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The best games you've already missed in 2017

With the likes of Nioh, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and Horizon: Zero Dawn—and now The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild—garnering significant mainstream attention, 2017 has already seen some great video game releases. Many other great new games have arrived with virtually no mainstream attention, overshadowed by the aforementioned triple-A big guns. We can all but guarantee you've already missed these excellent, under-the-radar games.

Night in the Woods

Infinite Fall's Night in the Woods is a deep and stylish meandering through the little things in the life, with a healthy dose of musing on the nature of God and the meaning of human existence. Intrigued? You should be.

The game clocks in somewhere around ten hours, but the player is entirely free to set her own routine—which is where the game truly shines. This is one of those little games where you don't want to rush anything, nor do you want to force the story to move along. It's a game that rewards exploration with memorable chats, and provides ample opportunity for distraction, be it a minigame about shoplifting or rockin' out in a band. You can even play a dungeon-crawler on the protagonist's laptop, and there's nothing quite like playing a video game within a video game.

This game is one truly memorable experience that should not be missed by anyone—especially anyone who's ever been disillusioned by college as a young adult. As IGN's Chloi Rad sums it up, "Rarely (maybe never) have I seen the struggle and desperation of working-class middle America represented so thoughtfully in a game, and the way Night in the Woods weaves this unique disillusionment into an eerie mystery involving silly teens is both insightfully critical and defiantly empathetic." Indeed, this is one of those special games that will stick with you long after you've done all there is to do... which is quite a bit, for a 10-hour romp.

Metascore: Critics — 88/100, Users 8.0/10

Statik

Those itching for more PSVR experiences absolutely must get their filthy mitts on Tarsier Studios' Statik, a puzzle-solving virtual reality experience in which you don't know where you are, who you're with, or why your hands are locked inside increasingly difficult puzzle boxes.

The premise is simple, and the game appears more challenging than it actually is. Often, Statik requires a cool head and relaxed problem-solving skills, and only serves to feed off your frustration when you're convinced you can't figure it out. The virtual-reality aspect of the game works exceptionally well, in part because you're always seated in the game, thus making the experience feel more natural when seated on the couch or in a chair. The puzzles themselves strike just the right balance between trickiness and ease, and the atmosphere in which you're tasked with solving them is disconcerting and, at times, downright creepy.

The developer's clearly put a lot of time and effort into crafting an extremely solid and memorable VR experience, and anyone with a PSVR would be doing themselves a disservice not to lock their hands in Statik's boxes.

Metascore: Critics — 84/100, Users 8.1/10

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap

Simply put, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is a perfect example of how to make a 30-year-old game great in 2017.

The Switch and PS4 title successfully takes players back to the 1980s—literally, if you choose to play the game in its original state, which is a nice touch by the development team—illustrating how quality retro platformers are, indeed, timeless. The game is classic and simple. Anyone who's ever played a Metroid or Castlevania game—or any of the millions of 'Metroidvania' titles released over the past decade—will feel right at home. Perhaps the game's greatest draw is its entirely revamped and updated art style, which is cartoony and as beautiful as we like to remember old-school 2D platformers looking, through the rose-tinted lenses of our nostalgia glasses.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is available on PS4, but really feels right at home on Nintendo's Switch. Either way, fans of retro games should pick this one up without any hesitation. Be warned, however—it really feels like a 30-year-old game, so if that's not your cup of tea, you might want to pass. We recommend everyone give it a shot, though.

Metascore: Critics — 80/100, Users 6.8/10

The Sexy Brutale

Tequila Works' The Sexy Brutale is just that: "sexy."

Cursed to remain trapped in a neverending masquerade ball, the player can only attempt to stop the murders which take place on a continual, time-bending loop. To solve these old-school-themed murder mysteries, players must master the very essence of the game's time-looping mechanic, in addition to flexing their investigative muscles in ways Clue could only dream about. IGN's Jonathon Dornbush likens the game's spying and investigative gameplay to that of an "Assassin's Creed spying mission, only fun." The Sexy Brutale is dripping with personality, clever humor and wit—something Assassin's Creed often lacks. The game rewards sticking your nose in places it probably shouldn't, and makes the player feel like one smooth gumshoe upon solving each murder.

The Sexy Brutale isn't very long, but after you've solved the last murder, you'll be left itching for more.

Metascore: Critics — 82/100, Users 7.9/10

Hidden Folks

Take one look at this game's artistic style and it's impossible not to be intrigued. The independent creation of Adriaan de Jongh and Sylvain Tegroeg, Hidden Folks combines classic "Where's Waldo" hunting fun with gorgeous, hand-drawn visuals in a one-of-a-kind gameplay experience—perfect for mobile phones while also being right at home on PC and Mac. The daydreamy, doodle-esque landscapes are teeming with activity—and it seems as though almost everything in the animated world is interactive, as you touch or click away at tent flaps, window shutters, plants, animals...you name it.

Anyone itching for a mobile game with substance absolutely must take a look at Hidden Folks, though those with Android devices will have to exercise patience before they can start getting tap-happy in this hand-drawn world.

Metascore: Critics – 83/100

TypeShift

About once a year, a game comes along that's so simple that you can't believe nobody's done it before. In 2017, that game is TypeShift. In TypeShift, you have columns full of letters that you arrange into words until you've used all of the letters available. That's it.

But that simple setup leads to an infinite array of puzzles, and TypeShift's elegant design means anyone who plays it has a fighting chance. Many word games—Boggle or Scrabble, for example—give players with big vocabularies an advantage. In TypeShift, every puzzle can be solved by finding a predefined set of core words, most of which are pretty common. If you find others, that's great, but with TypeShift you don't need to memorize the dictionary in order to succeed.

As a mobile title, TypeShift locks away a lot of content behind in-app purchases, but thankfully none of it is really necessary. Every day, TypeShift delivers a free new puzzle that's challenging but ultimately solvable. As a result, it's easy to fit TypeShift into your regular routine. If you're sick of word jumbles, crosswords, or sudoku, don't worry. You just found your new daily obsession.

Metascore: Critics – 86/100

Candleman

If you're an Xbox One owner, Halo Wars 2 isn't the only exclusive you should be checking out. Flying well under the radar is this sleeper hit developed by Spotlighter Interactive.

Released on the first of February, Candleman is a unique title in which you play as, well, a candleman, who can only stay lit for 10 seconds on his quest for a distant light. The game's mechanics play with the contrast between darkness and illumination—as does its story, to some extent—using this interaction to traverse a range of obstacles and environments. The game has been heralded as a rare, "proper" 3D platformer by Engadget, and is particularly noteworthy because it's a Chinese-developed game — something we rarely see in the gaming spotlight, especially on a Microsoft console. Candleman's combination of unique art direction and gameplay mechanics already cements this one as one of the best indie games we'll play this year.

Metascore: Critics – 79/100, Users 6.6/10

Hollow Knight

We may never get another 2-D Metroid game. Thankfully, we might not ever need one. Over the past few years, independent developers have had fans covered. This year's first big "Metroidvania" title is Hollow Knight, the first game from developer Team Cherry, and it's hard to imagine a better debut. The hand-drawn graphics are gorgeous. The music is breathtaking. Every character has its own unique sound effects, which do more to develop their personalities than dialogue ever could. The world, which some players have compared to Dark Souls, fuses cute with creepy in a way that feels a little bit like Tim Burton's animated features, although Hollow Knight has a style all its own.

In short, Hollow Knight is a joy to both look at and listen to, and thankfully the rest of the game is just as well-designed. Unlike many games in this genre, most of Hollow Knight's map is unlocked from the very beginning, putting a big emphasis on exploration. There's a lot of backtracking, but with enemies to defeat, items to collect (and smash), and tons of secrets, there's always something to do. Fairly tough combat and more than 30 boss battles keep things interesting—and sometimes a little frustrating—but there's nothing you can't overcome with a little practice. Hollow Knight is the kind of game where you can actually see yourself getting better as you play. It's very, very satisfying.

Honestly, the only real complaint that we have with Hollow Knight is that, underneath its slick presentation, it doesn't really do anything new. For some, that'll be a problem. However, there's something to be said for knowing exactly what you're getting—and if a 2-D platformer that combines Metroid, Dark Souls, and Ori and the Blind Forest is what you're looking for, you can stop searching. You've found it.

Metascore: Critics – 86/100, Users – 8.5/10

Tales of Berseria

Out in Japan since August of 2016, Bandai Namco's RPG Tales of Berseria finally came westward in late January 2017, appearing on Windows, PlayStation 4 and—if you're still gaming on the legacy system—PlayStation 3.

Tales of Berseria has been heavily overshadowed despite receiving praise from critics and fans alike. IGN's Meghan Sullivan calls the latest installment in the long-running series "the best Tales game I've played, and my favorite to date," praising the game's emotional depth and dark themes. Indeed, it's Berseria's mature story and characters that truly set this entry apart from the others in the saga—and makes it an early must-play for fans of the series, as well as fans of RPGs in general. Don't let this engrossing 50-hour RPG fall by the wayside. It's too good to neglect.

Metascore: Critics – 79/100, Users 8.0/10

She Remembered Caterpillars

Ysbryd Games' funky puzzler She Remembered Caterpillars is one of the stranger indie games to release on PC so far this year, and one worthy of everyone's attention—though no one seems to be talking about it.

In the developers' own words, "She Remembered Caterpillars is a fungipunk fantasy about love, loss, and holding on, told in the format of a color-based puzzle game. A tale as the bond between parent and child, this lush and bewildering title will have players testing their wits against a variety of challenges, some devious, and others outright nefarious, but all beautiful and very, very strange."

Very, very strange, indeed. The game features a hand-drawn art style reminiscent of a children's book—assuming said children's book was created under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms. The game is mind-bending, with a touch of creepiness, and a whole heap of weirdness. Weird is good, so don't hold back from getting strange with this undercover indie hit.

Metascore: Critics — 82/100, Users 5.7/10

Detention

If survival horror is your thing, be sure to not let Resident Evil 7: Biohazard overshadow Red Candle Games' superb Detention, which borrows a little from Resident Evil and a lot from Silent Hill.

Detention disturbingly worms its way into your mind and disrupts your dreams at night. Set in 1960s Taiwan, the game's incorporation of Taiwanese and Chinese culture and mythology—foreign concepts to the majority of Western players—sets it apart from other run-of-the-mill, two-dimensional Silent Hill wannabes. In fact, PC Gamer claims Detention is "the closest a game has come to capturing the essence of the original Silent Hill games in years"—thanks to the game's "distinctive aesthetic, reminiscent of Junji Ito books and the Silent Hill series." Those who reminisce about that classically creepy vibe will absolutely adore this incognito indie. Released on January 12th, Detention is available to play only on PC, so lock yourself into a dark room and give yourself the creeps before this one gets left by the roadside.

Metascore: Critics – 83/100, Users 7.6/10

Bleed 2

There seems to be no shortage of retro-inspired pixel-art games these days, and BootDisk Revolution's Bleed 2 certainly matches the description—but don't dismiss this one as just another Contra clone.

Bleed 2 benefits from controls that are buttery smooth—once you adjust to the default bumper jumper scheme, that is—and features epic boss battles that live up to the billing. The game manages to be accessible to everyone while still rewarding those who wish to dive deeper into its intricacies. Visually, the game's pixel art is just fine, even if it doesn't do enough to stand out from the competition.

Those fearing the difficulty that tends to accompany Contra-esque run-and-gun shooters can put their fears to rest. Bleed 2 is forgiving, especially on the lower difficulty levels, and can be completed in roughly two hours. You have no excuse not to give this one a shot—don't let it get lost in the oblivion of your Steam backlog.

Metascore: Critics – 83/100, Users 7.5/10

Splitter Critters

About once a year, a game comes along with a premise that's so obvious that you can't believe nobody's done it before. For 2017, Splitter Critters is that game. After a few minutes, it's clear this is more than your run-of-the-mill mobile puzzle game. Splitter Critters is remarkably clever and constantly throws new twists in your direction, but never strays too far from its simple, ingenious hook.

See, in Splitter Critters, you don't control any characters directly. Instead, you drag your finger over your device's touch screen, literally tearing the screen in half. From there, you can reposition the two halves of the screen to create a brand new landscape, allowing the titular critters to find new paths through the level as they search for the exit.

Adding multiple types of critters, each of which has its own specific way of moving through the level, keeps things fresh, but the real draw comes from the increasing complexity of the split-and-move mechanic. After just a few levels, you'll need to plan multiple steps ahead, slicing the screen into various pieces in order to create something new. Splitter Critters is a game that's perfectly suited to mobile devices. The touch screen adds a tactile element that makes the game much more satisfying, and like any good puzzle game, It keeps you on your toes and never overstays its welcome. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, the game introduces some new quirk, ramping up the challenge while keeping players eager to see which creative challenges are coming up next.

Metascore: Critics – 85/100

Pinball FX 2: Star Wars Pinball - Rogue One

Pinball fans will enjoy this game. Fans of Star Wars: Rogue One will enjoy this game. If you're a fan of neither, well, maybe this isn't for you, but just about everyone else will find something to adore about this virtually unmentioned January release.

As we've come to expect with any of Zen Studios' Pinball FX 2 tables, Star Wars Pinball: Rogue One features tight mechanics, silky smooth gameplay, and fantastic physics—with sound effects and movie quotes galore. Even casual fans of the film will appreciate the level of detail and creativity that has gone into this table, whether it be the black Deathtrooper firing lasers all over the place during a multiball, or Jyn giving the smackdown to a stormtrooper. It may not be a new Knights of the Old Republic, but Star Wars Pinball: Rogue One is one game fans of the franchise would be wise not to miss.

Metascore: Critics – 79/100

Blaster Master Zero

Available for both Nintendo's flagship handheld 3DS and its recently launched handheld-console hybrid the Switch, Inti Creates' Blaster Master Zero is an early March release neither type of Nintendo owner can pass up.

Taking players on a retro-trip to the golden days of the first Nintendo Entertainment System, Blaster Master Zero is an 8-bit side-scrolling and top-down action-adventure game that makes old-heads like us feel young again. According to Nintendo's official website, Blaster Master Zero uses "the original 1988 NES title Blaster Master from Sunsoft as a base, with the addition of new areas and bosses, new gameplay elements such as extra sub-weapons, improved gameplay, a more robust scenario, refined and expanded exploration mechanics, and more"—making for a familiar yet fresh gameplay experience that makes us giddy with nostalgic bliss. The game rewards exploration in its side-scrolling sections, which IGN found to be where Blaster Master Zero really shines—though the game is, perhaps, a bit too easy.

Nintendo 3DS owners and Switch early adopters alike should take a look at this early 2017 title—particularly the latter, as Switch games are few and far between this early on in its life cycle.

Metascore: Critics — 78/100, Users 7.4/10

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, inXile Entertainment's role-playing game Torment: Tides of Numenera should satiate anyone looking for a story-driven RPG in which combat and loot take a back seat to reading scores upon scores of rich, descriptive text.

Indeed, Torment: Tides of Numenera is all about narrative, asking players to invest time and energy into exploring the deepest depths of its superb storytelling. In the words of IGN's Leif Johnson, the game pairs "a whole fantasy novel's worth of quality quest text with a design foundation that champions chatting with enemies rather than running them through with swords." In a genre dominated by the likes of combat-heavy Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, the deep, rich storytelling experience Torment: Tides of Numenera provides is both exceptional and special—though the combat does, admittedly, leave something to be desired. Nevertheless, fans of old-school, isometric role-playing games with seemingly limitless dialogue options will positively adore this late-February release.

Be warned, though: if you don't like reading, or have grown accustomed to voice acting, this rich RPG might not be your cup of tea.

Metascore: Critics — 79/100, Users 6.8/10

Thimbleweed Park

If you like your adventures to be of the point-and-click variety, look no further than surefire under-the-radar hit Thimbleweed Park, currently available on PC, Mac, Xbox One iOS and Android.

Terrible Toybox's Thimbleweed Park isn't just a point-and-click adventure game, mind you. Rather, it's "a point-and-click adventure game about point-and-click adventure games," notes Polygon's Whitney Reynolds—making those who fondly remember microwaving hamsters in the game's spiritual predecessor Maniac Mansion feel right at home. All things considered, the game is almost too clever for its own good—or at least thinks it's too clever for its own good—with Eurogamer's Cassandra Khaw noting that the game "is smug, and it does take its jokes slightly too far." Nonetheless, we love its over-the-top take on the classic LucasArts formula, even if it can be a bit overbearing at times, and fans of the genre would be downright insane not to give this one a go.

PlayStation 4 gamers will have to wait a few months to get their DualShocking mitts on Thimbleweed Park, but pretty much everyone else can enjoy this March 30 release immediately. As well they should.

Metascore: Critics — 84/100, Users 8.1/10

Robo Recall

Afraid of an artificial-intelligence-filled future? Want to kill every robot you see? Oculus Rift owners, rejoice! Epic Games' first-person shooter Robo Recall is just the robot-slaying virtual-reality experience you've been looking for.

Not many games have taken advantage of the high-quality Oculus Touch controllers, but Robo Recall really shows what the hardware can do. The controllers feel great and are well optimized to provide the smoothest, most stylish gameplay experience with small-but-brilliant gameplay mechanics, such as the ability to drop your guns for new ones by simply releasing your grip on the controllers. Every gun feels unique, and the game provides a unique VR gameplay experience, which truly shows the promise of the technology's future. Add in the stunningly beautiful robot models and the satisfying ways in which you can destroy them, and Robot Recall becomes the best shooting gallery you've ever played.

If you own an Oculus Rift, you have no excuse not to experience this incredibly satisfying shooter.

Metascore: Critics — 86/100, Users 6.7/10

Arkanoid vs Space Invaders

Invading your IOS device for a cool $3.99 manufacturer's suggested retail price, Square Enix's Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders is a highly addictive treat for your thumbs — and the publisher's decision to make it a premium title prevents it from falling into all of the awful, free-to-play, pay-to-win pitfalls that still plague the mobile gaming space. Forcing you to pay a reasonable price for a full product is at the heart of what makes this title one of the best iOS games you'll play this year.

The game has a story, but you're not going to give two taps about it. Rather, it's the brilliant mashup of two arcade classics that'll keep you staring at your screen. The premise is just what you probably imagined—you control a paddle-like ship that deflects various objects at space invaders. Levels are quick and frequently last less than a minute, keeping the action moving and attention spans satisfied. Rewards drop from defeated invaders, giving the player extra time, power-ups, and other goodies. The difficulty never remains static, requiring a satisfying amount of skill without being too hard to put people off. The game is simply fantastic, and any arcade fan with an iOS device would be doing themselves a disservice not to grab it.

Metascore: Critics — 87/100

Lone Echo

Spoiler alert: despite predictions, virtual reality did not rise up in 2017 and conquer the video game world. Oh, the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR platforms are still around, but they've remained relatively niche products with an audience that's mostly techies and hardcore enthusiasts.

That's a shame, because it means that a number of really great games got ignored. Take Lone Echo, for example. The adventure game has all of the hallmarks of a big hit: a bunch of clever environmentally-driven puzzles; an affecting storyline that hinges on the relationship between you, a service android, and your station's sole human occupant; a sports-based multiplayer spin-off; and an entire space station to explore.

Lone Echo even manages to solve one of virtual reality gaming's biggest problems, with an innovative travel system that mimics how astronauts move in zero gravity environments. Instead of the warping mechanics that sunk VR ports like Doom VFR, players propel themselves around Lone Echo's station by grabbing onto and pushing off of surfaces. It's cool, different, and probably won't make you barf. Lone Echo won Best VR Game at E3 2017 for a reason, and when (or if) virtual reality becomes more mainstream, make sure you check it out.

Metascore: Critics — 89/100, Users — 7.2/10

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

The first two Dishonored games are all about playing the way that you want—to a point. Dishonored's "chaos system" tracks how many non-player characters you kill, and makes the level easier or harder accordingly. You need to unlock your powers as you go, and you need to find power-refreshing elixirs to use them.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider throws all of that out the window. In the latest Dishonored adventure, you can kill—or not—as you see fit. You get all your powers at once, and you don't have to worry about running out of juice. Your abilities need a brief recharge period, but that's it. Death of the Outsider's developers called the changes "liberating," and with good reason. Finally, you can tackle Dishonored's playground-like levels however you want.

As exhilarating as Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is, don't rush through it. This might be the last Dishonored adventure that you get to play for a while. Death of the Outsider wraps up the story that began all the way back in the franchise's first game, and future installments will focus on new characters—if there are any more Dishonored games at all. Right now, Arkane Studios creative director Harvey Smith isn't sure. If this truly is the end, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a worthy send-off for the series. Plot-wise, Death of the Outnsider may not reach Dishonored 2's lofty heights, but it's a well-made game all the same. With all of that freedom, how could it not be?

Metascore: Critics — 84/100, Users — 7.5/10

West of Loathing

A great game doesn't need fancy graphics. Kingdom of Loathing, the browser-based RPG from Asymmetric Publications, became an internet sensation with basic stick-figure characters. Its follow-up, West of Loathing, follows in that tradition. The crude black and white visuals might look simple, but they get the job done just fine, creating a wacky version of the wild west that's easy to get lost in for hours.

West of Loathing isn't just a great and surprisingly deep turn-based RPG, either. It's also one of the funniest video games ever made. Interactive humor is hard to pull off, and you can probably count the number of truly successful comedy games on your fingers (with maybe with a toe or two thrown in for good measure). West of Loathing belongs among them. Item descriptions, which are disposable in most RPGs, are hilarious. The skills that you learn—like, say, "Mostly Scabs," which you get by running into cacti—are pleasantly ridiculous, while branching dialogue options make you part of the joke. Even the settings menu is funny. How often does that happen?

West of Loathing isn't hard, or genre-changing, or particularly well balanced. Who cares? Every second of the game is a joy. In a year like 2017, that counts for a lot.

Metascore: Critics — 87/100, Users — 8.0/10

Pyre

Sports aren't just about numbers–they're about people. Pyre, which asks players to manage a team of exiles through basketball-like rituals called rites, takes this to heart. It's absolutely a fantasy game, but it's inspired by the drama that accompanies real-life athletic competitions. As you go, you'll learn more about both your team's players and the surrounding world. Like a real sports team, sometimes you'll fail. In those cases, it's up to you to get back up and recover before the next bout. Without spoiling too much, a mid-game twist radically changes Pyre's strategies, forcing you to make decisions that are as excruciating as anything a basketball, football, or baseball coach deals with in the real world.

There's more to Pyre than the rites, of course—you'll also explore the map, gather resources, and level up your players—but everything that happens in the game revolves around team-based competition and the stories that inevitably result. Pyre's stories are good ones, too, but that's hardly a surprise. Developer Supergiant Games also made Bastion and Transistor. Anything short of excellence would be a major upset.

Metascore: Critics — 85/100, Users — 8.0/10

The End is Nigh

Super Meat Boy is one of the best platformers ever made. It's also seven years old. That's plenty of time for interested gamers to figure out how to run, jump, and slide through the game's challenges no matter how hard they are. Thankfully, in 2017, Super Meat Boy co-creator Edmund McMillen and his partner, Tyler Glaiel, gave platformer junkies the ultimate gift: a brand new game with over 600 single-screen levels, tons of secrets to find, and the same brutal-but-fair difficulty curve.

On the game's official site, McMillen says that The End is Nigh "embodies aspects of basically every game I've ever created." That means it's more than just a Super Meat Boy retread. After all, McMillen also made The Binding of Isaac, Aether, and Coil. The End is Nigh isn't just a McMillen joint, either: the developer compares it to VVVVVV, 1001 Spikes, and Spelunky, too. If you're a fan of indie platformers, that description should be more than enough to get you excited–and that's before we've even started talking about The End is Nigh's minigames, exploration-heavy world, or post-apocalyptic storyline. Like all of McMillen's games, The End is Nigh isn't for everyone, but players who are succumb to its charms and uncover its secrets won't be disappointed.

Metascore: Critics — 84/100, Users — 7.6/10

Bye-Bye BoxBoy!

The biggest problem with Bye-Bye BoxBoy! is that it's the last entry in its series. According to Nintendo, HAL Laboratory's puzzle platformer rounds out the makeshift trilogy, bringing the 3DS' most underrated franchise to a close.

That's a shame, because from the very beginning, BoxBoy! has been a masterclass in level design. First, teach players a new idea or introduce a new concept. Next, play with that mechanic a couple of times, gradually ramping up the difficulty. Finally, add a twist that changes the routine, forcing players to use what they've learned in a new way in order to proceed. That's the formula that's made Mario a global icon. The BoxBoy! series proved that other games could use that blueprint just as well.

Seasoned pros won't find Bye-Bye BoxBoy! too challenging, but like its individual levels, Bye-Bye BoxBoy! is short, sweet, and doesn't overstay its welcome. In fact, we'd be happy to see Qbby return for an encore performance, as unlikely as that seems to be. If you haven't checked this series out, do yourself a favor and change that as soon as you can.

Metascore: Critics — 83/100, Users — 7.8/10

Gorogoa

A six-year development cycle for a game that only lasts a couple of hours? You better believe it. Jason Roberts, an artist and former software engineer, started making Gorogoa way back in 2011. It didn't hit PCs, iOS devices, or the Nintendo Switch until December, 2017. So what took so long?

Open up Gorogoa, and you'll know instantly. Roberts hand-drew every single piece of Gorogoa's artwork–and with up to four pictures per level, there's a lot of it. And though Gorogoa's premise might be simple—find a way to combine or link all of the images to create something more than the sum of its parts—the pictures are anything but. Roberts has visual storytelling chops that rival those of comics' best artists, but his story is also interactive. Gorogoa is both gorgeous and amazing.

So, yes, Gorogoa took a long time to make. Roberts admits that he probably could've been more disciplined during its production (he ran out of money for the project twice). And even though it's not a very long game given how much time it took to make, it doesn't really matter. You've never played a game quite like Gorogoa, and we can't wait to see what Roberts has in store next. Hopefully, it won't take quite as long to see it.

Metascore: Critics — 96/100, Users — 7.9/10

Reigns: Her Majesty

If Game of Thrones meets Tinder sounds like your idea of a good time, check out Reigns: Her Majesty, the interactive fiction app from Devolver Digital. As the ruler of an unnamed kingdom, you're presented with a number of requests, pleas, and warnings from your subjects and members of your court. Swiping right makes one decision. Swiping left makes another. Every choice affects at least one of four meters, which measure your popularity with the church, the public, and the military, and let you know how much money sits in the royal coffers. If any one of the meters gets too high or too low, your monarch dies a grisly death, and you move on to the next person in the line of succession.

Reigns from 2016 established the formula, while Reigns: Her Majesty improves on it in every way. This follow-up lets you play as a queen instead of a king, providing your ruler with a whole extra set of obstacles—medieval fantasy kingdoms aren't exactly bastions of gender equality, after all. That, in turn, gives writer Leigh Alexander opportunities to engage in some sly social commentary. An astrology system and inventory also make the game more strategic. Scenario cards are better written and have clearer consequences, making the game fair. You might be a fantastic ruler. You might be a terrible queen. Either way, Reigns: Her Majesty certainly won't leave you bored.

Metascore: Critics — 84/100

Doki Doki Literature Club

If you think you know how Doki Doki Literature Club is going to go, think again. On the surface, it looks like a zillion other "dating simulators," casting you as a teenage boy surrounded by cute anime girls. It's your job to woo one of them. Maybe you'll choose Sayori, your peppy and clumsy best friend. Or what about Natsuki, who appears abrasive but secretly has a heart of gold? Perhaps Yuri, the introverted nerd, is more your type. And there's always Monika, who seems genuinely friendly. No matter who you choose, you'll try to win her heart by writing poetry. So far, so standard, right?

And then, things go horribly wrong. Saying much more would ruin the experience, but suffice it to say that Doki Doki Literature Club doesn't just break the fourth wall, it shatters it completely. If you passed on Doki Doki Literature Club because it of its cutsey vibe, give it another look. And if you think that games devoted to seducing schoolgirls are inherently creepy, watch out. You ain't seen nothing yet.

Metascore: Users — 9.1/10

Rime

You've played games like Rime before. When Rime's debut trailer appeared in 2013, critics compared it to Ico, Journey, and old LucasArts adventure games. The cell-shaded graphics remind many players of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Its looping world intentionally recalls Dark Souls. The set-up, which tasks a hero known as the Kid with exploring and solving puzzles on a mysterious island, hearkens back to Myst and The Witness, although Rime isn't nearly as taxing as either of those games.

But you've never played a game that feels like Rime before. The Kid's world is soaked in atmosphere—each level represents one of the five stages of grief, and the aesthetics change accordingly—while composer David García Díaz's music delivers perfect, subtle emotions. The story's metaphors work overtime to deliver a tale about life, death, and loss.

Rime might be too artsy-fartsy for some players. On a mechanical level, there's nothing surprising, new, or innovative about Rime. Its puzzles are frustratingly shallow. Rime isn't a game that you master, though. It's one that you experience. If you value emotion and art design over challenge, Rime should be right up your alley.

Metascore: Critics — 82/100, Users — 6.7/10