2020 Game Journal

Another year, another list. Looking back, it's easy to forget how excited I was about VR last January, but I've hardly touched my PSVR. I hope I find an excuse to dust it off more often in 2020.

Disco Elysium is the standout 2019 game I'd like to get around to playing this year. Jedi: Fallen Order was such a satisfying experience last year that I'm inclined to give Bloodborne or Dark Souls another chance this year.

My most anticipated games of the coming year are Psychonauts 2 (as it was last year), Cyberpunk 2077, Animal Crossing: New Horizons and The Last of Us 2. I also look forward to more news about new consoles, and the sequel to Breath of the Wild. It's going to be an interesting year.

List items

  • January 4 - 5

    I love the style of Ape Out, it's where this game shines. The Saul Bass visuals combined with Jazz music. The Jazz motif continues as each level is broken up into sides of an album.

    It took only about 4 hours or so to finish. While it feels good to smash fools into walls, I felt pretty tired by the game by the end. The difficulty ramps primarily by adding more enemies. Often I got hit by from off screen. I was motivated to finish the game because I wanted to see the theme of the next level and each new visual representation.

  • January 14 -

    I thought I'd try Nioh out, since I don't take advantage of my "free" PS+ games enough. My hope was that it that it would satisfy my Souls-Like fix I have been desiring since Jedi: Fallen Order.

    After playing through a prologue and a separate tutorial I finally got to the game. I was having a decent time, but tired after going through the loop of dying and returning to where I had died to collect my souls (or whatever). The complex metres, stances and items systems already felt like they were piling up and I was having trouble keeping track of them. I knew it was only to get more difficult, and I felt like it was time to check out.

    I felt I had a better grasp on Bloodborne, and would rather return to that or Dark Souls if I were to play one of these games.

  • January 29 - 30

    I bought this thing ages ago and have played each chapter as they come out. Now, after seven years the fifth and final chapter is out. I got it for free, so I might as well play it. I remembered very little from the previous acts. The amount of reading can get get tedious, so I didn't want to replay them.

    The game does very little, if anything, to catch you up with the story. Besides getting the characters a little mixed up, it didn't matter much. I was engrossed in the history and the people of this isolated little town.

    After a flood, the future is uncertain. Different people have come and gone over the years. One society is replaced by another. Only animals remain as a reminder of the founders, they will reclaim the land even if the people decide to leave. It serves as a metaphor for America today, or any place that has reinvented itself over a long history.

    The atmosphere is what drew me to the game in the first place. There was a striking mystery to the horse head gas station in the first episode. This final chapter is much more warm and inviting, but still has an ominous feeling of a place haunted by its past.

    February 10

    I only realized when I watched the Quick Look that I missed the Act V prologue. Took me a while to get around playing it. The set up made much more sense. I assumed I had simply forgotten how Act IV ended.

  • February 11 -

    Lately I've lost the will to play games. Trying to catch up on TV shows has taken up much of time that I would otherwise spend playing games. I hope Spyro will be the first game this year I spend more than two to three sittings with.

    March 15 (Spyro 1)

    The first game of the trilogy feels dated in a lot of ways. Flying is awkward and there's virtually no effort to tell a story. But overall I had fun playing. It scratches my explore and collect itch. There's a surprising variety of inventive enemies. Bosses are very easy, but that didn't bother me too much. Most frustrating was the frequent deaths and long loads each time I would fall due to the annoying gliding. It would cost a life each time too.

    There are an impressive number of great looking Dragon character models. Spyro saves them, but they only have one line of dialogue and disappear. Makes me wonder if they return in the other games. I'm looking forward to seeing how the sequels improve upon the formula.

  • February 18-

    March 20

    Nearly a year ago I burnt out on dreams because I wanted to play every tutorial. In hindsight I'd recommend against this, for me it was the head sculpting Masterclass that broke me. What makes Dreams so great is you can specialize and focus on the things you want to make and lean on the resources the community provides. You can't do everything on one project right from the start. Fortunately, since last I played they've added open ended quests and jams to encourage creativity for everyone.

    In the time since I've returned I made my first game project. It's a simple exploration game, but I spent weeks on it and learned a lot. Mostly I used premade made assets so I could focus on level design. I had to do a lot of logic trouble making that was very rewarding once I got everything to work. Cutscenes, score/item tracking, animations, sounds. I loved making it and I plan to make a more ambitious follow up.

  • March 19 - January 1

    I loved Animal Crossing New Leaf, but I was initially unsure if I would get into New Horizons. After playing the GameCube version I felt one of the follow ups was more of the same and I skipped the other (I mix up the Wii and DS versions, not sure which I played). Pocket Camp was my last taste of the series, that was underwhelming too.

    Thanks to the passionate community online I was fully hyped by the time New Horizons came out. Plus terraforming looked cool.

    This game provided the perfect escape from Covid worries. I've never shared so many game clips online. I've been inspired by the creativity of other players sharing their islands. I'm even hooked on Gary Whitta's in game talk show "Animal Talking".

    What makes New Horizons the best game in the series is the freedom of expression. No longer limited by only decorating your home opens up a whole island of endless possibilities. New Leaf felt restrictive in how you played the game. For example, the best way to make bells was to farm island bugs every night. Now saving my resources to craft daily hot items and selling tarantulas/scorpions to Flick got me to complete my home much faster than before.

    My favorite thing to do in New Leaf was trying to collect the creatures to occupy my museum. New Horizon's museum is gorgeous, it puts the old one to shame. I have completed the fossil wing (I was short by only one in NL) with the help of some new friends on Twitter, I usually play alone. My ambition is to find every fish and bug in real time over the next year. I'll try to get as many items as I can and I'm deep into flower hybrids.

    2021 Update:

    Oh flower hybrids, when everything started to go bad. It's fascinating how complex and flower breeding is in animal crossing and it felt great getting every flower by the end. Yet it was a tedious process that took up so much time and space it got in the way of the fun, creative things I wanted to do. I'm not sure it was worth it. Even up to now I'm dealing with flower clutter.

    New Horizons has many design and interface issues that make it painful for long term completionist players. Like earning the gold fishing rod only after catching every single fish. Why even fish? Gold tools still break, it's not worth farming the gold!

    Additional storage space was added in the fall. Early on I thought storage was unlimited, but once I hit the limit I was fighting it constantly. Items that have low stack sizes became torture. I wanted to get one of each clothing item, but the dressing room interface limited what I could buy. A simple check mark (like the one next to crafted items) to indicate clothes you have in your catalogue would make things much easier. I wish the catalogue and storage was somehow combined to make item management more tolerable.

    I made a second character to help with storage, get additional rewards and have a new house to decorate. Compounding my frustrations when my things were in two different places, each with their own catalogue. I vowed to fight any impulses to become a collector on my second character so I wouldn't go insane.

    It took a while to whittle down my daily routine to simply check the shops, beach and the day's guest. I could still find enjoyment in the occasional project or seasonal event. I achieved my primary goal of collecting every fish and bug, but the museum isn't complete. On New Years Day I tried time travel for the first time, it's more complex then I thought to exploit for Redd's art and haven't played since.

    At this point I've taken the my longest break yet from the game with no plans on returning. I'll probably play the final seasonal updates and may finish the museum one day. For all of its ups and downs there was something special about committing to an Animal Crossing for all of 2020.

  • April 8 - May 6

    I had almost forgotten how great Ori feels to play. It was a treat returning the this beautiful platforming world.

    This time the influence of Hollow Knight is very clear. The weapon combat doesn't take away that this is still a inventive platformer at its core. As much as I liked Hollow Knight, I don't miss the Dark Souls style tedious retreading and brutally hard bosses. Will of the Wisps still has its challenges, but they aren't insurmountable.

    Exploring the world of Will of the Wisps is a blast. The map is refreshingly forgiving. It displays many hidden secrets just by getting near them. It might be too easy if it wasn't for the often puzzling, inventive, and skillful ways you need to reach them. Ori has some of the most varied and fun traversal mechanics in games.

  • May 7 - 15

    Doom (In addition to Ori) was why I decided to get Xbox Game Pass again. I was shocked to find it was leaving "soon" (no date given). I started playing it knowing full well that the rug could be pulled out from under me any day.

    The combat is a lot of fun, I can see why it's so lauded. I love how it encourages moving at all times and getting into demon's faces to get those sweet glory kills. I thought it was going to be one of those exhaustively combat heavy games, so I was surprised at how rewarding the exploration was. After a level or two I decided to knock down the difficulty to get through as much of the game as I could before my time was up.

    This was a liberating way to play. Knowing I probably wouldn't beat it, but enjoying it at as much as I could at my own pace. Being overpowered saved me a lot of frustration. I didn't shy away from exploration, but I didn't feel the pressure to collect everything. When the game finally expired I was near the end.

    I can't say I'm not let down I never finished it, found all the collectibles, or played it on normal difficulty. Yet, I'm satisfied with my time spent with Doom and feel no pressure to buy it. Knowing my time was limited from the start prepared me to let go.

  • May 17 - 21

    The greatest strength of Sensua's Sacrifice is how it focuses on sensitively addressing mental illness through the lens of psychosis. The game takes place in the distant past, a time of superstition, long before contemporary mental health existed. Senua's reality is violent and those with her unique point of view are not treated kindly. Not unlike stigma that exist today against the mentally ill.

    Included is a fascinating documentary detailing how Ninja Theory collaborated with real people who have suffered from psychosis and doctors to inform all aspects of the game's design.

    Hellblade has a variety of combat and puzzle solving in an atmospheric world seeped in Celtic history and Nordic myth. The combat is sluggishly imprecise and can get overwhelmingly chaotic late in the game. Once I got used to it, there is a desperation and triumphant feeling to the fighting at the best of times.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what the announced sequel will be like.

  • May 22 -

    September 10:

    Knights and Bikes is a celebration of the imagination of youth, but not the most fun game to play. I adore the execution of the concept of two kid hopping on bikes and exploring an island to solve an ancient mystery. The art and story does a great job of capturing a specific place in a nostalgic time.

    Unfortunately it can be a bit of a pain to get around the world. Environmental art can be unclear where where you can go. I don't love how the bikes control either.

    It's been a few months since I've touched this game. I've been putting off this entry because I still hope to return to it someday.

  • I played No Man's Sky very briefly over a couple days. It was a very slow and tedious experience that didn't do a very good job of explaining what I can do. Dull mining mechanics, demanding resource management, and oppressive environmental conditions did not make a great first impression. There is a free play mode, but I'd need to spend more time in normal mode to make sense of that due to my general confusion about what this game is.

    I managed to build a shed, repair my ship and get to a space station. I could tell there is much more to this that does peak my curiosity somewhat. Not enough to suffer the minute to minute slog.

  • June 19 - July 4

    I didn't want a remake of The Last of Us, the original was fantastic and ended perfectly. Much like Toy Story 4, I'm happy to have been wrong.

    The deliberate gameplay is not terribly different from the first. I wish I could snap to cover more easily, trying to peak around a corner butt first is not ideal. It plays fine, but it could be better. Let's face it, we're here for the story.

    TLoU2 takes Ellie to a dark place, this is one reason many online are upset with this game. I found it a very understandable place to take a young woman who grew up in a lawless world. She was taught to kill as a child, and knows she's good at it.

    The new villain turned co-protagonist, Abby, is not that different from our beloved Ellie. Their characters are each on the same arch, but at different parts. While Ellie is on the blood path, Abby is trying to deal with life after getting her revenge.

    Transforming the character that murdered the hero of the first game into a sympathetic hero of her own is a master stroke.

    Many were not looking forward to playing a grim game in the midst of Covid. It's important to note, as in life, there are a lot of moments of joy in TLoU2. It's easy to let the bad overshadow the good in all aspects of life, this is how hatred thrives. Don't forget in the end Ellie chose forgiveness. Plus, this game has Dinosaurs!

  • July 11 -

    It was only a matter of time before I'd pick up Assassin's Creed Rogue during one of the frequent AC sales. This one happened at a lull after I finished TLoU and I was on the fence about Paper Mario. I always liked Black Flag and was interested in the follow up.

    In my short time playing it before moving on it felt very dated, but familiar. I could find myself enjoying this game as completionist comfort food. I like that it begins in Nova Scotia, theoretically going north from there. There aren't a lot of games set in Canada.

    Paper Mario put a halt to my progress, so here's another one for my backlog.

  • July 17 -

    I beat the original Paper Mario over a couple day rental and Thousand Year Door was better in every way! Unfortunately later games in the series didn't meet my expectations. Yet, I was cautiously optimistic about Origami King.

    Online discussion prerelease was dominated by old school PM fans complaining about the lack of XP. I didn't care about that. What I loved about TYD was the variety. Each chapter mixed the structure up just enough to keep the game feeling fresh through the end.

    Origami King does a great job at capturing that feeling. One area is a theme park, another a desert you drive around in a car, there's even a section that is like a mini Wind Waker ocean with islands to discover.

    The charming, funny writing, another staple of the series, is in full force here. They've done a fantastic job at giving the Bosses distinct personalities despite being inanimate objects. Every character has something unique to say. Exploring the world and discovering Toads hidden in creative ways to hearing the goofy things they say is a delight.

    The turn based combat system in this game is a unique subversion the typical RPG. I wasn't always great at correctly rotating the arena to position enemies, but it was forgiving enough to not matter too much. The greatest challenge and source of frustration was with the trial and error boss fights. I appreciate that they are clever puzzles, but I don't need to replay them.

  • August 14 -

    Not unlike No Man's Sky, here's another game that leaves a terrible first impression.

    I'm under powered from the beginning as I get frequently assaulted by disguised enemies that could pop up anywhere. Stealth isn't very effective and the environments are not compelling to explore.

    After giving Prey a chance for a couple days I decided to look up reviews. I remember hearing mixed things, but know there are people who adore this game. While I hear the abilities later in the game get pretty crazy, it doesn't seem worth the slog for me.

  • August 24 -

    Doom, as such an influential game, I feel obligated to play through it some day. It's always cheap, but I got it extra cheap on a Switch sale. I immediately regretted my choice, the movement speed of this FPS was made for a mouse.

    I played a couple levels anyway. The first level was super easy. I got lost and annoyed in a dark area of another level. The environments look kind of samey. This is a game that became dated very quickly after release as 3D games became the norm.

    'm not terribly enthusiastic to return to it on Switch, but I'm not sure if I'd buy it again on PC. We'll see what happens.

  • August 27 - September 9

    What the Golf was a quick, delightful breeze. It never stopped surprising with the absurdly comic ways it would subvert the basic concept of golf. The wacky ideas would lead to new mechanics that are explored just enough before moving on to the next thing. I was enjoying myself, planning on returning to replay the bonus alternatives to each level that mix things up even more in fun surprising ways.

    I had a couple game breaking crashes in a row at the same spot that destroyed all momentum. It appeared to be after I completed the final level, so I felt I had my fill and moved on. A shame for an otherwise very enjoyable game.

  • September 3 - November 23

    Back after two years away from WoW. It's always great to return to familiar Azeroth. For me, there's no game like it. I've been watching this world evolve and story unfold for a decade and-a-half. Returning late in the expansion means I can fast track my way through the content and accelerate the loot grind.

    In the time I've been gone two new zones were added. The drained sea floor of Nazjatar and Gnomish junk yard of Mechagon. Nazj is a massive scale zone, so vertical that getting around could be tricky until I earned flying for the expansion. While tonally similar to much of the Elven content of Legion (with more Murlocs), it was great to learn more about the origins of the Naga and their queen, Lady Azshara.

    I enjoyed the Mechagon a little more. It's a rare treat when Gnomes get the spotlight, they delivered with whimsical technology island. A long term story quest that rewards a mount after a few weeks of unique daily quests was a great way to keep me invested in the reputation grind. I earned another mount from cool feature allowing anyone to play engineer by collecting parts and trading for robot crafted items. Unfortunately my storage is still suffering from surplus of parts.

    After the new zones there were void invasions in familiar Pandaria and Uldum. I capped the reputations and was becoming fatigued. The timing would have been perfect to roll into the Shadowlands expansion if it hadn't been delayed a month. Taking a break to play Sludge Life and Bugsnax left me with renewed vigor to return for Shadowlands. I spent three days with the pre-expansion event, it was just enough.

    P.S.:

    In this time I also dabbled with WoW: Classic. I've forgotten how truly painful it was to level a rogue. My goal was to reach the level 20 poisons quest, but I'm not quite there yet.

    While incredibly tedious, there's something admirable about how non-formulaic the quest structure was. There's an encouragement of exploration and discovery you couldn't do with modern wow.

  • September 22 -

    I wasn't planning on getting Super Mario 3D All Stars. The combination of Twitter's excitement around these amazing games at the time and the promise of collectable pins won me over. Unfortunately I screwed up the pin entry requirements (The Mario Kart Tour event didn't confirm like the others until it was too late to enter!)

    I began with Mario Galaxy, my least favorite of the three games. I have long standing unfinished business with that game. I was able to enjoy it much more knowing what I was in for. Currently sitting on 118 stars, more than I have on my original Wii save (now transferred to Wii U). The camera is still frustrating as hell when you can't move it and are forced to jump towards unseen danger. I appreciated playing with normal analog sticks rather than a Wiimote. However a handful of stars were impossible with the touch screen alternative and I had to use motion control Joycons.

    The temptation of Mario 64 was strong every time Galaxy wore on me. I soldiered on until I could no longer. This is a game I've replayed many times over the years, but rarely play very far. This time I was committed. Each level was like a drug, I had to play more, I devoured this thing. I much prefer 3D Mario with an open world. The feeling of discovery when I originally played was like nothing I had known before. Mario 64 may have been the first game I finished. The camera can get nuts, but at least you can control it.

    My drive eventually slowed, I only have Tick Tok Clock to go. I plan to get back to both of these soon. Sunshine, I'm savoring for later.

  • September 30 - January 25

    Mario's Picross, originally on the Game Boy, a gift from Club Nintendo for my 3DS ignited my passion for Picross. I've lost count of the number of E, S, 3D, Twilight Princess, and Pokemon Picross games I've played since. Maybe it's more of an addiction.

    On to Mario's Super Picross. Who knew there was a Picross with Wario? The Super Nintendo presentation is great. A nostalgic throwback to a simpler time and a very different vibe to the minimal mature Picross brand today.

    Returning to a much earlier edition of the game has been a different experience. For one, it's in Japanese. The first couple puzzles of Japanese characters weren't the most engaging, but it soon moved onto pictures. Most solutions are easy enough to identify, only once in a while I am mystified.

    I miss simple gameplay touches like when the cursor wraps around from one edge of the puzzle to the opposite side. Even more so, the coloured indication when a row or segment is correct. For the most part it's familiar picross. I've only come across one puzzle that was super hard. A chameleon that seemed to stump the internet and was a completely different puzzle in some versions.

  • October 4 -

    As a huge fan of Rogue Squadron who has always been intrigued by Xwing/Tie Fighter I wish I liked Squadrons. The twitch gameplay combined with power allotment was challenging to get used to. Early it felt chaotic and futile, but I was able to get some kind of a handle on it.

    Even then the talking head story telling format was dull and the missions felt the same. I tried it with PSVR, it was neat, but target ships were tiny and pixilated. It was days between my play sessions and I just fell off after attempting to force myself to play. Granted, I was also deep in the Animal Crossing and WoW grind at the time. I may have been generally unmotivated to play another game.

  • November 3 - 8

    Just the game I needed. Not long ago I was playing 4 games at once, two endlessly tedious games designed to hook you forever, a remake of a game I've played on and off for years, and one I was forcing myself to play, but wasn't really into.

    The refreshing charm of this small independent game hit the spot. Sludge life the perfect distillation of what I want in a game. Give me a handcrafted open word to explore with plenty of humor and a cool art style. I don't need anything more to get in the way.

    The controls are pretty janky and take a bit of getting used to. I had to turn my sensitivity way down. But the handful of upgrades you find make it easier to get around.

    Sludge Life's characters occupy a nasty urban, industrial world. Corruption, oppression, workers rights, drugs, and pollution are all a part of this world. Yet this community is largely indifferent. They are living their lives, having fun and making mocking jabs at the establishment whether they are bored at their cooperate jobs or hanging out on the street.

    It may be grounded in the real world, but it's the creativity that makes this game shine. I love this wacky, surreal cartoon world with a touch of psychedelia. Fly people, talking mutant cats, smoking heavy machinery, demented mascots, there's a ton of humorous touches that reward thorough exploration.

  • November 12 - 18

    As a fan of Octodad I was down for whatever Young Horses was going to do next. The Bugsnax announcement was delightfully odd and intriguing.

    The best part about bug snacks are the characters. Lovable and complex anxious Muppet people. The main thrust of the story is to unite them all again. The dumb jock that defies stereotype by being a selfless lover was a favorite. I even grew to care for the vicious bully after she shared the inner turmoil that made her so cruel.

    Catching bugsnax does not feel great for the most part. It's a struggle against wonky physics, puzzling logic and aggressive AI. But when it works it can be a fun challenge.

    Bugsnax themselves are delightful pun monsters that hide adorably gruesome secrets.

  • November 23 - December 31

    As always, it's a thrill to be introduced to a new land in WoW. A fresh start to shed the overbearing systems, quests and currencies of the previous expansion.

    Shadowlands is a unique leveling experience in that we get 5 new distinct worlds rather than the usual zones of one connected world (or two). The result is a refreshing, if jarring, shift in tone and new every few levels. Each has their own rich lore, people and mostly self contained story. Once I hit level 60 my first thought was "I miss my XP bar."

    I dabbled with the end game dailies and progression for a few more weeks, but I wasn't particularly compelled by any of the rewards. The community response to the endgame seems very positive this time around. Problem is I just play WoW like a single player story game and don't want the daily chores.

    The difficulty of solo questing seems to have been ratcheted up this time with a greater focus on multiple enemy encounters. WoW is usually friendlier to multiple play styles, but I had less trouble once I got a few world quest gear upgrades.

    Torghast is the major new end game feature. WoW's take on a rogue like. On my first attempt I got to the level boss without much issue, but wasn't powerful enough to beat him. A run is a 30-40 minute time sink. I didn't get any kind of reward and it was required for a campaign quest. I was annoyed, I considered quiting the game right then. I learned to kind of like Torghast after gearing up a bit more. It's fairly fun powering up your abilities to an insane degree within the instance.

    Fortunately I didn't quit out of anger, but mere disinterest weeks later when my subscription ran out. A record time from launch to unsub. I bought a token with in game gold and plan on coming back in February to get a moose mount and maybe dabble with the changes they've made for alts. I don't expect to spend much time with it until just before the next expansion arrives.

  • December 14 -

    Carrion is a fantastic concept, "You play the monster", and executes it well. Removing the restriction of a humanoid player allows for some super creative new gameplay possibilities. The writhing mass of flesh and teeth alone makes for one of the best title screens in games.

    What does a carnivorous ball of gooey tentacles do? It gets bigger as it eats the people it snatches. Grabbing enemies, flailing them about and eating them is a lot of fun. I wish it was a little more clear when an enemy was dead, I always smashed them a few extra times just in case. Getting bigger makes you stronger, but has its drawbacks. Storing sacks of your body mass in bio goo is a gnarly logical solution that allows the for different abilities at varying sizes.

    While not linear, the game had a very straight forward flow for me. Unlike other Metroidvanias this game has no map. I never had, nor needed, much of a grasp on the layout of the world until I got lost. I tried backtracking only to find other areas I've already visited. I've intended on returning to Carrion, I don't think I was far from the end. Unfortunately it's been a few weeks since I've touched it at this point.

  • December 29 - January 6

    I've loved the Tony Hawk games since I first played THPS2 with a keyboard off the pink rewritable disk a friend gifted to me. Playing this remaster gives me an even greater appreciation of the series. I played it in a fever, I couldn't get enough. It was only a week, but I milked that week for all of the Tony Hawk I could.

    The constant momentum and chaining insane combos makes these games feel as good, or better than anything out there. I normally don't care about combos in games, but I am compelled to extend my run beyond the two minute limit every time. Even if I'm not playing for score and desire quick restart, when the timer about to run out I need to fight it.

    This release knows the power and adds hundreds of challenges to reward playing for a long time, but I wish I cared about most of them. Most cosmetic rewards are either boring or hard to see in the game. Too much dull, branded clothing that can't be modifie. Is this the first create a character ever without Chuck Taylors as a shoe option? They have Nike, owners of Converse, but no Chucks!

    I can't wait for 3+4 and the possibility of a brand new game by this team. 3 is the best of the series and there's a Vancouver level in 4. For the longest time it seemed like it would never happen, but the future is bright once again for THPS.