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My Top Twenty from the Independent Games Festival 2013

It’s that time of year again: time to go over the hundreds of IGF entrants and whittle it down to just twenty that I’m particularly excited about. This year there were 586 entries -- up just a handful from 2012 -- but unlike years past a bunch of my favorites have already been released. Be it a full price release or a frequently updated “beta” many of these games are very much known quantities. Let’s get those out of the way first because I think the more mysterious, lesser known, underground stuff is what’s so great about the IGF.

Cart Life by Richard Hofmeier

Once Giant Bomb digs into a game you know it’s hit a critical mass. That’s where I’ve seen the most of Cart Life which, at one time, sounded like an interesting literal take on a food-based time management game. Turns out it’s a literal take on reality and the tales of the downtrodden “every man” are a bigger part of this stark looking adventure game than actually running a food cart.

Don’t Starve by Klei Entertainment

A roguelike survival game that is dead set on killing you. You really have to play it safe here or risk starving or being attacked but so many of the rules have to be discovered by taking a chance. The tension is amazing for a game that looks like a childhood Tim Burton doodle. Klei continue to evolve what the game is but I’ve already put a few dozen hours into it and can’t wait to dive back into a more finalized adventure.

Dust: An Elysian Tail by Dean Dodrill

Turns out I was able to get past the “furry” look of Dust once a for-real, heartbreaking story started to take shape. It looks fantastic, has a dazzling (if a little shallow) combat system and it’s hard to not love the all-the-work-of-one-man story of its creation.

FTL: Faster Than Light by Subset Games

Of all the games I played in 2012 FTL was the most effective, the most terrifying and satisfying. Despite its tiny, minimal graphics it often left me shaking as resources are slim, an encounter can turn at a second’s notice, and much of your success is dependent on your ability to manage a dozen functions at once.

Hotline Miami by Dennaton Games

A glorious, punishing top-down trip that's as satisfying to play as it is disturbing to be a part of. Its neon-soaked, psychotic 80’s adventure is perfectly matched with one of my favorite soundtracks of 2012.

Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer

I hate adventure games so it's great that this one boils most of the classic tropes down to simple questions and items. It's all about the atmosphere and exploration which feels like a dreamy, somehow familiar limbo between life and death.

Now for the remaining 14 games, some you may know and some you may be meeting for the first time.

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Against the Wall by Michael P. Consoli

I’ve been playing the Unity-based web version off and on for the past year and still love everything about it; the stark visuals, subtle color, and the way it slowly grows more organic and mysterious as you ascend. I am always looking forward to the final release and new platforms to play it on.

Alphabet City by Gigantic Mechanic

As tired as I'm getting of word games, this one's promise of "boggle meets foursquare" with words and rankings based around the location you’re at seems pretty enticing. And while most word games go ultra minimalist with their art, Alphabet City embraces a jazzy, typewriter style that feels fresh.

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ATUM by Sassybot Studio / Team Cupcake

One of the most meta games ever. Enter a room in first-person to sit down at a PC and play a simple noir-colored platformer, then help your character by finding objects in the 3D room. It’s simple and rough but feels really special.

Chroma by Mark Foster

If there’s one overarching theme from IGF this year it’s “light and shadow”. Of all the platformers that let you run on shadows and manipulate light to progress Chroma looks the neatest. It doesn't hurt that it's all in a cute, colorful pixel style.

Contrast by Compulsion Games

Guess what? Light and shadow platforming! This time it's 3D on a 2D plane as you play both in reality and on the shadows it casts. The 1920's era jazz stylings look fantastic and set Contrast apart from the unexpectedly crowded light/dark genre.

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Cradle by Flying Cafe for Semianimals

A totally dazzling looking first-person exploration game where you awake in a future Mongolia with a malfunctioning robot companion and work to restore her functionality and memory to make sense of the world around you. Development seems troubled but I’m really hoping this one makes it out.

Destroy All Color! by Golden Ruby Games

One of the most accessible AR games from the IGF, Destroy All Color requires you to point your iOS camera at objects in real life to match and destroy the colored blocks in the game. It’s a familiar concept with a frantic real world twist and I like it.

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Farm for your Life by Anneke and Oliver Eberlei

Astute fans of the site won’t be surprised to see this one. I posted about the “zombie farming time management tower defense“ game back in December and it proved itself as one of the most interesting and adorable games from the entrants.

Icebreaker - A Viking Voyage by Nitrome

I used to love 2D physics simulation and something about Icebreaker has really rekindled that love. It’s part Cut the Rope and part Angry Birds but with much more complicated and platformer-like levels to indirectly navigate. The pixelart Viking style doesn’t hurt either!

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Leaper★ by Sophie Houlden

I still get a kick out of good use of a gyroscope and Leaper★ looks to use it very well. It also mitigates the hassle of first-person platforming by making jumping (err, leaping) a process that lets you stop and line up exactly where you'll land. It looks like a nice little adventure.

Mushroom 11 by Itay Keren

Sort of like a water physics game only the water you're moving around is mostly solid. Destroying or shaving off parts of the mass change its size and momentum but the mass grows back quickly so timing and fine tuning seem important.

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NEO Scavenger by Blue Bottle Games

Taking the things I like about Don't Starve, Minecraft and Make No Wonder to their ultimate, hard science extremes, NEO Scavenger is a brutal survival game. I've put hours into the demo alone and -- if nothing else -- always manage to die in a new and terrifying way. It’s a new kind of brutal, unforgiving and punishing rogue-ish survival game that I can’t seem to get enough of.

Sang-Froid - Tales of Werewolves by Artifice Studio

The biggest surprise from the IGF this year! Take Orcs Must Die's action tower defense to an even bigger and more strategic scale. It's got a wonderful lumberjack-vs-the-undead setting and looks maddeningly frantic. I cannot wait to play it!

StarForge by CodeHatch Corp.

What is this madness!?! A realistic looking Minecraft with wave-based fort building and defense, the ability to build straight into space, hilarious movement physics, a Borderlands style gun system and vehicles. The only thing it’s missing is Match-3 and zombies.

And there you have it; my Top Twenty from the IGF 2013 is officially complete! In case you’re also a crazy person here’s a direct link to all 586 entries for you to start going over yourself. Have fun!

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