Warning! My comments about some of the games I loved this year may include references to violence, self-harm, cancer and surgeries. I have included some brief videos of these games and some of them might include violent content!
No big spoilers for the games, though!
The following is a list of and my comments about the games I truly enjoyed playing in 2020.
Firstly, the honorable mentions!
Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to), by Popcannibal – 2019
This small game was a perfect fit for this year in that it allowed for a special kind of communication between strangers sending heartwarming letters to each other. The music is lovely and relaxing, the visual of the character sitting in their room writing is an all too familiar and chill mood and, most importantly, the letters you write and receive feel uncompromised, while also important enough to inspire a sense mutual understanding.
The Nameless Game [Nanashi no Game], by Epics – 2008
I’m developing a horror game with Pami that strikes a contrast between portable gaming and the horror experience of walking around the dark. To study other cases, I was pleasantly surprised with this game’s premise and execution that, albeit different to our game, still manages to inspire us and give us useful ideas for it! It would be easier for me to recommend this game if it was ever localized, but I still want to acknowledge its excellent use of ambience and contrast.
Dweller’s Empty Path, by Temmie Chang – 2020
Essentially, Escaped Chasm 2; I’m deeply fascinated by Temmie’s characters and world. I truly can not wait to see what happens next in the story! I admire Temmie for her work on developing this fictional world beyond different mediums and still nailing the feel of an interactive space.
Mixolumia, by davemakes – 2020
Following davemake’s thread as they slowly built this game was inspiring enough, but to see their finalized product being such an amazing game makes me want to create games with this amount of care and attention. It’s no news I love block-dropping puzzle games, but I think this game in particular sets you in a certain mood and mode in order to master it!
And now, my favorite games that I played in 2020!
Animal Crossing: New Horizons, by Nintendo EPD – 2020
Ever since my childhood friend introduced me to Animal Crossing with Wild World many years ago, each entry of the franchise since then has marked a special spot in my heart. As I said in my favorite readings post, this year has been horrible. There’s no denying it. However, I will forever hold my initial memories of this game close to my heart. It came out the very week the quarantine started and there was no better game for that moment. I played it with Pami, my sister and my niece; all of us figuring out the quirks of this entry, captivated by just how beautiful, funny and relaxing the game is.
I honestly dislike how the durability and crafting recipes work (as I’m receiving very few new ones amongst the hundreds and hundreds of repeated ones), but I still appreciate how it seamlessly found its way to the Animal Crossing formula. Months after starting my island, I’m now more in ease with the mechanic and with the tool durability.
The writing in this game took me by surprise, as I immediately noticed how dependent the dialogue was with the villagers’ personalities this time around. It may initially seem like there’s less dialogue or writing in the game, but as I delved deeper into each event and situation the game has to offer, I was laughing and relating with each character. My guess is that the devs decided to leave each player have their own interactions with each villager, knowing that some would repeat, to allow each character to feel unique entirely through those interactions. Your Raymond may have the same personality as my Marshal, but since I’m talking with him within my own circumstances, the interaction feels unique.
New Horizons was my quarantine game (much like Breath of the Wild was my chemotherapy game). I treasure how special it felt as my island evolved and as my villagers started to come in and feel part of my little community. Its particular feel beckons each day to go back and tend to my daily tasks!
Takeshi & Hiroshi, by Oink Games – 2019
Videogames are my passion because I have connected with the world and humanity through them. I have come to understand other people better through the unique ways stories are told and characters are portrayed in games. Takeshi & Hiroshi felt like a love letter to both game development and our connections with family and friends.
I was very happy to see just how Takeshi dealt with his feelings and confidence regarding game development and his relationship with his friends. As a collaborative medium, game development has us sharing ideas and evolving them through a continuous dialogue with our fellow artists. Takeshi’s journey from working entirely alone to having a team to work with was heartwarming, and it fit perfectly with the theme and the gameplay of the game: figuring out the right amount of challenge to give to Hiroshi, as a puzzle mechanic, has a similar effect to solving a problem with your code or designing a certain part of a game.
Lastly, I just love when stories are organized and structured in such a neatly manner. I think this game does an outstanding job with its pacing, and knows exactly when and how mix things up!
Hades, by Supergiant Games – 2020
I’m gonna be honest: I’ve never finished Bastion, nor have I even started Transistor. But I will now, because holy crap was this game gooooood. Finding something to praise beyond its evident and outstanding writing, narrative/gameplay relationship, its music, its voice acting, combat, is not as hard as it may seem! I particularly enjoyed how the game incentivizes the player to keep going with multiple elements of its design. I liked how finding characters in the underworld felt like a reward by itself. I liked just how full of content it is, while also maintaining an elegant design in some regards! I’m gonna be honest, I would rather be playing right now!
I do want to write about how impressed I am that a game manages to be so rewarding and difficult, while also incentivizing the exploration of dialogue trees and different aspects of its narrative. It feels like a step in the right direction in terms of how we can think of alternative ways to have the player discover the narrative worlds we build, as the gameplay itself is key to understanding it.
I’ve beaten the final boss 3 times and all I know is that I need to beat it 7 more times to see where it goes from there. I usually take a long rest before coming back to a game to beat it thoroughly, but I’ll keep fighting my way through all of its challenges to fully enjoy the design and the story to its end!
Sagebrush, by Redact Games – 2018
There were moments of absolute horror while playing this game in which I was just standing in an open, lonely field. There were also moments of deep sadness as a I listened to the different recordings left behind in an old building. This game is a thorough experience of multiple voices and their own reasonings for their meeting in that shared space.
It’s evident through its writing that the developer researched and, most importantly, paid respect to the harsh experiences related to the story of the game. I admire the documentation process this must have required, as the game handles each piece of writing and recording in an outstanding manner, building everything up towards a horror narrative, while also keeping it respectful and critical of what took place in real life.
There was a moment at the end of the game where, fully knowing the direction the game was going to take by then, it still produced a raw feeling of hope I rarely find in other games. It was a feeling of hope founded in reality, in a tangible aspect present in each component of its presentation.
The one night, hot springs trilogy, by npckc – 2018-2019
This year was special to me too in that I had some extra time to think about my gender. Through all the hardships, coming to know who I am, beyond a label, was fulfilling. However, it was also challenging as I realized that identity is constructed by various elements from our experiences as human beings. To me, it meant that I needed to face my weaknesses and strengths, various mistakes I have done (and even still continue to do).
one night’s strengths are that it knows its characters and it knows how to tell a story with a sincere and transparent tone. At moments it may feel like an informative pamphlet, but it quickly uses its message to build characters that share their experiences in a way that it enriches the story. I decided to include the whole trilogy of games here since they’re short, but also because each narrative builds upon the previous one to create a beautiful set of games with loveable characters.
These games helped me figure out so much of myself and I can’t truly thank them enough.
a new life, by Angela He – 2020
The portrayal of tragic queer characters has been quite problematic. When I heard about this game, I loosely heard about it having a tragic ending (this is not a spoiler, I promise) and I was inmediatily discouraged. However, once I sat down and gave it a chance, I ended up finding a gem in art style and writing. Without going into detail, having the context of the game mechanics and narrative allowed me to understand the ending.
Leaving that aside, the game is lovely, and it is impressive how it takes the pandemic as part of the setting when it still is so recent and managing to do so in such a mature manner. The interaction between both characters and the constant decision making directly reference the stressful nature of the pandemic. With this, it achieves a sense of care and mutual protection between the both of them,
The game instantly connected with me as a cancer survivor who received the unconditional support of their significant other through such a rough patch of their life. An aspect I personally think it nails is the sensation that even the smallest things matter, especially in those circumstances.
Lieve Oma, by Florian Veltman – 2017
My relationship with my grandfather (from my mom’s side of the family) was complex. I remember he was funny and welcoming when I was a child. The visits to his home every once in a while were special. I remember my mom smiling a lot. As years passed, things grew difficult. Tension and discomfort started to drift us all apart. He passed away this year, a few months after one last dinner we all had together in his favorite restaurant.
Lieve Oma’s strength is its simplicity in allowing the player to run around collecting mushrooms, while also managing the conversation between the kid and the grandma. It’s impactful and even raw, as it’s evident that both characters are dealing in different ways with the past, and yet they’re sharing a walk through the woods. It made me think of the value memory has for us as a tool to share and connect with others. That was the game for me.
I truly enjoyed its brevity in that it achieves so much with a planned, stable direction from beginning to end. I do believe that its length is related also to the themes of the game and to the feel it conveys through its gameplay: a walk with someone else, a brief moment of relaxation and truth.
Ico, by Team Ico – 2001
I finally had the time and even courage to go back to the Playstation 2 classics to see what I missed from the developers of Shadow of the Colossus and I was marveled at their previous work. A couple of people had recommended to me before, but their recommendations where not pushy at all ever. Now that I’ve played it, I understand it comes from a place of respect for a game that marked a change in the gaming space.
It’s no wonder it inspired Hidetaka Miyazaki to create engaging gaming experiences such as Dark Souls or Bloodborne. It was doing outstanding things with its design a long time before other designers came and improved upon it. Designing such a fortress to escape from, with the physics and puzzle design this game offered must have been daunting, but its presentation is elegant. It may show its age through some quirky collisions now and then, but at this point it only adds to its charm.
Finally, I admire what it manages to do in terms of story with so little dialogue. Now that I’ve played both Ico and Shadow, I have a firmer but still lacking grasp of what this larger world is. Knowing so little about it also makes it special, as there’s a notion that there’s so much more one can only glimpse through the cracks.
Wide Ocean Big Jacket, by turnfollow – 2020
Wow do I have a soft spot for quirky and funny characters. The art style in screenshots and brief video trailers did not prepare me for the title screen nor the ending of the game. As soon as I turned it on and heard the music accompanying the lovely animations of the characters looking out the car, and as soon as I was finishing up the game I was captivated. This game’s moments are just so lovely and funny they form a pleasant experience from beginning to end.
The game seems to fully know its cast and base each situation and gameplay around their respective interests in each moment of the game. Looking for a spot for Mord to pee in the wilderness or jumping around the beach at night: every different interaction had me falling in love with the four characters and made me curious about their lives before and after the events in the game. There’s so much in their dialogue at any given moment and it suggests there’s a lot to each of them beyond what we can see within their conversations.
One of my favorite gaming moments of the last years is now (without spoiling too much) that last turn-round the character you chose makes as they prepare to leave the camping area. Seeing these dorks waiting for the character had me crying as I knew it was the end of my time with them.
Outer Wilds, by Mobius Digital – 2019
If any game in this list is close to perfection (whatever that term may mean) is this one. I decided to wait to play Outer Wilds until I was ready to give it the time I heard it needed and, wow, did I take the right decision. This game is a universe, or at least a full solar system to explore and investigate. I get the feeling that the developers took their own knowledge and curiosity about the universe and pour it into the mechanics and the feel of the game.
The themes of fragility, persistence and curiosity drive this experience and the way it was designed. Every planet you travel to feels like its own puzzle and offers clues to connect dots across different pieces of data. It empowers the player to build their own knowledge of the game and how to use it. I uncovered some secrets by myself, but after playing it and watching someone play it, I saw just how different our experiences were and how I missed some things. Thus, it’s a game I loved at the moment I played it and, curiously, one that I’m already loving even before going back to uncover anything else I missed.
Look, yeah: I LOVE astronomy and my soft spots are ever present in my criteria to choose the games I decide to place here. Many times, I’ve played excellent games that I simply don’t end up loving enough or connecting enough with to include them in my lists. Outer Wilds, however, is an easy recommendation from me if anyone is looking for an outstanding and different narrative. My suggestion is to take it all slow: visit each planet at your own discretion, and once you’re there, take it all in. After all, you’ll discover that you have more time than expected!
SOMA, by Frictional Games, 2015
When this game came out in my birthday 5 years ago, I was too busy with my final semesters at college and, well, my computer was (and still is) a piece of crap that couldn’t really run it. But damn it did I try: I got through almost halfway through the game until I had to give up. Years later, I was finally able to play it on my PS4 and the wait was worth it. I allowed myself to experience this game as if it was the first time and I enjoyed it so much.
I adored just how the devs managed to branch out the horror beyond the impressively designed visuals, ambience and mechanics to also deal with the horrors of self-consciousness and existentialism. It strikes a feel of dread even in moments of absolute tranquility as you slowly process just how deeply discomforting its story can be.
I wanted the characters to succeed and for Simon to escape the terrible creatures that chased him, but I personally was entranced by all the stories revolving around them and all the implications of what they were doing. The ending haunts me and will forever stay with me. Its dichotomic nature, that last moment it’s incomparable to anything I’ve ever played.
Sayonara Wild Hearts, by Simogo – 2019
Leaving that depression and dread behind, my personal favorite game that I played this year was motherfucking Sayonara Wild Hearts because WOOOOWWW is this good and thrilling and beautiful and just an amazing game all around!!!
Okay, so, I remember watching the trailer for this game on a Nintendo Direct and I was immediately attracted to its visuals and music. Let me just say, that brief snippet was just a quick taste of just how exhilarating the game is. Its fastness and popping nature sets it apart and makes for a playthrough that works like a favorite album: you treasure a first play, but every subsequent one has its own magic.
I was blown away by just how it seamlessly transitions from moment to moment with the rhythm of the excellent soundtrack. It overflows with personality as you see your character fly with the perfect beat through psychedelic levels. It had me dancing and moving around as I played to the point I wondered just what was even happening.
I had a beautiful moment with Pami playing her own first playthrough. Again, without spoiling too much, the final moments of the game had here synching with the flow of the final level and when she saw the protagonist finally falling down I saw her baffled and happy. Part of its unique design resides right there: the gameplay and the music work together to synch with you and create a harmony that I truly loved and appreciated all the way back in January and now that I’m writing this with the soundtrack playing in my headphones.
I wrote a whole goddamn essay for one of my classes about this game. It needs some editing, but I’ll share it one day. I want to share my love for this game. It touched my heart and took me a place I didn’t know.
Remember, wild hearts never die!!!
Since I stablished a cutting-off date, I have already played what I’m sure will end up in the list for this following year, and I’m excited to share my thoughts about that game and others too! I think this year may have been bad, but the good things stemmed from my significant other, my family and my experiences reading and playing everything I talked about. Let’s see what next year has to offer!