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List of Games Beaten in 2021

Blarg. What games I beat. A list of them. Is what this is.

Man, twelfth one of these now, huh? You'd think I'd find something better to write up in here after all that time. Like an apposite Robert Frost quote or something. Ah well, the road not taken and all that (who even said that? Keanu Reeves?).

Disclaimers:

  • If I talk about how something is the "____th 2017 game," I'm referring to this blog series. You can get more in-depth reviews of the related games there.
  • If something's an "Indie Game of the Week" I've written about that in more detail elsewhere too. Click the item to go to its game page and then the Forum tag to find the review.

(NB: I eventually hit the 100 items limit for ordered lists, so here's Part Two.)

List items

  • 02/01. The first 2017 game of the year. Another one of these atmospheric horror puzzle-platformers that leans a lot on its perturbingly lumpy enemy designs and dour setting. Some minor issues with its interface didn't sour what was a brief but richly detailed playthrough. (4 Stars.)

  • 08/01. The two-hundred-and-first Indie Game of the Week. After the big 200 milestone, went back to basics with this 2D explormer based on Slavic mythology. Nothing too impressive or novel, but a solid enough "one of those" that I had a fair time with. (4 Stars.)

  • 19/01. The two-hundred-and-second Indie Game of the Week. I made it seem like I felt affronted by this game's many dick moves, what with creating a blog titled "I Was Affronted By This Game's Many Dick Moves" and all, but I actually appreciated its candor and a return to "old-school" difficulty; apropos for the equally old-school grid-based first-person dungeon crawler genre it homages. More a Wizardry than a Dungeon Master, Operencia is rich with lore (based on Slavic mythology again) and has some smart innovations to the format including character customization that you can endlessly re-tune. (4 Stars.)

  • 21/01. The two-hundred-and-third Indie Game of the Week. A leisurely mystery adventure game about a disastrous space exploration mission in a distant star system. Piecing together the particulars of what happened one breaking bad planetside scenario at a time was a great slow burn approach to storytelling, and even if some of the character graphics were iffy the alien vistas and mechanical graphics generally looked pretty stunning. Reminded me of The Dig and Mission Critical, very much in a good way. (4 Stars.)

  • 22/01. The second 2017 game of the year. Cute little action game about a bird shooting their own hotel guests in order to appease some health inspectors, though it's a bit too short and not all that involved for my liking. A modest game for a platforming fan looking for a modest time. (3 Stars.)

  • 23/01. Elaborate rice-farming sim and 2D brawler that proved to be quite a bit more challenging and involved than I anticipated. The farming doesn't just generate consumables: it's integral to the stat development of the title character, given she's half harvest goddess, and making sure to complete all thirty-eight (maybe an embellishment) stages of a rice growing season correctly is the most effective way to succeed in the more combat-heavy exploration mode. That side of things plays a bit more like Viewtiful Joe in that there's a heavy emphasis on juggles and combos and hitting enemies into other enemies to start a highly damaging chain reaction.

    The game does not pull its punches, from the macro to the micro: as well as surviving the tough battles and getting the harvest right (which gets as granular as putting the correct amount of insecticide in fertilizer and making sure the water levels in the paddy are always just so), you have a strict time limit per day, need to consider foe weaknesses and your own statistical shortcomings or else get blindsided by new enemy types and bosses, and also ponder the quality and rarity of the ingredients that go into the meal eaten the night before to ensure you have the most cost-effective buffs for your next outing. It's a demanding game on every level, but rewarding in the way that hard graft and eventual success through much failure and adversity can sometimes be. As someone who hates hard work though, I have to admit to only mostly tolerating it. (4 Stars.)

  • 23/01. The third 2017 game of the year. It's a HOPA, so if you've played one of them you've played them all. This one stands out a little more because of its insane premise - the daughter of a kidnapped inventor in 1900 goes out to rescue him, and during the course of her adventures steals a Zeppelin and falls in love with Albert Einstein - but it's otherwise the same mix of inventory and hidden object puzzles they all are. (3 Stars.)

  • 28/01. The two-hundred-and-fourth Indie Game of the Week. A hauntingly beautiful puzzle-platformer about a mourning woman who rediscovers the color in her life, figuratively and literally, as she goes through the grieving process. Very much aimed at the Journey "games are art" set, this is one you'll want to play largely for the audio and visuals rather than its more straightforward gameplay. (4 Stars.)

  • 30/01. This might be my least favorite Uchikoshi work along with the last chapter of the Zero Escape trilogy, but it's still a damn fine game. Put in the gummy shoes of a gumshoe that works for ABIS (Advanced Brain Investigation Squad), which means he's trained to enter the heads of suspects and witnesses to learn valuable clues from their dreams and memories, the player is tasked with solving the murder of one Shoko Nadami, whose body is found missing her left eye. Creating some interpersonal awkwardness is the fact that the protagonist, Date, knows Shoko and is currently fostering her daughter Mizuki at the father's request. What results is a twisty murder mystery that breaks into many different branching paths, each of which terminates in a non-canonical ending that nonetheless spits up a valuable clue about the case that helps with the other routes (indeed, some of these routes are temporarily closed off until you learn more). The game splits at what it calls its Somnium sequences: when you're inside someone's head, trying to figure out how to progress deeper into their memories and find out what they know.

    While the writing is generally excellent - able to inspire dread, laughter, heartbreak, suspense, curiosity, and fremdschämen whenever applicable - it is a little too eager to overindulge in crude humor about porn and boobs that starts to get tiring fast. I get that Uchikoshi (or whichever writer was in charge that day) is riffing on the lascivious hero of City Hunter and other playboys like him, but it's hard to take the protagonist seriously when he's so single-minded about motorboating them tig ol' bitties. The ancillary characters, like your various female partners Aiba (an AI that lives in your eye socket, don't ask), Mizuki (the aforementioned foster child), and A-Set (a pink-haired teenage internet streamer who maybe knows more about the case than she lets on), tend to be more fun with their reactive exasperation and one-liners. The Somnium chapters meanwhile are hobbled by an obnoxious time limit that extends to every action - just walking takes up precious seconds, but some actions can devour entire minutes unless you figure out a way to mitigate the loss - and every puzzle ultimately boils down to experimentation and trial-and-error, operating as they do on literal dream logic, meaning you'll have to start over many times. Towards the end I was practically reaching for a walkthrough so I could get through them quickly and painlessly and back to the visual novel half of the game. That said, some of those "dead ends" at least led to some amusing non-sequiturs and dumb jokes. I certainly wanted to like AI: The Somnium Files more than I did, in part because the asking price was so high and that created a sort of heightened Veblenian expectation of quality, but I can't say I was too dissatisfied either. Certainly garnered more than my fair share of laughs from its goofiness. (4 Stars.)

  • 31/01. The fourth 2017 game of the year. To the Moon's sequel, which treads the same thematic waters of exploring a lifetime of regrets and what one might change about it while lying on one's deathbed. Finding Paradise goes less towards the heartbreak of To the Moon and veers towards an interesting direction involving an anomalous presence in the clinical memory sifting process, but if the narrative-heavy and interaction-light combo of the original didn't grab you (nor its RPG Maker visuals) I don't think this will either. I appreciate this series for as occasionally maudlin as it can be however, and hope to see several more instalments. (4 Stars.)

  • 09/02. The two-hundred-and-fifth Indie Game of the Week. Earthlock's surprisingly ambitious and does well by both that sense of scope - the equivalent of a PS1-era RPG - and enough interesting (mostly borrowed) mechanics to keep the combat and exploration fresh. (4 Stars.)

  • 10/02. The fifth 2017 game of the year. This is one of those games that took a long hard look at Skyward Sword and The Wind Waker, considered what it was about those games that made them special, and then tried to recreate it on an Indie developer's budget and time. In similar cases, devs might go for mechanics or aesthetic, but AER went for the vibe: having a mostly empty but beautiful cel-shaded world to explore at your own pace, either making a beeline for the dungeons or just soaking in the atmosphere. (4 Stars.)

  • 11/02. The two-hundred-and-sixth Indie Game of the Week. A solid enough aquatic explormer though one like AER above that feels mostly empty and letting the atmosphere of its sub-aquatic world do a lot of the heavy lifting. The boss fights are when the gameplay rolls up its sleeves and gets serious, with each one presenting a challenging duel with a massive aquatic foe. (4 Stars.)

  • 17/02. It can be difficult to convey just how good the Ys games are because so much of their appeal is contingent on how they feel and how the player feels while playing it. It's like if you turned an action-RPG into an arcade game or a rollercoaster ride; it's not just the stimulation from the rock soundtrack or its highly responsive controls, but the sense of sheer dizzying speed that each one is capable of delivering. Fighting a boss while barely dodging waves after waves of attacks, or entering a new dungeon and just powering through enemy groups in seconds as you effortlessly switch to characters with the right attack type. Falcom's been working on this formula for a very long time and have gotten disturbingly good at it.

    That said, Celceta's maybe a slightly weaker entry, sitting as it does between Ys VII and Ys VIII as a series "half-step". It's based on an older Ys game (or two, if we're being technical) so there's also a few "old-school" indulgences it can wreck your day with, the most atrocious of which is a status effect that causes you to hemorrhage money at a shocking rate. Graphically, it's... well, it's formerly a Vita game, but the PS4 version does a fine enough job of up-rezzing everything without it looking like garbage. Falcom games aren't normally lookers to begin with though, with the artistic efforts directed towards the excellent soundtracks instead - this game is full of the bangers you should expect from an Ys game, with Black Wings and Underground Ruins being two highlights.

    I would happily recommend any Ys game to any person, just because there's nothing much else able to do what this series can. When it's firing on all cylinders it's about as close to action RPG nirvana as you can get. (5 Stars.)

  • 19/02. The two-hundred-and-seventh Indie Game of the Week. We've long since passed the point where you could be surprised by what this game is - it's Frog Fractions 2, hidden inside a fairy glade building simulator - but there's enough diversions and puzzles to keep anyone entertained even if they're not the biggest followers of ARGs. (4 Stars.)

  • 20/02. The sixth 2017 game of the year. It's another HOPA and not one that is distinctive in any particular way, besides being the hundredth game to riff on Norse mythology that year (see below for another case). I dunno, these games are all pleasantly anodyne and probably worth the few hours they ask if you happen to grab a bundle of them. More to come on this list, for sure. (3 Stars.)

  • 23/02. The seventh 2017 game of the year. Hellblade's a prestige game, one that takes a lot of dramatic risks with its premise and presentation, and as a result the more traditional gameplay side of the equation takes more of a back seat to what's happening with the story. You can take or leave the environmental rune puzzles or the competent if mashy combat, but it's worth seeing through for the performances and art direction. (4 Stars.)

  • 25/02. The eighth 2017 game of the year. NSS hooks you in early with an incredibly well-designed streamlined version of an MGS stealth action game, pulling back the levels of interaction to a single analog stick for movement and still making the particulars of the genre work. It then kinda messes up that good first impression by proceeding to do nothing new with the next ten hours of gameplay needed to see its ending. Half a great idea, as I said in the review. (3 Stars.)

  • 26/02. The two-hundred-and-eighth Indie Game of the Week. Despite an annoying late-game progress breaking bug, The Inner World carries itself well as a throwback graphic adventure game with plenty of modern quality-of-life features - a "highlight all hotspots" button, which is always something I want, and regular wipings of the slate so you're never stuck with too many hotspots and items at one time. (3 Stars.)

  • 27/02. The ninth 2017 game of the year. A dramatic story about a teenager's travails, told through the lens of a mobile phone they dropped in the street. What little interaction there is consists of reading emails and text messages, as well as figuring out passwords, in order to get to the bottom of what happened. I'm tempted to call this sub-genre "phone 'em ups" but... well, it feels like I should probably be talked out of it. (4 Stars.)

  • 07/03. The two-hundred-and-ninth Indie Game of the Week. The final part of this trilogy of single-character isometric RPGs is a little more compact and rushed, but still hits most of the same highs. Not the most satisfying conclusion though. (4 Stars.)

  • 14/03. The two-hundred-and-tenth Indie Game of the Week. I can't fault the game's ambition or sense of atmosphere or ingenuity of its timeline puzzles, but it continued to rub me the wrong way ever since it wiped my save that one time. Wish it surfaced more about its intricate timetable of events and how much time you had left. (3 Stars.)

  • 15/03. The tenth 2017 game of the year. A brazen Mega Man clone with magical anime girls that's about as entertaining as its inspiration, suggesting the developer knew perfectly well what it was about those old NES Mega Man games that made them timeless. Fun name to say out loud too. (4 Stars.)

  • 19/03. The two-hundred-and-eleventh Indie Game of the Week. Yarny's cute and all and the environments look fantastic, but this game's physics puzzles and unpredictability really made it unpleasant to play in parts especially if you were going for a no-deaths run. Hopefully the sequel improves on some of that finickiness. (3 Stars.)

  • 21/03. The eleventh 2017 game of the year. A Zelda-like with a simple aesthetic, straightforward puzzles, and a cute elephant protagonist, juxtaposed with some mature themes and deep philosophical musings from its ancillary characters. A perplexing mix but one worth seeking out. (4 Stars.)

  • 26/03. The two-hundred-and-twelfth Indie Game of the Week. Presents itself as one thing (an open detective adventure game like a Gabriel Knight or a Kathy Rain) before pivoting to a linear action-adventure game with the occasional deductive puzzle. Story kinda meanders and ends on a mysterious note, which you don't really want from a whodunnit. Ambitious stuff, though, with lots of gameplay variation and some amusing writing. (4 Stars.)

  • 28/03. The twelfth 2017 game of the year. A chill, exploration and atmosphere-heavy explormer with free-floating movement, puzzles built around physics, and combat based vaguely on shoot 'em up mechanics. What points it loses from not having an effective fast travel system it makes up for with an upgrade that tells you, indirectly, where all the collectibles are hiding. (4 Stars.)

  • 31/03. The thirteenth 2017 game of the year. Another HOPA, one based on fairytales and also Robin Hood for some reason. One notable aspect, though not unique, is being able to mix potions to solve puzzles. (3 Stars.)

  • 31/03. It took all month, but I finally completed Dragon Quest XI and earned the Platinum, and it's easily the longest JRPG I've played in years if not ever. The sheer amount of content frequently threatened to overwhelm my continued investment, but something about its simple turn-based combat remained compelling throughout the whole game. I don't think battles were particularly fast, especially for normal mobs, but the character development and equipment customization were sufficient carrots on sticks and none of the party characters ever felt superfluous or under-powered. The game also oozes charm from every pore, with some of the most ridiculous/terrible wordplay I've ever seen from its talented localizers, and I liked that every town/region had their own nationalities/accents without being broad caricatures. But yeah, this game was immense; almost felt like Square Enix was giving us something huge to chew on because they weren't sure if they're going to make another big budget RPG any time soon. (5 Stars.)

  • 03/04. The two-hundred-and-thirteenth Indie Game of the Week. Relaxing puzzle game that requires thinking several steps ahead, or occasionally backwards, to figure out the order of moves you need to complete the hole. Was expecting it to be harder, but secretly glad it wasn't. (4 Stars.)

  • 03/04. The fourteenth 2017 game of the year. A platformer that uses potions as weapons (very Plague Knight) and has an alternative world you can switch between. Not too friendly towards completionist types like myself, and those last two bosses were real punishers. (3 Stars.)

  • 04/04. The fifteenth 2017 game of the year. A time/resource management strategy puzzle game that belongs to a format that's been around a while, but was new to me. I found it compelling in that low-key "one more stage" way casual games can often be. (4 Stars.)

  • 09/04. The two-hundred-and-fourteenth Indie Game of the Week. A stage-based platformer with a little bit of explormer indulgence. Had its rough spots, especially with some platform landings, but overall an engaging platformer with a moderately high challenge level and plenty of upgrades and other secrets to uncover. Not too shabby. (3 Stars.)

  • 15/04. The two-hundred-and-fifteenth Indie Game of the Week. A short visual novel about a moody Major Kusanagi type and the android she falls for, despite being burned before from a past relationship with a robotic paramour. Pacing was a little all over the place. (3 Stars.)

  • 19/04. A RGG Studio game that attempts an entirely different type of narrative and protagonist despite using the familiar Kamurocho setting and some equally familiar trappings and mechanics. I think the story in Judgment is top-notch and perhaps the best they've ever written, with memorable characters and twists, and quite a few of the additions - including Yagami's fighting moveset, drone flying, or the VR mini-game - are welcome changes that feel as natural to this world as any other Yakuza enhancements.

    However, the detective-based features are a bit limited and repetitive and the game has way too many tailing missions for my (or anyone's) liking. I admire the team for trying a new direction that mostly succeeds, but I hope any Judgment sequels or similar experiments can get it 100% right next time. Unreasonable to demand, perhaps, but RGG is one of the best game developers active right now so I'm sure they can deliver. (4 Stars.)

  • 20/04. The sixteenth 2017 game of the year. Another HOPA, this time with a 1,001 Arabian Nights theme. Has a few interesting features like a deuteragonist you occasionally control and some potion-brewing, but like other HOPAs it's fairly disposable. (3 Stars.)

  • 23/04. The two-hundred-and-sixteenth Indie Game of the Week. A tough, retro-themed explormer that tries to be a little Monster World and a little Zelda II, mostly for the better. Competent enough, if nothing we've not seen before. (4 Stars.)

  • 25/04. The seventeenth 2017 game of the year. A horror doujin, Tokyo Dark takes bits and pieces from various Japanese adventure game sub-genres for a package that requires a little too much busywork to navigate but at least nails the atmosphere. (3 Stars.)

  • 25/04. The eighteenth 2017 game of the year. A short and sweet explormer focused entirely around collectables, which despite being no frills is a very pleasant experience between its sharp controls and catchy/ambient soundtrack. (4 Stars.)

  • 27/04. The nineteenth 2017 game of the year. A Lego game based on an in-house license I've no familiarity with. Same technical issues that have been plaguing this franchise since day one some twenty years ago are still front and present, though other mechanical aspects have been cleaned up and evolved. Got it for free, so I can't grouse. (3 Stars.)

  • 12/05. May Millennial #10. Looking back on Enclave, soon to enjoy its twentieth anniversary, it's easy to appreciate what a strange amalgamation it is of bits and pieces of other third-person action-adventure games, though with that age comes a certain amount of archaic features and rough edges. Maybe one too many flaws to recommend, but it made me go "huh" a lot in a generally positive sense. (3 Stars.)

  • 23/04. The two-hundred-and-nineteenth Indie Game of the Week. An adventure game about a female cab driver in an unfamiliar city, surrounded by a high-tech populace who considers her obsolete, it's easy to feel a little overwhelmed by hostility. Yet as you play, you discover some regular passengers who are open to a little conversation and even if you're couch surfing as your would-be roommate gets her shit together there's a certain breezy energy with the game's approach. Just wish you got to spend more time with these unusual fares than you do fussing about accommodations and refuelings. (4 Stars.)

  • 22/05. May Millennial #11. I've always had to enjoy these fast-paced FPS games vicariously because I never had a decent enough PC to run them, but discovering Doom again during the XBLA era and now Painkiller in the context of them being old enough that anything can run them at 60fps has been a treat. Painkiller's level design is chaotic in the best way - there's no predicting where you'll end up next in the metaphysical realm of Purgatory - and between some really well-hidden secrets and some tough encounters with many enemies at once, it's evident this is an FPS game made by diehards for diehards. (4 Stars.)

  • 22/05. The two-hundred-and-twentieth Indie Game of the Week. My stock of explormers continues to expand, and Outbuddies is a traditional take on a Metroid-style atmospheric sci-fi setting full of secrets to find. I can't fault its moxie or its aesthetic choice of a modern take on a C64 or ZX Spectrum palette, but it does have some gameplay issues. Its map, for one, is way too big without a better fast travel system to get around it quickly. (3 Stars.)

  • 27/05. The two-hundred-and-twenty-first Indie Game of the Week. An action-adventure game made in the old Delphine style (Out of this World/Flashback) that balances gun combat, platforming, adventure game puzzles, and a whole lot of cheap deaths and other surprises. Biting off a little more than it can chew - its platforming is not great in particular - it's a spirited attempt to bring new life to an antiquated format; something the Indie circuit is very fond of doing. (3 Stars.)

  • 30/05. May Millennial #9. I'm really kicking myself for leaving this unplayed for as long as I did. It was the headliner for this year's May feature because I wanted the excuse to check out some PS3 games I had sitting around, clearing out whatever's left to make room for a PS5 in the near future (availability pending). Turns out this may be my favorite Tales game of all time; the characters and story aren't much to write home about (similar to Eternia's party dynamic, in fact) but mechanically it's probably the best the series has ever been. So many brilliant innovations appeared in this game - the "eleth mixer" item generator, integrating titles into character development - and then never again; it's almost criminal how the more recent Tales games ignored Graces. By the end of May I was still hacking away at its remaining completionist trophies, reluctant to stop playing. (5 Stars.)

  • 30/05. The twentieth 2017 game of the year. A real bottom-of-the-barrel HOPA that's put into perspective how disposable that entire subgenre is, and now I feel less compelled to keep adding one every month to pad out the eventual top 100 list for 2017. Nowhere near as polished as the other Artifex Mundi games of that year and it double-downs on the weaknesses - character animations most of all - that have been bringing those games down since their inception. (2 Stars.)

  • 31/05. The twenty-first 2017 game of the year. In another universe, I may have enjoyed this run-and-gun platformer about a friendly mutant dog-man hybrid trying to navigate a laboratory collapsing all around him, but it was undermined by constant bugs and some uneven difficulty and poor design decisions. (2 Stars.)

  • 31/05. The twenty-second 2017 game of the year. A short, reflective narrative game about a person trapped in a car teetering over a cliff. After the initial panic, the game settles into a sort of "final stage of grief" acceptance tinged with melancholy about the probable end of a life and what that means in the greater scheme of things. It's a very talky, navel-gazing type of experience - albeit with a few moments of levity along the way - but one that emphasizes the beauty of life's ephemerality. You can probably gather from that description whether or not it'd be something for you. (4 Stars.)

  • 03/06. The two-hundred-and-twenty-second Indie Game of the Week. I'd been playing this sudoku-variant puzzle game on and off since the previous summer, after I received it in that big charity Itch.io bundle. It only occurred to me to include it in my Indie feature after I was close to finishing it (and, to annoy Sudoku purists, made it the 222nd - three repeating digits!). The variations and new mechanics ensured it stayed interesting throughout, though I think true sudoku fans could tear its easier puzzles apart. (4 Stars.)

  • 12/06. The two-hundred-and-twenty-third Indie Game of the Week. The Blind Forest sequel is substantially bigger and more feature-rich, though I had a slightly lesser time with it for reasons I struggled to put into words. My running theory is the Switch port I played introduced a small amount of lag or stutter to make it feel a little less precise; it really is an attractive game and it must've pushed that little guy to its limit. I did like how similar it was to Hollow Knight; some copy of a copy action going on. (4 Stars.)

  • 17/06. The two-hundred-and-twenty-fourth Indie Game of the Week. A silly little criminal conspiracy in a city of fish and mollusc people, Clam Man doesn't have any challenging puzzles in it (except for one logic grid out of nowhere that you can skip) and it mostly exists as a series of vignettes full of meta adventure game jokes, subtle references, and sarcasm. The format is reminiscent of those Frog Detective games, while the humor is closer to the Ben & Dan series, if that helps narrow anything down for the genre dorks out there. (4 Stars.)

  • 17/06. The two-hundred-and-seventeenth Indie Game of the Week. Began in May, but temporarily abandoned due to everything else going on that month. I'll say Valthirian Arc is a hard game to recommend because even if I can appreciate its ambition there are major parts that felt underbaked and rushed; clearly biting off more than it could chew. The worst was easily the action-RPG "fieldwork"; I'm not sure the game strictly needed them and maybe could've relied on a more developed sim aspect alone. (3 Stars.)

  • 19/06. The twenty-third 2017 game of the year. An explormer that I received for free in a different giant Itch.io charity bundle, Alchemist's Castle had an admirable compactness to its world design, hitting all the major stops without padding itself unnecessarily. That's really the only good thing I can say about it though, except maybe praising the music; the platforming and combat were pretty rough. (3 Stars.)

  • 19/06. The twenty-fourth 2017 game of the year. A visual novel whodunnit evidently inspired by games like Umineko When They Cry and Danganronpa (the style of the first and the structure of the latter, specifically). Short, low budget, not particularly well directed, but charming all the same - like an amateur dramatic production of The Mousetrap. (3 Stars.)

  • 27/06. The two-hundred-and-twenty-fifth Indie Game of the Week. A 2D Soulslike/explormer with a grisly aesthetic inspired by Catholic esoterica, Blasphemous was continually a delight with its combat and NPC/boss designs. The platforming was merely so-so, as it had a certain chunkiness that make progress slow (all that dying didn't help either). I still think this is a no-brainer if you were a fan of Hollow Knight or Salt and Sanctuary. (5 Stars.)

  • 30/06. The twenty-fifth 2017 game of the year. Also, the second on here to come from the new jumbo Itch.io charity bundle. A charming little spatial awareness puzzle game about getting specific snakes to their subterranean homes. Though overall short, the smattering of levels were set across a few biomes, each having its own mechanic to deal with, and while games of this sort can get prohibitively tricky to figure out - Snakebird or Cosmic Express come to mind, the latter also included in the same bundle - A Snake's Tale never gets truly mind-boggling until the very last puzzle. (4 Stars.)

  • 02/07. The two-hundred-and-twenty-sixth Indie Game of the Week. Excellent Wadjet Eye adventure game with an episodic approach to a gaggle of supernatural tales set in New York. Lot of replay value, given your choice of companions greatly affects the puzzles. (5 Stars.)

  • 08/07. The two-hundred-and-twenty-seventh Indie Game of the Week. A bite-sized explormer made within the limitations of the original Game Boy, particularly its resolution and color palette. A neat stylistic exercise but relatively shallow. (3 Stars.)

  • 10/07. The twenty-sixth 2017 game of the year. An impressive - in scope, if not in execution - open-world RPG made in PIranha Bytes' recurring style of feeling your way through a very hostile world, eventually throwing your lot in with a faction for the survival benefits they offer. The jank is real, don't get me wrong, but it also recreates most of the same wanderlust and risky looting offered by a Bethesda game at a fraction of the budget. (3 Stars.)

  • 12/07. The two-hundred-and-eighteenth Indie Game of the Week. Started in May, eventually got back around to it. "Completing" The Witness is dependent on the beholder and how many lines they feel like drawing, but I decided I was done with its pretension and the obtuse nature of its puzzles once the credits rolled. It's certainly clever, but nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. (3 Stars.)

  • 15/07. The first in the VN-ese Waltz series. A series of heartaches in that doomed Gothic romance style, The House in Fata Morgana is basically the VN equivalent of Lucy van Pelt pulling the football away from you over and over. It's visually stunning, in a sort of obliquely beautiful way, and musically has one of the most interesting multilingual soundtracks I've heard since Nier Automata. Really excellent presentation, though your enjoyment depends on your tolerance for tragic romance themes (or just a whole lot of reading in general). (5 Stars.)

  • 24/07. TWEWY has always been one of those highly talked about RPGs that passed me by originally, pulling off the same miracle as Persona in how it could speak to young RPG fans more directly than anything with elves or spaceships could manage. Hip, fashion-conscious, with teenagers that actually acted like teenagers, TWEWY was an iconoclastic RPG dripping with style. It was also dripping with stylus, since its combat system was driven by touchscreen controls: something that didn't quite make the jump to Switch all that well (at least, if you choose to play it docked, as I've done with most Switch games in lockdown).

    I appreciated its whole Shibuya "Jet Set Radio" vibe (especially that great soundtrack) but I really did not care for how half my attack badges never worked because I wasn't dragging or tapping the screen in the cryptic way it wanted but never deigned to explain. Looks like the sequel is stepping away from a lot of that, so I might give that a shot someday - hopefully with less of a delay next time. (3 Stars.)

  • 27/07. The two-hundred-and-twenty-eighth Indie Game of the Week. Fairly standard as Picross goes, but Jupiter added yet another mode - Color Picross, which is more challenging than it looks - so it's getting to the point where the value of these incremental Switch picross games are starting to match their asking price. (4 Stars.)

  • 29/07. The two-hundred-and-thirtieth Indie Game of the Week. A cyberpunk noir whodunnit thriller that absolutely gets the thematic style right but has a few aspects that I don't care for, both intentional (the Telltale "hard decisions" that branch the story) and unintentional (a spotty localization). (3 Stars.)

  • 31/07. The twenty-seventh 2017 game of the year. An explormer with a lot of physics puzzles that invariably descend into trial-and-error chaos even with its best intentions. It also feels like it was localized with Google Translate; way worse than Dry Drowning, above. Bit of a surprising mess, especially given Game Freak was behind it. (3 Stars.)

  • 31/07. The twenty-eighth 2017 game of the year. A sentimental, dialogue-free tale of an old man reminiscing about his past as he heads to an undisclosed location by ship, train, truck, and his old man feet. The player's role is moving the scenery around to make this journey possible. Sentimental and a little sad, and very much worth the hour or two time investment it asks from you. (4 Stars.)

  • 06/08. The two-hundred-and-thirty-first Indie Game of the Week. A series of environmental puzzles represents your attempts to encourage those who have given up hope in their long pilgrimages. Tonally feels like a cross between Journey and Dark Souls, though way more wholesome than either somehow. (4 Stars.)

  • 12/08. The two-hundred-and-thirty-second Indie Game of the Week. A "classic" Indie game, in the sense of being a puzzle-platformer with some heavy-handed musings about life and what is and isn't real, and so on. I remember when these games were everywhere. (3 Stars.)

  • 20/08. The two-hundred-and-thirty-third Indie Game of the Week. It's almost like a dungeon-crawler except it's late-'90s internet where the "treasures" are all these bizarre webpages created by insane people. Ingenious "internet moderator" mission directives tie it all together. (4 Stars.)

  • 25/08. The second in the VN-ese Waltz series. What begins as a game of Werewolf becomes complicated by the protagonist finding themselves in a time loop. Many surprising twists and turns, though it can be a bit grisly in parts. Worth sticking through to the end for how wild it becomes, and for the extra post-game stories that give each character a little more fleshing out. (4 Stars.)

  • 28/08. The twenty-ninth 2017 game of the year. Though it is nothing exceptional or innovative, WayForward pulled out all the stops to make a game that looked great, sounded great, and was far better than that terrible "Dark Universe" movie deserved. (4 Stars.)

  • 30/08. The two-hundred-and-thirty-fourth Indie Game of the Week. The RPG Maker community has a vast amount of talent and it's games like this that make a case for checking them out more frequently. A tightly designed EarthBound/Silent Hill horror-themed turn-based RPG with smart ideas that remains compelling throughout. (4 Stars.)

  • 30/08. The thirtieth 2017 game of the year. Though cute, and with a positive message, Luna's just too short and repetitive to be anything more than an attractive curiosity. (3 Stars.)

  • 03/09. The two-hundred-and-thirty-fifth Indie Game of the Week. A narrative-heavy adventure game built to superficially resemble a survival game, collecting scraps from nearby abandoned buildings to build rockets for a funeral service. Grim but soulful, and with a distinctive storytelling format. (4 Stars.)

  • 08/09. The two-hundred-and-twenty-ninth Indie Game of the Week. I spent an unfeasibly long time with this Fallout-inspired RPG, taking each of its challenging encounters seriously as the threat of death and failure was all too apparent. A throwback that is only interested in an audience of like-minded CRPG nutcases agonizing over their character builds and relying on their resourcefulness. Not for greenhorns. (4 Stars.)

  • 10/09. The two-hundred-and-thirty-sixth Indie Game of the Week. A pleasant 8-bit throwback explormer that mixes in some Zelda II: Adventure of Link world map exploration. A little on the arcane side with regards to how and where to make progress, but hints are freely available if you get lost. (4 Stars.)

  • 15/09. Quite possibly the last Ubisoft game I will ever play - I purchased this shortly before the sexual misconduct furor occurred, but I'd already been burning out on their very formulaic approach to open-world games prior to that - Watch Dogs 2 is generally more fun and lighthearted than its all-too-edgy and dour predecessor but still contains most of the same faults. The gunplay and driving both felt sloppy, taking away the map filling towers for as much as I appreciate the subversion to the Ubi norm just meant you had to sweep the map for all those collectibles and upgrades manually instead, and the game's one saving grace - using RC vehicles to complete objectives to keep yourself safe - became side-lined more and more by hacks you were forced to do "in person" for the sake of artificially escalating the difficulty towards the end. The hacking itself also felt less clever: it relied a little too much on its node-switching mini-game, which got old fast.

    For all its "much better than the first" press, it was really just as ho-hum if a little less embarrassing (though your mileage may vary regarding its rebellious hacker memes and the scenes at a fake Burning Man); I had a similar reaction to the more recent "RPGified" Assassin's Creed games too despite their glowing reviews. Unless Ubisoft gets back into Rayman Origin sequels or finally bothers to release Beyond Good & Evil 2, I think I'm done. (3 Stars.)

  • 28/09. The third in the VN-ese Waltz series. A tad too prurient, clichéd, and derivative (the developers clearly had a fondness for Steins;Gate), Our World is Ended does eventually hobble across the finish line in a semi-respectable fashion with its mostly compelling story of elaborate virtual worlds and corporate conspiracies and a little game development studio of socially-inept dorks caught in the middle. Here's hoping I don't play anything worse during VN-ese Waltz, because this game's jokes about tentacled "lustbeasts" and big-boobed lolis was right up to the line of "oh jeez, what am I doing with my life?". (3 Stars.)

  • 30/09. The thirty-first 2017 game of the year. An exceptional if perhaps inessential way to see out the Trails in the Sky trilogy with a fanservice-heavy story that pays off the player's many hours of investment in this world of heroic bracers, villainous secret organizations, and an ancient civilization that left behind way too much powerful shit. It also handily sets up Trails from Zero/Azure and Trails of Cold Steel by going into the political status of their settings, so either the developers were psychic or they'd already sketched out the story content for the next nine Trails games - some impressive foresight. In fact, that domino-setting aspect might make it the most essential of the Trails in the Sky trilogy rather than the least, from a certain perspective.

    Add to all that a further evolution of the game's deeply tactical turn-based combat engine and the versatile orbment system for character skills, more quality-of-life conveniences by way of a fast-travel system and a hub full of all the resources you'd need, and many side-stories that lend the limelight to other major characters besides the protagonists and it was a real treat to play. (Did I mention the soundtrack? Given the introspective nature of the game, it's actually all three Trails in the Sky soundtracks in one. Absolutely phenomenal.) (5 Stars.)

  • 30/09. The thirty-second 2017 game of the year. Like its predecessor, Love, Fred Ward put together a concise and minimalist retro platformer with a distinct feature in that the player determines where to set checkpoints. The fact it's on the short side is rendered moot by how it's ultimately a score game, judging the player on their number of deaths and checkpoints made and offering Arcade and Speedrun modes where your lives are strictly limited. Just playing with unlimited checkpoints and lives made it a fairly chill experience, coupled with its relaxed chiptune soundtrack. (It also includes all of Love's levels, so don't feel you need to play that one first.) (4 Stars.)

  • 01/10. The two-hundred-and-thirty-ninth Indie Game of the Week. A meta critique on game development, especially the endless nightmare kind, posing as an action-adventure game with scripting-based puzzles. Inventive and clever, with a cynical streak a mile wide. (4 Stars.)

  • 05/10. The two-hundred-and-thirty-eighth Indie Game of the Week. A funny RPG-explormer with some deep puzzle mechanics and relatively simple combat. Makes great use of lighting and some carefully hidden secrets, and I really enjoyed its soundtrack too. (4 Stars.)

  • 06/10. The thirty-third 2017 game of the year. Functionally similar to A Normal Lost Phone (above), the goal is to figure out passwords to learn ever more about the missing owner of an abandoned smartphone. Relies on emotional intelligence as much as it does the regular puzzle-solving kind. (4 Stars.)

  • 06/10. The thirty-fourth 2017 game of the year. A short narrative adventure game about a possibly cursed video game world in its mid-development phase. Some thinky quotes, a few upgrades to enable additional traversal, but otherwise a pretty surface-level experience. (3 Stars.)

  • 07/10. The two-hundred-and-fortieth Indie Game of the Week. A beautiful platformer with some compelling movement mechanics, using your own violin bow to spring off platforms. However, the game's functionally demo-sized: a student project that the developers hope to turn into something more substantial down the road. (4 Stars.)

  • 08/10. The two-hundred-and-thirty-seventh Indie Game of the Week. Chipped away at the campaign scenarios in this isometric mech shooter while having a blast trying to strategize the best way to approach each map. Having to consider noise radii and finite ammo supplies made for some tricky decision-making while strafing around on the fly to avoid enemy fire. I love its synthwave soundtrack and cyberpunk aesthetic too: really immersive stuff. (4 Stars.)

  • 15/10. The two-hundred-and-forty-first Indie Game of the Week. Completing a trilogy of mildly spooky first-person adventure games I started last summer, Forever Lost Ep 3 has fewer features than its immediate predecessor as it rushes towards the conclusion of its three-game arc. (3 Stars.)

  • 20/10. I had to tear myself away from this game because it is so much more confident about making a decent Minecraft clone after its adorable but irksome predecessor. Instead of starting anew with each new chapter of the story campaign, DQB2 opts to give players the best of both worlds by bringing back its themed islands but providing a homebase for the player to return to between adventures. There's a huge variety in block types and constructions, most of which requires some experimentation to find.

    Other new features include Explorer's Shores - randomized landmasses that can provide an infinite supply of a specific material if you complete its scavenger hunt puzzles, as well as rare materials that might be hard to find elsewhere - and optional building goals to pursue on your default island. Even towards the end of the game it was unveiling new features: one such late-game addition was giving players the means to build homes to match their future occupants' demands, including its size, level of fanciness, and general ambience. I thought the story was overall stronger too, building on the plot of the second DQ game in much the same way the first did for DQ1, and adding multiple new quality of life features to mitigate some of the annoyances of the first DQB (including having NPCs rebuild the town if a monster/boss battle demolishes it). Just an exceptional sequel all around, very keenly understanding the shortcomings of its otherwise fine antecedent. (5 Stars.)

  • 24/10. The thirty-fifth 2017 game of the year. An attractive Zelda-like with a distinctive world and some layered combat mechanics, let down a little by its mostly absent story and railroaded progression. It was engrossing to explore what areas of the map I could visit at any given time, though some minor annoyances kept me from loving it too much. (4 Stars.)

  • 24/10. The two-hundred-and-forty-second Indie Game of the Week. For as frustratingly difficult as some of its scenarios could be, you can't argue against the sheer value of content this package provides. Effectively eighteen different explormers in one, albeit eighteen that are very similar, the game is also full of bonus modes, game-changing modifiers, cosmetics, developer commentary, and other content to unlock provided you do well enough in the main games. The developer really went above and beyond when committing their silly robot browser games to a single compilation. (4 Stars.)

  • 28/10. The fourth in the VN-ese Waltz series and the thirty-sixth 2017 game of the year. A horror-themed visual novel about a cursed chain letter and the haunted mansion it was found in, following seven protagonists as they try to evade the vengeful spirit on their tails. Given any character can die or change their behavior based on their affinity with others, there's an expansive amount of story branches to navigate towards the endgame. That aspect alone is impressive, even if the story and script can be a little iffy in parts. (4 Stars.)

  • 29/10. The two-hundred-and-forty-third Indie Game of the Week. An action-adventure with mild survival horror elements inspired by the Brothers Grimm's dark fairytales. A boy seeks to rescue his kidnapped brother from woodland monsters, evading many traps and hostile creatures along the way. Has a few fun surprises, some varied puzzle set-ups, and an appealing art style. (4 Stars.)

  • 30/10. The thirty-sixth 2017 game of the year. A Taiwanese horror game that uses a tumultuous period of its country's history as the basis for a ghost story about a teenager trapped in her school and surrounded by angry spirits. The game takes some bold and inventive steps with what first appear to be standard survival horror game mechanics and puzzles, eventually turning the game into something decidedly different. Worth seeing through to its end, picking up its subtext along the way. (5 Stars.)

  • 31/10. The thirty-seventh 2017 game of the year. A short and sweet game about the otherwise unsweet realities of death, cadaver preparation, and funerals. A death positive game that seeks to educate as much as entertain (there a word for that? "Entercatement"?), there's not a whole lot to its mechanics or story but it still does much to alleviate the trepidation players might have surrounding its macabre subject matter. (4 Stars.)

  • 05/11. The two-hundred-and-forty-fourth Indie Game of the Week. A rather unorthodox picross game with some unusual rules that I don't think do the game any favors, since they unbalance the difficulty quite a bit. (3 Stars.)

  • 12/11. The two-hundred-and-forty-fifth Indie Game of the Week. An action/turn-based hybrid RPG (similar to Infinity Engine) with a very ambitious sense of worldbuilding and presentation, featuring an all-star voice cast and cel-shaded isometric graphics reminiscent of Supergiant's output. The gameplay's a bit plain and rudimentary with very little in the way of customization but it's admirable they squeezed this much into a relatively short frame. (4 Stars.)

  • 15/11. My first 2021 game and probably the only one I'll get around to this year, Scarlet Nexus has the framework of a Tales RPG - many of the same developers worked on this - but transported to future Japan and given an action-RPG format focused around psychic powers. Like Control, most of your time is spent throwing debris around and staying on the move to avoid retribution. The story's some boilerplate save the world business and the characters aren't particularly distinguishable, but I like the surreal post-apocalyptic setting and the NieR-esque backstory behind the game's disturbing "Other" enemies and some wild twists later on in the plot.

    Scarlet Nexus has no shortage of ideas but it feels like its combat runs out of steam fairly quickly, even though it's relatively short for a Bamco RPG. Towards the end you're just pushing through wave after wave of tougher palette swaps with the same tactics you've been using throughout: weaken enemies with SAS combos and attacks targeted to their weak spots then finish them off with a brain crush, saving the "devil trigger" style brain field technique for the larger, damage-spongey foes and bosses. The limited lock-on system and camera controls could use some work too. There's considerable room for improvement and plenty of lore table-setting for a sequel to follow up on if Bamco decides to visit this universe again, and I hope they do. (4 Stars.)

  • 20/11. The thirty-eighth 2017 game of the year. It's a slightly better adventure game than its predecessor but also a little bit tougher, with some puzzles that retrospectively didn't seem all too intuitive. Like most modern point-and-click throwbacks, it ensures that there's never an overwhelming amount of places and items to interact with but some of its solutions were McGuyver levels of convoluted. Switching protagonists around was a nice touch though. (3 Stars.)

  • 24/11. The thirty-ninth 2017 game of the year. A brief adventure game from the Shelter people, who know how to put together a striking aesthetic at the very least, Tiny Echo has something of Amanita's sense of fairytale whimsy mixed with surrealism behind its little courier puzzles. Easy to get turned around while exploring, but then the exploring is a major part of its charm. (4 Stars.)