A year has come and gone and it is about time to honor some of my personal favorites. Surely: I have not played every game this year (such as Banner Saga 2 unfortunately), but I thought it would be fun to look back at what this year had to offer and share with you some of my favorites.
But we need to establish some rules:
1: This is only MY PERSONAL top 12. I am really interested in hearing what other gems I might have missed this year, so think of this list as more of a conversation-starter than anything else.
2: While some remakes are impressive, unless they have something that makes the game totally different in general, it won’t be on this list. Which is one of many reasons why Skyrim is not here.
3: These are games I have at least finished. If I have not fully invested my time in a game, despite how much I enjoy it, I don’t feel compelled to put it on the list or even really talk about it.
We good? If you read on, I suppose we are.
#12 Va-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Visual Novels are something that I find incredibly hard to review, due to how important I feel interactivity is to a games. Luckily: Va-11 Hall-A, or simply known as Valhalla, is an enjoyable title with a fun concept. You are a bartender, mixing drinks for your customers and changing their lives. The part where you mix drinks is incredibly straight-forward, you simply drag liquors to your mixers and follow recipes. However, remembering their orders, deciding at times the amount of alcohol put into them, and remembering to pay your bills and treat yourself, makes the interactive parts less of a bore. However the smartest move this game made, is its story. By making the protagonist a bartender, it gives a lovely excuse for telling plenty of stories and at times make the characters interact with each other and even intertwine with our playable character’s daily life. A bartender definitely meets the strangest of people at times.
Might be the weirdest entry here and it’s understandable if many frown upon this, but Reigns is a simple game, with a simple premise. It is clearly designed for phones, where you play as kings throughout the ages and try to make the right decisions presented to you to balance the 4 powers: Religion, People, Army and Economy. What makes it intriguing is the ability to meet different encounters, obtaining more cards by including new people into your society and to see how far you can get, similar to a rogue-lite game. It is impressive to see that choosing between yes and no, can certainly be more demanding than what you would think, making it a showcase on how less can actually be more.
Released originally for the Vita and later for the Wii-U, 3DS and iOS, Severed can be described as a combat-heavy dungeon crawler. Using the touchscreen for attacks, parries, choosing whom to attack and cast spells at, is an intriguing system that works beyond expectations. Having the map on the top screen for the dual-screen systems is welcoming and the exploration is enjoyable. The search for your family is harsh, but at the same time: rewarding, and the puzzles while scarce are fun. It is only a couple of hours long, but it is still a great journey from beginning to end, especially due to how fun slicing limbs off enemies for upgrading yourself can be.
#9 Doom 2016
You might have seen this gem being praised plenty of times, but really: this is a fantastic throwback to what Doom was all about and I had no idea Bethesda would do such a fantastic job. It has so much to it, with plenty of weapons, old-school and fast-paced shooting, smart ideas such as glory-kills and secrets; it is simply a complete package, and one that finally showcases why my PC needs to be upgraded. The multiplayer is more forgettable than anything else, but the singleplayer is something that should not be missed and shows that we can expect more from a shooter than the average Call of Duty can offer.
#8 Salt and Sanctuary
Some things just go so well together: Disney and Final Fantasy, Nintendo characters and the fighting-genre, and our number 7: Dark Souls and Metroidvania. SkaStudio, best known for Charlie Murder, The Dishwasher and I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMBIES 1NIT!!!1, created one of the most intense metroidvanias, which demands you to be defensive and offensive throughout your journey. It is easy to see how inspired it was by Dark Souls, so much so that I almost believed it was a part of the series. But despite this, it also has some unique extras of its own and plays with the 2D approach well, making it more than just a copy of its inspiration.
I love games that reward creative thinking, meaning that puzzle-games are really something I enjoy. Obduction, created by the people behind Myst and Riven, really felt like a spiritual sequel. Being a game that demanded thinking and searching, gave an experience that felt challenging and rewarding. Obduction has the feel of the traditional Myst-games, but presented with a more coherent world, more dialogue and even a choice between free-moving and point and click-movement, which is welcoming. Some things will age like fine wine and I believe Obduction will, like its original inspiration.
#6 Sorcery! 4
Another Mobile game, but on the list for a reason. Steven Jackson’s Sorcery!-series, is a love letter to anybody who has been into RPG or general RP, and we have finally gotten the last chapter to this beautiful series. You play as a hero, traversing through this adventure and choosing your own path with clear consequences. There is a lot of strategy, both in the simple combat and in the choices you make, with an intriguing story and area to explore. While I would recommend getting the previous entries as well, playing this alone is also possible and should not be overlooked.
#5 Fire Emblem Fates
I was not expecting to cheat a bit here, but really: the Fire Emblem Fates games are lovely and fantastic, with small, unique parts to distinguish them from their predecessors, as well as taking elements from my personal favorite: Awakening. Having plenty of characters to meet and interact with, many harsh moments, and being sent into a tug of war between two sides, are all intriguing. The same quality was given to the strategy where the AI is brutal and death is something that will always feel like a clear loss. The Castle-hub is also a really neat idea, and with elements such as no weapons breaking, gives it a reason for both newcomers and Fire-Emblem-veterans to enjoy. Personally, I love Conquest the most, but you really can’t go wrong with either one.
#4 Pony Island
Being creative can go a long way, even to the point where a short length won’t be a hindrance. Pony Island is a bizarre experience. Setting you up to try to make a game work, you find yourself in a situation where you are actually working on some sort of computer, making the experience quite effective due to yourself playing it on a PC, but this is just the beginning. While it has not much to do with ponies really, how it breaks the fourth wall, plays with your mind and makes you think outside of the box, is really impressive. I can’t honestly say much more for spoiler-reasons, other than this is number 4 for a really good reason.
#3 Order of Thorne: The King’s Challenge
Coming out as the first episode and being inspired by King’s Quest, Order of Thorne was a pleasant surprise. It was not a long game, but had just about everything I was looking for: creative puzzles, adventurous and imaginative locations, enjoyable characters, an intriguing plot and overall: a joy from beginning to end. The unique part about this gem, is that you play as a bard and for anybody who is into RP: we all know how awesome they can be. While this one is more a lover and not a fighter, his skills with his lute are essential for many quests, somewhat similar to some 3D Zelda games, and using your noggin’ is the only way to get further in this charming adventure. After just one run, I was hooked and just wanted to play it one more time. And if you wonder: yes, I am excited for the next episode.
A late surprise, but a lovely one nonetheless. The only remake you will see on this list, Oneshot was originally a free RPGmaker game with a really intriguing concept. You actually had only one shot and if you ever exited from the screen or finished the game, there was no way to start again (besides maybe a software reset). I loved this game and it was one of the most creative games I have ever experienced. Much like Cave Story, another free game, it got a remake later on for commercial release. Besides the upgraded presentation, it made some smart moves for this release, added plenty of puzzles and more intriguing scenes. It does not just break the fourth wall with puzzles that might be hidden on your computer, but also at times makes you wonder how you are supposed to use the solutions you got. Adding to this, is an intriguing story filled with characters, with our protagonist being a charming and adorable one. Many developers only give remakes an upgrade in presentation without fixing what was broken or add to the game so it is worth another look. Thankfully the people behind Oneshot showed that they truly cared about their project. It says a lot when they turned a free-downloadable game that was already fantastic, into something that is worth purchasing and playing through again.
#1 Stardew Valley
As a person who was attending college, I did not always have a lot of time for gaming. Certainly, I get hooked and loved to relax with them (and still do), but I always made sure to give time to my studies and duties. With Stardew Valley, I had to uninstall it after playing it for 20 hours straight, breaking up only for getting food and such. Being inspired by Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley had so much to it as a farming-sim and more! You could take care of crops, decorate your house, enjoy conversation with the people in the towns, do quests for them, get married, have babies, discover cutscenes, support either corporation JJ or support the traditions, dungeon crawling with swords: all felt meaningful and rewarding, and the game is still being updated! Everything felt upgraded, while at the same time making you care and take time to plan for each season, from what to plant, to attending events. All of this made by one guy, is impressive. This is not just a fantastic game, but one of the best games I have ever played.
I hope you enjoyed this list, and either found some titles that intrigued you or had fun seeing some of your favorites here. Please let me know about other games you enjoyed this year and have a happy new year, where we will hopefully see new gems worth picking up!