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Dan Ryckert's Top 10 Games of 2020

In his first post-Giant Bomb list, Dan reminds us all that he's a sucker for Nintendo, nostalgia, and baseball games where people get hit in the nards.

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Dan Ryckert is a guy with a couch and a Twitch channel. Every Sunday, he hosts a podcast about streaming movies and shows with his wife Bianca. He has set two Guinness World Records, got married at a Taco Bell, wrote numerous books, and is currently the #1 Gamer on Cameo. He used to work here.

Hello folks! I’m Dan, and you might remember me from this website. Been a weird year! Everyone’s done their best to take whatever positives they can out of a global pandemic, and for me it’s been discovering how much I love streaming games. If only I could find a job that would pay me to play and talk about video games, huh? Anywho, I’ve learned a billion things about production and can now beat Mike Tyson in Punch-Out!! on demand, so I’ve been happy to find some very clear personal and professional growth amidst all the time at home in 2020.

I’m gonna break down my top ten games of 2020, but first let’s take a look at some...

Honorable Mentions: Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Maneater, Bugsnax, Demon’s Souls

On to the list!

10. Ori and the Will of the Wisps

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Back in 2015, I was able to appreciate the gorgeous art style and incredible soundtrack of Ori and the Blind Forest, but the gameplay didn’t really grab me. It didn’t have a progression system that kept me going, and I found some of the big setpiece chases more annoying than rewarding.

This year, everything came together and resulted in one of my favorite Metroidvanias in recent memory. It’s still as gorgeous as ever, but the variety of powers, well-designed map, improved setpiece moments and boss battles, and simple yet effective story locked me in from beginning to end. Whereas Blind Forest saw me setting the controller down before finishing it, Will of the Wisps had me pursuing and achieving 100% completion. Not since Terminator 2 has a sequel improved so much on the original.

9. Cyberpunk 2077

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I actively avoid “the discourse” when it comes to video game chatter on the internet, but even I couldn’t escape the fury that CD Projekt Red stirred up with this bungled-ass launch. I have zero interest in defending the console versions of this game--it sounds like they’re unfinished as hell and some of the clips I’ve seen of their performance are downright embarrassing.

It’s a shame though, because in my 25 hours of playing the game on a powerful gaming PC, it’s actually really good. That’s not to say it’s without bugs. I’ve had to restart a couple of missions due to broken AI and objectives, but most of the wonkiness I’ve encountered is more of the hilarious variety than game-breaking.

Despite appreciating some of what The Witcher 3 was doing, I’ve never been a big fan of fantasy settings, so it didn’t land with me as much as it did with others. While a lot of Cyberpunk’s whole thing is a little faux-edgy and occasionally a bit lame (I’m really not sold on Keanu’s character), the Night City aesthetic jibes with me far more than whatever fantasy land Geralt lived in.

My thoughts may change over time with this one, as I’m not far enough into it yet to know if it sticks the landing. But so far, I’ve really had a blast just walking around the city, using my hacking skills to mess with bad guys, and playing through the occasional massive story mission.

8. Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales

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My enjoyment of playing as Spider-Man is as strong as my dislike of Peter Parker as a character, so I was able to look past the quips in 2018 and wound up loving that game. This follow-up is better in every single way.

Miles is far more likeable of a character than Peter. The simplistic combat of the last game is expanded thanks to the new Venom abilities. And most importantly, the narrower scope of this game leads to quality over quantity, cutting down on a lot of the empty-feeling side missions of the more expansive original. I still had the same huge, beautiful Manhattan to swing around, but I felt like I was spending more time with fun activities and side content and less time checking boxes.

7. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

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This was perhaps the most unintentionally well-timed game launch in history. On March 20th, people around the world were starting to get their stay-at-home orders, and there aren’t many franchises in gaming better suited to “stay home and forget the worries of the world” than Animal Crossing.

I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that New Horizons did a ton to add to the whole Animal Crossing thing. You’re still shaking trees and gifting carpets to penguins or whatever. And to be honest, the crafting system is kind of a pain in the ass and it takes way too long to do anything. But at the end of the day, it’s a new Animal Crossing, and that comes with a lot of joy. New dumb conversations to have with your neighbors. New K.K. Slider songs. And maybe most importantly, every Animal Crossing launch comes with a ton of people playing and visiting each other’s islands. It always tapers off and leaves only the hardcore fans still playing, but the first couple of months of a new Animal Crossing is always a great time for me.

6. Super Mega Baseball 3

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My love of this game (and series) has nothing to do with baseball, and everything to do with childhood memories of playing Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball on the SNES with my father. As baseball games got more complex and realistic over the years, they moved farther away from the more arcadelike experiences of Griffey, R.B.I. Baseball, Baseball Stars, and other favorites from my youth. And as a result, I knew there was no way I’d be able to get my dad into them (he’s still baffled every time the Switch tells him to repeat a button press three times to get past the lock screen).

I discovered Super Mega Baseball when I was assigned a Quick Look of it on this here website. Immediately, I felt like it was the arcade experience that I’d been missing since the '90s. I got my dad a Switch, microphone, and headphones (and somehow managed to get him to install Discord), and miraculously got him comfortable enough with the setup to play against him online.

Not to get all sentimental on you, but I moved away from Kansas over a decade ago, and miss my family frequently. It’s 2020, and I haven’t been able to see them in over a year, so any chance I get to have some fun with them like old times means a ton to me. Super Mega Baseball 3 was a great conduit for that this year.

5. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2

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There are very few things I care about in video games more than “is it fun to control this character and do shit in the world?” I don’t know if controlling a video game and doing shit in the world has ever felt better than it did in old Tony Hawk games. And boy oh boy, this remaster proves that those games have aged excellently. Within seconds of playing the Warehouse demo, I knew they nailed it (just like I knew they blew it within seconds of playing THPS HD years ago).

There are some new bells and whistles and leaderboards and occasional new objectives, but this is old Tony Hawk through and through. It just looks a ton better. Vicarious Visions gave me an excellent way to play those games on modern consoles, and it didn’t need to be more complicated than that. Bring on the remakes of 3 and 4.

4. Super Mario 3D All-Stars

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Hey, speaking of remasters of old games! Well actually, even I can’t go as far as to call these “remasters.” It’s just straight-up Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. But they’re on Switch now.

I’m not here to tell you that Nintendo did a great job with these ports. To call the changes “bare-bones” is giving them a bit too much credit. And the whole limited digital release is weird at best. But hey, at the end of the day, these are three of the greatest games of all time, and getting all 120 stars in all three of them was some of the most fun I’ve had playing video games this year.

3. The Last of Us Part II

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Outside of Metal Gear Solid, I’ve never been a story guy when it comes to video games. I play games to jump on stuff and shoot stuff and just have a grand ol’ time. Occasionally, a game will be good enough that I actually get invested in the story it’s telling. The first Last of Us was definitely a standout in that regard. I gave a shit about the story of Joel and Ellie, and I felt like it ended on the perfect note. When Part II was announced, I was actually kind of annoyed because it didn’t feel necessary.

Now that I’ve played Part II, I see how much potential there was in continuing the story to see the effects of Joel’s Big Decision. Naughty Dog expertly showcased the complicated fallout from his actions in the first game. I love a good revenge story, and this is one told from two very different angles, both in the quest to right perceived wrongs.

This game wouldn’t rank this high on my list on story alone, though. It’s also an incredible action game. It was perfect for someone like me who likes to attempt stealth, but sucks at it and always winds up going all guns blazing when my sneaky pursuits fail. Every large enemy encounter would go the same way for me. I’d get a few sneaky kills and feel good about my use of distraction and stealth. Then someone would see me and yell, and suddenly I’m throwing bricks in faces and decimating enemies with a shotgun. And it felt awesome every time.

That said, the series actually feels done-done this time. I was wrong before about not wanting a sequel to The Last of Us, but now I’m definitely ready to see what Naughty Dog can pull off next.

2. Astro’s Playroom

Holy crap did this one come out of nowhere for me. I remember seeing the trailer during a PlayStation Indirect or whatever they call them, but I assumed it wouldn’t be much more than a “hey, check out this rumbling shit!” tech demo. Turns out there’s way more to it on more than one front.

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First off, it’s a joyous celebration of PlayStation history. Sony has attempted this in the past with stuff like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, but a combination of licensing issues and PlayStation’s shorter history always left it feeling flatter than Nintendo’s nostalgia fests.

But PlayStation has been around for a quarter of a century now, and the time feels right for a loving look back at its history like what we see in Astro’s Playroom. And holy crap is it more extensive than you’d expect considering its length. Every single area is packed with references, easter eggs, and callbacks to a vast number of first- and third-party PlayStation games. It’s not only games, as it had me remembering things like “oh RIGHT, they did make a weird GPS receiver for the PSP.” As someone who loves gaming history and 3D platformers, the whole experience couldn’t have been more up my alley.

At the end of my one-sitting three-hour playthrough of a free pack-in title, I definitely didn’t expect that I would continue to play it to the point of pain in more than one area of my body. I can attribute that to the Network Speed Run mode. In the past, I’ve always admired the idea of speedrunning from afar. Speedrunners can pull off ungodly tricks to shave off a hundredth of a second of time, but the barrier for entry always seemed so high. To actually compete in a meaningful way, you’d have to have a game memorized front to back, with a million points of failure that would require an immediate restart.

Network Speed Run, by contrast, is far more welcoming. It consists of eight levels--four traditional, four motion-based. Your cumulative time is tracked, and each level can be completed in well under a minute. So even if you blow it on a jump or a necessary skip, you’ll be restarting with a fresh run in no time without the baggage of a longer commitment.

At first I played this mode just enough to get the necessary trophy (all eight levels in under seven minutes cumulatively) so I could get a Platinum for the game. I realized how short each one was, and thought “well, I bet I could do a little better on that level.” This cycle repeated over and over and over again until my fingers, palms, wrists, elbows, and shoulders were in enough pain to require frequent ice packs for weeks. But it also led to me being the seventh-best speedrunner of Astro’s Playroom in the world for a time (not pictured: Jeff Grubb).

It wasn’t until after ample time with the speed run mode that I realized how great Astro’s Playroom’s deceptively simple controls were. Our little robot buddy doesn’t boast a large suite of abilities, but the jump, spin, and hover can be combined in many clever ways if one was interested in jumping into the speedrun scene (if you want to compete, you’ll have to get really proficient at the “punch yourself over the ledge, hover, extend with a spin, then hover again” trick).

In combination with the excellent Astro-Bot Rescue Mission, it’s become very evident that ASOBI Team is one of the premier 3D platformer developers on the planet. I don’t know if I’ve ever put a 3D platformer on the level of Nintendo’s mastery with the Mario series, but Astro’s Playroom and Rescue Mission make it clear to me that ASOBI Team is the closest I’ve ever seen. If they ever announce a full-blown Astro game, I’m going to lose my mind.

1. Hades

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This game is so fucking good that it barely even came up in an eight-hour Game of the Year debate I had with Mike Mahardy and Mary Kish. It was just number one with a bullet, and no one even thought to argue it.

You’re going to hear this game come up in a lot of Game of the Year discussions, so I won’t waste my breath on all the things you’ll hear about ad nauseum--how fun it is to make a new build each run, the way boons play off of each other, the brilliant ways the game extends beyond “beating it,” etc.

I’ll just say that this game instantly feels timeless. I hadn’t played in a month or two when I picked it back up on PC thanks to the new cross-save functionality (I originally played it on the Switch). Immediately, I was drawn back in and getting invested in every single run, eager to start up a new one when it eventually fell apart. Everything from the art style to the controls feels so sharp, and I think I’ll be able to pick it up for some runs in five or ten years and it’ll be like approaching a Galaga cabinet or knocking out a few levels in Super Mario World. In a year filled with a lot of great games, I think this is one that will be looked back on and referenced for a long time to come.