2021 Game Journal

A new year has begun and I've put World of Warcraft and Animal Crossing down for now. I look forward to playing new games that aren't going to occupy months of my time.

My first priority is to get my one dollar's worth from my Xbox Gamepass trial. The backlog is stocked with some fresh games I picked up for free or on sale over Christmas. Including Disco Elysium and Death Stranding. Hades, Ghost of Tsushima, and Immortals Fenyx Rising are a few of the 2020 games I missed that remain on my radar.

List items

  • December 31 2020 -

  • January 6 - January 15

    If I played Spiritfarer days sooner it would have been in contention for a top spot on my game of the year 2020 list.  This is a game about caring for others as you guide them to the afterlife.  My Grandmother died in December and I thought this game could aid me in mourning.

    It's a farming game that is equally an item gated exploration adventure.  There's no greater motivator than uncovering the secrets hidden in the darkness past the edges of your map.

    Everything you do in this game is in service to the cast of characters traveling on your boat. Build them each custom homes and comically rebuild your boat until it's bonkers huge just to accommodate them.  Feed them like they are toddlers, they would rather starve than go to the kitchen, and they can be picky.  They each have distinct personalities, perspectives and philosophies.  Some of my favorites were the dungeon master, you collect his role playing party, or the art snob that hates art snobs.  The one that reminded me most of my Gramma, in her later years, was an elderly sheep that needed help walking.  Or the joyous frog that's greatest wish is to host a family dinner.

    Farming and crafting isn't exactly tedious like in other games of this type.  It can be stressful as you try keep plates spinning.  Insuring my garden is productive, setting my course and smelting ore while food is cooking before I arrive at my destination.  It perfectly describes Stella (the player character) as a people pleaser who will do anything for her family with no thought for herself.  That's the kind of person my Grandma was.

  • January 15

    Continuing my $1 trial of Xbox Gamepass after Spiritfarer I took a day searching for the next game to play. First was Burnout Paradise.

    I'm not normally into car games, but I've been curious about this one for a while. I was intrigued by an arcadey open world game that encouraged crashing. I had some fun fining collectable smashables like yellow gates and red billboards. From the street I suddenly found myself in a motorbike select screen, not sure how. I had an okay time driving really fast on the highway out side of town on my bike. It was way too easy to crash and the gates and billboards were gone now. I tried for some time to find a garage where I could change cars.

    The map screen wasn't very useful and I eventually just gave up on the game. I wasn't particularly enjoying the races and stunt events, but I may have gotten the hang of them in time if I wasn't so annoyed by the UI.

  • January 15

    I played the "ready to play" demo version of Anthem and deleted it before it was fully installed. I just wanted to take a peak at this notorious game before it gets rebooted. What little I played wasn't half bad. A big budget third person rpg shooter with a double jump felt cool and flying is a neat mechanic. I was already starting to get sick of guard the thing objectives. I knew it was time to leave when at the end of the mission they presented a dozen guns for me to scrap.

  • January 15

    I was looking forward to playing The Long Dark after watching the intro (before installing the second half of the game) and learning it was made here in Vancouver. The art style has a cool painterly look. I knew it was a survival game, but it seemed like the story mode may have echoes of Firewatch.

    It was a struggle to survive from minute one, after the plane crash, in a way that I can't imagine could have been by design. The UI was challenging to navigate with more complex to crafting than other games of this type I've played. With very little to no tutorial I eventually learned after many deaths how to light a fire, boil water, stun a rodent with a rock (just barely) and cook it.

    The entire time I was never able to get my vitals to a moderate level to advance very far. Fire didn't warm me fast enough, my fire burnt out if I cooked, eating hardly satisfied my hunger and I'd run out of resources and die. After a couple hours endless frustration I had enough.

  • January 16 - 19

    The vast majority of my Tetris playing has been on my Original Gameboy. Where there was one game mode (if you didn't have a link cable and another Gameboy) with two songs and it didn't save your high scores if you turned it off.

    Tetris Effect is a beautiful new way to play Tetris. The music and visuals are an excellent enhancement to the classic game. I got about a 1/3 of the way through the Journey mode before I had to knock the difficulty down from normal to easy. Whenever it reached speed 9 or higher I could barely hold on. It was shear luck if I could get through or not. Even on easy it's not shy with the high speeds.

    It was fun to play around with the alternate ways to play Tetris. Goals, combos, holds, quick drops, so much here is new to me. My favorites were the relaxing modes that never reached high speeds.

    It's a shame I played this on Xbox Gamepass becuase I would like to try it on my PlayStation VR. Otherwise I'm satisfied with my short time I've had with this game, but I may return for a quick match or two in the future.

  • January 18 - 29

    My first impression of Supraland was a quaint little puzzle adventure game that I might finish in a day or two.  I was way off!

    As the true scope of the game began to dawn on me I became pretty overwhelmed.  Its big metroidvania world is packed full of clever puzzles and hidden chests.  I was obsessively seeking them out, but it's honestly too much.

    The items you find to traverse the world and solve physics based puzzles are unique.  One magnetizes you to metal objects allowing you to float along side it.  Another creates a tether to wooden surfaces. I appreciated how well hidden new paths were.  This filled the environment with potential exploration opportunities that never crossed my mind when passing the first time.

    Unfortunately, it's not the most polished experience.  The game wants you to explore the edges of the world, but there are far too many flat surfaces that behave like slippery slopes.  The game's approach to combat is "add more enemies" and they spawn, seemingly at random, taking annoying sucker punches from out of sight.

    Once I finished the game I had enough, getting 100% would have been tedious.  Although, I probably would have done it if my time with Gamepass wasn't limited.

  • January 29

    Recent coverage of Yakuza: Like a Dragon has put my interest in the Yakuza series at an all time high. Taking an evening to play Yakuza 0 has reminded me why I never jumped on board before.

    I spent the vast majority of my time with this game reading. Dialogue from cinematic cutscenes, pseudo cutscenes with still renders, and restrictive walk and talk conversations. I'm not against reading subtitles, but this is a lot. I missed dialogue from subtitles going by too fast or by nodding off for a moment. Mostly the beginings of a serious gangster plot.

    I was pretty luke warm on the fighting, although it got more interesting once I learned the rush stance and it may improve as the game progresses. The one karaoke song I played brutally decimated me.

    It's really the goofy stuff that interests me the most about these games. In my time with Yakuza 0 there was only an encounter with some drunken fools outside a pub and a mysterious old foreigner that resebled the Yakuza I was looking for. I still hold out hope that I may enjoy Like a Dragon some day, but I don't think I'll continue with 0.

  • January 29 - February 1

    Eastshade was the perfect antidote for the overwhelming Supraland. It's a calm, combat free, game about being in nature, helping people and painting.

    The painting mechanic is a simple, but enjoyable, photo mode that saves a filtered screenshot on a canvas. Choosing an interesting composition by adjusting the canvas size was a cool touch of creativity. It bugged out on me twice, and painted a beautiful pixilated mess. Clients didn't care, it was funnier than it was frustrating.

    Tasks range from fetch quests to head scratching riddles. There's even a "murder" mystery. Some can be solved in multiple ways. All assigned by the diverse people on a quaint little island with a rich history.

    Created by an environment artist, the star of the show is the island of Eastshade. Most of the world is devoid of people. Made to explore and marvel at the beauty of the beaches, forests, cliffs, caves and mountainscapes.

  • February 1

    ReCore has a few things going for it, but I decided to drop it after an hour or two. Going in I knew the game was poorly received, but I was still curious. The character designs have personality and the involvement of Keiji Inafune got my attention. The combat has a few interesting mechanics, but the exploration/combat balance leaned too far into combat for my tastes. What exhausted me the most was the onslaught of crafting and incremental RPG upgrades I found. Rewarding exploration with the chore of inventory management was not encouraging.

  • February 2 - 9

    Journey to the Savage Planet is an all around great package. With no disrespect to their developers it's a lot more polished than the last couple first person exploration games I've been playing lately.

    I found myself thinking of Supraland quite often. They both have expansive worlds full of secrets. JttSP has a much more manageable scope while still feeling big. The secrets are more rewarding to discover. Supraland hid many chests all over in dark or hard to reach corners of the map. The level design of JttSP is better at teasing, hinting and accommodating their collectables. Needless to say I got every one of them.

    The combat is okay. It's not terribly difficult, but a few design choices are just annoying. The gun's secondary fire is a charge shot with a mini game that can be failed. If failed a cooldown must be waited out before it can be used again, but the time is never indicated. It needs to be charged three times to use highest rank. I don't think I used it once in combat the entire game. Tough fights are very mobile with enemies and hazards attacking from all sides, many unseen because it's a first person game. Charging my gun was the farthest thing from my mind while trying to dodge unavoidable hits.

    I love a game with a sense of humor and this game commits fully to it. Full motion video of fake ads and and your equally fake boss were goofy rewards I got a chuckle out of. The absurd aesthetic extends to the creatures and the world is a beautiful saturated caricature of a pulp sci-fi planet.

  • February 3 - April 6

    Little Nightmares is an artistic marvel. It's has a beautifully rendered horror atmosphere. It doesn't pull any punches to creep you out. As a tiny, vulnerable child you must scurry like a mouse, staying out of sight. The inventively monstrous adults with terrible intent are the highlight.

    The real nightmare of this game, however, is playing it. Jump scares, unclear goals and cheap shots lead to a lot of trial and error. The controls are cumbersome, I'd find myself getting caught on geometry, missing obvious jumps and biffing unforgiving timing windows throughout. There's an argument that these enhance the terror, but mostly I was frustrated with the game.

    I stopped playing for weeks and didn't pick it up until after finishing Umurangi Generation. After two play sessions I finished the main game, but to my dismay I remembered there's a second story. I felt I had to play the DLC and cursed this decision the until I finished. The parallel story intertwines with the main game in some intriguing ways. I'm glad I played it, but mostly I'm relived to be finished.

    The sequel announcement is what inspired me to play the original. I kind of want to play the newly released Little NIghtmares II, but definitely not any time soon.

  • February 10 - February 16

    I was curious about Death Stranding when it came out, even after reception was mixed. Conceptually interesting, although seemed like a real slog to play. Since Covid's been a thing I've especially wanted to play it. Themes of an isolated world connected through an online world felt especially relevant. I wasn't going to pay full price. The stars aligned at Best But on Boxing Day last year on a mission to spend gift cards. I finally bought Death Stranding.

    My initial impression from previews was dead on. Previews from before the game's release. I benefited from bridges, roads, ladders and ropes made by other players simply because the game has been out for a while. It was slightly less of a slog as I was prepared for, but I can't say the gameplay is fun. My biggest frustration was with the overload of obtuse information all over. Unsurprisingly Death Stranding is like Metal Gear Solid V this way. Menus, inventory, emails, logs are full of needless info that obstruct my general understanding of how to play, what's going on, and overall pacing.

    I may sound like I'm done with the game, but I still at least want to find Conan O'Brien. Returning is not out of the question.

  • February 17 - March 26

    I had bought BotW a second time on Switch a while ago, having initially played it on Wii U. My original save was accidentally deleted when I made a new game so my roommate could play. I didn't realize it required a new user profile.

    The first big, hour long, NIntendo Direct in months was on February 17th and I got my hopes up there would be BotW 2 news. When there wasn't I dropped everything I was playing and dove into BotW once more.

    This is my favorite game of the generation, but I was shocked at how easily it hooked me again right away. Huge chunks of my day would go by as I was absorbed into the world of Hyrule. From experience I marked monsters on the map and prioritized the Korok Mask. Thanks to the mask I found nearly 500 leafy pals and collected every upgrade in no time. I only got 100-200 in my Wii U run before returning to collect them all.

    Yet it had been long enough that much felt brand new again. I especially got into photo mode. Retaking compendium subjects for the chance of capturing even better photos. Sharing video clips on Twitter was fun, but wasn't a match for the Miiverse community. Unfortunately, misbehaving Joycons was a constant annoyance of the Switch version.

    By the end I was feeling guilty spending so much time replaying this game. My only way out was to complete every shrine and defeat Ganon. My plan is to take a long break, months (maybe years), and return renewed to finish the Koroks and hunt down every monster. Tie up loose ends to once again earn 100% completion.

  • March 29 - April 1

    Umurangi Generation is a stylish game where you take photos. That's all I knew about it when I bought it and it satisfied my need for just that. If that sounds like your thing you can stop reading and play it.

    I was surprised at the depth it goes to simulate photography. Lenses, focus, zoom, with sliders for many more options after the photo is taken. I had fun taking good pictures. Yet, mostly I took dark, blurry ones, they count too.

    With the exception of the chill electronic music nothing about the experience is particularly polished. The visuals have a low poly PlayStation 1 charm. Unfortunately there is some light platforming required to get around the small levels and the controls are terrible. You not only slip near edges, but slowly slide down even minor slopes. A double jump by default is the one mercy.

    What stopped me from getting every achievement was optional goals. Complete all objectives for each level in 10 minutes. Taking time to memorize many film locations, on top of completing all bounties, seemed way to tedious to do even once.

  • April 16 -