Inconsistent graphics and the lack of a female protagonist we had in Portable aside, however, this remains a solid means of enjoying one of the finest RPGs of the past two decades. Its writing is sharper, combat is more satisfying, and it brings this world to life in ways that just weren’t possible several generations ago. Reload might lack its signature rough edge, but those coming around for the first time will find plenty to love.
WarioWare: Move It! is a complicated game to talk about, because at its heart the whole thing is so deceptively simple. You follow simple instructions presented on screen to stay alive and complete bizarre tasks, all of which are framed by adorable characters and fun stories which aren’t important, but remain stylish and lovable enough to ensure this cute package feels complete, despite its short campaign length and a reliance on local multiplayer to draw the most fun out of it. Nintendo has repeatedly said this is a full successor to Smooth Moves on the Wii, and I’d be lying if it doesn’t capture the same joy that comes from waggling WiiMotes around in my living room as a kid.
The endgame hides a few new stages and some cool minigames, but you are more or less dropped onto the map and asked to scour the place for everything you missed. I’m excited about playing with friends and family to snoop out the remaining paths that alluded me, and it feels like a game of this ilk would really come alive as four friends are causing maximum chaos together. Alone, its whimsical spark is sadly only surface level, fading away much as the petals on a Wonder Flower wilt under Bowser’s influence. The magic is there, and very tangible in all the right places, Nintendo just needs to take a look at the foundations and reinvent them alongside this luscious new aesthetic. Do so, and we’d have a masterpiece.
Stray Gods can be inconsistent in its musical numbers at times and presents a selection of irksome technical issues, but these foibles are trivial to overlook when Grace’s journey fires on all cylinders. It is marvelously written with a beating heart lined with poignancy, which at every turn expresses the joy, fear, and unpredictability of human life you can’t help but feel represented by. Much like Grace, I’m a lost, lost girl with little direction in life, but sometimes a game like this comes along and convinces me it’s only a matter of time until I’m found.
Pikmin 4 isn’t quite the best game in the series, but it’s certainly the most confident. With this new entry, Nintendo has decided to wipe away much of the past tedium in favour of ensuring moment-to-moment gameplay is more enjoyable than ever. But eradicating its past frustrations also removes much of the challenge and depth from the game’s battles and puzzles. Commanding its multicoloured armies and pilfering this planet of its treasures while gathering a motley crew of comrades kept me enraptured for hours, just don’t come into this expecting the harsh journey back home to be little more than a leisurely stroll.
Final Fantasy 16 is a bold new benchmark for the series that puts emotional complexity and courageous world building at the forefront. Clive Rosfield’s epic journey is defined by constant bouts of hurt and tragedy, but it’s also lined with an inescapable aura of hope in how our heroes are fighting for a world worth saving. Every person you meet and village saved from ruin are worth protecting, with heartfelt dialogue and ferocious combat mixing together in service of an RPG that, while flawed and glacial in some spots, I’d struggle to label as anything other than a triumph.
Dead Island 2 isn’t going to change the world of zombie games, nor does it intend to, but the fact it has emerged from the ashes in a state this immaculate is a miracle in itself. Hammer some nails into a metal baseball bat, set it on fire, and start swinging. I guarantee you’ll carve out a good time beyond all the viscera.
Dead Space is a triumphant remake that draws strength from familiarity instead of allowing its archaic origins to become a vice. This is now the definitive version of Isaac Clarke’s first chapter, one that doesn’t aim to reinvent his character, but to outfit him with a more relatable and nuanced arc that will likely set the stage for other games to come.
Somerville is one of the year’s biggest surprises, and I’m still shocked to see it fly under the radar. Its portrayal of an alien invasion raging across the British countryside hit close to home, while the story of a father searching for his family and being tied up in a dilemma so much bigger than he ever imagined is both nothing like I expected and everything I wanted. I can’t wait to see players far smarter than I piece its most devious puzzles together, since there are still so many questions waiting to be answered.
Scorn is a hard game to pin down, but it’s one I can’t help but recommend. It’s disgustingly alluring in its visual execution, with each new location bringing with it a waterfall of questions as you poke, prod, and cower at every discovery. This ambition of being artsy and cryptic can hold it back at points, but there’s something fiercely admirable in its artistic vision that few games in the genre are able to match. This is a tragic horror of Lovecraftian proportions, and one that really must be seen to be believed.
Northway Games has crafted one of my highlights of the year with this narrative adventure. It’s wonderfully engrossing and hiding so many worthwhile character moments and gorgeous secrets well worth uncovering. I’ve already spent so many hours with the game and feel like I have barely scratched the surface, prepared to dive back in and live out this life over and over again until I settle on an imperfect resolution that feels well and truly my own.
Even as the credits roll, We Are OFK is still an unusual game to describe. It’s an introduction to a band made up of fictional characters that aims to penetrate the real world and make a true cultural impact. We have no idea if this will be a success, but the story being told throughout its five episodes rings so true and feels so real that I can’t help but cheer them on. Itsumi, Luca, Jey, and Carter already feel like trusted old friends, people I’ve been through the shit with and can stand alongside as they hope to realise their dreams. In a medium where narrative adventures have grown rather predictable, this one shines.
Monolith Soft has crafted a JRPG that is so colossal yet also intricately focused. It delivers an experience that iterates upon everything its predecessors managed to achieve, resulting in a masterpiece that I am utterly enraptured by. Part of me feels like I’m still stewing in a cauldron of hyperbole, but in terms of characters, themes, and a world that I never want to leave behind - this is the series at its very best, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Live A Live feels like it shouldn’t exist, or was destined to remain hidden away with only a few fortunate fans stumbling upon it in the midst of online forums hosting fan translations of forgotten classics. I’m not sure what inspired Nintendo and Square Enix to bring this game back from the dead for a whole generation, but the fact they went through with it is a miracle. Whether you’re a JRPG fan or simply keen to play something completely different, Live A Live manages to surprise and delight in equal measure while refusing to show its full hand until the last possible moment. I’d argue it was almost worth the decades we spent waiting.
Power Wash Simulator is a darling escape into a profession I never knew I had any passion for. I’m not saying I’m about to quit writing and start going to town on my nan’s filthy patio, but there’s something about living a distant occupation through the medium of video games that pulls you in and refuses to let go. Life is stressful right now, so having a place to set my worries aside and clean up virtual arenas while also giving my own mind a good cleanse is more than welcome, and FuturLab has more than delivered on that grounded fantasy here.
The Quarry is an excellent survival horror experience with a strong cast of characters and a startling horror narrative that delights with campy scares and unexpected twists. Fans of Until Dawn and The Dark Pictures need to pick this up, or even those after a spooky outing either alone or with friends. It isn’t the alien abduction story I’ve been waiting for, but it still proves that Supermassive Games is the undisputed king of the genre when it matters.
Sniper Elite 5 is a great little shooter, and I had a lot of fun sinking into its sprawling levels and inventive mechanics. It doesn’t change the formula or even introduce anything particularly new to the wider genre, but perfectly understands what it wants to be and delivers on that expectation with significant flair. I viewed it as a palette cleanser of sorts, an experience that harkens back to a different generation of single-player shooters we don’t tend to see anymore. It’s almost nostalgic, and aside from Wolfenstein there is no better Nazi-murdering simulator out there.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is a remaster that should have happened years ago, and I’m so glad that the JRPG classic has finally received the respect it deserves in the modern landscape. You seldom see it discussed alongside other genre greats in the mainstream zeitgeist, but perhaps that perception will change now Serge’s iconic adventure is available on a selection of platforms with myriad improvements. Not all of its changes are for the best, but are easy enough to accept when the underlying game is still so masterful.