Ok, my friends. It’s finally time after weeks of build-up. This year has been sparse as far as games that I sunk my teeth into. I’ve outlined a few that were the equivalent of summer popcorn movie in this post here. There was one game I liked enough to give an actual award to which I wrote about here. Today, I’m finally ready to talk about my co-GOTY. I’ve written about both of them in length, but I have so much more to say. Since there are two, I have to talk about one of them first. There are two reasons for it. One, alphabetical order. Two, well, I’ll get to that later.
Before I get into all that, though, let me just give one obligatory honorary award first.
The game I’m desperately looking forward to but fear will never come out
Elden Ring (FromSoft)
With that out of the way, let’s get to my co-GOTY awards.
First up is a game that I was tempted to call The best game that I wasn’t good enough to beat until I was to continue a running joke and you know what? Let’s do it. Ready? Here we go!
We’re coming up to the end of the year–a really weird year, by the way. Doom Eternal was released this year? The Last of Us 2? Animal Crossing New Horizons? ACNH came out near the beginning of the lockdown which is probably the biggest reason it was such a hit, and to me, that feels like ten years ago. But also like yesterday. Time is meaningless at the moment. Anyway, normally, I do a few posts about my games of the year and give cute categories to each winning game. I’m still going to do that, but first, I thought I’d take you behind the scenes as to how I make these decisions.
First of all, I don’t play that many games a year. I wrote a few years ago that I would rather have three games a year I really liked than play a couple dozen ok games. Ideally, it would be more like four or five, but three is basic. I hit that floor this year, but just. In the meantime, I played a bunch of games that were meh or worse for a variety of reasons.
I would like to point out that I did both the Dark Souls not-plats this year. That took up a lot of my time and effectively killed my love for Dark Souls III for some time. I’m back in it again at a casual rate and it’s good to be home. It’s funny how it takes less and less time to snap back to my Dark Souls controls, which is the first game I ever played on a controller. The first time I went from Hades to Dark Souls III, I nearly decked NPCs more than once because RB is light attack in DS and interact with someone/something in Hades. The next time, it took less than a minute. The next time, it didn’t take any time at all.
Anyway, doing the Dark Souls not-plats took quite a bit of time. I also ended up 100%ing Spiritfarer and Hades because I was so close by the end of the game that it seemed a shame not to finish them off. I will say for Spiritfarer there was an achievement that you could only get by doing both the options for one certain quest. I was able to go back to an earlier save to choose the other dialogue option to proc the achievement (and it made no difference), but had I not been able to do that, I might not have bothered playing the game again just for that achievement. Oh, hell. You know I would have. I also cheesed a few of the Hades achievements by doing them on Heat Zero because I was not about making it any harder than it needed to be.
In a year that has blown all the chunks all over the place AND has thus far had nary a word from FromSoft on Elden Ring, Spiritfarer by Thunder Lotus Game has blown into my life like a breath of fresh air. I tried the demo which was fifteen minutes long, and I immediately fell in love with the game. It’s bittersweet, lovely, charming, and very emotional. Last week, I wrote about my issues with the game, but emphasized that they did not take away from the game overall.
I will note that there’s one additional issue I have with the game and this was a rather big one. There were two passengers whom I could not stand. I realize that it’s part of the bigger picture–not everyone in our lives is someone we like. Also, there’s a reason Stella has run into this wide array of people (something I found out in a newsletter but was not made clear in the game). While I understand it on an intellectual level, I still reacted to these two characters with a visceral dislike.
The first was one of two brothers. Bruce and Mickey. Mickey was a water buffalo who didn’t talk. It became clear that he was comatose and his brother, a hummingbird, was caretaking for him. Bruce was a huge asshole, and I actively avoided him as much as I could. In addition, the rest of the passengers’ moods were negatively affected by the brothers as they all ‘felt bullied (ha)’ by Mickey. His story was really sad, but it didn’t balance out how incredibly unpleasant Bruce was. When I took them to the EverDoor, I was so relieved to get rid of them. I felt some sorrow for them because of their story, but I was happy to see the back of them.
The other was Elena, a dog. I think a greyhound or something similar. Something lithe and sleek. She’s an ascetic who is very monk-like in her Spartan attitude. She’s also a complete asshole. She was a teacher in life, and she took pleasure in breaking her students who she viewed as beneath her. She’s the one who assigns you timed events, and if you don’t do them to her specifications, she berates you. I felt bullied by her, and I stayed away from her as much as possible. Yes, there was a poignant reason why she was the way she was, but at that point in the game, I didn’t care. She’s the passenger who didn’t like to be hugged, by the way, not to anyone’s surprise.
Ian and I were talking last night about what our GOTY would be. I said Dark Souls III and Bloodborne, neither of which actually came out this year. That got me thinking about what other games I’ve played this year, and while I’ve tried several, the list of games I actually stuck with is depressingly short. I played The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ back when it was released, and it was OK, I guess, but I was underwhelmed with it. I loved, loved, loved The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and have put in an ungodly amount of time into the game. Like, I’m embarrassed to tell you how many hours I’ve poured into Rebirth because it far exceeds the time I’ve put into any other game–and it’s not even close. I was mildly positive about The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth, but when BoI: A+ came out, I was done. It was pure fan service and geared towards the hardcore players who have Fucking Goddamn Real Platinum Godded BOI:R and were looking for another challenge.
One thing I both love and hate about indie games is that when they hit cult status, it becomes a very insular community. Take, for example, Nuclear Throne. It’s one of my favorite games of all times, and it’s a game I never play any longer. I put many, many hours into this game as well, but I only managed to beat The Throne a handful of times. I had it while it was in Early Access, and the devs, Vlambeer, kept adding to the game. They’re wonderful about keeping in touch with their community, and they really worked to incorporate suggestions from their community into the game. This is great! To a point. They started adding things on the loop, really cool things, and I sighed because it’s stuff I would never see. You loop once you beat The Throne, and as I said, I only managed to do it a handful of times. Once they started focusing on the looping part of the game, I quit playing. I knew I would be left out in the cold, and it was time to move on.
It’s the same with BOI:R. Once Edmund McMillen started listening exclusively to the hardcore players, he put the game out of reach for the general populace. Again, I think it’s fantastic that he’s so receptive to the Isaac community, but it means that people who aren’t beating MegaSatan every run aren’t going to be able to jump into the game. I think both Vlambeer and McMillen went too far in the direction of adding content for the sake of the elite players, and I’m not elite enough to enjoy the new content.
Another game I tried and really loved, but was ultimately too hard for me is Hollow Knight. I adored the haunting graphics and my adorable bunny-eared bug knight protagonist and her trusty rusty nail (as her sword). I loved the Souls-like atmosphere and exploring all the different environments. I loved everything about the game except–the platforming. Oh, the platforming. It started out OK, but then it became tedious, quickly followed by nope, can’t do this. It’s the main part of the game, so not being good at it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the game. And so, as much as I love the game, and I love it a great deal, I stopped playing it. I maintain it’s a terrific game, however.