Trying to summarize an entire decade’s worth of releases is a futile effort; the amount of interactive media dropped for public consumption across ten years is a vast wealth of gems that can’t simply be picked apart for objective “bests,” yet everyone outlet under the sun attempts to wrangle together their picks for some projects that stayed with them over the years.
Following in the footsteps of their Sisyphean task, I’d like to highlight a few titles that resonated with me when I initially played them, and still do in retrospect.
Crashing onto the scene, Brendan Chung’s Thirty Flights of Loving is a beautiful synthesis of so many experimental ideas that were bubbling beneath the surface of his previous releases. Taking bits of the art style of Gravity Bone, refining it, and utilizing it alongside a Tarantino-styled non-linear story that features real-time editing revolutionizes the way in which a game can play out. You can see tendrils of its influence worming its way through the years into landmark titles like Firewatch and Virginia. Truly a testament to the medium’s ability to explore storytelling using the language of film while still wholly being something new.
Taking elements introduced in things like Minecraft or Terraria, Nom Nom Galaxy is a co-op centric build-em-up about creating soup-making factories. It tickles a special itch, satiate only by free-form puzzle solving and chasing efficiency. Its crisp, cute art-style and charming music are only out-matched by its surprising depth and enduring replayability. The 10’s saw a lot of couch and online co-op focused games, but Nom Nom is the only one that I’m still desperately hoping will see a sequel one day.
Supergiant certainly chose an appropriate name when setting out with their studio. Following hot on the heels of such impeccable games like Bastion and Transistor, Pyre breaks away from the mold of the isometric action game they had perfected, instead crafting a 3-on-3 magical-basketball underdog story.
Where the game truly shines, though, is how it introduces and takes away characters: at the end of each season, the best teams in the land compete to see who will offer up one of their players to escape the purgatory they’re trapped in. Mechanically, this means that you may need to lose your best teammate (or throw the game to let an opponent you have a soft-spot for free), but at least they can live their best life on the outside. It’s a bittersweet moment, but delicious in its fusion of mechanics and storytelling, which echos throughout the whole of the game.
I’ve not played many VR titles, but nothing piqued my interest quite as much as Moss did. Where the few experiences I’ve had in VR have truly shined is in its ability to showcase scale, and Moss does this beautifully as it has you hovering about diorama-like environments while controlling a small mouse scurrying about. Its adorable presentation gives way to a surprisingly tough puzzle-platformer with top-notch production. While many other VR titles may find a place in radical experimentation of what the platform offers, Moss succeeds in creating something that plays well to VR’s strength while making its own twist on polished genre standards.
Subset Games have quickly made a name for themselves in the industry, and for good reason. 2012’s FTL is a fiendishly addictive game, utilizing roguelike mechanics in an unprecedented way to make something wholly new and engaging. However, Into the Breach similarly plays with roguelike tropes in a different direction, creating a slower, methodical, tense puzzle-strategy game. While FTL has excellent atmosphere, Into the Breach elicits such ennui from its dying worlds that its immersion will quickly make you lose track of time, resulting in dozens of “one more turn” moments that this genre thrives on.
Beyond that, the strategy crafting available in the different mecha teams keeps things fresh, pitting you into completely new mindsets and approaches each time you swap your choice. It’s the kind of game that never feels stale, and only gets better the more you play.
Over the course of the last decade, Zachtronics have rapidly released masterpiece after masterpiece. Their brand of puzzle-solving is infectious, and with no equal elsewhere. Its freeform, unbound, and always with unique settings. Coming off of Infinifactory and SHENZHEN I/O, the team had made a name for themselves as the creators of massively deep experiences that would leave you scratching your head for hours on end (or pouring over the dozens of pages containing the proprietary coding language the puzzle-solving relies on).
But, with Opus Magnum, Zachtronics struck a delicate balance between depth and approachability. With a strong narrative framing the puzzle-solving, Opus Magnum eases you into its fascinating world while tackling complex problems in its mechanics. Building alchemical machines via modular systems has never been so addictive, nor has it ever looked this slick.
Having talked about Lucah a lot this last year, I’m hard-pressed for much else to say about the game other than it being an absolute masterwork in design and presentation. It’s simply sublime; at once bombastic in its fast-paced combat and deeply moving in its narrative. Lucah is the kind of game that people can pick apart for years, and still have more left to plunge into.
Caves of Qud is a game that I am very bad at. Most of my attempts at exploring its jungles result in bloodied, horrid deaths, but it’s also so engaging. It’s hard to believe the degree to which Qud procedurally generates the details of its world, given how organic and coherent it always feels. The only real competitor I think it has in terms of depth would be something like Dwarf Fortress, which similarly generates huge swaths of world history and stories that feel handmade and carefully crafted. Truly a monolith of design, Qud‘s world begs to be poured over again and again.
Possibly one of the most thought-provoking narratives I’ve experienced in games, The Space Between is like an interactive Lynch film. It’s truly without equal, if only because of the level of care and consideration that went into its crafting. Frey is a deft creator, weaving an impeccable tale oozing with meaning. You’d be hard pressed to find stories in games that play with the ephemeral as much as this does, and so expertly. The Space Between is simultaneously haunting and touching, a horror story that not only elicits terror but tenderly holds the player in its care.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.