2020: A Year In Review

I had such a shit 2019 that it’s hard to be too sad about this waste of a year. It’s terrible, obviously, but I’m very grateful that my family has dodged the virus, and some have even had their first vaccination jabs against it. There’s a lot I would have like to have done, but with any luck we can make up for some lost time towards the end of next year.

Anyway, there’s nothing I can say about the virus that you haven’t already heard, so that’s enough of that. Here’s my usual rundown of the year, mostly for me to read in five years time when I’ve forgotten all of it. Woo!

Global Game Jam ’20
January 31st – February 2nd 

The Global Game Jam is always one of the highlights of the year, but even though there were rumblings of just how big a deal Covid was going to be, I don’t think anyone was under the impression that it would be the last time we could meet in person. That’s not changing any time soon either, as 2021’s Game Jam is going to be online only.

Anyway, who would have guessed that making a Jackbox style game in 48 hours would be so hard? We gave it a good go though, and I think we did a pretty solid job considering. I don’t think my bad VA made it into the game either, so that’s a bonus.

You can play it in your browser, so have a play around with it if you fancy. You can find details of the project here.

 

Trip to Japan
April-ish

Following the aforementioned shit 2019, my brothers and I made plans to go on a long holiday together. Not a crazy thing for us – we’re all pretty close, and I went to Japan with Nathan and Germany with Jack last year – but it’s been quite some time since all three of us went somewhere together. After doing all the work to get our employers on board with a 3 week trip, we ended up bailing due to the worsening virus news mid-March. It’s lucky we did, as there was no chance we could have gone as planned, and the window to reschedule flights, which we were originally going to use as a crutch, ended up expiring already.

 

Trip to Norfolk
November-ish

Skipped the majority of the year there – turns out not a lot happens when you’re in lockdown. Japan was (and still is) off the cards, so to try and squeak in a holiday before the end of the year, we planned to stay in a nice little place on a river in Norfolk for something of a walking/fishing vacation. Of course, the week before we were to go, we went into the second lockdown. Thankfully the company we booked with gave refunds (and they very much didn’t have to), but it did mean I closed out November feeling pretty defeated. I do have a new fishing rod in my living room though and I’m very keen to use it when it’s safe to do so.

 

Raising Money for Cancer Research UK
November 7th – November 21st

The charity streams are always the highlight of my year. Not only is it (usually) a good time to meet with friends, but we also get to hang out, play some video games together and raise some money in the process. This year didn’t want to play ball, of course. Adam couldn’t make it over from Wales, and a week before the stream we went into a local lockdown that meant only Jack could join me, as we were in the same bubble. We did get Nathan and Adam on a joint call, and Adam streamed from home, so we did what we could considering the circumstances.

Still, while we were very much doing what we could given the virus situation, the rules, and common sense, we ended up with a whopping six streams over three weekends running 28-29 hours long. I’m really proud of what the lot of us wrangled together, and I hope that folks that hung out with had a good time.

I think I say this every year, but raising as much money as the year before always seems like an impossible task. We started the streams with £543 raised, which is already pretty impressive considering we hadn’t actually done anything at that point, and finished with a whopping £1355. That’s nearly £1600 if you include Gift Aid, which is pretty unbelievable. A huge thank you to everyone who donated and/or supported us over a pretty hectic three weeks.

On the technical side of things, I was very happy that the new setup for the South stream worked pretty flawlessly. Barely any dropped frames, a new audio mixer and lapel mics, and a pretty clean stream layout too. I picked up a second Elgato on sale since the streams, so in theory we should be able to have two consoles on the go next year. The North-West stream wins the innovation award this year, printing every Twitch comment on receipt paper and… mailing them to Russia?

If you missed it, the archive of the South stream is below. You can also watch the other five streams (which is still crazy to say) which feature some of the other VSS members, here.

Gigs

Ha. There were a few gigs I had my eye on this year, but all were post-March and got cancelled due to a certain pandemic. Maybe we can squeeze one in at the end of 2021.

Japanese Cinema

What’s a cinema? That said, with Screen Anime launching this year, I actually saw a fair few anime movies for the first time. So, uh, lightning round review of those time!

  • Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise – Not an amazing film, but I really appreciated the world building and attention to detail in the art. Honestly, exactly what I want from this service. (7)
  • Penguin Highway – The plot is all over the place but look, penguins are cute and this is very well animated. (8)
  • The Anthem of the Heart – One of those films that doesn’t interest me at all on paper, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Not breaking new ground but very good at what it does. (9)
  • Ride Your Wave – The first new film for me that just didn’t land whatsoever. I found it very pretentious and uninspiring, though I have a newfound respect for anyone that put up with that repetitive song while watching this in a cinema. (4)
  • Children of the Sea – A very strange film that I still have trouble articulating my thoughts on. Impressive art nonetheless. (6)
  • Napping Princess – Interesting, but poorly executed. I seem to remember the ending being a confusing mess but honestly it’s been a while. (6)
  • Birthday Wonderland – Wanted to watch this one especially after seeing a TV special in Japan last year that walked through some of the behind the scenes of making it. It, uh, wasn’t very good. Another one of those films that seems to go for Ghibli-esque magic but falls over in the process. (5)
  • Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel 1: presage flower – Not going to pretend I know anything that happens in the Fate franchise, but the film is gorgeous and the fights are terrific. The rest is whatever. (7)
  • Genius Party – A collection of short films, some good and some bad. Limit Cycle almost made me fall asleep and I do not wish it upon anyone. (6)
  • Lupin the Third: Jigen’s Gravestone/Goemon’s Blood Spray/Fujiko’s Lie – I loved The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, so I’m not really sure why I never got around to the sequel films. Turns out they’re all really good! (8, 8, 8)
  • Lupin the Third: The Secret of Mamo – Proof that the charms of old, hand-animated films aren’t always good. Kinda hated most of what this film brought to the table. (4)
  • Production I.G Short Films – Another mixed collection of films, with my favourite probably being Li’l Spider Girl. (6)

To be fair, Screen Anime had some pretty solid films on its service, most of which I haven’t mentioned here because I’d already seen them before. The ones I missed were Anemone: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution, as I don’t know squat about that franchise, the Love Live films because I have no interest in those, and the second Fate/stay movie as I kinda just forgot to watch it, lol.

The Video Game Bit

This year was a good year for video games (again!), though I could have done better to, you know, actually play the games I was buying. Once again I’ve been tracking which games I’m playing and beating over on the Backloggery, and for 2020 I had similar goals:

  • Beat 30 Games
  • Beat 15 Games bought pre-2020
  • Have 40 or fewer unbeaten PS4 games
  • Have 10 or fewer unbeaten 3DS games
  • Have 5 or fewer unbeaten Switch games

Beating 46 games this year is pretty impressive for me, and it was my highest count since 2015. Pretty telling why of course, considering how much more time I’ve spent indoors this year, but I still would have liked to clear up a few more. The curse of the backlog.

My pre-2020 goal has beaten me once again. Annoyingly I made it to 13 pre-2020 games beaten, with the goal of clearing two PSVR titles (Rez Infinite and Final Fantasy XV: The Fishing One) to finish up. I booted up Rez on December 30th and it made me motion sick after half an hour of play, so I retired to the sofa and that was that. Ho hum!

And yeah, as always, I didn’t manage any of those ‘keep the backlog under X games’ goals. In fact, I think all of them grew this year, thanks to a handful of 3DS deals despite not playing any games on the console for more than an hour or two this year. In my defence, the 3DS is my holiday games console of choice and it’d have had some good use on the shinkansen had we made it to Japan, but never mind. Gotta try and keep the Switch backlog down in 2021 and stop it from becoming a disaster like my PS4 backlog.

Anyway, enough waffle. Here’s the hit list for 2020 and some numbers:

Games beaten: 46 (Seven more than 2019, 39 beat, 7 complete)

The Outer Worlds*
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore
Death Stranding*
Murder By Numbers
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
ARMS
Touhou Spell Bubble
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Warriors Orochi 4*
Final Fantasy VII Remake
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey*
Sakura Wars
Catherine: Full Body*
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition*
Guacamelee 2
Death Come True
Wario World*
Paper Mario: The Origami King
AI: The Somnium Files
WATCH_DOGS*
Pokémon Card GB2: Here Comes Team GR!*
Devil May Cry*
Devil May Cry 2*
Devil May Cry 3*
Ace Angler: Nintendo Switch Version
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions
moon
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Shenmue III
My Hero One’s Justice
One Piece: World Seeker
Resident Evil 2
Pikmin 3 Deluxe
She Sees Red
A Way Out
Astro’s Playroom
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Bugsnax
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Hades
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition*
Cuphead

* denotes a game purchased pre-2020

Like I did last year I won’t talk about each one of these, but rather build a top ten to talk about:

My Arbitrary Top 10 List of Games I Played This Year

  • 10. Cuphead – Always wanted to play this and finally picked it up in the end of year sales. Squeaked it in on December 30th as the last game beaten in the year, and what a ride. I imagine this is what people feel like after beating bosses in the Souls games, because I’ve never gone from frustration to delight so quickly, while also never wanting to give up.
  • 9. AI: The Somnium Files – The Zero Escape guy is back with another visual novel, and you know, this was a lot of fun. We’re not talking the same highs (or lows) as that series, but it offers a pretty solid story full of the usual oddities and murder mysteries, with a pretty good cast to go with it.
  • 8. Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions – They actually made a good Tsubasa football game, holy shit. I was a bit worried about the mollasses-like movement we saw in the previews, but the back and forth of the game is so frantic nonetheless that it all works out. The special moves are as silly as the anime counterparts and I even got to make Quattro Bajeena in the character creator. Really hope they do a second game with a more robust story mode in the future.
  • 7. Resident Evil 2 – I’ve never been a Resident Evil person but I had a real hankering to play this remake, so I found it hard to resist giving it a go when it showed up on sale. Honestly, I don’t know how many of the games are in this format, but exploring the police station while hunting for new areas and ways to open locked doors, while avoiding a big, invincible zombie, was really a lot of fun.
  • 6. Hades – It’s been a while since I’ve played a ‘just one more run’ kind of game, and Hades is just really damn good at what it does. The sense of progression it gives you might well be unmatched, and not once have I felt like the game has robbed me in a run. Beating Hades for the first time felt great.
  • 5. Yakuza: Like a Dragon – I’m such a Yakuza nerd at this point that this was always going to show up somewhere in this list, but new protagonist Ichiban and the move to turn-based combat worked out really well. The story is great, the substories are greater, and it was just a lot of fun all around. While I hope we haven’t seen the last of the beat-em-up combat of the older games, I hope that the sequel to this game builds upon the RPG system even further.
  • 4. Death Stranding – Genuinely shocked to see this on my list of games beaten this year, as it feels like forever ago that I played it. Nonetheless, Death Stranding was a lot of fun even if it’s also very apparent why it’s so divisive. Personally, running cargo back and forth as Norman Reedus was right up my alley, and it comes with all the Kojima weirdness you’d want it to.
  • 3. Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore – Another game from the beginning of the year that feels like forever ago. For a weird Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem mashup, it has an excellent RPG system and a not totally ass story. Even if you don’t care for these two franchises, this is worth a look if you’re eager to start an RPG.
  • 2. Final Fantasy VII Remake – Just had a great time with this one. Put many hours into it and did pretty much everything there was to do short of playing through the entire game again on a harder difficulty. Very curious to see where the game goes in the next instalment, whenever we might get it.
  • 1. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim – Look, if you like visual novels, you need to play this game. The story is terrific, the visuals are terrific, and the robot fighting gameplay I found surprisingly addictive. A phenomenal game all around and an easy pick for my favourite game of the year.

Honourable mentions: D4DJ, Animal Crossing, that month of Genshin Impact I played

Games I got this year that I hope to one day find time for: Ghost of Tsushima, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, The Last of Us Part 2, Immortals Fenyx Rising, Control

I think that’s about it. Thank you for putting up with my rambling, and I wish you a very awesome 2021!

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