2022 has been a phenomenal year for games. I personally rarely play games as they release, which means I am going to be feasting for years to come. Since my 2022 games post was a celebration of games both past and present, I also wanted to make a post specifically about games that released this year. For every game I play another 10 release that I want to try. This makes it hard to keep up, so I thought I would pick out 10 that have piqued the peak of my interest.
For reference, I have played 6 games that released this year (not including during 12 Days of Game Pass)
The Past Within
This of course leave many games untouched. As always, picking only 10 was extremely difficult. But here are the games I am most hyped to try from this year, in release order!
19th May – Eternal threads – Cosmonaut Studios
This is an indie game that is set in the north of England. As a northerner myself, that would be enough to get my interest but I also played the demo. I had a fun time with it. I love when games let you explore something that has already happened (Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture being another example) so I am so very down to pick this one up and piece it all together.
24th June – AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative – Spike Chunsoft., Ltd.
I only played AI: The Somnium Files for the first time this year which is great timing for me, having the sequel readily available. I haven’t heard much about this one as I have purposefully avoided anything about it, but even the screenshots on Steam leave so many questions. I’m going to need some answers.
30th August – Immortality – Sam Barlow/Half Mermaid
I love FMV. I love mysteries. Why havent I played this yet you may ask? I DONT KNOW, I NEED TO OK! I was already interested in what the game may have to offer, but multiple 10/10 ratings and awards/nominations mean I need to get to this one STAT.
Check it out here or it is currently on Game Pass.
22nd September – Beacon Pines – Hiding Spot
I played the demo for Beacon Pines a while ago and really enjoyed it. It has been long enough that I have forgotten a lot of the specifics but I do remember the lovely art, the cool story book narrative puzzle structure and an almost ‘Night in the Woods’ vibe. It is currently on Game Pass so I must jump on that opportunity to play it.
You can get it on Steam here or it is also currently on Game Pass.
28th September – The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow – Cloak and Dagger Games
This is another game that I played the demo of and wanted more. The atmosphere and art were great, and thankfully that is as much as I remember. Once I play a demo, I tend to internalise the want to play but forget a lot of the rest which means that I can enjoy the discovery again when I finally play the full game.
13th October – The Case of the Golden Idol – Color Gray Games
I played the demo for The Case of the Golden Idol relatively recently, much more so than the previous two games but much to the same effect. I immediatly knew I needed to play the rest of the game and locked it away until I get the chance for the full story. I do remember exploring wacky scenareos and collecting key words in order to piece together exactly what went down. It was great fun and I absolutely want more.
9th November – God of War: Ragnarok – Santa Monica Studio
It is probably very obvious that I want to play Ragnarok. I played God of War for the first time in 2022 and while it isn’t in my favourite games of all time, it was extremely enjoyable. I have actively avoided as much as I can from the sequel and everything that I did see was another thing too much. It looks outstanding.
15th November – Pentiment – Obsidian Entertainment
I have heard that I will enjoy this one and I 100% believe it. Narrative based, mysteries, detective work, choices, historical setting, murder. Just put it in my veins please.
Pentiment is on Game Pass or you can get it on Steam here.
18th November – The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me – Supermassive Games
I love playing The Dark Pictures Anthology games and was very hyped for this one as it is my favourite premise of the series so far. The reviews are dissapointing, but I am only keeping them in the back of my mind because I am one of the few that thinks Man of Medan is much better people give it credit for. As always, I will go into this one with an open mind and enjoy the inevitably bloody ride!
This game has been in Early Access for a long time and I have had it on my Wishlist forever. It recently released in full and I must play it. I have a huge soft spot for cosy games but I am equally hit and miss with them. I love experiencing different applications of them and analysing what made one more successful to me over another, and this one looks like its own unique take worth some time.
If you would like to see a more extensive list, I’ve got you. Click here for a list of (at the time of writing) 51 games that have my attention. I will be keeping this up to date so if some of them have vanished I do apologise. That does however mean that I am making my way through the backlog so that is a win. Thanks to Game Pass I am able to dive into some of these right away, what an exciting time!
The year is almost over! Since I don’t make a habit of playing many brand new games on release I don’t often have a lot to add to the Game of the Year conversation. I do however track all of the games that I play within a given year. Since I missed so many titles throughout my life, I am very fortunate to experience many amazing games for the first time all year around. I want to celebrate that, so here are my Top 10 Games from this year!
10. AI: The Somnium Files (2019)
It was very difficult narrowing this list down. I have played so many good games this year that could make my top 10 for so many different reasons. After much back and forth, I have chosen AI: The Somnium Files as number 10. Despite not enjoying everything about it, I have to acknowledge that I loved the core mystery. Not only did the game deliver a murder mystery that kept me guessing with so many wild yet somehow plausible theories, it managed to bring it all together to a satisfying conclusion. When an ending falls flat it can often dampen my memory of the rest of the experience and that could very easily happen with a story so full of twists and turns. Thankfully, they nailed it!
If you would like to hear more about my mixed feelings on this crazy game, you can read my review here.
9. God of War (2018)
God of War felt like my first delve into the best that cinematic gaming has to offer. I felt like I was playing a blockbuster and because that is so rare to me, it was pretty damn awe-inspiring. I think the reason that this game doesn’t make it further up the list is becasue when something shines so much, the rough edges feel a little rougher. Slight issues with pacing, invisible walls and certain character arcs occasionally took me out of the experience and stopped this from being up there with my favourites. However, the fight choreography, the mythology and the characters themselves were so much fun, it was overall a fantastic experience.
8. Yes, Your Grace (2020)
I almost missed this one so I am so glad that I got to play it before it left Game Pass. The tough choices every day, the looming threat and the never knowing whether we would get through the next week created an extremely stressful and melancholic atmosphere in which I personally felt the weight of the kingdom on my shoulders. Yet somehow that is not all I remember. I remember the charm of every character being recognisable despite their pixel forms. I remember the nerves when someone returned to the palace, and the joy when they were saying thank you (and bringing me supplies). I remember the shenanigans of my daughters that elevated the game from a management sim to a life sim. It can be sad, it can be stressful, it can be buggy, but it is very worth playing.
7. Astrologaster (2019)
Having zero expectations helped as I discovered how much of a total delight Astrologaster really is. The music, the history, the choices, the relationships, the consequences – that is what the game is all about. It is all delivered with a sense of humour that couldn’t be nailed by just anyone. The passion and heart from the devs is palpable. If you are having a bad day, I couldn’t recommend this enough to get at least a few giggles. For how simple the game is moment to moment, the production value shines and makes this a stand out indie title.
6. Zero Time Dilemma (2016)
Finishing the Zero Escape series was the end of an era for me. I played the entire series for YouTube and each one was as wild as the next in their own way. It took me a while to adjust to the third and final game having such a new style, but once I got used to it I grew to love it. The janky animations added character as much as anything else, and the new flow of gameplay made a lot of sense in terms of the story. As I reflect, this game and Virtues Last Reward keep trading places for my favourite in the series, and that was very unexpected considering how much I enjoyed VLR.
If you would like to hear more of my feelings on this game, not only can you watch my series in the video above but I guested on the Left Behind Game Club podcast where we talked in a lot of depth. You can find more information about that here.
5. Elden Ring (2022)
One one hand, it almost feels wrong to put Elden Ring on this list as I am not even sure I am half way through yet. On the other hand, I HAD to put Elden Ring on this list. I have quietly enjoyed the souls games from a distance for a few years, but never thought I could actually play them. I wanted that sense of exploration but I don’t have the patience required for the combat. Then Elden Ring came along. It is like Dark Souls had a child with.. well.. me. Every change they made and feature they added feels tailored to my enjoyment and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game so far, knowing I have many more hours of joy, discovery, fear and fascination to go. This was my onlyday one gaming splurge this year and I am so glad that I did it.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2021)
I am not entirely sure why it took me so long to play Guardians of the Galaxy. I had access to it for a while but the timing never felt quite right. Now that I think back, it is like it was for a reason. In an extremely stressful time in my life, this game gave me a wonderful place of respite. It is another that felt designed for me on a few different levels. The character interactions and small details were fantastic and the levels were very fun to explore. I even enjoyed the combat which isn’t usual for me. The only hype I really heard about this game were the few who were championing it saying it is underrated, and I whole-heartedly agree. I always hope for more people to play it because I’m sure there will be many that have as much love for it as I do. It is funny, colourful, bold, emotional, and so worth your time.
3. Stray (2022)
Stray was everything I needed it to be and more. To this day I see people calling it ‘that cat game’ but that feels so reductive to me. In my review I went into detail about why I believe this game worked so well, so instead of rehashing that, I will leave a link here. What I do want to say is while this game will not be for everyone, I am so happy that there is a space for games like these to be made. Not everything has to be a blockbuster, but I do believe games need some sort of substance. This is a short game that is bursting with atmosphere, gorgeous visuals, small moments, world building, and feelings; perhaps even more impressive considering all of the characters are animals and robots.
2. Persona 5 (2016)
This game took over my life in a way that I didn’t expect. At a time when I was creating a schedule – forcing in some mandatory yet reluctant rest time – P5 became part of my evening routine. Having never played a story based JRPG before (unless Pokemon counts) I wasn’t even sure what to expect, let alone whether I would like it. But after playing the first couple of hours I was completely sold. It was a totally new experience and I was entirely on board. The further in I got, the more I loved the characters and the more excitement I got from new mechanics, new story beats or discovering new elements of the game. This game is a masterclass in style and I couldn’t get enough. I lulled in the middle which isn’t unusual for me during a long game, but overall, Persona 5 took a place in my heart. Maybe even stole it? A hugely enjoyable experience that I will remember for a long time.
1. Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)
The award for favourite game that I have played this year goes to – Return of the Obra Dinn! All I knew going into this game was that there might be murder mysteries and puzzles, and that I was slightly off-put by the art style. It is so interesting how thoughts like that can 180 so hard that it becomes one of your favourite game experiences to date. As soon as I felt the game in motion I knew I had it wrong. This game is art in every sense. Not only the visual aesthetic, but the music, the audio design, the pacing of every reveal, the setting, the characters, the story, the clues, the unravelling. It is crafted to perfection.
In puzzle books my favourite pages are the logic grid puzzles. I had no idea this game would basically be a huge, sprawling version of those. Except for a couple of tiny niggles, this game ‘hit’ on every level for me. My only regret is not being able to experience it for the first time again.
Looking back over my list and writing this post is pretty magical. These games are outstanding and were one of the saving graces of a tough personal year for me. And the best part? I know there are 1000s more where they came from, just waiting to give more fantastic, wild, emotional, challenging, thoughtful, hilarious, *insert all other adjectives here* experiences, and the library just grows and grows.
For anyone else like me – people who want to experience everything there is, Indie and AAA alike – we will never be able to play all of the games that we would like to before we die. There literally aren’t enough hours. On one hand, that could be a reason to be super selective. On the other, how many games have clicked with you on a level that you never expected or could not have predicted? For me, that number is pretty high. The conclusion – be adventurous. Go with your gut. Listen to others, but not too closely. Curious about something? Give it a go! Not really feeling anything? Try absolutely anything! Games are more accessible than they have ever been, what better way to celebrate that then.. well.. playing games.
If you would like to see more of what I played this year, I have a Twitter thread with initial thoughts of every game I played here. I also have a more concise visual list on GGApp that you can view here.
Moonlighter is a game in which you hunt for treasures by night, and sell them by day. Both of these jobs create two different modes which construct the daily flow of the game. The dungeons you pillage are randomized in a rogue-like fashion. The further you get into a dungeon, the more valuable loot you will find. Kill the main boss to complete the dungeon and unlock the next one, with a new biome and new loot. Throughout the journey you will be fighting creatures, finding notes and organizing your bag in order to maximize your haul. What is the catch here you may be wondering? Well.. If you die you lose the majority of the loot that you have collected that night. It becomes a game of deciding whether you dare go into the next room. There may be enemies that could kill you, but there also may be a healing pool or something worth everything you have already collected combined. Do you want to risk it all? Or are you satisfied to come back another day.
The second half of this game is managing your shop. Almost everything that you find is sellable. Your job is to figure out the optimal price to sell these items. Price them too low and you are missing out on valuable cash, but price them too high and they will not sell or customer demand for said item will plummet. The game kindly provides you with a book that updates automatically to allow you to focus on pricing up the new goods while quickly selling old ones. Another catch? A lot of what you find are also materials that you will need to upgrade your equipment, so you have to make some decisions – managing money vs benefit when it comes to what you sell. My advice? Prioritize upgrading every time. It makes a huge difference as you can spend longer in the dungeons, allowing you to bring even more valuable loot home. And thus, the loop continues.
+ A Good Podcast Game
My favourite thing about this game is that it is a great podcast game. By which I mean, once you are used to the mechanics and know what you are doing, you can easily put on your favourite podcast and listen away.
– The Combat
I am so hit and miss with combat that anyone would be forgiven for taking my opinion with a grain of salt. However, I found the combat to feel really clunky. Hitboxes were strange, it didn’t feel super responsive and I never really got the hang of it. The first thing that I did was rebound the controls (excellent feature I am always happy to see) to feel more familiar which helped some, but the further I got it never felt better. The only thing that helped me make progress was upgrading my equipment. Of course, that is to be expected, but I never felt like I was improving as a player. I was still feeling as frustrated by the end as I was at the beginning. By the fourth dungeon I ended up turning down the difficulty because I just wasn’t having fun with it. Granted, I am used to playing The Binding of Isaac where you can attack in a different direction than you are facing. You can’t do that here and I felt it a lot. It resulted in lots of running into enemies while trying to face them, taking damage in the process.
+/- The Progression
This being a pro or a con really depends on how much you enjoy the core loop. I did enjoy the loop, but I was excited to see how it was going to progress as I unlocked new areas and facilities in the town. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t enjoy the direction it took. The best way that I can describe it is – more of the same but with a few added annoyances. The dungeons and your gear upgrades all follow the same patterns with a couple of changes here and there. That was fine. It was the shop progression that I had a bit of an issue with. As an example, the larger your shop grows, new mechanics are introduced. One of them is a bird flying into your shop. You have to chase it around and catch it by pressing X. It startles the customers and everyone freezes until you catch it. The first time this happened was fine, but it happened around the same time every single day, with the bird flying in the same predictable pattern. It wasn’t a challenge or a delight. It was just a thing that happened to give you something to do and it didn’t add anything. In fact the opposite, it developed to be quite annoying. I do enjoy how the variety of customers grows as your shop does, but I hoped for more in the shop itself.
+ The Ease of Use Features
Simple mechanics such as moving everything to and from chests, easily being able to pick up individual items or stacks, sorting via price, getting rid of items mid dungeon, automatically updating my price book, being able to see my price book easily mid looting, and having a wish list option that highlights crafting materials you need as you find them, were all very gratefully received by me. Often when I thought ‘I wish I could do this’ my thought was cut short because the game had already given me a way to do it.
– Valuing items becomes finicky
To create more challenge and variety, your book doesn’t store item price data if the item is in high demand when it is sold. That means that you can charge more than normal for profit, but the number doesn’t get saved. I wish there was a separate section for recording this data. In addition, it doesn’t save the price for certain customers. This can result in an attempt to figure out the best price of a particular item thwarted because some rich or interested dude bought it. This then gets frustrating becasue you not only have to remember the item and price range that you were working with, but find it again and try another day where it is just as likely to happen again. By the third dungeon I would say around 95% of my prices were not getting recorded and it was really frustrating because figuring out the price boundaries was my favourite part of the game. I loved testing the boundaries, slowly testing the maximum I could get without being too cheeky. This aspect was completely taken away due to the progression of the mechanics and instead turned into annoying robbers and just trying to sell everything as fast as I could. It improved slightly in the fourth dungeon but by then I felt defeated. It had me questioning whether my game was bugged, a question I still don’t know the answer to.
– Some Minor Technical Issues
Every time I pressed X – from entering a dungeon to reading a note – the game would switch my weapons. Which would mean I would run up to punch an enemy only to slowly shoot an arrow in their face because I didn’t realise it had switched. This isn’t game ruining at all, but it was an annoyance that added onto previous ones. I also had some chugging and framerate drops occasionally which felt a little strange in a 2D top down game like this.
+ The Familiars
You can happen upon eggs in the dungeons that after a few days hatch into little friends that aid you during your dungeoneering. I loved this addition. They were cute and had some legitimately interesting perks.
– The Notes
There are notes you can find throughout the dungeons and every time I found one I felt excited. They are there to give the player some hints and add some flavour. I just wish they were a bit more interesting. It didn’t take long at all for them to start repeating and I found them to be quite generic. Occasionally it would be a hint for something that I figured out 2 dungeons ago, and it just ended up feeling very disappointing.
Ultimately, the first couple of hours of was my favourite part of the time that I spent with this game. Where I thought it was going based on those first hours and where it actually went turned out to be a little different, which was unfortunate for me. My favourite part of the game was gradually made worse by strange mechanics rather than staying the same or improving, to the point that I pretty much gave up on it. I started my first few hours wanting to craft every weapon to the highest level, but by the end I was just trying to finish the game. It could be that it is just not for me, but what I really think happened is the niggles that I mentioned above wore me down. The later the game, the more niggly mechanics were added which added to the wear down. I think it is a fantastic, fun core concept for a game that was brought down by a few small things. That all being said, if you go in with the expectations set by everything written above then it is a nice game to keep your hands busy while you listen to podcasts.
I went into this expecting a visual novel akin to the Zero Escape series, a series that I have covered to completion on my channel. What I found was that the similarities are few and far between, and I think that if this is a visual novel, then it is on the very border of the definition of the genre. That is by no means a complaint. While a lot of the mechanical differences didn’t hit for me, the story (which has to be core of any game that identifies as a visual novel) succeeds in telling a thrilling murder mystery, in a world where the gritty, shocking atmosphere doesn’t get bogged down by the sci fi elements, but is rather enhanced by them.
+ The Story
Something that I think is important to note is that everyone may get a very different experience of the story depending on the choices you make. The game has a flowchart structure where you follow a route to completion, then go back and change your choice to see what happens in different scenarios. By the end, you will have the same information as anyone else, but the journey in which you got there could be vastly different. I personally believe I got all of the endings in an order that was specifically curated for my tastes (anticlockwise around the flowchart for anyone that is curious) and feel very lucky for doing so. Following this route, the story ramped up very far very quickly and I was hooked. The mysteries had me desperate to see what was going to be around the next corner.
Looking back, it must be some good story telling that it had me guessing so many theories. Some were close, some were mildly correct, and some were way off. Allowing you to have this variety of thoughts, and yet the actual answers being satisfying too is a credit to the writers. I think my favourite thing about this developer is the ability to allow your imagination to go wild, misguide you and leave you asking questions right to the end. They did that well in the Zero Escape series and they were successful here too.
+/- The Writing
While I was praising the writing of the story above, the writing of dialogue can go from great, to so annoying that I don’t even know why I am playing. The player character is a man named Date. Don’t get me wrong, Date isn’t the only one guilty of this. But obviously that doesn’t make it any better. It makes it worse, because you don’t only have to endure it from him but others too. I do like his character sometimes but it gets overshadow by how perverted he is. The occasional lewd joke, sure, why not. But every scene has something. Some have multiple, and it is just not funny. It comes across as juvenile to me and makes me grateful that I didn’t stream or record this game. That way, I could just roll my eyes and move on instead of having to take in what was being said.
+/- The Characters
The Characters are such a mixed bag for me. Some of them feel very over the top to be almost caricature-ish. It is impossible to explain why without spoiling the game so I won’t go too deeply into it, but Mizuki and Mayumi were great to me. Iris and Ota not so much.
AI, Eye, Aiba. I had no idea what this game was about when I started. All I knew is that it had a title that made no sense to me. The game very quickly explains the deal with AI and I was into it instantly. I am very attached to my eyes – something happening to them is probably one of my biggest bodily fears – but I do think I would give one up if it meant I could have an AI. Also, her physical form is frickin adorable.
– The Somnium Puzzle Sections
Where the Zero Escape series had novel sections and escape room sections, AI has a little more variety. The bulk of the puzzle sections though are the Somnium puzzles. In these sections you are exploring various dreamscapes, investigating for clues and progress by interacting with objects. So far this sounds like something I would love, but it is completely ruined by the time mechanics. Every Somnium has a 6 minute time limit. Every action you do costs a certain amount of time. Some interactions give you modifiers that you can choose when to use (for example one modifier might make an interaction take exactly 30 seconds, another might make it take an eighth as long as it was going to). If you happen to get a bad modifier then your next action will take double time or more. At first I thought this could be neat. It is something new that I hadn’t seen before. But actually playing it doesn’t work on so many levels. Firstly, if I am in a dreamscape, that is super interesting! I want to be able to explore without consequence. Secondly, it is not intuitive which actions are going to help you progress, sometimes its something completely unexpected. Thirdly, what if I want to try out all of the silly interactions? Well if that’s the case then be prepared have to go through the convoluted retry system or start again from the beginning. If you do need to restart you can fast forward text, but that is no fun to me. In the end I gave each Somnium one try, then as I was running out of time I would pull up a guide because I found replaying so tedius. Finally, these puzzle sections are where the story branches happen. The trouble is that there is no way of knowing what interaction you make is going to take you down what path. Like I stated before, I am very lucky that I got the story in the perfect order for me, but that was literally just luck becasue I had no idea what direction I was taking things. In the Zero Escape series you make blind choices that lead to different paths, but at least in that game you can base your decisions on who you would like to spend more time with. In this one, you don’t even necessarily know you are making a choice till you have commited by interacting with a random object.
+/- The Other Mechanics
As I mentioned before, this game is more interactive than many other visual novels. What would often be a novel section in other games can almost be a point and click section in this one. You can look around your environment, clicking on everything and hearing comments from your own character as well as others around you. I really enjoyed this to start with, but it gets repetitive. I bet by the end most people are no longer clicking on the background objects. The problem is, they do throw in some new lines every now and again, but you never know when. So you either go through the tedium of clicking on every object due to fear of missing out, or you miss out on some character quirks and jokes. This section is also used to ask characters questions which I enjoyed.
There are some other sections too. This game contains action. And with action comes quick time events. These were fine. If anything I think I would have preferred to just watch the action rather than doing the QTEs. I am not sure what happens if you miss them so I can’t comment on that, but if you have to start the section again that would suck, it would ruin the pacing just as much as replaying a somnium does.
Finally, since you are a detective, there are interrogation sections. Unfortunatly there arent much to them, but I did like them none the less. You will be presented with a question and a few clues and you have to pick out the relevant answers. It is simple but it is nice while you are in the process of putting things together. If you choose the wrong one then Aiba will tell you, so there is no failstate.
+/- The Audio
As mixed as I have been with everything else, I am also mixed on this too. I don’t find the soundtrack very memorable. They did reuse some sound effects from the Zero Escape series which took me out of the game a little bit. There are occasions where you have to sit through an extended section of pop music and I was sat there like ‘oh my god, is this still going’. The best part of the audio though is that it is fully voice acted, and I think the majority of the actors did a great job. I enjoy hearing what each character sounds like as it gives them their own personality, more so than if I was just reading all of their lines.
I have tried to be as spoiler free as possible because the less you know the better, but also I believe knowing the caveats in advance can help set expectations and should hopefully improve the experience for anyone reading. Despite all of the problems I had, I still recommend this game if you have the patience, because the mystery was great and I really enjoyed the story. I am curious if any of my problems have been improved upon in the sequel!
Playing PowerWash Simulator is like using a colouring book. It is something mindless to keep your hands and a specific part of your brain busy while you are doing something else such as watching a show or listening to a podcast. I never intended on finishing this game but I have had a challenging month, and this game turned out to be the perfect white noise that I needed to get by. It has a very similar feeling to the paint-by-numbers game I play on my phone when I want to pass time without engaging my brain.
Upon cleaning my first van I felt slightly irritated. Bugged by the fact that this is not how cleaning works. I can be a very systematic person. I have a set way that I wash my dishes, and that is because cleaning is annoying and awkward and putting things in water doesn’t = clean. So imagine my confusion when this game allowed me to clean the windows of the vehicle before I did the roof. How could that be? Everyone knows the dirt would come off the roof and re-dirty the parts you have already cleaned. This was against the laws of cleaning nature and I had a hard time accepting it. I finished up my now squeaky clean van and got to work on a huge garden. Slightly overwhelmed, I started on the fences and worked my way around. But then while I was doing the fences, I may as well do the floor between them. But I hadn’t done that bench yet so I should probably do that too. Then it clicked. If this game had real life cleaning physics it would be unbearable. It would go from an alternative to colouring in, to absolute chore simulator. I thanked the game dev gods that it wasnt me making this game, petitioning to make it realistic. Instead, they took fun and convenience into consideration, which enabled my compulsion to do things in any order that made sense to me in that very moment without consequence.
+/- The Compulsionism
I found my rhythm by the end of the game. Go around the edges of things, then do the betweeny parts. The only problem with this – how do you ever stop. Everytime I splash a bit of water onto a new section, I feel like I have signed my soul to a soapy devil and I am now committed to finishing this piece. Do my edges, splash onto the next area, sign a new contract, rinse, repeat. It is very hard to stop. Some times it feels less out of enjoyment and more of a duty. Of course, this isn’t a problem with the game, this is entirely in my head and if anything, it shows good game design. Not being able to put a game down is often a goal in making a game and usually the sign of a successful one.
I had a couple of bugs while playing. One time I got stuck somewhere unable to move. Then there were multiple times where my ‘show me the dirt’ button wasn’t working. Thankfully all of these were solved by either leaving then re-entering the level, or restarting the game. Nothing too major, just little annoyances but I could never tell when they were going to happen.
The menu is generally laid out well. It is really easy to jump between levels in seconds should you need to. It is designed as a tablet which works well with the theming of a mobile business. You can use the menu button to get a list of things like ‘Shop’ and ‘Settings’. That was all very clear. What wasn’t as clear to me was how to change your clothes. Throughout your cleaning career you are constantly opening your equiptment tab to change the length of your machine, so often that you cease to actually see the menu. What I didnt notice is that within that tab there is a clothing tab. I only realised after a google search because I was near the end of the game and desperate to try on my new gear. I never actually figured out how to change the skin of my Power Washer until I purposefully reloaded the game to figure it out specifically for this review. It is a triangle on top of a tab and it is so easy to miss. Again, only minor things but they felt worth mentioning.
+ Game Modes
Career mode is the bulk of the game. You will receive texts from clients offering you jobs. Near the beginning you can often choose between two or three, but by the end it becomes one at a time. As you complete jobs you will earn stars which will unlock upgrades in the shop, and money that will allow you to buy said upgrades. When you are done with career mode you can use free play mode to redo previous areas with all of the shiny equiptment and unlimited soap supplies. Also, there are special levels that contain 4 novelty scenarios to clean. I wonder if this is going to be added to over time. Co-op mode is an option if you want to clean with your friends, or just clean you friends. Finally, there are challenge modes, including time challenges and water usage. I tried and failed a time challenge three times before I gave up. I am no speed cleaner but they are there for others if you are up for perfecting your power washing technique.
Wait.. This game has a story? Actually, kind of! As you play through career mode you will recieve funny texts that may or may not be related to the job you are doing. Admittedly, I was so absorbed in my podcasts (Bonfireside Chat in case anyone was wondering) that I didn’t read them for most of the game. As I got to the final third or quarter of the game, things begun happening and the messages were catching my eye more and more. At this point, I was ready to stop. When I started flagging I went to trusty google to see how many levels were left, and seeing some of the titles of said levels gave me a bit of a second wind. True enough, I was then committed and had to see it all the way through to the end. I had to know what would happen. The game has a fun tone and it really works in its favour.
+ The little things
There was something so joyful about seeing something you have previously cleaned show up on a level. One example is seeing vehicles you have previously cleaned in the background of your current job. It happens more as the game goes on and consistently gave me a little dopamine boost.
+/- It’s a time sink
If I can loop back round to the intro, you can spend a lot of hours in this game. On one hand, fantastic. My time is filled without allowing and creeping thoughts or problems. Just keep washing. On the other hand though, where the hell did my time go? So many hours… down the drain (hur hur).
I think that is all I have to say about PowerWash Simulator! Overall, I finished the game. Considering I cleaned every inch of this world, I still feel so dirty that I put so many hours into it. Truth is, it is so much easier than cleaning in real life but has a similar satisfying effect. Trouble is, you then stand up from your computer and realise that there will always still be cleaning to do in real life. It served me well, but I am pretty happy to be hanging up my Prime Vista PRO for good.
I feel I need to start this one with a disclaimer. Reviews are subjective. I am going to talk about my experience with the game as a person who doesn’t play games for their combat. People who like the challenge may disagree with what I say, as I have seen many people online say this game is too easy. I, personally, am not a god at video games. I can only talk from my own point of view, that this game can also be great for people like me, even if it does have its drawbacks.
+ The Premise
Alright, so Hades is an artistic, stylish rogue-lite based in Greek Mythology. We play as Zagreus – the Son of Hades – and we have one goal. Escaping the underworld. Everytime you die you are transported back home, which makes sense as that is where the majority of the dead end up sooner or later. This alone is such a fantastic concept. I love when game mechanics are tied to the story and I can think of no better set up for a rouge-lite. Throughout our escape attempts, our family on Olympus will offer us aid in the form of boons and this is where the classic roguelike gameplay factors in. Different perks combine in different ways to allow a variety of playstyles. Throughout our escape attempts – and eventually escapes – we get more and more story, be it characterisation of the gods, or directly talking to everyone back home. We also get more and more mechanics, including weapons to shake up your playstyle and difficulty modifiers, for better or worse. The best part of this set up is that death doesn’t always feel bad. In fact, sometimes I wanted a death just so that I could go back to the house and see what everyone was up to.
At first, when I had only seen others play and not played myself, I didn’t love the aesthetics. Everyone was raving about them but I didn’t really get it until I tried it myself. You would think that the staple colours of red and green would shout Christmas. But they dont. Instead they evoke this regal hell. Rather than a festive cheer, it feels expensive and strict, yet also has a sense of home. The music is so good, everytime I start a run my head has to bob, it is perfect to hype you up for the challenge ahead. There is also diegetic music that is appropriately beautiful and evolves in fun ways as you go. The art in both the portraits of the characters and the movement itself is quite busy, but so unique. When things are busy sometimes my senses freeze up, but once I got used to it I really enjoyed looking at the details put into the characters. Then somehow everything also looks great when it moves. Overall, they took a premise that is already fantastic on its own, but then executed it so stylishly that it oozes personality.
+ The Voices/Dialogue
Before I was familiar with the game I heard a lot of praise for the voice acting. This was another thing that I didn’t really ‘get’ when I started playing myself. I don’t find them traditionally ‘good’. I do find them very stylised in a way that once I got used to it, I loved. As an example, lots of lines are read very quickly and don’t seem to pause in places that you would usually pause. Or there would be no gap between sentences. It felt very unnatural to me for a while, but in the end I feel like it becomes a defining factor in the style of the game. What I do love about the voices are the effects that are used on them. Some of the characters in the game are even beyond gods, and the audio designers did a fantastic job of creating ethereal effects that really characterise the way they speak. This, on top of the fun dialogue and the beautiful art, creates these very evocative and memorable characters, even if we do only meet them one line at a time. There is also so much dialogue. It will be a long time before you hear anything repeated. It is very impressive and a great hook to keep you coming back for more.
+ The Family Dynamics
Family drama is something that can be hit or miss. In real life, it SUCKS. But when that family are Greek Gods? There is something very enticing to be involved in the dynamics of these extremely powerful, extremely temperamental folk. I don’t know much about mythology in general, but I do know a lot of these characters are known for being petty, dishing out punishments, holding grudges etc. I do also believe they know how to have a good time. So having these colourful characters as our uncles and cousins and such was a rush. I didn’t trust them at all, but they so were fun to interact with. The family dynamics in the house are great too and you get to know more as you progress through the game. I really started to care and as dysfunctional as it is, some qualities shine through that you root for.
– The Difficulty Curve
Moving onto the gameplay itself, it is a very mixed bag for me. I am not that experienced with roguelikes but I do know that the more you play, the better you get. You learn the game and you improve. I did enjoy the process in the beginning, however there are certain blocks that felt like a huge wall to me. I managed to overcome some of them, but that doesnt stop them from becoming tedious. Without spoiling too much, the third area enemies often have a lot of armour and can respawn. It would sometimes take me minutes to complete a room. It was frustrating and boring. That might not sound like much but when you have been flying through the first area it feels like molasses. The same thing goes for bosses beyond the second area, I just don’t enjoy them. Thankfully, with every run you are collecting darkness and other items which you can use to upgrade your character. For me though, the satisfaction of coming back upgraded and getting further does not overcome the frustration of the halt of progress in the first place. (This may sound like I just don’t like rogue-lites. The only real point of reference I have is The Binding of Isaac, and I feel like that game moves a lot faster while also having more to think about, so there is less time to be bored). It is not a good feeling when over half of a run feels like a slog and I sometimes feel like throwing it because I can’t be bothered with the boss.
+ God Mode
God Mode is genius and I thank the Devs so much for including it. If you are playing for the story rather than the challenge, God Mode is an optional setting that can progressively make the game easier until it balances out at your level. Every time you die, you will gain a bonus to your damage reduction stat. Meaning enemies will hurt you less. You can turn this on or off at any time and it was a life saver for me. I played the game without it until I got my first clear. To get to credits you need 10 clears. I kept playing and playing but I wasn’t getting any more clears. Then the tedium mentioned above set in. I decided to turn on God Mode and it was the best decision I made. Two clears in a row and my enthusiasm for the game was back. After dying a few more times I reached the correct difficulty for me and got an 8 win streak. These weren’t easy wins either, it was just right that it was down to the wire most times. I urge you that if you are finding it tedious, getting bored, or doing a collect-a-thon, use God Mode. I certainly wouldn’t have got as far as I did without it.
+/- The Pacing
In a game with two distinct sections (gameplay during runs then story time and upgrading between) it was always going to be hard to pace it well. For a lot of people, the story sections ruin the pace of the gameplay. They are ready to jump straight back in but have to go around talking to everyone, breaking their momentum. For me, it was the other way around and play almost felt too long. I wanted to be back at the house for the next story beats and to upgrade my stuff. Based on those two types of players, I don’t really see how they could have a middle ground. It is not detrimental to the game, but it is a common complaint that I have heard and felt myself occasionally, even if it is opposite ends of a spectrum.
+ Other Objectives
There is a lot more to do than just clearing runs. These aren’t things that you have to do but are an option if you need something other than combat like I do. Some characters have side quests that you progress by gifting them items between runs. You can improve relationships, unlocking new dialogue and scenes. Then there are the Boons. If you are a compulsive list taker like me, collecting every Boon is so much fun. Some Boons require you to have other Boons first, and navigating that was a game that I enjoyed more than getting clears. I have officially collected them all and really enjoyed doing so. By the end, every fated choice (one you havent picked up yet) received a celebratory fist bump from me. There are also heat levels that you can unlock to make the game more difficult if you are so inclined. All of these things provide rewards that you can either put towards improving more runs, or buying house fashion.
I hope that if anything, this review shows that Hades can be enjoyed by many different types of people. It is very accessible as a first foray into the genre, while equally providing a new challenge for the genre savvy. While I don’t think it is a perfect game, I do believe it deserved all of the love, praise and awards it recieved. By the end, the game was leaving Game Pass so I was rushing to complete everything that I wanted to. I really don’t think this is the way to play. Chipping away with a few runs here and there after the initial addiction keeps the runs more palatable in my opinion. You can definitely have too much of a good thing! Having said that, it has provided me with many hours of entertainment and I will think back on it very fondly.
This year I have been blessed with the amount of ‘me’ games that I have been able to play. Stray, I am pleased to admit, is one of them. Without playing it, it is easy to think of it as nothing more than ‘that cat game’. That is how I thought of it before. I had hope that it would be great but expected charm and not a lot more. However – for me at least – it was so much more than that.
+ The Protagonist
In Stray, we play as a ginger tabby cat. Not a talking cat. Not a person that has been transformed into a cat. Not a magical cat. Just your regular old, run-of-the-mill, carefree street cat. Other aspects of story and play get added as you go, but the cat is still a cat, if a very smart and loyal one.
Throughout this game we traverse through different environments of this fictional dystopia, exploring, learning and taking in the surroundings. We are a speechless outsider, observing and interacting as we go. We aren’t one of them, and my playable character also sharing these qualities with me (the player) created a uniquely immersive experience that hit me on a genius level. This would have been a different game if we were playing as one of the robots that inhabits the city.
Then there is the cat itself. The animations are beautifully made and transition seamlessly. Everything, from the swagger and agility to the curiosity and behavior screams ‘real cat’. The interactions with other cats, the scratching at objects and rubbing on peoples legs were things that didn’t need to be included, but do wonders for immersion. In some games, going off the beaten path feels strange because you are on a mission to save the world or on urgent business, and stopping to talk to someone or play a mini game breaks the narrative. You do it, because it’s a game, but it feel wrong. Here though, we are a cat. If we see a perfect nap spot, we are 100% going to take it. Because that’s what cats do. We are emotive and adorable without feeling like a caricature, and it is just a pleasure to control this excellent boi.
+ The World Building
Urban and Cyberpunk settings don’t often appeal to me that much and for that reason I was here for the cat, nothing more. To my surprise, it didn’t take long for me to be completely invested in this world, desperate to explore to learn more of what life is like here and why. While ignorant past Noob felt like rolling her eyes at the idea of there being robots in this game, present Noob was delighted to meow at every single one I happened upon. You can learn a lot by interacting with everything you can, exploring the areas, taking notice of the details and putting the pieces together. Although it is a story of robots, it is more relatable than expected. Dealing with issues like pollution and poverty, two very real things, the game managed to keep me in a state of melancholy while also making me think.
+ The Aesthetic
Like I mentioned above, I didn’t expect the setting to really jive with me. Although I haven’t experienced a lot of it, I felt like I was burning out of the dark, dreary cityscape with colorful neon lights. All I had to do was play to realize that I was wrong. This game is stunning and the use of colors kept my brain twinkling in awe. Moving onto a new area always brought something new and interesting, and the beauty within the damaged and broken parallels with the themes of hope that are scattered throughout. Robots are robots, and while they seem sentient, everything they learned is from the humans. The way this is creatively used brought me so much joy. Abandoned apartments layered in rugs, linens, books and plants, creating the most stylish shabby chic décor. It isn’t practical but it doesn’t need to be. Every robot adopting their own style based on what they can find. Lights, lights and more lights. From the intricate interiors, to the wide shots of places you are discovering and have been, there is a beauty to this game that is not only pleasing to the player but really adds to the world building. The biggest crime that there is no photo mode (although maybe that is for the best, I might still be playing to this day).
+ The Difficulty
This is a very easy game, and I think that decision suits it very well. It allows for the flow of exploration without the frustration that can come in other games. Having said that, if you aren’t into exploring as much as I am you don’t have to. It isn’t difficult to figure out what you have to do next so if you want to mainline the story that is also entirely fine. Any puzzling is very minor, which makes the game very accessible to experienced gamers and new players alike.
+/- The Controls
I am personally very happy with the controls but I know a lot of people were underwhelmed. This is no precision platformer and I am glad that it doesn’t try or pretend to be. You can’t jump freely, only where the game allows. One could see this as a lack of freedom, or you could see it as a time saving and quality preserving mechanic. I didn’t waste any time trying to make jumps that maybe, just maybe, I could make. And I wasn’t taken out of the experience by janky animations caused by jumping places that were never intended because I was never allowed to. The levels are hand crafted with verticality in mind and the simple but intuitive controls were additive for me. The fact that there is an on demand meow button is just icing on the cake.
+ The Details
I talked about some of the details in the protagonist and aesthetic sections, but it deserves to be its own positive mark. My favorite detail is how every NPC has their own little personality. Most of them have their own hobbies and styles. When you meow at them, they all have their own reaction to you. It only flashes across their face for a second, but it is there and that was enough to ensure that I meowed at every single NPC that I met.
+ The Collectibles
There were no pointless collectibles. They took the form of memories, and every one that you found added some more context to the world. They weren’t too difficult to find (I think this is the first game ever that I found them all by myself) and they encouraged exploration which, to me, is the highlight of the game. Exploration, rewarded with story, which then encourages more exploration is a dream game loop for me and it was executed to perfection.
+ The Level Design
This game felt like a living and breathing city. I explained a lot of why it works in the Aesthetic and Controls sections above, but I want to give a shout out to the open world areas. I expected more of a linear game so arriving in the slums was a huge surprise. There is lots of exploring to be done and the entire level makes sense. It is unique, lived in, full of character, easy to maneuver and not too big to be overwhelming. And the same can be said for every other open world section in the game. There are nooks and crannies that you can only access due to being a cat. At first it can take a while to get used to the fact that bars aren’t a wall, you can walk through them or jump over them. It keeps things unusual and interesting. A different perspective.
+ The Pacing
I really enjoyed the pacing. Although I would have liked even more time in the open world sections, it would probably be to the detriment to the game. When you are ready to move on, the game is separated with chase/stealth/sort of combat sections that also do not feel like they last too long. The game in its entirety is relatively short, and throughout the entire game I was engaged enough to not put it down.
+ The Surprises
There were things in this game that I did not expect to see at all, but it was all entertaining enough. Obviously this is very vague as to not ruin it, but I think you will know what I mean when you get there.
Overall, this is an awfully sad world with hidden havens dotted around that I couldn’t get enough of exploring. I loved my character and I loved my time with it. I don’t think there are any cheap emotional stabs which is something I always fear in games containing animals, and I couldn’t be happier with the time I spent with this game. In the end, everything in the game made sense and I was very satisfied with the conclusion. The game resonated with me, and not just because of the cat, which I would say is an achievement for ‘that cat game’. Pawsome all around (be grateful. I could have used so many more puns throughout this review).
My Time at Portia is a game with many flaws, but if you can look past them then it can be an absolute delight. I feel like Portia is ideal for the people who love Stardew Valley/Harvest Moon type games but find the farming tedious after a while. These aren’t the only type of people who might enjoy this game, but if that resonates with you then it could be worth a shot! Not only through the first few hours but throughout my entire playthrough, I was constantly surprised, confused and amused by the stuff I would find and the things that would happen, leading to the affectionate nickname of ‘My Weird Time at Portia’.
– Doesn’t know what it wants to be
When I first started playing My Time at Portia, I got the sense that it didn’t know what it wanted to be. Games like Stardew Valley have a lot to do. You can farm, craft, cook, mine, forage, fish, create relationships. I feel that all of these things are key to the slice-of-life farm sim genre that these games are part of, which is already quite a lot of things to do. Portia is similar in that sense, except, add a main story, side quests left right and centre, dungeon crawling, named boss fights, a full on skill tree with three entirely seperate sections to go down, a photo menu, a workshop manual, a research system, a fluctuating economy, social mini games, regular mini games, festival mini games. It is a lot, and for a while the main thought going through my head was ‘What on earth is this game’.
+ Something for everyone
Though the absolute muddle of things to do and potentially overwhelming vibes this game gives out, the bright side is there is probably something for everyone. If you are like me and enjoy the systematic collection of things and ticking things off lists, you can do that. If you like making friends with everyone in town, you can do that. If you like spending your time decorating your home rather than completing commissions, you can do that. If you like dungeon crawling and fighting for loot.. I can’t say that I recommend it but it is there. More on that later!
– The jank
Before you even think about playing this game there is something that you have to accept. This game is Janky. And I mean Janky. Sometimes characters speak out loud, sometimes they dont, when they do it is generally awful. Sometimes they will say the right words, sometimes they will say something entirely different, sometimes they won’t actually be there while they are talking. Sometimes the camera will focus on weird things. NPCs are constantly stuck on the environment and will occasionally teleport. Photo quests break often. Mounts become unmountable. The game does a lot and generally it works, but with love, I do have to say that it can be quite a mess.
+ The jank
On the other hand, if this game didn’t have its Jank then I don’t think it would be half as memorable than if it were perfect and smooth. If you have a mount they are going to be running around in the background of every cutscene. When you get past how awful some of the cutscenes are they become hilarious and you look forward to the next one. When creating my character I couldn’t figure out how to change her name on console so she ended up being Linda. I gave her some pink cheeks that looked nice in the character creation menu. As soon as we got into the game though, it turns out those pink cheeks basically glow. Every day in game, something in the world is going wrong and it was a constant source of glee for me. A lot of the Jank is graphical or in the animations, and they can be the best.
– The combat
Okay… if there is something that I have to give my biggest criticism in this game, it is the combat. I don’t enjoy combat at the best of times but I can usually appreciate it if done well. It isn’t the end of the world since this game isn’t about combat, but you have to do it often enough that it can become frustrating and tedious. There is no feedback, or at least it tries to give you feedback through visual effects, which in the end just feel like a mess on the screen. I genuinely cannot tell when I am getting hit. There are numbers popping up but there is no feeling to it at all. Sometimes you can hit through or be hit through walls. Sometimes the enemy ends up in the air and doesn’t come back to the ground. Timing doesn’t feel like it matters much and when it does it can be frustrating. Hit boxes are hit and miss. AI companions will run at enemies and agro them when you are trying to draw them out one at a time. Thankfully, if you die during a boss fight you will respawn without their health being replenished. This is a mercy that I am grateful for, but it almost feels like confirmation of an awareness that the combat isn’t the best. Throughout the main story you will be put into multiple combat scenarios. As long as you keep plenty of health replenishing items in your inventory then you can tank your way through without too much pain. It can be a huge drag though.
+ Low stakes
I think what I love the most about this game are the low stakes. Sure, there are optimal ways to play and you can min/max if that is how you like to do it. But if not, there aren’t really any punishments for going slow. The only things that are timed are daily commissions (which you can choose to do) and very few quests/side quests. Other than that.. go nuts. Fancy spending an entire week in the mines? Go for it. As long as you have set your machines away there is really no reason to come home at night, so you can pass out at 3am doing whatever you were doing and wake up with full stamina the next day without losing anything. This all makes it really easy to pick this game back up even if you haven’t played for a month. I really appreciate it when I compare it to say, Stardew Valley, where I don’t want to boot up my game without my notebook in hand because I need to stick to my plan.
I believe Crafting is a really clever way to solve the problem that I mentioned in the intro. By the end, I usually find farming really tedious in these games. Having to water everything every day, plant them at the right time, harvest and replant, then if you miss the window you have to wait an entire year. I always pray for rainy days so that I can go and do other things. Instead, in this game you have to gather materials and process them, to then craft them into different items. Different materials can be processed in different ways, so it is up to you to manage what you have, what you need, and that is the loop rather than plant, water, harvest, repeat. It is much more flexible and, for me at least, enjoyable.
The fact that I already enjoy the crafting is doubled when paired with progression in this game. Throughout the main story you will get many different commissions to help make the city a better place. If there is something I love in a game, it is an environment that evolves over time. Not only does Portia do that, but it only does so thanks to your efforts. Building bridges will allow you to access new areas. Building busses will unlock fast travel. You will build buildings and areas that from that moment onwards will be a permanent part of the town. It never stops being satisfying. On top of this, the crafting progression itself also feels nicely done and natural to me. Once you are able to build everything available, you know that you will then need to upgrade your equiptment to unlock more options. If you have options available that you dont yet have the materials to build, you know that your next quests are going to unlock an area that allows you to access new resources. It is a cycle that repeats throughout the game and works very well.
I don’t really know where to place relationships here. There are things I really like and things that I really dislike about them. On the positive side, relationships bloom themselves as you progress through the story, which I think is very naturally done. As you help improve the town, the townsfolk will like you more. As you do commissions for individuals they will like you even more. Then as you grow relationships with them you will start to get cute little side quests which I found to be a nice touch. Becoming friends with certain vendors will get you discounts, and you will occasionally receive gifts from your buddies.
The relationship system is let down in two ways in my opinion. Firstly, I don’t think it’s very fun. There is the traditional system of giving the person daily gifts that they like which isn’t bad, but it isn’t great. Then there are some more unique systems, most of which didn’t land for me. Some characters have their own minigames you can play, some can spar (see combat above to explain why this doesn’t hit) and once you become their friend you can go on playdates (or proper dates if you are romancing). After I had done two dates I was already bored of the system and just wanted go back to old fashioned gift giving. Secondly, when it comes to romance, I don’t feel like there are many good options, specifically for husbands. I didn’t really want to marry anyone. Six of the options are identical. Having kids is as far as you can go down the family route and they don’t grow up from being a toddler. So relationships in general in this game are a really mixed bag for me.
+ Attention to detail
The attention to detail in this game is great. While some systems feel unnecessary, there are others that add to the overall charm of the game. My favorite thing is that anything you are holding, your character will be holding it in their hand. If it’s big they will carry it over their head. Most accessories that you can wear for stats you can also see on your character. They didn’t have to do these things but it really adds to the experience, and it will always be funny running along carrying a giant poop above your head.
– Navigating crafting
Navigating the crafting systems does not flow well, and while you do get used to it, it could be better (and I believe they may have solved this in the sequel). For example, if you are assembling a big product, having the ingredients in your inventory will not do. They have to be directly in your hand to place them. Eventually you get some automation options but it is so late in the game and unintuitive that I have to mark the game down for it. When I don’t play for a while, the hardest part is reacquainting myself with all my stuff since I need to know where to grab things from.
Something else to watch out for in this game are the festivals. Many slice-of-life games have them.. But none of them have them quite like this.
And the final positive point of this game, saving the best till last. Pinky.
There are a lot of reasons to like this game and many surprises along the way. As long as you know that you are going into a very imperfect experience and are open to some fun, there is such a good time to be had. If you like what you heard above then you should definitely jump in. If you claim the free games on the Epic store you may already own it, or it is currently on the PS Plus Extra Tier and Xbox Game Pass. The Sequel ‘My Time at Sandrock’ is in Early Access right now so it is the perfect time to jump into the series.
I like to consider myself a patient gamer. I don’t really buy new games, which means I often don’t have a lot to contribute to the Game of the Year conversations. I am however, an avid list keeper and would love to write about the top 10 games that I experienced this year! I am going to go in a descending(ish) order, but frankly, I really struggle to rank things so just remember that I loved every experience on this list!
10. Psychonauts 2
Oh hey, I am already contradicting what I said in the opening paragraph! Generally I am a patient gamer. BUT, when you have Game Pass and an anticipated game like this comes out it would be rude not to.. right? I was introduced to Psychonauts by The Left Behind Game Club Podcast and played it for the first time in 2020 (last year). Whilst I don’t have the nostalgia that some may have for a game of its age, it managed to charm its way into my soul and I loved my time with it. Needless to say, the prospect of a modern sequel was pretty hype for me and the fact that it was released day one on Game Pass was perfect.
The game was wonderful. Some of the levels felt more grand at the time, but others have stuck with me for their underlying messages. Overall, the psychedelic visuals, the fun platforming, the attention to detail and the thoughtful messages provided me with a lovely experience that I got to share with everyone. There are certain things that I think the game could have done to be higher up on my list, but they are personal preferences and I am going to try to keep this list positive. Perhaps I will write a post about it some day!
2021 unexpectedly became the year of the roguelike for me. This is not the first one that I played this year but it is the latest. Hades is so universally praised, both critically and within my social circles. However, whenever I tried to watch anyone playing I never had any idea what was happening and just decided it was not going to be a game for me. Fast forward to November with a little bit of experience, who could have guessed I would be getting my first clear? Certainly not me! I streamed my entire time from my first moments in Tartarus, to the many failures on the way. There were some absolutely nail-biting runs. Not only down to the game but my.. should we say.. chaotic style? There was progress, then there wasn’t. Every time I thought I was near the game would throw something new into the mix. It was stressful and adrenaline fuelled while also being a great, funny time. Every new milestone felt like a huge achievement, leaping yet creeping ever so closer to the goal of whatever the heck was going to happen when we finally escaped.
Did it take me a while to pluck up the commitment to play this game? Yes. Did I love it very much? Yes. I feel like sharing the game with the community helped give me a higher appreciation, especially for the art. The music and entire vibe were cool. Every time I dropped into a new run my head would start bobbing. But is this game difficult? Yes. Have I played much since my first clear? No. Am I going to put it on God Mode (a sort of adaptive difficulty) because I find the later levels a bit tedious? Yes. Because despite the difficulties, I have really really enjoyed getting to know the Greek gods. Even with every failure there more story, and I feel pretty invested in it.
8. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
I almost didn’t get round to this one this year. Thankfully my Game Pass coming to an end forced me to make some priorities, and this felt like a good December game. I played Ori and the Blind Forest earlier in the year. I really enjoyed my time with it, but I find myself struggling to remember anything too specific about the game. I know that I may have some recency bias for Will of the Wisps, but contrary to Blind Forest, I feel like there are many things from this game that are going to stay with me for a long time. In a strange way, it almost feels like they took the first game, but then tailored it specifically more to me. I think the main change that suits me is that there is a very forgiving checkpoint system which makes exploring so much less of a daunting task and much more freeing.
As well as 2021 being the year of roguelikes for me, it has also been the year of the platformer. During the year I have played Unravel, Limbo, Inside and more. And do you know what? I am so grateful that I did. I feel like all of this experience that I didn’t have last year really elevated my overall experience, to fully embrace everything about the game. The art is breathtaking. The music evokes so much emotion. The movement is very precise and extremely fun. The metroidvania aspects really release that dopamine when you get a new ability. The sidequests bring so much life to the world. And finally, the emotions. Gosh the emotions. I have never cried on stream before. This game made me cry twice. If I think ‘beauty’, I think of this game.
7. It Takes Two
The official Game of the Year! And the second none patient game on my list. Oops. It Takes Two is available on Game Pass via EA Play, and it also comes with a Friend Pass so only one person needs to have it! That is a pretty sweet deal for one of the weirdest, hectic, annoying yet smooth, heartfelt and creative co-op games I’ve ever seen. This game was made by the developers of A Way Out, and while I haven’t played that one, I have seen enough playthroughs to know that I would have had a blast playing it blind. Based on that, I knew I wanted to play what they made next. And It Takes Two did not disappoint.
This game has a totally different tone to the other games by the devs, but still contains the fun, co-op mischief that they are starting to be known for. It was great playing a split screen game for the first time in a long time, it felt nostalgic but still very current. I think the game is longer and has a lot more to it than anyone could have expected, and while it may look like a family game.. I would not recommend it for kids! I played with my good friend Brox. We had so many laughs, the game feels very designed for that. Plenty of ways to kill each other as well as innuendos left, right and centre. Particularly in the first couple of levels, I feel like we were close to dying laughing. Despite it being longer than expected it never gets stale. Every chapter gives you new environments with new abilities which provide new puzzle solving techniques. All I can say is, if you are looking for a co-op game, play it!
6. Disco Elysium
A game I was slightly intimidated by before starting – and infinitely more so after. Disco Elysium was a game that I was frightened that I wouldn’t be smart enough for, but instead it beautifully presented an insight into things that do go on in the world. When thinking back to this game I think sombre. I think gloomy. I almost think of hopelessness. But then I hear the music in the Whirling-in-Rags and feel at home. I think of Kim – one of my favourite characters in a game ever – a ray of the realest sunshine. I think of our different systems talking to us, but us ultimately deciding who to listen to. I think of those times we messed up but then carried on. I think of the times we shouldn’t have got by but did. I remember what we achieved in a world where everything was against us. Nothing, and yet something. I feel comfort. And I think that is all I want to say.
Time is going so quickly and yet so slowly, to think that it has been nearly a year since we played Bugsnax! After not being too hyped by the trailer and the memeness of the entire thing, my interest was slightly piqued at the fact that it was going to be on Ps Plus. Little did I know I would be completely sucked into this strange adventure. It has become pretty clear to me this year that I am an exploration girl. Give me a map to explore and I am in my element. The other thing that I like more than a lot of folk is collectibles. If you strip this game down to its very core, it’s about exploring for collectables. But then when you look at the full picture it gets so much better. There is a seemingly surprisingly dark mystery on the Island. You are a journalist interviewing all of the characters. You get to customise characters with the collectables you gather. Every collectible is a puzzle to solve, some getting quite difficult towards the end. And one of the best parts of it is that you absolutely don’t have to catch them all if you do not want to. Based on my expectations, this game blew me away. We recently coined the term ‘compulsionist’ in the community. Sometimes I like to be completionist, but there are only a rare few games where I can’t stop, and this was one of them. We could have ended the game, but instead we spent a few hours catching them all and you know what? It was very worth it. I enjoyed every second.
4. Resident Evil Village
I have to start with a disclaimer for this one. This is not a game that I have played myself. However, I do sort of consider myself a RE fan. They are not games I would play myself but I enjoy watching playthroughs, and Village is no exception. Before the game came out it earned a place in my heart. If you were watching at the time then you may know where I am coming from with this. I believe it was the PS5 reveal event. The trailer premiered and it was my favourite moment in any game event I have ever witnessed. “It looks a little like RE7 in the graphics department.”. “Probably not, what is this weird story?”. “That looks like a puzzely statue.”. “Oh never mind werewolves.”. “This mansion looking place with a nice staircase looks very RE.”. “Na these frames are awful.”. “Was that an Umbrella logo? Could it be?”. Then the title ‘Village’ appeared. “Oh, I guess not then.” Then eventually the 8 appears over the Village logo and it all makes sense. Mannnn so many goose bumps just thinking back to it. That hype I was feeling put this game into a pretty bad position for me. I don’t get high expectations very often, but I was very much looking forward to watching the game. When I am that excited there is a lot of room to feel let down, but thankfully, it was even better than I hoped it would be.
I personally think it could be the best paced RE game to date. I was really excited to see how they were going to make RE7 but in an outdoors environment as my brain could not understand what that would look like. Exploring that village for the first time? That felt special. Then every time after coming back? Also felt special. The opening was so intense, followed by some completely new territory with no idea what to expect, I was horrified! I find the Lycans terrifying and I really do think the opening few hours of the game are a masterpiece. The game continues with new environments and themes, while still always feeling like a Resident Evil game. The idea that they were going to cross RE4 with RE7 (based on the trailer) left me excited. In reality they also threw in some RE2Make and in my opinion they delivered. If it isnt obvious this was my pick for Game of the Year.
3. 428 Shibuya Scramble
A game that I feel like no one has played! 428 Shibuya Scramble is a visual novel, where the artwork is photography and the characters are played by real actors. Unfortunately it isnt voice acted, and it is a long game which would be a heck of an undertaking for anyone recording or streaming it. Playing/reading it yourself though is so very worth it. A girl has been kidnapped, and throughout the game you will play as 5 different people, some more involved than others but their stories intertwined none the less. The story is full of twists and turns and I HAD to know what was going to happen next. Each character has their own visual and music style which gives them each their personality.
The game is played in 1 hour in-game chunks. You choose a character and read their novel, making choices as you go. You may get a bad end, which means you made a bad choice somewhere in that hour, but not necessarily on that character. Its a really fun way to add a puzzle element into a visual novel and some of the outcomes are fantastic. If you like visual novels, if you like creative games, if you like fun but dramatic/thrilling stories it is a must play.
2. Virtues Last Reward
Virtues Last Reward is the second game in the Nonary Games Series and I believe is the last big game that I recorded purely for YouTube. I had the most amazing time recording this series. It was hilarious, it was confusing, it was dramatic, and every time I thought I might have had it figured out I didn’t. Every time one question was answered three more arose. I enjoy all of the updates from its predecessor 999. It feels like it does a lot of the same, with a cool story, suspense and plot twists, but better. At the same time, it has less of the caveats. The way the Nonary Game changed from the first one opened up a whole new level of mistrust and difficult decisions. It’s not something I would have thought of myself but the second I learned the new rules I was entirely on board and it lived up to my hype.
I feel like the routes you take in this game are a little less random than the first game, which is a welcome change. But other than that the gameplay is the same. Make some choices and do some escape rooms. Some of which I found very difficult. The gameplay loop was enjoyable and the cliff hangers are killers, but it all comes together in a very satisfying way leaving me very excited to play Zero Time Dilemma. (Disclaimer: Zero Time Dilemma is coming at some point. I promise. I’m sorry for the delay)
1. The Binding of Isaac
Never in a million years would I expect my favourite game I’ve played this year to be a game like Isaac. I didnt even think I liked games like Isaac! It turns out there is so much to love about it and I haven’t even gotten to Repentance yet! The Binding of Isaac is a roguelike game where you play as a young boy, escaping from his abusive mother. You descend into the basement and beyond, fighting monsters with your tears. It is full of nasty things like abusive themes, infant death, suicide, religious extremism and poop. Lots of poop. I am very aware that I am not selling the game well and the problem is, the game has so much depth that I cannot do it justice in a paragraph or two. All I can do is try to point out why it clicked with me.
I feel like one of the things that makes Isaac special are the synergies. You pick up two or more items per floor of the game. Some of them are basic stat ups, but some can be game changing. Change your tears into scythes that do more damage. Get homing tears. Get tears that go through the walls. Get bomb tears. Get different status effects that each give every tear an individual look. Almost all of the items also give Isaac cosmetic changes. Another point I love is that every consumable can be used as a currency in one way or another. This means that you don’t always necessarily have to be good at the game to do well. There are ways you can game the game to ultimately get an insane run if you are so inclined, and I’ve got to tell you, it is a blast.
This is definitely the kind of game that benefits having a friend to share experiences with. It would be easy to believe that you have beaten the game pretty quickly, but at that point you have barely scratched the surface. I was lucky to have a friend to show me the game and tell me everything I wanted to know to get the most out of my experience. Once you know that the game isnt over when you win, it could then very suddenly seem overwhelming or intimidating. All I can say is if you are slightly interested you should give it a chance. You will learn as you go and although it is not an easy game, there are multiple ways to win. If I can do it, anyone can!
I hate that some games that I loved didn’t make the cut! I wanted to add them but I have to stop, otherwise I’ll just be writing a list of most of the games I have played this year. I do want to give a special shout out though to some multiplayer games as I don’t really feel like they fit well in the ranking lists.
Sea of Thieves might be my favourite game to just jump in and find some random adventures. Navigating and driving the boat is so satisfying. The slight added threat that there are other people out there is enough to keep you on your toes, but not enough to stop the grog and sea shanties. It’s really good for simulating the vibe of hanging out, and giving you something to do together.
Astroneer is the first game of its kind that I have really played (gather resources to make more machines to gather more resources etc) and it was a delight. I feel very grateful to have had friends there to show me the ropes. We completed the game but not for lack of mishaps!
Satisfactory is the second game of its kind I have played after Astroneer. There are glaring differences, but I would at least put them in the same genre. The game truly is satisfactory. It is dangerously addictive so I am going to have to limit my time playing, but it is very fun having the freedom to make not only functional but beautiful factories.
What were your favourite games you played this year? If you struggle to keep track you could keep a twitter thread starting now! I love looking back on my list throughout the year 🙂
Stardew Valley is a top-down, indie, farming game, developed by solo developer, Eric Barone. I had heard a lot about Stardew Valley being this amazing, relaxing and addictive game, but originally I was put off by the 2D graphics. Eventually though, I had a massive Harvest Moon itch and Stardew Valley went on sale. I took the plunge and never once regretted it!
This game has a lot to offer, especially to think that it was made by one guy! You control a little character who has inherited their grandfathers land, and from then, it is basically up to you what you want to do. Farming crops, farming animals, fishing, foraging, mining and crafting are all ways to make money. The village is full of characters that you can befriend by giving them gifts. The more hearts you get, you get new dialogue and can eventually marry certain characters. You can collect resources to upgrade your farm, just first you have to choose which upgrade you want to get.
The game runs in days. You have a certain amount of energy and a certain amount of time to get everything you want to do done. There are 28 days in a season, and in each season you get new crops, new fish and new dialogue. There are festivals on certain days and birthdays on others. There is a community centre you can help rebuild or a corporation you can invest in depending on your mood, and there are plenty of hidden areas that you can only reach with certain upgrades. By the time you set yourself some goals and commit to them, then after ‘just one more day’, you will realise its 3am and you haven’t moved for the last 8 hours.
The game is charming. It really is a great Harvest Moon substitute, and as I was playing I kept feeling surprised that there was still yet more things to discover. The artwork is lovely with the seasonal changes and the music fits well. Although there isn’t really a ‘storyline’, it is the perfect game to just pick up and get lost in. The trouble is, I have sunk into the organisation hole. I spent the first year of the game just going with the flow, but then by winter, I started planning everything out. Now, I know I am going for the Platinum so I only play when I know I have time to concentrate for a while. Overall though, this game can be whatever you want to be. If you want to farm, farm. If you get bored of farming, fish. If you get bored of fishing, mine. There are plenty of paths that you can take.
What do you think of Stardew Valley? Are you impressed or underwhelmed? Are you addicted?