Since we’re close enough now to the end of the year, I feel I can post my thoughts on the games I played this year and where they fit among a mildly arbitrary set of categories created by those at the Unofficial Gameological Discord Group. As a note of order, these awards are based on my year of games, not the release schedule of the titles.
Game of the Year - Return of the Obra Dinn
No game altered my mind dreams the way Return of the Obra Dinn managed to do during its relatively short playthrough during Halloween Week. The music, art, narrative, and even game loop matched my most comforting style of playing games - exploration and abstract mind puzzles, with “safe” horror. The story and the way it was told enraptured me completely, and my wife and I sitting on that couch in the late October dark was enough to have me wake in a cold sweat, imagining I was there, even in all its monochrome starkness.
Singleplayer - Untitled Goose Game
Untitled Goose Game didn’t even hit my radar until Labor Day Weekend when I spent the afternoon at PAX West as saw it played at the Panic booth next to the Playdate. Again, like Return of the Obra Dinn, the music matched the theme and narrative exquisitely. I felt the final challenge was a bit annoying by that time of the game’s welcome, but the payoff, again with my wife in tow on the couch, was worth every second of frustration. It’s novelty might have been short-lived, but the game was precisely long enough to remain loved. It’s lightning in a bottle, as games go; I don’t think there’s much need to play again, and even something like it will never match the magic of those first discoveries.
Multiplayer - Splatoon 2
I don’t play Splatoon 2 nearly as much as my love for it should imply - my opportunity costs for gaming are definitely zero-sum, and I have far too many things above it to keep in on the forefront at all times, but when it does rise to the surface, I feel like I’m relevant in society, the way I felt back in the Playstation days with Wipeout XL - life as modern and avant-garde and ahead of society, rather than a reflection of it. I want to exist in that world with all the gritty machinations of desolate labor and focused, combative recreation. Playing with Gameological friends was incredible when it happened, especially when I tried running a Summer Camp for two days! I definitely want to try that again...
“Hindsight is 20/19" - Astral Chain
Astral Chain was a mostly fun game with solid, satisfying combat mechanics and amazing art direction. However, I really don’t feel compelled to dig any deeper into that game now that I’ve finished, even less so than the Goose and the Obra Dinn. JoyCon drift probably didn’t help my cause, as constantly fighting my character walking off somewhere felt like I couldn’t just relax, but it still felt somewhat oppressive to play. I thought the game started really fantastically, but by the end, I wasn’t so enthusiastic about finishing, and when the characters’ Dad, the initial motivation for even playing, is not only never found but completely ignored, was very unsastifying narrativ
Favorite Replay ( / ongoing) - Animal Crossing: New Leaf
I have no desire to craft my way through Animal Crossing. I know it adds an element of progress and investment in the new one to justify the new game, but I still feel like New Leaf will remain the pinnacle of the series for me, and I continue to play it regularly as I still uncover new things, or at least complete things I’ve not yet finished, like collections and Island activities.
Backlog GOTY Award (games from a previous release year) - Wind Waker
I tried to finishe Wind Waker of the Gamecube about five or six years ago. It didn’t stick, as i was stuck in that Korok escort mission. Not having enough Zelda experience under my belt kto know exactly what i needed to do, I bounced out again from my original 2003 save file - it was literally my first Zelda game I ever played, but it wouldn’t be until A Link Between Worlds that I would actually finish my first Zelda game ever.
Didn’t click for me - Sayonara Wild Hearts
Another game that I played at PAX West, this was a game that didn’t match my style in terms of gameplay - it felt like a Temple Run. The music sounded good, but it wasn’t enough to capture my imagination, despite wanting to like it out of respect for all my video game friends that do. I’m glad I got to play it before I bought it, as I was able to satisfy my curiosity, and as always will support these games for those that want them.
“Oh yeah, I did play that didn’t I?” - Starlink: Battle for Atlas
Starlink is very much the Star Fox game that they were hoping Zero would have been - it’s very much like a casual version of Star Fox 2, because there is an ever-encroaching enemy that must be kept at bay by battling on different planets, but this one is much easier to manage from a difficulty standpoint. I really enjoyed playing it, both with the toys and without, but it quickly escaped my mind after I beat the main story and the racing DLC failed to excite me, even though it’s rather reminiscent of Star Wars Episode I Pod Racer.
Unexpected Joy - Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth
I bought this on launch day, even though I was traveling for work in Texas, since it was what will probably be the last new physical 3DS game ever published. I left it wrapped, even, because I know nothing of the Persona series and have never played any of the games.
Since I didn’t get any games on or before Christmas day, I decided to give it a whirl, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it is an amusing visual novel with a dungeon-crawl JRPG sewn in. The humor is nice, and the most joyful point was when it gave me the chance to spend Play Coins(!) on opening treasures. Play Coins! In 2019! I do still love and carry my 3DS everywhere (I’m probably going to miss 1,000,000 steps on it before the end of the year, but hope to make 7,000,000 total walking with one since April 2011. This is not only my console of the decade, it’s my console for a decade. Long Live the 3DS.
Best Music - Return of the Obra Dinn
While Persona Q2 has been giving me some great musical moments this last week, I’ll still go with Return of the Obra Dinn for capturing 19th century thrills and high-stakes intrigue to inspire thorough investigation.
Favorite Game Encounter - SPOILER ALERT for Obra Dinn -
Seeing those giant spider-riders crawling over the side of the ship in the first scene they were shown drained the blood from my face and the breath from my chest. They were the subject of the nightmares that evening, and I still picture them silent, still, and ominous. The one through the tiny window on the lower deck was the first complete view of one, and I was there, trapped, with the crew.
Free DLC of the Year - Shovel Knight - King of Cards
Other candidates in my world included Fortnite events, Starlink’s racing planet, and even Splatoon Final Fest, but I have to give the prize to Yacht Club Games for finally completing their Kickstarter and giving us a thoroughly deep platforming adventure and a new card game that will surely be made physical at some point! A complete game in itself, having this entire saga of four distinct games (I have the 3DS version, so I didn’t get Showdown) is the best value in “current” release. I only gave $10 for my Kickstarter version on 3DS, but I’m definitely going to get it on Switch now to support them as much as I can afford.
Most accessible game (from the “least frustrating competitive game” suggestion) - Rocket League
Let me start by saying I still am terrible at Rocket League - I can’t make aerial hits to save my life (or the goal) and I’m a bronze-level player at best (only six levels, 18 ranks, or 72 Divisions, however you want to count them) from the top!
Unlike Splatoon or Fortnite, where I sometimes feel as if I’m totally useless, there are players of every skill level in Rocket League still playing and I can jump into a casual game and make those miracle shots or saves on occasion, plus I can train and even play single-player-offline with bots if I feel the need to practice without being online. I like Splatoon 2's single-player mode, but it doesn’t translate as well to the online game as I would need to feel comfortable going online competitively.
Rocket League gives me the “golf game” type of analog skill improvement that keeps me coming back, and that, for me, makes it the most accessible.
“Waiting for Game-dot” (‘I’ll get around to it eventually’ suggestion) - Planescape: Torment
I actually started this game, finally, when I bought the $5 Steam Controller a few weeks ago, but I soon stopped and have lost all progress early in this game. i have so many other 100-hour RPGs to finish as well, and I was starting to see the charm in the game, but not enough to see what makes it so transcendental.
Game that made me think (from “slightly dubious essay” suggestion) - Riot: Civil Unrest
I bough this game because I’d been following it online since the failed Kickstarter, and it came out on Switch. It’s a pixel-art simulation RTS that presents civil conflicts based on real events, and gives players a choice of which side to be on - and there’s a lot to unpack in the game, and it makes me a bit uncomfortable to play, partly because it’s so complicated mechanically on Switch without a mouse, and partly because I struggle to feel comfortable taking any particular side...
...that discomfort means it’s a game I should be playing more, and I will definitely try to get into it more next year.
16. WILDCARD (could be art direction, plot, anything you want to recognize!) - Indy Gaming League
Two guys in Indianapolis, Indiana started an intramural eSports League a couple years ago, and I really started watching the games this year on their Twitch stream. Their core values, which are to have family-friendly, casual, and respectful competition for players of any skill level in a variety of games, has gotten the attention of more and more people, to the point they now have US-East, US-West, and even EU divisions for certain games!