LauraKBuzz’s 50 (Ish) Game of the Decade Awards

It’s 2020, and we’ve recently entered a brand new decade. Time to get all nostalgic for times gone by.

Writing opinion pieces and features about video games has been a huge part of my life for the past decade. Since the start of 2010 I have gone from being an awe filled listener of gaming podcasts, to a retail worker writing reviews on note paper to pass the time until my shifts ended, to an amateur writer and podcaster, into spending the latter half of the decade as a full time writer and critic. The past decade has been wild for me, and video games have been a huge fascination and focus for me during that time.

So, without further ado, let’s talk about a BUNCH of video games that were really important to me in the past ten years. These are not sorted in any special order, I’m just going to give each a little award, a few lines of praise, and press onward. I could shorten my list, but why would I? All these games meant so much to me.

Game that Broke My Brain Hardest – Antichamber

If you’ve never played Antichamber, think of it a little like Portal, but with non-euclidean geometry, and game space that shifts based on perspective. Hallways might lead one way if walked through to the north, but not lead where you came from if you double back on yourself. Each side of a doorway may lead somewhere different. Look through a window close enough you no longer see the frame, you might now just be in the room you previously saw. Walking backwards rather than forward might impact where you end up. Nothing is as it seems.

Antichamber is a game entirely about throwing away your preconceptions and looking at the world from new perspectives, and it’s easily one of the decade’s best puzzle exploration titles.

Ending I love but Most People Hate – The Mass Effect Trilogy

Now, when it comes to Game of the Decade lists, a lot of people have understandably included mass Effect 2 on their lists. Mass Effect 2 was an undeniable masterpiece, with its polished action adventure gameplay, satisfying character relationships, and truly stunning final arc mission. Fewer people list Mass Effect 3 on their Game of the Decade lists, and likely because of its ending.

While many dislike the ending of Mass Effect 3, criticizing it for ending in a limited number of final choices, I personally found the end of Shepard’s story really rewarding. After years of bringing the galaxy together and fighting to save the people we love, ultimately we are faced with the reality that sometimes, no matter how much we try, there isn’t a perfect answer. We can’t always perfectly min max every relationship and keep everyone safe, and make a choice we are always happy with. Sometimes, there are no good choices.

While some find that a depressing way to look at the Mass Effect series, I found it a really strong counterbalance to the rest of the series adventure. It was never about the ending, it was about doing the right thing, rallying your friends, and making the journey together so that you could make that final choice. Sure, everyone had the same final three choices, but it’s every choice we made leading to it that we remember when we look back on our adventure.

Series I Respect the Most While Sucking at – The SoulsBourne Games

It’s impossible to look back on this decade and ignore the impact the Dark Souls series had on gaming. Punishing action adventure gaming that rewarded patient measured play, resources dropped on death to recover, loot grinding boss murder worlds, and lore dropped around worlds filled with unlockable shortcuts for backtracking. The Dark Souls Trilogy and Bloodborne became a staple comparison point for so many other games in our industry, because they really helped define a style of play.

I’ve completed all the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games, but I absolutely suck at them. They kick my ass over and over, and I love them regardless.

Smartest Writing and Puzzle Design – Portal 2

While the original Portal is a short simple masterpiece of game design, Portal 2 managed the daunting feat of expanding upon what the original did well, but feeling new at the same time. With a much grander scope and more impactful story, Portal 2 blended its phenomenal puzzle design with some of the smartest writing and pacing ever in any video game.

If you’ve played Portal 2 before, you’ll remember moments like the “This is the part where he kills you” repeated title drop, or the moment when a forward bounce pad throws you sideways just as you least expect it. Playing through Portal 2 with its developer commentary track on only serves to hit home how impressively thought through the game’s design was. A true masterpiece of game design.

Most Artful Use of Online Multiplayer – Journey

The first time I played through Journey, I had no idea the game had online multiplayer content. I managed to go into the game unaware of its twist, and the experience I had was one of the most moving gaming experiences I have ever had.

Over a few short hours I and a stranger wordlessly crossed language barriers, exploring beautiful desert sands, dark terrifying caves, unforgiving mountains, and climbed seemingly insurmountable peaks. We saw the highest of highs and lowest of lows together, never straying from each other’s side, no matter how bleak things seemed. They were my guide, compass, and support in a world that wanted to see me fail.

Journey is one of those games that come once in a lifetime, and I feel privileged I was able to experience it.

Strongest Emotional Gut Punch Ending – The Last of Us

As a big fan of narrative adventure games that take the time to really sit with their characters as they journey, there are few games this decade that stand out to me as much as The Last of Us. Traveling across America watching our two protagonists grow together, bond, and fight for each other was moving, but watching the final act play out and that grown trust get thrown for a loop was hugely memorable.

The Last of Us took a genre I didn’t think I really cared about, shooters set in the aftermath of zombie style infection outbreaks, and crafted a moving and superbly acted emotional core to hook me in completely.

I don’t necessarily agree with the choices of the game’s protagonist, but that’s kind of the point. Watching someone make a selfish choice, and throw a game’s worth of built up trust aside was a brave and powerful move.

Also, the DLC Left Behind tells a beautifully sombre gay love story that, while tragic in its ending, really does a lot to contextualise a character I already loved.

Game I’m Most Structurally Impressed By – Disco Elysium

I know it only came out a couple of months ago, but I just can’t stop thinking about how impressive it is that Disco Elysium is a functional video game, given how wildly branching and polished its narrative is. I’ve watched people play through Disco Elysium for hours, deliberately ignoring the primary plot, but still managing to stumble on plot key information, through wildly different approaches that take into account how they were playing, feeling organic and free of railroading. That’s an impressive feat for any video game, let alone one from a first time developer.

Disco Elysium’s attention to detail is astounding. It’s an RPG about solving a murder as a drunk detective, but from that simple base premise it allows you a staggering level of freedom in where you want your character to grow, and who you want them to be. From choosing to never look in a mirror so you have no clue what you look like, to convincing yourself you’re a rockstar and strutting around in your underpants, the game acknowledges and supports any weird or specific character choice you care to make.

Also, any game that programs a three minute long poorly sung karaoke track just in case you mess up an easy stat check and makes you watch it play out in its full wailing glory is worthy of major praise. This game is masterpiece of broad varied character roleplay, and makes it seem effortless.

First Open World Game I Ever Really Cared About – Breath of the Wild

I’ve never really been a big fan of open world adventure games, because I am the kind of gamer who loves to slowly work through worlds as a completionist, collecting absolutely everything methodically, which doesn’t usually play nicely with open world adventure pacing.

As a long time fan of the Legend of Zelda games, I was worried that the open world aspects of Breath of the Wild would be a barrier to my enjoyment of the series latest major entry. In fact, quite the opposite, I was a huge fan of a lot of the design choices the developers made.

From the ability to climb pretty much any surface with enough stamina, to the map towers which segmented the map and allowed for discovery of points of interest, weapons collected from fallen enemies for variety, with degradation of gear forcing switching up gear over time, I found that the design of Breath of the Wild at every turn allowed me to tackle adventures as I felt ready for them, but was open enough I could explore whatever caught my attention.

The game’s totally non linear structure, allowing for anything from completionism to speedrunning in under an hour, combined with an open world teeming with things to see and explore, I fell deeply in love with Breath of the Wild, despite my usual feelings about open world games.

Game I Was Closest to Missing the Point of – Nier Automata

Put simply, Nier Automata is a fantastic character action game, but one with multiple endings. I didn’t realise how much the game would vary by continuing to play after the first major ending, and almost missed out on one of the best games of the decade. I felt really foolish when I jumped back into this one and realised how far my journey still had to go.

Game With the Best Traversal – Spider-Man

When it comes to open world adventure games, it’s rare that I’ll completely forgo using fast travel systems. Usually, they’re a necessity, a way to avoid major backtracking. However, in Marvel’s Spider-Man, I didn’t use fast travel once, outside of the mandatory tutorial.

Not only is swinging around the world map incredibly simple and fun, but the world is peppered with so many things to see and do that barely a journey across town goes by where there isn’t an opportunity to unlock more in game rewards.

Seriously, the ease with which you can sprint up a wall, leap into the air, and swing between buildings never grew stale. I completed this open world game and all its DLC without ever once feeling the need to avoid moving through the game world.

Game that Made Me Finally Understand Online Multiplayer Shooters – Fortnite

I have never been a person who plays online multiplayer shooters, due to a mixture of lacking co-ordination, and lack of interest in playing against people who have memorised maps so deeply they’ll kill me if I take a step out of optimal line.

Fortnite is probably the only online multiplayer shooter I have ever stuck with playing for any substantial amount of time. I spent months playing it pretty religiously, and even though I eventually stopped playing, I still see the appeal of the game.

From the regularly updated game map shaking up the meta on a near weekly basis, to the constantly shifting storm forcing players together and into random locations they can’t always plan for, the huge variety of starting locations and broad build options, I felt like I had a chance to scramble something viable in the opening chaos, bide my time, and strike for a win.

Additionally, because 99% of players in every match were always going to lose, I didn’t feel bad about my win loss ratio, and any wins I did manage became memorable stories to tell my friends proudly about. That feeling is a big part of what makes Fortnite special.

Game I Played the Most Hours of – Pokémon Go

As a life long Pokémon series fan, collecting Pokémon to scratch an itch in my brain that loves filling collections and memorising statistics, Pokémon Go released at the perfect time in my life to grab me hard and hook me in. The game released as I was recovering from major surgery, and needed an excuse to get myself up and gently exercising, which encouraged me to get out and about and heal more quickly. As someone who was traveling for work a lot at the time, it was a great way to learn about new areas, and something I could play to pass the time stuck between sections of long journeys.

Pokémon Go became an outlet for learning to socialise with new people, a way to bond with my mother over a shared interest, an excuse to spend more weekends out in nature, and gamified going out into the world and seeing new places.

Over the years since it originally released, Pokémon Go has become a daily part of my gaming routine, accompanying me as I walk to the shops, run errands, or travel to see friends. I’m still playing it years after it originally released, and while I’ve probably had more active fun out of the more involved Pokémon RPGs, Go has undoubtedly been a bigger part of my life.

Most Convincingly Self Aware Game – The Stanley Parable

The premise of The Stanley Parable is pretty simple on its surface. You play as Stanley, an office worker whose actions around his office are being narrated. However, very quickly, it becomes clear that the game is more than it initially seems.

The game’s narrator starts to tell the player what to do, before they have a chance to do it, leading to opportunities to disobey the narrator and change the path of the narrative. This concept of branching the narrative, and having the game recognise and respect that, is taken to wildly ambitious extremes, with situations like boundary breaks, use of cheat console commands, refusing to play the game at all for several years, and sticking with mindless tasks for impossibly long stretches of time all rewarding the player with content that, while new, might not always be worth the effort taken to find it.

The Stanley Parable delights in knowing players like me will go out of their way for hours to see just a little bit of extra content, and gleefully revel in mocking that urge. It’s a hilarious and brilliantly aware game, which is well worth taking the time to go back and replay, so long as you’re not still waiting for that don’t play the game for five years achievement.

Game I Felt Most Guilty About Having Played – The Beginner’s Guide

The Beginner’s Guide is an amazing work of art. However, because of the nature of how it ends, and the deliberate ambiguity surrounding how much of its narrative is to be taken seriously, finishing it left me with an uneasy sense that I had experienced something that, while beautiful and moving and full of personally emotionally resonant themes, I’m sort of afraid to go back and replay.

It’s rare that a narrative is so effective that I love it this deeply, yet feel compelled not to revisit it. It’s a narrative that cuts to the core of creative work, while also providing gut wrenching insight into the process of having your work experienced by others. A masterful work I still don’t quite know how to process, or whether I can ever morally bring myself to replay.

Game That most Effectively Made Me Feel Truly Evil – Undertale

Over the years, there have been a bunch of video games that have tried to allow you to play as a villain. This usually means you’re squashing nameless heroes, playing as orcs or ogres, maybe managing troops as a demon, and doing the same gameplay mechaincs you would as the hero, just with a red and black coat of paint.

While there’s a lot of reasons to heap praise onto Undertale, the decade’s most skeleton dating centric pacifist RPG, the one that sticks with me most is the execution of the game’s Genocide run, and how effectively it communicates calculated unfeeling evil.

After playing through the entirety of Undertale as a pacifist, making friends with every character, avoiding every conflict, it’s possible to get a happy ending for everyone possible. However, when you do, the game’s villain dangles a carrot in front of you as a player. There’s a whole other chunk of game you have not even seen. Sure, you’ll have to erase that happy ending and be evil, but you can’t resist seeing more of that game you love, right?

On a genocide playthrough, players have to go out of their way for hours killing not just every enemy they see, but sticking around killing creatures until random battles entirely stop spawning. Characters who were once your friend will put their lives on the line to stand in your way. NPCs will give their lives just to slow you down and help others flee from you. Monsters discover the determination needed to pull themselves back together after death, refusing to let you kill them. Defeated bosses state they have hope you can be redeemed, and beg you to turn off this path.

If you persist, the game throws you at one of gaming’s most notoriously difficult boss fights. It’s hugely impossibly tough, and that’s the point. You’re not going to waltz your way into being a monster, it’s a conscious choice you have to fight for, and after fighting for it there’s no turning back.

God, Undertale made me feel horrible, and the fact it managed that is superb.

Best Combination of Narrative and Gameplay Themes – Celeste

Celeste is a game about a young woman battling depression, anxiety, and mental health issues, trying to climb a mountain to prove she can, to overcome her fears, and to face the parts of herself that scare her. Mechanically it’s a brutally hard platformer, but one with difficulty tweaking mechanics in place designed to keep it accessible to more players.

While difficult, the game is really generous with checkpoints, able to be made more easy where needed temporarily to overcome hurdles. Celeste clearly wants to be completed, despite its difficulty. It doesn’t revel in knocking you down. Celeste wants you to keep trying, persevere, and keep pushing forward. The narrative pacing matches the gameplay intensity super well, and does a great job of conveying emotional narrative tone through play.

Most Innovative Shooter I’ve Played in Years – Superhot + Superhot VR

Okay, with the obligatory line out the way, Superhot, and Superhot VR (both separate games, but with similar themes) are probably the games this decade that made me feel like most of a moment to moment badass.

In both Superhot games, time is highly slowed down, only moving faster when the player moves. In slow motion shoot multiple enemies, dodge bullets, slice through enemies, grab weapons out of thin air, then watch the whole scene play out in real time afterward, showcasing just how cool you were.

The VR version of Superhot is in many ways even more of a power fantasy, with players able to slice bullets out of thin air with swords, while leaning in 3D space to matrix dodge gunfire. It’s stylish, strategic, and completable by people like me too slow to play shooters in real time.

Best HypnoticBlend of Music and Gameplay in VR – Tetris Effect

Now, if you’re not a VR gamer, Tetris Effect is a pretty decent game. Basically music rhythm visualiser Tetris, the game responds to your button inputs with cleverly timed musical cues. Each level of the game has a unique soundtrack, with notes played a fraction of a second either side of each time you move or rotate a block. These fractional delays in playing these audio cues are pretty imperceptible, but allow for the music cues to match tempo with the soundtrack to the level, giving the feel that your gameplay is working in time with the music. Each level also features unique visual design for the Tetris pieces, as well as the environment in which the Tetris board is located, with the speed of gameplay changing to match the music and visuals.

While these elements of Tetris Effect make it a hugely enjoyable blend of music, visuals, and puzzle gameplay, where the game truly shines is when played in VR. With a good set of headphones on, in virtual reality, Tetris Effect becomes an awe inspiring immersive experience. Visual effects take on a whole new beauty in 3D, and the combination of low latency screens in the headset, alongside the shutting out of everything outside the game from view, meant that I found it far easier to react at speed, and get lost in that beautiful zoned out bliss headspace when you’re really hitting your stride properly in a puzzle game.

I frequently play this game from start to finish in a single sitting in VR, it’s just that stunning.

Best interactive Love and Loss Story – Florence

Florence is a 45 minute long mobile game about a woman falling in and out of love in her early 20’s. While the premise is super simple, what makes this game so special is the combination of its relatable themes, and the beautiful simplicity with which its gameplay mechanics reinforce its narrative themes.

A great example of this is conversations in game with your partner, represented by simple speech bubble puzzles. When the relationship is in full swing and going well, puzzles are a single piece, showing how easy the conversation flows. When getting to know each other, they’re more complex and methodical, showing how they’ve yet to find communication easy. When getting into fights, the bubbles practically fill themselves. When apologizing, things get difficult again.

I don’t want to spoil any more of this short game, just trust me it’s worth sticking on headphones, and playing through the game uninterrupted in a single sitting.

Best Non Linear Narrative – Her Story

Her Story is a mystery game with no set path to the truth, and no firm confirmation given on your interpretation of the narrative, something very few games feel confident enough in their audiences to attempt.

You play as someone searching through a police video database, searching for video clips from an interrogation. Each clip is tagged with keywords spoken during the video, and it’s up to you as the player to pick out words that seem like interesting plot threads, see what clips you find as a result, and make your way to the story’s conclusion. The game never tells you explicitly what happened, the fun is in finding as many of the clips as you can, piecing together their order, and then debating with others what you think was going on in the story.

Her Story is a brilliantly acted non linear mystery, and one I still ponder about to this day.

Best Game I Almost Skipped Because The Internet Bugged Me to Play It – J.J. MacField and the Island of Memories

J.J. MacField and the Island of memories is a truly fantastic video game where you play as a young woman who can survive her body being damaged as a gameplay mechanic. Get your arm chopped off? Throw it to hit that switch. Get your head chopped off? Now you’re small enough to roll through that gap in the fence. Get set on fire? Now you can burn down that wooden gate blocking the way. You’re able to regenerate, but it’s clearly not a fun experience getting injured. Still, pushing through the injuries and fighting to keep going, staying alive, is the only way to progress.

J.J. MacField and the Island of Memories is mechanically and narratively fantastic, but I despite recommendations to play it, I put it off for the better part of a year. Why? Because the narrative touches on a character who has a minority group characteristic in common with me, and people kept bugging me to play it because of that fact, as well as actively spoiling that plot point for me, and I just didn’t want to play it because I was expected to.

I’m glad I eventually gave it a chance once I had some distance, because it is amazing. Even if you know the narrative twist, it doesn’t make the game any less worth playing. Seriously, go check it out. Don’t be like me and put it off.

Best Queer Slice of Life Nostalgia Exploration Game – Gone Home

Gone Home is one of those indie games that at this point pretty much everyone knows the plot to, so I won’t worry about spoilers. You wander around an empty 90’s nostalgia house, finding diary entries from your younger sister. She’s gay, she’s in a hyper religious family, and she’s going through the experience of falling in love, feeling a need to hide, and working out how to handle her family’s feelings about her.

It’s a short but beautiful game that does a great job of capturing a lot of the tone of first exploring your sexuality, and is still a great example of how to tell a narrative about a minority group in an interactive medium. It’s hard to understate the impact it had on gaming. I love revisiting it every now and then.

Best Young Adult Time Travel Sci-Fi Queer Romance Simulator About Consequences and Fucking Up the Timeline – Life is Strange

The original Life is Strange is an episodic adventure series about a young woman who realizes she has the ability to rewind time, when she accidentally saves her punk best friend Chloe from being shot in a school bathroom.

While the dialogue at times tries a little too hard to invent new teen slang, the overall plot about facing the limits of what you can and can’t change in life, paired with a really strong mystery narrative centered on the disappearance of a local young girl, make this game well worth playing. Episode 2 in particular hit home on some really personally resonant themes, and had a big emotional impact on me.

Best Game About Growing Up in Tough Circumstances – Telltale’s The Walking Dead

While Telltale’s The Walking Dead almost ended as an incomplete narrative due to the closure of adventure game developer Telltale, thanks to its completion by a separate developer, a story years in the making has ended up one of my favourite games of the decade.

Telltale’s The Walking Dead tells the story of Clementine, a young girl growing up in the immediate aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Initially following the story of her journey with playable protagonist Lee, an escaped convict who takes care of her and tries to teach her right from wrong, the plot grows over time to become a story of Clementine learning to survive on her own based on the lessons Lee taught her, and eventually sees her taking in a child of her own, trying to be the parental guidance figure she once looked up to.

The plot and its focus on children having to grow up fast, learning moral lessons in the worst of situations, and trying to pass on those lessons to the next generation is incredibly moving, and well worth experiencing in its entirety.

Best Dystopian Bureaucracy Simulator – Papers, Please

In Papers, Please, players work as a border crossing guard for a fictional eastern European country. Starting easy by simply checking passports are in date, the game ramps up in complexity from there, both mechanically and morally.

Over time you escalate to having to check if photos match the people using them, collect entry Visas, check country of origin and if it’s on an approved list of locations, ask security questions, all while watching people approach your booth with stories of why you should waive the rules for them.

After an explosion at the border, your job is put on the line. If you don’t process visitors quickly enough you’ll not make enough money to keep your family alive, but if you’re caught too many times letting in refugees and sex workers fleeing for safety your job is on the line too. You have to walk the line between providing for your family, and doing the moral thing, while working at inhuman speeds, in a game that undoubtedly manages to successfully set a bleak and desperate tone.

Game That Most Made Me Explore My Teenage Coping Mechanisms – Afterparty

Afterparty is a pretty recent release, so I don’t want to spoil too much of where its plot goes. The short version; You and your best friend find yourselves in hell, unsure how you died, or what you did in life to deserve eternal damnation. You arrive in hell after working hours have finished, giving you have one night off in hell to try and earn your freedom before your torture begins, and rumor says you can do that by defeating the devil in a drinking contest.

Mechanically, the game centers around drinking various hell cocktails to unlock new dialogue options, as you talk your way through hell towards your promised chance at winning your freedom.

While the narrative heavily centers around alcohol consumption, the game doesn’t glorify excessive drinking, using it as a lens through which to explore two friends, who they are below the surface, and how people use unhealthy coping mechanics in tough situations.

Best Game About Dancing with Lightsabers – Beat Saber

Beat Saber’s pitch is pretty simple; use lightsabers in VR to slice through music notes as they fly towards you, to a combination of original and licensed tracks.

Beat Saber is by far my favourite VR game, and the one I default to showing people interested in the tech. It’s a simple and powerful idea, and one that deserves all the praise it receives.

Best Unexpected Genre Shift – Doki Doki Literature Club

Okay, the less I say about this game’s specifics the better. Doki Doki Literature Club presents itself as a wholesome simple dating sim. It isn’t that. Don’t play it if you’re not prepared for some dark themes. It pulls off subversion of genre spectacularly. If you’ve not been spoiled, and have any interest, just go play it before you learn what the twist is. It’s pretty amazing.

Best Party Game Collections for Silly Drunk Nonesense – The Jackbox Party Pack Series + Use Your Words

Over the past ten years, whenever I have friends over to drink and laugh, we ultimately end up booting up one of the Jackbox Party Pack games to finish up the night, once we’ve lost the focus needed for more rigidly structured games.

Using your phone, players type in silly answers to on screen prompts, often trying to fool their friends, or make them laugh. Considering the game just needs a web connected device, you can scale up numbers of players easily, as pretty much everyone has a phone to play on these days.

From making robots engage in a rap battle, to bluffing answers you don’t know the question to, and inventing nonsense creations you need to pitch to the room, the Jackbox Party Pack games have become a staple of game nights for me.

Additionally, a new contender to this genre is Use Your Words, a very similar game of silly phone answer submissions, but with its own unique game types, such as applying fake subtitles to foreign film clips. It’s less well known, but well worth checking out if you’re already a fan of the genre. As a disclosure, I did offer some advice about UI design, and got a special thanks in the credits, so obviously take my praise with any grain of salt needed.

Best Game That Was Perfect and Didn’t Really Need a Sequel – Frog Fractions

One of this decade’s biggest cult surprise hits was Frog Fractions, a pretty simple flash game which initially masqueraded as a children’s number game, but ultimately escalated through multiple other genres of game on a wild unexpected journey.

Its sequel, Frog Fractions 2, lost a lot of that magic because it had to actively try to outdo its precursor. Rather than being hidden in a free online flash game, it was hidden hours deep in an admittedly good but largely ignored paid game on Steam. Word quickly spread that it was hidden in Glittermitten Grove, at which point the game it was hidden in became a barrier to entry, rather than a connected part of the mystery.

Frog Fractions 2 itself was fun in places, but complex, contrived, and focused on being weird and obtuse because that was what the original was. There were things like importing your Mass Effect 2 save data so your hair color would change in game that didn’t really build the narrative naturally, they were weird for weirdness sake.

I admire the attempt, but I’ll always think back more fondly on the simplicity with which the original Frog Fractions was executed than its bigger budget sequel. That said, I do respect the hustle of putting Frog Fractions 2 out into the world but not telling Kickstarter backers where it was hidden.

Best Game About Brotherhood and American Predjudice – Life is Strange 2

Where the original Life is Strange was a game where you play as someone with supernatural powers, Life is Strange 2 instead introduces a degree of separation to that formula. You play as Sean, older teenage brother to Daniel, a young child with telekinetic powers. When a moment of retaliation against a bully goes wrong, a racist police officer mistakenly assumes you have committed a crime, and in the ensuing escalation shoots your innocent father straight in the head, killing him instantly. In his grief, Daniel’s powers are unleashed for the first time, unintentionally killing the cop who killed your father.

Knowing that you can’t explain to cops that this officer died as a result of a psychic blast in the aftermath of a racist shooting of a civilian, without your brother ending up on some lab table, you and your brother go on the run, aiming to cross the border to Mexico and start a new life.

Because the character with superpowers is not the character you directly control, Life is Strange 2 has a really interesting set of choices for players to make. You have to balance making choices that will keep you and your brother alive on the road, while trying to make sure he listens to you when you tell him something important, but also that he makes his own morally correct choices when left alone. It’s three distinct moral and choice based paths that need keeping balanced, and it makes for really interesting conundrums.

The narrative does a great job of telling a story about family, as well as exploring the realities of how much more at risk minority groups are in America when they become homeless, or the target of police interest.

Best Violent Dad Simulator – God of War

The PS4 God of War reboot is pretty fantastic on its own merits as a stylish, fluid, action combat game set in a world with basically no loading times anywhere. However, where the game really excels is in its ability to take Kratos, a character whose defining trait for several previous games has simply been anger and fury, and transform him into a much more nuanced character.

Kratos is still the God of War, but he’s also a calmer, more patient, more measured character, trying to resist his impulses and control his actions, to teach the right lessons to his son.

Telling a sweet story about helping a loved one to pass on, God of War revitalized a character, and made them far more interesting to explore.

Game That Everyone Tells Me Sucks But I Still Think is a Masterpiece – Skyward Sword

Okay, I know I’m going to get flack for this, but The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is probably my all time favourite Zelda game.

I get why a lot of people disliked the motion controls in Skyward Sword, mainly because they were temperamental for some users which caused frustration, but as a player who went through the whole game without a single responsiveness hiccup, I absolutely loved the game, and wish it had been the template for the series going forward.

I loved the colourful art style, the exaggerated characters, the beautifully handled cutscenes, the fact that Link and Zelda were actual close friends I cared about, and I loved the sword fighting combat. I loved that the routes to dungeons were essentially dungeons themselves, I liked revisiting areas under new circumstances, and I loved the villains and boss fights.

Sure, I will accept that the fact that every load up of the game reset your item pickup notifications was infuriating and a big mistake. But honestly, other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I love this game, and nobody will ever make me feel otherwise.

Best “Just One More Go” Game – The Binding of Isaac

Throughout a decade of expansions and updates, The Binding of Isaac is one of the few non narrative games that has managed to stay installed on my consoles pretty much since it released, without ever clearing it off to make space for something else. I just don’t know when I’ll fancy jumping back into it on the spur of the moment, and I want it ready the second I get a craving.

Set in a world of gross horrors and abominations, The Binding of Isaac is a top down adventure game where players shoot their way through rooms of monsters, collect randomised powerups from floors of rooms with randomised layouts, trying to survive long enough to take on increasingly difficult bosses.

The game ramps up gradually in difficulty, with a huge variety of different powerup types, allowing for a game with short simple playthroughs, endless variation in content, and a real sense that the next attempt might be the one where things go right.

Game That Helped Me Feel Seen, Represented, and Understood, Then Tore My Heart Out – To The Moon

To the Moon is an indie game from the start of the decade, that is still one of the most moving narratives I’ve experienced in all my years gaming. Set largely in the brain of a dying man, you play as two scientists working for a company that rewrites memories of the dying. The idea is if you’re on your deathbed, and have regrets about how your life went, these scientists go back through your memories, tweak some early variable, and allow you to live out your life in your head, seeing it play out differently so you can die with closure.

The character whose brain is being explored is an old man who wishes he could have been an astronaut and traveled to the moon, but he doesn’t remember why he wanted that, or when in his life he stopped working for it. Cue our protagonists exploring his life, making leaps back, and learning who he was and what mattered to him.

Without spoiling too much of the plot of this 4-5 hour game, There are a couple of characters in the narrative who I share something personal in common with. These characters are represented really well, as is what makes them unique in the plot, and some of the dialogue surrounding why the main character wanted to go to the moon has stuck with me to this day. I have a tattoo idea I’d love to get done based on it.

Oh, and there’s a song near the end with lyrics which still brings me to tears.

Seriously, it’s a beautiful game, and short enough to play in a single sitting. it just came to Switch, so check it out.

Best Game for an Existential Cozy Night In – Little Inferno

Little Inferno is an adorable, dark, creepy game about being a small child ordering things from a magazine to set on fire in a capitalist hellscape. Find joy purchasing things, burn your possessions to stay alive, and don’t think about the consequences of all that smoke.

The core gameplay mechanic is finding combinations of things to burn together based on pun names, but that’s not really the point of the game beyond doing it to progress. The point of the game is to put a toy school bus in your fire place, set it on fire, then recoil in horror as the toy truck starts to emit screams of burning children. It’s about watching things burn, being caught off guard by the way things react to fire, and building a relationship with someone else who’s just as fixated on burning things as you are.

I promise, it’s a lot more cute and harmless than I am making it sound.

Best Game About Befriending Emotionally Complex Rectangles – Thomas Was Alone

Thomas Was Alone was the first major game release by indie developer Mike Bithell, who has since gone on to create tie ins to popular franchises such as John Wick. However, my favourite of his games is still Thomas Was Alone, a platformer about rectangles that are maybe AI trying to escape a computer.

Considering the game’s characters are simply different colour and size rectangles, and their personality is told entirely through narration, it’s impressive how much personality is crammed into their dimensions, their gameplay mechanics, and their strengths and weaknesses as platforming characters.

Thomas Was Alone is a masterclass in both storytelling and character creation, and well worth playing if you’ve not done so before.

Best Game That I can’t Make Sound Cool No Matter How I Explain Its Premise – Battle Chef Brigade

Battle Chef Brigade is a side scrolling chef combat anime adventure, where you have to fight monsters and collect cooking ingredients from dangerous levels, rush to bring them back to your kitchen on a time limit, then use a match the coloured gems style game to prepare complex dishes, to defeat your cooking rivals in combat and become the world’s greatest battle chef.

It’s a weird premise, I acknowledge that, but it’s also a highly dramatic, exciting, action packed, combat and puzzle filled narrative adventure I can’t recommend highly enough.

Seriously, it has the same appeal as a good sports anime, watching someone try really hard to be the very best, not because they need to win, but just so they get to keep doing what they love. There are few things more pure in anime games than that.

Best Game to Play in Tiny Bursts – Minit

Minit is a top down Zelda style puzzle action adventure game played entirely in sixty second bursts. You play as someone who has accidentally touched a cursed magical sword, and will die every sixty seconds, respawning back in bed, at home. Items you collect, quests you complete, and information you learn persist, but you only have a single minute to finish any given objective. GO!

With clever use of backtracking, shortcuts, additional checkpoints to find, and items to open up new paths, you can get a surprisingly deep amount of stuff done in just a minute.

It’s a pretty short game, once you know all the puzzle solutions it can be comfortably completed in around an hour, but an initial playthrough is likely to provide closer to five hours of short bursts of exploration. A truly unique fast paced spin on an established formula.

Best Game About The Power of Music and Friendship – Wandersong

Wandersong is a really sweet charming game, about a bard who is tasked by a godess in a dream with saving the world. You run around a paper cutout colorful world making friends and solving problems using your right analogue stick to sing various notes.

As you go around the game world, you can sing at any time without stopping moving, which is used for a variety of in game effects that increase as you go across your adventure. There are also a series of music rhythm sections, where you use the power of music to help people connect with their deceased music loving parents, or cheer someone on so they feel confident enough to do something scary.

The music rhythm sections are really forgiving, focusing more on the spirit of making music, rather than requiring perfection. There are no sour notes played if you do something wrong, you just keep playing until you get it close enough to correct. It’s about the energy, not about precision, in a way that really captures the magic of learning to create music.

The plot has some really well written character arcs and narrative twists, and is easily one of my favourite games ever about the act of being a musician.

Best Queer Interactive Pop Album Game – Sayonara Wild Hearts

I’ve written in depth elsewhere about Sayonara Wild Hearts, but it’s a pretty simple concept to understand. The game is a 60-90 minute long neon queer interactive pop album, where you ride a motorcycle and fly after cute biker women, chase furry women on the back of a stag, fight a giant mech wolf, romantically float in a VR headset, all while coming to terms with how gay you are.

Featuring narration from Queen Latifah, a superb original soundtrack, and a bunch of mechanically distinct music rhythm levels, this is a game I won’t soon forget. Please, check out some footage of the game in action, it won’t take long watching to see what makes the game so special.

Best JRPG Featuring Angry Mancunian Robots – Xenoblade Chronicles

One of the most impressive games on the Wii in terms of scope and ambition, the original Xenoblade Chronicles is a huge, spawling JRPG where players manage real time cooldowns for special attacks, in 3D action environments. Players travel across a huge pair of islands shaped like warring giants, questing to save the world, while exploring huge seamless environments.

As much as I loved the story and the gameplay system, perhaps my favourite part of the game is the English voice dub, where every character has a thick exaggerated British accent of some kind.

I will never stop chuckling as I get my voice all gruff and shout “ARE YOU THE MONAAAAAADO BOY???”

Best Horror Game Where I Don’t Mind at All if Most of the Characters Die – Until Dawn

Created by Supermassive Games, Until Dawn is an interactive horror game where you play as a group of teens stranded up on a mountain. Set a year after the tragic deaths of two young women who fled their cabin after being bullied, it seems the teens responsible for the bullying are now on the receiving end of supernatural events trying to kill them off one by one.

As much as I love Until Dawn, I think by design much of the game’s cast is detestable horrible people. You can control them, and make them make better choices over time, but ultimately if one of them dies, you don’t have to feel too bad, because god they were pretty bad people. That’s the kind of disconnect I need in my horror games to be okay not reloading my save if I make a choice that gets someone killed.

Best Immersive, Perspective Shifting Platformer – Astro Bot: Rescue Mission

Considering VR gaming only really rose in prominence and quality this decade, and 3D platformers are usually the first type of game to get made for new gaming hardware, being the best platforming game available for an entire type of gaming platform is a pretty big feat, but one I believe the PSVR exclusive Astro Bot: Rescue Mission accomplishes.

You play as a robot camera, on a rail, following a little robot called Astro as he explores environments trying to rescue as many of his lost robot friends as possible. You use the controller to shepherd Astro through the world with analogue stick and button inputs, but also make use of motion controls to create tightropes for him to cross, throw ninja stars he can use as platforms, and shine a torch, among other things.

What Astro Bot does fantastically for VR platforming is it gives great context for you not moving in first person while you platform, which can induce motion sickness in VR, while keeping you immersed and present in the world via your hands moving the controller in 3D space in the virtual world.

Additionally, the way Astro Bot plays with your sense of scale does a great job of further selling the environments you’re inhabiting as real. I found myself ducking out the way of things that had no way to hurt me, because I was that sold on being in that world.

Astro Bot is a charming platformer, with a protagonist I fast fell in love with.

Best Katamari Damacy Itch Scratcher – Donut County

If you’re a fan of the Katamari Damacy games, as I am, you’ll know there’s nothing quite like it out there that scratches that same itch. While it’s not quite the same, the best game I played this decade at capturing the feel and energy of Katamari was Donut County.

In Donut County, you play as a racoon who works for a donut delivery company. You’ve decided you don’t want to deliver donuts, so instead you send “the hole”, conceptually the hole in the centre of the donut, but actually a giant hole to the centre of the earth, which grows larger the more it consumes.

Much like Katamari is a colourful silly game about finding progressively larger things to add to your size, eventually steamrolling levels with ease, Donut County is about swallowing ever larger items, until you can suck up the entire level.

Additionally, every item you swallow with the hole gets added to the Trashopedia, which provides amusing descriptions of human items, from the perspective of an animal who doesn’t know what their purposes are.

Right, that’s the 50 ish games this past decade that I most felt I needed to give awards.

Gosh, that was 8,500 words. I’m going to lie down on the sofa and play some games from this new decade, because I am pretty sure I used up my whole decade’s supply of words. Done. Time for my brain to rest.

Categories: Gaming