Biggest Hidden Gems Of 2018: Celeste, Iconoclasts, And More
This Year's Hidden Gems
While this year is packed with numerous highly anticipated big-budget games, it's also filled with a wealth of exciting new indie games that you shouldn't miss out on. With so many hidden gems to keep track of, we've compiled the 15 indie games we're most excited about. Click ahead to see what's in store for this year.
It's worth noting that many of these games haven't been released yet. However, we have had the opportunity to play them at prior events. Based on what we've played, we've determined that these are games that you should definitely keep an eye on, and have therefore, included it in this gallery.
There's way more exciting indie games coming this year that we didn't mention here. Which ones are you most looking forward to this year? Let us know in the comments below.
For more on the bigger games this year, check out our individual features highlighting the most anticipated PS4 games, Xbox One games, PC games, and Switch games for a broader look at the year ahead. If you're curious about what exclusives are on each platform, you can check out our features on Xbox One exclusives, PS4 exclusives, PC exclusives, and Switch exclusives.
Celeste | PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Celeste is a magical game that will challenge you in a multitude of ways. Its platforming is really, really hard, and you'll likely get frustrated at your fumbling fingers for failing a jump or at your slow brain for not figuring out how to get to the next safe zone. But when you get to that checkpoint, it's satisfying to know your fingers and brain aren't, in fact, useless.
More than its platforming, though, Celeste's story is challenging. The main protagonist, Madeline, is faced with a horrible journey--both climbing a mountain and battling her own mind--and at times it's not easy to watch her suffer. The game's writing is such that it's easy to project that suffering onto yourself, and that can make it tough to face playing the next level.
But you should absolutely do so, because it's a story with an ending worth the struggle and a cast of characters so endearing you'll be rooting for them to succeed. Just expect to fail a few leaps of faith along the way.
Donut County | PC, PS4, iOS
If you’ve played Katamari Damacy, you might be familiar with the concept of Donut County--just in reverse. In Donut County, you control a hole in the ground that grows the more you can get to fall inside of it. Start small with lawn chairs and pebbles and work your way up to buildings and even mountains, all while solving physics-based puzzles to fit everything in the hole.
Donut County is a solo project by indie developer Ben Esposito, who worked on What Remains of Edith Finch and The Unfinished Swan. Playing as a hole sounds really silly, and Donut County's colorful art and sassy animal characters are cheekily charming, but in practice it’s meditative and relaxing to play. We're excited to see more of what Donut County and its trash (or treasures) have to offer--and hopefully what's at the bottom of that hole.
Griftlands | PC
Griftlands is the "pirate" game we've always wanted (and one of our most anticipated PC games for this year). You might take a good long look at it and say, "This is a sci-fi/fantasy mashup RPG, not some swashbuckling romp on the high seas." And you'd be right. But who says green aliens and humans can't come together and form a pirate crew? It's space piracy we're talking about.
Unlike most RPGs, you're not an adventurer setting out to save the day; you're a space pirate/mercenary-type looking for your next big payday. In your journey for riches, you'll come across a bunch of different characters, potential party members, and bandits, and you'll be able to choose exactly how you deal with each character and situation. There are written questlines for certain characters, but the larger story is one you'll craft on your own as you play and make decisions. We played it at PAX West last year and chose to be a jerk who treated their friends with reverence and anyone else with extreme disrespect. After about 30 minutes of acting like a tough guy, we saw ourselves losing weekends to it.
Griftlands is scheduled to release sometime in early 2018, so we're on high alert for a release date announcement. We can't wait to get back to our quest for fortune, casually intimidating NPCs, and giving bandits who stand in our way what-for.
Iconoclasts | PS4, Vita, PC
Calling Iconoclasts a "Metroidvania" is accurate, but simply seeing it as that undercuts what makes it truly special. Its world is full of deep, resonating conflicts: science vs. religion and technology vs. nature, just to name a few. The faces of these conflicts are quirky, fleshed-out characters with personality bursting from every pixel of their 16-bit sprites. But for as quick as the game is to make a joke, it can also tug at your heartstrings, whether it's by killing off a character's family or showing an unhealthy mother-daughter relationship.
As for the Metroidvania elements, protagonist Robin's wrench has more uses than a Swiss army knife. You can ride rails, crank open doors, and even deflect enemy attacks. The game also constantly shakes things up with puzzles and boss encounters that truly put the basic moves you've learned to the test. Top if all off with a great soundtrack and colorful level design, and you've got yourself a delightful indie package. The fact that it was all developed by one man over nearly a decade is just icing on the cake.
Jenny Leclue | PS4, PC, iOS
Jenny Leclue's charming and vibrant hand-drawn art style is captivating, but its atmospheric world and endearing premise is what makes it worth getting excited about. Told in the form of a metanarrative, you experience a mystery through the eyes of Jenny Leclue, a fictional character from a detective novel written by fictional author Arthur K. Finklestein.
As you control Jenny, you're faced with choices that can affect both Finklestein's story and his narration of the events that occur in the game. You'll also solve an array of brain teaser-like puzzles in your quest to discover the truth. While not much has been shown of the game since its playable teaser early last year, what we've played so far has shown great promise.
Knights and Bikes | PC, PS4
Grand adventure! Bicycles! Kids with asthma! Knights and Bikes is an adventure where two kids use their imaginations (and their bikes) to overcome surreal mysteries in their hometown. And when you pedal your bike too hard, you've got to take a hit from your inhaler.
The art style gives the game a timeless look, but theold-school action adventure gameplay captures the variety of real-time combat games like Secret of Mana. And while this is indie studio Foam Sword's debut game, the developers have a track record of success, having previously worked at Media Molecule on LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway.
Knuckle Sandwich | PC, Mac
What we’ve played so far, Knuckle Sandwich wears the skin of a polished 16-bit-era RPG set in the modern day, and very quickly goes to some unexpected places. It’s surreal, off-the-rails, and laugh-out-loud funny. You can expect satisfying turn-based combat with real-time action components, a variety of mini-games, a sharp sense of style, and impeccable comedic timing.
And it’s also apparently got a section where you catch a 3D, off-brand Garfield with a Poké Ball? Knuckle Sandwich will hopefully launch in 2018, and we’re excited to play it. In the meantime, you can watch us play a demo of the game right over here.
Manifold Garden | PC, PS4
Mind-bending and visually striking, Manifold Garden is like playing through an M.C. Escher painting (in the best way possible). The puzzle game puts you in a stunning world that stretches out into infinity, and it’s your job to learn its rules and master its physics to traverse it. If you can’t get to a platform, try jumping off the one you’re on; as you’ll fall, you’ll pass what’s either a recursion of it or a repetition, but either way, you can use the world’s loop to find your way around seemingly impassable obstacles.
Navigating Manifold Garden is almost like looking into a pastel-toned hall of mirrors. There’s no up or down, and it can be hard to get your bearings. But when you do solve a puzzle, you’re struck by the beauty of its physics and its art, making it one of the games we’re most looking forward to in 2018.
Mothergunship | PS4, PC
Mothergunship is the rare sequel that makes every improvement you could ask for. It takes the entertaining concept of Tower of Guns--a first-person shooter with elements of bullet-hell games and roguelikes--and addresses every major complaint about it.
You don't even need to pick up a controller to see that Mothergunship presents much smoother mechanics than its predecessor, with fluid movement and gunplay that is enjoyable in its own right. The latter point is particularly welcome in light of the newly added weapon crafting system, which lets you build outlandish weapons with a dozen barrels that each launches homing rockets. Silly as the prospect of mounting a fish tank on top of your gun might be, there are legitimate considerations to take into account in terms of how much energy an especially ridiculous weapon will require to fire.
Mothergunship also introduces new persistent elements to provide a greater sense of progression as you play. Combined with the ability to play cooperatively with a friend online, and it seems like there will be far from more reason to keep coming back for more.
Necrobarista | PC, Switch
Where do you go when you die? Probably not a coffee shop occupied by transient souls, but then again, it might be just crazy enough to work. In visual novel Necrobarista, the dead get a chance to extend their lives in a mysterious Melbourne cafe. The catch: You might not know who's alive and who's dead.
Inspired by anime, including the excellent Death Parade, Necrobarista tells a story over the length of a typical TV season and with a distinct anime flair. 3D cutscenes bookend exploration sequences where you can explore the room you're in, reading snippets of information about the history of where you're standing or the characters around you. Expect Cowboy Bebop references, dramatic knife sequences (really), and a lot of love for coffee.
Ooblets | PC, Xbox One
Ooblets is what happens when you cross the simulation aspects of Stardew Valley, the battle structure of Pokemon, the stylish cuteness of Animal Crossing. The game looks like a chill experience with a focus on enjoying the journey of collecting and exploring its pastel-colored world with all the hallmarks of the games it encapsulates gathered together in one place. The creatures you collect in the game are called Ooblets, and you can use them to battle against other Ooblets you meet in the world. You can customize your character's appearance and clothing with a wide range of styles. And you can even decorate and rearrange your room.
And you can dance, too! Dancing automatically makes games more exciting. There's no set exact date for Ooblets yet, but it's set to launch sometime this year for PC and Xbox One.
Overland | PC, Mac, Linux
If you’re a fan of turn-based tactics, difficult decisions that come back to haunt you, or American wilderness, Overland should be on your radar.
It’s a post-apocalyptic rogue-lite road-trip across the USA, where monsters run rampant and gasoline is sparse. You’ll start off with just one survivor and attempt to travel west, making pit stops along the way to recruit strangers, fortify your car, and find supplies.
Its minimalist visual design is super-slick, and like every good survival game, there are constantly tough situations to deal with. Are you confident enough in your combat abilities to venture far away from your vehicle? Do you spend extra fuel to drive to a more dangerous, but possibly more lucrative location? When overrun, do you try and get that straggler back in the car, or take off without them? Do you boot one of your squad members to give their car seat to a very good dog you just came across?
At the time of writing, Overland is in a “first access” phase on itch.io, meaning you can play a development build of the game now and get a taste of its campaign and mechanics. And it’s a very, very good taste. We’re very much looking forward to this one when it launches in full.
Return of the Obra Dinn | PC
Return of the Obra Dinn is one of the most visually striking upcoming indie games. Taking inspiration from classic text adventures on PC, it sports a two-tone color palette that at times is a bit tough on the eyes, but hidden behind the retro aesthetic is a fascinating detective game.
Before arriving on board a ship called the Obra Dinn, you're given a book and a mysterious pocket watch. When you find a person's dead body, your watch allows you flash to the moment of their death, while revealing other details, such as who was in the vicinity. With this knowledge, you fill out the details of the crew in your book, flipping through the ship's manifest to intuit who died and who was killed by whom. As you steadily make more discoveries, more mysteries are revealed.
The sense of intrigue that pervades the experience sets up a narrative that’s not only fascinating but gratifying. It's rare when you get a detective-centric game that allows you to flex your deduction skills. Return of the Obra Dinn challenges you to make sense of the events unfolding and gives you the freedom to infer. With seven pages worth of names to discover in the manifest, we can't wait to step aboard the Obra Dinn again to uncover more.
The Gardens Between | PC, PS4
The Gardens Between uses some clever tricks to present a story about nostalgia and friendship between two protagonists. As a narrative-focused puzzle game, each stage presents a sort of hodgepodge of their collective memories, referencing moments and locations from their childhood. As you maneuver both characters past giant retro consoles and CRT television sets, you'll come to understand that their collection of memories hold a deeper meaning--one that examines their bond and how it will shape their future.
This peculiar puzzle games plays with time and perspective. Simply walking propels time forward, while walking backwards will rewind it. Manipulating your surroundings creates new pathways for the two friends to progress. You'll often have to separate the two characters and have them tackle their own unique challenges to help the other move forward. But by the end of every stage, they'll unite and move on to the next stage, together.
From the small chunk of gameplay we played, there was an endearing and heartfelt quality to it. With more levels that aim to push your perceptive skills--forcing you to think ahead with every interaction--they'll also reveal more of the reasoning behind this nostalgic romp for its two characters. It'll be exciting to see unfold, and The Gardens Between is definitely one you'll want to keep an eye out for when it releases later this year.
Wattam | PS4, PC
Even if you aren't familiar with the name Keita Takahashi, there's a good chance you've played his most famous creation: Katamari Damacy. That game solidified his reputation as a developer with an eye for cute characters and absurd scenarios, and Wattam, Takahashi's upcoming PS4 and PC game, fits the bill perfectly.
It's a game about experimentation and discovery, where the act of play is valued over completing explicit challenges. Some could argue that it's not a game at all. So be it. Maybe Wattam deserves to fall into a category all its own, because it's definitely unlike anything else around.
Playing as a Mayor with a bomb under his hat, it's your job to create colorful explosions to attract new citizens, and you accomplish this by holding hands with different objects and characters in your environment. These pre-explosion interactions produce many kinds of unexpected surprises, lending Wattam a consistent charm that only grows with each explosion, as new potential friends--and sources of entertainment--enter the scene. We've only played a fraction of Wattam so far, but it instantly put a smile on our face and we can wait to see what else Takahashi has up his sleeve.
Way of the Passive Fist | PS4, PC
Way of the Passive Fist offers a unique twist to the side-scrolling beat 'em up genre. Instead of relying on standard button mashing to beat up pixelated goons, the game focuses on timing-based mechanics where you parry and dodge enemy attacks to defeat them. The result plays like a bizarre love child between Streets of Rage and Street Fighter III. It's awesome.
The action is fairly straightforward: enemies take turns trying to fight you, gradually teaching you the varying pace of their attacks before eventually tiring out. Then you simply push them over. While this fighting style sounds counterintuitive for a beat ‘em up, it works surprisingly well. The act of parrying and evading is easy to execute, yet it offers a steady degree of challenge, especially against multiple foes with different attack patterns. Add that on top of a Fist of the North Star-like narrative, and you have an action game that's as charming as it is mechanically distinct.