We're back with our Best of 2014 awards show. Check us out
as we discuss all of the best 2D games from the past year.

Aaru's Awakening

A game by Lumenox Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, and PS4, originally released in 2015.
In Aaru’s Awakening, you take on the role of the eponymous Aaru, the champion of Dawn, as he sets out to traverse Lumenox, a world governed equally between four brothers: Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night. However, it appears that Night has grown ambitious and looks to destroy the others, so Dawn sends Aaru toward Night’s domain in order to bring peace back to the land… but Aaru soon learns that his master’s intentions may not be so noble.


The quality of Aaru’s Awakening that stands out immediately is its beautiful hand-drawn artwork and animations. The world of Lumenox is filled with sharp rocks, twisting branches, glowing pools of slime, and an array of strange creatures. Each of the four areas has a different atmosphere, with new enemies and hazards in each. The detailed visuals do occasionally cause some environmental navigation issues, however, as there is not much to differentiate foreground and background layers.

Oblitus

A game by Connor Ullmann for PC, originally released in 2015.
In Oblitus, you play the role of a diminutive warrior named Parvus (which is Latin for “small”), who has no memory of his past, and no notion of what he is meant to do… except for a voice that he hears in his head, compelling him to seek out a certain area. And so, with his spear and shield in hand, Parvus ventures forth into a dangerous landscape filled with powerful and terrible creatures.


Oblitus is a roguelike, and every death returns the player to the start of the game. (Actually, even success returns the player to the start of the game, although there are artifacts to be discovered that lead the player toward a true end.) Many modern day roguelikes slowly unlock new and more powerful abilities that make it easier for the player to eventually complete their quest, but that is not the case here. The only way to make further progress is to gain an understanding of your enemies and the environment, and develop the skills necessary to survive.

Camera Obscura

A game by Anteater Games for PC, originally released in 2015.
The camera obscura has made a number of appearances in pop culture film, music, and video games. Gamers most likely know its name due to the mysterious apparatus used in the Fatal Frame series to photograph – and attack – ghosts and capture their spirits. It may be unsurprising that this device has little in common with its real world counterpart, but its supernatural properties have grown into a part of our accepted fiction.


In the game Camera Obscura, the object of the same name is used to photograph the world around the player character, leaving behind a ghostly afterimage that may then be interacted with as if it were a part of the physical reality. You play the role of a young photographer attempting to reach the summit of a gigantic Babel-like tower that extends high into the sky, built by an ancient sun-worshiping people.

The Asskickers

A game by AGŌ Games for PC and Mac, originally released in 2011.
The Asskickers is a beat ‘em up starring three playable characters in a fight against corrupt politicians and white collar criminals. According to the difficult-to-comprehend introductory text scroll – containing more than a few parsing and grammatical issues – the world is now being run by the U.N.

The game's heroes run into trouble when they beat up an intolerable prick who is trying to make their lives difficult. But it turns out that said prick is no ordinary villain, but rather the son of the U.N. president, which lands the trio in jail where they must make their escape, clear their names, and take down a number of corrupt leaders through a generous application of asskicking.


The three playable characters come in the form of Alex, Diane, and Marcus, each of whom has different stats, per genre conventions. Alex is the best all-around character, with average speed, strength, and toughness. Diane can move and attack much more quickly, but she is weaker and can’t take as much damage. Marcus is the brute of the bunch, with a somewhat slower movement speed, but he can take more hits and causes more damage with each punch.

Starship Rubicon

A game by Wick Studios for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2014.
Starship Rubicon begins with the destruction of Earth by an alien race. An AI-driven ship manages to recover the cryopod of a fighter pilot and places her at the helm, tasking her with becoming humanity’s avenger. The AI is a bit… strange. It seems hellbent on destroying the alien civilization that turned Earth into a lifeless husk, while picking up any other human survivors along the way and eventually relocating the remnants of humanity to a new home.

In this roguelike actioner, the player may select from one of three ships. Each ship has a different speed, armor, primary weapon, and special abilities, allowing the player to start with something that best suits his play style.

A number of additional ships and modifications may be unlocked by gathering currency dropped by destroyed enemy craft during the campaign. Per roguelike conventions, currency and unlockables are all that carry over between gameplay sessions; otherwise, the player returns to the start of the game each time his ship is destroyed.

Apotheon

A game by AlienTrap Games for PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4, originally released in 2015.
In Apotheon, the Greek gods have forsaken the world of mortals, leaving them to die, sick and starving, as their prayers go unanswered and their lands bear no fruit. You play the role of Nikandreos, champion of humanity, who must depose these gods and steal their powers for the sake of mankind. Along the way, you meet many famous figures from Greek history and take on many of the gods, including Poseidon, Ares, Apollo, Hades, and even Zeus himself.


Immediately noticeable are the game’s visuals, inspired by Greek pottery art. The traditional black, red, and orange colors are used on Mount Olympus, but there are a number of other color themes as well, with green forests and a dark underworld. Still, these areas retain the same striking visual style.

The Best of 2014

END OF YEAR AWARDS
Hey, have you ever sat back and wondered... what were the best 2D video games that came out this year? Or last year? Well, wonder no more! We have a long and detailed video showing all of the best 2D video games from 2014.

Heck, you can even go back and find out what the best games were in 2013 and 2012.

This year, we're doing it again. A man and a horse talk 2D games, looking at the best retro throwback, the most innovative, the best of each genre, the most disappointing, the best game of the year, and a few oddball categories along the way. For instant gratification, the video is below. For those who would prefer to read a bunch of text (and make a little horse very sad), you can scroll down to see a list of all the winners.

The choice is yours!







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Best Updated Re-Release:
Winner: 1001 Spikes
Honorable Mention: Luftrausers

Most Innovative:
Winner: Super Time Force

Best Weirdest:
Winner: The Floor is Jelly
Honorable Mention: GAIA-ttack from Retro Game Crunch

Best Retro Throwback:
Winner: Shovel Knight
Honorable Mention: Super Cyborg
Honorable Mention: Super Win the Game

Best Fire:
Winner: Escape Goat 2
Honorable Mention: Gigantic Army

Most Ambitious:
Winner: Retro Game Crunch

Best Use of Brutal Difficulty:
Winner: 1001 Spikes
Honorable Mention: Super Cyborg

Best Game Starring an Animal:
Winner: Secrets of Rætikon

Best Puzzler or Puzzle Platformer:
Winner: Escape Goat 2
Honorable Mention: Wub-Wub Wescue from Retro Game Crunch

Best Platformer:
Winner: Shovel Knight
Honorable Mention: Freedom Planet
Honorable Mention: Tiny Barbarian DX: Episode 2

Best Action-Adventure or Action-RPG:
Winner: Transistor
Honorable Mention: Shantae and the Pirate's Curse
Honorable Mention: Super Win the Game

Best Action Game:
Winner: Velocity 2X
Honorable Mention: Gunhound EX
Honorable Mention: Super Cyborg
Honorable Mention: Kero Blaster

Biggest Disappointment:
Loser: Super Comboman

Best 2D Game of 2014:
Winner: Transistor

MURI

A game by Remar Games and Ludosity for PC, originally released in 2013.
Gaming has aged to the point where an entire generation of gamers has joined its ranks without ever experiencing its foundational years. While emulation has given these newcomers a (slightly warped) window through which to view the era, the world of DOS-based gaming remains largely unexplored in the modern age… and MURI is here to fix that.


MURI prides itself on exploring its DOS-based heritage, and was heavily influenced by Commander Keen and Duke Nukem (back when he was 2D… and relevant). The game features a 320x200 EGA resolution with the playable area enclosed in a wide frame and a large HUD. It offers stylized but ultimately gaudy visuals using the limited 16-color system of the day and has no dithering effects, making everything appear stark and solid.

The Next Penelope

A game by Aurelien Regard for PC, Mac, Linux, and Wii U, not yet released, available via Steam Early Access.
The Next Penelope is an odd amalgamation, mixing futuristic racing with one of mankind’s oldest surviving tales: The Oddyssey. In the original Greek epic poem, Odysseus travels home after the fall of Troy (as outlined in The Iliad), but he is waylaid by a series of adventures, resulting in the journey lasting ten years. Odysseus’ travels see him and his men facing off against Cyclops, overcoming the song of the Sirens, and steering their way past Scylla and Charybdis.


Meanwhile, Odysseus is presumed dead and his wife, Penelope, is set upon by suitors seeking her hand in marriage. She manages to keep them at bay for the duration of her husband’s absence (after which, he comes home and murders the hell out of them), but she is a generally passive character in a tale that is otherwise filled with grand adventure. And so, the developer has revisited the character of Penelope and created a new tale which sees her taking the part of the hero as she encounters many characters from Greek myth, including the Sirens and the Minotaur.

Xeodrifter

A game by Renegade Kid for PC and 3DS, originally released in 2014.
Xeodrifter is a short action-adventure game that falls squarely into the metroidvania category, and its design is heavily influenced by that of Super Metroid. In the opening scene, a spaceship collides with an asteroid, sending it spinning out of control and damaging its warp core in the process. Fortunately, there are four planets nearby, and sensors indicate that they may possess the necessary materials to execute a repair.


The player is free to move to any of the planets in the vicinity by maneuvering the ship to the desired planet and pressing the DOCK button. At this point, the view transitions to the interior of the ship, which sees an astronaut standing at a control panel. To his left is a save station and a teleporter that allows him to transfer to the surface.


Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

A game by WayForward for Wii U and 3DS, originally released in 2014.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse stars Shantae, a purple haired heroine with a storied past… Shantae got her start in a self-titled adventure on the Game Boy Color in 2002, but despite the critical praise it received, the game arrived late in the system’s lifespan and only saw moderate success. WayForward struggled for many years to bring Shantae back, with plans to deliver a retail sequel on the Game Boy Advance or Nintendo DS, but they were ultimately unable to find a publisher for these projects.

Finally, in 2010, WayForward released a downloadable sequel in the form of Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, which sees Shantae facing off against her nemesis, Risky Boots, after her defeat in the first game. However, defeating Risky a second time came at a price, as Shantae lost her magic and was changed from a half-genie into a human.

This new sequel picks up where the last game left off, with Shantae living her life as a human. However, a new evil is rising…

Long ago, the Pirate Master was defeated by the last of the world’s genies, but a new source of evil has been found, and the Pirate Master hopes to use it to rise once again. As it turns out, Risky Boots once served under the Pirate Master’s flag, and her crew are now being controlled by this new dark magic.

Fork Parker's Holiday Profit Hike

A game by Dodge Roll for PC and Mac, originally released in 2014.
Fork Parker's Holiday Profit Hike was released for free during the 2014 holiday season by publisher Devolver Digital. The game stars Fork Parker, the possibly-not-a-real-person CFO of Devolver Digital, who is known for his white hair and mustache, a general love for making money and selling indie games, and his oddball persona.

As the story goes, revenue is down at Devolver Digital, and the company needs to turn a profit in the all-important fourth quarter. Standing at the front of the board room, Fork Parker sips a martini and declares “I’m on it!” As the scene transitions, we see Fork Parker standing in the open doors of a helicopter, martini still in hand, and he jumps into the snowy tundra below.

The Legend of Zelda 101

LESSONS IN 2D GAME DESIGN
A game by Nintendo for NES, originally released in 1986.
Looking at the history of gaming in general, a number of arcade and computer titles are immediately recognizable for their influence on the medium. However, while console gaming grew from the same basic nutrients as computer and arcade gaming, it managed to flower into something entirely different.

Early console games tended to mimic the quarter-driven sensibilities of the arcade, or simply offered conversions of the arcade experience on a smaller scale. But the NES managed to popularize home console gaming in a way that none of its forebears had, and it brought with it a slew of console-originated gaming experiences where high scores were no longer the primary goal. Rather than the endlessly-repeating screens of Pac-Man and Nintendo’s own Donkey Kong, games like Super Mario Bros. offered a variety of landscapes, new obstacles to overcome in each area, and clear progress toward an end goal.


Latest video feature: The Best 2D Video Games of 2014.