Something went wrong. Try again later

unclejam23

This user has not updated recently.

381 40 9 1
Forum Posts Wiki Points Following Followers

Top 10 Favorite Games of 2022

I almost went full indie this year.

Of course, a lot of that is on seemingly every game in existence being pushed back until 2023, and to be perfectly honest, I try not to distinguish much between AAA and indie where pure pleasure and artistry is concerned. However, if I had to extrapolate anything from my indie ass indie list this year, it’s something that I’ve already known for a fairly long time: AAA games and I are drifting apart.

The big releases want to keep you playing them until seemingly the end of time. I, generally speaking, went to get in and get out. The big releases give you large skill trees and the ability to upgrade and customize every weapon you can hold. I want to do one of those things or the other, and even then, I don’t want to have to think about it too hard. The big releases want you to pay seventy dollars on top of whatever you’re willing to give out in microtransactions and season passes. I don’t.

Then again, there’s also a bit of bullshit in what I’ve said. Like a lot of people, this is the year I got into Fortnite. I don’t want to admit how much money or time I’ve spent in Fortnite, but if you’re out there and you see a lady with a cheeseburger head glide in on the Wu-Tang Clan symbol and proceed to do the dougie, you might be playing with yours truly.

So what do I make of this? Honestly, I don’t know. The only real conclusion I can make is that though my year in gaming was very satisfying, it was also very strange. But hey, I still had a great time for the most part, and I love this list. Now I shall write words to that effect.

Also Elden Ring isn’t on here because I didn’t play it. Alright.

SPOILERS BELOW!!!

Runner up - One Dreamer

No Caption Provided

One Dreamer is, in many ways, a very flawed game.

Though the actual puzzle interactions are frequently brilliant, some of the individual ones can be a little tedious (sometimes, intentionally so, but more on that in a bit), the “levels,” if we can call them that, can get a little long in the tooth, and above all else, the narrative it tells is told in a needlessly clunky and ineffective manner. The game insists on a non-linear approach, the nature of certain relationships between characters isn’t always made clear, certain aspects that shouldn’t be are left up to interpretation, aspects of the narrative are a little contrived, and blah blah nitpicky bullshit. The ride it has to offer is, indeed, a rather bumpy one.

However, that doesn’t stop One Dreamer from being soul-crushing.

One Dreamer is a game about a team of indie developers making a VR game while fighting increasingly brutal waves of burnout. During the day, you do contract work for a larger studio where you do exactly the kind of work you got into the indie space presumably to fight against. Decreasing the likelihood of finding certain items in the loot boxes here and disabling features that are kinder to new players there and so on. At night, you work on your indie game, where who knows what travesties will befall you. Something goes majorly wrong with the financing. You work your ass off to get noticed by a streamer, but then your game crashes his setup and now you’re incurring the wrath of an army of pissed-off gamers. Features don’t work and there are glitches to fix (it’s here where the intentionally tedious puzzles are actually quite affective). All the while, the bills are stacking up, the rent’s due, and the walls are closing in all around you.

There are few pieces of media I can think of that do as much as One Dreamer does to humanize the game development process. My heart already went out to all the developers out there. Those who don’t make the business decisions, but instead, have to carry them on their backs and then unfairly receive the blame when things don’t go as planned. But now, every time I see that some game’s getting review bombed or some new dumb controversy is taking place, my heart breaks just a little more for them.

And yet, One Dreamer argues that it’s all worth it. Indie development, man. I don’t know how they do it, but I hope they never stop.

10. Frog Detective 3: Corruption at Cowboy County

No Caption Provided

Frog Detective 3 is the game that came out this year, but really, I’m using this space to celebrate the trilogy as a whole.

The Frog Detective trilogy stars Frog Detective who, in the lore of the Frog Detective-verse, is the second best detective behind Lobster Cop. You go to a small town and you solve a crime. Or really, you solve a misunderstanding, as this is a world where crime isn’t really a thing. Though you solve mysteries, mysteries aren’t always an illegal act and don’t become so just because the second best detective is on the case!

I almost put a Frog Detective game on my list every year they came out. However, one of their greatest strengths is also their biggest weakness when it comes to arbitrary list making, which is that they’re designed to be short and easygoing. As a result, they’re easily lost in the mental shuffle when you put them next to bigger games designed to earn more of your emotions.

They’re very much the kind of thing that doesn’t get enough props in general, let alone end-of-the-year lists. Endearing experiences that are intentionally slight and singular. Most games want all the time you can give them. The Frog Detective games just want an hour, they want to make you smile, and then they want you to move on. It certainly doesn’t hurt that each Frog Detective game has a very odd and unique sense of humor, they’re endlessly charming, and I love everything about how they look.

What makes Frog Detective 3 special is that it confronts what happens when not only someone does actually commit a crime, but also does so as a flagrant abuse of power. Not to let the too much real world darkness infect this otherwise heartening game series, but the first Frog Detective game came out in 2018, and though there was plenty to detest about the behavior of police officers during and before that year, attitudes about policing institutions have only shifted more negatively since. (To be clear, Frog Detective isn’t really a cop so much as he’s just sort of a nebulous detective.) Frog Detective 3 addresses that shift, and it does so in a way that surprisingly finds the balance between light and funny and also poignant and oddly deep. It makes its point yet still remains a Frog Detective game.

Again, the Frog Detective series is not designed to blow your mind. But it’s a series that’s brought me a lot of joy over the years, and I find myself recommending them on a near constant basis. Though I’m sad the Frog Detective games are over, I can’t wait for whatever Grace Bruxner and her team do next. And they give Frog Detective a scooter in the third one, and that’s pretty cool.

9. Vampire Survivors

No Caption Provided

If you follow year end games list, or games in general, you probably know why Vampire Survivors is here. If you don’t, here’s a quick summary: It’s five bucks and it’s on Game Pass, a session is designed to last thirty minutes at most, and it’s crack. I’m not going to dwell on it too long.

I will say that it’s lower on my list than a lot of people’s because at a certain point, I realized that I was just having the same interaction with it over and over again. To be fair, there are secrets to find, there are ways of changing things up for yourself, and that one interaction is almost disgustingly satisfying. Though each session is only thirty minutes, those sessions string together, and if you’re not careful you’ll look at the clock and realize it’s several hours past the time you should’ve been in bed.

However, at a certain point, the pleasure centers in my brain stopped lighting up. For me, it’s a game that burned unbelievably bright until suddenly it didn’t, as I became aware of the fact that I was essentially repeating the same experience over and over again. Leveling yourself to indestructibility has a short shelf life for me, pleasure wise.

That said, there were a few weeks where this game fired at every cylinder in my brain, and those few weeks in and of themselves make it worthy of not only this list, but all the hype around Vampire Survivors as well. A guy made a game, it’s cheap, everyone loves it, and there isn’t a single shred of bullshit. What’s not to love?

8. Immortality

No Caption Provided

My favorite part of Immortality is that all three of the movies look like absolute trash.

Not from a visual standpoint, mind you. If you want to, you can go through and point out a lot of anachronistic details and aesthetic choices and so on and so forth. Rather, what I mean is that in a hypothetical universe where we could see the three movies, all three of them would, for varying reasons, probably suck shit.

The first, in chronological order, of the three films we see being made in Immortality is Ambrosio, a supposed play on The Monk that’s meant to evoke a certain kind of auteur cinema that was ramping up towards its apex in the late ‘60s. Tonally and thematically speaking, it’s a movie that’s supposed to take on a handful of nebulous weighted religious themes meant to evoke such movies as Black Narcissus (though without the racial components) and some general Pasolini bullshit. Though some of these movies are classics, Ambrosio does a better job of calling to mind the ones we roll our eyes at. (Or at least, I do.) The church based movies that try to pass off their proximity to religion as depth, sweaty with the fear that you won’t notice how shallow and derivative they really are.

The second movie we see is Minsky, a detective crime thriller set in some sort of vaguely defined underground art scene in New York. It’s a kind of neo-noir/mystery movie with roots in such films as Klute and Blow-Up, only instead of using the setting of a religious institution as a ham-fisted means of implying profundity, it instead uses art and artists. It takes place in a world where socially unacceptable behavior is permitted, therefore, insight or whatever. It’s the same kind of flaunty faux intellectualism as Ambrosio, only it’s made by a more underground kind of “auteur” than one that has a large studio backing.

Then there’s the third film, Two of Everything, a movie about a pop star and her body double that seems to operate on the first-year-of-college profundity of doubles and doubling in the trappings of 90s indie cinema, particularly the films of David Lynch. The kind of movie drowning in that Gen X contempt for pop stardom and fame that, in hindsight, cuts too shallow to be taken seriously. (Two of Everything, I mean. Not David Lynch movies, which are great.)

I don’t think this is the intent behind the conception of these three movies, but all three feel like the product of man-children. The kind of artists who know how to dress themselves in the artifice of art, but are incapable of any serious insight or expression. It’s because of this that Immortality, to me, becomes a game not about art itself, but the abuse of it. There are people out there who want to create art for pure expression’s sake, and there are those who want to use art’s power for harm and trash, or just outright destroy it, and these two impulses will always be able to manifest themselves and go to war with each other.

Also, I had a lot of fun going through the footage.

7. God of War: Ragnarök

No Caption Provided

That thing about skill trees and weapons upgrades that I said in the intro was basically about this game.

I’ll even go one step further and say that if you and I were having a conversation about Ragnarök, you’d walk away with the conclusion that I don’t like it at all. Of course, I had the issue with either your companion or Mimir telling you all the answers to puzzles, but my problems with this game go further than that. I think the game does a bad job of properly conveying any of Atreus’s decisions as understandable or intelligent. I think, in general, the first half of the story is haphazardly structured and feels like it’s held together with duct tape. I don’t like the layout of a lot of the levels, I think it explains certain systems in a needlessly clunky manner, there are several moments that shouldn’t work and only do so because the directing and acting are too damn good, and I could go on.

Moreover, I got a sense this year that AAA games are beginning to break at the seams. These issues are not only present in Ragnarök, but Horizon: Forbidden West and a few others as well. I still like these games, but the arm’s length they sometimes hold me at is getting wider.

And yet, Ragnarök still won me in the end.

For every grievance I have with this game, there’s something I love about it. I love the spear. I love all your animal friends, from wolves that pull your sleigh when you’re in your home realm to the giant friendly dog to the yak thing and many more. I love that when you hook one of the slug things with the Blades of Chaos, Kratos will just casually squish it with its hands.

But more so, I love big picture stuff. I love that it’s a game about how nothing is written in stone. I love that it imagines a world where genuine growth and change is actually possible, even in gods who have roamed the Earth for eons. The seemingly forever story of fathers and sons can, in fact, have a happy ending that doesn’t just involve kicking the emotional can down the road. You can evolve. You can get better. You can imagine a better life for yourself and actually take steps to manifest it as opposed to getting trapped in the same cycles over and over and over again.

It is, at the end of the day, a God of War game about… hope? And it actually works! A surprise not only because the words “God of War” are right there on the box, but so is the word “Ragnarök.” A cataclysmic world ending event. Everything is ending, yet, this game argues, there’s still something to fight for and the promise of a better tomorrow. It is, in other words, a game I needed in 2022.

6. PowerWash Simulator

No Caption Provided

2022 was, in many ways, the year of the podcast game for me.

I love podcast games, or games that don’t require as much of your attention, skill, or involvement that you can play while happily listening to a podcast or an album and still get your money’s worth. I will acknowledge that there is something shitty about this. After all, a ton of work goes into the audio of a video game, be it the music or the sound effects or whatever. However, I’m eternally grateful that these games exist because they’re one of the most effective weapons I have to calm me down, and 2022 offered some of the best podcast games I’ve ever played.

Earlier this year, there was tile-based map building game Dorfromantick that finally saw its 1.0 release. There was golf roguelike Cursed to Golf, which, even though it has a fantastic soundtrack, still offered me hours of album and podcast catch-up time. There was Fortnite and Vampire Survivors and so on and so forth.

And, of course, there was PowerWash Simulator. The ultimate podcast game. A game where you clean things that are dirty with your power washer. That’s it.

See dirty thing. Clean dirty thing. Clock… number of hours I’m not willing to admit in public. Restart campaign. Repeat, probably until the end of time. If you want to laugh at the increasing ridiculousness of the campaign as you go along, you’re certainly welcome to do so. But I had too many albums and podcasts and shit to listen to, and I had no time for such foolishness. I haven’t written my top ten albums list yet, but currently, there are forty-three albums on the shortlist, and I would say I listened to about thirty of them while playing PowerWash on top of all the albums I listened to that aren’t going make it.

PowerWash Simulator is a game intentionally designed not to evoke strong emotions. It’s designed to dampen the noise of the real world and let you get sucked into its easy rhythm. Nevertheless, it provoked strong emotions from me. Mainly my undying loyalty and my boundless antipathy towards its detractors.

5. Tunic

No Caption Provided

It seems that we in the video game community had a strange relationship with Tunic.

At first, we loved it. We praised its old school manual gimmick and the mysterious world it put at our feet. Secrets were being shared all over the internet, compliments rained from the heavens, and it was all anybody could talk about for what felt like weeks. Then, suddenly, we turned on it. Many of the most praiseful suddenly shifted their tone, and what seemed like endless acclaim became, “Well, actually, now that I think about…”

To be clear, I’m not putting anybody down. This kinda thing happens every once in a while, and more importantly, despite how high it is on my list, I’m more than aware of Tunic’s many imperfections.

I would attribute the early reactions to Tunic to the simple fact that it makes an almost perfect first impression. It introduces its mechanics well, the combat’s fun right off the bat, it does a good job of encouraging players to explore, and it uses the language of a lot of already beloved games, so to speak. The map layout and exploration of Zelda games. The combat and revitalization concepts of soulsbournes. The “get a pen out and take some notes” macro puzzle elements and mysterious world building of Fez. Of course people liked it!

Then you get past the first impression, and you realize at all those elements are a little hard to balance. Or rather, Tunic does balance them, but the fact that it pulls this off means that it becomes an overwhelming experience. The continuously rising difficulty means you have to constantly stay on your toes and make sure sure you’re upgrading everything that needs upgrading. The Zelda maps mean you’re constantly unpacking new areas with new gimmicks. The Fezian puzzles never stop (particularly if you’re doing the golden path), and though Fez is clearly the biggest inspiration behind Tunic, it’s actually a pretty easy game to play despite how deep the rabbit hole goes on the puzzle end. You’re not fighting increasingly hard monsters on top of it. The same cannot be said for Tunic.

My complaint isn’t that it’s too hard, mind you. It’s that the difficulty shoots in all directions and at the end of the day, it can be an exhausting experience. Or maybe it never really clicked with you in the first place.

But for me, when I think about Tunic, I think about the atmosphere. How it takes all of its aesthetic choices and uses them to create a kind of wander I haven’t experienced in god knows how long. How I just kinda let it slowly roll over me. It feels like a fully complete world, yet larger forces I don’t understand are clearly at play here, and I always had this sense that I’m just a small part of it.

There’s a certain feeling I got from playing it. A feeling that I don’t really know how to describe, and in the end, when I think about Tunic, my mind doesn’t go to its flaws. It goes to that feeling. I don’t know what to tell you.

4. Tinykin

No Caption Provided

I can be a bit of a grump, particularly when it comes to video games that skew towards kids.

Not everything has to be for me. Not everything should be for me. However, when it comes to kids humor (or really, I should say, humor for kids) in video games, nine times out of ten, I tend to react a little too strongly. There were several moments in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart where somebody made a joke, particularly the sales thing that introduces each weapon you can buy, that made me want to stab myself in the throat. Stop yelling. Please. Stop.

Maybe I’m holding a large chunk of gaming responsible for a few bad examples in my head, or I’m just traumatized by the memory of many a mascot platformer I played back in the day. A therapist would probably say that I’m just embarrassed that it’s the kind of thing I used to find funny when I was a kid. But just because I know that doesn’t change the way I feel. Let me have my emotions damn it!

Anyway, I laughed at just about every joke in Tinykin.

True, these jokes were written out as opposed to delivered in a big wacky video game voice and that made them go down easier. But the bizarrely complex religions/cults that have formed around household objects and the weird political engineering going on and just… so much stupid shit. It was right up my alley.

I mention all this because I needed a vibe like the one Tinykin provides in 2022. Something funny, but also chill with good gameplay that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Something that just drops you into a space, and all you need to do is explore, collect the things, do the stuff, laugh at the jokes, and then move on. I needed something like Tunic, and then I needed something to balance it out. Enter Tinykin.

And for the love of god, can more games steal the “here’s a skateboard” concept from Tinykin? Like it just gives you what is essentially a skateboard. Most games would be improved with the presence of skateboards.

3. Pentiment

No Caption Provided

Pentiment makes one of the best cases for religion that I, a long time non-believer, have seen in a very long time. A lot of it boils down to Brother Wojslav.

A lot of Pentiment actually makes a fairly strong case not just against religion (or more accurately, organized religion), but a lot of institutions as well. The abbey constantly abuses its power for arbitrary and capricious reasons. Hypocrites do everything in their power to keep the peasants as poor and in need as possible, then blame them for being poor and in need. Rich men smile in your face and speak fondly of their reverence for the arts and sciences, then reveal themselves to be irredeemable abusers. A man tries to rally the town to fight these forces and he’s killed, scarring his children and everyone else with them. The rules only apply if you don’t have money, and the center cannot hold.

Yet despite all of this, Tassing is not only one of the most tangible towns I’ve ever seen in a video game, but also one of the most ideal.

The baker is perpetually grumpy and he’s designed with the most effective resting mean face you could possibly imagine. Yet, he regularly gives his wares out for free to the poorest in the town because unlike many of the other merchants, he refuses to be indifferent to the suffering around him. The man with the printing press works overtime with his wife to make sure literature is available to all who call Tassing home and all who visit, even though he is under no obligation to do so. Say a kind word to the few considered outsiders and they’ll reward you with friendship and whatever else you may need.

Catholicism binds Tassing’s residents to each other, and yet, the church’s mistreatment of the town is one of the defining conflicts of the game. The abbey cannot generate the money it once did, and so it overtaxes the poor and blames them for their inability to pay. It does not end well for the peasants or the abbey. Mainly the abbey.

The only person who gets to see both sides of the conflict is Brother Wojslav, the abbey’s cellarer.

Truth be told, I don’t remember Brother Wojslav’s attitude about the simmering tensions between the abbey and the townsfolk. For the first two acts, my primary memory of him is that he’s the well liked guy reluctantly forced to keep Brother Piero in the basement and otherwise, attends to his duties as he must. In the final chapter, Brother Wojslav has left the church and married Sister Matilda.

The town has every reason to be suspicious of Brother Wojslav. Yet, they eventually accept him because his only interest is doing good and helping when he can. Brother Wojslav has every reason to be suspicious of the town, as they burned down the abbey and almost killed him. Yet he understands they were suffering. After all, depending on where your investigation leads you in the first act, you learn that the woman he’s in love with, the one who he ends up marrying, has suffered greatly at the hands of the powerful. Nobody is blameless, yet he doesn’t blame. He just wants to do what he can to help those around him.

Brother Wojslav isn’t the only character who embodies this principle, but I think he’s one of the more effective examples. Whereas plenty read the Bible and see an opportunity to abuse its teachings, Brother Wojslav took an entirely different lesson. Be kind. Help others. To put it simply, don’t be an asshole. In the end, that’s all you really need.

2. Neon White

No Caption Provided

Many have pointed out that the weakest aspect of Neon White is the story. They’re not wrong.

I can’t tell if it’s the writing itself or the writing being presented in that visual novel style or the fact that the voice acting (which, for the record, is great) means you can’t get through it as fast. Or if it’s a combination of two or all of those or others I didn’t mention. But the story’s the weakest aspect of this game.

To give it a little credit, it’s about on par with the storytelling of the era of video games and anime it’s trying to evoke. Mainly, the PS2/Dreamcast era and everything surrounding it. And it does has some interesting elements to it, mainly in the world building and character arc department. But overall, it seems like it’s there just to be there. There’s the gameplay and narrative elements, and nary do these two elements meet in any meaningful way.

Yet, I’m eternally grateful that the narrative’s there. Otherwise, I never would’ve put Neon White down. Ever. I’d have died at my desk, controller in hand and a big smile on my face because I’d have chosen to play Neon White instead of attending to my basic needs as a human being.

Oh, Neon White. I had to force myself to stop playing you at some point. I only played you for a few weeks, and yet, you’re now one of the most played games in my Steam library.

I’m really at a loss for what to say here. Maybe you didn’t play Neon White. Maybe it’s not your cup of tea. Or maybe you inhaled its vapors and you know good and goddamn well why it’s on this list. When I played Neon White, I was in a trance. When I wasn’t playing Neon White, I was thinking about playing Neon White. On at least two occasions, I had a thought in the middle of the night while going to the bathroom about how to shave a few seconds off my time on some level, so rather than returning to bed, I’d open Neon White, get my time down, and then go to back to sleep.

This is the first game I’ve ever watched speedrunning videos for and thought to myself, “Yeah, I can do that.” (At least in the early days of its release.) Not because I was the most skilled player ever, but because its controls and gameplay are so easy to master that anyone can do it. It’s just a question of practice and reaction time.

I could write more incoherent repetitive praise of this game, but I’ll spare you. Neon White didn’t win the emotional response from me that my number one pick did. But it won everything else.

1b. The Last of Us Part I

Just a quick shoutout here.

The Last of Us Part I is the first time I’ve been through the campaign of the first game since the fall of 2014 when the remaster came out. Turns out that game’s still pretty damn great!

Jokes side, I’m bothering with this for two reasons. The first is that revisiting this game was genuinely one of the most impactful gaming experiences I had this year. The other is that my friend worked on this, and watching him put in who knows how much work on the definitive version of a game he already deeply loved and getting to play the end results was one of the most heartwarming experiences I had in 2022.

It is a remake of a game in recent memory, and I didn’t really know what to do with it, list wise. But it was definitely one of the biggest gaming things I’ll remember about 2022, so it had to go somewhere.

1. Perfect Tides

No Caption Provided

It didn’t really occur to me until playing Perfect Tides how dangerous your teenage years can be.

Okay, maybe “dangerous” is the wrong word. Then again, maybe it’s the perfect word for teens in America. After all, INSERT DEPRESSING COMMENT ABOUT OUR LAX GUN LAWS. Moreover, well… I was going to say you can’t imagine the kind of harm you can inflict nowadays with the internet, but anybody reading this knows they don’t need to imagine a single thing. Even at this very moment, you’re probably only a click or two away from seeing or hearing something that can deeply hurt you, and if you’re lucky, whatever that content may be isn’t directed at you personally or some aspect of yourself.

What I meant by “dangerous” is that assuming everything up until that point has gone relatively normally, your adolescent years are the first ones where your newfound insecurities leave you vulnerable to not only receiving the kind of damage that’ll become the basis of emotional issues for years to come, but giving it as well. Not only will new emotional lows be reached, but you’ll also find new levels of cruelty to inflict on the people you care about the most. Those older than you may try to impart their wisdom, but you probably don’t have the receptors to appreciate or even understand what they’re saying yet, much like how you may not have the emotional bandwidth to know that you’re going too far when you’re picking on your friend or saying something to someone you have a crush on that you’ll spend the remainder of your days being embarrassed about.

Emotionally speaking, they’re the first years you’re playing with live ammo, and the sad part is that you probably don’t know it until it’s too late. It’s a dynamic Perfect Tides, an adventure game set in the year 2000 in a fictional version of Fire Island, understands all too well.

Early on in the game, protagonist Mara’s only friend Lily tells her that she’s moving away for a little while. It’s clearly one of the most painful moments of Mara’s life up until this point, as Mara has already suffered enough due to the death of her father. Mara responds, of course, in the worst way possible, lashing out at her friend because she doesn’t know yet that what she should be doing is trying to savor every moment she has with her. Perfect Tides doesn’t really follow normal story structure, but after this moment, nothing is the same. It’s one of those moments where you want to lash out at games for having restrictions because every part of me wanted to jump into the game’s fictional world and stop it.

Mara will inflict more cruelty as the game goes on, and much much more will be inflicted on her. She will be put in situations she has no idea how to properly handle yet. An innocent night out with a new group ends with them visiting their extremely sketchy friend you haven’t been introduced to yet in his seedy motel room. A boy laughs at his friend showing Mara his penis in class, then later, tries to tell her his feelings in one of the most uncomfortable scenes I’ve ever played in a video game. We may be tempted to laugh at how “serious” she is with the boy in the fanfic forum she’s a part of, but when she’s denied access to said forum, it destroys her.

Even the little things add up. Lily introduces her to cigarettes before she leaves. Mara takes a puff and coughs her lungs out. It’s presented as a one-off little moment, but months later, she’ll beg her older brother who she hates (for good reasons) to buy her a pack from the deli near their ferry stop.

As much insight into Mara, and adolescence in general, as we get from her actions and the way she sees and reacts to the people around her, we learn just as much, if not more, from Meredith Gran’s second person prose. It’s through this prose (some of the best I read this year, I might add) that the game adds an even greater degree of profundity and observation. This is a moment I’ve seen other reviewers point out, but there’s a scene in which Mara is standing with her new friend group on the island’s docks. She’s having a moment in which, despite being around these people who clearly like her, she feels isolated and insecure, and she realizes that the death of her father can be a kind of emotional tool to justify her awkwardness. “Before Dad died, you fantasized about a tragedy in your life that would endear you to others. You dreamt of having some excuse, some justification for the way you are in people’s minds.” Despite how quiet it is, it’s a scene that gutted me to my core.

Despite how bleak I’m making Perfect Tides sound, it’s also one of the funniest games I played this year as well, as it understands that high school can be deeply traumatic, but also incredibly dumb. Mara’s awkwardness is played for relatability, but it’s also played for laughs. It’s even in her design, as she has these strands of hair that perpetually cover one of her eyes. On top of that is her inability to tell where her own insecurities end and where the stupidity of the bro-y boys around her begins. And the bros here aren’t the bros of the later Bush and early Obama years either. These are nu-metal bros. The dumbest one even wears his hat backward just like Fred Durst himself.

There are scenes I could turn to demonstrate how funny the game is, but there’s a little one that stuck with me, one that probably doesn’t read as funny but killed me when it happened in the game. It’s an early scene where Mara shows up to class to find that a substitute teacher is there and she’s making everyone watch Shakespeare in Love. Justin, said backwards hat wearer, asks his deskmates, “What the hell is that?” Most people would understand that Justin really isn’t asking, but rather commenting on the kinds of movies they have to watch at school. Mara, however, responds, “It’s about Shakespeare’s life. It won Best Picture last—“ before being shut up by the bully kid who sits next to her. It was a response that struck me as profoundly teenage. Trying to claim the high ground by offering up information she doesn’t realize nobody cares about. There are little moments like this all through the game, and in some cases, they humanize Mara and everyone around her more than the tragedies do.

This is the second time in a row my game of the year is a game about adolescence and the earlier days of the internet. (Last year, it was Emily is Away 3.) I don’t know what this says about me, other than I think millennials are good at making shit about social media. But I do know that our generation is the last one to remember a life before we moved online, even if that moment was brief. It’s a vein of nostalgia and pain that’s apparently quite rich. Or at least it is for me. Video games have so far been the best medium for exploring this time, and Perfect Tides is a perfect example of why.

Honorable Mentions

  • Card Shark
  • The Case of the Golden Idol
  • Cursed to Golf
  • Dorfromantik
  • Far: Changing Tides
  • Franken
  • Horizon: Forbidden West
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land
  • Norco
  • The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe
  • Stray
  • Trombone Champ

Will Play Someday

  • Cult of the Lamb
  • Elden Ring
  • Rollerdrome
  • Strange Horticulture
  • I’m sure there’s more.
6 Comments