Making games is an iterative process, and that extends beyond the development of a solitary title and into the world of franchises and sequels. Game makers are constantly expanding their ideas and refining the ways they create, which can result in impressive titles like we've seen this year with the likes of Far Cry 5, Black Ops 4, Darksiders 3, Red Dead Redemption 2, and God of War. Great games are often sequels because unlike movies, developers can more easily build on the foundations laid down by their predecessors. And that's precisely why it's worth celebrating fresh ideas and new titles set in original worlds - they may not always be more polished and the concepts may not be fully refined at launch, but making something completely new that can compete with existing franchises is no easy thing, and the games below have done just that and then some. Here's to the developers that aren't afraid to try something different.
5. Celeste / Matt Makes Games
If there's one breakout indie hit in a year that's been full of quality indie games it has to be Celeste from Matt Makes Games (and when a game can fend off competition from the likes of Dead Cells, Florence, The Messenger, and Into The Breach, you know it's got something special). It could easily be seen as another quality throwback indie platformer, but its themes and setting elevate it from the pack. We're not sure this game will ever get a sequel, perhaps it doesn't need one, but there's certainly potential for more here and so it makes our new IP list.
There are several reasons why it's deserving of this list too, as it combines excellent hardcore platforming like that of Super Meat Boy with a superb soundtrack and a story that really resonated with us. All elements of Celeste work well together in harmony, and even when the going gets tough and the difficulty hits hardest, it never becomes frustrating as you always know where you went wrong and why.
4. Frostpunk / 11 bit Studios
11 bit Studios has grown a reputation for making games that will make you think long and hard about your choices. Frostpunk is certainly one such game and it presented us with a world we'd be keen to see more of, or perhaps something different like Waterpunk (think Frostpunk in a Waterworld setting). Either way, the mix of city building strategy elements, choice and consequence, and survival elements pushed us to our limits and kept us coming back for more.
The gravity of the choices you have to make is perhaps the reason why Frostpunk works so well. This isn't about managing a thriving society, but one on the brink of extinction, and you'll have to make unpopular decisions so that you can pull through in the ice age that's taken over the planet. If the generator goes out, people die, and it's about weighing up risk versus reward. What's more is that we're still getting new content (like the Christmas Carol and Endless Mode updates we've seen drop since launch), so the journey is far from over.
3. Nintendo Labo / Nintendo EPD
One of the most innovative game concepts in years, Nintendo Labo married cardboard-construction sets with various interactive activities and games. Even if perhaps it hasn't been the runaway commercial success Nintendo was hoping for, we've already gotten several kits, and there's no reason to think it will stop here since the creativity that has been shown in producing these sturdy kits is matched only by how players can make use of them if they're really creative.
What Nintendo Labo's software lacks in terms of identity it more than makes up for thanks to the cardboard designs and the physical interaction and building process that expands on ideas we've seen before via the likes of Lego Dimensions. We're curious to see if there could be Labo extensions of larger games or if Nintendo will make any crossover Labo products with existing brands. For now, though, we have plenty to be getting on with, like a fishing rod, motorcycle, piano, and even a mech suit, all of which works seamlessly with the Switch and its Joy-Cons.