Well, dear readers, it’s time for that most hallowed of game reviewer traditions; the end of the year list. I’m not actually all that crazy about this tradition though. For me, the problem is games, indie games especially, all aim for such different targets that I can’t even begin to compare them on the same merits as each other. So instead of a traditional list, I’m going to crib notes from my editor-in-chief, Josh Hinke’s, book and give a list of games I’m still talking and thinking about. This list is not exhaustive. Heck, this list isn’t even a list of the best games of the year. This is just the indie games that stuck with me. So here are my arbitrary awards to recognize the games that really stuck with me this year.

 

Dankest Dungeoneering: Darkest Dungeon

You know what’s fun? Pain. Okay, maybe not actual pain, but the pain of a good challenge. Darkest Dungeon provides that in spades. In so many roguelikes, it often becomes easy to settle into a tried and true routine. Darkest Dungeon keeps me in a position where I never feel safe. Every battle feels hard fought; every victory, hard won; and no windfall of resources ever lets me feel like I’ve beaten the game. Darkest Dungeon keeps its player on their toes in a way that challenges them and demands more and more of their attention.

Also, shout out to Wayne June for providing some of the best game narration this side of Bastion.

darkest dungeon

Most Impressive Member: Cobra Club

Member. Get it? Because it’s a game about sexting. Bad humor and bizarre concept aside, Cobra Club is unlike any other game I have played or seen. I first played Cobra Club out of a sense of bile fascination; a game about dick pics, it had to be terrible. I was pleasantly surprised. Cobra Club is more clever than it appears on the surface and is, somehow, one of the most insightful and (shockingly) mature games about sexuality I’ve encountered.

I cannot in good conscience recommend this game to most people; a game about non-titillating male nudity was never meant to reach a broad audience. But if you possess the special set of sensibilities required to tolerate a game about dicks and data security, Cobra Club is a lot more than its initial premise might suggest.

cobra club

Coolest Skeletons: Undertale

Undertale is a heck of a game. With a charming cast, gripping gameplay, and one of my favorite soundtracks of all time, I would dare call it a towering success in game design. It’s actually far easier to list the things Undertale does wrong than the litany of things it does right. In fact, the only major criticism I can make of Undertale is its metaplot is deeply flawed and relies on a moral cosmology that’s shaky at best.

Even with its ham-handed and over-reaching meta-narrative, Undertale is a triumphant demonstration of how games are capable of uniquely engaging the audience in a way close to impossible for books and movies. Developer, Toby Fox has made something really special in this little gem and I cannot recommend it enough.

undertale

Most Russian Game: Pathologic HD

Years ago, Pathologic with its overbearing grimness, dark story, and beautifully dissonant soundtrack became my favorite game that I never wanted to play ever again. Now, developer, Ice Pick Lodge, released an HD rerelease of this old game with new voice acting, new graphics, a new translation, and all of its old problems. Pathologic HD is still not a ‘good’ game. Even with almost a decade of improvements, the game is still an oppressive trudge with a dubious translation.

So why is it on this list? Pathologic is, paradoxically, great because of its limitations. The game is distilled psychological horror and I am not sure it could be nearly as effective as it is without its rougher qualities. This is a good remake because its updates made the game slightly more accessible without damaging any of what made it so bleak and frightening.

Pathologic

Sickest Rhymes: The Golden Order

Let me hit you with the premise; you are naked and about to be fed to a giant goldfish. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Golden Order.

In spite of being only a short little diversion born from a Twine game jam, the Golden Order remains one of the most memorable little yarns I saw this year. It reads like Lovecraft and Doctor Seuss had a literary child. It’s short, it’s sweet, it still has me telling people that they need to give it a look.

golden order

 

Hopefully this will give you a few more games to play in 2016. With all the games I arbitrarily listed and more, 2015 was a good year for indie gaming. It’s real challenge staying on top of all of the interesting games that are coming out so let me know if I missed any arbitrary award worthy games.