It is easy to be overwhelmed by the bombast, the grandeur, and, most of all, the marketing, of large triple AAA games. Though AAA games are not the only ones to have received attention as AA games and major indie games with significant backing - either in terms of money, staff, or renown - have come to attention as well.
Yet, there are games and interactive works outside of those categories, and outside of the determined area for “indie” games. We are leaving what that means somewhat ambiguous, and up to you. Maybe it was a game you found searching through a game jam on itch. Maybe it was the side project of an artist whose work you follow. Maybe it’s someone’s first game. Whatever the case, if it made an impact on you, we want to know about it!
This category is for games that might not get tons of attention, but show effort and innovation. It is to talk about and bring to light games that you have stumbled upon, that defy tradition, or perhaps show a new direction for game, one that few might know about.
Now, what’s that rarity you’re amazed everyone isn’t playing?
Queer Man Peering Into A Rock Pool.jpg, short experimental game with one of those stories that just… really hits, a reflection on memory and love. It’s $5 (or more, pay what you like!), so I think it’s easy to say it’s worth picking up if you’re LGBTQ+ and/or would like an hour of vaporwave vibes.
Taiko Risshiden V (太閤立志伝V) is an old game from 2004 that I stumbled upon last year, but this year saw a remastered edition released for PC and Switch. I think it belongs in this category? Due to the lack of Western release and localization, it has certainly not gotten a lot of attention, but I think it’s worthy of having a light shone on it, because it is like an alternate family tree of the Nobunaga’s Ambition games. Even before Crusader Kings, the Taiko Risshiden games were asking what if a historical game was focused on one person’s life and their impact on history, instead of embodying a godlike or vaguely state-like actor in eras when states did not even really exist…
The game itself is a mix of turn based strategy and role playing game, interspersed with minigames. You can choose to embody the eponymous Taiko (Toyotomi Hideyoshi) starting from when he was barely promoted past sandal bearer, or one of several other historical figures. The best minigame is a turn based, simultaneous movement fencing game, that I think is legitimately extremely cool.
But of course it’s all in Japanese and my ability to play it is hampered by my rough Japanese language skills. Making it especially difficult is the numerous historical figures whose names I cannot read. This motivated me to actually build a piece of software to use OCR and a Japanese morphological analyzer to color code proper nouns and annotate kanji with furigana (phonetic readings):
(I may post more about this later if I can make the tool more usable)
Despite this steep challenge, it’s been a fascinating deep dive into both gaming history and Japanese history. Plus, the music is excellent, and it has an alternate neko busho (cat general) mode that replaces all the human portraits with cats:
My biased answer is Bomb Dolls on steam. Buy Bomb Dolls on steam!
Unbiased answer, Sylvie Lime
Watch the gameplay video to get sold quick!
Just near the end of the year, but by far one of my favorite games of 2022 was this little game, Stomp Plonk, by Marek Kapolka, a little walking adventure where you play a lute on a weird lil island.
Square Valley is a tile laying mobile phone puzzle game that is a tough and brain burning version of Carcassonne. It’s a really fun and well made, and it feels like playing a well crafted board game. I love it.
Damn, in looking it up it turns out my pick for this released at the end of last year but its still worth shouting out KID A MNESIA, the Radiohead album/exhibition/game from November 2021. An otherworldly exploration of the groups’ most iconic work its feel a bit like getting lost in a museum as a kid, or the worlds you’d dream up while flipping through the album’s liner book. There are moments that are still so fresh in my mind I was sure it released this year.
This year, I went back into my collection of games that I got in itch.io bundles and never got around to playing. After digging around, I found Otteretto and Mixolumina. I learned something very important about myself though those games: It turns out I still really love puzzle games about matching squares and popping them and so on–Bejeweled-likes, if you would–and what I resent is that the genre is now riddled with mobile games that are trying to make you spend money or watch ads, instead of just selling me a funny little square game.