There have been a ton of great new games to come out in 2013, there’s certainly no question about that. But did you also know that a lot of our favorites from the past year were made by brand new development studios? It’s true! We saw so many amazing high-quality debuts this year that we only thought it’d be best to point out which studios you’ll want to keep an eye on in 2014 and beyond.
At first glance, it’s easy to see why every game on this list is positively stunning in its own right: from doing something vastly innovative, to just providing downright fun gameplay, it’s evident that the teams behind them knew exactly what they were doing. But then once you realize that all of these games are merely the debut efforts of new studios that are still in their youth, then the excitement really starts to build when you start thinking about all of the second and third titles that are eventually going to come!
So here are our picks for the new developers and their amazing debut games that really wowed us in 2013. Want to rave about our choices? Know of a few other newbies that deserve a special mention? Leave us your thoughts down in the replies!
Wormhole Games (Tank Nation)
Wormhole Games was co-founded by two people who helped manage Funzio before it was sold to GREE in 2012, and so their deep understanding of what makes a great game can be seen at every inch of their debut, Tank Nation. In the game, players will engage in one-on-one tank battles with every last one of the earth’s remaining forces. And while the battles in Tank Nation sort of play out like a game of Worms, there’s an inherent hands-on feeling more akin to the Metal Slug series, which makes you feel like you’re really in control of these giant war machines.
There’s probably a pretty good chance that you’re already familiar with new developer Frogmind and their debut title Badland, considering that the moody and atmospheric adventure puzzler has been handpicked by Apple numerous times for various “Best Games” promotions and anniversary freebies. And for good reason too: Badland serves as the quintessential example of what an accessible touchscreen adventure could and should be like in 2013. The future is certainly looking bright for this budding studio, despite all of the spooky shadows covering every inch of their game.
5 Ants (Tiny Thief)
You’d better get used to the name 5 Ants right here and now, because it’s likely that you’re going to be seeing it pop up a lot around these parts for some time to come: at least if the studio’s amazing big-time debut Tiny Thief is anything to go by. Tiny Thief burst onto the mobile scene earlier this year as part of the Rovio Stars publishing program, and the unique blend of 2D point-and-click adventure and stealth gameplay scratched that itch for something fresh and unexpected, not to mention with the shining quality of mobile giants like Angry Birds.
Will O’Neil (Actual Sunlight)
In Gamezebo’s official review of Actual Sunlight, we described the debut game from Will O’Neil as being “awkward, uncomfortable and sad.” And those are exactly all of the reasons why this despairing game about suicide has had such a captivating hold over us ever since its release this past summer. While still an incredibly simple game at heart, Actual Sunlight is really meant to show us the power of words and their overall meaning, and in that regard, it is easily one of the most striking examples of interactive fiction that we’ve ever seen: and from a first-time developer, at that!
Chia-Yu Chen & Lee-Kuo Chen (A Ride into the Mountains)
I’ll just come right out and say it: there needs to be more games like A Ride into the Mountains. But then again, if there were, then maybe the magnificent horse-riding and arrow-shooting adventure wouldn’t seem so magical anymore. So let me try that again: there needs to be more games by new development duo Chia-Yu Chen and Lee-Kuo Chen, period, because they’ve obviously tapped into something truly beautiful here. If you’re in the market for a sweepingly minimalistic, yet gorgeously engrossing mobile game, then boy is this the adventure for you.
Boomlagoon (Noble Nutlings)
I’m actually surprised that Noble Nutlings didn’t end up making a bigger splash than it did, because this physics-based racing game from ex-Rovio employees is just full of fun and style. The game plays out a bit like Rovio’s own Bad Piggies, except without the customization components, and a fuller emphasis on actually controlling your little vehicles. It also helps that the Nutlings themselves are just downright adorable, and the dozens of levels pack some serious challenge for anyone who’s looking for it!
Facepalm Games (The Swapper)
On the surface, The Swapper has an interesting style that’s somewhere in between the sci-fi nature of Dead Space and the intricate level design of a Castlevania game. But where this newfound indie gem is truly allowed to shine is in its cloning gameplay mechanic, which you’ll be using regularly to move through countless rooms of environmental puzzles. With graphics as smooth as clay, and just enough mystery and darkness to keep you on the edge of your seat, I wish we could clone the folks at Facepalm Games so they can come out with another awesome game even faster!
Andrew Morrish (Super Puzzle Platformer)
To put it quite bluntly, Super Puzzle Platformer is flipping awesome. And not only is the bizarre Super-Meat-Boy-meets-Tetris action game one of the strangest genre mash-ups that we’ve heard of in quite a while, but it’s also easily one of the most fun. It certainly helps that developer Andrew Morrish had the backing of Adult Swim Games to publish this release, and we can only hope that this relationship continues in the future to bring us more pure joy in the form of nostalgia-infused gaming.
Blot Interactive (Chat Fu)
Imagine this: a clever word game that’s played directly within a regular old Facebook chat, where you try and coerce your friends into saying random target words through normal everyday conversation. But the catch is that your friends don’t even know they’re playing a game with you! So goes the genius of Blot Interactive’s sneaky debut Chat Fu, and the sheer uniqueness that’s powering the game makes us incredibly excited to see what this new developer manages to whip up in 2014 and beyond.
Chris Davis (Spud’s Quest)
The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy will always hold a special place in my heart as one of the earliest video games I’ve ever played. So when I found out that Spud’s Quest from Chris Davis was a direct homage to those classic adventure games starring Dizzy the Egg, I’ll admit it: I royally freaked out. And not only did the game perfectly capture the essence of Dizzy in both the graphics and the gameplay, but it also managed to modernize and improve upon the formula in nearly every way.