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The best indie games of 2019

Ape Out 

Platforms: PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch

Ape Out is kind of like a low-poly, top-down brawler version of Thumper. It's a good action game upheld by a great audio-visual experience, and when I say experience, I don't mean it in the wafer-thin VR experience kind of way, more in the Jimi Hendrix Experience kind of way. You play as an ape busting out of an inordinately high-security facility, and everything you destroy triggers another sound in the game's increasingly bombastic jazz soundtrack. Cymbals crash when you punch dudes, drums thump with every splatter kill while the bassist goes freakin' ballistic in the background. Ape Out is a trip, and it's a trip worth taking.  

Eagle Island 

Platforms: PC (Steam, GOG), Nintendo Switch 

Eagle Island is a 2D action platformer that's similar in structure to Spelunky - a handful of set dungeons with procedurally generated layouts designed to be explored across multiple runs - but it does some wild stuff with its combat. You play as the falconer Quill, and together with your adorable avian partner Koji, you explore the island of Yulu, beat bosses, and collect elemental feathers. You can send Koji out to attack, and by attacking multiple enemies quickly, you can rack up outrageous combos, all the while hovering in mid-air (because video games). This combo system gives Eagle Island's uniquely aerial fights a huge sense of verticality, and together with the random abilities found in dungeons, it makes clearing every room and continuing every run a pleasure.  

Katana Zero 

Platforms: PC (Steam, Humble, GOG), Nintendo Switch 

Katana Zero is a 2D action-platformer that's explicitly about looking as cool as possible, and also dying a whole lot. You play as a contract killer of a samurai in a wild sci-fi world where, thanks to a special drug called Chronos, you can manipulate time to ensure you always hit your mark. This turns every level into a riveting loop of dying, rewinding, and adapting until you fly through in one gloriously perfect run - which is then played back for you in a slick highlight reel. Katana Zero is beautiful, badass, and bite-sized, but thanks to its surprisingly touching story, it'll stick with you long after you finish it.  

Mordhau 

Platforms: PC (Steam Early Access)

Mordhau is the latest and quite possibly greatest medieval combat sim to hit PC. It's fairly new to Steam Early Access and it's got plenty of rough edges, but the fundamentals are strong: weighty, first-person combat, huge battles with multiple roles and fronts, and a fun but still fairly faithful approach to historical accuracy. Mordhau uses some subtle additions to improve its sword-swinging combat - like swiping your mouse to speed up your slashes - and its weapon diversity and deep character customization allows for a huge variety of play styles. It needs work, but at the same time, it's already worth playing. 

Wargroove 

Platforms: PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One

Few games epitomize the old adage "easy to learn, hard to master" as well as Wargroove. Its campaign starts off just simple enough and gradually introduces more complex maps and maneuvers, all the while adding more units to your army. Soon you start thinking more about your preferred faction and commander, and right around the time you get comfortable with your play style, the unique arcade and puzzle challenges swoop in to test your wits. If you manage to clear everything the base game has to offer, you can always play levels or campaigns made by other players, or create and share your own. Wargroove is as approachable as it is adorable, but it's still a deep turn-based tactics game.

Baba Is You 

Platforms: PC (Steam, Itch, Humble), Nintendo Switch 

Of all the games on this list, Baba Is You is easily the hardest to explain. It's basically a puzzle game about breaking the rules. Your goal is generally to get Baba to the exit, but there are seemingly uncountable ways to do that. You manipulate levels by rearranging lines using word blocks. An example in the trailer, for instance, shows Baba walking through an otherwise impassable wall by taking the line "Wall is Stop" and pushing the "Stop" block right out of it, thus rendering the wall void - "Wall is [Blank]." Now take that kind of sequencing - push blocks to change rules - and ramp it up exponentially. That's Baba Is You. It's a proper head-scratcher, and one of the most clever puzzle games in years. 

Satisfactory 

Platforms: PC (Epic Games Store Early Access) 

Fortunately, Satisfactory is incredibly easy to explain: it's Factorio meets No Man's Sky. Industrial sim meets interstellar adventure in this massive sandbox game about turning entire worlds into giant factories. Explore alien planets, ruthlessly stripmine them for natural resources, and put those resources to use creating enormous and involved production lines. There's a bit of combat and exploration, and the sights are definitely worth seeing, but Satisfactory is ultimately a game about conveyor belts and crafting. It's already monstrously complex even in Early Access, and new systems and technologies are introduced regularly, so now's a good time to dive in. 

My Friend Pedro 

Platforms: PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch

Imagine if Superhot and Max Payne had a baby and it was raised by a talking banana. That's My Friend Pedro, a 2D action game about ballet dancing your way through shootouts as stylishly as possible. Dual-wield uzis as you cartwheel gracefully through the air in slow motion, shoot a dude in the face then kick his head to kill another dude, or toss a frying pan into the air and angle bullets off it to down a dude behind cover. The physics in this messed up world are incredibly generous, so if you can think of a death-defying stunt, odds are you can do it. 

Heaven's Vault  

Platforms: PC (Steam), PS4

Where Outer Wilds is a brilliant sci-fi romp that's secretly an exceptional mystery game, Heaven's Vault is a fantastic adventure game that's secretly about archaeology. Explore and decipher the ruins of a lost civilization, all while piecing together a much grander plot and your place in it. You'll stay for the story and the sights, and you'll come back for the thrill of finding every last fragment of information - artefacts, books, hieroglyphs, murals - often literally buried in the world. Heaven's Vault is as much about language as it is discovery, and there's really nothing else like it.