I haven’t played more than 5 games since 2017, that was one hell of a year for games – I even talked about them in a year-end list. But this year, that feeling of wanting to talk about video games again has been rejuvenated. It’s going to be a lot less analytical since I don’t know crap about the medium and industry, and a lot more informal because of the same reason. So here are my favorite games that I’ve played this year:

5. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

I was honestly very skeptical going into the game, I was hyped up as this being like a less-punishing Dark Souls and I subconsciously get ready to hate on whatever gets labeled as a Souls-like. I’m here to report that there are certainly elements of the game that do feel like that, with the boss fights requiring me to study their attacks, the “bonfire” system that allows me to “level up”. Other than the combat system which I really enjoyed and some very superficial resemblance in terms of non-linear exploration, the rest of it felt like a third-person action game which felt equally bland as the story progressed. I loved the final boss fight, the fight was well designed in terms of move sets. The exploration wasn’t as satisfying for me despite the environment design being so pretty. Still, I wasn’t expecting to come off liking this game as much as I did.

4. Hades

Hades was in virtually everyone’s year-end lists last year, and for good reason – it has tight well-designed levels and I think the controls feel the best out of all the games in this list. The weapons and boons are not obviously imbalanced, but I have to admit I prefer to be more defensive with the melee weapons and Athena’s boons (Poseidon can choke on his trident for all I care, I have this unjustifiable and irrational hate for him that need to express every time I mention characters). Even though every voice and character design in the game feels like they are soaked in some flavor of sexual allure that’s going to get transformed into wonderful fanart, I really couldn’t bring myself to care about them and the story. Overall, going off the extremely well-polished gameplay, this is the best rogue-like I’ve played (I’ve only played three so far lol).

3. osu!

It would be extremely disingenuous of me if I don’t admit that I put in the most hours in this game out of everything else I’ve played this year. It would also be disingenuous if I don’t say that this isn’t a video game, it’s straight-up crack cocaine. I have never been this addicted to a video game – the dopamine cycle that was driven by the ever-growing library of beat maps and watching my ranking go up was near impossible to escape until I burnt out four months later. But in those four months, I had a hell of a great time playing osu and getting obsessed with getting better. Learning about the community and its memes, and watching youtube videos on top players was fun too. Osu was a great way to connect with my brother when we were living in separate countries. In the end, the game kind of broke me when improvement in the game demanded me to invest a lot more time than I was willing to and my wrist-finger situation was getting not-so-favorable – which is mostly on me. I’ll probably relapse after a few years (or months) but I hope I’ll have more self-control then.

2. Hotline Miami 1 & 2

I played both of them this year and I can’t put one over the other, the first one feels a bit tighter gameplay and level-design wise but its sequel has my favorite final level in any game ever. These games play out like nauseatingly violent, retina-overloading, neon-drenched arthouse films but the best way to experience this is to actually play it – it’s weird how disturbing and simultaneously exhilarating a game can be. If anything, there is something more the game wants to be other than just pulpy, mindless fun – and I respect the vision that tries to deliver statements on an apocalyptic scale. I have never been much of a fan of shooting games, let alone one that’s as fast-paced as this. But playing this, with that banging soundtrack in the background completely transformed the bland, numbing experience I have with shooters. It’s an immersive experience that was made all the more harrowing by the end of it. Immersive or not, I’m still pretty bad at the game but its replayability is unlike any other. 

1. Hollow Knight

When I picked up the game back in 2017, I played the game for 8 hours and I got lost after Greenpath and I gave up. I decided to come back and finish the game up as my finals rolled around because what better time is there to play video games? I expected to beat the game in 30 hours… I mean, how big could the map be?

I couldn’t be more wrong, the mapping and area design in Hollow Knight is better than Dark Souls, and that was my reference point for a smartly designed open-world map for years. I mean sure, getting lost in Hollow Knight is annoying and I had to look up walkthroughs multiple times to navigate my way. But I remember those small moments when I accidentally discovered a secret area and the fleeting but significant excitement that followed it. I never really played a metroidvania that carried the excitement of open-world exploration at such a scale. Every area has its own distinct feel, with its own compelling soundtrack, its own lighting and color palette, terrain, and set of enemies. Area design was such a pleasant surprise for me.

The controls feel so precise with my character’s movement animation being a nice in-between of minimalist and smooth. Pairing up with that is a simple combat system deepened by spells and charm build experimentation. I discovered the spells at a rather slow pace so they didn’t overwhelm me. I didn’t expect to cycle through 15 charms and find them this useful. The combat system isn’t too forgiving, which reminds me of the beautiful but painful finality and weight your character movements have in Dark Souls.

The only aspect that I don’t think is a 10/10 is the boss fights. It’s a lot more hit-and-miss than I would like to admit. There are hand-to-hand boss fights like the Mantis Lords, Hornet, Markoth, and the final boss that’s designed for you to read and improve, so my uncoordinated ass can grind out retries and eventually get it right. Then there are boss fights like No-eyes, Nosk, Uumuu, and Flukemarm that just feel like slogs where I’m passively waiting for the boss to die.

Despite my criticisms of the boss fights, I still had some of my favorite boss battles this year. The lively NPCs and diverse environments made it a lot more immersive experience than I thought a game would with such dark lore. My favorite moment in the game was seeing the cartographer, Cornifer, return to Dirtmouth at his home, taking a loud nap, after going through all those areas. There was a sense of relieving and painful finality that made me go, “Oh shit, the game’s really ending soon”. It didn’t end soon because I’m hilariously bad at the game, but I can’t think of another game that I played this year that felt so complete and fun.

So that’s my favorite game that I played this year. Feel free to share yours.