This past year was an interesting one for me when it came to gaming. Two moves across state lines to start new jobs didn’t leave a lot of opportunity for games, both in terms of time and finances. Because of this, a lot of what I played this year depended on whatever was on sale and whatever my friends generously gifted to me. I’m not complaining, though, because that exposed me to a plethora of games I normally wouldn’t even glance at.
While not every game on this list made its way to my top favorites, I’m genuinely happy I got a chance to experience all of them. I hope you get a chance too!
Genre: Space, Exploration, Puzzle
Developer: Mobius Digital
Platform: PC, PS4 & 5, Xbox One & Series
Release Date: June 2020
Outer Wilds is the game that made its way to my top favorites of all time. I was worried this game would not live up to the high praise from my friends who recommended it to me. On top of that, I’m not a big fan of space-themed media. Nevertheless, a month after beating the game and currently playing the DLC, I can confidently say that Outer Wilds went above and beyond my expectations.
Writing about Outer Wilds is tricky, because you genuinely want to know nothing about this game when you start your playthrough. The gameplay itself is pretty standard for a non-combat, adventure game: you walk, hover, steer a ship, and interact with objects and people. But that’s okay, because your focus is better spent on the story, which you unravel piece by piece with each new discovery.
It’s been a long time since I craved returning to a game. Because I live-streamed my playthrough, I had a very set schedule of when I would and would not play Outer Wilds. There were many times I fudged my schedule just to play a little more. The settings are beautiful, the soundtrack is powerful, and the characters are delightfully memorable (especially for how little you get to interact with them).
The part of my Outer Wilds playthrough that especially made it so enjoyable is the community of fans that joined in. For games like Outer Wilds which heavily depend on the first-play experience, streamers have to be vigilant about people who spoil the game. As new folk entered my chat, I noticed right away that the Outer Wilds community has a mutual understanding that we do not ruin the first experience for new players. I remember when there was a chatter who unintentionally spoiled some content, and the others immediately jumped on it to stop that chatter. It was both heart warming and terrifying how coordinated they were.
Outer Wilds’ greatest flaw is how little replay value there is. I’m currently playing the DLC, which quells some of the cravings, but I know this will be over soon as well. Nevertheless, this game has made its way to my all-time favorite games, and I can’t wait to see what Mobius Digital comes out with next.
Genre: Action-Adventure, RPG
Platform: Switch, PC, Xbox One
Release Date: September 2021
I’m cheating a bit with Eastward because I started playing it in 2021 but finished in 2022. I think it still counts for this list!
Eastward is an action RPG with a heavy focus on exploration and puzzle solving. You mainly play as John, our silent protagonist, with his trusty frying pan and bombs. Throughout the game, though, you also get to play as his adopted daughter, Sam, who uses support magic to stun enemies and clear paths. You’re placed in a world that is being devastated by a toxic substance called MIASMA which chases John and Sam out of each new town they settle in.
The game is inspired by various classics such as Legend of Zelda, Earthbound, and Final Fantasy, yet still feels unique with its own story and atmosphere. While the pacing of the game felt off at times, it was nice to simply walk through the world and take in the beautiful art and animation in this game.
Developer: BlueTwelve Studio
Platform: PC, PS4&5
Release Date: July 2022
It’s the cat game! Stray was such a delight from beginning to end. You play as a cat who fell into an underground city that was once inhabited by humans and robots, but now only the robots remain. You find a drone companion who helps you find a way back up to the surface, but of course, there are various obstacles and monsters along that dangerous trek.
For myself, and I’m sure for many others, the biggest draw to this game is the fact you get to play as a cat. As the owner of 3 cats myself, I regularly found myself squealing for each cat-specific interaction there was in the game. I greatly appreciated the subtle things the developers added, such as our kitty’s reaction to wearing a vest or getting our head stuck in a paper bag. But with that same energy, it was heart wrenching any time our poor kitty got injured or died. But this motivated me to play even better in order to protect our sweet, furry boy!
Even if you’re not a cat fan, this game is still worth a playthrough. It has a nice balance of switching between linear gameplay to open-world elements of exploration. Interacting with the robots was a lot of fun, and there are a bunch of collectibles and achievements for those treasure hunters out there.
For the King
Genre: Turn-based RPG, roguelike
Developer: IronOak Games
Platform: PC, Switch, XBox One, PS4
Release Date: April 2018
For the King has been the current obsession for my partner and I lately. FTG is a roguelike, turnbased RPG with several adventures to choose from. You can play by yourself or up to 2 other adventurers (there are online lobbies if you need people to play with). Similar to other RPGs, you can select your class which determines your proficiency in certain traits (strength, vitality, intelligence, awareness, talent, speed, and luck). You explore the world together, taking on various monsters, clearing dungeons, and completing quests. Combat in this game works similarly to Dungeons & Dragons, where it can feel like a dice roll. However, your stats in a trait will increase the success of your roll.
The concept is simple, but the amount of hours you can put in are plenty. The game has a large amount of unlockable content, including extra characters, equipment, new map locations, and random encounters. I don’t know if this was intentional, but the art looks like little carved miniatures, which I find incredibly endearing.
The best part is For the King 2 is set to release in 2023! Because of this, the first game is on sale right now and would be worth giving a try if you’re not sure how you’ll feel about it. My partner and I have already agreed we’ll be playing For the King 2 once it comes out. Hopefully it’s just as fun as its predecessor.
Genre: Roguelite, Twin Stick Shooter
Platform: PC, Switch, XBox One, PS4
Release Date: May 2019
I played this game with my friend in South Korea while we were waiting for food to arrive at her place, and I have not been able to stop playing since. Blazing Beaks doesn’t particularly stand out in the roguelite shooter category. A lot of reviews call it a simpler Enter the Gungeon, which I think is a fair statement. What makes Blazing Beaks unique is its bright, aesthetically-pleasing artwork and a mechanic called “artifacts.”
Throughout the game, you can pick up various artifacts that give you different debuffs, for example, slowing down your movement speed or randomly jamming your gun. Each artifact has a certain level of risk, with the more severe debuffs having higher risk value. When you enter a shop (which only spawns once or twice per area), you can trade in your artifacts for different upgrades according to how much risk you obtained. This makes for an interesting high-risk-high-reward style of play as you go through each run.
Unfortunately, the RNG in Blazing Beaks can be incredibly punishing, as risk value only determines the quantity of upgrades and not the quality. It’s so discouraging to go through an area with several debuffs only to receive circumstantial upgrades (i.e. when I die, my teammate gets all my coins). There are other RNG elements that can make for a frustrating run, such as a shop full of terrible weapons or a poorly generated map.
And yet, despite some of these glaring issues, I keep coming back to play. It’s simple and charming, and I don’t need a game to be perfect to have fun.
Kiwi has chosen to remain somewhat anonymous, but is a well liked and fun Twitch streamer who does a lot for charitable causes.