Let’s cut to the chase--I’m putting a couple games on here that aren’t great. Like, they have problems and everyone makes fun of them, but much like how wrestling is still real to that one guy, these games are still fun to me.
That’s the thing: we’ve fallen all over ourselves to talk about the best games of the year on Kinda Funny Games. Gamescast, PS I Love You XOXO, etc.--I’ve put on my video game critic hat and monocle and been, like, “The technical achievement of blah, the scope of this, and the tenor of that.”
Enough of that.
I’ve put 130 hours into Marvel’s Avengers, so it’s about time I said I love that game somewhere, and I can think of no place better than Greg Miller’s Top 10 Games of 2020 Where the “Best” Is Replaced By “Favorite” and You Can Send Your Snarky Comments Jeff.
Yeah, that’s right. Fuck you; I’m putting Predator: Hunting Grounds here. I adored Illfonic’s Friday the 13th despite all of its flaws, so you best believe I adored their follow-up Predator: Hunting Grounds… despite all of its flaws. At launch, Predator didn’t have enough maps, matchmaking was garbage, and the framerate could chug, but damn was it fun. A bunch of Kinda Funny crewmates and me would sign on night after night to trade off being the Predator and being hunted by four of our friends. The Combistick! The different Predator classes! Nick Scarpino’s inability to stay hidden! Some of my best video game memories of 2020 are from this game and horsing around on Fran Mirabella’s nightly Twitch stream. I put 60-plus hours into this online only multiplayer shooter. That is not normal for me. I haven’t been back in months, but all I need is someone to ask me, and my blue camo Deathstroke lookin’ fireteam member would be there. Side note: just a TERRIBLE Trophy list. “As the Predator, claim 1000 Fireteam member trophies?” Are you serious, Illfonic? I love this game, but I’m not going to be playing it for the years this grindy-ass Trophy would take if you didn’t want to cheese it.
When I was a reporter back in Mid-Missouri, I did a bunch of stories about Alzheimer’s, a disease that destroys your memory over time. It all started when I covered the disappearance of a veteran who left his doctor’s appointment, walked past his car, and just kept walking. His body was found months later by a lake in the area of a previous residence. The theory was that he left the doctor, and his mind just reset. That he thought it was years prior and hitchhiked back towards what he thought was home, became confused, and succumbed to exposure at the lake. It’s a disease that truly terrifies me.
Before I Forget puts us in the shoes of a woman living with it, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a medium tackle what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s the way this game does. It does such a good job of presenting us--as we play in the first-person perspective--with a question we know the answer to but making the answer impossible to achieve. As the player we know the layout of the home, but even when we go to the exact spot the game tells us, the home shifts. It’s a glimpse at how frustrating this disease is for the patients and their loved ones.
Full disclosure: my wife’s company helped bring this game to market, but if anything, that should stand as a testament to how good Bugsnax is, because if I can’t get sick of the theme song and hate the game, no one can. Bugsnax was just what I needed in the PS5 launch--a laid back, colorful game with no failstate and a mystery. I’m usually not a puzzle game guy, but Bugsnax were just the right amount of “How do I get that to do this.” When I couldn’t figure it out, I’d move on to catching the next adorable/horrifying creature, and eventually, I’d have an eureka moment that showed me how to catch the creature I was stumped on. Toss in a great VO cast, great Trophy list, and reasonable completion time, and I had a blast.
Yeah, Fortnite’s back on my list. It’s been here before on Giant Bomb, and I’m guessing it’ll be here again. Why? Because every year Fortnite earns its spot by reinventing itself. I run hot and cold with this game. I’ll be all in for a few weeks or months, and then I’ll drop off for a year before returning to spend an obscene amount of Vbucks. This year, it was the Marvel season that brought me in and kept me coming back for more. I loved the way the season before dovetailed with the comic book, I loved the addition of all my heroes and villains, and I loved my Kinda Funny teammates getting sucked back in alongside me. In a year where we couldn’t meet in person, Fortnite became the lunch break, the bar after work, and the thing we all talked about. The way my heart pounds when we get down to being in the Top 5 will never get old.
Ghost of Tsushima is an extremely underrated game. It came in the wake of The Last of Us Part II, and I think that worked both for and against it. My first few hours with pockmarked with “Oof, facial animations aren’t as good as TLOU” and “Man, TLOU tries to hide that it’s a video game where as Ghost is in your face that it’s a video game,” but then, I remembered that I love video games and shut up to play it. Put aside how great the boss battle are and how cool Jin’s transition from samurai to assassin is, and what I think about when I think about Ghost is “style.” The different settings are beautiful, the score is haunting, and the cast of characters connected with me. (Lady Masako for life.) Ghost of Tsushima is a game I daydream about and loved Platinuming. I want to go back to this world ASAP.
Astro’s Playroom is two things. No. 1, it’s a great platformer with a whole bunch of cute mechanics to keep you entertained. No. 2, it’s a love letter to PlayStation fans. My entire 14-year career has been about me covering PlayStation. Astro’s Playroom feels like a time capsule of all the important stuff I’ve lived through and covered. From turning on the PSP to seeing the rubber ducky in the mural to laughing out loud at the “Sony Interactive Entertainment” gag, Astro’s Playroom is packed with nostalgia. On top of that, it’s tight controls and challenging hidden objects kept me playing all the way until I popped the Plat.
Yeah, I know. Marvel’s Avengers launched buggy as hell, it didn’t deliver its next-gen update as promised, and it’s a “games as a service” that has no roadmap and has seen little-to-no additional content since launch. I know all of that. I understand why you stopped playing. I get it… but I’m hopelessly in love with this game. At launch, I had a crew of four other friends who were all about Marvel’s Avengers. We played night after night, weekend after weekend. While we played, we launched at bugged out enemies, exotic skins that disappeared, and the same robots we fought day after day, but we didn’t care. We loved--and continue to love--the satisfying combat flow of Avengers and the chase for better gear and costumes. I have played more than 140 hours of this game, and even though it’s given me little hope for having a fleshed out plan Crystal Dynamics can stick to in 2021, I can’t wait for more. Kate Bishop is cool, but we need the Secret Lab, we need a raid, we need more villains, and I could go on like this. Avengers is some of the most fun I’ve had playing games this year, but that doesn’t mean I’m overlooking its long list of shortcomings. I want a redemption arc for this game, but right now, I’ll settle for my 50th Hive popping so I can get the Platinum.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales is better than Spider-Man 2018. It’s a bit of a cheat because Insomniac got to take all the learnings of Spider-Man 2018 and apply them to Miles, but the point stands. Miles’ new powers make combat even better, the Friendly Neighborhood app makes side content easier to tackle, and the cinematography and pacing is far better than the original. Still, I think the biggest compliment I can give is how this game showed me how much I truly know and care about Insomniac's Spider-Man Universe. Seeing characters from the first game and how they’ve evolved, seeing how they handle the passing of Stan Lee, and seeing how this story’s end credits scene dovetails with what comes next--I wasn’t left feeling like I got a side story rather than Spider-Man 2. Instead, I got to go back to a place I love AND fall in love with Harlem and its new cast of characters. Spider-Man: Miles Morales might be a smaller game, but it fleshes the Insomniac universe out in such a way that it feels bigger and more meaningful than ever.
What’s left to say about the game that helped us all get through a pandemic? Thank you, Animal Crossing. I’ve loved you since GameCube, but the morning ritual of popping in to see what the Able Sisters had, changing the layout of my island with the seasons, and playing the stalk market? I needed that joy in 2020. I literally can’t thank you enough for being both my escape and my social hub.
The Last of Us Part II is incredible. The story, the combat, the controls, the visuals, the music, the performances --you name it, and it’s a masterpiece. Still, the reason I’ll never stop talking about TLOU2 is its structure. “If I ever were to lose you, I’d surely lose myself.” That’s "Future Days" by Pearl Jam, and it’s featured a couple of times in The Last of Us Part II. Lots of games use music, but what TLOU2 does is use that song as its narrative backbone. Nearly every relationship can be viewed through the "Future Days" lens, and when it is, we’re given choices and characters we can discuss for years to come. Last year stole from all of us, but one of the things that sticks out to me is The Last of Us Part II discourse. If 2020 would’ve been a normal year, I can only imagine the conversations over beers I would’ve had with industry friends and Kinda Funny fans alike. I long to talk to people about this game, because I think the choices these characters make are so fascinating, and I love seeing how people apply their own lives to what Ellie, Abby, and Joel did. I don’t get to say that about every game--I don’t get to say that about most games--and it’s one of the reasons I think we’ll be talking about The Last of Us Part II for a long time to come.