Games of 2016: Ooooh pretty


ames that look good make us feel good, unless they play terribly, in which case they get shown the door.

Here are some games that are going to raise eyebrows this year because of their pretty palettes and moody hues.


... is the work of Matt Nava, who was the lead artist on the extraordinary Journey. After finishing his work there, Nava set up a Santa Monica-based developer called Giant Squid. Abzu is its first game.

Players take first-person control of the game's central character — a polygonal, distinctive diver — and begin to explore the oceanic environment. This is not unlike the beginning of Journey, though that game begins in a desert. It's shaping up to be a beautiful aquatic adventure with an emotional tug.

"During my time at thatgamecompany [Journey's developer] I really learned about what a game can do for the player as an experience, rather than as a pastime," said Nava last year. "It can really be something meaningful. We want to take that further. To advance that by taking the player on this emotional descent into the ocean, which is really a metaphor for diving into yourself."

In Abzu, the player explores the environment and the story unfolds. But in ...

What Remains of Edith Finch

... the player is taken on multiple journeys through the eyes of various members of a cursed family, over the course of more than a century. It's a witty and pretty compendium of short stories from Giant Sparrow, the team behind The Unfinished Swan, which was also visually distinctive.

Based on demos shown last year, this is a game that's seeking to explore the outer limits of territory normally covered by video games. At times, it's so odd the temptation is to laugh out loud.

"This is the strangest game you'll play all year," says Creative Director Ian Dallas. "It's a collection of short stories, each about the death of a different Finch family member. You'll get to live out their final moments as well as follow Edith as she tries to figure out why she's the last Finch left alive. It's a game about the sublime horror of nature, with echoes of The Twilight Zone, Lovecraft, David Lynch, Jim Henson and 100 Years of Solitude."

Another game that is seeking to thrum its fingers across your heart-strings is ...


... a 2-D platformer featuring a cute character called Yarny that's made of string. Created by Coldwood, a small outfit based on the northeastern coast of Sweden, it's being published by Electronic Arts on Feb. 9.

Unravel's basic idea is to guide the central character through platform puzzles, making use of its yarn which unravels as it moves, creating lines that players must use cleverly in order to solve the physical puzzles that impede progression. Loss of too much twine leads to an ultimate unraveling.

"It's always fun to play with physics," said Coldwood's Martin Sahlin last year. "It's not just about solving puzzles. It's also a big part of how you move. Sometimes it's just traversing, navigating. Since you always leave this trail behind you, you can always grab it and climb on it and swing on it. You can do these really cool things when you combine stuff."

This is also a game about place. Northern Sweden is a land of rock, moss, running water, clear skies and wintry trees. It's an environment that is heavily plundered for Unravel's backgrounds and puzzles.

Places of a different kind are explored in ...

Donut County

... from designer Ben "Torahhorse" Esposito. It takes the basic concept of Katamari Damacy — moving a ball that gets bigger as it touches more objects — and gives it a negative space flip.

Instead of controlling a ball, players control a hole. The more it swallows, the bigger it gets. Esposito describes Donut County as a "whimsical physics toy." It's coming to PC and Mac.


... blends third-person combat with procedurally generated dungeons and presents it all with very stylish animation. It's the work of Harebrained Schemes, the studio founded by Jordan Weisman, creator of Shadowrun.

The art style is a gorgeously curated low-poly look inspired by minimalistic geometric design. In action, Necropolis has a stripped down Dark Souls feel to it. It's a game of challenging combat encounters, in which every battle needs to be fought with an element of intelligence.

"Necropolis is a third-person dungeon delve filled with intense action, off-kilter humor, and loads of stuff that'll change the way you play," says Studio Manager Mitch Gitelman. "It's a Roguelike — a "procedural death labyrinth" — filled with ever-changing assortments of bizarre rooms, cool weapons, tasty treasure and nasty monsters that'll invariably kill you, only for you to start all over again."

Seasons after Fall

... is a painterly side-scrolling puzzle adventure developed by Swing Swing Submarine. It stars a fox that travels across the countryside taking advantage of the changing seasons, which, usefully, it has the power to change.

So the players can make a waterfall freeze or summon spring in order to grow a plant that will lead forward.

The game is being pitched as "a non-violent tale about the world around you." Seasons after Fall is coming to Windows PC, Mac, Linux and unspecified consoles.


... is the debut title from Drool, a two-man indie team comprised of Marc Flury, an ex-Harmonix programmer living in Seoul, South Korea; and Brian Gibson, an artist at Harmonix who is also one half of the noise rock duo Lightning Bolt.

Nominated for Excellence in Audio at the 2015 Independent Games Festival, Thumper exists somewhere between Audiosurf and F-Zero. It's a rhythm/driving game that doesn't really follow the rules of rhythm games. It's also really pretty, in a neon future way.

"Thumper combines classic rhythm-action with breakneck speed and brutal physicality," states the game's website. "You are a space beetle screaming towards an insane giant head from the future." It's coming out on PlayStation 4 and PC.

Perhaps the most visually arresting game of the year is going to be ...


... from Studio MDHR. It's a challenging 2-D shooter game with lots of difficult bosses. It also pays tribute to the vast back catalog of the Walt Disney empire, cartoons like Steamboat Willie and The Wise Little Hen.

It's using period techniques in its creation including hand drawn and inked cel shaded animation with real watercolor backgrounds. Cuphead will also be scored with an original jazz soundtrack.


... is the debut title from indie dev Campo Santo coming to PlayStation and PC. It's a gorgeous exploration of isolation and choice, filtered through the lens of a man named Henry who takes a job as a fire lookout.

Henry spends his time atop a mountain looking for smoke that would signal a wildfire. The game is set during "an especially hot and dry summer," and Henry's supervisor, Delilah, is his distant companion, contactable via radio. Firewatch puts "something strange" in Henry's path, and the choices he makes during his wilderness excursion can foster or endanger his only relationship.

Campo Santo is made up of ex-Telltale Games Creative Director and Designer Jake Rodkin, Designer and Writer Sean Vanaman, Mark of the Ninja Lead Designer Nels Anderson from Klei Entertainment as well as Graphic Designer Olly Moss.


... is the next game from Playdead, a Danish outfit best known for the lovely Limbo, which was released in 2010.

It's pitched as a spiritual successor to Limbo, with 2.5-D levels in a moody world of muted color and sharp distinctions of light, which is an integral and important aspect of the game's mechanics.

Based on the limited amount of information released so far the new game looks similar to Limbo in style, though with a little more color. A short trailer released in 2014 shows a child running through 2-D environments with a lot of movement going on in the background at the same time. Inside is due to debut on Xbox One.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

... is the first game from Dim Bulb Games, an indie studio founded by former The Fullbright Company developer Johnnemann Nordhagen. According to Nordhagen, the pretty, rustic game is about "traveling, exploration and telling stories, set in a dreamlike and fantastical American landscape." It draws influence from novels such as The Grapes of Wrath and On the Road, as well as folk songs.

The final game on our list is ...

Fragments of Him

... a game that investigates the death of a person, and how loss affects those left behind. Created by SassyBot Studio, it's planned for release on Windows PC and Xbox One.

Following a fatal car crash which kills a young man, players walk through the lives of four people, interacting with his former lover, a friend, a relative and memories of the victim himself. The story progresses to reveal how the man changed the lives of others, and what remains of him after his life is over. It's an artistic, thoughtful piece about what it means to be human.

There will be many games to play in 2016. If this selection of 100 titles shows us anything, it's that gaming, for all its faults and limitations, strives toward variety.