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So there you have it -- 2010 has come and gone, and with it a whole host of incredible indie gaming titles that have put the indie scene firmly on the map. With a record 391 entries into the Independent Games Festival this year, there is no doubt that indie games are, as always, a huge part of gaming as a whole.
With so many worthwhile releases, choosing just 10 from this year was quite the challenge. Note that for every game featured in our top 10, dozens of other must-play indie titles were left out. We genuinely feel bad about it, so we've listed just over a dozen honorable mentions at the bottom to make up for it.
We'll also be compiling various top 10s for each genre on IndieGames.com over the coming months, highlighting even more of the year's best releases, so make sure you watch out for those.
Here are our picks for the top ten indie games of this year:
10. Limbo (Playdead Studios) [Xbox Live Arcade, paid]
Ask any Xbox gamer which Live Arcade titles were worth checking out this year, and most likely they'll mention Limbo along with words like 'incredible', 'atmospheric' and 'unfair'. In development since 2004, Limbo plots the journey of a young, nameless boy into a dark, unforgiving world where beartraps, rolling boulders and giant spiders are the norm. As he ventures into the unknown, it becomes apparent that this is no mere underworld forest, with sprawling cities and a mysterious civilization to be found.
Limbo enjoys nothing more than killing you over and over again in the most gory and unrelenting manner possible, then laughing at your crippled remains. Fortunately, whenever death does befall our young hero, he is always placed back down just before the perpetrator, hence the trial and error feel to many of the puzzles is more humorous than frustrating -- indeed, it's enjoyable to play the game, but watching someone else fail time and time again is just as entertaining.
9. Shoot First (Beau Blyth) [Windows, freeware]
Beau Blyth is truly an indie developer extraordinaire -- not only did he release the fan-favorite action roguelike Shoot First this year, he's also found time to put out our personal favorites Action Fist and Fish Face in the same 12-month period. The surprise here is that they're all equally good, but we're limited to just picking one game from each developer for this "best of" selection.
Shoot First is more of an all-action affair than your usual roguelike, one that brings back memories of quarters spent on Gauntlet arcade machines back in the '80s. Players will embark on a quest to loot gold and save princesses as they progress deeper and deeper into the endless dungeon. The game features an automap system, a two-player co-op mode, an online leaderboard and even AI-controlled companions that will join your party if you can find and rescue them.
8. Minecraft (Mojang Specifications) [Windows, Mac and Linux, paid, beta available, free 'classic' version]
What a year it has been for Markus Persson, a.k.a. Notch. Last December, he was putting together Minecraft, an experimental exploration game that was becoming quite the underground hit -- we even gave the game an honorable mention in last year's top 10. Twelve months on, and more than 750,000 people have bought Minecraft, rendering Markus a multimillionaire. He has since bought an office, hired his friends to come and work with him, and is only just now pushing the game into the beta stages.
Just in case you've somehow managed to miss the phenomenon, Minecraft presents you with a blocky, randomly-generated world in which you can dig, build and explore, and even join friends online for a spot of multiplayer silliness. The game has got indie developers the world over scratching their heads, trying to work out what this secret formula for selling millions is. Minecraft is quite easily one of the biggest gaming success stories of the year.
7. Hydorah (Locomalito) [Windows, freeware]
Locomalito is a rising star in the indie game development community, and his pet project Hydorah (released in June this year) easily enhances his reputation even more. We still have a hard time believing that one man coded and drew every sprite found inside the game, although his collaborative partner Gryzor87 did provide some assistance by writing and contributing a soundtrack that's nearly one hour long.
Gradius fans will find plenty to like in Hydorah. There's the multiple path stage selection screen, a weapon loadout menu for players to customize their ship, difficult boss battles that'll have you on the edge of your seat, and some special unlockables reserved especially for masters of the shoot 'em up genre. Hydorah is our shoot-em-up highlight of 2010.
6. Joe Danger (Hello Games) [Playstation Network, paid]
One of the biggest PSN releases of 2010, Joe Danger is the work of four British friends and developers who are widely regarded as some of the nicest people in the gaming industry. Hello Games developed Joe Danger over the course of several years, and the game was released this summer to a flurry of high ratings from the press. Players take control of Joe Danger as he zooms over, under and through obstacles on his trusty motorbike.
It was the feel of the game that really made Joe Danger something special. Joe can hop, bounce and flip with relative ease, pulling off stunts in the air and wheelie-ing along the 2D plane to chain together huge score combos. A level editor was also included, allowing gamers to recreate their own fantasy Evel Knievel-style jumps. Off the back of their roaring success, Hello Games are currently looking to bump their team up with fresh faces and a larger office -- in the words of Hello Games developer Sean Murray, "our office is so small that it's pretty much impossible for the four of us not to be touching some part of our bodies at all times.".
5. Super Crate Box (Vlambeer) [Windows/Mac, freeware]
Not to be confused with Team Meat's Super Meat Boy, Super Crate Box is an incredibly fun score-based arcade game created by Dutch indie development studio Vlambeer. The premise of the game is this: enemies appear from a hole at the top of the screen, but you only score points by collecting crate boxes that spawn randomly with a different weapon each time. Enemies shouldn't be allowed to pass through the bottom of the level as well, since that'll just make them angrier and faster as they make their way to the pit again.
The range of randomized weapons found inside crates is limited at first, but plenty of cool and destructive pick-ups are unlocked as you get better at the game. You'll sink hours into Super Crate Box just playing through the multiple gameplay modes and trying to climb up the online leaderboards, we can assure you of that.
4. Super Meat Boy (Team Meat) [Xbox Live Arcade, Windows (Wii/Mac/Linux coming later), paid, free demo]
Touted by many as the Super Mario of this generation, Super Meat Boy is the work of two extremely hard-working individuals, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes. This hard-as-nails platformer pays homage to the games that the duo used to play as youngsters, while simultaneously causing a good portion of players to scream blue murder as Meat Boy jumps into a grinder for the umpteenth time. Yet thanks to the snap-recovery and hot-footed nature of it all, these challenges feel like something worth overcoming, rather than a frustration.
It is perhaps the fantastic level design that Super Meat Boy is best known for, with over 300 levels of pure quality available and not a single saw or salt mount out of place. With the game released on both Xbox 360 and PC, and a Wii release coming early next year -- not to mention a free level editor for the PC version -- don't be surprised if you're hearing about this game for a little while longer.
3. Desktop Dungeons (Rodain Joubert) [Windows, freeware - alpha version]
Rodain Joubert has managed to do something that other developers could only dream of -- achieve a perfect balance between casual and hardcore with his freeware roguelike game, Desktop Dungeons. Every gameplay session usually lasts for only about 15 minutes, yet the unlockable achievements, playable characters and bonus dungeons will keep the fans coming back for more. The game is popular enough to spawn its own wiki resource, regularly updated to keep track of new spells, deities, enemies, character classes and dungeon areas.
But wait, there's more! If you don't like the default tileset (drawn by Spelunky creator Derek Yu) that comes bundled with Desktop Dungeons, you could always download and switch between other custom tilesets found in a variety of online forum threads dedicated to the game. When you lose, it's usually because you've not planned ahead, so be sure to brush up on your tactics and calculations before spending time with this indie gem.
2. Hero Core (Daniel Remar) [Windows, freeware]
The Swedish domination of the indie game development scene continues with Daniel Remar's Hero Core, a Metroid-style action shooter that is packed with rooms to explore, bosses to fight, suit upgrades to collect, and even cooler secrets to unlock. You play as Flip Hero, a man who is on a quest to defeat an evil machine warlord named Cruiser Tetron. Hero Core is also rather special because players are allowed to engage the final boss anytime they want to, although powering up the protagonist is essential if you want him to last more than a couple of seconds in the tense battle with his nemesis.
Don't be fooled by the lack of colors -- there's a lot of love put into Hero Core, and Brother Android's soundtrack for it only serves to elevate the experience to another level. You'll be humming to the music whenever you're not playing the game -- it's that good. Even better news is that both the game and the soundtrack are available to download from Daniel's site for free, so go grab it now and be ready to be transported back to an age when retro games were king.
1. Give Up Robot 2 (Matt Thorson) [Flash, freeware]
The original Give Up Robot introduced our grappling robotic hero, throwing him into a series of tough chambers with a sinister voice sneering throughout that he should give up his journey. It was a wonderfully psychedelic trip, although the swinging mechanic wasn't explored as fully as we would have hoped. Just four months later, developer Matt Thorson gave us the sequel -- and my, what a sequel it was. Not only did it address our issues with the original game, but it went much further, providing what is easily the indie gaming experience of the year.
Our little robot once again bobs along to the music, hooking onto scenery and swinging through the tightest of gaps. Everything about Give Up Robot 2 is magnificent, from the clever level design to the playful, bouncy soundtrack. There are plenty of homages to the Mario games, including blocks that churn out coins and clouds with faces, and the level of challenge is spot-on, such that players will die numerous times, yet never feel that the game is being unfair. Simply put, Give Up Robot 2 is pure, unadulterated fun.
VVVVVV (Terry Cavanagh) - note: already appeared in last year's top 10 while in beta form.
The Oil Blue (Vertigo Games)
Delve Deeper (Lunar Studios)
Epic Dungeon (Eyehook Games)
Space Funeral (thecatamites)
Recettear (Carpe Fulgar)
depict1 (Kyle Pulver and Alec Holowka)
Tower of Heaven (Askiisoft)
Game Dev Story (Kairosoft)
Octodad (DePaul University Student Team)
Digital: A Love Story (Christine Love)
The Journey Down -- Over the Edge (Theodor Waern)