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.

Friday, December 27, 2013

IOS Spotlight #37: Hoplite

Title: Hoplite
Developer: Douglas Cowley
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $1.99
When I first saw Hoplite in a thread on Toucharcade forums, I was intrigued by the name but then saw the screenshots and passed it by, assuming it was some kind of hex-based strategy/RTS game. And now I know that was my mistake, but also almost accurate. Hoplite is certainly strategic, and tactical, and deep, but it's also the best turn-based roguelike I've played on IOS since Aaron Steed's Ending.

Like Ending, Hoplite could best be described as roguelike with chess elements. But while Ending sported a chess-like aesthetic, Hoplite tasks you with descending into the lava- and demon-filled depths to retrieve the Fleece and return alive. You are alone, and outnumbered, and can only take four hits before succumbing to death. However, you are not helpless. 
Hoplite's gameplay is where the chess vibe emerges. You tap on a square to move there. Tapping on enemies reveal their range of fire and movement, and enemies move when you move. Careful planning and awareness of where and how enemies can move and attack is your key to survival. You can stab enemies on your diagonals or lunge at those in front of you. You can leap over tiles or throw your spear (but then you have to pick it back up). You can use your shield to bash enemies away or into lava or knock bombs away. You can pray at various altars (Ares, Athena, etc.) to gain stats buffs and special abilities, like greater throw range, an arcing shield bash, or magic, but this also ups the game's difficulty, so you must weight the reward of greater tactical freedom over greater challenge. Get careless, get cocky, forget to watch your ability cooldowns or your enemies' locations, and your health will be quickly chipped away.
Hoplite is a fantastic little game that could so easily be overlooked and forgotten but that would a shame for such a tough and tactical gem. The developer hopes to add more quests, but that all depends on how the game does on the App Store. You can purchase Hoplite for $1.99.

PC Spotlight #62: Teslagrad

Title: Teslagrad
Developer: Rain Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linxux
Price: $9.99
Right off the bat, Teslagrad impresses with a wonderful art style and animations that immerses the player in its steampunk world. Rain falls in torrents, molten steel glows ominously in the depths of the tower in which you explore, and electricity crackles and hums. It's a world of mechanical beasts that can destroy you in a moment, of dangerous traps and puzzles, of strange gadgets and weird machinery, and at the heart of this world is you and the Tower.
Fleeing into this mysterious Tower, you'll work your way through its many rooms and floors, each offering new and inventive puzzles and obstacles to surmount. The game doesn't waste any time in throwing complex platforming puzzles at you; within the first 30 minutes or so, you'll already be equipped with a gauntlet able to reverse an object's polarity and blink boots that allow you to teleport a short distance. The puzzles and platforming all revolve around utilizing and switching between magnetic fields, causing objects to attract or repel. In this way, you turn platforms into barriers or elevators, move along ceilings or float over gaps, and more. Surviving the challenges require both puzzle solving and tight platforming as you time teleports between moving hazards or switch your own polarity to navigate around electric barriers. Some of these areas had me stumped for a quite a while but that only made that aha moment only more satisfying. Overall, I found the game felt first and foremost like a platformer, with puzzle elements adding to the complexity and challenge, rather than being puzzle-focused like some of the other games I've played. Hard to reach batteries offer replay value, as there's usually an optional extra challenge between you and the collectibles.
If there was one minor flaw, it would be the lack of checkpoints in boss fights. While these fights simply revolve around pattern recognizaton and aren't that lengthy, it can be annoying to die and have to start fighting a boss from the beginning. But the boss fights themselves are fun and varied and use the mechanics in cool ways. They're more like mobile action-based puzzles, as you learn the patterns and evade their attacks and use your abilities in inventive and challenging ways to defeat them. There were also a few areas that I found quite frustrating, like a portion where you have to ascend the tower while evading electric barriers. However, that could be just my skills as a player, and not a fault on the game itself.
Rain Games has crafted a fun and challenging puzzle platfformer that not only offers exciting gameplay but a fantastic art style as well. You can purchase Teslagrad through HumbleSteam, and other stores.

2013 in Review: #4-1

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.


4. The Stanley Parable
PC, Mac (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: The thing about Stanley Parable is that you can't talk about anything specific without spoiling something great, but there was one moment that made me smile and surprised me more than anything else I've played all year. Let's just any gamer will get one hell of a kick out of it.

The Stanley Parable may last only four or five hours but it's a one of a kind experience that will have you smiling, chuckling, laughing, confused, reeling from momentary shock and surprise in response to the myriad paths your choices will take you. It's a game tailor made for discussions and excited recollections of your favorite moments and discoveries. More than any other experience this year, it's a game for gamers, in the way it plays with, subverts, comments on the expectations and tropes of the medium. You need to play The Stanley Parable.

3. NEO Scavenger
PC, Mac, Linux (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Suffering from infection, down to a glass shard, I attempt a desperate ambush on a pair of bandits. One goes down in the struggle, the other leaves for me dead in the rain with broken ribs and fractured skull. I don't last the night.

One of the few turn-based roguelikes I've enjoyed, and set in brutal gritty apocalyptic world where life is short and cheap, and death can come from any angle, from the raiders tracking your footsteps to the cold night air. The combat is my favorite aspect; it may be turn based but that doesn't stop every conflict from feeling as tense as something ripped from The Road. All those elements make NEO Scavenger one of the most intense and immersive experiences I've played in a while.

2. Outer Wilds
PC, Mac, Linux (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: That first launch from your landing pad, as you rise through the atmosphere, watch the ground shrink away and ascend into unexplored space for the first time.

I love exploration, and finding new vistas and areas to explore. While Mirrormoon appealed with its abstract environments, Outer Wilds awed by delivering an incredible and intriguing solar system to explore in its short play time. Each attempt offers a new opportunity to head off in a new direction, to practice zero gravity flight, fly a remote drone. To admire the beautiful planet and star filled sky. To land your craft on unexplored worlds, meet new species both friendly and hostile.

1. Project Zomboid
PC, Mac, Linux (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Cooking rotting food on a campfire when a horde passes by, fleeing across the fields and forests into a nearby town, as night falls and visibility drops to near nothing, no time to fight back, only to run as long as my sick and weakened body could, before finally getting surrounded, and fighting off the undead horde before finally going down.

Once again technically, Project Zomboid's been out for a while, but the beta only released on Steam recently and I never had an opportunity to play it until this year. Other indies may have had better stories, better art styles. Maybe others were even better games overall. But as a gamer, what I love to experience most are those emergent moments, that can't be achieved by any other medium. And that's what Project Zomboid is, a story generator, providing tales of survival and foolish deaths, of desperate last stands and incredible moments that rival those seen in the best zombie fiction. I guess the same could be said for a game like NEO Scavenger, but as a huge fan of the genre, personally Project Zomboid has the edge. DayZ may represent the human on human violence of the genre better and The Walking Dead may have the emotional edge, but Project Zomboid offers the chance to be a survivor.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013 in Review: #9-5

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.


9. Spelunky
PC (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Spelunky loves to punish you, but for me at least, the first time the Reaper appeared because I was being too cautious and then my careful exploration become a frantic race for the exit was when I knew I'd love the game.

I was late to the Spelunky party, but I was not disappointed. Its cute veneer hides a challenging game of quick reactions, strategy, and overwhelming odds. The platforming is tight, survival is tough, and it's the little details that make the game so memorable, from the human sacrifices and the shopkeepers to the infamous reaper.

8. Papers Please
PC, Mac (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: For such a mechanical simple game, Papers Please hold tons of depth, but it really hit home when I returned home with my meager wagers and found my family sick and starving, and I could only help one of them,

Strip away all its other elements and Papers, Please would still be a fun game of logic and matching. But amidst the story and premise, that simple game of logic and studying documents becomes a thoughtful experience with surprising emotional resonance. From your tiny booth, you hold incredible power; with your stamp of approval, you can allow the tired huddled masses into your country or turn them away. At its core, that's the extent of the gameplay: look for discrepancies and signs of errors and forgeries, interrogate the suspicious citizens, and make your decision. But Papers, Please is so much more than that. From your little window slot and desk, you become the linchpin in fates both big and small, from the entire country to the individuals before you to your very family.

7. The Swapper
PC (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Jumping from a high ledge, swapping into clones as I fell, landing safely, and then my other bodies slamming into the ground around me.

If there's one adjective that instantly catches my attention to a game, it's "atmospheric". And that's probably the best word to describe The Swapper. Roaming the eerie corridors and expansive spaces, the dimly light rooms, entering zero gravity, the lighting, the unnerving unsettling implications of your device, the Swapper is an game that just oozes atmosphere and tension, even though it's not even a horror game. And that's not even touching upon the fantastic puzzles and the wonderfully complex uses of the cloning/swapping mechanics.

6. Broforce
PC, Mac (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: When one bullet set off a minute long chain reaction of explosions, flying gore, dying enemies, collapsing bridges (but really there are too many great moments to count)

Of all the indie games I've purchased since I got into PC gaming over the summer, Broforce is the one I've played most. The game set out to be an ode to 80's and 90's action movies, the Expendables in video game form, and it succeeds on every possible level. The tight controls, the over-the-top destruction, the fact that you're playing as some of the coolest action heroes in movies, and the fast-paced challenging gameplay make Broforce an addictive and fun experience.

5. Badland
IOS Universal (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: That picture captures the whole essence of Badland. Watching your duplicates get shredded by saw-blades while you make it through safely thanks to their sacrifice

This game took the simplest control scheme possible and molded a varied challenging experience that combines physics puzzles, obstacle evasion, and inventive power ups. The atmospheric art style is icing on the cake. Furthermore, in a time where IAP-heavy and freemium games are so commonplace, Badland's fantastic post release support makes this game the model all premium game should follow.

Monday, December 23, 2013

PC Spotlight #61: Hero Siege

Title: Hero Siege
Developer: Panic Art Studios
Platforms: PC, IOS Universal
Price: $12.99
Inspired by Diablo, but with more of focus on evading and destroying hordes of enemies, Hero Siege is fun and varied, with a mix of light RPG elements, randomized levels, and fast paced action.
After choosing between three classes, you find yourself thrust into a randomized set of arenas, and your goal is to kill enemies, gather loot, defeat the area's boss, and upgrade your character. Each time you level up, you get points to increase your stats for health, defense, attack speed, and damage reduction, as well as points to upgrade your class' unique abilities. The pyromancer can have a chance to call down meteors or have his attacks leave a fiery trail, while the marksman can get a multi-shot kill or homing arrows and the viking can gain a knockback ability or attack faster as health decreases.
You'll collect gold while fighting which can be used to buy keys to unlock special crates, temporary stat boots, one use skills, and more. Statues bless you with stat boosts or armor boosts and special items such as boots that let you leave fire in your wake or a stone guardian that follows you and attacks enemies. You can also collect various potions; these have a range of functions, some good such as filling your health or letting you suck life from dead enemies to bad such as releasing attacking flies or reducing your speed. And on top of all that, you can find items that give you special abilities and attacks. These have cooldown meters; I found one that was a rainbow beam that fired in any direction through enemies.
The gameplay is essentially dual stick action - move and attack at the same time - and it's just as hectic. Hordes of enemies attack from all sides, skeleton archers and turrets fire arrows, dead enemies drop objects that release sweeping lasers, another enemy may release a meteor like attack that drop mini meteors around you. Traps also litter the area, from guillotines to spike pits to crushing balls; you can lead enemies into these traps as well to damage and kill them.
Hero Siege is not the most difficult game; playing as the pyromancer, once I was equipped with stacked items and various potions, I didn't feel in much danger. But the game is fun and frantic, and it's exciting to discover new areas, and unlock new skills. The developer's also plan to update the game with new content, including the upcoming nomad class, with more classes, areas, and items to come. You can purchase Hero Siege on Desura, IndieGameStand, and vote for the game on Steam Greenlight. Hero Siege is also available on the App Store.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

IOS Spotlight #36: Third Epoch Rising

Title: Third Epoch Rising
Developer: Blitztream
Platforms: iPhone (iPad HD version coming soon)
Price: Free
If there's one aspect that makes being an indie gamer so rewarding, it's seeing ambitious and innovative concepts come to life. Don't overlook Third Epoch: Rising because it's a mobile title; you'll be missing a fun, deep, and intelligent experience.
Most likely the first aspect that stands out, and the one that certainly caught my eye, is Third Epoch's minimalist style. The contrasting colors, the art, the minimal UI all combine to give the game a style and vibe all its own. But behind the art lies a deep and complex space RPG. You play a courier essentially, taking jobs from NPCs you talk to in the various stations you visit, jobs ranging from simple package delivery, to search and rescue, to even espionage. Combat is turn-based and tactical; you're able to target enemy subsystems to disable them and must also deal with environment factors like black holes and solar flares. Positioning, orientation, crew members, ship type, and other variables factor into the combat. Outside of the art and gameplay, Third Epoch offers an expansive and intelligent world to traverse, systems to travel between, random encounters to stumble upon, NPCs to converse with, skills to enhance, and more.
However, the game is not without its flaws. Third Epoch is minimalist to a fault, meaning it can be difficult to figure out the mechanics, how tools and gadgets work, and just get a grasp on the controls. Thankfully the developers have confirmed that they're aware of these issues and are working on improvements as well as new content and features, ranging from new star systems with new stories and missions and new ship classes, to more tools and even asynchronous multiplayer. What's more, the developers see this game as setting the foundation for an ambitious shared universe of games about the other epochs ("eras") including steampunk, fantasy, and time travel.

You can download Third Epoch: Rising for free. While there is IAP, it's so well hidden and unnecessary to enjoying the experience that I didn't even know there was IAP until the developer said it was present.

2013 in Review: #14-10

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.


14. Full Bore
PC, Linux (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Due to the freeform nature, it was tough to pick one that encapsulated the whole game, but for me, no moment was more exciting than that first fall in the beginning, as you plummet deep underground and pass all the different layers and levels you'll come to explore later.

Full Bore was a pleasant surprise. After Escape Goat, I was eager to play another block-based puzzle platformer. Full Bore isn't a platformer. You can't even jump. Instead I found challenging puzzles set across an expansive and intriguing world, stretching from the sunlit surface to its dark lava-filled depths. And while the sense of exploration and discovery is fantastic, the puzzles, charming graphics and animations, and just the sheer amount of gameplay is even better.

13. One Finger Death Punch
PC (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: OFDP is a game that really needs to be played to see the appeal, but what’s better than finishing off a perfect round by punching the last enemy’s heart out of his chest?

Visually OFDP doesn't seem like much. But sometimes what matters is the gameplay and in that aspect, OFDP is king. It's one of the most addictive games I've ever played and the simple controls hide a surprising amount of depth. The smooth animations, the number of upgrades, variety of round types, the sheer over-the-top spectacle of every fight, and the feeling that you're an utter martial arts badass grants OFDP that one-more-go appeal.

12. Assault Android Cactus
Browser (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: The thrill of threading your way through a horde of enemies and countless bullets to snag a battery moments before you die.

Dual stick bullet hell chaos. That's what you find when you play Assault Android Cactus. Enemies and bullets flood the screen from every angle. Levels shift and change at a moment's notice. Turrets emerge from the floor. Bullets and missiles fly everywhere. It's mayhem, but you're always in control, thanks to the tight responsive controls and the different character load-outs that offer new and varied ways to take on the mechanical hordes.

11. Running With Rifles
PC (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Inching up the street as gunfire and grenades go off around you, your fellow soldiers dying at your side, feeling like victory is close at hand...and then a tank rumbles around the corner

Running With Rifles proves that an indie title can portray the chaos of war better than AAA shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield. And it didn't convey this with photo-realistic graphics or scripted moments, but with its overall atmosphere and gameplay. You're just another soldier on a living battlefield, who can die in an instant from a stray bullet or mortar fire.The battles in RWR are hectic and ruthless, but also tactical and offer depth and strategy. It's these elements that make Running With  Rifles superior to the myriad console "military shooters" and a worthwhile experience

10. Fez
PC, Mac, Linux (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: The first time I entered a world and found a narrow tower to climb, only to rotate the level and realize that this tower was merely the side of an entire building

Mechanically Fez isn't a very difficult game. Death or failure doesn't have much consequence. But when playing Fez, perhaps it's best that you're not thinking about pixel-perfect timing and precision jumps. Because then you wouldn't be able to fully appreciate the unique art style and the perspective shifting mechanic that, at least for me, never gets old. What's more, Fez's depth is more cerebral than most, due its weird ciphers and language to interpret and solve.

IOS Spotlight #35: Beat Drift

Title: Beat Drift
Developer: LunarPixelGames
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $0.99
Ever since I played Super Hexagon on IOS, I've developed a love for twitchy reflex-testing games. Beat Drift is the best I've played since Hexagon and that's coming from someone who's played most of the twitchy action games on IOS
Boson X grew more complex with each level, Duet and Pivvot were more about learning the patterns, but Beat Drift is back-to-basics evasion, just go forth and dodge. You hold the sides of the screen to move left and right, up walls and along the ceiling as you evade barriers in your path. The levels will rotate as well, so you need to stay focused and adjust to the new orientation quickly. There are four difficulty levels to master, each faster than the last, and each with their own music track.
It's tough to say exactly what makes Beat Drift stand out amongst the many other "Hexagon-likes" on IOS. It isn't that flashy, or that complex. It doesn't try to reinvent the formula. The game's strengths are almost subtle. The controls are just finely tuned and hair-breadth dodges are common. It has that addictive appeal of making progress by tenths of a second and then instantly restarting to go again, especially on expert Blur difficulty. It's simple and streamlined and the music makes it easy to get into the zone between focus and pure reflexes.

You can purchase Beat Drift for $0.99.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 in Review: #20-15

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.


20. Westerado
Browser (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Hard to pick just one, yet oddly enough, I think the fast travel screen captures the essence of the game the best, as you ride on your horse past the setting sun in perfectly pixelated Spaghetti Western style

I guess I should I credit Rock Paper Shotgun for bringing this gem to my attention. If not for their article about the game in November, I would have missed it. Westerado takes one of my favorite genres, the western, and gives it an atmospheric pixel art look, with gorgeous sunsets and windswept cemeteries. The game revolves around a randomly generated murder mystery as you search for your family's killer across an open world, slowly piecing together the identity and location of the killer through clues from NPCs and quests. Poker in the saloon, bandits in the mines, buffalo roaming the fields, Westerado is a fun and engaging experience worth playing.

19. SuperHOT
Browser (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: The first time you sidestep between bullets as your own rounds blows an enemy away and the blood spray lights up the clean white rooms...all in wonderful slow motion

I first played SuperHOT when it was submitted for 7DFPS and it was one of my favorite entries, alongside Beyond Perspective and Probably Archery. Since then, the game has been updated with cleaner visuals and revamped levels, and while it may not be that long or that deep, it's an fantastic promise of what's to come. The minimalist visuals and slow motion turn the act of blowing enemies away into an art as bullets creep across the screen, blood flies in elegant arc. But SuperHOT is more than a pretty facade; the core mechanics remain tight and satisfying even after my many playthroughs and your vulnerability and limited ammo promotes caution and planning over reckless action.

18. Gods Will Be Watching
Browser (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: I think the first time you unceremoniously die because you forgot to deal with the campfire speaks volumes about the tone and bleakness of the game.

I would have never thought that a simple single screen point-and-click game would become my favorite flash/freeware game since Nitronic Rush and Facade. But Gods Will Be Watching, and not just because of its awesomely ominous title or because it's gritty post-apocalyptic fiction. Not only does the game sport a great pixel art style, it's just a bleak, dark experience where every choice is grey, either bad or worse. Like SuperHOT, it's more of a snapshot of what the expanded game will offer, but when a snapshot is this affecting and unique, it deserves all the attention and acclaim it gets.

17. Sang Froid: Tales of Werewolves
PC (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Your bonfire is moments away from whittling to embers, you’re frantically reloading your one shot as the pack circles around you, eyes glinting in the light of the fire, one prepares to attack...and then darkness falls...

Now granted, Sang Froid isn't perfect. As I said in my impressions, the voice acting is subpar and load times can be very long. But when you're actually playing, none of that matters. Sang Froid is a game where the odds are always stacked against you. Even you think you've planned for everything, you haven't. Having to reload each shot manually, manage your foe's fear, time your traps or see them wasted, fosters an atmosphere of tension and challenge, in which only the steadiest nerves will see you through the night.

16. Mirrormoon EP
PC, Mac, Linux (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Moving the moon for the first time and watching the landscape shift as you turn night to day and vice versa

It bears repeating: Mirrormoon EP is not about story or complex gameplay or moral choices or brain-twisting puzzles. It's about discovery. In Mirrormoon, space isn't just an expanse of blackness and stars, but a canvas of color and abstract architecture to explore. Every planet offers something new and interesting to discover and maybe you'll leave your mark with a name for your new discovery.

15. Prison Architect
PC, Mac, Linux (Site) | Watch the trailer 
Defining Moment: Getting attached to your wards, providing them with amenities and rec time, only to realize the sneaky bastards have been digging an escape tunnel the whole time and someone got shanked when your attention was elsewhere.

First thing, I realize Prison Architect technically released in 2012, but I'm going by the Steam release and well, I wasn't into PC gaming last year and didn't know the game existed till this summer. Okay, back to the game. Prison Architect is a game where emergent narratives and moments breathe life into the already deep and complex mechanics. Every choice matters, and some consequences won't become evident until days layer, when your prisoners are rioting, dead bodies bleed on the grass, and your guards are too tired and overworked to hold them back. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

PC Spotlight #60: Not The Robots

Title: Not The Robots
Developer: 2DArray
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $9.99
Games live or die by their gameplay. The art style, the music, the story creates a well-rounded experience, but if the core mechanics aren't there, aren't finely tuned and fun, then it's going to be feel lackluster and incomplete. If you strip away Not The Robots' weird furniture eating, robots characters, and roguelike elements, you'd still be left with a unique and challenging stealth game where the only way to win is to remove your cover.
Not The Robots is essentially a stealth roguelike, where, rather than lurking through dungeon tunnels or planning turns, you're evading sentry bots, avoiding lasers, moving over dangerous floor tiles, and myriad other hazards as you progress through the procedurally generated floors of various buildings. Your uni-wheeled robot can roll fast to quickly break line of sight of armed sentries or keep up with a moving laser grid, as well as crouch to hide behind obstacles and avoid other dangers. To complete a floor, your robot must devour a set amount of furniture per level to unlock the exit and there in lies the strategy. Removing furniture means less places to hide, less barriers to block lasers, and makes getting to the exit that much more challenging; it even adds slight puzzle vibe to the game, as planning what furniture to remove will help your escape, especially since sentry patrols will change once you open new paths.You have limited health and your only course of action when seen is to run and hide. Better scores are earned by eating all furniture, taking no damage, not being seen, and upon death, you rank up and can unlock permanent upgrades.
Besides your natural hiding skills, you can collect a limited use ability, ranging from going invisible (but motionless) to placing a block down which you can hide behind, even the ability to remove a wall and alter the level's layout. You can only equip one ability at a time and they can be used once before having to recharge (by eating furniture) so they must be used tactically and at the most opportune moment. There are also items found throughout the levels, providing things from an extra inventory slot (so you can two abilities rather than just one) and score multipliers to a scanner to see what abilities are contained in a box. Logs that gradually explain the story, health packs, and more are also scattered across the levels. You'll even encounter bosses.
Besides the procedurally generated campaign, there are also 20 challenge levels to test your skills, so there's something for the speed-run fan as well. Not The Robots blends tense stealth with the ever-looming threat of permadeath to create a fun challenging experience. You can purchase the game on Steam.

PC Spotlight #59: Samurai Gunn

Title: Samurai Gunn
Developer: Teknopants
Platforms: PC
Price: $14.99 (on sale for $11.99 through Humble)
Throw Tarantino, Hotline Miami, and 47 Ronin in a blender, and you'd get Samurai Gunn. Those three elements seem like a weird mix, but that's the kind of vibe I'm getting during my time with Samurai Gunn. Take the samurai films of old, ramp it up to eleven with Tarantino-style violence and blood, and then imbue that with the lightning-fast white-knuckle pace of Hotline Miami, and that's Samurai Gunn in a nutshell.
Choose a samurai, choose an arena, and then fight. One hit kills. Armed with only your blade, your handful of bullets, and your agility, you must survive against increasingly challenging waves of enemies in increasingly complex arenas. Like Hotline Miami, death comes fast and at a moment's notice; a single lapse in timing, in reaction and reflex, and your blood will stain the ground rather than your opponent's. There are no power-ups to equip, no special swords to unlock, or abilities to use. You and your foes are equally matched; superior skill and reflexes are your only advantages. Each battle is one of hair's-breadth dodges over swinging blades, of smart positioning, perfect timing to strike down an enemy in mid air or deflect his bullet back at him. And that's just against one opponent; it only becomes more intense once you're down to one life and three enemies are out for your blood.
It's not just this frantic dance of death that makes Samurai Gunn so compelling, but the sheer variety of arenas as well. From levels consisting of moving platforms and traps to levels with spike pits and warping tunnels, to levels made of nothing but easily breakable bamboos so that the layout changes and shrinks as you play, they are numerous and each must be learned and mastered if you wish to succeed.

It's the little details that round out this impressive package. Fall into a pond and your gun won't fire but instead misfire and discharge spurts of water. Decapitated heads roll around and a fresh kill will stain the water pink. Your sword slashes through blades of grass. Your blood and bodies stay behind, monuments and reminders of your past failures. Play dead among the corpses to confuse your enemy. Slash at your foe at the same time he does, and you'll clash swords and fly apart, leaving a dust trail in your wake.
I've only played solo Survival but in my opinion, that's impressive and substantial enough to enjoy. I can only imagine that multiplayer is even better thanks to human players instead of AI. You can play co-op against bots or fight against each other in Versus mode. As for Samurai Gunn's future, the developer has said he's "interested in experimenting with different types of enemies, modes, and other things" so there's only more frenetic bloodshed to come. You can purchase the game on here or Steam; the game is also set to release on PS4 and Vita next year.

Console Spotlight: A-Men 2

Title: A-Men 2
Developer: Bloober Team
Platforms: PS3, PS Vita
Price: $9.99
A-Men 2 is described as a game that's "easy to play but still hard to master" and I couldn't agree more. It's a precision puzzle platformer; however I don't mean precision in the sense of pixel-perfect jumps and trap avoidance, but rather precise timing and strategic use of your characters' abilities.
A-Men 2 is first and foremost a puzzle game. You have a number of different characters at your disposal, each with their own abilities ranging from disguising yourself as the enemy and placing route-altering signs, equipping a rifle that can shoot enemies, building ladders and fixing machinery, to using a grapple hook. While there is platforming involving, switching between characters at the opportune moments, using their abilities at the proper times to assist other characters or kill enemies constitute the core of the game. However that proper timing is where I found the game also frustrates. It's satisfying to finally succeed and reach the waiting evacuation chopper, but to get to that point requires an exorbitant amount of trial and error. There's no flexibility in your attempts; there's one correct way to trigger the various switches and machines ans use your characters, at the right places, at the right times, and until you get that sequence down, you'll only be making frustratingly small intervals of progress at a time. It doesn't help that you can only save at certain checkpoints in each level and dying before them requires you to restart from the beginning.
If going solo isn't your style, you can also tackle A-Men 2 cooperatively with three other players. A-Men 2 may have charming visuals, a humorous self-aware narrative with characters who know they're NPCs in a game, and the mechanics themselves are fun, but the focus on trial and error leads to frustration more often than not. You can purchase A-Men 2 on the Playstation Store.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

PC Spotlight #58: Kerbal Space Program

Title: Kerbal Space Program
Developer: Squad
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $26.99 (currently on sale for $18.08 on Steam)
A lot of games use space as a setting and more often than not, it's used as a means to implement alien races and dogfights and other sci-fi elements. Few games present space as a frontier to be explored; the only one I can think of is Outer Wilds. Like that game, Kerbal Space Program offers the player an open universe to explore, but while Outer Wilds was all about discovery, Kerbal takes the physics-heavy technical approach and turns space exploration into a thrilling scientific experience.
The core goal of Kerbal is simple. Build a space-worthy ship and venture out into space. Land on planets, orbit moons, use gravitational orbits to slingshot across the solar system. But accomplishing these goals, even the simplest task of reaching space, is where the challenge and fun begins. Unlike...say, the aforementioned Outer Wilds, controlling and maneuvering your ships is not as easy as turning and setting thrusting to full. Like in real life, you have to consider a host of variables, from atmospheric drag, planetary gravity, momentum and inertia, weight. Getting your ship off the group into space itself requires you to have enough fuel, have detachers at the optimal spots to detach heavy parts, and timing to detach them at the right time. Landing from orbit is an equally challenging in-depth task as you use counter momentum and gravity to reduce your speed and descend through the atmosphere. It's just as much fun building an able craft with stabilizer fins and careful timed deployment stages as it is building a lop-sided booster heavy ship that go pulls into a barrel roll when physics takes hold.
However, space flight and building your ship is only a portion of the gameplay that Kerbal Space Program offers. From landing and exploring on procedurally generated planet surfaces with rovers, collecting samples and researching new technology in the lab, building satellites and stations, manage your crew, and more, Kerbal offers a well rounded and deep space exploration experience.
Even with all these features and mechanics, Kerbal is still in beta with more content to come, including a fleshed Career Mode (technically in the game, but with more missions and features to be added), more parts, and even more aspects to consider like heat upon re-entry and turbulence. At this stage, Kerbal Space Program already impresses with its realistic take on space exploration and open-ended gameplay. You can purchase Kerbal Space Program from the developer's site and Steam.

And I'm back!

Hello and happy holidays, readers and indie gamers! Good news is that my semester is over, Winter break has begun, and I'm back to delivering you news and impressions of the best, most innovative, and just plain fun indie games. Today's going to be light, just the long overdue impressions of Kerbal Space Program and A-Men 2, but over the rest of the week, month, and January, I'll be making up for my hiatus with tons of coverage for great indies I've played, discovered, heard about online.

I'll be doing a 2013 in Review feature, where I'll write about my top 20 indie games of the year. To say it was tough to pick just 20 and then rank them is an understatement, especially when so many quality experiences were released this year. Besides those features, I'll have the usual impressions and previews of IOS, PC, and maybe even a console indie or two.

So as I said previously, thank you for your continued support, not just for my blog, but for indies in general. And don't forget that this is probably the best time of year to build up that indie library; Steam's Holiday sale just got underway, Desura and ShinyLoot have promising indie sales, and IndieGameStand is conducting a 12 Days of Christmas Charity.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Short Hiatus

Hey, readers and fellow indie gamers, you've probably noticed that content and posts here have slowed down over the last few weeks. As well as being a gamer, I'm also a college student so November and December have been packed with assignments. I'm planning on taking a short break from my blog here to focus on finals and my essays. So there won't be any new posts for at least a week, probably till next weekend or longer.

But don't worry, there's much to look forward to. When I return, you can expect impressions of Kerbal Space Program and A-Men 2, IOS games such as Cyro and Galaxy Run, and promising upcoming titles and free games. I'm also working on two new opinion pieces (one about roguelikes and difficult games, the other about the stealth genre) and I'm considering a Starbound diary chronicling my journey through the game and beta progress.

Before I go, wanted to thank all of you who read my site and support me on Twitter. I never expected my blog to amount to much, but thanks to you, my blog has had almost 18,000 views since late August and over 150 followers on Twitter. That might not be much compared to others, but it's a great personal success for me. My philosophy was always that if at least one person read my blog and decided to support a developer, than it makes all this worth it, so thanks again for all your support. It's people like you who keep the indie scene alive and thriving.

Monday, December 2, 2013

PC Spotlight #57: PixelJunk Shooter

Title: PixelJunk Shooter
Developer: Double Eleven
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $14.99 (currently on sale for $8.99)
Originally released in 2009 on PSN, PixelJunk Shooter has finally made its way to PC four years later. The "Shooter" in the title might give you the wrong impression; there are enemies to fight, projectiles to avoid, and bosses to defeat, but the core gameplay is far more puzzle based and fascinating than simple combat.
Controlling a small rescue ship, your goal is to descend into the subterranean caverns of an alien planet and rescue the scientists trapped within. Your vessel is armed with rockets (able to be fired straight or as homing missiles) and a grasping arm to collect the trapped NPCs, diamonds scattered around each level, and other items found through the world. Insectoid creatures threaten your ship, from simple stalactite-like turrets to larger magma-spewing beasts, forced you to avoid their projectiles and destroy them with your own. But the focus isn't on shooting; it's on the wonderfully entertaining dynamic fluids, how they react and interact with each other. Magma overheats your ship, water turns magma into stone, gas erupts when it comes in contact with magma, a mysterious black fluid is attracted to your ship, and more aspects constitute the fluid-based puzzles. Not only is it fun figuring out how to best use the fluids and tools at your disposal, it's also just satisfying to watch the fluids splash and slosh realistically around the caverns and tunnels you traverse.
You'll be avoiding massive magma floods, use the lava to your advantage to melt through ice obstacles, outrace exploding gas and erupting volcanoes, and more; you can even tackle these challenges with a friend in co-op. PixelJunk Shooter is available on Steam.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

PC Spotlight #56: Vertiginous Golf

Title: Vertiginous Golf
Developer: Lone Elk Creative
Platforms: PC
Price: $5
The easiest way to describe Vertiginous Golf is to imagine that if the citizens of Bioshock Infinite's Columbia decided to take up golf, the result would look something like Vertiginous Golf. There have been other over-the-top golf games on various platforms, but the aesthetic and the expansive course elevates Vertiginous Golf.
From the moment you start the game, the game's atmosphere draws the player in. A normal menu doesn't welcome you. Instead you find yourself outside an old-style parlor and within, screens unfold from the walls, allowing you to select various menu options. Take a seat and you'll be transported to the world of Vertiginous Golf, where the courses are suspended in the clouds and full of steampunk-style obstacles. From rotating platforms and conveyor belts to helicopter drones and multi-tiered levels, the courses of Vertiginous Golf are over-the-top and just fun to explore and master. Not only are you able to overcome these obstacles with proper drives and power, you can also control your mechanical hummingbird companion and fly around the map, allowing you to better plan your hits.
Vertiginous Golf currently only contains one nine-hole course (able to be played solo or with up to four others) and a tutorial course, with more to come, but the game just feels incredibly polished and is a joy to play. You can purchase Vertiginous Golf from the developer's site.

PC Spotlight #55: Crashtastic

Title: Crashtastic
Developer: Mark Smith
Platform: PC, Mac
Price: $9.99
Games like Burnout and Flatout have proven one fact: gamers like smashing cars into things and seeing beautiful destruction in their wake. Cause and destructive effect, it's just fun. Crashtastic is still in pre-alpha, but it promises a fun mix of creativity and chaos.
In its early state, Crashtastic consists of a handful of challenges and a sandbox mode. Challenges range from simply driving certain distance, completing difficult jumps, and overcoming other obstacles; the sandbox is still bare bones at the moment, with only a ramp, halfpipe, and straight piece of road to use. But the focus isn't the modes; it's on building your own vehicle. You have a number of different pieces to use, including rockets for propulsion, braces to provide support, wheels, and rods of varying length to craft your mobile (or not-so-mobile) masterpiece. Crashtastic shines here, allowing you to build as crazy a vehicle you can think of, and watching physics tear it apart when you try to drive it. Driving full speed into a wall and seeing your vehicle explode into pieces and your driver ragdoll around is always satisfying.
As stated before, Crashtastic is pre-alpha, and thus feels incomplete at the moment. Luckily more parts, more levels, and more polish is coming, and in its current state, it's still just fun to build something and complete the challenges in different ways. You can purchase Crashtastic from the developer's site; the game has already been Greenlit.