I realise we’re more than a third of the way through 2020 already but what with one thing and another, now seems like an ideal time to sit in and bang outa couple hundred words on something that no-one cares about. As with previous years, normal caveats apply: I have two small children and limited free time (which is why this post is being written in April), so I missed a lot of big-budget games that, had I played them probably would have appeared on here1.
What the Golf?
I thought this was going to be just a good golf game. Now, let me make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with being just a good golf game. Last year’s Golf Story was a good golf game and ended up being one of my favourite games of the year. But What the Golf is so much more than just a golf game. The first level is straightforward, you pull down and release to knock a ball to the flag. The second level, you pull down and release and the golf club flies forward, and you have to make the club hit the flag. And the game continues in this manner, getting more and more wild and creative and wildly creative on each level. At one point, about halfway through, it starts making golf versions of other popular games, so you’ll get Super Meatboy with golf. Or Portal with golf. This was the most fun I’ve had with a game all year. (It’s also the most frustrated I got with a game, but that’s another post).
The Outer Wilds
I guess this is best described as a science fiction archaeology game? You launch your spaceship, visit different planets, and I guess that could describe the entire game, if you wanted it? I mean, there’s nothing driving you forward in the game except your own curiosity. But it rewards that curiosity better than any other game I can think of. And I loved it so much because of that. More games like this, please.
Typical. You wait your whole life for a science fiction archaeology game and two come along at once. This one is done by the people who made 80 Days, so as you’d expect, it has much more straightforward narrative than Outer Wilds (i.e. it acts and feels like a choose-your-own-adventure game). But the puzzles in this one are so cleverly constructed. You start uncovering alien artefacts and, through them, you start learning an entirely new language, creating meaning via logic and context, just like learning a real language. When the pieces started falling into place, I felt like a genius. Again, more games like this, please?
I found the last few Metal Gear Solid games a little too much for me to handle, but I really liked Death Stranding so I want to say that Death Stranding is like a Hideo Kojima game with most of the Kojima-ness washed off. But even that’s not entirely true because this is an incredibly Kojima game. I think it’s because it’s got all his heart and his creativity but none of the dark cynicism? Despite the bleak setting, Death Stranding is a game about hope and I can’t think of anything we need more in 2019.
Technically this came out in 2018 but I played it for the first time in VR in 2019 and I’m usually pretty strict about such things but honestly, this was the closest I came to having a religious experience all year.
Legend of Zelda Cadence of Hyrule
I hadn’t played the original Crypt of the NecroDancer so the mechanic of this took me a while to get used to. Basically, it’s a rhythm-based Zelda game, where you need to move and fight on the beat. But once you settle into it, it works really well as a Zelda game and the art style is gorgeous. I just wish there was more of it.
Dragon Quest Builders 2
I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m not a fan of Minecraft’s story mode. It feels unnaturally bolted on to what is, essentially, just a Lego sandbox. Dragon Quest Builders 2 has the opposite problem: it has a wonderful story mode (I hadn’t played DQB1 or many of the DQ games before 8 so I’m not big into the lore and I still enjoyed it), to the point where every time it presented me with its creative mode, I wasn’t that interested. “Hey did you know you can build up a town for these people with all sorts of different buildings like bedrooms and saloons and showers and toilets?” “IDGAF give me the next bit of story”. I haven’t been pulled through a game like this in a while.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
The best Star Wars game since Knights of the Old Republic? I loved how it didn’t shy away from its Star Wars-ness and didn’t just wear it like a coat of paint over a generic sci-fi game. I’m not sure the Dark Souls influence really works in this game: the controls aren’t as good or reliable as they need to be to hang with the Souls games, but that’s a minor complaint for what is an otherwise great game.
This was a lovely little palate cleanser of a game. It’s so light and delicious and every time I felt myself losing interest because it’s too light, the game would do something delightful and draw me back in again.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Again maybe another cheat because this is an old game, but it only came out on Switch in 2019 and that’s the first time I played it. And I feel weird about putting it on here because technically I hate-played it. Remember I mentioned above about how Fallen Order’s controls weren’t as precise as they needed to be? Ori’s controls are exactly as precise as they need to be. It’s a beautiful game from that point of view. And after a few hours, when you’ve unlocked most of your abilities and can chain together some beautiful moves, it’s a wonderful flow game. That is then completely ruined by some of the worst set-pieces I’ve ever seen that rely almost entirely on failure and memorisation. I loved this game. I hated this game.
Just wanted to mention that I did, however, finish Diablo 3 because the switch is the perfect platform for this game because it meant I could chip away at this game in five-minute doses. ↩