Author's Note: Hello there! My name is ZombiePie, and I am a Giant Bomb forum and wiki moderator. Every year I look at the various sources of entertainment I enjoyed and disliked. My awards are more "special commendations" and are open to any medium. During my awards show, I pit games, television shows, animes, athletics, albums, board games, and movies in a fight to the death! Additionally, you can expect to see classic and current works of entertainment vying for the top positions. Oh, and one more thing, there are SPOILERS in this blog! Keep that in mind before reading any of my justifications. Also, have your pitchforks ready as things get a little "spicy" from time to time!
Most Creative Award: Neil Cicierega's "Mouth Dreams"
Mouth Dreams is by far the oddest creative endeavor I partook in all year. It is a musical accomplishment I have a difficult time explaining because it is one of those rare works you have to see for yourself to understand fully. Right on the tin, Neil Cicierega describes their latest album as a collection of songs about dreaming and sleeping, but obviously, it is far more than that in execution. For one thing, the album's inordinate number of "Easter Eggs" led to an internet scavenger hunt spanning the entire globe, the likes of which we have not seen since the launch of Doki Doki Literature Club. It took months before the internet fully "cracked" Mouth Dreams, and even then, people are still uncovering secrets and references to this day. I can only imagine the time it must have took to cram so much creative output into a single album and the mental fortitude it requires to accept some of it may never be seen or heard.
Lost in the mix are the musical tracks, which range a gamut of every possible emotion from rage to utter bliss. Honestly, no one thing from this year made me howl in laughter quite like Mouth Dreams. As was the case in Cicierega's previous works, some of the mashups feel almost "sacrilegious" in their musical marriages. "Spongerock" takes Queen's beloved "We Will Rock You" and merges it with the intro and ending themes of SpongeBob SquarePants, and it is a testament to Cicierega's creative mind that it ends up working. Likewise, songs like "Cannibals" and "The Outsiders" feature so many musical cameos I couldn't help but listen to them more than once. The results are often incredibly stupid, but always dumb in a way that kept me wanting to listen to more. For that, I cannot help but commend Cicierega for putting this album out during the time in which they did.
Runner-up: Umurangi Generation -
In a similar vein to Mouth Dreams, Umurangi Generation crams a lot into a small package. The worlds it showcases are drenched with environmental storytelling and compelling storylines where you least expect them. Furthermore, it is a game with a dark tale that slowly descends into madness. Even more, it keeps on twisting its knife as you watch its previously idyllic world shatter to bits.
Pandemic Guilty Pleasure Of The Year Award: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
I feel like this entry will require some justification on my part. First, I concede Animal Crossing: New Horizons is by no stretch of the word a "bad" game, but it certainly is a "frustrating" one. Outside of this pandemic stricken year, there are only a few times during my adult life when I would have considered stomaching through New Horizons' bullshit. I would go so far as to say the grind of days one through five provides one of the worst gameplay experiences in a AAA title this year. Like many others, there was a time when I had a mountain of bug cages and fish aquariums next to my tent as I waited for Blathers to get his shit together. Then there were my MANY heart-breaking walks next to unnavigable cliffs until I unlocked and crafted the jumping pole. Even when I got to the point when the world finally opened up, little things like not being able to give Blathers more than one fossil continually proved irritating. All of this is to suggest, New Horizons pissed me off to no end.
And everything new in the game proved to be a mixed bag as well. The Nook Mile system cleverly directs players to check out the game's more obtuse mechanics. However, the system is fiddly, and it quickly proves overwhelming by day three. Redeeming Nook Tickets to explore mystery islands is fun until you start getting island repeats that are of no value to you. The world that you inhabit in the game is still charming; there's no denying that. Also worth praising are the "little touches" that add a sense of homeliness that other life simulators often lack. I loved designing new homes, and the crafting system proved to be fun, if not tiresome. I did enjoy this game and ended up sinking in a considerable amount of time into it for obvious reasons. It is very much the Animal Crossing we all know and love. Nonetheless, for me, at the very least, the label "guilty pleasure" fits it better than "Game of the Year."
Runner-up: Tiger King -
I have said it before and am more than happy to repeat my stance for this show: Tiger King is one of the most entertaining things you will watch from 2020, but I'll be damned if I EVER call it a "documentary." It is a reality television comedy-drama pieced together through editing and masquerading as a documentary. Yes, the larger-than-life people it highlights exist in reality, but that doesn't mean we should ignore the editing hatchet job its directors did to further a pre-selected storyline they were gunning for before the first episode aired. All the same, I watched every episode and couldn't stop myself from talking about it with friends and family.
Biggest Middle Finger To Switch Lite Users Award: Super Mario 3D All-Stars
I am a Switch Lite owner and make no qualms about it. I have not been a massive follower of Nintendo's consoles since the Wii, but I felt like some of the Switch's titles were right up my alley. So, when Nintendo announced the Switch Lite at an incredibly affordable price range, I decided to take the plunge. Since then, my experience with the console-handheld hybrid has been mostly positive. However, there's no denying that the Switch Lite is the bastard son Nintendo rarely thinks about when it puts out significant titles. Numerous games run like shit on the Switch Lite, and the modified control schemes you often deal with leave a lot to be desired. This year, the doyenne of these shoddy port jobs by far has to be Super Mario 3D All-Stars, an already questionable release that is even worse on the Switch Lite.
Right off the rip, Super Mario 64 looks like over-compressed garbage on the Switch Lite. You can experience this for yourself by playing it in handheld-mode on a standard Switch. However, this quibble pales compared to a particular control decision Nintendo made with the Switch Lite versions of Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. In both, . I'm not kidding. There's no button prompt to collect everything littered on the screen during action scenes or platforming levels. Instead, . You also need to tap the items in question one at a time. Even if you are in the middle of a boss fight or a "problematic" platforming section, you have to tap the screen to pick up bits and objects. Inevitably, this means that Switch Lite owners like myself are always in health and currency trouble because you have to stop moving whenever you need to pick something up. I know it might sound like histrionics, but this design decision makes two of the games in this "All-Stars" package nigh unplayable.
Runner-up: Burnout Paradise Remastered -
Burnout Paradise Remastered presents a more common issue plagued by Switch Lite owners: vastly inferior graphics. I want to commend the developers for finding a way for the game to output at a consistent 60 FPS. However, the resolution scaling is evident the moment you go over 50 MPH, and it gets worse the faster you go. Often, I found my screen to be a blurry nightmare by the time my car reached 90 MPH, and let me tell you, that's not going to allow you to win any of the late-game content.
Anime Of The Year Award: Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
No one character perfectly captures the anxiety, malaise, and heartache of trying to make your dreams a reality quite like Midori Asakusa. The emotional rollercoaster she experiences as she attempts to make the anime show of her dreams a reality feels so close to the human experience that when it errs towards the more fantastical, you cannot help but think about possible real-world comparisons. In fact, that's one of the remarkable things about Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken; even though it aims most of its targets at the grind of working in the anime and entertainment industry, its wit and biting satire feel as if it can apply to any profession with a groan-inducing amount of bureaucratic red-tape. A fisher or steelworker can likely relate to Asakusa Midori's bewilderment of being asked to moderate their passion project as much as an artist or writer. Though, there's no denying that artists and filmmakers will be able to get a lot of life-affirmation watching Eizouken from start to finish.
I also want to commend the supporting cast surrounding Asakusa Midori like many already have. Most of this praise has been directed at Sayaka Kanamori, the money-driven realist of the show's "Big Three." She has a timeless capitalistic spirit that would make Elon Musk proud. Additionally, her often brutal negotiation tactics, while often fantastical, seem like something pulled from a tech upstart's playbook. Tsubame Mizusaki acts as the cipher for anyone who has struggled to find their identity under the shadow of their parents. There aren't any real "misses" when it comes to the cast of Eizouken as they all feel like they have real-world counterparts. Even the lazy Mr. Fujimoto speaks to anyone who has suffered under a disaffected or negligent manager. If there is one thing worth criticizing, Eizouken feels a tad bit nonconfrontational given its subject matter. On the other hand, this "feel good" quality also ensures it's one of the easiest to recommend animes of the year.
Runner-up: Jujutsu Kaisen -
I have a soft spot for well-paced shonen action shows with impressive visual design. Jujutsu Kaisen is far from the most ambitious action anime from 2020, but it might be the most consistent. Its characters feel well-developed, and it progresses at a reasonable clip. Though reliant on tried and true anime tropes, its story is a perfect vessel for some of the better action set pieces in 2020.
The Thing I Would Enjoy A Lot More If It Had Less Fanservice Award: Fire Force (Season 2)
I have always been a fan of pyromancy. The Demon's Souls Remake reawakened my love for all things related to controlling flames of destruction. That's why I have gravitated towards Fire Force the past two years. When it decides to cut the shit and showcase all sorts of fire-based havoc, it's a visual treat that gets my blood pumping. However, it's a show that induces a lot of humming and hawing whenever I am presented with an opportunity to recommend it to a friend or family member. The main issue is Tamaki Kotatsu, who walks around with a bikini top and conveniently gets her clothing burned off at least once per episode. As if that were not enough, a lecherous male background character swoons and gushes blood from their nose whenever said bikini-clad fire mage is in an embarrassing predicament. These scenes happen like clockwork, and they cannot be "skipped" due to their frequency.
It doesn't help these scenes are shot in the dog shit worst way possible rather than being shot comedically like a throwback to Tenchi Muyo. To make matters worse, the other female leads are framed to accentuate their bodies and exploit the male gaze in the most blatant manner possible. This includes a chesty dress-wearing and fan-toting fire mage that looks a lot like Mai Shiranui from King of Fighters fame. There's also a nun character who I don't even need to describe because when I say "generic chesty anime nun," you can probably get close enough on your own. And before you ask, yes, she has blonde hair and blue eyes. Oh, and there's a scene in which said nun gets her clothes burned off, is draped in a white sheet, and right on cue, gets soaked in water. I want to point out; this horseshit happens during a rather dire action scene when one of the main characters almost dies. I will not deny enjoying the innate stupidity of Fire Force's concept and theme, but I will be damned if I defend any of its fanservice tomfooleries.
Runner-up: Food Wars! The Fifth Plate -
Oh, Food Wars, what do I make of you? I love food competition shows in general and find your attempts to pay homage to modern culinary trends laudable, especially when you are willing to call out such food zeitgeists bullshit. All the same, you are still a big teeming pile of "UGH!" whenever I get to the scenes in which you insist on causing people's clothes to burst as they orgasm while eating food. There's nothing more I want to say about that issue other than I wish this show were not a total embarrassment to admit to liking on the internet. Oh, wait a minute....
Most Improved Award: Sea Of Thieves
Of all my awards, "Most Improved" has always driven the sharpest criticisms from my readers. The most common complaint is that the distinction appears to absolve its recipients of rocky and unsatisfying launches or broken promises by developers. By my own admission, that is a fair point to make. However, given so many games now utilize the "Early Access" moniker to absolve developers of the expected responsibilities of a "normal" launch, I think it is vital to praise the developers that endeavor to support online dependent and persistent games well after their official release. Sea Of Thieves is such an example of a developer sticking with a game and delivering its community with the content they deserve. In fact, Rare deserves credit for opening up its studio to player input and taking the time to provide content updates tailor-made to various Sea Of Thieves community members. For example, the game has some of the industry's best accessibility options, including a recently added single analog control scheme.
Let's return to the topic of Sea Of Thieves' recent batch of content updates. The last handful of these, which I hope Giant Bomb's Lockdown coverage made nakedly apparent, have been fantastic! They have added some much-needed worldbuilding and storytelling flair to a game that previously had very little. The recently added NPCs and quest givers feel like organic extensions of the world rather than bland arbiters of open-world quest design. Furthermore, the new content updates have showcased some of the best 3D puzzles and co-operative game design I have seen in a while. Many of the more recent missions have steps that require multiple players to solve environmental puzzles collaboratively. Imagine an Escape Room experience but in the scope of an MMO game. I also feel that Rare is finally starting to grapple with how best to take advantage of Sea Of Thieves' open-world and online format as the PvP content has also improved massively. If your only impressions of the game were its rocky launch, then I think you should give it another shot, but be sure to bring along a friend or two.
Runner-up: Rock Band 4 -
I want to start by saying Alex's Rock Band streams represent my second favorite "new" Giant Bomb video series this year, second only to the Minecraft streams. On the issue of Rock Band 4, Harmonix has 100% killed it this year. They added critically acclaimed singles by David Bowie and John Denver and silly nonsense like Limp Bizkit's Rollin'. I would still say Rock Band 4 is on its last leg, but at least when it finally passes away, we can be by its bedside proud knowing it went with a bang.
Fuck You In The Neck You Piece Of Shit Award: The Marauder In Doom Eternal
I struggled between the Marauder in Doom Eternal and the Zealots in Assassin's Creed Valhalla for this award. Likewise, I know some are likely to chime in that the final boss in Doom Eternal is worse than either enemy encounter. Let it be known; I respectfully disagree with the latter of these points. Sure, the Icon of Sin is monotonous, but it is a fight I feel you can manage far more than the Marauder so long as you have patience. I ended up going with the Marauder mainly due to how it impacts the flow of Doom Eternal. In a game that emphasizes running and gunning, I simply do not understand why the Marauder exists in the form it does in the game. The first issue is that it soaks up so much goddamn damage, which puts you at such a disadvantage in current and future combat situations. The main mechanic of beating it is one thing, but the Hellhounds it summons ad infinitum are just the worst. Half of the battle ends up devolving into trash mob management, and that's not fun as it causes the fight to last longer than it should.
Likewise, and this is a point a Vice article articulated perfectly, the boss battle against the Marauder feels incredibly out of place. Doom Eternal is at its best when you are flying through environments and thinking actively in pools of gore. With this confrontation, the game presents you with a fight where you need to stop and think before you act. That is an unconscionable formula break in a modern-era Doom game. I get the main gimmick is to observe how the Marauder uses its shield and to stun-lock it into oblivion. But that doesn't explain why the boss is suddenly immune to the BFG or Crucible. The fucker can't even be baited into corners or kited like any of the other boss encounters! Ultimately, the Marauder represents an unneeded genre break to a game that is at its most enjoyable when you revel in all the tools at your disposal. Which, now that I think about it is another shortcoming to the Marauder fight.
Runner-up: The Zealots In Assassin's Creed Valhalla -
Fuck the Zealots and their healing ability! That shit is garbage, and the power level system in Valhalla is such a crock of shit! Seriously, it is not even funny how off the power levels can get! When it comes to the Zealots specifically, I hate how they necessitate you having to grind away at the nigh dozen sub-systems embedded in Valhalla. Which, reminds me of something else I want to say about Assassin's Creed Valhalla!
Help I'm Trapped in Sysiphean Torment Award (a.k.a. Most Arbitrarily Long): Assassin's Creed Valhalla
Saying an Assassin's Creed game has too much shit in it is like saying water is wet; everyone knows it, and there's no point in making a scene about it. Yet, with Assassin's Creed Valhalla, I feel like the franchise is itching towards a breaking point in how much gameplay it crams into a single package. The hour count on my Valhalla playthrough, which clocked in at around forty hours, felt incredibly inflated on account of the long treks from one township to another just to collect tapestries and textiles. And that's the thing that frustrates me about the game: seeing any of its mechanics or sub-systems to their endpoints takes fucking forever! The towns and transportation hubs are stretched across a beautiful but massive world. So much so, simple errands that would typically take a few minutes end up taking ten to fifteen. The result is that it is easy to get overwhelmed with Valhalla, and it might be the worst starting point since Unity for new players to jump into the franchise.
Moreover, the game inundates you with more mechanics than you can shake a stick at, and that means that its story, which I enjoyed, feels incredibly disconnected. First, I often thought I needed to make a hard stop to increase my power level to tread water in new environments. Second, it is incredibly easy to get lost in the game's side quest-based positive feedback loop and completely forget its story even exists. It also doesn't help specific environments feel tailor-made for particular build paths or focus trees, prompting the player into hour-long grind sessions. None of this is to suggest I hated my time with Valhalla; quite the opposite. I look at the fancy armor I crafted for my Viking avatar with pride and viewed the game as an overall success story. Now, if only Ubisoft could find a way to make the modern-day stuff feel relevant and cut down the next game's overall playtime by at least ten hours.
Runner-up: Final Fantasy XI -
It's an MMORPG that's almost twenty years old. Based on what I played of it in 2020, which was far more than what I am willing to admit, the game is more of a loot-grind Skinner Box than an actual game. The drop rates for everything are ridiculous, and there were times when I honestly had no idea what to make of its Byzantine quest design. But more on that in a future category.
Thing That Caused Me To Swear Gratuitously At A Television Screen The Most: The Sacramento Kings
I am a Sacramento Kings fan. For those of you from the Giant Bomb Discord, you are all too familiar with this fact. For everyone else, be aware, I live in the California Bay Area and live in the shadow of one of the loudest and most annoying NBA fanbases on the planet: Golden State Warriors fans. It is a painful existence, but the one I have decided to have as a basketball fan. On a more positive note, the NBA's playoff bubble was one of the few sports-based success stories during the pandemic. The strategy provided relatively high-quality competitive play and avoided any significant outbreaks, unlike the MLB, NFL, or NHL. It also offered several teams like the Kings an opportunity to make playoff pushes that would not have existed in the league's "normal" playoff format. Yet, even with that opportunity, the Kings pissed it away with awful defense, a lack of offensive creativity, recurring injury issues, and one of the worst coaches in the league still employed.
Buddy Hield, while not a max player, is being paid to be an elite shooter. Unfortunately, with Luke Walton's hiring, his benching led to an ongoing pissing match and a considerable drop in productivity. De'Aaron Fox, the franchise's current face, was plagued with injury problems alongside Marvin Bagley III, who was drafted before Luka, mind you. These injuries left the team with Harrison Barnes as the only "stable" starter throughout the year. Even when players like Fox or Bagley returned, they never gelled thanks to Walton's awful rotations. Regrettably gone was the high-octane pace that made them must-see television two seasons ago. With the start of the current season, things looked promising, what with the much-celebrated resignation of previous General Manager, Vlade Divac. Additionally, the Kings drafted Tyrese Haliburton, who is looking like the steal of the 2020 NBA draft, but there are still the expected "KANGZ BEING KANGZ" moments. Not matching Bogdan Bogdanović's contract offer from the Atlanta Hawks was incredibly stupid, and the decision to not fire Walton before the start of the season puts the Kings' playoff viability in jeopardy. I don't ask for a lot in 2021. Just good health and the Kings to be watchable. Shit, I'll take only one of those requests if need be!
Runner-up: WWE's Retribution -
2020 was not kind to WWE. AEW presented itself as a superior product, and the consistency of its booking attracted waves of wrestling fans. The primary reason why WWE has not properly responded to its competition is, and always has been, Vince McMahon. No one storyline showcases how out of touch Vince McMahon has become with his audience, like Retribution. McMahon, who by his admission is a billionaire, not understanding why people are protesting against inequality and in favor of social justice, was consistently one of the worst things on national television all year. What makes it even sadder is how Retribution wastes otherwise outstanding wrestling talent (i.e., Mustafa Ali and Dominik Dijakovic) on a shit gimmick.
Best Supported Game That I Did Not Play, But Probably Should Have Award: Final Fantasy XIV
During my Final Fantasy XI series, I issued a much-needed public apology to Giant Bomb's Final Fantasy XIV community. Time and time again, they have attempted to get me to play the game, and instead, I continue to play absolute garbage at my expense. So, I'm sorry. No one asked to read my misery with a nigh twenty-year-old video game. Regardless, Final Fantasy XIV's support was simply a marvel to watch this year. The game provided a slew of exciting and cinematic boss battles and quality of life additions other persistent games should take note of moving forward. The game deserves all the credit in the world for lowering the barrier of entry for new players more than any other MMORPG on the market. A significant portion of the game can be experienced for free, and there's no other MMORPG out there that does more to on-ramp neophytes than it.
As a result, I want to issue the Final Fantasy XIV community a promise. I cannot guarantee that I will cover 14 in 2021, but when I do, . That's because when the time comes, I'm discussing every part of it, including its expansion packs and crossover events. No stone will go unturned when I get around to playing the colossal time sink that is Final Fantasy XIV. That's ultimately where my concerns lie with Final Fantasy XIV: it will demand a massive time commitment. Even with all of the re-jiggering to the end-user experience it has seen over time, it is still an MMORPG at heart. I know and understand that its community has a reputation for being one of the "nicer ones." However, the game is still an intimidating monolith that I cannot help but think about with a tinge of anxiety. No matter, it's out there waiting for me, and I'm closer to playing it than I have ever been.
Runner-up: Warframe -
This shoutout goes to community member Rapid for holding the fort with Giant Bomb's PC Warframe group. Every time I read one of their blog posts about a new community event, I get interested in checking out what the fuss is all about. Much like my hesitance with Final Fantasy XIV, my concerns are about the amount of time it will require before I get to "the good stuff." Nonetheless, three cheers to Digital Extremes for being in tune with its audience and providing them with an endless source of memories.
Worst Plot Twist Award: Chrono Cross
Where do I even begin? First, I don't know which plot twist in Chrono Cross to crown as the recipient of this award. Do I hand it to part of the game that transforms your protagonist into a furry? Maybe the process of transforming Serge back into a human tickles your fancy! Finding out the game's events are determined by a self-aware A.I. running on Robo's processor personally shook me to my core. Then there was the reveal of space dinosaurs from an alternate dimension wanting to recruit dragons to exterminate humans in a different timeline. Speaking of which, there's the reveal that one of your party members and potential love-interests is a dragon in hiding. You also have whatever the fuck the entire last boss battle is and all of the shit Lucca tells you in the final level. Or, maybe this award should go to "Baby Daught Clone?" Fuck, how about the live-action movie that only plays during the credits? I CAN KEEP GOING!
The most baffling part about Chrono Cross is how long it waits before revealing its hand to the player. The delta between the hook of its opening hours and its final act is MASSIVE! In fact, the part about the game I cannot stop thinking about is why the developers and writers wait as long as they do before they reveal the game's "driving question." The big source of our party's call to adventure and the reasons for their investigative efforts doesn't appear to the player until the game's last chapter! Worse, the game lectures you moments before the final boss about what scaffolding is keeping its story together! WHO THINKS THAT IS A GOOD IDEA?! WHY WOULD YOU EVER DO THAT?! No matter, this is all a pretense to an upcoming blog series you can expect from me in 2021.
Runner-up: Final Fantasy 7 Remake -
I want to clarify that I like Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Additionally, I'm not some weirdo who thinks the game's ending is a giant middle finger to long-term fans of Final Fantasy VII. Personally, I thought the last two chapters of the game were contrived nonsense that endangers the viability of the next episodes or games. However, at least everything leading up to that pivot was incredibly compelling. The game manages to showcase some of the best character work in a video game helmed by Square-Enix since Final Fantasy X.
Most Acceptably Mediocre Or Passable Award: Star Wars Squadrons
You may recall I gave Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order this award on my end of the year retrospective last year. There's something to be said about the state of Star Wars video games during the Disney era. Which is to say, the video game side of the franchise is treading water. Battlefront 2 eventually "got there," but its support being pulled this year put a significant damper on its thriving community. Fallen Order and Squadrons fall in the "good but not great" category. You'd be hard-pressed to brandish either as being objectively "bad," but at the same time, both struggle to address the issue of "staying power." In Squadrons' case, the game has not had enough post-launch content to keep me motivated to return to it after getting the gist of what it wanted out of me in its handful of multiplayer maps. The game launched without any annoying server issues or icky microtransactions, but the limited load-outs and starship options led to every player sticking with one of two possible combinations for every ship type. Even with the introduction of the B-Wing and TIE Defender, this problem still exists.
The more critical issue is that the game has not added any depth to its initial offering to players. Since its launch, the dev team has added one new map and a single new match type. Oh, and that new match type is nothing to write home about as it is just a "Custom Match" option. Yup, you heard that right. A multiplayer-focused dogfighting game launched without a custom match option! Furthermore, and I discussed this topic on a previous blog, the story has a lot of potential for bigger and better adventures down the road. Unfortunately, in the base-game, it merely does not give itself enough time to develop its cast of characters as well as the circumstances that surround them. It's still a lot of fun to play, and I have come around to its harsh but fair controls. Likewise, it's an impeccable looking game with each of its maps boasting awe-inducing and intricate detail work. That said, it is also a game that desperately needs an expansion pack or batch of DLC to push it from being a novel concept to a full-fledged excellent video game.
Runner-up: Final Fantasy XIII-2 -
I don't want to spoil too much on this blog as I will get around to discussing Final Fantasy XIII-2 in greater depth another time. No matter, I have to say Final Fantasy XIII-2 kind of impressed me. It not being the absolute worst thing I played in 2020 means it notably improved upon its predecessor, which I maintain is the worst Final Fantasy game ever made. That is not to suggest I think XIII-2 is a genuinely great video game. It's an almost unplayable nightmare in parts, but it is less of a nightmare than Final Fantasy XIII. An easy target to nail, but a target the game hits perfectly.
Best Writing Award: Secret Base's The History of the Seattle Mariners
Secret Base's Seattle Mariners video retrospective did something few sports-based YouTubers or beat-writers have accomplished for me: they made me care about a team I hate. If you did not pick up on it during my Kings rant, be aware, I am an Oakland and Northern California sports fan. The Oakland Athletics are the team I root for when baseball season rolls around, and the Mariners being a "rival" means they are a source of scorn and occasional hatred in my house. Nonetheless, Jon Bois and Alex Rubenstein's exhaustive look at the Seattle Mariners utterly captivated me, and I was hooked before I finished the first episode. Still images and archival footage came to life as if I was watching a Ken Burns documentary. The clearest example is the fourth episode wherein Jon Bois waxes poetically about their next topic while displaying an extreme close-up of Ichiro Suzuki's forearm. Trust me; it makes sense in context.
More admirable is how the series manages to convert known endings and conclusions into thrilling edge-of-your-seat content. For example, I watched Edgar Martinez's double in the eleventh inning of the 1995 ALDS live on television. And yet, Bois' narration and often somber tone made me briefly doubt Ken Griffey Jr. would dive to home to win the game. I grew up, as did many, watching Ichiro bat like a maniac. Even then, Rubenstein whisked me away on a stat-heavy journey on why he was a generational talent. I remember where I was when Félix Hernández pitched his perfect game. No matter, the series mesmerized me in the tragedy of his career. It is a masterclass of video and editing wizardry, and it's must-see viewing even for those of you who might not give a shit about baseball.
Runner-up: Queen's Gambit -
On a similar note, Queen's Gambit provides a compelling experience even for those who might not care about its subject matter. I know I raved about chess in a previous blog, so I'll spare you from my spiel about the beauty of the chess matches in Queen's Gambit. That said, the life and times of Beth Harmon are equal parts fascinating and tragic, and Anya Taylor-Joy's performance is simply stunning.
The Ostrich Award (a.k.a. Most Objectively Good Game I Did Not Enjoy): Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Fall Guys is mindless nonsense. That's kind of what it always has been, and the attempts to bill it as anything but mindless nonsense is beyond my comprehension. I can accept the people who say that Fall Guys provides a chaotic experience that leaves you laughing every time. I understand many people enjoyed its online social interaction elements during distance learning and sheltering in place. However, I never felt like the more in-depth "strategies" of getting better at Fall Guys were worth my time, nor did I think the game maintained my interest for more than a month. Ultimately, Fall Guys provided the same superficial experience a "summer fling" provides. And look, if that's what is helping you get through the "worst" of the pandemic, then more power to you. That said, I cannot fathom billing this game as anything more than
From a more fundamental level, the content updates and bug fixes never came out with enough regularity. Within days I felt like the limited number of match types and maps had worn their welcome. That's especially when I was not too fond of two to three of the match types. To highlight, I can count the number of times I have genuinely enjoyed "Perfect Match" and "Royal Fumble" on a single hand. And that weird three-month period when no one knew the snatch distance or hitbox for the tail for all of the tail grab modes fucking sucked. It sucked so much shit! The game released with a limited number of match types, and barely any of them worked at launch. Again, it's easy to stomach these sorts of glitches and bugs when you approach the game as a mindless time waster, but that's as far as I am willing to go with Fall Guys.
Runner-up: Hades -
I know Hades is bound to be on several people's GOTY list, so I'll be brief and civil about my issues with the game. I have always hated how Supergiant Games's stuff controls and found Hades to be more of the stiff and unresponsive arena action I hated in Bastion. In terms of storytelling, I was equally unimpressed. Honestly, I'm getting tired of Supergiant Games getting a pass on their convenient bow-tying with their games' conclusions and found it especially heinous here. At some point, I'd like them to cut the shit when it comes to providing the player with a warm and "fuzzy mittens" feeling in games about sacrifice and tragedy.
Best Deal Of 2020 Award - itch.io's Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality
Itch.io's Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality was a feel-good moment in 2020 for various reasons. First, it raised over $5 million for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund. That is a not-insignificant amount of money that will be put to good use and whose impacts will be felt for years to come. Second, the design and programming assets included in the bundle will hopefully inspire a wave of people to get into game development. Third, it gave a great deal of attention to smaller indie devs who benefited from being bundled with more mainstream indie titles like Night In The Woods and Celeste. Finally, it was a great deal for consumers and provided some people their first introduction to itch.io and its massive database of self-published titles.
Any way you shake it, the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality was a win-win for various stakeholders in the gaming industry and its related communities. I especially enjoyed the crop of articles from a myriad of gaming publications sharing their favorite games from the package and each article having a different batch of games. It speaks to the variety of possible experiences the bundle provided and how it spoke to virtually every person to some degree. I cannot imagine a single person or gaming community that would not have benefited from supporting and owning itch's Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. Not unless you have something against having a good time or supporting social justice. In which case, I don't know if we can be friends.
Runner-up: Xbox Game Pass -
By hook or by crook, Xbox Game Pass is changing the way we consume video games. As most of you are already aware, you immediately have over a hundred video games at your fingertips by paying a monthly fee. What makes Xbox Game Pass even better is how it works around the clock to include every imaginable genre and game. Furthermore, developers have used it to test out new and daring concepts that would likely never see the light of day in a traditional developer-publisher environment.
Worst Game Of My Year 2020: Final Fantasy XI
I feel like I have said my piece about Final Fantasy XI, but I'll give you the basic idea here. There is no reason for anyone who has not already invested over 100+ hours into Final Fantasy XI to start now. The game is an incomprehensible mess and struggles to patch together the different eras of MMORPG design it has presided over during its nigh twenty-year lifespan. The user interface is a nightmare to parse out, and the gameplay progresses at a snail's pace. It actively punishes you for playing it solo and instead funnels you towards raids and parties. Still, given its depleted and entrenched community, you will struggle to find people or mechanisms capable or willing to work with you on early questlines. There is no on-ram for those wishing to experience the game today, and that's a shame considering it has an interesting story and world to share with the video game community. Even then, it is a world that doesn't open up until you've invested at least forty hours.
I want to appreciate the Final Fantasy XI community members who shared their love for the game and what has enamored them for two decades. Well, I want to thank the Final Fantasy XI community members who did that and did not personally attack or threaten me on or off the site. I understand I went a little hard on the game, but I want to clarify my criticism was never directed at any specific Final Fantasy XI group or community member. It is perfectly acceptable that you love the game, and I do not want to diminish the hundreds of hours you have spent in it. That said, I There's nothing in the game, at least for someone who has yet to play it, that cannot be experienced elsewhere and in a manner that requires less frustration or time. And even when it comes to its novel attempts at storytelling, I have a hard time applauding the game when we live in a world where World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV exist.
Runner-up: Creature Romances: Kokonoe Kokoro -
This is one of the ugliest games I have ever played, and it was a mistake to support its developer by purchasing it as a joke. The writing is just the smarmiest anime drivel I have seen in a long time, and its story goes nowhere for hours upon end while splaying out the most generic anime tropes and idioms. Also, this game forces you to look at bug girl anime boobs. I just thought I should mention that as an aside.
Best Game Of My Year 2020: Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020)
A ton of talk has been made of video games as a coping mechanism for the anxiety induced by the current pandemic. Everyone on the site, and elsewhere for that matter, has a different game that helped them slog through the year that was 2020. For me, that game was Microsoft Flight Simulator. It was a game that allowed me to travel the world vicariously while responsibly sheltering in my quaint studio apartment. Yes, Microsoft Flight Simulator is far from being a perfect video game, what with entire countries like Brazil being gapping black voids for weeks upon end. The game has a much-criticized pre-install that can take hours to complete, and even then, the load-times are downright appalling. Yet, the game still manages to be innately beautiful and breathtaking even with the inherent jankiness of its Bing Maps produced rendition of planet Earth.
I needed Microsoft Flight Simulator. I needed it more than Final Fantasy VII Remake, Hades, Fall Guys, Among Us, or Spelunky 2. I know that there were plenty of games this year that provided more in-depth storytelling experiences. A laudable number of developers and games pushed the medium forward in terms of what we might have previously thought it was capable of and continue to challenge, and rightfully so, long-held gaming sensibilities. But, I needed the pure escapism of Microsoft Flight Simulator. I needed something that allowed me to travel the world without putting myself and those around me at risk of injury or poor health. Microsoft Flight Simulator does precisely that, and I am eternally grateful as a result. On a related note, I think it is praiseworthy that the game ended up being a tool for furloughed airplane pilots to practice their skills while effectively unemployed.
Runner-up: Final Fantasy V -
I love this game. Even with Final Fantasy VII Remake, I think we have forgotten the time when Squaresoft was a mechanical innovator and provided low-risk but action-packed adventures. I miss the quaint times when the Final Fantasy franchise was about light-hearted experiences free from forced sentimentality or melodrama. Final Fantasy V is pure unadulterated fun, and its job system is far more in-depth than I could have anticipated. The game's environmental design is masterfully done, and it is one of the easiest to recommend Final Fantasy games from the 16-bit era. Definitely check it out if you have yet to do so, and consider supporting the Four Job Fiesta the next time it rolls around.