it is the end of 2020 so here is my 2020 in video games

Apologies for the verbosity. Feel free to ignore everything I said here; I am mostly writing all this crap down because my memory is terrible.

List items

  • [Best Anime]

    School festival episode? Check. Hot springs episode? Check. Tournament arc? Check. A very slow burn, but the plot and characters are so well-developed that I didn't regret spending 40 hours on it.

  • [Second Best Game Involving Space Mining]

    This is a neat little puzzle/incremental game. The art style is kind of... 90s kids gross-out toys (which is interesting, at least), but it's a very calm experience, with enough complexity to keep it fresh. The upcoming sequel looks promising, too. It has been very pleasant to play.

  • [Best Picross]

    It's a Konami picross game. The controls are fine. You can make Dracula.

  • [Best Fake MMO]

    I still need to go back and finish this. It's a love letter to the SNES-era action RPG, but manages to feel like its own game. Fun combat, fun puzzles, fun game. Plus, difficulty sliders. Neato.

  • [Best Gaidenlike]

    Moves great, sounds great, and looks great. If you can withstand or even enjoy the writing, it's a fantastic twenty or so hours. Do use the hint system when you get to the midpoint. The game is very fun to move through, but it can be a chore to explore if you aren't sure what you're looking for.

  • [Best Value]

    See also: Xbox Game Pass, Epic Games Store free games.

    If you told me in 2010 that I would feel bad about spending $35 on like twenty decent games because I have access to thousands of games, completely legally, for little to no cost, I would curse my future self for being so ungrateful. Anyway, this is why I want more six-hour games and less sixty-hour games.

  • [Game That Should Have Been My 2019 GOTY]

    I am not going to wax nostalgic about how "games these days hold your hand". I appreciate that modern games are more curated experiences that attempt to reduce frustration and streamline processes by guiding players. Unfortunately, I think getting used to that has caused a lot of people to bounce off a game as seemingly directionless as this one.

    If you can spare ten to fifteen hours, and you haven't given this game an earnest try, please go and do so. Outer Wilds is a sprawling, beautiful jigsaw puzzle, and it feels so cool to piece it together. There is very little in this medium of video games that is as satisfying as figuring out what is being asked of you in this game. There is nothing like the tension of actually playing that part.

    Seriously, give this one a shot. If this game lands for you, it will land like few others.

  • [Mention]

    They implemented a level squish and gamepad support, which means I'm two for two with my wild WoW predictions. I don't actually think these predictions were that wild, though; the process of getting to max level was getting too labyrinthine, and FFXIV has demonstrated for years that you can put an MMO on a gamepad. It's an important accessibility enabler, even if the engine is going to require a deeper rework to make the gamepad movement and UI natural enough to draw me back to the game.

    Anyway, my next wild prediction is that the Warcraft team will aim to make installing prior expansions optional, to the limited extent that that's possible. Obviously some things (armor sets) can't be made optional, but I bet a lot of it can. Anyway, hopefully this expansion is good and not bad.

  • [Most Baffling]

    I cannot believe I'm saying this as a Spelunky junkie but: I do not like Spelunky 2. I do not think it is fun to play. I do not think it is interesting to play. I do not particularly like how it looks or sounds.

    Like Spelunky 1, there's basically one way to play Spelunky 2. Get what items you can and be careful. The difference is that Spelunky 1 was sparing with its density of threats, while Spelunky 2 is not. Every level is crammed with shit that kills you. Runs take longer, because you need to be even more deliberate, and feel worse, because you got one-shot after 40 minutes, instead of 20.

    As far as I can tell, this was done entirely in service of creating more "crazy" moments where you get bonked by an enemy into an arrow which launches you into another enemy who ricochets you off of a bounce pad into spikes or lava or a bear trap. Yes, those have always been amusing to watch on stream. No, I do not know a single player who wanted to experience that more.

    This isn't a good jumping-on point. It pretty much assumes that you're decent at the first game. It's not a good remix, because it feels worse to play. But it does have "more secrets" and "more weird interactions", so it's a better game to watch someone else play on Twitch, I suppose. Thanks, I hate it.

  • [Worst Gacha]

    This game scares me. Up front, it asks little of your wallet and much of your time. The character designs are very pretty, the story is engaging, and the world is fun to explore. It gives a lot of people what they wanted, which is "more Breath of the Wild". I think it expounds upon BotW in ways that could be interesting if given more depth. That's a lovely worm dangling from a giant fucking hook.

    What's scary is that this is a gacha game that has mainstream appeal. Gacha is exploitative enough when confined to the people who understand what it is and how it works. When it's in a very playable, accessible package like this, it's even more dangerous. This game is designed to suck up your time and money, but unlike a WoW or an FFXIV, it doesn't have an effective upper limit on MTX and it doesn't have enough interesting alternate content (sidequests/PVP) to justify spending hours on. Keep it at arms' length if you can, play it if you must, survive if it lets you.

    Damn, I'm glad I got out of this when I did.

  • [Hottest Mess]

    I wanted this game to be great. Yes, I dunk on it constantly now, but I wanted this game to live up to the hype. I want video games to be good, and I want them to be interesting, and I want them to have interesting things to say about our world, and I want them to teach people things... and I want them to be playable, and I want them to be made ethically, and I want them to be sold ethically. Video games are capable of being the most powerful medium of art and I want them to fully realize that fact.

    Let me also state this: I didn't play this, so take my further commentary with that in mind; maybe I'm off here. Apart from "the graphics", this looks like it could have been just any game from any large studio from any of the last five years. It came in hot and thus lacks polish. It looks like it plays like a video game. It has talent trees and loot rarities and crafting systems, which video games have, and which video games have done to death.

    I am glad that it does actually engage with some of its themes. I genuinely did not expect it to, given how CDPR just completely blew off That Advertisement. Credit where it's due.

    What I want to know is: if my read on this is correct, if this was "just any game"... was "just any game" worth the crunch, worth the delays, worth the years, worth the hundreds of millions of dollars, worth the advertising blitz, worth potentially triggering seizures, worth the transphobia, worth ignoring that subset of the fanbase that abuses people with harassment and videos crafted to attack people with epilepsy? Will this game have moved the medium forward, in a way that a game this big should? Will it be remembered for anything it did right? Will people even learn any lessons from what it did wrong? Must *this* be the future of video games?

  • #10

    I woke up one morning and played this in about uhhhhhh 80 minutes just before work. It's a harem anime crammed into a movie-length session of sokoban. Fun and funny.

  • #9

    Weirdly enough, this game encapsulates my experience of 2005: prog rock and third-person shooters. Fun to play solo or in a group, replays well, though still tough as nails, and has a lot of flavor text that I should probably go back and read at some point. Check the OST, at least.

  • #8

    You get to explore caves in space with your friends. And you can get killed by bugs, if that's your thing. I just think it's neat.

  • #7

    Once again, Nintendo shows why photorealism ages like milk and stylization ages like wine. Lovely music as well. The crafting and landscaping add depth, but get tedious quick. A fun daily ritual. Suffers greatly from being way clunkier than it needs to be.

  • #6

    This is a battle royale where you play as a fucking wizard. Most of the attacks aren't hitscan, and a lot of them have interesting interactions, and it is thus less about reflex and more about tactics, which I appreciate as someone who is no longer 19. Unfortunately, there are uhhhhhh *one hundred million* multiplayer games, and it still needs to attract a critical mass. If this dies (knock on wood), I hope other developers take a page out of its book and try to do something different when they enter into a crowded space.

  • #5

    These games are always just too much damn fun for me to not like. It does help that it's a way for my best friend and I to hang out; he'll play these and we'll both have a lot of fun with the substories and ridiculous fights. I think it's cool that they took the gameplay in a radically different direction. I think it needed more polish, and I think it was a mistake to replicate some of the worse aspects of JRPGs in an effort to hearken back to them.

  • #4

    Honestly, it's been a long time since I played this, and I was kind of lucky that I got to wait for the full release; I mainlined it in January, and it was distressing and beautiful. To be fair, KRZ is playing pretty fast and loose with what constitutes a game, but it was more important to me than all but three games I played this year. Wish I had more to say about it, but I've slept since then.

  • #3

    A refreshing take on the battle royale. It's maybe too cute, and it still has a lot of things it needs to continue to iron out (server instability, player physics)... but this is so much fun to play, and it's different. There is actually a great deal of skill in wrangling your bean, outwitting other players, and predicting how they are going to move. But there's enough randomness in things to keep it fresh. It feels great to play casually, and it feels great to tryhard at... even if I do occasionally scream at that bastard in the Scout skin who fucked up a crucial jump I needed to make. This adds something to the conversation. Cool.

  • #2

    I like FF7R for much the same reason I like FF14: it is a Final Fantasy about Final Fantasy. It's actually kind of crazy that this game exists. I think it looks great, I think it sounds great, and I found the story fascinating pretty much the entire way through. But I am the kind of person who is fascinated by commentary and metacommentary, and I love to try to predict what is going on and what is coming next.

    I wish I liked the combat more. I thought it was just alright, but I couldn't figure out how to engage with it in a way that I had fun with, so I ended up dropping it to Easy halfway through. The difference between normal and easy in this game is the perfect argument for why games should typically have difficulty sliders, instead of like three settings.

    I think it did something genuinely fucking cool with a beloved game, and I have no idea where the hell they go from here. Definitely play the original before you pick this one up, though. It is a remake, yes, but that word no longer means what you think it means.

  • #1

    Hades is a damn fine game that is a joy to play and lovely to perceive, with a reasonable scope, made with a reasonable amount of resources, in a reasonable timeframe, humanely. It's without a doubt the best game I played all year, in every respect, and this is before I adjust for the fact that it was made by a small team that did not overwork itself or give itself PTSD or whatever the fuck else executives think is necessary to make good games. I am very glad Hades exists, because I think it is a shining example of what a video game should be and how a video game should be made.

    I had a lot more I wanted to say about it, but I couldn't edit down into anything coherent or insightful. Here's something I said on discord that Dial suggested I put in here:

    "so I argued the point this morning that Hades expresses its narrative in the form of a game whereas TLOU2 (and, I would argue, most games) is more like a game stapled to a TV show. I slept on it and think I better crystallized exactly what I mean by that.

    I think what I mean is that Hades' story responds dynamically to how the player performs, and to what actions the player chooses to do. If you barely survive, the characters respond to that. If you die, the characters respond to that. What boons or weapon you chose influences what other characters say to you and that is part of how Hades tells its smaller stories. I think Hades is exemplary in this regard; it leverages the unique aspects of what makes a video game a video game to tell a story.

    A lot of video games don't do that. I actually think it's where a lot of video game narratives go wrong. You have to succeed at a video game in order to complete the story. Which means most video games have to either handwave away player death or straight up ignore when you died and pretend it didn't happen. You need to have the tension of possible failure for the video game part to work, but failure prevents the TV show from proceeding. Hades resolved that contradiction in a way most games just don't.

    Hell, most games can't do that because of how their narratives are constructed. But why allow the player character to die if that is fundamentally not what happens in your narrative?

    I'm not saying I want every game to undertake even more work to dynamically respond to player success and failure. I'm just saying that Hades managed to do so, in a way that maybe a century from now, video games will have evolved such that people can point to this game and say "this was an important step in the development of video games to find its own unique place as a medium of storytelling"."

  • uhhhhhh it seems you can't reorder an unordered list but this late entrant would probably be #6.5

    Love to be a monster. Love to grow spikes and tentacles. Love to eat people. Don't love not knowing how to read a map. #monsterproblems