It’s that time of year again! With my gaming year wrapping down, with nearly *80* games played, it’s time to check out some of the most notable titles I tried. This is all based around my gaming year, not games released this year, so maybe you’ll learn of a few classics you never knew about. And yes, if you saw my last list, you know what my fave game of the year is, but there was some surprising last minute contenders. Sinking Island could easily sneak into the bottom five, but two games (!) blindsided me and could have taken top five spots if I got to them earlier. Memoria and This Is The Police are both shockingly good games well worth your money, and I will be writing on them down the line. But that’s for later, so let’s stick to the topic at hand.
I have multiple categories, some self explanatory (best looking, best sound design, ect), and others more personal (fave guilty pleasure, biggest surprise, ect). Along with my writing on each category winner, I’ll have a list of honorable mentions below, so please don’t forget to look up those games in your spare time! A lot of fantastic titles didn’t make the cut this year, and only because I played *so fucking many* of them.
The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav
I found so many games that excelled in the looks department this year, and it was because I played a LOT of point and clicks. These sorts of games live and die by their presentation sometimes. More games yet had really interesting aesthetics, especially VA-11 and Saturday Morning RPG, but Chains of Satinav won hard. While it’s sequel, Memoria, is the better game, Satinav just looks the best. The animation is limited, but every single area and character looks like they came from a beautiful illustration book. Some shots in this game are so beautiful that you could hang them in a museum. The complex colors, the incredible detail in even the smallest object, and the masterful, rough textures just give the game character and personality no other game could quite match this year. What sealed the deal were the final chapters, which include the incredibly trippy and creative Fairy Realm, and a truly haunting segment involving the physical manifestations of anxiety and despair. This was my first Daedalic made game (with Randal’s Monday being published but made by a different studio), and it was one hell of a starting point.
Honorable Mention(s) – Backstreets of the Mind, Broken Age, Detective Grimoire, Enter the Gungeon, Punch Club, Saturday Morning RPG, Shardlight, Still Life, The Dark Eye: Memoria, This Is The Police, VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action, Verdict Guilty
Saturday Morning RPG
This was an even closer category than looks was. NOT A HERO, Gungeon, and VA-11 had some of the best techno sounds in the medium, but not one could stand up to the sheer nostalgia explosion that was Saturday Morning RPG. What sent this one over the edge is that the game’s composer was Vince DiCola, a man who’s composed for both Rocky and Transformers. He wrote and performed an original power anthem that references “The Touch” from the Transformers Movie. The entire soundtrack is pure 80s explosive cheese, but that one song pretty much cemented it.
Honorable Mention(s) – DOOM 3, Enter the Gungeon, NOT A HERO, Party Hard, The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav, The Dark Eye: Memoria, This Is The Police, VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Best Sound Design
Ladykiller almost got this one, thanks to its real time track changing to keep he moods of a scene in rhyme, but 140 got suggested for IndieCent. It’s a musical platformer that makes sound design central to its mechanics and does it well, so it got the win. The idea is that the level itself moves and changes with the music, so you have to time with the beat and rhythm to avoid danger. Outside of the small time frame in the last boss, the game is miraculously well designed, even keeping the distorted noises when you die in line with a stage’s theme so you can get right back in the action quickly. It’s a short little game with an impressive amount of clever ideas.
Honorable Mention(s) – Broforce, DOOM 3, Ladykiller in a Bind, NOT A HERO, One Finger Death Punch
God, there were so many great games that just made their world feel real. DOOM 3 perfectly created a horrifying scare house, and Anodyne had that utterly fucked black and white town. Pleenty of games had atmosphere that inspired more than dread or fear, though, mainly Syberia. An old point and click that was one of Microids’ biggest hits, Syberia is a bit of a slog to play, but it is blessed with incredible visual design. The haunting emptiness of everything and subtle details makes every area feel like a real place, despite all of the incredible sights hidden within them. The cogworks littering the land create some truly amazing set pieces, including an old Communist Russian mine turned into a gearspunk opera. Despite the in the moment frustrations, Syberia has me looking back fondly on it.
Honorable Mention(s) – Amerzone: The Explorer’s Legacy, Anodyne, Backstreets of the Mind, Crimson Room: Decade, DOOM 3, Gone Home, Masochisia, Post Mortem, Saturday Morning RPG, Shardlight, Still Life 2, The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav, VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Once again, GOD, SO MANY CHOICES. I played FOUR Benoit Sokal games, people! Christine Love released a new game! I had The Stanley Parable and Masochisia waiting there for an easy win! But VA-11 Hall-A took it in the end. While I like the meta joke, Ladykiller not having much of a reason for the plot kind of left me a tad unfulfilled. VA-11 manages to keep the humor, but doesn’t undercut itself, and the tale it tells emotionally hit me harder than most any other game I played this year. I seriously can’t pick out a single bad line of dialog. It has character, story structure, subtle hints at the larger plot going on in the background, and a whole lot of amazing gags. Overall, it was the more satisfying package, script wise, though just barely. Special mention to This Is The Police and Amerzone, as both games tell the stories of old men crumbling away in a changing world, and they just hit so hard and so right.
Honorable Mention(s) – Amerzone: The Explorer’s Legacy, Broken Age, Gone Home, Hector: Badge of Carnage, Ladykiller in a Bind, Masochisia, Randal’s Monday, Shardlight, Sinking Island, Still Life 2, Syberia, The Dark Eye: Memoria, The Reject Demon: Toko (Episode 0), The Stanley Parable, This Is The Police
Hector: Badge of Carnage
Lot of great comedies this year, but I knew it would either be Hector or Randal. Now, Randal’s Monday is a very funny game, but I think Hector has a better laugh to quiet ratio, and it’s a tad more clever. It’s also far, far more unflinching in its dark humor, but that arguably gives it more impact. It’s the sort of jokes I feel bad about laughing at. Hector scratched an itch for cynical humor I haven’t had scratched in a long time, so I have to give it props for that.
Honorable Mention(s) – Broforce, Divekick, Ladykiller in a Bind, NOT A HERO, Pony Island, Randal’s Monday, Red Comrades Save the Galaxy, Saturday Morning RPG, The Halloween Hack, The Reject Demon: Toko (Episode 0), The Stanley Parable, VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Best Difficulty Curve
A good difficulty curve is when a game mainly hooks me in by the challenge, balancing frustration and fun. Most completely fall apart in this category, I find. NOT A HERO almost stole the win here for its quick levels and focus on perfection, but it does require me to take breaks now and then to avoid going insane. But Broforce? I could not leave my screen the entire main campaign. The sheer freedom the game’s level design and destruction mechanics grants results in every retry feeling completely different, especially because you always respawn as a different character every time. Broforce somehow manages to be both challenging and randomized, something I never see done correctly these days. It’s fucking addicting, and it never gets too nasty on the initial difficulty. I died a lot, but damn it, I had so much fun in the process.
Honorable Mention(s) – Cinderella Escape, Gunpoint, NOT A HERO, One Finger Death Punch, Thomas was Alone
NOT A HERO
Now Broforce gives the more enjoyable experience on the whole, but it never got to the same highs as NOT A HERO did. I really dig its sense of humor more (do not even get me started on BunnyLord), but I also love the feeling of finishing a mission perfectly. With the multiple objectives every level, character unlocks requiring completing those objectives, and quick level maps, NOT A HERO gave me the biggest high when I managed to figure out the perfect pattern to tackling each and every threat and problem. I still have some of these levels mapped in my head, and I haven’t touched the game in months. That’s quality level design.
Honorable Mention(s) – Broforce, Cherry Tree High Girls’ Fight, Divekick, Gunpoint, One Finger Death Punch, Saturday Morning RPG, VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action, Verdict Guilty
There were so many interesting mechanics and systems to praise, and both Broforce and The Westport Independent nearly snagged this spot. However, while I love how they twist around well known systems, neither did it as simply or as elegantly as Divekick. Everything about this game is stupidly brilliant. It’s a game with only one way to damage an enemy, the titular divekick, and only allows jumping and kicking, alongside few gimmicks. This simplicity really lets it shine. Divekick’s joke mechanics turned out to be a lovely distilled juice of fighting game goodness, creating incredibly tense fights with silly spectacle that doesn’t rely on ridiculous skill ceilings. It’s all about mastery of simple moves anyone can learn and use with ease, combining the elegance of SFII with the flash and speed of your modern fighter. Taking a step back someone resulted in something truly memorable.
Honorable Mention(s) – Broforce, Cinderella Escape, Gunpoint, Helen’s Mysterious Castle, NOT A HERO, One Finger Death Punch, Saturday Morning RPG, The Westport Independent, Verdict Guilty
Crimson Room: Decade
I had a ton of surprises this year (seriously, how did Randal Monday end up being that good!?), but Crimson Room: Decade is easily the biggest because it exists at all. Announced completely out of nowhere, the guy who put the escape room genre on the map and became one of the most prolific talents in flash gaming came back and made a spiritual successor. And it’s good! Quite good! It’s a massive improvement on the original game, while keeping the strange and esoteric logic and plain sight secrets for all to dissect. This is a type of game you don’t see anymore, even in most escape room games. The master came back, and I hope he stays.
Honorable Mention(s) – Cinderella Escape, Masochisia, Pony Island, Randal’s Monday, Still Life 2, This Is The Police
Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire & Delicious! Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire
Sailor Moon Drops almost got this one in terms of hours lost …but do you know how I played these two see more titty mahjong games? I glued my eyes to the screen for endless hours until I unlocked everything. I think I lost more than an entire day of my life on these games. They’re bright, they’re flashy, they’re enjoyable to beat, and they have a lot of high quality anime girls that were all ripped directly from hentai games and don’t ask me how I know that. I am ashamed, but at least I can say the winner wasn’t HuniePop!
Honorable Mention(s) – Cherry Tree High Girls’ Fight, HuniePop, Ladykiller in a Bind, Punch Club, Sailor Moon Drops, This Is The Police, VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
One Finger Death Punch
The idea for this game is perfect in the most specific way. Remember stick figure fight animations? Remember how cool in the cruddiest way they were? What if that was a videogame that only required two buttons? The result is glorious ultra-violence in the cheapest way imaginable, which just makes it all the more fun. Flash animation created many atrocities, but it gave us Crimson Room and One Finger Death Punch, so it was worth all the awful crude Christmas games in existence.
Honorable Mention(s) – Broforce, Divekick, Party Hard, Saturday Morning RPG, Sinking Island, Still Life 2, The Westport Independent, This Is The Police, VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Favorite Guilty Pleasure
All of these other games inspire self-loathing in me but Super Star (which is just *chef’s kiss*) and Huuna Mina, but Huuuna Mina was the developer cutting his teeth before he made an actual good game with Cinderella Escape. But make no mistake, this is one weird fetish game with an absolutely confusing premise. The narrative is basically Silent Hill, but the entire game is awkwardly animated and bloodless torture and jokes about masochism. See, the joke is that Cinderella getting dressed for the ball in a bondage dress is because she’s a masochist or something! It’s a genuinely good and satisfying puzzle game, but then you have everything else. I’ll probably be thinking about this one for years to come.
Honorable Mention(s) – Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire & Delicious! Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire, HuniePop, Huuna Mina, Super Star
Favorite Game of the Year
See my list write-up and the podcast I did on it and the eventual HG101 article that will be posted and I’m sure many more articles in the future.
It’s one of the most brilliant games I have played in a decade.
Honorable Mention(s) – Ladykiller in a Bind, Shardlight, The Dark Eye: Memoria, The Stanley Parable, This Is The Police, VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action