No genre has been host to more self-conscious attempts at art or novelty humor in recent years than the platformer. The core gameplay of jumping from place to place collecting shiny bits is pretty timeless and can be made new again by giving it a shiny new coat of paint and a conceptual hook. Here are three that I've gotten into this year...
In 2007, "I Wanna Be The Guy" was released with the stated aim of being the most ludicrously unfair platform game ever created, and it succeeds mightily. Thank God it's free because asking people to pay for the privilege of being psychologically battered would be cruel indeed. Your character is capable of running, double jumping and shooting (which is nearly useless), and every single thing on screen that isn't you will likely try to kill you. Every few steps some part of the landscape (spikes, apples in trees, stars, the ground itself) will try to kill you, and the only way to avoid it is through trial and error. You are meant to die over and over and over again, and as you only have one life and take one hit before exploding into bloody pixels you will be hearing the game over music very often indeed.
Aside from masochism, humor is the only thing leading you onward: the game's graphics and sound are almost entirely looted from various NES games and remixed in pretty entertaining ways that I dare not spoil. Frankly, however, I recommend watching somebody's speedrun of the game on YouTube over actually playing it... life is too short for this shit. Available for Windows.
Potatoman is being marketed as a potatosophical platformer, and if you like the sound of that you will probably enjoy the game. Potatoman is an Atari 2600-esque blob of pixels who seems half man / half potato, and is on a quest for Troof. Over the course of the game our hero visits various locales seeking Troof, and almost everything he meets has their own idea of what it is. Like I Wanna Be The Guy, Potatoman toys with the player's expectations of how things in the world ought to behave, but in more creative ways. The running theme is having to think outside the box: For example some things that are scary will only hurt you if you try to evade them... walk straight through them and they will obligingly move aside. You will die a lot, but thankfully you get many, many lives and there's always a way through.
Meanwhile the philosophical themes reinforce the unconventional gameplay and vice versa. Like Potatoman you are seeking insight into the nature of how things really are, and must confront the things that confuse or frighten you. I finished the game in under an hour, but spent that entire time being entertained. For $3 I feel that I got my money's worth, and the ending is simple, but very sweet. Oh, and Potatoman does some adorable things if you leave him standing around. Available for Windows, Mac and Linux
DLC Quest is one of the funniest games I've played in a very long time, and while the gameplay is incredibly simple the conceptual hook is pure gold: As you begin your adventure there is no sound or animation, and you are only capable of walking to the right. Immediately you run into the handy DLC vendor (Named "Nickel", and you know he's got a brother named "Dime" somewhere) who promptly begins selling you integral functionality of the game you have just purchased. The DLC is purchased with gold coins you pick up while platforming, so don't worry, you don't have to spend any more real money after buying the game.
In addition to purchasing basic abilities like jumping, you will sometimes run into areas of the game that are empty because the developers didn't get them done in time for release. Don't worry, just spend a few coins to "extend your enjoyment!". At one point you are asked to press X 10,000 times to forge a sword... or you can purchase the speed forging pack to not die of boredom. And of course you can pay to add zombies to the game. No game is complete without unnecessary zombies.
The gameplay is basic jumping and collecting, and isn't very difficult, which fits the theme of the game only existing to collect your money. Meanwhile the writing is great throughout. I laughed constantly and the art style is adorable. There are two episodes of DLC Quest and both are well worth your time. Available for Windows, Mac, and Xbox 360