Our personal favorite small-scale indie games of 2021

Publication date of the original Japanese article: 2021-12-28 15:00 (JST)
Translated by. Ryuki Ishii


Each year, the contributing members of the Japanese edition of AUTOMATON select their personal favorite games of the year, including their favorite indie game. It’s hard to define what is and isn’t an indie game, so our JP team categorized it loosely as “a game created by a small development team.” What is considered a “small” team then? 5 developers? 10? 20? We couldn’t reach a consensus, so we left it open to interpretation, thinking it would be less of a sin than to declare the definition of what an indie game is. Here are some of the titles they picked:

*This is a heavily summarized version of the original Japanese article.


Death’s Door


A Zelda-like 3D action-adventure game refined to the extreme, showing a deep understanding of the genre by extracting and mixing all the right things to make a great game.

by. Takayuki Sawahata


Webbed


A 2D action game about a web-swinging spider. The two-person team succeeded in incorporating its unique spider web mechanics in an enjoyable way.

by. Taijiro Yamanaka


Ikenfell

*Ikenfell initially released in 2020, but the Japanese version came out in 2021.

An RPG about a group of students attending a magic school. It features characters with unique personalities, an intriguing storyline, and tactical, yet action-rich combat. But most of all, it has a sense of warmth and inclusivity that I’ve never felt before in a video game. The localization was also handled with care, with befitting translations for personal pronouns that maintains the accepting atmosphere of the original text.

by. Maho Ikemi


Muck


A Risk of Rain 2 inspired survival game made by a content creator named Dani. Its unexpected success was definitely one of the highlights of 2021, showcasing the craftsmanship of Dani both as a content creator and a game developer.

by. Mizuki Kashiwagi


A YEAR OF SPRINGS


At first, I didn’t like the self-loathing protagonist Haru, a transgender woman who defines herself as a broken human being, until I came to realize that her situation is different from others. Within the law, the system, or the community, there was no place for her to be accepted. This is a game for people who have been denied of being themselves.

by. Yuki Kurosawa


Road 96


A road trip adventure game about escaping from an authoritarian nation. You’ll interact with people you meet along the way, and you can either encourage electoral change, incite a revolution, or give up and just act as a bystander. Words and actions of a single citizen aren’t enough to change the nation, but as you repeat your escapade as different fugitives and accumulate actions, things may eventually change little by little. That’s the possibility this game presents through its iterative narrative structure. What starts out as a personal journey will end up giving you an opportunity to think about the bigger picture.

As you understand more about the state of this nation and cross the border enough times to a point where the sense of accomplishment fades, your motivation becomes more and more about the greater cause. The characters you’re playing as are disposable and easily sacrificed. There’s something sinister about it that intrigued me as a cautionary tale of balance between striving for the greater good and the personal sacrifices you make as an individual.


ElecHead


A solo developed 2D action puzzle game with an astonishing sum of ideas packed into it. The rules and mechanics are simple enough to understand at first glance, but the game makes use of them in clever ways to test players’ puzzle-solving skills. This isn’t your typical puzzle game. It’s a battle of wits between players and the developer. It proves to the world that you can make a great game by yourself, as long as you have a great idea.

by. Ayuo Kawase