The Best Indie Games of 2019

A closer look at 10 memorable indies, and the IndieObscura pick for Game of the Year.
December 13, 2019 11:15 AM by Morgan Shaver

It was an amazing year for indie games from Cadence of Hyrule’s surprise announcement at Nintendo’s E3 presentation to Untitled Goose Game becoming one of 2019’s best memes. I feel like I enjoyed every single indie I played this year, and I’m not just saying that because of personal bias.

Indie developers came ready to knock it out of the park this year, and in that, they most definitely succeeded. Trimming my “Best of 2019” list down to 10 titles was extremely difficult and took me a great deal more time than I anticipated. Originally, I had 20 games on this list, I’m not even kidding.

I can’t imagine what would happen if I were to create a “Best of the Decade” list. Chaos, probably. Hats off to anyone who does create one though, you have way more self-discipline than I do.

Rambling aside, let’s get to the good stuff. After all, you’re here for a quick scan – a little peek-a-roo – at IndieObscura’s top picks to see how they compare to your own. Right? I see you, and I totally understand. Without further ado… here are the best indie games of 2019!

The Best Indie Games of 2019

Katana ZERO will rewind you back into the 80s.
© Askiisoft

10. Katana ZERO

Katana ZERO is a game that oozes 80s aesthetic. It’s moody, full of action, and most importantly, a polished experience from start to finish. One of the things I enjoyed most about Katana ZERO is how the game rewinds when you die. Do you remember rewinding tapes before returning them to Blockbuster? No, just me?

It was always fun to hear the tape spin and marvel at the speed. The respawn mechanic in Katana ZERO feels a lot like that – rewinding a VHS tape – but instantaneous. It’s incredibly satisfying, and encourages you to jump back in and try again.

Another thing worth highlighting about Katana ZERO is how fast and fluid it is. You can slice, you can dice, and as long as you strategize correctly, you can rush through at your own frenzied pace.

9. Gato Roboto

What could be better than a "Metroidvania" game featuring an adorable cat? 
© doinksoft

Gato Roboto is more than cute kitties and retro vibes, it’s a damn good “Metroidvania” style game. Stripped of flashy graphics, Gato Roboto cuts through the noise and gets straight down to gameplay. It’s a difficult game, but for many gamers (myself included), the challenge is worth it.

Surviving an area where you’ve died multiple times feels more satisfying than breezing through something without any pushback. In the game, you play as a ferocious feline named KiKi. Armed with a mech suit, you’re ready to take on any alien threats you may encounter.

Gato Roboto shows that less is sometimes more, and it’s a game you won’t be able to pull yourself away from once you start playing. It feels like going back in time to when you used to play games like Metroid… except this one has a really cute cat. I award bonus points for cats.

8. My Friend Pedro

My Friend Pedro is like a violent ballet, one with a banana companion thrown in for free.
© DeadToast Entertainment

My Friend Pedro is a wild ride from start to finish. In the game, you play as a mysterious killer who shoots his way through foes at the encouragement of his banana pal, Pedro. Unlike your average shooter, My Friend Pedro challenges you to think carefully rather than bullet spam.

Described as a violent ballet, you’ll twist and turn, flip and jump, through levels that are presented to you honestly and openly. There are no secrets outside of what you’ll do to make it through to the next area. My Friend Pedro is harder than it looks, as I learned first-hand during my time with the game. You’re forced to think critically and strategically about everything you do.

Yes, you can try and speed your way through to the end, but mastering the mechanics and twirling like a madman feels way more satisfying. Trust me when I say, this sh- is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

7. Baba Is You

Baba Is You, and Baba Is Good.
© Arvi Teikari

Puzzle games can be hit or miss. If it’s too easy, you lose interest. If it’s too hard, you won’t want to stick with it. Games like Baba Is You excel because they’re able to find the perfect balance between approachable and challenging.

Similar to Gato Roboto, Baba Is You presents itself as a stripped-down romp through simple, pixelated worlds. Don’t let its appearance fool you, though. Underneath its mellow aesthetic you’ll find engrossing, open-ended puzzles.

There’s a lot of depth to Baba Is You as it places the solutions to each puzzle directly in your hands and asks, “So, what are you going to do now?” You can manipulate blocks to change the game itself, or use things you pick up in creative new ways.

It may take some time to finish, but what’s nice is how often you’ll surprise yourself as you come up with solutions out of the blue that had previously eluded you. As a whole, Baba Is You is by far one of the best puzzlers of 2019, indie or otherwise. 

6. Outer Wilds

Explore the vast realms of space in the Outer Wilds. 
© Mobius Digital

I feel like Outer Wilds got overlooked in part because its name is so similar to another “Best of 2019” game, The Outer Worlds. Of course, we’re not here to talk about AAA games, we’re here to talk about indies. I’ve played a lot of space adventures (No Man’s Sky, Starbound) and I can genuinely say the Outer Wilds feels different than the rest.

It doesn’t lean too heavily on games that came before it in terms of how you play. Instead, it gives you the basic premise, and then just lets you go off and explore. Whatever planet you see, you can land on and investigate. Each and every planet feels distinct and offers things for you to do and interact with, which is always nice for a game with heavy emphasis on exploration.

If you have dreams of journeying through space, the Outer Wilds offers everything you could ever hope for and more. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever played, I guarantee it.

5. Afterparty

Can YOU outdrink Satan? 
© Night School Studios

Get drunk, do crimes. As a fan of dark, sometimes edgy humor I found myself immediately captivated by the seedy underbelly of Hell presented in Afterparty. I want to say it reminded me of Monkeybone, that notoriously bad film starring Brendan Fraser, although I don’t want to give the impression that the game itself is bad because it’s not. The game is amazing.

It’s just that there’s an aura of outlandish comedy to the situations you find yourself in right down to the very concept of a game where you have to outhink and outdrink Satan himself in order to escape Hell and return to Earth. I guess it also reminds me a little bit of that final Beezleboss battle in The Pick of Destiny where Jack Black’s character barters his friend’s… nevermind.

Look, if you love that kind of humor (setting, premise) then you’ll love Afterparty. It’s not just the gameplay that’s fun, the characters you meet are all wonderfully well-written. Who knows, you may make a few friends and never want to leave Hell. In Afterparty that is, I don’t know about other versions of Hell.

4. Cadence of Hyrule

Cadence of Hyrule offers the perfect blend between The Legend of Zelda and Crypt of the NecroDancer.
© Brace Yourself Games

Cadence of Hyrule is more than its bumping soundtrack and cute Legend of Zelda ties, it’s an amazing follow-up to Crypt of the NecroDancer. I remember being hopelessly addicted to Crypt of the NecroDancer when it first released in 2015 and nothing has really changed. I still check in and play Crypt of the NecroDancer from time to time, and enjoy it just as much now as I did back then. 

As you can imagine, I was thrilled that the same gameplay from Crypt of the NecroDancer was incorporated into Cadence of Hyrule. Furthermore, Brace Yourself Games stepped things up by adding more area puzzles and a full map based around the Legend of Zelda. Because of this, it's very much its own standalone game. 

If you've yet to play Cadence of Hyrule and love The Legend of Zelda, you owe it to yourself to experience this one for yourself. And, given its success, gamers may see Cadence drop into other games in a similar fashion in the future. Can we get a Cadence and Pokemon crossover, please? I need Cadence of Kanto. 

3. Untitled Goose Game

Honk, honk, honk.
© House House

Who would have thought that a game about a rogue goose would be one of the most talked about games of 2019? In a way, it feels fitting that people would want something lighthearted to brighten up their social media timelines, even if only for a brief moment.

What could be better than sharing the antics of a cartoon goose hellbent on trapping you inside of a phone booth? Nothing, that’s what.

Charm aside, the gameplay in Untitled Goose Game is wonderfully open-ended, letting you take your time and explore rather than pressuring you into completing objectives. At some point, you will need to complete your checklist in order to advance to the next area, but you’re always free to harass the locals as much as you like.

It’s nearly impossible to play Untitled Goose Game without smiling, and it’s a game the whole family can enjoy. You won’t have to turn off your Switch when your toddler comes shuffling into the room, eager to see what you’re up to. If anything, the little one will probably be as enamored with the silly goose as you are. For all this and more, I give Untitled Goose Game 10 rebellious honks out of 10.

2. Sayonara Wild Hearts

Wild Hearts Never Die.
© Simogo

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a brief game, but one that’s full of passion and attention to detail. Playing Sayonara Wild Hearts isn’t just like experiencing an album of music from start to finish, it’s a journey that you take with the characters, and within yourself. The game is about empowerment, chasing down your destiny, and navigating around obstacles with grace.

The visuals perfectly complement the backing music with each section connecting together seamlessly. You never feel pulled out of the experience even as it ramps up as you’re continuously encouraged to push yourself forward to the end. Sayonara Wild Hearts is truly a beautiful game, and it touched my emotions in a way that genuinely surprised me. It’s truly a work of art, especially tracks like Wild Hearts Never Die.

1. Disco Elysium

The IndieObscura pick for Game of the Year is none other than Disco Elysium!

Picking a “Game of the Year” was harder than I expected it to be. In a way, you could say that any and all of the games included in this list are Game of the Year material. However, of these games, only one stood out to me as having the potential to make a real, lasting impact on the indie scene as a whole… Disco Elysium.

It may sound lame to say, but Disco Elysium is a game that made me “woah” harder than seeing Keanu Reeves at Microsoft’s E3 event. It’s just that innovative. The sheer technical scale of the game is something to be celebrated, especially coming from a small indie studio like ZA/UM.

In Disco Elysium, you’re free to do whatever you like. You can follow the path as it’s laid out for you, or you can carve your own path. It takes the “role-playing” element of an RPG to a whole other level. Of the game’s many strengths, I’d argue that its dialogue options are my favorite.

You can hold interesting conversations with everyone you meet, and you’re free to be a complete ass if you choose to be. That said, there are consequences to everything you do, encouraging multiple playthroughs. Disco Elysium is art in its purest form in how it makes you feel like you’re a member of a real city, even though Revachol isn’t real. Or is it? It’s that convincing.

Diving into the game is like uncorking a bottle of fine wine, or sitting down to an expensive meal. It’s mature, thoughtful, and decadent, and I honestly couldn’t imagine a game more deserving of “Game of the Year” than Disco Elysium. Also, it won multiple awards at The Game Awards 2019, and kudos to the team because all of that recognition was extremely well-deserved.

And there you have it, the best indie games of 2019!

I'm aware that everyone will have their own opinion as to the games that deserve “Best of 2019” nods, as well as which indie should receive the “Game of the Year” crown. So, I want to hear from you now. In the comments below, post your 10 favorite indie games from 2019 and let me know what your personal GOTY is!