Top 10 Favorite Games After Four Years With KeenGamer

I mentioned last year that my productivity in terms of titles reviewed was fairly low. While I cannot remember the exact number, this past year was pretty low, as well—only twenty games. This would imply that the ten games I cover today will make up a clean half of the games I’ve reviewed between September 30th, 2020 and the same day, 2021. Nevertheless, there’s a solid selection of titles I’ve come across that make up the best games I’ve played in year four of my KeenGamer career.

No personal input from me this time around; life’s been relatively good. Work has been steady and I have no major complaints. If there’s been any reason for the lack of games reviewed, it could just be the increased responsibilities I have now that I work for Keen full-time. That said, I’ve already published a Metroid Dread review since the cutoff and will likely have another review out in the coming days. Off to a good start for next year!

Small and maybe unwarranted note, but I don’t receive review copies for everything I review. Also, since I’ve formally reviewed all games in the following list, I won’t go into substantive detail here.

10. Märchen Forest: Mylne and the Forest Gift

Official Review: [Click Me]

Platforms: Steam / Switch / PS4

Interesting story behind this particular game: I’ve actually reviewed it twice. The first was years prior, in mid-2018, when the game first released on Steam as a much shorter game. In the time since then, the developer worked to bring new content to the game via DLC, and eventually decided to completely re-build the game, complete with graphical overhaul. Such led to this current version of Märchen Forest that’s available for modern-ish consoles.

While not a great title, there is a lot of charm to the ambition of the project, which was more apparent to me given I’ve played both versions. Intense graphical upgrades, gameplay balancing, and a somewhat unforgiving third act make it a pretty solid title… assuming you get to that point.

I did end up enjoying some of the harder aspects of survival-RPG in the third act. It’s where the game really hits its stride—unfortunately, when you get to that point, you realize how all that came before pales deeply in comparison. Not to mention, it goes from adequately strenuous to blisteringly tough in the blink of an eye. The jumps from parts one to two to three are almost different games with different expectations.

Even with that, I did enjoy my time with the passion project. It’s recommendable for those who enjoy contained adventure titles and, eventually, survival-RPG elements. And hey, Mylne’s cute. Why wouldn’t you want to help her out? ($35 is a tad steep, though.)

9. Raptor Boyfriend: A High School Romance

Official Review: [Click Me]

Platforms: Steam

There’s quite a bit to like about Raptor Boyfriend. An indomitable heart, an intriguing premise, relatable dialogue; open-minded players are sure to enjoy their time with Stella. The first time around, that is.

While a sweet go-around overall, there’s not too much emphasis on replayability, especially when one comes to realize their choices hardly matter. A few different lines of dialogue, but endings rarely change. Keeping in mind that this is an indie debut work, there’s also not too much content itself to the game, particularly for visual novel standards. A rather straightforward story.

But come on, a raptor boyfriend? That’s such an intriguing premise just as a concept, and this team turned it into a whole game. Not just that, but a fae and bigfoot also come into play. A sweet mix of fantasy and reality, along with a portrait of the past. The ’90s aesthetic is well on display—fashion, cassette tapes, old answering machines, and rundown high schools. Its overall aesthetic, outside of being pleasantly bold, captures it all brilliantly.

As a debut work, it’s pretty solid. Those fond of some coming-of-age, romance stories will get a lot of mileage out of this. Robert is best boy.

8. Webbed

Official Review: [Click Me]

Platforms: Steam / GOG / Humble

Face your fears, reader. Play as a spider and swing around with reckless abandon. I promise you that it’s a lot of fun.

Being able to casually shoot in any direction, being propelled toward the landing point and flying through the air, there’s nothing like it. I was enamored from the first minute playing this game—just the prospect of physics-based air gliding is a dream. If that was all there was to Webbed, it may not have even mattered.

Yet there is a central plot to the game, as well as other situations to encounter and characters to interact with. And to some extent, that’s where the game falters. Certain areas, particularly ones better emphasizing prop-based puzzles, aren’t near as fun as simply traversing obstacles mid-air. A lot of busywork ends up just so—busywork. Borderline filler content to keep one’s motivation in the game.

An incredible base gameplay mechanic is more than enough to make this worth purchasing, though. You’re almost literally Spider-Man, only female and an actual spider. Flying around the forest, with the only random diversion being a very awkward skateboarding section, it’s certainly memorable enough.

7. Forgotten Fields

Official Review: [Click Me]

Platforms: Steam / GOG

Looking into this game again for this list, I was shocked to discover how low its overall scores were on Metacritic. Sporting just an aggregated 58, I think that’s insultingly low. It’s not the most complex game, nor was it 100% functional at launch (I remember struggling with things, too). Nevertheless, it’s a really tender and personal story that really resonated with me, bugs or not.

Nostalgia is something I personally struggle(?) with often. Knowing where one was at one point, the passage of time, and how things have evolved and changed. It’s an immensely fascinating topic to ponder on, and one I revel in often. Indeed, nostalgia can be weaponized for evil purposes (mass profit), but others can interpret the sensation to suit their own stories. Forgotten Fields gauges this well, and it’s something I enjoyed quite a bit.

Even so, some of the functional capabilities do hamper the experience. The overall aesthetic and movement can also be an adjustment, sporting a very “aloof” interpretation. Generally easy to follow, only not always, it’s a pretty experimental project. As great as it is for things to be a technical masterpiece, some stories just vibe with me. This is one that does so splendidly.

Returning to home, reminiscing about the past, maybe getting a ball out of a tree. While not exactly the aesthetic I call “home,” it was easy for me to empathize with the situation the protagonist goes through. And the atmosphere. That helped tremendously.

6. MAMIYA

Official Review: [Click Me]

Platforms: Steam

What intrigued me initially about MAMIYA was how little information was provided. Four young men go through some serious shit before the end of the world. That’s pretty much all that’s detailed. What in the hell could that mean? Already intrigued by the artstyle and atmosphere, I was determined to find out.

Upon finishing it, I was drained almost entirely. Ruthlessly psychological and dark, it plays with the human psyche like an apathetic god. No character is totally redeemable, totally connected to stable sanity. While moody or gruff or oddly optimistic on the outside, many throughout are hopeless, lost causes in need of saving.

Without spoiling too much, as one delves deeper into the storyline, the more it plays with the idea of redemption, of self-satisfaction, of the morality of perceived altruism. How delightful it is to see a story combat the generally easygoing nature of good vs. evil without a second thought. In MAMIYA, good and evil is (kind of) subjective, with “good” people doing “bad” things—occasionally vice versa. It all depends on your viewpoint.

This is all in-between some occasionally over-the-top situations that come straight out of an edgy YA novel. It’s one thing to make characters sympathetic, it’s another to paint their lives as absurdly dramatic as possible. The balance isn’t too kind in some cases, so that can drag the experience down. More than anything, though, it’s quite memorable.

5. New Pokémon Snap

Official Review: [Click Me]

Platforms: Switch

I am old enough to be able to say that I actually recall the rise of Poké-mania in the United States. Some of my own personal memories include collecting Pokémon-themed cards that were made available for a while at Burger King, watching the Pokémon anime on television and VHS (and the first few movies), and purchasing guidebooks that detailed each Gen 1 pokémon’s typing, height and weight, moveset, and so forth. And of course, I played some games, too.

While I actually didn’t play any mainline games until Gen 2, among my first ever Pokémon titles were Pokémon Stadium and, more important for the point of this flashback sequence, Pokémon Snap. So when The Pokémon Company randomly announced a sequel to the latter, I was floored. I would be able to take pictures of a hefty selection of pokémon once again, just like when I was a wee lad.

To cut to the chase, I actually like it better than the original. Absolutely packed with content and a steady amount of replayability. Far more environments than before with different paths, different times of day, and many different pokémon to capture (in film). Lovely, contained visuals and a variety of ways to interact with the creatures in each area. It’s a phenomenal sequel that build upon the original in almost every way.

There are some faults, however. As enjoyable as it is, the central shtick of the illuminati pokémon or whatever the hell they’re called is pretty uneventful. By far my least favorite stages to play involved trying to take pictures of these giant, glowing pokémon in an incredibly slow track around a cramped environment. Even worse, the story revolving around them is also very boring and not worth investing in. I kind of wanted everyone to shut up… all the time…

If the idea of taking pictures of pokémon suits your fancy, this is the best game for that specific craving.

4. Phoenotopia: Awakening

Official Review: [Click Me]

Platforms: Switch / Steam / GOG / PS4 / XB1

All right, now we’re gettin’ into the real good games I reviewed in year four.

Phoenotopia: Awakening is a slow-burn adventure. Getting a feel for the controls, capabilities, and all that is to come can be a bit overwhelming. Its rigidness is not to everyone’s taste. Combat may not be as satisfying to some. For me, after a couple hours, it became apparent that I was knee-deep in something I would willingly drown myself in.

Getting involved with the characters along the way; exploring new environments that will both enthrall and challenge; listening to the catchy tunes that invite spirited adventure. I mean listen to this—I’m ready to go for weeks! There is so, so much greatness packaged into this game that perfectly embodies adventure and personal satisfaction!

Puzzles—I learned Sudoku for this damn game. Action—boss fights and meaty enemies abound. Adventure—the game’s length ranges from 25-35 hours, spanning multiple locations and town hubs. Hits all the good bits of my personal preference for games: sprite-based, 2D action-adventure, puzzle-focused, slightly search-action.

But aside from my own niche bias, there’s so much magic to this game that I think is worth investing in. There are some slight cracks to the game that may turn some off, particularly due to its almost time-capsule feeling. Where it succeeds, it harnesses all the qualities of something that is “good” and makes it better than good. I’m running out of ways to compliment the game… play it.

3. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury

Official Review: [Click Me]

Platforms: Switch

C’mon now. You probably figured you’d see a mainline Mario game on here, should one have released. Nintendo is basically the only huge company I care about, with my childhood filled to the brim with its consoles and games. Some may see this as a standard port of one game to another console—that’s fine. What puts this over the top for me is the new content, specifically.

To be blunt, I actually didn’t care too much for Super Mario 3D World when it launched on the Wii U. At the time, I believed it to be a rather standard Mario adventure without much of a central personality to help it stand out. Even playing it for the Switch, I was prepared to have a wall of passive boredom overtake me while going through the (relatively) unchanged portions of the main game.

Thankfully, what instead occurred was a pretty enjoyable adventure in the 3D space, with a nice variety of different ways to go about levels and use the cat power (which, again, I didn’t like at first). Never had I realized that it was so creative in distinguishing levels from one another in different ways. Some require cloning oneself, another has you riding on Plessie, and another is a giant homage to Mario Kart. Never a dull moment, even if it wasn’t quite to the heights of prior games.

Again, though, it was the Bowser’s Fury portion that I was excited for. Shockingly, it’s really polished and fun! Like Super Mario Odyssey meets 3D World, an open-world-esque collect-a-thon platformer with oodles of secrets and challenges. About as long as a semi-long indie title, there’s a decent amount of content to warrant the re-packaged version of this Wii U hit. And hey, you might just like it better than the parent game… like I did.

2. Axiom Verge 2

Official Review: [Click Me]

Platforms: Switch / Epic Store / PS4

More than any game on this list (including #1), this was the one I was most hyped for. Watching an Indie Showcase in late 2019, they introduced Tom Happ, developer of Axiom Verge, who dropped a bombshell: He was developing a sequel, and provided a trailer of the work to that point. I was absolutely incredulous. It immediately became my most anticipated indie game to come—I adore Axiom Verge.

Imagine my mood when, after a few delays, Tom surprise-launched the game nine days before my 28th birthday. To say I was excited would be like saying DOOM is “somewhat violent.”

The early goings of the game were… rough. So much was different, so much had changed. It was almost completely unlike the Axiom Verge I enjoyed so dearly. Atmosphere, combat, story—every aspect seemed to be overhauled. It was both identifiably Axiom Verge and a different product altogether. It was… alienating.

Yet I continued. Hours went by and, eventually, I saw what I believe Tom wanted the game to be. Emphasizing exploration, immersion; a portal to another world carried by the uncanny similarities with reality and a haunting score by Mayssa Karaa. Never before had an Axiom Verge world felt so expansive and free. Whatever your thoughts on the combat, simply traversing the environment is utter joy. It wasn’t what I expected, and while it took a while, I appreciate it all the more for it.

A great game for search-action aficionados, so long as you can get past the somewhat underwhelming combat system. If you want my opinion, combat is a minor point to the game, with the emphasis on puzzles, exploring, and story. Otherwise, it’s developed by Tom Happ—of course it’s great.

Unexpectedly, though, it wasn’t the best indie game I played in this span.

1. Prodigal

Official Review: [Click Me]

Platforms: Steam

This title barely made the cutoff for this specific year given I reviewed it on October 16th, 2020. Still, it’s been a long time coming, and I knew it’d be number one on some list in the future.

Sometimes, I like to look through Steam’s “Upcoming” tab in its store menu to look for potential gems that may go overlooked. I used to do this more frequently in the past, but lately it’s been easy to get acquainted with indie projects via Twitter or what have you. In early October, I found a game called Prodigal, sporting lovely spritework that reminded me slightly of Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy. Impressed, I reached out and was provided a key soon after.

Well, let’s just say it became my Game of the Year for 2020. Funny how that works.

At the time, the game was a little on the buggy side. Environments showed weird visual glitches, the health bar would move, and it became hard to register what was and wasn’t actually scripted with character events. There was also a sort of simplicity to it that, while charming, may have been regarded as “cute” and nothing more. Even so, I gave it a glowing review—looking past the technical issues, there was a really impactful product below the surface.

In the time since my review, the game has been updated several times to include more content, more fixes, and more secrets to uncover. While I haven’t gotten to all of it (yet), going back to Prodigal is a lot like going back to Metroid Prime. Familiarity, comfort, fun. Hell, it’s almost ingrained into my soul at this point.

Just to be transparent for a quick second, my name is actually present in the game. I am on good terms with the team. They’ve been very gracious with me, and I like to think my input on the game has been valuable to them. With this said, none of this effects my overall opinion of the game. If a future update is terrible, I’m going to state that it’s terrible.

A good mix of all sorts of different aspects of classic games—dating, action, adventure, puzzles, secrets, gambling, fetch quests, fishing, difficulty boosters, interrogation, stealth, self-reflection; all of these and more. How detailed and meticulous Prodigal is in creating something simultaneously old and new. Almost tailor-made to suit my tastes, I think it’s a fantastic game that I would recommend to just about anyone.

So go buy it, then they can go on to make Prodigals 2, 3, 4, and maybe a Director’s Cut remaster.

Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.

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