In a year like 2023, it is easy for smaller games to get lost amid the deluge of AAA games and their marketing dollars. When seemingly every month there was a game from a studio with several hundred people and $100+ million dollar budget, the small team labors of love have to fight even harder for attention. And fight they did. While many gamers want hundred-hour experiences, some (myself included) thrive off games with more focus and less scale. This category is a celebration of the passion of the small artists painting on a big canvas. The teams whose dedication and work ethics drove innovation, art direction, and sound to make unforgettable experiences. With that said, here are the winners of Lords of Gamings 2023 Golden Lance Award for Indie Game of the Year.
The small team game developer scene is rife with interesting titles and unique gameplay mechanics that sometimes trickle into AAA space. Playdead, the creators of Limbo and Inside, always had an impeccable and minimalist visual art style with game mechanics that regularly blew minds. However, when the studio split, some members formed Geometric Interactive, and their debut game, Cocoon, continued that famous Playdead tradition of creating high-quality focused titles.
The game retains its minimalist art style and lack of hand-holding, which in this day and age, is quite refreshing. Cocoon’s world-within-a-world puzzle mechanics was unlike anything I saw this year. The game cleverly leveraged these mechanics to create an Inception-like experience. The game is only a few hours long, but the experience will stick with me for a long time.
Runner Up: Planet of Lana
Planet of Lana was an incredible debut game this year. Its breathtaking art style, serene atmosphere, and emotional story told throughout the experience left a lasting impact on everyone who played it. Its creative way of using all of the environment for its puzzles and the never-frustrating trial and error as you solve them kept me engaged. It deserves to be remembered in an incredible year like this one.
Runner Up: Pizza Tower
In a year when AAA gaming came out swinging after Covid held things up, the indie game scene could have been easily ignored by most. But a number of quality releases came out, with one none more vibrant than Pizza Tower.
The game features a lone Pizza Maker going on the valiant quest to prevent a giant floating pizza from nuking his establishment with a laser. And in order to climb the tower, he must defeat what are essentially Ren & Stimpy Pizza-themed rejects across crazy locations.
Thriving off gameplay heavily inspired by Wario Land 4 and Sonic the Hedgehog, sporting level design screaming for you to master every nook and cranny, and even encouraging you to perform laps around the level multiple times; Pizza Tower excels with the simple goal of providing the world with a Wario Land while also firmly being its own unique dish.