Volgarr the Viking: 2013 Game of the Year
Oniken: 2012 Game of the Year
Check out our Best of 2013 awards show, where we discuss all of
the best 2D video games of 2013 and give out meaningful awards!

Schein

A game by Zeppelin Studio for PC, originally released in 2014.
Schein is a puzzle platformer that begins with a man wandering alone in a dark swamp, looking for his lost son. He has returned to the swamp day after day, looking in the place where he last saw him, but to no avail. Eventually, he wanders into a mysterious part of the swamp that has glowing stones and floating platforms, and he continues on until he reaches a cliff edge… apparently a dead end. But just when he is about to give up and go back the way he came, he hears a strange voice that urges him to move forward.


At the base of the cliff, the man meets a floating green wisp who calls herself Irrlicht, and she seems to be the man’s last hope. While she offers to help, her intentions are somewhat nebulous, and it’s unclear whether her purpose favors the man’s search for his missing son. Irrlicht is the German name for a will-o'-the-wisp, a ghostly light that is seen by travelers wandering in the woods. According to folklore, the wisps recede as travelers get near, luring them away from their chosen path and deeper into the woods, eventually causing them to become lost. Throughout the game, the man and Irrlicht exchange words as she continues to direct him toward some unknown destination.

Super Comboman

A game by Interabang Entertainment for PC and Mac, originally released in 2014.
Super Comboman is a game about a fellow named Struggles who is enamored with his favorite manga hero, Super Comboman, so much so that his obsession intrudes into his day-to-day life. Everywhere he goes, he thinks he sees Super Comboman in the distance. When Struggles sets out to look for a job at a construction site, he finds himself overwhelmed with the desire to perform “combat training” by beating up everyone he encounters and breaking everything he sees. Struggles himself is a caricature of manga fanboyism; he’s overweight, has a mullet (specifically “mullet nuggets”), and sports a fanny pack.


The game sets itself apart from other brawlers with its sticker presentation, featuring characters, enemies, and objects with white outlines, and some enemy animations feature stickers peeling or spinning. The player may also search the environment to find stickers, some of which open up new purchasable moves in the shop, with the others simply filling out a sticker book. The game offers lighthearted humor and illustrated cutscenes, with an enthusiastic but hapless hero stumbling through unusual situations and larger-than-life set pieces.

Super Cyborg

A game by Artur Games for PC, originally released in 2014.
Super Cyborg is a run and gun shooter that summons the spirit of Contra to deliver an experience that is authentic to the NES original in almost every possible way, while also delivering its own unique flavor with insectoid enemies and grotesque boss creatures. If the title screen had been preceded by Konami’s twin ribbons, players would have little difficulty accepting this as an official – yet slightly twisted – entry in the shirtless somersaulting soldier series.

Upon booting the game, players are ushered toward the title screen with wailing synth over the developer’s logo, followed by the game’s logo crashing into view with a gleaming red cyborg soldier holding a shiny futuristic weapon. The cyborg theme is drawn from Contra’s European release (Artur Games is based in Russia) called Probotector, where human characters were replaced with robotic versions to bypass laws that prevented the sale of video games to minors that portrayed violence against people. So, instead of shirtless soldiers, the game featured armored bipedal robots, with player one represented by a red robot and player two represented by blue. Similarly, Super Cyborg features local 2P co-op, with one red cyborg and one blue… and yes, you can steal your partner’s lives if you die before he does.

Hyphen

A game by FarSpace Studios for PC, originally released in 2014.
The gameplay in Hyphen is built entirely around a spinning stick. Players must navigate various neon-lit obstacle courses with a stick that is constantly rotating, and touching the walls or any other obstacle means instant death. Since the player has no control over the speed of the stick’s rotation, he must instead wait for the perfect opportunity to dodge around moving objects and slip through tight spaces.


The only other notable entries in the sparsely-populated spinning stick subgenre is the Kururin series, but despite their similar gameplay, Hyphen offers a very different sort of experience. The Kururin series features a cutesy design with digital movement, a 3-hit health bar, static checkpoints, and (starting with Kururin Paradise) the ability to speed up the stick’s rotation. Hyphen, on the other hand, features a neon aesthetic, analogue movement, 1-hit kills with infinite lives, player-controlled checkpoints, and fixed rotation speed for the stick. This design makes Hyphen a more challenging and more frustrating experience, while also reducing the amount of time needed to return to a failed challenge.

Electronic Super Joy: Groove City

A game by Michael Todd Games for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2014.
Electronic Super Joy: Groove City is a mini-sequel to Electronic Super Joy, acting as a standalone game rather than an expansion to the original release, and the premise is every bit as zany as the first… Early in the game, a giant robot stripper named JoJo rampages through Groove City, angered by the fact that Dr. Swinger has stolen her laser nipples. You are tasked with defeating Dr. Swinger and retrieving said photonic areolic protrusions, with the assistance of a returning character from the first game, Pope Boris the Super Sexy.


As before, the world is filled with bright throbbing colors and pulsing electronica, and you control a silhouetted fellow running and jumping through a similarly silhouetted world. While the original game featured numerous movement enhancements, including a butt stomp, a double jump, and even the ability to fly… this game has none of that.

Instead you have only your 3x variable height jump, which makes the gameplay somewhat simpler, but also adds additional challenges by focusing more heavily on precision platforming. Also, without your butt stomp, there is no way to smash swarming missiles into oblivion, and so you must avoid these on your platforming adventure as well.

1001 Spikes

A game by 8bits Fanatics and Nicalis for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Wii U, Vita, and 3DS, originally released in 2014.
1001 Spikes is an abbreviation of Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes. Including the subtitle, the full name is technically Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes: The Temple of the Dead Mourns the Living, if you aren’t into the whole brevity thing. The game acts a pseudo sequel and enhanced remake of Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes originally released on Xbox Live Indie Games in 2011 by 8bits Fanatics. For 1001 Spikes, Nicalis revisited the game and fleshed out the overall experience, adding a bit more than a single spike with a new storyline and cutscenes, a new introductory tutorial area, several multiplayer modes, enhanced visuals, and some extra tough single player challenges following the completion of the main game, making this the definitive version of the Aban Hawkins adventure.


The new story tells the tale of Aban Hawkins whose father, the famous archaeologist Jim Hawkins, recently disappeared while exploring the Antarctic. Years before, Jim Hawkins decided to leave his entire fortune to Aban’s sister Tina, leaving the impetuous Aban with nothing… in the hopes that he would become a “real man” and earn a fortune of his own.

Transistor

A game by Supergiant Games for PC and PS4, originally released in 2014.
Transistor tells the tale of Red, a singer who has lost her voice. Things begin in medias res with Red on rooftop, standing near a man with a large sword sticking out of his torso. The sword speaks, glowing as it does so, and says: “Red… We’re not going to get away with this, are we?” The player then takes control of Red as she dislodges the object from the body of her companion, and finds that his consciousness has been transferred to the sword-like object, known as the Transistor.


The game takes place in what appears to be a virtual world, although this is not overtly stated. This setting is enforced by the fact that bits of “reality” are being altered by mechanized creatures that roam the environment, and the language of the game consists largely of programmer-speak, with battles being called “processes”, areas carrying names like Empty Set and Floating Point, and your various attacks being called “functions” with names like Ping() and Crash().

Retro Game Crunch

A game by Retro Game Crunch for PC and Mac, originally released in 2014.
Retro Game Crunch is a collection of seven retro-styled games inspired by the classics of the 8-bit era, and each offers a different gameplay experience and a different theme. The collection came into being as a result of a game jam. The developers created Super Clew Land over the course of 72 hours as part of the 24th Ludum Dare game jam in 2012, which was themed on evolution. From there, they decided to use Kickstarter to fund a development project where they would make additional games under limited time constraints.


The developers’ goal was to create six games in just six months, something that has been attempted to a greater or lesser degree by developers like Arkedo and Radiangames, but the twist here is that they gave the Kickstarter community an active role in the development process. Before starting each game, Kickstarter backers had the chance to vote on a theme, at which point the development team created a prototype within 72 hours. From there, Kickstarter backers were allowed to pay the prototype and offer feedback while the developers polished the game into a final product.

At the end of the campaign, the developers released all seven titles as a single bundle. The bundle has a no-frills presentation, offering only a simple interface that allows players to cycle through each of the games and view their controls.


Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails

A game by Dakko Dakko for Wii U, originally released in 2014.
Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails is a peculiar game, featuring a rail-riding fellow named Buddy who uses a magnetic “Spinboard” to slide around the edges of a space station, hopping away from the edges in platforming challenges, and blasting away at evil kidnapping mice. Apparently, the mice of the world have risen up against the cats, abducting them and bringing them aboard an orbital laboratory. Fortunately, one of the abducted cats – named Scram – has a friend who breaks into the station to rescue him and all of the other hapless kitties.


You take on the role of Buddy, navigating the environment with a rather unconventional control scheme. Buddy’s Spinboard is magnetically attached to the wall, forcing him to move through the environment by sticking to the edges of various structures. Controls are screen relative, rather than character relative, so pressing LEFT or RIGHT moves you left or right along rails, but when you move around a corner, you have to press the stick in the desired direction to continue moving. It is not possible to change this control scheme.

Super Time Force

A game by Capy Games for Xbox 360 and Xbox One, originally released in 2014.
Super Time Force is a run-and-gun actioner with a strategic twist, centering on a time travel mechanic that allows players to reverse time at will – even after death – to play through segments of the level with one or more versions of their past selves carrying out their previous actions. Ultimately, the player may have dozens of copies of himself running around the stages, taking on bosses, and even creating the occasional time paradox as he rescues a past self from his own death. Such is the zany nature of Super Time Force, and it has a cracked narrative match.


Super Time Force was originally to be titled Super T.I.M.E. Force, although the acronym still remains in the final game as Super Temporal Infinite Manipulation Expert Force. The game begins in Philadelphia in 1987 with an eye patch-wearing scientist who has discovered time travel. Immediately upon realizing this great discovery, the world is destroyed by a robot army, and Philadelphia of the USA becomes the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Cincindelphia of the USSA in the year 198X.

Kero Blaster

A game by Studio Pixel for PC and iOS, originally released in 2014.
Kero Blaster is a sidescrolling action game with a focus on platforming and shooting. The game stars a frog custodian who works for C&F Inc., a.k.a. Cat & Frog Incorporated. The president of the company is a cat who keeps a strange black creature in her office as a pet. Meanwhile, the company’s teleporters have been overrun by these same creatures, and it is up to the frog to clear them out.



Pink Hour
A month prior to the release of Kero Blaster, the developer released a prologue to the game, acting as a teaser of sorts, called Pink Hour. This free download stars the pink office secretary who has lost an important document, and she uses one of the company teleporters to head out into the enemy-filled world to retrieve it and present it to the company president.


The game is only a few minutes in length, and features a number of the environments and enemies present in Kero Blaster. However, unlike Kero Blaster, which eases the player into many of its challenges, Pink Hour tosses the player directly into heavy platforming intermixed with flying enemies, a low ceiling, and tiny platforms over bottomless pits, making for a pretty tough first taste of a more balanced final product.

Chronology

A game by OSAO Games for PC, originally released in 2014.
Chronology is a puzzle platformer starring an old inventor and a talking snail. Together, this duo must use their powers of time manipulation to make changes to the environment, interact with the creatures around them, and solve puzzles. Along the way, they learn more about the events that led to the world’s destruction, which came from the abuse of an energy source known as the Vapor that naturally rises up from underground.


When the game begins, the inventor finds himself lying on the ground, alone in the woods with no memory of what has happened, although there has clearly been an explosion of some kind. He discovers his pocket watch lying nearby, and finds that it gives him the ability to move through time, switching between the “Before” and the “After” time periods. In the past, the world is lush and green, and society is at its greatest height, but in the future, the world is run down, and everything is in ruin.

Gunhound EX

A game by Dracue for PC and PSP, released in the US in 2014.
Gunhound EX, also known as Armored Hunter Gunhound EX, falls into the small subgenre of mech-based action shooters inhabited largely by the Assault Suits series – which includes Target Earth and Cybernator in the U.S. – as well as a few one-off titles like Metal Warriors. Gunhound EX features a large lumbering mech smashing and shooting its way through five sizeable environments and facing off against numerous military targets and several huge bosses.

As is typical of the genre, the mech’s movement is slow and deliberate, and the controls are complex. The mech comes loaded with heavy firepower in the form of four distinct weapon types, each with different effects, and each is assigned to a separate button or button combination. In addition, the mech has a long slow jump, and it is stunned for a moment when hitting the ground from any great height unless the player uses his boosters just before hitting the ground.

The booster function allows the mech to sustain a jump for a bit longer, cross gaps, and even reach higher elevations, but it too is slowed by the incredible weight of the mech. Aside from a couple of instances where the player is given an unlimited booster, its power will drain as you use it, but it recharges quickly while disengaged.

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