#10: Reverie (VITA)
Let it be known that Reverie isn't the greatest game you'll ever play. It's excellent, but it's a very small scale Zelda clone with an art style seemingly taken directly from Mother 3. But when it comes to making the player enjoy themselves, Reverie hits the mark as it's an incredibly charming, if basic game. It stars a young boy who visits his grandparents on a very New Zealand inspired island. Reverie doesn't try to break new ground in any aspect, but it manages to be a very charming Zelda clone. Instead of using a sword and magic rod, you use a cricket bat and a yo-yo.
Even though it's an indie game on a strict budget, Reverie has an open world to explore with tons of secrets and a few collectables. It's not perfect, a lot of the secrets are visual only and non-interactive, and there's this one air hockey minigame that exists for basically no reason other than for a trophy, but it was still kind of fun. I did enjoy the boss fights, even if most of the boss designs were pretty left field. All in all, if you're the type of person that likes to take chances on low budget indies, and you can temper your expectations for a small-scale Zelda clone, it manages to be the very best in that very small sub-genre.
You may be asking what a iPhone game is doing on a list alongside, well, actual games. But without trying to sound too much like a casual, Donut County is a very fun and very cute experience that I'm sure fans of games like Katamari or Locoroco will enjoy. The gist of the game is that you're a raccoon controlling a hole in the ground that moves around a small diorama, eating anything small enough to fall in. With everything that you eat, you expand in size, until the entire level has been eaten. It's pretty easy, and doesn't really require much thought, but the art design is really cute, it's a novel concept and I've never played anything like it. (although I do admit it reminded me a lot of Katamari, minus the whole challenge part.)
Even though it is short and easy, it's also a cute and cheap experience that is enough fun to distract you from the horrors of the real world, at least for a couple of hours. If you really don't want to play a game on your phone, Donut County is available on consoles like the PS4, Switch and Xbox One as well, albeit for a much higher price.
#8: Chasm (PS4)
Chasm got a surprisingly mixed reception back when it launched, and I can't really put my finger on why. It's a pixel art Metroidvania, which are certainly a dime a dozen these days, but it's really, really good, so I have no idea what's with the hate for it. Chasm has you play as a knight looking for glory, who only discovers a deserted town with some old dude telling him to go into a cave to kill monsters. So yeah, the story isn't really that original, but the combat more than makes up for it. It's a simple 2D sword fighting action system, with magic spells and power ups abound, but what really keeps me coming back to this game to this day is the fact that everything is entirely randomly generated.
You've probably heard of "randomizers", where games like Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night are turned on their head by randomizing the contents of each chest in the game, giving you potentially a late game item right away, which will let you access parts of the game in a different order, and Chasm's gimmick is that it's designed around this idea of randomizing item locations. I love this idea, because it gives this relatively short game a ton of replay value. I can blaze through Chasm in an afternoon, but since it's different every time, I keep getting pulled back to do it all again, with a new layout and new challenges each time I play.
I can see why people missed Chasm, its only got a 72 on Metacritic and the Steam reviews are pretty harsh, but if you like metroidvanias and don't mind the occasionally crappy level design that comes with a procedurally generated map, you'll find a lot to love here.
While ripping off the Yoshi's Island logo with a very similar name isn't the greatest first impression, there's more to Yoku's Island Express than you might think at first glance. It's a pinball metroidvania game, which means you explore a semi-open world collecting items and power ups, but you explore the map via riding on a ball and getting knocked around. Yoku's Island is certainly one thing, and that is cute. With very "Banjo-Kazooie" voice acting and an adorable tropical soundtrack, it did make me smile while I was playing it. The idea of playing as a postman dung beetle didn't exactly grab my interest at first, and when I looked at my local game store's website, I noticed that physical copies were 49.99! So yeah, I was pretty skeptical at first. (The game is a lot cheaper if you don't mind a digital copy, though)
But once I bit the bullet and started playing, I didn't touch anything else until I had all the achievements. It manages to do something completely unique and pulls it off perfectly. I was not only impressed, but I liked Yoku's Island so much, that I would seriously consider kickstarting a sequel. Even though it slipped under the radar of most players, I couldn't recommend it more to fans of cute mascot platformers or to pretentious game critics who won't touch a modern shooter with a ten foot pole.
#6: Nefarious (XONE)
Nefarious is a cool concept: take a retro style action-platformer, but instead of playing as a generic hero character, play as the villain. I'm sure most people have played games like Final Fantasy, or Mario Bros, and thought that the villains were way better characters than the protagonists, and it would be a lot more fun to fight against the heroes rather than beside them. If you enjoy games like Mega Man, this should be up your alley. The game features twin stick combat in a 2D platformer environment, as you use the mouse or right analog stick to aim your fist in any direction to attack an enemy from any angle. It's a cool concept, and I'm surprised no other games (that I know of) have tried it. The game has a lot of referential humor, and while that's not a type of humor that does it for me, (Remember this game? We do too!) I know a lot of people get a kick out of it.
Nefarious is a really cool game, and it's not one many people have heard of. It did have an early access release back in 2017, but it didn't release on consoles until last year. I was a backer of the Kickstarter because of this game's excellent hand drawn art style and bright colors, and the game managed to surpass my expectations. The soundtrack is pretty great too; it's done by Brawl in the Family's Matthew Taranto, who also made 2016's excellent Tadpole Treble. If you value a good 2D platformer, don't pass on this one, folks.
#5: Musynx (NS)
I've got quite a bit to say about Musynx. Sure, it's a direct rip-off of DJMax, but the publisher of Musynx is the developer of DJMax, so I don't think there's any hard feelings here. Musynx is a simple rhythm game that manages to hold up with some of the best out there. The beat timing is incredibly generous, making it an excellent game for beginners to the rhythm genre, and the tracklist is fairly massive, spanning tons of genres. Certain types of people may be turned off by the primarily Chinese vocals, but in my opinion slamming music because you don't like the language being sung isn't the best course of action.
The beatmaps in this game are nothing short of excellent, every time you play a song, it feels effortless, thanks in part to the generous beat timing. Musynx is the perfect game to zone out to between matches of Smash Bros or a long 5 hour JRPG grind. It's so good, I bought it on three platforms! But since Musynx is a direct DJMax clone, I feel like I should also mention that DJMax Respect also came out this year as a PS4 exclusive, and it's great, but rhythm games should always be portable in my book.
#4: Iconoclasts (NS)
Iconoclasts is a game that was a long time in the making, and I think its long development time payed off, as we have a bright pixel art Metroidvania with some of the most solid action gameplay I've seen since probably Cave Story (or Hollow Knight). The story is about some mechanic girl named Robin, but for me, I was so excited to get back to playing the actual game, I skipped the cutscenes and don't really care about the story. But that's just a testament to how damn good Iconoclasts is. It's got the puzzles, combat and secret areas that make these 2D indie platformers so good, and to me, that is more than good enough. When I first finished Iconoclasts, I did it again, and again, it's just that much fun. After playing through it, I can safely say that we're in a golden age of platformers, with stuff like this, Chasm and Hollow Knight proving that the 2D platforming genre is far from dead.
A good platformer and action title, with some seriously beautiful pixel art and a killer soundtrack to boot, developer Konjak has made the 6 years of waiting well worth it. If you have twenty dollars to spare, go to your service of choice (except Xbox) and grab Iconoclasts, it's my favorite platformer of the year. It's also worth mentioning to Playstation owners that this game was free (with Playstation Plus) in December, so it could just be sitting in your library, waiting to be experienced!
Yeah, these games are pretty old. But this is the first time, at least that I've seen, of them getting officially localized. They're a series of visual novels that are often considered the greatest of all time. Alternate is the final and greatest part of the trilogy, but since the game is a visual novel and therefore extremely spoiler-heavy, I don't want to say too much. The trilogy starts pretty simple and generic as visual novels go, but once you get to that second and third game, you're going to get attached to these characters and their problems. Not since Steins;Gate have I read something that legitimately made me depressed when it was all over.
If you value a good story and don't mind a side of anime titties, Muv-Luv is going to be the best thing you'll read for a long time, and there's a reason that the series is so highly praised. Hell, the game's description literally tells you "therapy not included", so get the tissues ready, because Muv-Luv will have you using them in multiple ways. And a word of warning, don't just watch the anime because it's free, you're missing out on so much development and it'll just end up spoiling you. But if you've got 80$ to spare, dust off your Vita and get ready for the greatest trilogy since Star Wars.
(Apparently there was a Steam release of the localization that happened back in 2017, so this isn't exactly a 2018 game, but I want to put it here anyway.)
After 2013's hit utopian document stamping simulator Papers, Please, Lucas Pope apparently spent the next 5 years smoking crack, and when he was done, he decided the best thing to do was develop a high-seas murder mystery with a Game Boy color filter, and damn, did it ever pay off! Return of the Obra Dinn is one of the most creative indie games in years, probably since Papers, Please. I can't really say too much about the game without getting into spoiler territory, but you play as an inspector who studies the Obra Dinn, and how exactly the entire crew disappeared.
If you like a good mystery, this is one of the few games that's actually made me think hard, because there's nothing obvious about these deaths and disappearances, you really have to look between the lines and think "could Character A really have done/said/heard what happened?" before making a call on something, because the game sure as hell isn't gonna hold your hand. If I have one negative thing to say, however, is that the soundtrack isn't very good for trying to think, especially since you can't change each type of audio (voices, sound effects, music) separately. But even with that, there's no reason not to spend 20 measly dollars on Obra Dinn.
It's a game so creative and one of a kind that I would recommend not to research it or wait for a sale, just go buy it without looking back. It's that good.
The less said about 428: Shibuya Scramble, the better. I mean this in the most positive way possible, because this game is the best visual novel of all time, and you don't want to get spoiled, do you? Shibuya Scramble was originally a 2007 Wii game released only in Japan, and was only localized 11 years later, and damn if it wasn't worth the wait. This is a live action visual novel that features text over an image background, and it tells the story of 5 oddball protagonists surviving a terrorist attack in Shibuya Square over the course of about 10 hours. It's split into five plot lines, and these lines are jumped to and from to change perspective to a different character.
For example, you could be reading from the perspective of weight loss drink mascot Tama, and have to choose between pursuing someone who rejected your free sample, or ignoring them, and this choice can have a massive effect on the events that occur to all the other characters. It's an excellent use of the butterfly effect, where the smallest decisions can have massive consequences. There's 80+ endings, multiple side stories fleshing out side characters and multiple secret stories to read. 428: Shibuya Scramble is the weirdest book you'll ever read, but the characters and conflicts are so well developed that you'll laugh at the absurdity while also feeling emotion for the characters and their struggles. This is an all time visual novel classic, and my personal favorite of all time. Don't miss it.
That was my list of overlooked games this year. There are some that I didn't include, because I didn't play them. I know some of the games here were pretty well covered in gaming media like Obra Dinn and Chasm, but if I can do anything to give those games more attention than they already have, I'll do it. Plus, not that many people watch or read about indie games, at least in the grand scheme of things, so they may have not heard of any of these games at all.
A few honorable mentions that I'd like to recognize that nearly made the list, but didn't are:
- Dragon Quest XI
- Kingdom Come: Deliverance
- The Jackbox Party Pack 5
List by Killzonegaming (02/19/2019)
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