So you managed to get a Steam Deck. First up, congratulations. At the time of writing, they’re still very hard to get your hands on, and current reservations have delivery windows stretching far into the future.
The hardware itself is definitely exciting on its own, and if you’re into retro gaming, the emulation capabilities of the Deck are more than enough to keep you occupied for months on end.
But if you’re more interested in contemporary games, then there’s a giant pool to choose from. In essence, the whole of Steam will work on the Steam Deck one day, but for the moment, only a portion of the Steam library actually works well on the Deck.
Giant AAA games are a bit of a mixed bag on Steam Deck, at least so far. You can play a lot of the big titles, but some of them will probably look and perform less stellar than you’d like.
However, for players interested in indie games, there’s some great news: many of the best indies around will run flawlessly on Steam Deck.
Previously, the Nintendo Switch was basically the best bet for playing indie titles in a portable format, but those days are gone. The Deck is a fantastic piece of hardware for indies, so we set out to answer this question: what are the best indie games for Steam Deck?
As we already mentioned, you won’t have performance issues with most indies, and many indies are already Verified by Valve for use on the Deck.
For this article, we wanted to look beyond playability and performance to find games that are great on the deck for other reasons, such as average play session, speed of startup, and power usage, because as Deck owners already know, it’s a bit of a bummer to get comfy and find that you only have a couple of hours before the battery drains.
Let’s jump right into the list.
Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire is a deckbuilding roguelike game where you essentially crawl through a string of combat encounters, using various cards to execute attacks, buffs, debuffs, and all kinds of crazy combos once you really get rolling.
Like many roguelikes, the first few rounds are going to be challenging, but as you learn the game’s various systems and get a feel for your own personal play style, it’s a gameplay loop that can feel incredibly satisfying.
Unless you’re a pro, each round won’t stretch on for very long, and the game itself doesn’t strain the Steam Deck hardware much at all, so you won’t need to worry about the battery unless you haven’t charged it in days.
Just a guess, but you’ve probably already heard of Hades, and we don’t mean the mythological location/guy, though both are central to this gem from Supergiant Games.
It’s another roguelike. Well, actually it’s a roguelite since you can purchase permanent upgrades that will make subsequent runs just a little bit easier.
The art direction is lovely, and the action is snappy as all get out. It’s very easy to pick up and very hard to put down.
I wonder how many times we’ve mentioned Stardew here on the site. It’s definitely over then at this point.
Aside from being one of the most popular and well-known indie games in recent history, it’s also just a great game for lots of different types of gamers, even new gamers who haven’t gotten much of a taste of the contemporary indie scene.
If you’ve never heard of the game somehow, it’s a farming sim/life sim game that gives the player a great deal of freedom. There’s just a lot to do, and if you like solid progression in your games, you’ll probably get hooked on seeing how much you can upgrade your farm and all your tools. Might sound a bit dull, but it’s genuinely entrancing.
It goes without saying that Stardew runs beautifully on the Steam Deck, and its teeny tiny 2D pixel art doesn’t tax the hardware much at all.
A somewhat surprising indie hit that’s also not too surprising is Powerwash Simulator, where you clean things off with a powerwasher.
One of the longest-running games in terms of support and updates, Terraria is a 2D side-scrolling adventure-action-exploration game that can potentially eat up hundreds of hours of your life.
This is another game that’s a bit wonky on a controller, but thankfully the Steam Deck saves the day once again. You can tailor the controls to exactly what you want, and you can even use the touchscreen for things like inventory management.
It’s also a cheap game that goes on sale for even cheaper, so this is an easy add for your library.
Look at that, we’re back to roguelikes. Gunfire Reborn is a roguelite shooter that lets you play as gun-wielding animals, each with their own special abilities and default weapon loadouts.
It looks pretty simple in the trailers, and honestly it is a pretty simple game, but that doesn’t mean it’s bland, especially if you’re just a big fan of shooters.
Progressions feels good, and the later stages offer plenty of challenges for more experienced players.
Also, it’s another game that benefits massively from optional gyro.
An indie smash hit that was released earlier this year, Vampire Survivors sells for $3 US at full price, so yes, you can afford it.
Definitely the most straightforward game on the list, all you need to do in this game is move your character and choose occasional upgrades. For real, that’s all you do. But it’s actually a lot more challenging than you might expect.
Another great feature: runs are capped at 30 minutes, so you won’t be spending all afternoon on one ill-fated run.
Closing things out with another one of the best-known indies of recent years, Hollow Knight is a great fit for the Steam Deck, especially if you already have it sitting in your Steam library like most people.
The only note here is that if you already have the game on Switch, we’d probably recommend that version over playing it on Steam Deck. Why? The game runs well on both devices, and since Hollow Knight is a game that can easily suck you in for hours on end, you might want to stick to a lighter system. And there’s no denying that the Switch is a whole lot lighter than the Deck.
Still, if the Steam Deck is your sole portable gaming system, Hollow Knight could quickly become the reason to boot up the device once every couple hours. Or maybe you’ll spend a whole weekend on it. Either way, it’s gonna be a fun time.