It isn’t easy choosing the Best Nintendo Switch Games.
It seems only yesterday that the Nintendo Switch was released. The excitement of opening up a new box and unwrapping a new console complete with a new adventure in the Legend of Zelda saga is now a distant memory. The Nintendo Switch has conveyed a multitude of emotions in its first year, from the adrenaline of ARMS to the easy-going nature of Super Mario Odyssey, from the expanse of Hyrule to the closed confines of Mario + Rabbids, there hasn’t been a reason not to take your Nintendo Switch on every journey with you.
To celebrate the Nintendo Switch’s first two years, the Goomba Stomp staff have updated the list of our favorite games we’ve played so far on the Switch. Let’s hope for many more joyous moments ahead!
The Best Nintendo Switch Games (Top 60)60. ARMS
Nintendo is no stranger to dabbling in party-style games with a competitive edge, such as the long-running Super Smash Bros. series, the burst in recent years with Splatoon and, to a degree, even Mario Kart.
But, while it might be easy to put 2017’s ARMS next to these aforementioned titles in Nintendo’s resumé (and it might fair to say it probably does belong at the end of the day),the title does things a bit differently.
The gameplay of ARMS is a bit unusual when compared to other types of fighting games, as it gives players control over characters from a third-person point of view, with a strong emphasis on agility and reflexes alone, and without much — if anything — in the way of moves or combos. In essence, it’s a modern amalgamation of “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” mixed with a bit of Nintendo’s own Punch-Out!! series.
In ARMS, you take control of a number of different characters with specific abilities and movement speeds that set them apart, and each character controls differently enough for there to be a good variety in playstyles. However, the game isn’t exactly obvious or easy to understand and get the hang of, mostly because it’s unlike anything you’ve probably played before.
Fortunately, the game isn’t bound to just motion controls, which might have been miscommunicated to a lot of people when it was first announced. In fact, I’ve hardly ever played the game with motion controls (though apparently some of the top players of the game prefer it!).
Regardless, ARMS is a lot more straight-forward as a fighting game, without much flair or variety beyond its core, focused gameplay. This isn’t a negative, as ARMS’ focus on what it does well works for those who give the game enough of a commitment to understanding its mechanics.
ARMS shines the most as an online experience, and is not much of a local “party” game. This makes it a lot more niche than other competitive games under Nintendo’s banner, and perhaps has been a detriment to lack of broader success. But, for those who do enjoy it, ARMS is an addictive, unique (especially for Nintendo) competitive experience that I hope we see more of going in the future. (Maxwell N)59. Snipperclips
Of course, that can easily lead to scissor fights that result in chaotic slashing for the fun of it, but what Snipperclips does so well is actually emphasized teamwork. While the game is playable by one person, a big part of the enjoyment is participating in all the goofy shenanigans gaming buddies will get into by experimenting. Simple controls mean anyone can play, and with two joy-cons included with every Switch, this game is ready for multiplayer right out of the box. It’s the kind of concept that fits perfectly with Nintendo’s sales pitch, a wonderful demonstration of the console’s ability to deliver entertainment anywhere. While it might not have quite the replay value or length as some other puzzlers (though DLC has fixed that somewhat), Snipperclips offers a fun-filled co-op experience that shines while it lasts. (Patrick Murphy)
The side-scrolling brawler seemed lost in time, just a memory of the 90s. Games like Streets of Rage and Double Dragon are timeless classics for those that grew up in that era, as is one of the best games on the Sega Megadrive, Golden Axe, that Wulverblade is so inspired by. Wulverblade is unashamedly trapped in the vortex of the arcade era, motivated by the nostalgic memories of many childhoods, creating a beautifully animated, modernized side-scroller for the 21st century.
Set in 120 AD, during the Roman occupation of Britain, Wulverblade gives you the sword of what closely resembles a Pict (although described as a Northern Briton) resisting the legions of the Roman Empire, which is no small feat. The treachery of the Britons that ally with the Romans antagonizes the main hero, Caradoc, to take the fight to the Romans. He is joined by the brute Brennus, as well as the menacing Merida-inspired Guinevere to return Britannia to the Brits.
Wulverblade’s lack of hand-holding is perhaps one of its strongest elements. Side-scrolling brawlers are supposed to be relentless and unforgiving, and Wulverblade doesn’t say sorry to anyone. It never questions itself, and instead only answers with more intense brute intense force, punishing hesitancy with a swift blow. For the seasoned gamer looking for a challenge, Wulverblade is a must. (James Baker)
If there’s one thing that Iconoclasts delivers on in droves, it’s personality. From the start of the deceptively somber title screen, developer Joakim Sandberg makes it clear that his game is anything but cookie-cutter. Instead, players experience a lovingly handcrafted puzzle-platformer that screams passion, design chops, and years behind the controller.
Iconoclasts’ story has grand ambitions. Players assume the role of Robin, a young mechanic wanted by the government for following in her father’s footsteps and helping those in need. The tale takes some interesting turns and provides plenty of lore between a healthy amount of dialogue with NPCs and little notes/documents contextually scattered throughout the world.
However, the overarching narrative isn’t the reason to play Iconoclasts. That honor belongs to the game’s masterful level design, imaginative puzzles, and top-notch production values. Though players start out quite outclassed with a simple stun gun and eventually a giant wrench, both of these receive upgrades throughout the course of the 12-15-hour campaign that completely changes how players can interact with the environment. This is to say nothing of the combat, which itself contains puzzle elements when figuring out how to approach different enemy types (especially when it comes to boss battles). All of this is brought to life via some of the best sprite-based animations I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Iconoclasts ended up being one of the best-feeling games I played on the Switch. It controls like a dream, and the occasional weapon upgrades are meaningful and fully fleshed out. The supporting characters are all well-written (even generic lackeys) and genuinely fun to watch interact with each other. Iconoclasts‘ story isn’t anything to write home about, but its world-building, character dialogue, tight gameplay mechanics and gorgeous pixel work more than make up for it. (Brent Middleton)
56. Disgaea 5 Complete
Some of the best Strategy-RPGs aren’t necessarily known for their story as much as their characters (i.e. Fire Emblem), and Disgaea 5 Complete is no exception. Main protagonist Killia is a serious, stoic demon, constantly keeping the player guessing about his mysterious past as he’s pulled into working with Princess Seraphina to overthrow a tyrant attempting to rule over all of Hell. The rest of the party is full of quirky and lovable characters led by over-the-top Seraphina, meathead Red Magnus, and sweetheart Usalia. Despite lacking traditional cutscenes, all the characters are all brilliantly brought to life through rock-solid VO, expressive character sprites, and fully voice-acted static story sequences featuring beautiful high-definition 2D character portraits. The campaign is full of campy, lighthearted humor that refuses to stop until it has you cracking a smile.
Outside of its memorable characters, Disgaea 5 is all about its classic strategic gameplay. Players move up to 10 party members around a massive variety of grid-based levels and battle it out using loads of different attacks and abilities. The name of the game is carefully positioning team members to execute chain attacks in an attempt to wipe out the enemy while clinching the stage’s “top bonus” reward. Disgaea 5 features almost 50 classes of fighters to choose from, each with their own special attacks and evilities. The gameplay is routinely kept fresh by way of varying battlefield elevations, environmental effects, and status effect changes via Geo Symbols.
Disgaea 5 Complete is truly the hardcore tactical RPG that the Switch needed in lieu of Fire Emblem last year. The main campaign is lengthy, the battle system is deep, there’s a surprisingly robust amount of player and hub customization, and with the ability to level up each individual piece of gear, the game never truly ends. If you love silly yet fleshed-out characters, top-notch tactical gameplay, and a seemingly infinite amount of stats to keep track of, Disgaea 5 Complete is a total must-buy. (Brent Middleton)
Mulaka will be a first for many, a slice of Mexico’s rich history that gamers haven’t often savored, a taste of the past that will inspire our own curiosity. Based on the ancient Tarahumara tribe in Northern Mexico, players embark on a journey as a Tarahumara Shaman — known as a Sukurúame — while seeking the power of the demigods to conquer the environment and defeat the soul-eating creatures from Tarahumara lore.
The Legend of Zelda inspiration can be seen throughout Mulaka, from its angular Nintendo 64 graphics similar to Ocarina of Time to its bumbling NPCs that have a variety of personalities and customs. The artwork is clean and simple, and yet beautiful at the same time, allowing the player to easily immerse themselves in unfamiliar territory.
The beauty of Mulaka is its unique setting, familiar gameplay, and the joy it unleashes through every pixel. Mulaka has opened up a whole new world, delivering a game that you feel like you’ve played before but able to maintain a mystery. This is the beginning of great things for the developers, Lienzo, and there will already be huge anticipation as to how they push the series forward and continue our journey across Mexico. (James Baker)
54. Mr. Shifty
Entertainment media has a long history of borrowing and reworking existing ideas. The indie games sphere has most certainly adopted this as its de facto mantra, and we are frequently the benefactors of genre refinement. This can be detrimental to genres that are oversaturated (looking at you, Metroidvania), but when a genre is as niche as the one that seemingly contains only Hotline Miami, tinkering with that formula certainly wouldn’t go amiss. Enter Mr. Shifty — the version of Hotline Miami with gore turned down, and phase-shifting turned right up.
Much like its obvious influence, Mr. Shifty is played from a top-down perspective, as players are tasked with moving from room to room and taking out large numbers of enemies along the way. You don’t use any guns in Shifty, but thanks to the eponymous hero’s shift ability, you won’t miss them. At the press of a button, he can shift through walls, bullets, and even enemies, allowing for breathless movement around a combat area, flanking enemies and dodging bullets like a demigod. Taking out enemies also fills a meter that, when full, grants a slow-mo ability that automatically activates when Shifty next gets shot at, and sees him flying through the level like Fry on 100 cups of coffee.
This isn’t to say the game is easy. Shifty might have superpowers, but he ain’t no bullet sponge, and a single hit from an enemy will bring the proceedings to an abrupt end. As is to be expected, it’ll take a fair amount of trial and error to complete a stage, but this all adds to the fun of trying to figure out the most effective and/or stylish way to reach the goal. It straddles that line of repetition and addictiveness really well, especially when bolstered by the Switch’s handheld capabilities. I still don’t know what this Hotline Miami/Superhot genre is called, but Mr. Shifty is a very able addition to it. (Alex Aldridge)
For as many twists and turns as they take, the stale caverns of the Metroidvania genre rarely alter course from formula, the tried-and-true gameplay rarely strays from the established path, so when something like Dandara comes along, its minor deviations can feel like a breath of fresh air. Instead of the usual running and gunning, the titular protagonist here must plot her course through the various rooms by employing a multi-directional dash that allows her to reach to certain areas on the floor, ceiling, and walls to which she can stick (think Spider-Man crossed with Nightcrawler). This unique method of movement makes every room and battle almost its own puzzle, adding a layer of strategy even to traversal, and ensures that players pay close attention to their surroundings — which is perfect for finding secrets.
Add to that a curious visual design that is at the same time incongruous yet clear in its visions, and there’s a funky vibe going on here. One minute Dandara is fighting giant bugs in a pixelated pine tree forest, and the next she’s shooting cat soldiers amidst rundown urban streets, all while a cosmic backdrop frames the action. Yet, it all makes sense, and Dandara conveys its story with focused melancholy and a tinge of hope. The action can get clunky during the few bullet hell sections, but mastering the movement leads to the thrilling satisfaction of ricocheting through the world at ease — and points the genre toward the discovery of new ways to explore. (Patrick Murphy)
52. Nintendo Labo
Just when you thought Nintendo couldn’t get any more ‘Nintendo,’ they made up Labo. Labo is less a singular game and more of a catch-all for various software and related peripherals that are cardboard cut-out kits for the Switch. Thus far, there has been a variety kit, a robot kit, a vehicle kit, and a forthcoming VR kit. While most of the software has been well-executed, it has also been a little shallow, and there has yet to be a single game that has captured the hearts and minds of cardboard enthusiasts. Instead, it is the unique experience that is building a cardboard fishing rod or robot that makes Labo something special. And that experience is infused with Nintendo quality and charm. While perhaps more aimed at kids and quirky adults, Labo is unlike anything out there, and is definitely a special addition to the Switch. (Marty Allen)
51. Kirby Star Allies
Kirby Star Allies feels strange when compared to the rest of the Switch’s lineup. It doesn’t change around its franchise’s formula as dramatically as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or innovate on series traditions as well as Super Mario Odyssey. It’s not as expansive as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or as polarizing as Pokémon Let’s Go. It feels like the same Kirby game that Nintendo fans have been playing since Kirby’s Adventure released on the NES in 1993, a factor that might explain why the pink puffball’s latest adventure didn’t exactly light up Metacritic upon release.
But, sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with more of the same.
Coming from the American South, Kirby Star Allies reminds me of old-fashioned, Southern comfort food. Both have been around for what feels like forever, they rarely change, and they aren’t exactly the trendiest items in their respective categories. However, they’re both satisfying, filling, and spirit-lifting after a long day at work. Certainly, Star Allies could have done more; it lacks a sense of spunk and creativity that every Nintendo franchise has found in the past few years, and its technical performance leaves much to be desired. But, like one doesn’t scowl at the calorie count of a twelve-inch dinner plate piled with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and biscuits, one also shouldn’t scowl at one of Nintendo’s most conservative franchises for refusing to innovate.
Sure, Kirby Star Allies is more of the same easy-going platforming that fans have seen for the past twenty-five plus years, but with Nintendo innovating on nearly every one of their franchises and introducing new elements that aren’t always popular with longtime fans, more of the same lovable Kirby we’ve grown to love over the years isn’t exactly a bad thing. (Izsak Barnette)
50. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
As far as Kickstarter stretch goals go, this is a Cristiano Ronaldo bicycle kick. Koji Igarashi and Inti Creates promised an 8-bit spin-off from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and drive a stake through my heart if they didn’t deliver. Curse of the Moon looks, sounds, and feels just like the 8-bit Castlevania titles on NES. Players can swap between four different characters (a la Castlevania III) on the fly as they progress through a handful of beautifully crafted levels — each of which culminates with a challenging boss fight.
It strikes a real chord for the talent Igarashi possesses when it comes to effortlessly crafting titles within the genre he helped to define. What could be dismissed as a throwaway, token effort to appease the backers of the main event ends up as a very sufficient starter to the main course. It’s got everything a game of this type should have: the moody castles, the pulsating chiptune soundtrack, restrictive jumping, whips, candles to be destroyed — it’s all here, and it functions on a much higher level than a simple box-ticking exercise. Thanks to the decades of experience gained in the aftermath of the titles it apes, Curse of the Moon feels respectful and refined in equal measure.
The game might not necessarily be very long, but levels have multiple routes, and there are three difficulty levels, which is more than enough for the incredibly meager asking price. What’s more, this is the exact type of game speed-runners love, and I’m sure it’ll appear to be destroyed at a GDQ in no time. Until then, we mere mortals can enjoy one of the more satisfying retro throwbacks of the year. (Alex Aldridge)
49. Floor Kids
Over the last 30 years, the combination of hip-hop and video games has had decidedly mixed results often failing to translate across the gaming medium, thanks to many cheap cash-ins by artists and video game companies looking to make a quick buck. That’s not the case with Floor Kids, a labour of love from Montreal-based duo JonJon and Kid Koala. This indie breakdancing game from Merj Media, released on the Nintendo Switch in late December, is one of the best games you’ll find on the console to date, mixing likable personalities and wall-to-wall toe-tapping music to paint a picture of a subculture that promotes diversity among its audience. It happens to be one of the freshest gaming experiences for quite a while, and you don’t need to be a hip-hop fan to appreciate it. Even as it pays earnest homage to turntablists and beat jugglers, Floor Kids is great fun, stitched together with energy, intelligence, and verve, and enhanced by a surplus of breakbeats that will make you want to get up and dance.
Floor Kids is a welcome addition to the Switch library. On the surface, it’s a fun rhythm game that’s easy to grasp, but if you dig deeper, Floor Kids does a superb job showing the form’s incredible complexity and technical diversity, and makes a persuasive case for breakdancing as both an art form and a form of self-expression. All in all, Floor Kids is one of the most enjoyable experiences we’ve come across in gaming as a whole. Those gamers who would automatically bypass a hip-hop rhythm game should give Floor Kids a second look. (Ricky D)
Slime-san is a deceiving game at face value. Browsing the myriad of indies on the Switch eShop, one might mistake it for just another retro-style game without any real identity. With today’s focus on high fidelity graphics, it can be easy to forget that strong gameplay is what separates a decent game from a stellar one. That one elusive factor is what made Slime-san hands-down the best indie platformer on the eShop before Celeste rewrote the script earlier this year.
Everything in Slime-San‘s design has a purpose. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique — it’s also ingrained into the game’s mechanics. White surfaces are neutral, green surfaces can be phased through, and red surfaces mean instant death. Over the course of 400 rooms (or 800 for those brave enough to weather New Game+) Slime-San consistently finds ways to twist those mechanics in ways that keep players on their toes. Just like any great platformer, Slime-san manages to masterfully tread the line between tough and unfair; if you find yourself repeatedly dying at a certain jump or obstacle, you always know it’s your fault.
Remember earlier when I mentioned retro-style games without a strong identity? Slime-san manages to set itself apart with endearing little characters and a vibrant, seedy world. The majority of the game consists of platforming your way back up through a giant worm that’s swallowed Slime-san and his bird pal whole, but those looking for more context can find it. Developer Fabraz took the time to create fully realized, explorable environments both inside and outside of the worm, each complete with a colorful cast of characters, as well as a few extra areas that go a long way in adding personality to an otherwise straightforward collection of platforming challenges. It’s the entirely unnecessary yet wholly welcome additions like these that make Slime-san feel like a true labor of love. If you like challenging, innovative platformers that have personality in spades, you can’t go wrong with this one. (Brent Middleton)
The power of song will save us all.
Among the prodigious heap of wonderful Switch titles, a simple little indie called Wandersong tells a heartfelt story, and sings a tune all its own. The game begins with players trying to pick up a sacred sword to slay an intimidating beast. You’re terrible with that sword, really just no good at all. The thing is, you’re a bard. Your voice is your tool, your weapon, and your heart, and you sing your way through the problems of the land. Mean ghosts? Troublesome demons? Unruly pirates? Sing a song.
At one point, your grumpy friend (who is a witch) insists on using magic to take down a nasty beast. You insist on trying to talk to the monster. It works. Throughout the game, you sail the seas, start a band, meet some mermaids, fly through the air on a broomstick, fail a lot, make many friends, and keep picking yourself back up while singing again and again. It plays wonderfully and looks great, with a cutout style reminiscent of Paper Mario and Steven Universe, but with an identity all its own.
The mechanics are simple but effective — an 8-pointed color wheel controls pitch and tone. But the folks who created this title — Greg Labanov and friends — manage to keep the simple idea fun with gameplay twists. As the story progresses, they turn tropes of the hero’s journey on their head in order to craft an engaging and beautiful tale about the power of hope and friendship. It all could come across as too sugary, but the developers are self-aware, keeping the heart of the game front and center. The result is a fun and meaningful game that dares to embrace a message of love and non-violence, a notion that is always welcome. You can keep your rugged cowboys — I’ll be singing over here. (Marty Allen)
GRIS follows the emotional journey of a young girl through an ethereal watercolor world, beginning with the main character losing her voice, while all color in the world around her is also removed. As you progress through the game, individual colors are added back in at certain points as the landscape slowly begins to spring back to life.
At its core, GRIS is a platforming adventure with light puzzle elements. As you navigate the serene environments, you will encounter scenarios that require you to use any abilities you’ve gathered along the way in order to progress. Certain areas aren’t accessible when first approached, only to open up later when players gain the correct ability. The game is also designed in such a way that encourages exploration, as it does not tell you where your next ability or objective lies. Much of the narrative is open to interpretation, which gives the experience an even more unique, art-like approach.
The music in GRIS accompanies the visuals perfectly, with each area creating a different auditory experience. Some areas are filled with a full string orchestra, while others may include the delicate notes of a single piano as you journey through the world.
GRIS is a beautiful experience that plays similarly to games like Journey, ABZÛ and Flower. There are limited action sequences, with the majority of the game filled with moments that tie visuals and sound together in a way that words simply don’t do justice. (Matthew Adler)
45. Ape Out
In Ape Out, Gabe Cuzzillo and his small team have crafted something unique that comes highly recommended. This game is equal parts beautiful, thoughtful, exhilarating, and fun. The sum of its parts is a creation that is all-too-rare in games — something fresh and unlike anything else. I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t playing it, and unable to put the controller down in order to give each board ‘just one more try.’ To have that gameplay experience put together with so much artistic flair makes for the kind of experience that is worth killing for. Again and again and again.
Ape Out is a rhythmic pulse of thrust-push-kill fun. Ape Out is the kick drum rolling right into to the snare and a crash just as you crush that guard a hair before he pulls the trigger. Ape Out is blood trailing behind you when you can’t take another shot, then crossing through the green door of freedom and into the jungle beyond at the last moment. (Marty Allen)
Wargroove is an epic, beautiful love letter to the lost (but not forgotten) classic strategy series, Advance Wars. Following the same formula of Nintendo’s collaboration with Intelligent Systems, Wargroove tells the story of the trials and tribulations of Princess Marcia as she leads her kingdom in the wake of her father’s assassination. Players will recruit troops, capture towns, fight the undead, and — if you play as well I do — get stuck on the same missions for hours.
Wargroove is not an easy game, and sometimes it’s not even a fair one. Objectives may change in the middle of a battle, making a difficult fight almost impossible — until you replay it, knowing what’s coming, and beat it without a modicum of effort. Some units never seem to be worth their excessive cost, and map design often doesn’t allow for the interesting positioning tactics that the game otherwise tries to encourage. The story — while better than anything put forward by Advance Wars — is nothing to write home about, either.
However, objectives are mixed up at a decent rate between missions, stopping the game from getting too repetitive during overly long, socially-unacceptable binge sessions. New units are introduced at a healthy rate, and the game is absolutely loaded with content. There are three separate single-player modes (including the brilliant “Puzzle Mode,” in which the player has one turn to win a battle from a predefined position), and each requires a significant time investment to complete. On top of that, there is online and local multiplayer for up to 4 players, and it’s possible to craft not only your own maps, but your own entire campaigns.
Above all else, Wargroove is a wonderfully produced game with tense battles, gorgeous sprite work, a generous amount of content, and absolutely tons of heart. It hearkens back to an era when games were simpler, but no less wonderful affairs. It’s an expression of pure joy, and while there will be some debate as to whether it manages to live up to the legacy of its obvious inspiration, Wargroove is a worthy investment for any fan of classic turn-based strategy. (Rowan Ryder)
43. Mega Man 11
Mega Man 11 proved two things: that the nonsensical numbering system of Mega Man games means absolutely nothing at this stage, and that Capcom has finally figured out a way to make a really good Mega Man game without having to resort to a NES engine.
Mega Man 11 won’t look instantly familiar to veteran players. Its visual style caused more consternation that the game could potentially share more similarities to the terrible Mighty Number 9. Luckily, despite its neon-tinged HD visuals, the game feels just like home for Mega Man fans. A home filled with misery, frustration, and death. So, a funeral home I guess?
Effortlessly recounting the physics and feel of the NES classics, Mega Man 11 is how the game should have been modernized a generation ago. Capcom wasn’t satisfied with just a faithful graduation to a jazzed-up graphical style, and made several changes to add fresh mechanics and subvert expectations. Unlocked weapons now completely alter Mega Man’s appearance (rather than a simple color palette swap) and feel more significant than ever before. The Double Gear System, allowing Mega Man to power up his weapons or slow down time for a finite period, was a brilliant way to make the game both more interesting and more welcoming to newcomers.
Of course, it’s not that welcoming, as Mega Man 11 is just as difficult as we’ve all come to expect. Some bosses now have several forms; the as giant, hulking mechs filling the screen are a far cry from Sheep Man. Thankfully (and in direct opposition to an absolutely dreadful save system), Dr. Light’s shop can be accessed after any game over to stock up on helpful powers and extra lives to ensure the mere mortal can actually complete the game. It’s not how the hardcore players do it, but some of us have other things to do with our lives, right? (Alex Aldridge)
42. Yoku’s Island Express
Yoku’s Island Express is a tiny, bite-sized game of incredibly good original content. Originally released for the Nintendo Switch in late May of 2018, this adorable game is a total mash between a Metroidvania and pinball. Upon hearing that, it doesn’t sound like it would work as a concept, especially because the game is utterly cute, but it absolutely does, like mixing together something salty with something sweet. You play as Yoku, a dung beetle who washes up on a small island and is immediately put in charge of the local postal service. The laid-back lifestyle Yoku was hoping for is quickly diminished as the “God Eater” begins killing the island deities. Yoku must find the leaders of three religious factions and bring them together for a ceremony of healing.
The mechanics operate like an open-world exploration mixed with pinball, then mixed with platforming. I personally binged this game in one day after I picked up; it was nothing less than addicting, and as soon as I put my Switch down to take a break, I’d be reaching for it minutes later and play for another handful of hours. This quick indie game is a must-have for any switch library, and can even help brighten your life in a tiny way. (Katrina Lind)41. Night In The Woods
Defining what a game is can be a tricky thing. Indies have been at the forefront of experimenting with exactly what that definition can be. Night in the Woods is ostensibly a narrative adventure game in the same vein as Oxenfree and Life is Strange. While it tells a heartfelt story, it does so in a way that only a video game could.
The story follows Mae, a lackadaisical college dropout utterly intent on avoiding responsibility. She returns home to Possum Springs, a dying town strangling the life out of its inhabitants. Here she whiles away the hours, coming to terms with her past, present, and future. Along the way, she sees old friends and faces, confronting unpleasant facts whether she wants to or not.
The game offers a fairly tactile experience, especially for a narrative title. At random points in the story, simple game mechanics pop up. Sometimes it’s swinging a bat at flying fluorescent lights, other times it’s reaching out a gangly paw for a slice of pizza.
The art style for Night in the Woods is somewhere between Richard Scarry and Wes Anderson. It lives in a stylized reality where humanoid cats walk on electric lines and hang out at the local Snack Falcon. Dreamy synth and offbeat folk punk paint a picture of life going by at a snail’s pace.
While comparisons may be drawn to Oxenfree and Life is Strange, I’d argue that Night in the Woods does what they do, but better. It tells a wholly unremarkable story about wholly unremarkable people in a wholly unremarkable town. But therein lie the most interesting bits. Where Oxenfree and Life is Strange frame their narratives around extraordinary circumstances, Night in the Woods wallows in banality.
Night in the Woods, while undoubtedly a game, also captures an experience. It makes you invested in its characters, but it does so by reaching for something unabashedly boring and human. Unlike other narrative games about millennials, Night in the Woods doesn’t come up with a magical solution that solves all your problems. Rather, it shows you how you can cope with them. (Kyle Rogacion)
Interview with John Staats, First-Level Designer for ‘World of Warcraft’
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with John Staats, first-level designer for the launch version of World of Warcraft.
The first iteration of World of Warcraft, often called “Vanilla WoW,” has a strong pull of nostalgia for many fans. From inspiring countless other MMOs, to imbuing an entire generation of players with memories that they will never forget, to inspiring Blizzard to re-release it earlier this year, Vanilla’s footprint is undeniable.
Recently, I had the chance to talk to John Staats, a first-level designer on World of Warcraft‘s initial launch, to discuss his recent book, The Wow Diary: A Journal of Computer Game Development, which chronicles his own personal experience with developing WoW‘s initial release.
In a lot of ways, The WoW Diary reminds me of Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Kotaku’s Jason Schreier. Both books address the challenges of game development, including the incredible amount of hours that game developers work and the dreaded “crunch” when a project has to be delivered on time. Your section on how your colleagues described their work on StarCraft was particularly interesting. What do you think is the public’s biggest misconception about how developers work?
The biggest misconception is how expensive developers are! Most publishers and studio heads are always portrayed as the bad guys, but the truth is there’s so much risk in game development, it’s just insane. If a company is upfront about long hours, then I see no problem with longer hours to some point. Unfortunately, the law isn’t so flexible. After WoW shipped, we dropped to capped 40-hour weeks (mandatory) and it sucked. Everything was so schedule-conscious that we stopped experimenting.
Studios are all different. Some people asked if unions were the answer, and they might help in some cases, but they would make other situations worse. There would certainly be fewer games out there without crunches. I dunno. I’m from Akron, Ohio. I’m just happy to have worked in the entertainment industry!
As a developer, even at somewhere like Blizzard, fan feedback seems like it’s able to affect team morale. In the book, you mention a few cases of this. What was it like to work under the pressure of fan expectations?
World of Warcraft feedback wasn’t nearly as bad as Warcraft III, because the company was too quick to promote their first 3D title. Making a 3D game has such a sharp, painful learning curve that engine re-writes caused long delays. The fans were unfamiliar with the long waits associated in making 3D games, so they were especially angry.
The class designers definitely had it bad on World of Warcraft. People never post when they’re happy, the forums are usually very negative. And there’s strange “voodoo” where people report glitches or errors that aren’t really there. There’s a LOT of voodoo reports that designers need to verify, and that eats up their schedule.
Kevin Jordan once joked that he was going to claim to be a character artist at the launch party signing table, just to avoid being drawn into discussions about rogues versus shaman duels. For the most part, WoW was so much better looking, better playing, better running than the competition, we had it easy. Still, we put pressure on ourselves: for the most part, the fans were pretty cool.
You state in the book that you got your start in modding computer games on the PC. Did you have any prior experience with other game systems, or was your only experience with the PC?
PC only. I was actually a Macintosh user exclusively because I was in advertising in NYC. I bought my first PC in the mid-1990s. As a Mac person, there weren’t many games available (thank you, Steve Jobs), so I only played a few titles on my roommate’s machines. They always had to kick me off whenever they came home. When I got my own, I relentlessly played FPS and strategy games.
One of the more interesting comments that you make in the book, and one that I was curious about while reading, was the following: “Writing stories is so easy it seems nearly half the people in the industry want to do it[…] it’s unreasonable to expect players to follow a storyline, detailed or subtle.” Do you think games are ever capable of delivering complex and subtle stories, or is it beyond the medium’s scope?
I honestly doubt stories will become more subtle for most genres. Most games pull the player’s attention to non-story elements like socialization, user interface, goals, and combat tactics. Looking for things is rarely fun. It’s just too hard to expect the average player to follow nuanced stories… and you never want to risk players becoming confused with your plot.
You use the phrase “computer games” throughout the book instead of the more commonly used “games.” Was there a semantic reason for this?
Ranchers and farmers are in the agricultural industry, they have a completely different set of concerns.
There’s a huge difference in developing computer games versus console games. It’s so much easier to make games for a console. They’re far more predictable, and optimized for specific types of games. Developers are influenced by all kinds of games; pen-and-paper RPGs, tabletop board games, card games, handheld devices… and all of them are very different to produce. I didn’t want to lump everything into the “games industry.”
You mention early on that you’ve suffered “a neurological problem in [your] hands that hinders [you] from using a computer for significant lengths of time.” Given the increasingly interconnected nature of modern society and how much time you spent on computers during your career in the games industry, how hard was it to adjust?
I played FPS games before I became a level designer. I played up to 14-16 hours a day when I had the time. That’s without stopping, BTW. I would eat leftovers between matches. I was nuts.
Blizzard and Nintendo have always seemed like analogous companies to the outside public. Both spend large amounts of time and money crafting games that have long-standing appeal and excellent quality. Both don’t worry about winning the public relations war and, instead, depend on the endemic quality of their games to do the talking for them. Did anyone ever make that comparison inside of Blizzard?
It was a very conscious effort to avoid distractions. There’s so much temptation for some people to jump into every conversation, there was a company-wide mandate to keep your mouth shut. We had Bill Roper for our spokesperson, and if the public thought he personally made all our games, that was fine with the developers (he wasn’t even a dev!). This lets every member of the company, as a whole, take credit for the collective products. Other industry developers will weigh in on every conversation, and journalists will seek out the same developers for opinions. On top of the risk of crossing wires with the company’s official opinion, so much exposure could create jealousy.
At one point in the book, you mention that an acquaintance of yours, Scott Hartin, had worked making console games in Japan and hated it. Was this a common complaint among those who had worked in Japan?
He’s the only person I know who’s worked there, and it was something he said in passing. I thought it such an interested idea, that different cultures tend to work in different ways. Who knows? Perhaps it might have just been the studio he was in, that made them work that way.
Ragnaros and the Molten Core raid have emerged as a large part of the lore surrounding the vanilla release of World of Warcraft. It’s also something that you mention receiving compliments from fans about. What part of Molten Core are you the most proud of?
I’m proud that we ninja’d it into the shipping game without the producers having it on our to-do list! It was a passion project Jeff Kaplan rallied people around. I’m glad he did. We were working on so many bugs after we shipped, there’s no telling how long it would have taken to update the live servers with a content update like MC.
As a historian, having an oral history of one of gaming’s largest and most influential games is an incredible resource. In the beginning of the book, you say that you struggled with compiling your development diary because, to a large degree, you were afraid of underrepresenting some of your hardest co-workers. In the end, why do you think more oral histories, such as your book, aren’t published?
I can absolutely tell you it’s because the author needs to take notes. I can’t do a sequel to The WoW Diary because I stopped taking notes after we shipped. There’s just no way, I’d get everything wrong, or release a bland, broad-strokes version of how things went down. That’s where my book stands out, the details make the story vivid.
Blizzard released WoW Classic back in August. What are your thoughts on it?
I’m surprised they did. No one has ever done something like this before. Redoing someone else’s work doesn’t sound like a fun project for developers, who are in nature, creative people. It just isn’t fun to walk in someone else’s footsteps. I’m also keenly interested to see how it plays out. Do they relaunch expansions? Does it affect the retail version? I honestly don’t know, but my popcorn is ready!
Blizzard has been criticized recently for their communication with players. How different does it feel when you are on the corporate side of that relationship?
No one is criticized when your games stink. LOL! Seriously though, complaints never stop, so it’s never a big deal. Whether it’s about lawsuits or controversy, Blizzard usually takes the high road, and disengages from distractions; it lets them focus on what they want to be known for… making good games. I’m glad to see they’re still doing this.
Final question. As something of a hardware nerd, I’ve got to ask, how did developers handle the rapidly progressing technology of the late 90s and early 2000s, when Moore’s Law was in full effect?
Blizzard games sell well because they target low-end systems. Most studios weren’t, and aren’t, smart enough to realize this. Most studios want to be the first kid on the block to have a shiny new feature. While the industry chased after expensive features that narrowed their audience to customers who had top-end computers, the savvy companies focused on the low-end machines. To answer your question, Blizzard avoided the Moore’s Law trap.
A big thank you to John Laats for agreeing to be interviewed and providing us with a review copy of his book. If you’re interesting in learning more about John Laats, his work, you can find him at his website.
Indie Games Spotlight – Looking Ahead to 2020
The year is coming to an end. The holidays are just around the corner. We’ve already published our list of the best indie games of 2019 and now it is time to start looking forward to 2020. In what is sure to be our last Indie Games Spotlight of 2019, we take a look at some of the indies set for release next year. This issue includes a student project that led to the creation of an indie studio; a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game; and a comedic occult adventure game that takes place during World War II. All this and more!
Imagine, “if Limbo and Portal had a weird baby.”
Aspyr and Tunnel Vision Games announced that their long-awaited, award-winning puzzle game, Lightmatter, arrives on Steam on January 15, 2020.
Lightmatter is an atmospheric, first-person puzzle game set inside a mysterious experimental facility where the shadows will kill you. The game tells a sci-fi story about a maniac inventor who has created the ultimate power source called Lightmatter. Players must explore the facility in an attempt to discover the hidden plot while facing challenging puzzles that require mastering different light sources to survive.
Not only does the game look great but what’s even more impressive is that Lightmatter originally started out as a university project where a group of Medialogy students wanted to explore lights and shadows as the primary gameplay mechanic in a puzzle game. After creating a 15-minute prototype, the team offered it as a free download on Reddit. To their surprise, the game became an overnight success with thousands of downloads and multiple accolades from game conferences around the world. It didn’t take long before they created Tunnel Vision Games with the mission to take the light/shadow concept further and turn it into a fully-fledged game. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nine Witches: Family Disruption
Investigate the Occult
Nine Witches: Family Disruption is the comedic occult adventure game you’ve been waiting for. From Blowfish Studios and Indiesruption, the game takes place in a rustic Norwegian village on the fringe of World War II, where a supernatural scholar investigates the Nazi’s plan to conjure a dark ancient power and strike a devastating blow to the Allied powers. Players must investigate their plots by communing with a variety of eccentric characters from the realms of both the living and the dead. It’s your job to unravel a mystical mystery and put a stop to the Okkulte-SS’s evil schemes before it’s too late.
“Nine Witches: Family Disruption was born from my desire to blend world history with magic and my personal sense of humor,” said Diego Cánepa, designer, Indiesruption. “I’m grateful Blowfish Studios are using their powers to help me bring the game to consoles and PC so this story can be enjoyed by players across the world.” If you like indie games with beautiful, retro-inspired pixel art and a comical story dripping with gleefully absurd, dark humor, you’ll want to check this out. Nine Witches: Family Disruption summons supernatural hi-jinks to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for Windows PC in Q2 2020.
Explore a mysterious ship.
Ahead of next year’s anticipated release of Filament, Kasedo Games & Beard Envy have revealed an exclusive look into the making of the upcoming puzzle game with the first in a series of short dev featurettes. Developed by three friends in the front room of their shared house, Filament is a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game centered around solving sets of cable-based puzzles whilst exploring a seemingly abandoned spaceship. According to the press release, Filament lets you freely explore the mysterious ship, solving over 300 challenging and varied puzzles in (almost) any order you like.
If you’d like to learn more, we recommend checking out the short episode series which explains the complexity and variety of puzzles and offers an insight into how the game was made. Filament will release for PC and consoles next year.
West of the Dead
The Wild West has never been this dark.
Announced at X019 in London, West of Dead is a fast-paced twin-stick shooter developed by UK-based studio Upstream Arcade. The game stars Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) as the voice of the main protagonist William Mason, a dead man awakened with only the memory of a figure in black. His existence sets into motion a chain of events that have truly mythic consequences.
Thrown into the unknown procedurally generated hunting grounds of Purgatory, your skills will be put to the test as you shoot and dodge your way through the grime and grit of the underworld. No one said dying would be easy and West of the Dead will surely test your skills. The battle for your soul will take place on Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC in 2020.
The Red Lantern
Survive the Alaskan wilderness in this dog sledding, story-driven, rogue-lite game
We first took notice of The Red Lantern during a Nintendo Direct earlier this year and ever since we’ve been impatiently awaiting its release. The Red Lantern is a resource management game where you and your team of five sled dogs must survive the wilderness and find your way home. Set in Nome, Alaska, you play as The Musher, voiced by Ashly Burch (Horizon: Zero Dawn, Life is Strange), as she sets out to train for the grueling Iditarod race.
The game combines rogue-lite elements into this story-driven adventure game, where hundreds of different events can occur—like fending off bears, resisting frostbite, attending your dogs, or receiving a signature moose-licking. This might be the first and last dog-sledding survival game we will ever play but that’s fine by us because judging by the screenshots and trailer, the game looks terrific. The Red Lantern is Timberline Studio’s debut game and is funded by Kowloon Nights. The game will be releasing on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in 2020.
The Best Games of the 2010s
The 2010s have spoiled us with an abundance of amazing games released year after year, and with the decade quickly drawing to a close, some would argue it is the best decade for video games yet. The choice of AAA titles, MMOs, indies and even mobile games is simply overwhelming. In no other decade have we had so much variety and so much to choose from making it extremely hard to pinpoint what our favourites are. Truth be told, many of us still have some catching up to do. Not everyone has played every game nominated below, and how could we considering some of these games require hundreds of hours of our time to complete? Thankfully we have enough writers on staff to be able to cover it all, and as expected, none of us seem to agree on every winner. It wasn’t easy to choose from our many favourites but we narrowed it down to one winner and five special mentions for each year. At last, here are the best games released in the 2010s.
Best Games of the Decade
2010) Mass Effect 2
Bioware’s Mass Effect announced itself as a different kind of game. The natural evolution of games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect offered gamers a whole universe of possibilities. Depending on their choices, their protagonist could be a cocksure rogue or an unrepentant optimist, a cold pragmatist or a warm confidante. Regardless of your choices though, what Mass Effect really offered was the chance to enter a world and experience it in your own individual manner.
Mass Effect 2 doubled down on this prospect in a way that was almost inconceivable. Giving players a bigger galaxy to explore, more characters to journey through it with, and more refined gameplay with which to devour it, Mass Effect 2 arrived as the sequel that fans never even dreamed was possible. A game with so many different possibilities for outcomes that there was an ending designed as if the player had died in his quest, there was literally no wrong way to play Mass Effect 2.
While the sequel ended up having to pull back on these ambitions, Mass Effect 2 still remains a game that made players believe that literally anything was possible, and for that reason alone, it remains a one of a kind, unforgettable experience. (Mike Worby)
Runners-Up: Call of Duty: Black Ops, God of War III, Red Dead Redemption, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Super Meat Boy
2011) Dark Souls
Like Mass Effect 2, Dark Souls is less an original prospect in and of itself, and more the perfectly refined version of a very good idea. Hidetaka Miyazaki may have hit upon a gold rush with his experimental action-RPG Demon’s Souls, but it was Dark Souls that really hit paydirt. Transporting the hybrid single-player/multiplayer experience into an ever-growing open world that devoured itself like an ouroboros, Dark Souls didn’t just perfect the experience that its predecessor had plotted out, it laid the groundwork for an entire genre.
Players still relentlessly speed run, troll, experiment with and redefine what Dark Souls is, and what it means to them, nearly a decade after its initial release. Check Twitch or YouTube on any given day, and you’re likely to find dozens of gamers re-exploring the world of Lordran, and seeing what it might offer them in this reincarnation of its virtues and faults, concepts and confines. Such is the result of a game so endlessly replayable that it doesn’t even ask before plonking you back at the beginning after those end credits. After all, why not spend a little more time in this world? (Mike Worby)
Runners-Up: Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Minecraft, Portal 2, Rayman Origins
2012) Xenoblade Chronicles
It’s hard to find a game as niche as Xenoblade Chronicles. A JRPG, published in North America two years after its initial 2010 release on the already-sunsetting Wii, it seemed an unlikely prospect for success. After all, the Wii was perhaps Nintendo’s most family-friendly console, a system designed around casual audiences and motion controls; its successor, the Wii U, was just around the corner. It made little sense to release a JRPG, of all things, when the system was on its last legs.
Despite launching at the tail end of one generation and the beginning of the other, Xenoblade Chronicles delivered one of the best JRPG experiences in decades. Xenoblade creator Tetsuya Takahashi, with a checkered history of ambitious games that failed to fully deliver on their promises, finally perfected his craft. A gripping narrative, a spectacular score, and an innovative focus on blending the best of both Western and Japanese RPGs made Xenoblade Chronicles a stunning achievement and the best JRPG to ever come from Nintendo.
Seven years, and two critically praised sequels, later, and Takahashi has yet to recapture the magic in the original Xenoblade and rekindle the pure, unadulterated sense of exploration and adventure that made it such an enjoyable experience, a testament to how unique and incredible this JRPG truly is. (Iszak Barnette)
Runners-Up: Diablo III, Far Cry 3, Hotline Miami, Journey, The Walking Dead
2013) The Last of Us
With The Last of Us, the cinematic-loving geniuses at Naughty Dog proved themselves once again as one of the most accomplished development teams in the world. The confident and handsome survival thriller was instantly hailed as the new bar for what gaming could and should be moving forward. The Last of Us is Hollywood stuff, of course, and it borrows from dozens of carefully chosen inspirations, among them George A. Romero’s original Dead trilogy, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. While the game’s cynical portrayal of survivors turning on each other is a very familiar premise – The Last of Us is also the rare video game that follows a traditional storyline and then improves upon it. Set twenty years after a pandemic radically transformed civilization – The Last of Us follows Joel, a salty survivor, who is hired to smuggle a fourteen-year-old girl, Ellie, out of a rough military quarantine. What begins as a straightforward, albeit risky job, quickly turns into a highly emotional, palm-sweating journey that you won’t ever forget.
The Last of Us mixes traditional adventure, survival, action, stealth, and constant exploration. Amidst the action, the horror and the many layers of modern mythology at work here (all quintessentially American), the game succeeds simply as a parable of what it means to live versus surviving. By the time you get to the last act, you understand why The Last of Us is the stuff of legends. The ending is simply amazing and not because it ends with a bang, but instead, because it ends with a simple line of dialogue. It’s intense and, yes, depressing – and it earns every minute of it.
Exhausting to play but oddly exhilarating to experience, The Last of Us works its way under our skin to unnerve, reside and haunt us. From the rich, complex combat system to the sublime sound design, this game immerses the player from start to finish. The Last of Us proves how far the craftsmanship of making video games has come from the outstanding engineering and art and sound design to the fine direction and performances, and the touching relationship of the two leads. It shouldn’t be a surprise that The Last of Us is our favourite game of 2013 because it works on every level: as a violent chase thriller, a fantastic cautionary tale, a coming of age story, and a sophisticated drama about the best and worst qualities of humanity. There’s something for everyone here to appreciate! (Ricky D)
Runners-Up: Bioshock Infinite, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, DOTA 2, Gone Home, Grand Theft Auto V
2014) Mario Kart 8
Nintendo was so confident about Mario Kart 8 that they implied it could turn the tides of both sales and public consciousness on the Wii U. Of course, Mario Kart 8 didn’t end up doing that, but it did handily exceed the expectations of its legion of naysayers, such as the infamous Polygon pie charts. Five years later and it has not only gone down in the record books as the highest-selling game on that fateful console, but is also the highest-selling game on Nintendo’s renaissance console, the Switch.
While the appeal of Mario Kart remains perennial, Mario Kart 8 is an especially special Mario Kart. Its controls are the most fluid and refined, its visuals the most lush and detailed, and its courses the most vibrant and fully-realized. Moreover, its breakneck 200cc mode, wealth of fantastic DLC courses, and Deluxe-specific battle mode have given Mario Kart 8 incredible replay value, depth, and variety despite lacking an adventure mode. At launch, Mario Kart 8 was the peak of the series, the best modern kart racer, and a game of the year contender. Now, with tons of extra content, over thirty million copies sold, and the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Mario Kart 8 may become known as the greatest and most popular racing game of all time, kart or otherwise. (Kyle Rentschler)
Runners-Up: Bayonetta 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Hearthstone, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, Valiant Hearts: The Great War
FromSoftware pioneered a new genre and difficulty standard with their Souls series, but Bloodborne’s their magnum opus. The sordid streets of Yharnam teem with monsters, and hacking through the bloody lot of them is a visceral (and challenging) delight.
I made it through Bloodborne with minimal trouble, felling most bosses in two or three tries. But the last boss, the dude whose name starts with G (no spoilers), kicked my ass to the moon and back. I fought him for a whole weekend, dying upwards of fifty times. I thought I couldn’t do it, that I’d have to throw in the towel, for this was a mountain I couldn’t scale. But then something unexpected happened: I won! I flawlessly dodged his attacks, steadily chipping away at his lofty life bar until he kicked the bucket. The sensation of elation I experienced upon victory was a high that lasted for hours, and that’s when it clicked for me “This is why there’s no easy mode”. (Harry Morris)
Runners-Up: Life is Strange, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Rocket League, Undertale, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
2016) Persona 5
When it comes to JRPGs, there’s no shortage of turn-based level grind-y time sinkers on offer, but Persona 5 is something different. It’s both unabashedly inspired by its genre brethren, yet wholly unique. Where countless JRPG stories crumble under the weight of “That’s flippin’ nonsense”, Persona 5 serves up a rewarding narrative driven by a wildly loveable band of misfits. Its relationship-building mechanics (that inspired Fire Emblem: Three Houses) are addictive, and its user interface is award-worthy. Every facet of this genre masterpiece is meticulously honed to perfection, and its bigger and better iteration (Persona 5 Royal) can’t come soon enough. (Harry Morris)
Runners-Up: Final Fantasy XV, Inside, Overwatch, Pokemon Sun and Moon, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
2017) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
What’s perhaps most remarkable about Breath of the Wild is just how familiar yet simultaneously refreshing it feels. Breath of the Wild may be the biggest Zelda game to date, but it still feels like a Zelda adventure — in spirit, story, tone and in gameplay. You play as the young courageous Link, the hero of Hyrule, who awakens from a cryogenic sleep chamber inside of a small cave and teams up with the eponymous princess (so to speak) and sets out on an adventure to destroy the horrible fanged, boar-faced Calamity Ganon, a megalomaniac holding Princess Zelda hostage and bent on destroying Hyrule. The narrative setup is more or less standard for a Zelda game, but Breath of the Wild has something that was missing from the series for far too long — perhaps since the original title was released back in 1986.
Much like that original, Breath of the Wild is a game that begs you to keep exploring and it does this right from the start, immediately instilling a real sense of mystery, no matter how familiar you are with the series. As soon as you emerge from that opening cave, you’ll find yourself on a vista, looking out at the beautiful mountains and ruins of a post-apocalyptic, techno-plagued world. And from that moment on, the world is your oyster.
Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brought a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s such a landmark in video games that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. Though in the end, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go, is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)
Runners-Up: Cuphead, Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil VII, Super Mario Odyssey
2018) God of War
To take their beloved franchise, turn it on its head, and deliver an experience that surpasses its acclaimed predecessors was no easy task for Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, yet they smashed it! God of War pays homage to its roots, whilst simultaneously bounding headlong into uncharted waters. It embraces modern conventions but utilizes them in a way that feels fantastically fresh.
Kratos’s journey with Atreus through the universe of Norse mythology is a masterclass in both character study and organic world-building, and a far cry from the one dimensional “Kratos angry, Kratos kill things” fare of old. Combat strikes a balance between strategic nuance and gory glee, and the Leviathan Axe feels badass to swing around. Discussing this game is more often than not an exercise in rattling off cool qualities, because there’s just that many things to dig about it. (Harry Morris)
Runners-Up: Celeste, Monster Hunter World, Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
2019 ) Fire Emblem: Three Houses
With three stories that can change depending on the choices taken, Fire Emblem: Three Houses really does allow the player to choose the path they wish. Much like previous Fire Emblem games, what the player does and chooses is at the heart of the game, with benefits and consequences for each action taken. With three different houses to discover, Fire Emblem: Three Houses can be replayed countless times while never feeling like the same game.
It’s easy to get enchanted by all the personality, charisma, and cheesiness the game has outside of battles, that it’s even easier to miss the tactical ingenuity within battles. Fire Emblem: Three Houses has shaken up much of the battle formula from previous Fire Emblem games, creating a much more fragile web, requiring a balancing of personalities and classes that can develop constructively for the rest of the game. This means every brick you place from the start of the game will affect how well your house stands by the end of the game. It’s a clever design that can catch even the most ardent Fire Emblem veterans out there.
But most importantly of all, each story doesn’t feel rushed or out of place. That isn’t just the three main stories but every characters’ own personal story. Some of the characters are a little overly cloy for my personal tastes, but that isn’t to say they didn’t fit the narrative. Their story was woven into the main story without a slip or a bump. It is that Fire Emblem: Three Houses is more than just how the player develops, but how each character develops around them. (James Baker)
Runner-Up: The Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium, Control, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Resident Evil 2
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