And now I must conclude the annual traditions by denouncing five games that I played in 2020. I played over sixty games in 2020 and, while I wouldn’t say most of them were bad, there were definitely some stinkers. So let’s take a quick look at the rules and dive straight in.
- All games that chart were played for the first time in 2020
- No repeats from previous years are allowed
- A game’s year of release has no impact on the list
I already know some of these are going to piss people off, but just remember that you can voice your anger in a respectful fashion. Alright, let’s dive in.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
We’re just going to go ahead and rip this band-aid off immediately.
New Horizons only just barely makes the bottom five this year by virtue of me having more to say about it than the game who’s place it stole. While it would be disingenuous of me to say that I didn’t get some level of enjoyment out of the game, New Horizons is chock full of small annoyances that beat me over the head until I couldn’t be bothered and stopped playing the game entirely.
Nook Miles still rub me up the wrong way. The whole system is predicated on loss aversion and gamifying the most tedious aspects of New Horizons. For certain facets of the game this is fine, but many of the resource collection goals border on excessive. It’s a shallow, manipulative system that convinces players to continue playing on the promise that they won’t miss out so long as they continue to play the way Nintendo wants them to.
In addition, the crafting that was introduced doesn’t work on any level. Terraria was released in 2011 and has a more complete and streamlined crafting system than New Horizons. It’s almost like the people who made New Horizons haven’t ever played another video game with how comparatively far behind the crafting is. If an indie game from a decade ago could figure it out, why couldn’t Nintendo?
That also doesn’t mention the lack of character in, well, the characters. I will never claim to be the biggest story or character fan when it comes to games, but compared to games like Stardew Valley or Hades the villagers feel flat and lifeless. There is so much repeated, generic dialogue that it feels less like you’re in a town and more like you’re in some kind of weird cult or a theme park filled with animatronics.
Also, fuck tool degradation.
New Horizons isn’t without its merits, but many of its basic gameplay features feel woefully behind when compared to any number of other games within the industry – both old and new, big and small. Were it not a sequel to a long running Nintendo franchise, I honestly believe New Horizons wouldn’t have received even a fraction of the praise that it has.
Time for something less contentious: Bad North.
Bad North falls into the category of, “I don’t understand why I didn’t like this”. It’s a streamlined real time strategy game that strips out base building, resource management, and micro-managing individual troops. Instead, you control up to four groups of soldiers and move them around various choke points on a map to counter incoming waves of enemies.
So why didn’t I enjoy it?
For the first couple hours I did. However, once you reach the late game it becomes abundantly clear that no combination unit upgrades can stand up to the mighty Jotun Archers. These fuckers can snipe your soldiers from off screen as their boats slowly ride up on the island you’re defending. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if you could hide behind cover until they reached land, but sometimes you’ll have your hands tied dealing with another group of baddies and can’t call for a retreat. Alternatively, you may have to deal with several of these guys at the same time, so cover may not exist.
Given the rest of the game was rooted in a clear cut rock-paper-scissor dynamic it was truly bizarre to see this one enemy unit that didn’t have a clear counter measure. Further, your soldiers died permanently if they were entirely wiped out leading to a positive feedback loop of inevitable failure once shit started to go sideways. This all culminated in Bad North being an extremely frustrating game to repeatedly play.
This one makes me sad. I was highly anticipating Necrobarista and when I finally got to play the full release it damn near put me to sleep.
For a game billed as a kinetic visual novel there was an extreme lack of energy to most of the cast. I wasn’t able to connect with the characters owing to their mostly flat personalities. The side stories did an okay job of trying to patch up this fault, but those were walls of text which lacked the unique visual flair and presentation present in the rest of the game.
Speaking of, the side stories are one of two areas that made Necrobarista feel like it suffered a large cut in content from what was originally planned. There are three characters that are introduced toward the middle of the game before they’re dropped entirely never to be seen again. This struck me as odd because all three are given a proper introduction, so their lack of presence in the story made it feel as though their specific plot threads had to be cut with the remainder of the story being reworked to function without them.
It’s a shame. Necrobarista is a game where I feel like I can see the lost potential, which makes the somewhat half-hearted full release an exceptional disappointment.
In Other Waters
In Other Waters is an adventure game that states it is about exploring an alien planet, but that’s not really true. Players are given so little freedom in how they are able to explore that playing In Other Waters feels more like going on a guided tour than it does exploring a mysterious alien planet. This was made even worse when contrasted against Outer Wilds, which I also played this year, as it let players freely explore several alien planets however they pleased. By comparison, In Other Waters feels shallow and restrictive.
What’s worse is exploration is incredibly tedious. Moving around necessitates scanning for a new point of interest, lining up your AI systems with said point of interest, and clicking to trudge slowly towards the point. Far too often there is only one point to move forward to so this laborious process for movement feels totally unnecessary and further slows down an already glacial game.
The story is nothing to write home about either. I’m about to spoil the shit out of it, so skip this paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled. It is framed as a mystery, but you’ll likely figure out early on that the whole thing is about how humans destroyed the planet’s ecosystem. Every piece of writing exists in service to this, which leads to the game feeling as though it is beating you over the head with its message. There is something to be said for trusting your audience to interpret what you mean without being so overt about it.
Also, where Necrobarista couldn’t quite put me to sleep In Other Waters did. That’s the mark of a truly great game.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Similar to my favourite game of the year, my least favourite game should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.
On a purely technical level, Fall Guys is a fucking disaster. Some of the problems at launch were extremely obvious and should have been accounted for such as the code injection problem on Steam, or the lack of server capacity for a game that was featured at two separate E3 press conferences and available as a free download for PS+ subscribers. Hacking was also a serious problem owing to the lack of anti-cheat and server side validation. Thankfully, the last time I checked all of these problems had been addressed in some capacity.
What hasn’t been addressed, and isn’t likely to be, is the terrible netcode. Netcode should never be so bad to where objects and interactions are noticeably lagging in real time and actively ruining the experience for your players. In my mind, the deficiency of Fall Guys’ netcode alone discredits any praise this game has received as it is such a fundamental part of an always online game. It’d be like not being able to jump properly in a Mario game.
There was also an extreme lack of variety to the games on offer at launch, both in terms of how they felt and which would be chosen for play. In addition, the focus of new content updates being almost entirely related to new costumes speaks volumes about Mediatonic’s long term objectives with Fall Guys when the game released with such an obvious lack of polish that needed to be addressed first.
However, the biggest beef I have with Fall Guys is how successful it is. The online is fundamentally broken, the core gameplay loop is boring and repetitive, and the focus is clearly on releasing new cosmetics over fixing existing short-comings. Despite this, the game has made millions of dollars and is one of the most successful commercial releases of the year. Were this game published by EA everyone would’ve torched it for being a cynical cash grab instead of being heralded as some kind of chosen one.
Fuck this game.
There you have it. The five games I enjoyed the least from what I played in 2020. There were a few games that almost made the list by virtue of being so mediocre that I’d forgotten I played them, but writing about those would have likely made for a less interesting article. That’s enough from me though: what were your least favourite games of the year? Let me know in the comments below. I’m curious what releases left a bad taste in the mouths of others.