At the ripe old age of 28, the Atari Lynx doesn’t get a lot of new games. While other retro consoles have thriving communities keeping them alive, the Lynx has a handful of dedicated fans. And, in turn, perhaps almost a single-digit number of people still making games for it. In that context, it’s been a bumper year for the Lynx, with a bevy of boxed releases, thanks to Atari-Age forum member Der-luchs, whose Luch-soft imprint has released (or re-released) five titles for the Lynx over the past year. Best of all: Weltenschlächter.
Weltenschlächter is a straight-up, no-nonsense arcade shooter. As with many games of the arcade era, the objective is simple: achieve the highest score. You play a budding intergalactic hero, fighting off an endless army of evolving evil aliens. The trick is that they hide behind protective walls, which you need to shoot down first. It’s basically Space Invaders at 90 degrees, with more complex enemies. A bonus round every few levels sees you switch to avoiding oncoming adversaries, presumably as you fly to the next galaxy full of angry pixelated extraterrestrials. It’s fast, fun and addictive, and the music’s pretty good too.
Runner-up: Alpine Games
Alpine Games (2004) was re-released this year, putting it in many middle-aged hands for the first time. If you imagine Epyx’s California Games in the snow, then you’ve just imagined Winter Games (also by Epyx). But you could also be imagining Alpine Games. Pick from among sports like snowboarding, slalom and bobsleigh for instant pick-up-and-play fun.
2018: Wyvern Tales
The Atari Lynx doesn’t have any real RPG games (although, weirdly, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is pretty close). Wyvern Tales — an homage to early Zelda/Final Fantasy–style games — will rectify that. The usual ingredients of weapons, level-up battles, puzzles and magic are here, with towns to explore and shopkeepers full of wisdom.
Wyvern Tales has been in production for seven years, but it finally looks like it will get released in 2018. The cartridges should be able to save progress (unheard of in original Lynx games), which, if nothing else, means there should be plenty of hours of gameplay.
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus
Single-player shooters that tell a compelling, nuanced story are few and far between. But those that also confront a serious cultural anxiety while leading players into gleeful carnage are even rarer. Wolfenstein: The New Colossus may have stumbled into the zeitgeist, but its alt-history tale of vengeful resistance fighters prying the world from Nazi rule is delivered with solid writing and fantastic voicework. The sequel to 2014’s The New Order one-ups its predecessor in many (but not all) ways: The upgrade system fades into irrelevance, and the levels aren’t nearly as friendly to stealthy playstyles, but the game soars with its characters and set pieces.
That alone isn’t GOTY material. What’s crucial, and what games usually fail to pull off, is showcasing very uncomfortable realities In The New Colossus‘ case, it’s a hideously evil regime supported by a complicit America. Nazis are easy to hate, but what about the people in our country — our fellow Americans — who, today, permit and enable bigotry-fueled power? Who willingly vote for it? Genre stories mask truth in exaggeration. Wolfenstein: The New Colossus might be one of the pulpiest games out there, but it isn’t afraid to pummel our misplaced assumptions about who we think we are.
Runner-up: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Since my colleagues have named all the best titles of the year, I’ll pick a game that gets more notice than praise: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It wasn’t the first battle royale–type game, but it’s single-handedly brought the subgenre into the mainstream and (for better or worse) turned it into eSports material. PUBG deserves recognition for widening a niche mode into a bona fide game category and maintaining around 2.5 million players a day — even though it only left Early Access on December 20th.
2018: The Last of Us: Part 2
The last zombie game to grace anyone’s most-anticipated list might have been Valve’s 2009 classic Left 4 Dead 2. And while The Last of Us: Part 2 technically fits that subgenre, if it lives up to its predecessor, TLOU 2 will be so much more. The original told a heartbreaking story about fatherhood and sacrifice amid the ashes of civilization, with a chilling ending that cemented its place in the gaming canon. The sequel has a lot to live up to. But assuming Naughty Dog gives it the same treatment as Uncharted 4, TLOU 2 could be another iconic title to pull off your shelf when you need an emotional sucker punch.