Gaming

Too Many Games, So Little Time: Indies That Innovated In 2013

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The indie gaming market is a growing force in the industry. And while the nature of the market makes it difficult to get exact sales figures, there is no denying that 2013 was a great year for introducing new and innovative titles to gamers of all stripes and on all platforms.

Over the past few weeks, I've looked at only the tiniest sampling of what was offered this year. So, as 2013 comes to a close and we clear our calendars for the exciting times ahead, I thought I would round up some other indie titles you might have missed.

Don't Starve: The survival horror game trades in the usual moody, first-person visuals of the genre for a more inviting hand-drawn style that feels like a Tim Burton movie. Heck, Johnny Depp would probably be a shoe-in for playing Wilson, the game's "gentleman scientist" protagonist. The game's goal is simple: Survive as long as you can. You must forage for food, build weapons from gathered materials, and fight off increasingly hostile enemies. I really like the near-zero instructions the game gives you. And once you die, you die; there are no continues or extra lives. (Win/Mac/Linux/PS4)

Rogue Legacy: The indie platformer falls into the subgenre of "rogue-like" games, a category that I intend to delve deeper into down the road. At their most basic, rogue-like games feature permanent death and randomly generated levels. In Rogue Legacy, you guide a brave but initially not-so-stalwart knight on a quest to explore dungeons and vanquish monsters. Death comes quickly in the beginning, but fear not: Once you die, you pass on your treasure and legacy to one of your heirs, each of whom has a random class, random abilities and random traits — traits like dementia, vertigo, dwarfism, ADHD and nearsightedness. Some seriously affect gameplay; some don't. With all of this randomness and easily accessible gameplay, it has great replay value. (Win/Mac/Linux/PS)

Gunpoint: In this stealth-based puzzle platformer, you guide freelance spy Richard Conway on various missions of infiltration and espionage. The amount of action and wicked cool gameplay that developer Tom Francis was able to create with simple pixel art is amazing. From leaping between buildings to hacking computers, you feel very much like a spy (or at least the pulp novel version of one). It's a fun, easy-to-pick-up game that you should definitely check out. (Windows)

King Arthur's Gold: This game is pure bedlam. You and your team (up to 32 players) mine resources, build a castle and defend it against the other team while also trying to take their keep. It has all of the fun and mayhem of other team-based strategy games, but without all of the headaches and seriousness. (Win/Mac/Linux)

Antichamber: Possibly one of the most mind-bending games of the year, Antichamber is a first-person puzzle game that seems ripped right from the mind of M.C. Escher. Halls wrap around themselves and rooms reconfigure as the player attempts to progress forward. Like other games this year, it asked players to question the conventional rules of first-person games, and forced them to rethink how they play. It's a wholly unique piece of art that should not be missed.

Anomaly 2: As a big fan of tower defense games, I was impressed with Anomaly 2. It took the familiar genre — which often tasks you with fighting off waves of enemies with various towers as they wind their way through a path — and turns it on its head. In Anomaly, you are the wave of aggressors guiding a squad of military vehicles through streets infested with alien towers. It completely changed the way I thought about the genre, and offers a challenging and interesting twist. The action is fast-paced, and the style of play really lends itself nicely to the recently released mobile versions. (Win/Mac/iOS/Android/Linux)

Risk of Rain: This is another game in the "rogue-like" subgenre, where death is permanent, the levels are random, and the challenge is often high. In a distant future, you are the lone survivor of a crashed space transport. You must survive the harsh planet and its many dangers for as long as possible using the cargo scattered about. And don't let its simple graphics fool you — this game is intense. It's fast-paced and easy to jump into for a quick session if you have some time to kill. I also couldn't mention this game without talking about the music composed by Chris Chrisodoulou. It's a soothing and entrancing mix of ambient electronic and orchestral sounds. (Windows)

Surgeon Simulator 2013: This is the best surgery "simulator" you will ever play, and also the most hilarious. With a dark sense of humor and its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, Surgeon Simulator 2013 tests a player's ability to stumble through complicated surgeries with limited instruction and controls so frustrating you'll wonder if it is even possible to finish. But as difficult as it is, I found myself trying again and again, oftentimes fighting the game's physics while at the same time fighting through fits of laughter. It's Operation for the digital generation. (Win/Mac/Linux)

Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine: Ever wanted to be part of an Ocean's 11-style gang and pull crazy heist jobs? Well, that's the gig in Monaco, a colorful, stealth action game released in April. The game can be played in single-player mode, but it is best when played in co-op mode, where two to four players, either online or over a local network, work together to clear each level. You choose from a fantastic cast of eight characters based on heist-movie tropes. Will you be The Locksmith, The Cleaner, The Lookout or The Gentleman? The tight gameplay and unique style, as well as one of the best co-op modes seen this year, make Monaco a standout game. (Win/Mac/Linux/Xbox 360)

Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list — far from it. There were just so many notable games this year. I also like to stick to games I've actually played, and I just couldn't get to everything. There are also games released in 2013 that I plan on writing about as we move forward with our indie game experiment here on All Tech Considered.

But if I missed an indie game you enjoyed in 2013, share it in the comments and tell us why that particular game made an impact on you. Also, tell us what you're looking forward to in 2014, either from indie games or the big studios. We'll collect the best ones and share them on our NPR Plays Tumblr page.

Happy New Year, and happy gaming.

Steve Mullis is an associate Web producer at NPR. If you want to suggest an independent game worth featuring here, please write or tweet him.

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