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Wizard with a Gun is a moody vibes-first, narrative-second survival crafting game that perfectly compresses the most satisfying bits of the genre into an engaging loop. While the light bits of story are delivered through the gaming version of footnotes, the pitch-perfect visuals of its wild and crumbling biomes and twangy music do the additional lifting needed to get players invested in its world. Its approachable and goal-oriented gameplay design are perfect for those who feel out of step with the open-ended approach to many games in the genre. Whether solo or with a friend, Wizard with a Gun has a lot more "review score up" bullets than the "review score down" ones loaded in its chamber.
Bilkins' Folly is a wholesome puzzle adventure that sticks to its strengths and mines so much cleverness out of a few basic puzzle concepts. It centers on the bond between a man and his dog and tells a story that's just as wholesome and lighthearted as you'd expect from something that calls Monkey Island and Zelda its inspirations. Some of the most difficult puzzles may baffle even the biggest puzzle fans, and people who are looking for a more adventure-focused Zelda-like may find the puzzles a bit much. But if a game that evokes the best parts of adventure games, 2D Zelda, and Layton-level puzzles sounds like it might appeal to you, don't skip Bilkins' Folly. Amid the absolute deluge of AAA and indie releases hitting this October, Bilkins' Folly stands there, a shiny and enticing treasure chest just waiting to be enjoyed.
Paleo Pines' dino-based farming sim experience may make for a great first step into the genre for some gamers, but those who know what to expect from the genre may find more than a few questionable gameplay decisions hidden inside. With its adorable style and recontextualization of a farming sim's relationship with animal helpers, it plants the seeds for some strong ideas that (mostly) do enough to help you push through its most frustrating bits. Mostly.
El Paso, Elsewhere is a satisfying '00s-era corridor shooter elevated by a constellation of bold talent that brought to life its audio, visual, and technical artistry. It tells a painfully relatable and intimate story, with a visual style that matches the chaos in its hero's heart and a soundtrack that vocalizes it.
Final Fantasy 16 is as good as it is not because it strays from what has come before it, but because it embraces its roots. Everything the series has done, gameplay-wise, over the last few mainline releases, has all set up for what FF16 pulls off with its fantastic-feeling combat. For all the focus on its maturity and shocking narrative, the things that FF16 does with its impactful story have been present in games all throughout the series. And by letting a team like Creative Business Unit 3 take the reins, the best aspects of Final Fantasy 16 feel like pieces of one of the most beloved games in all of the franchise: Final Fantasy 14. I won't deny the series is heading in a new direction, but have no fear, the ways in which Final Fantasy 16 succeeds are deeply rooted in the series' greatest traditions.
Stray Gods is messy. The game's story, music... some systems? But they're all so true to its heart and the intentions of the project. Summerfall Studios has delivered a flawed but fascinating musical in Stray Gods. Ambitious but so painfully human. Not unlike the ways the Greek gods are portrayed in the game. The experience is all the more beautiful for it. If you don't like musicals, can't get past a few audio issues, or dislike visual novel-like experiences, Stray Gods isn't for you. But musical fans, Greek mythology addicts, and people looking to make a pathetic sad man happy? Strap yourselves in for a musical rollercoaster.
Chants of Sennaar is a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime, incredibly human experience that has you doing mental gymnastics to puzzle out meaning from everything you see and everyone you encounter. Through its retelling of a classic parable, its simple and extremely effective art style, and a soundtrack that gently guides you along the path, Chants of Sennaar keeps its focus on the discovery of languages. Even when it tries to distract with less-than-stellar stealth segments and a few puzzles that outstayed their welcome, Rundisc provides a core experience that is so special and rare. It earns its place among some of the best puzzle and mystery games of all time, the likes of Case of the Golden Idol and Return of the Obra Dinn.
Playing Gunbrella reminded me of the first time I played classics like Cave Story, Untitled Story, and Owlboy: games that nailed the vibes in all facets, provided a play experience I could just lose myself in, and didn't overstay their welcome. Games that delivered satisfaction on all levels. Games that more than earn that declarative "video games are GOOD" while playing. Doinksoft had already cemented itself as a studio worth following with games like Gato Roboto and Demon Throttle, but Gunbrella makes them a "no questions asked" team moving forward. It's one of the best games I've played all year.
I find Eternights really interesting, even if in the end, I recommend it conditionally. It's a game that shows a ton of talent on the side of a new team that already has its eyes on a new project and even more growth. The bones here have me excited for whatever they do next. If you can excuse some iffy bits of writing and degeneracy, if you're looking to enjoy combat but aren't here just for combat, and if you are willing to accept some rough around the edges bits from a team that literally only had one full-time employee throughout most of its development, there's a lot to love in what Eternights is doing.
Decarnation is a game I really wanted to love more. It has an undeniable style. Its grounded and painfully real horrors are genuinely spine-chilling, and the flair of its cinematic presentation is top-notch. It's just a shame that some clichéd writing, a flawed ending, and a generally repetitive gameplay experience (especially in the back half) hold it back from glory. Decarnation is still a game worth experiencing, especially for fans of horror and the inspirations Decarnation wears on its sleeve. But tread lightly. You never know who might be watching...
Amarantus is special. It's a passion project in every way imaginable, a journey started by one person who gathered a ragtag team to help them reach that one clear endpoint: revolut- I mean... creating a piece of art so purely realized on all levels that it coalesces into something that pushes the genre forward.
Hello Goodboy is just a downright pleasant time. I smiled lots, even if I'd wanted and even expected a little more out of it, but at the end of the day, I realized... I just might not be who this game is for. I imagine a parent and child sitting on the couch, doing voices for each character as they read along, puzzling out the ways to get through the game's light challenges, and taking the story's lessons about life and what comes after to heart. For them, Hello Goodboy might be great, but for us...
With all the modern innovations we've made in gaming and storytelling, to imagine going back to PC gaming in the '80s — an era defined by games shoehorning themselves onto devices made for anything other than gaming — made me initially hesitant. But the efforts of the artists at LCB Game Studio made Varney Lake simultaneously thrive in spite of and because of its limitations. The Pixel Pulps series is one to keep an eye on. I can't wait to see this world filled out and certainly wouldn't say no to more installments. If you're looking for some new ways to get your chills and enjoy dabbling in nostalgic pulpy horror, don't skip Varney Lake.
The Tartarus Key is kind of like the gaming equivalent of the wave of stellar indie horror movies we've been treated to in recent years. In the ways it simultaneously pulls from, makes fun of, and honors its inspirations, and finds a new way forward to deliver its thrills, Vertical Reach's paranoia-driven indie horror is just end-to-end enjoyable for horror gaming fans of all walks. Those who love the constantly unnerving atmosphere of Silent Hill and the mansion-based aesthetic of Resident Evil, all combined with puzzles that are arguably better than the offerings from either series, will find lots to love here. Any game that can get your blood pumping without screaming in your face at every turn is worth its salt.
Live A Live is a testament to creativity, perseverance and preservation. To see a giant company like Square-Enix spare the time for a game released nearly 30 years ago on one platform in one region? We need to shout from the rooftops about it. Seeing a team revisit such a hidden gem all these years later and knock it out of the park in nearly every way? We need to be celebrating. Live A Live is such a unique experience that even its era-specific missteps are worth forgiving. RPG fans of all levels, walks of life, and interests: Live A Live will transport you through time, in more ways than you'd expect.
Strange Scaffold remains one of the most interesting teams in gaming today. Sunshine Shuffle's anything but light and breezy, despite its appearances, and its narrative poker experience is just another in a long list of games from their studio that tells powerful stories in the most interesting formats possible. By keeping the gameplay barriers as light as possible this time while still managing to do something that no one else is doing, the team lets what might be its best batch of writing yet soar here. And that's worth all the applause. Minor quibbles aside, Sunshine Shuffle accomplishes all it sets out to do and does so with a ska-driven flair that can't be denied.
Mail Time is so far one of my favorite cozy games of 2023. And this is a cozy game — to a T. There's no violence — well, I mean, there is, unfortunately, a landlord, plus an offbeat caterpillar named Soks who might throw a real stinging quip or two your way. But in this casual platformer and collect-a-thon, there are no timers or penalties on your quests, no fall damage taken when you accidentally glide straight past your destination, and no real way to fail. It's a game where the biggest challenge is picking the cutest outfit, knapsack, and glider combo within the character creator. In short, Mail Time isn't perfect — but it's a two- to three-hour quest for joy and neighborly connection, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Toge Productions found a way to distill down the comforts of shared familiarity between friends and the otherwise complex nuances of interpersonal relationships in the piping hot drink known as Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly. Its narrative-first visual novel presentation might scare some away, but just like that complex-sounding drink at your local café with ingredients you've never heard of, it's most definitely worth a taste.
Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories is a nostalgic trip to simpler times, quieter days, and a different era of gaming. It reminds me of a time when the idea of walking in a digital space, meeting eccentric characters, and becoming part of a lived-in world felt revolutionary. Froach Club's 3-5 hour story is ripe with good vibes, and while it may not ask you to parry frame-perfect attacks or min-max your character's stats to reach glory, its appeal is undeniable. Go drink a melon soda, let the breeze roll in, and wander through Hog Town.
DragonBear's debut is a certified gem. Innchanted delivers a special brand of chaos and fun that has good vibes and good values incorporated into nearly every aspect of its design. Shouting may ensue and stress may be a primary feeling across your inn management journey, but the satisfaction of completing a day's shifts without losing your head, with pals who've been right by your side through it all? That's priceless. And Innchanted only asks you to shell out $20, so I mean... that's a good price for priceless.