This is part of a cover feature on the Portland video game industry, focusing heavily on Fullbright and its games Gone Home and Tacoma. Find the main piece here.
Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake (SleepNinja Games)
An outgrowth of Will Lewis' Portland Indie Game Squad, Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake (pictured at top) is a tribute to the golden age of Super Nintendo games. This action puzzler was picked up by Cartoon Network before it was even finished. On a quest to retrieve all the pieces of his birthday cake, a kid in a ridiculous Adventure Time outfit teams with a pack of cute, little monsters—each with a special power. $4.99 at the App Store and Google Play.
Mayday! Deep Space (Mountain Machine Studios)
Sci-fi author, roboticist and polymath Daniel H. Wilson is apparently obsessed with voice-controlled apparatus—this is a high-concept, voice-control-only game written by Wilson and programmed by the five-dude team at Mountain Machine. You are answering a mayday call from the USS Appaloosa, and must guide a doomed little guy to safety using only the sound of your voice. "Run left! Keep going!" Meanwhile, the story grows more and more complex. I am a mumbler, which made this game difficult for strictly technical reasons; but anecdotally, one guy's grandma beat the game with no difficulty, while the experienced gamer wallowed. This is one of the most innovative games released in 2014. $2.99 at the App Store; iOS only.
Skullduggery! (ClutchPlay Games)
ClutchPlay producer Amy Dallas is not a heartless sadist bent on crushing the human spirit. I feel the need to point this out, having spent hours inventing new ways to cuss ("Why don't you—feh! Gawd-cun-fuh-shi-fuckfuckfuck…") while playing ClutchPlay's Skullduggery!, an ingeniously maddening little mobile game that requires propelling around a broken skull using its own brain as a slingshot. Every bit as much as Angry Birds, it taxes the reward centers of the brain into apoplectic submission. $2.99 at the App Store; free at Google Play, $2.99 to remove ads.
Umbilicus: Descent Team Delta (PIGSquad)
Every month, the Portland Indie Game Squad conducts 48-hour-game jams, in which teams of game makers undergo a marathon stretch to create games that are usually simple but often experimental. When asked to pick his favorites of the past three years, PIGSquad organizer Will Lewis first thought of Umbilicus: Descent Team Delta. It is a four-player cooperative game in which each player is tethered to the others as astronauts falling down a seemingly bottomless pit. If one dies, they all die. It is either a civics lesson, or instruction on the impossibility of civics. Free; globalgamejam.org.
XO (Jumpdrive Studios)
This computer game is still being made—due out next year—but it's already the game in Portland that indie developers will tell you they're the most excited about. You play a version of Commander Adama in Battlestar Galactica, head of a doomed space fleet constantly on the run from a nameless, implacable foe who far outclasses you while people under your command turn on you in political intrigues. The game's demo—drawn in old-school, Tron-style vector graphics—is already compelling to play. Available in 2016.