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


Best Indie Games of 2011 – Very Honorable Mentions:


Ok, ok, get out the vitriol. Finished? The damn thing is officially out. No matter how you slice it, in 2011 there is no avoiding the elephant in the room, and that elephant’s name is the cultural phenomenon and massive indie success story that is Minecraft. We raised some eyebrows for omitting it from our 2010 list, but we stuck to our guns and insisted we would wait until an official release. Now it is a year later, and Minecraft will not require our endorsement, so we just had to slot it out, at the last moment, to give a slot to a game that perhaps those newer to the indie game space may not have been exposed.

Is it a sandbox game, a zombie shooter, an MMO, a city builder, a tribute to Dwarf Fortress, an art tool, a Lego building set, an alternate reality? None of that describes what Minecraft truly is. We can finally say – holy shit what is this amazing thing? And maybe I will build a waterslide in my garden, while the sun goes down and hey what is that fire coming from the ground? Since it’s so dark out, I’ll go see.. whaaaaa????

Asking why Minecraft matters and what it is, exactly, is not unlike asking why Tetris or Pac Man matter and what they are. Is Pac Man an action platform puzzle game? Is Tetris? Minecraft is the answer in a world of DIY, 3D, interactive, open-world action titles.

A game big enough and socially resonant enough to host and populate its very own conference, that has over 4 million users, and dozens of also-well-selling imitators, Minecraft is the undeniable indie breakout story not only of 2011, but 2010. We thank you, Markus Alexej Persson aka Notch, for the incredible thing you have wrought and for drawing global attention to the indie game scene. Good enough?

Hard Reset

“Hard Reset is an impressive indie outing from Flying Wild Hog that most certainly hearkens back to the pure adrenaline gameplay of id Software’s early days, recalling the balls out, speedy graphic engine, take no prisoners mayhem that was Wolfenstein 3d or Doom but with graphics that showcase the best of today. In other words, it might just make John Romero proud, except, being a true single-player experience there will be no deathmatches here.

“What really matters is that it paves the way for a jaw-dropping setting. William Gibson and Ridley Scott would both weep at the visual depth of Hard Reset.” – Patrick Bartholomew


(Arrowhead Game Studios)

To an outsider, Magicka may have appeared to be a title released by a proper studio with its slick-looking graphics, constant rollout of DLCs and widespread popularity, when in fact it was put together by Arrowhead Studios that comprises some eight students out of Skellefteå, Sweden. With the self-referential gamer humor that we also saw in Blocks that Matter and Unepic, this creative RPG title did a very interesting thing indeed in designing a magic casting system that let you more or less “make it up as you go along”; by combining any number of elements (that include Arcane, Earth, Fire, Water, Cold, Lighting and so on) you have literally hundreds, if not thousands of spells at your disposal, akin to the alchemical system in Elder Scrolls games where combinations of ingredients form a variety of potions. Spells can be cast on oneself, outward in a jet, on an area and so on.

While the solo campaign often fell a little flat in that it guides you along rails into head-scratching near-puzzle-based progression through the landscape, the mutiplayer mode was where Magicka showed its true virtues, leading to some truly outrageous scenarios and surprising solutions via the spell combos cast by your “peers”. The myriad themed DLCs included such scenarios as Vietnam, Halloween, and even a tribute to 8-bit games. If you have the patience to get into it, or better yet a couple of friends to bomb around with, this was a terrific offering in the indie verse in 2011.

Check out the hilarious live action trailer for “The Stars Are Left” expansion below:

Dungeons of Dredmor + Realm of the Diggle Gods DLC

(Gaslamp Games, Inc.)

“If you’ve ever wanted to get into a Rogue-like after hearing about the genre’s deep gameplay elements, it’s incredible difficulty despite the fact that it’s rewarding to players who can think their way out of a nasty encounter gameplay, yet were put-off by their typically minimalist ASCII non-graphics, then this one is for you.

I’m really glad that I waited until after the DLC launched to complete this review. At launch the game was plagued with crashes to desktop that would effectively “kill” your character, which obviously made progression daunting, if not impossible, and with the same old enemies over and over on the upper levels, it got older, faster. But now, I think it’s right where it should be. There is even room for more classes and abilities to be added in, and I would welcome new DLCs, if they were forthcoming.

Gaslamp, the micro-indie that it is, has successfully created a witty, fun adventure that will open the door for players who might not have tried a Rogue-like otherwise. It is definitely worth the less-than $5 entry fee they are asking for admission.” – from the review by HappyWulf

Dungeons of Dredmor screenshot

Click Next for More Honorable Mentions and Most Anticipated Games for 2012 and beyond

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. This has been a fantastic year for Indie games. My congrats to unepic, is really an AAA game.

    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 😉

  2. 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.

  3. 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….”

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. “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 ?

  7. 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…

  8. 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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