2016 was intense, wasn’t it? Several game released every month of the year, and not just AAA games. In fact, some of the most talked about games this year were indie!

We’ve already covered the flops of 2016, but let’s lighten things up this time around. What were the top indie games of the year? And most importantly, what can you learn from them?

5. Darkest Dungeon

(Source: darkestdungeon.com)

Released January 19, 2016, this game is all about testing your characters’ will, and breaking them down until you have no choice but to discard them. Players craft their group of characters, then take them dungeon crawling, only with every misstep, there’s serious consequences, like getting syphilis. Whoa.

Oh, and did we mention the whole game is very Lovecraftian? From tenticle monsters that resemble Cthulhu, to the ominous feeling of… impending doom! Even the narrator talks like a literary mastermind.


4. Thumper

(Source: thumpergame.com)

Released October 10, 2016, this game is only number four on the list, because there were many, many indie gems this year. Frankly, this game was everything players wanted and expected from a psychedelic game.

Taking on the role of a space beetle (yes, you read that right), players had to navigate their way into a tricky path leading to a giant head from the future.

Wait, what?

Oh, it’s glorious. It’s such an original idea, the combination of beetles and giant heads in space. Instantly, players knew this would be unique and fun, and it delivered on both accounts. And we didn’t begin to mention just how scary this all is, because it’s… completely new. Players just didn’t know what to expect at any turn!


3. Tadpole Treble

(Source: bitfinitygames.com)

Released September 2, 2016 this is a hidden gem. Yes, it’s got “tadpole” in the title, but don’t let it fool you.

Players take on the role of Baton, an unfortunate little tadpole. Baton swims too far up the river, gets scooped by a pelican, and then taken far, far, far off the grid. Suddenly, players have to find their own way back home, and we can’t help but drop a Homeward Bound reference (sorry).

As heartwarming as it is, players have to avoid dangerous obstacles. Each and every level is a part of a song, and it plays along with Baton’s actions.

Yes, this game will make you laugh, grin, and maybe even shed a tiny, shameful tear.


2. Pony Island

(Source: pony-island.com)

Released January 4, 2016, Pony Island is not about ponies, it’s about finding your way out of a demonic arcade game. Hooray!

While the pony themes are real, and present throughout, the game is weird. It begins by messing up your menu, then gives you a quick fix for it and throws you into gate jumping. Just when you think “this is it, alright,” things get weird again.

Players eventually find themselves in a new desktop, having a conversation with a trapped soul. Soon, logic alternating puzzles come into play, arcade action, and evil, evil tricks prevail. Check out how Mike Fahey, a writer for Kotaku, was tricked into thinking he’d sent out a message to someone outside the game!


1. Firewatch

(Source: firewatchgame.com)

Released February 9, 2016, Firewatch was on the radar right from the start. And when it got released, well, it was clear that this would be listed as the top game of the year.

Players take on the role of Henry, a new fire lookout in Wyoming. Things seem pretty normal at first, but quickly, something strange begs a closer inspection.

Your supervisor is your sole contact, whom you communicate with through a little radio. And throughout the rest of the game, things get more and more intense. Questions, decisions, the unknown . . . it all adds up to be an experience that many a player just could not stop talking about for months on end.

To top it all off, the story and design were amazing.


Lessons to Be Learned

But what can you, as a developer, take away from all this? Well, if you’re in indie games, the bar is set mighty high. That means you need to be original, inventive and risky in order to stand out.

It also means that players are definitely gravitating toward the challenging indie games, that test both the characters’ and player’s will. From traumatizing Lovecraftian dungeons, to battling a giant head in space, and everything in between, players are making it clear: the weirder and more difficult it is, the better the indie game.

It’s been a fantastic year for video games, but indie definitely took the cake. By putting out boatloads of awesome, mind-bending, interesting, and frankly, unique games out there, the indie scene has set the foundation for a promising 2017. If this doesn’t prove that AAA is getting a run for its money these days, then nothing will.