Divinity Original Sin’s battlefield interactivity. Also, it rocks.
Playing as a single unit that you quickly build into an absolute powerhouse, each map challenges you with a growing army of enemy combatants, all looking to see you buried in the ground. At first, the myriad of mechanics—health, movement, armor, draw capacity, card abilities, action timing, and more—can seem a little overwhelming, but a great tutorial takes you through everything with minimal fuss and just shows you how interconnected they all are these different parts come together, and create an overwhelmingly fun whole.
The map interactivity is what promises Grid Slayer to the next level. Let’s say you have an arrow attack card that deals lightning damage. There are 3 enemy goblins bearing down on you, but between them sits a barrel full of water. If you can find a way to smash that barrel, it will spill water everywhere and soak the goblins – opening up an opportunity to paralyze them all with a single arrow shot.
There has been one a lot of grid-based tactics games out this year, but something about Grid Slayer sticks in my mind as easily one of the best. The possibility of space and building potential is wild, and the progression with increasingly difficult handicaps balances out a convincing experience.
For more on the best games of 2022, explore the rest of our Game of the Year coverage:
Stay tuned for more curated lists, featuring special guests from the gaming industry.