earthworm jim

30 Games We Want to See on the Sega Genesis Mini

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Given Sega’s track record of frequently releasing their old 16-bit games as well as licensing retro consoles, it’s no surprise they’ve decided to jump on the mini retro console bandwagon. The Sega Genesis Mini is coming this Fall, and includes a digital library of 40 classic Genesis games. But the initial reveal included only 10 of the 40 games.

The confirmed games so far:

  • Ecco the Dolphin
  • Castlevania Bloodlines
  • Space Harrier 2
  • Shining Force
  • Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
  • Toejam & Earl
  • Comix Zone
  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Altered Beast
  • Gunstar Heroes

As we’ve done with the SNES and PlayStation mini retro consoles, we’ve compiled a list of games we’d like to see fill out the library. We have a lot of confidence on most of this list, as Sega has released previous compilation packs of Genesis games as recently as last December on the Nintendo Switch.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle

sega genesis

Fun fact: Before Sonic, the closest thing Sega had to a mascot was Alex Kidd. The weird platformer was already on its fifth game by the time Sega released the 16-bit Genesis, and it’s more of a quirky novelty than anything resembling a good game. But it’s worth checking out to see how much gameplay improved from the early days of the Genesis in a pre-Sonic era.

Beyond Oasis

sega genesis

The original Legend of Zelda and especially its 16-bit sequel, A Link to the Past, has inspired countless games throughout the decades. Sega’s response in 1995 was Beyond Oasis, a colorful Zelda-like action-adventure with an Arabian Nights theme. Like most games that infuse Zelda DNA, it still plays great today.

Columns

sega genesis

Sega’s answer to the mega-popular Tetris was Columns. The falling block, er, jewel puzzle game is structured the same. But instead of rotating shapes, you can swap out the colored symbols in order to create matches. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is largely the same game with Sonic window dressing.

Disney’s Aladdin

sega genesis

The 16-bit Aladdin is often the focus of old school controversy, due to the differences between the SNES and Genesis versions. No matter where you fall on the 90s console wars, Aladdin on the Genesis is one of the best, most gorgeous looking side-scrolling action games on the system.

Earthworm Jim

sega genesis

With goofy characters and gross-out humor, Earthworm Jim (and the sequel) is the perfect embodiment of 90s cheese. Comic-like hand-drawn art and animations meet fluid controls and tough-as-nails level design. There was a brief period in the mid-90s where Earthworm Jim became a bigger media franchise, with action figures and even a Saturday Morning Cartoon, which ran for two seasons.

Eternal Champions

sega genesis

Fighting games were huge in the 90s thanks to the explosive popularity of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. We’d love to see those games on the Sega Genesis Classic, but the Sega-published Eternal Champions has the best chance of appearing. It draws heavily from Street Fighter and draws together warriors and mythological figures throughout human history.

Fatal Labyrinth

sega genesis

The roguelike dungeon crawler Fatal Labyrinth isn’t the most attractive game, but it’s notable as taking a very PC-centric genre and successfully translating it to a console. The randomized dungeon is shockingly huge, featuring 30 total levels.

Flashback

sega genesis

Flashback is an action-adventure game most notable for its focus on storytelling and (for the time) impressive motion capture technology for animations. It was remastered and released on the Nintendo Switch last year, which also marked its 25th anniversary.

Golden Axe 

sega genesis

Like Sonic, it’s impossible to mention Sega games without bringing up Golden Axe. The side-scrolling beat ’em up series was originally born on Arcades and ported to consoles. The art and theme are heavily based on the Conan style fantasy series of half-naked, muscle-bound protagonists. The sequel was largely the same, while the third game added in new abilities and features.

Jewel Master

sega genesis

Jewel Master is a side-scrolling action-adventure where you gain elemental rings. Each ring provides a different elemental attack, and two rings can be equipped at a time to create different attacks and playstyles. That may not sound terribly impressive now, but in 1991 it was mind-blowing.

Jungle Strike

The sequel to Desert Strike continued the solid isometric shoot ’em up gameplay where you piloted a helicopter through hostile territory, rescuing allies and chasing down convoys. The Strike series was successful enough to spawn several more sequels on the next console generation.

Jurassic Park

sega genesis

Odds are we probably won’t see it due to licensing, but Jurassic Park on the Genesis was a fantastic side-scrolling action game with impressive 3D models, and levels drawn from the Michael Crichton novel. It also had every early 90s kid’s dream: playing as a velociraptor! The sequel, Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition, was equally awesome.

Mortal Kombat II

Mortal Kombat’s brutal violence and bloody gore sparked a well-documented gaming controversy in the 90s (along with other games like Doom) that eventually lead to the formation of the ESRB and ratings system. Mortal Kombat, and especially its sequel, are less a history lesson and more a lesson in great game design, featuring tight controls and a diverse roster of fosters. The fighting game series continues to find success to this day, with Mortal Kombat 11 launching on April 23.

NBA Jam

Like many great games of the era, NBA Jam was originally released as an arcade game. It was notable for featuring real licensed NBA teams and players, though the actual rules and physics were loosened significantly in favor of, well, awesome plays.

NHL ’94

It’s a bit sad that NHL ’94 remains one of the best hockey games ever made. Even non-hockey fans enjoyed the intuitive gameplay and character models. NHL ’94 includes four different game modes, including Best of Seven matches and shootout mini-games.

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium

When it came to 16-bit Japanese RPGs, Nintendo had Final Fantasy, Sega had Phantasy Star. Sadly the Phantasy Star series didn’t end up nearly as popular or long-lived as Final Fantasy, but Sega fans know it was one of the best RPG series around at the time. The fourth and final game (at least until Phantasy Star Online released in 2000) is largely considered the best.

Road Rash 2

Long before The Fast and the Furious, there was Road Rash. Road Rash was a motorcycle racing game. The motorcycles alone set it apart from other racing games, as well as the ability to attack your fellow bikers using a variety of melee weapons. Road Rash 2 added split-screen multiplayer.

Shadowrun

The cyberpunk tabletop RPG was adapted into two wildly different games on SNES and Genesis, though both were still solid RPGs. The Genesis version featured a top-down camera and a more open RPG world to recruit fellow runners and go on missions.

Shining Force 2

Yes we’re aware that the original Shining Force has already been confirmed. We’re also hear to tell you that the vastly superior sequel should also be included. Before Fire Emblem finally made it to the west in the early 2000s, the Shining Force series brilliantly combined JRPG story-telling and characters with tactical combat. Shining Force 2 is widely considered one of the best games on the Genesis, and one of the best RPGs of all time.

Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master

Ninjas were hot in the 80s and 90s, and the Shinobi series took full advantage with its fast-paced shuriken-throwing action. The third game is far less brutally difficult and adds new ninja moves like wall-jumping and a jump kick.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

This is such an obvious inclusion that it’s almost insulting it wasn’t confirmed along with the original Sonic. The first Sonic is a fine game but the sequel amped up the series’s signature speed, improved the colorful level designs, and added a second playable character with Tails. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 remains a phenomenal side-scrolling experience to this day.

Sonic Spinball

Sega quickly saturated the market with their popular blue mascot throughout the 90s, including multiple genre spin-offs. A pinball game is both a weird and wonderful choice, given Sonic’s ability to curl up into a ball and zip through areas.

Sonic 3D Blast

The 16-bit era began experimenting with rudimentary 3D game designs, for better and for worse. Sonic 3D Blast was the final Sonic game to release on the Genesis in 1996. The transition to 3D proved a mixed bag. Sonic’s normally speedy gameplay slowed way down, and controlling the hedgehog in the 3D world proved troublesome. It’s an interesting and flawed look into how game designers attempted to translate 2D gameplay into 3D.

Streets of Rage 2

Golden Axe is there for its historical legacy but if you want an actually awesome co-op beat ’em up, you want the Streets of Rage series. The series boasted satisfying attack animations and colorful levels and enemies dripping with 80s/90s cheese. The sequel is considered the most superior (with an amazing soundtrack), though the third game is solid as well.

Sunset Riders

We didn’t get Sunset Riders on the SNES Classic but we’re holding out hope for Sega to come through. The old west beat ’em up exchanged punches for revolvers and shotguns, and translated very well from arcades to consoles.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turltes: The Hyperstone Heist

The Hyperstone Heist is essentially a remixed version of Turtles in Time, and that’s a good thing. The arcade beat ’em up is a fantastic co-op adventure featuring the then mega-popular ninja turtles.

Toejam  & Earl: Panic on Funkotron

We’re happy the original quirky roguelike adventure has already been confirmed in the lineup. But the sequel is definitely worth including as well, especially as it’s an entirely different genre. Panic on Funkotron is a more standard side-scrolling action-platformer filled with secrets as the funky aliens work to capture all the earthlings loose on their home planet.

Vectorman

Vectorman’s 3D model character designs aren’t quite as impressive today as they were in the mid-90s, though it did impressively stretch what the Genesis was capable of. But the fast-paced running and gunning, large level designs, and transformable main character make it, and the sequel, some of the best action games on the system.

Virtua Fighter 2

Virtua Fighter 2 has an odd development history, first appearing on arcades, then the 32-bit Sega Saturn, before being ported to the 16-bit Sega Genesis. The fighting series was notable for featuring 3D models and real-world fighting styles, though the Genesis version is a 2D remake.

Wonder Boy in Monster World

The Wonder Boy series has gone through several different iterations, but Monster World is the most memorable. Gameplay is like a side-scrolling Legend of Zelda as our spiky-haired hero uses magic and weapons to defeat monsters, gain new equipment, and unlock new monster-filled regions to explore.

final assault

PAX South 2019 Preview: Wage Tabletop VR Warfare in Final Assault

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While once prolific in the 90s, real time strategy games have ebbed in recent years. Controlling multiple units while managing resources, maintaining map awareness, and researching new weapons of war is a daunting task when armed with a mouse and keyboard, and nigh impossible anywhere else.

Yet I was blown away by how well Phaser Lock Interactive’s VR real time strategy game, Final Assault, captured all the fun of a real time strategy game while streamlining all the messy bits, creating an immersive virtual tabletop wargame.

At PAX South 2019 I was able to get some hands-on time (and heads-in for VR) with the 1v1 PvP mode for Final Assault, on the Hill-512 map.

I was immediately pleased with the aesthetic and size of the battlefield. Final Assault smartly keeps the World War 2 battlefield small and intimate so you don’t have to spend any time jogging around your living room or slowly pulling yourself across the contested war zone.

The cardboard and plastic art style is very reminiscent of the classic Army Men toy soldiers, or popular miniature wargames like Memoir ’44, giving the entire game an enjoyable tabletop vibe. Several times during the demo I was so distracted by the detail of the units, animations, and buildings that I fell behind in troop deployment.

“We used train sets as references. It’s amazing how detailed those train sets can get,” says Michael Daubert, CEO, Phaser Lock Interactive. “We wanted to make it a compelling and beautiful environment. It helps as well with performance and being able to build big environments and run at 90 frames per second.”

“One of the things I like about our maps is that if you look off into the distance, it doesn’t look like you’re in a fake world. I feel like I could go look and see what’s on the other side of those hills,” says Todd Bailey, Creative Director.

final assault

 

There are no resources to mange nor fog of war to worry about. A single currency level gradually ticks up, creating quick decisions on which units to buy, or to wait and unlock more advance units. Supply boxes will periodically air drop onto the map, granting a quick boost of money to whoever gets there first.

“Originally we created an entire RTS game, and it was crazy. There was way too many buttons, but when we took that out, you were waiting too long for stuff to build up. When you’re in VR you want to get into the action as quick as possible,” says Daubert. “What we did is focus more on the combat itself. We took away base building and tech trees. I wanted to focus on the faster gameplay of what an RTS can be. We’ve created a happy medium between RTS and MOBA that gets the player in as quickly as possible without the mental fatigue of trying to manage everything.”

A console-based strategy game is going to live and die by its control scheme. Final Assault’s drop-and-drag system worked perfectly to quickly get units out on the battlefield and into the fight.

The clipboard UI looks and feels great. I hold my tech tree catalog in one hand and simply grab the unit I want, like a biplane or tank, and plop it onto the map. Final Assault uses the lane-based combat of MOBAs to provide an easy way of handling multiple units. If a unit is dropped into one of the main lanes on a map, they’ll automatically follow it, engaging enemy forces along the way.

Infantry will constantly spawn and push the lane, creating a constant tug-of-war. It’s up to me to purchase and deploy the right units, and set them up in strategic places. Bombers can soften up tanks, while anti-air guns will help prevent an aerial ambush, and artillery can bombard fortifications from afar.

final assault

The demo ended as I deployed my Axis forces’ ultimate weapon – a V-2 rocket. I watched in gleeful satisfaction as it physically launched from my base and soared toward my opponent’s to the warning sounds of klaxons.

I came away really impressed with how quickly I was able to grasp the controls and flow of the lane-based warfare, despite having very little VR  experience. Final Assault already looks and plays great, and is shaping up to be a worthy competitive experience for any VR general.

Final Assault is coming to Steam Early Access on February 12, with a full launch later this April on Oculus and Vive. It will launch later this Summer on PlayStation VR and support cross-platform play. The final game will feature a single player campaign as well as online multiplayer PvP with 14 maps at launch, and more factions to arrive as post-launch DLC. It’s rated E10+.

battle princess madelyn

How a Young Daughter, a Late Dog, and an 80’s Platformer Inspired Battle Princess Madelyn

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When your child is having a rough time, many fathers would bring home a teddy bear, or take them out for ice cream. But for pixel artist and indie game developer Christopher Obritsch, he decided to make a game.

“[My daughter] Maddi was bullied in daycare and at school,” says Obritsch. “The boys picked on her, telling her she couldn’t do things because she was a girl. I remember being very angry. I wanted to do something to cheer her up. I have scoliosis so I’m not exactly the playful dad I wish I was – so I make up for it in the only ways I know how.”

Battle Princess Madelyn was born, a retro-inspired platformer starring a pixelated version of Obritsch’s young daughter.

“I recently had left my full time job at a game studio near where I’m located. I had the money to do something but not at the scale it ended up being,” says Obritsch. “And since the game was for Maddi, I wanted to do everything I could with it. And so we came to Kickstarter.” The Kickstarter campaign launched on Maddi’s fifth birthday. “I thought, what a great way to prove to Maddi that she really can do whatever she wants to do.”

As many indie game projects inevitably go, Battle Princess Madelyn ended up as a much larger game than what was originally designed. The Kickstarter campaign was a big success, reaching over CA$ 200,000 with over 3,400 backers. It’s openly inspired by Obritsch’s all-time favorite game, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, a challenging 16-bit action-platformer from the 80s.

“I like the dark horror themed stuff. Always have. So seeing Ghouls ‘N Ghosts when I was a kid? Awesome,” says Obritsch. “My favorite movies of all time all sport dead guys or people fighting dead guys – BeetleJuice, Robocop, Ghostbusters, Evil Dead 2, etc. I loved drawing skeletons when I was kid – gross stories that got my parents called in to talk to the teacher.”

Obritsch’s love of the game fueled a passion for pixel art and programming, and eventually a career in multimedia and graphic designer. He got into making games as a hobby, where his new bouncing baby served as his muse. “I ended up doing a very early game for Maddi. One of the levels ended up a 3D shoot ’em up where she is on my back and we’re flying through rainbows and shooting bumble bees and crows while picking up coins. I ended up getting discovered by an ad agency for a musician and almost won the Brit Music Awards that year for Best Interactive Video.”

Obritsch credits his daughter Madelyn as his Creative Director for Battle Princess Madelyn. “She either draws me pictures or sits with me and tells me what to do. She’s my harshest critic!” He recalls a specific instance where five year-old Maddi came home from a friend’s house with a new drawing that she was very proud of.

“She explained a boss fight she had designed. It’s a giant cat you shoot in the bum, but you have to feed it to get it to turn around. I was just shocked – she had come up with a strategy for a boss fight on her own. That was a proud daddy moment,” says Obritsch. “I’m hoping to find that picture for the Kickstarter art book.”

battle princess madelyn

Another member of Obritsch’s family made it into Battle Princess Madelyn, their late dog Fritzy, whose passing partially inspired the story mode. “The story kind of came into play when we knew the real Fritzy was going to be leaving us soon. The intro of the game then started off with Fritzy getting blasted and becoming a ghost dog.”

Young Maddi was very attached to the family dog and took his passing especially hard. “Maddi would talk at night about becoming a vet and making a blue pill to make Fritzy all better. It was heart-breaking to listen to. I decided to put him in the game so she could keep him forever in some form.”

The result was a friendly companion that returns to the titular Battle Princess after his untimely death in the intro. Ghost Fritzy gain new powers over the course of the story, and is capable of resurrecting Madelyn if she falls in battle. “She loves Ghost Fritzy and thinks its very cute,” says Obritsch.

battle princess madelynDesigning Battle Princess Madelyn has been a labor of love, but with Kickstarter came bigger responsibilities and longer hours. “I work now more than I ever have,” says Obritsch. “We averaged out that I work about 126 hours a week for the past three years. It’s taken a toll on me both mentally and physically.”

Obritsch adds that because he works from home, the long hours don’t bother him as much. He sneaks in breaks with his family whenever he can (his wife Lina works as the company CFO, and directed the game’s trailer). “I have the option of going upstairs and seeing my family if I need a 10-minute break,” he says. “And Maddi sits with me a lot while making the game. She has her desk right next to mine where she draws.”

For the future, Causal Bit Games plans on making a sequel to Battle Princess Madelyn. In fact, there’s a hidden ending that teases the sequel that may involve Obritsch’s youngest daughter Sofia. But he notes that he’s also looking at a break from platformers, and possibly even retiring from pixel art altogether and moving on to something bigger.

“As stressful as it’s been making [Battle Princess Madelyn], I have loved every moment of the creative process,” says Obritsch. “It was wonderful to share this kind of a project with Maddi. To show her that we really can do whatever we set our minds to – no matter what people say or think. It’s been a wonderful journey. And now our youngest daughter Sofia will need her own game as well!”

Battle Princess Madelyn is coming later this year to PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Wii U, and PS Vita.

pax south 2018

The 20 Most Exciting Indie Games from PAX South 2018

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As one of the smaller Penny Arcade Expos, PAX South remains a great destination for indie designers and publishers. This year Capcom dominated the showfloor with Monster Hunter: World, but bigger indie publishers like 1C, TinyBuild, Annapurna, Devolver Digital, and Crytivo also drew large crowds. Microsoft’s Mixer booth proved a popular destination, with the Hunger Games-like Battle Royale Darwin Project letting onlookers vote to help, or hinder, the players.

Here are the 20 most exciting indie games we saw at PAX South 2018.

Children of Morta

Developer: Dead Mage
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO
Release: 2018

“Basically Children of Morta is a hack and slash roguelike story-driven experience,” said Rufus Kubica, Community Manager at publisher 11 bit Studios. We jumped right into some cooperative dungeon crawling within the beautifully pixelated, randomly generated world of Mount Morta.

I played as the spellcasting daughter who could blast fireballs and unleash tornadoes, while the fighter-dad could slam swords down all around him. Combat was a bit faster and more dynamic than a Diablo. The full game will have six family members to choose from for up to two players to adventure together.

Crossing Souls

Developer: Fourattic
Platforms: PC, PS4
Release: February 13

Stop what you’re doing and watch the above trailer. Crossing Souls is dripping with cool animated style (complete with VHS scan lines!) and 80s pop culture. The real world 80s RPG setting reminded me of Earthbound, but with a much more active action-RPG combat system. I played through the very beginning, where our blue-haired hero wakes up at home and learns how to swing a bat by practicing with this dad in the backyard. Eventually you’ll control five characters, each with specific abilities that can be used to solve puzzles and defeat enemies.

Darwin Project

Developer: Scavengers Studio
Platforms: PC, XBO
Release: 2018 (End of March for Early Access)

You like the explosive new Battle Royale genre but think it could use a bit more Hunger Games viewer participation? Look no further than The Darwin Project.

The Microsoft Mixer booth was constantly drawing a crowd thanks to this game. Ten players are dropped into a snowy warzone where they must scavenge for supplies and upgrades. A game master has full control of the arena, such as being able to bestow buffs on crowd favorites or nuke entire zones that the audience has voted on. Given the popularity of other Battle Royale games, I can see this being a huge release for Microsoft later this year. A limited time open beta is coming this weekend.

Dauntless

Developer: Phoenix Labs
Platforms: PC
Release: 2018

I saw Dauntless at last year’s PAX South, and it’s making my list again this year. The free-to-play Monster Hunter-lite is much more impressive this time around. Controls instantly felt intuitive, and it was fun immediately jumping into a hunt with three other players.

We battled Skarn, a rocky lizard monster who could slough off his rocky scales to slam into us or call up spikes of rock to impale us. My war pike had several different combos I could unleash using the light and heavy attacks, and I had to coordinate with my team to draw it away while we could revive each other when the going got rough. We ultimately fell short of slaying the monster but I hope to try again during the beta period. Open beta should be available later this summer.

Deep Sky Derelicts

Developer: Snowhound Games
Platforms: PC
Release: March 2018 (Available now via Steam Early Access)

Deep Sky Derelicts is Darkest Dungeon in space. Create a team of badasses and go on missions to loot derelict spaceships, along with a fantastic synthwave soundtrack and comic book panel-animations.

The spaceships act as dungeon crawls, and combat shifts to a turn-based system. Deep Sky Derelict’s unique twist is that each weapon and item you equip grants a selection of cards. Each character has a personal deck they use to attack enemies, shield allies, or apply buffs and debuffs. I want to play a lot more of this game.

Evolution: The Video Game

Developer: North Star Games
Platforms: PC, iOS, Android
Release: Spring 2018

The digital version of Evolution had just reached infancy at last year’s PAX South. This year I could see the fruits of their labor. The video game version is instantly familiar to veterans of the excellent tabletop game: create species, customize them with traits, and keep them well fed to earn victory points. The visuals and animation go above and beyond what I usually see in digital board game ports. Evolution is coming soon to PC, iOS, and Android and will feature cross-platform play and asynchronous multiplayer.

Frostpunk

Developer: 11 bit Studios
Platforms: PC
Release: 2018

From the creators of This War of Mine comes another stark, human look at survival with Frostpunk. The world has ended, blanketed in unforgiving snow and frost. I had control of the last city, whose hub was represented by a giant reactor core that harnesses geothermal energy from deep within the Earth. From there I had to carefully expand outward, building houses and collecting resources for my survivors.

Unlike many city-builders Frostpunk is concerned with the day-to-day lives of your citizens. As in This War of Mine numerous random events will pop up, forcing you to choose how to lead your people. I could enact child labor laws for safe work, and later down the road enact even stricter and more dystopian ordinances, all in the name of survival.

Guns of Icarus Alliance

Developer: Muse Games
Platforms: PC, PS4
Release: March 31 (Released last year on PC)

Guns of Icarus Alliance released last year on PC as a stand-alone expansion, adding new PvE elements to the team-based airship action. The build at PAX South was showing off the new PlayStation 4 version, which will have full cross-platform play and voice chat with the PC version.

One of the developers manned the wheel of our ship and shouted out incoming enemy airships as I and a handful of others ran around our flying steampunk zeppelin putting out fires, repairing guns, and firing on would be attackers. The level of coordination and teamwork required to succeed felt nicely challenging and fun.

Laser League

Developer: Roll7
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO
Release: Early 2018

I had lots of hands-on time with Laser League during a private press meeting with 505 Games. Laser League is the clever combination of Tron’s light cycles with arena sports. Several different class roles are available, each with special abilities including stuns, cloaking, and attack. The arena is full of rotating beams of light that must be touched to change them to your team’s color – rendering them deadly to your opponents. It’s an intuitive system that rewards teamwork and quick decision-making, like any good sports match.

Last Encounter

Developer: Exordium Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO, Switch
Release: Q2 2018

Twin stick space shooters are a dime in dozen, but Last Encounter’s four player local co-op is immediately exciting and fun. Within seconds of jumping in we were flying around firing our lasers and avoiding enemies. Each level was filled with dangerous hazards with keys to collect at the end, opening the way to a major boss battle against a giant ship that spawned smaller ships. Weapons and power-ups gave it a nice arcade-like feel, and the difficulty was mitigated by being able to resuscitate your downed allies.

Light Fall

Developer: Bishop Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO, Switch
Release: March 2018

Light Fall comes from a long line of mysterious side-scrolling platformers. What sets it apart is the ability to create your own platforms. As I controlled the shadowy protagonist, I could create a platform underneath me simply by pressing the jump button again, up to four times. When I later ran into lasers blocking my path, I pressed a different button to summon a moveable platform above me, letting me block the lasers while I skirted underneath. I particularly enjoyed the richly-voiced old man owl who accompanies you from level to level.

The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game

Developer: Fantasy Flight Interactive
Platforms: PC
Release: 2018

Fantasy Flight Games are one of the premiere board game developers, and now they’re bringing one of their best card games to digital form. The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game looks similar to Hearthstone, but it’s actually entirely cooperative. It’s designed for solo or up to two players to choose three heroes and battle against Sauron’s gathering forces during the early days of the adventure.

The ‘Living Card Game’ means it does not rely on random booster packs. Instead you purchase expansion packs knowing exactly which cards they will include. That is very appealing in an era where we’re being smothered in loot boxes.

The Messenger

Developer: Sabotage Studio
Platforms: PC, unannounced consoles
Release: 2018

The Messenger was one of the most impressive games I saw at the show floor. On the surface it looks like yet another retro-inspired, pixelated platformer, complete with Ninja Gaiden-style protagonist. Dig slightly deeper and you’ll discover a killer chiptune soundtrack, delightfully funny dialogue, perfect controls and level design, and a well-structured world that actually evolves from 8-bit into 16-bit, then into full on Metroidvania. The Messenger could absolutely be the next Shovel Knight in pitch-perfect retro gameplay.

Moonlighter

Developer: Digital Sun Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO, Switch
Release: 2018

What if Link only adventured at night, and ran a shop during the day? That’s the question posed by Digital Sun Games in Moonlighter. The dungeon crawling portions was an exact recreation of old school top-down Legend of Zelda. As I gathered treasure my backpack would fill up, prompting me to return to town to put the goods on display. There’s a deep economy system where you have full control over setting prices for each object, noting what sells and how happy your clients are. Make money, purchase better gear, and make it farther into the dungeon. Capitalism, ho!

Omensight

Developer: Spearhead Games
Platforms: PC
Release: 2018

From the developers of story-driven action-RPG Stories: Path of Destinies comes another story-driven action-RPG in Omensight. The level design and combat felt very similar as I used mystical abilities to grab foes from afar and create a time-slowing bubble.

I traversed a temple level with my rat-woman ally, but when we reached the end I had to make a choice with how to deal with the bird priest. One choice sided with her as we took on the priest in a boss fight, while the other let me side with the priest, skipping the fight but also losing her friendship. The full game will feature numerous choices and paths as you discover how to prevent the end of the world.

Phantom Doctrine

Developer: CreativeForge Games
Platforms: PC
Release: 2018

It’s the 1980s and we’re knee-deep in spy warfare during the Cold War era. Phantom Doctrine most closely resembles XCOM with its turn-based tactical combat, but it’s all the other systems that make it interesting, from using your spies to distract guards (provided they know the language of the locals) to capturing and brainwashing enemy spies and turning them to your side with a trigger phrase.

Phantom Doctrine uses all the best bits of all your favorite spy movies, including the classic corkboard string-and-thumbtack walls where you try to decipher clues to uncover hidden plots and secrets. All these systems have the potential of buckling under their weight, but from what I played I’m confident CreativeForge Games has a firm grasp on how to create a memorable spy game.

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Platforms: PC
Release: 2018

Obsidian remains one of the best RPG developers around. To say I’m excited for the sequel to my personal game of the year three years ago is an understatement. Pillars of Eternity 2 is looking fantastic, taking the tactical RPG into the pirate-filled archipelago of the Deadfire. Everything is getting nice little tweaks and facelifts, from the UI to combat. Now you can program your entire party Final Fantasy 12-style, letting you show off your skill as a tactician as you chase after a giant runaway god-statue.

Sleep Tight

Developer: We Are Fuzzy
Platforms: PC, Switch
Release: 2018

Sleep Tight has a noticeably kid-friendly aesthetic and theme – you’re a kid who must protect his bedroom from incoming monsters. It’s one part tower defense and one part twin stick shooter as I used my earn star power to craft super-soaker weapons and walls made of couch cushions. Don’t let its cute graphics fool you, Sleep Tight is still a challenge as you’re tasked with surviving as many nights as you can.

The Swords of Ditto

Developer: OneBitBeyond
Platforms: PC, PS4
Release: Early 2018

Swords of Ditto had one of the loveliest, brightest art styles of all the games I saw. The animations are equally gorgeous as my randomly generated character woke up on a beach to grab the sword and continue the 16-bit Zelda-like adventure. The catch? Dying is permanent, generating a new hero with different weapons each time. But your progress through the world is saved, creating an interesting rogue-like Zelda experience.

Wattam

Developer: Funomena
Platforms: PC, PS4
Release: Early 2018

Wattam has suffered through development hell to emerge as a quirky, fun little adventure puzzle game coming this year. It’s from the creator of Katamari Damacy, and feels very similar in theme as you discover the world around you through the various goofy anthropomorphic objects and characters. Analog controls, cheery music, and bright smiles help sell this as a good-feeling, light-hearted puzzle game.

Pixelkin’s Game of the Year 2016

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Rather than settle on one game of the year, here at Pixelkin we feel like every one of our writers brings a unique perspective. Therefore our most prominent contributors have made their game of the year selections. Our hope is that these recommendations give you an idea of the great games of the year in all of our eyes.

Nicole’s Pick

Event[0]

I’ve been playing games my whole life and have been writing about them for more than 10 years. While there are many games that are great at what they do, it’s a rare occasion that I see something completely new. Event[0] is one of those games. Though the story isn’t that different from other AI gone wrong games like Portal, the gameplay is not only intriguing, it’s a lot of fun. Rather than listening to the  AI spout information to you, in Event[0] you have the chance to interact with that AI, whose name is Kaizen.

event0-screenshot-01

You use terminals throughout the environment to converse with the Kaizen. Very little direction is given in regard to what you should ask or say, so the conversations end up being unique to each player. And besides that, they can be very amusing. This is impressive given that even modern RPGs that are focused on choice only have a few canned responses. In Event [0] those responses are nearly limitless.

Kaizen is arguably one of the main characters, if not the main character in the game. Heck, he’s one of the most interesting characters in any game. You can’t proceed without his help and many times you’ll have to be nice to him to get him to help you. Kaizen is a witty and somewhat moody character. Many times I tried multiple approaches to see what he would say and it was endlessly entertaining.

Lots of games that are trying something new with their gameplay end up falling into a hole where the game falters in other aspects in order to accommodate that gameplay. Event[0] keeps an entertaining story and other types of gameplay intact while adding in something new. This game hasn’t received the kind of attention that it deserves. It’s unique, amusing and fun. That’s the reason why it’s my favorite game of the year.

Eric’s Pick

Stardew Valley

My game of the year came as a complete surprise. I knew I’d love Overwatch, XCOM 2, and Civilization VI. I’d never given much thought to sim farm games like Harvest Moon, but I ended up sinking over 70 hours into this charming, pixelated adventure.

stardew-valley

Stardew Valley plays like a love letter to 90s JRPGs, localized entirely within a single town. There’s so much to do in and around Pelican Town it’s often overwhelming, especially since the game takes place in a strict day/night cycle with real seasons. Explore the mines to defeat monsters and find treasure. Socialize with townsfolk to earn rewards, and maybe even a spouse. Fish, explore, trade, and participate in seasonal events. Each day brings a wealth of important tasks and new possibilities.

Stardew Valley is so much more than a farm sim, yet the farming portion is also immensely satisfying. There’s a wonderful balance between scrapping enough money to buy just a few seeds, to eventually turning your land into a well-oiled brewery or animal farm that makes more money than you know what to do with. It’s a great experience with a catchy soundtrack, surprisingly poignant writing, and some of the best pixel art I’ve seen. Stardew Valley deserves all the praise and accolades for being this year’s big indie success, and my favorite game of the year.

Stephen’s Pick

Overwatch

The time has come to bid farewell to one heck of a bad year. 2016 wasn’t very good for much, but we did get some amazing video games. Nicole, our fearless leader, asked me a few weeks ago to think long and hard about what my personal game of the year should be. I had a lot of options, because I played a lot of very cool video games. But, at the end of it all there is only one game that stands out as “the best” and that is Overwatch.

overwatch-screen

Overwatch is a brilliantly designed game that is possessed of a level of polish that is rarely seen in games today. Every minute detail in that glorious game is treated with care. You can feel the energy that went into development just like you can feel the excitement in a match rise naturally as it reaches its crescendo.

It isn’t just the details that make the difference though. Overwatch has managed to prove that an online multiplayer shooter with no single player campaign to speak of can be successful. And it achieved this goal by having an amazing set of characters that are well balanced against each other and all but forcing players to learn to play all of them in order to excel at the game. In most multiplayer games players are expected to select a “main.” This is the character you focus all of your effort into learning. With Overwatch the game forces you to learn all of them the same way you would learn the nuances of different weapons in other shooters. This would be bothersome if it weren’t for the fact that all of the characters in this game just so freaking COOL!

Speaking of characters – The world is a scary place and there are a lot of people who are more scared by people who are different from them. Overwatch doesn’t do that. It celebrates a cast of characters that celebrate diversity more than just about any game to have come before. If you have doubts, then look at the character select screen and take a look at all the different nationalities, body types, and genders represented. Its impressive, but what makes it better is that nothing feels forced. All of the characters are complete and well rounded. No one is the “token” anything. This is a great feeling when it feels like the celebration of diversity is being squelched elsewhere.

These are just a few of the reasons that Overwatch is a must play game. No excuses people. Go grab it and enjoy!