For people who play video games, the setup in the photo above may look at least kind of familiar. Maybe, after this year, a little too familiar.
2020 has been an emotionally draining period of our lives, and while we’ve taken slow and steady steps to improve ourselves, our lives, our mental health, and relationships, all the while being supportive of those we love, sometimes we need to just release the tension bearing down on us with a video game.
For many of us in The Young Folks gaming collective, that has meant diving into our backlog of games we never got the time to play before or revisiting comforting old favorites. When we’ve felt the need to be social, we have platforms like Twitch and Discord there for us, not only to share our experiences with the single-player games we love, but to discover new ones, and gather together to play multiplayer games as though we were all in the room together.
At the beginning of the world falling apart in March of 2020, I made sure to reiterate to others, and mostly myself, that we’re blessed to be dealing with such an issue in the technological revolution we have now. Even ten years ago we didn’t have anything close to having the open online sociability, and the ability to watch and play the media we love at our fingertips. While our current state of the world isn’t very good at all, we can at least appreciate being able to hop on a video or audio call with friends and family, seamlessly connect to an online match, digitally download games, and having SSDs for those sweet, fast load times. Despite all those bells and whistles, it’s easy to feel alone when you literally are alone, and even easier to forget others share such troubles.
In a world overloading with negative energy, we wanted to take time to consider the good vibes of our year and so I made a calendar of sorts charting the most positive experiences we had playing games of all kinds throughout this year of self-isolation. We hope you read this list and feel inspired to think about the things you’re grateful for having throughout this dogshit current year 2020. If you’re reading this, I hope you have a wonderful day, week, and year. Whatever you’re going through is never going to be more powerful than your willpower if you have the drive to be the best version of yourself. – Evan Griffin, TYF Gaming Editor
Like I’m sure it has for everyone else, 2020 has had an unexpected effect on my ability to keep myself occupied. Being forced to stay home made me look at all that I had to entertain myself in my house when I wasn’t out working as an essential employee. Much of this entertainment was some games that I never really used as much before (classic backlog problem, right?). Video games became one of my natural forms of entertainment and escapism, specifically the PlayStation VR that I’ve had for over a year and had very rarely used. When you’re able to go out and explore the world freely, the idea of virtual reality doesn’t seem as attractive as actually living reality. But with a world operating at a very low level of, well, anything, and nowhere safe to go, this idea of putting on a goofy glowing helmet tethered to my PS4 and transporting myself to a new and exciting world was suddenly VERY attractive.
By day I was going to my job as an essential worker, and dealing with a depressingly, understandably small number of customers and feeling very unsure of everything around me. By night, I was soaring through the skies as Iron Man in Iron Man VR, and being a complete John Wick-like badass in Pistol Whip. As quarantine continued, my collection of old and new VR games expanded. I lived out my dream of being Daryl Dixon and taking out zombies in The Walking Dead Onslaught, I got to be an even bigger badass in Superhot VR, and one of my personal favorites…wielding a lightsaber and the force and going up against Darth Vader in Vader Immortal: A Star Wars lightsaber simulator VR Series. There are other games that I played (I was Batman once, no big deal) but what it really came down to was that feeling I had deep down each time I put on that stupid helmet and accidentally slammed my hand into the ceiling when swinging an axe at a zombie. That feeling made me feel like for that time I spent in a game I was outside of this dark and unsure reality and was able to feel some small shred of wonder even if it only lasted a little while. – Tyler Carlsen
March – Fire Emblem Three Houses
My first ever experience with a Fire Emblem game is a spillover from pre-quarantine days. Just before he was getting married and going on his honeymoon, one of my closest friends let me borrow his copy of Three Houses last October. I played it from then through March of this year and, as of this writing, is the most hours I’ve personally logged on my Nintendo Switch for a single game. In the two years after finishing Persona 5, I was starving for new RPG experiences to hit the same highs, and struggling to find ones that really stuck to my bones, the closest being my first experience with Final Fantasy VI on my SNES Classic. Three Houses, the most popular entry to date in the series by Intelligent Systems, is famous for aping a lot of the social link allure for Persona 5 players like me but is still earnest about its structure and relationship dynamics being true to the legacy of the series. What they did add, however, was a calendar structure for you to use as an academic professor, and a hub world to explore on the weekend days to build social links with the student characters. The game’s SRPG elements are flashy and robust, and it’s the part of the game that still really sticks with me months and two playthroughs later, but the drive to spend time with these characters is what propelled me through the game’s laborious rhythm.
Of course, I went against the grain on the academic group I picked, choosing to follow the plot of Dimitri, the prince of Faerghus and the Blue Lions house, first. I fell in love with that team’s cast of characters for being well spirited, honest do-gooders (even the perv Sylvain grew on me). My attachment to the Blue Lions cast was so strong that when I did a Black Eagles run, I recruited almost all of my precious former students, despite enjoying getting to know Edelgard and her peers of the Adrestian Empire all the same. Spending downtime with these delightful characters and watching them grow in skill made me feel like a teacher who admired their students more than any other game could before, and when you add in a little spicy rebellion against a corrupt church-state, I found myself logging 200 hours into two playthroughs of the game for min/maxing stats and seeing new perspectives. And that’s only half the content available.
The only pain point was trying to finally finish my Black Eagles run in the first month of quarantine, which also was overlapping just a little too far into Animal Crossing’s release, and my beloved younger brother was neck deep into constructing our beloved island on Animal Crossing New Horizons. We savored being able to argue about something as silly as splitting time on the Switch between ourselves like we were 12 years old again, a welcome distraction to the world being on fire and everything so uncertain. In no time I was looking to dive further back into the Fire Emblem catalog of games, finally fearless of their Permadeath system now that I had significant confidence in my ability to conquer the game’s maps. This series is so damn charming, and it warms my heart to see it become so successful and secure a broader fanbase for what was always a niche franchise. Also, yes Edelgard was right, but Dimitri deserved so much better. – Evan Griffin
April – Animal Crossing New Horizons
On the night we downloaded the newest title in the Animal Crossing series, my brother (he’s 27) and I got to share an experience with the franchise we hadn’t had since the days of GameCube in 2003: living together in a village of chatty animals. In the years since then, we each had our copies of the DS and 3DS portable entries and never picked up City Folk on Wii. The irony of this particular experience is that our Animal Crossing brotherhood duplicated our constant real relationship of compromise down to every minute detail. The reason for this is that the game’s first player to launch the game on a single Nintendo Switch is considered the “main” character, and thus was given all the specific story directed tasks, and the only player on the island to receive them. Therefore, my profile on the game was the only one that made Tom Nook see progress in our island village, despite the fact my brother played it for 10 times the hours I did. How did I end up being the
parent main character? He wanted our hometown fruit trees to be peaches. So we reset the game several times until he got the desired fruit he wanted. The dice of fate landed on my turn to launch the game.
I would continue onward doing trivial tasks in my time with this new Animal Crossing, like making sure neighbors were happy, taking project assignments from Tom Nook, digging up fossils, smacking rocks for bags of Bells, crafting countless items for filling arbitrary quotas because Minecraft has ruined everything. The repetitive stuff. My brother, on the other hand, would take the Switch, connect online, get on a Discord call, and just… faff about. Doing nothing. Sipping a peachy punch. Meanwhile, as I previously stated, all I really wanted to do was play more Fire Emblem.
Classic older brother doing the hard shit so his little brother can just screw off and make a mess to clean up later. Ayy, y’know I wouldn’t have it any other way, right? Right?
I did get to enjoy some socializing myself, as my friend Quinn, who I hadn’t seen since he let me borrow Fire Emblem, downloaded the game per my request so we could virtually chill on the beach with a La Croix and some beach chairs.
The energy was electric through the AC community around launch. It was a sight to behold when you got to trade materials, help friends reach personal goals, and seeing where everyone’s individual creativity brought them to assembling their island. It was a truly special moment, and it was absolutely the game that we all needed this year the most.
I’ll always have a soft spot for the quiet bamboo grove with a bonfire I built up in the northside hill of our little island of Twin Fish. Let me know if you want to visit, I have a dodo code and a lot of fruit. – Evan Griffin
April – NieR Automata
NieR Automata saved my soul.
I needed something to play that wasn’t on the Nintendo Switch so I didn’t have reason to complain about my brother’s Animal Crossing obsession (I’ll shut up about that now). Persona 5 Royal wasn’t out yet. I still couldn’t muster the energy to get through more than an hour of Death Stranding at a time. I’d been nagged to play NieR for years, I’d played the first couple stages back when it came out. I thought I got the gist. I was wrong.
I thought I was going to be enjoying just some anime-cyberpunk hack and slash Platinum game, but I had yet to discover the deepest musings of director Yoko Taro, the man I wanted to see in person but missed the chance because of a Jimmy John’s sandwich (Yes I’m still salty about that).
NieR Automata is more than a twitchy combat gauntlet. It is a bullet hell game. It is a mecha warrior game. A hacking simulator. A science-fiction action RPG. It is a dystopian tragedy. It is a story of musing on philosophy, existentialism, and humanism. It juggles so many identities, and questions the very meaning of identity itself.
Just when you think you have this game figured out, it pulls the rug out from under you. And there are no doubt millions of people out there that sadly never got to the famous third (D&E) playthrough. It sets you up for thinking a character perspective shift in playthrough B will be bog-standard character swaps in the same game structure, but then Automata ends up becoming a sequel to itself. Or maybe the first two runs are just two parallel ten-hour prologues, and run three is the real story.
The true nature of NieR Automata is to question the humanity of the self through the purview of seemingly sentient androids and robots in a world far beyond the era of humanity itself and to question why we believe things, to question what we feel and why.
NieR Automata is the Twin Peaks of the video game industry. It will stand the test of time for exposing the fallacy of the third person AAA action game genre. This game shook me in such a way that when I reached the absolute, save data deleting, conclusion. It haunted me. When I realized it was over, I had to uninstall the game entirely.
Maybe a little dramatic, but in March of 2020, it was a dramatic time.
In an era of uncertainty, NieR Automata took me in a loving embrace to make me not feel like a hollowed-out shell of a human being at a most essential time. – Evan Griffin
May – Magic: the Gathering Arena
The past couple of years, when I don’t want to play a video game or need to get out of the house, I’ve been heading to nearby board game stores and jamming some games of Magic: the Gathering with my friends and making even more while I was there. Thanks to COVID, every store I’d go to has been forced to close their play areas (please support local business if you can!) Thankfully, I wasn’t completely cut off from the game courtesy of the newer digital client Arena. Through this digital version, Wizards of the Coast was able to give some easy cosmetic codes to stores for running digital events for their customers in a quick response to the need to keep people safe and the businesses active. The community has since taken it from there, from creating their own online tournaments to creating entirely new formats of free play, using only what the game has available in-client. Some fans even developed a platform for playing the paper game over webcams and it runs so well WOTC actually hired them and purchased the tool. Game communities have all had to find ways to stay together when we literally can’t, and the MTG community has moved mountains to keep everyone safe, and I can’t wait to see everyone again. – Travis Hymas
June – Halo Master Chief Collection
Oh boy, I used to play so much Halo. In high school, if I had free time, it was socializing on Xbox live, making machinimas, and taking photos in theater mode, and sharing on the Bungie blog. The experience everyone has now in Discord and Facetime and Zoom, I was doing in real-time with good company on Xbox Live. The revolutionary social engagement was enough to keep me playing for years, even if I sucked at Halo. I still do in fact suck at Halo, but playing on PC this summer was a fun nostalgia trip of those middle school and high school years. To be able to replay the original campaigns with friends online, dig into the evolution of level design, and breeze through Reach, was a nostalgic godsend. That said, I still suck at multiplayer, and don’t really care to meet new people online playing it. The one time I turned voice chat in public Slayer on, I got ridiculed for not grasping the structure of a custom game with very bizarre platforming modifications and move sets, and told: “a 5-year-old could do better.”
It is now especially bad since they’ve added Halo 4 and it’s obvious now more than ever that the series started moving closer and closer to Call of Duty. But we had fun reliving the old days of Slayer, Firefight, and skull hunting, and digging into the lore of the books grappled Miles and I so hard we even tried to play through Halo Wars on Game Pass (we don’t recommend it). But hey, maybe we’ll eventually give Halo Wars 2 a try, and I for one am very excited for Halo Infinite. I hope the folks at 343 are having a decent go of it despite the struggles, and they should have the confidence there are enough of us original trilogy fans out there to see what they’re going for in the new title.
Even if the multiplayer had its downer moments (I changed my USNC tag to “BAD” as a warning to other players) it was still a good time to run through the campaigns with my friends on our own, so there was that. – Evan Griffin
July – Ring Fit Adventure
I am not in shape. Never have been since I was 7, really. I also would often start and stop attempting to work out at sporadic points throughout my life. It never felt genuine. I felt like I had to work out because everyone else was, and because I didn’t conform to a look, and the cheap clothes I bought never fit just right.
Years back, as I was finishing college, the best results I ever had with exercise was in isolation, in my own space at home, and doing bodyweight training with little to no equipment. I still fell off the wagon eventually because radical work hours got me thrown off, but it was a small start that got me to realize it was possible.
I’m 29 now, and in the middle of a pandemic, sitting in a computer chair day to day, working remote, I realized I should probably try and keep myself even slightly active. The drive to do so came the need to get out of a rut, and from wanting to take actually care of myself.
Fast forward to June of 2020, and everyone is talking about how Ring Fit Adventure is sold out because gyms are still closed. I look into the game from fall of 2019: a game based in Breath of the Wild’s engine that was a structured combination of pilates, calisthenics, and bodyweight exercises, tracked with the Nintendo Switch’s joy-con controls, one strapped to the left thigh, the other snapped into a resistance ring.
I decided to try it, the Switch was quieter now that Animal Crossing use had plateaued. After a couple of weeks with Cheap Ass Gamer and Wario64 notifications on, I ordered a unit, and it shipped a month later. When I stated Ring Fit Adventure, I had no idea it would be the most exercise I’d ever achieve in my life. It was like what Wii Fit always aimed to be.
It doesn’t force you to rush, it always checks your form, the UI is clear, the sets are easy to customize to your personal strength level. It’s not about how fast you can do it, or competing for how far you can go; the game focuses on making you check your own limits against yourself, and maybe be just entertaining enough to goad you into an extra set or two that really makes that energy-burning difference. Currently, I’m close to level 100 on the max difficulty, and every session feels great.
Yeah, maybe it’s hokey to admit the most consistent workouts of my life have been using a Nintendo made peripheral and motivated by RPG gamifying of basic moves, but as someone who has never experienced having a gym trainer before, this piece of software has really impressed me. I’m not saying I lost 20 pounds because of it, but I can’t deny my overall energy level, water intake and posture have seriously improved. – Evan Griffin
August – Fall Guys
When you fall down, you get back up. During a tough year, that’s the type of mentality you want to be carrying in your energy. Now, take that vibe and put it into a video game starring living jelly beans swarming their way to a finish line in a bounce house purgatory, and you end up with Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.
For a time, this was THE battle royale game to play. No guns, no traps, no tricks – just colorful characters running through bright obstacle courses and playing mini-games in the hopes of being the last one left to grab the crown. Oh, and there’s a lot of falling. Lots… and lots… of falling. Fall Guys swept through Twitch and the streaming community; everyone was trying to win and collect many coveted crowns. Gaming audiences were in the high digits, both as players and as viewers. Fall Guys had an all-time gaming moment when it launched to widescale success. It was the exuberant, happy go lucky family-friendly game we all needed.
Fall Guys helped to let out your inner frustrations and race to the finish line. If you also happened to troll the other players by grabbing them or off-balancing the platforms, then so be it (you do you with your strategy!). After all, yeeting people off the stage to get ahead is considered a viable strategy as far as the official Fall Guys Twitter is concerned. It’s a cute game with an easy premise to pick-up, and it’s one that families can easily play together with its bright and colorful family-friendly tone. And you can’t deny the power of the Slime Climb. That level alone brings out all the competition and fury in gamers to outlive everyone.
While Fall Guys isn’t at the explosive height it once was, the game has made a positive impact on people to capture our attention and competitive streak (this writer included). We’ll have to see what new content comes next in later seasons. – Justin Carreiro
August – Sea of Thieves
When we burned out on Halo (specifically the delay of Infinite, finishing all available, and the dread of Polygon’s Brian David Gilbert explaining the lore on Unwraveled) we had all been signed up for Xbox Game Pass for PC. As someone who never had an Xbox One, but grew up playing Rare’s Nintendo games, I wanted some summer flare and buccaneering with Sea of Thieves called to me.
Playing Sea of Thieves solo on a small sloop ship is a trip, but with a three or four-man crew is a different beast, especially with friends who like to play as wild cards. I should have known the journey would be a mess from the start when Miles decided on the tutorial PVE island to walk onto another player’s boat and act like we’re not on public mic. In no time we were creepily stalked by the owner of said boat and claiming “we must be those new steam players” with such seething vitriol we had to leave the server.
The experience would end up being a mish-mash of Miles going off and doing whatever he wanted on the other side of the ocean while Travis and I tried to complete actual in-game tasks, and being assaulted by enemy players we wanted nothing to do with. Literally, we’d set off on a mission, and Miles would put himself in a canon and launch off onto a passing island. He would also very often try and commit mutiny on the boat to take us into the event battle against the ghost pirate in the sky. We locked him in the brig as he screamed “We have to go! The sky called me a bitch!”
It may have not been the most accurate of pirating experiences (or was it?) but we had a blast. – Evan Griffin
September – Among Us
The sleeper hit of 2020 is undoubtedly Among Us. Even though the online game was released back in 2018, Among Us became an overwhelming sensation and the perfect distraction to keep our minds off of life. Regardless of the type of gamer (mobile, PC, viewer), the online social deduction game was – and still is – everywhere!
Among Us’ story in 2020 is positive for two reasons. The first, as mentioned above, is that the game found new life years after it originally launched. Among Us is a fun game that mixes both mini-games and social deduction elements, like Clue or Werewolf or Mafia. Though, it originally launched with little fanfare. The game’s creators were actually prepared to move on from it and had already canceled a sequel. Then, 2020 happened and the streamer community pushed the game into the limelight – and it exploded from there. Among Us is one of the most active games, and it’s now a great history lesson of video games finding new life years later.
The second reason is easy enough: it’s a great game to play with friends. With
the pandemic Backstreet Boys World Tour hitting global pandemic levels, social-distancing became a must, and not being around friends/family was a tough adjustment. But, with a social game like Among Us, gamers got to bring their loved ones together to deduce imposters and let out their inner frustrations. You either took your chances in public lobbies or you set up private games with friends to show everyone how much of a liar and sociopath you could be. (You know… friendship).
Plus, the streaming community embraced Among Us with open arms and created some of the best crossovers yet. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), James Charles, Jagmeet Singh, and Logic to name a few jumped into the game to compete against some big streamers, like Valkyrae, Disguised Toast, Hbomberguy and Pokimane. And a large number of streamers attained a wave of attention and subscribers from their Among Us streams, like Corpse Husband, Hafu, and 5up. – Justin Carreiro
September – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
I had two immediate emotions when I first fired up Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. First, I had that warm nostalgic feeling that is so difficult to actually hit when you’re a millennial and nothing you loved as a kid ever actually goes away long enough to miss it. Yet, once Goldfinger’s Superman kicked in and the sound of those wheels hitting pavement joined them, it was like I de-aged 18 years. Second, I realized that the way I talk about games like this is all wrong. While THPS1+2 is absolutely a remake of old games, to pretend it’s not one of 2020’s best-designed games because of it is a disservice. What made this game an absolute joy to play wasn’t the nostalgia, but the fact that by applying 2020 era tech and design philosophy with the same kind of skill that goes into brand-new games. I keep coming back to playing this game with a giant smile on my face the entire time. Going forward, I plan to look at remakes less like revivals and more like projects in and of themselves fully, and I thank THPS1+2 for changing that mindset for me. – Travis Hymas
September – How I Learned to Stop Moving and Love Super Mario Galaxy
So I managed to get my hands on a physical copy of Super Mario 3D All-Stars because I’m a nostalgia-driven corporate shill for Nintendo. Obviously, I have been dying to replay these games for a long time, as have most of you, but that first factor is still kind of true. My experiences with Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine were pretty similar to every other time I’ve replayed both games on prior consoles: I still can’t catch the damn vulture with the star in 64’s Shifting Sand Land, the Sand Bird in Sunshine is more stressful than the SATs and playing both games are more pleasant than 90 percent of the social interactions I’ve ever had. There’s just so much colorful charm in them that they give off pure serotonin being blasted into our eyeballs.
But then there’s Super Mario Galaxy, a game I played off-and-on when it came out on the Wii in 2007 and admittedly never wanted to replay whenever I’d later come back to the Wii (mostly to replay Sonic Adventure 2 Battle). This was not because the game is boring, far from it. I’d go so far as to say that Galaxy is the prettiest of the Mario platformers in everything from the collectible Star Bits to the colorful levels shifting. Its set-up like a living painting accompanied by what might be the best music the Mario games have ever had, especially as the first to be a fully orchestrated soundtrack. So 13 years and one pandemic later, I finally beat Super Mario Galaxy on the Switch, and it somehow feels like that’s where it always belonged.
As innovative as the motion controls of the Wii were, they were one of the major things that kept me from playing Galaxy on that system for long stretches of time. The pointing of the Wiimote to the sensor bar to shoot Star Bits or use the gravity-controlled blue stars was annoying, not to mention the required slight flicks of the Wiimote for Mario’s spin. Playing on the Switch has thankfully made those optional, and allowed me to really appreciate the detail in the levels and platform mechanics of the game, though I don’t know why there’s still a point-and-move method for the blue gravity stars. Playing a Mario platformer just feels incredibly natural on a standard controller, especially the Switch Pro Controller). So here’s to Nintendo smoothing the edges on motion controls that weren’t going to age very well on one of their best titles to make it even more valuable. Not only that, but they even updated Sunshine to support our old analog GameCube controllers so it plays like it always did. What a treat. – Jon Winkler
October – Final Doom (Doom 1993)
Listen. I’m only human. I can be swayed by people on YouTube the same as anyone else. When video game critic, and former Kotaku producer, Tim Rogers set off on his personal journey to create multi-hour long videos on the greatest videogames of all time, you’re damn right I was going to be there to watch the most self-aware indulgent man on Gaming YouTube give a college lecture on games that have already been talked to death.
When his episode on Doom was published in September, I consumed it, engorged on it, in a single playback. On my phone. As I was cooking. Occasionally glancing at it. Exactly the opposite way he intended the video to be experienced. Oh well. Despite that, the quality of the video was apparent, and it made me realize that, despite playing the port of the game’s original 3 chapters on the Xbox Live Arcade a little over a decade ago, I was still kind of a Doom poser, myself.
Thus, I downloaded Final Doom from Miles’ gigantic steam library, installed the Sigil mod published by John Romero himself, and I sunk my teeth into the iconic first-person shooter with newly quarantined bloodshot eyes.
I too was a Doom poser, but no longer. I now see the genius in its level design, enemy design, its music, its secrets. And while I have yet to master it, it’s given me a whole new perspective and it made me so eager to play Doom Eternal I accidentally bought it on the Fall Steam sale last week, mere days before It launched on Xbox Game Pass for PC simply because I wasn’t paying very much attention. OOoOoOops. – Evan Griffin
October – Four Years of Dead by Daylight, and reviving Silent Hill
Survival horror asymmetrical video game, Dead by Daylight, celebrated its fourth year of slashing and dominating its way into our hearts. As with the past few years, Behaviour Interactive celebrated its big moment by throwing an event for its gamers. Extra blood points, new skins, and teases for upcoming chapters were just some of the surprises waiting for the summer event. It’s a bright spot for fans of the title who love to play and support the game all these years (myself included). Though, Dead by Daylight’s impact is felt throughout the year as opposed to one short timeframe.
Specifically, the reveals of iconic new chapters and characters joining the Dead by Daylight universe. Seriously, if you had guessed years ago that Heather Mason and Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill series would find new life in Dead by Daylight, no one would’ve believed it! These characters hadn’t appeared in a mainline Silent Hill game since 2012, with some exceptions for being guest characters in other properties. However, for both hero and villain to return but in a scenario designed specifically to look like Silent Hill, that is a huge accomplishment on its own. This debut could warm any Silent Hill fan’s heart, and it opened the door to future prospects of other gaming properties to joining this universe.
In addition to the Silent Hill chapter, Dead by Daylight released three other stories with victim/killer combos. For instance, the western-inspired “Chains of Hate,” The Blight/Felix Richter release of “Descend Beyond,” and the newest chapter called “A Binding of Kin,” which revealed the first-ever 2-in-1 killer model. Even with a rocky 2020, it was great having Dead by Daylight expand their universe and unveil new chapters for its fans to anticipate. – Justin Carreiro
October – The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask
In August, I watched Arin Hansen finish his playthrough of The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask on Game Grumps after quitting it for 2 years. In classic rage quitting fashion, he was frustrated by the simplest of mini-bosses and restarted the game in our pandemic era, or as his co-host, Danny likes to call it “Backstreet Boys World Tour”. As I reevaluated his career-long criticisms of the 3D Zelda series, and of that game’s level design, I also appreciated Danny’s fresh perspective on Majora, adoring someone experiencing its themes and presentation from a fresh perspective.
Suddenly it hit me, the game was 20 years old as of April in Japan, and we were approaching its 20th North American release anniversary at the end of October. Whether out of spite for Game Grumps’ Arin Hansen, or the sore need for my own nostalgic replay, I assigned myself the task of writing a retrospective. While not a wholly original task, I set out with the intent to find a way to make it so. I streamed the game in its entirety on my Twitch channel for my friends to watch, acquire captured gameplay, and use it to make my longest video editing project to date (a 37-minute video essay). I dove into research and created probably the longest editorial I’ve written on TYF to this day.
I’m a bit burned out on this much beloved Zelda game for a while now, but the process was a fun distraction, and a creative outlet to focus on as emotions boiled over on Twitter, the daily readings of which was sending my anxiety through the roof. In replaying Majora to assess it critically, and to try and view it from a design perspective of its directors, it’s probably the most I’ve gotten out of the game since I first played it in 2000.
If you feel like watching or reading this editorial, you can find my piece on How Eiji Aonuma and Yoshiaki Koizumi Changed Zelda’s Future here. – Evan Griffin
November – When Apex Legends Visited New Mombasa
Apex Legends has been the king of my gaming time since it first launched nearly two years ago. I’ve played better games since, but Respawn’s Titanfall-tinged battle royale is a drug I just can’t kick. The weapons have a neat design, a three-player team provides a good balance of skill and the designs and abilities of the characters are all fun (except Wattson, whose only redeeming quality is her cool jacket).
The maps of Apex, however, have been a mixed bag for different reasons. Kings Canyon, the game’s inaugural map, is fun for its open space but stressful in how much ground you have to traverse the death ring closes in. World’s Edge has some neat individualized looting spots but the increased number of high-up positions to access can give trolling players a great spot to camp out on. But now we have Olympus, released for Season Seven on Nov. 4, and… it’s New Mombasa. Like seriously, it is just New Mombasa from Halo. Sure it may look like a miniaturized version of Cloud City from Star Wars sponsored by Amazon, but it has a layout very similar to the frequent setting of Master Chief’s adventures. Specifically, it’s like the New Mombasa of Halo 3: ODST just in the daylight.
Also, I hate it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous and very well-detailed. From the various loot spots on the edges of the floating structure to even the underground halls able to explore. In terms of shooting space and targeting, however, it’s the pits. Certain areas have drops and cover spots in random spots that make it difficult to properly aim and turn shootouts into grenade shot put. The numerous high spots on top of the rectangular retro apartments and the disc-shaped hideouts make for long-term camping. While the in-game architecture of the buildings is impressive, it makes for a more claustrophobic experience running down elevator shafts and hallways.
So yeah, Olympus is the best and worst thing Apex Legends has ever done. Will I still be playing? Well, sure. How else can I convince EA to let Respawn make Titanfall 3? – Jon Winkler
November – Hades
This game has consumed me.
My first encounter with it was through fanart in a friend’s Twitch stream. Then, in October, when visiting my friends in Maine for the first time since last October (the married friends), I witnessed gameplay of it on a Nintendo Switch, and the premise finally sank in. It was no longer a nebulous name floating in the ether of my brain cells, but now fully formed. This was Hades, and it was both welcoming, and brutal. I looked into more gameplay on Twitch following that weekend. I discovered developer commentary on speedruns, I watched the game’s voice actors play it, I pieced together the influence of Supergiant’s previous games on the final product, and it’s early access time on Epic Game Store.
The first takeaway from an arm’s length is the stunning character design, the high-quality voice acting, the beautiful environment art. The gameplay looks so fast, but when people use buzz words like “rogue-lite” and “dungeon crawler” it was hard to parse what made it so special. That was until I played for myself on a whim, on election night, looking to sink my teeth into something besides doomscrolling on Twitter.
I downloaded the game. And now, a month later, I can barely remember what it was like before this game was in my life. This year’s “feels like Spider-Man” in games media rhetoric is “I Can’t Stop Thinking About Hades.” It’s very unforgettable. It has an earnest, modern feeling in its presentation value, but true to the populus’ knowledge of characters in the pantheon of Greek mythology. But the most important is that high-quality gameplay loop. Every run feels rewarding in some way, even if you flub it early on. Every time you end up back at the House of Hades, you can use your darkness points in the Nyx’s mirror, and gift previous nectar to allies, adversaries, and acquaintances, and eventually check the statistics of past runs or set up difficult challenges for your next journey. There is always stuff to do, and all in service of getting to know Zagreus and the company he keeps better as well as improving the potential of your next run through the Underworld to escape and meet Zag’s mother Persephone.
Hanging out and streaming late into the night with Hades, and being coached by new friends in Discord who had been playing it since the alpha release, there was an energy in feeling their excitement as they watched me begin to click with certain weapons and boon combos throughout my playthroughs. It was some of the most engaging communal gaming experiences I’ve had all year. It feels really rewarding to get good at Hades, and no matter what the results of this week’s Game Awards are, I know in my stone-cold heart that this is my game of the year. – Evan Griffin
We hope this collaboration has got you thinking about some thrilling, comforting, or community embracing moments you’ve had through video games this year. If you feel like sharing your own stories, we’d love to hear them either in comments or in tweets, and give out some positive vibes for others in the gaming community on the internet.