Chris Grant is a project coordinator at MZ who you may remember as the former media relations manager at Games Done Quick. Chris has previously appeared at numerous GDQs and gaming websites to promote speedruns and show off Cool Stuff. You can often find him streaming on Twitch, or tweeting on Twitter.
Personally, this has been a tough year to play video games. I left Games Done Quick (amiably) at the start of the year to work production at a Mobile Games Studio, and I’ve had way less time to play games, even though I’m helping make them. A lot of my gaming choices were made with opportunity cost in mind--something had to look really cool to play, and I couldn’t justify games that I knew would take over a huge amount of time. So I haven’t played Breath of the Wild or Persona 5, and probably can’t until I have more time to play video games (it’d be great if Capitalism crumbled). Even with the limited time I had, I got to play some ridiculously cool games, and I’m excited for what 2018 brings, even if it’s just time to burn through my backlog.
10. Clash Royale
I like to pop a game from last year onto these lists, something that I missed, but ended up taking a ton of my time. Clash Royale is a game that I started in February and continue to play to this day. It’s the type of game I play if I’m waiting for something to happen, or chilling on the CalTrain and not thinking about work. It actually fills a time void that was formerly dedicated to 2016 election freakouts. That’s not to say I’m not freaking out over the world imploding, but I’ve just replaced some of that freakout time with a pretty good strategy game. It’s a fairly simple game to play, but there’s just enough nuance to make most games interesting. When do I drop my Ice Golem? How do pros manipulate unit AI to maximize their defensive plays? How do I optimize waiting in line at a Chipotle and crushing “PimpingNoobPimper” at the same time?
There’s legitimate concerns over the Clash Royale monetization model, but my expectations for progression are low. I don’t plan to hit the top of the ranked leaderboards, so I don’t have to spend however many thousands of dollars it’d take to keep ranking up. I have a pretty mediocre deck that I like to play, and I can plop myself onto a relatively average skill bracket, or compete on even ground in automated tournaments. It’s not a particularly great model, but it’s okay in the world of video game monetization.
9. Mr. Shifty
There’s no guns, but this is a fuck-‘em-up style game that brings in just enough tech to keep the themes of Hotline Miami alive and well. The main gimmick of Mr. Shifty is that the aforementioned Mr. Shifty can teleport small distances, or “shift”. There’s no spamable long-range attack, no guns to fire, just whomping enemies with Mr. Shifty’s fists (or other very temporary weapons). I like to go all out in this game, trying to kill enemies as quickly as I can and recklessly as I can, until the game catches up and bops me back into place, or the next room lights up and I can continue the whomping.
There’s a really solid foundation to Mr. Shifty, but it’s not really supported well by the game’s presentation. The plot is pretty non-existent, the music is alright but limited, and the writing is rare and not all that interesting. The plotline is purposefully hokey, but it’s not really funny enough follow through with the joke. Mr. Shifty would be an incredibly good game if it didn’t seem to only appeal to diehard Hotline Miami fans. I’d love to see a Mr. Shiftier that keeps gameplay similar, but makes everything else rad as hell.
Deceit is a deception game, akin to Werewolf or Mafia, but with a layer of FPS jank. It’s important to state that Deceit is not a particularly well-made game (in my opinion). The mechanics are sometimes overly convoluted, it’s easy to get lost in a not fun way, and it’s a glitchy game with public servers that are probably full of hackers and all sorts of fun, new, racial slurs. Seriously, Deceit looks like a nightmare in a public group, just as any no-penalty, ten minute, anonymous game of The Resistance would. I’ve only played a couple public games, and while they were mostly silent, it wasn’t all that great.
However, with a group of friends and voice chat, Deceit manages to really bring out a rapid tension that doesn’t exist in most deception board games. Avalon is a cascade of slow decisions, argued deliberately over time. In Deceit, if I call out “that mother fucker just drank blood”, then someone’s body is hitting the floor (probably mine). Something is either going wrong, or about to go wrong at any point in the game, and the result is a lot of anger, a lot of stupidity, and a beautiful layer of confusion that keeps games tense and interesting.
There’s numerous ways to end a game of Deceit, but I usually feel one of two ways. Either I’m reliving the end of The Thing, unsure if I’m about to die, but unfazed because my actions don’t matter anymore. I made choices, hopefully they were right. Or, more commonly, I’m looking up, eyes squeezed shut, wondering how my friends can make the world’s worst decisions. Rounds are short though, and it’s only a couple of minutes before the circle of jank repeats.
RUINER is a more in-depth Mr. Shifty, playing similarly with gameplay based on brawling and murdering mooks. Except now there’s more emphasis on longer combat, the player character doesn’t die in one-shot, and since I’m allowed to make mistakes, RUINER appropriately scales up how reactive and dangerous enemies are. So, while Mr. Shifty serves the “never mess up” gameplay that Hotline Miami had, RUINER just makes everything hard as hell. There’s a ton of cool bosses in RUINER, and there’s enough chaos and flexibility that I always feel like I’m fighting or dodging something. If I stop murdering for a second, I know I’ll die to a barrage of bullets and explosions.
What I really love about RUINER is how it celebrates destroying mooks by oozing ridiculous amounts of style. The electronica soundtrack melds perfectly with the dystopian cyber future, and enemies vary from generic thugs, to androids, to husks of human beings. The motivations of the characters, the disjointed but still understandable plot, and the fact that the player character only responds to questions with images on a digital mask, all comes together to make beating down mooks with a lead pipe way more fun than it should be. There’s a ranking system for every individual fight, and the mysterious person guiding you will celebrate in different poses based off how cool the violence was. I don’t get into a rush from a game very often, but RUINER really pushes videogame bloodlust to a new level.
The original SteamWorld Dig was a fun foray into digging a whole bunch and meeting cool robots. SteamWorld Dig 2 is more of a traditional platformer, with digging as a core mechanic instead of the only mechanic. There’s new movement abilities, multiple areas to travel through, and even more than one boss fight! This change in focus and expansion in content really pays off, and SteamWorld Dig 2 successfully pulled off a deeper game, both mechanically and thematically. I was legitimately nervous and uneasy during a mid-game stealth section, emotions I didn’t really feel during the original Steamworld Dig. I enjoyed the game enough that after completion I immediately started learning the speedrun (fun fact: it’s cool as hell and you skip like half the upgrades).
Gameplay aside, SteamWorld Dig 2 also did something that I didn’t really expect to happen, it’s actually sustaining and building the SteamWorld universe. Previously, SteamWorld Heist and SteamWorld Dig didn’t have particularly strong connections. It was earth robots mining for ore versus space steam robots fighting over water, with shared art style and villains, but not in a particularly meaningful way. SteamWorld Dig 2 actually makes solid connections, and I’m now excited for the next SteamWorld game, just for the continued building of the universe.
Monolith is a mini-Binding of Isaac with strong bullet hell elements, a smaller emphasis on items, and a stronger focus on gameplay. Isaac can rarely let a weaker player slip by with a stronger item combination, but Monolith just keeps on killing until a player learns how to win. It’s a difficult game, but it’s in a good place for a long-term Roguelike. I’ll learn from most deaths, and the rare successes I’ve earned make me feel like I’ve climbed video game mountain to accomplish something.
Monolith ends up being an exhausting game to play, and I think it’s fun to always have a game like that to turn to. I wouldn’t want to play Monolith while tired or drunk, but I can sit down, focus intensely for about 20 minutes, and walk away feeling overly-emotional about my video game playing. It’s also fairly easy to get into the game, with most of the game being obvious and accessible, and minute details being the key to long-term improvement. The game is also, quite frankly, adorable. It turns out space ships can be... cute???
Hollow Knight is the rare kind of game where I remember details about every character - from a fan fiction bug that’s a bit too down with the protagonist, to random insects that serve to deal out plot and add atmosphere. It’s a grim world, where story threads can end happily, but rarely do. Despite the depressive world, there’s still love and care woven throughout the game, and that’s why I can remember the bug that really loves painting, or the roly poly that just has to keep on mining. I had to savor whatever positivity existed in Hollow Knight, and pushing to make something good happen in the kingdom kept me playing well past my first ending.
Which is great, because I absolutely loved the gameplay of Hollow Knight. The combat felt smooth, the movement options were great, and I enjoyed some of the crueler design decisions. Not having a natural map gave me an objective in every region (find the map maker), and I went out of my way to nearly 100% the game. My main criticisms are that it’s very possible to hit a standstill of progression, especially with a fairly expansive world to traverse, and late game travel can take too long. I believe some of these issues were tackled in a post-release patch, and even with these minor issues, I absolutely adored the game.
Hollow Knight is a game that I don’t necessarily want a sequel of, but I want Team Cherry to build a universe that’s as beautiful and immersive in the next game they tackle.
3. Bleed 2
While Hollow Knight has complexity in its world, Bleed 2 is pretty simple. Shit is fucked, there’s someone taking over the world, and you can dash, shoot, and slow down time to stop them. There’s a lot of fun built into the world, but Bleed 2 really is all about the gameplay. The controls are tight, the bosses are fun as hell (especially on Very Hard), and I cannot overemphasize how much fun I had blasting and dodging robots and cowboys. This is the game that I really put time into speedrunning in 2017, which was a heavy investment given a limiting schedule and little time to play. Most nights I could only do one or two runs, and that’s if I didn’t want to do anything else. Luckily enough, I did get to run the game at Summer Games Done Quick 2017 (though I did die and let out a loud “fuck”). Bleed 2 places third because I could at any point start running the game again, and I’d still be having just as much fun as I did months ago.
I was told by a friend that you could fuck the hat. Unfortunately, this is not true, and I can safely say that is why Super Mario Odyssey is not my game of the year - you cannot fuck the hat. Despite the lack of hat fucking, this game captures the strengths of both Bleed 2 and Hollow Knight. The gameplay is phenomenal, Mario controls like a beast, and there’s care taken into the aesthetic and world-building of environments, just with a happier tone than Hollow Knight. There’s always something to find, and being rewarded for both exploration and structured challenges is pretty dang fun.
One moment (minor spoiler) really stuck out to me in Super Mario Odyssey - the festival scene in New Donk City. I expected a cutscene, maybe some extra moons, but nothing that would really hold up. Festivals exist in video games for bad guys to invade or something to go wrong, not for the festival itself. Instead I got a pretty fabulous platforming section and a cheesy, but absolutely adorable homage to Mario and jumping. I was honestly floored at how much effort was put into such a short section of the game. It’s a minor and fairly inconsequential, and it was amazing. I felt that same care and style throughout the rest of Super Mario Odyssey, and it never stopped delivering.
I also have a ton of love for (minor spoiler) finishing Darkest Side of the Moon and being awarded the invisibility cap. It’s absolutely worthless, but I couldn’t stop laughing at the hilarious dud prize I earned for beating the game’s hardest challenge.
PUBG (pronounced “Pub Guh”) is a game where I drove a car through tunnels, got a triple kill, then superman punched someone to wipe out the squad. Despite limited time to play, I’ve put over 500 hours into PUBG, and I’m probably not going to stop. Which is strange, since the gameplay is almost the exact opposite of some of my other top 10 games.
It’s not rare to play a game of PUBG that’s 30 minutes of looting, 30 seconds of trying to find enemies, and 1 second of getting popped by someone hiding in a bush. The downtime helps build a tension though, and the quickly escalating pace between looting, hiding, traveling, and firefights really makes the game more exciting. I actually started a game while looking through my old PUBG footage for this list. While playing, I had enough time to find a screenshot I wanted to use to represent PUBG, edit it, and have it ready to send out. Despite this massive downtime, I still had a blast after I tabbed back into the game and perpetually fought my way to a win. I had a game that I won after literally AFKing to get dressed for work. The AFK portion wasn’t exactly fun, but I can still clearly remember exact details about the final four kills I landed on my way to a tasty chicken dinner.
There’s also a social aspect - most of my PUBG games are Squad matches. It’s really fun to group up with friends from social circles all over the internet. Speedrunning friends, Giant Bomb Goons, I’ve actually used PUBG as a way to chat with people I had spoken to for years. It turns out that 30 minutes of downtime is a pretty decent time for chit chat. I’m not sure when I’ll stop playing PUBG, the 1.0 test server is different enough to get me hooked back in, and I don’t see myself stopping. This will probably be one of the most important games for the next few years.