Having the entirety of 2020 relegated to sitting at home while malls, theatres, amusement parks, festivals, and restaurants are closed off has been a testament to how horrible a year it’s been for everyone. Cases are going up, people are getting overwhelmed by the nothingness of sitting on your ass, and I understand the feeling of not being able to enjoy life.
Video games have been a huge help this year for many, and while we still have a ways to go before life returns to (somewhat) normalcy, the amount of time we’ve been given to try new things has increased. For some, they started new hobbies, others picked up video games, movies, or music. A lot of people who otherwise never touched a Nintendo Switch or PlayStation are now picking up new video games to keep them occupied at home.
We’ve seen an increase in people playing video games and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The industry is becoming more inclusive after a recent reckoning, and this year also included some of the biggest games in years finally launching. From Naughty Dog’s biggest game to date, to Final Fantasy VII Remake finally hitting shelves, to Animal Crossing: New Horizons becoming a pop-cultural phenomenon, we’ve seen some exciting takes this year and a lot of the titles on this list have done an excellent job at moving the industry forward.
How did we vote on these games? Through trial by combat – no, not really. We voted on the top titles and then decided what needed to stay, what needed to go and why it was on the list.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
Square Enix surprised all of us when they revealed they were working on Final Fantasy VII Remake. The daunting task of remaking one of the most beloved video games of all-time would not please everyone and the expectations from fans are insurmountable by any means. That’s why, when the game launched earlier this year, not only did Square Enix surpass expectations, they blew the hinges right off thanks to confidently taking the game in a new direction while respecting the legacy of the original entry.
Sure, plenty of studios have remade their games in the past, Square Enix instead of a shot-for-shot remake, introduced new ideas that honored the legacy of the entry and kept the core intact. The updated combat system combines both classic and modern sensibilities into an exciting romp through Midgar and offers one of the most exciting battle systems in years. For those who want micromanagement, you’re free to do so across menus and in battle. Pair that with a system that incentivizes your to swap between characters and you’ve got a winning combat system.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Releasing only this year outside of Japan, the latest from Vanillaware is also its best game. Combining a visual novel with real-time strategy mechanics works well together, surprising me from the first battle to the last one. Set in three distinct periods, you’ll play as 13 high school students who must face off invading kaiju, whose goal is to destroy the planet and drive humans into extinction.
This game excels at its storytelling and that’s exactly why you want to check this game out and on the list of top 20 games of 2020. The gameplay is there to push you into the next narrative piece and the more you play, the deeper the mysteries of this story unravel, culminating in a satisfying conclusion that ties up almost everything neatly. It takes a lot of skill to create a game that uses time and space as a storytelling piece but, it takes a maestro to deliver something that nails the landing, and George Kamitani has done just that with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim.
Paradise Killer is flying under the radar of a lot of people and that’s a shame. . If you’ve ever played a visual novel or a detective game, the game from Kaizen Game Works is the lovechild of those two genres mashed together. Paradise Killer is a game that I never expected to catch my attention but the premise, the characters, and the world in this game is so far out there, it’s something I ended up enjoying, even if it was a game I wouldn’t normally play.
You play as Lady Love Dies; an outcast exiled from Paradise Island for roughly 8,000 (and change) years, for almost bringing the island to destruction. In any case, you’re tasked with solving a crime that’s been committed and you have your work cut out for you. Don’t miss out on this hidden gem.
Ghost of Tsushima
Launching in July, Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima begins slow but kicks things into gear around the second chapter. Told through several acts, we see the beginning of the Mongol Invasion of Tsushima island, what proceeds the failed attempt from the samurai to quell the foreign enemy, and how the guerilla forces plan to take the island back.
Playing as Jin Saki, we watch as the once noble samurai slowly turns away from his ancestral teachings of nobility and honor, instead of something much more savage and necessary to save his people. It’s that transformation that sticks with you as the credits roll and watching this man lose everything to save his home is a haunting tale that I find remarkable months after finishing the campaign.
Paired with a strong combat system that wants you to be ruthless against your enemies, learning to dodge and parry is key to survival. As Jin evolves, so do his skills as a samurai and as the Ghost, which offer some really rewarding moments as you take back the island of Tsushima.
Learn. Die. Repeat. Supergiant’s Hades has become a massive success over the last year and for good reason, the isometric action RPG is the culmination of the studio’s previous games. You play as Zagreus, the son of Hades, who is looking for a way to escape the underworld and get away from his father.
What makes Hades so special is that it combines the roguelike genre with a unique story. Each player experiences the game differently and no run is the same. Everything you do is based on your choices, who you talk to, who you don’t talk to, and what you do in between each visit to House of Hades.
Everything about Hades will satiate your needs. This is a game for almost anyone and that satisfying loop of one more run is here. There’s so much to love about this game, the visuals are gorgeous, the soundtrack is infectious, and the combat is strategically charged.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
A massive breakout hit earlier this year, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout makes the list because of how much fun it is to troll your friends and players online. Mediatonic’s smash-hit title is a multiplayer-based title that includes dozens of minigames to compete against each other in a colourful battle royale. With 60 players competing for the illustrious crown against each other, there can only be one winner so getting to that number one spot is always chaotic.
A big reason this game is on the list is that there’s nothing other than luck helping you win, you can’t do much against luck except try your best and make sure you don’t get knocked out early. Another plus is how accessible the game is for anyone who wants to play it and it’s also such a charming game to gawk at with some neat crossover costumes available.
Persona 5 Royal
Atlus answered the question if an expanded version of Persona 5 was needed with the release of Persona 5 Royal. The game is a definite improvement on the original game while adding more story, activities, confidants, quality of life fixes and expanding on gameplay while keeping the soul of the original Persona 5 intact.
It is the definitive Persona 5 experience. I implore everyone to play instead of vanilla Persona 5, but either way, you will have a great time as both games are great at minimum. Persona 5 Royal does it way better with everything plus how they deliver the villain’s story arc; this past generations’ best-written villain in recent memory. He felt like a quasi Magneto, a character while villainous who truly believes that they are the hero of their own story and not being evil for the sake of it. Like Persona 5, it’s a long experience to get to that point but I feel the journey is worth it. It’s like 80% the same game from 2017 but that last 20% is totally worth the price of admission, especially if it’s your first time getting into Persona 5.
Astro’s Playroom feels like the first truly next-gen experience we’ve had on PlayStation 5. Sure, Demon’s Souls and Spider-Man: Miles Morales have some neat implementations of the DualSense controller, but it’s the game from Team Asobi that has made me a true believer in the hardware and controller.
I’ve come back to the bite-sized platformer over the last several weeks because of how good it feels to play. I’ve quit bigger games to return to Astro’s Playroom and it’s hard to put the game down – and just like the PlayStation VR, I’ve had my entire family test out the coolest tech demo just so I can share my glee with them.
Paired with troves of PlayStation nostalgia from over the last 25 years, it’s hard not to fall in love with this platformer which not only handles well but looks like a next-gen showcase piece. This is the best pack-in game since Wii Sports and I want everyone to experience this game.
The Last of Us Part II
It shouldn’t be too surprising that Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II has made our list. What was more surprising to me was how impactful the game was. I’ve often been vocal in the lead-up to the release that I didn’t see a need for this game. The Last of Us left off in such a way that I built my own head cannon to what happened to Joel and Ellie and I was satisfied.
All that changed when I played The Last of Us Part II. While the game offers an often heart-rendered look at the human condition in a violent world, there’s a lot to love about this game. The performances by Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, Shannon Woodward, and the rest of the cast is unparalleled. Naughty Dog took a lot of risks in its narrative and it resonated with me throughout the entire year. It’s a game that’s made me angry, disgusted, tearful, and hopeful all within different segments of the story.
As a Soulsborne fan, Demon’s Souls was high on my list for anticipated games coming into the new console generation. Though, a small part of me really wondered if Bluepoint’s remake could maintain that special something that kicked off this entire genre.
Demon’s Souls is every bit as good as I remember it being on PS3. Additionally, it was the first true experience that showed me what this new generation has in store. The lighting effects, sound engineering, and fluid gameplay aren’t something you can scoff at. Bluepoint brought a whole new level of craftsmanship into Demon’s Souls. Plus, Bluepoint was able to replicate and respect the intricate combat From Software games are known for.
What’s not to love about playing as Doom Slayer? In 2016, Doom began anew with a soft reboot for the series. Then earlier this year, the follow-up launched with Doom Eternaland Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a match made in heaven for those of us who were left in quarantine at home. During the day, I’d collect bugs, fish, and build Seaport, but at night, I’d rip and tear through the demons of hell as Doom Slayer with a huge grin on my face.
Doom Eternal offered the ideal getaway for me at the time, I could jaunt through a demonic horde to combat the uneasiness I felt being stuck at home. Doom Eternal delivers the ultimate power fantasy at times, except when facing the Marauder. I hate that asshole.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
I’ve said this time and time again but Animal Crossing: New Horizons could not have come out at a better time. I began building and expanding my island just as the world outside me was closing down. Animal Crossing became a refuge for me as I began getting used to this COVID-19 world.
When the world was cut off from real-world interactions, I invited friends onto my island. Here, we could interact, enjoy each other’s company and swap furniture and fruit. It also gave me a scheduled routine. There was something comforting in completing all my daily tasks and chores to progress my island in a time when so much was up in the air. Animal Crossing was and still is my comfort food. It was the kind of experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life. When I think back to how awful 2020 was, I’ll always have those memories of Animal Crossing to turn it around, even in the slightest.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales
I simply adore Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. I truly believe Insomniac Games delivered a stellar experience, taking lessons from 2018’s Spider-Man. Miles Morales improves on nearly every piece of the gameplay experience. The new soundtrack hits so hard when you’re swinging through NYC, in such a stylish way. The moment-to-moment gameplay is tightened up, getting rid of some of the fluff seen in the original.
Sure, it’s a shorter experience. But I think that’s the game’s strongest aspect. The game respects your time and delivers a memorable and engaging story. Miles, if I’m being honest, comes across as a way more compelling character in the story’s eight hours, when compared to Peter over Spider-Man’s 30+. There’s a lot to love about Miles Morales and I can’t wait to see how this Spider-Man universe continues to grow from here.
“Kinda bug and kinda snack”. The words of Kero Kero Bonito’s song have been stuck in my head ever since Young Horses and PlayStation premiered the first trailer of Bugsnax. From the moment I first saw this world the creators of Octodad were creating, I was enamoured. The game had a sense of mystery surrounding it where maybe this island containing the bug and snack hybrid wasn’t as it seemed.
What awaited me when I played Bugsnax was a heartwarming tale of friendship. Although the concept of these creatures known as Grumpeses eating Bugsnax to transform is utterly absurd, there’s a lot of heart within the game. I wasn’t unaware how similar Bugsnax would be to Pokemon Snap, a game I cherish from my childhood. The ridiculousness mixed with the raw sense of nostalgia overwhelmed me when I played through the rather sizable story. While Young Horses isn’t pushing the boundaries of what a game can be, this wholesome game won me over completely within the first few minutes.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Moon Studios delivered a worthy sequel to 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest. We spoke to Thomas Mahler, one of the co-founders of Moon Studios, about the sequel this year and his enthusiasm when talking about the thought and the care the developers put in to make this game feel like a true sequel speaks volumes.
Everything about the Ori and the Will of the Wisps is excellent. Movement is perfect, combat has been expanded and vastly improved, you can chain commands to overcome tricky platforming. It’s also one of the most gorgeous video games I’ve played and the detail each area offers is worth taking in. Paired with a soundtrack that sweeps through a suite of emotions, you’ll find no better game this year.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
Nostalgia can be a powerful emotion. We’re seeing companies look to the past for new content and while it can sometimes flounder, the feeling can also flourish. A perfect example of nostalgia done right is this year’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, a remake that captures the essential essence of yesteryear, while adding modern sensibilities to the game. It helps that a lot of the core was left untouched and picking up and having that muscle memory from 20 years ago return as if it was yesterday makes all this a hearty remake.
Vicarious Visions developed both games with a lot of love and respect. The legacy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater lives on largely in part because the quintessential soundtracks and the faithful remaster returns in stunning 4K.
Launching this past September, the free to play game from miHoYo combines several genres into one and somehow manages to pull the feat off. There is a fantastic game here but one that includes gacha mechanics.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, gacha is essentially like loot boxes. You spend currency to unlock new players, items, and cosmetics, it’s basically a vending machine that’s built into the game and non-intrusive.
The downside is that every new character you unlock needs to be levelled and the fastest option is to spend real money to get your new party member up to speed. It feels predatory in a way, and it certainly is – but the rate you can unlock things in-game softens the blow a bit. And the more I play, the more I find myself not wanting to step away from Genshin Impact. The developers made it so that you can log in each day, complete a bunch of tasks and then log out. Exploring the world is a big part of the fun and combat is a blast, there’s so much to do here and it’s hard not to put this game on the year’s best for all that it offers players.
Call of Duty: Warzone
Call of Duty: Warzone is another game that became a comfort food for me this year. There hasn’t been a Call of Duty game this entire generation that has sunk its hooks in me to the level Warzone has. This is largely due to it becoming a weekly event for me and my friends. Again, when I wasn’t able to see my group of friends, we gathered every Friday to drop into Verdansk and banter back and forth. Time often escaped us as 3 AM would often sneak up before calling it a night.
From a gameplay perspective, Warzone embodies the main facets of what makes a battle royale game special. High-quality loot, an enticing battle pass to work towards, and a map that offers unique battlegrounds. Plus, Infinity Ward came out swinging with the best gunplay the franchise has ever seen in my opinion. This created an engaging platform to play on continuously throughout the year. The only downside was that the game lacked creative updates, even though many reached 40GB at a time.
Among Us is by far my favourite game that I got into this year. While the multiplayer game came out in 2018, it really came into its own and people’s minds this year; the developer even cancelled the sequel to the game to solely focus on supporting the game. It’s this year’s greatest comeback story, going from 19 concurrent users when it was released to being played by hundreds of thousands of players and blowing up on platforms like Twitch.
It’s a game that benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic – one of the reasons the game has surged in popularity – while giving players a way to socialize while practicing social distancing. Among Us is one game I point to that took some of the steam out of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout as the imposter game continued to rise in popularity into the fall season.
Among Us is both fun to play and to watch as it’s less a game and more of a psychological experiment with players trying to figure ‘whodunit’ while completing tasks as crewmate or trying to get away with murder as the imposter. Among Us is best played with friends, throwing sus at people who think you‘re an imposter while getting everyone to vote said person out of the map is entirely satisfying.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
The Yakuza series has been so rooted as a brawler game that the switch to turned based RPG mechanics for Yakuza: Like a Dragon – the eighth main entry in the series – seemed like an odd decision at the time. I’m happy to say it works so well that it would be hard for the series to ever go back to its brawler roots.
What makes Yakuza: Like a Dragon great is not solely on the gameplay shift but really it’s protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga. While the series’ retired protagonist, Kiryu Kazuma wasn’t a great character, he was stoic but caring when his supporting cast brought out his personality in the seven games he was in. Ichiban is the polar opposite of Kiryu, he’s a happy-go-lucky Yakuza who just wants to be the hero – like in the Dragon Quest games he’s a huge fan of – that exudes personality and he honestly reminds me a lot of Goku from Dragon Ball.
He’s a 42-year-old unemployed man that has no real skills and is left for dead metaphorically and literally by the only family he knew in his Yakuza. Even with that, he’s still positive about everything, which is the wholesome content I really needed this year.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a breath of fresh air in its approach to the game and narrative direction. It’s one of three entries in this series I’d recommend to series newcomers, it’s very open in that approach as Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a very well done standalone game with easter eggs to past games that series veteran will get while having close to zero implication on Ichiban’s story.