We do not care about the “God of War”. The growing and shrinking horse balls in “Red Dead Redemption 2” elicit only a weary smile from us. “Tetris Effect”, shmetris effect; okay, no, that one actually was great. But we always think that jam games deserve much more attention as they get right now, so that is why we present you our Games Of The Year 2018 list, featuring forty category winners and forty honorable mentions. Of course, all of them are game jam submissions.
Just like last year, the categories are: Concept and Gameplay, Juice, Audiovisual Representation, Storytelling, Puzzle and Level Design, Atmosphere, Unconventionality and Nostalgia.
Concept and Gameplay:
In “Eternal Home Floristry”, flowers have become an absolute rarity. In fact, they are so rare, that people are no longer used to their scent, which can trigger strong emotional reactions: Pure hatred, blazing love and everything in-between. Based on this narrative scenario, the unusual game mechanics of arranging flowers can have a huge impact on the story.
Read more about “Eternal Home Floristry”.
Gambling is not known for its strategic component, but “Roulette Knight” is a fantastic combination of uncommon game mechanics that work surprisingly well together: Russian roulette meets resource management meets role-playing game.
Read more about “Roulette Knight”.
It is unusual for a video game to have musical scenes at all, but when the whole concept of a jam entry is completely based on them, it feels almost like a miracle! In this point and click adventure called “Aye Fair Lady”, the protagonist Steggy does everything to put an end to the annual Mandatory Singing Day in Yorkshire. So get ready for singing robots, the magic of puppetry and ferrets.
Read more about “Aye Fair Lady”.
In the metroidvania “Rude Bear Resolution”, the application window becomes smaller and smaller at certain intervals. Only when players reach the sparsely placed flames, it does return to its full size. Thus, this game belongs to the permadeath genre in two senses: Not only must the game be restarted after each game over, but at the same time the act of dying is permanently happening.
Read more about “Rude Bear Resolution”.
“IIslands of War” by jwiggs.
In “IIslands of War”, you will need create a heavily armed fortress, starting with a small pile of dirt, to defeat the Dark Order. This happens through the accumulation of various weapons and various upgrades. At the same time, the players must ensure that their own island remains floatable. The complex gameplay invites you to play it again and again.
Read more about “IIslands of War”.
Honorable mentions (Concept and Gameplay):
- “Found” by Ferran Bertomeu Castells, Vanja Mrgan & Elie Abraham.
- “Deck Quest: Jam Edition” by Benjamin Mike Kiefer & Seii.
- “Fingerolympics” by Luis Díaz Peralta & Valo.
- “The Cards You’re Dealt” by Raindrinker.
- “Total Party Kill” by Jussi Simpanen.
The intuitive interface design of the roguelike card game “Patient Rogue” makes it easy to learn all of its rules, but at the same time it remains a game that is difficult to master in its entirety. This successful balancing act alone is simply noteworthy.
Read more about “Patient Rogue”.
Based on the basic mechanics of the classic “Snake”, the character can grow up in “.S” by collecting certain dots. The back part of the line keeps its shape until the movement exceeds the length of the line. In this way, every movement leads to an extension or change of the environment, which constantly generates the juicy feedback.
Read more about “.S”.
In the small, but carefully designed levels of “Spellthief”, players are encouraged to solve three different challenges as perfectly and quickly as possible. Even though this may seem very difficult at first, you are guaranteed to get better with each run, as the optimal paths are quickly memorized and the flow is nearly ideally managed.
Read more about “Spellthief”.
“HANA” is a non-violent puzzle shooter of the very special kind, where you have to make gigantic heads happy by bringing those plants, that shine in their colors, to them. The growth of each plant is facilitated by another interaction. Some have to be shot, others follow the small character and again others continue to proliferate without a reason. Each level is a little spectacle.
Read more about “HANA”.
In the soccer metroidvania “Randy’s Soccer Quest”, the ball not only serves as a projectile against obstacles or enemies, but also as the central object for solving puzzles. Sometimes the ball has to be maneuvered between spikes or you have to activate switches with its help. Through this universality, every interaction with the ball contributes to the experience.
Read more about “Randy’s Soccer Quest”.
Honorable mentions (Juice):
- “Dark Soil” by Pietro Ferrantelli, Sylvain Guerrero, Robin Chafoin, Joachim Leclercq & Boris Warembourg.
- “Tempo Quest” by Bruno de Chazelles, Alexis de Chazelles & Théo Moyen.
- “Mai-Chan’s Sweet Buns” by Krystian Majewski & Sebastian Haßler.
- “Corrupted Space” by Egor Dorichev.
- “Frogue” by Philip Rousseau.
“YOU LEFT ME.” is a magnificent game, not only because of its heartbreaking story, but also because of the audiovisual design. Here, surrealistic image ideas such as multi-eyed cats or a waiting room full of masked people are combined with detailed sceneries. Everything is acoustically accompanied by a background song, which is notable for its strong bass tunes as well as a gentle, melancholic voice.
Read more about “YOU LEFT ME.”.
In “Mellowdy”, someone wants to send a song to his beloved one. Manifested in the form of a heart, the love song echoes out into the world. You control the heart and lead it from place to place, where you also meet wonderfully drawn characters, hugely inspired by Asian imagery. Those characters give the players another musical note, which also enriches the background music.
Read more about “Mellowdy”.
On the audiovisual level, “Alluvium” deserves multiple awards. For instance, the choice of this explicit color plate is a bold one, but the pixel art makes it stand out perfectly. But the background music also is tense in the right places and then relaxing again. Last but not least, I have to mention the outstanding voice acting: Adrian Vaughan’s full voice makes his character Ian an ideal narrator, while Sally Beaumont as Anna fluctuates in a frighteningly fantastic way between childish naivety and absolute madness.
Read more about “Alluvium”.
This almost monochrome game called “Paper & Ink Dungeon” has a fantastic graphic style that perfectly highlights the scenario of a vast, dungeon-like world and its inhabitants. Oversized spiders, small castles and crazy sellers found their home here. The flatness is particularly fascinating, since all the objects and characters actually look like they were cut out of a book.
“Coffee Talk” is an interactive novel game where you play the role of a café owner. The café is a special one, as it only opens at night. That is why it is the ideal place to listen to the stories of all sorts of people, elves and succubi. However, not only the stories and characters make this jam entry interesting, as the pixel art is wonderful too. The ingredients look so delicious that you would like to brew your own cup of coffee immediately for sure.
Read more about “Coffee Talk”.
Honorable mentions (Audiovisual Representation):
- “Colors of Your World” by Timmie Wong & Kat Jia.
- “STAR JUNK” by Christina Antoinette Neofotistou.
- “A Lullaby of Colors” by Andrew Wang.
- “Paranormal Coffee” by Su Kizilağaç.
- “Pixel Snap!” by Jamie Rollo.
“Unfamiliar” addresses a serious topic in the most respectful way, as you see the world from the perspective of an elderly woman diagnosed with a form of dementia. While the disease is just pointed out in a very subtle way at first, it will be explicitly pronounced later on, and the present and the past will merge more and more. Hardly any other game brought me closer to tears in the year 2018.
Read more about “Unfamiliar”.
“Stay Home” by Bleak Grey.
Agoraphobia is the fear of public, wide places. Those who are affected by the mental disorder often cannot leave their homes for days, weeks or even longer. “Stay Home” tells the story of an aographobic in an absolutely outstanding way, since it is not just about the direct symptoms, but also about many questions that agoraphobics ask themselves, such as: “Will my friends forget me when I am no longer capable to spend time with them?”, “How can I take care of myself?” and “Why do I feel so dysfunctional?”. As I am an agoraphobic myself, I have to say that I felt very accurately represented here.
Read more about “Stay Home”.
Giuseppe Impastato was an Italian politician who fought against the mafia and used his self-financed radio station called Radio Aut, founded in 1976, to bring their crimes to the public eye. Impastato was murdered in 1978. “1977: Radio Aut” tells his story in a perfect manner by the means of well-planned time jumps and also finds excellent game mechanical translations for the particularly dramatic moments.
Read more about “1977: Radio Aut”.
Ellen has run away from home, and her understandably worried mother Diane must now use her daughter’s smartphone to find clues that lead to her whereabouts. However, listening to voice messages, reading messenger histories and more activities do not only make clear where Ellen is, but why she ran away in the first place. This way of storytelling allows “L: An Interactive Mystery” to describe pretty complex personalities in an excellent way.
Read more about “L: An Interactive Mystery”.
Although at first glance one might expect a game full of bad maritime puns, “Whale’s Waldo” is something completely different, namely an extensive story about love and self-discovery, narrated with a touch of humor and bitter sweetness. The different sea creatures are perfect metaphors for their characters, but you will have to experience all that by yourself.
Read more about “Whale’s Waldo”.
Honorable mentions (Storytelling):
- “Documentia” by Léo Marambat-Patinote, Corentin Castric & Lucas de Pinho.
- “Abluese” by Ailin Linai, Nana Bittencourt, Gabi Nehme & Isabella Barbosa.
- “The world had been sad since Tuesday” by Fred Bednarski.
- “a Night at Manster Mansion” by onion.
- “The House of God” by Freya Campbell.
Puzzle and Level Design:
The camera mechanics of “Overwrite” allow an interesting puzzle design, as the player is able to take a certain number of photographs of three to three tiles large areas and then overwrite other areas with them, making formerly unreachable switches or passages accessible. While the first levels are acting as a tutorial, the learning curve is pretty steep and still very enjoyable.
Read more about “Overwrite”.
The puzzles in “SHADOWS” are based primarily on the conscious perception of the world. You have to collect orbs, but these are in seemingly unattainable places. Over time, it becomes clear that not all platforms are visible in the black-and_white world, but they continue to cast their shadows. Fortunately, you are able to control the sun and thus change the incidence of the rays of light.
Read more about “SHADOWS”.
The way that word puzzles are incorporated into video games is often quite boring, but in “Runnink out of Space” they are a real challenge. The entire map is divided into individual rooms, where you can either learn new words or modify old words in conversations with characters. These will then help you on your further journey.
Read more about “Runnink out of Space”.
“Else Walker” is a programming puzzle platformer, where a small robot has to cross various levels, but it cannot be controlled directly. Instead, you have to pack disks into the right slots at the right time. The movement patterns are structured in an if-else block, which formulates instructions such as: “If below you is the ground, then walk, else, if there is a wall in front of you, then turn around, otherwise jump.”
Read more about “Else Walker”.
The cat in the splendid puzzle game “Quantic Cat” can split in two and thereby solve different puzzles, but both halves must be reunited before they can progress to the next stage. Also, both halves are always connected: If one cat moves to the left, then the other does too. Furthermore, it is not so bad if one of the two cats dies while the other one is still alive, as you have only to take one step in front of the monstrous quantum camera machine to reanimate them.
Honorable mentions (Puzzle and Level Design):
- “If Potato Meets Flag Then” by joqlepecheur.
- “Crane Quandary” by mobiusdisco & Strato.
- “ROBO-KEY” by Thomas Giro & Yvan Giro.
- “noitanigami” by João Dias.
- “dropboy” by torcado.
There are many stories about buildings that make people mad by their mere existence, but the atmosphere that “The House of the Living” spreads makes it a captivating experience. Some characters seem like human manifestations of deadly sins against their will, while others have not yet realized their own fate yet. In the end, the player will be confronted with a supernatural force that can overcome them easily.
Read more about “The House of the Living”.
The “Siren Head” could be described as a postmodern mythical figure and was designed by Trevor Henderson. As soon as the player discovers the surreal being, they have to flee from it in order not to die through its screams and paws, but at the same time a certain fascination might come up due to its shape. Overall, this jam game is a fantastic, atmospheric scare.
“novena” tells the story of a magical ocean that can make every wish come true. However, the ocean is in mourning, as it feels deeply exploited by humanity. One person starts to visit the ocean every single day and listens to its laments, but only very slowly a relationship of trust can be established. The touching story of personal weaknesses, self-abandonment and friendship is told in a fantastic lyrical structure, which contributes to the melancholic, but also hopefully attuned atmosphere in a unique way.
Read more about “novena”.
Fighting against fascism is an honorable thing. It does not start with violence and weapons in the first place, instead with faith in the good cause. This belief can easily be lost, the worse the circumstances are. In “Exhaustlands”, you must travel around the strange places of a fictional region and collect new companions for this fight to restore faith in victory. Rarely has such a focus been placed on the fragile concept of hope for the atmosphere of a jam game.
Read more about “Exhaustlands”.
Although “Their Share” may initially seem like a linear farming simulator, a mystical level quickly blends into the story. For ‘them’, the unnamed ones, a part of the harvest has to be given, otherwise ominous and bad things could happen. The combination of farming mechanics with mysterious dreams and conversations with the other villagers leads to an interesting dramaturgy and atmosphere, which is exquisite.
Honorable mentions (Atmosphere):
- “REPLICANT : The Search” by Léonardo Montes, Valentin Serri & Maixent Bouteiller.
- “Raining Cats and Dogs” by William John Holly III.
- “Wake Up” by Philip Johansson & Mikko Aaltio.
- “a vision of the sublime” by Mark Wonnacott.
- “Consensual” by Alexandra Dahlberg.
“Sven” by Donitz.
“Sven” is unconventional on many levels. On the one hand, there would be the graphic form of a long comic strip. Each single image represents a small level, with the mechanics of combat games blending with platformer and even bullet hell elements. Of course, the background story itself is pretty crazy too: On his way to work, Sven is hired by hellish forces to kill a human being to open a dimension gate into the underworld.
Virtual pet games have always been a very special genre, where you have care for, play with, wash and feed your creatures. The “Trash Bin Monster” craves food as well, but it is after a very special delicacy: The files on your computers (do not worry, no data will be deleted whatsoever). As the being grows up, it eventually shows some kind of intelligence and now wants something completely different. The only question is if you can and are willing to give it.
Read more about “Trash Bin Monster”.
The unconventionality of this game consists in its unusual hybrid genre, as “TASball” is not only an indirectly controllable pinball game, but also a programming puzzle and a clicker game. You have to program pinball motion algorithms that perform as well as possible in different levels. Furthermore, you have to earn money to participate in tournaments. With the prize money you can then buy new components for the machines to create even better algorithms.
Read more about “TASball”.
“The Cold Remains of Warmer Days” by Joarez C. Santini.
Since 2016, the developer of this game has always uploaded exactly one game a year, telling of a person’s depression after the breakup from his former partner. This is the last part of the trilogy and deals with the creative process behind these games. In a unique art style the flood of impressions and thoughts is presented, which threatens to crush the author. But at the same time, this floods represents a personal liberation of the past.
Read more about “The Cold Remains of Warmer Days”.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is supposed to reassure and calm the recipients, but what happens when everything goes wrong? The alternative game “ASMR” explores this scenario as much as possible.
Read more about “ASMR”.
Honorable mentions (Unconventionality):
- “Definition of a Ghuest” by Sand Gardeners (Sam Machell & Colin Le Duc).
- “Smoke: it’s ok to feel” by Lumpy & UpstairsBreh.
- “SUPER/MINIGAME COLLECTION” by Dee Ann.
- “Sandwiching The Void” by Kwisarts.
- “Fishos” by Miko Sramek.
The adventure game “Spy Quest 1 – Mission: SPECTRUM” is a wonderful tribute to the old games of Sierra Entertainment made in the eighties and filled with easter eggs as well as references. The well-functioning text parser in combination with the hilarious puzzle design completes this retro experience perfectly.
Read more about “Spy Quest 1 – Mission: SPECTRUM”.
This love letter to the game “The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening” with the name “Ballad of the Space Whale” deals with the nostalgia of its developer and the associated hopes for his own game making abilities. He hopes to produce something that is just as excellent at some point and tries to recreate important components of the old experience in the Bitsy engine. However, at the same time the jam game is also a search for the reasons behind his love for the game. Thus, it is not only a tribute, but also a reflection.
Read more about “Ballad of the Space Whale”.
The “Snowspirit” is surprised by a heatwave and only by traveling to the dream worlds it may prevent its lurking fate. In addition to the retro graphics and the very associative puzzle design, another factor is extremely important for the nostalgia in this game: The ability to play it either via the mouse as a point and click game or via the usage of a text parser.
Read more about “Snowspirit”.
“Chnakess” by Arvi Teikari.
Chess was one of the first more complex games I ever played. “Snake” was one of the first digital games I ever played. Through the combination of both games, as implemented in “Chnakess”, I was again aware of these experiences. Here, you have to eat all the chess pieces on the field to continue growing, but they can escape with their well-known movement patterns.
Read more about “Chnakess”.
When I explored “The Empty City” for the first time, I immediately felt being remembered of the city of Midgar in “Final Fantasy VII″, mostly because of the color palette, the central motif of flowers and some other details. The graphics, which are strongly reminiscent of old PlayStation games, further consolidated this impression for me. Here, an atmospheric memory of the old times was revealed.
Read more about “The Empty City”.
Honorable mentions (Nostalgia):
- “Sword And Plow” by Francis Coulombe & Justin Stander.
- “Delunky – Endless Descent” by Johan Peitz.
- “Hibernia” by Jack Oatley & Jamesy Downie.
- “Arseholevania” by marbenx.
- “SNAILS” by Jesse Hamm.
Seventy-three of the games featured in this list can be found in our itch.io GOTY 2018 collection.