January 4, 2013 11:00 AM | Danny Cowan
Sony continues to curate a top-notch library of independently developed titles for the PlayStation 3, and this year also saw the release of several standout indie games for the PS Vita. Better still, many of this year's best indie-developed PSN titles are playable on both the PS3 and the Vita -- an important trend that developers should observe carefully.
The PlayStation Network continued to deliver surprises up until the very last day of December, which saw the release of the excellent Jetpack Joyride. Many other excellent titles also premiered throughout 2012, resulting in what may be the service's strongest year to date. Here are my top 10 PSN releases of 2012.
10. Closure (Eyebrow Interactive)
Dark, moody, and frequently vexing, Closure is a game in which I often found myself stuck. Every time I returned, however, I was glad that I did.
Closure presents a uniquely claustrophobic take on the puzzle-platformer genre, and players learn new things about how the surrounding world works within each level. More importantly, success in Closure is often accompanied by a satisfying flash of "Oh, I can do THAT?" This feeling of triumph drives you to continuing playing even after your character sinks into the inky abyss for the dozenth time in a row.
9. Knytt Underground (Nifflas)
Knytt Underground is a slow burn. What starts off as a fairly straightforward Metroidvania-styled adventure soon turns into much more, thanks to a variety of inventive challenges and a cast of well-written characters.
With over 1,800 rooms to explore in all, you've got a lot of work ahead of you, but stick with this one -- it pays off in a big way starting in the third chapter. Make sure you play with headphones, too, as the sound design adds a lot to the experience.
8. Retro/Grade (24 Caret Games)
Retro/Grade's timing-based, cue-striking gameplay technically classifies it as a rhythm game, but the infusion of elements from the shoot-'em-up genre is what makes it really shine.
No other rhythm game, to my knowledge, requires you to dodge enemy attacks from both the front and rear of your ship as you fire/absorb your own counterattacks...while you travel back in time. There's nothing else quite like Retro/Grade; it succeeds both as a rhythm game and as an unconventional (yet delightful) shoot-'em-up.
7. Sound Shapes (Queasy Games)
Sound Shapes' presentation is exceptional, offering satisfying audiovisual feedback in every single screen. It helps that the core gameplay is plenty of fun, too, and the powerful level-editing feature allows players to remix the experience to an unexpected degree.
Each stage is a multi-sensory crescendo, and if you enjoy music in any capacity, you'll find yourself completely absorbed in Sound Shapes from start to finish.
6. Jetpack Joyride (Halfbrick Studios)
I played the Android version of Halfbrick's Jetpack Joyride through to completion. I unlocked every piece of clothing, every gadget, and every achievement. When I saw Jetpack Joyride listed as a new arrival for the PlayStation Vita, it was only after two seconds of deliberation that I purchased the coin-doubling Counterfeit Machine add-on and set out on my quest anew.
The game's one-button formula is simple -- collect coins, travel as far as possible before dying -- but Jetpack Joyride has me hooked in a way that few other games have managed. Even after hundreds of play sessions, it remains as fun as ever, and its gameplay-altering unlockables provide ample replay incentive.
5. Journey (thatgamecompany)
Despite its short length, Journey's sweeping, emotional quest enchanted players and proved to be one of the most memorable gaming experiences of the year.
Journey's multiplayer component is one of its strongest elements, with players reporting a variety of unique co-op experiences. Best of all, your companions are mute, making it impossible for them to ruin your trek with the sort of verbal abuse associated with many online multiplayer experiences.
4. Mutant Blobs Attack (Drinkbox Studios)
I wanted to enjoy Mutant Blobs Attack's PS3 predecessor Tales From Space: About a Blob more than I did. Though the core concept was solid -- and basically amounting to a 2D version of Katamari Damacy -- the design was saddled with unnecessary complexity and twin-stick elements that just weren't as enjoyable as they should have been.
Mutant Blobs Attack improves upon its predecessor in every way, stripping down the gameplay and actively removing weaker elements that didn't quite work out. The result is a fun, focused platformer that's one of the best titles currently available for the PS Vita.
3. The Unfinished Swan (Giant Sparrow)
From its monochrome outset, The Unfinished Swan sinks its hooks in deep. Play it through to the end and you're rewarded with a surprisingly emotional narrative, along with some inventive first-person puzzling.
Being able to paint your own pathway through each chapter is uniquely empowering, and the core mechanics here never grow stale. The Unfinished Swan is a beautiful, unforgettable experience -- don't miss it.
2. Dyad (Right Square Bracket Left Square Bracket Games)
Dyad makes my eyes hurt. In a good way.
If you can adjust to the retina-scorching visuals, Dyad offers an inspired combination of the racing and puzzle genres, and the thrill of chaining together a last-minute combo is one of the most exhilarating experiences I've had in a game released this year.
1. Retro City Rampage (VBlank Entertainment)
Humor is difficult to pull off in games, and most don't even try. In our meme-driven times, it's rare that a game can take humorous material and construct actual jokes from it. Brian Provinciano's Retro City Rampage succeeds admirably.
Retro City Rampage goes above and beyond the call of duty, and is much more than the retro-styled Grand Theft Auto spoof that it first appears to be. It's not just a skillfully executed parody; Retro City Rampage is a summary of what makes video games weird, interesting, and fun.