Plasma Puncher

A game by Tomatotrap for PC, originally released in 2017.
In Plasma Puncher, you take on the role of a white blood cell who is attempting to defend his host’s bloodstream from a gigantic invading germ and an onslaught of pesky microorganisms that mean him harm. The white blood cell runs around the outside of the germ, smashing baddies with his fists, grabbing a variety of powerups, and attempting to build up enough strength to take down the big bad germ as well. A shop system allows the player to choose his upgrades to increase his defense and mobility and add new moves to his fighting repertoire.


The game is a single-plane brawler that allows the player to jump and move to the left or right, as well as perform a dash maneuver that lets the player lunge forward a bit, and this move can be used to get behind enemies. Unlike most beat ‘em ups, the game doesn’t take place in the traditional metropolitan locales, which typically include slums, warehouses, subway stations, and the like. Instead, the entire battle is fought on the back of a large multi-eyed germ called the Mother-Microbe – and the eyes look at you as you run around – with enemies hovering down from the skies or popping into existence from pustules that form on the microbe's exterior.

Bye-Bye Boxboy

A game by HAL Laboratory for 3DS, originally released in 2017.
Qbby and pals have returned for one more adventure in the Boxboy universe, this time entitled Bye-Bye Boxboy. This is the third game in the series, following Boxboy and Boxboxboy, each of which features Qbby using his box-extending powers to create shapes that allow him to navigate levels and solve environmental puzzles. As before, the visual design is quite minimal, with simple black and white backgrounds, boxy environments, and Qbby himself appearing as a box with legs. The story is also minimal, tasking Qbby to save a series of planets, but a new element is added in the form of Qbabies that introduce several new block types that significantly impact gameplay.


As in the previous games, Qbby has a low 1x jump and the ability to extend boxes outward from his body to create platforms, shields, and hooks, and these tools allow him to cross gaps, avoid being killed by electrical beams, and pull himself up to higher ledges. The length of these box chains is dictated by a counter that allows for shapes between three and eight blocks in length, but most levels limit this number to four or five blocks. In this regard, the game is more like the original Boxboy, which offered similar puzzle designs and restrictions, rather than Boxboxboy, which allowed players to create two smaller stacks of blocks.

Blaster Master Zero

A game by Inti Creates for Switch and 3DS, originally released in 2017.
The original Blaster Master is something of a cult classic, standing out as a colorful metroidvania with unique mechanics that allow players to traverse the environment on foot or in a powerful tank called SOFIA 3rd. Players can freely enter and exit the tank, but attempting to move around the overworld on foot is dangerous, as enemies tower over the hero, and a single misstep can spell instant death (with limited lives and continues). However, players must leave the safety of the tank to move into underworld areas where they explore dungeons, shooting enemies, fighting bosses, and collecting upgrades for SOFIA. These upgrades allow the tank to fire more powerful projectiles, hover in the air, move underwater, and even climb walls, thus opening up new routes for exploration across a large world in a game that offers no map.


The game features a downright laughable story with a kid named Jason who has a pet frog named Fred. One day, Fred hops out of his terrarium and runs into the back yard, which just so happens to have a large crate containing radioactive material (as most houses do). Fred touches this crate and begins to grow to an enormous size before falling down a hole that leads to a labyrinthine underground tunnel system. Giving chase, Jason drops down the hole as well, and discovers a conveniently placed titanium tank and formfitting environment suit waiting for him at the bottom. He sets off on his adventure to find Fred, eventually killing a couple of giant frog creatures with no explanation as to whether Jason has blasted his pet froggie into a pile of oversize amphibian guts.

Flinthook

A game by Tribute Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
In Flinthook, you take on the role of the titular character as he raids and plunders pirate airships, absconding with stacks of treasure. This is an actioner built upon a roguelike structure with procedurally arranged levels, variants that impact the environment and enemies, loads of random elements, and whole lot of gameplay to repeat upon death. Fortunately, currency and XP systems allow players to unlock new abilities and purchase upgrades that carry over from one session to the next.


Flinthook flies around the cosmos, selects pirate ships to attack, and then fires a huge anchor into them. Each mission allows the player to select from one of three ships, with the difficulty of each displayed, along with any variant conditions, such as extra tough enemies, lots of branching paths, a broken map, the presence of shops, low gravity, fog, enemy swarms, etc. These variations can have a major impact on how the player interacts with the environment; for instance, low gravity means that the player needs to pay extra attention to hazards on the ceiling and needs to react quickly upon being flung into a new room.

Slime-san

A game by Fabraz for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released in 2017.
In Slime-san, you take on the role of a simple green slime who is swallowed up by a giant worm while he is wandering through the forest. Once within the worm’s gullet, Slime-san jumps, dashes, and slimes his way through hundreds of 5-color pixelated platforming environments that are set in different parts of the worm’s long body. Starting at the worm’s hind end and working his way forward, Slime-san must outrun walls of constantly-rising stomach acid as he fights to find a way out.


The game’s premise is a bit odd – although it is certainly in line with some of the strange stories of the 8- and 16-bit days – which lends itself to some absurd situations. For instance, the slime encounters numerous other characters within the worm who have been similarly swallowed up, as well as an entire town located within the worm’s intestines. And, while many classic games feature boss fights against oversized body parts, few see the player attempting to take down a giant fully-engorged worm penis.

Rain World

A game by Videocult for PC and PS4, originally released in 2017.
Rain World is an open world action adventure starring a little creature known as a slugcat. One day, a family of slugcats is wandering through the forest, and they stop occasionally to grab some bat-like creatures out of the sky and munch on them to fill their tummies. But when the rain comes, the family scrambles to seek shelter, and one young slugcat falls and becomes separated from the rest. Alone in a hostile and unforgiving world, the slugcat must traverse the landscape, hunting for food and avoiding being eaten himself, as he tries to find his family once more.


The game’s design focuses strongly on its atmosphere and ecosystem. The world is dark and filled with mysterious architecture and ancient machinery, and danger lurks around every corner. The soft (and possibly tasty) little slugcat occupies the lower end of the food chain, and must therefore be constantly wary of predators, most of which can kill him in a matter of seconds. As such, players must take advantage of the slugcat’s small size to slink around and hide, and remain watchful of predators’ behaviors to determine when it is best to sneak past.

Alwa’s Awakening

A game by Elden Pixels for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2017.
Alwa’s Awakening is a grand metroidvania adventure inspired by the classics of the NES era. The game stars Zoe, a girl summoned from another world to help the people of Alwa wrest themselves from the grip of an evil being known as Vicar. Vicar and his agents have enslaved the people and plunged the land into an age of despair that has lasted for hundreds of years. Only Zoe, equipped with a magical staff, can brave the dungeons, fight back this evil, and restore peace.


Alwa’s Awakening fully embraces its NES inspirations with a chiptune soundtrack, limited color palette, low sprite count, a small number of game mechanics that are slowly permuted upon, a steady growth in difficulty, and a general lack of handholding throughout the experience. The player has access to a map that outlines the basic structure of the game world - along with the locations of Vicar’s four agents - and there are a handful of NPC’s that offer general guidance, but overall, the player is left on his own to push to the edges of the known world, plunge into uncharted depths to overcome challenges and acquire powerups, and ultimately bring an end to Vicar’s reign.

River City Ransom: Underground

A game by Conatus Creative for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2017.
Technos brawlers have seen a resurgence lately, with the release of River City: Tokyo Rumble and Double Dragon IV in 2016, both presented in the graphical style of the NES games upon which they were based. River City Ransom: Underground, on the other hand, takes a step forward in the technology department with a game that retains a chunky retro style but also offers more detailed artwork, brighter colors, increased onscreen enemy counts, and a dazzling variety of character sprite animations.


It’s worth noting that this game arrived on the market shortly after Natsume released River City: Tokyo Rumble in the US (originally released in Japan in 2013). Both games are proper entries in the Kunio-kun series, which dates back more than 30 years. While the game and its spinoffs were quite popular in Japan, few of these games ever arrived in the US, with Renegade, River City Ransom, and Super Dodge Ball standing as the notable exceptions.

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, or cheat and scroll down for a full list of the winners:





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Best Updated Re-Release
Winner: Assault Suit Leynos
Honorable Mention: Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Most Innovative
Winner: Four Sided Fantasy

Best Old-School Throwback
Winner: Saving Princess

Best Fire
Winner: Butcher
Honorable Mention: RIVE

Best Weirdest
Winner: Until I Have You

The "It's About Damn Time!" Award
Winner: Owlboy

Most Ambitious
Winner: Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan

Best Use of Brutal Difficulty
Winner: Hyper Light Drifter
Honorable Mention: Salt and Sanctuary
Honorable Mention: Skorpulac

Best Game Starring an Animal
Winner: Seasons After Fall

Best Game Starring a Ninja
Winner: Salmon Ninja

Best Puzzler or Puzzle Platformer
Winner: Seasons After Fall
Honorable Mention: Four Sided Fantasy

Best Platformer
Winner: Blitz Breaker
Honorable Mention: Porter / Jump Porter

Best Action-Adventure or Action-RPG
Winner: Owlboy
Honorable Mention: Hyper Light Drifter
Honorable Mention: Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight
Honorable Mention: Salt and Sanctuary
Honorable Mention: Saving Princess

Best Action Game
Winner: RunGunJumpGun

Biggest Disappointment
Loser: Slain

Best 2D Game of 2016
Winner: Owlboy

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.