From January 1st to December 31st, 2010 was the year that DIYgamer was up and running from the first to the last day of the year. We’ve hit ups and downs and talked about hundreds of games this year, and it’s finally time for the staff to sit down and figure out which games we happened to love the most. The thing about trying to pick our favorite indie games of the year is that there are always more. Every discussion of our favorites turns into a series of exclamations of “oh yeah!” as each of us remembers other games we had forgotten to mention.
The way we devise this list of our Top Picks is that all of the editors are asked to submit five of their favorite games of the year and write a paragraph as to why they liked it so much. The game that is repeated across the most lists automatically gets our Game of the Year nod and anything else with more than one pick gets a Runner-Up spot. Everything else falls under Honorable Mention and you must know that every single one of them might as well be the Game of the Year.
We are well aware we may have omitted some amazing games, so feel free to add your own in the comments section along with your own explanation. We’d love to hear it and more than likely agree with you!
But without further ado and explanation, here is the DIYgamer Editor’s Top Picks of 2010:
I don’t think anyone has the right (especially Sony and that annoying little shit Marcus) to complain that iOS games are not up to par. The App Store in general took a huge step forward this year with the release of a multitude of successful indie (and mainstream) titles. Shibuya, by Nevercenter Games, was perhaps the most addictive of them all. I’m pretty sure I earned a grade lower than I should have in at least one of my classes because of this game. Nevercenter took one devastatingly simple concept and treated it with absolute finesse, adding polish and an excellent 5-track electronica soundtrack (by Millionyoung) to melt away all other thoughts. When you Shibuya, it’s only you and Shibuya, baby.
(Buy it in the App Store)
Hero Core (PC)
Iji was one of my favourite games of 2008 (and 2009, for that matter), so I jumped on Hero Core as soon as it was released. It’s a much more modest offering, but a much more substantial game than it first appears to be. An ultra-minimalist Metroidvania, of sorts. Low-res monochrome graphics, a super-limited control scheme and a single-minded, speed-runnable goal hide a wealth of design cleverness, including a whole second campaign masquerading as a Hard Mode, and a multitude of bonuses and extras to unlock through extended play. The aesthetics may be minimalist, but there’s a keen eye for design at work here, and enemies and their shots are distinct and clear, despite the lack of colour.
(Download Hero Core)
Chime (XBLA and PC)
Chime’s simplicity and zen-like need for concentration were completely hypnotic to me this year. Compounded by the fact that its publisher is completely not-for-profit, this indie title is something everyone should give a chance. With a stellar soundtrack including Philip Glass and Paul Hartnoll, everyone should experience this beautiful puzzle game. With elements of Tetris and other classic puzzle titles, this experience is a perfect storm of audio and geometric concentration. If you haven’t yet experienced it you really ought to.
(Buy it on Xbox Live Arcade or Steam)
Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (PC)
It’s always bothered me in RPGs that item shops charge so much for equipment when my hero is trying to save the world from total destruction. But thanks to Recettear I now know why: because running an item shop is an adventure of its own. As the comically aloof Recette, players will have to manage their time between action-packed dungeon crawling for loot, and running a successful business selling said loot. And while the game’s humor begins as mere parody, by the game’s conclusion Recettear stakes out its own unique pedestal among the throngs of RPGs out there. From the colorful characters to the fantastic dual gameplay styles, Recettear is a truly fantastic game. Capitalism ho!
(Buy it on Steam)
This is not the greatest Gradius game in the world, this is just a tribute. It’s also pretty dang close to being better than the games it is paying homage to. A massive undertaking for one man, Locomalito has lovingly crafted a huge, distinctly retro and remarkably deep scrolling shooter in Hydorah. A broad range of weapons/power-ups, huge variety in levels, a branching campaign map and tons of secrets all held together with beautiful sprite-art and a stunning soundtrack (by Gryzor87). I bought Gradius Rebirth on the Wii earlier this year. A freeware game made me forget all about it.
My LIMBO experience was beset with troubles. First, the game released while I was on vacation in Hawaii (and yet I couldn’t shake wanting to play the game amidst countless umbrella-clad drinks), and upon returning and downloading the game I was welcomed by the flashing three lights indicating that my Xbox would no longer like to be my friend. But three weeks later I got my system back and played through the game in almost a single sitting. Its clever puzzles, complete control of atmosphere and style and moments of absolute unexpected clarity truly make this one of the best games of the year for me. I first demoed the game at GDC back in March, and while I was completely absorbed into the game with thick headphones blocking out the chaos of the conference, I’ll never forget the absolute belly laugh I couldn’t contain when I was first killed by a bear trap.
(Buy it on Xbox Live)
If you own an iOS device and you have yet to try out Spirits, then you need to get off Angry Birds and download Spirits now. Within a two-game lifespan, Spaces of Play went from making a good but generic game (Mr. Bounce) to making an incredibly unique game. Spirits defines “hand-crafted.” Its music, its artwork, its design, its feel are intertwined to evoke gloom and hopefulness subsequently. This year was a big step up for Spaces of Play and I can’t wait to see what leaps and bounds they will make in the future.
(Buy it in the App Store)
Zombie Estate (Xbox Live Indie Game)
It’s easy to see why Zombie Estate would be on my list. Not only does it include zombies (an automatic qualifier, in my opinion) but it also gives such a charmingly unique perspective in regards to the camera and graphics. Combine all that with four-player, weapon upgrading fun and you have one of the best zombie games to get released in 2010.
(Buy it from Xbox Live)
From a Dream.Build.Play finalist, it’s reasonable to expect a pretty stellar game. What you may not be expecting though is for it to be as adorable and infectiously charming as Kaleidoscope. Players take control of Tint, a cute bug-like thing as he embarks on a platforming journey to restore color to the world of Kaleidoscope. By collecting colored orbs in the level players gradually bring color back to the scenery. The restoration of color is accompanied by an amazing dynamic soundtrack that builds up adding new instruments with each new layer of color. And though Kaleidoscope is on the short side with only twelve levels, they are spread across four visually distinct worlds, each of which coming to life in the game’s coloring book art style. There’s just something about Kaleidoscope, when the world blooms in color and the music blooms with it. It’s digital joy.
(Buy it on Xbox Live Indie Games)
The Oil Blue (PC)
Vertigo Games’ The Oil Blue came out of nowhere at me. I had never read anything about it up until its release when Erik drafted up his article for DIYGamer. The demo left a huge impression on me and I decided the whole game would be well worth the undertaking. I was not mistaken. The Oil Blue is just unlike any other game I have ever played. It’s not about the graphics or style, it’s not about the story or music, (and I’m not saying those weren’t good but) it’s all about the gameplay. Half the time I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but I felt awesome doing whatever I was doing. Leveling up was satisfying and each machine handled differently. The Oil Blue is one of the best indie action-sims ever, and earned itself a spot on the list the second its demo was released.
(Buy it from Vertigo Games)
Joe Danger (PSN)
Imagine if you were to take Excitebike and combine it with the dare deviling antics of Evil Knievel and that’s what Joe Danger is. From the moment I played Joe Danger I was immediately drawn to the pure amount of “fun” that the game contained. There’s no back story, no pointless control mechanisms. Just solid gameplay at its best.
(Buy it on PSN)
Super Mario Bros. X (PC)
A strange choice, perhaps, but this one really came out of nowhere for me, and was the key inspiration for my current series of fangame articles. It’s an amazing piece of work – an impressive, full-featured Mario game in its own right, worthy of official Nintendo branding, but it goes significantly further than its peers in many respects. The intelligent split-screen multiplayer, the full-featured (but easy-to-learn) level editor and toolset, and now the addition of features and characters from other games are all giving the industrious level-creating community more to work with. I see this one continuing to grow and improve well into 2011. Hopefully it’ll provide incentive for other fangame developers to persevere, and aim high.
(Download Super Mario Bros. X)
Game Dev Story (Mobile)
How can I not put this on the list? Game Dev Story was secondary only to Shibuya in my case. I spent hours in bed, in the bathroom, in the elevator, etc. playing the shit out of Game Dev Story. I got hooked, my friends got hooked, everybody got hooked. In large part, this is due to the overall theme; it’s a game where you make game. Can there be any more perfect of an idea? Though it was a port of a 1996 Japanese PC title, Kairosoft’s execution was brilliant regardless of the spelling and syntax mistakes that plagued much of the game. Who cares? The quirky graphics and strategic sim set-up helped skyrocket Game Dev Story to the top of the App Store, and it has earned itself a spot as one of the best indie games of the year. Sequel, anybody?
(Buy it from iTunes or the Android Marketplace)
INCHES BEHIND THE GAME OF THE YEAR
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC, Mac, Linux)
I can safely say that no game has impacted me this year as much as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I’m a big fan of horror games, but all too often the sense of tension in a game is demystified as new weapons and abilities are added to the player’s arsenal and enemies reduced to mere speed bumps along the path to completion. Not so in Amnesia. In Amnesia there are no weapons. The player’s only way to defend himself is to run and hide, preferably in a dark closet. But even the act of hiding, surrounded by darkness, causes the player’s sanity meter to slowly tick away. The atmosphere in Amnesia is oppressive in the most stunning of ways, with small creaks and sounds blending with dimly lit corridors to instill an unmatched degree of paranoia. In my own experience, in a well lit room, I couldn’t play Amnesia for longer than an hour at a time. And yet I loved every second of it.
My playthrough of Frictional’s adventure horror game is one of the few “experiences” I had this year, and that goes beyond the realm of video games alone. The developers took great pride in painstakingly constructing an immersive and truly frightening atmosphere for players to take part in. Big risks, such as taking away the player’s ability to defend himself, paid off in spades for this game. An indie that elicits a powerful emotional response and one that really ought to be played at least once by anyone who considers themselves a core gamer.
The Penumbra series were easily amongst the scariest games I’d ever played when they originally came out. When the first teaser videos for Amnesia were released, my faith in the developers was renewed and I immediately put my money down on a preorder. I was not disappointed. A lovecraftian psycho-horror spectacular with amazing production values for such a small studio, Amnesia kept me on the edge of my seat, and often leaping clean out of it for the full length of the story. The understanding Frictional have for the raw psychology of horror games is unparalleled – they know exactly how to get the player to look where they want, hide when they want you to, and make you dance like a puppet to their ghastly horror show.
(Buy it from Frictional)
Super Crate Box (PC)
The beauty of Super Crate Box is its simplicity. The player’s only real goal in the game is to collect crates. Of course, there’s the secondary goal of surviving the torrent of enemies flooding from the top of the screen so players will want a weapon to defend themselves. The catch is that each crate players collect changes their weapon, with some significantly more useful than others. Pick up the minigun or flamethrower and you’re good to go, but get stuck with the pistol or, god forbid, the disc gun and you’ll want to scramble to the next crate as fast as you can. And even when players finally find that perfect weapon, since collecting crates is the only thing that gives points, there’s no way to reach for the high score without giving it up again. Players will constantly be switching strategies on the fly, adding a sense of urgency to an addictively simple game.
Released just over a month ago, Super Crate Box has fast become my go-to game for mindless enjoyment on my PC. The weapons, the level progression, everything about the game is a brilliant mash up of platforming shooting glory. The only thing that would make this game better was if it came out on XBLIG. I can only imagine how much fun it would be in my living room.
(Download Super Crate Box)
VVVVVV (PC, Mac, Linux)
In a few years, when she’s old enough to, one of the first video games my daughter will play is VVVVVV. You can count on that. It perfects the platformer by seamlessly integrating individual puzzles and challenges into cohesive levels, each offering different takes on the versatile flipping mechanic. Forgiving in some places, tough as hell in most, the game consistently challenges you. I found myself screaming “that’s impossible!” on more than one occasion, but every time after a payment of Captain Veridian deaths and a bit of luck, I’d make it through and deem that the challenge was just almost impossible. It also boasts the soundtrack of the century by Magnus Palsson. Chiptune gold which quite simply takes the game from great to legendary in my eyes (and ears.)
VVVVVV jumped into existence at the very beginning of the year yet it struck me immediately as one of the most fun games I’d be playing for a long time. With precise puzzles and an exceedingly well executed control scheme, the game is wonderful in its simplicity. While I initially grumbled about its many difficult sections (like Veni, Vidi, Vici) I now look back on them with glowing pride. After the game hit Steam a few months ago, I played it all over again and thanked my fingers for being able to pull off that epic section without too much trouble. VVVVVV‘s tricks and timing will be stuck in my fingertips for the unforeseeable future and its fantastic soundtrack keeps my head bobbing to this day.
Breath of Death VII (XBLIG)
Perhaps if Zeboyd Games upcoming title Cthulhu Saves the World didn’t release the very last week of December we would see the developer’s second throwback JRPG on this list. As it stands, we’ll just have to do with the dev’s first effort, you know, the one that boasts the highest demo to purchase conversion ever across the entire Xbox Live Indie Games Channel. Why? While it doesn’t reinvent the genre, Breath of Death VII presses a nostalgia button that triggers thoughts of early Final Fantasy titles while revitalizing the old school RPG. How? By making a farce of it. It’s the original writing and creativity in the parody that really makes the game unique. It even offers improvements from its predecessors such as a battle limit for each area coupled with the option to call for a fight. It also earns points for raising the bar on what to expect from the Xbox Live Indie Channel, not just shoddy clones and crap apps.
As a fan of the original Dragon Warrior games I was immediately drawn to Zeboyd Games’ Breath of Death VII which not only players similarly to the JRPGs of yesteryear, but also takes careful time to make fun of almost every inane aspect of the old genre. Seriously, this game was an absolute treat and I’m very excited to play Zeboyd’s next classic JRPG.
(Buy it on Xbox Live)
This was a tough decision, because honestly I’ve barely played the game. Hear me out though. It earns my vote not for the simplistic brilliance the gameplay brings, but rather that it fulfills the proverbial “American dream” for indie developers. Find a solid concept and put a ton of work into it and good things can happen, really good things, like nearing a million copies sold just entering beta good things. Some have made it clear that they’ll never consider the game indie again given its current following from both players and press, but anyone who knows spit about this industry knows Minecraft’s indie roots are as deep as they come.
While Minecraft has technically been in alpha most of the year, its ability to be more engrossing and unique than almost anything else out there nets it a spot on my list this year. When I first downloaded Minecraft, albeit later than a lot of people, I disappeared for three days. It got to the point where other DIY writers were emailing me to see where I had gone. The only answer was underground. Minecraft satisfies that childlike desire to build a fort anywhere and on anything and allows you to hoard and create the world of your dreams. I look forward to the game’s progression going into next year and expect to disappear for at least another week into the depths.
Not much that really needs saying here. Minecraft is the new hotness. While I’m not nearly as addicted to it as many of my peers, I’ve still played it at little bit every few days for several months in a row, and it keeps me coming back and looking for more. Combining tactile building, clever crafting and tense combat with that childlike sensation of building a pillow-fort to ward off imaginary monsters, it just presses buttons that no other game can.
(Buy it from the Official Site)
GAME OF THE YEAR
Super Meat Boy (XBLA/PC)
Super Meat Boy is probably one of the hardest games I’ve ever played, and a constant source of anger and frustration. Wait, anger and frustration are a good thing? I’ll admit, they aren’t typically what I look for in a game. The difference in Super Meat Boy that makes it all worthwhile is that I was never angry at the game itself. The levels are expertly designed, and the controls accurate, so my failings in the game were all of my own doing. It never felt unfair. Every death was a learning experience, teaching me how to avoid a trap or properly time my jumps with moving platforms. Trial and error gameplay has been done before, but it’s Super Meat Boy’s pace that raises it from merely a fun challenge to the level of obsessive addiction. Just as my brain would begin to process why I had failed, Meat Boy would instantly respawn, ready to test my newfound knowledge. And once a particularly challenging level is conquered, the feeling is unmatched as you watch a replay of all your failed attempts running simultaneously. Nothing makes victory feel sweeter than reflecting on how hard you had to work to get there, and Super Meat Boy delivers this better than any other game. Ever.
I spent more time playing Super Meat Boy than I did any other game released this year, with possibly the exception of FIFA 11. Super Meat Boy packed tons of content through a variety of levels, notable indie characters with their own traits, and one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard in a game (Props to Danny B). There is no doubt in my mind that Super Meat Boy is the Indie Game of the Year 2010. Team Meat’s self-conscious but unpretentious effort to spread the indie love became one of the best games of the year, including the mainstream. Way to deliver on your word, guys!
I’m a bit surprised myself to have more than one platformer on my list, but the love child begot from two of the hardest working guys in the industry simply can not be ignored. Edmund and Tommy thought they had something good here when they started on the project and boy were they right. Where VVVVVV strikes the old school nostalgia chord, Super Meat Boy mashes and warps it to its own devices. The game has you laughing at nearly every cut scene and cursing on nearly every level. Plus it’s completionist heaven, the sheer amount of content they packed into (and are still providing for) the game doesn’t get acknowledged nearly as much as it should.
Big surprise huh? Super Meat Boy had so much going for it that I’m positive this game will be on most people’s “Best of” lists. It’s challenging, adorable, very fun, and, most of all, uses a protagonist that is a skinless boy. How awesome is that? I guess the cherry on top would be all the amazing little touches the developers have added in like including multiple other indie game characters or the free level packs coming to the XBLA version.
Super Meat Boy grabbed me in a way I never quite expected this year. I’d played the game on three different occasions at various conferences before it released and knew the game was going to be fun. But once I had the expansive world at my fingertips and could take my time exploring its nooks and bloody crannies it took me by the throat and never let go. As of this writing I have collected 100 bandages in the Xbox version and am sitting on 94 in the PC version. I have no explanation of why I put myself through the whole frustratingly-amazing experience over again other than the game is simply fantastic and will be remembered for years to come. And like a true addict I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ll probably do it all over again once it hits Wii.
I bought Super Mario All-Stars on Wii a couple of weeks ago, and after playing for half an hour, all I could think was “these controls are far too floaty.” And it’s all Super Meat Boy’s fault. So thanks for ruining my childhood, Team Meat.
(Buy it on XBLA or Steam)
So that’s 2010 from DIYgamer! We’re looking forward to an exciting 2011 with all the site’s power under our control and more great games to sink our indie teeth into.
What were your favorite games of 2010? Let us know!