Thursday, December 31, 2020

Natalie's Top Ten Games of the Disaster Year(or, 2020)

Courtesy: MiHoYo

If you're reading this, congratulations, you did it! You were socially distant and washed your hands. You got out and voted for someone who will disappoint us marginally less than the one who came before. You protested the, frankly, innumerable human rights violations that disproportionally affected black people. And for your efforts, you've been rewarded with an entire year's worth of killer video games! Here's to you, kid(or adult, more likely); here are the best experiences that I personally played this year. This is my list and these are the games I liked the most, and if you don't like it, I don't care! Go complain to someone else. 

10. Just Dance 2021

Courtesy: Ubisoft

I was not kidding when I said Just Dance was going to be on my GOTY list. It's not even because of the game, really, it's because of the experience and accessibility of said game. Between this and Just Dance 2020, I went from 'I don't see myself playing any of the Just Dance' games to 'this is my favorite thing ever and I will not be taking questions'. If I can be honest, I avoided games like this because I was so afraid of looking silly while playing it(And you will, sometimes!) But once I grew older and, most importantly, decided to not miss out on what might be fun experiences just because I was nervous, I gave the game a try and had the time of my life.

Just Dance caters to, quite literally, everyone; Do you just want to dance to your favorite songs? Go right ahead, they're even organized by difficulty. Are you a professional dancer who eats, sleeps, and breathes dance? Holy shit, do they have you covered. I ended up trying nearly every song in the game, plus the ones from the older games, and had a wonderful time with them all. This is definitely the most fun I've had with an exercise regimen thinly disguised as a party game.

9. Fuser

Courtesy: Harmonix

Fuser just barely- just barely- made it onto this list. There are a few issues with it that rustle my jimmies- namely the lack of a real single player experience outside of the tutorial disguised as a career mode, and the fact that this game is absolutely flooded with nickel-and-dime microtransactions, which I think kills a lot of music games before they even get the band warmed up- but thankfully it's saved by the fact I don't think I've ever played a game that nailed the DJ vibe like this one does. When you're free to just do what you want, to mix the songs of your choice and tailor them into your own unique mix, it absolutely nails it.

The game gives you a nice variety of songs- even if it does feel like the DLC library is already eclipsing the main game- and nearly every tool modern DJs have on stage. You can slow and increase the tempo, change the key between minor and major, and even add your own custom instruments like pianos and drums. If you've ever daydreamed about playing your own show with your own unique mixes, Fuser is, to be honest, the only game for you.

8. Doom Eternal

Courtesy: id Software

I never finished the original Doom. Never played any of the sequels until early this year, and am only about halfway through Doom 2016. I don't hate them and I don't think they're bad; they just don't hold my interest for too long. Doom Eternal, however, was not intending to let me go until I got to the end, and aggressively so. It shoves a lot of new mechanics in- sometimes too many for its own good- but each encounter was an operatic massacre with a bit of platforming and puzzles every now and again to keep you focused, but no so focused that you aren't excited when the soundtrack kicks in and it's time to rip and tear some more.

There's also a lot more to the story compared to the previous games(If you listen closely, you can hear John Carmack sneezing profusely), which I actually enjoyed, to an extent. It's still mostly a vehicle for the Doom Slayer to go places and shoot holes in planets, but the attempt is there, and I think it's commendable. Though if you want to just tune it out and slaughter some demons, more power to you; you're still left with a meaty and engaging experience that's more than worth the price of admission.

7. Streets of Rage 4

Courtesy: Dotemu/Lizardcube/Guard Crush

This game feels good. Streets of Rage 2 is one of the earliest games I remember playing, and I had, admittedly, high expectations for what would be the fourth game in a series that started in 1991. When I finally sat down to play, I finished it in one sitting because I just could not stop playing.  Unlike a lot of modern takes on retro games, at its core, this still feels like a Streets of Rage game, and a well-polished one at that. All of the characters, old and new, are lovingly crafted into unique experiences with even more unique attacks and special abilities. 

Everything about it feels good in every detail- The art style, the soundtrack, the simple pleasure of punching a dude in the face- all of it was just so satisfying. I said as much in a tweet since I couldn't get around to writing a full review but, here is my decree now: Believe me, you want to play Streets of Rage 4.

6. Tell Me Why

Courtesy: DONTNOD

I loved Tell Me Why for the simplest reason; it was the first time I got to see a trans character depicted in a video game as a normal person, and as a main character at that. That sounds like a very surface level reason to put it on this list, but ask yourself how often do you come across a trans character in anything that isn't a caricature of what cis people think being trans is? Whether or not it ultimately succeeded in the end, in my opinion, doesn't matter. I got to have trans representation that made me excited, happy in a way I've not felt since the last time I played Hardcoded. That small moment of hope, that maybe this will be the first of better representation, regardless of what happens in the future, is more than enough to put it on this list.

5. Genshin Impact

Courtesy: MiHoYo

I didn't pay attention to Genshin Impact at first, whatsoever. I was aware it existed, and then it was released and I played it. For most games, it doesn't go beyond that. But there's something special about Genshin that makes me want to play it again and again. Gliding off of ledges as you explore the world and fight monsters feels good, and because the Adventurer Rank increases every time you do pretty much anything, it always feels satisfying to sit down and play, even for a short time. For what it does, it does well.

It is similar to Breath of the Wild, yes- no one who enjoys Genshin is disputing that- but as I've pointed out before, similarity is not inherently a slight to quality. Personally, I'm very glad to see more kinds of games embrace the freedom of playstyle that I enjoyed previously in games like Fallout and Elder Scrolls. Genshin, is, at its innermost core, a surprise hit that does its job well, and that, I think, is all it needs.

4. Resident Evil 3

Courtesy: CAPCOM

Speaking of superficial reasons to love a game, Resident Evil 3 is number four because I loved it and I had fun playing it. That's truly all that matters, no? I was very excited for this the moment it was released, I played it as soon as I could, and had an absolutely amazing time. There was originally going to be a long counter-argument about how this game doesn't need to be more Resident Evil 2 or Resident Evil 4- it only needed to be Resident Evil 3, and it succeeded- but life is too short.

I didn't enjoy this game so I could argue about why I like it; I enjoyed it because it was a remake of my favorite old school Resident Evil game. I loved seeing references to puzzles and characters from the older games, and how they were tweaked to keep the experience fresh. Jill's personality as a much more quippy and sarcastic foil to Leon pre-RE4 is on full effect, and her relationship with Carlos Oliveira over the course of the game feeling so much more human is almost an achievement in and of itself. This game and the remaining three are the ones that I think you should experience the most; and while Resident Evil 3 is number four on that list, I still wouldn't trade the experience I had with it for the world.

3. Nioh 2

Courtesy: Team Ninja

If you've been following me for most of this year, you know that I will not shut up about Nioh 2. And with good reason! For the most part, I don't like Soulsborne games. I don't like their communities. I don't like that difficulty is the masturbatory hill so many people are willing to die on in terms of accessibility. By all accounts, I should hate Nioh 2. But I don't! I, truly, cannot get enough of it instead.

I love everything about it: I love the character creator that lets me be so many different varieties of human; I love that I can be so many different kinds of warrior at once, from a stealthy ninja to a deadly archer; and I love that the story is serious when it needs to be, but also is willing to laugh and have fun, like, you know...a video game. This game absolutely floored me and I can't get enough of it. It is just shy of game of the year because of two wonderful, wonderful games:

2/1. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered and Coffee Talk

Courtesy: Vicarious Visions

Surprise! I have two games of the year. Both of them were the most enjoyable experience I had this year, in their own unique way, and I think both were the standout releases of the year.

First, Pro Skater: Simply put, everything that worked more than twenty years ago, still works impressively well today. The entire arcade skateboarding experience, from grinding the roofs of speeding vehicles to spinning 900 degrees between building, not only still works, it's still better than a lot of skateboarding games since it's inception, including Pro Skater 5! 

Every facet of this game was tuned to perfection for the modern day, and tuned well. You can perform tricks from later Pro Skater games in the older levels, and all of them still play near-perfectly with the added variety. There is no mention of gender whatsoever when you create a skater; you just choose the body and voice that works for you. The soundtrack is the best one this year and I will die on this hill. I'm listening to it right now as I type this. This game absolutely smashed my expectations out of the park and into the stratosphere, and I cannot stop playing it.

It sounds as if game of the year should be cut and dry, no? It is, until I point you in the direction of coffee talk.

Courtesy: Toge Productions

I don't think I've ever played a game that nailed such an absolute vibe this well. Ostensibly, it is a game about the complicated and messy lives inside of a fantastical future Seattle. The elf and succubus are in an interracial relationship, and struggle with parents who don't support it. A catgirl is balancing her solo music career while also keeping her overbearing father happy. An anxious and shy mermaid moved to Seattle from Atlantis to pursue her dream of being a game developer. All of these people desperately need some coffee, and you're the one who serves it to them as you give them advice, let them vent, and sometimes just let them drink in peace. This game is not afraid to have conversations about real issues in the modern world, but it never felt obtuse or overbearing. These are just facets of these people's lives, whether they like it or not.

Coffee Talk scratches an itch for a specific type of game I didn't know I had, and sets the standard pretty high in that regard. There was something oddly relaxing about picking what low-fidelity song I would start the day with before I began brewing everyone's favorite drink. The rhythm of the monotony brought me back, day after day, and I began to love my patrons more and more as they told me about the goings on of their lives. By the end of it, I could both make someone's usual drink off the top of my head, and a cure for someone's werewolf bloodrage without batting an eye.

I've never played a game like Coffee Talk before. There will be others like it, certainly, but none of them will ever be the one that made me as happy and sad as Coffee Talk did. There was no chance that this game was not going to be my game of the year, even in February when I finished it.

Both it and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 were my favorite experiences this year, and choosing only one as my Game of the Year would have done a disservice to the other. I loved both of these games more than anything else I've played, and think they are both worthy of the top honors. THPS 1+2 took the best experiences of the old Tony Hawk games and combined them into one near-flawless experience, and Coffee Talk made something as banal as serving coffee into an unforgettable experience that I'll always treasure. Here's hoping 2021 is like the presidency, slightly less insufferable than the last one!


When not taking a well-deserved break, Natalie Raine can be found in lots of other places! On Twitter, she's now @WitchyBride, and she also writes for 100 Word Gaming! Other than that, she's on...well. Guess that's it. Maybe not a lot of places, then. 

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