End of Year 2020: Deep Cuts: The Waypoint Rarity Collection 2020

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the bombast, the grandeur, and, most of all, the marketing, of large triple AAA games. Though AAA games are not the only ones to have received attention as AA games and major indie games with significant backing - either in terms of money, staff, or renown - have come to attention as well.

Yet, there are games and interactive works outside of those categories, and outside of the determined area for “indie” games. We are leaving what that means somewhat ambiguous, and up to you. Maybe it was a game you found searching through a game jam on itch. Maybe it was the side project of an artist whose work you follow. Maybe it’s someone’s first game. Whatever the case, if it made an impact on you, we want to know about it!

This category is for games that might not get tons of attention, but show effort and innovation. It is to talk about and bring to light games that you have stumbled upon, that defy tradition, or perhaps show a new direction for game, one that few might know about.

Now, what’s that rarity you’re amazed everyone isn’t playing?

[Hub Thread]

@Glorgu, @Niko : Category Description

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Given the nature of this category, I shall guiltlessly give a nod to several more games than I have in any other thread.

Haunted PS1 Demo Disc is a collection of 17 demos (some have longer games you can play, others arr currently only demos) of PS1-style horror games. I loved like twelve of them.

In any other forum, Umurangi Generation would be worth mentioning, but I think most people here know it.

WORLD OF HORROR is a Junji Ito-inspired, 1-bit throwback to old cRPGs with dice rolls (including the Lovecraftian classic of saving throws against Reason, this game’s version of the ambiguous Sanity), verbs, and a UI that takes up 65% of the screen. If that sounds like your thing, then this game does a great job at pulling it off. On Game Pass!

Tonight We Riot is a game you might own, if you bought the itchio Bundle for Racial Justice, and it’s a neat brawler about collectivizing and fighting cops. Explicitly leftist, which is nice. I’m not the biggest brawler person, so I can’t judge it entirely fairly, but it’s definitely the best feeling crowd brawler I’ve played.

Lucifer Within Us is a mystery game with a definite answer to its mystery… but it’ll let you mess it up and keep going, unlike most games where you are told to try again until you get it right. Plus, I really like the aesthetics. A little short for its price, but fun to watch people play if you can’t afford it and better than a night at the cinema (… especially right now) if you can.

Hylics 2 is a sequel to a great RPG that not enough people played, so I stand on my pedestal and shout into the void: play Hylics! If you look at the store page, you will know from art direction alone if this is a game for you. And if you like it, hey, there’s a sequel.

A Hand with Many Fingers is a Cold War conspiracy (corkboard-included) game, a secrets hidden by the CIA sorta thing that’s cool to uncover.

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I’d like to recommend Skye. It’s a student project from a university in the Netherlands and available completely free. It’s a very short, very relaxing game where you fly a seaplane around some very pretty islands. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon or so.

Best flight sim 2020.

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I feel like I haven’t heard a lot about Project Wingman outside of the game’s actual subreddit, which is crazy because it’s an indie game that goes toe-to-toe with the Ace Combat series in every category except budget. There’s a mission where you need to blow up unobtanium refineries in the middle of an active lava lake, and the refineries are shielded in such a way that while you could take them out with bombs if you get the angle just right the most effective way to destroy them is to fly through a tunnel and engage it with guns. I just recently unlocked an Su-27 that can fit an “AoA limiter” that lets you do Tony Hawk shit in a fighter jet. The mission before that I was flying nap-of-the-earth in the mountains at night blowing up SAM sites with multi-lock anti-ground missiles. This game rules, people need to play it.

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The Collage Atlus on Apple Arcade is a legitimately delightful game. It’s all made out of black and white pen and ink hand drawn illustration-style. Mostly it’s tiny little minigames and a long poem around it. Imagine maybe a less depressing The Remains of Edith Finch.

I think it’s a great cool-down game after this awful year. It’s a very calming experience. And I cannot overstate how much it meant to me to hear “it’s okay” from a game, with all the nightmare stress I’ve had and we’ve all had.

I also really want to shout-out Evan’s Remains which I played on Switch. It’s like a two hour long 2D narrative puzzle game. It was short and sweet. Very cute thing.

I’m not great at deep cuts, but John Walker wrote a really excellent games you missed article @Kotaku: https://kotaku.com/the-best-games-of-2020-that-you-ve-never-heard-of-1845933208

Usually I’m skeptical of these lists (anybody heard of Celeste?) but I had actually never heard of any of these games before seeing the list and I’m planning on checking a few out.

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There’s quite a few really great games that have gotten a shoutout already in this thread! (World of Horror and the **Haunted PS1 Demo Disk ** games are great!) My favorite deep cut this year is Promesa! I think it may be the perfect walking simulator. Every environment you explore is visually distinct and absolutely gorgeous. It’s a tone piece, and there’s very little text to read, which allows it to be expertly paced. It’s also only about 45 minutes long! It has everything I love about walking sims, without the annoying parts.

Two other games worth shouting out are The Convenience Store (a creepy adventure game about having a boring job) and Rainy Season (a short, slightly surrealist walking sim about a kid stuck at home on a rainy day.)

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So, has anyone heard of this little gem called Hollow Knight?

But seriously, other than that nothing I played this year was as rad as Horizon’s Gate. The vibes of sailing around the world with no idea what you’ll find next are unmatched. The combat is always fun to think through, even on basic encounters, but there are some really scary ones that I only just scraped through too. Being able to examine just about anything to get a short journal entry about it made everything feel so vibrant that I always wanted more.

I still need to play the dev’s previous two games, but if I still have any tactics left in my brain afterwards, I’m gonna dive back in and see how half a year of updates and mod support are treating it. I am especially looking forward to being able to establish ports at the little supply stations around the world; the first time I found one and the melancholy music was playing and it was just one lonely person sitting in a tiny house, just waiting there to sell me food so I wouldn’t die… I’ll pay you back, generic NPCs. Just wait for me.

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On the basis of this article, I tried out There is No Game: Wrong Dimension. I am less impressed by it than John was - it’s a very meta puzzle game, but like Pony Island [which seems as much of an influence as The Stanley Parable], it can’t resist making parts of the puzzles just as irritating as the thing they’re mocking. I didn’t finish Pony Island for that reason [and never did the really-hard-to-get-because-its-the-only-one-that’s-super-repetitive ending for The Stanley Parable either - but at least that was very optional], and I’m not sure if I want to finish There is No Game, for the same reason.

I’m talking around the game’s conceit because to talk about how it works too much spoils the entire point of the game - which is to [like Pony Island, but also like Achievement Unlocked and games of that ilk] push against the fourth wall in Video game terms - blurring the boundaries of what elements are interactable with, and allowing punning adventure game solutions using this postmodernist playfulness. The humour… is going to be something that works better for some than others. I found it… tolerable, but it’s very nod-nod-wink-wink look at this reference, and if you like that kind of thing, you’ll probably find it hilarious.

-Edited to add: I actually did go back and finish There Is No Game - and it improves in the second half, once it actually decides to add some tone to its emotional palette beyond reference-based humour. It’s actually a much better script when you get the dramatic elements - and, despite a few puzzles later on which are almost certainly not supposed to be as hard as they are (but depend on reflexes and timing) - the general quality of the puzzles also improves.

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As for things I did play: I know people have talked about it a bit here, but I did quite enjoy Coffee Talk, even if I don’t think it works as well as VA-11 HALL-A as a game in the same genre. (Where the latter is sometimes too interested in crossing the line twice, the former makes the equally problematic choice of mostly just playing stuff too safe.)

And, since I’ve seen it listed in a few mainstream publications’ lists of “obscure games”, I have to call out Noita again - the only one of this year’s three big commercial roguelite releases [Hades and Spelunky 2 being the others] that I’ve been playing since early access… and still play now.

I went back and looked at what I wrote about the games I played from the itch.io Racial Justice bundle earlier in the year [it’s been a long year - so much so that I’d forgotten all that happened less than 12 months ago!] - I should add to this:
The Mortician’s Tale [which is short and “barely a game”, in that I don’t think you can actually mess up at any point, it’s more about immersing you in a simulation of being a mortician and inculating a proper respect towards death]
Us Lovely Corpses [a really well done interactive horror fiction with a “language of roses” theme over a couple of metaphors]
Secret Little Haven [one of the series of ‘chat program RPG’ games that all came out at a certain time - this one about being trans in the 90s]

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I played Lizzi Crossing after getting it as part of the Itchio Racial Justice Bundle and really liked it. It’s a clever cross between minesweeper and picross.

Tree Trunk Brook is a comfy little adventure game with an interesting aesthetic and a very chill and relaxing mood. Sometimes you just want a game about taking a hike and meeting people.

Also, I’ll take any chance I can to shoutout Pixel Puzzle Makeout League which is my personal GOTY. It’s a great combination of visual novel and picross game which, even for people who aren’t super into one or the other, I think it still works out as a pleasant combination of both.

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Feels like everything I’ve played was firmly in the public perception.
Maybe 13 Sentinels by Vanillaware? Doesn’t feel like a lot of people tried it this year, games journalists or otherwise. Great game, a bit of a time commitment though.
Part Time UFO is very fun, mentioned already a few times, and no time commitment at all, I recommend that…though it’s hardly an indie.

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Two that come to mind are:

Under A Star Called Sun is a really good and beautiful little game. It’s only a few minutes long and is playable in a browser, so it’s definitely worth checking out.

Nightbloom is a small horror text adventure game that does a lot with very little. It’s really good.

I put over 20 hours into Troubleshooter: Abandoned Children before life stuff got in the way back in March/April. Now it’s December and I have every intention of hitting the reset button on my campaign so I can finally play it to completion as fresh as possible.

Despite being a low budget endeavor, this is one of those games that shoots for the stars in its ambition, and I just admire how much of it manages to land. It’s certainly rough around the edges (even after loading it up again this past week to see what all has been improved), but if you like tactics games with a lot of character building, and also wish the genre as a whole put more focus on crafting decent stories, then this one well worth checking out!

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I’ve only gotten a third of the way into it because it’s super hard, but I’ve enjoyed the 45 minutes(?) I’ve had with the frantic first-person shooting in the surreal neo-expressionist hallway hellscape of POST VOID.

It’s basically an arcade shooter where speed matters above all else. On your left hand is an idol full of white liquid which acts as your life bar. On your right hand is a pistol. What propels you forward is that the liquid in your idol is constantly draining, and the only way to refill it is by killing enemies or reaching the end of a level.

Your enemies consist of besuited gun-toting humanoids with mouths for heads, grey bipedal razor-fanged jaws that bull-rush you, tooth-lined eye turrets, telephone rotor-drones, and flesh walls. Both you and them don’t have a lot of health, so the tension lies in having to make quick decisions to either kill enemies or just run right past them while trying to avoid taking as much damage as possible.

There are apparently 11 levels in total, each one separated by a set of procedurally generated hallways that increase in difficulty the deeper you get. You get to choose from 3 upgrades at the end of every level to help you deal with the rising challenge, ranging from simple boosts like health or ammo clip upgrades to game-changing options like switching your pistol to a knife or uzi or being able to run backwards faster.

It’s adrenaline distilled to snappy rogue-like runs, and it’s the most exhilarating video game experience outside of Doom Eternal I’ve had all year.

Do note that the game has a lot of flashing lights. The aesthetic is intentionally disorienting. I dig it, but I understand that there are plenty of people that physically cannot play this kind of game, so fair warning!

It was highlighted in one of Errant Signal’s excellent Blips! video series, so if you want a preview of how the game plays with some thoughtful observations, check it out here:

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