Let us cut to the chase. No slightly ironic introduction this time. We just want to say one thing: Thank you.
2020 was a dumpster fire of a year, we all know that. But still, so many of you continued to create great, wonderfully wacky, simply beautiful jam games. Thanks for that, seriously, thanks to every single one of you out there! You make the internet and the whole gaming scene a better place. And so, once again, we have also gathered our forces and tried to compile a worthy GOTY list that includes only jam entries.
So be sure to join us as we present our forty Jam Games Of The Year 2020 plus forty honorable mentions, listed by eight categories. Just like last year, the categories are: Concept and Gameplay, Juice, Puzzle and Level Design, Audiovisual Representation, Storytelling, Atmosphere, Unconventionality and Nostalgia.
Concept and Gameplay:
The unusual but easily accessible control concept makes “Heisenberg’s Uncertain Pinball” an award-worthy jam entry, as this pinball machine is controlled with eyebrow movements. All you need is a webcam, then you can calibrate the software’s own motion tracker, and afterwards you can move flippers up and down by raising and dropping an eyebrow. Your friends watching you doing this will also have a great time.
Read more about “Heisenberg’s Uncertain Pinball”.
Polyominos of various types are your best friends in the roguelike “Skeletris”, as the small block compounds represent material buffs. In a five-by-five inventory, you will have to arrange these buff artifacts and weapons as compactly as possible to master the increasingly challenging battles. This innovative inventory system adds a certain depth to the game without becoming too complex to use.
Read more about “Skeletris”.
The concept behind “Fluffy Flight” requires gentleness and patience from its players. Here you have to guide a balloon, to which an egg is attached, from nest to nest through dangerous passages by using a tool that is at least as harmful: A needle. By pricking the balloon, you can move it in a certain direction. While each prick increases its speed, it also makes it smaller. Luckily, you have a few band-aids with you.
Read more about “Fluffy Flight”.
Lady Luck is usually hard to negotiate with, but “Crypt o’ Casino” has some good offers. Here, the dice determine which square you will end up on, and thus whether you will grab a treasure chest, get healed, or if you have to face off against giant poker chip monsters. This basic concept could be very frustrating if it was not balanced by helpful upgrades, good level design, and the ability to collect, store and use your own dice.
Read more about “Crypt o’ Casino”.
“One in Hole” is the personified role reversal among minigolf games. Instead of hitting the ball with the golf club, you will have to try to get the hole in the right position. However, this is not just a simple sprite change by any means, as it has a direct physical impact on the game environment and level design. The hole can swallow up flanks, platforms as well as obstacles and thus open up completely new paths for the golf ball.
Read more about “One in Hole”.
Honorable mentions (Concept and Gameplay):
- “_FIXED” by Mark Idanmal, Dwight Ocampo, Rai Martinez, Nica Jan Alvarez, James Belizario, Gilbertina Lucia C. Ciriaco, Daniel Conde & Errol Anas.
- “Com_Pute” by Marc-André Doré & Nicolas Pelletier.
- “Around The World” by Thomas ten Cate.
- “Tree Golf” by FreezedIce & Raindrinker.
- “Pointy End” by Ian MacLarty.
The voluminous bass and incredibly well-trained foot of the protagonist make the first-person shooter-and-kicker “Anger Foot” one of the juiciest jam submissions of 2020. While ramming your foot into enemy faces is a helpful combat alternative if you ever run out of ammo, kicking in doors is primarily a wonderful homage to action movies. The amount of polish on this game is just unbelievable.
Read more about “Anger Foot”.
In “Hole Punch!” the entire game world is your arsenal of weapons: You can hail down stalactites on the heads of your opponents, you can drop them into a suddenly appearing ravine, or you can have them crushed by the force of falling slabs of stone! All you have to do is make your character dash through the environment. Each movement line always represents a cut, and this slick mechanic works just superbly.
Read more about “Hole Punch!”.
Especially the trance-inducing background music of the arcade game “Clouds of Farfisa” is able to cast a spell over the players. In combination with the dance animations of the dream cloud inhabitants and the sneaky movements of the two snakes, it is hard not to fall for the rhythm. However, that is exactly your task, because any carelessness can mean that you wll be hit by poison or fall into the void, losing one of your two lifes.
Read more about “Clouds of Farfisa”.
In “up in the sky” you play a moving plant that is looking for water. The control scheme is extremely intuitive: You click on any spot, the top part of the plant aligns itself there and then sprawls. However, the small creature does not grow indefinitely, as it wants to save liquid. This premise of this sweet physics puzzle game works especially well because every action, no matter how tiny, is perfectly underscored by the audio design.
Read more about “up in the sky”.
Normally, collision errors are something that can significantly restrict the flow of the game, but “Outer Bounds” makes a real virtue out of this problem. The players have to specifically produce glitches of this kind by making their character sink into platforms and walls by pressing as well as holding a key. If the key is then released, the character jumps. The height of the jump depends on the amount of time the key was held down.
Read more about “Outer Bounds”.
Honorable mentions (Juice):
- “Tape!” by Chris McHugh, Jazheel Luna, Keith O’Malley & Siobhan Hardt.
- “ADRENA-LINE” by Daniel Linssen.
- “Aeroblaster” by DaFluffyPotato.
- “Luminary” by plasmastarfish.
- “Dope Rope” by CrispyPear.
Puzzle and Level Design:
Up to six panels each represent a level in “Tiny Fragments”. The arrangement of these panels must be constantly changed so that the hungry red blob can reach the coveted fruit. However, not all panels are unlocked at the beginning, instead you have to open them with a key first; some of them even cannot be moved around at all! But with some good timing and a little imagination, all those challenges can be mastered.
Read more about “Tiny Fragments”.
The robot from “requeue” cannot be controlled directly, as it strictly adheres to its command series. Command B is therefore always executed only after command A has been completed. As a player you have no influence on this principle, but you can send an interrupt signal. Whenever this happens, the robot immediately starts over from the first command. By cleverly exploiting this behavior, new commands can be collected.
Read more about “requeue”.
Even if the title suggests otherwise, “Hole in Clone” is more of a puzzle platformer than a golf game. Here you can shoot copies of yourself with a pistol, but in the process, all life is sucked out of your old self. However, this lifeless shell is still good for pressing buttons and thus opening gates. Since the shots with the clone gun are limited, each one should better be a real hit.
While you easily could describe “Cutout” as a “Sokoban” reinterpretation with a cutting game mechanic, this comparison would not do it complete justice. After all, when you cut off individual parts of a level, you also have the option of gluing those same sections in a new place. Also, the number of cuts per stage is severely limited, so players will have to think very ahead if they want to crack each puzzle.
Read more about “Cutout”.
In “Box Of Limes”, one must stack tetrominos in such a way that they become easily accessible paths for the so-called limes, which are cute, little fellows. Meanwhile, you will have to be careful not to build any ravines and not to slay the limes, since they move from left to right and back again just like lemmings! For all completists among you the game features an extra challenge, as each stage contains a bonus star to collect.
Read more about “Box Of Limes”.
Honorable mentions (Puzzle and Level Design):
- “It’s a wrap!” by Chanko Studios (Guillaume Bernard, Dennis Elgert & Dominik Schwäger).
- “Splines ‘n Shapes” by SharkWithLasers.
- “Tumble Baby” by Will Blanton.
- “Strandead” by pncet.
- “Bokdown” by jf1x.
In “Night in the Storm”, pixel art meets three-dimensional art, while the soundscape of a stormy night is complemented by the creaking of windows, the tapping of birds’ feet on wooden slats, and the quiet sounds of machines shutting down. Every detail is placed in just the right spot, inviting you to linger on one of the lighthouse’s four floors to get a good, closer look at everything – if only you did not have to fix something all the time!
In particular, the perfect choice of the color palette, consisting primarily of purple, blue and yellow tones, helps the adventure game “B R U I S E S” visually tell its story. The colors are used for everything from characters to buildings and objects. It all blends together to create an imposing expression of youthful rebellion and skateboarding culture, but also of friendship and transience.
Read more about “B R U I S E S”.
Delicious dishes and mysterious dream worlds are beautifully presented in equal measure in “Cafe in the Clouds”. This visual novel with light puzzle elements uses motifs familiar from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in places, but always remains mysterious in its own way. It is an aesthetic delight best enjoyed over a mouth-watering slice of cake and a steaming hot cup of coffee.
“Happy Happy Land” deserves to be honored in this category for several reasons. For one, jam entries with clay figures and stop-motion animations are an enormous rarity, as they require an enormous amount of effort. But on the other hand, just embrace the sheer cuteness of the animal characters themselves! Absolutely every aspect of this game made me smile, and joy like that is something I think all of us can use nowadays.
Read more about “Happy Happy Land”.
Baking cookies can be great fun, it is just cleaning the utensils afterwards that bugs me! Fortunately, there is the entertaining baking simulation “Bake Care”. With a beautiful drawing style, all the important ingredients have been illustrated, as well as a proper little kitchen. At least as admirable is the fact that with only four facial expressions, the character of our supervisor – the bakery owner Chip – is outstandingly summarized.
Honorable mentions (Audiovisual Representation):
- “I want to stay on this island” by Marcin Jóźwik, Szymon Krukowski, Wojciech Dziedzic & Radek Olenski.
- “HYPERHOP: GALACTIC LANCER” by Jimmy Swanick, Inky, Matthew Napolillo & Matthew Wagar.
- “Diplomouse” by Tero Hannula, Emma Chudoba, Joel Koutonen & Helmi Hakuri.
- “The Creator is Mean” by Loïc Manglou & Sébastien Manglou.
- “Focus” by laucalle.
While epistolary novels are a well-known literary genre, this type of storytelling has received little attention in computer games. With “Dear Devere”, however, an interactive novel has been published in 2020 that makes fantastic use of it. The correspondence between the two main characters is not only beautifully written, but also an auditory delight thanks to the voice acting.
Read more about “Dear Devere”.
Neither are all our fears rationally justifiable, nor do they arise from external factors, as “Bleakshore” perfectly illustrates. Here the players have to search for the protagonist’s missing partner, but instead they only find their belongings. The game occasionally lures the players onto the wrong track when they try to find an answer to the question of why the partner disappeared in the first place. Do not worry. You will find one.
Read more about “Bleakshore”.
The greatest achievement of “Opossum Country” on a narrative level is its ability to successfully take clichés and repurpose them; in this case, the popular notions of why extreme rednecks in trailer parks behave the way they do. While alcohol, shotguns, and hatred of strangers are all part of the self-image, the real reason for being an outsider is a surprisingly different one.
Read more about “Opossum Country”.
With a playtime of over an hour, “Vertigo Temple” is an unusually long jam game, but playing through it was an absolutely insane, gripping trip. Rarely have I seen so many plot twists packed into one game. It was then perfectly topped off by linking of two seemingly opposing sets of themes, but both of which can burn themselves deep into the synapses of their followers: Religion and technology.
Read more about “Vertigo Temple”.
“This Website Will Self-destruct (dot) com” is a webpage that goes into the digital afterlife if no one posts a new entry within twenty-four hours. But in the last eight months, that has not happened. And so, while this project does not itself tell a story, it has indeed become a place of storytelling for thousands of people all over the globe in times of the Corona pandemic.
Read more about “This Website Will Self-destruct (dot) com”.
Honorable mentions (Storytelling):
- “Keep Her Light” by Florence Noé, Jérôme Audo, Edward Clombe, Rémi Blanc, Elsa Tharel & Fabien Cocheteux.
- “The Solivagants (or, Videogames Fail at Character Context)” by Rowan Crawford.
- “Point Of No Return” by Alex Shaw, Hugo Passarinho & Ben Greensmith.
- “À la Fenêtre” by Garance Royère, Géraud Zucchini & Antoine Druaux.
- “Crack the shell” by Red Skald.
Dreams are known to follow a logic all their own due to their disconnection from our real world, which is why they also hold a very individual atmospheric potential. “hypnagogia 催眠術” takes advantage of this by basing the eight (or rather nine) worlds it contains all on dreams. Quite subtly, these slip from absurd feel-good fantasies into dark nightmares from which one has to wake up at the end.
Read more about “hypnagogia 催眠術”.
“Vertigo” allows players not only a personal glimpse into the game maker’s life during her first Corona lockdown, but also into her mind. In a wonderful way, real events are combined with fantasy here, creating an atmosphere that one might otherwise know from paintings of magical realism. In the process, glimmers of hope are combined with a call to look not only to the past, but also to the future.
In “VHS, 1986” you have to watch old video cassettes to solve a riddle, without knowing exactly what to look for. The tapes show private shots of cities on the one hand, but also snippets of supposedly irrelevant television shows. This constant feeling of irritation, combined with the threats of the actual owner of the films, leads to an uneasy, but also inciting atmosphere, as you want to solve one question: What is it all about?
Read more about “VHS, 1986”.
If you play the short but wonderfully cinematic “長次郎 – Chōjirō” without any prior knowledge, it may seem like a strange adaptation of old samurai movies. In fact, however, it is based on an Japanese legend about a rich man who, despite the nationwide taboo, ate meat – in his case, from horses – and was then first haunted and later killed by one of their spirits. The atmosphere of sin was captured perfectly here.
The world of “DAEMMERLICHT” is a world of the truly unknown. Every little spot seems to hide a secret, but which it gladly reveals to those who are really interested. Let it be said that with the exploration of this place comes the descent into another dimension. Unreal in-between worlds are waiting here for all adventurers who can renounce old familiar explanatory patterns.
Read more about “DAEMMERLICHT”.
Honorable mentions (Atmosphere):
- “Pieces” by Patrice Metcalf-Putnam, Nigeli Sy, Amerlyn Zeta & Amy Peters.
- “The Last Door on the Left” by PsychoWren & Pendragon66.
- “The Undying Beast” by Akuma Kira & Jarren Crist.
- “Firekeeper” by Thomas Olsson & Justin Ma.
- “MC-420” by Malindy Hetfeld & Phi Dinh.
Only a few players will get to experience the ‘successful’ ending of the dating simulation “Wet Robot Dreams” after their first attempt. After all, the logic behind our partner’s circuits is not entirely obvious right away. And should we answer our romance robot’s questions incorrectly too often – which, by the way, can only be done with a nod or a shake of the head – then this can very quickly have dire consequences.
The adventure game “Signal” offers a main mechanic unusual for its genre. Here, the focus is not only on puzzles or dialogues, but we also have to take time into account! Every action from changing the scene to opening drawers to activating an old computer console takes a certain amount of in-game time to complete. This would not be a big deal if one of the non-player characters was not dying, and saving them is critical.
Read more about “Signal”.
Since I am used to being able to move freely in most platformers, playing “Legbreaker” for the first time definitely made me frown. Here, the main character is part of an involuntary experiment in which an apparatus ensures that they can jump enormously high. However, there is a catch: After every second jump, their legs are broken, which is why they can only crawl around for the rest of the level.
“Ghost Roulette” is unusual for two reasons. The first one is that I have never before seen a jam entry that is actually based on classic roulette. But the second, much more important reason is that strategic elements have found their way in here. The gameplay is not purely luck-based; instead you additionally build up a deck of action cards, which in the best case brings advantages for you and disadvantages for your opponent.
Read more about “Ghost Roulette”.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and suddenly all the residents of a city have literally lost their faces, but luckily there is the face factory. As a new employee, it is up to you to meet the wishes of your customers in this dress-up game of a different kind. Thanks to the different graphic styles of each facial feature, the final result will always look ‘a little’ surprising and oddly fascinating.
Honorable mentions (Unconventionality):
- “A Swift and Successful Onboarding” by Brad Kraeling, Erin Stearns, Katherine Tole, Egypt Archie & Jackson Zupa.
- “ROOM ROOM” by Sambero & Groovel Studio (Alberto Trigueros & Juan Novella).
- “Tales from the Recycle Bin” by Sean S. LeBlanc.
- “Laserwave” by Dániel Ambrits.
- “Final Shot” by Arcy.
In the autobiographical game “a tribute,” you learn that when she was ten years old, the creator made a short fan video about the pokémon Mew, accompanied by the song “Bright Eyes”, and then uploaded it to a video platform. Nowadays she cannot find it anymore, no matter what search terms she uses. In this beautiful game she tries to find answers to the question of why this video still matters to her and what it represents.
Fan games are a very special category of video games, as most of the time they are either really awesome or pretty grotty. Of course, “The Legend of Zelda: Eternal Rain” belongs to the first variety. This jam entry follows the original series in many aspects, but offers its own excellent graphic style. The appearance of various well-known characters and monsters will also make other fans’ hearts jump up and down with joy.
Read more about “The Legend of Zelda: Eternal Rain”.
“Legends of Love” is also a “The Legend of Zelda” fan game, but with a completely different approach. It is rather an experiment on how a game of the series could have been implemented on a Nokia 3310. Apart from the title and the iconic scene where Link finds his sword again on the beach, there are still a few references hidden: Heart containers and sliding puzzles can be found here, as well as the hammer and pesky bats.
With its “Tetris”-like basic principle, but a completely different gameplay, “bondstones !” manages to feel both new and familiar at the same time. In this arcade game, the objective is to create chains of symbols. Once the chains have reached a certain length, they are destroyed and you earn points. Symbols chain together when they have either the same shape or the same color. Also, each level-up comes with a new modifier.
Read more about “bondstones !”.
Before online gaming became common, there was often only one way for two friends to play video games together: You sat together on the sofa. These situations could either be pretty cool or a bit awkward, especially if you did not like the title your friend picked at all or had wildly divergent skills. “Two Player” is a great game with multiple endings about such situations that strongly reminded me of a few of my evenings as a teenager.
Honorable mentions (Nostalgia):
- “Spy Quest 2 – Operation: BOGROLL” by Steven Don, Jason Cryer, Durinde, Natalie Winter, Erika Sanderson, Paul Thomas & Dirk M. Weger.
- “Hair of the Dog” by Tall Story Games (Tom Hardwidge & Emma Hardwidge) & David Howlett.
- “SNAKE SNAKE SNAKE” by Daniël Haazen & Simon Lachance.
- “Blizzard Blowout 64” by Goodgis.
- “TimeSlayer TM” by GoblinQueen.
73 of the 80 featured games can be found in our itch.io GOTY 2020 collection.