I read a ton of these Game of the Year lists every year, and the introductions always grab me. There are always two kinds of introductions, the “Hey what a great year for games! We had all these advancements this year and this new trend was amazing. Well anyway, here’s my top games of the year!” The other is the eloquently worded journey into the authors soul, drawing you into the interpersonal world of what video games means to that person. It’s beautiful and is classy as heck. Whenever I try to write something like that, it always just feels wrong to me and like it’s not me. So instead, this is what you get.
When I was a kid, I had subscriptions to Nintendo Power and later EGM. Getting something in the mail always felt special and being able to take a tangible thing to school and share with friends over lunch became ritual. I always looked forward to the end of the year, though, when publications would release their giant Game of the Year piece where they’d go into ad nauseam about why they were the definitive authority on the best game of the year. I ate that shit up. We didn’t have a ton of money and video games were usually limited to one on my birthday, and one on Christmas. Having a birthday the month after Christmas, these lists were like a beacon at which I could point my wayward ship at, and helped me make up my mind on what to ask for. As I grew older, I’d borrow games from friends or save up and buy the one with allowance money. I still kept a list of what I played, and used that list as my ammo to stock up my bandoleer with. Armed to the teeth, I’d take it online to my favorite gaming message boards as a know-it-all edgy teenager.
For most of my 20’s, gaming was my passion. Being a games journalist was unrealistic, but dammit I was going to put in the work and play everything that everyone was playing so I could still be an authority in my own eyes on what was the best game out there. In 2007 I started keeping a spread sheet of my top games of the year I still use to this day. In 2011, THE YEAR I GOT MARRIED, I somehow managed to play 25 games. But as with most things, life happened. Gaming took a backseat as other needs came to the forefront. Dealing with a newborn is exhausting, compound that with it being a medically fragile one and it really turns everything upside down. Things are fine now, but that time away from being elbows deep into gaming changed me. I diversified my interests. Movies are great. I’ve developed an appreciation for books. I’ve discovered comics aren’t just about superheroes. Doing DIY projects around the house and learning how things work is a blast. Video games are still a part of my life, but gone are the days where I feel like I need to play everything. I know what I like, I know what I want to try, and I’m at peace with the fact with some stuff will just fall through the cracks. On a separate tab of my spreadsheet, I now keep a list of games I missed out on that I’d like to revisit at some point. There’s still some great stuff from last year I never got around to, and am totally cool with the fact that maybe I never will.
This past year, I stepped out of my comfort zone. Years ago, the notion of spending over 100 hours on an anime style JRPG would have been blasphemy. In past last year, Nintendo came back. As a huge Nintendo apologist, I can’t say with a clear conscience that everything Nintendo did the last 10 years was great. But it feels great to have them churning out games that everyone is actually excited about again. In this past year I finally beat my first Final Fantasy game ever in Final Fantasy XV. I’m still super conflicted about it. Finally, in this past year, I still played way too much stupid Hearthstone. Some games I would have loved to get to this year include Golf Story, Resident Evil 7, Assassins Creed, Wolfenstein II, Prey, Cuphead, and Night in the Woods just to name a few. This novel has now more than tripled the number of words I spent on my year end self review at work, so I’ll jump into the list.
//10 – Fire Pro Wrestling World//
Hi, my name is Nick and I’m a closet, on-again, off-again, currently off-again professional wrestling fan. Fire Pro Wrestling World is a MOSTLY functional 2D plane based wrestling game, that is a throwback to when wrestling games didn’t try to be more than they need to be. That alone isn’t what makes Fire Pro Wrestling World shine. Rather, Fire Pro understands its audience and taps into them, providing them with the tools to make any wrestler imaginable with an insane amount of detail, and share it with the world. Finally, you can settle the age old question of who would win, Kamala or Bayley, Doink the Clown or John Cena, or Glacier vs anyone.
//9 – Paper.io//
The latest addition to my list is also the only mobile game to crack the list. It’s fascinating how as smart phones first became more of a staple in our lives, we expected a more complete gaming experience out of them. However, as actual handhold consoles have adapted and evolved, for me I’m now more interested in a good, quick to play while popping a squat. Paper.io is the perfect pooping game. Cutthroat territory control with bright colors and tight handling is a recipe for success. The game isn’t multiplayer like most IO games usually are, but it doesn’t need it as the AI is fine and competent enough to hold it’s own.
//8 – PLAYERUNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS//
Generally, I stay away from competitive games for a number of reasons. I don’t have a ton of time to master the mechanics, the ole’ reflexes aren’t what they used be, and I tend to let toxic players ruin my experience (I’m looking at you Overwatch). Despite this, as soon as I saw PUBG, I knew I had to play it. Conceptually, being dropped on a giant island with 99 other players with the single goal of being the last man standing got it’s hooks into me. Though I’ve only played a mere 20 hours and never got to taste a delicious chicken dinner, it’s left me with enough satisfying, ass clenching encounters than any other game ever has. To boot, it’s a great spectator game and can enjoy the game by watching more competent players have at it on Twitch.
//7- Nier: Automata//
I follow a number of people on Twitter for the sole purpose that we seem to have a similar interest in the same kind of video game. Now, Nier seems to have been universally well received and is critically acclaimed, but when it came out I feel like it did so with little fanfare and was kind of an afterthought. The people I trust on twitter started to buzz about Nier. That buzz got louder as more specifics started to get out about why Nier was special. It had my interest. By the time I finally got around to playing it, the buzz had reached a near fever pitch.
I want to like Nier more than I do. As I was playing through, there was just enough bizarre bubbling under the surface to keep me interested in the carrot at the end of the string, but I felt like the combat kept on getting in the way of the story. At the end of my first play through, I put the controller down and asked out loud, “That was it?” The game tells me that I need to play the game multiple times to get the full experience, and the consensus seems to be the same online. That’s a tall order for a game that tries to actively get in it’s own way. I’ll probably do it in the coming months, and maybe that would impact my ranking. But as it stands now, Nier was a fine game that left me wanting more.
//6 – Everybody’s Golf//
I’m not very good at golf. Golf is actually sneaky expensive. So combine the two and I don’t get out as much as I’d like to. I’ll happily fill that void with video game golf though. Golf games are the ultimate veg out genre, where I can just throw a movie or podcast on another screen, and lose myself in a round or two. Everybody’s Golf separates itself from more sim like golf games akin to something we’d see from EA by going for a cartoonier, slightly more accessible presentation which works really well. Late in the year, I kept telling myself I really needed to do another play through of Nier, but instead found myself reaching for Everybody’s Golf and cranking through a few rounds instead.
//5 – Destiny 2//
I loved the original Destiny. Like a lot. I took impromptu vacation days from work to farm the pre-patch infamous Loot Cave, I re-ran instances countless times to grind for exotic gear, and I spent hours just boosting around on my Sparrow seeing what this world had to offer me. Destiny felt like a world that was happening regardless of me, I just happened to be there. Destiny 2 doesn’t quite recapture that, but fixes a lot of the grinding by scaling down the difficulty and going bananas by throwing perpetually better gear at you. Where Destiny felt raw at times while Bungie was still figuring everything out, Destiny 2 has so much more refinement and polish in it all available from the get-go.
//4 – Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)//
We’ve now hit a point where the games start to separate themselves from good to great. I’ve never been a huge Mario guy, but also find myself purchasing every Mario game proper as they come out. The 2D games were my childhood, but Super Mario 64 was life changing. It was my first real exposure to 3D games (stop looking at me, Star Fox), and was the first game I ever really felt was huge in scope. Every single Mario game since has never rekindled that magic for me. However when the game was announced as a spiritual successor to Super Mario 64, there was hope I’d really enjoy a Mario game again.
By it’s placement this high on my list, it should come as no question I really enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey. It’s exactly what I want out of a Mario game and scratches that 21 year itch. It’s maybe a little too safe but that’s totally fine. It’s a bright, vibrant game that’s a warm hug to your eyes. In New Donk City, Mayor Pauline needs you to collect musicians for a party. Once assembled, you get to experience one of the catchiest songs set to a level that hits all the right spots that just screams quintessential Mario. I’m positive I had the biggest smile on my face, all the while thinking to myself, “Nintendo is back!”
//3 – Doki Doki Literature Club (PC)//
The game I want to write the most about, but really shouldn’t because I don’t want to spoil anything. “I’m hearing good things about Doki Doki Literature Club. It’s apparently a visual novel with a psychological horror twist. Oh yeah the word is to do no research.” Was how I learned about number 3 on my list. I’ve play a handful of visual novels, mainly because anymore I play games for story and experiences. Visual novels are second to none for the story. Admittedly, a visual novel that comes across as a Japanese anime dating simulator required a leap of faith on my part to jump in, but man alive am I glad I did. You see the direction the game is heading, it goes there, but then it goes completely off the rails. Doki Doki Literature Club will forever be the only game that has ever given me actual nightmares. J̷̫̪̈́ͅu̴̗̎̊̆̇̋̐ş̵̺̺̾̀̂t̸͚̠͂͝ ̸̨̼̲͗͂M̷̢̢̥̪̮̤̅͑̆̎̃͛o̷͙̳̓̇n̵̠̺̖̠̉͆̏̾̇̅ͅḯ̶̛̞̥̹̭̑͊͠k̴̥̣͎̮͑͑ḁ̸̧̩̝̺̾̀ ̵͍̣̭̃͌̈́̊̅̓͜͜J̶͈͔̗͗ư̶͓̊̚s̴̡͕͈̰̬̻̃̎ṱ̷̯̄͋ͅ ̴̧̝̙̼͗̍͘M̵̞̠͉̋ͅo̴̩͉̪̗̮͐̓̀͐̃̓n̶̥̩̞̥͍͂̾͆͗̃͘i̸̩̓͘͠ķ̴̪̩́̽͝a̶͍̾́̽̽̋̏J̷̫̪̈́ͅu̴̗̎̊̆̇̋̐ş̵̺̺̾̀̂t̸͚̠͂͝ ̸̨̼̲͗͂M̷̢̢̥̪̮̤̅͑̆̎̃͛o̷͙̳̓̇n̵̠̺̖̠̉͆̏̾̇̅ͅḯ̶̛̞̥̹̭̑͊͠k̴̥̣͎̮͑͑ḁ̸̧̩̝̺̾̀ ̵͍̣̭̃͌̈́̊̅̓͜͜J̶͈͔̗͗ư̶͓̊̚s̴̡͕͈̰̬̻̃̎ṱ̷̯̄͋ͅ ̴̧̝̙̼͗̍͘M̵̞̠͉̋ͅo̴̩͉̪̗̮͐̓̀͐̃̓n̶̥̩̞̥͍͂̾͆͗̃͘i̸̩̓͘͠ķ̴̪̩́̽͝a̶͍̾́̽̽̋̏J̷̫̪̈́ͅu̴̗̎̊̆̇̋̐ş̵̺̺̾̀̂t̸͚̠͂͝ ̸̨̼̲͗͂M̷̢̢̥̪̮̤̅͑̆̎̃͛o̷͙̳̓̇n̵̠̺̖̠̉͆̏̾̇̅ͅḯ̶̛̞̥̹̭̑͊͠k̴̥̣͎̮͑͑ḁ̸̧̩̝̺̾̀ ̵͍̣̭̃͌̈́̊̅̓͜͜J̶͈͔̗͗ư̶͓̊̚s̴̡͕͈̰̬̻̃̎ṱ̷̯̄͋ͅ ̴̧̝̙̼͗̍͘M̵̞̠͉̋ͅo̴̩͉̪̗̮͐̓̀͐̃̓n̶̥̩̞̥͍͂̾͆͗̃͘i̸̩̓͘͠ķ̴̪̩́̽͝a̶͍̾́̽̽̋̏J̷̫̪̈́ͅu̴̗̎̊̆̇̋̐ş̵̺̺̾̀̂t̸͚̠͂͝ ̸̨̼̲͗͂M̷̢̢̥̪̮̤̅͑̆̎̃͛o̷͙̳̓̇n̵̠̺̖̠̉͆̏̾̇̅ͅḯ̶̛̞̥̹̭̑͊͠k̴̥̣͎̮͑͑ḁ̸̧̩̝̺̾̀ ̵͍̣̭̃͌̈́̊̅̓͜͜J̶͈͔̗͗ư̶͓̊̚s̴̡͕͈̰̬̻̃̎ṱ̷̯̄͋ͅ
//2 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)//
Every time a new installment for Zelda is announced, I begin the cycle of getting ridiculously excited, then silently let that excitement build up over the months as details are released about the game. The concept of an open world Zelda game intrigued me. What did they mean open world? There have been open world Zelda games before. The franchise sticks to a very familiar formula that has become a comfort food of sorts for me. There was a little anxiety leading up to the release on the direction to the franchise I hold closest to my heart. Thankfully, it was an out-of-the-park home run.
Breath of the Wild is a game I never knew I wanted until playing it. Immediately after leaving the game’s starting cave, as I looked out onto the horizon and saw the world that was ahead of me, I got goosebumps. Hyrule never felt so alive while being so dead. Going out of my way to visit familiar locations from past Zelda games, usually in a state of ruin and disrepair, was so surreal and chilling. Some of the trials were maybe a bit much of a tech demo, and sections may be a bit too punishing, but not enough to take away from the greater sum of its parts. I have my question about if something on this scale would work for future Zelda games, but I’ll happily cross that bridge if and when it comes to that.
//1 – Persona 5 (PS4)//
For a game to surpass a Legend of Zelda masterpiece to a Zelda nerd like me, it can’t get away with just being special. It has to exceed expectations that I didn’t even know existed and leave enough of a mark on me that it becomes a barometer that I can put other games up against it, and likely ultimately come up short. It happened in 2013 when A Link Between Worlds, a game that’s a love letter to arguably one of the best games ever made in A Link to the Past, was beaten by Bioshock Infinite. It’s happened again this year with Persona 5.
I don’t watch anime, my JRPGs are pretty much limited to Pokemon, yet I spent 110 hours becoming a Phantom Thief, stealing the treasures of the perverse and corrupt. Spending a year in as a student in Tokyo, maxing out social links (Makoto is Bae!), and fighting through hoards of enemies in the Metaverse while riding around my bus/talking cat/friend was a true pleasure. By the end of my journey, I didn’t want it to end. I developed such a connection to these fictional characters, there was a real sense of sadness when we had to part ways.
Persona 5 oozes style. From it’s vibrant, striking art palate to it’s phenomenal soundtrack, everything the game put forth meshed together so well and had a layer of polish you so seldom see anymore. Persona 5 is not only my game of the year, but is also one of my top games of all time.