This Year Adventure Games were my Escape
Why do we care about Game of the Year lists? They might seem silly when you think about it, but we like them because it’s nice to talk about games we really enjoyed this year! My Game of the Year list is unordered and includes any game I’ve played this year, even if they’re old. Controversial I know, but I like talking about all the games I enjoyed this year instead of simply new ones. The main section is 10 games I enjoyed spread across an indie section and an AAA section. I mostly write about indies so they’re first. Then 10 special mentions that were almost on my list.
To be completely honest, this year, with the pandemic and all, has me in a weird place emotionally and as I write this I’m having a lot of difficulty narrowing down which games deserve my accolades. Which is why I added special mentions. Some of them might actually be closer to the top than you think. I played a lot of games this year as I’ve been unemployed and many didn’t make this list. And since I cheated and added an expanded list I tried to keep things short. Enjoy!
Even after sitting on my experience with Mutazione for a whole year I still love it. It’s right below The Outer Wilds in terms of games I would tell anyone to play. An adventure game about community is just what I needed this year, even though I played it before the pandemic.
The Outer Wilds
The Outer Wilds was the first thing I wrote about this year and on Medium as a whole. As a game, it was the most unique experience I had this year. In it you explore space and need to figure out why the universe is resetting every 22 minutes. If I had to pin down a specific game of the year, The Outer Wilds would be tied for #1.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor resonated with me in a very unique way. At first I almost bounced off it, until I realized just what the game was actually about: worker liberation. Although I wouldn’t recommend this game to everyone, I believe its message is important and it portrays exactly what it means to, even if that portrayal could be boring for some.
Wattam is a weird game about rebuilding an equally weird community. Play as a toilet, a table fan, an ice cream cone, or other weird characters with the push of a button. This game is saccharine unlike any other on this list, but it was the game that made me laugh and smile the most this year, as I played it with my partner and we both loved it.
Kentucky Route Zero
Kentucky Route Zero is the only game I played this year that, immediately after finishing, I wanted to play again. This game was in the special mentions section of this list for awhile, but as I read Chris Plante’s great piece about how it encapsulated this year so well, I moved it up. Every time I see an image of this game, I am taken back to exactly how I felt in that moment. Kentucky Route Zero encapsulates a feeling of hopelessness that seems common nowadays, while also lifting the characters and story above that hopelessness. Things may be hopeless, but you are not alone.
The Flower Collectors
In The Flower Collectors you play as Jorge, a retired ex-cop who uses a wheelchair in Barcelona in 1977. One day, you notice the tail end of a murder in the square beneath your balcony. You’re confined to your small apartment and balcony, but you team up with a young, ambitious journalist to crack the case. Gameplay greatly inspired by the movie Rear Window, this game was one of my favorite adventure games this year.
Do I even need to write about why Hades is good? It added progression to a genre that has become huge in the past decade. It made dying in a roguelike feel even better than it already did (in some roguelikes, that is). It’s a game that changed why I enjoy roguelikes and I’m unsure if I can go back to the old style of them easily. I have high hopes about this inspiring similar systems in future games.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
Xenoblade is my favorite JRPG series and this game is a remaster of one of my favorite games of all time. I still cannot believe the journey this game went on; the only reason it was released overseas was because of a massive fan campaign. Eventually, Shulk ends up in Smash and there are more games in this franchise. There is a world in which this game never got localized and I am glad I don’t live in it. The story is themed around seizing your own destiny, with many scenes and quotes that I still think about. However, most of the characters are memorable in their own way and they are why this is one of my favorite games of all time. My favorite quote from this game is: “It is not because you are the hope of the High Entia that I love you. It is because I love you that I wish for you to become that hope.” Gets me every single time.
I didn’t think Overwatch was going to be on this list either at the beginning of the year. I’ve been playing Overwatch with my brother (and more recently partner too) weekly since the pandemic started. The game itself isn’t on this list so much as the weird and funny things we get into when playing weekly. Especially with the new custom game modes that players can make in the workshop, I’ve been loving Overwatch this year.
Genshin Impact is the only AAA game I wrote about this year! I played it for a month straight because I loved it so much. I would mainly throw on a podcast and explore in it. However, it being on this list reflects how much I loved The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild more than anything. As a game Genshin is good, but it expands on the Breath of the Wild formula. Every time I play it, I contemplate what the future of open world games looks like post-BotW. That being said, it is free to play and I recommend at least dipping into it, even if the beginning is a bit slow.
- Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity: This had to be on this list as it’s a Zelda game. I finished it up last week and have been playing challenges while listening to podcasts. It’s an excellent action game that is surprisingly story heavy when compared to Breath of the Wild.
- Manifold Garden: Beautiful game that, even though I don’t usually like puzzle games, was simple enough that it didn’t overstay its welcome.
- Into the Breach: Another roguelike I loved this year. A turn-based strategy game that feels more like a puzzle game, it is worth any mech or roguelike-lover’s time.
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2: I played these games as a child on the Nintendo 64 so being able to play a good, modern version of them was a delight.
- Katana Zero: Another game I almost bounced off of, Katana Zero is a fast-paced action game where you play as a samurai that can slow down time to tear through enemies. The beginning is a bit easy, but the story and gameplay go some places and I am on the edge of my seat waiting for the game-finishing DLC. Once the game is finished, it’ll definitely be near the top of this list next year
- Wide Ocean Big Jacket: Vice Games’ Patrick Klepek put it best: “Wide Ocean Big Jacket is about the million tiny moments that define our lives.” Perhaps the most relatable, down to earth game that I played this year that is no doubt worth the single hour it takes to play.
- A Mortician’s Tale: A game about death that taught me a lot about the funerary industry and green burials. I never realized that burying the dead can inflict so much harm on the environment and why companies would rather have it that way.
- Super Mario Sunshine: I’ve been hoping for a Sunshine rerelease since I was a kid and even though the Super Mario 3D All-Stars version wasn’t a full remaster, this game holds up, even if the controls are still wonky.
- Eliza: A visual novel about the people and problems that create technology. As someone who has worked in tech-adjacent sectors, this game hit home and I loved every second of it. The solitaire minigame in Eliza is almost worth its own special mention.
- Spring Falls: A puzzle game about plant growth and soil erosion. The perfect game to sit down and play on a sleepy, rainy day, especially if you have a touch screen device to play it on.