Unpacking manages to do several things very well, all at the same time. It’s a touching story told through interaction, it provides the creative play space of a great dollhouse game, and it deftly applies established game design ideas from completely different genres. It's a sort of puzzle, but with multiple solutions, and most of the time, the solutions don't really matter except to express yourself. It doesn't sound like fun... but it really, really is.
Card Shark is the kind of game that at first blush seems like it just won’t work. You play as a mute servant in the employ of a Count that loves to cheat at cards; you're the one who'll help him swindle other players out of their money. But you won't be playing cards — you'll be watching his moves, and the moves of others, and giving him subtle hints through the way you wipe the table, shuffle a deck, or pour a glass of wine. It's like WarioWare, but with an intriguing story about the French élite and the life of a con.
A Dark Room is an innovative text-based adventure that harkens back to the magic of Zork, adding a modern spin on a classic genre and time in gaming. It challenges the player’s perceptions, actions and imagination. Visually clean, A Dark Room presents text and cues with limited visual flourishes, but the experience that takes shape is full of depth and environmental storytelling. Audio is also important, portraying a dark world that the player can only imagine.
We're so used to saying 'yes' to everything in video games – and life – that it's refreshing to hear that there's a game where the opposite objective is key. Say No! More is a one-button game where you, in the role of a lowly office worker in a company run by arrogant bosses, decide enough is enough and aim to say 'no' rather than 'yes' to the many tasks you are given. Say it with us: NNNNNO!
It's a little weird to include Pikmin 3 on here, we'll agree. Everyone knows Pikmin, surely? It doesn't need recommending! But when Nintendo goes a little off-the-wall with their game ideas, we're always treated to something special and different, so it's worth celebrating that.
Pikmin is a fantastic example of what Ninty's greatest minds are capable of: A game that's not-really-a-puzzle, not-really-a-management-sim, not-really-an-action-RPG. It's gorgeous, it's great, it's genre-defying. QED.
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If we say "archaeology simulator", you probably either think of Tomb Raider and Uncharted, or you think of a game about desk work. Heaven's Vault is neither of those — it's a language-decoding, archaeology-investigating, science-fiction narrative about history, civilisation, and mortality. Unfortunately, that doesn't fit into a neat box, so we'll just tell you to PLAY IT ALREADY.
A lot of the games we consider "genre-defying" in this list have a few things in common: Heavy emphasis on narrative ("narrative" is not a genre!), player-defined choices, and some aspect of investigation. Hypnospace Outlaw is one of these, tasking you with finding and punishing rule-breakers on a '90s-style internet that you explore in your sleep.
Much like Portal, Superliminal is a puzzle-type game that messes with your perception of space. The gameplay is focused around the concept of ‘forced perspective’, a technique that allows objects to appear bigger, smaller, closer, or further away than they may initially appear, and you'll have to forget everything your brain thinks it knows about perspective to escape the unnerving (super)liminal space you find yourself in. It's more than just a puzzle, we promise!
What games should be on this list? Everything, of course. But that's "Everything" as in David O'Reilly's does-what-it-says-on-the-box game, which lets you play as everything. It's a... it's an everything simulator? An, um, interactive... narrative... art... thing? It is, technically, a simulation game, but only in the way that every game is a simulation game, because it's simulating... things. So... yeah. It's a game, and it's magical.
Much like Pikmin, Luigi's Mansion has always been its own little thing. You play as Luigi, in a hotel full of ghosts. You have to suck 'em all up to free the hotel from its haunting. It's sort of a shooter, but it's not that simple; the Poltergust has more mechanics than a gun would, and Luigi's also got Gooigi to help him out. It's part-puzzle, part-action-adventure, and part-horror, if your tolerance for spooky goings-on is low.
We fully anticipate that the comments here will be full of "actually, this game is [insert genre here]", but we hope you understand the spirit of what we've put together here! As game genres, and games, get more and more complex, it's harder to quantify them, harder to compare them, and harder to recommend them (at least, on this site).
Long live games that forge their own path! And let us know your favourites in the comments!
If you're looking for games to play that fit neatly into a category, we've got one for almost every genre we could think of: Strategy Games, Metroidvanias, Puzzle Games, Party Games, Online Multiplayer Games, Local Wireless Multiplayer Games, Shmups, Twin-Stick Shooters, Visual Novels, Kart Racers, Fighting Games, Football Games, Funny Games, Golf Games, 'Walking Sims' And Narrative Games, Switch Games For Lovers And Lonely Hearts, Detective Games, Hidden Gems, 2D Platformers, 3D Platformers, Puzzle Platformers, Tabletop Mode Games, Run and Gun Games, LEGO Games, Sports Games, Survival Games, Beat 'Em Ups, Camera Games, Chill Games, Family Games, Retro-Inspired Games, Short Games, Card Games and Deck-Builders, and Life Sims And Farming Games.
If you want our recommendations for games that aren't based on their genre, but maybe something else — like their overall feel, their exclusivity, or the way they play — we've got that covered too: Wholesome Games, TATE Mode Games, Flight Sim and Space Combat, Point and Click Adventure Games, and the Best Switch Exclusives, as well as Every Arcade Archives Game, Every ACA Neo Geo Game, Every SEGA AGES Game On Switch, plus the Best Switch Ports, Best Wii U-To-Switch Ports, Best Switch Collections And Compilations, Best Cheap Switch Games, Best Switch Demos, Games That Are Better On Switch OLED, Switch Games Under $10, $20, $50, and Switch games with the Best Soundtracks and the Best Graphics. Phew!