My Top 20 from the Independen Games Festival 2012

Every year when the Independent Games Festival rolls around I vow to check out the entrants and winners to find clever and special games to pin my heart to. I usually start to look through the hundreds of entrants but always get sidetracked from the daunting task by whatever retail console games come out at the time. That’s decidedly NOT INDIE!

I stuck with it in 2011, though, and despite changing jobs and moving states through the hectic holiday season I managed to pour over all 567 entrants and play many of them myself. From there I created a spreadsheet and narrowed it down to 140 games I was particularly interested in. After much personal struggle I have finally whittled it away to what you see here today, my Top Twenty of the IGF 2012.

They’re in alphabetical order because as hard as it was to pin down to just 20 games, trying to rank them without having even played some of them would be stupid. This is also solely my own opinion. Some days I was tired of looking at artsy games and some days I was tired of seeing outer space, it’s all very personal. I’d implore you to check out all the entrants for yourself and post your own favorites but that’s something only crazy people do, right?

Some of these games require a visual explanation so I put together a Youtube playlist if you’d rather watch than read me geeking out over 2D, pixelart aesthetics and puzzle/platformers.

Causality Flux by Peter Stock

Lots of games have mucked around with time mechanics over the years. Braid, Retro/Grade, Achron and countless other indie offerings. Causality Flux stood out to me for its super simplistic 2D pixelart and what little dialog you can see in the prototype video. Using doorways to zap back in time so there are multiple versions of yourself running around, moving objects and holding switches is neat enough. What really got me was seeing the girl’s cat walk into a pit of spikes and her sobbing dismay. I’ve never wanted to solve a puzzle so bad in my life and that’s the kind of puzzle setups I hope this game is full of.

Children of Liberty by Lantana Games

"Children of Liberty is a stealth-based platformer that takes place on the eve of the American Revolution." I’m not much of a patriot but there are so few games that explore the early years of America and its folklore that I’m completely intrigued. It’s still early days for the game but I like what I’m seeing: a Klonoa/Tomba mix of 2D art and 3D worlds with an emphasis on sneaking past redcoats in the shadows. The 3D turning mechanic looks great and I love the lighting effects so much it’s a shame to have to blow out my candle and skulk around in the dark.

Crabitron by Two Lives Left

The way you make finger pincers on the iPad to control Crabitron’s intergalactic claws is one of the best uses of touchscreen controls I’ve seen in years! It reminds me of something Nintendo would dream up for a WarioWare game only Crabitron has much more going on. Grab passing space traffic and maneuver it into Crabitron’s maw and deflect incoming fire back at space cops. There’s also space sharks with laser beams on their heads and everything flops, wiggles and explodes thanks to a great physics engine.

Crystalides by Onipunks

You couldn't possibly have ever expected something like Crystalides from a Java-powered cellphone (not smartphone) game! Crystalides is jam-packed with amazing animations, RPG systems, huge sprites, flashy effects and more gameplay styles than anything on a mobile device I’ve ever seen. The trailer’s payload of buzzwords and quick cuts is all I needed to see to get completely excited about this game! The only downer is that I may potentially have to hunt down an ancient Nokia handset just to play it.

Dust: An Elysian Tail by Humble Hearts

Like Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, Dust is a game largely made by a single person and yet hand animated like a studio team spent years making it. It also looks to be a super fast side-scrolling brawler/platformer with the promise of some RPG elements. The only problem I have with it is the main character just screams “furry” to me. I can’t not see it!

Fader by Chris Makris

An absolutely stunning looking mix of simple design and color. A side-scroller where you control multiple versions of your character at the same time; the way the different worlds overlap and mix colors is just a joy to look at. It’s also a clever action/puzzler that sees you -- among other things -- ducking under shots in one dimension while simultaneously flipping switches in another. It seems very rhythmical and with the right soundtrack it could transcend to a whole other level of love in my heart.

Fez by Polytron Corporation

Clearly Fez has to be on this list. Of all of these games it's the one I've waited the longest for, the one I've co-opted for my online persona and the one that makes me happiest just to look at it. That's to say nothing about how it actually plays: an open-ended 3D exploration game that happens to make sharp 90-degree turns to provide a 2D experience. Just, uhh, watch some videos and you’ll understand.

Gunpoint by Tom Francis, John Roberts and Fabian van Dommelen

Gunpoint is like a glorious amalgamation of gameplay styles I didn't even know I wanted so bad. It looks Elevator Action but plays Splinter Cell with an emphasis on rewiring switches so hapless security guards do the dirty work for you. And should a hack go off wrong you can always drop in on a guard or -- my favorite -- leap at a guy from behind and ride his body out the window and down to the ground floor! I could look at its tiny office buildings and dark, noir stylings forever but I’m also desperate to finally play the game myself.

Jamestown: Legend Of The Lost Colony by Final Form Games

A shmup that's actually fun for me to play!! Most modern shooters go overboard with the Bullet Hell, something I’ve never gotten particularly good at dealing with. Jamestown offers loads of ships with a good risk/reward system and stuff to unlock that doesn’t feel limiting when I play it on Easy or Normal difficulty. That it spins a tale of America's early years on an alien, clockwork Mars -- and takes itself seriously while doing so -- adds a charm that I wasn't expecting but totally loved.

Leshy by Radioactive Dodos

Oh great, another puzzle game where you're a rolling ball and OH GOD IT JUST KEEPS SHRINKING!!! As you collect power-ups you can grow and shrink by greater degrees enabling you to roll over the whole level or shrink down to find other puzzling environments nestled in the space between walls. It’s a completely unique new way to play as a ball rolling around in 3D spaces, something I thought would never happen again.

Nous by Awesome Shark Volcano

A brilliant series of events that break the fourth wall and comment on what it means to be both in a video game and playing one. The goal was to marry arcade action with an art project and it succeeds wonderfully. It plays like a twin stick shooter but in its brief 30 minute playtime Nous had me laughing and yelling at my screen for entirely different reasons than you’d expect.

Nitronic Rush by Team Nitronic

A wonderful homage to the San Francisco Rush series and a devilishly fast racing game that's actively out to kill you! As you drive (and fly!) through glowing TRON-esque raceways it becomes clear that the A.I. city doesn’t like you. Traps appear out of nowhere and you’ll have to twist and flip your car at high speeds to move from roads to walls to ceilings and back again.

Project Zomboid by The Indie Stone

This is pretty much the game I've been dreaming up in my head since 2003 and I’m delighted to see it come to life even if I didn’t make it myself. It’s a game of zombie survival where a good plank over the door is as good a defense as a weapon. The field of vision is terrifyingly claustrophobic and your player “needs” work like in The Sims. Food, water and sleep are as crucial as bandages, weapons and shelter as you struggle not to win but only to survive as long as possible.

My first run? Two days and two hours before I burnt the house down making soup and found myself cornered in a smoldering bathroom with only a hammer. It’s still early on at this point and the game doesn’t look fabulous but all the terrifying realities of a zombie apocalypse are in place for a hundred memorable stories.

Proteus by Ed Key and David Kanaga

A beautifully abstract world of pixels and reactive music to explore. I’ve only played the very early demo but it’s already quite mesmerizing and serene. I can’t wait to see (and hear) how the full game turns out.

Red Rogue by Aaron Steed

Good ideas seem to come along at the same time and throughout the IGF entrants this year were quite a few unique roguelike experiences. Red Rogue remains my favorite with ultra tiny pixelart, a great grayscale palette highlighted with lots of red blood and a simple side-scrolling presentation and menu system. And it’s not even a finished product yet but I keep playing it!

Retro City Rampage by Vblank Entertainment Inc.

A glorious parody to all things 80’s (but especially the games)! Take the original Grand Theft Auto games, devolve them back another 10 years to the NES, then pour it full of pop culture homage. Like Fez, Retro City Rampage has been in development for so long I’m simply happy getting a new look at it. The idea of finally playing it is almost too much to handle.

Sr. Mistu by We Choose Fun

A wonderfully artistic game of timing where you draw a path for the hapless Sr. Mitsu and his guide dog to follow. It looks like a children's book sprung to life and features comical brushes with death. It’s a simple and brilliant use of the touch interface on iOS but the song that plays throughout feels really out of place to me. My only gripe about an otherwise great experience.

Tiny and Big: Grandpa´s Leftovers by Black Pants

Pushing objects around in a physics sandbox is nothing new. What Tiny and Big bring is the ability to slice almost anything in their stylized world and maneuver it to solve puzzles, scale heights and find secrets. It's got a great comic book/graphic novel look and I love all the onomatopoeia that flies out of every on-screen action.

Treasure Adventure Game by Robit Studios

Clearly I love 2D pixelart graphics but despite all the varieties I’ve seen the look of Treasure Adventure Game stands somehow alone. I don't know what it is but I like it! The open world design with its day/night and weather cycles is a surprise and the platforming is just challenging enough to make me hate to die but want to keep at it to see more. It’s also got a great chiptune soundtrack to match the 8-bit visuals.

Where is my Heart? by Die Gute Fabrik

Not only a wonderful looking 2D pixelart platformer, it takes each level and splits it up into misaligned boxes. Hilariously disorienting, it's a feeling we're not used to associating with a side scroller and that's one of many reasons this remains a personal favorite.

Originally posted the week of February 6th, 2012 at PEGreviews.com
8 Comments
11 Comments
Posted by ShawnS

Every year when the Independent Games Festival rolls around I vow to check out the entrants and winners to find clever and special games to pin my heart to. I usually start to look through the hundreds of entrants but always get sidetracked from the daunting task by whatever retail console games come out at the time. That’s decidedly NOT INDIE!

I stuck with it in 2011, though, and despite changing jobs and moving states through the hectic holiday season I managed to pour over all 567 entrants and play many of them myself. From there I created a spreadsheet and narrowed it down to 140 games I was particularly interested in. After much personal struggle I have finally whittled it away to what you see here today, my Top Twenty of the IGF 2012.

They’re in alphabetical order because as hard as it was to pin down to just 20 games, trying to rank them without having even played some of them would be stupid. This is also solely my own opinion. Some days I was tired of looking at artsy games and some days I was tired of seeing outer space, it’s all very personal. I’d implore you to check out all the entrants for yourself and post your own favorites but that’s something only crazy people do, right?

Some of these games require a visual explanation so I put together a Youtube playlist if you’d rather watch than read me geeking out over 2D, pixelart aesthetics and puzzle/platformers.

Causality Flux by Peter Stock

Lots of games have mucked around with time mechanics over the years. Braid, Retro/Grade, Achron and countless other indie offerings. Causality Flux stood out to me for its super simplistic 2D pixelart and what little dialog you can see in the prototype video. Using doorways to zap back in time so there are multiple versions of yourself running around, moving objects and holding switches is neat enough. What really got me was seeing the girl’s cat walk into a pit of spikes and her sobbing dismay. I’ve never wanted to solve a puzzle so bad in my life and that’s the kind of puzzle setups I hope this game is full of.

Children of Liberty by Lantana Games

"Children of Liberty is a stealth-based platformer that takes place on the eve of the American Revolution." I’m not much of a patriot but there are so few games that explore the early years of America and its folklore that I’m completely intrigued. It’s still early days for the game but I like what I’m seeing: a Klonoa/Tomba mix of 2D art and 3D worlds with an emphasis on sneaking past redcoats in the shadows. The 3D turning mechanic looks great and I love the lighting effects so much it’s a shame to have to blow out my candle and skulk around in the dark.

Crabitron by Two Lives Left

The way you make finger pincers on the iPad to control Crabitron’s intergalactic claws is one of the best uses of touchscreen controls I’ve seen in years! It reminds me of something Nintendo would dream up for a WarioWare game only Crabitron has much more going on. Grab passing space traffic and maneuver it into Crabitron’s maw and deflect incoming fire back at space cops. There’s also space sharks with laser beams on their heads and everything flops, wiggles and explodes thanks to a great physics engine.

Crystalides by Onipunks

You couldn't possibly have ever expected something like Crystalides from a Java-powered cellphone (not smartphone) game! Crystalides is jam-packed with amazing animations, RPG systems, huge sprites, flashy effects and more gameplay styles than anything on a mobile device I’ve ever seen. The trailer’s payload of buzzwords and quick cuts is all I needed to see to get completely excited about this game! The only downer is that I may potentially have to hunt down an ancient Nokia handset just to play it.

Dust: An Elysian Tail by Humble Hearts

Like Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, Dust is a game largely made by a single person and yet hand animated like a studio team spent years making it. It also looks to be a super fast side-scrolling brawler/platformer with the promise of some RPG elements. The only problem I have with it is the main character just screams “furry” to me. I can’t not see it!

Fader by Chris Makris

An absolutely stunning looking mix of simple design and color. A side-scroller where you control multiple versions of your character at the same time; the way the different worlds overlap and mix colors is just a joy to look at. It’s also a clever action/puzzler that sees you -- among other things -- ducking under shots in one dimension while simultaneously flipping switches in another. It seems very rhythmical and with the right soundtrack it could transcend to a whole other level of love in my heart.

Fez by Polytron Corporation

Clearly Fez has to be on this list. Of all of these games it's the one I've waited the longest for, the one I've co-opted for my online persona and the one that makes me happiest just to look at it. That's to say nothing about how it actually plays: an open-ended 3D exploration game that happens to make sharp 90-degree turns to provide a 2D experience. Just, uhh, watch some videos and you’ll understand.

Gunpoint by Tom Francis, John Roberts and Fabian van Dommelen

Gunpoint is like a glorious amalgamation of gameplay styles I didn't even know I wanted so bad. It looks Elevator Action but plays Splinter Cell with an emphasis on rewiring switches so hapless security guards do the dirty work for you. And should a hack go off wrong you can always drop in on a guard or -- my favorite -- leap at a guy from behind and ride his body out the window and down to the ground floor! I could look at its tiny office buildings and dark, noir stylings forever but I’m also desperate to finally play the game myself.

Jamestown: Legend Of The Lost Colony by Final Form Games

A shmup that's actually fun for me to play!! Most modern shooters go overboard with the Bullet Hell, something I’ve never gotten particularly good at dealing with. Jamestown offers loads of ships with a good risk/reward system and stuff to unlock that doesn’t feel limiting when I play it on Easy or Normal difficulty. That it spins a tale of America's early years on an alien, clockwork Mars -- and takes itself seriously while doing so -- adds a charm that I wasn't expecting but totally loved.

Leshy by Radioactive Dodos

Oh great, another puzzle game where you're a rolling ball and OH GOD IT JUST KEEPS SHRINKING!!! As you collect power-ups you can grow and shrink by greater degrees enabling you to roll over the whole level or shrink down to find other puzzling environments nestled in the space between walls. It’s a completely unique new way to play as a ball rolling around in 3D spaces, something I thought would never happen again.

Nous by Awesome Shark Volcano

A brilliant series of events that break the fourth wall and comment on what it means to be both in a video game and playing one. The goal was to marry arcade action with an art project and it succeeds wonderfully. It plays like a twin stick shooter but in its brief 30 minute playtime Nous had me laughing and yelling at my screen for entirely different reasons than you’d expect.

Nitronic Rush by Team Nitronic

A wonderful homage to the San Francisco Rush series and a devilishly fast racing game that's actively out to kill you! As you drive (and fly!) through glowing TRON-esque raceways it becomes clear that the A.I. city doesn’t like you. Traps appear out of nowhere and you’ll have to twist and flip your car at high speeds to move from roads to walls to ceilings and back again.

Project Zomboid by The Indie Stone

This is pretty much the game I've been dreaming up in my head since 2003 and I’m delighted to see it come to life even if I didn’t make it myself. It’s a game of zombie survival where a good plank over the door is as good a defense as a weapon. The field of vision is terrifyingly claustrophobic and your player “needs” work like in The Sims. Food, water and sleep are as crucial as bandages, weapons and shelter as you struggle not to win but only to survive as long as possible.

My first run? Two days and two hours before I burnt the house down making soup and found myself cornered in a smoldering bathroom with only a hammer. It’s still early on at this point and the game doesn’t look fabulous but all the terrifying realities of a zombie apocalypse are in place for a hundred memorable stories.

Proteus by Ed Key and David Kanaga

A beautifully abstract world of pixels and reactive music to explore. I’ve only played the very early demo but it’s already quite mesmerizing and serene. I can’t wait to see (and hear) how the full game turns out.

Red Rogue by Aaron Steed

Good ideas seem to come along at the same time and throughout the IGF entrants this year were quite a few unique roguelike experiences. Red Rogue remains my favorite with ultra tiny pixelart, a great grayscale palette highlighted with lots of red blood and a simple side-scrolling presentation and menu system. And it’s not even a finished product yet but I keep playing it!

Retro City Rampage by Vblank Entertainment Inc.

A glorious parody to all things 80’s (but especially the games)! Take the original Grand Theft Auto games, devolve them back another 10 years to the NES, then pour it full of pop culture homage. Like Fez, Retro City Rampage has been in development for so long I’m simply happy getting a new look at it. The idea of finally playing it is almost too much to handle.

Sr. Mistu by We Choose Fun

A wonderfully artistic game of timing where you draw a path for the hapless Sr. Mitsu and his guide dog to follow. It looks like a children's book sprung to life and features comical brushes with death. It’s a simple and brilliant use of the touch interface on iOS but the song that plays throughout feels really out of place to me. My only gripe about an otherwise great experience.

Tiny and Big: Grandpa´s Leftovers by Black Pants

Pushing objects around in a physics sandbox is nothing new. What Tiny and Big bring is the ability to slice almost anything in their stylized world and maneuver it to solve puzzles, scale heights and find secrets. It's got a great comic book/graphic novel look and I love all the onomatopoeia that flies out of every on-screen action.

Treasure Adventure Game by Robit Studios

Clearly I love 2D pixelart graphics but despite all the varieties I’ve seen the look of Treasure Adventure Game stands somehow alone. I don't know what it is but I like it! The open world design with its day/night and weather cycles is a surprise and the platforming is just challenging enough to make me hate to die but want to keep at it to see more. It’s also got a great chiptune soundtrack to match the 8-bit visuals.

Where is my Heart? by Die Gute Fabrik

Not only a wonderful looking 2D pixelart platformer, it takes each level and splits it up into misaligned boxes. Hilariously disorienting, it's a feeling we're not used to associating with a side scroller and that's one of many reasons this remains a personal favorite.

Originally posted the week of February 6th, 2012 at PEGreviews.com
Posted by TakenByTrees

Wow that's a lot of games to go through. I have had a quick look at a few of them and some of the student showcase games have really caught my eye, Dust especially. Nice list, thanks for the effort.

Posted by ShawnS

@TakenByTrees: horray! A comment appears! It WAS quite a lot of work but I'm so glad I did it and then managed to write it up! And I cannot stop thinking about Crystalides, I really wanna see that game through!

Posted by Meowayne

Thanks for this writeup! In a world of shiny but monotonous sequels I find myself getting drawn to this part of the gaming world more and more, the last place original digital experiences can be found. Big thanks for reminding me of Gunpoint, I saw that game in action quite a while back when it was still just one guy with an idea looking for artists, but then I forgot the name (if it even had one at that time).

Posted by ShawnS

@Meowayne: Yup, I used to turn to Japan for creative and original stuff but there's less of that now and even less that makes it into English so I turn more and more towards the indie scene. I had forgotten about Gunpoint too and kick myself for missing out on the beta periods. I wanna plummet out of windows on the backs of guards SO bad!

Posted by SeriouslyNow

Crystalides stands head and shoulders over the rest and I'm not even a particularly fond fan of the gameplay. It's just so pro.

Posted by TakenByTrees

Had another look through the list and Gunpoint also looks good. I remember a quick look or similar on the site some tima ago and thought it looked good then so hopefully it will do well out of the exposure it will get from the festival and maybe pick up an award.

Posted by ShawnS

@SeriouslyNow: exactly!! I'd even settle for a playthrough video but I'm not sure how you capture video from a cellphone.

Posted by SeriouslyNow

@ShawnS said:

@SeriouslyNow: exactly!! I'd even settle for a playthrough video but I'm not sure how you capture video from a cellphone.

I'm pretty sure you could run it via a java phone emulator.

Posted by ShawnS

@SeriouslyNow: Those probably exist, huh? Never thought about an emulator for one.

Posted by Ravenlight

Nice list! Now I don't have to sort through the 500+ pile for the good ones :D