That's probably a whack thing to say, considering this year had
Celeste, Minit, Deltarune Chapter 1, more Hollow Knight, and
more Enter the Gungeon, as well as some like. AAA games. Heard
there were cowboys. It seems like a given that I'd pick
something from that list. Celeste is a great game, flat out, and
I'm very, very into the idea of exploring iconography from
Undertale from a new lens. Hell, I could say a lot of the same
things I'm about to say about Minit. But I can't say all of
them. And the things I do say would have a different context.
So I'm picking Slipstream.
I liked this game so much that I dipped my toes into the
infinite ocean of speedrunning for it. The Grand Prix, formerly
known as Arcade Mode, isn't necessarily the most competitive
speedrun category but it sure is mine. I run this town. Well,
almost run this town. I'm only #2 on the actual in-game
leaderboards. But whatever! Whatever. This is my town.
As of writing, I still hold this record.
But it registers as a weird pick, because it's not the kind of
game you'd expect to be on PC. It's the kind of game you'd see
in a Walmart, in that area sectioned off for kids to run to when
their parents are checking out, that are in those big driver's
seat machines, and are always just a bit more expensive than the
2 quarters you're given. (sometimes 4, if you've been good)
I never played Outrun, or any of its kind, because of that.
Racing games have always kind of been outside of my sphere of
genres, because before I could buy my own games, the one I
played was Pole Position, in the Namco Museum cart for GBA. I
was too young to get it back then, and why play that when Dig
Dug and Galaga were right there? And when I could finally buy my
own games, the ones people liked were triple-A, and my computer
struggles to keep the pace with decade-old games, let alone
The content of Slipstream is almost pure pabulum when it comes
to discussing it. You have a car, there are other cars, your
goal is to go fast and not hit too many of the other cars. And
that's all that matters! There's 5 unique cars with a few
recolored skins, 30 unique tracks, and a handful of characters
you can race against at random in Grand Prix mode. A recent
patch even added a battle royale mode, where you race against
all of them. There's one who's just named Tofu Boy, that you can
street race in Akihabara. Beating him there earns you the
achievement "Deja Vu".
But it's weird talking about the wrappings for this game.
Because it's not any of the wrappings that made it fun. There's
no emotional arc for Tofu Boy. It's very transparently about the
gameplay itself. Pushing the most out of those systems is what I
liked about it. Getting my speed down to under 5 minutes for an
arcade run is one of the things I never thought I would enjoy
about a game.
It's a sublime experience.
Now, "you played a good racing game, why is it your favorite
game this year". That one's a bit tougher to explain.
I picked Slipstream for this because of a moment I had while
playing Hollow Knight earlier this year. Hollow Knight spends a
lot of time making its mechanics diegetic. You buy a map from a
bug who is making the map, in real time. As you explore, he
explores, always one step ahead of you. His name is Cornifer!
I hate that Cornifer exists.
I love his design - he's a lovely character. But him existing is almost entirely
a symptom of what feels almost like shame. A shame for its
systems and mechanics being so visible, as if the mechanics that its systems
are made of should be hidden, patched over by lore and
characters and fiction. A diegetic explanation for a system that
does not have to be diegetic. A pretense that in order for a
video game to be respected, it must not be mired in childish
notions of "mechanics" and "systems", but fully interested in
verisimilitude of an experience.
You cannot "fast travel", you find a stagway station, pay to
activate the bell, and then you ring the bell and a stag beetle
will come for you, to carry you between locations. And the stag
beetle exists within the world. And it's lovely, don't get me
wrong. I love the world of Hollow Knight, I love the story, it's
aesthetically wonderful, dreary and miserable in that Dark
Souls-y way without being unpalatable in that Dark Souls-y way.
But the gameplay is the weakest point, and it's because it seems
to rush to reject its "gaminess" at every available moment, to
the point where it bringing out platforming tropes feels almost
like a concession. There's a sequence in the Queen's Station
area of damaging spikes that you have to platform around, and
completing it nets you a reward. And it feels out of place -
it's done so much to not be what it is that it feels like the
mask slips, just a bit.
And this is perfectly contrasted by Slipstream. I liked
Slipstream the most this year because it is the most honest
about what it is, there's no artifice about it. It is a video
game. No concessions made to suspension of disbelief, no out of
place narrative, no fluff. It's direct, the most true to its
construction. There are rules, systems, and a way of framing
those rules and systems that makes no pretense of being
realistic, only consistent.
And it rules, because it is so straightforward. It doesn't make
pretenses about what it is. It is an arcade racer, published for
PC in 2018, sold for $10.
And that kind of honesty in construction is something I think
that games are lacking right now.