Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Indie & Retro Awards 2013


A year in review

So, the year has finally coming to a close, leaving behind 365 days of indie gaming excellence. I have experienced many games this year - too many to count, in fact - from triple-A blockbusters such as The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite to indie titles like Papers Please, I am Level and Tiny Thief. 2013 was the year I finally viewed mobile gaming as more than something you only do when very bored, thanks to some wonderful Android games, and it was also the year I finally gave the Sega Saturn the (re)attention it deserved.


While I certainly wouldn't claim 2013 to be the best year yet for indie games, it certainly offered up some exceptional titles, whether innovative experiences such as Antichamber and Papers Please, or more traditional styles (often with a twist) such as Brothers : A Tale of Two Sons or Wyv & Keep. It was also a year chock full of awesome remakes of retro games. DuckTales Remastered brought the NES Capcom / Disney classic kicking and screaming into the modern age. Likewise, Sega brought back Disney's most famous rodent for another shot at the limelight with the reboot of the classic Mega Drive game, Castle of Illusion. 


Castle of Illusion : Starring Mickey Mouse (PS3) - a spot-on remake of a classic!



Amiga platform hero Superfrog also made a welcome return in the straightforward, yet extremely enjoyable, Superfrog HD on PS3 and Vita. Speaking of Playstation, 2013 was a great year for PS3 (and Vita) owners with a penchant for indie gaming. With Lone Survivor, Hotline Miami, Stealth Inc and (finally) Spelunky all arriving on the systems. Sony's console would also host one of the best modern retro experiences of the entire year, with Vanillaware & Atlus' epic fantasy, scrolling beat-em-up, Dragon's Crown


Dragon's Crown (PS3) - bringing the scrolling fighter back from the dead!



Xbox 360 gamers were treated to an exclusive title (until it later appeared on PC) featuring a sandbox world full of shuffling cadavers, State of Decay. While a little rough around the edges, it still provided the greatest zombie survival experience ever created, and was certainly more interesting than the overrated snooze-fest that is The Walking Dead TV series. There was also some highly amusing, 2D platforming action in the excellent Battleblock Theatre from Behemoth, and a brand new re-imaged version of PC classic Motocross Madness.


State of Decay (XBLA) - zombie survival at its finest!



It was great to see Rayman back on our screens, with another gorgeous slice of platforming joy. Rayman Legends took the template of Origins and expanded it further, with (slightly) enhanced visuals, wonderfully quirky music, and a large pool of creative and expertly designed stages to traverse. The wonderful 'infinite runner' stages that play along to ridiculous covers of known songs provide some of the most smile inducing gaming moments of all time. It is pleasing to see that the classic 2D platformer can still sit alongside the triple A titles at retail, as well as dominate the indie scene. 


The glorious Rayman Legends (Xbox 360)



As for memorable experiences of 2013, I would have to say that completing Quackshot, the wonderful Mega Drive platformer, via an emulator on my PSP would rank high. Why? Well this fairly unspectacular event was enhanced considerably by the fact I was on the island paradise of Koh Tao in Thailand. When the heat became too much (or maybe it was the excessive drinking) I would retire to my beach shack to lay sweltering under the shoddy ceiling fan, and play some classic games. I wrote many reviews for this site while there, including Taito classics, Cameltry and Rastan Saga. Next time I go to Thailand I will aim to review some more suitable titles, maybe Adventure Island on PC Engine or Greendog on Sega's 16-bit console. 


Banner for the site while I was in Thailand. The beach is on the island of Koh Samui, where I started my holiday.



The low point of this year was actually near the end, when I found myself in full time employment (to the tune of 45 hours a week, groan!), which left me with little time to play and review games. Retro Spirit Games is completely written and updated my me, no mean feat, but I think I did a pretty decent job of keeping it current, despite the number of post diminishing slightly as I suffered 'work fatigue'. I am also disappointed that I haven't gotten around to reviewing Wii-U and 3DS games. I haven't really seen that much - other than the Mario games and the NES Remix title - that has inspired me to splash out the cash for a Wii-U, and the 3D on Nintendo's handheld makes my eyes hurt. But I will certainly be picking up a cheap Wii-U and 2DS in 2014, so worry not fans.


Super Mario 3D World (Wii-U) is something I definitely want to play in 2014!


In 2014 I am going to focus a lot more on indie news posts, as something new and exciting occurs every day in our wonderful past time, whether it be a new indie game or remake, updates to known emulators, or translated ROMs of classic Japanese games. I will keep my eyes glued to the internet to bring you anything relevant as soon as I physically can.

So, all that is left to do is to concoct a lengthy and self indulgent (sorry) awards ceremony for the titles I, personally, enjoyed (or hated) this year. 

If I reviewed the game in full then you can read it by clicking on the games title.

Enjoy!



RETRO SPIRIT'S GAME AWARDS





Best PC Indie Game : 




An absolutely spectacular stealth FPS with roguelike elements. Eldritch is tense, frightening, incredibly absorbing and insanely addictive. Not only the best PC indie game of 2013, but one of my favourite indie games of all time.




Runners Up :

Risk of Rain




Steamworld Dig





Nuclear Throne




Mercenary Kings





(reviews of all three titles forthcoming)





Best XBLA Game :

State of Decay



An open world 'sandbox' game with a zombie apocalypse setting. Imagine GTA with zombies and less bling and you are halfway there. Survival is key, and not only your own, as helping out and / or recruiting new members to your community is vital. Part third person beat-em-up, part survival horror, and part resource management. State of Decay is the best approximation of a real zombie infestation ever seen in a video game.



Runners Up :

Runner 2 : Future Legend of Rhythm Alien





Darkstalkers : Resurrection





Brothers : A Tale of Two Sons








Best PSN Game :

Spelunky



You can never have enough Spelunky in your life. I have been playing it regularly for two years now, and am sure I will be spending many more hours on it in 2014. If you don't know what it is (have you been living under a rock?), Spelunky is a 2D platformer with randomly generated levels, in which you must reach the exit by climbing down ropes and ladders or blowing up the scenery with bombs. There are treasures to be found everywhere, and a multitude of secrets and surprises along the way. Suffice to say, it is fucking brilliant and will take over your life. The PS3 was a little late to the party, but now it is here - and cross platform on Vita - you have no excuse. One of the greatest video games every made.



Runners Up : 

Stealth Inc



Hotline Miami










Best Xbox Live Indie Game : 

One Finger Death Punch



A fantastic two button brawler that combines martial arts fighting with rhythm action. It is without a doubt, one of the most exciting and outright fun games on the Xbox Indie Channel.


Runner Up :

Aqua Kitty - Milk Mine Defender










Best Android Game : 

Game Dev Story



Insanely addictive Sim title in which you run a games development company. Produce games of multiple genres before unleashing them to the critics and public. Build you own console from scratch and become the next Sony or Nintendo. This game changed my opinion of phone games forever.



Runners Up :








Best Comedy / Parody Game :

Donkey Me: Raiders of the Lost Ark



A wonderful mashup of Donkey Kong and the Indiana Jones movies. Donkey Me is an exceptionally playable platformer, as one would expect given its inspiration, with a retro graphical overhaul that represents different scenes from the Indy movies. It actually manages to be more fun than Nintendo's original coin-op classic, thanks to more varied level design and enemy types. It not only raises a smile, but will keep you hooked.


Runner Up :

Continue? Philly Under Fire









Best Doom Mod :

Pirate Doom



As any readers of this site will probably know, I am an ardent Doom fan, counting it as one of my favourite games of all time. I have been playing it since I first laid eyes on it back in 1993, and it continues to provide me with more entertainment than any other game since. Every year since its arrival, Doom and Doom 2 have been supported by a loyal and talented community of modders and map makers, essentially making Doom a 'never ending' and fresh gaming experience some 20 years after its initial release. Pirate Doom is yet another total conversion, that adds new sprites, weapons, monsters and maps for players to enjoy. With a swashbuckling theme that grants suitable new weapons such as a sword and flintlock pistol, eye-patch clad monsters, and villages and ships to navigate, Pirate Doom is a fresh new challenge for Doom fans. It's well designed, polished, and will make you laugh. One of the best Doom total conversions of recent years.


Runners Up :

Project MSX (weapons and HUD mod)




Soul Crusher









Biggest Disappointment :

Wrack



I was very, very excited at the prospect of playing Wrack. here was a new indie game that claimed (and appeared in initial screenshots) to bring back the no-nonsense, balls to the wall action of 1990's first person shooters like Doom, Blood, Dark Forces and Duke Nukem 3d. When it finally arrived I was shocked and dismayed to find a truly weak offering with puny weapons, pathetic looking enemies and bland environments devoid of any character whatsoever. It's no fun to play, and was soon switched off (after I struggled to the end in the aim of providing a fair review) in favour of returning to Doom and its many excellent mods - addons that render this feeble offering totally unnecessary.



Runners up : 


Best Remake of a Classic : 

Castle of Illusion



A stellar update of a classic Sega Mega Drive game, one that I have loved since I fist played it at a friend's house in 1990. Castle of Illusion was a joyful 2D platform romp through colourful cartoon worlds, and this 2013 update is no different. With gorgeous visuals, a rousing soundtrack, a plethora of secrets to find, improved boss encounters and additional 3D sections that add a little variety and never outstay their welcome, Castle of Illusion is just as magical now as it was over two decades ago.



Runner Up:






Worst Remake of a Classic :

Double Dragon 2 : Wander of Dragons



Seriously, what the fuck is this? An utter abomination that sullies the Double Dragon name, and should never have been released. That's what! Awful graphics, including a shoddy frame rate, crap music, and enjoyment-free gameplay result in a truly heinous affront to gaming that should be avoided at all costs. Rise of the Triad was going to 'win' this title, but then I recalled my experiences of Double Dragon from the depths of my mind and, after I had finished weeping, decided that it deserves to be named and shamed, so others may avoid gazing upon its unending shitness.


Runner Up : 

Rise of the Triad










Shameless clone of the year :

Game Dev Tycoon


An utterly shameless ripoff of Kairosoft's wonderful iOS and Android game, Game Dev Story, only not as good. Greenheart Games should be thoroughly embarrassed by such obvious plagiarism as their inferior title not only copies the entire premise of Game Dev Story, but even uses a very similar graphical style and interface. Granted, they have tried to expand the formula, but it is still a lot less fun that Kairosoft's effort. I have already given this pointless title more exposure than it deserves, so let's move on to the main event...









Game of the Year :

Eldritch


An absolute no-brainer. I have been playing Eldritch pretty much constantly since its release, and it shows no signs of releasing me from its addictive grip. It is honestly one of the most gripping and enjoyable games I have experienced, and simply has to be played. With a Game+ mode for the hardcore, as well as brand new DLC set in an expanded, sinister ice world, this game will swallow hours of your life like a whale devouring plankton.



Runner Up :



Dragon's Crown



Thoroughly retro through and through. Dragon's Crown brings the side scrolling beat-em-up kicking and screaming into the modern age. Following on where Capcom's excellent D&D arcade games left off, Vanillawares epic fantasy romp contains a legion of foes to defeat, strong RPG elements, and heaps of replayability. It was very nearly my game of the year, and only missed out on the top spot due to my overpowering Eldritch addiction. Dragon's Crown is an absolute must-have title for PS3 or Vita owners, and is the true evolution and absolute pinnacle of the genre.





Game I most wanted to play :

Of course, being but one man, I can only play so many games. There are many that have slipped me by over the course of the year, some of which may even have made it onto this very page, but I am sure I will get around to the best of them in 2014. Without a Wii-U or 3DS, I am afraid Nintendo is sadly missing out on the Retro Spirit Game love, but I aim to change this in the not-too-distant future.


Super Mario 3D World (Wii-U)



It's a new Mario game. Of course I want to play it! I have been enjoying the portly plumbers antics since I first played Super Mario Bros on the original 8-bit Nintendo, and Super Mario Bros on SNES is one of my all time favourite games. As much as I want to experience the childlike joy I am sure this game will provide me with, I can't really justify splashing out over £250 on a Wii-U for one (or two) games. But with some fantastic new titles available and forthcoming, I think I may have to take the plunge in 2014!



Runners Up :

NES Remix (Wii-U)






The Legend of Zelda : A Link Between Worlds (3DS)











Favourite Retro Console :

Sega Saturn



I had a Sega Saturn when they first came out, and I have had several since. But 2013 was the year I finally dedicated some time to amassing a huge collection of games and trying out many of the titles that had so far passed me by, from Saturn Bomberman to rare Japanese oddity, Psychic Killer Taromaru. I also discovered the plethora of excellent 2D beat-em-ups and shmups on the system, being blown away by how good the ports of arcade titles such as Street Fighter Alpha 3, Vampire Savior, Real Bout Fatal Fury Special and Samurai Shodown 3 are (with the aid of a 4 Meg Cart). I also reaffirmed my love for Sega Rally and realised that it is, without a doubt, my favourite arcade racer of all time, even topping the arcade original (and PS2, Japan only release) thanks to better handling and superior music. The icing on the cake is the sublime Saturn controller, which is incredibly comfortable to use and features the greatest d-pad ever created. I have now ordered myself a USB equivalent for use with my PC!


Sega Rally - best racing game ever!



Highlights :






Runner Up : 

Sony Playstation



2013 was also a year in which I went PS1 crazy, spending a small fortune on games - I could have bought a bloody Wii-U (doh!). But I certainly got my moneys worth, with fantastic titles such as Crash Bandicoot and Road Rash inspiring me to write full length features on both series. I became thoroughly addicted to the shmup action of The Raiden Project, as well as the high octane thrills of the many racing titles available for the system. Games that play well even 20 years later, despite the jagged lines and blocky 3D graphics that plague them. I also rekindled my love for the awesome Die Hard Trilogy - probably the greatest movie licensed game ever made - and the unofficial Desert / Jungle / Urban / Soviet Strike sequel, Future Cop : L.A.P.D, which makes all your Robocop 'ED-209' fantasies come true. My PS1 is one of my most treasured consoles, and one I will certainly still be playing in another 20 years.

Wipeout 3, one of the many PS1 games that kept me occupied in 2013



Highlights :







Other retro games that got my nostalgia and gaming glands juiced up this year:







Welcome to 2014

Well, there you go, 2013 is over. Here's to a new year of wonderful indie games that continue to push boundaries and bring new supporters to the cause. Here's to discovering yet more retro titles we have never heard of on platforms long since sold on Ebay or stored in the attic, and here's hoping that we see more remakes of classic games we grew up with. We already have reboots of Strider, Oddworld and Putty Squad to look forward too, so I am sure there will be plenty more.

So, Happy New Year, and be sure to stay tuned to Retro Spirit Games in 2014 for all the latest news, special features, indie and retro game reviews and more.


HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Retro Spirit Games