I love the ring in Ring Fit Adventure: the way it pulses when positioned correctly for a move; hitting the sweet spot, feeling it tug like a bump in the air. I love the tremble and buzz as you pull hard for a Bow Pull, or go low for a Squat (or a Wide Squat, or a Knee Lift Combo which feels suspiciously like a Squat). I love the main theme, and the track that sounds like Kylie. I love that the linear stages feel a bit Sonic with all their springs and jumps, and I love the first level’s beat-drop as you burst into a vivid colourscape. From leader board competitions against friends (200 on Endless Deltoids!) to the custom workouts I made after injuring my Achilles (fuck you barefoot trainers!) Ring Fit has been a 2020 constant. And I never would have played it if the gyms hadn’t closed in Lockdown.
I’m one of those who secretly quite enjoyed Lockdown 1. I work in a hospital, so decided to move out of the house for a few months. This worked out fine, because I’d get a social fix from work – suddenly and strangely the most communal place in Birmingham – then I’d have my days off to do as I pleased and play Super Smash Bros Ultimate.
Smash has always been an after-dinner staple, and my friends and I have a Smash Bros WhatsApp group (called “Smash Brothers” because I’m a genius like that). Pre-pandemic this was used to try – and basically fail – to arrange local sessions.
But in Lockdown everyone was off! Or at least at home. So we finally bothered to work out how to play online. Soon the games became regular – triggered at the slightest hint of a “quick game anyone?” – and heated. Sometimes we’d have House Party open to better shout and flex, and sometimes we’d just litter the group with voice notes of screaming disbelief. The group image is of a legendary moment: Gaith as Roy, charging up a smash to kill Mozo’s stunned Ganon. Behind Roy is me as Corrin, my own fully-charged smash ready to strike him straight after. But Roy pivots (?!) around, uses the smash on me then spins 180 just in time to polish off Ganon, too. The crowd went wild. Some of these guys have never even met except via Smash and smack talk. But from this friendly competition something lovely and real has formed. Later in the year I overheard Ibby tell Fazi that the group was the best he’d ever been a part of, and I agree: Smash became a highlight because of 2020.
I suppose the same is true of Final Fantasy 9, which I now had the time to replay. Unlike the Crystal Chronicles Remaster it actually lived up to and surpassed my nostalgia, and the ending made me well up a bit – in the flat, alone, unwitnessed – so blissfully high on emotional satisfaction I was light for a week.
And I finally played Kero Blaster! And its Hard Mode (which is basically a whole new game). I played lots of other, newer indies, but Kero Blaster was so good it might beat Cave Story (!). There’s not an inch of flab in its adventure, which has a winning, off-beat charm that feels like the real deal instead of try-hard zany. And the third tier of the bubble gun is an all-timer, a device that spews out purple globules that fill a room like a ball-pit sea, like that old Sony Bravia advert made lethal.
Talking of all-timers, I bought the Mario 3D All-Stars Collection, and completed Super Mario 64 (again). I know it’s not a very caring port, and I’m annoyed that their solution to the mist glitching in Jolly Roger Bay was to just remove it altogether. But in the hands it still feels perfectly weighted and animated and timed – so good I’d rather spend my time just pirouetting between the trees outside Peach’s Castle than playing most other games. It feels like coming home.
That’s the other thing that happened in Lockdown 1 (and certainly not just to me), the inner recalibration allowed by the pattern-break, the pause. Some time to follow my curiosity, undiluted and undisturbed by the noise of a normal routine: I started drawing again, finally read Sapiens, tried out yoga and experimented with Whim Hof breathing techniques. I watched too many hours of religious debates and developed an AMSR habit that still persists.
All this acted as a kind of Oh Yeah. A rediscovery of old tastes, and maybe a less self-aware, less mediated type of appreciation. I’m not saying pandemics are good! And my Lockdown was relatively simple. But it was a chance to unlearn some over-thinking, and re-learn just liking things. Things not interesting, or important, or deemed significant by the internet hive-mind. Not even new things. Just things I liked, honestly and instinctively. And when I look back at my gaming year, it’s those five that stick out, bright and clear as nodes of joy. They’re the ones I loved.