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the best 2D video games of 2013 and give out meaningful awards!

MURI

A game by Remar Games and Ludosity 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’ journey sees 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 another 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. The game begins with a spaceship colliding 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 four 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. These days, computers and consoles seem to be growing toward some sort of multi-headed Cerberean hybrid, while arcade games have branched off into their own evolutionary path.


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.

The Joylancer: Legendary Motor Knight

A game by Alpha Six Productions for PC, not yet released, available via Steam Early Access.
The Joylancer: Legendary Motor Knight stars Joy Lantz, one of the eponymous Motor Knights, an elite corps of nearly indestructible champions with incredible strength and dexterity. Joy and her fellow knights make use of motorized weapons called Burst Arms to defend their lands and destroy their enemies. Unlike traditional melee weapons, Burst Arms must be charged in order to unleash their full attack power, and this translates directly into the core gameplay.


On its surface, Joylancer may appear to be a standard retro-styled action game with loads of chunky sprites awaiting their doom at the hands of the hero and her trusty blade… but this is not the case. The action is fast and enemies are tough, and if you attempt to button mash your way through, you will find yourself quickly overwhelmed and killed in the very first level. In order to cause any kind of significant damage to your enemies, you will need to master the art of charging your Burst Arm, as well as blocking and parrying enemy attacks. New players are highly encouraged to make their way through the detailed tutorial before starting the game.

Elliot Quest

A game by Ansimuz Games for PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U, and Ouya, originally released in 2014.
Elliot Quest stars a young man named Elliot who must travel across an expansive island filled with dangers and treasures in order to seek the help of the Guardians. After his wife Cara disappears, Elliot finds himself growing weaker and eventually decides to commit suicide by leaping off a cliff, only to learn that he is incapable of dying. As it turns out, a demon is consuming Elliot’s life force, and if he doesn’t put a stop to it, he will become a demon himself.


The world consists of a large overworld map dotted with villages, caves, and ruins, which appear in a variety of visual themes. The world map is navigated from an overhead perspective, while the landmark locations take the form of sidescrolling environments. Most of these consist of small areas to explore, but there are several large dungeons as well, and more than a dozen bosses to fight. In addition, enemies roam certain parts of the overworld, and touching one transports the player into a small enemy-filled area with exits on either side.

Braid

A game by Jonathan Blow for PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, and Xbox 360, originally released in 2008.
To discuss Braid is to discuss the very rise of indie game development and the resurgence of 2D gaming. Prior to its release in 2008, game distribution was very much a gatekeeper-driven system, with major publishers dictating which products would eventually end up in the retail space. Indie developers who wanted to get their games into players’ hands could do so via numerous Flash portals or via their own websites – often for free – but they didn’t have many dedicated platforms from which to sell their games and make a living.


However, with the advent of digital distribution services like the App Store, Steam, and Xbox Live Arcade, having space on a store shelf was no longer a prerequisite for selling a game. These new services gave indie developers the ability to sell games across a variety of platforms without the risks involved in manufacturing, and often without the need of a publisher.

Closure

A game by Eyebrow Interactive for PC, Mac, Linux, and PS3, originally released in 2012.
Closure is a puzzle platformer about light and darkness. However, the light does more than merely reveal your surroundings; it affects what exists in the world and what does not. Each level in Closure is built around the manipulation of light sources to reveal pathways that eventually lead to an exit door, but when the light is removed from a solid object, it disappears entirely, allowing the player character to pass right through it… and potentially fall to his death if he isn’t careful.


As the game begins, your character is revealed to be some sort of multi-legged creature with horns and a hollow face. This creature is able to pass through doorways that lead to different realms where it puts on masks to take on human form. After completing an introductory training area, three doorways become available, each leading to a different themed area.

Jet Gunner

A game by Sinclair Strange for PC, originally released in 2014.
Jet Gunner, also known as Jet Force, is a game inspired by 8-bit NES games, so much so that it even includes sprite flicker and some of the edge-of-the-screen oddities caused by the hardware restrictions of the day. In addition to run and gun shooters like Contra, the game is also heavily influenced by the design of Shatterhand with the ability to activate a number of helper robots that float above and behind the protagonist, each offering its own weapon type.

In the year 19XX, the major cities of the world have come under attack from the Master Brain that controls all of the robots, as it has apparently gone insane. Per genre conventions – and taking a note from Metroid – the Master Brain is actually a giant brain in a jar that acts as the game’s final boss. Also per conventions, you play the lone human soldier who is able to put a stop to the brain and its army of robots, and save the world in the process.

Gigantic Army

A game by Astro Port for PC and Linux, released in the US in 2014.
The mech-based action shooter genre is a small one, but it has had a number of standout titles over the years, including the likes of Target Earth and Cybernator (both part of the greater Assault Suits series), as well as Metal Warriors. These games feature large slow-moving mechs with multidirectional aiming and heavy firepower, slogging their way through an array of robots and other mechanized baddies. Gigantic Army is built upon this core design philosophy, and offers a few new touches of its own.


As is typical of the genre, the mech in Gigantic Army moves slowly and clanks around noisily as it walks. There are numerous small touches that are meant to lend scale to the otherwise small character sprite, including buildings and cars that are dwarfed by its size, a spray of spent shells as the mech fires, and large fiery explosions from every destroyed enemy. In the backgrounds of the outdoor environments, war rages on, with distant ships flying over a parallax-scrolling landscape and firing their weapons, offering additional depth to the scale of the campaign.

You Have to Win the Game

A game by Pirate Hearts and Minor Key Games for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2012.
You Have to Win the Game is a short metroidvania platformer made up of a series of interconnected single-screen environments with the room titles on the bottom of the screen, offering a basic structure similar to that of VVVVVV, but without the gravity-flipping elements.


One of the things that sets this game apart from VVVVVV or other games in the genre is its lack of a map, which requires that the player commit the layout of the complex game world to memory. However, the game can be played from start to finish in a single sitting (although you’ll have to work a bit harder if you’re going for 100% completion), allowing players to keep the layout fresh in their minds.

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