Month: January 2020

Game Bias’ 50 Best Video Games of the 2010s, Plus 20 Honorable Mentions

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: Many of the entries below use text from other articles. In these cases, the text is set apart by quotation marks, and a reference is provided. All other entries were written specifically for this list. Finally, you may notice contradictions between the order of this list and the order of a previous year-end list at Game Bias. For instance, in this 2015 year-end feature, Cibele placed below a few games that didn’t make the larger list here. To address such inconsistencies, I recall something that Armond White suggested about our evolving views on movies. He said something to the effect of “Movies don’t change, but we do.” The same can be said for video games and their audience. On another day, any of the 20 honorable mentions could make this list.

1. Sluggish Morss: A Delicate Time in History

Sluggish Morss: A Delicate Time in History presents a universe where everything can be predicted and reduced to a formula. But the game is anything but formulaic. As with the rest of his work, developer Jack King-Spooner is as likely to use photographs or sketches as any other graphical element, which results in a kaleidoscopic, hand-crafted, and abrupt aesthetic — it’s hard for the player to know what to expect visually. Other game conventions are subverted without hesitation, as in the hilarious scene where the audio in a particular room keeps repeating the answer to a supposed puzzle, completely spoiling the challenge and the hunt. To drive home the setting’s lack of humanity, character dialogue is delivered via robotic voice-overs; the overall detachment from emotion reaches its hysterical epitome with a surreally monotone rendition of Beyonce’s “Halo.” Later in the story, disorder threatens the systematic status quo in the form of the id, which is illustrated in both disturbing and freeing terms. The id breaking through the machine is most emphasized in an outro music video of sorts in which a choppy montage of highly discolored photographic images of a woman’s face is combined with the feint, distorted utterance of “Fuck me. Fuck my throat … ” until the words, after many repetitions, become abundantly clear in their carnality. The ending implies that reason can’t forever suppress our basest instincts. It’s the most electrifying, defiant conclusion I can identify in video games.

2. Dark Souls

“The ambiguity of your quest and the risk-reward mechanics behind the souls and bonfires are illustrative of a multifaceted existential crisis. Unlike the typical action-oriented RPG that gives players a clearer idea of progression and flatters them with material currencies, Dark Souls functions not unlike a cosmic horror story, demanding that you figure out the meaning of it all for yourself while engaging in questionable rituals centered on exploiting the spiritual essences of ostensibly living things. The idea of respawning enemies has been a common feature of video games for decades, but Dark Souls’s diabolical enemy dynamic—non-boss adversaries stay dead until you rest at a bonfire—raises doubt within the player’s mind about whether it’s even worthwhile to persevere within such a purgatorial framework.”

– “Review: Dark Souls Remastered,” Slant Magazine

3. Off-Peak

“Entering Off-Peak’s station is enlivening because you become surrounded by human expression. Works cover the walls and hang from the ceiling, begging to be consumed. You soon find things you can take: records, sheet music, cookies, and pizzas, the latter of which you devour slice by slice. Even if you resist this compulsion, Cosmo D’s visual arrangements promote fetishization and prolonged curiosity. Nonplayable characters sometimes have one distinctive motion that registers as an attraction, such as the black woman who rocks from heels to tip toes or the white man who drums his fingers on a table. I mention their skin color because everything about them forms part of a tapestried memory. Cosmo D’s multifaceted vision of diversity elates in a manner that character creation options will never achieve.”

– “Peak of the Year,” Unwinnable Weekly (Issue 58)

4. Spelunky HD

“I’d like to meet someone who has stopped discovering tricks and quirks in Derek Yu’s Spelunky HD. The fundamentals of this game — the climbing and hanging, the running and jumping, the throwing and dropping — are fine-tuned to an absurd degree, and Yu’s level design strikes an impeccable balance between randomness and familiarity. And pay attention to the game’s underrated satirical undercurrent, where the protagonist’s greed and treachery — the damsel in distress, who is wryly labeled a villain in an in-game notebook, can literally be used as an object — are almost always rewarded with death.”

– “Game Bias’ 15 Greatest 2D Platformers List — #10-6,” Game Bias

5. Assault Android Cactus

“You would be hard-pressed to name a better twin-stick shooter than Assault Android Cactus. Developer Witch Beam channels the oddball joy of classic works by Treasure (Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy) and, more importantly, establishes a compelling set of rules to assist and concern players during the mayhem-filled fights. Each character has a primary standard weapon and a secondary power weapon that has to recharge after each use. In most cases with the latter, the character will perform a dodge before and after the shot is fired — a quirky update to 1942’s innovation in bullet evasion. The majority of the characters have the firepower (e.g., seeker missiles, shotgun, etc.) that you would associate with a “shooter protagonist.” But a couple of the heroes fall well outside of such expectations, such as the woman whose primary weapon is a boomerang and whose secondary weapon is a black hole, creating what feels like an iconoclast’s take on the twin-stick shooter framework.”

– “Assault Android Cactus Review — Emotional Arenas,” Game Bias

6. Iconoclasts

“In Iconoclasts, an intersection of faith and government keeps a population in check, and it’s up to Robin, a silent Christ-like figure, to upend the system. Featuring the most striking pixel art of the year, this game never lets you forget that its world is full of human beings with competing beliefs and experiences. The narrative, reminiscent of Final Fantasy VI’s theatrics, emphasizes how perspectives and goals clash to awaken a new world.”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2018,” Game Bias

7. Cart Life

After seeing the sincere and vulnerable humanity at the center of Richard Hofmeier’s Cart Life, I find it difficult to stomach the idealized cycles of toil in more digestible games like Stardew Valley and Wilmot’s Warehouse. Beyond its cultural relevance as a statement on the universality of making ends meet while dealing with personal matters, Cart Life has an instantly recognizable style, with its grayscale pixels and frantic typing mechanics, that points to both the harshness of reality and the inner drive required to live. If there’s one simulation to play from the past decade, it’s Cart Life.

8. Nier: Automata

“Eventually, 2B and 9S witness, in a scene both disturbing and fantastic, a horde of machines giving birth to two very human-like characters. After almost killing one of these unusual progeny, 2B and 9S have no idea what has transpired. 9S, unable to focus on his duty, asks 2B why machines would try to look like humans—a delicious irony, given that androids are essentially human-looking beings. But with one of the game’s most politically powerful lines, 2B shuts down the conversation, stating there is no point in considering “unsolvable problems.” Here, Taro illustrates what makes real-world bigotry tick: a cold denial of even exploring the possibility of common ground.”

– “Nier: Automata Review — Near Genocide,” Game Bias

9. Proteus

The spiritual suggestiveness of Proteus, from how you can walk on water to how you ascend to the heavens during the finale, comes from a place of joy, faith, and oneness. So many other first-person games of the 2010s — Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Firewatch, Gone Home, The Stanley Parable, The Beginner’s Guide, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter — peddle deception, fear, and shallow nihilism, and that’s why their more polished environments lack the vivacity of Proteus’ expressionistic polygonal island. As people continue to look back at this decade, Proteus will represent the mature and hopeful side of video games, where themes of beauty and restorative power imply that salvation is within our grasp.

10. Octahedron

“Whereas the overrated Celeste is more interested in death and whining than creative expression, Octahedron can’t get no satisfaction with its basic idea of a hero creating platforms underneath himself to reach new heights. From level to level, developer Demimonde obsessively introduces wrinkles to his game, showcasing a thirst for change that recalls the passion of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.”

– “Octahedron Review — Sexed-Up Mechanics,” Game Bias

11. Jazzpunk

“Remember how Papers, Please evoked the Soviet era to incite misery and guilt? Jazzpunk’s mockery of intelligence gathering wishes to return us to higher spirits. The game’s irreverent take on globalism recalls the absurdity of the great Marx Brothers political comedy, Duck Soup. Rather than contribute to political or cultural malaise, Jazzpunk looks for every opportunity to cut up (notice that the game’s title reconciles two musical genres at odds). Despite its nods to the Cold War and other things of the past, the game is clearly a comedy for the present.”

– “Jazzpunk Review — Are You Ready to Laugh?,” Game Bias

12. Actual Sunlight

“As an unsentimental RPG, Actual Sunlight provides a clear answer to a question from The Matt Chat Blog: ‘Are CRPGs good for nothing but reinforcing capitalist values?’ This question sounds like the beginning of a rant from Actual Sunlight’s protagonist. With its commentary on alienation, exploitation, the opiate, and the perversion of human nature through an economic system, Actual Sunlight substantially diverges from the typical ‘light vs. darkness’ RPG conflict, as well as the genre’s generally unquestioned emphasis on consumerism, materialism, and loot.”

– “Actual Sunlight Review — Actual Marxism,” Game Bias

13. Shenmue 3

“2019 saw no greater moment in games than when Ryo and Shenhua learn that they were often the same type of kid growing up despite their ethnic differences. With this scene, Shenmue 3, which takes place in 1987, recalls how pop artists, from Prince to Michael Jackson, once propagated the notion that nothing should separate us. You may call Suzuki’s humble recognition of common humanity corny. I call it real and necessary in a cynical world that wants us to segregate ourselves.”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2019,” Game Bias

14. Downwell

“The relentless kinetic art of Downwell has no peer in 2015. Ojiro Fumoto creates tension between the goals of survival and high combos with one simple rule: as you plunge into the well, you can’t stomp red enemies without taking damage. When trying combos, at first you might find that the randomly generated levels place more importance on luck, but the deeper you drop, the more you realize this isn’t true, as Fumoto includes destructible items that keep you bouncing, a wall jump, and methodically placed time suspensions. Your choices in Downwell — regarding weapons, health, ammo, and various types of upgrades and styles — must reconcile different advantages in timing and endurance. The final group of levels brilliantly marries surviving to the combo before you face one of the best designed bosses in the 21st century.”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2015,” Game Bias

15. The Norwood Suite

“Incredibly, The Norwood Suite doesn’t just match the effort of Off-Peak. It surpasses its predecessor’s use of sound, incorporating a larger, more emotionally varied soundtrack and making every character’s dialogue an instrumental riff within the sonic landscape.”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2017,” Game Bias

16. Beeswing

“Developer Jack King-Spooner’s games have always shared a provocative, hand-crafted quality that counters the polygon- and pixel-obsessed default of pop video games […] King-Spooner reveals his rural Scottish origin through a journey in which memory and art express the real and the artificial as complementary forces, much like Federico Fellini’s Amarcord.”

– “The 25 Best Games of 2015,” Slant Magazine


“With the press of a button, the protagonist of Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV quickly floats to either the ceiling or the floor via gravity. Although VVVVVV wasn’t the first game to feature this concept (see the Mega Man series or, for a less well-known example, 1986’s Terminus), it commits to the idea like no other title. The best segment of the game highlights the excitement of moving from one screen to the next: to nab one item, you must twice guide the hero through a treacherous series of tunnels with spikes as he’s pulled in midair for several successive screens. Later in the game, Cavanagh takes away platforms altogether for a few challenges to achieve an even stronger sense of nerve-wracking vulnerability and physics-defying adventure. VVVVVV looks and sounds retro, but Cavanagh’s willingness to take a premise to the extreme underscores the relentless drive of a modern artist rather any cliched attachment to nostalgic pleasure.”

– “Game Bias’ 15 Greatest 2D Platformers List — #15-11,” Game Bias

18. Severed

“Through Severed’s touchscreen/motion controls, developer DrinkBox Studios has reimagined the first-person dungeon crawler as a bizarre action game that requires both turn-based logic and frantic but precise timing. When you’re not interrupting enemy tactics or dicing up the bodies of foes into parts needed for upgrades, Severed mesmerizes with dream-like cuts as you move from one part of the map to the next and unsettles you with its ominous tone, which is sometimes punctuated by maddening melodies that evoke Philip Glass. The search for the protagonist’s family members is an emotional roller coaster that few games this year can match, with the denial of catharsis trumped by the rush of continuing a strange adventure.”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2016,” Game Bias

19. Choice: Texas

“More universal than a political manifesto, the game is a reminder that humans are defined by their response to struggle. Choice: Texas emphasizes that a pregnant woman’s decision — as well as the responses of family and friends — is guided by conflicting emotions, practical concerns, and spiritual questioning, not by the philosophical ramblings of loudmouths in the U.S. abortion debate.”

– “Choice: Texas Review (PC),” Paste

20. Titanfall 2

“Everything in the campaign is designed to give you a rush, from laughably over-the-top villains to the remarkably fast burrowing through tight places to platforming sections that will make you think you’re seeing sideways.”

– “The 25 Best Video Games of 2016,” Slant Magazine

21. Topsoil

“In Nico Prins’ Topsoil, you play as a farmer with only 16 tiles of soil at your disposal. Each tile can accommodate one type of plant, and for the best score, you must keep the same kind of plants next to each other. As in so many puzzlers (from Tetris to Dr. Mario), the goal is to avoid disorganization, which inevitably leads to a cluttered screen and failure. What separates Topsoil from its predecessors is an underlying sense of peace that typifies the pleasure of interacting with the natural world. This serenity flows through the entire game despite being juxtaposed against the randomness of nature that spoils one’s best-laid plans.”

– “Topsoil Review — The Order of Disorder,” Game Bias

22. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

“As much of a horror game as it is a shooter, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is the definitive edition of designer Edmund McMillen’s Freudian nightmare of a maniacal mother, excrement-filled rooms, and an uncaring God. McMillen evokes The Legend of Zelda in his presentation of a seemingly neverending dungeon full of random power-ups that deform as much as empower the tearful boy protagonist. The various elements that could offend, particularly the levels that put you inside a womb, reflect an abusive history where fear and hatred, not comfort and love, are compellingly tied to every aspect of the woman — an unflinching view of hell from the eyes of a child.”

– “Game Bias’ 15 Greatest Shooters List — #15-11,” Game Bias

23. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

“One of the most impressive uses of blood and gore comes in 2013’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons when the protagonists have to navigate through a path blocked by dead giants. Director Josef Fares uses blood in this instance to elicit a complex reaction of wonder, fear, disgust and sadness: The scene is majestic, tragic and grotesque. Even more unusual, you have to butcher some of the giants’ limbs in order to clear the way. This inspired combination of storytelling and puzzle shows that videogames have a long way to go before exhausting our dark curiosities.”

– “Bloodporne: Why Bloodletting Ought to Mean More in Pop Videogames,” Paste

24. Legendary Gary

“Metatexual independent games have become more popular over the last few years, but the works of this movement — The Stanley Parable, Undertale, Pony Island, and Doki Doki Literature Club!, among others — have been more egotistical and shallow than humanistic and insightful. Evan Rogers’ Legendary Gary rejects the cynicism of this trend by daring to have players empathize with a stereotypical unemployed gamer who lives with his Bible-thumping mom. In showing how video games can serve as both escapism and inspiration, Rogers offers a mature cultural perspective that transcends the manipulative tricks of his too-cool-for-school indie peers.”

– “Legendary Gary Review — Meta-Masterpiece,” Game Bias

25. Subnautica

“Subnautica is everything the overrated Abzû should have been and more. Its alien ocean suggests a paradoxical masterpiece: few settings in video games are as inviting, yet no other open world is as frightening. As a result, crafting has rarely seemed as essential in a game, as new technology gives you the privilege to survive the depths of the sea. And 3D game creators, take note: there’s no excuse for clunky underwater mechanics when developer Unknown Worlds nails them so well here.”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2018,” Game Bias

26. Splasher

“This platformer from developer Splashteam understands that ‘more’ does not equal great design. That’s why Splasher’s unique kineticism thrives across 24 levels. There’s an odd humor in failing to rush through these intricate stages, as your fingers scramble to tap the right button for the right kind of environment-altering liquid. This dynamic makes Splasher an action masterpiece.”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2017,” Game Bias

27. Dirt Rally 2.0

“Developer Codemasters’ simulation of rallying here is special, not to mention electrifying and nerve-wracking. By enhancing how the player senses disparities in road conditions, Dirt Rally 2.0 opens the average person’s eyes to the outstanding bravery and determination of athletes who don’t get the universal credit they deserve. The challenge of this game could break the will of many a From Software worshiper. I’ll never look at competitive driving the same way again.”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2019,” Game Bias

28. The Stillness of the Wind

“In a possible nod to Barry Lyndon, Cardenas utilizes a slow zooming technique to imbue the proceedings with an added layer of gravitas. It’s as if the game’s camera is a godly presence, patiently and quizzically regarding Talma’s modest life on the farm and understanding her toil to have a spiritual purpose.”

– “Review: The Stillness of the Wind Is a Poignant Elegy for a Life of Purpose,” Slant Magazine

29. Guacamelee 2

“Not since Resident Evil 4 has a game maintained such a ferocious pace.”

– “Guacamelee 2 Review — A Tremendous Step Forward,” Game Bias

30. Hyper Light Drifter

“The anthropomorphic characters speak in images, with many of them depicting violent ethnic discrimination in a nod to Art Spiegelman’s comic-book masterpiece Maus. These pictures stick in the back of your mind as you traverse brightly colored environments full of nonlinear and hidden paths, the pixelations of the graphics encouraging a conflicted perception of beauty and fragility.”

– “25 Best Video Games of 2016,” Slant Magazine

31. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

“Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the antithesis of Silent Hill 2. Its action is not fundamentally banal. It’s a focused, rather than inconsistent, metaphor. It doesn’t rely on a hackneyed “the protagonist is the culprit” plot twist. Even more, it ultimately presents the human mind as something to understand, not fear, with a universal message about overcoming hatred in all its internal forms.”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2017,” Game Bias

32. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

“The combat of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is distinctively hard-nosed, avoiding the gimmicks of recent Fire Emblem sequels, and its time mechanic encourages experimentation in a way the series never has. Just as remarkable is the game’s story of two heroes, whose love can’t overlook the need to discover identity and destiny along separate paths.”

– “Gamebias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2017,” Game Bias

33. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt got more acclaim and was more strikingly humanistic with its depiction of everyday people in its world, but The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the leaner and more morally profound game. In a powerful but risky bit of writing, a single decision at the end of the first act forever changes what we can see politically from the eyes of Geralt Rivia. And because The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings avoids the open-world bloat of its sequel, things like monster nests seem like notable and natural occurrences as opposed to just more content. The persistent intrigue of the game is palpable even in the introductory cutscene, an electrifying display of highly refined animation that shows a trained killer methodically assassinating every person on a ship.

34. Will You Ever Return 2?

The second trip to hell from developer Jack King-Spooner, this sequel involves a fairly unlikable protagonist who dies after he murders a stranger. The setting is among the most unpleasant in video game history, reflecting the negative characteristics of the recently deceased man back at him (the demons toy with his homophobia). There is a creative chaos to this game — deathly serious subject matter, such as confronting one’s unborn child (a fascinating provocation in a modern world acquainted with abortion), is sometimes accompanied by over-the-top satire, as when King-Spooner lampoons how turn-based RPGs announce level-up bonuses no matter the emotional context. In a twist of fate, the scene depicting the deadly sin of Greed utilizes images and quotes of Donald Trump, including some disparaging remarks from the current U.S. president about the work of Barack Obama, who sat in the Oval Office when this game was released in 2012. Will You Ever Return? 2 is as culturally prescient as it is idiosyncratic in its design.

35. Rock Bottom

“Amy Dentata’s Rock Bottom is a fantasy in which levels that represent a state of depression can be completed by counterintuitive means. The goal of Rock Bottom is to jump to higher platforms, but the only way to increase the power of your jump is to fall to your death. To further strengthen your legs, you must extend your fatal plunge by avoiding platforms as you fall from greater heights. If viewed cynically, Rock Bottom’s concept could be linked to suicide ideation, but I interpret its madness as wry hope for convenient change. Ultimately, the game is an affirmation of life after struggle, as suggested by the ending that celebrates the fact that the protagonist can finally jump without having to worry about escaping a hole.”

– “Game Bias’ 15 Greatest 2D Platformers List — Intro and Honorable Mentions,” Game Bias

36. Lonely Mountains: Downhill

“The first word of this game’s title gets it all wrong: there’s nothing lonely about exploring the natural world on one’s own terms. The bicycling of Lonely Mountains: Downhill is dangerous fun, as well as stunningly tactile. The photo modes of your favorite open-world smorgasbords can’t teach you how to appreciate the exciting yet unforgiving quality of an untamed landscape like this game (hilariously) can.”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2019,” Game Bias

37. Kirby’s Epic Yarn

In a vacuum, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is not highly challenging, but as a Kirby title, it presents a deviation from formula to the extent where I was unlearning how I used to play as Kirby as much as anything while navigating the drastically varied levels. In a franchise with its fair share of solid games, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is the most daring of the bunch. It deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, as these games all reinterpret foundational elements of their respective series in an unusual, arresting way. Let it be known, too, that Tomoya Tomito’s piano-driven compositions carry a level of sophistication and personal touch that is unmatched in the music of most pop games.

38. The Talos Principle

“It’s a miracle when a videogame dares to address the voice of God. The largely secular, apathetic and bitter videogame industry too often ignores what providence can mean to human experience and thought. Going well beyond the spiritual tokenism of Always Sometimes Monsters, The Talos Principle stands among the brave, contemplative few (Earthbound, The Shivah, Proteus) that seriously consider a greater power and the realizations that consideration can bring.”

– “The Talos Principle Review: I Think, Therefore I Solve,” Paste

39. Overwatch

I reviewed Overwatch, but I haven’t played it the last couple of years. I understand the game has undergone changes. No matter. I won’t forget what Overwatch represented. It was an imperfect channeling of Street Fighter II, which had more evocative levels, a more outstanding sense of geography, and an aesthetic of violence that really no game can match. But Overwatch intended to be a people’s shooter, just like Street Fighter II intended to be a people’s fighting game. It successfully redefined genre for the masses through simple, straightforward craft.

40. XCOM 2

2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown is more influential, but the battles in XCOM 2 have their own danger and suspense to them. XCOM 2 operates like a vice grip, calling for methodical precision. I can’t think of another 2010s game that better illustrates the idea of shit hitting the fan and all the feelings that come with that.

41. Crime Is Sexy

“There’s not a more vicious mockery of computer game politics than Crime Is Sexy. The sarcastic title has a double meaning, with the more obvious one being the jab at glorified crime series like Grand Theft Auto and Hotline Miami. Developer Jallooligans puts force into this punch by making the 1980s-inspired David Hasselhoff song ‘True Survivor’ the score to its satire. In this context, Hasselhoff’s trivial 2015 Internet hit evokes the same type of retro sentimentality that the game industry churns out to make its celebrations of illegal activity seem like a part of every happy childhood. The self-aware yet unthinking heroism in ‘True Survivor’ has a parallel in today’s smart-assed consumers who get hoodwinked by industry.”

– “Crime Is Sexy Review: Punching Up, Down, or Across,” Game Bias

42. Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders

“Developer Taito borrows more from Arkanoid for the premise: at the bottom of the screen, you control a paddle-shaped ship that can reflect bullets from enemies. With a slide of your finger, you can move the ship anywhere on roughly the bottom third of the screen — a departure from Arkanoid’s single-plane, left-right restriction. This new level of spatial freedom, combined with the ease of the finger-slide controls, gives Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders a distinctive frenetic feel.”

– “Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders Review — A Breakout Success,” Game Bias

43. The Duck Game

“This quirky title from James Earl Cox III, one of the most fascinating and prolific developers of the decade, might not fit the traditional definition of a 2D platformer, but it effectively utilizes platforms in its depiction of a downward spiral of addiction and obsession. Absurdly, the protagonist is preoccupied with the idea of holding the legs of a duck as the bird flies. Unless you elect to hit ‘Escape’ on your keyboard, you get to see what happens when the hero indulges in this practice. In addition to the trippy premise, visuals, and audio, the amusing part of The Duck Game is that the platforms don’t matter. When you’re flying high with the duck, the platforms are unnecessary for vertical advancement, and when flying with the duck becomes a problem (the protagonist stops caring about hygiene and everyday chores as the duck’s strength wanes), you can’t leap well enough to reach your previous high. The implication is that if the duck weren’t in the picture, you could go from platform to platform like a normal video-game character.”

– “Game Bias’ 15 Greatest 2D Platformers List — Intro and Honorable Mentions,” Game Bias

44. Problem Attic

Although there is a logic to advancing through this bizarre platformer from Liz Ryerson, the overwhelming transitory vibe of the visuals and audio can have one feel as if one is glitching through the proceedings by the skin of one’s teeth. This quality makes Problem Attic unsettling and even irritating, as the awkward level design compellingly evokes a sense of unfair imprisonment. There is an unwavering conviction to Ryerson’s creation that asks for a similar type of commitment from the audience. An unforgettable, thorny, and inimitable rejection of gaming conventions.

45. Cibele

“Cibele’s non-vindictive message on romantic confusion trumps the cliched she-villains in Her Story. Some argue Nina Freeman’s game could have been an ego trip, as she plays herself both in voice-overs and on video. Yet Freeman possesses an attractive, humble warmth on camera when you’re not searching through computer files or playing an online RPG as her eponymous counterpart. Even though clicking enemies to advance the story can be dull, the depicted online relationship carries a believable self-awareness about the blurring between virtual and actual worlds. Blake, the immature boyfriend, sums up a theme that is contemporary in one way but timeless in another: ‘I don’t know about real life.'”

– “Game Bias’ 10 Best Video Games of 2015,” Game Bias

46. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

“It’s a testament to director David Soliani and producer Xavier Manzanares that Mario + Rabbids never scans as a lazy attempt to make money off of the biggest mascot in video-game history.”

– “Review: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle,” Slant Magazine

47. Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition

“Developer Zach Sanford doesn’t merely sell Millennial angst; he suggests there’s an overlooked spiritual connection between the generations of America’s past and present in a believable family context.”

– “Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition Review — Home Work,” Game Bias

48. Pyre

“Countless sports video games have come and gone, but none have touched on the political, spiritual, and emotional impact of sports like the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired Pyre.”

– “The 25 Best Video Games of 2017,” Slant Magazine

49. With Those We Love Alive

This 2014 Twine adventure from Porpentine transports the player to a kingdom of sexually charged imagery. In a unique turn, the game orders you to draw on yourself to personalize the significance of the experience. Regardless of whether you do, With Those We Love Alive is hypnotic and exhausting in equal measure. As the artisan protagonist, you might travel in circles and wind up crashing in a bed repeatedly. When the events of the story become more lurid, it’s jarringly pleasurable to be swept out of the mundane into the grossly fantastic. The purple, pink, and blue colors, as well as the nightmarish textures of the soundtrack, are seductive and energetic. The narrative of With Those We Love Alive might be flexible enough to inspire individual interpretation, but its personality, equal parts alluring, oppressive, and vulnerable, is unmistakably consistent.

50. Steamworld Dig 2

In a break from the approach of its predecessor and that of many popular independent platformers, Steamworld Dig 2 doesn’t rely on procedurally generated stages, instead offering a superbly crafted and vast underground world for the player to dig their way through. Unearthing items has rarely been as exciting as it is in this sequel, which includes an ingenious hookshot mechanic that can be spammed to produce some breathtaking acrobatic feats in the precarious depths of the cave. In one respect, Steamworld Dig 2 is like going to a gritty job that you love; in another, it’s a worthy and epic update of Dig Dug, Mr. Do!, and Boulder Dash.

20 Honorable Mentions in No Particular Order

Shutshimi, Neon Deity Games
Dandara, Long Hat House
Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3, Zeboyd Games
Platformance: Castle Pain, Magiko Gaming
Into the Breach, Subset Games
Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo
Little Red Lie, Will O’Neill
Nier, Cavia (Yoko Taro)
The World the Children Made, James Earl Cox III
Snot City, James Earl Cox III
Talks with My Mom, Vaida
Replay Racer, Chris Johnson
Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo
That Dragon, Cancer, Numinous Games
Wasteland 2, inXile Entertainment (Brian Fargo)
Conversations We Have in My Head, Squinky
Westerado: Double Barreled, Ostrich Banditos
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Techland
Layers of Fear, Bloober Team
Dead Pixels, CSR-Studios