I must admit, chums, I find end of year lists rather hard to compile. The reason in chief here is that I don’t often get around to playing all of the major releases that I would’ve liked to - it’s a hard knock world, I know - be it down to life or simply not owning the hardware (sorry Super Mario Odyssey).
Yeah, yeah, I know: most folks find sports sims as interesting as spending the afternoon with their spouses’ family, but for me, Ashes Cricket is the best sports game released this year. Dirt 4 came close with it’s rambunctious rallying, but the pure joy of putting my own stamp on a fully licensed Ashes series is just too glorious to deny.
Aussie developer Big Ant builds on the disappointing Don Bradman Cricket 17 with improved visuals, motion capture and audio, to create a game that offers up a grand experience to both the cricketing pro and novice. To do so on a budget the size of titans EA Sports’ biscuit account is even more impressive.
4. World to the West
I first sampled World to the West at this year’s rezzed, and I have to admit, I found it an average adventure during my first foray into its universe. How wrong I was, as the game world turned out to be one of my favourite of not only this year, but this console generation so far.
The game sees you switching between four main characters (a mind control expert, an aristocratic strongman, a shovel-wielding child and a teslamancer) to explore the lush, cel-shaded world, solve puzzles and fight bosses. It’s charming, fun, full of things to do, and sticks just the right side of inspiration over parody with its use of Zelda and Metroid staples - what more could you want?
3. Stardew Valley
I’d been fretting over the choice of Sundered or Hellblade for the final spot on this list, but when I picked up ConcernedApe’s fair farming simulator that ceased to be an issue. I’d always fancied trying Harvest Moon, and here was a modern equivalent that was affordable (£14.99 or less UK-ers) and that I could easily pass off to the girlfriend if it failed to grip me...
Well, it gripped both of us, chums, and its stranglehold is yet to weaken. From the chunky SNES-style visuals, to the many, many side quests, to the pleasure of watching your farming empire rise from a few parsnip seeds - grazie Mayor Lewis - to trying to find a wife/husband by bribing them with gifts, every aspect of the game is truly joyous. If you have children or needy animals be warned, mind: Stardew Valley is one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played!
2. Serial Cleaner
In any other year - naughty Zelda - Serial Cleaner would be walking away with the title here, without question. The premise is simple: you are hired to clean crime scenes of bodies, evidence and blood, without being caught by the rozzers.
Serial Cleaner is, for me, one of the few independently made games to take a fabulous idea and actually compress it into a fully formed diamond. Its simple premise is fleshed out with superb comic book-style visuals, a hilarious 70s setting (complete with costumes, disco and nods to infamous serial killers of the time), easy-to-understand-yet-constantly-evolving gameplay, and the best cop show soundtrack of all time. The indie game of the year for me, without question!
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t already been said, honestly. Zelda has always had a special place in my heart, mainly down to the wonderful blend of quality gameplay, wistful story and guaranteed ethereal, beautiful music. Breath of the Wild boasts all of these, and though I found the dungeons and final boss fight a little disappointing compared to the genre/childhood defining Ocarina of Time, there’s no denying just how glorious an experience the game was - and still is - overall.
There are moments of wonder at every single corner, from the way the beautiful, cel-shaded (I think I might have a thing for this graphical style…) grass moves in the wind, to the goosebumps that I feel every time a soft piano riff suddenly creeps in, to the depth of the game’s crafting and cooking systems. The sheer amount of freedom on offer it staggering, and really does make up for the ever-so-slightly underwhelming aspects of the game.
I’m still searching for every shrine, side quest, new horse and treasure chest, putting in nearly 100 hours thus far - that might not sound like a lot to some, but anything over 30 hours for a non-sports game is huge for me - and that doesn’t show any sign of stopping, especially with The Champion’s Ballad DLC now live. If you’re one of the strange hermits of mink hollow yet to play the game, I implore thee to venture out of the burrow and enjoy one of the best game worlds ever created.
What do you think of Rob’s picks? Let us know and share your favourite games from the past 12 months below.