Best retro lo-fi game: Gamma Bros. brings back memories of Galaga, Centipede, and similar Golden Age pizza-parlor arcade classics. You're a spaceman who has to fight an unending fleet of pixelated enemy starships. That's it. Best played in leggings, Zubaz, or an Ayatollah Assahola T-shirt. 2008 is the new 1985!
Best simulation of your boring life: For some reason, there's a wildly successful subgenre of casual games that simulates the completion of mundane service-industry tasks: making and serving pizzas, for instance, or hamburgers. (To read more of my thoughts on the perils of such games, click here.) I'm not sure whom this stuff appeals to, but I suspect there's some sort of global conspiracy afoot involving Aramark and Tricon Global Restaurants. Choosing the best one of these games is sort of like choosing the best type of heart surgery, but if I had to choose, I'd go with Miss Management (requires download), which puts you in the role of a harried office manager tasked with, um, managing an office. A paradox: This is the one game in this list that you can play openly at work, but you might find actual work more entertaining than this game. Damn you, cruel irony!
Best text-based game: Text-only games—beloved by those who spent their high-school math classes playing Drugwar on their TI-82 calculators—are still around, even though they're now as anachronistic as floppy disks. Aunts and Butlers embraces this anachronism like no other text game I've found. Written by one Robin Johnson, a man who has modified his computer to resemble an old-timey adding machine, Aunts and Butlers features a Wodehousian plot involving miserly aunts, invaluable valets, and delightfully loopy ways to die: "A serial killer leaps out, effects an expert murder upon your person, and buries you on the nearest moor." Losing a game has never been more charming.
Best game with a social conscience: No matter how bad things are going, you could always be a subsistence farmer in Haiti. (To our Haitian subsistence-farming readers: God bless.) Ayiti: The Cost Of Life makes the Oregon Trail look like Candy Land. The game puts you in control of the lives of a Haitian family of five. You have four years to guide the family through a catalog of privations and calamities: hurricanes, robbers, depression, illiteracy, and on-the-job injuries. Ideally, you'll find education, prosperity, and health, but you'll probably just come down with malaria and die.
Best game in which I'm a character: Throw Shoes At Stu! (click through to "Arcade"). My friend wrote this game, based upon an independent movie in which I appeared. The object of the game is to throw sandals at my head until I am dead. Don't trip on any of the boxes that I scatter in my wake, however. If you do, you'll blast off into space. This really makes more sense if you've seen the movie, which you almost certainly have not. It's still fun to throw shoes at my head, though.
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