The 2018 Indie Game of the Year

The end of the year is fast approaching, and it's during this time that we look back on all the great games released in 2018. Once again, there was plenty variety to be found in the indie scene, with some titles paying homage to the greats of a bygone era and others striving to create new and exciting experiences for players.

Here are the best indie games of the year.

Honorable Mentions

While the Metroidvania never really went away completely, 2015's Axiom Verge planted the seeds for what would be a full-on resurgence. This year, Timespinner took inspiration from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, producing a quality 2D action-adventure game that would've fit right in back in the '90s. Yoku's Island Express took the Metroidvania format and built a pinball-platformer around it. Dandara changed the way you traversed the game map, limiting your movement to diagonal dash-jumps and stripping away walking and running mechanics.

A few indie RPGs also hit the scene in 2018 in a big way. Channeling its inner EarthBound, Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass provided a quirky role-playing adventure. Meanwhile Moonlighter put you in the shoes of a shopkeeper, selling wares to travelers and adventurers by day and doing some dungeon crawling by night to restock your inventory. Then there was Into the Breach, the latest endeavor from the team behind FTL. Mixing tactical RPG gameplay with rogue-lite elements, Into the Breach provided a deep, rewarding, and smart grid-based experience.

Then there was Donut County, which was just a really good time. Seriously, if you haven't played it yet, just go do that right now. Don't even watch any videos of Donut Countyplay Donut County.

Runner-Up: The Messenger

The Messenger from Sabotage Studio may start out like an obvious tribute to Ninja Gaiden on the NES, but it soon evolves into one of 2018's best Metroidvania titles. The gameplay is tough action-platformer fare in the beginning, but around the halfway point, you unlock new abilities that allow you to traverse the ever-changing world in fun ways.

There's even a time travel mechanic in The Messenger, triggered by portals that are scattered throughout the game's world. These transport you between 8-bit and 16-bit versions of the game, creating a stylistic shift in tone that's really cool to see and listen to — those chiptunes, man!

Though it may not be for everyone due to its difficulty and retro-styled gameplay, The Messenger is one of 2018's best offerings for fans of games like Ninja Gaiden and Metroid.

Runner-Up: Dead Cells

We've been talking a lot about the Metroidvania genre, and while developer Motion Twin's Dead Cells has definitely drawn comparisons to some of the classics, its gameplay and flow are much more linear and rely on learning the game's nuances and figuring out how best to press just a little bit more forward each time you restart in its roguelike world. You're going to get your rear end handed to you in Dead Cells. Thankfully, there's some consistent, significant progression in the form of weapon unlocks that stay constant across playthroughs.

Progression in Dead Cells feels meaningful thanks to the weapon and ability unlocks you obtain as you move onward. Not only are you learning how to deal with certain enemies or bosses — you're also gaining access to a cache of powerful weapons that make reaching the end more of a reality with each attempt.

Thanks in large part to its rich gameplay loop, as well as its smart design, Dead Cells is the kind of game you return to over and over again — not just because you keep dying and restarting, but because it's just so damn good.

Runner-Up: Deltarune: Chapter 1

Toby Fox's follow-up to Undertale is everything fans could hope for, and it may even entice newcomers and possibly folks who didn't quite dig the developer's previous game. Not exactly a sequel, Deltarune is meant to offer something somewhat different yet familiar. Visually, the game is an upgrade from the more lo-fi look of Undertale. But that's not the only thing that's different. Probably the biggest change of all comes in the form of a more in-depth battle system that gives a wider variety of options whether you're trying to put your enemy down aggressively or in a pacifist manner.

The most interesting thing about this introductory chapter of Deltarune is that it's a tiny part of something developer Toby Fox says will be much bigger. The game's creator has stated that Deltarune is far from complete. What the plan is for the game in the long run is anyone's guess, but it's that mystery that makes it all the more intriguing. This isn't just episode one — it's the start of something really cool that we don't know much about, and being a part of that journey along with the game's community is going to be an exciting undertaking.

Winner: Celeste

At first glance, Celeste, from developer Matt Makes Games, may look like a typical 2D platformer. It has nice, colorful pixel graphics. The music is really good. It's difficult and fun. Those things aside, though, Celeste is also a story about perseverance over mental health issues. Your main character's internal monologue indicates that not all is right as she attempts to both climb to the top of a mountain and overcome her own inner mountain.

The themes of depression and anxiety aren't heavy-handed, but rather interspersed between stages in a way that's pretty organic. What you ultimately get is excellent gameplay with some serious, thought-provoking dialogue sprinkled in between.

Truth be told, if Celeste was nothing but a pure platformer with no semblance of a story, it would still be in this winning spot for Game of the Year 2018 because of the rock solid gameplay. The controls are tight and perfectly responsive, and the level designs, though bordering on punishing, are still a lot of fun. Heck, “fun” might be an understatement as the stage design in Celeste is easily some of the absolute best in the genre all year.

Celeste perfectly walks a fine line between putting the player through hell and creating an experience that's highly entertaining. Of all the “brutal” 2D action games that released in 2018, Celeste sits atop the mountain as arguably the most enjoyable.

Congratulations to Celeste, winner of GameCrate's 2018 Indie Game of the Year!

Check out our full 2018 award list for more.