In many genres, AAA games dominate the market, and indie game developers have to struggle to compete. With top-down shooters (also known as twin-stick shooters), this doesn’t appear to be the case. Perhaps it’s because these games are able to make good use of 16-bit graphics, and they aren’t as expensive to produce as a 3D action game or first-person shooter. Whatever the cause, all the best top-down shooters seem to come from indie developers. Here is a list of some of the best games in the genre, in no particular order:
Enter The Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon is a bullet hell dungeon crawler that sees the player take on the role of one of four adventurers who seek to conquer the procedurally generated gungeon in order to acquire a magic gun that can erase their pasts. As you make your way through the gungeon, you’ll collect heart containers, new items, and collect (or at least try out) hundreds of unique guns as you shoot your way through dozens of enemy types. Enter the Gungeon does a lot of things well. Gameplay is fast-paced and exciting, and the wide variety of enemies keeps players on their toes. The game’s real strength, though, is the wide variety of weapons and items. Thanks to a “synergy” mechanic, many items have additional effects when held at the same time as a particular gun. This makes zeroing in on the perfect character build a bit more complicated, but ultimately much more rewarding.
If there’s a game on this list that feels the best, it’s Nuclear Throne. A grungy, crunchy rock-meets-Western soundtrack provides the sonic backdrop for the game. Enemies squelch and splat and crunch as you rip through them with cannons, machine guns, and more. The thuds and cracks of gunfire are accompanied by a screen tremor effect that makes every impact feel visceral and violent. The game feels and sounds amazing, and is well worth playing.
The Binding Of Isaac: Rebirth
Created by the developer of Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a cartoonish yet grotesque roguelike RPG shooter. Players take on the role of Isaac, who runs away when his mother starts hearing the voice of God, who demands that she sacrifice Isaac to prove her faith. Isaac escapes into the basement, where he’ll have to do battle with hordes of monsters, his long-lost brothers and sisters, and more.
The game’s 16-bit hand-drawn art style is charming and freakish at the same time, and fits the game’s theme perfectly. Controls are somewhat more difficult than in some of the other entries in this list, as you can only fire Isaac’s weaponized tears in the four cardinal directions, but enemy attack patterns have been designed accordingly. While gameplay is relatively simple – kill enemies, get through the maze, don’t die – each run can be vastly different depending on what items you come across. There are 537 unique items in the game, each of which modifies Isaac’s abilities for better or worse and in minor or major ways. Items also have a synergy mechanic, so different combinations can have hugely different results. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth promises 500+ hours of gameplay, and it delivers.
A top-down murderous rampage through an alternate reality 1989 Miami. Blasting and hacking through scores of underworld scumbags to a soundtrack of 80s-styled dance music. Splattering blood across the flashing neon lights on the floor of a gangster-run dance club. What’s not to love?
Hotline Miami is a spectacle. The 16-bit graphics fit well with the game’s visual and musical retro aesthetic, and it’s almost as fun to look at as it is to play. Player characters and enemies move quickly, and the stakes are always high – a single bullet is enough to kill. No protagonist plot armor in this one. If you’re looking for a challenge, this game is what you’re looking for.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but all of these games are great. Some of them are a few years older, but because of the art styles the developers chose, they all hold up very well. Give them a try!