18/12/2020

๐Ÿ† Britt’s Games of the Year (& Honourable Mentions) 2020 ๐Ÿ† #IndieGames #GameDev #GamersUnite

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This year has been a bit of a different one for me in that some titles that really drew me in were quite flawed and so playing through them was occasionally a bittersweet experience but they made a mark that I can’t ignore.

This isn’t a ‘top ten’ list in any order but rather a list of games that still spring to mind as we approach the end of a pretty challenging and tumultuous year.

Weather-wise, it’s a miserable day here in Cardiff so to brighten things up, let’s talk video games.

Aground

*Bolt Out of the Blue Award*

It was early Summer when I happened across Aground and yet I remember it as if the memory were being laser-imprinted on my cerebral cortex by a back-alley cyber-doctor in the distant future.

My partner was hips deep into Animal Crossing: New Horizons and so the enormous TV in our living room was full of various anthropomorphised animals yanking up turnips and wandering through eerily quiet, cavernous museums.

I had that gaming bug though and although I rarely review PC titles, I looked through the GF list and Aground stood out. I still can’t explain what it was that drew me to it. I was a big fan of Terraria so maybe it was just time for that 2D crafting itch to be scratched once more…

Before I knew it, I was hooked. The Amiga-style mini-sequences, the cavalcade of music (which I, unfortunately, found out recently, doesn’t really work for me outside of the context of the game) the fun crafting, the scope of exploration and the fact that there was a narrative to keep me engaged, my trousers were but a memory.

For a couple of weeks, I kept coming back to Aground, having great chats with the developer on Twitter and just being completely absorbed in its charming and oddly compulsive world.

In the end, I had to pull myself away to…y’know…review other games (such is my curse) but I swore a solemn oath to myself that I would return…maybe when it’s released on console and I can dive into the co-op!

Cloudpunk

*Most Heart-Breaking Award*

Oh Cloudpunk, sweet, sweet Cloudpunk…

Those who read my review at the time will surely remember how I completely fell in love with this game, although there were some niggling issues, it was the game-breaking bugs in the latter-half that broke my (single) save and effectively wiped eight hours of playtime.

I was completely immersed in this one. A narrative-heavy cyberpunk taxi simulator with an engaging cast richly voice-acted in a moody, towering voxel-world…ahhh… pinch me.

Cloudpunk completely floored me. There was something about its design and casually scattered collectables that had an almost ASMR-like effect as I scooted around the night-drenched city.

I know I will return to Cloudpunk, possibly on a new console after it’s been patched and I will once again drift around it’s oddly calming dystopian world at 60fps.

One day, baby.

Flea!

*Homebrew Classic Award*

I’m a big fan of games with a great gimmick released on older systems and Flea! won me over in 2020.

As you may have guessed, you play a flea that constantly jumps, meaning that control is key in getting your little fella around the single-screen puzzles; avoiding traps, collecting blood and making it to the exit.

I got to the 50th level boss (there are 80 in total) and I knew even as I died that this was going to be a game that I returned to time and time again.

When things relax and I can once again host gaming nights at my apartment, this will 100% be ready for everyone to try and beat. An awesome game that is available on Steam, NES and Dreamcast. Shout out also to the music which had almost Bubble Bobble levels of looped aural gold.

Autobahn Police Simulator 2

*Joyful Jank Award*

It seems odd having this one on my end of year list when the score I gave it was so numerically low.

The truth is that I fully realise that this game is a badly broken mess but there are tiny flashes of greatness here that beg to be more fully explored in a far more stable and higher-budget title.

As much as the game was technically troubled and some really cool design ideas were half-baked, I can’t deny that I had nothing but pure pleasure in some sections that felt truly unique.

I will definitely be there for the next instalment of this admittedly niche series. If the developers are reading this, a steady framerate and more focus on the ‘Papers, please’ style mini-games, please. 

What The Golf?

*The Hole In one Award*

As a fan of golf games, I really didn’t know what to expect here. The vibe I got from the trailer was that the game seemed to be taking the piss out of it, which is absolutely fine but didn’t seem to hold much mileage.

How my thoughts changed when I got this absolutely charming game for review!

I’m a big fan of games that are idiosyncratic without being ‘zany’ or ‘random’ (I hated even having to type that word) and the many fun mini-games that make up the whole completely had my attention for hours on end as I launched everything up the fairways from golf balls to the golfers themselves and even houses.

Definitely, one I will be returning to.

Mad Experiments / We Were Here Together

*Co-Op Capers Award*

Through the lockdown period here in Wales, online co-op gaming (something I’ve avoided up until now) has been an absolute blessing. With my brother, I’ve had some of the best times of the year with him online, gaming away on numerous occasions just creasing up at the various situations our avatars find themselves in.

We’ve played a LOT of fun games but none were released in 2020 and so Mad Experiments and We Were here Together represent some of the highlights I’ve had this year in terms of co-op. 

Mad Experiments is a room escape game that stands tall above the other games I’ve played in this genre* and the 60-minute chapters are an absolute delight to work through and really had me and my friend working together as we desperately tried to escape the mad doctor’s clutches!

Quirky, unique and never unfair, this is a game that works for all the family and varying amount of players. Good.

We Were Here Together was a similarly brain-teasing experience on a far wider scale. Very different from the wacky charms of Mad Experiments, it was a more melancholy adventure that, whilst uneven in its chapters, celebrated the best parts of working together through difficult times, something that really resonated with me.

*Most room escape games – mainly on Switch – are bad, bad, BAD

Streets of Rage 4

*Blast From the Past Award*

I’m such a fan of this game that I STILL can’t bring myself to finish it. As much as I’m raring to go, I’m waiting for that time when I can get some friends over to play through this on the hardest setting with four players.

There’s not much to say here other than Lizard Cube is one of my favourite developers at the moment. I will INHALE whatever they throw my way. It’s hard for a franchise that has laid dormant for over a quarter of a century to feel so natural and enjoyable upon release but Streets of Rage 4 was almost a month-long display of emotional fireworks in my personal gaming community.

When things are a little more normal, the time will be right and I will play through this with good friends by my side and bourbon flowing.

Hotshot Racing

*Pole Position Award*

When I really, really look at my track record with racing games, I know that arcade racing titles are the ones that lift me into the sky like the car at the end of Grease, although in a more convincing manner.

Off the top of my head, my favourite racing games would be:

Need for Speed (Saturn)

Rumble Racing (PS2)

Flat Out 2 (PS2)

The Runabout Series (PS1, PS2, Dreamcast)

Mashed (PS2)

Wrecked (PS3)

There’s a theme here, over-the-top action (and in the case of Runabout, the best music in the universe, as far as I’m concerned, #thesurfcoasters) and a distinct lack of focus on sober realism. 

Hotshot racing feels like a celebration of titles like Sega Rally and Daytona. Ultra-slick, stylised visuals, slipstreaming, boosting and an energetic soundtrack around vibrant, sun-drenched locales.

SIGN. ME. UP.

The Touryst

*Idyllic, Isometric Islands Award*

It was the wonderful John Linneman of Digital Foundry that brought this game to my attention, I’ve been a fan of isometric puzzle/platform games since Landstalker on the Mega Drive (and Batman on Amstrad) and the wordless charm of this game really intrigued me.

When I finally got it, my trousers flew away to begin their life anew, without me. I think I played through the entire game in two evenings and every beautifully-realised moment felt like I was under a voxel-based spell.

When the mini-games kicked in, I couldn’t imagine how the game could be improved. If there’s not a sequel in 2021, I’ll tear my moustache off and beat it, mercilessly through the medium of dance. (Note: This happened once before and it wasn't a pretty sight - Rich)

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

*Big Budget Belter Award*

A pretty recent one that I’ve played, ACV almost caught me off guard as I sort of assumed that I’d tire of it quickly coming so swiftly off the back of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

What actually happened was that all the subtle changes and improvements, combined with the Viking setting all mounted up to create one of the most beautiful and immersive games of the year*.

At the time of typing this, they’ve released free festive DLC, back to East Anglia I go!

*and made Watch Dogs: Legion feel kind of embarrassing when I played it a week after reviewing ACV

Shady Part of Me

*Music Makes Magic Award*

Music. Music is the beating heart of this game and that says a lot when it’s backed up by such evocative watercolour imagery and gentle, brain-massaging puzzles*.

A simple game that doesn’t break the mould, but fits it so well, The Shady part of Me was almost like ASMR. I’m as happy to watch it (and listen to it) as I am to play it. If there’s a guiding, all-knowing ethereal force in or beyond this world, the wonderfully split, mesmerising soundtrack will be released on vinyl and one day I will hold it in shaking hands as tears of sonic-based joy stain the artwork.

It’s a fine line between dreamlike and gagworthy but The Shady part of Me walks it perfectly.

*You’ll notice I’m not mentioning the torturous, whining voicework?

Wasteland 3

*Trudging Through Mud Award*

I’m ending this article on a more cautionary tale. Having really enjoyed Wasteland 2, buggy as it was, I leapt upon this as soon as it was available (day one) on Game Pass.

What followed was fifty hours of a technically broken game that crashed every 45 minutes and had glitches and issues in almost every aspect of its design.

Patch after patch following the initial launch did little to ease my issues and, having gone too far into the narrative to stop, I ended up completing the game and getting relief more than satisfaction out of finishing it.

I’ve learned my lesson, ‘if it runs like cack, wait for a patch’. It’s this wisdom that keeps Cyberpunk 2077 out of my life for at least another six months. AT LEAST.

And that’s it! The games that have stuck in my mind this year for one reason or another. Here’s to an awesome 2021, I look forward to seeing what games I’ll be writing about this time next year, love to all!


Britt
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