This is always the hardest list to make for me, because I really do not want to play bad games or play games that I know I won’t like for a list. However, there is a lot of value for both consumers and developers in acknowledging the mistakes and – hopefully – acting on them for the future, which is why I will try to add even more diversity in the games I play in 2021. For now, though, these games are not necessarily bad; for one reason or another, they are games that set up a certain level of expectations and did not deliver that. That does not make them bad, it just makes them disappointing in many ways or as I like to call them “games I wished I liked more” because that way I imply that I liked them but not as much as I should. As always, this list will be alphabetically sorted besides the top two which will be ranked.
When I saw the first trailer for “I am Dead” I was excited; a game about the afterlife, exploring the people and city you left behind with a cool idea for gameplay, alongside some appropriately darker material for the story and British humor inspired writing? How can I not get excited about that? In the end product, although the game does deliver on most of these features, the game lacks any real weight or memorability. There are cool moments like the whole ending sequence, some funny puzzles or lines, but the overall experience is more boring than it is chill or casual. The gimmick for the puzzles (essentially being a ghost and touching anything you want and going into people’s dearest memories of a person they knew) is actually kind of uninteresting after a certain point, because it is different scenes to play “spot the object”; there are some cool things to click on and admire the detail and work put into them, but that cannot be enough to justify 7 hours. Similarly, the ending is very well handled, but the rest of the story just spins its wheels for 6 and a half hours, making no progress either in terms of the story or the characters. In the end, I wish this game had a more appropriate vision; it needed to be either 3 hours shorter and spiced up a bit or lean into its length and quirkiness to add a lot more depth than what is provided currently. As is, I wish I liked it more than I did.
- Minecraft Dungeons
I’m not the biggest fan of the ARPG genre, but I’ve been known to sink embarrassing number of hours into a great one, from time to time; Minecraft Dungeons was never going to be that and that’s okay. However, taking the game in its own terms, this is still a very disappointing game; the short length, the lack of loot or, the bizarre and bad progression systems, the fact that it called Minecraft, but really does not share any resemblance to that franchise besides both having voxel graphics and certain designs of characters. Regardless of that, I wanted a “last run before bed” sort of game; something that lasts 20 minutes tops and does not require too much thought. While the gameplay achieves that surprisingly well and I was never really bored playing it, the bizarre decision with not having a lot of loot in an ARPG or the weird diamond system for upgrading armor and weapons, the RNG nature of loot boxes that were the only purchasable thing outside of levels; it boggles the mind how anyone thought that was a good decision, but most of all it just made me numb after a while and I stopped caring. When the game came at its short conclusion and asked me to play the same levels again but with higher difficulty for more loot and greater XP rewards, I wasn’t opposed to the idea of replaying the game, but the rewards were not interesting for me. In the end, I’m not mad at Minecraft Dungeons, and I would happily go back to it for a co-op playthrough, but not because I want to play the game, it will be for the co-op experience of having casual, mindless fun and laughing at the weird design decisions.
- Takeshi and Hiroshi
Every year, there are games I see in one of the platform holder’s big events that catches my eye and immediately sells me; Takeshi and Hiroshi was one of those games for this year. With its clay animation and puppet aesthetic, it seemed like it was going to be the sleeper hit I was craving for, but in the end, it was too shallow and average to be that. Although the animation and style of the game was very much what I hoped for, the gimmick of creating and balancing a game for your younger brother was less interesting than it originally seemed; it was more about exploiting the system rather than an intricate puzzle design. Add to that the uneventful story and short campaign with no replayability value that ultimately made Takeshi and Hiroshi an average and forgetful experience; I still hope that idea of balancing a game as a puzzle mechanic, catches on and someone creates a worthwhile experience, but Takeshi and Hiroshi – although not bad and still worth experiencing – is simply not that.
Tell me why is one of the first – if not the first – games that has a transgender protagonist; as I’ve said in my review of it, that aspect of the game is best discussed by people of that particular group, but for my sensibilities I thought it handled the subject well enough. My grievances with it are purely about it as a DONTNOD game; I come to those experiences hoping for a melodramatic, over the top, experience that manage to charm and endear their way past some of their shallower features and writing. In a sense, Tell me why is not as shallow or “gamey” with its features, which I feel is the way forward for that company, but unfortunately the story and gameplay that accompanies those improvements are not up to the company’s usual standards and ultimately does not deliver on what I wanted from it. I hope DONTNOD’s next game (Twin Mirrors) is worthwhile when I get the chance to play it, because its been too long since Life is Strange, and their formula needs to advance in order for their games to keep their appeal; Tell me why is a step in the right direction in some regards, but it is three steps back in all others.
Just like with studios, there are certain publishers whose work tends to match up with my preferences and the quality is more than satisfying; recently, Raw Fury joined that list for me with a selection of great titles, even if their year did not start as well as I had hoped with West of Dead. When I first saw this game, I thought it looked great and that its combination of cover-based shooting with over-the-top perspective, rogue-like progression seemed like a winning formula; it unfortunately is not. Although the game looks great and conveys a certain atmosphere very effectively, that style messes with the gameplay in frustrating ways, to the point where I wished they watered it down a lot. Even more frustrating is the fact that the game they made is actually great, but the rogue-like elements severely hinder it; the procedural generation of the game often leads to unfair and annoying situations in samey-looking and feeling rooms. When I reviewed it, it was with another game called Bloodroots, which made me realize that a combination of the two games would be really great; the linear structure of Bloodroots would benefit West of Dead greatly, while the variety and depth of gameplay features and progression of West of Dead would benefit Bloodroots. I had hoped for something better with West of Dead, especially in a year where rogue-likes have been exceptional, I can’t help but feel disappointed by it, even if it has some bright sparks in it.
This one feels especially hard, but if I’m honest, there was no other game for the number 2 spot on this list. Although Summer in Mara is a cute and surprisingly decent life/farming sim with clear influences from Animal Crossing, Wind Waker, and Stardew Valley, it manages to frustrate with its lack of polish, instability, and lack of depth; more than any other game this year, it comes so frustratingly close to being a great game, but it fails where it matters the most and that is why it is on this list.
Games that take inspiration from other classic game is not a new (or bad) trend, but usually it is a mechanics-driven inspiration or taking ideas from the worldbuilding of other games, but Windbound is different; in most respects it is a survival game, but its inspirations come from the Zelda franchise and specifically BOTW and WindWaker. However, those inspirations are not really mechanical in nature, rather they take a lot of visual inspiration from those two games and use that to build their survival blueprint on. They, at least, nailed the visuals, because in almost every other regard Windbound is disappointing; its shallow, repetitive, forces the player to choose between “too easy” mode and “too frustrating”, unresponsive and boring in combat, uneventful and uninteresting in exploration and survival. Having said that, I do check up on all games before putting them on this list and the devs seem to keep updating and working on the game with free DLCs and they seem interesting enough, so there’s clearly the will to improve on things and hopefully they will bring the game to where it should have been to begin with; I’ve reinstalled it to give it another shot, only due to how good it looks and how the systems in the game aren’t necessarily bad they are just implemented poorly. However, that is something for the future; for now, Windbound is undoubtedly my most disappointing game of the year.