Jumping the Soapbox: Games of 2020 (Part 1)

A year on this website wouldn’t be complete with a rundown of some of the games I managed to play in the preceding twelve months; almost none of which came out that year!  Frankly unless it’s a big Nintendo release or something REALLY up my alley like a Hideo Kojima game, I rarely buy games when they come out and 2020 proved to be pretty anemic for big releases that caught my attention.  Still, my backlog is enormous and it’s worth pointing out what games were really good (or really bad) even if they aren’t the freshest things out there.  I mean heck, with Steam and online storefronts being what they are, who can even say what’s relevant anymore and what games can or cannot capture a bit of the spotlight?  Probably not most of these games though as I tend to not have much in terms of “taste” but let’s see take a glimpse at what kept me entertained in the bad year to end all bad years!

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Batman: Arkham Knight (PC)

Developed by Rocksteady Studios

My big purchase of the year was a brand spanking new graphics card for my very old and out of date system, and one of the games I got to kind of benchmark it was this.  The Batman games to me are kind of like Dynasty Warriors in that I ignore pretty much everything going on around them when they’re released and will just pick and choose the ones I want to play years after everyone stopped caring.  To its credit, whatever bugs plagued this game on release don’t SEEM to be there anymore as I had a very smooth experience, and while the narrative is eye rolling tripe the gameplay was interesting enough for me to stick with it for a while.  What kind of sticks out about the Batman games is that they do go the extra mile to make things feel like a “Game” and not just an open world sandbox of repetitive action.  Sure, you can while away the hours picking off random things if you really want to, but the story missions aren’t just concentrated arenas for the same open world gameplay.  The last mission I played before I put it down for a while (I’ll try to get back to it at some point) was the blimp level, and the fact that they bothered to introduce this shifting angle mechanic  to give it something distinctive was very much appreciated.  If you liked the Batman games and aren’t burnt out by them just yet then this is more of the same with a next gen sheen to it (though I guess at this point it’s decided CURRENT if not LAST gen) and one of these a console generation seems to be the right amount.

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Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

Developed by Square Enix Business Division 1

Aside from the title, which I’m pretty sure was supposed to be just a place holder until they ran out of time, what I love about this game is how much of a different beast it is from the original.  Very rarely do remakes like this strike so boldly into their own direction as they attempt to reach out to the old fans and remind them why they liked the original in the first place, but with this one takes an approach you only ever see in subversive reimagines; and even that isn’t quite what it’s doing.  It’s more like an adaptation than anything else which is kind of weird to say when we’re dealing with the same medium, but throughout this game I had that feeling of seeing a book I read on the big screen or watching comic book characters reimagined for a TV show; something that we could only see in our imaginations being brought to life.  Being able to look up and see the Sector 7 plate for the very first time is what I feel to be the most significant moment in the game.  The world that we could only see from a top down perspective being realized in full 3D and the sheer scope of Midgar comes across in a way that I just didn’t feel in the original.  Gameplay wise I thought I wouldn’t like it, even after playing the demo, but the nuances eventually started to click and I definitely got into it.  Probably wasn’t the best idea to have such a convoluted multiform boss fight in the opening minutes of the game, but the game ultimately provides a fun and meaty experience for those that thought Kingdom Hearts was feeling far too floaty.  If there’s anything I would count against the game, it’s the side quests which feel REALLY tacked on and just grind the game to a halt (there’s no reason this had to be a fifty hour game), and the fact that I don’t know what the plan is from Square Enix going forward.  I certainly like the direction the story is going in even if it gets a bit esoteric at the end because it means we can go forward without knowing exactly what’s going to happen and in some ways experience the journey of Final Fantasy 7 with renewed eyes, but what’s Square Enix gonna do; release a fifth of the game every four years until we’re at the PS7?  Maybe the next game will truncate a lot of things and limit the amount of over world grinding to more focus on the key points in the story, but it’s still gonna be quite a while before this adventure comes to a close.  In any case, I REALLY recommend checking this game out if you’ve ever wondered why people liked Final Fantasy 7 so much because it may not have the gameplay, the look, or even the same story in its finer details, but it gets the bigger picture better than any other game that’s tried to follow in its footsteps.  Just don’t try to hold out for ALL of the FF7 remake games to come out to play all at once because I’m pretty sure Half Life 3 is gonna come out before that happens.

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Grim Fandango Remastered (PC)

Developed by Double Fine Productions

Widely considered to be one of the best Adventure games of all time, I tried playing it probably a decade ago without much success as I got stuck in the woods and never bothered to figure a way out of it.  With the rerelease giving some solid quality of life improvements that definitely help smooth out some of the edges (I don’t know how I got as far as I did using tank controls back in the day) I was finally able to play it from beginning to end and found it to be… pretty good!  I guess I missed the boat for it to be an EARTHSHATTERING CLASSIC for me, but it’s definitely one of the more interesting adventure games I’ve played and unlike OTHER ones that caught my interest like The Longest Journey, I didn’t have to play the whole thing with a walkthrough in my lap.  Now that’s not to say I didn’t need to look a few things up like the lock puzzle on that tanker level or whatever the heck I was supposed to do about the alligator, but it ended up finding a pretty good sweet spot where it took me SOME time to figure things out so I wasn’t breezing through everything but not so difficult that I couldn’t make progress.  The story itself definitely works more as individual set pieces and character moments than in one big overarching narrative which is fine considering how much time you spend in each location and with each character, but it does mean that by the end it felt a little bit hollow.  The FINAL BOSS as it were was one of the easiest puzzles in the game, and the last cut scene left me a bit cold as everyone just moved on to whatever’s next; perhaps a fitting conclusion to a story about death but I can definitely say that the journey was better than the destination.

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It’s Always Sunny: The Gang Goes Mobile (Android)

Developed by East Side Games Studio

Woo boy, is this one a bit embarrassing.  So I’m a huge It’s Always Sunny fan and obviously if there was a crappy mobile game with them I had to check it out just to laugh at it.  Well… that’s not exactly what happened.  The game is an Idle Tapper thing where your enjoyment comes out of how efficiently you can make the numbers grow (in this case the money you make off of schemes from the show), and I’ll give the game credit for quite a bit of depth in that regard.  There’s a large variety of things to upgrade which gives you something to strive for and put your money towards, and I enjoy the fact that after each level the whole game resets meaning you’re not constantly running up against a paywall and have a chance to make quite a few important and satisfying choices at the start of each round.  It’s also got a decent art style and I do enjoy the way they remix certain episodes so that they’re still familiar to things we’ve seen from the show but done in a slightly different context.  The problem is… well it’s an Idle Tapper, and it’s one of the most cynically easy ways to get someone hooked on minor achievements; even more so than those city building simulators like The Simpsons Tapped out and the My Little Pony game.  I never felt tempted to buy the micro-transactions which is another point in the game’s favor, but I also spent way too much time fiddling and futzing with it when I could have been doing something else, and I watched SO many ads to get extra currency or time based multipliers.  Even if I can appreciate the effort to not make this game PURE EVIL, it’s still not something I can recommend simply because of just how easy it is to sink way too much time into it and no matter how fast you’re making cash or how wisely you upgrade your characters, it’s simply not fulfilling enough to justify the effort you need to put into it and you’re better off just watching reruns of the show while playing with a pocket calculator.

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Modern Mania Wrestling (Android)

Developed by Checkmate Creative

It’s no secret that I’m a big wrestling fan and more intriguing to me than simply playing an overly complicated fighting game with the familiar faces of the Squared Circle is trying to be the booker of the show; the person in charge of making sure all the storylines make sense, all the wrestlers are well taken care of, and even the fantasy of giving them proper healthcare plans with the massive amount of money we make instead of putting it towards another boat or whatever the heck it is that’s keeping Vince McMahon from opening his change purse.  With this game I thought I had found what I was looking for and it’s frankly a concept I’m surprised hasn’t been attempted elsewhere.  Heck, we got an NFL Head Coach game, but we can’t get a Vince Russo Simulator!?  For the first hour it was everything I wanted; albeit in a simplified form.  Looking over your roster, assigning matches to maximize audience excitement, building your brand, starting feuds and angles, booking venues and TV stations, all with colorful non-copyright infringing wrestling superstars like Gunslinger and Scuzzbucket, but what ultimately took me out of the experience is the RNG; the fact that you don’t get to choose the winners and losers of the matches.  Sure, I can see a game like this having some sort of CHANCE OF INJURY or BAD REF CALL to throw a curveball at you, but if I’m building up a character from the ground up or if I want someone to have a Goldberg like winning streak I can’t do it.  This lack of control made me take a step back and realize how much I was putting into the game to make it work which isn’t necessarily a BAD thing, but the mechanics aren’t as fleshed out as I had hoped and once I lost that sense of magic there just wasn’t enough here to keep me engaged.  I eventually turned this frustration into making my own virtual wrestling league which definitely let me scratch that creative itch so if nothing else I’m glad I did play it for as long as I did even if I didn’t want to play for much longer after that.

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And that will do it for part one!  Expect the next part very soon and let me know what you think in the comments below!!

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