It’s a new year, which means the quest for the year’s finest indie game begins all over again, and so does our weekly indie game column. In the previous year, we covered everything from Vampire Survivors, to The Fermi Paradox. Collectively, TheGamer staff voted Citizen Sleeper as our Game Of The Year. Stray won multiple GOTY awards from other outlets, and took home the Most Innovative Gameplay award on Steam. Dark And Darker broke into the most-played games on Steam two weeks before the end of the year. Overall, it was a bumper year for indies.
There are also some highly anticipated indie games on the horizon, including Manor Lords, The Plucky Squire, and Bomb Rush Cyberfunk. Manor Lords developer Slavic Magic has a popular Twitter feed where dev progress is shared, The Plucky Squire got a shiny trailer during the Devolver showcase, and Cyberfunk has been on everyone’s radar for at least a year or two by this point. Although all of these games may be incredible when they release, I still believe that everyone’s favourite indie game of 2023 is one we currently have no idea about.
This isn’t just conjecture, but based on some of the most successful indie games of the previous few years. Loop Hero, back in 2021, appeared from nowhere and became one of the Steam bestsellers of the year–the game was published by Devolver Digital, but the marketing was basically invisible. Also in 2021, Valheim stormed onto the scene with a very short trailer and that was about it. It also became one of the most popular games of the year, and is currently awaiting an anticipated 2023 console release. In 2022, that game was Vampire Survivors, my personal Game Of The Year, and one of the highest-rated Steam games of all time. Dark And Darker, the Dungeons & Dragons extraction shooter (yes, really), stole the show at the end of the year and I can’t wait to play it again. I had no idea the game even existed until it was installed on my computer.
I love the hype of a new game as much as the next person, but the real thrills come from discovering something completely fresh. The freedom for independent developers to release whatever they want, whenever they want, and for whatever price, means you won’t see the game coming until it’s shouting in your face. As a writer that has covered dozens of indie games in the past year, this sort of organic buzz and word of mouth hype that spreads around the hot new indie game is fascinating to watch, and often heartwarming as these developers realise they’ve become an overnight success.
What will that game look like in 2023? In truth, I’ve got no idea, and that’s why it’s so exciting. You can start to find threads and links between some of the most popular indie games of the last few years, and begin to pick out genres that are better suited for a smaller studio to handle. Games like Valheim, Dinkum, and Project Zomboid are all survival games that have worlds ripe for future updates and support over many years, which means developer teams have time to grow and expand based on their success while also working on the same title. On the other hand, you have these stripped back games like Loop Hero and Vampire Survivors that pick one thing and do it extremely well, often with stylish pixel graphics and developer-produced soundtracks.
Personally, I think Dark And Darker stands to do well if it goes ahead with its 2023 release. It has the complete winning formula to become a sleeper hit: it’s janky in all the best ways, has an efficient and stripped-back gameplay loop, and a dedicated developer team that has already begun to build a strong community. Is it going to be the best indie game of 2023 though? I doubt it–there’s one more game out there that you and I have never heard about.
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