My Top 20 from the Independent Games Festival 2013 begins

It’s that time of year again: time to go over the hundreds of IGF entrants and whittle it down to just twenty that I’m particularly excited about. This year there were 586 entries — up just 19 games from 2012 — but unlike years past the majority of my favorites have already been released. Be it a full price release or a frequently updated “beta” many of these games are very much known quantities. Let’s get those out of the way right now because I think the more mysterious, lesser known, underground stuff is what’s so great about the IGF.

Cart Life by Richard Hofmeier
Once Giant Bomb digs into a game you know it’s hit a certain level of awareness. That’s where I’ve seen most of Cart Life which, at one time, sounded like an interesting literal take on a food-based time management game. Turns out it’s a literal take on reality and the tales of the downtrodden “every man” are a bigger part of this stark looking adventure game than actually running a food cart.

Don’t Starve by Klei Entertainment
A roguelike survival game that is dead set on killing you. You really have to play it safe here or risk starving or being attacked but so many of the rules have to be discovered by taking a chance. The tension is amazing for a game that looks like a childhood Tim Burton doodle. Klei continue to evolve what the game is but I’ve already put a few dozen hours into it and can’t wait to dive back into a more finalized adventure.

Dust: An Elysian Tail by Dean Dodrill
Turns out I was able to get past the “furry” look of Dust once a for-real, heartbreaking story started to take shape. It looks fantastic, has a dazzling (if a little shallow) combat system and it’s hard to not love the all-the-work-of-one-man story of its creation.

FTL: Faster Than Light by Subset Games
Of all the games I played in 2012 FTL was the most effective, the most terrifying and satisfying. Despite its tiny, minimal graphics it often left me shaking as resources are slim, an encounter can turn at a second’s notice, and much of your success is dependent on your ability to manage a dozen functions at once.

Hotline Miami by Dennaton Games
A glorious, punishing top-down trip that’s as satisfying to play as it is disturbing to be a part of. Its neon-soaked, psychotic 80’s adventure is perfectly matched with one of my favorite soundtracks of 2012.

Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer
I hate adventure games so it’s great that this one boils most of the genre tropes down to simple questions and items. It’s all about the atmosphere and exploration which feels like a dreamy, somehow familiar limbo between life and death.

You should definitely take a few days to check out some of these games because on Wednesday we dive off the deep end of the IGF and into the wonderful underworld of its indie genius.

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