We know that you loved to dance in the moonlight as a detective on the edge in “Disco Elysium”. We know that you traveled to the “Outer Wilds” again and again and again. We know that you transformed into an asshole animal in “Untitled Goose Game” and made the lifes of innocent folks miserable. And why should you not? The critics loved those titles!
But remember that in the year 2019 hundreds, even thousands of game jams were running. And in this list, we will present our forty Jam Games Of The Year 2019 plus forty honorable mentions, because we think all those games deserve your attention, too.
Just like last year, the categories are: Concept and Gameplay, Juice, Puzzle and Level Design, Audiovisual Representation, Storytelling, Atmosphere, Unconventionality, Nostalgia.
Concept and Gameplay:
In the unusual pinball game “Mr. Flipper”, you actively control the flipper, move it around and activate it at the right moment, so that the ball will not fall into the rising lava. Also, the pinball is pretty fragile and will be destroyed when it stays too long in the hot fluid. Another great catch about the game is the subtle stealth mechanic: Some monsters will try to hold the tired hero back by stunning him per direct contact, but when Mr. Flipper switches into the silent mode, they will just pass by. Even though the control scheme might feel a bit unusual at first, the core concept of this jam entry is absolutely excellent.
Read more about “Mr. Flipper”.
Some might call it a puzzle platformer, others might call it a level-building metroidvania. Either way, “World Collector” is a wonderfully polished execution of a great idea. The little blue character wants to join its lost friend, but the game world is incomplete. By collecting pieces which represent one tile of the environment, we as players gather the possibility to design the world at will. This will allow us to build new paths and eventually to get new tiles, so that friendship wins in the end.
Read more about “World Collector”.
Building a management simulation game in the often short timeframe of a jam is one difficult thing to achieve, but to feature gorgeous character art and to implement an important message in there feels nearly impossible to me. Thankfully, the developers of “Whipped And Steamy • Cosplay Café” disabused me in this matter. As the new employee Caffie, it is our job to adorn the establishment and to choose the best treats for the different types of cosplay loving costumers. Making a nice profit is not the only goal of the game, though, as we can dive into the background stories of some guests. Then we will learn that desires as well as fetishes might be a crucial part of someone’s personality, but that we should not judge by them alone.
Read more about “Whipped And Steamy • Cosplay Café”.
Some of you might already give the prototype version of “Pawnbarian” – an upcoming deck-building roguelike game, where you fight against goblins and other monsters with the help of chess moves – a try. But did you know that it has its roots in the game jam culture? With its slick design and minimalist interface, it proved to be a sweet and addicting brain puzzler. New enemy types get introduced in the later stages, which makes it slightly harder to solve, but you will learn quick from your former mistakes.
“Uballto” is a lovely physics puzzle game, where you have to get the ball from the starting to the ending point with the help of desktop windows. Each window is of a certain type: There are pure “Base” windows, which will only show you the hidden path where the ball can roll on, there are “Water” windows, which will add liquid physics so that the ball can float to the ground and so on. You do not only have to place the windows at the correct position, you must also drag them around, so that the ball can actively move. A neat concept well executed.
Read more about “Uballto”.
Honorable mentions (Concept and Gameplay):
- “Sick Business” by Nils Kreutzer, Markus Over, Olav Schettler, Matthias Wetter, Eduard But, Gordon Lawrenz, Bjoern Kopiske & Jennifer van Veen.
- “Palely” by anstabo, Pierre Julien Baron, Romain Gremmo & Artlock.
- “Pippin’ HOT Delivery” by ThanielPIN.
- “Misspelled” by havana24.
- “lotor” by torcado.
While I find it to be an impressive jam entry overall, the most juicy thing about “Sealed Bite” is the attacking mechanic: When there are multiple enemies in your range, you can start an assault and thereby go into a slow-motion mode. Here you have a short time span to choose which monster you want to attack. When you are done, the main character will be directly teleported at the now deceased creature’s place. This way, the mechanic is not only useful for fighting, but also to move in a fast manner and to explore passages, which are otherwise inaccessible.
Read more about “Sealed Bite”.
For me, a juicy feeling is not necessarily provided by the game only, but by the assent of the players to work a little for it on their own. In the puzzle platformer “ORUL” with its mirror mechanic, I can create such a feeling for myself by learning how each level was designed. Some platformer elements may be hidden or follow a specific rhythm, but when I agree to get into their flow, I can create some kind of beautiful synchronicity between input and output.
The developers of “Follovers” not only combined the core concepts of “Frogger” and “Snake”, but also added some neat power-ups in this special mix. Whenever you run into some bypassers, they will immediately join you. Stupidly enough, all your followers will trace back each of your steps, regardless if they put their life in danger by being crashed by a car in the next second or not. So better grab a reflective vest to make the vehicles stop for a while or let them all magically transform into ghosts, which will make them invincible, when you have the chance! But each power-up only works for a short time, so you have to use them wisely.
It is hard to make juicy roguelikes, but “Forward” is a fantastic example how to turn a quite complex game system into an enjoyable, fast-paced experience. Our hero can move just one tile in each turn, either straight forward or diagonally to the adjunct neighbor. Some tiles will reward the character with coins, health potions, shields, treasure chests or other useful items, while the rest of them will lead to a fight with monsters. Some items also produce positive or negative effects, which will affect the gameplay. That may sound complicated, but the very intuitive interface design makes the pathfinding just as easy as cooking a monster egg omelette.
One button is enough to play “Katame Ninja”: By pressing any key or mouse button you like, you cannot only make the one-eyed ninja jump from one side to another, but also change the jump height and throw a blade into the faces of the hostile yōkai. The game gets immensely difficult soon enough, but the focus on the minimalistic control scheme makes this jam submission one of the most juicy experiences of 2019.
Read more about “Katame Ninja”.
Honorable mentions (Juice):
- “Darkest Decision” by Christoph Jakob, Paige Marincak & Benjamin Mike Kiefer.
- “Die Back” by Konfa Games (Rune_Drawer, Nikolay Kuznetsov & Cardinal90).
- “HEARTSCAPE” by Zak Amana.
- “Tw20” by Mors & MiniMacro.
- “Klung” by havana24.
Puzzle and Level Design:
In “Roll Home”, you are only the fundament of a building in the beginning, but by rolling around and collecting your future inhabitants, you will become a real home to them. Some special rules apply for the movement, though: First of all, if you move into the water with all down tiles, the construction will submerge. The second rule to consider is that you cannot just crush on other half finished buildings, as you have to carefully position yourself to them to unify. While that is pretty easy in the first couple of levels, it becomes a real challenge very soon.
While the main mechanic of “Samurai Sam” comes from the hack and slash genre, the game does not feel repetitive at all. It is due to the excellent level design, which transforms nearly each stage to a new experience. The fights against hordes of enormous insect monsters and ninjas all have a different rhythm, depending if the battlefield is on solid ground or while falling down in the air. Another wonderful level consists of silhouettes only, where each move changes the lighting and thereby your field of vision.
While many puzzle games nowadays feature a game mechanic where you have to build your own paths or room connections to progress, the point and click adventure “Escape from DIMANSION” uses this idea in an incredible way: By collecting blocks and adjusting them to the miniature model of the mansion, you can go in the rooms that are hidden in them. But it is more important to figure out how these room blocks and their rooms work and how they might even interact with each other. What can you enlarge with the block of growth? How is it possible to light up the fireplace? What does the safe unlock? Is it possible to reach the hatch at the ceiling in the room of the up-and-down block? That is for you to find out in this marvelous brain teaser.
In “Lost in Translation”, you have to pick up an unknown language and its grammar, so that you can solve the problems of the townfolks and be allowed to leave this place. By having short chats with the characters, you can see certain patterns and compare them with your own language. What is a besdil, what is a yobro, how do people introduce themselves, how can you buy something? The wonders of learning a language to be used as a puzzle concept is simply a fantastic idea.
“Null Is Zero” by Mattias Östlund.
While the game mechanic of “Null Is Zero” is highly inspired by “Baba Is You”, it is still a refreshing and challenging take on the maths puzzle genre. The goal of the game is easy to understand, as you ‘only’ have to change the value of the blue block into the exact same value as the exit block. But the great achievement of the jam entry was to find an amazing balance between two puzzle elements: Finding the mathematical solution itself on the one side and finding the best possible path to move the blocks in the correct order to fulfill this solution on the other side.
Honorable mentions (Puzzle and Level Design):
- “ShiftQuest” by Constantin Graf, Jussi Simpanen & André Weiß.
- “Gum Girl” by Case Portman & Joel Cheetham.
- “Cannonball Engineers” by Antti Haavikko.
- “The Tail of the Serpent” by Lucas Le Slo.
- “Cattac” by Belonzik.
“An Eternity, Reflecting” is a bittersweet point and click adventure about the reunion of a daughter and her father, many years after her mother died. The chill, but also somewhat melancholic background song in combination with the pixel art makes this game also an aesthetical pleasure, so make sure to explore each room and the garden carefully to enjoy it completely.
The procedurally generated islands in “Seaway” are just stunning to look at. While you can choose to get into the fight against other armed ships, there is also a peaceful as well as an autopilot mode available, so that you can just lean back and see the world unraveling in front of your eyes. Another great visual feature is the slight transformation of the background color and the weather effects, which depend on the types of island you see in the center.
The creaking of a door falls on deaf ears in “My Friend is a Raven”, as nearly all of humanity is eradicated from the Earth. A sickness, supposedly brought by birds, struck them down. Just one survivor called Lutum is still wandering the empty streets. He wants to have a talk with one of the ravens to see why they did this. The game does a magnificent job in telling about the state of this world without any drastic imagery; instead it uses mostly different gray and soft brown shades to paint a rotten scenery. The different gothic motifs, that also occured in many paintings and stories about the Black Death alias the Pestilence, are amazingly used as well.
Read more about “My Friend is a Raven”.
The colloboration between a dozen of developers, artists and musicians led with “D game” to a colorful spectacle about the dangers of obsessive media consumption. While at first glance the metapher of a television as a head may strike you as a cliché, it gets well used in the later part of the jam entry, when it is time to get the most important sunbath of your life. On the audio level, you will find befuddling buzzes, meditative humming and a cute little song.
“HOME” by 39, Varatril, no eat dog & sugoudan.
In “HOME”, a pet ferret wants to protect its owner from letters and documents; maybe the different cruelties of everyday life like bills are meant here. Anyway, the papers will hurt both of them, resulting in small bleeding wounds on the owner if they crash on him or resulting in the ferret getting beat up over time thanks to its ambitious fight. What I personally love about this cute, somewhat sad game is the beautiful color palette and art style on the one hand, but also the perfectly to the background song aligned rhythm of the incoming papers on the other hand.
Honorable mentions (Audiovisual Representation):
- “Santa Monica By Night” by Outstar & Memoriesin8bit.
- “Land of the Lard” by NueSB, Dweebnut & W3IRDR3D.
- “Dream Street” by Olivia Haines.
- “Transfert” by Guillaume Piolat.
- “Contract Demon” by Nami.
One of the most personal jam games of 2019 was “Drowning in the Rain”. With a brutal kind of honesty, the developer talks about the most miserable part of his life: Losing loved ones, a miscarriage, getting fooled by false friends and family members. But it is also a story about hope and that even from the worst times something good can emerge. A stunning storytelling experience that I hope you will delve into.
Read more about “Drowning in the Rain”.
In the Bitsy game “reunion”, the apocalypse of the world gets intertwined with mechs that could come from a pixelated “Neon Genesis Evangelion” miniseries, but also with an unusual love story. By picking up radio frequencies and interacting with objects, the player will find out about an old, not forgotten promise and a relationship that goes beyond the human understanding. Find out for yourself what those memories have to tell you about the concept of identity and emotions.
In “Gacha”, many different biographies get told with the help of a gachapon vending machine. At the beginning, you have coins in the overall value of three dollars to spend; you can either buy one toy for three dollars or one for two dollars and one for the last dollar or three toys for one dollar each. When the money is gone, a new time span occurs, allowing you go collect more toys. Each toy belongs to one line of biographical possibilities, like the different stages of having a pet or of moving places. Just like in life, you can try to gather all stages (one per each price category), but in the end it is all up to Lady Luck. To use a gachapon machine as a storytelling concept is a truly fascinating choice and works surprisingly well.
Read more about “Gacha”.
The procedure of writing a letter to an old friend, that you got out of touch with, is the storytelling concept of “Dear Toki”. Here you have to choose one of three options at the most crucial parts of the letter, which will alter the future content. What is your motivation to write this? Because you are alone, because you want to refresh the relationship or just because you want to know if they are doing well? This is only the first question you will be facing, but more will come soon enough. Overall, this jam entry evoked a feeling for me to finally write all these letters and emails that I already wanted to start a long while ago.
Read more about “Dear Toki”.
To take care is easily said, but it must be precised to have a real meaning. Who do you have to care about? Yourself, others, the whole world? The Bitsy game “care” confronts you with this task, as the ending will highly depend on your own deeds. The metaphers of gardening as a caring act and of overgrowing moss in a world that seems to be on the edge are very helpful to emphasize the importance of this quest.
Read more about “care”.
Honorable mentions (Storytelling):
- “Some Excavated Wounds” by Sand Gardeners (Sam Machell & Colin Le Duc) & Moths.
- “ROUND TABLE” by Sweet Heart Squad (Sean S. LeBlanc & Michael Hetman).
- “spring leaves no flowers” by npckc & sdhizumi.
- “Prison of Lies” by LockedOn & OddTillTheEnd.
- “Life Diviner” by Noah S. Brown.
The atmosphere of “Dear Substance of Kin” is a mysterious one, as we as players are left in the limbo about the skills and true motives of the character we play: The Coppersmith. As we wander around in a village with many shut houses, we knock on some doors to offer our services. We claim that we are able to change people, to even transform them, but only if they can give us blood, flesh or bowels. Do we make the world a better place? Why are we even doing it? These questions will be on your mind when you go under this truly unique experience.
Read more about “Dear Substance of Kin”.
With the help of repeating rooms and the magical transforming of blocked passages into suddenly open entrances, “Lost in the Backrooms” will try to play a trick with your mind. But it is not only the changing environment, that evokes a very special kind of atmosphere in here, because there will be events foreshadowed that sometimes happen, sometimes not. Collect the audio cassettes, which were recorded by a former passerby, and experience the ever-growing tension as you delve deeper into this maze.
Read more about “Lost in the Backrooms”.
When you decide to start “The Horizon”, you have to be patient. It is quite possible that you will not really understand what is happening if you did not play the first two titles (“The Tower” and “The House of God”, of which the latter was already named by us as an GOTY honorable mention in the Storytelling category last year) of this exceptional Bitsy game series. But even if that is the case, you cannot deny that it has a very special atmosphere on its own. The confusion, the fear, the hate, the hope – each sentence of this story as well as each jump between times and places builds it all up, questioning not only the core concept of identity, but reality itself.
Read more about “The Horizon”.
“Iketsuki” could be perceived just as a metroidvania with some creepy aesthetics, but there is so much more to it. We will find a beast with extremely long limbs, hiding or captured inside the chamber of a former castle. It wants food, or to be more precise: Fishes. As you travel through the vast lands of a dying world, you can collect so-called starseeds, which will help you to magically summon fishes to feed the creature. It feels a bit strange to do this, so that you might ask yourself while playing if that is really the right thing to do, even though the monstrosity seems to be kind-hearted and polite when fed. Nonetheless, the real threat to this place has to be discovered by you.
Read more about “Iketsuki”.
While the forest of “Hōrō – 放浪” can be dangerous for travelers, the game gives its players the chance to play it either violently with the help of swords, arrows, axes and other weapons or to make it through in a completely pacifistic manner. It is not that big of a deal to do so, and maybe then you can truly enjoy the atmosphere that this little jam entry builds up with the well-chosen color palettes between the different time cycles, the small details like the bush-cutting animation or the sounds of walking through a puddle-like mini lake and the beautiful sight of raining rose pedals.
Read more about “Hōrō – 放浪”.
Honorable mentions (Atmosphere):
- “Dr. Signal’s Strange Machine” by Caramel & maoudamashii.
- “ZERMATT: ZERO” by FireSlash, kiririn51 & Juneji.
- “The Firebrand” by DWaM & Annie Stewart.
- “A Seed” by Seven Asmund.
- “please” by somewhat.
To fall in love is a truly wonderful experience, but what kind of limits do you set in your relationships with the people you have feelings for? “utsvulten” visualizes a strong bond that is literally all-consuming: You play as one of the odd lovebirds and feed your partner as well as yourself with little ‘treats’ like grapes, apples, but also flies and even body parts. This cannibalistic, morbid approach feels weird of course, but also in a very strange way heartwarming. The game can also be interpreted as a small portrait about the connection between death and love.
A pinball game that also serves educational purposes is an unconventional jam entry to see, but here we are: “航空史” – also called “A History of Aviation” – allows its players to endlessly play a round of pinball. However, by activating the right elements at the right time, it will unlock a special scene that displays one stage of how humanity came closer to its dream of flying (including the early accidents).
It is a cooking game based on text commands. It is about a short film, a flat and mice. It is personal. Does that seem strange to you? I would rather call it unconventional. “Kitchen For One” is like an extraordinary dish that you are not sure of, making you wonder if such a combination of ingredients can really taste good. But then after the first few bites, you will be surprised by its taste and how each component completes the other one.
Read more about “Kitchen For One”.
This interactive novel starts off unspectacularly, as you play as a divorced father who wants his daughter called Abby to come along with his new girlfriend Margot. Both of them do not find a connection to each other, but here they are. It is also pizza night, which was earlier a special occasion between Abby and you, so you decide to order one. After asking both of them what they want as toppings, it gets delivered and you all start to eat. Suddenly, Margot dies. That is where the really unconventional part of “Order A Pizza” comes in: A time travel mechanic. You go back to the start of the evening and after a quick chat change your order, but something is still not right… Can you make it all better in this excellent story-driven jam entry, or will you create a pizza universe with greasing misery on top?
Some parts of global gaming communities do not get tired to claim that they want unpolitical, neutral games and that their hobby is just a fun activity; nothing more, nothing less. This jam entry disagrees with this kind of statements and I could not be more happy about it. In just a few minutes it dramatically shows off what can happen when the wrong people get to define what you have to understand under the words ‘neutral’ and ‘neutrality’. Misanthropic, xenophobic, fascist and deadly ideologies often do not announce themselves loudly, but are preparing to win the masses with quiet steps. One of that steps can be to claim that what they are doing is a neutral necessarity. To counter that, we have to encourage the gaming industry along others to make political games and to moderate their communities. That is ywise
the message I got from playing “GAMEJAM GAMEJAM”.
Honorable mentions (Unconventionality):
- “You Lose. Good Day, Sir.” by Meredith Chen, SheldonZS, Henna Ahvenniemi, Weeping Jester, Jarkko Ahvenniemi, Keladry & Gryphon_Man.
- “The Ballad of the Metamorphosis of M. Dolly” by David Su.
- “Poly-60” by Ferran Bertomeu Castells & YenTing Lo.
- “I wanna be the GUI” by joqlepecheur.
- “Redlander” by Dana Anne.
“Mystical Samurai” feels like the proof-of-concept of a Game Boy title I would have loved to play as a kid. The jumping and attacking feels crispy, the monster and boss design is top-notch and the music as well as pixel art is just amazing. If you are looking for a game that is like a real blast to the past, then this jam submission is the perfect fit.
Read more about “Mystical Samurai”.
In “Taco King”, we as players get confronted with nostalgia on two different levels: Gameplay- and story-wise. In the beginning, we step into the role a little child who loves to play in an arcade hall. However, as the game progresses, the character gets older too, and changes from a kid to a teenager to an adult to an elder citizen. Nonetheless, the arcade games stay the same. It is lovely to play those clones of “Space Invader”, “Emerald Mine” and “Asteroids” with their improved graphics, but the real nostalgic feeling comes from witnessing the a love for those classic titles that never fades.
Do you remember the good times you had at LAN parties with a couple of friends? If the answer is “Yes!”, then for sure you played some old arena shooter games in the multiplayer mode together. While “No Players Online” is more of a psychological horror game, it manages to show how weirdly deserted those games feel like when there is nobody to play with. By implication this jam entry makes clear why we loved those old days so much: Because we played with our friends. This core message makes it a spooky, but also nostalgic gaming experience.
Read more about “No Players Online”.
When I was young, my parents bought me a Tamagotchi. I loved it so much because we were not allowed to have a pet thanks to my allergies, which were pretty strong back then. But the virtual pet was a sweet experience for me, as I tried to care for it as good as possible. In “Virtual Pets”, you find a slightly broken device like that. Some of the buttons are not operating properly, there are small fissures in the display and the battery did not get replaced either. With a bit of exploring you might still find a way to grow up a cute monster pet, just like I did it when I was a child.
“Alfredo’s Stupendous Surprise (Bandersnatch Edition)” by Paul Nicholas, original game by Tom Hall & John Romero.
“Alfredo’s Stupendous Surprise (Bandersnatch Edition)” is a remake of a (still playable) game that Tom Hall and John Romero created thirty years ago at their Softdisk time. While a remake of a several decades old game already lets my nostalgia alarm sensors tingle, it is the background story of the jam entry that convinced me completely. You have to keep in mind that the game was a submission for the Toy Box Jam 2019, a jam initiated by Tom Hall. He even helped out to get rid of some bugs, which I find massively beautifuk! And just like that, old adventures become new ones. What a time to be alive.
Read more about “Alfredo’s Stupendous Surprise (Bandersnatch Edition)”.
Honorable mentions (Nostalgia):
- “Shovel Killer CD” by Shaun Mitchell, Hannah Watts, Bryn Morrison-Elliott, Simon James, Flint, Jorden Hildrew, Sophie Smart, Rhys Price, Tom Elliott, Jake Rowe & Max Charnock.
- “Crystals of Amalgam” by Alex Ferreira Costa, Dotto Meister & Ove Mella.
- “Jabberwocky” by Rhoq, Robyn, Retroshark & Ben Jones.
- “Driller: The New Fields” by Ben James.
- “Minimal Raider” by Tim Hengeveld.
71 of the 80 featured games can be found in our itch.io GOTY 2019 collection.