It’s that time of year again, where we get to see which best-of-the-best games make all sorts of lovely people’s Game Of The Year lists for 2016. While I do love those, I am also profoundly tired of thinking about 2016 as a year. Don’t get me wrong--if you overlook the fact that Bad Rats got a sequel this summer (thus indisputably proving that we’re in the darkest timeline), a lot of exceptionally good games came out this year. And thank fuck for that. Playing Pokémon Sun while queuing for Overwatch matches help me recharge when I’m feeling drained by watching the news. Losing myself in Doom let me forget about any actual impending doom for long enough to breathe. Playing Firewatch let me pause and look away from watching things catching on f--you get my point, I can stop torturing this joke.
Anyway, the appeal of GOTY lists for me is to hear the biggest games of the year talked about through the specific lenses of people with different viewpoints, but given that I spent the year adapting a series of tweets by a niche kindle erotica icon into an FMV game, it’s safe to say I am no good at convention. It’s become an accidental tradition at this point for me to use my end of the year list to talk about cool stuff you might not know instead of giving my specific take on the big games you’ve already heard about. So for me, the theme of my list this year is pretty clear. I hope you find something on here that eases the crushing darkness of 2016, or at least enjoy blowing up some giant ants regardless.
Zoe Quinn’s Top 10 Games Of A Year (Any Year Other Than 2016 [Please God Make It Stop])
Anime Hell 1995 is a pay-what-you-want Twine game by Colin Spacetwinks, creator of You Are A Horse and Big Armadillo Boyfriend. The game contains five short stories about “depression, self-hate, time travel, dopplegangers, being sucked into a fantasy world, and more, all within the context of the VHS tape hell of 1995.” If you were anime trash around the same age I was, and remember scrounging for fansubs before streaming services were A Thing, this might hit you right in a very specific nostalgia bone in a way you’ve never felt before. Even if you’ve never owned a wall scroll that you had to work way too hard to find, the writing is well crafted and vulnerable in a way that feels like a surreal self-help book.
One of the only games on this list that came out this year, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday was created by a former Rockstar developer about the period of time during the revolution in his home country of Iran. The story of the game’s development could be the basis of an entire game itself--once word of the game’s development hit Iran, the dev team was accused of espionage, the concept artist fled the country, the writer felt unsafe to ever return, and the rest of the team was prompted to work under aliases. The gameplay itself will feel very familiar to anyone who plays Telltale’s games, albeit with a bit less polish, but the heart of the game is in the story it tells. A must-play for anyone who wants to play a game where people who are typically only represented in games as foreign enemies to shoot at get to tell their own stories about their own people, and have risked so much to do so.
I’m not sure what more to tell you upfront. It’s exactly what it says on the tin. The game earns the spot on the list for not simply leaving it at the premise. The game itself is full of additional dad jokes, multiple game modes, mechanics that really try to push the core “match this with that” premise, and the single best animation of a slippery when wet sign falling over that I’ve ever seen. People tend to focus on the pixel art full frontal nudity in the game (which is “tame” enough for Twitch to allow streaming despite their policies on the matter, if you’re worried about that), but really, its animated caution sign falling over is the greater visual achievement here.
Riffing on the bug-eyed pet simulators of the mid nineties with similar naming conventions, this is a cute ghost version of that with a dash of humor added in. Ghostz is a free little jam game where you care for a tiny friendly ghost as they haunt your browser. Feed your ghost worm burgers, play with it using it’s own bones, and eventually free it from this mortal realm! If you were like me and got extremely depressed any time you misplaced a tamagotchi for too long and found that it had died and left a sad ghost surrounded by a pile of turds behind, find catharsis in doing the exact opposite with this.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t just fill this list up with games that have “simulator” in the title, but it’d be almost criminal to exclude Surgeon Simulator 2013 from this list. Nominated for a BAFTA, this floppy surgeon game is likely the most well-known game on this list, and one of the biggest successes of the “absurdist portrayal of a real life thing” genre. If you haven’t played it yet, you can play the game jam version free online, or the more fleshed out full version on Steam that includes extra content packs, including a Donald Trump mode if you are desperately craving some more 2016-branded stank on this list.
If you’re at all familiar with the “bear is driving, how can that be?” reference, then you’re already up to speed on what Enviro-Bear 2000 essentially is. Bear is driving, and how it be involves eating berries, fish, and hibernating while being a bear and trying to steer a car with surprisingly deep game design (that earned it an IGF nomination in 2010, and won the TIGSource game jam it was made for). Gameplay-wise, it bears (heh) a resemblance to QWOP in that it is hilariously difficult logistically to operate the vehicle and manage obstacles getting in your way, garbage rolling around in your car, and being a fucking bear at the same time. You can play it online for free, or if you want the mobile version with a whole extra 10 years tacked onto the title, it’s available on android and iOS as Enviro-Bear 2010.
Another jam game, Nicky Case’s Coming Out Simulator 2014 is a “half-true story about half-truths”. You play as a faceless, semi-fictional version of the author and “play” through the night he came out to his conservative Asian parents. The game is brutally personal, vulnerable, and real, using real dialog from that night in the author’s life, as well as “all the things we could have, should have, and never would have said”. All the things you say, or don’t, have weight to them in a way that makes the story relatable to anyone who has had to navigate a situation with no “right” answers, regardless of if you have anything in common with the author’s life or not. The stylish art and text message interface makes brings an additional level of polish to a well-written story. It’s absolutely worth the meager 20 minutes or so it asks of your time. You can play it for free online or on your mobile device.
I GET TO PUT AN FMV GAME ON A LIST! That alone makes me unreasonably happy! Corgi Simulator 2071 was made for the Cowboy-Bebop themed Space Cowboy Game Jam, and you play as a Corgi trying to distract the humans from the computer long enough to do some sweet dog hacks. Combining video footage of an actual, adorable corgi being pet a lot and doing tricks with hacking minigames, this game is Extremely My Shit in several ways. The game is free, but thanks to the depreciation of the Unity Web Player, apparently seems to not be working on the site. HOWEVER! As of this writing, I’m talking with the developers and they’re working on a fix (and will be posting it on the itch.io page accordingly). In the meantime, you can read more about the game and see some of that perfect dog footage over on their blog.
If you have ever felt like you wish you could play a more ridiculous version of the Starship Troopers movie, then you’re in luck. The best entry in the Mystery Science Theater Movie Levels of Cheesy series, this game is extremely satisfying to anyone who loves pure “blow everything up fuck it who cares” gameplay. Run around a city blowing up gigantic bugs that are unreasonably larger than you. Pilot mechs that shoot at other, larger mechs because fuck yeah. The game doesn’t give a crap in the best possible ways, while being a solid pure action game at the same time. If you want to unwind from a stressful day with a game that perfectly encapsulates being a bull in a china shop except all the china is twenty times bigger than you and has been given a backstory that feels written in the style of Manos: Hands Of Fate, this right here is your game.
A Game You Make In 2017???
I started this off on kind of a grim note, but I want to leave on a hopeful one. 2016 was a fucking mess for a lot of us. It’ll continue to be a mess going forward. A lot of people are freaking out and despairing over this, and it’s understandable--but it doesn’t have to be the only reaction. Games have been a major thing that’s kept me going through all the hard times of my life, this year and all years prior, first as a player and later as a developer. It’s easy to downplay games as a whole as being somewhat trivial or just for idle distraction, but that’s a failure of imagination. Games can tell powerful stories, connect us to each other, or even just make the day easier to get through when we need it. Making games can lets us make tiny worlds that are nice to spend some time in, or more closely resemble the ones we wish we lived in and invite others into them with us. There’s so much power to do so many good things with that, and the easiest way to remind yourself of the good in the world is to create more of it.
So if you’ve ever felt like you want to make a game, there’s no better time than the present. I mean that as more than a platitude--the free tools, information, and other resources available to help you do just that are more numerous than ever. I’ve made some that might be useful to you if you don’t know where to start. If making games would make your world a little brighter, or if you want to make other people’s worlds a little brighter too, I can’t suggest just giving it a try enough.
Games are pretty frickin' rad all year, every year.
Except for July 20th, 2016.
Because that’s when the sequel to Bad Rats came out.
And that’s terrible.