Ben Wander’s atmospheric mystery game casts you as PC Malone, former-cop-turned-PI and all-around tough dame who finds herself caught up in a dangerous web after a bootlegger hires her to look into a threat on his life. The evocative art and vibrant writing bring 1920s San Francisco to noir-ish life, and you engage with a colorful cast of characters who’d be right at home in a Sam Spade novel.
This tough, rewarding platformer from the makers of Towerfall elegantly blends narrative and mechanics to draw you in to protagonist Madeline’s intertwined struggles to conquer a mysterious mountain and to confront her own pain. With wonderful controls, a steady series of new gameplay elements, and an approach to difficulty that makes the experience as encouraging as it is challenging, Celeste makes you feel the exhilaration of Madeline’s victories, and contains simple but real wisdom about how the path forward often requires doing the hard work of forgiving those parts of ourselves we might be more inclined to run from than to embrace. -CP
In The Lost Legacy, two great characters from earlier games, Uncharted 2’s Chloe Frazer and Uncharted 4’s Nadine Ross, get the prominent treatment they deserve, stealing the series spotlight from Nathan Drake and going on an adventure all their own. The gameplay is standard Uncharted stuff, complete with breathtaking vistas and somewhat tired gunplay, but The Lost Legacy succeeds on the merits of its pacing and especially of its characters and writing. It’s great just to see a blockbuster with two complex and capable female leads, but it’s made all the better by superb dialogue and acting that gives this game a human heart, beating amidst the all the fisticuffs and explosions.
Creator Brianna Lei bills her extraordinary game Butterfly Soup as “a visual novel about gay Asian girls playing baseball and falling in love.” And that’s extremely accurate, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t begin to convey just how sweet, sincere, heartwarming and hilarious this game really is. The writing here is extraordinarily sharp; the four leads are all tremendously different people, with their own personality quirks, insecurities and senses of humor, and as we laugh and live along with them for a little while, we really feel as if we come to know them. This is one of the most laugh-out-loud funny games I’ve ever played, and also one of the most deeply affecting. It’s a game that believes in love, and playing it reminded me that I do, too.
Not only are Portal and its sequel two of the smartest, most engaging puzzle games ever designed; they’re also two of the funniest games of all time. The hilariously malicious AI GlaDOS taunts you constantly as you use your portal gun to progress through a series of test chambers whose scientific value is questionable and whose danger is off the charts. You play as Chell, a silent female protagonist whose resilience and perseverance in the face of GlaDOS’ hostility speak volumes.
Beyond Good & Evil gives us Jade, one of the coolest and most multidimensional female protagonists in all of gaming. An altruistic photojournalist committed to exposing government corruption, Jade is warmly devoted to her companions and has relatable concerns about paying the bills. This inviting adventure takes place in a colorful world teeming with life, but it also incorporates thoughtful statements about media’s role in shaping public perception and the need for people to organize against systemic oppression. Watch our video about Jade.
A focus on female characters and queer sexuality are enough to make Gone Home rare among video games, but there are so many more reasons to recommend it. Set in 1995, you explore the Greenbriar house, uncovering clues to the whereabouts of your parents and 17-year-old sister Sam. Wonderfully accurate 90s period detail (and some great riot grrrl music) captures the essence of the era and excellent writing brings the Greenbriars to life as you piece together the poignant story of Sam’s romance with a female classmate.
In a sea of similar AAA games, Mirror’s Edge represented something boldly different. Playing as a woman of color named Faith, you navigate the city of Glass from a first-person perspective that drives home the exhilarating physicality of Faith’s movement. Combat is present but takes a backseat to Faith’s raw agility as she slides under barriers, runs along walls and leaps between rooftops.
You’ve never cared about a blue square quite as much as you’ll care about Claire. The colorful shapes who make up Thomas Was Alone’s endearing cast of characters may have way fewer polygons than most game characters, but they also have way more personality. This puzzle platformer emphasizes cooperation as each character’s unique talents help the group overcome obstacles that would otherwise be insurmountable, and the affable narrator’s warm delivery encourages us to empathize with Thomas and his friends.
This captivating indie game places you in the role of the Scythian, a female warrior monk on a mysterious quest which includes nods to The Legend of Zelda while being very much its own memorable tale. In doing so, it quietly asserts that women can take on the mantle of heroes of myth and legend as effectively as men can. Gorgeous music, quirky writing and a striking pixelated visual style help make this a fantasy adventure you won’t soon forget. Watch our video about The Scythian.
As a young Brazilian boy named Quico, Papo & Yo has you navigating a vibrant favela in which fantasy and reality blend in ways that are alternately wondrous and heartbreaking. Quico has a bond with a creature called Monster, who is often friendly and sweet but sometimes flies into a terrifying rage. Quico’s imagination serves as a necessary escape from some deeply painful realities at home, but Papo & Yo knows that you can’t escape forever, and this deeply affecting game approaches the topic of life with an alcoholic parent with honesty and compassion.
At first glance, Fez appears to be a fairly straightforward 2D puzzle platformer. But this inventive game has some serious surprises up its sleeve, and exploring its peaceful world is an absolute joy. The visuals and music come together to create an uplifting mood as you solve Fez’s innovative puzzles and unlock its secrets.
A deeply honest and moving portrait of Ryan and Amy Green’s life with their son Joel, who was diagnosed with a terminal form of brain cancer at a very young age. Questions of love and faith run through this wonderfully human game that manages to find beauty and hope in some of life’s smallest moments, even as it acknowledges and explores a devastating grief that most of us will never have to face. Watch our review of That Dragon, Cancer.
This futuristic point-and-click adventure plunges you into a quest to find an old friend who has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Your investigation brings you into contact with a delightful cast of adorably awkward robots, brilliant genderqueer hackers and other great characters who make ROM a memorable trip to a cyberpunk San Francisco.
The lyrical, episodic adventure game Kentucky Route Zero follows an unlikely group of traveling companions on a magical realist road trip through parts known and unknown. Conway, an aging delivery driver, is searching for the destination on his last job for a closing antique shop, and his roundabout journey takes him through an America devastated by poverty, debt and corporatization, where hope and heartbreak are equally common and people come together and rely on each other to get through the hard times.