As you might have gathered from our 2022 game of the year list, this year delivered some indie heavy hitters. Games like Immortality and Vampire Survivors completely redefined what video games could be in 2022, rejecting the industry’s biggest trends in the name of creativity. Other hits like Stray even broke into the mainstream, landing a coveted Game of the Year nomination at this year’s Game Awards. Elden Ring may be king, but plenty of smaller games captivated us just as much throughout the year.
Even after including a handful of highlights on our list, we still found ourselves eager to talk about more games we loved this year. 2022 was a wide and varied year for the gaming industry, which saw some indie titles breaking out of genre limitations to create entirely new experiences. We may not be able to highlight every single game we loved this year (try as we might), but we’d be remiss if we didn’t spotlight these 10 indies that just missed our game of the year cut. If you’re looking to catch up on some of this year’s highlights before 2023’s busy season kicks off, give these games a try. You’ll be glad you did.
A card-based shooter-platformer doesn’t sound like the most coherent mixture of genres at first, but Neon White makes this ridiculous combination of idea and genre work. In an effort to earn their way into Heaven, players must clear out demons from a variety of colorful levels as quickly as possible. Weapon cards have both offensive and traversal benefits, and the fun of Neon White is mastering how and where to use certain cards in levels in order to get the fastest time. Pile on hidden collectibles to scour levels for and an entertaining story about a group of rebellious thieves reuniting and looking for penance in the afterlife, and Neon White asserts itself as one of the most enthralling FPS games of the year. ~ Tomas Franzese
I’ve played a lot of games that try to crack the feeling of a Hollywood heist film, but even the most high-budget gaming blockbusters can’t compare to Teardown. The unusual puzzle-action hybrid has players pulling off heists by planning out and building the perfect path around a small map and executing it within a short time limit. The twist is that every environment is fully destructible, allowing players to blow holes through walls big enough to sneak a car out or get a safe out of a house by blasting the floor out from under it. Teardown plays like a perfect mix of Minecraft and Fast Five, rewarding masterminds who are clever enough to plan out a perfect time … or reckless enough to blow up half a shopping mall. ~ Giovanni Colantonio
OlliOlli World is a simple 2D skateboarding game all about getting the best times on exciting and treacherous levels. Still, it elevates with formula thanks to its near-perfect feeling momentum that makes the player feel like they’re in control of their actions at all times. Tricks, grinds, and wall rides all spice things up as players make their way through OlliOlli World’s levels, which entrance the player due to how well they flow. Its visuals are vibrant and pop off the screen, giving this skateboarding-obsessed world lots of life. Like the best 2D Sonic games, OlliOlli World knows responsive controls, gratifying momentum, and great level design are all keys to a fantastic frenetic 2D platforming experience. OlliOlli World nails that balance, making it one of the most satisfying games to play this year. ~ Tomas Franzese
While indie roguelikes are a dime a dozen these days, few have the same level of prestige as the first Rogue Legacy game. Released in 2013, the game set the groundwork for the next decade of the genre, paving the way for hits like Hades and Dead Cells. So how could Rogue Legacy 2 possibly live up to such an influential release? Well, by just being damn good. Plain and simple. The sequel keeps everything from the original game intact, including hereditary character traits that shape the player’s next run, but weaves in some excellent new additions too. It has an even stronger approach to progression, features some Metroid-style gear-gating, sports a lovely cartoon art style, and introduces new classes like the Chef that completely change how the game is played. There may be flashier roguelikes out there, but few are as tightly constructed as Rogue Legacy 2. ~ Giovanni Colantonio
Nobody Saves the World launched very early on in 2022, setting an incredibly high bar for indies this year out of the gate. Its main gimmick is that players can transform in various forms, all of which come with unique abilities that can give the player an edge in certain combat situations. What truly makes this game shine, though, is the fact that players can mix and match abilities from multiple different classes into one character, so you can have a rat that can summon creatures like a magician and tail swipe like a mermaid. Nobody Saves the World is a pretty lengthy Legend of Zelda-like adventure game, but its nonstop layers of progression always keep the player engaged with something important to do. Don’t let this early 2022 indie darling fly under your radar. ~ Tomas Franzese
City builders can be stressful. Planning functional roads, battling overpopulation, mitigating natural disasters — it all tends to get anxiety-inducing fast. Dorfromantik, on the other hand, feels like meditating. The mini-strategy game has players building a picturesque town by placing down colorful tiles. What starts as a simple act of lining up forest and villager tiles slowly turns into something much grander as players naturally piece together a gorgeous landscape painting. It’s the most relaxing experience I’ve had with a game this year, though one with a layer of depth that strategy and puzzle aficionados alike can still dig into. If you need a break from the loud chaos of games like God of War Ragnarok, get cozy with a mug of hot chocolate and play some Dorfromantik. ~ Giovanni Colantonio
Railbound is a puzzle game where the main goal is to lay down tracks so carriages can attach themselves to a train in order. It’s a deceptively simple concept, but developer Afterburn gets as much mileage out of the premise as it can by creating some real head-scratching puzzles. Over the course of the game, new elements like railway barriers, switches, and tunnels complicate what might initially seem like a puzzle with an easy solution. Thankfully, the game has a really charming visual aesthetic that prevents you from ever getting too frustrated, and finally completing tough Railbound levels is one of the most cathartic gaming experiences I’ve had this year. Railbound is a prime example of how great puzzle games take really basic concepts and get every ounce of creativity out of that idea. ~ Tomas Franzese
How do the myriad of individual experiences we have growing up shape who we become? I Was a Teenage Exocolonist tackles that big-picture question with one of this year’s most inventive premises. The narrative RPG follows a colony that has fled from Earth and settled on an alien planet. Players control a 10-year-old child, who they’ll watch grow up over the course of 10 years. Each significant memory or life milestone they encounter is immortalized as a card, which is slotted into a deck that represents their life. That concept is the heart of a unique card RPG that explores how children absorb the world around them, even when we think they’re not listening. By the end of the journey, you’ll feel like you’ve watched a child’s life flash before your eyes. ~ Giovanni Colantonio
Endling: Extinction is Forever is a dour game about a fox and three of her cubs trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Although it won’t raise your spirits like other games on this list, Endling: Extinction is Forever is an emotionally moving experience that doesn’t feature any dialogue. Scouring to find food to survive on a daily basis not only serves as a satisfying gameplay loop but enhances the game’s environmentalist messages as players can see once beautiful environments get ruined over time by humanity. Because of that message and the perspective it provides, Endling: Extinction is Forever is a must-play for anyone wondering why they should be concerned about our current climate crisis. ~ Tomas Franzese
While I can’t wait for Pikmin 4, it’ll be hard for it to top Tinykin because the indie charmer is the best Nintendo game that Nintendo never made. Taking clear inspiration from the Pikmin series, it follows a tiny explorer who has crash-landed in an enormous house (well, enormous from his perspective at least). He quickly discovers a race of colorful creatures called Tinykin who he can command to carry objects and solve puzzles. Each level is filled with delightful little puzzles that play with scale. A toy car track in a child’s bedroom becomes a full-on race track that’s in need of repair. A kitchen sink becomes a bustling pool party in need of decorating. Each corner of the world is a creative canvas for developer Splashteam to invent their best Honey, I Shrunk the Kids gag. It’s a joyous all-ages experience that made me smile more than any other game I played this year. ~ Giovanni Colantonio