Well that was indeed another year. When we look back at 2020 from a gaming (and not purely cursed hellfire) perspective, two major things will stand out. First, we’ll remember just how important getting lost in a game during this incredibly weird and depressing decade of a year was. From Animal Crossing to Hades, there were plenty of games to help forget the world with. Despite becoming a new parent at the tail end of 2019, I still managed to surpass my previous record for games played in a year with a whopping 90+ games played this year probably due to not really being able to leave the house for 9 months. Aside from that, we’ll also remember the release of the next-gen of consoles with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S and X and the epic hunts to get them.
Overall it was a year filled with plenty of very good games but only one masterpiece. Even the two most anticipated games of the year, The Last of Us Part II and Cyberpunk 2077 were released to varying degrees of scandal (some deserved, some manufactured) from questionable workplace practices to reviled plot choices and game-breaking bugs. Everything was just the tiniest bit peculiar, but at least we had plenty of options to keep us busy. As always, I’ve split this up into games released prior to this year and games released in 2020. Feel free to jump ahead to Games from 2020 or My Top 10.
Note: A “+” denotes finishing the game or coming in first in a battle royale-style game
Games Released Prior to This Year
Following my countless hours with Hades (much more on that far later), I decided I needed to play through the entire Super Giant catalogue of games. Watching the journey from small, heralded Indie game company to Game of the Year contender was an absolute joy starting with their first game, Bastion. Those building blocks for Hades are clearly present and ready to be refined into perfection here. Still, even as a first game, it comes across as a masterclass in both storytelling (that narrator) and combat. If not for having 2 more Super Giant games to play, I would have immediately started a New Game+, just as I had the first time I played through Bastion.
Of all the Super Giant games, I was the most excited to replay Transistor, their hyper-stylish sophomore effort that transformed combat into an addictive computer programming exercise. My first time through, I merely liked the game, but I wasn’t blown away like I had expected to be based on the glowing praise my friends heaped on it. This time, however, I couldn’t get enough of the lush corrupt world, music, and combat. Even little touches like the Transistor speaking to you through your controller are just expertly crafted with an extraordinary display of confidence and skill.
Likely the most divisive of Super Giant’s games, Pyre is the Oregon Trail/NBA Jam mash-up that you had no idea you needed in your life. This time around, I dove far deeper into roster building and trying new game plans to quench the opponent’s pyre and free one of my champions from the purgatory-like Downside. While I’m still holding out hope that they’ll one day unleash a true online multiplayer version of the addictive Rites on this world, the real highlight of this game comes with the heart-wrenching decision making centered around which of your beloved champions deserve their freedom. As a replay, it does suffer some from losing the the surprise and novelty of the conceit, but, as a standalone Super Giant romp, it is only surpassed by Hades.
Final Fantasy VII (Switch)+
One of my favorite games of all-time served a key purpose following the birth of my daughter. It allowed me to just mindless play through something I knew and loved so well to wind down at night. My third time through the world of Midgar once again reminded me why I cherished this tale so much even as I prepared to be emotionally crushed by the loss of Aerith once more, and it was well timed to prep me for the remake’s release in April. Plus, what other game has an epic slap battle atop a cannon?
Read more about dealing with the most traumatic video game death of all time and all the weird and wonderful mini-games.
Final Fantasy VIII Remastered (Switch)+
For years, this has been the Final Fantasy that got away. As a teen, I was all in on the story of our SEED mercenaries facing off against an evil sorceress in between matches of the greatest mini-game ever – Triple Triad. Unfortunately, the needlessly complex draw system and some issues with character leveling made me quit on the final disc back in the day, but I at long last had a chance to rectify it all these years later with the 3x speed boost coming in extra handy to combat that pesky draw system. While plenty flawed, this remaster was a stunning way to revisit Triple Triad and right the wrongs of the past.
Super Mario Bros. (NES Online)+
Inspired by my spate of victories in Mario 35, I set out to attempt to beat the original Nintendo defining masterpiece for the first time since one amazingly fun night in college when my roommate and I captivated a room full of nerdy onlookers by besting Bowser one our last life in small Mario form. It turns out, all those hours prepping in Mario’s new battle royale had me primed and ready for the difficult platformer’s biggest challenges, and I easily cruised to victory during one gloriously cathartic evening.
Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES Online)+
The original “weird” Mario game holds a special place in my family’s heart, as my sister and I absolutely loved playing with all the different characters as kids. Amazingly, they all still control incredibly unique and pleasing all these years later. Toad remains the most OP digger of all-time, Princess Peach’s floating can get you seemingly anywhere, Luigi’s spastic long jumping continues to define all future iterations of his character, and Mario is still a Jack-of-all-trades hero. The bonkers story that’s a re-skinning of a different game from Japan is all just icing on the very whacky and wonderful cake.
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES Online)
The unquestionable best 2D Mario likely should just get penciled in to the list every year. Even though I did not do a full playthrough this year, I did finally see if my skills were on par with the kid from The Wizard as I successfully beat his 10 minute score by a lot. Now, I just need to figure out how to get Fred Savage to go on a cross-country adventure with me….
Super Mario 64 (Switch)+
Playing Mario 64 as a kid felt like witnessing the culmination of what video games could be. From that memorable opening screen where you stretch Mario’s face to the largest 3D world any of us had ever seen in a game, this really was the most grand game ever at the time. Now, over two decades later, some blemishes like slightly loose controls and a rough camera (which, to be fair, was the standard bearer of the time) detract somewhat from the game, but there’s still no denying how fun it is to just jump like a maniac around Peach’s castle.
Super Mario Sunshine (Switch)+
Having missed out on owning a Gamecube as a kid, I couldn’t wait to finally play what I had long heard was the strangest Mario game thanks to its inclusion in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection. What I found waiting for me was perhaps the most frustrating Mario title ever. At times, the much more balletic Mario and his new water jet skills provided some of the most unique 3D platforming around, especially highlighted in the Hotel Delfino level. At other times, however, the slightly too loose platforming led to screaming at the game. Despite my squabbles with the game, it did full on deliver the bizarre including the pièce de résistance where you clean an eel’s teeth. In the end, I’m really glad I got the chance to play it, but I don’t know that I’ll be revisiting it anytime soon.
Super Mario Galaxy (Switch)+
I was utterly stunned how much Super Mario Galaxy blew me away. The clever uses of gravity, worthy power-ups, and marvelous level design had me constantly smiling and wondering if there might be a new challenger to the title of Best Mario ever. Hell, I even liked the Wii-era motion controls! My only complaint is the now defunct having to exit the world after finding each power star because I never wanted the party to end, but this did lead to some of the most imaginative power star scenarios in a 3D Mario. Now Nintendo just needs to release Galaxy 2 on the Switch, and my Mario heart will be content.
Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)+
Having run through the entirety of the Super Mario 3D All-stars collection, it seemed only fitting to end things with my personal favorite 3D (and all-around) Mario. I was so in love with my second time traveling through worlds aboard the Odyssey that I made it my life’s goal to collect all 880 proper moons for one of the most rewarding gaming experiences that I can remember. Everything about this adventure is just bursting with joy, and that’s something that was extremely welcome this year.
Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch)
After making my nephew his own video game last year, I had to scale things back a little for the follow-up, so he got a nicely crafted happy birthday Super Mario 3 level instead. I dipped my toes a little in some of the new tools like the frog suit, but I then made sure to uninstall the game as quickly as possible so as not to get sucked in to my old Mario making ways.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS4)+
Our introduction to Nathan Drake and crew is best viewed as the historical artifact that it is. It heralded the now famous Naughty Dog style of trying to make games as cinematic as possible and set the action game standard for the PS3 era. Some of the climbing and combat may be a little rough 13 years later, but the tale itself is so tightly paced that it’s still a breeze to blow through in a day or two like binging a Netflix show and well worth visiting to see our favorite thief’s “humble” beginnings.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS4)+
One of the greatest games of all-time still holds up 11 years later. Everything is bigger and better in Naughty Dog’s follow-up to Drake’s maiden voyage. The combat, puzzles, and environments reached dizzying new heights for only having 2 years in between development of games, and the set pieces like the helicopter chase through a collapsing building and the finest train level ever still hold their own against anything the current/next-gen can do. Throw in the introduction of series stalwart Chloe Frazer, and it’s easy to see why this still sits so high on my gaming list.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (PS4)+
Perhaps the production team was riding a little too high after the critical and commercial success of Among Thieves because nothing feels particularly inventive about Drake’s PS3 trilogy capper. Combat takes a step back due to an over reliance on melee fighting that never quite clicks, but a new high watermark is set for puzzles that will keep entranced even when things start to falter. It’s all worth it, though, for that thrilling set piece aboard a sinking cruise ship that’s as remarkable as anything the series has produced.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)+
A now older and settled down Drake requires a little time to shake the rust off of his adventuring ways before this game really gets going. Initially the surprise brother storyline wasn’t doing it for me (especially because it felt the most murdery of all the notoriously murdery Uncharted games), but once the game genuinely dug into the absurdity of being on a Goonies-like adventure to discover a lost pirate island, it undeniably hit its stride. Throw in compelling marital drama with Elena and a great open world section, and you get a fitting send-off to one of gaming’s most beloved characters.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4)+
The spin-off adventure of Chloe and Nadine through India is a compact way to experience everything that’s special about the Uncharted series. It’s a slightly more polished version of all that works so well in the earlier games (including a phenomenal open world area that has a brilliant and challenging multi-part puzzle), but the real accomplishment is the building of the deep and touching friendship between the two main characters. Plus, those elephants get me every time.
The Witness (PS4)
I’ve had this previous free PS Plus game on my PS4 for quite some time and decided to dive in during the brief lull before the new systems released. The world was beautiful and full of mysteries, but the puzzles themselves seemed a little overly repetitive, and I shifted off of it fairly quickly.
Resident Evil: Director’s Cut (PlayStation Classic)+
As soon as the cheesy opening full motion video started, I knew I had made the right call hooking up my rarely used PlayStation Classic. Sure, those tank controls aged even worse than someone afflicted with the T-virus, but the B-movie trappings and relatively short 6 hour time to completion made me glad to go back to the first game that ever scared the crap out of me. Seriously, who wasn’t traumatized by those dogs busting through the windows as a kid?
Resident Evil 4 (Switch)+
One of my biggest gaming regrets was never finishing the game that changed PS2 era action games. Once I adjusted to the now very clunky controls that were once considered revolutionary, I had a blast exploring the Spanish countryside and fighting through hordes of villagers afflicted with las plagas. From some of the series’ grandest boss battles to hilariously dated quick-time events, this is a time capsule worth digging up.
Resident Evil 5 (Switch)
Despite being the biggest departure from the horror-filled ways of the earlier games into a steroid fueled mess of action, Resident Evil 5 had me positively hooked when it came out. Fast-forward to this Halloween, and I wasn’t quite as enamored with the changes. The charm of earlier titles was missing, and that not so subtle racism brought on by blasting through Haitian enemies just did not feel good, causing me to shelve this after a couple of uninspiring levels.
Into the Breach was one of my favorite games of 2018, so I couldn’t wait to finally try that company’s first entry – the highly acclaimed FTL. While I could definitely see myself dropping a lot of time into the game once I got into the flow of things, it didn’t immediately grab me since gaming on a mouse and keyboard is not really my strong suit. Still, just knowing it exists on my computer means there’s always the chance I’ll one day give it a solid effort.
Baldur’s Gate (Switch)
Somehow, despite my proclivity for math competitions as a youth, I never played Dungeons & Dragons, so it was interesting to jump in to a Baldur’s Gate game at last on my Switch. For about 5 hours, I was amazed at how well the game intended for keyboard and mouse translated to the handheld device and was also thoroughly confused by some of the intricacies of the D&D mechanics it brought over. Still, it felt like a grand adventure that I’d love to go on further when Baldur’s Gate 3 comes out, and it provided me with the single finest (and only) moment of someone with my surname in gaming history.
River City Girls (Switch)+
By combining the retro gameplay of classic beat-em-ups with a decently deep RPG progression system, and turning it up to hyper light dabbing speed, River City Girls manages to provide one of the freshest takes on the tried and true genre. While it lacked the replayability of some of the best of the genre, that first time through was enough to highly recommend it.
Double Dragon (NES Online)
As part of my The Wizard Challenge (see Super Mario 3), I attempted to match scores with the movie’s title character in this early beat-em-up. It turns out, this was the Wizard’s most impressive feat, as I could not even come close to matching his point total after multiple attempts. While the gameplay is fairly basic, it’s still surprisingly fun 35 years later.
Streets of Rage 2 (Sega Genesis Mini)+
To me, this is the quintessential gold standard of beat-em-up games. I spent countless hours of my childhood performing cartwheels as Blaze and taking on the toughest street punks. Revisiting it after playing this year’s Streets of Rage 4 just further proved that it deserves its spot atop the gaming mountain. While maybe a little bit slower than more recent street fighting games, the level design and enemy variety are still spectacular and clearly served to inspire its many successors.
Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation Classic)+
Revisiting one of the favorite games from my childhood was a perfect way to spend Memorial Day weekend. Aside from giving myself yet another reason to get my money’s worth from my dust collecting PlayStation Classic, it was amazing seeing just how pioneering this game was. The crazy systems and gameplay mechanics introduced along with that patented batshit crazy Hideo Kojima conspiracy make this game still feel trailblazing to this day. It’s just a shame I don’t have a memory card the fourth-wall breaking Psycho Mantis can creep me out by reading.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Xbox Series S)+
Despite my love of the first Metal Gear Solid, I never actually dabbled in any of the sequels, and I was starting to think I might never get the chance to. Thanks to a remaster of 2&3 from the 360 days showing up in the Microsoft store, it looks like I’ll finally have my opportunity to see Snake’s journey of espionage through to its end. While I lack the requisite nostalgia to fully appreciate MGS2, you can easily tell just how advanced the systems were for a now PS2 era game. Just little things like tranquilizer darts taking longer to kick in depending on where you hit a guard to guards having to respond to their radios or search parties being sent still stand out as extremely clever even if much of the gameplay relies too heavily on a clunky switch back and forth to first-person view. Once again, though, I knew I could count on Kojima to deliver the insane goods as best epitomized by the rotund terrorist, Fatman, who plants bombs while dashing around on roller blades.
Ori and the Blind Forest (Switch)+
I thought I could use an emotional counterbalance to playing The Last of Us Part Two and incorrectly chose to try out this revered Metroidvania. The first 15 minutes were as brutal as the opening of Up; yet, I somehow managed to power through. The world of Ori is positively striking, but the gameplay felt a little dated due to limited customization of your character and some fairly standard power-ups. Additionally, there was a certain element of a Super Meat Boy-style game focused on killing you thousands of times that detracted from the experience as many sequences required near flawless reflexes. Still, when things were humming along, it was an absolute delight that epitomized what makes handheld mode on the Switch so special, and it left me anxiously awaiting this year’s sequel.
Castlevania III (Switch)+
This Halloween I treated myself to the definitive 8-bit adventure of the Belmont clan by finally beating Castlevania III (thanks to save scumming like crazy). The level design remains top-notch, and the multiple playable characters and paths to take add a ton of replay value that must’ve felt insane on the NES. Despite all the variety brought on by new characters Grant, Sypha, and Alucard (OMG that’s Dracula backwards!), I found myself drawn to the tried and true demon hunting ways of the Belmont whip. This was especially intriguing to revisit following the first several seasons of the excellent Castlevania Netflix show that centers around this timeline.
A Short Hike (Switch)+
The most relaxing gaming of my year came thanks to the charming tale of a little bird making its way up a mountain. While finally taking a much needed vacation in the actual mountains, I let the little birdie substitute for myself, so I wouldn’t have to do all the hard work of real hiking. Take that cardio!
Dark Souls 2 (PS4)
This was surely the year of the Soulsborne for me, as I played 5 in all, but I just couldn’t stick with what’s supposedly the strangest entry in the bunch. Part of that was a bit of self-preservation, as I did not want to tire myself out on Soulsbornes before the release of Demon’s Souls on PS5. I do look forward to coming back to this one day in the coming year, so I can develop my definitive list of the top Soulsborne bosses of all-time.
Dark Souls 3 (PS4)+
After spending years hearing about how great this game is, I was surprised to find that large swaths of it felt like such a slog. While clearly modeled to recapture the magic of the original Dark Souls, it played a little overly familiar and never reached the heights of the original. Still there were some very memorable boss fights along the way. I just wish it had been more enjoyable getting to them.
For the past two years, I tried and failed to get into Bloodborne. Once the Cleric Beast brutally murdered me 50 or so times, I would just conclude I wasn’t ready or good enough yet and abandon the game. This year, however, I finally saw things through and was treated to one of the richest gaming worlds I’ve ever come across. The gothic atmosphere, insane bosses, and trick weapons are all topnotch design. Of all the wonderful Soulsborne games, this is the one I most want a sequel to and most look forward to replaying.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (PS4)+
Having finely honed my Soulsborne skills, I summoned the bravery to tackle what many consider to be the hardest game in the genre. The newly implemented swordplay posture system completely transformed boss battles into pure art and provided me with what was quite possibly the best game I’ve played this year. And, no, I’m not just saying that because there’s a giant ape that throws its poop at you. I won’t soon forget the thrill and sense of accomplishment I felt when delivering the final deathblow and cementing my gaming street cred.
As you can tell from the screenshot, this game is depressing as hell. Having heard a lot of good things about this 2D Metroidvania-meets-Dark Souls, I really wanted to give it a chance, but I just was not emotionally ready for such a bleak game and gave up within an hour. At least it was on sale.
Star Wars Episode One Pod Racer (Switch)+
No game from my childhood seems better suited for a Switch remaster than the pod racing classic from the N64 days. I expected to merely try a few tracks and bounce once my nostalgia had been satisfied, but I found myself absolutely hooked on the speed rush and challenge brought on by each track. It still felt just as good to blow past Sebulba right before the finish line as it did 22 years ago. How well this game still holds up was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
As part of a gaming night among coworkers we played this Among Us wannabe that takes place through a first person view where you need to figure out who are monsters and who are not. Overall, the most memorable thing about my time with the game was how confusing it was leading me to accidentally die when I was the sole remaining survivor because I couldn’t figure out where to go.
Jackbox Party Packs of Unknown Numbers (Steam)
Early on during the pandemic, the Jackbox games served to help keep us all sane and connected. I had multiple Jackbox games going with various groups of friends and several of my teams at work thanks to the easy to join setup where one player needs to own the game and the rest connect via webpage. Each pack is full of about half great games (Quiplash, Fibbage, Monster Seeking Monster, and Trivia Murder Party) and half duds (whose names I’ve swiftly forgotten). After a few weeks, it definitely started to feel a little forced to keep playing the same games over and over, but I imagine coming back to these once a year or so would provide plenty of entertainment. Here’s hoping, we don’t have to keep relying on games like this for social interaction in 2021!
The Outer Worlds (PS4)+
The rare carryover game between years, I started this at the tail-end of 2019 and took a brief hiatus when my daughter was born. This Fallout in space has a lot of humor and heart but fails to genuinely distinguish itself from the aforementioned series that is all over its DNA. Still, I had a wonderful time helping out my companions (especially the exquisite Parvati played by the always awesome Ashly Burch), and mindlessly clicking on a new side quest and following the marker to its location was an excellent way to wind down for my tired new dad self. I only wish the game had some more consequential decisions to leave a bigger lasting impression.
Doom (2016, Switch)
This reboot of the FPS classic Doom is metal as hell. There’s a speed and ferocity to the fighting that is unmatched by other shooters, and each epic gun battle takes on a unique rhythm as you mix in vicious melee attacks with powerful shotgun blasts to obliterate hordes of demons. I had a fairly solid time in my few hours with this game, but I knew I had experienced what I came to and moved on to other things. I plan to check out 2020’s Doom Eternal on Game Pass at some point, but FPS aren’t normally my thing. Still, if you like the Doom series, be sure to check out the book Master’s of Doom all about the early days of Id.
Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox Series S)+
For some reason, I just never really got into the Halo series. Sure, I had plenty of fun nights playing deathmatch with friends in college and grad school, but it always seemed like I was going through the bro-motions more than anything else (probably because I’m not very good). Thanks to having an Xbox again after 6 long years away from the Microsoft ecosystem, I decided to download The Master Chief Collection, so I could see how it all holds up. Shockingly, even 20 years later, the gunplay remains nearly flawless with the needler and plasma grenades establishing themselves as true video game standouts. Even though there is plenty to nitpick at from extremely awkward to control vehicles to overly bloated and repetitive levels, you can’t help but be amazed at how many things the game not only nailed but would set the standard for for decades to come.
Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox Series S)
Mowing down wave after wave of the zombie-like Flood in Halo had me Jonesing for some time with the greatest zombie FPS of all-time. Originally disheartened by the apparent inability to buy it from my console itself, I was relieved to discover an Xbox 360 marketplace workaround and overjoyed to find tons of people waiting to matchmake for some survival thrills. Sure the framerate might come crashing to a halt frequently, and your teammates can absolutely doom you, but I’m glad I can boot up a round of horror scares with the old crew of four survivors whenever I want.
Pretty much every weekend when I was 13 or so was spent playing 4 player split-screen deathmatches (no Oddjob!) with my friends, so I was stoked to dive back in as part of my company’s annual video game fundraising day. It turns out the controls have not aged well at all, but once you get the hang of things and the level memory kicks back in, it’s still a fantastic time to be had by all. I even notched a few victories to prove to myself that I’ve still got it. While it’s a shame there’s no easy way to replay this game outside of having an old N64, I look forward to diving back in to its spiritual successor Perfect Dark at some point in 2021.
Since this was a free game on Steam leading up to the release of Half-Life: Alyx, I decided to finally give one of the most influential FPS games of all-time a shot. It never quite clicked as things definitely did not age well and I had no built in nostalgia for the game, but, at some point, I’ll need to give the remastered/updated Black Mesa version of this game a chance.
Catherine: Full Body (Switch)+
Simply put, Catherine is the horniest game I have ever played. This over-the-top puzzle game from the makers of the Persona series centers around navigating nightmares brought on by a succubus who your character has an affair with while trying to stay afloat in your personal life during the day. A lot of the game is a little dated in its handling of women and relationships, but with tons of anime cinematics and interesting puzzles, it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of Persona and don’t mind rolling your eyes a ton. Plus, hearing “Edge!” shouted constantly never gets old, and I’m glad Nick Wiger made it his catchphrase on the How Did This Get Played podcast.
Old School Musical (Switch)
I dipped back in to this quirky rhythm game to check out some free DLC that was released, and found myself once again charmed by its unique sensibilities. The best parts of Old School Musical are the off-the-wall handicaps it throws your way to disrupt your timing (like a shirtless man dancing in front of the button prompts), and the new DLC delivered plenty more of that to make me glad I took the time to open it up again.
Sayonara Wild Hearts (Switch)+
My most replayed game in 2019 deserved at least one more go-round in 2020 just to bop along to the soundtrack full of bangers again. This colorful tale of heartbreak and finding your groove again remains pitch perfect with its rhythm-based gameplay, and is a must-have for Switch or Apple Arcade owners.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill (Switch)
When I heard this game described as Dark Souls but on mountain bikes, I knew I had to try my hand at it. For about a week, I was thoroughly entranced by seeking out new, faster paths and timing my sharp turns just right so as not to fall to my death. After fully conquering 3 of the mountains, I moved on, but I highly recommend you check this out.
I really wanted to like Afterparty, the follow-up to the spooktacular Oxenfree, but the game just never managed to get its hooks into me. The premise itself is fairly solid – you and your friend are dead and need to make your way into Satan’s VIP party to try to escape Hell – but the characters and drinking system never grabbed me. Maybe one night while looking for a compact story to entertain me, I’ll try out my blood pong skills again.
The team at Zachtronics took a surprise departure from their typical puzzle games (like 2017’s excellent Opus Magnum) to deliver this compelling visual novel that forces you to grapple with the consequences of advancements in technology at a company that is basically Uber for therapy. The melancholy story had me fully invested for the 6 hours or so I was in it, and the decisions you have to make at the end felt truly worthwhile.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (Switch)
I will never tire of pointing my finger and shouting “Objection!” as the world’s greatest pointy-haired attorney. After making my way through the first two games in the trilogy last year, I’ve been slowly playing through the third as a palette cleanser in between games this year. Even though I may frequently get annoyed by the guilty until proven innocent approach to the judiciary in the Phoenix Wright universe, I never grow bored of the quirkiness that unfolds in front of me in the courtroom. At least the game has taught me that if I ever commit a crime, I shouldn’t give surprise testimony on the final day of my trial when positively no one suspects me.
Gears of War (Xbox Series S)+
One of the most enjoyable and carefree gaming experiences of my life came senior year of college when my roommates and I spent one glorious weekend taking turns playing Gears of War together with the fresh knowledge that we all had jobs/grad schools lined up for us. Nothing will ever quite match the couch co-op from those simpler times, but revisiting the game via Game Pass still provided lots of solo thrills. Thankfully, both the cover system and shooting mechanics stand the test of time, and special bonus points go to the active reload mechanic that keeps you engaged throughout lengthy firefights. I look forward to playing my way through the rest of the series for the first time as I seek to make the most out of my Game Pass subscription.
Jet Set Radio (Xbox Series S)+
Words cannot adequately convey what an unabashed masterpiece Jet Set Radio is. Somehow surviving 20+ years of hype, it made me want to find a way to go back in time and buy my 15 year old self a Dreamcast, so my life could be forever changed by this truly remarkable piece of video game rebellion combining all the fun, musical flair, and mini-bursts of anarchy of a Tony Hawk game with stylish cell-shaded graphics that I bet look even better on a massive CRT.
Sunset Overdrive (Xbox Series S)+
For years, I’ve heard people absolutely gush about this Jet Set Radio/Tony Hawk/Dead Rising hybrid that seems to have gotten lost to history by releasing on the Xbox One, so I made sure it was one of the first Game Pass games I downloaded. The attitude and gameplay were very early 2010s, which was exactly what I needed for a satisfying Thanksgiving week diversion.
Rocket League (Switch and Xbox One)
My relationship with Rocket League always follows a similar pattern. I end up playing the game with some friends or coworkers and remember just how awesome it is thus beginning my futile climb up the competitive leaderboards until I crash into my skill level ceiling somewhere in the low silver range and become increasingly frustrated repeatedly losing causing me to give up for another year or so. At least this time, I scored my most absurd and skillful goal ever.
Among Us (iOS)
It turns out that you can learn a lot about your friends based on how good they are at not being “Sus” when they’re the imposter trying to sabotage your crew. Even logging on with a bunch of randos always proved to be a fun time for this game that took over the gaming world back in the fall.
Tetris 99 (Switch)+
Easily both the best version of Tetris and the greatest battle royale deserves revisiting frequently whenever they have a new community event going on that piques my interest. The tension that emanates from trying to frantically turn tetrominos as blocks fly in from your opponent’s games is simply unmatched and will never get old.
Tabletop Simulator (Steam)
My coworkers and I played weekly open source versions of Skulls, Secret Hitler, and more on this easy to use board game simulator. While not as user-friendly for a group as say Jackbox Party Pack, it’s an awesome way to get together and simulate a game night so long as you have someone capable of shepherding the group along.
Games From This Year
Genshin Impact (PS4)
In a bit of self-preservation, I decided to just walk away after only spending about an hour in the beautiful Breath of the Wild inspired world of Genshin Impact. What little I did play was extremely engrossing, and the world seemed utterly ripe for exploring, but, knowing the shiny new consoles were going to be arriving soon, I chose not to fall down what likely would’ve been a wonderful 100 hour rabbit hole of a game.
Mario 35 (Switch)+
I saw someone describe playing Mario 35 as the closest you’ll ever come to living out the movie The Wizard (see my Mario 3 entry for more on my affinity for that masterpiece of 80’s nostalgia), and that is indeed the single most accurate summary of this highly addictive game. By competing against 34 other Mario lovers in an epic battle to see who will be the last plumber standing, Nintendo has found a way to make this beloved 37 year old game fresh again. Every victory feels absolutely thrilling, but the game can get a little drawn out once it reaches the final few contenders as the last players remaining are typically pixel perfect platformers worthy of the title Super Mario.
Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch)
My first foray into the strange cut-out world of Paper Mario will best be remembered for the excellent writing. I probably spent double the time that I normally would have with a game like this because I wanted to see what brilliant thing the writers came up with next (specifically the play and that tragic scene with Bobby the bob-omb). It’s a shame the normal puzzle fighting lost my interest so quickly because it truly was a charming world, and the boss fights really elevated the proceedings.
Resident Evil 3 Remake (PS4)+
Whereas last year’s Resident Evil 2 Remake was a near flawless modernization of one of the definitive action-adventure games of all-time, RE3make settles into a far more action-heavy groove that, by its nature, can’t quite reach the same heights as its predecessor but still provides for one hell of a ride. The big events against Nemesis are all scripted here instead of happening organically like in RE2, but they still produce tons of thrills and excellent lines like “Get off my train, shitbird!”.
Fall Guys (PS4)+
For about 2 weeks, I couldn’t get enough of this Wipeout-style game show meets battle royale charmer. All of the colorful mini-games and ridiculous physics were exactly the pick me up that 2020 needed, and my quest to earn my first crown was hard fought. However, once that mythical initial win was in the books, I found my desire to keep going wavered, and I moved on to other games.
This might just be one of my biggest disappointments of the year. The premise – you’re a deadly shark feasting on other ocean dwellers and unfortunate swimmers while being hunted by a reality TV show fisherman – seems like a no doubt home run, but the execution falters as the game is overly repetitive and boring, while the environments are too murky to shine.
Tonight We Riot (Switch)+
Workers of the world unite in this Communist Revolution simulator that made up for fairly simple gameplay and graphics with a ton of charm in both its storytelling and weapon choices. The jokes at the expense of our capitalistic ways hit hard and funny, and I had a great time helping free my comrades and building a better world for all until the game became a little too prescient a few short weeks later.
Raji: An Ancient Epic (Switch)+
I considered this to be purely educational, as I was excited to finally have a game that respectfully dealt with my wife’s Hindu heritage. Raji is a short but thrilling tale of taking on the demon Mahabalasura with some help from the gods and their ancient weapons with just a dash of Uncharted exploring/climbing to be had. There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement, but this solid first effort makes me excited to see where the Indian development team takes this gorgeous world.
Madden 21 (PS4)+
At last, I think I’ve figured out the formula to enjoying the Madden series again. You simply have to skip 1-2 years in between purchases, and you’ll be ready to win a virtual Super Bowl or two. While the gameplay remains serviceable, the series has never felt quite the same since they switched to the Frostbite engine leading to a little bit of extra oddity (especially on the sidelines) that takes you out of the athletic immersion.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe (Switch)
Poor Pikmin 3 was the biggest victim of the arrival of my new consoles. Having spent approximately 10 hours absolutely loving the colorful world and quirky humor, these poor pikmin and the explorers on their quest to get off the strange planet were abandoned, hopefully to be returned to one day.
Clubhouse Games (Switch)
I expected I’d quickly drop the 51 games of Clubhouse Games once I got over the initial gimmick, but they’re done so surprisingly well that I was jumping back into my favorites for several weeks. Add in some pretty good tutorials to learn all about lesser known worldwide games, and this is a title that should be on everyone’s Switch.
Watch Dogs: Legion (PS5)
I fell victim to game purchasing madness during the PlayStation Black Friday Sale and decided it was past time to jump into the Watch Dogs series, as I was drawn in by latest effort where literally every character in the massive open world can be recruited and played as. While I found the hacking and dystopian story to be interesting, large swaths of gameplay felt too much like GTA to me, and I determined my time was better spent with Ubisoft’s other massive open world game from this year.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (PS5)
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey might just be one of my favorite games from the PS4 era, and it remains the only Assassin’s Creed I have stuck with through the end. While, Valhalla certainly is built on top of the great Odyssey world, it feels just ever so slightly off. The main character isn’t nearly as charming as Kassandra. The environments of England and Norway aren’t nearly as compelling as the majestic Grecian islands, and the cultist mystery is no where near as mesmerizing as it was in the previous title. I still spent approximately 20 hours enjoying myself quite a bit, but after helping yet another region establish a new king, I figured I had seen all there was to see and set it aside for the foreseeable future.
Cyberpunk 2077 (PS5)+
What’s truly frustrating about Cyberpunk 2077 is that you get so many glimpses of the all-time great game that was hiding under the surface. It’s as if Michelangelo set out to sculpt David, but then decided to also give him a wife, two kids, and a dog and ended up with a bunch of half done pieces instead of one remarkable one. There are seemingly 5 million non-cohesive systems in the game, and each one of them is just missing the final bits of polish to make them great. Throw on top of that an open world that was promised to be revolutionary and instead would’ve felt outdated for an early PS4 game and a litany of bugs that range from hilarious to game breaking, and it’s a shame the legacy of Cyberpunk will be synonymous with failure. Even without the issues, the game itself comes across like The Outer World crossed with Grand Theft Auto and not something entirely new like was promised. I still had a blast most of the time while establishing a reputation for myself in Night City, but there was always that lingering feeling that it should have been so much more.
The Last of Us Part II (PS4)+
Let me start by saying The Last of Us Part II is a very good game.
No game left me wanting less than the follow-up to my favorite game of all-time, The Last of Us. At 30 emotionally grueling hours, I found myself desperately wishing the development team had made more extensive use of edits, as the game feels like it would’ve been a lot better at a more brisk 20 hours or so. There are parts of this game during several key flashbacks and a brilliant open world section in the first 10ish hours that are pure Naughty Dog perfection, but chapters tended to become bloated as the game progressed and character actions became highly questionable. At its core, it’s still a very well made high-quality game, but it failed to rise to the challenge of delivering a worthy sequel to such a landmark video game. Ellie and company deserved better, but I still find myself breathlessly awaiting the capper to her survival saga.
Kentucky Route Zero (Switch)+
It was a console release 7 years in the making, as Kentucky Route Zero finally released its final episode and arrived on the Switch, allowing me to experience the surreal tale of hardship and sadness encountered on the way to make a delivery down the mythical highway. The game varied wildly from vignette to vignette-like chapter keeping things fresh throughout, and forcing myself to take things slowly and just enjoy the ride proved to be the right choice, as it really was all about the path taken and not the actual delivery that made this truly special.
Astro’s Playroom (PS5)+
One of the best games of the year comes pre-loaded on your PS5. Serving as both a tech showcase and PlayStation nostalgia factory, Astro’s Playroom is a heartwarming platformer that is rightfully being called the greatest pack-in game since Wii Sports. Learning the ins and outs of everything the neat PS5 controller is capable of was a blast, and the spirit of the game has been kept going recently with speedrunning the levels against my friend Trey (as of this writing, I own all 8 records). The main campaign may be short and sweet, but there’s seemingly never-ending replay value in finding and mastering it all that led to my second Platinum trophy of the year.
Demon’s Souls (PS5)+
The 5th and final Soulsborne game of my year was a truly dazzling introduction to the PS5. Just playing a Soulsborne game at a consistent 60 fps deserves some sort of Nobel prize and will forever make the earlier games feel a little clunky. While, the difficulty in this remake of the original Souls title never quite reaches the maddening levels of its successors, there’s still plenty of death to be had, and watching the early prototypes for From Software’s tried and true game making philosophy play out was an excruciatingly good way to spend my Thanksgiving break.
Devolver Digital has become the master of releasing these deft little 3-5 hour adventures that absolutely nail their central conceit (see last year’s Gato Roboto). Carrion is probably the game that I struggled the most with removing from my top 10 list because it felt so good controlling the monster and munching on scientists in this reverse horror game. Everything from the webslinging-like movement to mind-control and growling was pure pixelated perfection.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (Switch)
I’ve never played a Dynasty Warriors style hack-and-slash game before because it seemed like it’d be far too repetitive and boring, but fortunately, the prequel to Breath of the Wild changed all that for me. Thanks to a diverse group of champions, that stellar BOTW art style and sound effects, a thrilling tale, and a ton of side missions to tackle, I’ve yet to detect even the faintest hint of boredom that I thought would surely come after a few hours button mashing away. Instead, I’ve found the ultimate game to help me relax during my week off between Christmas and New Year’s because this is just the natural 3D progression of those 2D beat-em-ups I love. It’s a shame I didn’t start this game sooner because it likely would’ve cracked my Top 10 with a few more hours tearing through armies of moblins and Hinoxes. One thing’s for sure, I can’t wait to see how Persona 5: Strikers takes this formula on in 2021.
My Top 10
10 a) Bugsnax (PS5)+
The tenth spot in my Top 10 is reserved for the two most surprising titles of the year. The first, Bugsnax, seemingly came out of nowhere as the first free PS Plus game for PS5. Catching bugs shaped like food proved to be consistently amusing and surprisingly funny (special shoutout to “Bunger”) thanks to combining the best bits of Pokemon and Pokemon Snap, but the real joy was getting to know the absolutely insane muppet-like villagers of Snaxburg and helping them through all their drama. Sure, there may have been more technologically impressive games this year, but none were as memorable as Bugsnax.
10 b) Roundguard (Switch)+
Yet another Indie delight, the surprisingly deep Peggle meets dungeon crawler hybrid, Roundguard, only showed up on my radar because my college roommate had a friend who worked on it. What followed my “oh I’ll give it a quick look” turned into a brief obsession, as I made it my life’s goal to finish a week with the high score for all Switch users (which I accomplished). With three very distinct characters and a ton of power-ups, there’s a lot of variety to each run and mastery to be achieved. I’d love to revisit the game now that they’ve added a ton of new content, but I’m worried that if I let my guard down, the top score madness will begin anew.
9) Ghost of Tsushima (PS4)+
Going in to Ghost of Tsushima, I thought I’d spend a few hours enjoying the gorgeous Japanese vistas while taking pretty screenshots for this blog. 55 hours later, I had scoured the entire map in search of every last secret on the way to my second ever Platinum trophy. Sure all the picturesque sights went a long way to keeping my interest, but the avenging adventures of Jin Sakai were so captivating because they seemed like the culmination of the entire PS4 generation of open world games. There were no brave new ideas here, but every last mechanic felt so tightly honed and perfected from nearly a decade’s worth of lessons that it was just great to play.
8) Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)+
Has any game ever been released at a more perfect time than Animal Crossing: New Horizons? For the first few months of the pandemic, this is the game that kept us going. I sunk well over 100 hours into my island and smiled through every second of it. My coworkers and I even formed an extensive Stalk Market network to make us all bellionaires. Sadly, once bells were no longer an issue, some of the fun did fade away, and I quit the game for good following the delightful birthday party my islanders threw me in June. I may not feel the need to go back, but I’ll always appreciate the hope Tom Nook and company gave me for those first few rough months.
7) Streets of Rage 4 (Switch)+
One genre that I will never tire of is the good old-fashioned side-scrolling beat-em-up. Dating back to falling in love with laying down the law on some anarchic streets back in 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game on the NES and 1992’s Streets of Rage 2 on the Sega Genesis, I’m always on the lookout for some beautiful button mashing beatdowns. Coming a mind-boggling 26 years after the last title in the groundbreaking series, Streets of Rage 4 delivers on the legacy of predecessors and helps set a new bar for the beat-em-up genre thanks to overwhelming you with both the sheer numbers of enemies and the immense feelings of nostalgia each level brings.
Unlike recent beat-em-up standouts like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game and River City Girls, there is no RPG-like progression system to Streets of Rage 2, as it aspires to remain true to its simple roots. That, however, does not mean the game lacks a feeling of growth and progress. Each level, instead slowly puts more demands on your skills to adapt to growing numbers of larger crowds and tougher enemies. The game truly shines when battles turn into complex threat triaging puzzles where your brain enters Terminator-like threat assessment vision to figure out just the right order of operations to take down the challenge laid before you without losing a life. In all, I probably beat the game through completely at least 4 times, and I’m sure I’ll go back and finish it another handful of times or so before I put my Switch away for good at some unknown time in the future.
6) Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS5)+
This game actually climbed several spots up my list while writing this as I started (and finished) a New Game+ to test out some of my new Christmas toys that help my PS5 shine. As a game, this abridged version of the 2018’s phenomenal Spider-Man, is another chance at more of everything that made that game so spectacular. Swinging through the city feels as exhilarating as before, and the Arkham-inspired battle system has a shiny new coat of paint thanks to Miles’s additional venom shock based powers. The real heart of the game though lies in the relationship between Miles and Harlem as many of the most memorable moments come when just exploring a festival in the city, talking to graffiti artists, or rescuing the local bodega cat. It also serves as a fantastic tech demo for what the PS5 can accomplish, taking full advantage of the new haptic feedback, 3D sound, and lightning fast SSD loading. It was the rare game that was even better the second time through, and I was inspired to complete my third and final Platinum trophy of the year.
5) Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Xbox Series S)+
The jump in quality from Ori and the Blind Forest to its sequel is pretty staggering. By introducing systems more akin to Hollow Knight, a ton of extra depth is added that, combined with some minor tinkering to the difficulty so things never feel unfair, made me never want to put the game down. Like any good Metroidvania, each area provides you with new upgrades that gradually turned even the simplest acts of transversal into a master class in quality platforming action. Just revisiting it briefly to test my new gaming setup led to performing random side quests and searching for assorted upgrades. Aside from the gameplay, the Pixar quality story is somehow more fantastic this time around, and the pitch perfect ending may have produced a tear or two. Whereas I found myself rushing through the first game, I wanted to explore every last inch of this one. Thanks for the emotional and satisfying ride, Ori.
4) CrossCode (Switch)+
Quite simply, CrossCode is the Action-RPG that was promised. Originally debuting on PC in 2018, CrossCode had already generated a ton of fanfare leading up to its console release this year, and it managed to exceed all of my wildest expectations. The setting alone (you’re playing inside an MMORPG) makes for a ton of charm as you balance the in-game drama and standard MMO tasks (like raids, PVP, and more) with your quest to unravel the mystery surrounding your existence all while the daily machinations of the lives of the friends you make along the way can throw a wrench into things. The game especially shines in its increasingly complex environmental puzzles that test your brains and newly acquired skills to their limits and the combat that is like taking those 16-bit era games and injecting them with the blood of Dark Souls. With a planned epilogue set to be released sometime in the near future, I can’t wait to revisit the world of CrossCode.
3) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 (PS4)+
Nothing will remind me more of being a teenager obsessed with video games than grinding on the rails at the School in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater while filling my rebellious ears with the best punk and ska the late 90’s had to offer. Everything feels even better than it did 20 years ago thanks to an incredibly smart remaster that knows exactly what to change and what to keep the same. While slowly building up my created skater to shredding superstar was a blast, the real fun came once I dove into the newly added and extensive online mode. Pitting my finest scores and speed run times against the rest of the world was just the push I needed to strive for perfection that I can’t easily get from friends down the hall in my dorm anymore.
2) Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)+
How do you remake one of the most celebrated games of all time? Do you just put a shiny new coat of paint on it and hope everyone wants a faithful retelling of one of gaming’s most well known stories, or do you take big swings and hope for the best? At first, it might seem like Square was going for the former, but it quickly becomes apparently that they’re shooting for the latter. I loved every minute of the wild ride with these characters who I’ve loved for 22 years. By blowing out the first 6 or so hours of the original game into a sprawling 40 hour epic, Square allows for so much more backstory that only further celebrates what made the original so beloved. Throw in a wonderfully overhauled and deep active combat system that makes each member of your party feel consequential, and I played through this game one and a half times in quick succession. Now, I’m just waiting for the PS5 updates to finish off the Hard mode playthrough.
1) Hades (Switch)+
As I said in my original review, Hades is the first (and now we can safely say only) masterpiece of 2020. It’s Super Giant at its absolute peak bringing the best of what they’ve done in the past with story, music, world building, and combat and expanding it to a seemingly never-ending roguelike that just might be the strongest combination the genre has ever seen. No game consumed my thoughts so heavily as this one, forcing me to spend my time in between runs pondering how I would approach the next one, deciding which god’s boons or weapons could ultimately get me over the top.
It all works so well because nothing ever feels like it’s wasting your time. Every lost run or screw-up leading to your untimely demise still manages to move the story forward and increase your powers for the next attempt at escaping the Underworld. It just gives you another chance to hang out with one of the best ensembles ever, while also making sure your dear three-headed Cerberus can get some much needed pets.
Congrats on making it all the way to the end of my annual tradition of attempting to write more words about video games than I did for my entire Master’s thesis. The year in gaming ends with a tremendous sense of hope, as I look forward to seeing what new advances come as developers hit their groove on the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, while also continuing to play through titles I missed along the way (here I come at last, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Silent Hill 2).