My Top 20 from the Independent Games Festival 2016 (Part 1/4)

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Here it finally is! After being delayed a few months thanks to work, poor health and a vacation, I’m finally ready to run down my Top Twenty games from this year’s Independent Games Festival. For those just now stumbling onto GameLuv, let me fill you in.

I’ve long appreciated that the IGF posts every one of the hundreds of entrants it receives every year. It’s a great place to see what hot new indie games are about to blow up or to simply find inventive new games to check out. In 2012 I finally stuck it through and examined every single entrant resulting in a massive post of my top twenty picks. Somehow I’ve managed to repeat the process every year since.

Why twenty? Out of 500+ entrants 20 is a comparatively tiny number and with only a trailer or unpolished demo to go by it’s impossible to list these in ranked order of excellence. Nevertheless, each of these twenty games has something special to offer, be it gameplay, setting or style. This year saw another record-breaking number of entrants, 775 to be exact, and from that I first narrowed it to 99 picks before hacking and slashing all the way down to twenty. So let’s go!

I’m going to write a little bit more about each game than I have in the past so I’m breaking it down to five games per post over four days. So in no finer order than alphabetical, here are the first five games in My Top Twenty of the Independent Games Festival 2016.

AEROBAT by Thew
Yes, it’s reductive and not all that accurate but I can’t help wanting to call Aerobat this year’s Lutrausers. It’s only because they both have outlandishly cool styles and innovate on traditional shmup action. In Aerobat your ship can either propel itself through the air or fire weapons, but not both at the same time.

Using only the mouse you’ll build up speed, blast high into the sky and then weave through swarms of enemies, picking them off as you freefall dangerously close to death. I’m probably never going to be good at the game but it’s worth watching just to gawp at the visuals. Everything moves ultra fast and smooth with dazzling parallax effects and mesmerizing, billowing laser blasts.

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Amazing Discoveries In Outer Space by Cosmic Picnic
You may remember this one from my Good Ol’ Games post just a few days ago. When A.D.I.O.S. first appeared in the IGF it was little more than a peculiar tech demo but now in full release on PlayStation 4 there’s a promising interstellar game to see. Randomly generated 2D solar systems full of planets, stars and asteroids sit between you and your distant home.

While there’s no combat involved there’s plenty of peril. It’s been likened to roguelikes Spelunky and FTL where snap decisions lead to satisfying victory or sudden, utter defeat. Managing fuel and trajectories will get you from planet to planet to keep your ship gassed up with natural resources as you hunt for star data that eventually points the way home. It looks simple but it’s an immensely complex simulation of stellar forces that seems both fun and terrifying to explore.

Astroneer by System Era Softworks
Serving as a 3D counterpart to A.D.I.O.S. on this list, Astroneer is the next most mysterious and promising space exploration/peril simulator. For starters it has a wonderful art style with flat shaded, faceted polygons and a wonderfully vivid color palette. Animation is quite the sight as well — a rarity for a survival game — with a bounding exuberance in every step, low gravity leap and heart-clenching death scene.

On top of that is the promising open-ended gameplay where you mine and terraform diverse planets, build facilities to survive and develop new technology and even play with others. All this from a super small team of only four developers. My only fear is that it will launch too close to the similarly massive space explor-athon, No Man’s Sky. Given enough time, though,  I’ll always come back to sci-fi space peril!

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Block’hood by Jose Sanchez, Gentaro Makinoda
Picture a thriving town in SimCity and click to zoom in 3 or 4 times on a city block. This is the scale at which Block’hood operates but it’s no less demanding and interconnected than a sprawling metropolis. That’s because each block you place has specific needs in order to produce a unique resource. Trees need water to generate oxygen; things only get more complex as you move up the economic and ecologic hierarchy.

The goal is to build a beautiful neighborhood that’s also sustainable. The risk is decay and obsolescence which jeopardize neighboring blocks unless they’re removed or augmented. Things are so interconnected that the main mode of the game is the freeform Sandbox where everything is unlocked straight away. As your neighborhood grows in complexity so does the challenge and even without a goal or time limit there’s plenty to focus on.

It doesn’t hurt that the flat shaded cubes lock together to create a sharp, modern visual style. From a flat white plane you’ll create cozy “green” houses on a hillside or towering vertical cities. It’s the visual look of LEGO blocks designed by IKEA with just a subtle touch of animation as wind turbines turn and water slowly undulates.

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C-Wars by Onipunks Studio
This one has been kicking around in the IGF so long that it’s changed almost completely. It was also originally in the works for Java-based cellphones! Thankfully, that old game of Crystalides is much more accessible on modern PCs as C-Wars.

Now described as a “pixel action horror game with strategy, rogue-like flavor” C-Wars feels more like a run through FTL than simply a series of turn-based battles laid out in linear fashion. Each run doles out a random set of characters, stories and missions and challenges you to make the tough calls on when to fight, what gear to go after and more.

C-Wars is now in Early Access release on Steam where it continues to change to the general confusion of those interested in the game. Previous demos were much more feature-packed but the latest build is apparently more reserved. Personally, I loved what I saw in Crystalides more but I’m still invested in seeing where C-Wars goes. It hasn’t been abandoned by any means but it may eventually evolve into a game I’m less excited to finally play.


Check back tomorrow for another post featuring five more extremely awesome games from the Independent Games Festival 2016! Or use these links to jump straight to Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. Don’t miss out on even more great games from the IGF by reading my posts leading up to the Top Twenty.

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