There are two Australian developers on this list, and I point that out as a “hey, look how awesome Australian developers are doing” and not a “we are totally biased” way. There are also three other fantastic games from independent teams that crafted standout games that often went head-to-head with the big dogs.
Here are our picks for the Best Indie Games of 2021.
5.) The Artful Escape – Beethoven & Dinosaur
In retrospect, the craziest thing about The Artful Escape to me is that it originally had an unsuccessful Kickstarter. Fortunately for Beethoven & Dinosaur, the Melbourne, Australia based developer was able to pick up a publishing deal with Annapurna Interactive and continue development. And thank the rock gods for them as The Artful Escape is one of the most unique games you could play this year and a such an exciting use of games as a medium. It’s like an interactive album combined with a short film about aging rock gods, alien monsters, and growing up. For a first game, you certainly can’t do much better than this, and the question now is what will Beethoven & Dinosaur do next?
– Dylan Blight
4.) Chicory: A Colorful Tale – Greg Lobanov, Alexis Dean-Jones, Lena Raine, Madeline Berger, A Shell in the Pit
Chicory: A Colorful Tale is an overall enchanting adventure, with charm brushed across its canvas and quality across all its systems. The writing in Chicory is a particular standout, with all of the wonderfully eccentric foodstuff named characters fleshing out the charming world. However, the story goes deeper than just charm, touching on themes of self-doubt and depression in ways that would hit close to home for many people. The gameplay is also quite engaging, with the painting staying fresh as wet paint throughout thanks to the consistent introduction of new mechanics and paintbrushes. Even as someone that is not visually creative, it speaks to the quality of the game that it would land so high on my personal games of the year list, as it is much more than simply a blank canvas.
– Wil James
3.) Kena: Bridge of Spirits – Ember Lab
A new studio in the world of games, Ember Lab’s first title is a beautiful game with an intriguing story and many unique elements complimenting both. The team at Ember Labs have made something truly special, building a game that makes the player feel like they are playing in a Pixar world. A world filled with vibrant colours and dark secrets. Kena: Bridge of Spirits hits home hard with its story while remaining cute and magical. The story is told through the world, and its characters use spirits, and cute creatures called the Rot.
The efficiencies to combat might need to be improved for future titles. The games story, pace, and design are outshining many other titles. Ember Labs have set the bar high, and it will be interesting to see what this developer comes up with next.
– Jacob Hegarty
2.) Unpacking – Witch Beam
Brisbane, Australia based developer Witch Beam delivered their second game, Unpacking, to a rousing and very positive critical response. Which was fantastic to see for a homegrown developer and a game that I’d been excited about for several years now. From one PAX to another through the Steam demos, the core concept of unpacking boxes seemed like a mundane yet oddly relaxing experience. But when I got my hands on the game, it was something so much more unique, and a game made with a team of under ten people, with such a love and passion for doing not only a different type of game but a medium pushing narrative.
– Dylan Blight
– Dylan Blight
1.) Death’s Door – Acid Nerve
Acid Nerve is a two-person team, which is absolutely insane to think about when looking at Death’s Door. Although they didn’t do everything in the game, it’s just about and more than impressive enough. Death’s Door looks and plays better than games built by teams with three times the staff. But like a lot of the indie games on this list, it’s also a showcase for how a small group can also lead to a more distinct direction and project feeling that it knows what it wants to be. There’s a few key ideas and inspirations here, and what’s left is the perfection of the pieces. The game plays beautifully. I cannot wait to see what the team at Acid Nerve do next.
– Dylan Blight