As always, the Independent Games Festival is filled with cool games this year. The newly published list of 2018 IGF finalists (opens in new tab) features everything from games about voyeurism to ones about household objects to at least one about penises. (Genital Jousting is on the list.) The finalists are a goldmine if you’re looking for weird, experimental, and great games to play, and there are some all timers on the docket, too. That being said, if I had to choose just five games from this year’s finalists to recommend to everyone and their dog, it would be these.
Return of the Obra Dinn
Nominated for: Excellence in Visual Art, Excellence in Audio, Excellence in Design, Excellence in Narrative, and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.
Return of the Obra Dinn is the second atmospheric, text-heavy romp from Papers, Please creator Lucas Pope. Not wishing to spoil, I can tell you that it’s a first-person adventure game about exploring a ship, the titular Obra Dinn, and investigating the deaths of its crew. Its presentation is impeccable, from its black-and-white, one-bit aesthetic (pictured above) to its innovative storytelling. It was easily the cleverest game of 2018, and just as importantly, it makes you feel clever, too.
Nominated for: Excellence in Design and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.
I just said Return of the Obra Dinn was the cleverest game of 2018, and it was, but if Opus Magnum hadn’t come out in 2017, deciding that would’ve been a lot harder. Opus Magnum is an open-ended puzzle game from developer Zach Barth, who by all rights is to video game puzzles what Pope is to video game narrative. You may know Barth and his studio Zachtronics from Infinifactory or Shenzhen I/O, both fabulous puzzlers on their own. Opus Magnum takes everything that made them great, gives it an alchemical twist, and refines it without sacrificing any depth. It’s approachable, un-put-down-able, and endlessly satisfying.
Nominated for: the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.
As it happens, endless satisfaction is sort of the antithesis of Minit, a game whose satisfaction is firmly segmented into 60-second snippets. Minit is a 2D adventure game that you can only play for one minute at a time. The more you play – dying, restarting, trying other routes, and eventually progressing – the more secrets you uncover, and the more engrossing the cycle becomes. Minit is necessarily fueled by short-term goals, but its world is so engaging that you’ll be hooked for the long haul.
Nominated for: Excellence in Visual Art.
And now for a game I don’t have a segue for: Forgotton Anne, a 2D platformer heavily styled after Hayao Miyazaki’s storied anime films. It tells the story of Anne, a woman living in – and indeed trying to escape from – a world populated by the spirits of forgotten objects. There’s a very Beauty and the Beast whimsy to its talking scarves and pots and what-have-you, but Forgotton Anne’s art and themes are beautifully and unabashedly Miyazaki right down to the bone marrow. Its light puzzle and platforming elements take a backseat to the story, but that’s just fine, because the story’s got more than enough heart to carry the experience.
Nominated for: Excellence in Audio.
Moss is an action puzzler about an adorable mouse named Quill, and it always reminded me of the likes of Secret of Nimh and The Rescuers. (Gee, this is turning into a great article for referencing animated films, isn’t it?) It’s a delightful playable fairy tale that makes excellent use of VR’s features, and it’s still one of the best VR games. Sure, you need a VR headset to play it, but it really is the kind of game where you’d buy one just to play it.
You’ll find several of these games and plenty more on our list of the 15 best indie games (opens in new tab) you probably missed in 2018.