Yep, that was a year. As expected, it came and went, with December bringing up the rear, like a loyal little caboose. Good work, little buddy!
A typically slow month for new games still saw the release of some smart, stylish, and/or overwhelmingly massive (we’re looking at you, Xenoblade) experiences. It wrapped 2017 up in style, especially the gorgeous puzzle game Gorogoa. If you were too busy catching up on big games from earlier in the year, or getting ready for your holiday haul, now’s a good time to go back and check out the five games below.
5. Never Stop Sneakin’
The novelty of Never Stop Sneakin’s gameplay wears off after a certain number of hours, but the charm of the game’s presentation is always intact. If developer Humble Hearts (whose previous game was Dust: An Elysian Tail) were to make a sequel, which is something they appeared to set up with the final scene, they at least have an excellent foundation to work off of.—Chris Compendio
4. The Next Penelope: Race to Odysseus
Platform: Switch (previously released in Early Access on PC)
The Next Penelope hit Early Access on Steam almost three years ago, but it blasted under the radar until it arrived on the Switch in December. On the surface a combo of a speed burst racer and a classic overhead shoot-’em-up, it’s actually more of an adventure game, in a way, adapting The Odyssey into a faster, twitchier, more anxiety-riddled medium. It’s a great fit for the Switch—a stylish, fat-free, blazingly fast treat.—Garrett Martin
3. Xenoblade Chronicles 2
This massive tangle of systems, mechanics and submenus might not tie together elegantly, but you’ll have a deep understanding of everything you need to know within a few dozen hours. That depth ensures that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 accomplishes the main goal of all role-playing games. It puts you in an unfamiliar world with unusual inhabitants and makes everything feel alive in a way most games don’t strive for. Like a great novel or a TV show that you’re binging, you’ll start to think about Chronicles when you’re not playing it. You might even dream about it. It’s complex and perhaps too full of details, but it’s still way easier to get a handle on than the real world.—Garrett Martin
2. Reigns: Her Majesty
Platforms: PC, iOS, Android
The sequel to one of our favorite mobile games of 2016 adds an extra layer of real-world relevance by focusing on queens instead of kings. The undercurrent of sexism is hard to miss in the smart script (written by Leigh Alexander, who has contributed to Paste in the past), with the procession of queens regularly meeting outsized punishments for their decisions, whether they’re benevolent or cruel. The binary choices might seem limiting, but a surprising amount of strategy is needed to navigate this world’s perilous politics. With pleasingly minimalist art and great writing, it’s one of the best mobile games of the year.—Garrett Martin
Platforms: PC, Switch, iOS
I’m in awe of the puzzles of Gorogoa. They, and by extension the game, offer almost no impression as to where they will go next, and yet they leave a satisfying sense of accomplishment even when the solution is found only through trial and error. There’s almost a surreal relationship that the game’s objects maintain between obstacle and solution, one that is often obtuse and mysterious, yet for all the barriers it presents to the narrative progression, the confusion does not seem cheap or limiting. Instead, the pacing is well balanced with an appeasing flow that seems to anticipate the player’s tentative curiosity and success rate. While occasionally I was stumped, I was never put off, which is a tremendous achievement. I suspect the developer has played a lot of mobile games, because as mystifying as the game’s challenges can be, the intuitive controls always reflect thoughtful touch-screen design sensibilities.—Holly Green