The best PC games of 2014

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PLATFORM

The retro appeal of a good platformer will never die. The miraculous thing is that we're still seeing innovation and variation on the classic sidescrolling formula. Rain World's beautiful, characterful animation and sinister environments sell its chase mechanics perfectly, while the likes of Apotheon present open world god-slaying on the surface of an old urn. Metroidvania fans are well-served, too, thanks to long-lived projects like Iconoclasts.

Iconoclasts


Developer: Konjak
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA
Link:Konjak’s site

Iconoclasts has been a long labour of love for its creator, Joakim Sandberg, and the time and effort that’s gone into development is paying dividends. It’s a beautiful sidescrolling blend of exploration, combat and character-driven narrative broadly similar in form to games like Cave Story. Alpha versions from 2011 and 2012 are available on the Konjak website if you want to get a preliminary feel for how it plays. You’ll find a fast and fluid blaster with some wonderful animation. Sandberg says those versions are already quite inferior to the current build he’s working on.

For more on the Iconoclasts, check out our seven hour hands-on session with last year’s build.

Rain World


Developer: Joar Jakobsson
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Rain World dev log

A chase game with a wonderful moody atmosphere and terrific animation. In Rain World, you’re a lithe white weasel in a world full of terrifying lizards. As you vault between poles and squeeze into tiny industrial crawlspaces, the lizards will relentlessly follow, jaws snapping hungrily. You can throw rocks to stall them, but they’re otherwise unkillable. It’s a promising and beautiful project already, and is set to head into Kickstarter early in 2014.

Apotheon


Developer: Alientrap
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Apotheon

This tense, fighty platformer looks as though it’s been pulled from the surface of an ancient urn. The methodical combat evokes Dark Souls, favourably, and there will be competitive multiplayer in addition to the single player adventure. That’s set in an open-world Mount Olympus, which you’re exploring as humanity’s last champion, on a quest to reach the top and punch out god.

Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon


Developer: Tiger Style
Publisher: In-house
Release date: Spring
Link:Tiger Style’s blog

The sequel to 2009 puzzle-platformer Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor puts you back in control of a nippy web-shooting arachnid. But there’s more to the game than spinning sticky traps to catch and consume insects then flinging yourself to the exit. This time the location is Blackbird Estate, a mysterious mansion built by a secret society. Like before, its slowly unravelling secrets form the background narrative while intuitive platforming contributes the action. Developers Tiger Style, behind the well-received Waking Mars and the alright-ish-we-guess Hornet Smash, say that Spider 2 will be "bigger, better, and richer than ever before.” “We hereby promise it is going to fulfill your every fantasy about what a Spider game possibly could be.” That’s ambition.

Cloudbuilt


Developer: Coilworks
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Cloudbuilt

Some fancy shaders add a sketchy look to Cloudbuilt, with the aid of a jetpack you free-run through abstract floating sky-mazes, blasting turrets and troublesome blocks as you wall-run and dash at super-speed through the level. It feels a bit like a 3D Sonic game, but there’s no one route through each environment, you’re supposed to improvise as you hurtle toward the goal, which is sometimes hundreds of feat above your starting position.

Shovel Knight


Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: In-house
Release date: September
Link:Tiger Style’s blog

It’s Ducktails meets Dark Souls in Shovel Knight, a hard-as-nails platformer where the titular lead kills enemies by using his shovel like a pogo stick. And, after some Mr Driller-style digging and Megaman-style platforming, at the end of each level sits a themed boss. Plague Knight? Mole Knight? Propeller Knight? All will meet their demise at the end of your gardening tool.

Super Retro Squad


Developer: Exploding Rabbit
Publisher: In house
Release date: TBA 2014
Link:Super Retro Squad kickstarter page

Super Retro Squad is an updated remake of the creator’s earlier creation, Super Mario Crossover, which mashed Mario, Samus, Link, Megaman and a bunch of other classic characters into a single retro love-fest. It quickly became evident that all of those characters belonged to other companies, and so no money could be made from Crossover’s popularity. A solution! Remake the whole thing with new music, levels, and characters. Well, not entirely new. They’re homages to famous heroes of old. Expect running, jumping and shooting of the sort you might have enjoyed decades ago.

Unepic


Developer: Francisco Téllez de Meneses
Publisher: ninagamers
Release Date: Early 2014
Link:Unepic site

For a game called Unepic, Unepic certainly sounds pretty...huge. It's a sidescrolling RPG/Metroidvania set in a giant castle, featuring quests, pets, items galore, and 200 rooms to fight your way through. You play as Daniel, a D&D player dragged into a fantasy world and pursued at every turn by an evil spirit. The single-player game is apparently “100% finished”; it's just the multiplayer element that needs work.

Owlboy


Developer: D-Pad Studio
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBC
Link:Owlboy site

It takes time to make a game as beautiful as Owlboy, the skybound platformer from D-Pad Studio. In development for a few years now, this bright and airy adventure takes place in a world whose floating islands have fractured and dispersed after a “great calamity”. You're Otus, one of the last remaining Owls, out on a quest to save your village from pirates – although I'll wager there's something more mysterious going on.

Catacomb Kids


Developer: FourbitFriday
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: August
Link:Catacomb Kids site

This procedurally generated platformer recently cleaned up (just) on Kickstarter, and if you're thinking “I've no room in my life for another one of those”, then the following sentence should make you think again. The hook here is the game's Magicka-style playfulness: in that game you could mix and match spells to dramatic effect, while Catacomb Kids will also let you craft in real time by chucking items around the environment. To make a potion, for example, you can throw the required ingredients into a pool of water before boiling the whole thing with heat. It's a little bit Spelunky and a little bit Ultima VII.

Our first encounter with Catacomb Kids was back in October. It was subterranean love at first sight.

Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore a Fedora


Developer: Glass Bottom games
Publisher: In-house
Release: Mid 2014
Link:Glass Bottom games website site

Hot Tin Roof tells the tale of Emma Jones, a two bit private eye in a low poly blocky world. Emma is accompanied by her trusty hat wearing cat Franky, and must keep the peace on these mean, metroidvania style streets as best she can. Also notable is Emma’s revolver, which acts much like Garrett’s bow in Thief: not so much a weapon for plugging bad guys and as a tool for problem solving. By collecting and loading different cartridges you can give yourself a knockback double jump or fire a grappling hook, so loading them in the right order lets you pull of fancy moves in quick succession.

La-Mulana 2: The 0th Body, The 9th Spirit


Developer: Takumi Naramura
Publisher: Nigoro
Release Date: TBA
Link:La-Mulana 2's teaser site

Takumi Naramura's inspirational La-Mulana received a Spelunky-style remake a couple of years ago, bringing the previously fairly obscure platformer to a much wider audience. This surprise sequel (the original came out way back in 2005) seemingly retains the new art style, giving players a new temple to explore and plunder, this time inspired by Norse mythology. Lemeza, the first game's Indy-esque hero, has hung up his whip and laptop for this sequel: you'll play as his daughter instead. Nothing else is known at this point, other than the fact that Narumara aims to make La-Mulana 2 a bit less confusing than the first.

Strider


Developer: Double Helix Games
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: TBA

Strider! Not a game about Aragorn (of Arathorn fame), but rather a platformer series concerning a futuristic ninja who enjoys running down slopes, performing feats of acrobatics and chopping people up. It's not a game that's historically been interested in PC, but this year everything changes. Well, everything Strider-related, at any rate. The confusingly named Strider is a remake of the original Strider; it seems appropriately fast, two-dimensional and reverent to the original game. We'll know for certain when Strider Hiryu hacks at our nostalgia glands later this year.

Strider was announced way back in July 2013. Thankfully, we were on hand to document its many trailers.

Freedom Planet


Developer: GalaxyTrail Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: Early 2014
Link:Freedom Planet site

Is your heart aching for the grand return of the 16-bit platformer? GalaxyTrail Games are rather banking on you saying yes – and if you've seen their hyperactive Freedom Planet in motion, you may well be joining the back of the queue. It's essentially Sonic meets Gunstar Heroes meets Mega Man – the team were wise not to draw influences from Bubsy, Zool and Cool Spot instead. Platformers these days have drifted more towards the slow-paced, abstract and puzzley, so a game that reverts all that in favour of speed, collectibles and over-the-top boss fights is a welcome, nostalgic sight indeed.

Ghost Song: A Journey of Hope


Developer: Matt White
Publisher: Matt White
Release Date: May
Link:The Ghost Song site

When you reference Super Metroid and Dark Souls in the same sentence, you have our attention. When do it for a game that looks like Ghost Song, you cause monocles to smash. Notice we said 'Metroid' rather than 'Metroidvania' –Matt White's game has clearly taken Nintendo's 16-bit classic as its prime inspiration, something that's weirdly refreshing after so many titles seemingly based on its derivatives instead. Super Metroid was truly the Aliens of the non-linear platform genre, and if everything goes to plan for this visually sumptuous, ambitious sidescrolling adventure, Ghost Song could well be its Prometheus. Only, y'know, hopefully not complete bum.

Project Maiden


Developer: Kevin B. Cole
Publisher: Kevin B. Cole
Release Date: July
Link:Kevin B. Cole's tumblr

The funny thing about games that endow their heroes with a raft of powers and gadgets is that said powers and gadgets tend to make them a wee bit overpowered. By the end of the game you're a walking medieval Superman, and the difficulty doesn't always scale to match. A couple of games have toyed with the idea of making you weaker by the game's end – notably Sword & Sworcery – but Project Maiden will go the whole hog by removing heroine Imogen's powers one by one across the course of the game. To put it another way, it's Zelda or Mega Man only in reverse – you'll start this sidescrolling platformer with a whole bunch of powers, before each stage robs you of a precious skill. The free game will culminate in a final boss fight in which you'll only be able to use your core abilities.

A.N.N.E


Developer: Gamesbymo
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:A.N.N.E site

A.N.N.E is a novel combination of side scrolling spaceship shoot ‘em up and pixel art platformer. You can switch between on foot platforming and ship flying at will, and often solve puzzles by using your ship to move objects to jump on, or clear a path for your ship while on foot.

Legend of Iya


Developer: Andrew Bado
Publisher: Andrew Bado
Release Date: November
Link:Bado's dev journal

Iya's finely honed finely honed pixel art can compete with the very best of the 32-bit era. But it's shaping up to be quite the game too, using the structure of the Metroidvania to tell the story of a girl transported to a fantastic land full of elephants, oddly. Iya has been in development, in one form or another, for years, and this latest iteration will hopefully drag the game over the finishing line – $77,241 of Kickstarter money will probably help.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero


Developer: WayForward
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: October
Link:Shantae site

The next in the queue of retro-esque indie games is Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, WayForward's upcoming platformer based on their unofficial belly dancing mascot. You might remember WayForward for their work on DuckTales Remastered, but Shantae is their baby – the series has previously appeared on Gameboy Color, DS and 3DS. The star of the series is a girl named, er, Shantae, a half-Genie with a powerful mop of purple hair and a penchant for jumping her way through lightly Metroid/Zelda-esque environments.

Lego The Hobbit


Developer: TT Games
Publisher: Warner Bros
Release Date: Spring
Link:TT's site

Following on from Lego Lord of the Rings – while at the same time, er, preceding it – the annoyingly named Lego The Hobbit concerns the tale of Bilbo and his gang of dwarven mates, as they attempt to reclaim their homeland from the maw of a greedy Sherlock dragon. Unlike Lego LOTR – which crammed three films into one bumper game – The Hobbit follows just two of Peter Jackson's recent movies, leaving next year's concluding part with a Lego parody all to itself. Considering The Hobbit's relative cinematic freshness, it can't really hope to compete with LOTR when it comes to iconic scenes, but it will hopefully play just as scrummily as TT's previous games. As long as they don't ape the films exactly and include an unbearable dwarves-hilariously-do-the-washing-up level, we should be fine. They're definitely going to do that, aren't they?

Have a read of our review of Lego LOTR for a good sign of what to expect from this se...er, prequel.

Escape Goat 2


Developer: Magical Time Bean
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Magical Time Bean website

Escape Goat was a novel puzzle platformer in which you played as a goat attempting push blocks around in order to rescue sheep. With the aid of a pet mouse (used to push buttons from far away) Escape Goat built some surprisingly smart and complicated puzzles from its simple toolset. The sequel simply promises more: more rooms, more gadgets, new secrets, new sheep.

Axiom Verge


Developer: Tom Happ
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:Axiom Verge site

Planting both feet on the retro jump-pad, Axiom Verge has hints of everything from Cave Story to Contra. A “metroidvania” style explorative platformer, you'll chart the labyrinthine passages of the game's world to collect items, power-ups and weapon upgrades. In addition to the well trodden genre staples, Axion Verge is also touting a strong soundtrack, a "gripping" sci-fi story, and a yet to be revealed secret feature.

1001 Spikes


Developer: Nicalis
Publisher: Nicalis
Release Date: Out now
Link:The home of Nicalis

Nicalis added one more spike for this expanded sequel to their Xbox Live Arcade game 1000 Spikes. In the process, they also included pretty much every indie platforming star going, from Knytt to Curly Brace from Cave Story, as unlockable characters. The game itself is a super-hard sidescroller featuring deadly spikes and traps at every turn. 1001 Spikes' hook is its two differing jumps, low and high, which lend the platforming an extra element of precision.