Best of 2013
2013 showed another huge leap forward in not only the number of indie games released but the quality of those games. Android became a far more viable marketplace for quality titles, though iOS maintained its iron grip on letting only highly polished titles through.
That said, we were happy to see that many of our favorite titles this year were available on both platforms.
We are very happy to present IndieGameReviewer.com’s
Top 20 Best Indie Mobile Games of 2013 – iOS and Android:
1. Space Team
What an incredible idea – connect every person in the room with an iPad via WiFi and then distribute the task of piloting a complex spaceship among them. Of course the only way that any person can know what to do next is by being told by their peers, which leads to a lot of frantic hilarious tapping and requests for control and clear communication, which never happens as the ship starts to fall apart and space threats emerge constantly to derail the group’s best efforts. The collaborative party game of the year, making brilliant use of today’s tech.
I’m gonna let you in a on little secret – Rymdkapsel is actually the best non-party mobile game of the year. Also, Tim Shaffer is gonna
steal be inspired by the idea and make it into a game for PCs called Spacebase df-9 which you will love.
“Rymdkapsel, which means “space capsule” in Swedish, is a beautifully flat-designed game for iOS and Android wherein you build an optimal space fortress that can support your colony, while in anticipation of attacks from trawling celestial ne’er-do-wells.
The game feels hyper-minimalistic at first, but hours are rapidly expended in pursuit of a higher survival time. Populous comparisons aside, this is a unique title that is as good as it gets on the iPad in evoking tension, fascination and engagement.
3. Year Walk
Year Walk offers an immersive, emotionally gripping experience whose deceptively minimalist mechanics afford a truly visceral path through some heretofore uncharted cultural backwoods. It is daring and stimulating and embodies the best of what independent games have to offer – artistically brave and experimental concepts that can be uniquely engaging. For that alone, it is well worth the price of admission.
Graveck Interactive LLC
The goal of Strata is to strategically layer colored ribbons to match a pattern of squares. Using forethought and strategy you must sequence your moves correctly. Over time patterns emerge and your tactics may evolve, but Strata will keep you on your toes with increasingly difficult puzzles. Easy to pick up, hard to put down, good for a three minute or three hour play session, there is little to criticize here and much to enjoy.
5. The Room Two
As good as the original Unity-built escape-the-room puzzler hit, but moar. Eminently well designed and ever intriguing, the eye-catching pseudo Victorian design is further buoyed by an excellent and mysterious sound score.
From the wily creator of Corrypt and Glitch Tank, developer Michael Brough has established himself as a sort of mathematical enfant terrible of the App Store world. 868-HACK is a Roguelike that requires you to decrypt various nodes that afford you power ups, while negotiating the risk of getting zapped by an virus inoculation program.
But Brough’s games are never quite so straightforward and with time reveal expansive landscapes with emergent gameplay behind their ultra-lo-fi veneers. For those willing to take their casual gameplay to the next level.
7. Ridiculous Fishing
The bizarre tale of a man whose obsession with catching every fish in the world leads him to augment his tackle box with a near nuclear arsenal. Reach the ultimate depths of lakes to find the rarest breeds, and then hook as many as you can as you reel your lure back in. It’s not enough to haul the fish into the boat; you must launch them into the sky and blast them to smithereens.
The tilt-mechanics make this touchscreen game a breeze to learn, and yet the difficulty ramps up the deeper you get. The insane weaponry you can purchase continues to deliver novel thrills throughout. Should you stick it out, there’s even an unexpected touching turn of events.
Dozens of different fish await, with a few paying homage to some of our favorite indie games. Ridiculous fishing is an addictive drop-in game, and it offers up a wealth of rewards for those whose mantra is “gotta catch em all”.
8. Device 6
Simogo is on a roll, with two games on our best of the year list, the other being Year Walk. In Device 6, an interactive text game, the very syntax serves as the map through which you are guided through a series of clues, into a mystery of technology and neuroscience.
But lest your takeaway be that this is a mere Choose Your Own Adventure title or interactive fiction, bear in mind that with Device 6, Simogo have created a true art installation for the 21st century, employing sound, text, parallax scrolling to induce a sense of confusion, wonder and depth of engagement. The dystopian, Orwellian world they present seems at first offer branching text, but the way that it is presented, requiring the player to physically reorient the screen to follow certain pathways, while still making alternate courses visible is like a living Italo Calvino novel. A bold and fascinating escapade.
9. Friendly Fire!
Red Robots Labs
After some success with Life is Magic, Red Robots Labs has taken the idea of Geolocation games one step further and added tower defense to an accessible and robust package they call Friendly Fire!
“We’ve all been lured into them before; base-building games that – after you’ve played for a few hours or days – discover that to progress any further you need to pay money to even stand up to anyone else at your level.
Friendly Fire!, however, has continually matched me against fair fights as there are no pay to win mega tanks that will rip though your base unopposed. Instead the only thing you can buy are construction time boosts and some resources. With no power advantage to unbalance the game, it has made Friendly Fire the only Base Building game I’ve stuck with over an extended period of time”. ~HappyWulf
10. Color Zen
Large Animal Games
We first saw Color Zen at IndieCade 2013 where it was a finalist. The name almost says it all as the contemplative title involves tapping shapes so that the border color is the last color in contact. Besides the fact that the game scales in difficult in a smooth gradient, it offers contemporary visual design that is a pleasure to behold.
The free version offers a generous number of free levels and more can be unlocked by watching short video ads. Or you can purchase full version for just a few dollars.
11. Sol Forge
Stone Blade Entertainment
A cross between Magic the Gathering and a deck building game, SolForge is a free to play CCG that is generous with its daily freebies. The game supports cards that after getting used and shuffled back into your deck, become stronger the next time you draw them. Sol Forge puts a balance between cards that are strong to start, but fall off late game, and visa versa, making almost any card useful in the right setting and strategy.
The factions are fun and carry with them theme fitting abilities. Robots get Shields, zombies regenerate or blow up, the elements strikes fast and hard, and nature overwhelms. You can mix any two factions without penalty, since there are no casting costs or mana. Planning deck builds along with playing weak cards you want to see later on all grown up and powerful in late game is your goal. You just need to hope you get to late game…
Also, the music is hypnotic and pulse-racing – a hybrid of fantasy MIDI orchestra and ambient electronic glitches out choir pads that sweeps you up in the allure of this nature vs robots, zombies vs demons setting.
12. Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!
Steve Jackson, inkle Ltd
iOS, Android (coming soon)
Finally, after several attempts, Steve Jackson’s beloved take on Choose Your Own Adventure books have been brought to life with a clean modern design that heightens the experience rather than merely digitizing it.
Everything in this offering is handled with loving and thoughtful care and it brings the book to life without breaking intrinsic charm of the original books on which Mr. Jackson admits he spent an inordinate amount of time in development. This is a well-designed, conscientious effort and I recommend it highly. In fact if you own a tablet and are a fan of fantasy adventures, this is a must.
Uppercut Games Pty Ltd.
This is what you get if Infinity Blade was re skinned as I, Robot and Hard Reset [our review] was its uncle. Even the tutorial is adrenaline pumping, taking pause every few hundred milliseconds to advise you on how to clear baddies on the roof of a fast moving train.
Remember that car-chase scene in Minority Report? Like that, except there is no sitting back to enjoy the CG, it’s all happening here in real-time. Amazing production value for iOS app prices. An astonishing effort.
Simple, abstract and elegant, Hundreds is pure gameplay with an awe-inspiringly easy-to-understand mechanic that is tough to master (the holy grail of game design). Your job is to touch circles so that they grow until you have filled a counter to 100. As you progress, new concepts are added, from poppable bubbles to double-touch circles and more.
I had a 6-year-old pick it up within moments and found I could explain the rules to anyone with a single sentence, but I subsequently always had a hard time getting my mobile device back from their grabbing hands.
For anyone who has ever wished to rekindle a Legend of Zelda adventure on their iPad, FDG has attempted to answer the call. Though not as sprawling, with simpler puzzles and combat, the graphical treatment is on par, and the story – full of legend and lore – is engaging.
Brightly colored animated characters populate the land of Arcadia, rife with NPC characters, and many skills and magic abilities unlock as you make your way through the journey to facing down the dire sea monster known as Oceanhorn.
Even after three years in production, FDG has stated there will not be an Android port, but for those with iPads, this is a superb product for a fifth of the price of similar desktop titles.
To underwrite the quality and “legitimacy” of the title as a next gen JRPG, game composer legends Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and Kenji Ito (Seiken Densetsu) came onboard to do the music. Ultimately you aren’t going to get something as brilliant as Nintendo’s own much-adored series, but it may be as close as you will get for the time being on your tablet.
About twenty years ago I saw Jaron Lanier perform a live concert using virtual reality glasses and a navigational glove. He flew into a jazz club inside an asteroid and battled with instruments that had lives of their own. It was utterly breathtaking. Sometimes I wonder if it was just a strange dream I had. Then I played Melodive and the memories of that event came flooding back. Now that I can hold something similar in my hands I realize that it very likely was true.
Built to be “the most fluid and immersive 3D game on iOS,” you tilt, pan and rotate your tablet to fly through procedurally generated, colorful clouds in outer space, collecting Melodium fragments along the way, touching the screen to propel forward. It is quite unlike anything else I have tried on the App Store.
The developer recommends you play the game in a dark room with headphones on for the ultimate experience. I completely agree with that statement. It is a little tough to get a handle on what is going on for the first ten minutes/tries, but once you get the hang of it it is an amazing experience that underlines the true power and joy of a tablet.
Not for everyone one though; although it has an free-roam mode, there is an arcade mode that I found daunting due to the fact that sometimes you end up just free-spinning and can become maddeningly disoriented.
The game does account for this, though, and has many tweaks it makes on its own to re-calibrate your experience as you go forward.
17. Papa Sangre II
Playground Publishing B.V.
Voiced by actor Sean Bean of Peter Jackson’s LOTR fame, Papa Sangre II aims to terrify you through sound alone. Well that’s not completely true; there are some wood-burned/Dia de los Muertos graphics to go with all of that, and clever use of 3D sound and your accelerometer. Bean will order you to stand up, turn around, close your eyes, open then, walk towards areas of interest using both thumbs on the screen to tap your left and right feet forward – all making for a very interactive and immersive experience.
The premise is that you are already dead and moving through some nightmarish dreams and memories, in fact it tries to convince you that the world in which you are actually existing is naught but a series of flashbacks, and you must work to get back to the other side. A successful and highly entertaining experiment.
This year we have two developers with two games on our year end list. Besides Simogo, FDG also managed to capture our attention with two very different titles – Oceanhorn and Slayin.
Slayin is a sidescrolling “endless RPG” with onscreen controls that look like a classic NES gamepad. Featuring music by Matt Creamer (Retro City Rampage), this 16 bit retro-themed title has you run from left to right, or jump, doing nothing more to attack than running sidelong into monsters. But there are endless items to loot, upgrade and collect and over a hundred quest challenges, besides frequent boss fights.
FDG has clearly put much thought and care into this deceptively simple action title and we had a blast hack n’ slashing our way through a wide variety of colorful levels with excellent pixel art.
19. Sacred Guns: The Angel and the Mermaid
Mark Leung once again flaunts his penchant for slamming pop-culture, and capsizes the story of Noah’s Ark in the process. Starring as the game’s hero, Mark Leung is an angel that God has tasked with making sure that wave after wave of abominations don’t manage to survive the coming flood by boarding the famed ship. By cycling through a host of holy weapons, you can send these freaks packing.
Use one thumb to aim your reticule, and fire with the second one. The controls are a natural fit for a touchscreen game, and even when the game gets fast and furious, the controls are tight and responsive enough to keep up. Upgrades can be purchased by racking up points that are generated based on your performance of a level, or you can purchase points via microtransaction.
Leung, the creator of Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch (link to our review)– savagely lampoons cultural icons, society-at-large, internet memes, and generally anything else that might warrant a good comeuppance. McDonald’s, Spongebob Squarepants, Teletubbies and several other easily recognizable figures get torn down right proper.
The top-notch comic strip sequences between scenes deliver a story as epic as it is ridiculous. As this game is easily one of the silliest, most insane things I’ve played, not including it in our list would be sin. ~Callabrantus
Darklings commits fully to touchscreen devices by making an endless survival arcade game requiring that you trace the line-based squiggle patterns over creeps’ heads to possess them and knock ’em out.
This is a game that most certainly requires both your full attention and hands free, because defeating waves of darklings becomes almost excessively demanding. But MildMania have made a game that expresses the value of a touchscreen experience and by exploiting that without reservation, we knew it had to be on our mobile list for 2013.
With many unlockable characters and powerups that can be purchased with stars you drag down onto your character after a possession explodes, there is a lot of interest beyond the initial mechanic and high replay value.
The design uses a macabre style that evoke Edward Gorey, or Tim Burton with a musical score to match. We found ourselves going back for more, more often than we originally expected. Insert coin.
Upgrade Soul isn’t a game but rather an immerse living comic book built on a custom mod on top of Unity. The devs told us that they are eventually hoping to license the framework to other comics and interactive story creators.
The effect is that when you move the tablet or touch the screen, the comic sort of breathes, like a decoupage loosely glued to a board, but the cumulative effect is startlingly effective – as if it reawakens your attention to the artwork and events on the page.
So while we can’t call Upgrade Soul one of the top “games” of the year, this IndieCade 2013 Finalist is certainly an inspired step forward into new territory, and a intense, creepy and emotional story to boot.
For these reasons, out of the thousands interactive entertainment titles released in 2013, it receives our Special Recognition award. First chapter is free, subsequent chapters can be purchased.
What were your favorite indie mobile games in 2013? Please let us know in the comments section below!