Jumping the Soapbox: Games of 2020 (Part 2)

2020 is almost done, I promise!  Just a FEW more games to cover here and then a few more games in one last piece!  You can look at the games I’ve already covered right here, so let’s continue where we left off!

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Motherload & Super Motherload (PC)

Developed by XGen Studios

Back in the old days when I could still call myself a youngster, Steam was still in its infancy, online gaming as far as I knew was just on Xbox Live, and Flash was the primary way we played games on the internet!  There were plenty of standouts at the time (Cartoon Network had a pretty solid list of games under its belt) but one that still sticks with me to this day is Motherload; more or less the fore bearer of explorative digging games like SteamWorld Dig and Terraria.  I only learned a month or two ago that the developers had gone on to develop a feature rich new version of the game called Super Motherload on Steam, and it even came with the full edition of the original Motherload to really hammer home the changes XGen made in the intervening years.  Perhaps this is nostalgia talking, but the mechanics of the original game hold up AMAZINGLY well with a clear set of incentives and goals to work towards that are spiced up with well don RNG elements.  Sure, you could spend an hour only finding Iron and Silver ore, but the random chance of finding an artifact that will get you that new upgrade you’ve been grinding for is what keeps the game compelling and prevents the gameplay loop from feeling overly repetitive.  However, it’s also a game that could do with a few enhancements and that’s what makes Super Motherload such a great successor.  Smoother animations, streamlined mechanics, and more bells and whistles manage to retain the brilliance of the original design without getting bogged down in the limitations of the time.  Sadly I haven’t been able to delve THAT far into the new version to get a sense of its endgame (and if they retain the bizarre ending of the original) but it was kind of heartwarming to see something I enjoyed as a kid made for a new generation by the very same people who made that first game so much fun to begin with.

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Retro Bowl (Android)

Developed by New Star Games

The thing is that I actually do like sports games and am a HUGE fan of golf in particular, but the problem I have is that way too many of them are focused on simulation and minutia that I just don’t have the patience for.  It’s not that I CAN’T get into team management and stadium stuff given the right mechanics, but it too often feels like ACTUAL busywork instead of something fun with a tangible reward for me.  That and the gameplay in a lot of these games just feels sluggish and overburdened with complexity in an attempt to be realistic which only makes it harder for me to get invested.  Thankfully New Star Games were hearing my sad laments and gave us perhaps the BEST sports game in years; certainly compared to what EA and 2K have been doing to make their sports games as unpalatable as possible.  It’s kind of astonishing just how well this game plays as the mechanics are very simple and yet nuanced enough that you feel like you’re genuinely succeeding based on skill and strategy rather than just maximizing stats and mastering wonky controls.  That’s not to say there IS no stat management, but the game boils it down to its bare essentials which was perfect for me and my attention span, and getting a REALLY solid team together to steam roll the competition all the way to the Super Bowl is immensely satisfying; though I would recommend playing it on a tablet over a phone if you have the option as the bigger screen definitely allows for more nuanced controls.  If there’s anything that I can say about this game that ISN’T overwhelmingly positive, I found myself feeling a bit tired after the first two seasons or so as it does feel like we’re just repeating the same cycles over and over again at slightly higher difficulties, but that’s small potatoes compared to the enjoyment I got out of it.  You can play the game for free, but it really is worth unlocking everything for the mere buck it costs on the app store and it’s worth supporting developers who DON’T turn their games into micro-transaction filled money sinks; much less developers who manage to avoid that on the mobile market!

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Runescape (PC)

Developed by Jagex

You’d think with how easily I get suckered into games like Terraria and Slime Rancher (both of which I had to uninstall for my own sanity) that I’d be a sucker for MMORPGs; what with its constant drip feed of petty rewards for minimum effort, but even though I’ve tried some of the big ones like The Old Republic, I just couldn’t stick with anything long enough for it to get its hooks into me.  Runescape on the other hand managed to do just that by making its rewards EXTREMELY petty for the ABSOLUTE bare minimum of work.  Now it’s not one of those automated games like It’s Always Sunny, but I find the incredibly relaxed atmosphere of the game and the skills available for you to learn extremely relaxing and so easy that I can literally be mining Adamantite while writing this and barely suffer a hit in my productivity.  It also helps that Runescape was one of those early online Flash games that I enjoyed playing quite a bit in my youth and for a lot of the same reasons (though I probably didn’t understand those reasons as much back then) but despite Old School Runescape being a thing I opted for the more recent iteration as the limitations of the early 2000s are VERY prominent in that version and honestly it’s basically the same game only BETTER so I’m not sure why you would opt for the older version other than nostalgia.  The game is not without its obtuseness as trying to find something as simple as a pie tin was an arduous journey, but it always managed to find a way to make me want to try something new to get the most of whatever I just learned.  I want to smelt higher quality metals, but hey look!  I now know how to smelt Silver!  Well I guess I should get my crafting up so I can make silver pendants to sell at the shop, and now I can make new weapons out of Imp Hide!  Better go kill some imps!  Just an endless series of not too terribly difficult tasks I could do whenever something else was stressing me out too much; though if there’s one thing that annoys me (as it did back in the day) it’s how much of the game is cut off to paid players.  Honestly I thought about just going for a subscription… until I found out it’s over a hundred bucks a year.  Sorry Jagex; I like what you made and I’m glad that it’s still going strong after twenty years, but that’s bit steep for something I’m only sort of paying attention to!

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Star Fetchers (PC)

Developed by Svavelstickan

A lot of 2020 was about numbing the pain to get through the day, and my list so far is a testament to that.  Nostalgia bait, time wasters, straight forward pick up and play fare, a lot of which was VERY good like Retro Bowl and Final Fantasy VII Remake, but very little of what I played this year is was particularly challenging or innovate in any real sense.  Heck, Final Fantasy VII arguably has the most interesting ideas and brilliant storytelling, and it’s a gosh darn remake of the most popular RPG of all time!  Star Fetchers however is the one game that felt like something made with some genuine fire; a studio with bold ideas and JUST enough talent to make their vision a reality.  The best way to describe it is if someone played No More Heroes and Hotline Miami but wasn’t nostalgic for ANYTHING those games were referencing.  It’s got an archo-punk sensibility to it, but a FRESH version of that which doesn’t fit the mold of pretty much anything you could name in the game industry outside of itch.io fare and even then it feels like a more polished experience built to be a GAME rather than some sort of art piece experience.  That’s not to say the game is without problems as the combat is even jankier than any amount of “intentional jank” should be and I think the camera and level design aren’t perfectly complemented, but it’s probably the most interesting game I played this year which isn’t saying much considering how little I went outside my comfort zone (half the games I already covered in previous years are mostly what I ended up playing in 2020) but it’s still a really cool and interesting experience.  Sadly it’s only been a demo for all of 2020, but I’m eagerly awaiting for that first chapter whenever they get around to finishing it!

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Visitors (PC)

Developed by Blackside

On more or less the OPPOSITE side of the indie Steam gaming scene, I got this game for like a nickel YEARS ago and like everything else I buy for the platform it ended up sitting in my library; gathering dust and presumably crying itself to sleep at night.  Then on a lark this year I booted it up, and… it’s actually competent!  I mean you take one look at this thing and you expect it to be one of those Unity Tutorial things or a five minute cash grab, but there was a decent amount of thought put into it even if it is just a momentary distraction.  Taking its cue from games like Slender and Five Nights at Freddie’s, it’s basically a horror-ish game with the challenge escalates in each level; collect the dynamite, blow up the pods, and don’t get caught by the increasing number of aliens and spaceships.  For what it’s worth it managed to keep me entertained for a total twenty minutes which is fair enough considering how little I paid for it, but if the game has one major problem (despite the insensitive caricature of a handicapped person in the treehouse), it’s the pointless perma-death system.  You’ve got either five or seven days to get through (I honestly couldn’t be bothered to find out which one) but if you die on any of the games you have start over.  I died once on day three and I was done with it, so maybe this falls more on the damning than the faint praise end of things, but frankly I’ve had worse times that cost far more money.

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And that will do it for MOST of the games that I played this year, but we’re not about to forget about the wonders of VR so the next piece will be focused on the games I played for the Oculus Quest!  Stay tuned for that and let me know what you think in the comments below!

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