In 2019, I made a point of trying to keep up with game releases. I played a lot of new games when (or soon after) they released, hoping to engage with them while they were relevant. Despite my efforts, I ultimately missed plenty of titles that I was particularly interested in. And as you might imagine, my backlog suffered even more than usual.

This year was different. This year, I deliberately made no particular effort to play this year’s games. In the end, I played a pretty even split of games from this year and games from my backlog (some of which I just couldn’t fit into 2019, as well as some which are a fair bit older). So to match, I’ve decided to split my Game of the Year 2020 in two Top 5 lists: one list for games this year, and one for older ones that I just now got around to.

From Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

My Favorite Games of 2020

The ones that did not release in 2020

The first five posts for this year’s GOTY series will be for games that were not, in fact, released in 2020. But I played them in 2020, and I think that’s a perfectly good excuse to talk about them. I’ll probably gather them into a nice wrap-up at the end, as well. To set the stage, here are some honorable mentions (of various sorts).

Just Missed the List – Anodyne 2

A surreal adventure with a lot of interesting twists, and a fusion of fun retro PS1-looking graphics as well as crisp pixel art. A celebration of many eras and styles of gaming and a love letter to both the most beloved and the most esoteric facets of the Legend of Zelda series and its contemporaries.

In Progress – Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

A beautiful, wistful game about exploring a mythic version of the Depression-era USA. As you explore, you gather stories and watch them grow as they’re passed along from person to person. I put this game off for a long time, and still haven’t gotten very far into it yet. Just because I’m mentioning it here doesn’t mean it’s off the table for next year…

Didn’t Get to It – Stardew Valley

One of the many stalwart anchors of my backlog that I can never quite get into the right headspace for. It’s a game I’m sure I can like, if I can just figure out how to get myself into it. I’ll get to it someday, I swear.

My Favorite Games of 2020

The ones that actually released this year

The next series of five posts will be a countdown of my Top 5 games that are actually from 2020. Expect a wrap-up post at the end for these ones as well. Lucky for me, another list means means that I get to name another set of honorable mentions!

Just Missed the List – Final Fantasy VII Remake

If there’s one clear shift in my gaming taste over the past few years, it’s that I’ve begun to gravitate away from big AAA titles, and from long RPGs in particular. FF7R is definitely the only one of those I even played at all this year. I… still haven’t quite finished it, and I think the pacing has begun to fall apart at the end, but I had an unexpectedly good time with the majority of this game.

In Progress – Ikenfell

Among the myriad other miserable things that happened in 2020, there was also a series of increasingly awful twitter activity, comments, and long-winded statements from the author of a certain wildly popular British fantasy series about wizard school. Ikenfell feels like it exists partly as a direct reclamation of “magic school” stories from the jaws of bigotry. It’s insistently inclusive and diverse, and it’s brimming with sincerity and heart and messy teenage interpersonal drama. The combat can be a bit tedious, so I haven’t pushed through it, but I still find its endless charm hard to resist.

Didn’t Get to It – The Pathless

It’s hard to reflect on my relationship to games and game criticism without considering Journey, one of the first “art games” I ever played. Though Journey in retrospect feels a bit too “artsy” and insubstantial, the studio behind it (and its spinoff studio, Giant Squid) largely stayed the course with ABZÛ in 2016. But The Pathless sounds like something fresher, leaning more upon gameplay and game feel to communicate its tone and atmosphere. I’m excited to check this one out soon!

Trying to keep up with releases in 2019 was clearly a mistake, and I’ve had a much better time with gaming in 2020. Focusing on what I really wanted to play (and often preferring shorter games) has been a great way to hone my critical eye and better understand my own taste, while also challenging and evolving it. That said, one thing I’ve been bad about is blogging regularly and sharing my thoughts… Oh well, better late than never. Stay tuned for my Top 10 (or perhaps Top 5 & Top 5?) Games of 2020!