Without an unnecessary introduction, here are my Top 10 favorite games of 2020.
In no particular order:
Ghost of Tsushima
Come on. Take screenshot. You know you want to.
Ghost of Tsushima is the prettiest game of the year, but it doesn’t rest on any laurels. With the right HUD alterations, Ghost succeeds much in the same way as the Legend of Zelda. I don’t need icons in the environment telling me where to go. I don’t want them. In Ghost, all I need to do is follow the wind. With deliciously-unique side missions (from Haiku to fox dens to kami shrines to legendary duels), every moment spent exploring is delightfully rewarded. The story is just the same, though it’s disappointing that a commitment to honorable combat isn’t reflected in the narrative.
Still, the game Ghost was at launch was sublime. Then they added the multiplayer, Legends, and things only got better from there. The tight, vicious sword combat now has the enemy count and variety needed to push it over the edge. The grind to 110 is great, but you’ll have to wait for my opinions on the Raid: our player 4 still hasn’t had the time.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
There’s not a bad update to the formula with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. From handpicking villagers to handcrafting the entire island, the game truly lets us make our towns personal. Missing familiar faces are being snuck back in over time (minus Brewster!), making it easier to play every single day since launch. Not every seasonal event has been perfect, though. Some of us still have nightmares about the eggs, and it takes more than patience to farm out the festive recipes from balloons. Regardless, they’re plenty inviting to idling players, and the perfect drug for those of us who have never left. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be playing daily. Whenever I begin to lull, another creative idea demands to be built.
Yesterday, a rooftop terrace. Tomorrow…a new town flag?
Brigandine: Legends of Runersia
This strategy game has an inspiring start, but great development stories aren’t all it takes for a successful game. Fortunately, Brigandine: Legends of Runersia has a continent of battles to contend with, nations to conquer, and monsters to tame. But these aren’t Pokemon. These are armies. Equipping dozens to hundreds of units (each with unique and beautiful portraits, but little in the way of compelling stories) might be menial to some, but the minutia (and grind) are godsends for someone like me. (In addition to the grind, Brigandine also shares Disgaea’s composer!)
Updates since launch have made the relaxing (translated: possibly monotonous) resource gathering simpler, and added new ways to play that are perfect for those looking for something challenging and something easier. Brigandine is meant to be replayed, with six different perspectives and each story taking something between 20-30 hours (more if you don’t want time limits and do want a perfect army of fully-equipped monsters), so I know this is one I’ll be revisiting for months to come.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Whether due to localizations or the writers themselves, the plots of many a Japanese game recently have been…disappointing. No matter how fun the game itself is (Astral Chain, Kingdom Hearts III, Daemon X Machina), the story and dialogue have just been lacking. Or minimal. Or worse.
Not only does 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim never stumble through its narrative, it trickles mind-blowing revelations after every chapter. Wait, what? He’s who? She’s when?
13 Sentinels is a stunning achievement in story-telling, top to bottom, beginning to end. And while the combat doesn’t share the familiar visual splendor of a typical Vanillaware game (like the rest of 13 Sentinels; because it is, of course, a Vanillaware game), it has excellence in abundance. Assigning 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim a genre isn’t easy. Calling it a visual novel undersells the battle. It’s not exactly an RPG, either. Think Final Fantasy’s ATB system paired to an RTS and you might be getting somewhere close.
(I wholeheartedly believe 13 Sentinels should have received every “Best of” award for Narrative in 2020.)
The Pathless, by developers Giant Squid (Abzu), is a small open-world adventure that fits neatly beside its forbearer in so many ways, from celebrating natural beauty to well, [REDACTED]. Stunning boss fights provide some of the most natural death sequences games have seen yet. Typically, death is a slap in the once-immersed face. A reminder that you’re playing a video game. A reminder that everything we do isn’t canon, or a part of your character’s story. The consequences are typically of the gamey variety. Reset back to the last save. Lose experience. Lower maximum health. Or death is part of the story, except in such a punishing way as you’ll never see this character again.
The Pathless finds a nice balance. Nothing to ruin immersion. Nothing to ruin your investment. Your character is beat out of the arena and struggles to get back to their feet. Because the battle isn’t over for the character. The battle isn’t over for the player. You get that moment to reflect and reconsider your approach without a loading screen, and then, as it is in the story, in what’s happening on screen, and in what is happening between your fingers, you get back to the fight.
It is in many of these kinds of details that The Pathless excels, including an unforgettable ending sequence.
*Full disclosure, I also just really love birds, and this game has one of the best-animated birds of all time.
Granblue Fantasy Versus
I thought I’d be playing a lot more versus in Granblue Fantasy Versus before it came out, but then they made the RPG mode so stinking good that, well, it’s more of a Granblue Fantasy Co-op.
Not that you’ll find me complaining. The slow addition of more (paid) characters (and I paid for them; with the likes of Yuel and Anre, how could I not?) has been paired with the even slower addition of new story content. And what does new story content mean?
New boss fights.
Which of course means new weapons, which means new grids, which means instead of pushing 60k attack I’m now pushing 100k attack, and instead of being able to breeze through the content with what I already have I’ve needed to clean up my equipment and make sure I’ve got the best in the business.
I’m not done grinding yet, but I have finished the brand new round of story chapters. If you’re ever in the market for a fighting game with a decent story mode (not to be confused with a decent story), then you’re in the market for Granblue Fantasy Co-op. I mean Versus.
It’s an open-world game starring a shark getting revenge on a fisherman. I mean, come on. We’ve surpassed the shackles of underwater stages with this one: controlling our fishy friend from infancy into adulthood just feels great.
Maneater is bite-sized relative to the likes of Assassin’s Creed, making it the perfect open-world game to 100%. The biomes are surprisingly diverse, and it has that GTA-style loop of cause mayhem, destroy the ensuing cops that make a sit-down rewarding even without progression.
Check-listing your way through open-world games is only fun if the gameplay stacks up. Maneater has the chops to outlast its chores thanks to its chompy action and fun set of evolutionary abilities.
Final Fantasy VII Remake: Chapters 1-9
Full disclosure: I dropped Final Fantasy VII Remake when the bad guys dropped the plate.
I didn’t grow up playing Final Fantasy VII, but I did recently download it onto my Switch to get ready for the launch of last year’s Remake. I played it up until the point the remake’s first part was expected to end (leaving Midgard).
For the most part, I couldn’t be happier with the remake’s first nine chapters. Most of the characters are newly humanized, and while the dialogue sometimes felt disjointed (similar to Kingdom Hearts 3’s), it was typically excellent. The extra time spent with Cloud and Aerith strengthened the plot.
But almost everything else new detracts, and only more-so once the stakes are raised. The railway (between the sewers and the destruction of the plate) was the wrong place to put a dungeon and ghost-kid babysitting.
Whatever twists happen after the plate falls, presumably including the otherwise eye-rolling addition of fate’s physical manifestation and the more present Sephiroth, is going to have to wait. Despite how much I loved the game’s first half, I’ve found myself hard-pressed to get back into it.
That being said, Chapter 9 was too good not to put on the list!
Pikmin 3 Deluxe
I played the entirety of Pikmin 3 on the Wii U, co-op and all, so I did not expect to buy into Pikmin 3 Deluxe. Well, my cousin bought into it for me for my birthday, and I couldn’t be happier: full-campaign co-op, it turns out, was all I needed to love the entire thing all over again.
If you haven’t played Pikmin 3 before, you fully owe it to yourself to rectify your life mistakes. Whether you can play it through with a friend or have to go it alone, you won’t be disappointed. The only disappointment is that Pikmin 3 came out in 2013, and I’m writing about its port, not its sequel, in 2020.
Okay, 2021. You got me.
Serious Sam 4
Picking between Serious Sam 4 and Doom Eternal to round out my top 10 favorites from 2020 isn’t easy, and by the time this article goes up, I may have changed my mind again. But for now, I remember most fondly the running and gunning that kept me alive against enormous hordes of screaming, headless bomb-people.
Serious Sam 4 definitely doesn’t have the polish of 2020’s other old-school revival, but that’s not necessary for a good time. Both games had similar final fights against giants; both games had story-telling and music that exceeded expectations, and both….
Comparing the two is probably indicative of having second thoughts, or at least should illustrate the difficulty in picking between the two. For today, I’m doubling down on Serious Sam 4 thanks to what it sets it apart from Doom Eternal: an amazing sense of humor.
Doom Eternal: Doom Eternal surpassed 2016’s revival for me in every way (though I do miss that multiplayer….). The game was just such a thrill of intoxicating empowerment.
Journey to the Savage Planet: This year really did have some manageable open-world games, didn’t it? Journey to the Savage Planet was as fun as it was funny.
Star Renegades: I didn’t expect to love this RPG as much as I did. I only got through it once (it’s meant to be replayed by design), but the longer I sit away from it, the more I want to give it another go.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales: I bookended 2020 with Sony’s two Spider-Man games. Any tools I missed from Peter Parker were more than made up for by Miles’ ability to re-enter stealth.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX: A pretty update to an approachable mystery dungeon. I was surprised by just how much the game was updated for Switch, with new evolutions, new moves, and new held items intact.
Streets of Rage 4: I played a number of beat-em-ups during the course of 2020 thanks to Game Pass, and I don’t think any were as consistently fun as Streets of Rage 4.
Satisfactory (Early Access): Satisfactory is a game all about building elaborate structures that work towards a singular purpose: building more structures. I couldn’t in good conscious choose a game that’s not technically out for my Top 10 list, but if I could….
Element TD 2 (Early Access): …I also would have selected Element TD 2. Element TD was a fantastic Warcraft III mod that missed out on a key factor (co-op) that has been introduced into this steam release. More towers and more ways to play are all here.
Gunfire Reborn (Early Access): If you love shooting, roguelites, and hilarious guns, you’ll love Gunfire Reborn. With different characters to choose from and different elements to conquer, there’s plenty to love (and love in co-op!).
Games I didn’t get to
Trails of Cold Steel IV: It takes a long time to work through the Trails games, and we’re not quite caught up to their launch schedule at this household. That being said, I highly recommend you take the plunge on this gigantic series—from the beginning.
Crusader Kings III: This strategy gem sounds tantalizing, but even a pandemic hasn’t been enough to give me the free time I’d need to give it its due.
The Last of Us II: Honestly, as rewarding as the first game was, its 12+ hour runtime felt exhausting. They made the second one longer. I’m not emotionally ready for more yet.
Cyberpunk 2077: I have a copy, but I’ve been waiting for some more patches before I give it a spin.
Paradise Killer: The best part about reading about other peoples’ favorite games is I get to add them to my list.
Murder By Numbers: I liked the look of it on reveal, but these types of games are all about launch timing for whether or not I get my hands on them. I’ve got some eShop credit waiting on a sale….
Spiritfarer: …But maybe I don’t have enough eShop credit waiting for a sale.