Thursday, December 24, 2020

My favorite games of 2020: Moon, The Origami King, and Void Terrarium

I've spent most of 2020 ping-ponging between feeling terrified and traumatized. One of the few areas of my life that has bucked that trend over the last 12 or so months has been the time I've devoted to video games.

In fact, I've both played and enjoyed more games in 2020 than I have in many years. The three games I'm highlighting here are my favorites of the 45 or so I put at least some time into this year. Or at least they're my favorites of the games that came out between Jan. 1 and now. (I'll publish a similar post about my favorite games of 2020 that weren't released in 2020 shortly.)

Moon (Switch)

Although I'm a lifelong fan of role-playing games, I'm far from a stickler for tradition. As much as I adore old-school, by-the-numbers JRPGs (think Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light), I also appreciate attempts to deviate from the norm. Onion Games' Moon--previously known as Moon: Remix RPG Adventure--is a perfect example of the second category. So much so I hesitate to call it an RPG. What is Moon then? An adventure game, I guess. But it also features a liberal dose of simulation and puzzle elements.

Regardless, it's wonderful, not to mention wonderfully chill. There's no rushing while playing Moon. Hell, you can't even run while playing Moon. You saunter. You slowly scour Moon's modest surface in an attempt to help both its earthly inhabitants and its apparitional ones. The latter are the souls of creatures slain by a video-game's unhinged hero, while you are a real-world boy sucked into that make-believe world and charged with righting said madman's wrongs through the power of love.

Moon tends toward the obtuse and melancholic, but that just adds to its peculiar charm--as do the game's eclectic background tunes, which--in another delightful twist--you can change at will.

Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch)

Although The Origami King is a more than fitting subtitle for this latest Paper Mario adventure, an even better one, in my humblest of opinions, would've been The Origami Odyssey. After all, this entry in Intelligent Systems' long-running RPG series feels like proper, globe-trotting trek. You zip from one eye-poppingly exotic locale to another while attempting to save Princess Peach (amongst other important--and far more interesting--tasks), sometimes via an appropriately recyclable vehicle.

The rest of The Origami King will seem a bit foreign to Paper Mario fans, too. In particular, this title's turn-based tussles are more like puzzles than the select-battle-options-from-a-menu affairs that are typical of the genre. I prefer the tried-and-true myself, though the new method introduced here grew on me by leaps and bounds once I became accustomed to it.

Even if you fall in love with these brainy fights from the word go, though, you're unlikely to consider them a highlight of the experience. Instead, you'll probably reserve that honor for The Origami King's witty text and wondrous soundtrack.

Void Terrarium (PS4, Switch)

Nippon Ichi Software's Void Terrarium does everything it can to turn off potential players. First there's its name, the full version of which is void tRrLM(); //Void Terrarium. Then there's its post-apocalyptic aesthetic, which seems more banal than breathtaking, especially early on. There's also its "human Tamagotchi" component, which is just... confounding--again, particularly at first.

And yet I found Void Terrarium utterly captivating. Sure, the desolate environments of this part-time dungeon-crawler can be samey, but if you're anything like me, you'll barely pay attention to them thanks to the game's heart-pounding soundtrack and surprisingly compelling story. Oh, and the robot-battling action on offer here is plenty exhilarating, too. Not bad for a title that started off looking like a real dud, eh?

Honorable mentions:
  • Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories (PC, PS4, Switch)
  • Mad Rat Dead (PS4, Switch)
  • Part Time UFO (Mobile, Switch)
  • A Short Hike (PC, Switch)