Shacknews Top 10 Indie Games of 2018

For the first year ever, Shacknews is counting down the ten best indie games released. Behold, the Top 10 Indie Games of 2018.


As 2018 comes to a close, The Shacknews Awards are kicking into high gear. Today, for the first year ever, we are counting down the Top 10 Indie Games of 2018. Our staff voted on our favorite indie games and the following list is the final tally of all of the ballots. Please take a look at the Top 10 Indie Games of 2018.

10. Ashen

Ashen is a Souls-like that stands out as much for the ways in which it's not a Souls game as it does for the ways it pays homage to FromSoftware's masterpiece franchise. Combat is weighty, and death carries steep consequences, but the moment-to-moment exploration both solo and with a companion makes Ashen its own beast. I've had fun exploring this world and its systems, and will be playing it well into 2019. The game also won The Shacknews Award for Most Overlooked Game of 2018, which might have something to do with its place in this list.

9. Donut County

Donut County is a great example of a simple idea that turns into a fun game. Developer Ben Esposito and publisher Annapurna Interactive hit a home run with this silly and addictive game. Players control a hole and as they move the hole around levels, it swallows stuff and grows. The game was released on iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

8. Just Shapes & Beats

Just Shapes & Beats had no business being as excellent as it turned out. The rag tag bunch at Berzerk Studio have created a beautifully minimal interactive soundscape from a simple concept, but at the same time it is one of the more challenging games to be released this year. A bullet hell shmup with no bullets and awesome electronic music, Just Shapes & Beats told a story and allowed players to feel a huge sense of accomplishment after completing a stage. The game has a ton of replay value and even includes couch co-op multiplayer as well as online play. In an increasingly crowded indie game landscape, Just Shapes & Beats was a standout title. It really whips the llama's ass.

7. Subnautica

Developer Unknown Worlds Entertainment created a very unique open world video game experience this year with Subnautica. Players must survive on the alien planet 4546B and are tasked with many underwater challenges to make it out alive. Exploring the ocean is a truly immersive experience in which players must manage their oxygen while scouring the planet for unique resources. The game's crafting system doesn't get in the way like many survival/adventure games, and players will feel a solid sense of achievement as they progress through the beautiful open world. This game was recently made available for free on the Epic Games Store, so you really have no excuse for missing this one on PC.

6. Return of the Obra Dinn

Another latecomer in the calendar year, Return of the Obra Dinn immediately stood out thanks to its black-and-white graphics and emphasis on puzzle-solving over action. The black-and-white aesthetic encourages you to focus on puzzle elements rather than getting lost in the pixel hunts of yore, and there's a compelling story to keep you hunting for clues and cracking cases. Lucas Pope, also the developer of critically acclaimed Papers Please, is definitely an indie dev to keep your eye on as is the case with Return of the Obra Dinn.

5. Minit

Minit may look like a Game Boy game, and in some ways it feels like one. Most Game Boy titles were best enjoyed in fits and spurts. Minit plays the same way, because that's the only way you can play it: every session last 60 seconds, but your progression carries over from session to session. It's a clever mechanic that tickled my tendency to write a mental errands list--kill the crabs, visit the shopkeeper, get the coffee, okay, got it, now to move the box in the second screen to the north--while I played. It also induces urgency to actions as banal as moving from screen to screen, and the rapidity of its sessions will keep you playing (and playing, and playing) in an effort to solve just one more puzzle and advance just one more screen.

4. The Messenger

Despite Ninja Gaiden's status as a classic of the coin-op and NES days, most retro-inspired games turn to Mario, Mega Man, Zelda, or Castlevania for inspiration. The Messenger clearly evokes the teeth-gritting difficulty and precise platforming of Ryu Hayabusa's 8-bit epics. But developer Sabotage Studio goes a step further by stirring in 16-bit aesthetics in a clever fashion. The result is a challenging and satisfying platformer that manages to set itself apart from the glut of retro-inspired platformers that have attempted to hitch their wagon to Mario's star.

3. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

The original Pillars of Eternity was a love letter to CRPGs of yore: Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and the other ilk of the Infinity Engine. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire cuts the apron strings and builds a legacy all its own. Combat is deeper than in the original game, and the ability to have epic adventures at sea as well as on land adds another dimension to the Obsidian team's storytelling and adventuring mechanics.

2. Dead Cells

Roguelikes follow a simple loop: live, die, and repeat, taking everything you learned from the last character into your next foray through procedurally generated levels and encounters. The drawback to this compelling loop is you can spend dozens of hours on a character only to lose it on a single turn. Dead Cells eliminates that loss and aggravation by transplanting the roguelike loop into an action-packed sidescrolling action game where movement and combat meld into a flow state. The act of moving from enemy to enemy, platform to platform, is addictive, and kept our staff coming back for more week after week, day after day.

1. Celeste

Celeste was released very early in 2018, but the game still stands at the top of the indie game mountaintop. Madeline's mountain-climbing adventure captured many Shackers hearts this year as the game told a poignant story while focusing on intense and challenging gameplay. Celeste features some of the best designed side-scrolling platformer levels we have witnessed in quite awhile. Every aspect of the game from music, gameplay, art style, and story made Celeste the most complete indie game to be released this year. Congratulations to MattMakesGames on all of their success this year. Celeste is truly the Shacknews Best Indie Game of 2018.

What indie games did you think we missed on our list? Let us know in the comments section. Be sure to check out all of The Shacknews Awards 2018 winners and keep it locked on the site for our Game of the Year announcement.

Shack Staff stories are a collective effort with multiple staff members contributing. Many of our lists often involve entires from several editors, and our weekly Shack Chat is something we all contribute to as a group. 

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