Ten Downloadable Games You May Have Missed In 2012

by Matt Miller on Jan 29, 2013 at 01:05 PM

Last year saw a host of high-profile downloadable titles, but some amazing games may have slipped past your notice.

If we’ve been doing our job, hopefully you already know about many of the best downloadable games that came out last year, including The Walking Dead, Journey, and Mark of the Ninja. However, especially with the rush of big retail games that came out in the latter third of the year, we bet you may have missed out on some other awesome DLGs. We’ve gathered some of our favorites that we think deserve some more exposure, along with links to our reviews if you want to learn more. 

Developer: Amanita Design
Format: PC, Mac

The makers of Machinarium (which you should also play) bring us this whimsical adventure game which stars five friends on a quest to thwart evil. It just so happens that all five friends are strange little botanical creatures. Mr. Twig, Mrs. Mushroom, and the rest of the gang must get a precious seed planted before the dark spider-like creatures consume it. The point-and-click adventure that ensues is filled with strange locales, funny side characters, and great puzzles. Sometimes quiet and thoughtful, and sometimes funny and weird, Botanicula is a treat from beginning to end. Read our review

Developer: Right Square Bracket Left Square Bracket Games
Format: PS3

Dyad is one of those games that is hard to describe until you try it for yourself. Part racing game, part shooter, and part psychedelic drug trip, the game defies easy classification. You zip down a multi-colored corridor filled with obstacles, and try to get moving at faster and faster speeds as you blast away at the objects in your way. Eventually, the pumping trance music combines with the warp-speed colors to elicit a Zen-like state in players. Strange, heart-pumping, and unique from any other game on the market, Dyad must be played to fully grasp. Read our review 

FTL: Faster Than Light
Developer: Subset Games
Format: PC

Already nominated for the IGF’s 2013 Seumas McNally Grand Prize, FTL is described by its creators at Subset Games as “a spaceship simulation real-time roguelike-like.” Players take control of an interplanetary starship on a desperate mission for the Federation. As you traverse the galaxy, you investigate nebulas, teleport down to unknown planets, and upgrade your ship. You also engage in one battle after another against an increasingly difficult set of enemy ships, during which you shift power to your shields, vent oxygen into space to put out fires, and repel boarding parties. It’s the classic sci-fi space fantasy brought to life, in a simple but unflinchingly challenging way. Read our review

[Next up: Return to a karate classic, and the joy of burning things in a fireplace]

Developer: Liquid Entertainment
Format: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Older gamers may have fond memories of the original Karateka, an early classic that had the hero climbing to the mountain fortress to save his beloved. That same arc is evident in the remake produced by series creator Jordan Mechner and the team at Liquid Entertainment. The beautifully animated game is as simple as can be, with a timing-based battle mechanic that has your karate master dodging and kicking his way to victory. The big twist comes when you die – a new protagonist with a different skill set arrives on the scene, and thereby changes the ending of the game, depending on how well you’ve done. The breathtaking musical score and simple mechanics recall the heyday of arcade-style games in the ‘80s. Read our review

Developer: Nigoro
Format: Wii, PC

You are an archaeologist, and you must explore ancient ruins and track down artifacts. The clear inspiration from Indiana Jones carries La-Mulana a long way, but its roots in the traditions of exploration games like Metroid make it worth the hefty time investment it will take to complete. Looking like a game that was lifted wholesale out of the SNES era, La-Mulana is a sprawling experience that can keep a player delving into hidden passages for hours and hours. Filled with challenging platforming and plenty of gear upgrades, La-Mulana scratches an itch for a game style that many of us have loved for decades. Read our review

Little Inferno
Developer: Tomorrow Corporation
Format: Wii U, PC

Another nominee for this year’s IGF Seumas McNally Grand Prize, Little Inferno is one of a few Wii U titles in the early life of the console that we’d highlight as not-to-be-missed. The unusual premise of the game won’t do much to sell it; you throw objects into a fireplace, and watch as they catch on fire and slowly go up in smoke. Simple puzzle elements show up as well, as you seek to find interesting item combinations. However, the game’s potent storytelling and poignant ending is what makes the game worth your time, but we won’t spoil what makes those elements special by telling you here. Read our review

[Next up: The best bullet hell game of 2012, and a brand new fighting game franchise]

Sine Mora
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Format: PS3, Xbox 360, Vita, PC

Fans of shoot ‘em up flight shooters should absolutely not miss out on Sine Mora. Sine Mora offers a beautiful backdrop of colorful backgrounds and spinning bullets, all thoroughly soaked in a cool steampunk art style. However, it’s the variation on traditional shooter mechanics that makes the game really fun. Instead of a traditional life meter, you’re racing against a timer that takes a hit every time you take damage, and gets a bonus every time you defeat an enemy. A slowdown mechanic also makes the game more manageable for players who haven’t spent their childhoods learning how to tackle this challenge genre. Read our review

Developer: Reverge Labs
Format: PS3, Xbox 360

It’s rare that a new high-quality fighting game shows up on the scene, and rarer still that the game in question is one that we’d recommend to a wide group of gamers, allowing for tournament level play or casual button mashing with equal levels of enjoyment. However, Skullgirls nails the formula with tight controls, a great selection of characters, and a gorgeous visual aesthetic, even if it’s a little heavy on the sexy cartoon girl vibe. Players of Street Fighter or Darkstalkers shouldn’t miss out on this downloadable game, which is easily the equal of most recent entries in the genre, at a fraction of the cost. Read our review

Developer: Smudged Cat Games
Format: PC, Xbox 360

We don’t blame you if you haven’t heard of Gateways; the mind-bending 2D puzzle game was released in September as an Xbox Live Indie Game, and received very little attention. Players who take the time to seek it out won’t be disappointed, however, as it deftly mixes the space-jumping puzzles of Portal with a sprawling, Metroid-style map. The early puzzles don’t require too much thinking, but the gameplay gets a lot more challenging when you start acquiring different portal guns, giving you the ability to tweak gravity, time, and even the size of your character to your will. The final few puzzles combine all of your abilities, providing some of the trickiest challenges we’ve seen in a video game. Puzzle fans won’t want to miss this one. Read our review

The Unfinished Swan
Developer: Giant Sparrow
Format: PS3

Gamers looking for a more contemplative and visually stunning title shouldn’t miss out on The Unfinished Swan, which challenges players to paint in the world as they progress, and slowly uncover a mystery about the incomplete painting of a swan. As the game continues, the game grows moderately more complicated, as you do things like use water to make plants grow, and other variations on the formula. Nonetheless, The Unfinished Swan always remains uncomplicated and beautiful, and experiencing the game as an interactive piece of art is the biggest reason to explore its first-person story. Read our review


What downloadable games from last year would you recommend that didn’t get enough attention? Share your thoughts in the comments below.