1) Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer) This episodic journey into the depths of magical realism kept players wanting to sink deeper. It's the near-perfect confluence of striking environments, pointed sound design, and a ripping yarn that Cardboard Computer knits into something beautifully mysterious. The game's lonesome, dark highways are thick with atmosphere that reveals the world's wonders slowly and deliberately.
2) Papers, Please (Lucas Pope) Step into the thankless shoes of an immigration officer in the imaginary Baltic nation of Arstotzka. You get paid per processed individual, so will you check the paperwork closely to ensure no one is looking to hurt your homeland or do a rush job to make sure your family eats? It's interactivity at its most biting.
3) Device 6 (Simogo) Simogo's last handful of games proved it knows how to make touchscreens fun better than most. This year's Device 6 is no exception as it turns "interactive fiction" into something beautiful, intuitive, and full of intrigue. The words show you the way if you follow closely enough.
4) Gone Home (The Fullbright Company) The Last of Us and its ilk were lauded for their stories, but this game proved you don't have to dilute a narrative to sell to the largest audience. In telling an achingly personal story through exploration, Gone Home appeals to anyone with a heart.
5) The Stanley Parable (Galactic Cafe) Where did everyone in the office go? Will you obey the narrator or go off-script? Is the player or the developer in charge? Why are you constantly trying to achieve something the game says is impossible? Why have you never asked these questions about a game before?
6) Candy Box (aniwey) This year's Frog Fractions (see last year's gaming Top 10) looks like a free game that's a commentary on the banality of free games, but in reality it was the gift that kept on giving ... candies.
7) Samurai Gunn (Teknopants) This winner of both the grand prize and audience award at Fantastic Arcade was quietly released this year. Players are let loose with a sword and three bullets. The recipe is simple, but the finished product is multiplayer perfection and the yellingest game of the year.
8) Ridiculous Fishing (Vlambeer) This mobile-gaming addiction involved avoiding/catching fish, flinging them skyward, and shooting them before they landed. But more than that, it proved that even if your game is cloned, real heart and thoughtful design can't be copied.
9) GeoGuessr (Anton Wallén) Want to shed some geographical stereotypes? Try taking a random Google Street View and guessing where on the world map the photo was taken. Were you close, or did you think Sweden was the Pacific Northwest again?
10) Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective (Arcane Kids) The reigning kings of the low-poly aesthetic took Bubsy 3D, one of the most ill-received games of all time, and turned it into a playable manifesto. The new Bubsy made statements on art, remix culture, and the cult of art personalities, but above all made its own rules and let the world know in the funniest way possible.
Honorable Mention: Saints Row IV, Super Mario 3D World, Hundreds, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, rymdkapsel
Copyright © 2017 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.