There is nothing wrong with an indie developer charging money for his hard work but I give extra credit to indies who put in a lot of work and then made the game easily available to the public. Sometimes they are cheaply priced, other times they are part of incredible indie bundles, and other times they are absolutely free. So, sometimes games that were excellent but cost as much as a typical retail game were kept off my list in favor of ones that were free. In other words, the awards treated cost as a quality in choosing the awards. Now, on to the awards!

14 Awards

1. Best Art Game

2. Best Puzzle Game

3. Best Strategy Game

4. Best Adventure Game

5. Best Tower Defense Game

6. Best Room Escape Game

7. Best Hidden Object Game

8. Best Retro-Style Point-and-Click Game

9. Best Innovative Idea

10. Best Racer

11. Best Sports Game

12. Best Platformer

13. Best Hand-Drawn Game

14. Best Overall Game UPDATED!

Best Art Game

Keys of a Gamespace

Here’s Why:If I had to have Roger Ebert play one game to prove that games can be art I would plunk him down at a computer and fire up Keys of a Gamespace. Probing the depths of a man’s consciousness, a grown-up son confronting his pedophile father, remembering traumatic moments from childhood, and dealing with questions of free will and choice- this game is for the mature of mind. It is at once though-provoking and personal. —-

Best Puzzle Game

SpaceChem

Here’s Why:Look at Team Fortress creator, Robin Walker’s, Steam Recommendation page and you will find one game: SpaceChem. What is his description? “Pretty much the best game ever made.” While that may be hyperbole, it is probably still safe to say SpaceChem is the next game you should play if you haven’t yet already. The game is a nerdy wonder. It’s a stellar puzzle game well worth your time and brain cells. Do you think you can ever enjoy the feeling of being an architect and foreman of an auto plant? Well, then, this game is for you. ——

Best Strategy Game

Frozen Synapse

Here’s Why:This is gaming’s answer to chess. The game is a turn-based strategy game and here’s how an online match would play out: Player one thinks to himself, “I’ll move over here and catch him when he comes around the corner.” Player two thinks, “He probably expects me to come around that corner and be ambushed. I’ll trick him by going the long way around.” Player one then thinks to himself, “Wait. What if he goes the long way around? I bet he thinks he’ll outsmart me and escape my ambush. I’m going to take my chances that he’s trying to outmaneuver my ambush, so I’ll set up my men by the other door.” When the players are ready, they finalize their moves and let the game calculate their moves simultaneously. When the dust settles, we see who outsmarted who. It’s as much a game of strategy as it is a game of psychologically getting into your opponent’s head. —–

Best Adventure Game

Gemini Rue

Here’s Why: For those with even the slightest inclination toward retro adventures, indie gaming, or science-fiction storytelling, Gemini Rue is a must-play. Effective, impactful storytelling may be the hardest part of game design to get right but Gemini Rue is a story with remarkable impact. This is meaty sci-fi that mixes some of the best elements of Snatcher, Blade Runner, and Beneath a Steel Sky among others, drawing a fantastic balance between the dark appeal of sinister science fiction and sincere human drama. It is the bleak story of two tortured souls in a neo-noir future. Athough Gemini Ruehas many positive qualities, it is its sinister and memorable storytelling that sets the game apart as an exceptional independent adventure- a love letter to classic adventure games and sci-fi universes. ——-

Best Tower Defense Game

Kingdom Rush

Here’s Why: I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of Tower Defense games but Kingdom Rush managed to make me a believer, playing out with a finesse reserved usually for big-industry games such as Advance Wars. You could easily see such a game making it big on the DSi eshop. Luckily, it’s free. The graphics are sharp and well-drawn. The sound effects convey the explosion-y feel of the game appropriately. But, what really puts this game in a league of its own is its balanced gameplay. Always providing you with enough of a challenge to be rewarding but not too much difficulty to be impossible, Kingdom Rush hits the high notes of the strategy genre in perfect pitch. ——-

Best Room Escape Game

Any Tesshi-e Game

Here’s Why:Once again, I must admit that I don’t play Escape Games much but I forced myself to give them a go for the sake of this article. I played through enough of them to say I became a bit more proficient in actually escaping from the rooms, but I’m not an expert enough to hand out awards. However, it seemed to me that the two developers who stood head and shoulders above the others in the genre were Robamimi (I enjoyed his escape, “Hermit Rabi and the Wonder Fountain,) and Tesshi-e. I’ll give the nod here to Tesshi-e due to the sheer quantity and quality of his/her (?) escape games. ——-

Best Hidden-Object Game

Phantasmat

Here’s Why:Luckily, I am a fan of Hidden Object games despite their extremely casual gameplay mechanics. I was a big Where’s Waldo? fan growing up. Phantasmat easily takes the cake this year despite the large amount of releases. It was an underdog that proved its worth unassumingly with slick graphics, haunting atmosphere, and a well thought-out story. ——-

Best Retro-Style Point-and-Click Game

I Have One Day

Here’s Why:I Have One Day won’t blow you away but you will naturally fall into its short tale as if it’s an old friend. The classic point and click reminds you of games like the King’s Quest’s series but it is more witty and has one defining hook that gives it a distinct flavor. The game includes a mechanic similar to Groundhog’s Day where you will replay the same day again and again, each time perfecting your daily schedule, solving puzzles, and learning new information that will help you finish your quest. ——-

Best Innovative Idea

GIRP

Here’s Why:Understanding GIRP fully won’t happen until you play it. You control the right and left hands of your character and you must stretch your fingers around the keyboard in an attempt to climb as high as you can on the mountain. The water level keeps on rising and you have to quickly figure out how to use momentum and physics to propel your climber higher and higher without falling down or drowning in the water. ——-

Best Racer

Proun

Here’s Why:Proun isn’t just a good racer, it’s also a beautifully artistic game. Playing out in a setting that feels like you’re part of a modern art painting, Proun has a reflex-based arcade feel to its racing mechanics which complement the gorgeous backdrop. You’ll be enticed to race again and again, perfecting levels and generating new high scores which will be uploaded to the global leaderboards. With a variety of levels and enough modes to keep you busy for a while, Proun is a great racer for the perfect price: free. ——-

Best Sports Game

Wonderputt

Here’s Why:Wonderputt is a wonderfully original mini golfing game. The levels are bizarre and surreal, creative and artistic. Attaining a decent score is actually quite difficult but you’ll have fun perfecting your technique due to the original level design that will make sure you’re never bored for a minute. ——-

Best Platformer

Diamond Hollow 2

Here’s Why:The platformer/Metroidvania genre is usually the most inundated of the indie scene. Because of this, it’s usually hard to discern one game from another and picking out the gems from the rubbish can sometimes be challenging and tiresome. Oddly, this year has had very few major platformers and the competition is sparse. But, that doesn’t mean Diamond Hollow 2 is any less of a title because of it. It really shines in its simplistic and addictive platformer qualities that rely on so little but manage to accomplish so much. There’s the excellent level design that keeps on reaching up and up and up until the boss at the end of each level. Then there’s the upgradeable everything, from guns to jumping to diamond collection. The platform mechanics are fun and easy to get into, the diamond collecting is addictive, and the secrets will keep you searching. Add on a neat storyline of a mad professor throwing you and his old experiments down to the bottom of a dungeon, and you have yourself a well-rounded package of a platformer. ——-

Best Hand-drawn Game

Three Way Tie: Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure; The Book of Living Magic; Keys of a Gamespace

Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure

Book of Living Magic

Keys of a Gamespace

Here’s Why: All three games have unique, hand-drawn graphics that set them apart from others. Keys of a Gamespace was already mentioned above. The Book of Living Magic seems like it was created by Terry Gilliam in its silliness and bizarre fantasy. And Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure was the first game ever to be created by a five year old. (With some help from her Dad.) ——-

Best Overall Game

Tie: Dig-N-Rig and Treasure Adventure Game

 

Dig-N-Rig

 

Here’s Why: This is a very personal choice for me. Others will probably forget the game even existed. But there was something very magical about Dig-N-Rig’s gameplay for me. It’s almost like it took the qualities gaming used to have in the retro years of Amiga and Atari and blended them with everything we have learned since then in gaming. And presto!, the final product does something rarely ever seen. It captures the magic of gaming from both eras. The game itself doesn’t do anything completely new. You play as Diggit, a robot that attempts to drill and mine precious minerals from the ground as he digs deeper and deeper towards the earth’s core. The core gameplay has a certain tactile feel to it that is rewarding even when you are doing nothing but drilling. You marvel as every bit of dirt breaks down until you have thousands of pixelated minerals. But, then there is a secondary reward of collecting those minerals and being a collection freak as your “riches” pile up. But, then there is a third-level reward as your collecting allows you to upgrade your robot with new abilities and equipment. Tack on to that the fourth-tier reward of discovery- exploring new levels underground, each with its own theme. Unfortunately, the game ended after a few hours and I was left wanting more. But, I still remember the experience many months later and still wish I could go back and drill through new areas and new levels and collect more upgrades. I never before played a game that knew how to make a gamer feel so rewarded on every level. We have a lot we can learn about game design from the inexperienced DigiPen students behind this game. For this, I would award Dig-N-Rig the award of Best Free Indie Game of the Year.

Treasure Adventure Game

 

Here’s Why: I would consider Treasure Adventure Game possibly the best game of the year EVEN if we were including non-indie retail games such as Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Skyrim. Yes, it’s that good. The biggest compliment I could say about this game is that playing through it I could have sworn I was playing a game made by Nintendo. The developer, Stephen Orlando, is obviously a Nintendo fan who has taken lessons from the acclaimed developers along the course of playing games throughout his life. The Legend of Zelda and Metroid series share something in common. They both allow for exploring a massive world, upgrading your weapons and inventory, and are chock full of battles and puzzles. Still, they differ in that Zelda allows for a more socially-engaging world, while Metroid is more of a solitary experience deep in the bowels of an alien planet. I would say TAG plays similar to how you would imagine a Zelda game if it were transformed into a side-scrolling Metroidvania instead of a top-down adventure game. The game is full of interesting characters, races, and locales just like the Zelda franchise. In between the social environments there are the classic “dungeons” full of combat, puzzles, and treasure hunting. Another excellent contrast between TAG and Nintendo games is the current-day setting. This not a game of huts and old fantasy, rather, apartment buildings and massive evil corporations. But when you throw in anicent caves and pyramids, full of long-forgotten treasure, our modern day setting suddenly becomes a lot more epic. I can go on and on about TAG, but the best way you can appreciate its retro-sensibilities and excellently balanced gameplay is through downloading it yourself. And guess what? It’s free! And that is a big thing in my books. A game on par with Cave Story, VVVVVV, and Knytt Stories and absolutely free. What are you waiting for? Go and download it now from Robit Studios.