Tech: Axiom Verge
If ever there was a video game that qualified as a labor of love, it's "Axiom Verge," a Metroidvania title with programming, story, art, and music all done by one person, Tom Happ, over a period of five years:
You play as Trace, a scientist caught in a lab accident that transports him to an alien planet. Trace's only hope of returning to Earth is a race of giant biomechanoid titans, the Rusalki. Unfortunately, the Rusalki are dying from a mysterious enemy. Square by square, door by door, Trace must explore and fight through this strange new world to save them - and himself.
Developer Tom Happ must have spent a lot of time obsessing over this game, because every aspect of "Axiom Verge" has been polished and re-polished to a mirror sheen. The controls are perfect - jumping, shooting, and grappling always feel natural, which is an impressive feat considering the huge arsenal you eventually amass. The graphics are retro, but detailed, with a distinct H.R. Giger/E.C. Comics flair to all of the enemies and environments. The music might be the biggest surprise of all - it's by turns energetic, contemplative, and eerie. Just listen to this:
The only things keeping "Axiom Verge" from a higher score are the disappointing final map and boss, and the fact that sometimes the backtracking feels too aimless (the game really could've used a general "objective" marker to help steer exploration). In the end, though, this is easily one of the best Metroid-style games I've ever played.