Everyone knows I am the most hardcore player that ever existed; in fact, I’m so hardcore, I needed to play a few casual games (yuck) to tone myself down and be relatable to other people. Here are some games I really enjoyed that were casual and released in 2020; there will be one honorable mention and a ranked list of five games.
The pedestrian is a 2.5D puzzle platformer with a few neat ideas and great execution of an attractive visual style. It is also a surprisingly challenging puzzle game that works great as something relaxing to work on for half an hour each day. Whether it’s the multiple screen puzzles that require more focus or the smart design and perfect pacing of the game, the game respects and rewards the time you spent on it.
Honestly, I tried to fit this game somewhere in the lists this year and couldn’t find a better spot for it, so here we are; When the past was around is not a particularly great game. It is deeply personal, emotional, with great audio-visual presentation to the point where I only suggest the “complete” edition of the game with the soundtrack and art included, but simultaneously the gameplay is mostly pixel hunting and very light puzzle solving. However, my opinion on games is the same as with any other medium; if the experience is worthwhile, meaningful, memorable, or any other good adjective, then how you get there doesn’t really matter. When the past was around is certainly all those adjectives and what it lacks in creativity or interesting use of the medium, it makes up for in a poignant and accessible narrative that does stick with you.
Another year, another Picross game, another 60 hours spent on it. For that alone, Picross makes my top 5, but overall, the Picross series on the Switch has been very good; S4 felt especially decent in its pacing and difficulty curve, but the core remains the same. I would love for the next entries in the series to have some more variety and come up with new ideas, but what I want most of all is more Picross and S4 delivers on that.
Shadowhand is one of my favorite games in the ‘casual’ section, so developer Grey Alien’s next game would be something I would be very interested in. Ancient Enemy follows in Gray Alien tradition and offers the players a gimmick; Regency Solitaire is Jane Austin but with solitaire, Shadowhand is an RPG but with solitaire, and now Ancient Enemy is a deck builder but with solitaire. Like Picross, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or give you amble reason to buy this game over any of the other two, but I really wanted more of their particular brand of solitaire, and I was very satisfied.
Speaking of Solitaire, Bithell games’ new short is called The Solitaire Conspiracy and it’s a new take on Solitaire, based on a local version of it. It is most appropriately described as “rogue-like solitaire” and it was a great game; the campaign was not to my liking, but the take on solitaire was actually very addictive and I ended up spending 7+ hours with it and kept coming back to it for new content or just to put on my Spotify playlist and relax for half an hour.
When I saw Carto was part of my Game Pass subscription, I was delighted to not having to buy the game or wait for a deep sale, just to be disappointed or mildly entertained for a few hours and never think about the game again. But, as I was seeing the ending cinematic for the game hours later, I felt sorry for how wrong I was and excited at the hint of a sequel. Carto is a great game that uses a great hook to deliver some fun and deceivingly challenging puzzles and a wholesome story in cartoonish world, and I never wanted it to end. The hook is simple; you have a magic map that has puzzle pieces scattered around the world and the way those pieces are rotated and placed is matched in the physical world, which creates pathways or blocks passage. It is easy to understand and deceives the player into a false sense of confidence – which makes things interesting when you can’t solve everything from the first go – and makes solving puzzle very satisfying. Its also a secret filled world with cute, quirky characters, so it’s a perfect relaxation game to escape this nightmarish reality we live in.
And the winner is… Murder by numbers
As I started compiling this list, I added all the games that fit the ‘casual’ description and started debating which ones deserve to be in which spot and which ones would not make the cut; to my surprise, the easiest one to hand out was the top spot. I just wrote a W next to murder by numbers and never questioned it, not even now; I don’t think it’s the best ‘casual’ game of the year, but it is my favorite one, nonetheless. Despite all of the problems it had, I still remember the style, the great ideas, the lovely mash up of Picross with Phoenix Wright, and I hope it did well for them and other developers are inspired to replicate their success and fix the issues.
And that is it for the casual games list; they usually are some of my favorite experiences of the year and 2020 provided me with lots to choose from. Now that I’m not as hardcore as before, I can focus and start working on the remaining lists, so look forward to those in the coming days!