Niche Gamer’s Favorite Indie Games of 2018

Despite all the doom and gloom coming from the AAA side of the game industry in 2018, we had tons of awesome indie and AA releases throughout the year. So many that there’s no way our small staff could reasonably cover them all, unfortunately.

As Niche Gamer’s new resident indie snob, I want to remind our audience of some of the smaller games that came out this year.

Going forward, I’m going to do an annual article recapping some of our favorite indie games from the prior year. I’m going to keep it limited to games that we reviewed, or that I personally played.

Sadly, this means that some great games will be missing from this list, so if your favorite indie title from 2018 didn’t make the cut, its probably because we just never had a chance to play it ourselves.

Here are 10 of the Niche Gamer staff’s favorite indie games from 2018:

Into the Breach
Developer: Subset Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Switch
Our Score: 7

First up on the list is Into the Breach, the latest game from the developers of the beloved sci-f roguelite, FTL. Personally, I disagree with many of Cody’s criticisms of the game from his review, and Into the Breach is definitely in my top 10 list of favorite games of 2018. While the progression, variety, and replayability is a bit of a step down from FTL, I feel like Into the Breach is the better game when it comes to raw tactics and player skill. You won’t have a run ruined because of a string of bad luck, and while getting good gear can make battles much easier, ultimately success always comes down to making sound tactical decisions. It has it’s share of flaws, and I agree with Cody on some points, but Into the Breach is still one of my favorite tactics games of 2018.

Black Bird
Developer: Onion Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Switch
Our Score: 9

Black Bird is a fairly recent release from Japanese indie developer Onion Games, and unfortunately it came out to little fanfare or recognition. It’s a real shame too, because Brandon praised it in his review for it’s inventive and quirky visuals, solid controls, and rewarding combo-driven shmup action. The biggest problem with Black Bird is that its a bit on the short side, even with the multiple endings and various extras. The game was already being sold for 50% off during the Steam Winter Sale, so if you aren’t quite prepared to spend $20 on such a short experience, then you should definitely catch it during a sale.

La-Mulana 2
Publisher: Playism
Developer: Nigoro
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac
Our Score: 10

Another game Brandon reviewed and absolutely loved was La-Mulana 2, the follow-up to Nigoro’s cult hit Metroidvania from 2005. He was even considering it as one of his personal game of the year picks. La-Mulana 2 builds upon the original with more refined mechanics and tons of legitimately difficult and rewarding puzzles, platforming, and boss encounters. There’s also an insane amount of content to dive into, with a 100% run easily taking you around 100 hours from what I hear. Just be aware that like it’s predecessor, La-Mulana 2 is not for the feint of heart. Some of the puzzles are ridiculously intricate, and require careful examination of the environment and more than a little notetaking. It’ll be hitting consoles sometime in Spring 2019.

Dead Cells
Developer: Motion Twin
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Our Score: 8.5

Speaking of Metroidvanias, Dead Cells released this year and proved that there’s still plenty of unique ways to use roguelike mechanics in different genres. Ryan reviewed it for us, and I largely agree with his assessment of the game. Dead Cells was very high on my list of favorite releases from 2018 due to its gorgeous pixel art, rewarding progression system, and brutal combat mechanics that emphasis personal skill. Dead Cells is a shining example of Early Access done right. The game launched with a solid foundation that the developers built upon with regular updates until it was ready for its final release, and the result was one of the best games of 2018.

Star Control: Origins
Developer: Stardock Entertainment
Platforms: Windows PC
Our Score: 9

Our next game is, unfortunately, in the midst of a petty copyright dispute. When Brandon reviewed Star Control: Origins, he praised it for its excellent combat system, massive open galaxy to explore, and large cast of colorful and eccentric characters to interact with. Sadly, I never had a chance to grab the game myself before it was nuked from Steam. If you’re in the same boat as me, be sure to keep an eye on the news, and give Star Control: Origins a shot via Stardock’s own store. It’s worth mentioning you get a Steam key when purchasing through Stardock’s store.

Developer: Radical Fish Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac, Linux
Our Score: 8.5

After an infamously long development cycle, CrossCode finally released from Early Access back in September. I reviewed it myself, and rank it as one of my favorite releases of 2018. Pixel art indie games are a dime a dozen, but CrossCode nails the aesthetic and successfully replicates the look and feel of a fondly remembered action RPG from the Sega Genesis. The game is a bit grindy, and it takes a long time to pick up steam, but if you devote the time to complete CrossCode, you’ll discover an excellent and surprisingly deep RPG with a great cast of characters.

Developer: Joakim Sandberg
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita, Switch
Our Score: N/A

Iconoclasts is another indie game with a ridiculously long development cycle, and a lot of people seemed to miss it or otherwise forget that it came out this year. We didn’t review it here on Niche Gamer, but I personally played through it when it first released and highly recommend that you give it a chance. It’s a relatively short Metroidvania at around 15 hours, and the upgrades are a little bland, but it’s pixel art looks absolutely beautiful in motion. It took a while for me to really get invested in Iconoclasts, but the second half of the game is awesome, and there’s some really fun boss fights towards the end.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
Publisher: Funcom
Developer: The Bearded Ladies
Platforms: Windows PC, PS4, Xbox One
Our Score: 8.5

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is more of a AA game with a traditional publisher, but I’d like to highlight it anyway because it came out late in 2018 and was largely ignored by a lot of outlets. Rory reviewed it and loved the unique blend of stealth mechanics and XCOM-style combat in an RPG package, and several other members of the Niche Gamer staff have been raving about it lately. The storytelling is Mutant‘s main weak spot, and the ending feels rushed and unsatisfying. If you just want some awesome tactical combat, however, then you should pick the game up.

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus
Publisher: Kasedo Games
Developer: Bulwark Studios
Platforms: Windows PC
Our Score: 8

Mechanicus was a very surprising release for me. Warhammer 40k games can be fairly hit or miss, so imagine my shock when a developer I’ve never heard of before came along and made what is just a few issues shy of being one of the best 40k video game adaptations ever made. As I said in my review, Mechanicus offers superb tactical combat with some unique resource management mechanics. A great combat system would have been enough, but Mechanicus is also very well written, atmospheric, and is one of the few video games that really utilizes the 40k lore in any meaningful way. If there was more replay value, and the progression system was more balanced to prevent your tech-priests from becoming god-like murder machines late game, then Mechanicus would have been a serious contender for my personal game of the year.

Insurgency: Sandstorm
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: New World Interactive
Platforms: Windows PC, PS4, Xbox One
Our Score: 7.5

Finally, we come to Insurgency: Sandstorm, the game I eventually settled on as my personal pick for game of the year, and even then I’m still flip-flopping back and forth between several games in this very article. Though my review gave it a “mere” 7.5, that was based on the pre-release build, and though it still has its fair share of flaws, Sandstorm has improved dramatically in the few weeks since I wrote my review. Insurgency: Sandstorm is, in my opinion, the best multiplayer FPS released in 2018. It has unsurpassed sound design, tense firefights, and doesn’t lock half the weapons and content behind arbitrary ranks and progression systems. Best of all, its half the price of your average AAA shooter, and actually gives you a complete experience devoid of microtransactions, season passes, loot boxes, or level boosters. The low time-to-kill and reliance on teamwork and tactics means that its not a game for everyone, but if you want a more accurate military shooter than the latest installment of Battlefield or Call of Duty, then you should add Insurgency: Sandstorm to your library.

And with that, the staff here at Niche Gamer are done looking back at 2018 and reminiscing about our favorite game releases from the previous year. Well, mostly.

I’m already preparing a long list of indie games to look forward to in 2019, and I plan on trying to get around to some of the games we missed that deserve our coverage.

What indie and/or niche titles did you enjoy last year? Which awesome games did we miss? Be sure to complain about our picks in the comments section below.


Frank was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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