Haha man shit was fucking wild this year, here are ten games I played that didn’t quite make it to my top 10 list, but they’re good too.
1. Kill It With Fire
A short first-person puzzle game about killing spiders, Kill It With Fire kind of came out of nowhere. Fanbyte EIC Danielle Riendeau described it as “a wonderful surprise… in a spritely little package” which just about sums it up. They even added some options post-release to make the game a little more arachnophobe-friendly. It didn’t quite make it into my top 10 just because there was so much competition in the first-person puzzle/exploration genre this year, but Kill It With Fire is a lot of fun — it’s the kind of game that makes you ask “I wonder if I can…” then always answers in the affirmative.
I usually can’t play turn-based roguelikes — not because I’m bad at them, but because they end up keeping me awake until 4 AM trying “one more run.” Klei’s Griftlands was different because of the game’s focus on narrative consequence, which encouraged me to slow down and treat the experience more like a conventional adventure game than a roguelike. It took some getting used to, but the mix of combat and negotiation systems works really well, and the world is interesting enough that it feels like more than just set dressing. It’s currently in Early Access so I kept it off my top 10 list, but I’ll probably get back into it when the 1.0 release drops next year.
3. Quantum League
I still don’t know how to explain Quantum League. It’s a shooter where you go back in time and can kill your opponent to stop them from killing you in an alternate timeline so that you land on the objective and win. It’s complicated. But it’s very fun. I don’t really play competitive shooters but streaming this with Niki was a blast.
4. Deep Rock Galactic
A first-person shooter that’s really not about shooting at all, Deep Rock Galactic is a cooperative experience where players work together to mine valuable minerals out of bug-infested caves. The shooting is pretty incidental here, though it feels pretty good anyway, and all of the classes contribute something different and useful to the effort, whether that’s setting up ziplines or lighting darkened areas. The only reason Deep Rock Galactic didn’t land on my top 10 is that I couldn’t convince anyone else to play yet another live game, and this is really the kind of title you want to be playing with people you know — it’s perfectly playable with strangers, but like Monster Hunter, it’s best shared with friends.
A first-person… slasher? We can do it. We have the technology. We can make a game where you’re a robot man who hacks at people instead of shooting them. And we can also make it so that while you’re doing that you’re running on the goddamn walls and using a grappling hook to launch yourself around. Did you like Titanfall 2? Do you want more of that? Play Ghostrunner. It’s kind of finicky sometimes and the worldbuilding is nothing to write home about, but man does it feel good to air dodge some cyberasshole’s gun then cyberslash his cyberface off.
6. Cruel Bands Career
I don’t remember how I found this, it just showed up on my Steam list one day. Cruel Bands Career is a game about a band but it’s not a rhythm game. Instead, it’s about balancing the egos of your three band members by rotating them around the stage to ensure that they receive good and bad guests (hot girls, drug dealers, murderous ghosts) in such a way that none of them gets so jealous or pissed off that they literally explode. It’s harder than Hades but it’s dripping with some much style that it’s worth giving a shot (on Easy mode).
7. Cloud Gardens
Part meditative plant cultivation toy, part deliberate puzzle game, Cloud Gardens is one of the most unique titles I played this year. The goal-oriented play can sometimes be a little bit frustrating, but placing seeds and human detritus onto little low-poly dioramas is intensely compelling as well as thought-provoking. The only reason it’s not in my top 10 is that it’s technically not out yet — it’s still in Early Access.
8. Depanneur Nocturne
The vibes here are off the chart, as you enter a little shop in the middle of the night with the goal of finding something special for your sweetheart at home. Maybe that’s a book, maybe it’s a turnip, maybe it’s an ancient magical egg. Everything is so lush and warm and traveling down into the tunnels underneath the shop to find the bathroom is an adventure in itself.
I was turned on to Wildfire by Steven Nguyen Scaife’s review of Carrion, a game that failed to live up to its promise of allowing you to embody a terrifying, stealthy monster. Wildfire is much closer to that, casting the player as a witch with powers that allow you to manipulate the elements to terrify and confound your persecutors. You can set pretty much everything and everyone on fire, or you can be a little more subtle than that. There’s a part where you get to play as a bobcat and I wish it lasted longer.
10. Hotshot Racing
Made by Sumo Digital, the same people who developed the Sonic kart racing titles, Hotshot Racing is kind of a modern Daytona USA. It’s got this crisp, low-poly but high-res look that appeals directly to the part of my brain that was lured in by racing cabinets at movie theatres in the 90s. There are a ton of characters, cars, and little details to customize, and once you get the hang of drifting, it’s a lot of fun to boost around the tracks. I just wish they had a little more variation — like some verticality, for instance. I must also regretfully mention that a character says “the cake is a lie” sometimes. In 2020. Please stop doing this.