The Best Indie Games of 2023 So Far

The Best Indie Games of 2023 So Far

Spring is on its way, and 2023 is yet a young year. Despite how early in the year it is, there has already been a bountiful crop of indie games to fill the stores for the rest of 2023. I dedicate a large portion of my time to finding new games by small dev teams, things that are weird, beautiful, visually striking, melancholy or all of these attributes rolled up together.

With that being said, there have already been so many releases that I have a pile of games that are already contenders for my indie game of the year, so here’s my list of the five best indie games of 2023 so far, in no particular order because I love all my children equally.

Whalien – Unexpected Guests

Whalien Spring Person and Squiddie
Forbidden Folds

This gloriously silly and adorable cartoon adventure from Forbidden Folds was a genuinely pleasant surprise. I went in without any expectations; I picked it purely because of the style and the fact that the main character was called Ernest Hemingwhale, a dad joke pun of epic proportions. I found an eminently enjoyable experience filled with adorable and weird characters, collectibles, and interesting environments.

Sentient AI ship Finn has been invaded by Squiddies, and they are gumming up his work and being a general nuisance. Squiddies are sentient blobs of raspberry jam, and it’s up to Ernest to use his force gloves to push and pull objects and splat the intruders. Along the way, you encounter spring people, complete side quests, and figure out how to get around obstacles in your way, all while speaking a Sims-style language and collecting stickers that tell the story of Finn and his passengers. It’s a short experience at only around 3-4 hours, but I can guarantee a good time will be had. Whalien is out now on Steam.

Rhythm Sprout: Sick Beats and Bad Sweets

Rhythm Sprout Sick Beats and Bad Sweets
Photo Credit: tinyBuild

As a big fan of rhythm games, I’m always delighted to find a new one that tackles the genre in a new way. In Rhythm Sprout from developers SURT, you are a tracksuited onion dude tasked with helping King Broccoli defend the Vegetable Kingdom from the encroaching army of Sweets. So how do you defeat these teeth-rotting scoundrels? By strutting along to some sick beats and having naps. To advance in levels, you have to hit the notes on the beat to walk forward, and once you encounter an enemy, combat is handled similarly. Think Guitar Hero meets Veggie Tales.

Rhythm Sprout is filled with weird characters, a fantastic soundtrack, and several references to the Gilmore Girls. King Broccoli is reminiscent of Katamari’s King of The Cosmos in his bizarre personality. The antagonist, King Sugar Daddy, is a tiny, tiny bean man who looks like Groucho Marx. The soundtrack is eclectic, swinging from lo-fi to 80s synth to Babymetal-esque frantic drumming and screeching. The game has a ton of unlockables, challenges, and silly cosmetics to obtain, making it easily replayable. Rhythm Sprout is out now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

The Pale Beyond

The Pale Beyond
Photo Credit: Fellow Traveller

Next on our list of the best indie games of 2023 so far is the most recent release.

This visual novel-style resource management game has a lot more to it than first meets the eye. You play as the newly hired First Mate aboard the ship The Temperance, setting out on an expedition to find its sister ship, The Viscount, that went missing five years ago. A simple premise on the surface, make it to the South Pole, search for anything that may remain of The Viscount, and keep the crew and the ship fed and warm.

Of course, there is much more going on. Captain Hunt and several other crew members soon disappear, leaving you to take control of the situation. You have to earn the crew’s loyalty, manage the meager food and fuel rations, and discover precisely what this mission is about, all while stuck in the ice and exposed to the elements. It’s a game about balance and tough choices, with a branching narrative meaning there are many outcomes to find, and it’s all accompanied by beautiful visuals and a haunting soundtrack. The Pale Beyond is out now on Steam.

Midnight Scenes: From the Woods

Midnight Scenes From the Woods
Photo Credit: Octavi Navarro Arts & Games

The Midnight Scenes series by solo developer Octavi Navarro has been floating around for a few years. Each game is a relatively short narrative horror experience presented with an opening that is an homage to The Twilight Zone. This most recent release continues the last story from 2021 called Midnight Scenes: The Nanny. In that story, siblings Oliver and Tina are thrown into a terrifying woodland nightmare when their nanny disappears. From The Woods continues this story ten years later. A decade has passed since Oliver and Tina disappeared in the woods, but Oliver has reappeared and entered a youth psychiatric treatment center.

The story is told from the perspective of fellow patient Elijah, who takes it upon himself to look after Oliver. While Elijah recounts events to one of the therapists, strange and horrible things have happened since Oliver arrived at the center, and none of them have an explanation. The game is set in the 80s and features HEAVY subject matter. There are some vile, homophobic bullies residing at the school, and they do not like Elijah. There are truly shocking dialogues and actions from the bullies that blindsided me. It was often more disturbing than the supernatural events occurring, which was no mean feat. Scary, poignant, and character-driven, From the Woods is out now on and Steam.

Pizza Tower

Pizza Tower
Photo Credit: Tour De Pizza

What is happening in Pizza Tower from the dev team Tour De Pizza? No idea, but it’s brilliant chaos.

A combination of Rocko’s Modern Life and Ren and Stimpy visually, Pizza Tower plays like a frenetic 8-year-old who has had about 10 liters of fizzy drink. The main character is called Peppino Spaghetti because, of course, he is. He has to traverse the titular Pizza Tower to save his small pizzeria from impending doom. The Pizza Tower itself is home to every single fever dream, panic attack, and 90s cartoon that has ever existed, and you have to platform, power up, and puzzle your way to the top.

Inspired by the Wario Land platformers of yore, the 2D platformer features a wide variety of strange enemies and characters to barrel into. There’s also a host of transformations and extra characters that Peppino can become with different move sets. It’s retro in the most perfect and pure sense; It’s madness, yet it’s smooth to play. The game is in constant motion, but you must think about every move you make. There’s a pig band with Elvis quiffs. There’s a soundtrack sent straight from 90s raves. It’s a truly unique experience that is so above my expectations I possibly experienced nostalgia transcendence. Pizza Tower is out now on Steam.

Wrapping Up

Did we overlook anything on our list of the best indie games of 2023 so far? If so, let us know in the comments below. 

Avatar photo

Written by Emma Oakman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *