Ever since Steam Deck has been released it quickly became the perfect machine to take your favorite hobby on the go. And what better games to take with you than the beautifully and lovingly crafted myriad of Indie games? In this article, we will be looking into some of the best indie games to play on the Steam Deck.
Most indie games have this great quality of demanding less horsepower from your system which is great for the Steam Deck. On top of that, they represent the true essence of games as an art form where the developers pour their heart into their creations, a reality that is somewhat fading away from mainstream AAA games.
The best Indie games to play on the Steam Deck are:
- Hollow Knight
- Hotline Miami 1 and 2
- Dead Cells
- Cult of the Lamb
- Stardew Valley
- Skul: The Hero Slayer
- Death’s Door
- Disco Elysium
- Rogue Legacy 2
- Vampire Survivors
- Into The Breach
- Ori and the Blind Forest
- Gunfire Reborn
- Neon White
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
- Outer Wilds
- Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights
Being a rogue-like game, the whole formula of how Hades is played screams to be taken along with you and played in small little bursts throughout the day. Most rogulites usually have this throwaway story in them but in the case of Hades, the story is very much central to the whole deal and one that will keep bringing you back for one more go.
Where Hades truly shines though is in its combat design. It is snappy and makes you feel the full force of the godly powers you accumulate on your entire run. I have never witnessed such a perfect synergy of powers in any other game. A single run of this game will take around 40 to 50 mins so it sits perfectly well in your Steam Deck Library for those quick gaming sessions.
Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania 2D platformer that starts slow but as you progress the whole gameplay transforms into this breakneck symphony of combat. The game has this beautiful and simple hand-drawn art design that perfectly encapsulates the whole bug kingdom theme of the game. You move around the kingdom trying to figure out what happened to this once bustling insect society.
With a small nail (weapon) in his hand, your cute little critter eventually becomes this force to be reckoned with. The combat and movement in this game are simple but so expertly curated that everything feels super tight especially when fighting. Everything is so on point here from the lore, combat, art, and bosses (OH MY GOD THE BOSSES ARE INSANELY FUN), upgrades, and even the NPC stories are quite fascinating. It feels like an injustice to the game trying to summarize it into a few sentences. Please try it if you haven’t.
Hotline Miami 1 and 2
One of the first games to put a spotlight on the whole indie game subculture of the industry. Hotline Miami 1 and 2 are top-down twitch shooters where you have to clear the level as quickly and stylishly as possible. Both you and the enemies are killed in a single attack so you have to be extra careful when engaging in combat and plan out your attack pattern accordingly.
It is a constant back-and-forth, trial-and-error type of game that necessitates you to learn from your previous death to make your next run even more effective. The art design has this trippy fever dream quality that stands out and the synth background music keeps pumping your blood for that retry rush.
Another rogue-like legend, Dead Cells has the same repeatability quality as Hades from a 2D platformer perspective. The game has countless weapons of different varieties that transform the way you play from one run to another and even in the middle of the run. The combat is fast and snappy and the world is filled to the brim with secrets and branching paths.
Dead Cells is a rogue-lite, Metroidvania-inspired, action-platformer. You’ll explore a sprawling, ever-changing castle… assuming you’re able to fight your way past its keepers in 2D souls-lite combat. No checkpoints. Kill, die, learn, repeat. Regular free content updates!
Cult of the Lamb
Start your own cult in a land of false prophets, venturing out into diverse and mysterious regions to build a loyal community of woodland Followers and spread your Word to become the one true cult. Cult of the Lamb is one part dungeon crawling rogue-like and one part town (cult) builder/simulator. You will take the unassuming role of a cute Lil lamb possessing demonic powers to rule your cult with an iron fist.
The game has this amazing pop-up book art design that hides sinister undertones. With a unique demonic twist to the town builder formula, there are many things you can do with your cultists that are funny and sometimes gut-wrenching. Both halves of this game blend beautifully with Steam Deck’s on-the-go gaming.
Speaking of town building and farming, how can we forget the phenomenal Stardew Valley? In this game, you’ve inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot in Stardew Valley. Armed with hand-me-down tools and a few coins, you set out to begin your new life. Can you learn to live off the land and turn these overgrown fields into thriving homes?
Stardew Valley is the apex of indie game design. Taking the foundation laid by Harvest Moon and improving upon it in every possible way, it is an engrossing game that can be played comfortably at any pace. Even after hundreds of hours, there are new things to discover and experience. Steam Deck can be the best place to build your dream farm in this game.
Skul: The Hero Slayer
It isn’t without its rough edges, but Skul is a compelling experience, and definitely scratches the itch left by the button-mashing brawling of Hades and Dead Cells. If you’ve played those games to completion, or if you want a game with decadent pixel art and a wealth of characterful play options, then it’s an easy recommendation. The game has a very unique design for the power-ups i.e. skulls you acquire along your journey.
Cuphead is a 2D boss rush game that will push you to your limit. The game has a very unique hand-drawn 50’s cartoon/animation style. On a technical and artistic level, Cuphead is a stunning achievement in both gaming and interactive art, and unlike anything you have ever played before. Some of the game’s levels will drag you to the edge of sanity trying to best them, and your thumbs will take the brunt of it for sure. But it will keep a smile on your face even through the punishment.
Death’s Door is a top-down isometric dungeon crawler with a Zelda-esque feel. From the distinct, sprawling domains of your three primary marks, to the adorably avian way your crow tilts and juts its head around, the game never misses a moment to delight you with some new wonder, and just when you think it’s run out of surprises; whether it’s a new tune, a beautiful vignette, or a quiet moment of empathy, it’s always got something else tucked underneath its wing.
Pushing the Zelda-like envelope even further is Tunic. Tunic is an absolute gem of a game. The combat is exciting without being overly difficult or frantic. The exploration feels organic without dragging on for too long.
The dual inspirations of The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls complement each other, and the isometric viewpoint makes it feel fresh when compared to other titles inspired by one of the aforementioned games. The time needed to knock out the campaign feels just right, while still naturally encouraging you to try another run to see all of the game’s secrets.
Playing Sable very well may be as close as one can get to a meditative experience while playing a game. Few games feel as good to simply exist within as Sable. The game’s gorgeous visuals, warm and comforting music, and intuitive game design all come together to create a unique experience about trying to find one’s place in the world through an expression of an individual’s freedom.
Disco Elysium wants to get you in touch with the voices in your head. This detective RPG calls back to the old Infinity Engine games like Baldur’s Gate, but it put a unique spin on everything. With a beautiful oil painting aesthetic, it also features a system that treats your skill like additional party members, each with their own opinions on your actions. It is a game for those who are looking to let go of a traditional gameplay loop and are willing to embrace the text-heavy deep narrative-based side of gaming.
Rogue Legacy 2
Rogue Legacy 2 is an enormous beast of an adventure, packed with fast combat, great platforming, and endless replayability. It’s the kind of game that can be actively difficult to stop playing, with the spoils from one run opening up new opportunities in the next that can be difficult to resist checking out.
While progress can be slow it rarely turns into a grind, with most hits and the inevitable death of the current hero feeling fair and avoidable if only you’d been just a bit more skilled.
Vampire Survivors is still in early access, of course, so one hopes that more depth and variety are on the way. The important stuff though is that core blend of roguelike and bullet hell shoot-em-up is already beyond solid. With a bit more meat on the bone, Vampire Survivors could be ready to take its place among Dead Cells, Hades, and the other greats that preceded it.
Into The Breach
Unlike many games that have big ambitions and big budgets, only to falter at the most fundamental level, Into the Breach under-promises and over-delivers. Its modest look and surface simplicity belie an addictive and really satisfying gameplay loop that is deep without being overly complicated and rewarding in perfect, bite-size moments. An almost perfectly formed strategy game, that hides near-infinite variety and depth beneath its deceptively simple presentation.
Ori and the Blind Forest
An artistic masterclass on virtually every level. It begins perfectly, it ends perfectly, and it delivers a bounty of beautiful, creative platformer goodness in between. Gorgeous art direction, a simple but touching story, and layers and layers of lovely majestic sound effects, coupled with a kick-ass soundtrack, and great old-school platform mechanics.
Despite the high level of difficulty, Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the best of its kind. Considering the excellent presentation and the lovable fairy tale atmosphere, it is certain that the experience will be firmly imprinted in your memory. The sequel to this game, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is also a great game for the Steam Deck.
A masterpiece in its genre. Addictive FPS with roguelike mechanics, and satisfying gameplay. The shooting feels like one of your classics, like DOOM, or Quake. Dungeons and progress mechanics feel kinda like The Binding of Isaac. But there are more than just comparisons!
You get platformer sections, online co-op, very characteristic boss fights, and an arsenal of cool weapons you can choose from. Taking all these together leaves you with an amazing game and hours of gameplay which you will surely enjoy!
Inscryption manages to combine an expertly-crafted card game, a nail-biting tale of horror, and enjoyable escape room adventures into another genre-defying gem and easily one of the year’s best games.
Whether you come for the gameplay and strategy, the story and atmosphere, or both, you’ll walk away awestruck at the sheer, brilliant madness you just experienced. This is a game unlike any other, that delivers one surprise after another, with plenty of twists to create an experience where nothing is what it seems.
Neon White is an absolute delight of a speed-running game. It’s easy to pick up and play, and it has enough bite that you need to master how to shave off a few seconds from your time to proceed. More importantly, it feels really good to do so. The plot is fun, if not groundbreaking, and the likable characters keep you invested. Aside from some backtracking, Neon White hits all the marks and hits them well. Just be prepared to start playing and discover that eight hours have flown by.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge caters to a specific niche audience, but couldn’t have done a better job of it. The developers understood what made the arcade games great thirty-plus years ago and build on it, creating a game that is rooted in the style of its predecessors with just enough modernization to feel contemporary.
References to the OG games and cartoons are sprinkled throughout. Shredder’s Revenge does rely on nostalgia for the golden age of arcade gaming for players to be completely enamored with it. Without the nostalgia goggles, it’s still a great retro beat ’em up based on its own gameplay merits, but for those who grew up with the classic Turtles, it feels like a fragment of childhood has been recreated.
Outer Wilds is a brilliant artsy sci-fi experience, with a perfect balance of space exploration, mystery solving, and storytelling. The solar system designed by Mobius Digital is an outstanding playground, full of odd surprises and unique events.
Above all, it’s a place worth exploring and it’s perfectly integrated into the time loop structure of the game. If you love to feel a genuine sense of discovery and adventure, it’s definitely your game.
Stray hits all of the right marks for a memorable adventure game. The ability to play solely as a normal cat with normal cat abilities is alluring. It’s a great game hook, but every other element does its part to keep one playing. The familiar story remains fascinating, as do the characters you meet. The world is great to explore, while the game’s overall pacing and mechanics keep you glued until the end.
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is a fantastic Metroidvania. It doesn’t do anything to revolutionize the genre, but it does excel at creating a memorable experience that follows the familiar Metroidvania template while still being unique. The visual style and amazing soundtrack complement each other well, creating a sense of tranquility in a desolate and horrific world.
The challenge hits that sweet spot where the difficulty is high but victory is never out of reach, learning the enemy behaviors and getting an understanding of the collected abilities will allow players who persist to see the story to its end. Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is a must-play for fans of the genre as it’s simply one of the best Metroidvania ever developed.
This is one of those lists that can be expanded to infinity. With so many indie games already in the Steam store from old to modern and more incoming, there is no shortage of amazing indie games to be played on the Steam Deck. It is the perfect place where you can discover long-lost indie gems. With this portable beast in your hand, you should be looking into more indie games as I believe they are the real future of true gaming artistic expression.