Hello friends and duders! This year felt like a weird one. Most (if not all) of my favorites at the end of this year would not have matched my predictions at the beginning. But weird is good, I like weird, and the best moments of these games will stay with me for a long time. Also the backlog is still real: Death Stranding, Disco Elysium, Indivisible, Control (waiting for an RTX card), and I am currently making my way through Jedi: Fallen Order. Even so there was much I found to celebrate this year, including just what a banner year for space adventures it was.
This year I got a lot more consistent in getting the 3072 card, but the 6144 continues to be my white whale. Reached a new high score of 266,532, which had every card on the board needed to make it, but with an error margin of just two spaces I only just missed it.
Oh well, there’s always next year.
This was the year I finally joined the rodeo and delay banked me quite a decent backlog of quality titles. Astro Bot, Moss, Fisherman’s Tale, and had me greedily jumping my way from game to game to see everything on offer. Being able to look gaze around the cockpit in No Man’s Sky made my lonely spaceman fantasy even spacier. But the one game that I want to give special mention here is Super Hot VR. It transcends the ‘regular game with some enhancements’ bit and becomes something that feels truly special and unique to VR as an experience (the Quest is an especially good pairing here). Actually ducking behind crates, head faking around bullets, and blindly getting the two guys flanking me with my dual pistols, the interaction-sensory feedback loop was so transformative the game is a showcase of when VR design is firing on all cylinders.
I went into this blind and was so happy for it; it’s golf, but not really. The amount of Not-Golf Golf they managed to conjure is seriously impressive, including some genuine laugh out loud moments.
It’s WarioWare Golf, what more do you need to know? Golf.
Honestly, I’m still not 100% convinced Sekiro came out this year but wiki never lies. Responsible for my highest highs and lowest lows, it feels absolute in its demands of your skills as a player. The setting, tone, art direction, they’re all incredible and resonates with the lone wolf struggling against a world of more powerful enemies. Yes that tank of man is wielding a blade the size of a mid-sized sedan like it’s a nunchuck, but you will get in there and mix it up like a chihuahua with delusions of grandeur or you are going to die. Dying to a foe twenty times in a row then to have everything click into place and take them out without so much as a scratch is a feeling that will stay with me for a long time. Also, that moment with the ape is easily the best head fake of the year.
I approached Obsidian’s latest RPG somewhat cooly, as I’m not the biggest Fallout fan, but I’m easily plied by a sci-fi aesthetic, and early looks of the game revealed some quality writing. Indeed it is on the strength of the characters, dialog, and questlines that carried my enjoyment (while the combat provided an opportunity to catch up on my podcast backlog). The array of distinct locations, as opposed to a single sprawling world map, come with their own distinctive visual style, some of them quite compelling (I still remember the first time I walked out into the Groundbreaker’s promenade). This game became my comfort food when I would come home from work particularly exhausted and I could kick back blasting marauders or delve further into companions backstory/loyalty mission.
This feels like an update worthy of the nostalgia and reverence held for the original. My own history with the series started at 5, so I feel especially lucky that I got such a quality introduction. Despite some of the not-insignificant departures from the original, I never felt like I was getting anything less than an authentic Resident Evil experience. For that the game is a master class in revisiting and modernizing classic titles. It also features the best DMX treatment of an enemy since the goomba.
5. A Short Hike
Charming, relaxing, vibing, A Short Hike is a game I was happy to just spend time in, sometimes doing nothing at all. From breezy trees to lapping waves the natural scenery is delivered quite effectively with an economical use of pixels. Just like the visuals do a lot with a little, the people you meet come through as fully realized characters with just a few lines of charming, well written dialog. While there is always the singular main objective, I would often get side tracked from side tracks and the game was all the better for it. When I did finally reach the both literal and metaphorical culmination I was rewarded with, not only some great views, but a touching moment about family, friends, and taking a moment for self care.
Handily taking home the “just one more turn” of the year award, Dicey Dungeons got its hooks into my fast and Terry Cavanagh continues to be one of my favorite designers out there. The bopping upbeat driving soundtrack and adorable art style opens strong but the game really shines showing off just the staggering amount of design variety it builds from a dice rolling combat mechanic. By the time I reached the end with each new character I was sure I had found my favorite, only for the process to repeat again (and that was before I even got to the episodic variations). This game was great because I could squeeze in a quick run whenever I had an opening in my schedule, though more often than not I found said schedule suddenly derailed by an hour.
A favorite of mine since it’s early access days, but since it came out for real this year I get to gab about it here! The style is charming without being childish. The music atmospheric and encouraging. The technology is chunk and tactile. Things click and latch a flow together in a very satisfying way. While I do love me some lonely spaceman genre I was fortunate to experience a significant portion of my 80 hours in coop. Now instead of being lost and alone, I was lost with my friend Max. Adventurous excursions suddenly (sometimes very suddenly) becoming rescue missions, expanding to new outposts and planets, exploring furthest depths just to climb out of the gravity well, Astroneer was my favorite solar system to get lost in this year.
Having no previous experience with the series it was a pleasant surprise as to how quickly this game grabbed me. There is some top-notch animation on display here. Each level is ideal in length, with good thematic variety, and I enjoyed hunting down every last gem. The game is very well made, but the reason why it finds its way so especially high on my list was playing coop with kids was easily one of the best gaming experiences I had all year. Gooigi manages to have feature parity with Luigi (as opposed to the async nature of say, Cappy) yet still the cooperative experience is nearly completely additive. Even in the trickiest sections you’re almost always better off by having a gooey companion, which quickly became my preferred way to play. This game was so good it got my son, number one Mario stan, to spontaneously flip his reversible sequin hoodie from Mario to Luigi and, in a top 10 anime betrayal, declare that Luigi is better than Mario. Honestly, this year? He’s not wrong.
1. Outer Wilds
It’s hard to say much about this game that hasn’t been said by smarter people who are far better about getting words onto paper, but god damn if this game didn’t hit me every which way. The exploration, the discovery, the incredible musical score and truly jaw dropping reveals. I cherished arriving at each new planet while greedily trying to absorb all it had to tell me about Nomai, lured by promises of nothing less than the secrets of the universe itself. But what really rockets it to the number one spot for me this year is the ending. It is a quality of storytelling rarified in all of science fiction, let alone games. It is a powerful, touching, meditation on what we leave behind, what do we take with us into the future, and the journey there.