Cloud shirtless on a Chocobo that's wearing a cute beachy hat and scarf.
Best Games of 2024 So Far (April Update)
First Published: May 8, 2024

This list surprised me and I'm the one who wrote it.

Janet Garcia

These are the Best Games of 2024 so far. This list encompasses games released between January and April (technically also the first week of May because this took longer to write than I thought it would). I am still working on hitting credits on some of these titles, and there are so many games not included here simply because I haven't had time to form an opinion on them, but you can think of this as the foundation for my end-of-the-year list.

While a lot of this list aligns with my sensibilities as a gamer — stories, cuteness, platforming, and time manipulation are at the forefront — others are genres I typically can't stand. I love that. I think we all have our preferences when it comes to gaming and it's fair to stick to them. After all, if you only played one genre you'd still never run out of games to play. But one of my favorite things about gaming, as a games critic, is trying everything and seeing what comes of it.

I'm a firm believer that every gamer can find something, in every niche, that they enjoy if they look hard enough. And every year I look as hard as I can.

This list is the first fruit of that labor.

10. Pools

It’s just you, space, and whatever thoughts you can conjure up in Pools. This horror walking simulator is devoid of missions, UI, enemies, and jump scares. Instead, it’s all about nativating liminal spaces. It’s a game about getting lost in endless loops, existing in moments of oppressive sound design, sitting in strangely placed chairs, and going down slides (weeeeee!). 

a pool with a slide.

Experimental and eerie this is for the folks taken aback by empty parking garages, who never quite feel alone, and who occasionally run down their dark apartment hallways when they finish getting water in the middle of the night (just in case). 

While the pitch is incredibly bare bones it has a few tricks up its sleeve (which may make some players feel slightly misled by these not so empty “empty spaces”). That being said, Pools still keeps the focus on its environments which are absolutely stunning to look at. This is max settings the game. A must for anyone down for some experimental artsy stuff but a skip if you crave (more straightforward) substance.

9. Botany Manor

Botany Manor is a delightful walking sim puzzle game where you’re tasked with figuring out how to grow a variety of plants. It’s a cross between a lovely stroll in an impressionist garden and a beginner-friendly (but bespokely decorated) escape room.

The puzzles scale nicely across chapters and, as they increase in difficulty, players are well supported with the in-game notebook. Exploring and reading a variety of notes gives you clues and each plant has a set number of clues associated with its solution. You have the exact number of clues you need so the notebook is a way to check your work rather than misdirect you. 

Plant in a pot.

That being said, not everything you interact with becomes a clue but some of those interactions are needed to unlock an area that may be housing a clue. So while Botany Manor’s ease is one of its defining characteristics, it remains engaging by offering just a splash of challenge.

You can read my full review here.

8. Rusty’s Retirement

Idle games have a rich history and those loyal to the niche don’t need much convincing. But for everyone else allow me to present Rusty’s Retirement. This idle farming game sets itself apart with its pristine, adorable pixel graphics and smart design decisions at every turn. The premise is simple. Rusty’s Retirement sits at the bottom of your screen and while your little buddies toil away on the farm, you toil away on your work or whatever else you have going on. 

The mix of cute visuals, cozy animation, joyously retro sound design, and constant progress towards the next unlock is a recipe for dopamine. It functions exactly as it needs to: making it easy to swap monitors, raise and lower where it sits on the bottom of the screen, and it even gives you the option to place it vertically if you prefer.

Rusty's retirement at the bottom of a desktop screen.

Growing and harvesting crops produces biofuel which can be used and sold for money to reinvest in your farm. Like every farming sim, you’re chasing efficiency and aesthetics. You can unlock more robots to help keep things moving. And get new shops to add things like flowers to your farm.

As exciting as it is to see the farm evolve, an idle game that emphasizes personal productivity is all about the slow burn. This makes Rusty’s Retirements focus mode, which slows down crop production, one of the best ways to play.

And I still haven’t even explored the Twitch integration yet which turns Rusty’s Retirement into a shared experience: allowing viewers to control what task their robot should focus on through chat commands like !plant !water !harvest.

Rusty’s Retirement is a background game good enough to demand attention. 

7. Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior

I hate that I haven’t finished this game because I’ve loved it since I played the demo at Summer Game Fest 2023. Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior is described as a hack-and-slash game with a tactical twist but saying it's a puzzle combat game with a time shift mechanic might be more apt.

Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior takes place from an isometric perspective with arena style combat. Each arena is a puzzle. You have to kill all the enemies within a time limit. But you can’t kill everyone on your own, the first time through. Luckily, after your time runs out you get to go again as a copy of yourself does your first run. Then it happens again. So essentially the puzzle becomes how can you utilize the copies of yourself to complete the arena. And the challenge is the environmental and enemy variations thrown your way.

Lysfanga fighting alongside copies of herself.

There’s an enemy that always turns their shield towards attacks so one of your selves keeps them busy while the next self comes through for the kill. Some enemies are linked together and can only be defeated if killed simultaneously. And of course, there are the classic levers and switches that may need to be hit at just the right time.

I can’t wait to keep playing and see how these variations continue to evolve alongside my combat abilities.

6. Lil Guardsman

Papers, Please if it was cute and then fucked up again. In Lil’ Guardsman, you play as a 12-year-old who is left in charge of the castle guardshed. You decide who gets let in and who is shut out using a mix of your intuition and deduction skills. 

Every shift you get The Royal Writ, a memo of updates and subtle quests: from being told to give Malcolm a call if anyone with a funny name comes through in exchange for extra cash to learning there’s a group of grandparents found to be smuggling illegal drugs in and out of the city that leaves you second guessing the old lady you let in yesterday. You also have a set of tools you can use to help you find the right answer but they have to be powered with resources so they’re limited (and not always guaranteed to work). Additionally, you can trust, tease, or doubt people during conversations with them. You can only perform 3 actions for each person at the gate so you have to be thoughtful in how you use what you have at your disposal. On top of all that, there’s a time rewind mechanic that gives you a second chance for better outcomes that manages to still keep things interesting.

Using the x-ray tool in Lil guardsman to see what a duo has on them.

But besides having a robust set of mechanics and a Saturday morning cartoon art style, this narrative puzzle game is genuinely funny. The writing is detailed and witty in its absurdity. Overall, it’s a damn good time.  

5. Helldivers 2

Multiplayer? Shooter? Two strikes for me and yet here I am. For Democracy! Helldivers 2 won me over from its tutorial which teaches players how to heal by having them “activate the battle injury simulator:” a machine that quickly stabs the operator in the chest. Shockingly hilarious.

Helldivers 2 takes PvE and makes it fun for everyone regardless of skill level or playstyle. Besides there being different levels of mission difficulties, there’s also the option to end as soon as your main objective is complete or go hunt for more samples to use for upgrades later. This creates another layer of difficulty players can interact with to customize their sessions. The other aspect of Helldivers 2 that makes it approachable is because there’s no need to get meta obsessed, chase minmaxing, or implement a specific strategy. This is in part because its PvE and in part because your team can have whatever loadout of stategems they want even if tools get repeated across players. But more than anything, it’s because this is how Helldivers 2 was intentionally designed: fun for casuals and the hardcore alike. 

Helldivers 2 key art. 4 Helldivers standing together on a ledge looking heroic as a cloud of yellow smoke goes off behind them.

Mechanically, Helldivers 2 never takes itself too seriously while still keeping players on their toes with sim elements like increased aim difficulty if you’re shot in the arm and different terrain significantly affecting your maneuverability. It keeps players engaged without fully frustrating them.

I can’t aim a gun to save my life and that doesn’t matter because the other day I got the laser and now I can just beam through everything. As a Splatoon fan, I finally have a second home in Helldivers 2. 

4. Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth

Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is everything you loved about Yakuza: Like a Dragon except they made the combat a little better. The drama, the heartfelt stories, the overtopness, the weirdos, this franchise continues to deliver. One of the shining stars remains how compelling the story and antics are. It’s one of the few games where I want to do almost everything because it genuinely interests me and any rewards are just a bonus. And, with so much content available it’s easy to pass up what doesn’t interest me. Much like the job system that underscores the combat it’s up to you if you want to immediately find your lane or explore all the possibilities.

Ichiban on a Dolphin.

Frankly, this could go higher on my list but I’m so early on I haven’t seen the best (or the worst) it has to offer yet. 

3. Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

I started writing this entry and it started turning into another article so suffice it to say I have a lot of feelings about this game. I’m only on chapter 8 of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth despite my 47 hours of playtime. My feelings on this game are messy and still taking shape but here's where I'm at...

The open world design is dull and formulaic, yet it's addictive in its approach to scope (small enough to make you think you can knock it out and before you know it has been 8-10 hours) and that “meter fill” “numbers go up” dopamine loop hits every time. But I can’t help but feel like its junk food, great in short bursts but if you eat too much of it you’ll start to feel sick. That’s me. I’m sick. I’m sick for this game I refuse to stop. 

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, for all its shortcomings, is carried by its superb combat and moments of charm. Chasing that next weapon proficiency means my technique continues to evolve even after almost 50 hours. There are enough characters in your party that you can specialize, but there are also times you’re forced to have a specific party and surprisingly it’s not annoying. No matter how you group this team there’s a literal and figurative synergy between it all. And visually this game is stunning, making summons and special moves a visual feast. 

Cloud petting a chocobo.

Every time I look at my progress, look at a dumb mini game, look at another dumb tower and think maybe I should just get this all over with I think... why should I? Why should I give up this combat? Why should I rush after all this time? Plus look, you can make the chocobo wear a cute hat, you get to put the cast in beach wear, you get to play more Queen’s Blood. The highs of this game gaslight me into forgetting the lows and the pattern repeats. I don’t know where FF7 Rebirth will be on my list come December but damn it. I love this game even though it often feels like Stockholm syndrome. 

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth reminds me of when the waiter comes by to bus your plate and you’re like “no I’m still working on it” and then you go back to eating even though you’ve had enough already and the food is kind of cold at this point but you can’t take it to-go because you don’t want to carry it and you don’t want to let it go to waste either so you’re just picking the fork back up like fuck it. 

2. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown

A platformers paradise, a metroidvania without the messiness, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is one of the best in its genre. Admittedly, I have a bias towards anything that nails hard platforming sections but Lost Crown does so much more than that. While it has a few balancing issues with its bosses and a story that’s textbook fine every moment of moving through this game is superb and it only gets more magical as you unlock additional abilities. 

The Prince leaping into an enemy and kicking them.

Mechanics that are usually grating for me, such as parrying, are telegraphed so clearly I can finally achieve them. And difficult combat can be tailored to your taste thanks to equippable amuletlets that add buffs or abilities. Plus, on a settings level, there are even more ways to tweak the challenge.

Best of all, it has a feature I am desperate to see every metroidvania adapt: the memory shard system. This lets you press down on the d-pad at any time to basically take a screenshot that gets pinned on that part of the map. So if there’s an area you can’t get to because you don’t have the right ability yet you can easily take note of it via this in-game system. 

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown exists in reference to so many incredible games that came before it (Ori, Celeste, Metroid) yet manages to have its own identity. It has the audacity to put off giving you a double jump for hours on end but I never felt like I was waiting for it. It has the gall to make the hardest optional platforming challenge reward a pair of useless ugly pants and all I did was laugh and keep playing.

You can read my full review here.

1. Balatro

I don't know poker. I am bad at video game card games, especially deck builders. I wince when I see a game will be a rogue-lite/like. And I love Balatro: a poker roguelike deck builder. 

Before I get into why it works let me briefly explain how it works. To win you need to complete 8 Antes which each have 2 Blinds and a Boss Blind (like how a game can have several worlds each with several levels). Each blind has a score you have to hit to win and the boss blind also comes with a trait that modifies the play experience (ex. Discards 2 random cards per hand played).

You have 4 hands and 4 discards that you can use to reach the score. Maybe you have to play all your hands to score enough points, maybe you score it all on the first hand. You also earn money throughout the game. At the end of each round, you get to shop.

This is where the real game begins because to score more points (remember, as the Ante goes up so does the number of points you must score) you’ll need to take advantage of multipliers, raising the power of playing certain hands, etc. This is also where the deckbuilding comes in. For instance, if you’ve leaned into a strategy that makes hearts really powerful maybe you want to add more hearts to your deck to increase your chances of drawing hearts. There are plenty more layers to the game but that’s a general baseline of how it functions. 

Balatro's challenge is in the ever-changing, but always intriguing, variables. What strategy comes across the shop and what do you go with? Maybe you buy a Joker that isn’t that useful on its own but becomes clutch when you level up the right hand or build the right deck. Maybe you don’t and kick yourself later. You’ll start winning big each round with a strategy that is so powerful it feels like you’re breaking the game only to be hit with a Boss Blind that renders your strategy not just useless but actively harmful to your build. 

A set of joker cards from Balatro.

What sets Balatro apart from other rogue games to me (a self-proclaimed rogue hater) is it doesn’t feel like I’m grinding to get good or hoping for enough luck to propel me to the end. Balatro makes me feel like a god almost every run and then puts me face to face with the most diabolical Boss Blind I’ve ever seen. But because it feels so fair and different each time I never get mad at the game. I simply throw my hands up like, “you got me!” This isn’t to say it's the only rogue game that finds that magic but it's something many fail — or never attempt — to capture.

As someone who literally forgets which cards are more powerful between the king, queen, and jack, Balatro has the perfect amount of support. You can sort your hand automatically which helps you see what you’re working with. And at any time you can view the run info which tells you how much each hand is worth and what each hand is. Don’t know the different between a Flush and a Full House? Fear not. All that info is available to you. You can even see what cards are left in your deck which can help you be smarter about how you use your discards. 

I was carried to my first and only win with the help of my Remap friends on stream but even when I’m failing on my own Balatro is fun every time. Its wavy backgrounds, CRT filter options, and single-track OST are hypnotic; its sound design is delectable. And the rush of seeing all your multipliers add up, the flame animation under your score when you’ve won the round, is an unmatched thrill.

The beauty of Balatro is it convinces you that you were totally right there so you can’t help but try again. And a bad run still feels valuable because you can use it to try new strategies and discover more cards which builds toward a more completionist level of game progression. I have literally lost sleep over how good this game is.