2004 Top 10 Games of the Year
For all those who think that the best games that
came out this year were all sequels Game Tunnel presents a different look at the
best of 2004. Game Tunnel has put together its list of the top 10 indie games
this year, and it is sure to have a few gems that you probably haven't even
While mainstream gaming has seemingly given up on
innovation and embraced instead rehashing old ideas over and over again until
you can barely tell the titles apart, Indie gaming has presented another fine
crop of games that will give you multiple gaming experiences that you won't find
anywhere else in addition to taking some older concepts to new heights. With an
increasing number of professional developers who have responded to the
mainstreams strangling advances on innovation by creating Indie games by going
it alone the quality of the Indie games released this year has improved greatly.
Without further ado, I give you the Top 10 Indie
Games of 2004:
Number 10 - I of the Enemy
||Players: 1-8 (LAN)
|Release: November 2004
Requirements: Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP, 400MHz Pentium II , 128 MB of
RAM, DirectX 8+
I of the
Enemy is a Real Time Strategy game that presents many different mission types,
such as delaying convoys and other specific objectives. Players use some
persistent units, who gain experience and ability over time, which leads to a
portion of your team having a little bit of familiarity as you move on through
the many levels broken into 3 chapters in the game. In
addition LAN play is available allowing 8 players to play together and against
each other in fantastic futuristic Sci-Fi battles.
Really though, the
first thing you'll notice when you play Enemy Technology's "I of the Enemy" or
even got to their website is the absolutely amazing quality of the audio.
The voice work in the game and music are wonderfully done. The first
time I put this game in, I heard from the other side of the room: "is that one
of your indie games?" The person, who has watched hundreds of indie games
come through my computer in the last few years, was visibly shocked by what they
were hearing, and with good reason. The sound in I of the Enemy is crystal
clear and very professionally done.
This comes out probably most forcefully with the
main character of the game, Verkkal, who is voiced by Ian McNeice, perhaps best
known by Sci-Fi fans for his role as
Baron Harkonnen in Dune. With very strong voice acting on the game that
rivals anything that you'll find in mainstream gaming, and often beats it, I of
the Enemy was a strong contender for the sound award before you even get to the
soundtracks which are excellent.
the most intriguing portion of the game though is its rich storyline that is
full of twists that will leave players not knowing which way is up before they
reach the end of it. The added cinematics, while not up to mainstream
standards, go a long way in helping players understand the struggle between the
races in the game and will eventually introduce a twist that is sure to make
every gamer go "oh my gosh" when they realize what is happening.
The graphics in the game are closer to the old
Command & Conquer games than newer games such as Warcraft III or World Fables,
and while that may keep some people from checking out the game it doesn't hinder
the quality of the game overall.
of the Enemy is a game that more closely resembles mainstream games than most
Indie games do, but the quality of the story and stick to-it-ness of the
developers in bringing out the game and vision that they had is something that
every Indie gamer will recognize as they play through this very well constructed
Number 9 - Revolved
Alter Ego Studios
|Release: December 2004
Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2K/XP, 733 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, DirectX 3.0+
It's hard to describe exactly what it is that
makes Revolved work. What probably makes the game the most enjoyable is
the depth of the game play that is involved.
Puzzle games come along in a nearly non-stop barrage of mostly mindless rehashes
of previous concepts. While some of them, such as PopCap's Zuma Deluxe,
make their money by improving those old concepts, there have been precious few
concepts to come along that have been as good as Revolved. There are only
two other puzzle games that have been made that have as addictive game play
qualities as are found in Revolved. Those two games are Bejeweled and
Tetris, but Revolved is better than either of those titles.
well and quickly are both required to advance very far in Revolved. The basic games
revolves around creating a square in which all four sides have the same color
fuse. You can move any of the fuse squares on the board either clockwise or
counterclockwise by just clicking on them with the left or right button on your
mouse. The game really gets going as you become more aware of what
is possible in the game.
The open-ended play allows players to do a lot
of things, and gamers will find that each time they play the game they discover
new ways to manipulate the pieces on the screen and claim victory over the fuses.
personally dreamed about this game for days on
end after first playing it, completing fuse boxes over and over in my head.
While that may be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look
at it, one thing isn't in doubt, this game is one of the most
addictive puzzle games you will ever play and it has sucked away a lot of the
time that was supposed to be spent writing these awards. For the
addictiveness that Revolved shows helped it win the 2004 Puzzle Game of the Year Award
and it didn't stop there, having now placed as one of the best 10 games of the
Number 8 - Smugglers 3
Niels Bauer Games
|Release: January 2004
Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Smugglers 3 is one of the more enjoyable surprises that came out this year. The
game is a treat for sci-fi fans who are looking for more than action in their
games. In Smugglers 3, you are a pilot in a interstellar conflict. However,
instead of spending your time in non-stop battle action sequences, Smugglers 3
is based more on text.
3 places you in one of four factions. Each of the factions has different
objectives and weapons. Playing through the game, one of your main goals is to
trade goods with the various planets that you visit. This will help you to build
up your funds so that you can buy better weapons and a better ship. In addition
you will undertake missions that will help to increase your standing within your
faction and win you medals of honor.
There are in fact action battles in the game, however, the battles consist of
the player and an enemy in a turn based conflict that shows both ships, a
proximity meter and the special weapons that each have available. These battles
work very well by putting the player in control of all the important factors of
the battle without over-involving players with minute details.
3 scores big points for providing such a rich storyline despite a few grammar
problems that show up in the text. The story draws players in with constant
updates as to where their faction lies in regards to the conflict in addition to
encounters with other star vessels that further involve players and create a
feeling of really being engaged in the conflict. The game offers amazing depth
and development as players continue on, hiring crew and accepting ever more
perilous and complicated missions throughout multiple star systems.
The graphics in the game are done quite well and do a wonderful job of keeping
players focus on the systems, weapons, and peoples in the game. Each of the
characters and screens is very well-rendered, and looks much better on the
screen than one might expect by looking at the screenshots. The sound in the
game is rather scant, but what is available is exceptionally well done. It helps
provide a fantastic backdrop for the game that further sucks gamers into the
Smugglers 3 provides a different angle on the space sim, and one that works
extremely well. Gamers looking for an interstellar challenge that will keep them
in another world for quite some time would do themselves a favor by checking
this game out.
Number 7 - Global Defense Network
|Release: July 2004
Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, DirectX 8.1+, 700Mhz
a big genre to begin with, quality gallery shooters are a rarity in the
independent gaming world and all but completely gone from the mainstream.
However, seemingly out of the blue Global Defense Network appeared this year,
possessing a unique visual and audio aesthetic in addition to quality
production values. Forget all the derivative “army” or “duck hunt” style
shooters you have seen in the past, Global Defense Network is not only fun to
play but also blurs the line between game and interactive art.
Global Defense Network alternates your gameplay between beautifully conceived
simulator levels and occasional real world missions. The majority of your time
will be spent in “simulation” mode where you select training levels to improve
your skills and earn credits that allow you to upgrade your weaponry.
Players begin the game armed with a lightning gun that is of questionable
value and you will want to upgrade it as soon as possible. Players can either
upgrade the strength or recharge times of the standard weapon or change to a
different style of gun (steel ball, machine gun, missile launcher or
shell-shot cannon). This customization will help allows players to achieve
higher scores and earn more credits.
The gameplay is standard for shooting gallery games in that your score is
based on the number of objects hit, with bonuses provided for accuracy, quick
responses and clearing an entire wave flawlessly. Using the mouse to aim,
players fire their weapon with the left button. The game also lets players
purchase secondary fire modes, which are controlled with the right button. The
simulator levels are all timed to high-quality, original techno themes and at
times it’s hard not to just sit back and watch as the whole level plays out
like a surreal music video.
while playing, players are called upon to take a mission in the real world to
clear areas of “alien infection” and track down and destroy the source.
The graphics in Global Defense Network are abstract and low in detail with
most objects consisting of combinations of colored spheres, cylinders and
boxes in a very basic environment. At the same time the polish and smoothness
of the objects mostly makes up for what they lack in detail.
While the graphics are good, the real star of Global Defense Network is the
music, which although being “techno” is far from the generic beats typical of
most shooters. These are highly atmospheric and emotive, professionally
composed pieces that complement the gameplay beautifully. Anyone who turns off
the music while Global Defense Network is doing themselves a disservice as the
music is the main component that drives the game.
Global Defense Network was one of the more original games come out in 2004.
There aren’t a lot of entries in the “mouse-shooter” genre and few of the ones
that exist approach the slick and unique presentation values seen here. If you
are a fan of shooting gallery action then this is definitely your game.
Number 6 - Anito: Defend a Land Enraged
|Release: November 2003
Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, 600 MHz Processor, 128 MB Ram, 16
MB Video Card, DirectX 9.0
just after our deadline for the 2003 awards Anito found itself as one of the
best games of 2004. Anito isn't your typical RPG game. There certainly is
some hack and slash to the story, but the game is much more adventurous then
that. Instead of simply having random monsters always walking about that you run
around and kill, the game focuses more on providing a solid storyline, and it
does so with stellar results. Instead of just wandering about killing things, in
Anito you become deeply involved in an adventure.
The most interesting thing about this adventure is that there are actually two
completely different adventures in the game. Players can play as Agila, the son
of the missing tribal leader, or his sister Maya. In most games, choosing your
gender at the beginning of the game is something to do for fun. It may make the
game play differently, but it doesn't really affect the game all that much. In
Anito, choosing Agila or Maya will completely alter the game that players play.
Each character has a completely different set of tasks to undertake as they
travel through the land. The storyline is one with two main characters instead
is some danger in what was attempted in the storyline. Having two storylines
that are interwoven around the same mystery could have worked, or it could have
fallen flat, leaving players frustrated or confused. In Anito, the storyline
works amazingly well, and it is the main reason why this game is such a wonder.
Play the game as Agila, and you will progress through the towns talking to key
people in the towns, moving on to try and spread peace while trying to determine
where your father has gone. Returning to play the game as Maya, gives players a
completely different story in addition to adding a new perspective to what has
really been occurring. It is amazing as you talk to some of the same characters
and go to some of the same buildings how players can be involved in the same
plot, but interacting in a completely different way depending on who they chosen
to play as. Players discuss different things with the characters and come to
understand different facets of the same storyline. The way the two storylines
were woven together in addition to providing so much intrigue and mystery is
something that any true adventure fan should experience.
complex storyline isn't the only joy to the game. In many RPG/Adventuring games,
there are a series of side-quests that players may embark on. These quests
typically aren't all that important to the storyline and can be skipped without
changing the final outcome of things. Most of them are fairly simple, such as
"kill this really bad guy," "find my daughter," etc. In Anito there are some
side-quests as well. However, most of them are quite complex in and of
themselves and they intermingle with the main story to give you a little more
insight into what is going on. Instead of just going after the thief who stole a
wallet, players find themselves talking to multiple people in multiple cities as
they try to unravel just how involved the side-quest really is and how many
people were involved. Each of these quests feels like a self standing adventure
in and of itself. The game includes a journal, though this was one of the rare
cases where we found we didn't forget what was going on as we were so wrapped up
in the storyline. Still it does help players stay up to date on each of the
quests they are involved with and what the latest event in each of the quest.
addition to all of this there are of course battles. There are weapons and a
special kind of magic called Chakra. As players progress through the game they
learn more useful skills and spells, buy weapons and become more powerful as
their experience increases and attribute points are properly applied. Most of
that is fairly standard affair. Anito though isn't standard affair. Those who
play it will become extremely involved in its storyline that is presented in a
way that can't be found in any other game. The mark of a good RPG is how well it
wraps players up in the game, and Anito certainly delivers as one of the best
Number 5 - BreakQuest
|Release: November 2004
Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, 700Mhz, 128 MB RAM
may be the best
Arkanoid game in existence, and it is innovative enough that we felt no regret
putting it in the top 5 games of 2004.
So where do we start in describing the game? BreakQuest
is built mostly around a very strong physics engine that allowed the developer
to do a lot of things with the way that the ball interacts with the other
objects on the screen. In fact there are so many interesting and
different features in the game that you cannot even come close to appreciating
a tenth of them in the game's demo.
The boards offer a wide variety of
bricks to hit, many of which use the games physics engine to create what feels,
when combined with the graphics that are designed for each board,
like a totally different game with each level that you play. For
example, in the screenshot you'll see that there are rectangular bricks
connected by a line. By hitting the bricks, the entire line will move,
making the bricks move about in interesting ways that provides a lot of
coolness for your eyes and challenge for your hands.
There are many different interactions like this
that make the game exciting, but that isn't all. In fact there are 100
levels in the game, and nearly each one is completely different than any other
one. For example there is an asteroids board complete with bouncing
vector drawn asteroids and alien spacecraft that come across the board.
There are levels that are somewhat typical with bricks, and atypical, like the
bowling alley level, and then other levels with very small brick sizes that
are formed into a picture. Honestly you even checking out the page of
screenshots on the website
doesn't give you a complete
idea of how much variety there really is.
The reality is that this game
pretty much takes every board type and every idea from every Arkanoid game ever made
and makes it better. If the levels weren't enough there are a host of
interesting "power-ups" that make the game play quite differently than
anything else on the market. You can get power-ups that change the shape
of your ball into a tear shape or square, which makes the game play very fun
The shape of your paddle also changes from the typical
semi-circle, to a flat or wavy surface, and there more. Of course the
game also includes a variety of weapon-type power-ups including the missile
that is somewhat guided by your paddle as illustrated in the screenshot above. The interaction between you and the board
is quite enough to make this the most amazing breakout game ever, but
there is so much more in this game and so much more than you'll ever come to
appreciate in the demo that to come to any piece of that appreciation, you
must have the full-version to experience it.
the great game play, the graphics are solid and the music is reminiscent of the Falcom titles of the early 90's, which is quite amazing as
those games were all RPGs, and somehow that feel has carried over to this game,
which makes it feel quite a bit like it is an actual 'Quest.' BreakQuest has totally succeeded in the Quest for perfection and in
recognition of that it was already awarded the 2004 Arkanoid Game of the Year Award.
It now adds a top 5 finish for 2004 and is quite worthy of its post.
Number 4 - Outpost Kaloki
|Release: September 2004
Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, 450 MHz CPU, 8MB Video Card
Outpost Kaloki players take on the role of a space station manager, but unlike
so many of its competitors, this is not some dry technical simulation. The gameplay
in Outpost Kaloki is easy to pick up
and always has a fun, upbeat vibe thanks to the great graphics and soundtrack.
From the moment we first took a look at this game here at Game Tunnel it was
obvious that it wasn’t going to be like the
other management games out there and that it was one of the best games released
The graphics in Outpost Kaloki are top notch and
oozing with character - like a classic Saturday morning cartoon brought to life
in 3D. While playing you would half expect to see Bud Lightyear streak across the screen as the
highly polished and consistent graphical quality of this game almost makes it
look a Pixar license.
Given the fantastic visual quality one would
expect that, like so many games, the audio would suffer from lack of attention.
Surprisingly, this is not the case as the music in Outpost Kaloki is just as
appealing and quirky as the graphics. The soundtrack consists of fun, swinging
tracks reminiscent of classic big bands and goes perfectly with the games visual
However what really makes this game work is what
seems to have become the missing ingredient in almost all other tycoon games:
The challenge facing management game developers is that the players need enough
of an open-ended design for them to create their own experience but also require
constant guidance to keep the game moving forward. An open “sandbox” design just
isn’t much fun for people who don’t have hours to spend at the computer. Gamers
these days have limits on how long they can play before the outside world
intrudes in on them.
Ninja Bee has solved this design challenge by implementing a simple “goals”
system in the development of the station, requiring players to build specific
add-ons or achieve certain traffic goals within a given timeframe. Not only are
these goals accessible from a main list but also the visitors to your station
will constantly remind you of what needs to get done next. It sounds simple
enough and indeed a number of other games in this genre have tried similar
features but for some reason it just plays better here.
The various goals are challenging enough to require constant activity on the
part of the player but also short enough to be able to play the game in quick
intervals. This is definitely the direction to go in if you want to appeal to
the general, non-hardcore gaming audience.
Tunnel awarded the simulation game of the year award to Outpost Kaloki as it takes
the SIM game genre back to its roots of fun with a game that even Will Wright would be proud of. Outpost
Kaloki provides all of the fun and quirkiness that Indie gamers yearn for in a
near perfect package that even the most cynical of mainstream fans will
recognize as being as professional as any game on the market. Outpost
Kaloki is an easy inclusion in the top 5 games this year and should be included
in every gamer's collection.
Number 3 - Hamsterball
||Players: 1-4 (vs and
|Release: February 2004
Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, DirectX 8+, 700Mhz, 32 MB RAM
is something of a departure of the other games in the top 5 games of the year
in that instead of recreating a concept or coming up with a new game play type
it takes a very familiar concept and just makes it as perfectly as could be
The game has a lot of similarities with the classic Marble
Madness. However while that game may have started a lot of the sentences, Hamsterball finishes them and
with an exclamation mark! In
a word Hamsterball is fantastic from start to finish.
The biggest highlight of Hamsterball is the level design. This is a case where
words don't describe well put-together this game is. The levels are each
created in a way that makes them have their own feel and originality to them.
Most all have tubes that you travel down, and twisty roads, but some of them
focus on different things or do things in a different way.
"UP" race is a good example of the variety found in Hamsterball. In that race,
you go up the entire course starting at the bottom and working your way up.
Through a series of accelerators and pipes that suck you up instead of
dropping you out players work their way to the very top of the map. There are
also elevators and ramps which provide more help in moving up. While none of
this might seem amazing on its own, what I found amazing is that none of these
features that make the "UP" appear on ANY other level in the game.
Each level has its own quirkiness that makes it feel totally original, and
completely different from any other level that you play. This originality kept
us amazed as we tried to unlock each level by moving through the tournament
mode, seeing new features and different obstacles in the game each and every
step of the way.
In addition to the well-designed game level, the fun factor in the game is
music is also top-notch.
is a game that most anyone can pick up and play. In fact we've been playing it
here all year through and it still has its shortcut on my desktop, which is
quite a feat.
Hamsterball has both the tangible
and intangible pieces to it that make the game intensely fun. What is more,
the developers haven't been content to just let the great game be great.
They've come back and revisited the game twice, first adding multiplayer party
games to the mix in addition to a two player race option to all the levels
you've unlocked, and then more recently returning to add a couple more levels
through their affiliation with Shockwave (oh and they created an online
version while they were at it though it lacks a lot of the fun of the
With beautifully graphics, 3
different skill levels that mix up the play of each board in a manner that
makes you want to play through them again and again, and some very innovative
and interesting level design that makes each level play like a new adventure, Hamsterball
is a must own game that handily wins our 2004 Action Game of the Year Award
and ended up as the 3rd best game released this year.
Number 2 - Wik & the Fable of Souls
|Release: September 2004
Requirements: Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP, 128MB RAM, Pentium 733 MHz,
TNT2 Video card+, OpenGL drivers installed
in-between Troll dolls and Gollum is a little creature known as Wik. Who knows
maybe Wik is a love child of an unknown love story between the two. While his
origins may be in question, the quality of this title is certainly not.
Upon first looking at the game play video that was released prior to the Wik
demo becoming available we were struck by two things. First off, as most
everyone would agree, the graphics are spectacular in this game, in fact for the
wonderful graphics Wik won our 2004 award for best graphics. There are many
great plasma effects that blend well with the beautifully drawn backgrounds that
show a wonderful artistic exhibition that players can appreciate the quality of
even if the style doesn't happen to work for them.
other thing that the game play preview video made us wonder about how difficult
the game would be to play. The game play video was in fact true on both
accounts, the graphics are great and the game is a little difficult when you
first try to play it. In fact the only failing that I see in the game is that
most people will likely not come to appreciate how good this game is from
playing the demo.
Wik has a very long tongue that is used heavily in his movement much like
Spiderman uses his webs. Though Wik cannot walk, he can extend his long tongue,
attach it to a branch or rock, and then jump into swinging action. Players find
themselves swinging from one side of the screen to the other, up and down and in
all sorts of loops as they play and loving every minute of it.
Wik provides a couple types of game play. There are normal story levels that
provide very strange but entertaining poetry verses to help advance the story.
The other set of levels in the game are the 'challenge' levels.
levels are a fun set of levels that require all of your acrobatic skill to
complete the level within the time given and then provide the challenge of going
back and trying to beat your speed record while playing against your ghost. I
personally thought that they were even a little more fun than the story mode as
the game is at its best when you are swinging around from tree to tree.
Despite what some have considered a 'borrowed' concept from Spiderman and
Pitfall on the old Atari 2600 or Bionic Command on the NES, Wik plays quite
different from those games, and any other game for that matter. The additions of
a rich story through Poetry and the layout of the game all add to making the
game feel like no other game you've played.
is one of the cooler characters to come around in awhile and definitely is a hit
as the second best game available this year. People who play this game long
enough to appreciate the finer moments of game play will come to crave playing
the game like any good thing.
Game Tunnel's 2004 Indie Game of the Year: GISH
||Players: 1-2 (vs)
|Release: May 2004
Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, 1000 mhz+ Processor, 32 MB Video
(also available for MAC and Linux)
is a ball of tar. Normally a ball of tar doesn't pose much threat, but take his
girlfriend away and you end up with one bad mother you don't want to mess with.
Gish's basic abilities lead players to being able to do many different things in
the game and help to provide the many challenges that are present throughout the
For example, as a ball of tar Gish can be slick or sticky. By becoming slick,
Gish is able to compress his tar into small places and slip his way through the
sewer in pursuit of those who have taken his love captive. Becoming sticky
allows you to grab onto walls, ceilings, platforms, enemies and just about
anything else that you can think of. Instead of just jumping onto enemies and
squashing them into a bloody pulp, which is an option, Gish can become sticky,
then grab his enemies and throw them up into the air towards a block that will
finishe the enemies life. Being sticky also allows players to climb walls to new
areas, or use the ceiling to avoid enemies.
abilities are only a portion of what players are able to do while playing the
game. The basis of Gish is the physics and that is where the game play takes a
turn that is so fun and different that it is absolutely impossible to describe
it in writing. Objects in the game react of course due to their physical
interactions with other objects. However, in Gish all those interactions are
heavily based on perfect physics. Instead of having a suspended platform that
just tilts and moves based on where you are standing on it, in Gish the
platforms will plummet to the earth if you jump too high off of it and come down
too hard, breaking away from their supports and falling. Though that is pretty
interesting, it doesn't but start to explain how physics work in the game to
provide an experience that you won't find anywhere else, but it does provide the
faintest image of how physics work in the game.
The developers of Gish have gone far beyond just providing a wonderful
side-scrolling adventure. They have studied what made the great side-scrollers
of yesterday so great and have implemented many cool secrets into this game.
While times have changed since the old days of 2D scrollers and we've moved to
3D gaming, that feeling of knowing where the hidden treasures in a game are has
really vanished with the 2D world.
Each level of the game secrets are hidden. The most triumphant part of this is
the hidden "Warp Zones." Each level set has a warp zone hidden somewhere in it.
The knowledge of the Warp Zones is prized information, with many people using
the forums on the Chronic Logic website to help them locate them. What makes the
Warp Zones so cool is that instead of them playing like a normal Gish level,
they actually transport Gish into pseudo-representations of games of yesterday,
such as Super Mario Bros. or Pitfall.
Beyond the ultimate thrill of finding the Warp Zones, Gish also provides end
bosses and 'ride' levels in each of the 5 board sets. The end bosses provide a
challenge, but it is the 'ride' levels that really show off how the physics
behind Gish make the game so cool. Using objects like a Mine Cart (which is
playable in the demo) or moving platforms, you start the level by putting your
ride into motion, and then you must use your momentum and good sense to survive
the rest of the ride.
those who aren't downloading the game at this moment, all I can say is get to
it, you won't be sorry, this is the gaming experience of a lifetime. Anyone who
has played this game will find themselves trying desperately to explain what the
game is like, using other games to try to explain it and realizing that they are
failing by so doing. Gish is a one of a kind game that must be seen and played
to be understood and appreciated. It is quite unlike anything else and is
clearly one of the most original games ever made and is our 2004 Indie Game of