The year 2021 is finally coming to a close and we’re continuing to announce winners of our Shacknews Awards. Here at Shacknews, we value indies. We value them so much that we believe they deserve their own specific spotlight. That’s why we break the indies into their own list and winners with the Shacknews Top 10 Indie Games of the Year 2021. Voted on by the staff and our community, this is the countdown of indie games that stood above the rest. Check it out!
10. Chicory: A Colorful Tale
There are few games as oddly creative as Chicory: A Colorful Tale. Conceived by Greg Lobanov and published by Finji, this game puts you in the role of a magical artist’s apprentice. When the world is drained of color and that artist is nowhere to be found, it falls to that apprentice to take up the magical paintbrush and do something about it. Chicory features a Zelda-esque top-down adventure of puzzles solved by the very power of color. Not to mention, the NPCs and mood throughout the game are so very silly that it’s hard not to smile throughout. Chicory: A Colorful Tale is something different for sure, and the power to move the story forward with the power of colorful creativity is one we won’t soon forget.
Check out Chicory: A Colorful Tale on PC via Steam, the PS4 and PS5, or Nintendo Switch.
Moving can be a terrifying prospect, but it’s also an experience that can be filled with unforgettable memories. Unpacking tells the heartwarming stories behind the boxes, taking players through an emotional timeline that’s led to exciting new chapters in life.
As a puzzle game, Unpacking can be both relaxing and nerve-wracking, much like the actual act of moving and unloading boxes. However, the soundtrack makes much of it a zen experience. Plus, with options to allow for placement anywhere, Unpacking works as a pressure-free environment. Unpacking is uniquely original and downright wholesome in its execution.
Check out Unpacking on Steam on PC, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch platforms.
8. Fights in Tight Spaces
It’s hard not to be enthralled by action scenes in movies that take place in tight corridors and narrow hallways. The Marvel shows on Netflix, for example, practically specialized in those. The idea that a game developer would take this idea and make a game out of it was a fun one in itself, but add in an engaging card combat mechanic and it all adds up to one of the best indie games this year.
Fights in Tight Spaces, from Ground Shatter and Mode 7 Games, managed to mix grid-based strategy, roguelike progression, and card-based combat into an easily-digestible package. With hundreds of unlockable cards and Daily Runs available, it’s enough to keep this game alive for a long time. It’s a truly phenomenal single-player effort, one that has all the impact of a roundhouse kick to the face.
Find Fights in Tight Spaces on PC via Steam or Xbox platforms.
7. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
Owlcat Games isn’t just a good indie. It’s also one of the most in-depth RPGs we’ve seen in a long time. Built upon the intricate fantasy-fiction tabletop rules of Pathfinder, this game features incredibly rich character creation between race, class, perks, alignment, and beliefs, and that’s all before you even start up the story which gives you plenty of opportunities to carve your own way through it. There’s also a vast web of spells and techniques available to you and your companions in real-time or turn-based battle. On and off the battlefield, the rich tapestry of the narrative is heavily under your direction, and the freedom of choice throughout makes this an adventure that can feel vastly different each time you start a character.
Find Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous on PC via Steam.
6. Lost in Random
Featuring lush visuals that are reminiscent of Tim Burton’s animated features, Lost in Random follows a young girl on a journey to free her sister from the clutches of an evil Queen. The Queen had banished all dice from the land, save for her own, but the protagonist Even befriends a lonely dice that also managed to survive the Queen’s purge. The pair rolls their way towards a showdown with the menacing royal. While it is a bit rough around the edges, the welcoming art style and relatable story of the sisters help prevent this gem from being lost in the indie game shuffle.
Check out Lost in Random on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, or PC via Steam or EA Origin.
5. It Takes Two
Despite the fact that it was published by one of the biggest studios in gaming, It Takes Two is indeed an indie release. The team at Hazelight showed tremendous growth in the way they evolved their co-op formula for the latest adventure. The story is intriguing and impactful, and the level design is consistently impressive from beginning to end. More than anything, It Takes Two makes us excited to see what Josef Fares and the Hazelight team do next.
Check out It Takes Two on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC via Steam or EA Origin.
4. Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is one of the most beautiful games to have come out this year and against all odds, it came solely out of a studio known as Ember Labs. As the young spirit guide Kena, it’s on you to guide the distressed spirit to the afterlife, but when a certain strong spirit causes turmoil throughout the land, she soon finds assistance in the diminutive little black gooey companions known as the Rot. What follows is a gorgeous action-adventure journey as Kena uses the power of the Rot and her own growing abilities in magic and combat to fight against corrupted spirits and bring them the peace they need to pass on. Ember Labs captured some fantastic imagination in Kena: Bridge of Spirits and it showed throughout pretty much the whole game.
Check out Kena: Bridge of Spirits via PlayStation or PC via the Epic Games Store.
3. Loop Hero
Devolver Digital and developer Four Quarters managed to turn some heads earlier this year when they released Loop Hero out into the world. This deckbuilding roguelike features visuals inspired by the home PC classic RPGs of the late 1980s and early 1990s and marries them to some novel tactical gameplay. As players assemble their deck and play their cards, the game board is filled with buildings, paths, and obstacles, making for a unique experience each time you boot up Loop Hero. It’s up to the bravest combatants to finally break the time loop and free the land of control from the evil guardian bosses.
Check out Loop Hero on Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
Inscryption is easily one of the most dread-inducing things we’ve played all year. Even as a latecomer in a strong year for gaming, it stayed with us well after we turned off the game. Built as a “folk horror card game,” you are confined in a cabin with a mysterious stranger. Your only choice is to play the creep in a game of cards. What unfolds is a continually unsettling experience as your captor seems to toy with you and force you to make sacrifices in more than just the card game itself. Between the absolutely masterful design of atmosphere, the surprisingly intricate card game in play, and so many other experiences in Inscryption’s unfolding tale, it skyrocketed up our indie must-play list.
Check out Inscryption on PC via Steam.
There were some great games that didn’t make the cut for our Top 10 Indie Games of the Year 2021 list, but we wanted to give them a proper shout out. Here’s a list of our honorable mentions in no particular order:
- PowerWash Simulator
- The Big Con
- Cyber Shadow
- Cozy Grove
- Tavern Master
- DEEEER Simulator: Your Average Everyday Deer Game
- Dodgeball Academia
- Mighty Goose
- 12 Minutes
- Genesis Noir
- The Ascent
- Legend Bowl
- Wave Break
- Solar Ash
- The Artful Escape
- The Forgotten City
- Road 96
- Boomerang X
- Paint the Town Red
- Subnautica: Below Zero
- Bang on Balls
- Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
- The Ramp
- Disco Elysium: Director’s Cut
- Lemnis Gate
- Room to Grow
1. Death’s Door
Acid Nerve and Devolver Digital outdid themselves with Death’s Door. Reaping souls as a 9-5, players are tasked with hunting down a stolen soul. This adventure takes us across a variety of different lands, from dense forests to expansive castles and deadly plains. The game’s combat is exciting and challenging, with an array of unique bosses that force the player to adapt to new strategies. Everything about Death’s Door is enhanced by its fantasy art style and the enchanting score that informs every interaction.
Death’s Door delivers everything that you want from an action-adventure game: fascinating locations, satisfying combat, and an excellent story. It’s more than enough to take home Shacknews’ award for Indie Game of the Year 2021.
Check out Death’s Door on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and PC via Steam, Epic Games Store, and GOG.
It was another amazing year for indie game releases and there are so many good ones that we couldn’t even begin to fit them all in here. To those risking it on shipping a game in these trying times, we salute your efforts and perseverance. The indie scene is bustling and you make it happen.
Watch the Shacknews Awards 2021 YouTube playlist or read our Year of the Games: 2021 article for all of the awards in one place.