With trippy PS4 explorers, hilariously enjoyable Nintendo Switch releases and perhaps the greatest game of the decade – here are the best games we’ve played this year.
Nintendo Switch; Nintendo
Nintendo’s bright, brisk take on the fighting game has a range of outlandish characters engaging in lighthearted fisticuffs with customisable robotic arms. The Switch motion controllers make it a ridiculous physical workout.
What we said: Arms is unique, colourful, and accessible, with enough complexity to tempt a competitive scene but not so much to make anyone feel alienated.
PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS; Double Fine
Game designer David OReilly produced one of the most unusual video game releases of the decade with this exploration of time, space and being, all set to a soundtrack of quotes from philosopher Alan Watts.
What we said: Everything takes the strange comfort of the procedurally generated personal to a universal scale, and it is good. It’s really good. Everything is a game that knows what its core strengths are, and it does not shy away from them: everything persists, and everything is connected.
Gravity Rush 2
PlayStation 4; Sony
The acclaimed gravity manipulating sci-fi title is back with an unexpected yet welcome sequel, following lead character Kat as she swoops and falls through a stylised neon city.
What we said: Gravity Rush 2 recreates the sense of reckless abandon that came when riding a bike as a child, the feeling of limitless potential combined with the intoxicating thrill of knowing that the tarmac could come up to meet you at any moment.
Hitman: the Complete First Season
Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One; Square Enix
The bald assassin returns in Io Interactive’s brilliantly designed open-world action game, in which disguise, planning and ingenuity are as important as picking the right weapon.
What we said: The beauty of the game is, you can play for many hours, but then see a friend try a mission and they’ll do something totally different ... The game unfolds like a puzzle box and, just when you think it has finished unfolding, it reveals something new.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
PlayStation 4; Sony
Killzone developer Guerrilla Games surprised many with this gorgeous adventure following a young warrior investigating her origins on an apocalyptic Earth, dominated by hulking robot dinosaurs.
What we said: Horizon: Zero Dawn is an ambitious technological showpiece for Sony’s new PlayStation Pro platform and a visual benchmark for this console generation ... An immensely playable – and likeable – romp with a core combat mechanic worth the price of purchase alone.
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, iOS; Warner Bros
The superhero fighting game series swoops back, with an impressive cast of DC denizens including Batman, SuperGirl and Green Lantern, as well as a full-bodied campaign mode and some incredibly pyrotechnic battles.
What we said: A lavish and complete package that satisfies both casual fans and fighting fanatics alike.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Wii U, Nintendo Switch; Nintendo
Nintendo’s action role-playing adventure series returns with perhaps one of the greatest games of the decade, as Link awakens to find the world devastated by a familiar foe.
What we said: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild marries the best bits of the franchise’s long history with the best bits of the rest of the gaming world, and produces something even greater than the sum of its parts.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Nintendo Switch; Nintendo
The classic kart racer returns, this time as an updated version of the latest Wii U instalment, fine-tuned for the portable multiplayer capabilities of the Switch console.
What we said: Mario Kart is a vehicle for fun with all your friends and family, no matter their individual skill, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best, most versatile version of that yet.
PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows; Square Enix
This dizzying sci-fi adventure from offbeat designer Takahisa Taura posits a far future Earth abandoned to android armies flighting an endless proxy war for remote human and machine masters.
What we said: The design is built from many disparate parts, each so important and unique it’s difficult to talk about the excellence of any individual element without missing the bigger picture ... The capacity of Nier: Automata to surprise and make you reassess what you take for granted is overwhelming
Night in the Woods
PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Linux; Finji
Part adventure game, part-indie movie, this tale of a young woman (or more accurately, young cat) returning to her depressing home town is a quiet marvel.
What we said: Night in the Woods is a lot of things at once, and to boil it down to any one of them would not do it justice. It is a patchwork collection of melancholic narrative, anarchic vandalism and bass-playing. It is brilliant.
PlayStation 4; Sony
Famed beat-’em-up developer Team Ninja returns with a typically unforgiving brawler set in a brutal re-imagining of feudal Japan.
What we said: Nioh may at first appear to be a clone of the Dark Souls series, but the game confidently strides away from these comparisons ... The fantasy elements have deep, meaningful connections to the history of Japan, and the world feels securely rooted in a fast-paced, flourishing combat system.
PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3; Atlus
The cult Japanese role-playing series returns with a complex, visually arresting tale of school kids battling demons – and their own emotions.
What we said: At its core this is a spectacular work of contemporary young adult fiction, one with a strong moral core, angled yet never didactic, expansive yet always focused.
Resident Evil 7
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows; Capcom
An incredible return to form for the survival horror series as players explore a gruesome swampland mansion to discover the protagonist’s missing wife.
What we said: Reinventing older games to fit ever-expanding technological boundaries while maintaining their quiddity is one of the great challenges in game design. Resident Evil 7 is a masterclass: breezily new, yet quintessentially in character with its illustrious forbearers.
Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One; Tequila Works
A beautiful adventure from a highly inventive studio in which a young child washes up on a mysterious island and must explore its caverns, temples and mountains to uncover the past.
What we said: Rime exists in a well-trodden video game niche, remarkable for neither its concept nor its execution. But it transcends its limitations by tapping into something universal: a child’s feelings of wonder at a strange and sometimes dangerous world.
Nintendo Switch; Nintendo
A stylish and funny co-operative paper-cutting puzzler from British indie studio SFB Games, brilliantly designed to exploit the convenient two-player functionality of the Switch.
What we said: The real fun of Snipperclips is in those first 45 puzzles, played with a friend over many short sessions ... At £18 on a console with a currently limited catalogue, for anyone who owns a Switch this highly sociable game is a must-buy.
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows; Focus Home Interactive
Described as a cyberpunk Dark Souls, this science fiction role-playing adventure envisages a future of high-end robotic enhancements and weaponised exo-suits. Incredibly, the brave new world isn’t as fun as it sounds.
What we said: It’s a sci-fi premise that might have come from any number of development brainstorming sessions, but here it translates to the best attempt to date to make “the next Dark Souls”.
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Arcade game, Microsoft Windows; Bandai Namco
The long-running fighting game series returns with its familiar characters and combat systems augmented by exciting newcomers and some fresh systems, including the painful-sounding power crushes.
What we said: Now in its 23rd year, the latest episode in Namco’s 3D fighting series feels like a celebration of Tekken’s rich history ... Far and away the best game in the series.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Xbox One, PlayStation 4; Techland
The spiritual successor to the renowned 1999 role-playing game Planescape: Torment, this complex role-playing game is set among warring civilisations a billion years in the future.
What we said: Torment is more than a nostalgic homage to Planescape: Torment – its own innovations will mark the genre as much as its spiritual predecessor did.
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS; Nintendo
Moving a seed up a procedurally generated mountain while avoiding holes and pitfalls is the aim in this challenging and engrossing Nintendo Switch puzzler, based on a mechanic arcade machine.
What we said: The core of TumbleSeed is in the feel of it. It’s in launching your seed from a spring and then catching it as it floats back down ... You won’t care how many times you die; each time you restart the mountain is new and the climb is exciting.
What Remains of Edith Finch
PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS; Annapurna Interactive
A woman returns to her ancestral home and by exploring every ramshackle room, players of this sumptuous and melancholy adventure unlock the story of her cursed family.
What we said: What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that succeeds in recreating the childhood joy of reading a book and being utterly transported into its pages … It will touch the heart of all but the most soulless of gamers.