No need for a table of contents this time. Just a thought or two about each game that helped me get through this year.
This high-score based city builder sans city management game turned into a nice little exercise in world-building for me.
It started when I decided to name the islands. This one is called White Cliff Isle.
The Arch was always there. The first of them saw it from the sea as they approached. They aspired to meet it, and so they practiced masonry.
The people began working the stone the day they got there. Though they’ve discovered other resources, rocks are their foundation.
Workers live in Alabash upon the western mesa. The younger ones worry what will happen when the stone is gone. Must they build a new island?
The upper class living in Voussoir place their faith in the Keystone. Even if the rest of the island crumbles, surely it will deliver them.
All the while, the watchful fishermen keep to their huts, their eyes fixed on the sea, backs turned to bickering over bedrock.
Kentucky Route Zero
I played the first two acts of this elegy for those who have faced the ravages of capitalism. The magical realism was captivating, but it was a hard game to want to return to as the year went on. It will still be hard to return to it, but I know that I’ll have to at some point.
Playing this game ultimately led me to drag my friends back to Apex Legends. A momentum-driven shooter with great gimmicks and level design.
Satisfying Escher-esque puzzle game, which is a type of game that tends to show up every couple of years. I’d like to eventually play one of these that doesn’t just end with you becoming one with the universe, or whatever.
Kirby’s Dreamland 3
I played this for like 5 minutes while I was waiting for something else to happen and never got back to it.
This game wants to meet you at the midpoint between a Fumito Ueda puzzle platformer in a Studio Ghibli world, and it doesn’t quite reach either aspiration. I appreciated how personal the story felt, though the music does a lot of the emotional work.
This game still rules. I tried a lot more of the characters throughout this year and always had fun jumping in.
They finally made Mirage better, too.
A puzzle game about controlling a hole and swallowing stuff. I was neither terribly impressed or amused by this one. The puzzles were pretty simple, and it felt like they ran out of jokes quickly.
A Metroidvania game that takes cues from Dark Souls while draping itself in the overbearing ornamentation of Spanish Catholic fervor. Quite a gnarly game, I recommend it.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
If you didn’t play this game this year, you knew everyone else was busy playing it, especially during peak lockdown. I figured I might as well be one of the people playing it.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
When I loaded this game for the first time, I sat on the main menu listening to “The Prelude” for about 10 minutes, in disbelief that I was actually about to play it. I loved every second of my first playthrough, and while a second one exposed some cracks and chipped paint, it’s still stuck with me throughout the year.
Golf With Friends
Golf on Mars
A good “no thoughts, head empty” game for right before bed.
Paper Mario: The Origami King
One of my favorite games this year despite a combat system that needed a few more complications. It’s the paperiest a Paper Mario has ever felt, and the story delivers some emotional knockout blows.
Humans Fall Flat
You know that frustrating feeling some games give you where you don’t feel totally in control of your character? This is an obstacle course game designed around that feeling that hopes you will laugh at it instead of uninstalling it.
You get to be a horrible mass of meat and teeth that just wants to consume all the biomass unfortunate enough to exist in your vicinity. Top shelf game.
My squad’s annual return to Overwatch lasted a couple of months this time, in large part because the Destiny expansion got delayed to November. We got really into the replay feature this time around, and I feel like film review helped me make some solid strides in all three roles.
Fun for approximately 20 minutes.
What it says on the tin. I didn’t realize sudoku was bad before, but I can’t go back now.
Super Mario World
I played this a couple of times while waiting for an Overwatch queue to pop. The feel of this game is way more slippery than I remember.
Ghost of Tsushima
Satisfying combat and one of the prettiest games I’ve ever played, but it felt like it ran out of new things to say on the gameplay front after the second of three acts. Some good character work in the beginning, too. The story never bored me.
Blood and Bacon
You know that frustrating feeling some games give you where you don’t feel totally in control of your character? This is an obstacle course game designed around that feeling that also has enough polish to make you laugh while playing it.
Risk of Rain 2
I hadn’t really played Rogue-like games prior to this year. Games where you start, build up your character, and then have to start all over when you die. This one is pretty fun with friends, in a zen sort of way. Just drop in, shoot stuff, and grab items. I hit a point where I couldn’t see much reason to keep playing, though. There was stuff to do, but I didn’t know why I should do any of it.
Super Mario Odyssey
There’s never gonna be another Super Mario 64 for me. The first time a game shows you what video games can be — what video games will become — that experience can’t be replicated. It’s not to say that Nintendo or anyone else is even trying to replicate it. Odyssey is fun, though, and it made for good comfort food this year.
September came and everyone was talking about Hades. It just got its 1.0 release after about two years of being playable in early access, but there are a lot more people who are willing to wait for a game to be done than are willing to volunteer their time for QA. Based on what all those people were saying, I knew I wanted to play it, but I needed to finish my Supergiant Games pedigree first.
I played Bastion long enough ago that I don’t remember it terribly well, but playing Transistor dredged up memories of the feelings of playing that game. It reminded me of the sensibilities of the studio behind it. Strong narrative voice. Immaculate art direction. Motivated music. And some of the snappiest gameplay you’re likely to encounter.
The story presented in Transistor, by its nature, will stick with me in ways that Bastion’s did not, but I’ll also remember it for the way it got me to constantly change up how I played. Abilities in Transistor can be used in three different ways, and each ability also has associated lore entries that can only be unlocked by using it each of those ways. If you know me, you know I’ve gotta have that lore, so I was changing up my build at every access point. I had more fun approaching each encounter differently than I probably would have if I’d found an overpowered setup and run with it through the whole game. It turns out that’s pretty important for vibing with the Supergiant oeuvre.
The creators have described the format of this game as “wizard basketball plus reading,” and I don’t want to say much more except that it’s one of my favorite games now.
Man I don’t know where this game has been all my life, but I’m pretty glad it showed up this year. It’s a game that feels great to play in the moment-to-moment combat thanks to the sheer variety of weapons and abilities you can roll with, and that would be enough to carry a good game. Hades is great because the characters and the vision of the Underworld depicted here are so engrossing.
In this game, Hell is your shitty job, it’s your family that you can’t see eye to eye with, it’s your ex, it’s other people, it’s your fucking ennui, it’s the Fates, it’s this demented world we’ve all wound up in, and sometimes you have to fight through legions of the dead and damned just for a chance to get away from all of that. Even if it’s just a 10 minute walk out in the snow, each step a stolen moment of relief while you wait for the Styx to take you again. There is no escape, but there is respite, and you have to take that where you can.
Also you can date the incarnation of Death, and he’s hot, and that pleases my inner goth.
Dark Souls III
We wrapped up our long-running co-op run of Bloodborne earlier this year, so now my friends and I are dipping into the next best thing while we wait for Elden Ring to never release.
Destiny 2 Beyond Light
It’s always fun to have new toys, and Beyond Light gave us cosmic ice powers. Europa is breathtaking, too. That’s good enough for me for a while.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
They put Sephiroth in this game, are you kidding me?
I’ll take it.
I owe a lot to this game for helping me reach out and talk to someone about my depression and anxiety. Now I’ve come back to it with an eye for completion, finding all the secrets and beating all the bonus levels I skipped over the first time. There are some sections in this game where I finally pull off a jump and I know, I know that I’ve successfully renewed my Good at Video Games card.
This game feels like it was made by a completely different team than the one that made DOOM (2016). It’s not that it’s not fun, it’s just that it’s not what I think I wanted from a sequel. More damning, I’ve played a couple of hours and the only music I can actually remember is a track that was reused from the previous game.
I guess it only makes sense to end this year with disappointment.