5. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (Superbrothers, Capybara Games) [iOS, paid]
Did 2011 see any video game more stylish, more beautiful, more atmospheric than Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP for iPad and iPhone? We think not.
The game follows the Scythian warrior, who is on a quest to discover a mysterious power hidden in the Caucasus Mountains. Sword & Sworcery focuses on intriguing exploration and tricky puzzles, with short sword battles from time-to-time.
As the player explores, there are items to be found and characters to converse with, although the game prefers to tell its story through visuals and gorgeous music most of the time, with such immersive, captivating presentation.
It's incredibly easy to find yourself lost in the world of Sword & Sworcery, simply happy to wander around with a vague underlying goal and taking in the majesty that it provides. Hopefully 2012 will see this most unforgettable of experiences making its way to other mobile platforms too.
4. Frozen Synapse (Mode 7) [Windows/Mac/Linux (iPad soon), paid]
If you follow indie games, or even dabble a little every once in a while, you'll no doubt be aware of simultaneous turn-based strategy shooter Frozen Synapse, with its neon blue visuals and satisfyingly tactical gameplay. Players take to randomly-generated scenarios to do battle, giving soldiers moving and firing orders, and then hitting 'go' and waiting for their opponent to do the same. Once both players are ready, the action unfolds, and lives are most likely lost.
Described by many as 'Chess meets Counter Strike', Frozen Synapse takes real skill and understanding to better your opponent, as you attempt to guess where they are going to move on their next go, and counter their plans accordingly. The asynchronous play means matches can go on for days as each player makes their move in their spare time, or two really focused opponents can spend an evening trying to get the upperhand on each other again and again. Easily one of the most unique and challenging experiences of the year.
3. Terraria ( Re-Logic) [Windows, paid]
With the success of Minecraft spurring on multiple block-building clones in 2011, and even inspiring the next upcoming game from a big AAA studio, it was only a matter of time before one of these clones got it right. Terraria took Mojang's hit title, compressed it onto a single, 2D plane, threw in Castlevania-like elements, and came away with something that was completely its own experience. Players band together online, create small houses to store their gear and keep out the enemy, then dig deep in search of treasure and wealth.
The beauty of Terraria is that you can play for dozens of hours, and still not have seen whole main elements of the game. While the underground houses plenty of secrets to be found, from materials for making stronger weapons and armor, to streams of lava and enemies that will surround and destroy you, the overground is also teeming with life, as mucus blobs attack in the day, and hordes of goblins invade your humble abode at night. Grab some friends, and you can easily play Terraria for weeks on end.
2. The Binding of Isaac (Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl) [Windows/Mac/Linux, paid]
When Edmund McMillen of Gish and Super Meat Boy fame sat down to work on a small-scale game over his summer holiday, who could have guessed that it would evolve into something so addictive and replayable, and would go on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. The Binding of Isaac is a semi-roguelike that follows a young boy who flees to the basement, avoiding his murderous mother, with very thin and vague religious connotations.
Players guide Isaac through randomly-generated rooms, killing enemies, gaining power-ups and battling hideous bosses, before coming up against his mother. There are dozens of upgrades to find, and even after tens of hours of play, you'll still be finding items and secrets you've never seen before. Get killed, and it's right back to the start for you -- there is no concept of 'lives' here, as the roguelike status suggests. The Binding of Isaac oozes that 'one more go' mentality, and has been delighting hardcore roguelike players and more casual gamers alike.
1. SpaceChem (Zachtronics Industries) [Windows/Mac/Linux/iPad, paid]
SpaceChem is "the leading chemical synthesizer for frontier colonies," and you are a reactor engineer -- a cog in the company's rather volatile goings-on. Your job is to build reactors that can take atoms and molecules, and turn them into someone of value for customers, using 'waldos' and a great deal of bonding. As molecules loop around in your reactors, you'll need to make sure no unauthorized collisions occur, and that the stock is being called up and transported to the next reactor in a timely manner.
SpaceChem is also one of the most challenging, ingenious and downright rewarding gaming experiences of 2011. No prior understanding of chemistry or chemical reactions is needed -- in fact, the game bends the truth when it comes to molecule bonding every now and again -- and you will no doubt come away from each session with a few more brain cells than you had before play. With wonderfully unique gameplay that not only provides fun, but also makes you feel clever at the same time, SpaceChem is unlike anything else you can play this year.
Minecraft (Mojang) - note: already appeared in last year's top 10 while in alpha form
Gemini Rue (Joshua Nuernberger)
Explodemon (Curve Studios)
English Country Tune (Increpare)
Blackwell Deception (Wadjet Eye Games)
Scoregasm (Charlie's Games)
Really Big Sky (Boss Baddie)
Soul Brother (Superflat Games)
Capsized (Alientrap Games)
Serious Sam: The Random Encounter (Vlambeer)
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (Shadow Planet Productions)
Nitronic Rush (DigiPen)