The best games that came out of Australia this year

The country that brought you Team Bondi knocked our socks off with a ton(ne) of great hits in 2017.

You might not have noticed it if you don’t live down under, but 2017 was a ridiculously good year for Australian game releases. After a somewhat muted 2016, it feels like local developers were all gearing up for 2017, which was – by a fairly wide margin – the best year for Australian games actually getting released that I’ve ever seen.

Narrowing this list down was harder than I anticipated – there are plenty of solid games that are not on this list. Here’s the best Australia has to offer for 2017.

(A quick note on disclosure – because the Australian games industry is fairly tight-knit, I am personal acquaintances with the people behind several of these games.  I’ve also appeared on a panel with Framed 2’s lead developer Joshua Boggs at least once.)

Golf Story

One thing I love about Golf Story is that no one I knew in the local industry knew that it was an Australian game until it came out. They didn’t find out from the credits, or a press release, or anything like that – Golf Story is just super Australian. Within the first half hour of starting the game, you’re given the chance to heat up a meat pie in the microwave, an action that is of no gameplay benefit but which stamps the game so perfectly as one made by people who lived typical Australian (probably 90s) childhoods.

Beyond all the ocker-isms, though, Golf Story is fundamentally a belter of a game – a golf RPG in the vein of Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color, with a very fun plot and a fine golf engine underpinning it (although it’s at its best when you’re running around completing missions that require specific shot types).

If you're curious to learn more, you'll like our interview with one-half of the team behind Golf Story.

Hand of Fate 2

Hand of Fate 2 is everything a sequel should be. It takes the original – a card game crossed with a Dungeons and Dragons RPG mixed with a pretty-bad Batman-style combat system – and improves on every element of it.

It’s the kind of game that feels like it needs a lot of description, but there are the basic talking points – it’s a series of rougelike campaigns that (mostly) balance skill and luck well, each one with different objectives and challenges to face. The combat system returns, but this time it works well. Hand of Fate was a fun idea, but its sequel is a huge step forward, and renders it essentially irrelevant. It feels like a tabletop RPG session planned by a particularly cunning and wonderful dungeon master, but without the massive amounts of set up that requires.

Mr Shifty

Mr Shifty was underrated at launch. It’s obviously inspired by Hotline Miami, except that your character, the eponymous Shifty, can warp around like X-Men’s Nightcrawler.

When you get in the zone with Mr Shifty, it’s pure adrenaline. You burst into a room, beat a gun down, and warp right back out before his pals can aim their guns at you. You zip around and confuse enemies until they open fire on each other. You make a quick escape, hide behind a door, bash in the brain of the first enemy to step through before warping onto the other side of the wall to flank the two friends he had right behind him. Yes, it was buggy and slowed right down when the action got intense, but Mr Shifty has blissful highs that are well worth experiencing.

Paradigm

Paradigm is set in a fictional post-apocalyptic Eastern European nation, but the game still feels very Australian. The accents slip through underneath sometimes, there’s a beat-boxing eggplant, and the game’s iconography has lots of subtle little hints to the developer’s origin.

But don’t worry about all of that – what really matters is that Paradigm, a point-and-click adventure inspired by the old Lucasarts games, is genuinely funny in a way few games can claim to be. It’s a comedy game where the jokes totally land, and the puzzles pull their weight too. It’s a send-up of the genre, while also being a damn fine example of why the genre is so beloved in the first place.

Don't miss our great interview with its creator Jacob Janerka as well.

Hollow Knight

I live in Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia. Adelaide is often looked down upon within Australia. It’s the oft-forgotten middle sibling of cities, its modest success and ability to go a weekend without nearly overdosing on cocaine overlooked because of the sheer loudness of its older brother cities (who still wear their high school jackets and brag about how everyone will, inevitably, move to them one day to follow a dream).  I must admit that it brings me a certain pride that – and I say this with no bias – the very best Australian game of 2017 was developed in an office that I can walk to from my house within half an hour.

Hollow Knight is an incredible Metroidvania style adventure, one in which you, the eponymous Hollow Knight, need to map out a huge underground system of caverns and clear out room after room of enemies. It’s the sort of game where you might want a sheet of paper next to you for note-taking, but also one where each new discovery, each new path stumbled upon or enemy defeated, is a cause for celebration – both because the game is quite challenging and because it’s always exciting to see what the game has lined up next.

Hollow Knight will come to Switch next year, which feels like the most perfect of perfect fits – because Hollow Knight is a game you want to take with you when you leave the house.

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Ashes Cricket: Thanks to the efforts of Big Ant Studios, we have the first good series of cricket games since Super International Cricket on the SNES. Ashes Cricket refined and polished their efforts from the Don Bradman series and reworked the controls completely – it’s their best work yet.

City of Brass: I am truly terrible at this roguelike, but whipping skeletons and cursing as you fall into traps is good fun. It’s still just in Early Access, so I’m holding out hope for a great, polished 1.0 release down the track.

Icebox: Speedgunner: This is what it sounds like – a shooter built for speedrunning. There are some very cool mechanics behind Icebox – figuring out when to jump, where to fire, and when to spam the ‘glitch’ button so you can fly over obstacles (but hopefully not right past checkpoints) takes real time and effort.

Framed 2 (above): The original Framed was a neat puzzler, but Framed 2 feels more polished. You’re still moving and tilting comic panels to find the right ‘sequence’ on each screen, but the puzzles are more inventive, with some new inputs and plenty of clever bits to enjoy.  

Crawl: A very fun multiplayer concept, Crawl has players traversing through dungeons with their friends in control of all the enemies and traps (you can play with AI as well). The game just landed on Switch, which is the natural home for games like this.

Rumu: Released right in the middle of December, Rumu’s moving tale – told from the perspective of an AI-powered robot vacuum – defies the expectations it sets up early on. The puzzles are simple, but the plot is quite affecting, and very well told.