2020 Video Games and 2020 Game of the Year

Because the pandemic left me at home for a couple months, this year I played about double the amount of games from my previous record. You can watch the video below or read the text below that to find out what I thought of the games I played this year and which game I named as my 2020 Game of the Year.

Gwent (73 hours 24 minutes): Other than playing the beta a few years ago, the last time I played a CCG was Magic the Gathering back in the mid-1990s. I had no idea I would end up so addicted to this game for the first half of 2020. Eventually what took me away from the game is the fact that to maximize your experience with the game, you have to play every day. And I just have so many other games I want to play, books I want to read, the kids and wife to hang out with. I couldn’t give that much to a game. I do still have it on my rotation, so I get to it now and again. When I play, I find it quite fun, so I think Gwent will be with me for a while.

Darkest Dungeon (36 hours 20 minutes): I continued to have faith in Rogue-alikes and Rogue-lites to provide lots of entertainment for me. So I decided to grab Darkest Dungeon during a GOG sale. Darkest Dungeon is one of the most punishing in the rogue* bunch of games I play. FTL is just as hard, but Darkest Dungeon has the permadeath of customized and leveled up characters as in X-Com, making the deaths sting a little extra hard. Of course, the harder the game, the more rewarding when you succeed at a tough dungeon or boss.

Spelunky 2 (35 hours 15 minutes): The original Spelunky is one of those games that slowly grew on me over its existence. When Dan first introduced me to it, I mostly just found it chaotic and not much fun. But, by the time Spelunky 2 was announced, I was in quite a bit of anticipation for the release. Once it finally came out, it was a blast to learn the new mechanics and to play with the kids, who’d been honing their platforming skills on the original for a few months at that point. It’s interesting that lots of people have complained that Spelunky 2 is too hard when I’ve been able to consistently make it out of the caves (and even to Olmec) while I rarely made it past the grass levels in the original Spelunky.

Stardew Valley (28 hours 12 minutes): This year I continued working on finishing the community center. ConcernedApe also released an update that added fish ponds, giving me something else to work on while waiting for the fall to catch my last fish. Then, during the quarantine the kids (and eventually wife) started playing Animal Crossing. My eldest’s favorite thing to do was to beautify the island and that made me inspired to make my farm look a little nicer. So that became my new goal while waiting to finish the game. 

Overcooked 2 (26 hours 30 minutes): This was one of those Humble Bundles that turned out to be a huge success. There are many times that I think a game in Humble Bundle will appeal to the kids, but it ends up flopping. This one, however, was a constant request from the kids until we finished the main game. They still ask to play some of the expansion packs now and again, but those can be pretty tough. The kids do awesomely for being 8, 4, and 4, but there’s only so much we can do. For me, most of the time it’s a huge blast unless one or more of the kids decide to grief the rest of us. Then it becomes intolerable.

The Baconing (26 hours 13 minutes): Somehow, most likely through Humble Bundle, I ended up with the third game in a trilogy in my Steam library. After all this time accumulating games, I decided I would need to be disciplined about playing new games the way I was with my reading or I’d never play any of these games. So I started going through Steam alphabetically and ended up here. I must say, it was a great game to come across early in this experiment. It’s a combination of a point and click adventure game and an action RPG with the humor of a Monkey Island game. 

Civilization VI (23 hours 28 minutes): As usual, I played a lot of multiplayer Civ VI with Dan and Dave. There’s always something that draws me back into single player Civ VI. I’ve always loved it since the first Civ, but with the vast array of games I have thanks to Humble Bundles (and my kids now being old enough to ask me to play with them), I often forget about Civ. This year, with the new expansion pack coming out, I decided to try and win as Catherine the Great. After looking at her bonuses, I decided that I was going to try to win religiously or by tourism. Both are, in my opinion, among the harder win conditions. If nothing else, they tend to be later stage wins and you can end up getting beaten by someone who gets to a science victory or diplomatic victory first. I actually came close a few times, but Aminatore was my constant foe – pushing everyone around to me to Judaism and costing me victory that I might have had with just a few more turns. (Also talk about Cleopatra game)

Sonic Racing (17 hours 14 minutes): The majority of the time I’ve played Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing with the kid occurred in 2020. For a chunk of time, it was their favorite thing to do every single day. We unlocked all of the characters and, eventually, all the tracks and music. We even moved on to the battle modes. While I think that Mario Kart tends to have better power-ups and a more chaotic and fun Grand Prix mode, I haven’t really enjoyed battle mode since the Nintendo 64. I think Sonic & Sega All-Stars racing has a more dynamic set of battle modes that made for more varied gameplay.

Super Mario 3D World (15 hours 58 minutes): I was looking for a Mario game we could all play and which I hadn’t already played, so I ended up playing Super Mario 3D World with the kids. I think this game is the perfect synthesis of the 2D games like New Super Mario Bros and the 3D games in the vein of Super Mario 64 and Mairo Sunshine. The 3D games tend to have an open area and almost infinite possibilities for traversal. This can be freeing, but it can also make it a lot harder to know exactly what to do. SM3DW, on the other hand, retains the general left-to-right progress of the 2D Mario games while just having a sections where the players go into or out of the screen. I think it provides a much clearer path for more casual gamers. I think I also prefer the golden tanuki to other Mario games where they just do the level for you if you keep failing.

Worms: Reloaded (14 hours 45 minutes): I used this game to introduce the kids to the Worms franchise and it led to quite a number of chaotic sessions. This game and the others Worms games we played in 2020 function as a great example of how the twins were better able to strategize as they went from 4 to 5 years old and more capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. At the same time, there are still moments when even Scarlett doesn’t quite look forward enough.

Cities: Skylines (14 hours 19 minutes): Before I say anything else, I want to point out just how incredibly beautiful this game is. Of course, living through the computer games’ young years to now, there’s been a constant improvement where each game has looked better than the last. I remember thinking that Sim City 4 looked “so real”. But this game, when you zoom all the way in, just looks like a real, working city.  So, getting to this year’s game – it’s no surprise to me that the same publisher and developer who make Cities in Motion would make a city sim with more realistic transportation lines and a seemingly more realistic model for citizen flow throughout the city. Coupled with some expansion packs (DLC in modern parlance) I got as part of a Humble Bundle, this game truly allows you to make cities that are realistic on the level I *wished* Sim City 4 and the Travel Expansion pack had done (without needing fan mods). If there’s one thing I still am not truly taking advantage of in Cities: Skylines, it’s the ability to make more realistic or creative cities. Sim City 1 trained me to think of city blocks and my lamentations of real life cities that don’t have perpendicular blocks ( a la NYC or many downtown areas) have given me a mental block to work through. By contrast, this city looks both more realistic to the real world AND fantastical and beautiful. This year, in addition to making use of the new DLC, Scarlett also got very involved and became my unofficial Jr. City planner.

Worms WMD (10 hours 10 minutes): In my mind, this is the epitome of what a 2D worms game should be. The developers have created a great item set as well as the ability to craft more weapons. The random assortment of vehicles and guns throughout the levels also add a high level of chaos. Many of the other 2D worms games are the same game with a new coat of paint, but this one really elevates the gameplay. 

Spelunky (9 hours 10 minutes): This continues to be the Rogue-lite that teases me the most. I almost always seem just about to get to the last level, but since I’ve been playing with only one life for the past 3 levels, it’s only a matter of time before a slip-up kills me. Overall the kids are getting better and are more helpful to me as long as they’re not trying to use their ghost status to kill the shopkeeper.

The Witcher 2 (8 hours 33 minutes): Early in COVID I decided I was going to make use of extra time to allow for longer sessions in The Witcher 2. Oftentimes, like other RPGs, it isn’t easy to just save whenever you want. If you’re in the middle of a key battle or some other sequences, the game may not allow for interruption. I did alright for a while, but then the kids used up all my game time with Spelunky 2, Super Mario 3D World, Worms, and asking to watch me play Darkest Dungeon.

Mario Kart 8 (5 hours 10 minutes): I have a pretty long history with the Mario Kart series. My brother and I had the original on Super Nintendo and I’ve had all the games since (at least on the non-handheld consoles). It was even the reason the wife and I bought a Gamecube when we were dating in college. So eventually I decided to get Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U to play with the kids. It turned out to be a huge blast. We went through every level to unlock everything. And now that the twins were between 4 and 5 years old they were actually able to stay on the track. Not only that, they were also able to get into 4th and 5th place. More recently on the Switch they’ve even been able to get 1st-3rd place.

Vertical Drop Heroes HD (5 hours 38 minutes): While I still enjoy playing this game, most of my game time this year came from the twins really wanting me to play with them. They love playing it on their own and they like that they can get further when I play with them. I’m quite impressed that at their age/gameplay level they are starting to make meaningful contributions when they play with me. 

Scribblenauts Unlimited (3 hours 45 minutes): I remember hearing about this game (well, the original game) back when I still used to listen to the Giant Bombcast. I always thought the idea was pretty neat, and having done a fair bit of programming (and even video game programming), I can truly appreciate how miraculous this game is and how much code must have gone into the parser. The kids enjoyed it a lot and I expect them to perhaps request it again once they see the wrap-up video.

Worms: Forts Under Siege (2 hours 54 minutes): This 3D worms game was certainly unique – especially with its focus on building up a base. However, while 2D worms is incredibly intuitive (like its predecessors/early siblings Scorched Earth and Gorilla Game), the 3D game makes it a lot harder to aim, to know what to do, and to  hit anyone. In fact, with the world so large compared to the 2D games we mostly ended up staying at our bases until the timer ran out and started hitting us with various random effects.

Rocket League (2 hours 17 minutes): Rocket League was one of the first video games the twins ever played – somewhere around 3 years old. Mostly they just enjoyed making the cars drive around. Now that they were good enough to play Mario Kart, I figured they could handle some Rocket League. Overall, it was a fun time, which everyone enjoyed. That said, whoever is on my team has a major advantage (not that I’m any good at Rocket League, but I’m way better than any of the kids), so eventually people start complaining about not being able to win.

TF2 (2 hours 13 minutes): The biggest thing that keeps me from playing more TF2 is that most rounds take quite a lot of time so I need to have blocked out at least an hour or so if I want to play. Compare that to Spelunky where, if I’m having a GOOD run, it takes me maybe 10-15 minutes.

Stellaris (2 hours 13 minutes): Due to an upgrade in Stellaris, my previous save was incompatible and I had to start a new empire. This is probably a good thing as it had been a long time since I last played Stellaris and probably wouldn’t remember what had been going on. I’d like to think that if I’d been playing a little more consistently throughout that there would have been an opportunity to upgrade my save file. This game continues to be complex on a level that makes Civilization seem like a kid’s game. Stellaris is a game I think I would probably dive deeply into if it was the only game I was playing. 

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2 hours): Sam loved playing Smash for the Wii so we got him Smash on the Switch. I played enough to unlock a few characters and then mostly played with the kids whenever they’ve asked me to join them.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2 hours): As I mentioned above, Mario Kart is a series that my wife and I enjoy playing against each other. So we’ve played a few rounds on the Switch. The difference in playing with her – we can trash talk without hurting each others’ feelings. The kids aren’t quite ready for that yet.

Beckett (1 hour 50 minutes): Another Humble Bundle game; another game I got to alphabetically. A detective story that takes place in what seems to be a British dystopia full of visual metaphor. The game is a very odd duck. Part of me appreciates the artistry that went into it as a video game art piece. And it definitely seems to be Saying. Something. I’m happy that the internet and marketplaces like Steam and GOG allow this stuff to exist. That said, I’ve been mostly underwhelmed by the game. I’d hoped to finish it in 2020, but I’ve still got a hopefully small chunk left.

FTL (1 hour 45 minutes): I think, of all the Rogue-lites and Rogue-alikes I play, I feel the pain of defeat hardest in FTL when I seem to have accrued a nice, large crew and a decent set of offensive and defensive hardware for my ship. I think maybe it’s because unlike, say, Spelunky, it’s very unlikely for me to die early in the game by mistake. I always end up at least a couple star systems in before my mistake catches up to me – whether that’s not enough fuel or not enough bullets or letting too many guys board. 

Worms Clan Wars (1 hour 40 minutes): A pretty decent entry in the Worms franchise, it’d probably be my favorite if I hadn’t played Worms WMD.

Overcooked (1 hour 35 minutes): I got this game when it was on sale because we’d had so much fun with Overcooked 2. It really puts into stark relief the upgrades, gameplay changes, and visual changes they made between the two entries. We haven’t played it nearly as much as Overcooked 2. In fact, we still haven’t finished story mode.

Road Not Traveled (1 hour 30 minutes): Unlike many of the other Rogue-a-likes and Rogue-lites that I play, I think my enjoyment of this one really suffered from a large gap since the last time I played. I think it may be because this one is a little more story-based than others. Or it may be because the gameplay is a little more complex than Spelunky or Vertical Drop Heroes HD, but I didn’t quite have the pleasure playing it that I expected I would when I last left off after my second play session. 

Super Mario Strikers (1 hour 3 minutes): I decided to revisit this game with the kids to introduce them to the idea of sports video games. I think it was a success, although I hadn’t played the game in literally over a decade, so it took me a while to remember the controls so that I could explain it to the kids. Maybe in 2021 I’ll introduce them to the Mario baseball game.

Sonic Generations (38 minutes): When this game first came out, I’d wanted it to relive some of my early Sega Genesis nostalgia. I wasn’t really wild about the 3D Sonic games as those came out for systems I never had, but it still looked pretty awesome. But then there was a Humble Bundle that included it. I think it’s the same one where I got Sonic Racing. I’ve done a heckuva lot more Sonic Racing with the kids and only played Sonic Generations once. I will probably get back to it … someday.

Rogue Legacy (37 minutes): Continuing the Rogue-lite/Rogue-like trend of the past few years, I continue to enjoy playing this game. I especially love the humor involved. I’ve reached the point where I’ve started to gain power ups and familiarity with the game that led me to get further into the castle in 2020 than in prior years. 

Yooka-Laylee (30 minutes): I was a huge fan of Donkey Kong Country and I believe a good chunk of former Rare programmers made Yooka-Laylee. I wasn’t a fan of Banjo-Kazooie, or really most of the 3D games that came out in the wake of Mario 64, but I wanted to see if this game would appeal to the kids. The sequel certainly seems more of a descendent of Donkey Kong Country. Instead what I got was a game that was pretty neat and had lots of jokes that went over the kids’ heads. I look forward to putting this on my rotation in the future. 

Grim Fandango (17 minutes): Scarlett requested for me to return to the land of the dead for this game. Of course, I had to go to a walkthrough because this is an Old School point and click adventure game where the solution is often incredibly unintuitive. I do want to keep going, as the characters are pretty neat and the story is pretty funny. But we’ll have to see when I put this back into my rotation. 

Battlepaths (6 minutes): I got this game as part of a Humble Bundle. I started playing during this year’s COVID time at home as I went through my Steam library in alphabetical order. I did not like this game at all. Nothing about it appealed to me and I haven’t played it since the few minutes I played to try it out.

Total: 370 Hours 50 minutes

2020 Game of the Year

Even though Spelunky 2 was my third-most played game in 2020, it was the one that had the most replayability and the most fun. Not only was it a ton of fun to play alone, but it was also a blast to play with the kids. Towards the end of the year, the online multiplayer was released and I got to have a fun, if somewhat frustrating for the lack of communication, session with Dan. It took all the best of Spelunky and amped it up and I can see myself continuing to play it for many, many years to come.

2020 Runner Up

Darkest Dungon almost made my Game of the Year for 2020. I really enjoyed the battles, the character set, and the challenge of it all. Yet, just like X-COM, it really wore me down on when I could spent over an hour getting through a dungeon to lose everyone at the last minute. It did (as most challenging games, puzzles, etc) mean that when I won, it felt awesome. But near the end of 2020 I moved it down to my secondary rotation of games, meaning it’ll come up less often. I still enjoy it, but it just didn’t have what it took to unseat Spelunky 2.

2020 Surprise Loss

I went into 2020 so hyped for Gwent as you either read or saw above. But, in a different way than Darkest Dungeon, it ended up wearing me down. I just couldn’t make my entire gaming life about Gwent and that meant I would have trouble rising above my current status or even earning all the trinkets and in-game money that I wanted to earn. I said above that I’d return to the game and I think it’s possible I will. We’ll have to see what happens.