This year I put down the Switch and picked-up the Xbox controller. Microsoft has deftly positioned themselves as a service-focused platform with Xbox Game Pass (the “Netflix of games”). At risk of sounding like an advert, Game Pass is a perfect companion for anyone wanting a built-in indie game library. I played (or at least started) several high profile games, but it was mostly the indie hits that captured me this year.
#10 – Overwatch 2
For the second year in a row, a first-person shooter snuck its way onto one of my favorite experiences of the year. For the uninitiated, Overwatch 2 is a role-based, objective focused team shooter. Character types called tanks are meant to blunt damage to teammates, Damage-focused players’ (DPS for short) role is to rack-up kills against the enemy team, and support characters’ focus is to keep them from death. Matches are objective-based such as defending/attacking points on the map or escort roles where the team has to fight while pushing-along a cart or robot.
The fundamental change in the sequel is reducing team size to five-versus-five matches. Only one tank adds additional pressure on DPS and support to play more aggressively. That high risk/high reward push and pull adds a lot of great tension to the close matches. The ability to search for a game by role made matchmaking nearly immediate, a great feature for the support role I play. Each class has a healthy pool of characters to choose from, and the tide turns in a match often enough where switching characters can mean victory. A lot of this is contingent on getting the right teammates working together, but Overwatch 2 is mostly more of the same, and that’s a good thing.
#9 – Curse Crackers: For Whom the Belle Toils
Curse Crackers: For Whom the Belle Toils is the mixture of Game Boy Color aesthetics with snappy, fluid gameplay I didn’t know I needed. Belle moves like butter with a nice floaty jump. The floating orb you can lob at enemies or as a platform to hop adds a whole new range of motion. The soundtrack has a dynamic melody that swells at key parts of the story. All this and a limited-palette pixel art style make recommending this for anyone needing a retro platformer itch scratched.
#8 – House Flipper
House Flipper is part of a whole subsection of games focused on doing “Work-like” tasks – mowing lawns, power washing, or any task you’d be terrible at in real life. House Flipper presents a series of levels with individual challenges to learn basic skills like painting, installing fixtures, demolition, and furniture installation. Next you take those earnings and buy buildings to renovate the property to put on the market for bid. Beyond the finance management, it has a sort of satisfying paint-by-numbers feel, placing rooms and furnishing them with styles buyers will bite for. I quickly learned my artistic imagination is limited, but that didn’t stop me from flipping more.
#7 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection
Beyond the animated series, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were also featured in some of the most noteworthy arcade and console beat-em-ups in the genre. The thirteen game compilation ranging from Game Boy to Arcade is a historical document of how games evolved with the times. That evolution produced varying degrees of quality, but the best are second to none and features like save states and rewind make even the most difficult game approachable. The special features are a dizzying archive of music, manuals, box art, and the animated series. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection was made with love and it resulted in a playable historical piece worth preserving.
#6 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
If The Cowabunga Collection was a wistful look to the past, then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is the bright future ahead. Dotemu found the right balance between arcade brawler and console conveniences. The combat is manic and each character has a different locomotion, changing the flow of movement. Progressing by leveling up, gaining new moves, and powering up abilities feels good and adds a layer that gives you an excuse to keep coming back. Matching up to six players makes a chaos engine, barely able to track what’s on screen. The art and audio are rooted in the arcade classic’s style but modernized just enough to feel fresh. Easy recommendation.
#5 – The Quarry
The Quarry’s story is well-trodden ground: a group of camp counselors’ last night at the lodge goes from campfire partying to surviving nightmare creatures in the woods. Its draw is how it lets you pull the direction of the story’s outcome and who survives by choosing points of conversation, directions to go in, and actions to take. The actors’ performances elevate the characters from basic archetypes to well-developed personalities. The scares are placed at just the right moments and the audio production is stellar. Supermassive Games’ long history of “your choices have consequences” horror stories makes it no surprise that The Quarry is one of the best produced experiences this year.
#4 – SIFU
SIFU’s “each death ages you” lives system is an idea plucked from my brain and put onto my Switch. A game that punishes you more with each life lost felt novel, but I had no clue how you’d do that approachably. Sloclap took me through the path of pain, a murderer’s row of thugs and bosses with crippling attacks. In my best moments, I was the hero of a kung fu movie, chaining together beatdowns while bob-and-weaving punches like Muhammad Ali, but those were few and far between. I’ve swallowed my pride and went easy mode, but the hunger to get good has kept me coming back.
#3 – Tinykin
Sometimes video games are there for a low-stress environment to explore with easily achievable goals. That’s Tinykin, the story of an astronaut who crash landed on a planet and needs help finding their way home with a teeming bug community that suspiciously looks like a house from the 90’s. Collecting the Tinykin bugs and using them to climb heights, blow up things, and carry large objects are fun tools to explore these giant hallways, kitchens, and bathrooms. The levels are littered with cute characters and clever writing. The team at tinyBuild made a game that’s fun, relaxing, and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
#2 – Vampire Survivors
It’s such a simple idea – move a character that shoots a weapon automatically while enemies crawl toward you on screen. The devil is in the details like a castlevania inspired world, a ton of unlockable characters and levels, flashy weapons, and a power-up system that rewards patience to get the right matching abilities but allows creativity in how you play. The waves of monsters wax and wane, eventually littering the entire screen near the end. But there’s this awesome threshold you reach when all attacks are fully leveled up and can just put down the controller and watch as everything around you is obliterated. It’s easy to play either for a short round or an extended session, and passes the “would my kids like this?” Test. Vampire Survivors is available just about anywhere, and belongs in your library.
#1 – Spiderheck
Spiderheck is the quintessential multiplayer deathmatch party game. Weapons like laser swords, shotguns, explosives, and guns that shoot laser swords feel distinct, are fun to use, and have an explosive flair. Matches are quick hits, so levels are cycled through quickly if you don’t like the one you’re on. But web-swinging is the defining feature. I started as a flailing spider tossed into lava or straight into a laser sword. Now I swing like an acrobat between ledges, hurtling toward opponents like a homing Missile. Spiderheck also got into our family gaming rotation, and has been an ongoing competition since. This game is fun at any skill level, zany to boot, and one I can’t recommend enough.