Best of 2020

Relevant platforms I have access to:

  • Android phone
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC
  • PlayStation 4 Slim
  • Xbox One

Notable pre-released games and add-ons of 2020 I’ve played this year:

  • Gears 5’s “Hivebusters”
  • Grounded
  • Ooblets

Games that didn’t make the cut:

  • Minecraft Dungeons - Dungeon crawlers just aren’t my bag, man.
  • The Touryst - Quick romp with some real bad camera angles for platforming sections.
  • Voxelgram - These are 3D nonograms all right but without the charm behind Picross 3D.

Games I meant to get to but couldn’t:

  • Doom Eternal - Leaving in the middle of a playthrough for Dragon Quest XI didn’t help.
  • Forza Street - I simply didn’t care enough beyond getting a few easy achievements.
  • Gears Tactics - Getting into strategery just hasn’t been on my mind lately.
  • Haven - The combat system is too funky to handle.
  • Moving Out - I didn’t like how it controlled, at all.
  • XCOM: Chimera Squad - In a strategery slump lately, like I said.

“Oversights”:

  • (A game only on PS5) - I don’t have a PS5.
  • (PS4 games that released in 2020) - I can wait to play them on a PS5 Slim.
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons - Tried out New Leaf and didn’t “get it.”
  • Assassin’s Creed Valhalla - I can wait to play it on the next Xbox, whenever that happens.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 - Sounds like they should’ve delayed it further.
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake - I can wait for the PC version.
  • Hades - I have to beat Pyre first.
  • Half-Life: Alyx - I don’t have a VR headset.
  • Resident Evil 3 - I still have many other Resident Evil games to ponder playing.

List items

  • For a development team I’ve criticized for staying so rooted in their ways and coasting through the motions of unending iteration of reusing assets and refining minigames, seeing such a long-lasting franchise’s primary elements be shifted sideways and still maintain every semblance of what makes Yakuza so beloved and more, it’s somehow not surprising at all. From changing the main protagonist, the main locale, and even the mainstay combat that defined the brutality that street brawling could conceivably reach, these changes seem like the perfect recipe to ruin an amazing run of games unmatched in their perfect mix of dramedy but I think they’ve made a successful transition with few rough edges.

    The performance behind the new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, elevates the emotional impact of pivotal scenes, his fearlessness in expressing his passions is a hard right turn from the stoic and righteous Kazuma Kiryu whose cool guy antics have defined the franchise since its inception. In many ways, much of Kasuga’s charm overlaps with Kiryu’s because they truly believe they know what’s best for others but with completely different approaches. Even their father figures are similar in many ways and are the guiding lights behind their good intentions. By having others constantly tagging along, Kasuga’s stunted understanding of the world which romanticizes the ideal can’t help but eclipse the group’s collective pessimism during their quest to unravel the unjust because deep down they so want to believe that justice will prevail.

    Thanks to Kasuga’s unusual childhood and undeserved long-term imprisonment, combat is seen through his juvenile whims. Party members and Kasuga’s appearance and skillset seemingly undergo a transformation while transitioning into familiar brawls but under the guise of turn-based battles which is seen as more honorable by being gracious enough to allow enemies to get a hit in. What might seem like a regular group of menacing thugs roaming the streets may become a group of wrestlers and a “massager” whose attacks do more than intimate physical damage. Divulging in the fantastical within the confines of a modern setting creates this untapped potential never before seen in the Yakuza games and I’m all for it.

    5/5

  • Despite reaching a point with the first game where I can defeat the final final boss back-to-back time and again, any legitimate form of Spelunky 2’s credits has managed to elude me through to the end of the year. Perhaps, unlike last time, it’s because I didn’t have the necessary information beforehand to know how to properly handle sparsely seen enemies or which pieces of equipment to eye for an ideal run but I do know this: Spelunky deaths can be very sudden and the forms they come in are aplenty.

    The days I fervently dived into the depths of the sequel may be behind me, however, as I play the game fewer and fewer times a week, sometimes not at all. That’s not to say anything untoward about the quality of the game, in fact I’d consider this game more of a redo and “re-right” of what Spelunky can achieve. With the first Spelunky, the exploration aspect and discovery of the unknown were practically already unearthed and properly ID-tagged and displayed in a museum for all to see when I finally jumped in. By taking it upon myself to figure out the new mysteries within the sequel made random deaths fun and educational, a feeling I can cherish as I take baby steps into the sixth area and die immediately.

    4/5

  • Another Ori, another year I’ve yet to complete a Metroid or Castlevania game regardless of earnest promises. My attempts in familiarizing myself with them have only been met with eventual disinterest after a few eager sessions. Their relative antiquity isn’t the problem, I don’t think, but it continues to be an odd blemish in my gameplay history. Regardless, Ori this time around not only returns with genre-distinctive limited exploration by way of doling out traversal abilities gradually but utilizes them superbly through intense chase sequences and puzzle-solving.

    Vocal gripes aside, gaining the wherewithal to overcome those sequences were rage-inducing processes but immensely gratifying once enough grace pulled me through these tests of dexterity. What got me most of the time was having to discern which environmental objects were “dashable” or “bashable” in a pinch, which was easily solved by pressing down both respective buttons at the same time. Exacting sequences isn’t a new challenge for Ori so the expansion of the combat sticks out the most, while serviceable, it isn’t worth talking much about as it’s incredibly spammy and mostly optional due to secluded shrines.

    4/5

  • My impressions of the major parts of the game are years apart while the final update’s addition of Xen is still fresh on my mind. According to my notes, pre-Xen areas were faithful but made sensible cuts from the original game that were annoying to navigate and justly improved. However, I still got lost time and again which was usually my fault most of the time when I would overlook such a simple solution in pursuit of a false one. I’ll admit the same can be said for some parts during my exploration of Xen.

    Much of my experience in the original Xen was that it was simply exhausting to play through. Somehow they've kept that feeling intact while expanding the unique aesthetic of this alien world. I don't remember being chased as much but they were properly distressing and promptly not fun, which is the point I suppose. Bosses within were only barely manageable by the addition of a jetpack function to the suit. I can't imagine disposing of them without it considering the spammy antics needed to maneuver around their barrages of attacks.

    All in all, it's weird to see how much I'm complaining of what is essentially a faithful recreation of what is likely my first ever first-person shooter. I learned the basics of playing around corners and anticipating the AI's movement to my benefit and continue to employ them in many much video games today. If I had to recommend a newcomer to the series, I'd probably point them toward the sequel first and maybe go back if they so desired because this game was a rough walk down memory lane. Maybe games today just softened me up.

    4/5

  • Note: Entry for prequel is also on this list at #10.

    For the longest time, the main plot wouldn’t let up on scenarios oozing with fan service of the skeeviest degree more appropriate for the spin-offs the Science Adventures series is prone to output. Requisite story and early routes were rife with hijinks that made me question whether or not this was a serious entry until characters began to tackle unwanted traits of themselves which led to actually heartwarming endings. Breaking the barriers between parent and child and overcoming one’s shyness were relatable and believable situations to sympathize with. However, separating the character growth apparent in these early routes make for one jam-packed timeline as they usually encompass one week of development so it’s difficult to gauge if they’re canon or not.

    The final two routes seem the most likely to carry onward as they implicate a lot for the future of the series. It helps that one of the series’ earliest characters devised, by the name of Itaru Hashida (the titular DaSH), joins in on the fun and teases how useful the original Robotics;Notes cast may be while littering many callbacks to Steins;Gate up to that point. While his personal growth from an otaku character didn’t regress enough, fatherhood has rounded his sensibilities and by happenstance aids the kids in his own special way during their personal journeys to great effect. While my reverence for Steins;Gate doesn’t extend as much to the other visual novels in the same universe, I’ll admit I have little confidence in whatever endpoint, if any, the writers have in plan will be a satisfying one but I’m glad enough knowing that those characters aren’t done suffering yet.

    4/5

  • Destruction at this piecemeal level rewards players for their understanding of the tools at their disposal and how inventive, or lucky, creations can lead to explosive or exacting forms of victory. When at first I played the game back in 2015, I didn’t think much of its Steam Workshop, if it didn’t already exist back then, so much of my creations were the product of a single intention and built as simply as possible. Coming back to it now that it’s actually released officially, complex map objectives were figured out with the most elaborate machines to peruse and download.

    I did not expect having to do specific actions like grabbing floating crystals while maintaining a temperature that would stop the freezing emitting from said crystal. While that’s one of the more demanding goals, it was surprising to have to worry about something not obviously physically harmful until it was too late. Regardless, the satisfaction from hobbling together vehicles to destroy castles, eviscerate armies, and drop the hottest bombs initiated many a fist pump.

    4/5

  • For a game revolving around fulfilling the wishes of spirits before ferrying them to the afterlife, I’ll admit it took me a while to realize it was all an analogy for an end-of-life care nurse attending to her various patients before their passing. While some passengers didn’t have a direct relationship with the new Spiritfarer, memories from their loved ones left enough of an impression on her for them to gain passage and move on without regrets.

    The one that had the biggest effect on me was an elderly spirit regressing into dementia in her final days. Even if the turn was sudden and played out as expected, the mere idea of memory dysfunction in one’s twilight years is an incredibly depressing way to go out. This was when I realized there was more to the game than I originally thought.

    However, despite how charming the animations are and unique the premise is presented, when I finally had the chance to finish the game, I took it. Minigames for gathering and building materials took their toll on me, especially so when time is of the essence and determined when the wind could blow through the ship’s sails. Had materials been more plentiful and simply faster to transform into something more useful, I wouldn’t have been exhausted just thinking about starting gathering events that can test my dexterity limited by my character’s movement. While that feeling can be diminished by gaining optional maneuvers, I just wanted to be done.

    3/5

  • I was never the biggest fan of regular 2D nonograms although most of my experience has been thanks to the plethora of big licenses attached to them, like Pokemon and Zelda, so losing interest was assured when solutions weren’t difficult to bumble into. By adding narrative elements inspired by the seemingly forgotten Ace Attorney series, my expectations skyrocketed, undeservedly so, but I gained an appreciation for regular ol’ picross nonetheless. They weren’t easy to bullshit, in fact, the colorization of carved-out solutions barely looked like what they were supposed to be so educated guesses weren’t easy to come by as puzzles grew in size.

    Even with my newfound respect, there was a lot missing in regards to basic quality of life features when mistakes were made. No easy restart button meant holding down two buttons and cascading across the screen to reset the given slate. There was no text backlog screen to reference when questioned or questioning but dialog choices didn’t really matter in the long run, maybe some lost additional dialog when answering correctly at first.

    However, most of my disdain came by way of the itchy trigger fingers of the actor-turned-wannabe detective and robot duo driving the plot forward in ways that could’ve been avoided, even when narrative-induced urgency required less than ideal scenarios to unfold, my patience could only take so many arrests under false assumptions. Perhaps it was a given at the time where the game is set, the 90s in Los Angeles, but stringing the player along in such a roundabout way made me wish Ace Attorney wasn’t on an indefinite hiatus.

    3/5

  • Since Dontnod’s first episodic adventure Life is Strange, their output has yet to reach the same charm and mystery Arcadia Bay was rife with. Perhaps it’s been long enough to be clouded by rose-tinted glasses and become too enamored by romanticized memories of my own playthrough, and two others’, that reaching the same affinity is impossible. Staying in one place and interacting with so many characters of questionable integrity across the season made the small town feel alive and intriguing so I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by the road trip aspect paired with morally extreme characters that made the second season seem too fleeting to enjoy.

    Tell Me Why instead brings a long-separated pair of twins back to their roots to reopen the dark past of a small town in Alaska. At first, I was worried it’d take the same annoying route in forsaking a predetermined relationship I had no bearing on but, thankfully, that’s the meat of the mystery, unlike in the second Life is Strange. Of course I want to know more about this person you want the player to hate, why would I outright refuse information on someone’s backstory. Anyway, the uncertainty between the twins regarding what truly happened around a pivotal moment of their lives produced the biggest decisions in the game but they didn’t feel like they mattered.

    While they numbered few, communal decisions greatly affected the twins’ perception of each other. However, from a logical point of view, I felt there was only one right choice during crucial points. The resulting aftermath would sometimes confirm my suspicions that the opposite choice was entirely wrong. Overall, the narrative never escalates beyond the event that pulled them apart as you uncover more details so when all was said and done, that was that.

    3/5

  • As a fan of the Science Adventure series, the anxiety I expected to be consumed by surprisingly never materialized. In fact, any form of unease was severely lacking in what is essentially the slow and plodding fulfillment of a young lady’s dream to build bipedal robots that can tower over suburban homes. For the longest time, her everlasting determination is the main driving force of the story and all while from the viewpoint of her childhood friend who exists simply to poke and prod her along the way.

    Compared to other main protagonists of the series, Kaito Yashio surprisingly doesn’t stand out much aside from having the ability to trigger a temporary increase of reaction time as a result of an incident years prior, which one can imagine may be helpful during his favorite pastime: playing video games, which happens to cross over with piloting giant robots. Somehow, I’d rather he be an unlikable pervert (i.e. like in Chaos;Head) so I can have any sort of strong feeling toward him, but I digress. Perhaps having a more grounded and somewhat apathetic character balanced the rather fantastical narrative spirals into during the last fifth or so of the story.

    While I can appreciate real-world events construed to one’s creative benefit or playfulness with conspiracy theories, there is a point where things can get too unrealistic. Time-traveling microwaves be damned, deception of one’s sight is even harder to believe when it concerns small populations seeing incredible out-of-place things. Hopefully its sequel makes me appreciate this entry more than I probably should.

    3/5