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Games of the Year 2020 - DarthOrange Edition

It has been a year. Like, on top of all the other craziness going on this year, I decided this was going to be the year I did the "52 games in one year" challenge. To add to that, I also decided I was only going to count games that released in 2020. Now, anyone who has visited any digital games store knows that there are a ton of games that release every single week so despite playing so many games there is still a lot of stuff I missed. I can confidently say that 2020 was one of the strongest years for video games ever, and in the process of finalizing a "best of" list arbitrarily limited to only ten games I felt compelled to also give a shout out to those games that just narrowly missed the cut but were also really damn awesome.

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  • Heal - A brilliant, brief puzzle game with a lot of variety that even manages to tell a story despite having absolutely no dialogue or text. Played through on iOS. Trailer can be found here.
  • Streets of Rage 4 - Played through in coop and had a blast. Art style is beautiful, soundtrack is fire, and the gameplay is surprisingly varied and deep with none of the enemies feeling busted or "cheap". Played on Switch. Trailer can be found here.
  • Neversong - A wonderful amalgamation of Edgar Alan Poe, Tim Burton, and Stephen King's It. Hits a wide range of emotions before it is over. Played on Apple Arcade. Trailer can be found here.
  • Hades - By far the most addicting game of 2020 if nothing else, I spent more time playing this game than anything else this year. The gameplay loop had me constantly telling myself "just one more run," a dangerous thing when working from home (this game may or may not have caused me to sleep in and miss a meeting at work because I stayed up late playing). Played on Switch. Trailer can be found here.
  • Battletoads - Played through in coop, it is tough as hell but not impossible (unlike the original). Tons of variety in gameplay, you are never doing the same thing for long which, as someone with eclectic taste, I loved. Also love the art style and cartoon nature of it all. Played through on Xbox. Trailer can be found here.

If you are interested in seeing the full list of 2020 games I completed in 2020, it can be found by following this link. If you want to read my opinion on video games in previous years, here are links to my previous game of the year blog posts: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011. And now without further ado, I present my ten favorite games of 2020.

Note: Just as was done with the games on the honorable mention list above, I note where I played the game and also provide a trailer for the game so that you can see more if you are interested. :)

10. The Unholy Society

I played through this game on Nintendo Switch. Trailer can be found here.

Well this game is certainly something. A stylish as hell side scrolling adventure game that sees you exercising demons. It is full of dumb pop culture references but isn't obnoxious about it which I appreciated. The combat is a unique real time "find the matching symbols" system that works way better than it has any right to. Then the story comes in and ties it all together. It is stupid and over the top goofy but does so with swagger and confidence, making no apologies as it takes you through the world. Everything about this game felt like it was speaking to me personally and I was gutted when it was over after only about 2 hours. That said, I am always a fan of games that respect your time and leave you wanting more rather than pad things out to add artificial length. I find it uniquely difficult to do justice to this game with words so I recommend you just check out the trailer. What you see is what you get, so if it clicks for you I recommend checking it out.

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9. Coffee Talk

I played through this game on PC. Trailer can be found here.

I knew that this was a visual novel going in but it was still a lot less interactive than I was expecting. Outside of making the occasional cup of coffee, there is no player agency. That said, I enjoyed this experience for what it was, and enjoyed reading through all the stories. None of them are particularly deep or profound, but they are sweet none the less and the game is able to set a mood that elevates the whole experience. Coffee Talk does an absolutely fantastic job of creating a real cozy atmosphere with the visuals and lofi soundtrack. The soundtrack is so relaxing and fantastic that it has been on my regular rotation while working from home. The whole experience gives the feeling of a warm drink on a cold rainy night. There is just enough interactivity in the game to keep you immersed in the experience but not so much it becomes overbearing. As I have played through many other story driven games this year that will sometimes force meaningless and tedious interactive sections that detract from the narrative, Coffee Talk stands as a shinning example that sometimes less is more.

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I played through this game on Nintendo Switch. Trailer can be found here.

What if Shadow of the Colossus but with guns and it is a bullet hell game? Normally not my cup of tea but I liked the art style, I heard there were accessibility options to lower the difficulty, and 18 bosses didn't seem like too much of a commitment. It starts out tough, but feels fair which caused me to keep the difficulty unchanged, although having the option was very much appreciated. There is a world to explore and for the most part you can do things in whatever order you want. The story is neat and much like with Hades, player death (which happens often) is contextualized in game which is always fun. There are several upgrades to pick up which make the game exponentially easier, along with various weapons that can be swapped at a moments notice with a weapon select wheel. Special shoutout to the generous dodge roll that keeps you alive through the madness. When bullets fill the screen there is a certain rhythm you fall into as you get into the zone and chip away at the bosses health. It is in those moment that this game provides some true bliss.

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7. Wide Ocean Big Jacket

I played through this game on Nintendo Switch. Trailer can be found here.

A wonderful, brief experience that perfectly captures those "golden moments" feelings in life where everything is just going right. You are surrounded by people you care about and everyone is just happy. The world can be a really cynical place but it is these moments that make the rest of the bullshit worth it. And this game is able to encapsulate that wonderfully. As I was playing this I kept bringing myself back to Robert Frost. Yes it is true that "Nothing Gold Can Stay", but that doesn't mean you won't find more gold in the future.

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6. Across the Grooves

I played through this game on PC. Trailer can be found here.

An incredibly engrossing visual novel about a record that lets you travel through time. The game completely sucked me immediately and I was constantly eager to unravel the mystery that was set up. Plenty of choices to make along the way with some great tunes to boot. Plus the visuals are top notch, with each image being a wonderful work of art. Tons of replayability with this one, I am a slow reader and it only took me 4 hours to do a run. I am no where near done with this game and am eagerly looking forward to regularly revisiting this one throughout next year.

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5. Huntdown

I played through this game on Nintendo Switch. Trailer can be found here.

I love love love me some grindhouse, and Huntdown is able to beautifully capture that aesthetic in every way. I played through the whole thing in coop with my brother and it was an incredible experience from beginning to end. We played through it on hard and while the game was definetly tough, it was also fair. Deaths (and we died a lot of times) were always the result of player error and encouraged us to keep trying. Even the toughest encounters never felt hopeless. I also very much appreciated the generous checkpoint system which removed any frustrations from the game, even as we would inch ever closer to a half hour spent on a single stage. And speaking of stages, each stage ends with a completely unique boss fight and they are all absolutely incredible. This game fires on all cylinders.

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4. South of the Circle

I played through this game on Apple Arcade. Trailer can be found here.

A narrative driven game that puts a spin on dialogue choices. This love story set during the cold war is completely brought to life through some amazing voice acting that helps bring the minimalist art style to life. Dialogue choices are selected based on emotions so you are never quite sure exactly what you are going to say, but I got a shaky grasp on it by the end of it. By the end of the experience I'm sure some people will be frustrated with the choice system but I loved what they did with it.

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3. Ikenfell

I played through this game on Xbox. Trailer can be found here.

Love the story, soundtrack, and characters. This game does a wonderful job at world building and is not shy about being completely and totally 100% queer. The protagonists are wonderfully developed and the story kept me engaged the whole way through. The tap-timing based combat can be frustrating at times but every once in a while I would fumble terribly and be forced to use items which I never do in these types of games so that is a huge plus. The soundtrack is also incredible, particularly the individual character themes. Listen to the tasty guitar on Rook's Theme and tell me that isn't incredible. As I mentioned earlier, I am a slow reader so this game ended up taking me something like 25 hours to finish, and yet even with that huge time investment this game totally and completely sticks the landing and delivers an incredibly satisfying ending.

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2. Wintermoor Tactics Club

I played through this game on PC. Trailer can be found here.

One of the best, most well realized worlds I have ever seen in a game. Wintermoor Tactics Club is able to perfectly set the scene with a cast of characters and art style that completely bring the school of Wintermoor Academy to life in a way most other games never get close to achieving. A large cast of characters and some fantastic dialogue are tied together with a unique art style and killer soundtrack. The story is by far the main hook in this game, and while the main story of a snowball tournament between all the school clubs will always be the same, there are a lot of light choices available that help add that extra personalized touch to the game. The main gameplay is played as a standard tactics game, through the lens of a D&D stand in. The gameplay is usually fairly simple but it is still a fun way to break up the story segments with each encounter getting a meticulously designed unique grid layout (there are no random encounters, a huge plus). The protagonists each bring about a unique gameplay type with lots of customization, and I throughly enjoyed picking out a unique load out for any given mission. Content is also all readily available and in your face. While there are optional side quests available, they are not hidden away via cryptic puzzle solving or finding the right item, which I appreciated since it meant I could enjoy all the content this game had to offer without stressing about missing something. And much like Ikenfell, it completely sticks the landing with the ending and delivers a satisfying conclusion to the adventure.

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1. Arrest of a stone Buddha

I played through this game on Switch. Trailer can be found here.

This game fucked me up something fierce for a minute after I first completed it. It is an incredibly bleak game that demanded I grapple with the worldview it presents and articulate a rebuttal, or otherwise accept its view of the world as the truth. And it was tough, because a part of me does feel it. This game sees you playing as a contract killer. Your job is literally to hurt people, and hurt many people you do as you play through the stylized shooting sections to make your escape after killing your target. In between contracts you are free to do what you will in the open world. Killing people clearly pays well because you never have to worry about money in the open world. Buy as many drinks as you want, go to the movies, get a pack of cigarettes, visit a museum, you can always afford it. But however you choose to spend your time, it is never thrilling or fun. It is melancholy as fuck, but the game forces you to engage with this open world in between the shoot out sessions. And the shootout sessions themselves get incredibly repetitive as well, to the point where you ask yourself "what the fuck is the point of any of this?"

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Don't play this one if you are in a dark place, it is existential as fuck. That said, if you haven't been there the game might not resonate with you at all. As I was finalizing the order for my game of the year list, the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that this really is the best representation of how I felt about 2020. Like I'm sure has been the case for many of you reading this, 2020 has been a year that has had me going in and out of funks. And while I am no longer in the deep funk I was in when I first played Arrest of a stone Buddha, the reflections and questions this game made me grapple with went beyond anything else a video game has made me do this year (or ever really). Ultimately, I believe people, connections, and relationships are all important. Many of the other games on this very list do a wonderful job of highlighting the power and beauty of authentic connections. But Arrest of a stone Buddha really drags you into the mud and forces you to reflect on your beliefs. This year alone, in addition to the pandemic brought on by the virus, we have also seen the economic fallout, education crisis, along with the continued rise of fascism and police around the world doubling and tripling down on shitty behavior (seemingly intent to prove that they really are all bastards), all the while the politicians that are supposedly on our side refuse to acknowledge how many of these problems are inherent to capitalism. And yet, in spite of all of that, we persist. We continue to find joy where we can, the biggest fuck you we can give to those who seek to oppress and exploit us. Arrest of a stone Buddha's developer Yeo is clearly a fan of Albert Camus (a copy of The Stranger can be seen in the opening of the game), and so it feels appropriate to end this post with a quote by Camus:

"In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.

In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.

In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.

I realized, through it all, that…

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy.

For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back."

- Albert Camus

For those of you who stuck around to the end of this post, thanks. Take care of yourself and those around you, you beautiful, amazing and wonderful people. :)