Top 10 Best Indie Games of 2011 – Indie Game Reviewer’s Favorite Game Picks of the Year

igr goty 2011

Best Indie Games of 2011

A year, is an eon in gaming industry time, particularly in times like these where the tools and intent have matched up with Moore’s law to provide an embarrassment of riches to indie gaming fans. Of course, there are countless titles that are DOA, just as there are countless titles meriting as much of the spotlight as all the elements that made them as good as they are.

At IGR, we polled the writers, the gamers, the communities, we argued and opined about how to create a list of ten titles from the mass of possibilities. We wondered and were often challenged by the idea that perhaps we should nominate and select games for each genre, but ultimately the answer is – no, we set up the challenge to identify the top ten games and so had weigh in heavily on impact, innovation, creativity, technical excellence, reception, adoption, implementation and so on.

Games from Far and Wide, All Shapes and Sizes

In that context, we have selected ten games to represent all genres, known and emergent, that ultimately left the greatest mark, that either moved their genres forward or best represented them in their respective categories. These games will never form the definitive list, but we trust you will afford us the bandwidth that believes, we tried our best to help you remember what a truly amazing year it was for independent game development around the world.

Finally, some may challenge the definition of an indie game an whether some of the titles on our list qualify for this special category. We define an indie game as any title that is not created by an established studio with an annual budget that has a yearly development slate. In other words, small teams that generally form around the creation of a specific title and then reassemble to build subsequent titles.

Because indies are becoming bigger business and the audience is becoming bigger in step with such growth, budgets are also growing. Therefore we set the total budget cap at any title under two and a half million. That may sound like a lot, but if you compare it to the film industry where indies are made for as much as fifteen million, then it shouldn’t seem so inordinate.

Finally, an important distinction is that an indie title that is published by a studio (like Bastion being published by Warner Bros.) still qualifies so long as that publisher did not have a say in the game’s development. Again, in the film world, this is called a “negative pickup” – when an independent production company creates a film on their own, and a distributor or studio later picks up the negative film master in a marketing and release deal.

For this reason, we did not include From Dust which was designed by Eric Chahi and developed by Ubisoft Montpellier (which is sad because they made a great game and Ubisoft muddled its release with stupid DRM issues). [From Dust – Wikipedia reference]).

From Dust – concept art

Looking at the SuperGiant site (the devs behind Bastion) – we can see from their description:

“Supergiant Games is a small developer with big ambitions: to make games that spark your imagination like the games you played as a kid.
We’re supergiant in name only. We’re seven people whose headquarters is the living room of a house in sleepy San Jose. But we make for a superstar team. We walked away from our jobs building major franchises for huge publishers to make original downloadable titles for people who love games and their loved ones.”

The Witcher 2, while by all appearances, a AAA title, is technically an indie title from Polish developer CD Projekt RED. We did not include it because, like Minecraft, we wanted focus on slightly smaller or lesser established developers. (Again, designing a top ten amidst such an embarrassment of riches is near to impossible).

Similarly, we spoke to Frozenbyte, the team behind Trine 2 about their indie cred, see the review for their response and why we decided they qualify.

Many thanks to the writers, developers and gamers who took the time not only to chime in, but to support the independent game community.

We look forward to your thoughts.

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Top 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. HM1 HM2 HM3 MA


17 thoughts on “Top 10 Best Indie Games of 2011 – Indie Game Reviewer’s Favorite Game Picks of the Year

    1. Thank you for posting 🙂 Not sure that Unepic is anything like a AAA title in the contemporary sense, but it sure it as worthy of attention and your money 😉

  1. Wow! This is an incredibly comprehensive list. Though I may not agree fully with the top 10, you’ve done a wonderful job mentioning all these fantastic indie games (some of which I haven’t heard of). I’ll definitely go through this list later to check out any awesome indie game I may have missed. Thanks for putting this list together.

    1. Thank you for your kind acknowledgement. It was a spectacular year and it sure kept us very busy. 🙂 2012 will not slow this trend down one bit.

  2. Man, the Binding of Issac, to me, was the game of the year. I pumped more hours into that game than any other indie game I’ve ever played (we’re talking 40+ here). Plus, I don’t know if you guys heard this, but they’re working on DLC for it that is said to “nearly double the size of the game”, to which my free time responds “Ah crap….”

  3. Thanks for compiling such an extensive list! I missed out on quite a few of these games, unfortunately, but at least now I have a great reference point. One game I am very happy to see included is Rock of Ages. I don’t think that title got nearly enough press, considering how much fun it was.

  4. Great article, and nice to see some titles get acknowledged that didn’t get the press deserved in 2011 by the mainstream media 🙂 Couple of other titles to watch for in 2012 are StarDrive, Kenshi and Airmech, all look really nice, and we have to plug our own title Star Prospector that will be released very soon!

  5. “When we saw the first trailer for Hawken, we thought it was an April Fool’s joke. There was no way the gameplay could look as good as what we were seeing. And yet as further gameplay clips emerge, it seems to hold to its promise. With a fast growing user base who play the beta, it seems it is more than just smoke and mirrors”

    What beta ? Does hawken have a beta running ?

  6. what no machinarium? it’s a great game and deserves to be here! i couldn’t help but not to fall in love in that game and i usually don’t like puzzle games and it was a lot better than tiny bang story

    1. Thanks for commenting. We loved it too. Machinarium, however, was release Friday 16 October 2009…

  7. At first I was disappointed with your list. Especially when I saw Bastion as number one. An average game with a good voiceover seems to have stunned everyone…

    But the rest of your list and the sheer number of Honourable Mentions has really made this a great reference for anyone casually looking around the indie scene. Great range from things like Spacechem and Solar 2 through to odd little gems like To the Moon. Great list, thanks for the (no doubt) many hours that must have gone into putting this together.

    1. It’s always interesting when, in disagreeing with a carefully thought-out and presented opinion, one’s only argument is “no way.”

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