Jim Crawford has been making video games for over 20 years, but nobody noticed until he moved to the Bay Area and started making friends with game journalists. Since making Frog Fractions, he's told day jobs to screw off and is riding the making games train until the conductor realizes that he forgot to buy a ticket. You can find him on Twitter as @mogwai_poet, listen to the podcast he’s on at http://videogameshotdog.com/, and play his games on http://twinbeard.com/--except for Frog Fractions 2, which you’ve been playing your whole life.
Hey, everyone! Here are ten games I loved from 2016, sorted from least to most obvious. Feel free to stop reading once you get to the games you already know about!
Hidden My Game By Mom (hap Inc.)
This hidden object game is a trifle, but it's a memorable, hilarious, and continually surprising trifle that's well worth the half hour you'll spend on it. My only gripe is that you can't pay to remove the ads--but, tiny spoiler, the ads turn out to be important to the gameplay.
Gebub's Adventure (John Wallie)
My favorite kind of game is the kind that drops you into a world and asks nothing of you, but provides riches when you explore. If you want, you can wander this grassy landscape and listen to lilting piano music for a while, then close the game and do something else with your life. Or you could bounce off of some flowers, take an elevator into a lava cave, deliver a pickaxe to a robot, save an imprisoned moonbird, and explore a mysterious factory in a mirror dimension. Gebub is cool with either one.
Picture a roguelike-ish adaptation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as a high-mobility stealth FPS, by the creator of Eldritch. If you're not sold on that idea immediately, you probably can't trust any of the rest of the opinions on this list either.
Shenzhen I/O (Zachtronics)
I'd bounced off SpaceChem and Infinifactory, previous Zachtronics build-a-system games, rationalizing to myself that I'd gotten my fill of assembly language programming when I was 15. Little did I know that a game about actual literal assembly language programming would grab me by the throat and not let go for a week. After decades of real-life programming getting more and more boring, this game brought back programming as pure puzzle in a way I didn't know I needed.
An old-school dungeon crawler with a clever Punch-Out-inspired swordplay system. Phone games rarely succeed at making me feel like I’m going out on an Adventure the way PC and console games figured out how to decades ago, but this one finds the right balance of abstraction that puts that feeling behind a mobile interface.
This is a four-player couch co-op game. On the screen, the game is very simple: you prepare food, plate it, send it off to be eaten, wash the dish after it comes back, repeat until time runs out. The real game exists not on the screen but on the couch, as you desperately try to coordinate which of your friends needs to be doing what when, as the sadistic level design actively trolls your ability to do this. Best time I've had yelling at my friends all year.
Most of this is a visually striking puzzle platformer with serviceable gameplay. The finale is what makes it great--and luckily it only takes a few hours to get there. I can't think of a time a sci-fi game paid off its premise quite so well.
This game almost would've made the list merely for the beauty of wandering and taking in the Wyoming wilderness. It also did a great job of creating two characters that I wanted to spend hours with. The plot itself was a little bit too forced to really hit home properly, but overall a wonderful, singular experience.
This game includes a beautiful island to explore and many very good, very interesting puzzles. It includes a number of audio logs of philosophy lectures, which are also all pretty interesting. It also includes the entirety of this great game design talk by Brian Moriarty called The Secret of Psalm 46, which I watched on YouTube instead. Whether these things mesh together is an exercise for the reader, but it does at least save you the trouble of finding a podcast to listen to while you play the game.
The best part of playing Pokémon GO was walking to a park, seeing everyone on their phones making the rounds of nearby Pokéstops, and buying a cookie frosted to look like a Pokéball from an enterprising 10 year old who'd set up a table near the throng. In the world of Pokémon, you never see anybody knitting or playing golf, because the hobby of everyone you meet is collecting Pokemon. For a few disconcerting weeks, Niantic made that true of the real world, too.
And here are a few bonus lists, partly to provide context for the main list:
Wish me luck finding enough free time to play some triple-A games next year!