Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 in Review: Honorable Mentions

In this series of articles, I'll be listing and discussing my top 20 indie games of the year. While many indie GOTY lists I've seen tend to focus on the most popular and well known indies released in 2013, I hope mine represents a well-rounded look at the year's best.

I've listed my favorite 20 indie games of the year, but there are many others I feel deserve recognition. Here are a few honorable mentions:

Samurai Gunn
The game itself may be kind of bare bones at the moment, but that doesn't diminish the sheer intensity and thrill of the finely-tuned combat. The lightning-fast melee is what continues to draw me back to Samurai Gunn, even while my backlog grows thanks to the ongoing Steam sale. Decapitating an enemy in mid-air, and that sword slash deflecting a bullet from a second enemy while you lunge over spikes is rewarding and just intense.

Dust: An Elysian Tale
I only recently started playing this game, but the art style and animations alone make it a fantastic experience. But Dust isn't just a looker; the combat is smooth and satisfying and just wonderful to watch in motion. Screenshots don't do the game justice.

Teleglitch was my first roguelike, and it certainly made an impression. It may not have Crysis-level graphics, but what matters is the gameplay. The tension of the unknown, the joy of finding a new gun or a medkit, the fear when you're low on health and ammo, is fantastic. When you enter a room armed with only two shotgun rounds, 25 health, and one explosive, and a horde of mutants and zombies rush out of the area where you can't see and you just turn and flee the other's worth every penny.

I had been following this game a while, and finally was able to get my hands on it last month. Like Samurai Gunn, the combat is absolutely addicting, simple to control, but difficult to master. Your extreme agility, the physics-based animations, the little details like dripping blood, make Overgrowth a joy to play. And I haven't had so much fun with third-person platforming since 2003's Prince of Persia.

Penumbear is and continues to be one of my favorite IOS games, not just of 2013, but of my entire IOS gaming career. A wealth of content, challenging platforming that requires precision and timing, expansive levels to be explored, an inventive light/shadow mechanic that is used in so many unique and inventive ways, even boss fights and secret levels, and more make this game a must-play.

"Late to the Party" GOTYs:
I finally played both these games this year and I can't believe I took so long to finally do so. If I had experienced them sooner, they would have been my GOTYs for the years of their release.

Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami is badass. Cathartic. Insane. With its Super Meat Boy-style of lightning fast gameplay and instant restarts, every death is not frustrating but a learning process, a way to hone your skills. A lot has been made of the violence, which is both gratuitous and meaningful, but the blood splatter and gore is just a cathartic veneer over the game's perfectly tuned mechanics. The controls are simple but it all combines into slick bursts of violence. Knock an a guy down with a door slam, stun the armed enemy with a thrown pipe, punch a third to death, bash the other two's heads on the floor, pick up a shotgun and spin around in time to splatter the three other enemies entering the room. But for every moment like that, you will die. Your reflexes won't be fast enough, you'll overlook an enemy and be blown in half. One hit kills, but like in Super Meat Boy, each death is a learning experience, another opportunity to improve your skills. Levels where you died dozens of times will eventually be cleared in a single smooth combo of door slams. thrown weapons, booming gunshots, and spraying blood and gore.

I've been nothing less than absolutely impressed by the game. Every aspect of the experience is perfectly crafted. The art style is wonderful and painterly. The story is mysterious and engaging. The controls are tight and responsive. The game has, by far, the best time-based puzzles I've ever played. Better than Prince of Persia, or Ethan Meteor Hunter, or any of the game I've played that involve time control. Now only are the mechanics just ingenious, the way they're seamlessly combined with the platforming is fantastic.


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