January is typically a slow period for gaming, encouraging many to look to their backlog. Helpfully, many sites also publish “best of” lists highlighting games from the previous year around this time. And it seems like there are more indies in these articles than ever before. So, which of 2022’s indies, according to a cross-section of the industry’s outlets, came out on top?
I looked over the following sites, and ranked each indie title based on a complicated mathematical formula: Polygon, MinnMax, GamesRadar+, Game Informer, GameSpot, Rock Paper Shotgun, Launcher, IGN, PC Gamer, and Eurogamer. The result takes into account how often a game appeared and, where applicable, how it placed on the various lists. After crunching the numbers, here are the totally scientific indie game rankings for 2022.
10. Cult of the Lamb
If a list kicks off with an amazing roguelite-meets-management-sim like Cult of the lamb at number ten, you can only wonder what managed to place higher. This devilishly appealing game sees you play as the titular lamb, growing a following of the name of a higher, darker, power. But tending to your flock isn’t always an easy task. One of the most visually stunning games of this year, this title is due for even more content later this year.
9. The Case of the Golden Idol
Of all the titles here, I am perhaps happiest to see this one on the list. Though this murder mystery experience earned high praise in my review, it seemed a little like the game had been overlooked by the industry at large. But it looks like others felt the lack as well, making sure to place it on their own end-of-year rankings. A blend of intriguing puzzles and wild narrative, this is absolutely a title to clear from your backlog.
No surprise seeing this on the list, as Stray won Best Indie along with other prizes at The Game Awards this year. However, it’s striking that such an awarded game only made it to the eighth spot, making room for more surprising candidates. Players still shouldn’t miss out on this adventure which follows a cut trying to escape a walled-off, deteriorating city populated with sentient robots.
To my continuing shame, I still have not finished Norco. I’ve heard it likened to Kentucky Route Zero, a title that combines bizarre and mundane in a smart, poignant, and heartbreaking way. And my playthrough so far backs that up. The game centers around the mystery of your mother’s disappearance in a fictionalized Norco, Louisiana. Set in the near future, it oozes somber sci-fi charm and unfolds unlike anything else this year.
6. Citizen Sleeper
Citizen Sleeper might be number six on this list, but as far as games I’m sorry I didn’t finish in 2022, it rockets straight to number one. The tabletop-like, sci-fi experience is characterized by stunning and heartfelt writing. As an emulated entity having escaped a company that essentially owns you, you try to cut ties with your past and make a life aboard a station crammed with colorful characters and dangerous mysteries.
5. Marvel Snap
Beware: this game has the potential to take over your life. Being on mobile platforms makes it easy to access at any part of the day, the familiar Marvel characters makes players want to collect every card, and the gameplay is dangerously capable of pushing players into a “just one more round” loop. That’s probably why it made so many top ten lists this year.
Coming in at number four, Immortality more than deserves to be remembered as one of 2022’s best indie titles. Developer Sam Barlow is well-known for his love of full-motion video games, having created hits like Telling Lies and Her Story. However, this year’s title which has players scrubbing through various clips from the fictitious Marissa Marcel’s career may top them all with amazing performances and subtle, and unsettling, things happening just under the surface.
If you needed any evidence that this list is totally objective, here it is. Tunic may not have been the industry’s top game of the year (though it was certainly mine), but it’s good to see it in the top three. A game of nostalgia and mystery, Tunic is more than the Zelda-like, fox-led, game that meets the eye. It is difficult to talk to much about what makes it special without spoiling the game, which means convincing doubtful players can prove challenging. But if you only play one game from 2022, this should be it.
2. Neon White
Neon White was the second most mentioned game across all the media’s 2022 lists. Its stylish action and compelling, card-based challenges might have had a hand in that. And while the story hasn’t received much praise, its pure, thrilling gameplay carries the day, making Neon White a must-play title for anyone looking to fill this slower release period.
1. Vampire Survivors
Making it on to every single list I looked at — and scoring in the top 10 on all but one — gaming media has spoken: Vampire Survivors wins 2022’s indie crown. Hopefully that crown has some kind of undead-repellent powers because it’ll be in trouble otherwise. There were several games this year that picked up a reputation for being hard to put down, but the love for this game’s gripping gameplay and clever upgrading system is unassailably unanimous.