Hey! That was a nice, impromptu vacation. I have returned.
I was quite gloomy with last year’s list, lamenting about my job prospects and general lifestyle. That will not be so this year, as I’ve found a comfortable position to be in, thanks in part to self-motivated initiative and (perhaps) continued hard work. Thankfully, my life outlook is more optimistic as of now, with prospects for the future hopefully in play.
In my third year with KeenGamer, I’ve gotten a lot more work as an editor than as a writer, which is both nice and not-nice. It improves my eye for site quality and flexibility, but there are times when I miss the days where my responsibilities consisted solely of writing good shit. Kind of like with a blog. Nevertheless, my output with reviews was a bit shorter this year, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t play any quality games. And, well, with COVID-19 roaring in, it’s a year many would love to have pass as quickly as possible. As such, allow me to document the Top 10 best games I reviewed with KeenGamer in my third year. I will link my own reviews for further clarity as well as link store pages, because many are indie titles and you should always support indies.
[Small and maybe unwarranted note, but I don’t receive review copies for everything I review.]
10. Evan’s Remains
Evan’s Remains is a very unique game. Mysterious, elusive, and very complex with its plot—the likes not generally associated with a humble indie project. Less than $10 on most platforms, the game shouldn’t take you more than a few hours. And yet, the experience that takes place is something unlike many others.
To be frank, it’s pretty convoluted. Ancient ruins, a mysterious curse, human complexity; it dabbles on a lot of “deep” topics that make for a story that still sticks with me, even if only in general beats. It’s ambiguous and keeps a lot up to interpretation, which I liked. If nothing else, playing Evan’s Remains is worth it for its narrative alone—if that’s your thing, the game provides the option to skip all gameplay segments.
Of that gameplay, it’s pretty straightforward with its puzzles, which involves careful platforming and placement. Manipulate bizarre mechanisms to place yourself in position to scale tall towers after each puzzle. I didn’t think it was quite as impressive as the story, but it does the job. Again, the gameplay portions can be skipped if not to your liking (I believe there’s even an achievement for skipping a puzzle on Steam). Nevertheless, some may pass this off as “non-game narrative fluff,” but the structure of what a “game” is is changing by the day, whether people like it or not. Give it a shot.
9. Coffee Talk
For those in the know, let’s get the easy VA-11 Hall-A comparisons out of the way early. Yes, this is basically a fantasy version with similar mechanics. Nevertheless, Coffee Talk still manages to make a name for itself through style and conundrums it brings to the table.
Kind of like Evan’s Remains before this, the narrative is what enthused me about this game upon review. I enjoy the characters and the subtle cues of intimacy between various people. The pixel artistry is phenomenal and the ASMR quality to the sound effects was extra appealing for me, as I am into that. There is a noteworthy purity to the atmosphere of the game, which is only moderately challenged by the various plotlines that occur throughout. If nothing else, Coffee Talk gets by on its cozy vibes.
Also kind of like Evan’s Remains, the gameplay aspects are a little suspect. You mix combinations of ingredients and make coffee and coffee-related drinks. You do this for several hours in-between reading dialogue. Sounds just like DOOM, doesn’t it? A very laid-back game, it doesn’t challenge the player too often, only making things a little tense during scripted moments. It’s much more of a visual novel than it is anything else, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying it out even if those aren’t to your liking. The aura is intoxicating; the characters lovely. Or perhaps this isn’t recommendable if you don’t like people… but where’s the fun in that?
8. Shantae and the Seven Sirens
Allow me to start this by parroting most other people: It’s no Pirate’s Curse, but it’s a pretty good entry in the series!
Re-familiarizing myself with the series recently (sans Half-Genie Hero), I’ve come to the sobering realization that despite my adoration for the Shantae series, I don’t actually find many of the games very good. Pirate’s Curse is fantastic for multiple reasons, but outside of that… they’re fine… Seven Sirens is cool because it broke the barely-above-mediocre curse (ha) that plagued the series in my mind.
What makes Seven Sirens especially nice is the gameplay control and input. It adds nifty transformations that can be accessed almost immediately that make playing as Shantae really fun. Shooting from wall to wall, burrowing underground, and rolling around as a top-like turtle, this was probably the most fun game in the series to play outside the always-pedestaled Pirate’s Curse.
What didn’t impress me was, well, just about everything else. Writing and story are pretty suspect, the new implementations via card system and all-sexy-women-bosses are kind of… meh… and the soundtrack is the first to not feature Jake Kaufman, and it shows (hears?). Not to say any of these things are terrible, but it simply pales in comparison to other games in the series, even outside Pirate’s Curse. Despite these faults, the gameplay mechanics and how much fun I had playing as Shantae has rewarded Seven Sirens the number-two spot in my Shantae games tier list. If you want to get into the series, this would be a solid starting spot.
Visual novels are real games. There’s my gaming hot take for the post.
Mizuchi gets credit for being not only nice to look at, but splendidly written in a way that makes each character grounded and complex. All the more impressive is that two of those characters are either not human or not a normal human being. To be able to make characters that are otherwise alien seem relatable is a great quality for visual novels.
A fantasy setting inspired by Chinese folklore—legend of the White Snake—it takes some liberties to craft a tale of its own. With Yuri insinuations at the forefront, it’s a game about bonding with the characters in a way that allows for introspection and deeply emotional feedback. Something so narrative-heavy doesn’t inspire much deeper discussion without spoiling things. Just play it!
6. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Yeah, this being on the list should surprise no one. However, some may be surprised to see this so… low?
Animal Crossing is supreme comfort food for many. The light graphics, the cozy atmosphere, the friendly and colorful villagers; it’s practically titillating. People were hyped for the release of New Horizons, and based on the 90 Metacritic score at the moment, it didn’t disappoint many. Me? It was Animal Crossing—it is what it is.
There are actually a ton of things I don’t care for in New Horizons, much of which has already been pointed out by many players. The obscene amount of menus, the lack of a “choose multiple” option when crafting, very few differences between villager personality types; the list goes on. I personally don’t care for how slow the game is, though the overall game has a ton of merit, too.
I really like the Miles system. Giving the player motivation to continue to play the game and do all sorts of daily activities definitely helped me keep at it for over a month. Upgrades to one’s home and town feel more worthwhile, and if everything wasn’t so god damn slow, I might still be trying out different aesthetics to my town. It’s the fourth time Animal Crossing has gotten me to play its game daily for at least a month, and that trend doesn’t seem to be stopping soon. While the updates aren’t enough to bring me back, I’ve put well over 100 hours into the game. That has to count for something, right?
5. Mythic Ocean
It was actually pretty close between this and New Horizons. In the end, I thought Mythic Ocean was just a tad more charming. Call it the indie flavor in me.
On paper, Mythic Ocean is a pretty empty game. You swim around and talk to people, and then things happen. Great, a walking (swimming?) simulator. The catch is that what you do has consequences, whom you choose to address will affect the ending. It’s a novel that weaves and turns based on your choices, with an ending that doesn’t affect just you or the characters you interact with, but the entire universe.
You are grooming gods-to-be. How you shape their ideals and attitude will determine how they choose to rule over all of existence.
It’s not the most detailed or intricate plot structure around, but for a humble indie title, it’s an incredible achievement in storytelling and empathy. An atmospheric, intriguing god-raising simulator that I found myself smitten by very early on. Visually appealing with a soundtrack that beautifully immerses, it’s something I would wholeheartedly recommend.
4. Ministry of Broadcast
Have I ever mentioned that I like politics? I think politics are cool. Not many think so, but it’s fun to me. I don’t usually voice it because I know it turns people off. Too confrontational; I understand. Nevertheless, poignant political narratives fascinate me.
I had actually been following the development of Ministry of Broadcast for a couple months prior to its release. The synopsis of “1984 meets reality TV” was such an odd concept that I couldn’t help but be hyped. Great pixel art and atmosphere also help, because I love both. When it came time to play the game, it was easy to find myself lost in it.
All I’ll say is that this is another game that I would highly recommend to those who love story-driven games. It’s a puzzle-platformer at its base, but a lot of what occurs tends to service the dark themes that are at play. Running away from giant alligators, sacrificing lives to further your progress… I should probably stop there. It gets a little mean. 🙂
3. Outbuddies DX
About a year ago, I reviewed the original Outbuddies when it first released on Steam. I won’t link it because one can easily access it from the review linked above. Initially it was stiff, rough, and hard to adjust to—a game that had a lot of details in places outside of basic accessibility. A game developed over the course of six years, counting its DX edition, I have played over the game twice. The DX version is a bit better.
There are some questionable leaps for accessibility that I didn’t care for—bosses now have literally pointers as to where to go to avoid certain death/how to win. That kind of ruins the tone of immersion when you have the game just… show you what to do. Personal pickings. However, it also provides general fine-tunings upgrades that make the game more accessible in other measures.
Not the prettiest game, not the most coordinated control scheme, and much of the overall game is dark and deeply ingrained. What it offers is a very passionate portrayal of the metroidvania genre in ways not many takes too deeply. Dark, atmospheric, doesn’t reveal much, and with a soundtrack that is almost entirely ambience. It’s, in a word, neat.
What the hell is this? SHEEPO? What is a SHEEPO? It’s bizarre, it’s absurd! It’s SHEEPO!
A puzzle-platformer that does not feature (almost) any violence, it’s an oddball premise with self-aware writing that give it indie-esque charm. Weird, but more importantly fun. Puzzles are solid, gameplay is floatily responsive, and the overall journey is memorable and charming. I can’t think of any other superlatives!
Play the game! It’s good!
1. Luigi’s Mansion 3
Has it really been almost a year since this released? Man, I should really finish th—uh, er… never mind.
To be honest, Luigi’s Mansion is kind of a niche appeal to me now; while the first game is nostalgic to me, it’s also a very “okay” kind of game. Not much replayability and more of a “cute” game to look back on fondly for what it was: an experimental venture to provide Luigi the spotlight. I never touched Dark Moon, and the announcement of a third game took me (and likely many others) by complete shock. Yet the more I saw trailers and new mechanics for it, the more I became intrigued by the prospect of playing my first Luigi’s Mansion game in nearly two decades.
If not for Fire Emblem: Three Houses, this would be my GOTY for 2019.
Far more detailed, far more fleshed out, and completely reinvented to suit new capabilities, it was the pinnacle of what Luigi’s Mansion could be, realized. I had great fun exploring, discovering, sucking, and gooing myself throughout each area, explicitly detailed to be different from the last. Varying in mechanics and even size, there was just as much explosive memorability here as there was in, say, Super Mario Odyssey. There’s a reason the flavor text in my review refers it to “Luigi’s Odyssey.” It’s pretty fucking great.
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.