This is a special year for me as it’s the first one I’ve been in full-time games journalism. Somehow, writing news, guides, lists, and opinion pieces five days a week, eight hours a day hasn’t made me sick of video games, it’s only made my appreciation of them grow. I’m fortunate enough to be part of a team with a broad, fantastic taste for different titles, so I owe a lot of these experiences to them. Now enough soppy shit, onto the ranking.
Neon White’s lightning fast gameplay and cringey dialogue aren’t for everyone, but I was charmed by the experience. Its slick movement felt like Sonic, except good. I loved scouring levels for gifts to learn more about the Neons and trying over and over to get the fastest speed possible, and while I didn’t break any records, every moment was a blast.
No, I’m not kidding, Trombone Champ is one of the best games I’ve played this year. It’s pure fun, a reminder of when I was a kid and didn’t need games to have a good story, or ground-breaking graphics, and I didn’t even need to be any good to be constantly in stitches. Trap remixes of Mozart and a cursed Mii-looking protagonist ensured I was always smiling when I played Trombone Champ, and I’d encourage all of you to give it a go if you need a laugh with your family during the holidays.
Scorn was a bit of a disappointment to me, but not enough to keep it off the list. I adored the complete lack of written or verbal dialogue and winced every time a contraption squelched as I slid my fingers in it, but the combat and puzzles let this down tremendously. If it had just been a walking simulator it’d be much higher on my list, but I respect that it did something different. It didn’t do it perfectly, but I’d rather see a game take risks and some missteps than play the same tired old formulaic title year in year out.
Hardspace manages to make you both proud of your skilled labour and disillusioned by the way it's exploited by the cartoonishly evil Lynx Salvage Corporation. In an era when billionaires have their sights set on space, it’s got a poignant message about both the present and future of our relationship with work, and is especially relevant at a time when the video game industry is seeing a rise in unionisation efforts. I spent hours breaking down ships while listening to that wonderfully folksy soundtrack, which helps to masterfully combine working-class Americana and sci-fi.
So many people have been banging on about Vampire Survivors all year, yet I only got to it a week ago. It’s been touted as this year’s Loop Hero, and the aesthetic instantly showed me why. When I started playing, I really didn’t get what all the fuss was about. You move around and shoot at stuff, cool. But when I next checked the time it was 3am and I’d been playing for four hours straight. Clearly, I do get it.
I didn’t expect such a simple game to get its hooks into me so completely. Marvel Snap has worked its magic on so many of us at TheGamer. We’ve spent a lot of sharing strategies, tips, and deck builds in Slack when we really should have been working (sorry boss). I’ve spent entire evenings on the sofa climbing the ranked ladder and clearing challenges so I could afford to upgrade cards or buy cool variants, and I love the way almost any deck is viable due to the Snap mechanic. A free-to-play game that isn’t pay to win? The future of mobile is looking bright.
I always pay attention to what Ben Sledge is loving (not that he gives any of us a choice, every other sentence he’s uttered this year has begun with the words ‘You should play Citizen Sleeper’), as his taste regularly aligns with mine, and although I only got into this game last week, I’m so glad I did. It takes TTRPG dice mechanics and combines them with gorgeous writing and wonderful characters to produce one of the most engaging games in recent memory. I’ve still got lots more to discover on Erlin’s Eye, and I can’t wait to dive back in for another cycle.
Need For Speed Unbound
As a cynical journalist who hates video games, I try not to join the hype train, but I made an exception for Need For Speed Unbound. I was the conductor, leading it through the frontier and welcoming passengers aboard or tying naysayers to the tracks. It’s the perfect evolution of the NFS formula and the best game in the series. It makes street racing feel authentic and risky, and has a far better character creator than a racing game should.
No other game this year has pulled me in quite like Immortality. Once I figured out how to tug at the threads dangling in the video clips (and aided by Manon Gage's phenomenal performance), I was obsessed. Video games often try to be cinematic, but Immortality turns cinema into a video game in the best way possible. The tantalising non-linear mystery clicks perfectly into place all at once, and the game imparts a poignant message about the film industry’s treatment of women.
“What? Didn’t you play God of War?” I did, it was alright. It was exactly what everyone was expecting. It was safe, and as a result, it was boring. Elden Ring played its cards close to its chest and took the familiar FromSoftware formula and applied it to an open world setting in a way I didn’t believe was possible. It’s full of surprises and keeps being exciting no matter how long I play or how much I discover. This is FromSoftware’s magnum opus and it’s a masterpiece. Except Caelid. Fuck that place.
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