More years, more games! Looking back, I can only say one thing: Geez, I played a lot of games this year!
Like last years’ lists, this just list games I played this year, not necessarily games that released this year, in no particular order. Also, only itch embeds this year because I’ve played a lot more games on itch, but also because all Steam embeds from last year’s list broke and I’m too lazy to add links/embeds for everything this time around.
My favorite puzzle game this year. It’s really clever and brings back a lot of memories from other puzzle games. This dev also released Hiding Spot this year as well, which is also a really good puzzle game, which is a bit rougher around the edges but still every bit as interesting and smart.
My favorite walking sim this year, although The Crows Crows Crows Community Museum was a close second. Basically what it says on the tin, it’s a virtual museum that you can explore and admire without noisy other guests, and also houses art not possible in physical spaces. Check it out!
An excellent continuation on Gone Home. You’re asked to investigate what happened to the crew of a deserted space station by watching back AR recordings. Soon you’ll figure out how the inhabitants made the sterile environment of the Tacoma feel more homely, and what’s really been going on in there.
I was a big fan of Runner2, and Runner3 is a really interesting continuation of the series! It has a lot more weirdness and interesting level designs, and as a result there’s a bit less quantity and a lot more quality overall. It received a nice update adding a lot more control over the difficulty settings, so try it!
Also, has no one been figuring out the secret of that radio tower yet?
Celeste is the best thing that happened to the genre in easily five years. It feels really nice to play, level design is really tight, has one of the most original and not-gimmicky feeling level mechanics, and there’s an awesome story to serve as metaphor for all of those. And it has a nice Assist Mode that makes it really accessible for new players in the genre. And that soundtrack.
I played the first game in the series (Dr. Darley and the Case of the Deboned Children) last year and thought it was pretty neat. The sequel improves the narrative in nearly every way with an awesome soundtrack, really good jokes, and funny Dutch stereotypes.
Smash Bros actually released in the year it was announced! I don’t think I have anything to add on what the critics have already said, except that its UX is top-notch yet again (just look at that main menu). I do hope Sakurai gets to work on something new after this, though.
I missed Lumines when it originally released due to it being PlayStation only—glad I finally get to play this one. Basically it’s a Tetris-style puzzle game that only allows you to drop 2x2 blocks that can only have two different colors of blocks. They disappear when you place them in 2x2 squares (or larger rectangles) when the beat marker moves over, which is synced to the music. And that music is really good!
Persona 5 just oozes style. Its story is pretty good, and I like the persistent dungeons much better than Persona 4’s generated ones. This game is a masterclass for UI design and narrative as well.
This is another really good puzzle game. I was eying Zachtronics games for a while, and this is the first one that seemed accessible enough. It’s puzzle difficulty ramps up really well, and the amount of creativity allowed in solutions is liberating when compared to Sokoban-likes. And it’s also an excellent excuse to show off my solution GIFs:
A shoot-em-up with only boss battles! Does that sound awesome to you? Then you’ll probably like this.
The original NES one! I did obtain a original NES this year, but since I still only have one game on loan for it, I started playing Zelda with the Switch NES app. I think the Zelda games on the GameBoy are still my favorites, but seeing the true classic Zelda for the first time allowed me to truly understand the core of the series. And save states make the gambling minigame really easy!
Okami HD: I decided to replay it this year, and am pretty amazed how timeless it is. There were some good parts in there that I’d forgotten in the years since I first played it.
N++: Basically on the other side of the precision platformer spectrum from Celeste, N++ focuses highly on quantity over quality. And it’s pretty good at that, although it’s game feel and level design can feel much more frustrating.
Jackbox Party Pack 5: Jackbox keeps re-inventing what party games should be and they’re doing a really good job at that. Jackbox continues to be a popular game of choice on my LAN parties.
Fe: The atmosphere in this game is really nice. I really wish it focused more on walking around looking at pretty environments than stealth gameplay. Climbing trees and then flying away feels really nice and makes exploring the world (especially the more vertical areas) really fun.
RiME: Another exploration-heavy game which was also really relaxing and mysterious. I didn’t really like the puzzles, though.
Taiko no Tatsujin: The Switch is getting some really good rhythm games, and this was the most prominent one to release this year. I have a couple of friends who love osu!‘s Taiko mode, so inviting those over to play it on launch day was a no-brainer.
Pinball FX3: I think I got around ten tables this year, mostly because they finally started getting discounted. The design of most cabinets is really good, although it varies from table to table how easy it is to learn the rules and get stuff done. Which makes the RPG-inspired table my favorite, probably.
Hollow Knight: It’s a good metroidvania. It’s hard in all the right ways.
Dandara: Also a metroidvania, but you’ll be jumping through spaces without gravity, jumping from wall to wall. The game is inspired by Brazilian folklore and that really feeds everything in the game. Some of the stuff in this game is annoying, but most of it is awesome.
West of Loathing: Good jokes. Seriously, just about everything in this game is one big joke. If you’re into that, this comes highly recommended.
Gorogoa: This was a really good vacation game. (Where other people bring books on vacations, I bring both books and games!) The game does a really good job at making everything mysterious, including the puzzles. Normally I hate point-and-click style puzzles in favor of more logically based puzzles (like Sokoban), but this game strikes a very good balance between the two. It’s pretty simillar to Framed (1 and 2), which I also played and feels very similar but with more consistent rules.
Child of Light: Started replaying this on Hard mode, which is actually pretty hard when you don’t play it in New Game+. Still pretty surprised by how well it hold up over the past years.
Night in the Woods: There are some really good skits in this, and while exploring the town can become a routine after a while, it’s really nice to get into the flow of meeting everyone every day. Get it on itch.
Just Shapes & Beats: The story mode in this is amazing, and the online mode can be fun to play in bursts. It’s also still receiving updates, so there’s something to look forward to every now and then.
Shantae: Half Genie Hero: It’s a decent game where the art and music is very good and the rest is just so-so. It does have a huge deal of expansions (I got the boxed Switch version with all of them included), and while there’s so much content recycled between the expansions, sometimes in interesting ways, but often it can feel like a chore with lots of backtracking.
Typeshift: This has become my go-to mobile game, replacing Nitrome’s Leap Day as my first pick. The daily puzzles can be really fun to figure out together with someone else.
Alto’s Odyssey: Zen mode can be super relaxing to play on the train after a busy week. I don’t really care about the other modes, since you can crash so quickly! I usually play until the (amazing) music has looped around two to three times.
I really like Nicky Case’s yearly book lists (here’s 2018’s), so let me add the three books I liked the most this year:
I really liked The Idiot Brain (the predecessor for this book, which I read two years ago), so my brain instantly recognized the sequel in the store and motivated my body to part with some monetary gain in exchange for some facts about our gray mass. This time, it’s less about weird & random facts about the brain, and more about coherent info about how your brain works to keep you happy, and which things it needs to keep you motivated.
You might be able to take some life lessons out of this, but mostly, it’s fascinating, funny, and really relatable. My favorite part of these books are absolutely the funny metaphors, and how well they can get the point across. Both books are a good recommendation if you want to figure out how you work, and also how others work, why you think you’re dumb while you can actually be quite smart (as well as the other way around), and more!
This is a Dutch book about the design of street names! (I’d translate the title as “Namely about street names”.) Street names sound really boring (especially if you live in the US, where apparently Second Street is the most common street name), but it’s actually a really well thought out area of design.
From this book, I learned that streets can only be named after persons if that person has been dead for at least five years (to prevent that person from becoming evil and ruining the street the name belongs to), districts have a special council for street names that meet a couple of times a year (that you can submit suggestions to), and there’s even a neighborhood in the Netherlands with streets named after Tolkien characters! After this, I was even able to find a list with street names for my own home village, and they reflect the history of the town like a mirror.
What if everything science thought about emotions was wrong? This books goes into huge lengths to describe why our current understanding of emotions severely limits our ability to correctly judge emotions from facial expressions and body language alone, how lawyers give out larger sentences just before lunch because their hunger is clouding their judgment, and how basically everyone is misinterpreting their own emotions (like the author herself getting feverish during a date, only to find out the next day she actually had a fever).
Basically, the book argues that a new framework for emotions is needed, where emotion concepts in different cultures are respected and people can make their own emotions by assigning words for a feeling. For example, I have an emotion concept for the feeling I have when my train departs from the station, since it feels really calm but also conclusive, and the actual motion of the train also makes me feel a bit funny. I don’t feel like I agree with everything in this book, but it put my mind to work good enough to deserve a place on this list.
I am not really looking forward to any games next year (maybe Baba is You?), although now I have a NES I’ll probably start dabbling with retro games more. I expect my usage of itch to continue, and my usage of Steam to decline, just like last year. I got a load of games for my Switch this year, and that will probably be a constant next year! (Also, I still wanna play Gris!)
Also, I hope to finally be able to release new side projects to follow up Mobility. Stay tuned!