Sediment by David Cribb
What a fascinating way to tell a story: by having you, the player, literally uncover it from giant blocks of stone. Sediment's environment is initially encased in blocks of white material, but as a floating observer you're able to chip away at this obfuscating masonry with a swift left-click. You think you're uncovering a house, but quickly you realise it's a prison, and eventually you notice that this monolithic structure is a story in and of itself: one you unravel piece by piece, piece by piece.
Tiny Towns by Bearish
The strategic building placement and population management of Sim City is condensed to a series in teeny grids in economical puzzle game Tiny Towns, which will test your brain from its very first level. You have to meet a series of conditions to fulfill your duty and progress to the next environment, which like its brethren consists of a bunch of tiles, arranged on an inflexible grid.
There's no chance of expansion here, so to satisfy those conditions you'll have to place buildings, and remove buildings, obsessively until your job is finally done. Objectives include placing a certain number of houses, power plants or rubbish dumps on the grid, but also dropping buildings nearby roads, and keeping your people happy. While these objectives might seem at odds with each other (residents don't like having to look at industrial buildings, for example), there's always a way to arrange things so that you fulfill every last one of your fastidious goals. (Via Warp Door.)
Legend of Xenia 3D by Baku
The next three games were created for this year's Low Rez Jam, which for the past couple of years has resulted in some excellent (if miniscule) freeware games. That continues this year, first with Legend of Xenia 3D, a three-dimensional (duh) spin-off/sequel to the enjoyable Xenia games, which evoke the top-down adventuring of ye olde Zelda games.
Xenia 3D swaps that viewpoint for a first-person one here, but it's no less involved, giving you a pleasantly rich world to explore, including several areas full of nasty slimes (and less nasty treasure), and a cheery town with people to shoot the breeze with. I would have enjoyed it more if it was in a slightly higher resolution, as it can be difficult to parse the environment, but this is perfectly playable, if a little hard on the eyes at times.
Meteorite by bauxite
That same point stands for the otherwise exceptional Meteorite: a first-person metroidvania that crams in all the usual combat and ability-hoarding, but in a tightly controlled world that's one of the best-designed environments I've found in this column for quite a while. It's a small facility, but one that folds back, that loops back on itself constantly, wringing every ounce of game it can from its blocky, blocky walls. Your enemies are heavily pixelated turrets (I think), but also a moderately puzzling environment where it's not always clear where you need to head to next. The platforming feels great, as does the assortment of guns. It would neat to play a HD (say, 320x200) version of this some day.
Pixel Islands by xrnz
In the previous two games, the ridiculously small 64x64 resolution doesn't feel essential to the experience, even if it's a limitation that probably helped the games get made in the first place. But the chunky pixels, blurring colours, and vague geometry of Pixel Islands are the beating heart of this strangely moving wandering game. A thing inherent in many low-res games but generally missing from realistic 3D worlds is a sense of the ineffable, of the unclear. The fewer pixels you have to work with, the greater the possibility that the things being drawn on screen will be interpreted differently by each player.
There's an element of interpretation, then, of the player's imagination to the gorgeous Pixel Islands, which drops you into a series of vague and ethereal landscapes, their colours shifting about woozily, the edges of objects blurring together as you walk around. It's like stepping into a painting —and, when you've had enough of one, seek out the roaming balls of light that will transport you, via a beautiful transition effect, to another island.