This year I accidently played less games than usual, which is the consequence of working passionately on your own game I guess. Or maybe if the new Zelda wasn’t so damn good I could have spend some more hours into different titles…
This year left me with a long list of titles I still have to pick up: Dishonored, Uncharted, various (thousands of) Indies and maybe I should at least try a few hours of that new Assassins Creed? Nonetheless, the things I did play were incredible experiences which I am happy to share the best of! Click the title to visit the games’ website or on the developer to learn more about the awesome studios behind these incredible experiences!
Someone at Nintendo must have opened up Adobe Illustrator one day and thought ‘how to make a game out of this’. I believe there is a way to play this alone, but I would recommend to only play this with a friend. Like every good Nintendo game, Snipperclips has this one unique mechanic that is explored from every possible angle through various, cleverly designed puzzle stages. It’s cute, it’s cheeky, it’s fun and it asks you to work together to solve a problem, which is always a thousand times more fun than playing against each other.
Arkane is easily one of my most favorite game studios out there. First of all because of their incredible world building that they mostly leave up for the player to delve into. Just want to get to the goal as fast as you want? Sure, no problem, just ignore the incredible interconnected lore that’s sprinkled through the world in the form of conversations you can listen in to, pieces of books and letters for you to read or the arrangement of objects in an environment that transpire a microtale of what might have happened before you arrived. Although Dishonored is still their crown jewel, with Prey they proved that they could bring their insanely detailed and unique art direction, story telling and varied approach to gameplay styles into outer-space as well. And that opening hour is something you will not easily forget.
Although it seems like an attempt to clone the Zelda franchise, Rime is actually far more lineair because they want to tell a rather human story through incredibly effective metaphors in the shape of otherworldly environments. The big reveal is saved for the last couple of stages but those who are good in reading symbolism and subject matter might pick up on it’s true meaning way earlier. It is not the most inspired game mechanically speaking, but who cares when the rest is so lovingly created.
by KO_OP Mode
I am pretty sure this game was created just to have a fun time inside a virtual reality helmet but damn that fun works just as well on my television or mobile device. GNOG presents you with several miniscule worlds for you to tinker around with, just to get to some end point in which the whole scene explodes into a euphorical amalgamation of sound, colour and movement. For me the big stand out, besides it pretty and pretty silly art direction, is the audio design and music. Everything you click, drag or flick makes a noise in sync with the melodies and rhythm. And every step in the right direction introduces a new layer of music, slowly building up to that big finale.
by Paper Seven
This studio seems to have a great insight in which strings are directly connected to my cryingbone… they played them well and I was not prepared. This was a great entry in one of my most favorite genres, the “walking simulator”, a description which I still think does great disservice to the impact and creativity these type of games bring. Blackwood Crossing examines the relationship between a teenage girl and her younger brother while jumping head first into the rabbit hole of dreamlike symbolism and metaphors. Just as with Rime I will not spoil anything about the meaning of it all, but unlike Rime, this one brought everything together in such a powerful finale that it left me crying bittersweet tears. It’s rare for games to do that, so I can’t wait to see what Paper Seven has brewing right now.
Yeah, okay, this was a great and fun romp through what it means to be a Mario game, respecting everything that came before while neatly bringing this franchise several steps forward into the future of 3D platforming. Although it’s true there is a lot to say about this game I also just want to check this of the list and continue on.
And another “walking simulator”, awyeah! This time the imaginative folks over at Giant Sparrow created a diverse but always tragic family history for you to unravel. Each family member brings his or her explorable room to the Finch house and unique gameplay experience to the player. From the repetitive work at a fish factory that sees you drowning deeper and deeper into a dream to the interactive graphic novel that tells a tale of egotism and the attraction of the limelight, the way all these unique minigames collapse back into the main house you are exploring is an exhilarating experience.
by Ninja Theory
This one could be described as a walking simulator with combat moments (I told you I loved this genre). And once again it is one of the most creatively rich games of this year despite the most boring sounding genre label. In Hellblade we follow Senua as she ascends into the Nordic version of hell to get her loved one back, but also to prove something about herself. There already has been a lot written about the audio design in this game, and that is because the audio design is beyond genius. The audio design is so good they could even get rid of the entire HUD (the interface you see while playing) and give every information you need just through sound alone. But they also play with your thoughts and feelings through sound. See, Senua is experiencing hallucinations and hears voices. These voices sometimes help her by sending her in a certain direction but also try to keep her from going into the right direction. Sometimes they build her spirit up, sometimes they break her down, scoffing at her inabilities and insecurities. It is something to experience for yourself, but the audio design alone merits a spot on this list alone. The incredibly detailed art direction, the acting and a psychotic story told through Nordic lore and tradition bumped it up to the top five.
This game is… I am not sure it is even a game. Sure, I can control it but there is no goal, just an experience for you to evaluate your connection to the universe we live in, to EVERYTHING around you. As you play you grow to planet sized proportions (even galaxy sized!) or shrink down to moleculair levels, while accompanied by one of the most beautiful soundtracks of the year and parts from a class by Alan Watts that slowly sends you in an existential crisis followed by an existential epiphany. And when you grow tired of playing, the game can even play itself, cause life just continues even when you are no longer there to try and take control.
From it’s craftlike artwork to the hellish soundtrack by Tobias Lilja, Little Nightmares brings a platform light experience much in the vain of Playdead’s Inside/Limbo. But where those games barely tell a story, this world feels much more cohesive and relatable. Sure it’s dark and it gets pretty fucked up in the end but it’s not a scary game so don’t let the title discourage you from playing. I loved every single minute of my playthrough and can’t wait to finally pick up the DLC content that they recently released.
This is what an open world game should be; a vast landscape for you to explore in any direction or order you want and a map that is there for you as a planning tool and not as a richly illustrated to-do list (I am looking at you Ubisoft). Let’s all just let out a collective sigh of awe, love and wonder for Breath of the Wild and continue to number one. Sigh…
by Infinite Ammo, Scott Benson & Finji
I still think a lot about this game. Sometimes it is a random montage of the various colors and shapes of the sceneries and its’ inhabitants, sometimes a specific conversation I had in the game or sometimes I am just jamming out with the band: ‘Come with me, let’s diiiiiie anywhere else’. At first sight it seems like a 2d side scroller but it actually is anything but that. It’s a adolescent-self-doubt-simulator, a friendship-simulator, a college-band-simulator and a scary story driven by a bit of post teen angst al wrapped up in this pallet of incredible colours and sounds. Sure, it’s a side scrolling walking simulator as well. I absolutely love this game and I truly felt part of it’s tight bunch of longtime friends. It was a joy to just visit Gregg or Angus and chill out for a short bit while reading a sharply written conversation. Or smash light bulbs in the middle of the desert.