When lockdown first hit back in March 2020, I was… not unhappy. Concerned about the situation, of course, but not unhappy. Not being allowed to leave the house or see anyone was a novelty at that point rather than ‘oh god, how much longer?’, and as an introvert at the best of times (‘misanthrope’ is more apt most days), I wasn’t complaining. My first thought – slightly optimistic in hindsight – was that I would finally be able to make a dent in my giant backlog of videogames not yet played.
The dent did not appear. I made a barely noticeable scratch, maybe?… and then added a whole load more items to my game libraries due to Humble Bundles and Steam/GOG sales and Nintendo eShop bargains, so I now have far more in my backlog than I did at the start of 2020. Oh well. This lack of denting was also largely due to the fact that, as it turns out, not leaving the house does not make me any less busy. However, I did manage to get a little more gaming time in last year than I normally would.
These are the games that I lost myself in during 2020.
RingFit Adventure (Switch)
Geth and I got this exercise-based Switch game for Christmas 2019 (and a good thing too, as it rapidly became impossible to find in early 2020!). It’s the exact premise I’ve always dreamt of – it’s an RPG that you play via running and strength training. Get your gaming and your exercise in at the same time! What’s not to love?
Unfortunately I didn’t get as far as I imagined I would during 2020… because other forms of exercise and other forms of gaming commanded too much of my attention! As such, I’ve not really uncovered much of the story yet, which appears to be about a giant gym-loving dragon escaping and causing mayhem. It is great cross-training if you’re a runner, though, so I really need to get back into it sometime soon – especially seeing as the cold winter weather makes me disinclined to go out for super-long runs at the moment.
Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
At the start of 2020, in the post-Christmas haze and before we ever imagined that this far-off coronavirus thing would ever cause any disruption here in the UK, I started a new JRPG playthrough as usual. On this occasion, it was my third playthrough of Fire Emblem: Awakening, which remains one of the best games I’ve ever played. This time (as I was conscious of having a lot of other games to play and so I decided to make it my last ever playthrough), I was going to complete it: all the characters, all the collectibles, all the DLC maps done. I did about 99% of it… and then it started to get difficult and boring. Still, the save file is there for when I do get the urge to finish it off for the final time!
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (3DS)
I was also in the middle of my Miracle Mask playthrough at the start of 2020, and finished it fairly promptly due to the incredible, engaging story. My favourite Professor Layton game by a long shot – I played the final 3DS installment, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, straight afterwards and didn’t enjoy it quite as much, though it was still good. Miracle Mask is one of those games that I’ll think about for years.
Bravely Default (3DS)
I was thrilled to hear at the start of 2020 that there was going to be a new Switch entry in the Bravely Default series. I happened to be halfway through my second playthrough of the first game, and so I made sure to finish it in the early part of 2020. After all, I knew I needed time to play through the sequel, Bravely Second, as well before the new game came out!
Adventuron Treasure Hunt Jam (online)
I’m still really enjoying coding illustrated text adventure games with the Adventuron engine (I have so many planned for this year!) and am proud to say that I’ve put a submission in to every Adventuron game jam on itch.io so far. My favourite part of every jam, however, is kicking back and playing all the other submissions once all the hard work is done. March 2020’s Treasure Hunt Jam was an especially fruitful one – there were eighteen submissions in total (two disqualified for being incomplete, but I still had a go at them). The jam conditions included the rule that responses should be no longer than six words, and so it was fascinating to see how all the game creators worked around this language restriction.
I’d like to choose a favourite, but I can’t. Going back and looking at the submissions page is making me really nostalgic and I want to play them all again!
Thimbleweed Park: Delores (PC)
The original Thimbleweed Park game was one of my favourite games of 2017, but that wasn’t much of a surprise, given my huge yen for LucasArts point ‘n’ clicks and how important they were to me as a young gamer. In spring 2020, Ron Gilbert released this experimental not-quite-a-sequel, which was a joyful thing to play during the first lockdown.
Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World (PC)
Delores gave me the itch to dive into my backlog of classic-style adventure games, and so I dug out Kaptain Brawe from my Steam library. I’d played it a few years previously but had never finished it; this time, I spent an enjoyable week going through the story. The art was done by Bill Tiller and so it’s very reminiscent of The Curse of Monkey Island (the music is extremely similar too, which I wasn’t quite sure suited the game!). The puzzles are a perfect difficulty in my view, although there were a few annoying incidences of a vital item being near-impossible to spot on the screen. My only other complaint is about the constant typos in the onscreen text. This kind of thing drives me absolutely mad as it makes a product look really sloppy and amateurish – I know I’m a proofreader, but I also know a lot of non-proofreaders who would be equally annoyed!
Very fun story, though, and so it makes my list for the year.
Bravely Default II Demos (Switch)
Adding to my excitement about the next Bravely game (which is now scheduled for a February 2021 release… I am very excited and clutching my brand-new Switch Lite in anticipation!), there were two demos of the game released on Switch during the course of 2020. The first was back in March, and was another very welcome lockdown release – I managed to eke it out for somewhere between twenty and thirty hours, which is great for a demo (though actually fairly standard for a Bravely demo, having played all the ones on 3DS!). The second was in late December and was limited to five hours, resulting in a very different play style (I usually like to take my time and look at absolutely everything); I played it in the week between Christmas and New Year and am now very much in the mood for the main game. Just need to finish off Bravely Second first!
realMyst: Masterpiece Edition (Switch)
I first played Myst when the original came out in 1993. Well, I say ‘played’. I found that the puzzles were a little too brain-burny for eight-year-old me, so I sat for hours and watched Dad play it instead, fascinated by the way the world moved and the way the story was constructed. It’s still one of Dad’s favourite games and he owns the whole series, whereas I never even made it to the end of Riven, the first sequel. Still, I’ve always loved the first game, and after many playthroughs of the family’s ropey old CD-ROM copy, I decided to grab the updated bells ‘n’ whistles version when it came out on Switch in spring 2020.
The majesty of the original graphics is still breathtaking – but now it’s all in super modern definition and you can spin the camera around to see the world from every angle! Other modern updates: typing out game notes on my phone rather than handwriting them in the special notebook you got with the original game. Lots of things are not better in this century.
Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch)
One of my favourite gaming memories is the week leading up to Christmas 2010, more than a decade ago now. For the second year in a row, the UK saw heavy snow over the Christmas period, and so Geth and I were disappointed to find that our flight from Edinburgh to Cardiff to visit Geth’s mum was cancelled due to the weather, leaving us at a loose end for the week. However, we made the best of it, and making the best of it involved me spending the week mainlining Super Paper Mario, a Wii game that my brother Malcolm had got me the previous year. I absolutely loved the game – the gameplay, the style, the story – and subsequently played through it again multiple times while we were still primarily gaming on the Wii.
However, in the intervening decade, I never got round to playing any of the other Paper Mario games that were coming out… until 2020. There was a lot of hype around The Origami King during the early part of the summer, and I became more and more nostalgic about Paper Mario, so eventually I went for it and spent a very enjoyable few weeks wandering around the origamified Mushroom Kingdom. The gameplay isn’t as good as in Super Paper Mario – they’ve removed a lot of the RPG elements and the combat system is a bit frustrating – but I loved the atmosphere of the game and it will always remind me of summer 2020, just as the earlier series entry always reminds me of Christmas 2010.
When I’ve got time, I may go back and play a few of the Paper Mario games that I missed!
Beyond A Steel Sky (PC)
Beneath A Steel Sky was another classic ’90s point ‘n’ click that I loved back in the day, so I was really excited to hear that this sequel was being made. It came out within a couple of days of the release of The Origami King, so I had to decide which to play first; Origami King won out, meaning that I didn’t get round to playing Beyond A Steel Sky until about four weeks after release. However, I still found the game to be very buggy, with awkward camera angles all over the shop (especially when talking to NPCs), and, to my disappointment, when I finished the game I found that it hadn’t registered any of my achievements on Steam! I do want to play it again, but not for a couple of years – hopefully they’ll have ironed all the bugs out by then.
I did love the story though – it was a fantastic return to Union City, and it really captured the feel of the original game, especially when visiting LINCspace (I gasped when I heard the original music theme!) and its updated equivalent. Really beautifully done.
Final Fantasy I (PSP)
I’ve been familiar with most of the Final Fantasy stories for over a decade, because Geth plays all the most well-known games on a regular basis. I’ve played spinoffs and sequels and related games and other peripheral things; however, until 2020, I had never played any of the mainline Final Fantasy games myself. In 2020, I decided I was going to play them all in order, despite the fact that everyone says you shouldn’t do that. Maybe because of the fact that everyone says you shouldn’t do that.
The PSP update of FFI is, by all accounts, a bit kinder to the player than the original, and so far I’ve really been enjoying it, despite the fact that there’s not much of a story to it (in the early part of the game it’s largely wandering around the world talking to people in villages, without much direction). I estimate I’m about a quarter of the way through the game, so at this rate it might take me the rest of my life to play every single mainline Final Fantasy game. Maybe in 2021 I’ll be able to dedicate a bit more time to it!
Sam & Max Season 2: Beyond Time And Space (PC)
I am very behind with Telltale’s episodic Sam & Max games, all of which were released well over a decade ago now. I did play the first two episodes of Season 1 back in the day, but only managed to finish the season in… 2018 I think? And now they’ve just released a remastered version of Season 1. Which I’ve bought, but probably won’t get round to playing for some time!
Anyway, in 2020 I managed to play a few episodes of Season 2. I’ve played three out of five episodes, so I should at least get the season finished in 2021. I hope!
Episode 1, Ice Station Santa, is an ideal Christmas treat (unfortunately, I played it in August). Episode 2, Moai Better Blues, is good filler, but it was Episode 3, Night of the Raving Dead, that really shone for me. It’s about club-going Stuttgart vampires and zombies, and if you have ever spent any time in German goth/industrial clubs (or the wider European goth/industrial scene in general) then you will not be able to get through this episode without howling in recognition. The goth club night held in a huge room with only five people in attendance! Sam and Max’s terrible vampire rap! The perfectly judged banging club track! (Geth loved this track so much that he would complain when I had to go to another location.)
I’m really looking forward to picking this series up again.
The Next Adventuron Jam (online)
The Adventuron jam of summer 2020 will always be extra special to me – it was the one where my game took first place, and also the one where I worked extra hard (in a fun way) to release three different versions of the game (Adventuron, Spectrum +3 and Spectrum Next) using the porting tools provided! Making the Spectrum versions was a really interesting project and something I want to experiment with again in the future.
There were seven games entered into this jam, so I expected to get through them fairly quickly – but memorable big hitters Over Here! and Dawn Of The Soviet Ladybirds were both very involving games and took me some time to finish. A really good quality lineup for this jam, and I feel that Adventuron users’ output is getting better and better.
Bravely Second (3DS)
This time, I’m going to finish it.
I first started playing Bravely Second in 2016 when it first came out, but I got stuck on a tough battle and never finished the playthrough. I started the game again in the autumn, and this time, I’m grinding more intently and got through the same battle with ease. I’m determined to finish it in the next few weeks so that I’m all caught up by the time Bravely Default II comes out on 26th February!
I’ve loved the new characters in the Bravely Default II demos, but I will also miss spending time with the original gang. I just hope the story has a good ending!
Link-A-Pix Colour (3DS)
One of the things I love about the 3DS (and why I expect I’ll still be playing it for years to come despite now also owning a Switch Lite) is its wide range of puzzle games – the type you might download as an app on your phone. I generally don’t use my phone for gaming as I prefer to keep the memory free for other things – and I’m just not very keen on phone gaming in general (it feels a bit casual for me). As such, my 3DS is where I play my puzzle games, and I have quite a lot of them.
My go-to during 2020 (and into 2021) has been Link-A-Pix Colour. It’s part of a series of games where you create pixel pictures through number puzzles, and is a lovely, relaxing way to switch off late at night. Some of the pictures are pretty tough though – I spent an hour and forty minutes trying to solve one a few nights ago! Maybe I was just a bit tired…
Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare (PC)
Every year, I plan to spend a few hours in the days before Christmas playing the seasonal ‘Holiday Hare’ levels of Jazz Jackrabbit, which was my absolute favourite PC platformer in the mid-’90s. Most years, Christmas is such a rush that I don’t get round to it, but this last Christmas was a bit quieter for obvious reasons, and so I was able to sit down and play a bit of Jazz for the first time in ages. Maybe I should schedule some time to play all the non-Christmas levels again some day!
The best bit of these levels are the banging Christmas medley that plays in the background. Truly epic.
A few final thoughts:
- I played a lot more games in 2020, but these are the ones that really stood out.
- All of them created happy memories, but my number one game of the year was Paper Mario: The Origami King. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but the atmosphere was just lovely.
Looking ahead to 2021:
- I am very excited about Bravely Default II. Have I mentioned that?
- First things first, though: I have a whole new slew of games from the recent Adventuron Christmas jam to play and enjoy before the ratings are due this weekend (go play them if you haven’t already!), and then I will be cracking on with Bravely Second in order to get it finished over the next few weeks.
- Other than that, I’ve still got that rather imposing backlog to clear…