It’s that time of year again! Every year, I write down my thoughts on my year in gaming, giving out little thumbs up to different games in different categories for fun, and this will be my third year of reflection. And yes, I’ll be playing a shit ton of things during the winter Steam sale, they’ll be mentioned next year. Don’t question this.
My year in gaming was much, much smaller than usual, as I had far more shit to do, but I still found a bunch of interesting titles to play. I went through so many indie games this time, and I discovered phone gaming in a big way too, only to be massively burnt out on it when I discovered how samey and bad so many free titles are. Most the titles I played this time were smaller in playtime, but still really interesting in concept or execution. I’m not sure there was a bad game I played all year that wasn’t a disposable gacha game on android. Well, except for two I liked for some insane reason. I plan on being more active next year, hopefully as my situation improves, so for now, here’s some of the most interesting games I played this year. And hey, some of these came out this year! Neat.
Best Looking – Mystik Belle
There were so many good looking games I played this year. I finally started catching up with Wadjet Eye’s output, so I had some really beautiful 2D sprite work to look at. Westerado surprised me with just how complete its style was, while Tatsunoko Vs Capcom has cool anime style and Read Only Memories really got the best out of the old computer game look. But damn, despite how lukewarm I ended up being to it, I cannot deny that Mystik Belle is an amazing looking game. The main designer is mostly a sprite artist, and it shows. Every single room and area of the game is loaded with all sorts of creative and intricately detailed creations, and they’re so big too boot, almost to cause gameplay problems. This s the type of sprite art most people only dream of being able to make, and its cartoony look was a great offset to the more urban and grounded styles used by Wadjet Eye. It might seriously be one of the best looking sprite games ever designed.
Honorable Mention(s): The Charnel House Trilogy, Primordia, Read Only Memories, Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, Technobabylon, Westerado: Double Barreled
Best Sound – Undertale
Was not as pumped on the jams this year as I had hoped, but three games rally came at me with some strong compositions. While Read Only Memories and Westerado have great stuff, they weren’t directed by someone who was primarily a composer. Toby Fox put an insane amount of thought into Undertale, creating a soundtrack that constantly and near endlessly references itself, actually becoming a means of foreshadowing and conveying information the text never outright states. It’s not immediately apparent, but after awhile, you start picking up on the trick, especially in a second run. And can I just say that I love that he included a boss theme he used in two other works before and used it in the exact same context but with perspectives shifted? That is absolutely ridiculously clever.
Honorable Mention(s): Read Only Memories, Westerado: Double Barreled
Best Atmosphere – Primordia
Read Only Memories creates some powerful mood almost entirely with text, Richard and Alice overcomes its technical shortcomings to make a truly desperate feeling, and The Charnel House Trilogy is a Wadjet Eye backed horror game with Jim Fuckin’ Sterling Son playing one of the villains. They all sucked me in, butt Wadjet Eye’s Primordia outclasses them almost effortlessly. The game takes place on a world where machines have taken over the dead planet man left behind, and it makes that perfectly clear through some truly haunting images and creative character design. Wadjet Eye does atmosphere well, but by god, Primordia is just intoxicating at times Absolutely incredible art direction.
Honorable Mention(s): The Charnel House Trilogy, Read Only Memories, Richard & Alice
Best Writing – Richard & Alice
Yeah, Undertale AND Read Only Memories didn’t get best writing, I know. I played some really well written games this year, but I usually side most with the game that made me feel like the characters it presented the most. Richard & Alice did just that, telling the story of a desperate mother in a dying winter hell of a world trying to keep her son safe. The dialog is fantastic, but the final series of twists and the sheer moral confusion of the entire thing is what really impressed me. Despite all the horrid things that happen in this game (and its some nasty shit), it never takes the easy way out and goes in much more interesting directions. No game this year left me the same way this one did.
Honorable Mention(s): Cherry Tree High Comedy Club/Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls!, Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble, Primordia, Read Only Memories, Undertale
Best Difficulty Curve – Terra Battle
I’m going to give this one to a mobile game, but don’t worry guys, it’s from an actual developer! Mistwalker’s Terra Battle is a really interesting game, making a battle system based around swiping character icons around a grid to position them for action, and it’s way more complex than you’d think. It definitely has the best difficulty curve of anything I played this year, starting off very simple and introducing more and more complicated enemies with subskills and traps laid on the grid proper. It’s a F2P game, but don’t let that scare you away, it’s a ton of fun and far more in-depth than it rightfully should be.
Honorable Mention(s): Another Case Solved, Sokobond, Undertale
Most Enjoyable – Cherry Tree High Comedy Club/Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls!
Sometimes, I just like games for the sum of their parts in ways that don’t really register as doing something better than others. Cherry Tree High is not a terribly complicated series, and it’s out-shined in some way by nearly every game I played this year, but it just has this fun energy to it, and really enjoyable characters and situations. Even the sequel, despite not really being a game, left me with a big old grin on my face. It’s not really hilarious or relaxing or exciting or dramatic. It’s just a fun time with fun characters. Sometimes, that’s all you really need. It was either this or Super Bonk, which is like some surreal dadaist exeperiment, but Cherry Tree High’s charm just barely won out.
Honorable Mention(s): Read Only Memories, Riddled Corpses, Super Bonk, Tatsunoko Vs Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, Undertale
Best Mechanics – Another Case Solved
And now to lose all of my credibility and give the best mechanics award to a free to play mobile puzzle game. Yes, it bet out a fighting game, a bullet hell RPG hybrid, and a game that lets you kill literally anyone. Another Case Solved is kind of brilliant, taking a very basic series of game types (matching shapes, identifying someone, map puzzles, and searching an area) and tying them together through resource management, You play through cases by gathering clues in a basic puzzle minigame, then have to use those clues to use skills and perks to better accomplish your goal, and it’s necessary to do if you want to avoid paying for anything …which is surprisingly easy to do. That element really makes the whole game click and makes some very simple minigames turn into a web of planning and execution, and it’s kind of brilliant. I might just buy something in game just so I can throw the developers a few bones, I haven’t dug a game quite like this in a good while.
Honorable Mention(s): Tatsunoko Vs Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, Terra Battle, Undertale, Westerado: Double Barreled
Biggest Surprise – Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble
Another Case Solved, Read Only Memories, and Unertale are all games I played with zero idea of what they were, and they all shocked me. But then you have Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble. It was a game I had on my wishlist for who knows ow long just because I saw it was some sort of feminist game, and thought it would be a good article piece. And it was. But I didn’t expect it to be a goddamn board game. Yeah, it’s a board game that let’s you make a group of willful teenage girls in the 1920s and fuck up the patriarchal establishment through youthful shenanigans. But it also goes into some really dark and unexpected territory, which really won me over in ways I would have never had expected. This was dangerously close (heh) to swiping a lot of awards this year, and while I know the twenty dollar price tag is steep, trust me, it’s worth the price.
Honorable Mention(s): Another Case Solved, Read Only Memories, Undertale
Best Timesink – Riddled Corpses
This may be the most grindy game I have ever played that wasn’t made by Nippon Ichi, and I think I love it. Or maybe it’s just holding me hostage. It’s a top down shooter in the style of old arcade cabinets, difficulty included, but your only chance of getting farther is collecting gold and getting new characters and upgrading their guns. It’s really repetitive, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying the hell out of it. I also love that it’s made by a foreign studio with a weak grasp on English, all the Engrish is just the most charming thing.
Honorable Mention(s): Another Case Solved, Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble, Tatsunoko Vs Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars
Best Concept – Westerado: Double Barreled
This is probably going to be a game that will be largely forgotten, and mostly because it was published by [adult swim], whom have a shaky record with releases. But Westerado is easily one of the most interesting releases they’ve ever put out, and the concept is brilliant. Make an open world western game …in sprite graphics with simplified mechanics. The end result is a game that perfectly captures the nature of old western stories, letting you and your gun decide what’s moral as you can help people out with their problems for information, or you can slaughter all those in your path until you find the bastard who slaughtered your family. There’s so much to do, and it never feels overwhelming or empty because of the low-fy style and design philosophy at work. Sometimes, less really is more.
Honorable Mention(s): Cherry Tree High Comedy Club/Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls!, Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble, Read Only Memories, Undertale
Funniest Game – Read Only Memories
I played some really funny games this year, a mess of them, and they all have their charm. I believe I’ve already mentioned the nonsense that is Super Bonk, but you also have the sheer ineptitude of DNA Twister, the classic comedy of Cherry Tree, the sassy self-awareness of Mystik Belle, and the quirky ridiculousness of Undertale. However, I think what made me chuckle the most was Read Only Memories. The queer cyberpunk adventure has a really great sense of humor to it, and its really overly written in the best possible way. From Turing’s storm of factoids to the sheer strangeness of the future San Francisco, there’s always something in the game that catches your eye and has a funny line to share. Of course, there’s also “Starfucker,” quite possibly the best character in the entire game. I won’t spoil him for you, but he’s just magical.
Honorable Mention(s): Cherry Tree High Comedy Club/Cherry Tree High I! My! Girls, Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble, Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme, Mystik Belle, Super Bonk, Undertale
Favorite Guilty Pleasure – Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme
I spent twenty-five bucks on this thing and feel absolutely no remorse. I have become the worlds greatest monster. Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme is a truly terrible visual novel made by awful artists, awful writers, and funded by people who just wanted their fetish explored. It is bad and I adore it. It’s the perfect storm of terrible. It has good ideas and keeps fucking everything up. It has likable characters, but also ones who are way too okay with being fucked around by the two mad scientists (including the one that is both a slimegirl and a furry). It has the worst art imaginable yet improves just enough that you can better see the flaws. It has humor that is so bad that it boomerangs back to hilarious at times. It’s just …incredible. I will definitely be finishing this in 2016, and it’s going to be one hell of an experience.
I can’t wait for the awful sci-fi sex change game the same people are currently making.
Honorable Mention(s): Lunch Truck Tycoon
Favorite Game of the Year – Undertale
I normally try to be original here, but sometimes you just have to be honest.
Undertale really is as good as everyone says, though I think the reasons will be different for everyone. The bizarre little mix of Earthbound style RPG and bullet hell, with possibly one of the most memorable cast of characters in the past decade of gaming, was a ten dollar impulse buy, and it threw me for a loop. There really is no game like it, from narrative to mechanics, but I ended up spoiling myself while going through Hotland. For most, that would ruin their experience with the game, but not me.
By the time I reached the golden ending, I was crying. I knew exactly what would happen, and I was choked up despite. Undertale is one of those games that has an emotional core that impacts people differently, and it really is best experienced as blind as possible. To put it simply, the game is utterly beautiful. It makes you laugh, it makes you fear, it fills you with awe, and it can even get you to sob. Out of everything I played this year, no game felt as complete and thought out as Undertale, and that’s not even getting into its thematic depth and brilliant subversions. Undertale reminded me just why I love videogames as a medium, showing me that promise so few games ever manage to come through on. It was a labor of love and one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I have ever had.
Seriously, Undertale really is as good as everyone says.
Honorable Mention(s): Another Case Solved, Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble, Read Only Memories