This one technically came out in 2012, but didn’t reach more platforms till 2013. Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer with an incredibly simple visual style—you literally play as a rectangle, square and other shapes. But it’s the narration, heartfelt story, and beautiful music that make it worth experiencing. The longer I played, the more I wanted to barrel through the puzzles to hear the next bit of story, which turned out to be an endearing sort of sci-fi tale. The wonderful piano and synth soundtrack is on regular rotation in my writing music playlist.
This trippy first person puzzle game will break your brain. The stark visuals and Escher-like room layouts force you to look at typical puzzles in new ways. It’s a confusing, confounding, brilliant game, that makes you feel incredibly smart, and shockingly stupid in equal measure. If you liked Portal, Portal 2, or Quantum Conundrum, you’ll love Antichamber.
Gunpoint is a game with purpose. It introduces you to the mechanics, sets up a silly spy-for-hire story, and sets you about the business of breaking and entering. It wraps up in about three hours, not a minute longer than it needs to be, which is actually really refreshing. The witty, playful writing carries you between missions filled with hacking, super jumping and more than a bit of face punching. A surprisingly poignant and interesting ending made me want to immediately play the game over again.
Warframe is technically under $20 because it’s free to play. I haven’t put any money in it, but I’d say it’s well worth a twenty. Take the co-op, objective-based multiplayer of Mass Effect 3, and mix it with cyber ninjas and item crafting, and you get WarFrame. It’s nice to see a free-to-play game that puts you on the same side as your fellow players. It eliminates the pay-to-win issues that plague competitive free-to-play games. The game has seen quite a few updates over the year, and with its launch on the Playstation 4, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
15. Don’t Starve
Don’t Starve wears its objective in its name. Your goal is simply to stay alive in a harsh Tim Burton-esque world filled with randomly generated monsters, ghosts, and pig men. Like Minecraft, you can craft things from other things, while building and discovering ever-more elaborate recipes for items like brick walls, torches, lights, and mystic cursed relics. There’s a ton of stuff to discover and an endless amount of replay value, plus it runs in a browser (Chrome) if you want to play it on the go.
Yeah, I’m including a phone game, so what. Fiesta Run is even better than the previous game, Jungle Run, thanks to a better structure, cool power ups, and an extremely challenging end game. Rayman runs through stages on his own, it’s your job to jump, punch and glide around and through obstacles. It sounds simple, but requires precise timing and quick reflexes, especially if you want to collect all 100 lums in each level (necessary to unlock the final brutal stages). The absolutely gorgeous hand drawn visuals, the near perfect difficulty curve, and mobile-friendly level elevate Rayman Fiesta Run above “fun for a phone game” to just plain fun.
Technically another 2012 game, but it saw wider release on more platforms this year (it’s under Stealth Inc on the Playstation Network) with extra levels and features to boot. Stealth Bastard combines the precision platforming of a game like Super Meatboy, with the stealth and light puzzle solving of a 2D Metal Gear. This is a game with pixel art that doesn’t seem as if it’s trying to emulate an old pixel-based game, instead it draws inspiration from more modern games like Splinter Cell and (3D) Metal Gear, with moody lighting and clean lines.
This episodic adventure game has a quirky sense of humor and a beautiful minimalist art style. The choose-your-own-adventure writing is interesting, though having only played a bit of episode one, I’m not sure how much impact it has on the rest of the game. I’m always a sucker for a cohesive and consistent art style.
Monaco is one part heist game, one part stealth, and one part Pac-Man. You play as a group of thieves, each with a unique ability, as you navigate around guards, alarms and laser traps on your way to a huge payout. The top-down visuals are simple yet vividly expressive, and the way the darker parts of the map read like a blueprint is both clever and informative. Monaco is fun alone, but really shines with another two or three players. This isn’t a trial and error stealth game, things will go to hell, and it’s usually more fun than frustrating when they do.
20. Gone Home
Gone Home is a very personal tale with granular level of interaction rarely seen in games. Set in the early 90s, you play as a daughter who’s been away traveling and has come home to an empty house. As you search the house for clues—open drawers, peak under beds, sort through papers left on a desk—an interesting and heartfelt story unravels about your family. This game is capital I indie, and not for everyone, but if you’re up for an emotional, intriguing story, check it out.