Baby’s second GOTY at Giant Bomb! Wow! It’s happening!
Honorable Mention: Save Room
Hey man, this is cute. It’s a bunch of puzzles based on the Resident Evil 4 briefcase inventory system. It’s a bunch of em, it’s cheap, it’s something I didn’t know I wanted so bad, but I did.
Honorable Mention: Tinykin
If you take Pikmin and Chibi Robo and subtract the time limits and stress, you get Tinykin. It's a really lovely game with tight controls and satisfying collectibles. It also manages to have rather sprawling levels that don’t feel overwhelming, due to its usage of speedy and logical traversal via silkworm rail grinds. Each level has a great sense of momentum and a flow that just feels good. It’s a bit shorter than I was hoping – about 6 hours – but it was a very pleasant time overall!
Except there was that one level where I think I crossed a picket line and worked with the bad guys to stop a strike? That was mildly off-putting. I’m a little confused about why they went in that direction for a cutesy game like this. (For what it’s worth, this is not the reason Tinykin didn’t rank on my list!)
DA GOTY LIST
Ooh, what a neat thing this is. It’s not a card game, it’s a Cheating at Cards game. It’s got a bit of a WarioWare-but-more-tactical/deliberate feel to it, as you have to recall and pull off various distraction and slight-of-hand techniques in your “rob from the rich to give to the poor” scams. I haven’t beaten it (too many games) but I’m itching to go back and fleece a whole bunch more aristocrats.
This little weirdo hit me by surprise and left me wanting more. It’s a strange little indie jam where you play a spy, pretending to be a pizza guy, infiltrating a club to extract another agent. That’s as normal as the game gets, because what follows is a dice-rolling, role-playing, strategy game where you load up your die with pizza ingredients to affect the outcomes of whatever weird crap you’re doing. Cooking a stew, DJing, shmoozing with other people, enduring lasers, whatever. Your fate is in the pizza dice. It’s definitely a short game, but the mechanics were novel and the style was the kind of garish I can get behind (like Cruelty Squad, which is not made by the same developer). Really I just want another mission in this same world. Or a bunch more. Please make more of this weird thing, whatever it is.
Also leaving me wanting more was Cult of the Lamb, which charmed me hard and fast. It’s a bit short and a bit easy for someone who’s into Binding of Isaac and Hades like me (uh, then again, I didn’t play on the hardest difficulty or anything, just Normal/Medium) BUT the potential of this game is through the roof with regards to DLC. There’s already a bunch of cosmetic DLCs out for the cultist cuties and such, and I wouldn’t be surprised if an expansion is in the future of this game. And I’m totally there for it, ready to be worshiped by adorable animals all over again.
This originally was at number 5 but then I thought… This game’s had enough praise, let’s boot him down a bit and give some other very ambitious (but less AAA) games a place to shine. Am I grading on a curve? No, I’m grading with my heart.Shame on me - I got distracted after beating the Fire Giant and didn’t actually beat the damn game. I’ve been told I’m practically spitting distance from the end of Elden Ring, but I fear that my reflexes have probably atrophied to the point that getting back into it, this late in, would simply not work out. :( That being said, Elden Ring was (like everyone else says) a crazy triumph of “fuck around and find out” gameplay. Even a person like me, who was formerly scared off from ever playing a Souls game due to the “get gud” mentality found immense thrills in it (I have since been told that “get gud” is “a joke,” but my almost 2 decades of being wrecked at Smash Bros. has irreparably made that phrase an immediate morale-murderer. Please respect my Gamer Feelings on this matter.)
Yummy yummy numbers go up get da gems.
Sorry people thought that Garlic was a scrub tier “Best Vampire Survivors Weapon” choice, but we were just talkin’ about the plain-jane first form/level of it!! Sheesh! Garlic is basic but it gives you early momentum to gain levels and therefore buy other, more effective things! Sheesh! Embrace garlic and be a scrub like us. Sheesh!
The feat of making a follow-up to the original Stanley Parable that is this excellent, this funny, and this biting about the current atmosphere of sequels, DLC, etc, is kind of a miracle, and thus guaranteed this game a comfy spot on my GOTY list, even though I didn’t do the Eurovision thing with it. (I had to pick and choose my battles there!) Kevan Brighting hasn’t lost any of his charm as the Narrator, and if you wanna know how I feel about the writer, Davey Wreden, you can check out the dang Hot Takeout I did about this game. I respect the hell outta this game, lol.
How can I not be ridiculously impressed by an indie franchise that manages to unnerve me and even sometimes give me a little jump scare me while having graphics like this?
The third chapter of FAITH came out this year and it’s pretty amazing. Using the graphics and sound stylings of an ancient gaming console/computer, FAITH manages to weave a compelling and frightening tale that evokes classics like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. The simple graphics are sometimes punctuated with extremely stylish rotoscoped cutscenes that fill in the blanks, turning a little goofball pixel guy like this:
Just a widdle guy :3
Into something that’s worth being very nervous about:
oh NO get AwAY from me, widdle guy!!!
Plus, it’s just a cool-ass story. What if the various Satanic Panics of the 70s, 80s, and 90s were totally valid? What if there really were demonic forces barely simmering under the surface of reality as we know it? What if your only weapon against this force was a crucifix? And special shout-out to the sound design in this game, which is very successful at creating an off-kilter atmosphere. The music is absolutely great, the ambient noises are perfectly tailored to instill unease, and…. Is it possible to have an audio version of the uncanny valley? Cuz the way people talk in this game is that. Here’s a possessed person saying “Do you think my face is pretty?”FAITH is a kinda tricky game too, with a bunch of puzzle elements to it, and some surprisingly tough boss fights for your slow and delicate priest to handle. But it’s worth the struggles to deliver us from evil.
It’s a game that makes you feel FUCKIN COOL despite being a HUGE LOSER, and really isn’t that the goal of so many games? Neon White and his buddies are big horny anime goobers and I love them. I don’t know why so many people were down about this game’s story, it’s perfectly fine for what it is. And it seems to be going for an early-oughts Toonami anime vibe – something I believe is totally on purpose. It’s taking some biblical lore junk and slapping it on a teen-acting Chosen One and his dumb friends, what’s not to like? Gameplay wise, obviously, this thing rules. First-person platforming has long been an awkward-at-best, unplayable-at-worst kind of beast, but then Neon White shows up and makes all those other attempts look like chumps somehow. The level design, aesthetic choices, and music all complement each other SO well, as to make the game super flowy and fun, even when you’re messing up for the 40th time.
I know, it’s a shocker that the survival horror dork didn’t place this at Number 1, but I hope I can explain that when you get to the number 1 section! Also, you may have noticed that I placed this at Number 1 during the Eurovision GOTY thing and, my dudes, it is because nobody would have given it points otherwise. And I was right! Nobody did! And it deserves to be on the list.Signalis really is a hell of a game. It manages to take many lessons learned from other games in the survival horror genre, and make them its own. Too often, games will simply slam references to other, better games into theirs, hoping that reminding you of that game will make you like theirs, too!
Signalis has something other devs don’t, and it’s something incredibly important in horror: restraint. The devs knew to ask themselves “Does this actually help me tell the story or is it just a cool thing I like?” and, even better, “Can I improve this thing that I saw in some other game, and make it work for my game? Can I weave this thematically with what I’ve already got going on?” Like, I never thought I’d see someone take something that really, really sucks from Silent Hill 4 – something that was so ass, I thought was just fundamentally not fun or good to have in a horror game – and made it WORK. Specifically, I'm talking about the final boss of Silent Hill 4. Unbelievable. It’s incredibly rare to see such a confluence of extreme ambition and wise restraint, but for it to show up in an indie game, of all things, on top of that? Flabbergasting. Kudos to the devs. I didn’t even mention the sound and music of this thing but it’s a triumph, too. Silent Hill vibes, in the best way, because it also stands by itself even if you haven’t played the Silent Hill games.
Me and my partner, while playing this game, kept pausing it, just to go, “Holy shit…. Is this making me care about history?” Do you have any idea how hard it is to make two products of the American educational system CARE about HISTORY? This is an edutainment benchmark that nobody has ever even barely approached. This is a MIRACLE of GAMING. I’m learning things. I’m re-learning things I forgot from school. I’m solving murders! Or am I…? Actually, I’m not really sure I got the right guy here.
This is maybe one of the most interesting games I’ve ever played, and it has the gall to be based on real life history? The most BORING thing ever? How in the HELL. By the way, I learned that a “gall” is a weird thing that grows on trees and you can make ink from them. WHAT.
We kept getting gobsmacked with quiet realizations that everything we are, everything we do, is because some rando did something 1000 years ago. Not only that, but the way in which your choices matter works SO well. Yes, game choices don’t REALLY affect anything major but they do when you’re invested in the little things going on. It’s because of me that one of my pals in town got married! Aww! And there’s variables happening that you don’t even know are variables! Sometimes the things you don’t say or don’t do have lasting repercussions. —-Mild, non-story spoiler—- For example, after the game was over, I popped on over to the subreddit to see what people were discussing, what things I missed, etc. And I was very confused to see a bunch of comments talking admirably about this one character who was nothing but an unrelenting asshole to me for the entire game. People were even crushing on them! I’m sorry, what? Turns out, if you’re consistently nice to this horrible jerk they actually soften up by the end of the game and become an upstanding citizen. In my game, they ended up a miserable wretch who was still an unrelenting asshole. And I didn’t know it was even in the realm of possibilities that this dude’s personality could be different! And it’s all because of small moments that seem trivial at the time.
—-Spoiler ends here!—-This game not only makes one reflect on the ripples that art and history have throughout time, and how others’ interpretations of the long-forgotten nuances can completely alter history. It makes you wonder about what ripples are currently, constantly, unknowingly emanating out from all of us, right now. Whose lives have I unknowingly ruined by saying some careless thing? Whose lives have I saved by doing some small kindness? How will events that I saw firsthand be altered by future people if it’s not preserved faithfully? Is it worth preserving it perfectly, or is it worth changing, reinterpreting, treating like a first draft that we can iterate on? Hey, did you know what the word “Pentiment” means?
It’s harrowing and it’s awe-inspiring, and it’s very rare that a video game makes me consider such things. The final decision of this game was something that me and my partner had to have a full 15 minute long discussion about! It was agonizing, it was amazing, it’s my Game of the Year.
Huh, I just realized my GOTY list is bookended by historical period pieces. What a weird year for me, the history hater. Anyway, here’s some other quick categories I wanna slam in here:
Best Game I played this year that’s not from this year
Good fucking GOD, this game rules. I don’t even have the vocabulary to INSIST HARD ENOUGH that this game is phenomenal. It’s Half-Life 3. It’s the third Half Life. Okay, it’s a prequel, but it’s a full-ass Half Life game in the world of Half-Life!!! I thought it was some short side-story but it’s actually legitimately more Half-Life!! It’s got new lore, it’s got more world building, it’s got VORTIGAUNTS <3
I can’t be more thrilled. I forgot how much I adored the story and world of Half Life, and god DAMN, am I reinvigorated. I cried at the end, and half of that cry was because I so desperately wanted more Half-Life right now and knew that there wasn’t any more left.Well, there’s the Director’s Commentary (it’s amazing so far) and some mods though! Very much looking forward to those. Please Valve, make more Half-Life, you've still got it.
Aww man, these are all horror (or horror-adjacent) games! I weep! These all sucked! Ghostwire was a boring, by-the-numbers open-world snoozefest, Scorn was a frustrating-to-play visual feast that would have been WAY better as a walking sim with puzzle elements and zero combat, and Callisto Protocol was simply unfun to play and had no decent story hooks. I looked up the last cutscene/boss fight and was not surprised at how cliché it all went down. Just a game that felt totally void of personality or joy. It’s tough out here for horror fans sometimes. (Which is another reason why Signalis deserved to be on the site’s GOTY list.)
Games I missed out on playing, sorry!
- Perfect Tides
- Weird West
- Saturnalia (I played a liiiiittle bit of it and it seemed neat though)
- Plague Tale: Requiem (haven’t played the first one, either)
- Stray (which is weird, as a big fan of kitties)
- Nobody Saves the World
- Return to Monkey Island
- Powerwash Simulator (but wow, I get it)
- The Case of the Golden Idol
- Citizen Sleeper