8 Bit Horse Picks of the Decade (2010’s)

8 Bit Horse just celebrated its 10 Year Anniversary, and as it turns out, those 10 years almost perfectly coincided with the decade known as the 2010’s… so it only seemed fair that we do what all of the other gaming sites are doing, which is to name our Picks of the Decade! (echo… echo…)

OK, so there have been hundreds of great games released over the last decade – honestly, it’s an embarrassment of riches – so this is not a Top 10 Best Games list. Instead, this is a list of the 10 games that made the biggest impression on me personally (in this case, me = AJ Johnson, Managing Editor, 8 Bit Horse) and that I felt delivered the most lasting and memorable gameplay experiences. These are games that I enjoyed at the time I played them, and that I have regularly thought back on in the years since.

I’ve made some effort to ensure that the entire breadth of the 2010’s is represented and not just the most recent stuff. And to keep things on-task, this is list only includes 2D video games, so sorry kids, there’ll be no dang Breath of the Wild or Witcher 3 stuff going on here. The list also technically isn’t in a ranked order, but it is in the order in which I thought of them when I was considering what I found to be the most memorable, so take that as you will…

Damn, those were some boring words. Onto the list!

VVVVVV by Terry Cavanaugh (2010)
It really says something when the oldest game on this list is the first one that comes to mind. I feel that VVVVVV has been as impactful to the gaming landscape - and to indie game development - as Cave Story was in the decade prior. It's such a simple game, but it does so much with so little: you can move to the left and right, and instead of jumping, you are able to flip gravity. Throughout the game, you are asked to put these basic abilities to the test in every conceivable way as you explore an open world made up of single-screen environments. Each section of the world explores a different gameplay theme, such as warping through the edges of the screen, hitting a line that flips gravity in midair, or the still-famous Veni Vidi Vici challenge. VVVVVV is truly a timeless classic that will still be played 100 years from now by our inevitable robot usurpers. (Read our review)

Hollow Knight by Team Cherry (2017)
Gol dang Hollow Knight… Man, I’ve heard so many people complaining loudly about this game, probably because of the almost universal praise it has received from critics and players alike, and we all know how cool it is to hate on something popular. So let me say this about that… I believe that Hollow Knight is the best metroidvania since Super Metroid. There, I said it. I played this game upon its initial release and recently went back to experience it again with all of the DLC (in that glorious physical collector’s edition, because hell yes). It has such an engrossing world that is filled with weight and history, and it truly captures a sense of despair and isolation. Its unique map system forces you to engage with the environment, and pressing forward into new areas is constantly scary because death is meaningful and significant. The game also hits all of the right notes mechanically by offering upgrades that alter the ways in which you engage with enemies and the world around you. (Read our review)

Transistor by Supergiant Games (2014)
Supergiant games made their first big splash with Bastion, which introduced us to the splendiferous beauty of a post-apocalyptic world that tied together beautiful art, engaging yet unobtrusive storytelling, and excellent action-RPG combat mechanics… and then they took all of that and made it even better with their sophomore outing. Transistor can be played as a strategy-RPG or action-RPG, or a mixture of both, and it has one of the most robust weapon systems ever designed. So, on top of exploring this wonderful new world and its characters, you have a reason to seek out every upgrade you can find, and combining these upgrades essentially allows the game to be played however you want… and you can modify your style at any time as the situation demands. Per the Supergiant pedigree, Transistor delivers with magnificent gameplay supported by beautiful art, a lovely soundtrack, great storytelling, and top-notch voice work. (Read our review)

Minit by Kitty Calis, Jan Willem Nijman, Jukio Kallio, and Dominik Johann (2018)
On paper, Minit sounds like a game that is all premise and no substance, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The whole game takes place in 60-second increments, which keeps things lively to say the least, and this contributes heavily to the game’s wry sense of humor. It’s not that the game world is resetting every 60 seconds, but rather that the main character drops dead every 60 seconds, only to find himself resurrected moments later back in his home with another 60 seconds of life. Little by little (literally), he helps NPC’s and gains powerups that let him venture just slightly farther away from his starting position. Minit’s game world is one of the most charming and memorable seen since the classic Legend of Zelda, and you must be mindful that nearly every screen contains an element important to your continued progress. (Read our review)

Owlboy by D-Pad Studio (2016)
Owlboy... here’s a game that showed a ton of promise when it was first revealed, but that promise started to feel a bit shaky when the game was in development for almost a decade. There was a glimmer of hope when a playable demo was released in 2011 (and we even interviewed the developers), but then the game seemed no closer to being released. As it turns out, all that waiting was worth it, which is something that can rarely be said in the world of game development. Owlboy is a breath of fresh air, bordering on the 16-bit classic retro feel without being beholden to it, as it sets out to do its own thing without leaning on nostalgia. Like many games before it, Owlboy tells a world-spanning tale of adventure, but this one is filled with loss and hard-fought victory, adding gravity and consequence to your actions. At the same time, the game unironically tells a story of the importance of friendship with a protagonist who literally cannot succeed without the help of his friends, and sometimes fails in spite of them. (Read our review)

SteamWorld Dig 2 by Image & Form (2017)
The original SteamWorld Dig did way more than just capitalize on the popular mining subgenre, with its offering of a full-blown action-adventure (and hints of metroidvania) set in a world of steam-powered robots. SteamWorld Dig 2 continues the story while improving on every element of a game that was already pretty great. Everything about the game is more streamlined, with a faster pace, less focus on managing resources, a much more expansive and interesting world to explore, and increased mobility in the form of a higher jump, a hookshot, and a jetpack. Exploration is a treat, with gameplay alternating between digging your own path, hunting for secrets, and overcoming puzzle-platforming challenges. Progress is punctuated by regular gameplay-affecting rewards that continue to make you a more capable hero. (Read our review)

Anodyne by Analgesic Productions (2013)
Anodyne was a bit of a surprise for me, because on the surface it looks like a simple take on Link’s Awakening, which it kind of is, at least at the start. Things start out Zelda-y enough with a colorful overworld, dark dungeons, broom-based combat, and some puzzle solving (often centered around the broom and piles of dust)… you know, all the typical action-adventure stuff you’ve done a thousand times before. There are hints of darkness early on, but eventually the colorful fantasy gives way to a gloomy and bizarre world filled with unnatural beings and a considerably darker tone. As you delve deeper into Anodyne, the use of metaphor and symbolism become more apparent, revealing the protagonist’s anxieties and the use of video games as an escape from the real world. The tone reaches a malevolent crescendo when you enter a surreal suburban landscape presented in staticky black and white, populated by hollow people that you murder when interacting with them, along with dark figures who try to do you harm. Ultimately, your experience with the game is dependent on how you personally interpret its symbolism and whether you feel that it relates to your life experiences. (Read our review)

Mark of the Ninja by Klei Entertainment (2012)
I think we’ve all played a lot of ninja games, right? While 3D ninja games have introduced stealth elements, most classic 2D titles represent the ninja as some kind of sword- and shuriken-wielding commando, dashing through levels, engaging enemies head-on, and slashing them to bits. Mark of the Ninja is special because it’s a 2D ninja game that actually makes you feel like a ninja. Line of sight matters, as does light and darkness, and it’s not only important that you remain out of view, but that you are silent as well… or you can purposely use noise as a distraction to lure guards to a specific area. Rather than slashing through enemies with your katana, you only occasionally pull it out to deliver a killing blow, but then you need to hide the body, lest another guard find it… or you can use it as bait to lure a guard out so you can dispatch him as well. On top of being an effective assassin, the ninja can also navigate the environment with ease, empowering you to work through multiple possible solutions to complete any given scenario, and all levels may be completed non-lethally as well. (Read our review)

Dust: An Elysian Tail by Humble Hearts (2012)
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a 2D game of the HD era, offering gorgeous high-rez visuals – and animated fully-voiced cutscenes – rather than a more traditional retro style. This is a sidescrolling action-RPG with fast combo-based combat, along with all of the typical RPG trappings, such as quests, side quests, experience points, crafting, items, and equipment. What truly brings the world of Dust: An Elysian Tail to life is its storytelling, featuring a world where your actions are only a single aspect of what is happening, and where other characters have their own concerns and motivations that don’t always include you. Unlike other games in the genre, the long-suffering villagers you encounter don’t find you particularly trustworthy and they are hesitant to let you work toward fixing their problems because they think you might cause them even more trouble, and your investigations often reveal no simple solution to any given issue. (Read our review)

Downwell by Moppin (2015)
So, here’s a funny story: Downwell was almost our 2015 Game of the Year… but that award ultimately went to Ori and the Blind Forest, which is a more fleshed-out experience (and yeah, it’s friggin pretty). Still, Downwell is the more memorable experience overall, if for no other reason than its purity. The developer stripped away everything that wasn't part of the all-falling all-shooting crap of the world. Downwell’s gameplay is downright manic, with skilled play resulting in a cacophony of delightful explosions at borderline insane speeds. You strap on a pair of gunboots and jump down a procedurally-generated well, blasting enemies below you and using your bullets to slow your descent. There's a bit of strategy here since bouncing off of enemies – instead of shooting them – lets you reload, which can otherwise only be done by landing on the ground, thereby breaking your combo. Along the way, you grab run-specific powerups that change the way you play. Oh, and this bastard is totally Flip Grip compatible. (Read our review)

So that’s it! You made it through the list of my 10 most memorable games of the 2010’s. I hope you enjoyed the list and maybe found a game or two that you missed out on in the last decade. That would be swell. Otherwise, I'm sorry (not sorry) that your favorite game wasn't on the list.