It’s time once again to talk about games that were overlooked or have perhaps become forgotten about as the months went on, with this year’s list featuring two titles that launched as far back as January – almost a year ago. Funny, that.
A handful of honourable mentions seems like a good idea. Our recommendations for this year include the incredibly in-depth pixel art park maker Let’s Make A Zoo, the astonishingly good looking retro throwback FPS Prodeus, backroom arcade management sim Arcade Paradise, the deceptively challenging RPG Tunic, and Deadcraft – a peculiar mixture of farming, crafting and role-playing set in a desolate post-apocalyptic world. Think Harvest Moon meets Mad Max.
If you enjoy games that dare to be a little bit different, you can’t go far wrong with any of the above. The same can be said for the six games below, even if a couple are of a somewhat acquired taste.
Windjammers 2- PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia
This arcade sequel launched during the dreary month of January, successfully managing to banish the January blues with its penchant for quintessential ‘90s fluorescent colours.
It makes sense to detail what Windjammers 2 is, as it may not be entirely obvious. The original Windjammers was a 1994 arcade sports game from Data East, powered by Neo Geo hardware. This is a direct sequel, created by Dotemu – best known for their work on Streets of Rage 4. It even shares a similar, striking, comic book-style art direction.
It plays not entirely unlike an evolution of Pong – two outlandish sporting personas throw a flying disc back and forth until somebody misses, and a goal is scored. Avoid missing frisbee for high score. It’s the intensity of the matches that astounds here – the flying disc slams and rebounds off surfaces, with every impact felt.
There’s a stiff learning curve to overcome initially – you’re likely to lose a dozen matches before securing your first victory – but it’s within this time that you’ll start to improve greatly and admire the game’s hidden depths; including sneaky ways to stage a comeback. And trust me, when that first victory finally comes, it feels incredible.
Nobody Saves the World – PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
In this top-down action RPG, you play as nobody. A literal nobody – a white, nondescript, stumpy chap who’s so ordinary that people are often oblivious to his presence. They’re so nondescript, in fact, that they’re a blank canvas – thus ideally suited for borrowing the identities of others.
Throughout this humorous adventure, our hero can transform into mice, horses, archers, mermaids, magicians, and more. Not only this, but their abilities can be mixed and matched. Certain enemies can only be defeated using certain attacks, and so you’ll need to create your own hybrid characters to survive this twisted world – which mixes fantasy with gross out humour. Think along the lines of the cult cartoon series Adventure Time, with a wide range of kooky characters.
The innovation doesn’t stop there. It borrows a few ideas from the world of mobile gaming, of all things. Every character has a number of on-the-fly challenges to complete, which in turn unlocks stars. To access a dungeon, a certain amount is required – meaning you’ll have to find some busy work to accumulate enough to progress. This soon emerges to be an addictive pursuit, helped by a world map that often teases areas not yet accessible.
This is a game that knows how to keep you playing. If you do find yourself wanting more once this 15+ hour adventure is over, you’re in luck – the Frozen Hearth add-on launched a few months ago.
Cult of the Lamb – PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Even as I write this, I’m in two minds about whether to include Cult of the Lamb on this list. It cleared a million sales shortly after launch, so it isn’t exactly a hidden gem or a sleeper hit. By all accounts it was a huge success for publisher Devolver Digital, managing to gain a lot of press coverage. But if I didn’t suggest checking it out, I’d be doing you a great disservice.
It’s a game comprising of two distinct genres: roguelike dungeon crawling, and settlement management. Hades meets Animal Crossing seems to be the most popular way to describe it.
You play as the last lamb on earth, spared from slaughter by an ominous being. In return, you’re asked to establish a cult and take down a hierarchy of bishops. This is achieved by heading to randomly generated dungeons to save fellow cute creatures and gather resources before battling a boss, and then returning to a woodland glen to establish a small village and indoctrinate newcomers.
It’s the presence of rituals where things become rather twisted – as head of a cult, your followers are loyal until the very end. They can be forced to work, pray, and even give up their own lives in return for cash, resources, and more. This leads to some comical instances – characters can become possessed and must be locked away until their manipulated minds clear. Villagers can become sick and die too, although your mighty self can bring loyal followers back from the grave. Indeed, there’s quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to forging a legacy.
Cult of the Lamb only asks for around 12 hours of time. I’m willing to bet that due to its addictive nature you’ll see its dramatic finale in a matter of days, becoming invested over a few lengthy sessions. It’s a game hard to draw yourself away from, especially knowing your cult’s survival rests on your actions.
Tinykin – PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
At first glance, tinyBuild’s Tinykin is an amalgam of Pikmin and the cult movie series Honey I Shrunk The Kids. Scratch the surface just a little though, and you’ll see that its inspirations are only skin deep.
You play as an ant-sized, pink-haired, humanoid who finds themselves trapped inside a house circa 1991 – a set-up that allows for all kinds of ‘90s paraphernalia, including amusing faux VHS tape covers and cereal boxes. That’s where the Honey I Shrunk The Noun similarities end – the plot involves space travel, aliens, and a race of tiny insects that evolved to the point where they’re able to create villages from everyday material.
As for Pikmin, our hero Milo is able to round up and collect hundreds of critters that can be used to create bridges and ladders, harness electricity, carry objects, and blow-up pathways. In the absence of combat, exploration takes centre stage – you’ll need to explore every nook and cranny to find enough critters to progress.
This takes Milo from the floor to the ceiling, with some surprisingly picturesque views to take in along the way. If you’re thinking that traversal must be slow in order to pad things out, you’re mistaken – Milo carries a bar of soap, which is used to skate and slide along spiderwebs to reach opposite sides of the room with ease.
With no enemies to worry about, Tinykin is a mostly frustration-free experience – the difficulty comes from trying to find objects and explore each room fully, with lots of secrets to find and extra quests to partake in. Together with its non-violent nature, it’s ideal for anyone seeking something family-friendly to play.
Metal: Hellsinger – PC, PS5, Xbox Series
What looks like DOOM Eternal, sounds like DOOM Eternal, but may actually be a tad better? The answer is Metal: Hellsinger – a game that plays nothing like its doppelganger.
See, this is a rhythm FPS. The middle of the screen features a rhythm gauge – if you time your shots and sword swipes perfectly the metal soundtrack becomes more raucous and the amount of destruction increases. How this works, quite simply, is that the enemies all have rather distinct attack patterns. Some spawn and will remain glued to the spot, spewing avoidable bullets until you’re ready to strike. Snake-like foes slither towards you but give a few seconds warning before an attack so that you can time a strike perfectly. All of this balances out beautifully into a ballet of dodging, striking, and shooting. It looks great too, leaving the last generation of consoles behind. [EDIT: Last-gen versions are now available]
Neither does it progress like a typical shooter – there’s a focus on replaying stages to climb leaderboards, and once a world has been beaten new arena-based challenges unlock that bestow perks once completed. It’s slightly short, but the £30 price tag does accommodate this. The only other downside is that if you aren’t into metal, you may not get quite as much out of it. But if any game can potentially turn you into a metalhead, it’s this one. Sorry, Brutal Legend.
Medieval Dynasty – PC, PS5, Xbox Series
One thing I forgot to mention in my review of this survival/crafting sim is how surprisingly chilled it is. It’s a case of just you and the great outdoors. Forests, waterfalls, rivers, and streams. Water trickles, wildlife scatters as you approach, and every day is accompanied by sunrise and sunset.
Medieval Dynasty doesn’t particularly fall into a single genre either, giving it quite a broad appeal. The ultimate goal is to forge your own dynasty by establishing a rural, countryside, settlement and finding a spouse. This entails a lot of resource collecting and crafting; each structure takes time to build, and seeing your village grow and become more advanced is wholly satisfying. There are some quests to partake too, feeling somewhat like traditional RPG filler – clearing out wolf dens, running fetch quests, etc. You may need to craft new gear before heading out, and it turns out that leaving your village behind for a few in-game days provides a welcome change of pace.
There’s depth here too. A village can, potentially, become self-sufficient but you’ll need to invest time into getting this up and running, assigning villagers roles, and providing them with tools. It’s a good job, then, that a lot of the survival elements can be turned off, such as removing hunger and thirst gauges and preventing bandits from invading your homestead.
I could only muster a 7/10 for Medieval Dynasty – it’s a little light on surprises and variety, and the combat isn’t up to much – but rest assured it’s one of the best 7/10 games around.
Pocky and Rocky: Reshrined – PS4, Switch
Pocky and Rocky: Reshrined reaffirms developer Tengo Project as masters of their craft. From the game’s name you’d be forgiven for going in expecting a remake or rerelease – standard in these times – but the developers go one step further.
Play beyond the first two stages and there’s so much more to Pocky and Rocky Reshrined than authentically upgraded presentation, as the game acts as an alternate history to the Super Nintendo original.
The plot diverges, of course, but the rethink to the game’s core design is what impresses most. Bosses are huge, screen-filling beasts. There are completely new shooting and defending mechanics that open up new strategies. New character additions appear alongside exclusive chapters tailor-made around their abilities.
It all contributes to a series entry that just wouldn’t have been possible on SNES, often feeling like a long-lost Sega Saturn or arcade exclusive sequel instead.