You’re gonna read a lot this time of year about how bad 2020 was, but you already know this. You’ve seen it, experienced it, and you’ve felt it. So I’m not going to talk about that, I’m going to talk about how this year, video games saved me. Video games helped me stay close to friends and family I cannot see. Video games helped me feel connected in a world where I can’t travel. Video games helped keep me safe and sane in a world where murder hornets were a thing, but somehow not even in the top five of this year's Worst Things. My list this year expands beyond the traditional boundaries of 2020 releases, because there’s no real rules to this and Navarro can come for me if he’s really upset about it. I picked these games because they helped me this year in some way, and I want to make sure others read about them in any event these games could help someone else too. Thanks for taking the time to read my list, I enjoy writing them.
Fall Guys is self aware stupid. In Fall Guys, there’s a minigame where it shows a fruit and you have to stand on that fruit--that’s it. People somehow fail this game, and I’m reminded that this was probably made for really young kids to run around and laugh when they fall. But little did they know that I like to laugh at people when they fall! And thus my love for Fall Guys was instant. A game I enjoyed watching others play as much as I played. I laughed when they ran into a false door, fell off the seesaw, and had their tail grabbed at the very last moment. Now, of course, these things are less funny when they happen to me, but I kept finding myself itching for one more go. I wanted that damn digital crown on my round, bulbous head. I deserved it after all those hours. I’m really good at standing on the correct fruit, it's not my fault someone bumped into me and knocked me off the ledge.
The colorful world tricks me into thinking its just a silly fun game, when in reality all I see is cutthroat preschool murder happening in front of my eyes. These players are mean! They are trying to harass me any moment they get, to the point where I really just want to win to spite them all. Spite is one of my greatest motivators! So you can imagine the joy I felt when I got my first crown. Running up that mountain, dodging fruits (fruits can be good or bad depending on the situation, just like in real life) moving swiftly like a bean disguised as a fox. I waited for the perfect moment and grabbed that crown. Feels good, man.
I don’t play as much as I did several months ago, when the game was hot hot hot. But if I see a streamer I like going for a crown, I’ll still watch and have a laugh. I love their reactions to incredible moves followed by getting the boot. They can’t all be winners, no. Sometimes you just gotta run full speed and hope for the best. This is probably the run.
ScourgeBringer is a stressful rogue-lite platformer that has no chill. Set to an incredible heavy metal track that gets more intense as the heat of battle ramps up, you’d swear you had entered the Doom Zone. But ScourgeBringer has its own style and creative direction that really sets it apart. With random drops that alter your character, you never know which type of run you’re going to have. I’ve died off quickly from a few mistakes, only to have my next life take me farther in the game than I ever have been before. Either way, I was always down for another go. And for a year when everyone is raving about Hades (see below for more love on Hades), I can’t suggest more that you give this slash-'em-up a go.
Something I really love about this game is its insistence that you be in the air. When you’re attacking an enemy you can get your jump back, allowing you to flawlessly skip, hop, and jump from one demon eye to another, in an elegant dance of destruction I loved partaking in. The platforming was more than enemies, with stressful spaces that put your fingers to the test, and again, that heavy metal music makes your heart race just a teensy bit more as your scraping to take the last bits of life away from a boss you were certain would kill you dead.
This game is addictive and fun. It's a treat for the eyes and ears, and one of the best main character silhouettes I’ve ever seen. I’m like a zippy cotton ball running around sniping bats. Accumulated blood juice can be spent on a skill tree to strengthen your character for the next go around. Even if you have a bad run, you’re always progressing and learning. There was no doubt the first time I took out a boss, that I had learned heaps from my first attempt. And more than any upgrades, its always the best feeling to know you’re getting better at a game that’s quite good at kicking your ass. It's for these reasons--and the heavy metal, of course--that I must recommend ScourgeBringer with all my being.
I’m talking 'bout Bugsnax! For real, for my game of the year list. Honest question: who is this game for? Because it's got the guise of a cute kids game; adorable creatures that you capture and parade around, a small town of strange but nice characters chatting you up, and an easygoing story about about lost scientist likely killed by Bugsnax. There’s also a couple that's going through a separation, something weird that only appears at night in the dark woods, and a guttural reminder of morality and what happens when we die….you know, kids stuff!
I was NOT ready for this game to get real with me about relationships and the fear of wasting your life on a dead dream. Too real, Bugsnax. But it's hidden in a playground filled with capturing cute creatures in a fun variety of ways. And each area is quite unique, with corresponding Bugnax to go along with the theme. Like a banana split lookin snak in the snowy area, and a bowl of ramen in a cave by the beach, totally practical. But I was hooked, and I found myself coming back to find out what was going to happen to these strange, strange, strange creatures. The ending is wild, and honestly not my favorite. Due to spoilers I’ll just ask, again, who is this game for?!
It’s hard to define, but capturing those snax is genuinely fun. I found it fun in Pokémon, in Slime Rancher, and Viva Piñata. I wanna get that Cinisnail and add it to my collection. The way they put life into sandwiches and Strawberry daiquiris is really creative and whimsical. Every time I successfully capture one of them, I’m smiling and feeling like a kid. I might not know who else Bugsnax is for, but one person it was definitely made for? Me.
Raft is in early access, but had some significant updates in the year 2020, which is why I think it merits discussion now. I have friends and family I cannot see, but this year I spent many hours building a boat with them in Raft. You start small with a plank of wood, and a not-so-friendly shark waiting in the waters to get a chance at a meal. At first, I played this like a horror game; I was so scared when the shark attacked and was always on high alert to give him a good poke to the eye (a good tactic I learned from LL Cool J in Deep Blue Sea, by the way. Thanks Uncle L!). Over time, though, this game really opens up. You go from sad-ass castaway to Captain Jack Sparrow, and I say this both because we built a boat that looked like a pirate ship, and also because I drank a lot of rum while playing this game.
The amount of things you can create is staggering, and getting to an island is always a big adventure. Gotta have the right tools to grab animals and defend yourself from... well, I’m honestly not sure in some areas what it is I’m fighting. They look like Honey Badgers on two legs? It doesn’t matter. You collect seaweed and metal and eventually forge armor and scuba gear. It's nuts. Like 2 days ago I was about to drink my own urine (in the game) and now I’m living large and have a shark head for a helmet.
Anyway, Raft is amazing, but what really makes it is playing with others. It's a 4-person co-op game, and I really only recommend it as a communal experience. Someone cooks, someone steers, someone stabs Mark the Shark, and someone swabs the poop deck, we all have our part to play. I was a hell of a chef, and spent most of my days fishing and cooking up a mean stew. Everyone gathered around and we would eat my incredible dishes, until someone inevitably has to get up to stab the shark. Family time is important.
Listen, I don’t care that it was short and a little silly, I love Resident Evil and I’m grateful I got some this year. Resident Evil 3 reminded me of my heartbreaking time with the original, in a series still up on GameSpot’s Youtube somewhere. The nemesis system is TERRIFYING and EFFECTIVE. At all times I’m not ready, and his looming presence is something I will be tense about, whether I’m mid-puzzle or walking down what seems like a super safe alley way. I can’t believe that alley way wasn’t safe…
He’s gross, he’s upsetting to be around, and he won’t go away. Playing with Mike Mahardy will always be a struggle, but we love playing these games together, and I’m really happy we got to enjoy another Resi game. We still laughed at the one liners. “That Bitch can’t even swim” will go down in the history of one of the greats along with “What are ya buyin'?” and “something something Jill Sandwich”. It holds its place in history, and playing silly games with friends gives you a whole new bunch of fond memories. The silliness adds to the fun and the overall ridiculousness of it all. And that's just fine with me. STAAAARRRS.
Spiritfarer is just one of the special ones, one of those experiences you didn’t see coming. I’ve loved Thunder Lotus Games for some time now; one of my very first ever Twitch streams was Jotun, which, if you haven’t played it, is a fantastic hand-drawn animated boss fighting game. I was ready to love this next game, but I wasn’t prepared for it to help me heal. We all deal with the passing of loved ones in our own way. Losing my grandmother was really difficult for me. She was super cool and funny, always. She made ya laugh, she took no shit, she cooked a damn good blueberry muffin. I think I always kind of pretended she was still around, it was just easier on me.
Playing Spiritfarer is a delicious cup of coffee for the soul; it wakes me up and reminds me that my memories are precious, and to think of them more often. When a character in Spiritfarer feels satisfied with the favors and tasks you have completed, they know it's time to move on. And much like my personal experience, they’re ready to go before I’m ready. That’s kind of the thing, I’m never really ready to say goodbye. This kind of acceptance of life in all its stages doesn’t ever get easier, but you grow with understanding and a sort of calm that comes with experience. Playing Spiritfarer is an incredible journey of coping with love and loss, hanging out with charming, funny, charismatic individuals, helping them, spending time with them, and saying goodbye. It's heavy shit. But there’s fishing, cooking, and collecting sky jellies to ease your troubles. This game is good for you and enjoyable, like those delicious vitamin gummies your mom used to give you.
If you told me I’d be scanning windows with a UV light looking for ghost fingerprints in 2020 I’d have taken that bet. Phasmophobia, much like the weirdly gross ghosts within it, came out of fucking nowhere. I first saw it on Twitch, and was invited to play with some friends. Again, as was the theme this year, playing with friendos was a really valuable event for me. At a time I was unable to see anyone IRL, hunting some ectoplasms just seems like good ol' fashioned fun.
You get a few items to hold; a flashlight, camera with five photo slots (just get an SD card, for fuck's sake), UV light, and something I call the talky box and ghost-O-meter. Oh and a thermometer and chalk and a cross, too; there’s a lot of stuff. You’re running around scanning rooms for change in temp, for the ghost-O-meter to have a high number, or for the most glaring ghost offense, brown water in the sink. Ewww. These clues help me identify the ghostly being, and hopefully I can solve the case before I’m killed. Either way, it makes for some entertaining streams.
We had fun screaming down hallways and cowering in bathroom corners. I didn’t always live, but I always had a good time. I never wanted to be a ghostbuster when I was a kid, but I’m starting to see what everyone was so excited about. Seeing those gross little dudes pop up and chase my friends as they screamed and died was a sheer delight, and I’ll do it again next invite. I claim UV light, camera and the good flashlight though.
I’m a sucker for a good Metroidvania, and I loved the original Ori, so this was an easy sell for me. The colorful world and demanding platforming was no surprise to me, I came in with the expectation that this was gonna be a gorgeous, easy on the ears game I could spend hours with. No surprises here! The game is HUGE, with lots and lots of areas totally different in style, making you feel like you're in completely different worlds all the time. I met lots of cute characters and fought arduously for each and every secret. Unlockable maps helped me to find more and more little bonuses for my character to grow stronger. I wanted to get more abilities, but it wasn’t all about me though. I also did all the extra bits to help the Moki, these little ferret creatures that I would no doubt give my life for. I want their world to improve, I want the waters clean and the trees lush. I wanna sprint around and be a fast little wood sprite that saves the day. Kinda like the Spider-Man of Ferngully. I got all of these things and more.
The first game pulled a few of my heart strings, so I wondered where the story would go. It's not the most innovative story direction to allow me to feel for the antagonist in a video game, but it is effective, and they did so without anyone uttering a single word. These creatures feel the need to be loved, and I felt along with them. Intense boss battles and exploration aside, I genuinely loved this world, and loved each minute I zip zapped around looking to help someone.
YOU KNEW THIS WAS COMING. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Supergiant makes solid games. Each game was designed a bit differently, but you know what they all have in common? They pretty. Hades is by far the prettiest. And not just because the art direction and smooth look of the world, but because each and every character is an absolute smokeshow. Was it essential to the design? I don’t know, but I get bonked each and every time I play. Looking forward to my visits with Eurydice and Aphrodite like it's Christmas Morning. What do you have for me?! I’ve been so good this year, also, I have a gift for you, it's nothing much, but it made me think of you…
I do not get bored playing this game! Spending a life trying to get out of Hell always feels like good time spent. If I die early, well, that's my fate. But if I make it all the way to my dad? He’s gotta die. I got all the way up to my father again and again only to fall and hear him tell me I’m trash. But not this time! DAD UR DEAD WHO'S TRASH NOW.
Not many games get me as stoked about patricide. I earned that dad death and I’m very proud of it. Dudes built like a brick shit house, he has the whole damn underworld helping him out. There were like green hands coming for my legs and waves of ghosts trying to eat me. But I did it. I took that bastard down and I’ll do it again. In fact, I have to, because this game is so big it doesn’t end when you beat the final boss. Holy shit, play Hades.
How many times have you heard the phrase “THIS IS THE GAME THAT WILL MAKE VR!” bc when I was at GameSpot I heard it weekly. I was numb to the idea that any game will ‘make’ VR or convince the larger world to buy in. The reality is that VR is just so far out there for so many people; it's fucking expensive and there’s not that many games that you truly have to play. But for me, this was the game that validated my VR purchase. It’s more advanced than any other VR game out there, tries dozens of new innovative ideas, and it's in the Half-Life universe. Which means it's funny, charming, got really stressful boss battles, and you’re gonna mess with a bunch of high tech devices in interesting locations.
Alyx Vance is cool and collected, I like playing as her. She’s got the ability to handle these stressful situations and still throw a wise crack at Russel now and again. I was able to put any hats in the game on my actual head, even buckets, haha. It's that Valve flavor of charm I really appreciated while playing through it. The game is genuinely funny, with witty banter in between the intense fight sequences and freaky scary fights. Did anyone tell you yet this game might be a survival horror? Because it most definitely is.
That's another part about this game I really loved. It's genuinely scary, with headcrabs launching for your actual face and one of the most interesting boss sequences I’ve ever played, you’ll be upset sometimes. You’ll be dodging, hiding and holding your breath. You might even scream out loud, I know I did. They did a fantastic job of really making you feel in danger, and I’m really impressed with how many enemies made me really upset (in a good way).
Thats the thing about scary games in general, they really transport you. People ask me often why I play so many scary games, and the reason is because it helps me escape. Sometimes I’ll play a game in my living room and look around and think, dang I’ve been in my house for 6 months. But not when I’m playing Half-Life: Alyx. I’m surrounded by danger, adventure, and when I turn my head around, I’m still there. I’m lifting my hands to pick up a dead headcrab and look at its innards. Gross. But I swear I feel like I’m there. And in a time where I can’t really go anywhere, I feel like I travelled to another space and time. Where aliens are cracking wise jokes at my expense, and my father needs me. I’m fully in, and I’m grateful I can escape my house and go on an incredible adventure.