40. Katana Zero
A keen sword swinger and formidable assassin, you start your Katana Zero experience with a serious sense of cool straight from the off. That only improves with every unique plot point and every explosive battle in this side scrolling action platformer.
It’s high octane fluidity at its finest, but Katana Zero also takes a moment to explore an intriguing plot alongside such reactive gameplay. As you tick off hits on your to-do list, you’ll be facing a range of enemies in hack and slash one hit kill combat, but as with all good platformers, there are plenty of different ways you can manouevre each level to suit your playstyle. Katana Zero does everything that’s been done before, but crucially, it takes the best bits of everything that came before it and makes them shine.
39. Hollow Knight
With a blend of metroidvania and soulslike elements, Hollow Knight didn’t so much as break new ground, but rather improved upon and added flair to tried and tested mechanics. Overflowing with cute characters and engaging enemy designs, depicted in a cutesy hand drawn art style, Hollow Knight is a visually engaging romp through a world of vicious insects and monsters, supported by responsive controls and joyful mechanics.
Combat is rapid and explosive with weighty attacks and grand special powers making even the smallest confrontation a delight to play out. This is taken even further with the inventive boss battles and the incorporation of the SOUL mechanics which allow for upgrading your character with orbs dropped from defeated enemies. While at a mechanical level, Hollow Knight was not particularly original, it is in the execution of these mechanics that it found success, making it yet another strong metroidvania platformer to come out of the indie development scene in the past few years.
38. Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone perfectly encapsulated what it means to be an indie game. No publisher at the time would have greenlit a game about a group of talking shapes seeking answers to the meaning of life, so thank god that developer, Mike Bithell, found himself in a position to take the reigns of development himself.
Weird, funny and strangely heart wrenching, it is amazing that Thomas Was Alone exists at all, nevermind that it was actually a pretty goodgame too. Simple mechanics based on the shape, size and abilities of the games protagonists, result in puzzles that ramp up in complexity without ever becoming ungainly – something that very few games manage to do effectively.
Thomas Was Alone was proof that with creative mechanics and an engaging script, you don’t need the resources of a AAA developer or publisher to make something wonderful.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where the vast majority of us have been touched by the devastation of cancer at some point. The ubiquitousness of the disease means that it has played a significant part in our lives, but it is a subject that has rarely been depicted or approached within out medium. However, That Dragon, Cancer is more than simply a game that deals with cancer, it is also the autobiographical experiences of creators Ryan and Amy Green’s loss of their young child to that awful disease.
As a text, That Dragon, Cancer is filled with the harsh, unfiltered experience of two parents losing a child, and that personal relationship is strongly tied to its importance to games as a medium for expression. Harsh, upsetting and deeply difficult to stomach; despite the context of its creation That Dragon, Cancer managed to shine through with a depiction of hope, faith and earnest love that is rarely found elsewhere in games.
Davey Wreden had a pretty hard time dealing with the attention and scrutiny that came with the success of his debut, The Stanley Parable, but that didn’t stop him from creating more great games, in fact if anything it seems to have given him the drive to continue. The Beginner’s Guide is an introspective journey through a game designer’s creations that deals with questions about the relationship between creators and their audiences.
The Beginner’s Guide is one of only a few games to deal with game creation as a topic, presenting a level of understanding and open discussion that is rarely seen within our medium. The narration, delivered by Davey Wreden himself, is filled with the same wit and awareness that has become almost a trademark of Wreden’s games.
While it might be divisive in it’s content, there is no arguing that The Beginner’s Guide is not a fascinatingly constructed game filled with the signs of a creator experimenting with his craft. What more could you really ask for?
35. Darkest Dungeon
There’s little left to say to what’s already been written about this fantastic Lovecraftian dungeon crawler. Its pivotal permadeath elements make it an engaging experience that will let players in desolation when one of their favourite heroes dies with no possibility of loading to a previously saved game and getting them back.
It’s masterfully bit-sized delivered storyline just adds to a perfect script only improved by Wayne June’s exceptional voice acting.
Darkest Dungeon’s several DLC updates confirm the success this title has had and how prolific Red Hook Studios is in presenting new and expanding content to an already proven equation that provides countless hours of entertainment.
Unlike many of its popular indie horror contemporaries, there were not all too many jump scares over the course of Little Nightmares. Nor was it much of a shock-horror bloodbath. Instead, Little Nightmares was a masterclass in atmosphere, which it nastily oozed by the boatload (pun intended).
The visual design, with its unnervingly large industrial spaces and looming shadows, is complemented by the intimidating churning and growling of its sound design – both qualities worked in tandem so as to mark every moment with a thick, pervasive dread. Puzzles often capitalised on this by forcing the tiny and defenceless Six to get up close and personal with the unpleasant inhabitants of the Maw, which oftentimes inspired controller-gripping moments of breathless tension.
It’s said that games have the power to make you feel like a child again; Little Nightmares suggested you should be careful what you wish for.
33. This War of Mine
This War of Mine tackled a theme that so many -countless- other war games haven’t in so many years of a genre that created blockbuster, worldwide bestseller titles: what happens with regular people when a city is transformed into a battlefield? What happens inside of all those buildings that we demolish in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield?
Well, so very much. This War of Mine tackles the tragedy of having to be an innocent citizen amongst shooting, bombarding and killing, through a resource management, survival simulator with three human beings having not only to find food and medicine, but also to support each other through a traumatic, life changing experience.
What Remains of Edith Finch was utterly distinct. It’s narrative, which dealt with the tragically sealed fates of each member of Edith’s family, was as magical realist as it comes; moments that would otherwise feel comical or outlandishly absurd were imbued with great sadness, profound beauty and any emotions betwixt. But what made Edith Finch shine so bright was the way this so-called walking simulator invoked these emotional qualities primarily through its gameplay.
Giant Sparrow learnt much from 2012’s mechanically playful Unfinished Swan, with a variety of different gameplay and aesthetic styles implemented throughout Edith’s journey – each reflecting the mindsets and perspectives of the individual members of the Finch family before meeting their untimely demise. We could go into detail, but if you value experimental forms of storytelling in games, What Remains of Edith Finch is much better played than explained. You won’t regret it.
31. Her Story
Her Story was wonderfully unique. The game unfolded through dozens of short full motion video police interviews with a woman named Hannah that were unlocked by typing keywords into a database; this forced players to think about the ideas that were important to the case and condense those ideas into a single, searchable word.
Her Story’s innovative central mechanic was just interactive enough to make players feel like they were participating in the unraveling of the plot, and it felt good to finally discover the perfect word needed to proceed. Her Story’s plot was intricately woven, and Hannah quickly became a character with a deep internal life, both through the performance of the actress and the game’s writing. Her Story was important because it showed that technologies and mechanics once forgotten, like full motion video, could be revitalized to remarkable effect.