December 24, 2013 5:55 PM | Staff
As 2013 comes to a close, game bloggers, vloggers, and journalists around the world are realizing some, if not most, of their favorites are indie games. Where mainstream games often learned merely to count one number higher, indies were again experimenting with graphics, sound, gameplay, genre and platforms.
The top 10 indie games of 2013 are presented slightly different this year and will be going forward. As we continue to curate the best free and paid games across PCs, mobile devices, and consoles, crowning one game on one platform just doesn't seem helpful or practical.
Instead, we've looked for 10 games that have done well to push games in every direction: sometimes old, sometimes new, and always interesting. We've also composed a large amount of our individual picks, which even at over 20 extra games feels like just a slice of the awesome games from indies this year.
Here it is, our top 10 indie games of 2013.
868-Hack by Michael Brough (who had several brilliant releases that inspired others and led us to coining the term Brough-like)
"From the '80s-styled glowy graphics and the atmospheric soundtrack to the procedurally generated levels and the finely refined mechanics and gameplay balance, 868-HACK is a unique and actually brilliant roguelike experience. It is also a puzzler and most definitely a highly tactical experience, but above all it's one of the best and most elegant iOS games I have ever played. A truly masterfully crafted offering and a dangerous time-sink."
Candy Box by aniwey (jumpstarted an incremental game craze)
"People loved the shared experience of participating in Candy Box, and since the game's surprisingly full of mysteries and secrets with little direction or feedback, that social component became actually-essential to progress for many. [The game's success] proves that it isn't actually the hooky, skinner box-ish grind of Facebook games nor their rampant virality that is inherently offensive to gamers, but probably the platform and the presentation instead."
Device 6 by Simogo (a startling experiment with mobile devices, text, visuals, and audio)
"Device 6 is dripping with experiments in how the text and images are displayed and navigated, all laced up with some tricky puzzles and a mysterious, sometimes haunting, storyline... [The text] plays with you much more than you play with it. It popped up where I least expected it, in areas I've already passed by, and literally in every corner of the screen. It moved in a way that made me feel like I was moving with it."
Both exploration platformers, Guacamelee has zetsy luchador art and brawl mechanics to be enjoyed solo or in co-op. SteamWorld Dig's Western-steampunk art filled deep and dark caverns for players to dig and discover new powers or resources. Both hook you until the end, not unlike their Metroid and Castlevania inspirations but in much shorter digital bursts.
Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer (raises the bar for adventure games, provides wonderful free interludes)
"To say the game is existentialist or surrealist is to give both those movements far less than their due, to say nothing of the sheer breadth of literary, visual and theatrical influences Kentucky Route Zero can count among its stable. To put it plainly, Kentucky Route Zero offers up such riches of creativity and thoughtful design that one year simply can't contain it."
Papers, Please by Lucas Pope (shows serious issues can be tackled with seriously clever gameplay and writing)
"Instead of playing as common fiction's heroic spy, smuggler or subversive, what if you played as the bureaucratic inspector? Papers, Please, the game that emerged from that concept, is brilliant on a mechanical level -- in order to earn enough to support their struggling family, the player needs to process as many travelers as they can in one day, an objective balanced against the stated goal of only admitting those who have their increasingly-complicated documents in order."
Ridiculous Fishing by Vlambeer (addictive fun doesn't need in-app purchases; creators can outshine their clones)
"This underwater fish'em up feels like a racing game during the descent (dodging all the aquatic traffic), a destruction derby game during the ascent (smashing into every creature to hook them in), and a manic version of Dunk Hunt during the "harvest" mode (shooting everything in sight but the penalizing jelly fish). The gameplay extends with a deep and iAP-free upgrade system that includes longer fishing cord, GQ high-seas hat wear, hook-drilling oil to blast through dense sections, bazookas and a toaster."
The Stanley Parable by Galactic Cafe (mods can still mature into their own game; demos can offer unique experiences)
"The Stanley Parable, previously a free Half-Life 2 mod, is a game riddled with dialogue and choice. You're presented with a simple decision -- the left door, or the right door? -- and from there sprawls a variety of bizarre sights, sounds, and wonders. It's a game all about choice, although there's this strange nagging feeling throughout that the game is simply causing the illusion of choice, and is actually nudging you in particular directions."
Whether you fancy arrows or a pistol-and-sword combination, these two games will keep you on your toes, battling until the last breath. In an age where not having online multiplayer feels like a grave offense, these games gladly force you to fill your living rooms with humans, where victory and defeat feel much more personal.
[John's note: Depending on how you count, this is technically a top 9 or 11 list. Like last year, I am not a fan of sticking to 10.]
Increpare's tool Puzzlescript has brought us tons of amazing free puzzle games. Damian Sommer and Droqen's save-file sharing and game-altering Sharecart1000 is available for free and commercial projects to play with. Spelunky, one of our top games from 2012 on XBLA, was made more awesome on PC and PSN with its ingenious one-try-only daily challenges.
***read about our individual nominations from this year's coverage***
Risk of Rain
Save the Date
Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe
Ultra Business Tycoon 3