Caitlin is the creator and sole contributor of Your Geeky Gal Pal, a pop culture blog that mostly focuses on video games and how queer stuff fits into them. When she’s not at her office job, playing games, or writing about games, she enjoys snuggling any or all of her three chihuahuas and most recently, screaming into the void about Riverdale. You can find her on Twitter at @CGRRRRRRRR.
This was the first year I was actually able to be entirely on top of all the most recent releases. I only got my PS4 last year, so I had a ton of catching up to do. Instead of that, I played all the shiny new stuff and left my backlog mostly untouched. Despite all the amazing titans that came out this year, I ended up finding myself drawn to smaller, indie experiences most of the time. While some of those bigguns are on this list, it was the small fries that really captured my heart this year.
Pyre was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me. I don’t have a lot of history with games from Supergiant. I’m still only about halfway through Bastion and I haven’t even started Transistor. I also don’t really care for sports games. But despite playing basically like magical basketball, Pyre doesn’t feel like a sports game. Its setting and storytelling lean into the ritualistic aspect of the game, making the gameplay feel more like the struggle for freedom it’s supposed to be than just a goal oriented match. Just when I had started to figure out my playstyle, a certain plot twist forced me to look at my teams and challenge myself to change things up. Everything about Pyre is extremely my shit. Outside of the rites, it’s set up as a visual novel focused on story and character development. The Book of Rites provides additional lore to fill out the world. By the end, I had grown attached to all of the core members of the cast and even some of our adversaries. The art is beautiful and the music is real rad. The story, while not as over the top as something like Wolfenstein, is poignant and relevant in our current political climate.
This was the game I didn’t know I needed in 2017. So many queer stories in media are disappointing, either because they’re poorly written and cheesy, or because they only focus on the tragedy of queer experience. Butterfly Soup is neither of these options. The story is wildly relatable, focusing on the tribulations of parental expectations, school, extracurriculars and first-time experiences with love. Each character is carefully crafted and endearing, despite their idiosyncrasies. It also ultimately isn’t sad. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really intense story beats that center on disapproval of queerness, not being good enough, etc. but they’re not what the story is actually about. Ultimately, it’s a coming of age story about friendship, baseball, and first love. Getting to experience such a sweet, well done story about queer girls was the pick-me-up I needed in this shitty year. Aside from its quality storytelling, it also goes a great job with representation outside of queerness. All of the girls are Asian-American, and Diya (the first girl you play as) is deaf in one ear. It’s fun, sweet, and heartwarming. Plus, it’s only a few hours long, so it’s definitely pretty binge-able.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
I was behind the curve on Wolfenstein, finishing The New Order this November then jumping right into the sequel. I fell in love almost immediately. My companion choice from the first game was Fergus, so I missed all the race stuff you get if you choose Wyatt. Seeing Grace make those same hard-hitting points about how white Americans helped the Nazi takeover in mandatory cutscenes made me feel so excited and validated. I’m also a huge fan of camp, so I loved that Machine Games was willing to really lean into some of the more ridiculous aspects of the series. Getting to gun down Nazis with abandon was really cathartic, and seeing how BJ’s character developed was really nice too. Taking him from one-dimensional action hero to tough-guy with real emotions and attachments was a great move for the series.
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods was one of my most anticipated games of the year, though I basically knew nothing about it before playing. I had seen a few screenshots and knew that it was a narrative-driven walking sim, and that was enough for me. The game did not disappoint. Mae and her friends are charming and painfully real in a way that most video game characters aren’t. Possum Springs provides a real reflection of what many small towns in America look like, without shying away from the attitudes and beliefs that often spawn from these places. While simple, the art is cute and does a great job of setting the tone Night in the Woods goes for: charming and devastating. I’m a sucker for anything that can make me laugh while my heart is breaking, and Infinite Fall was more than successful in that department. Night in the Woods is probably the most accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be a college-age person today, and it does it with 2-D anthropomorphic animals. 10/10 about it.
Doki Doki Literature Club
I’ve gotten more familiar with visual novels and dating simulators in the past year and a half or so. The reason I like Doki Doki so much is because it knows the tropes of those games just as well as I do, and happily uses them to twist expectations with unsettling results. It’s not necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel or create a revolutionary, M. Night Shamalan twist. In fact, the ending is something that you’ve seen before if you’ve ever interacted with any media about AI or the internet in general. But it doesn’t have to be new to be clever or well-done. Doki Doki shines because it knows that you know what to expect, and it takes you up on the dares you think it will back down from. As someone who always wants to look at the things I love critically, I enjoyed Doki Doki and found it special because it’s willing to look at where it came from unflinchingly and point out some very glaring truths.
Persona 5 was a pleasant surprise as well this year. I enjoyed its predecessor, but ultimately had a lot of problems that colored me less in love with it than many others who played it. With the changes to the dungeons, as well as a core concept that felt more engaging for an 80+ hour game, and characters that felt more endearing, P5 quickly became a dark horse contender for my affection. I love how stylized the game is both in the menus and combat. The friends you make were still goofy teenagers, but they felt more real. The soundtrack was also really amazing. I appreciated that developing relationships felt more realistic than Persona 4 as well. It was cool to have to actually earn trust with someone to even get them to talk to you, or prove yourself a good person to get someone on your side.
Dream Daddy is another game that really boosted my queer joy meter for the year. While I agree with the criticism that it could have been more explicit in its representations of trans people, and lifestyles in general, it was honestly refreshing to be shown a reality where straightness and cis-ness aren’t the status quo, or even represented basically at all in the case of straight people. Getting to customize your dad to be as diverse as you want is refreshing and super fun, and the diversity of the other dads is much appreciated by yours truly. The game is overwhelmingly positive with its bright colors and never-ending supply of dad jokes, and sometimes you just need that. I also really enjoyed that your choices will impact what kind of relationship you end up having with the daddy you decide to go for.
The Injustice series takes two things I love very much, DC and fighting games, and blends them into something beautiful and fun. Nether Realm has absolutely killed it with this franchise. The story is just the right amount of wacky and well-told, the graphics are amazing, and the controls are great. Batman v. Superman wishes it was half as good. Granted, while I love fighting games, I’m no expert. But playing Injustice has never felt bad, even if I’m playing as a character who’s style I’m not a fan of. Their play-style may not be ideal for me, but no one has felt broken or unfair. The DLC characters they’ve chosen so far are great because NR has continued its tradition of pulling from the bucket of lesser known DC characters. I love this franchise because it lets me play the heroes and villains I’ve come to love in the most faithful way I’ve seen out of video games aside from the Arkham series. Plus, this is the game that finally let me play as Poison Ivy (even though I don’t love her playstyle) so it’s on the top 10 by default.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon is mostly on this list because it’s the first game that made me really appreciate gameplay. I’ve always been a story-driven person, with gameplay lingering as an afterthought. But Horizon did an amazing job of taking someone who openly admits to being bad at video games, especially those that involve shooting of any kind, and turning them into someone who actively looks forward to combat encounters. The variety of options you get with each weapon is still amazing to me, and helped me get the most out of this game. I can be someone with little to no precision and still wreck enemies because the combat systems allow for that. It’s a good feeling after so many years of struggling through enemies because I’m not good enough to play the way the game wants me to. On top of the fantastic combat, Horizon’s main storyline is actually some really great sci-fi, While the side characters definitely needed some work, the core narrative surprised me with how good it was and kept me running through main missions to see what would happen next.