Rise & Shine

A game by Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team for PC and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
Rise & Shine is a shooter starring a young boy named Rise and his legendary talking pistol named… you guessed it: Shine. The adventure takes place on Gamearth, a planet built entirely around video games, with non-copyright-infringing caricatures of popular figures appearing throughout, including numerous Nintendo-owned characters and some representatives from the early arcade era. Gamearth has come under attack by Space Grunts from planet Nexgen who have begun wreaking destruction upon the city.


Rise is out at the local shopping mall when a pair of warriors tumbles through the ceiling, battling it out before his eyes. One is a Space Grunt, and the other is a stand-in for Link from The Legend of Zelda, except that he is wearing a blue tunic and wielding a giant handgun. The Hylian champion and the Space Grunt fire their weapons at the same time, with the grunt’s head being blown into a spray of gore, while the Hero of Time takes one in the gut. As he lay dying, not-Link hands the gun to Rise and explains that he needs to use it to save the world… and it also grants him infinite respawns.

Hollow Knight

A game by Team Cherry for PC, Mac, and Switch, originally released in 2017.
Hollow Knight is a metroidvania that offers a vast subterranean landscape to explore, filled with mysteries, powerful enemies, and deadly traps, presented with an atmospheric soundtrack and a dark but bold art style. The player is given very little information about the world as he sets out on his quest, armed with only a nail. Leaving the town of Dirtmouth, the he enters a deep well with paths branching off to the left and right, with a large area immediately accessible and no map to track his progress.


This lack of direction is core to the design of the game, which offers a deliberately-paced experience in a dangerous and unknown land. While there are several NPC’s to interact with and etched monoliths to uncover, these offer a narrow window into the game’s minimal underlying narrative, essentially leaving the player on his own in terms of where to go next.

The Best 2D Games of 2016

END OF YEAR AWARDS
We're back with a look at all of the best 2D games that came out in 2016! Get ready to grip your seats as a bearded man and a freshly-washed horse recount all of the finest 2D gaming achievements of the preceding year, condensed into a solid nugget of pure awardey goodness. We talk the best of each genre, the most innovative and ambitious, the most disappointing, and of course, our numero uno pick for Game of the Year.

If that sounds like the kind of excitement you just can't miss, be sure to check out the video below:


Four Sided Fantasy

A game by Ludo Land for PC, Mac and PS4, originally released in 2016.
Four Sided Fantasy is a puzzle platformer featuring a man and a woman looking for one another across a world linked by the four sides of the screen. The game explores screen warping as the characters move off one side of the screen to appear on the other, alternating between the male and female protagonists with each warp. The game is largely a concept piece, with chunks of the game world occasionally rising up into existence for the sheer sake of expressing a new aspect of the game’s primary mechanic, and occasionally altering the rules of this mechanic so that passing through screen transitions reverses gravity or shifts between light and dark planes.


The stylish game world is presented in simple textured shapes, often with subdued colors, offering a number of generally relaxing areas accompanied by a similarly soothing soundtrack. Beyond this, level layouts are simple, offering only straight lines to establish an entirely gameplay-centric environment. Players are able to run and jump, and lock the screen at any time to run off of one side and appear on the other, with the effect presented as a video camera recording.

Double Dragon IV

A game by Arc System Works for PC and PS4, originally released in 2017.
Occasionally, a new entry in a series requires a bit of explanation in terms of its numbering sequence. These days, creators seem content to create new projects and give them the exact same title as the originals, often demarking a reintroduction or reimagining of the series, with examples including Tomb Raider, DOOM, and Sonic the Hedgehog. Occasionally, a new entry into a series introduces problems of numbering, such as Super Contra IV being renamed to Contra III: The Alien Wars, officially excising Contra Force from the series canon. And sometimes no number is used, even when a project is part of an existing series, because creators don’t want consumers to feel as though they need to have experienced the original(s) in order to enjoy the new entry. For example the movie The Thing is a prequel to the original movie also called The Thing, and Superman Returns is a direct sequel to Superman II, ignoring any continuity arising from the third and fourth installments.


Double Dragon IV is the sequel to the NES series of Double Dragon games, which consists of Double Dragon, Double Dragon II: The Revenge, and Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones, and the new game ignores the unnumbered SNES sequel Super Double Dragon and its unrelated (and awful) follow-up, Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls. This also separates it from the original arcade series on which the NES games were based (sometimes only loosely), and the game narratively follows the events of Double Dragon II, after Billy and Jimmy defeat the Shadow Warriors.

A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV

A game by Square Enix for PS4 and Xbox One, originally released in 2016.
A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV is a short strategic beat ‘em up that was originally released as a preorder bonus for Final Fantasy XV but was made available as a free download a few months later. The game is something of a fairytale adventure based on events in King Regis’ life – narratively preceding the events in the main game – which are told to his son Noctis as a bedtime story in lieu of the stories he has heard so many times before. Chapters are bookended with the king sitting at the end of his son’s bed recounting his admittedly embellished tales while his son wonders which bits are true and which are fantasy… and even taking a pause to reference the storytelling delivery in The Princess Bride.


In all, the story isn’t meant to be taken seriously, and much of the in-game narration is set up to establish new enemy types or simply play out as offhand comments between father and son… some of which are painfully punful. And when Regis is killed during gameplay, the king comments that it’s not how the events actually unfolded (e.g., just seeing if his son was paying attention). The overall story tells of the appearance of mysterious crystals, one of which has caught the attention of a shadowy baddie who speaks without being seen until the game’s final encounter.

Bleed 2

A game by Bootdisk Revolution for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2017.
In the original Bleed, a young woman named Wryn has grown tired of the world’s old heroes. No new heroes have risen, and the old heroes have made no new contributions, content to simply bask in their former glory. And so she decides to kill them all and take over as the world’s one true hero. In Bleed 2, having completed her hero murdering spree, Wryn is hanging out playing video games when a new villainess – named Valentine – attacks the city. Wasting no time, Wryn grabs her dual pistols and katana, and dashes into the fray.


Players who enjoyed the original game will find much familiar territory here, with similar gameplay mechanics and a number of returning enemies and bosses, and even Wryn’s old rival. But everything in the sequel has been redesigned and tightened, giving the player a fresh take on the fast and frenetic gameplay, with plenty of new challenges on offer to put his skills to the test.

Nefarious

A game by StarBlade for PC, originally released in 2017.
Nefarious is an action game that puts you in the role of the villain rather than the hero. Instead of rescuing the princess, you are capturing princesses so that you can use them as an energy source to power a huge weapon that will allow you to take over the world. Instead of entering arenas and taking on bosses in mechanized contraptions, you are piloting said contraptions to smash the heroes of each land, each of whom is trying to put a stop to your, er… nefarious plans.


The villain of the tale is Crow, who comes from a long line of bird-named villains, and he narrates his own introduction as he blasts onto the scene on the back of a speeding truck with a pink-clad princess slung over his shoulder. Then he begins smashing his way through police cars, police robots, and the police themselves on the way back to his airship.

Salt and Sanctuary

A game by Ska Studios for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Vita, originally released in 2016.
Salt and Sanctuary is an action-RPG very much inspired by the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne, offering a high level of difficulty, a complex interconnected world that the player is free to explore, and a limited number of health-restoring safe areas called sanctuaries. Rather than souls, the player finds himself collecting salt, which is gained by defeating enemies and lost upon the player’s death. If the player is killed, he is returned to the nearest sanctuary – at the cost of 10% of his gold – and he can regain his lost salt by returning and slaying the enemy that killed him… or getting killed again and losing his precious salt forever.


At the start of the game, the player is able to customize the appearance of his character, altering the sex, hair color, eye color, and facial hair, as well as choosing an origin country for the character, which affects his or her skin tone and facial features. More importantly, the player is able to select a class, which greatly affects how the player will engage the game.

Straimium Immortaly

A game by Caiysware for PC, originally released in 2016.
Straimium Immortaly is a roguelike dungeon crawler starring the Straima Ninja (or one of six unlockable characters) who descends into a cube of procedurally generated interconnected rooms to blast enemies and defeat the Queeni Emperess (sic). Along the way, the jetpack-equipped explorer acquires numerous randomized support items, as well as more powerful weapons and special abilities to help him wreak destruction. However, these rewards are hard-fought and easily lost upon death, which results in the player being booted out of the Cubicus to try again from the start.


Before the game begins, the player determines whether he would like to enter a small, medium, or large Cubicus, along with selecting a playable character, hats, modifiers, and/or cheats, all of which must be unlocked before use. The player is able to move freely in any direction but can only fire to the left or right, and his aim locks in the direction he is facing until he lets off the FIRE button.

Owlboy

A game by D-Pad Studio for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Owlboy is a colorful action-adventure starring Otus, a member of an ancient but dwindling race of owl-people. Like many gaming adventurers, Otus is a mute protagonist, but not simply by merit of not having any dialogue; he is physically unable to speak. This prevents him from being able to fully express his thoughts beyond gestures and facial expressions, which results in no small amount of bullying from his peers.


Otus’ mentor is equally hard on him, criticizing his actions and expressing his disappointment at every turn. In the introductory story sequence, his teacher comments that Otus hasn’t been doing well in his studies and brings him to an area outside the village to train him to fly using his owl cloak… but he fares poorly in this as well. Then, his teacher commands him to carry water back to the village, which is suffering from a drought, and Otus accidentally drops the water jug, smashing it on the ground and earning further ire from his mentor.

Pixel Session Vol. 1

A game by Trasevol_Dog for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Pixel Session Vol. 1 is a collection of five arcade-style games developed using Pico-8, a tool developed specifically for the creation of chunky low-rez arcade titles. The software offers a hard limit of 16 colors, 8x8 sprites, 4-channel audio, and a resolution of 128x128 pixels, with a total “cartridge” size of 32 kilobytes. The game collection comes as a set of zipped files, with only the first game, Descent, unlocked from the start. Each of the other zipped files is password protected, and progress is made by getting a high rank in one game, which reveals the password to unlock the next (or you can cheat, if you’re naughty).


Each game focuses on a different set of mechanics, although the games are united by a similar visual style and (very short) looped chiptune tracks. Controls for each game are easy to learn, with a set of pictographs on the title screens indicating the directional controls and one or two action buttons. As with classic arcade machines, most games increase in difficulty quite quickly as they ramp up in speed, pump out more enemies, or ask more of the player’s dexterity, while the goal is to achieve the highest score possible. When killed, the player is given a rank and returned to the title screen, and his high score is saved.