With a cast that includes dancing reapers to mutant soap operas, pathological apes and one very unruly goose, here we rundown of our most loved best indie video games of 2019.
Let’s begin at number 20 of the best video games of 2019 with Astrogalaster which came out in May via Steam and iOS. Set in late 16th century London, you play as Forman, a cad of a man loosely based on the case notes and studies of a chap called Simon Forman, a serial villain of sorts who died in 1611.
Here you offer help, give hints and advise a magnificently diverse cast of characters who’ve arrived on Forman’s doorstep hoping to find guidance and counsel. It’s caustic wit and delicious characterisations won our collective hearts within moments of its beginning.
Highlights of the interactions include a lady of society who really isn’t very good at hosting the parties she so wants people to enjoy, the discussions with the Archbishop of Whitgift and a lady called Alice who rather likes her booze and bedroom gymnastics, although beneath such chaos you find a gentle soul looking for closure and a peaceful life.
With this sassy writing comes an equally stand out audio featuring stellar voice acting throughout and some of the finest choral sections we’ve heard in years outside of the sphere of triple a game budgets.
If you’re after something that’s just that bit different and don’t mind a few subtle and not so subtle digs on the usual deferential role of the church and other historical grandees of the time, then this is something well worth getting into.
19: Ape Out
At number 19 and from late February, Ape out is a hyper violent arcade shooter brawler which also happens to look incredible.
The soundtrack is also one of the best and most recognisable of the year with its jazz led procedural generation and the drums, cymbals and other associated instruments of the genre that ebb and flows with the antics of your character.
Ape Out is certainly tough in places and given the levels are generated on the fly there’s no chance of you being able to memorise where and when your human enemies will attack, I’ve been back to Ape out at numerous times in the year and each time, it has been a delight to once again take control of this rampaging Animal. Ape out is available to play on home pc via steam and on the Nintendo Switch.
18: Felix the Reaper
Our number 18, Felix the Reaper is a puzzle game with a back story of love where you play as felix who works for the ministary of death.
It’s up to you to make sure certain individuals meet their maker by manipulating the environment to ensure they die in a predefined way many of which would be right at home within the Final Destination series of films.
With a delicious voice over from Sir Partick Stewart, the use of professional dancers to model how Felix struts and dances his way around the levels together with the use of a dark and light puzzle mechanic, Felix the Reaper is one puzzler from this year that feels decidedly unloved.
17: Kind Words
Up now at number 17, Kind Words is quite unlike anything we have ever played – essentially a super casual multiplayer with almost none of the traditional mechanics usually associated with video games. It’s just you at home in a smallish room with you writing and receiving letters from other people while accompanied by laid back lo-fi beats and while odd on paper, it’s absolutely delightful.
It’s all anonymous which you might think would be a recipe for troll city and yet so far, I’ve seen very little of this type of disruption within this growing community. In terms of offering players such an enriching, anonymous and uplifting experience, we’ve compared it to both Journey and Sky from that game company
Kind Words came out in mid September for Home PCs.
16: Hypnospace Outlaw
If you want to know what the web was kind of like around the turn of the century, then Hypnospace Outlaw manages to create an almost flawless visual and aural representation of the web from way back when. While it delivers a mountain of nostalgia, it’s really a modern day piece of satire that plays in a similar way to those of Papers Please and Orwell, while also providing a testing puzzler that’s frankly tough as nails in places.
Your tasked with acting as a moderator or enforcer on an online hub called the Hynospace. It’s your job to take down trolls, hackers, viruses and other dodgy things such as copyright violation. While things begin at a gentle pace, the difficulty ramps up soon enough and you’ll need to use deductive reasoning and every now and again some guess work to figure out what’s all going on.
While clearly a work of fiction, there’s many a metaphor in here on the goings on within our current online existence. It’s a game to savour and enjoy while also looking hard into its underlying themes.
15: What the Golf
Coming up at number 15, What the Golf is the most fun I’ve ever had playing a game that’s loosely associated to a sport to which I can genuinely find almost nothing enjoyable or fun aside from being outside on a decent walk. It’s a physics based sport game with environmental puzzle elements that while it might look silly, it’s hugely entertaining with plenty more going on under the hood than you might expect.
On launch day one of the team began to play this while waiting for a kettle to boil to find out some 50 minutes later they hadn’t moved from the kitchen table – it’s honestly that compulsive to play with it being the most played game in terms of time on the Apple Arcade platform. It’s also avlaible for home pc via the Epic Store and will soon be ported onto the Switch where I suspect it will find a fine niche within gamers on the platform.
Our number 14 while out this past year, it’s sadly no longer available with it having been pulled from Steam in late February only a days after release following the discovery of assets within the game that were allegedly derogatory to certain Chinese officials.
While relatively short, this remains my favourite psychological horror of the year. It’s use of the first person while similar to that of say Gone Home or Edith finch, the atmosphere Devotion creates is anything but – for the most part you control a screen writer through an apartment block in which the rooms represent different years of the writers family within the 80’s.
As a horror game, the frights when they came are at times rather delicate although still have the power to unsettle. I’d also recommend playing this with headphones as the intensity of the audio really does magnify what Devotion is able to do.
As you should expect, Devotion is suitably dark and while some sections are stronger than others and it is easy to miss out on some of the collectables needed to fully understand some of the back story, this game still has the power to make me feel unsettled when thinking about it all these months later.
13: Disco Elysium
At number 13, a place in this countdown that will no doubt for some be a travesty, Disco Elysium is modern take on dice rolling games of old where you play as broken former detective who has seen better days.
The had drawn art style is painterly in its nature and reminds me of oil on canvas with it being an assault on the senses – it’s visually its nothing short of stunning.
While there’s no denying it’s all very cleverly written and we can’t ever recall having the depth of conversations we had with NPC in any RPG over the past couple of years and perhaps ever. However, not all of the conversations flow so well. Some of the pacing is off tempo with uneven sections and plenty rhythm breaks where the signposting of what to do next falls somewhat flat.
We also struggled to gel with the characters and they type of story and associated themes and we agreed that as wishy washy as this sounds, because it is, there’s a lot in the game we don’t enjoy particularly to place it any higher on our end of year indie game run down.
12: Tangle Tower
At number 12, Tangle Tower came out in late October and is all about a murder mystery which has elements from the Ace Attorney games and Professor Layton.
You go about interrogating the folks who live within a tower with the view of finding out who killed the victim and in doing so you can picture a strange and yet totally convincing tale of discovery and intrigue.
What sets this one apart on the Switch from other visual type novels isn’t just the story and interactions you have with the NPCs, but rather how the character animations and voice acting have risen the bar for those that follow to such an extent, well this one really feels like it’s taken these sort of games from an artistic perspective upwards to a new level of sophistication.
Playing Tangle Tower feels like jumping into an animated film that you are able to direct and control what’s going on which it ultimately is. The puzzles are all immersive as is the narrative and all in, there are times when we forgot we were playing a game at all which if you think about this a little more, well that’s one heck a fine achievement.
11: Bleak Sword
At number 11 and one of the games alongside what the golf we had most fun with on Apple Arcade this year is the adorable sparse looking Bleak Sword.
While hardly revolutionary, Bleak Sword with it being a retro-looking classical hack and slash brawler, what it does offer is a brutal mix of action with the most challenging and fun boss battles we’ve ever played on a mobile platform.
Sure it doesn’t look overly pretty and yet that doesn’t matter. The nine levels where you can build your character’s abilities as you progress all feel measured with a fine difficulty progression from start to finish.
The controls are so simple – you attack, dodge and use your shield by way of swiping or tapping the screen. To dodge you swipe in the direction you want to go. A short tap on the screen enables you to parry attacks and a longer hold while then swiping towards an enemy means you’ll attack in that direction.
There are easy comparisons to be made here with a few other tough fighter based games although we think it best to hold off doing. We will however call out this is possibly more fun to be had here than could be expected on a mobile platform and sure why you will die over and over again once you recognise the enemy movement patters, you can get working on taking care of business.
For a game designed for mobiles. There’s little to rival it.
10: Untitled Goose Game
At the halfway point in this year’s the best indie games of 2019 countdown, Untitled Goose Game has been a delight to watch over the course of its development and the finished product doesn’t disappoint. As many of you will already know you play as a moody goose and are tasked with completing a to-do list which comprises of generally annoying the inhabitants of what seems to be a sleepy English Village. You go about upsetting a gardener, stealing a boys toy before making him buy it back from the shop keeper and plenty more.
With a simple paino led audio that features a variation of Debussy’s preludes together with other paired back sounds which are totally in keeping with the village environment, there’s plenty of joy to be had amongst the chaos
Untitled Goose Game is available on home PC and the Switch, with ports expected soon onto the PS4 and the Xbox.
9: Heave Ho
Up next at number 9 and the only couch co-op focussed game to make the rundown, Heave Ho sees you and up to three others having the simple enough sounding task of getting from point a to point be without dying.
For most of the year heave ho replaced the Overcooked series as our number one party game – it’s honestly just so very silly and fun from the moment you start playing. Like overcooked it’s also really easy for it to cause the odd argument here and there when players make mistakes or are careless causing other players to fall to their doom.
It’s not perfect though. Some levels are perhaps just a little bit tricky although if you take too long, the game does give you an easy option to finish things off which you can take or leave. Heave Ho cam out in August on Home PC and the Nintendo switch
8: Neo Cab
Up next at number 8, Neo Cab is a visual novel in which we explore how the expanding gig economy might look and shape our lives within the near distant future. It also peers into a view of a time where big technology firms have more power and gravitas over people’s daily lives than they do today.
Neo Cab tells a story of Lina who works as one of the last human drivers for hire where nearly everyone else has been replaced by driverless alternatives. Over the course of an in game week you collect a number of passengers each night and it’s up to you to chat with them by way of dialogue choices offered as the journey goes by. The so called quality of these conversations decides if you get a tip and if you fall below a driver rating of 4 well things can get problematic with this possibly causing the game to end.
It feels like a genuine affront to be given anything less than a perfect score and like real life, you come across characters hell bent on making as much trouble for you and this rating scheme as is possible.
As a visual novel Neo Cab succeeds in the narrative and way it directs the player to cast a more careful eye on where we as society are headed and if not we’re almost there already.
7: Gato Roboto
Coming at number 7 Gato Roboto with its black on white colouring is striking within its overall visual simplicity. It’s short and can be completed in an evening or perhaps over a weekend if you are looking to go on and finish everything it has to offer.
The boss battles can be fiddly affairs in places although as pattern based encounters, you can learn what’s going on and counter accordingly.
One note of caution – there’s not much going on from a story perspective aside from the crazy scientist kind of thing and if you’re not already a paid up member of the Metriod Fan Club then this one is unlikely to change your mind. That being said, we loved it and have no issues placing it within our best of the year countdown.
6: Baba is You
From March, our number 6, Baba is something rather different.
While most puzzle games have you playing with things in the environment which help guide you to and ultimately solve the problem at hand, Baba is You does something really rather different. Not only can you manipulate things you find within the levels, you are also able to alter and change the rules the game follows.
Pushing them around say to change Lava is Melt to Lava is Float the previously unpassable firey impasse that was stopping your progression is now hovering over your head and thus allowing you to pass.
With over 200 different puzzles, this is all about taking a methodical approach with a good dose of lateral thinking, Baba is You finely deserves its place in this years run down.
Up now and beginning the top 5 indie games the best indie video games of 2019, Mutazione came out in the third quarter of the year onto Steam and on the PS4. Pitched as a Mutant Soap Opera with it looking over a number of themes ranging from managed decay, healing processes, the impact of social isolation within small communities and amongst other things a story of personal growth into adulthood, it offers so much within its 5 or 6 hours of play time.
You play as Kai who takes a trip from the mainland to Mutazione to visit her grandfather who is gravely ill. Over the course of a week and having initially helped to nurse him back from the brink, you begin to learn more about your grandfather, the other folks on the island and their individual and collective stories.
One of defining story lines comes from the overall process and associated steps we take during grief and loss which is handled with more nuance, subtly and subject mastery than I can ever recall seeing outside of an academic environment.
This became abundantly clear in the section of this storyline where you use your skills to regrow the character’s long abandoned garden to help her find solace and to an extent and element of closure.
You grow a number of these gardens during your time on the island and the planting aspects are in themselves a rewarding experience where you’re free to have a play to see what works and what doesn’t.
The soundtrack of these sections and the overall sedate nature of these scenes is so very calming and peaceful and like nearly everything at play here is so cleverly and deftly put together.
4: Sayonarea Wild Hearts
At number 4 Syonara Wild Hearts is a game that’s honestly best thought of in terms of being part interactive music installation and part game.
There’s so very much going on, not just in how the levels and accompanying music are set in a similar journey like way as used by artists while curating an album.
The tunes are expressive catchy pop with techno chiptune elements that work hand in hand with the overall artistic aesthetic.
While you’re on rails the whole time there’s almost always a feeling of speed and graceful movement. It effortlessly leaps from genre to genre with one moment you’re playing a rhythm based dance fight off to a side scroller to a semi first person shooter and loads more. The levels are brief and intense and offer a great sense of accomplishment when Queen Latifa hollers “Gold Rank!” at the end of the level.
Much like Journey, Sayonara Wild Hearts is gorgeous from the get go. It’s art style, the animations and accompanying soundtrack make this what it is and also like Journey, I’ll be playing this from time to time for as long as I’m playing video games.
Number 3: Wilmot’s Ware House
At number 3 and out late August on the PC and Nintendo Switch, Wilmot’s Ware house comes from developers Rickey Hagget and Richard Hogg with it published by the wonderful folks at Finji.
Described as a puzzle game for people who really like to organise stuff, you play as Wilmot, the employee at a5 logistics who is responsible for organising, storing and stacking of all of the products within the firms warehouse.
How you go about organising the products is up to you be this via their colour, product type or any other format you choose to use – it’s totally up to you but be warned, in what feels eerily similar to reports of the workings of Amazon’s behemoth storage areas, if you are too slow in locating items when they are requested at the service hatch, you wont receive the coverted Performance Stars you need to secure various upgrades with which to improve the warehouse overall.
There’s something quite therapeutic when you nail a set of delivery instructions through you knowing where everything is and visa versa when you go all a little bit blank. There’s also no one way in which to organise the stuff and there’s no ideal solution aside from what works best for you and as a puzzle and memory game, it’s the one we all loved to play the most this past year.
The end when it comes sees – spoiler ahead – Wilmot getting fired to be replaced by a fully automatic picking system well it feel hash and unexpected although in hindsight what a wonderful way to bring about closure.
Number 2: Slay the Spire
In this year’s runner’s up position we have slay the spire. While this one came out early on in the year it passed us by until a month or so before we sat down to pull together a shortlist for this video. A viewer had asked why we hadn’t covered this one before so we decided to pick it up and as a small collective, we’re so very glad we did.
In this game you go about moving up a tower while killing off various monsters in what is one of the best card deck building games of the current generation. Having chosen your base character from a number of different classes, you begin with a small deck that you build on and expand as you win which in turn makes you more powerful. Should you lose a battle however, well it’s back to the bottom of the tower for you to start all over.
It’s hugely addictive with each play though offering something different and affording you the chance to adapt and work on your battle strategies. In a single word Slay the Spire is a triumph with there being only one game out all year we liked playing just that little bit more.
Number 1: Telling Lies
So here we go, our number one of the best indie video games of 2019 , Telling Lies from Sam Barlow is to date the quintessential full motion video game.
This brief overview is spoiler free although it concerns the contents of a hard drive that has a collection of videos, phone calls and hidden camera captures. The video clips are all between 45 seconds up to 9 minutes in duration. It’s all about going through the footage and the calls and joining the dots together piece by piece to figure thigs out.
We played this together as a small team and also individually each of us noting down page after page of notes and character observations. It largely comes down to collecting words and phrases and its easy to miss things here and there and playing this without concentrating isn’t advisable – when you do make a connection each one comes with a little aha sort of moment.
As necessary within these video motion games the acting needs to be sport on and yep, that’s the case here. Each of the 4 actors deliver a top notch performance that feel, well they feel wonderfully real and true to life.
The only issue we all agreed upon comes from the inability to drag a video time line to a specific point although that really is looking for the cracks.
It’s brilliant and having played though it on numerous occasions the small team that makes Get Indie Gaming is proud to say Telling Lies is our most loved indie game we played in all of 2019.