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!

Life of Pixel

A game by Super Icon for PC, Mac, and Playstation Mobile, originally released in 2013.
Life of Pixel is a fairly straightforward platformer, but more than that, it is a history lesson. The game features more than a dozen real-world game systems – most of them from the 8-bit era – with levels built around the basic aesthetics of the games on those systems, and some themed after specific games. The available systems include the Atari 2600, Commodore 64, Amiga, Apple II, Game Boy, NES, SNES, Master System, and Mega Drive/Genesis systems, and given that the developer is based in London, there several UK-based home computer systems in the mix as well.


The game begins with a gallery of 10 systems, with three additional systems that must be unlocked. Selecting a system gives the player a brief history of the device, including the year that the system was introduced, its hardware specifications, and any notable attributes that set it apart from other systems of the day. Notable details include the colors transferring to other objects in ZX Spectrum games, ZX81 graphics being limited to the system’s built-in character set, Mode 7 scaling and rotation on the SNES, and the fact that games for many old systems had to be loaded (slowly) from cassette tapes.


Generally, these hardware specifications play directly into the design of the levels, most notably the color limitations of each system. However, for a game that establishes itself as a historical look at the classic systems of old, there are a number of inaccuracies. For instance, the history of the C64 states that games came on audio cassette tapes that took several minutes to load. While it is true that cassettes were a means by which to play C64 games, the system also had a built-in cartridge slot and the ability to add on a 5.25” floppy drive, which is how most games were played on the system.

Fenix Rage

A game by Green Lava Studios for PC, PS4, and XB1 originally released in 2014.
Fenix Rage is a precision platformer that falls into the narrow range of titles considered “rage” platformers, such as Super Meat Boy. Games in this subgenre tend to offer the player fast and responsive controls that must be used with pinpoint accuracy and timing in order to survive an onslaught of enemies and obstacles with very little room for error. In these kinds of games, players die quickly and frequently, leading to frustration as players repeatedly fail to complete a set of challenges for which they have the requisite tools.


Increasing frustration levels are core to a rage game’s design, as they can lead players to make more mistakes and actually perform worse on future attempts, potentially leading them to “rage quit” and leave the game (often returning later to breeze through a tough challenge with a clear head). This rage-based design is supported by short levels, infinite lives, and instant respawns. Players are free to play and die as often as needed with no additional penalty, and no “game stuff” stands in the way of the experience, like wading through menus or sitting through loading screens before making another attempt.

Magicmaker

A game by Tasty Stewdios for PC, originally released in 2014.
Magicmaker stars an out-of-work wizard who is behind on his rent. To make ends meet, the wizard visits a magical job placement office, which casts a “career placement spell” and sets him up for a job as a security guard at the nearby Dörwall Community College, a wizarding school for the local Dörwallians. After surviving his aptitude test, the wizard assumes the responsibilities of protecting the school and taking on quests to defeat monsters and collect magical artifacts.


The game is a sidescrolling action adventure that sits squarely in the dungeon-crawler category. Players enter one of five themed areas, clear the place of monsters, and collect materials along the way that can be used in the game’s extensive spell crafting system. With dozens of materials to find and millions of possible combinations, players are able to mold the wizard’s skills to their liking, experiment with new tactics, or customize the character to complete specific objectives.

Tiny Barbarian DX: Episode 2

A game by StarQuail Games for PC, originally released episodically in 2013-2014.
Tiny Barbarian DX Episode 2, Ruins of Xanadu, picks up where the first chapter left off, with the tiny barbarian and the rescued maiden lying in a cave near a roaring fire. Then, the bikini-clad woman wakes up to see the barbarian snoring away, and she goes over to try to wake him up. When he goes on sleeping, she kicks him in the gut and walks out of the cave. Your first action is to wake up the barbarian with a button press and then head out of the cave, which is situated in the side of a cliff.


The opening area is all about ascent, as you climb vines to make your way up the cliff face, and periodically enter caves to complete platforming challenges and move ever upward. Outside, a long fall usually means instant death as you drop off the bottom of the screen. Within the caves, however, you are more likely to land on solid ground and lose a bit of progress… and sometimes you can grab a horizontal vine on your way down, which lets you halt your descent and recover to your previous position.

Mighty Gunvolt

A game by Inti Creates for 3DS, originally released in 2014.
Mighty Gunvolt is an 8-bit style action game that was released alongside Azure Striker Gunvolt. The game stars three playable characters: Gunvolt from Azure Striker Gunvolt, Ekoro from Gal*Gun, and Beck from Mighty No. 9, all of which were developed in whole or in part by Inti Creates. At the time of the game’s release, Mighty No. 9 was still under development, so it also acted as an introduction to that upcoming title as well.


The connection to Mighty No. 9 is also notable due to the fact that it was under development in conjunction with Comcept, headed by Keiji Inafune, who was one of the creators of Mega Man. Mighty No. 9 shares a number of design similarities with the Mega Man series, and Beck’s appearance and abilities in Mighty Gunvolt are very reminiscent of those of the Blue Bomber in the Mega Man series.

Azure Striker Gunvolt

A game by Inti Creates for 3DS, originally released in 2014.
Azure Striker Gunvolt stars the titular Gunvolt who is on a mission to silence “The Muse” for an organization called Quill. The game begins with Gunvolt tied to a chair and being tortured by a guy with some sort of electrical whip… which wasn’t a grand idea, given Gunvolt’s electricity manipulation powers. Gunvolt was just waiting for the guy to soliloquize for a bit and give away the true location of The Muse, at which point he makes his escape and fights his way to her in the game’s first mission.


But when he meets her, Gunvolt realizes The Muse is just a young girl, named Joule, who is being used by an evil organization called the Sumeragi Group. Despite this, Quill orders that Gunvolt kill her, but he decides to rescue her instead, and leaves the Quill organization to set out on his own, taking freelance work while offering protection to Joule. Of course, intrigue abounds, and Gunvolt’s string of odd jobs eventually leads him back to the Sumeragi again.


Azure Striker Gunvolt’s developer, Inti Creates, is also the developer behind the bulk of the latter-day Mega Man games, including the Mega Man Zero series, Mega Man 9, Mega Man 10, Mega Man ZX, and Mega Man ZX Advent. There are a number of design similarities between this game and the ZX series in particular, including a blue-clad hero, the aesthetics of the game world, basic environmental navigation, and the use of the touch screen to activate special abilities. Despite these similarities, however, the gameplay in Azure Striker Gunvolt is quite different from the Mega Man series… and from action shooters in general.

Rex Rocket

A game by Castle Pixel for PC, originally released in 2014.
Rex Rocket stars a former war hero and savior of humanity whose glory days have passed, and he now finds himself escorting a group of scientists as they travel across the galaxy in a starship called the S.S. Montana. In the year 28XX, scientists have bio-engineered a newly-discovered species called Terra Oozlings, and they plan to use them to terraform a distant planet and make it suitable for population by mankind. Terra Oozlings are unique in that they can mimic any life form, making them ideal for the task. But, when the crew enters their cryo-tubes for the long journey, something goes terribly wrong, and Rex finds himself fighting off Oozlings, former crew members who have been converted by the Oozlings, and a mad computer AI.


Players are able to choose the sex of Rex by selecting a captain named Rexford Rexington or Rexanna Rexington. At the start of the game, you awake in your quarters beside your trusty goldfish companion (who is destined for a hilarious end), surrounded by posters of yourself and medals hanging on the wall, reminders of your heroics from 10 years prior. You quickly find yourself needed, as repairs are required aboard the ship, offering up an excuse to explore the command deck and the surrounding area, and to familiarize yourself with the game’s controls.


Freedom Planet

A game by GalaxyTrail for PC, originally released in 2014.
Freedom Planet is a game that wears its 16-bit platforming heritage proudly, with cheerful character designs, a brightly colored world, varied level themes, charming and silly humor mixed with occasional melodrama, and an upbeat throwback soundtrack. The game’s design and color scheme bring it in line with 16-bit classics like Ristar, Rocket Knight Adventures, and especially Sonic the Hedgehog.

The game also features fully voiced cutscenes in Adventure Mode, something that wasn’t possible for cartridge-based systems of the 16-bit era (although Classic Mode switches this off for 16-bit purists), giving the game a feel more along the lines of something on the Sega CD.

So Many Me

A game by Extend Interactive for PC, Mac, Linux, and Ouya, originally released in 2014.
So Many Me is a puzzle-platformer featuring a green blobby critter named Filo who uses copies of himself to navigate a bright and colorful world populated with a vibrant array of cute yet deadly creatures. Each of Filo’s clones follows his moves exactly, and each of them can be transformed to assist the crew of “me’s” in tasks that include operating switches, killing enemies, accessing hard-to-reach items, and solving numerous puzzles on the way to the level exit.


Filo and his gelatinous replicas come equipped with a 2x nonvariable jump and can bop on most enemies’ heads to defeat them. Killing an enemy requires three bounces, which is a bit slow when Filo is alone, but each new clone adds an additional hit, so having 3 copies of yourself allows you to kill an enemy in a single bounce.


Very early on, you encounter a pickup that generates a copy of Filo called “Me Too”. Once you have a second self, you can press the TRANSFORM button to change it into a stone block. Filo can jump up to the stone block and he will stick to it when making contact with the side or the bottom. Pressing UP allows him to move to the top of the block, which then acts as a temporary platform. The player may recall the transformed critter at any time and it will return to its blobby self and rejoin Filo.

Shovel Knight

A game by Yacht Club Games for PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U and 3DS, originally released in 2014.
Shovel Knight is an action platformer starring an armored hero with an unlikely weapon: the shovel blade. The eponymous Shovel Knight was once part of a duo, travelling and fighting alongside his companion, Shield Knight, but she was lost to a great and terrible magic in the Tower of Fate. With Shield Knight gone, Shovel Knight sets out on his own and leaves his valiant ways behind. But without these legendary heroes to stand in her way, the Enchantress rises to power, using the Tower of Fate to usher in a new reign of destruction. Aiding her in this dubious endeavor is a band of ne’er-do-wells called the Order of No Quarter. Shovel Knight decides that he can’t stand by while the world is taken by evil, and so he dashes into the fray once more to prove that shovelry is not dead!

The cerulean champion has a higher-than-average 2.5x variable jump, which he uses to jump high into the air and bring down shovelly death from above. By jumping and pressing DOWN, Shovel Knight aims his spade downward, allowing him to strike enemies below and bounce upward as a result. This technique may be used to reach higher platforms, or to bounce repeatedly on an enemy’s head until it is destroyed. Unlike Scrooge McDuck’s cane in DuckTales, however, the shovel does not protect the knight from dangers like spikes, which will kill him instantly.

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.

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