So, just a couple things to note. This year was really rough on me from a personal level, so my list is a bit different than some other peoples’ lists. I had a lot of things to deal with and I didn’t have a lot of time to play games. The last few months I’ve been fighting off pneumonia, so that didn’t help either. I am finding myself with less and less time these days, so if a game doesn’t grab me immediately, or has just straight up whack-ass mechanics, I’m usually dropping it because I don’t have 15 hours for something to get good. I just don’t. That’s why you won’t find games like Jedi Fallen Order on this list. It’s good, but it isn’t good enough to overcome its own jank, and I don’t have the time or inclination to deal with the amount of back tracking needed to just play the fucking game. I also didn’t have time for bigger RPGs that I’m sure are great, like Fire Emblem Three Houses, Kingdom Hearts III, or Pokemon Sword. I own them all, they’re all on my list of games I want to play, but I just didn’t have time.
Death Stranding? Kojima burned me too many times and, I dunno, I can’t get excited about a Kojima game about a weird baby and hiking. Maybe one of these days, when it’s cheap and I have time I’ll get around to it.
Gears 5 is another game I know is probably pretty spectacular, and I’ll probably play it some time next year as I own it, but haven’t had time.
Bloodstained? Got about half way through it, but dealt with so many glitches and hard-locks that I just stopped playing it. I don’t have time for that shit. MK11? Can’t really fuck with your loot box piñata like that. Maybe one of these days.
Time is kind of the enemy for me right now, so with that said, I tended to gravitate towards games that did something completely new, or something I was completely comfortable with, and I think that’s reflected in the list below. I imagine my list next year will be even weirder, except for big titles like Cyber Punk of Ghost of Tsushima (Here’s hoping they both don’t suck). Half of my list may be a write up of how great the games I mentioned above are because I may actually have time to play them. We’ll see.
Anyway, you didn’t come here to read about my lack of time, you came to read about my games of the year, so here you go. TREAT YO’ SELF.
10. Astral Chain – Switch
I don’t know what it is about Platinum games, where even if they come up with the weirdest scenarios (like a woman who is a witch, her outfit is made out of hair, and she has guns for heels) and they still manage to make the game compelling even if it’s entirely fucking weird. The same applies here. You play what amounts to a super swat soldier chained to a being from the Astral plane with an Astral Chain. It’s got some wild world building and some crazy action. Definitely worth a look if you liked Platinum’s other games.
9. Ace Combat 7 – PS4, Xbox One, Windows
Look, I’m ALWAYS going to love Ace Combat games because I grew up watching Top Gun. I even bought a PS4 Flight stick just to play this game, and it’s AWESOME. If you like flying jets, blowing shit up, and singing DANGER ZONE by Kenny Loggins, then strap in.
Bonus points for having a few PSVR missions that are a great example of some of the cool things that can be done with VR. Want to go vertical, get inverted, shoot off some missiles and then look down? You can do that here.
8. Gris – Windows, Mac, Switch, PS4
In a similar vein as Celeste, Gris is a personal story told as a platformer. Unlike Celeste, this game has hand drawn, watercolor-like animation that is absolutely stunning and its worth playing Gris just for that aspect alone. I don’t want to ruin the story, so I’ll simply suggest playing this one straight through if you can, or broken up into chunks of time from 1-2 hours each. The game takes 6-8 hours to beat so that should be pretty doable for most folks. I have to stress that part of what makes Gris work is being absorbed into it, without distraction. If you can set aside the time, this is a gorgeous and rewarding platformer.
7. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 – Switch
Fair warning, I’m a sucker for co-op beat-em-ups and throwing enemies into pits. This is due to being raised in arcades, and this game delivers both of those things. And with super heroes! I loved the first Ultimate Alliance, was iffy on the second installment and I’m pretty in love with this one. This game has an enormous cast, a fun but shallow combat system, and is built around playing with up to 4 people. If you like super heroes, beating people up, and playing games with friends, you should understand why this one is on my list.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – Switch
Remember how I said at the beginning I either played games that were something entirely new or something familiar? This falls into the latter category. I played the original Link’s Awakening after playing a Link to the Past (which is still the best Zelda. Suck it, Ocarina of Time, and choke on it, Breath of the Wild.) and I was amazed at how well they translated the feel of a 16-bit adventure onto the 8bit Gameboy. It also helped that Link’s Awakening is the weirdest Zelda title ever made. Since R&D 1 wasn’t really confined at that time with what a Zelda game SHOULD be, they went all out and tried a lot of really interesting ideas that hadn’t been done in a Zelda game before or since. Instead of typical Hyrule you’re on an isolated piece of land named Koholint Island, with weird denizens, talking owls, dungeons, and Mario staples chain chomps and goombas. Kirby is in there too and he eats you.
Like I said, this game is weird.
I want to stress how true to the original Link’s Awakening this remake is, and it’s a remake in the truest sense. Every single aspect of the game, with the exception of the camera shop (Designed back when the GBA camera was a thing) is intact, all with a new coat of paint that looks like a shiny version of the old Rankin Bass Christmas specials we used to watch as kids. The other big difference is that Gameboy wasn’t able to create a giant world, and instead had to move screen by screen, while the switch is unencumbered by that restriction, and everything is stitched together to create a much more seamless world.
The only thing I can really knock this game for is the frame rate. Nintendo was aiming for 60fps but the Switch can rarely handle that and drops to 30 fps frequently. It’s jarring enough for me to be a big knock against the game, and hindered my enjoyment, which is why the game is lower on the list than it would be if it weren’t for the technical difficulties. Regardless of the technical issues, this is a world worth exploring and an experience worth having, regardless if you’re a fan of the newer style of Zelda games or the older ones.
5. Neo Cab – Switch, Windows, Linux, Mac
This was one of the games this year that truly took me by surprise. This is one of those games that did something completely new for me, even though narrative driven games aren’t a new genre. In Neo Cab you play Lina, one of the last human drivers for a company named Neo Cab , in Los Ojos, a city that’s basically run by AI. Cyberpunk Uber, basically. But it’s far more compelling than that simplification. You spend the game picking up passengers, and having conversations with them, while trying to find your roommate who has disappeared. Through your journey as Lina, you meet a very interesting cast of well written characters, and tackle some very topical discussions in regards to our own gig economy, what automation will do to regular people just trying to get by, and how a lot of the tech companies out there have essentially moved into our lives without much thought about the consequences of allowing them in. There are some particularly unnerving conversations, like with one of the first passengers you pick up, a young woman who is wearing a suit that captures every single conversation she has with other people, and sends that data to Capra, the main conglomerate running the city of Los Ojos. Another client you pick up doesn’t believe you aren’t a robot. Another passenger jumps in your car after her bike is run over by an autonomous cab and citizens of Los Ojos start beating on the autonomous car in reaction. There’s some wild stuff in this game, and it’s worth playing. It’s a game that stuck with me long after I was finished with it.
4. Katana Zero – Switch, Windows, Mac
Full disclosure, I’m a big fan of most of what Devolver Digital gets involved with, so when they announced they were publishing this Hotline Miami inspired action game with swords, I was all in. Askiisoft, the developers behind Katana Zero have made something wholly impressive, that wears its inspirations on its sleeve but does changes things up enough to create something different and worth playing.
Instead of being top down like Hotline Miami, Katana Zero is an action side scroller that lets you slow down time to slash through your enemies to get to the next screen. The game has absolutely gorgeous pixel art, is extremely well animated and has a killer soundtrack (use headphones!). It even has interludes between each area back at your apartment, where you can drink tea and watch TV. If you die, resetting and starting over takes less than a second, and upon completion of each area you can watch a tape of yourself cutting down your foes. Again, it obviously takes a lot of queues from Hotline Miami and that’s not a bad thing.
You can complete this game in roughly 5 hours but the game has tons of replay value. If you like action games that test your reflexes and posses that “Just one more try” type of feeling, you should check this game out.
3. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – PS4, Xbox One, Windows
When I first played Sekiro I fucking HATED it. HATED IT. I went in expecting a game that was sold to me as a spiritual successor to Tenchu and that is something that Sekiro is definitely NOT. For years friends have told me “You’d like Souls-style games because you like games that reward mastery of mechanics” and that is true. I was always the guy that picked the hardest difficulty in action games like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden Black because I felt those rewarded me for understanding their mechanics, and the skill floor and skill ceiling had a lot of room between one another. However, as I’ve gotten older I don’t know if I see the point in games that are punishing just for punishment’s-sake. I’ve beaten hundreds of games on hard, so maybe that was part of my problem when I first played Sekiro. I expected a game that presented levels as puzzles, designed for me to take out enemies as quietly as possible, in any way I saw fit. Sekiro is not that game. It was sold to me as one thing but ended up being something else.
So I put it down for a few months, came back to it about a week ago and something clicked. Previously when I was fighting most enemies and a few of the bosses, I was waiting on them to attack me so I could parry and wreck their shit. That’s also not how this game works. Sekiro is a game that doesn’t just reward aggression, it requires it. I started playing this game like I would play NGB, rather than Tenchu and it all came together. There are still some short comings, the game feels a bit schizophrenic in the sense that it seems to toe-the-line between an action game and a stealth game, and is weaker for it, but the actual controls and combat are EXCELLENT. Each fight is a puzzle that rewards aggression and quick reflexes. If that’s not your thing, you probably won’t like this game, but it is damn good at what it does.
In the future I’d love to see what From Software would do with an action game in a feudal japan setting, or a sequel to Tenchu rather than this mix, but they have created something that is compelling, will reward people who engage with the game on it’s own terms, rather than their own. And I know the debate has raged about difficulty settings, and I’m in the camp that says games like this should have them just so people can give it a shot, and see if they like it.
2. Disco Elysium – PS4, Xbox One, Windows
This is my paragraph where I gush about what this game did so well that it This is one of the strangest games I’ve ever played. It is incredibly hard to describe as I can’t really think of much out there that’s like this. When talking about it on the Day Zero Update podcast I described it as “Deju-Vu, but eastern European and on acid.” I still think that’s an apt way of describing Disco Elysium. You play a detective that’s had his mind wiped by alcohol, which lets you really play this character any way you want. You can make him belligerent, you can make him thoughtful, you can make him a psychopath, etc etc. The main plot of the game has you attempting to solve a murder, and like every good detective story, the murder mystery really is only the beginning. There’s so much more here to dig into. The most unique concept of the game has to do with who you interact with. There are normally NPCs that help flesh out the world, or provide clues and answers to the overall mystery of the game, but Disco Elysium makes a huge swerve in party mechanics because you are your own party. I mean that literally. Your partner tags along with you, but you spend a chunk of the game talking to different aspects of your own personality as if they are party members. It’s absolutely insane. The mere concept of something like this would not work if it wasn’t for the writing, which is deep and incredibly sharp. This game plays like nothing else out there. It’s entirely unique and is an insane experience. That’s the only way to put it, and it’s absolutely worth playing.
Look, if you know me, there was NO FUCKING WAY this wasn’t going to be number 1. Dragon Quest is like comfort food- the game, and this is the most delicious comfort food you can have. It’s got one of the best casts of characters ever in a Dragon Quest game, beautiful graphics (both the 2-D version from the 3DS game that was never released in America, and the original 3-D graphics), the orchestral score, quality of life improvements like fast-forward battle speed, and it’s portable. In short, one of the greatest JRPGs ever made, and you can play it in bed. GAME OF THE FUCKING YEAR.
Also, shout out to Witcher III, which by all accounts, is the game of the decade. And it just came out on Switch, so I can still add it to this list.