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GOTY 2020

Honorable mentions include Bugsnax, DOOM Eternal, and Final Fantasy VII Remake.

List items

  • There's no question what my favorite game of 2020 is. I bought Hades when it first came out in Early Access back in December 2018, and I've enjoyed playing it since the very beginning. Supergiant has done such a wonderful job taking feedback and improving the game over time, and the finished product is absolutely incredible. It strikes such a careful balance within the roguelike/lite genre with its emphasis on progression while maintaining difficulty modifiers for those who want more of a challenge. The spotlight on narrative and storytelling is also a remarkable feat. You may die time and time again, but each death brings new dialogue, conflicts, and story revelations. Above all, it's just so much fun to play. I know game feel can be a hard thing to describe, but boy does Hades feel great to play. The variety of weapons and boons provides so many options for how to approach any given combat situation. There's a reason I've spent 80+ hours with the game with no signs of stopping.

  • A top 10 all-time favorite remade for the PlayStation 5 that's faithful to the original and looks incredible... what's not to like?! Demon's Souls may be over a decade old but it still feels fresh and exciting today, and the more level-based structure provides a nice change of pace from the rest of the Souls series. Muscle memory kicked in immediately and I felt right at home playing through this on an exciting new console.

  • Spelunky 2 may go higher on my list as I play more of it. The sequel doesn't quite capture the wonder and discovery of the original (which is probably a top 5 game for me), but there are still plenty of secrets to discover. I really appreciate how Spelunky emphasizes knowledge and and improvement over time rather than roguelite progression, and it's certainly true of the sequel with its increased difficulty (damn those moles!). I've only made it to the final boss once, but I'm determined to keep trying and eventually beat the game. I wish it wasn't so similar to the original, but it's tough to find a balance between familiarity and innovation with a sequel. Perhaps I'll learn more of the nuances of Spelunky 2 as I continue playing in 2021.

    *2021 Update: I bought the game on Switch and finally beat it there (it makes perfect sense considering how much time I played the first one on Vita). I definitely grew to appreciate the intricacies of the sequel as I played more in 2021. I still feel like it doesn't quite stack up to the original, but it's a fantastic follow-up to an all-time great game.

  • Here's the game that 2020 desparately needed. The global pandemic was (and still is) so mentally draining, but escaping into the cute world of Animal Crossing was such a welcome respite. Simply booting up New Horizons for 30 minutes each day created structure and routine in my life when things were so unusual and unpredictable. It also provided a great social activity for my girlfriend and I when we first started dating, so it holds a special place in my heart for that reason too.

  • I really liked Ori and the Blind Forest, but Will of the Wisps improves on the original in so many ways. The movement options feel way more expansive, the size of the world is bigger, and the visuals add a slight 3D element that looks outstanding. It doesn't innovate the Metroidvania genre, but it's such an expertly crafted game. Sometimes you can't help but appreciate when a game nails a familiar formula so well.

  • A beautifully written game that explores heady themes while experimenting with the conventions of adventure game design. There are so many standout moments that feel unparalleled by anything else in the genre, whether it's experimenting with a pseudo Colossal Cave Adventure on a dusty computer or listening to a synthpop group in a neon-lit bar in the evening. The actual interactivity may be limited, but the set pieces and top-notch writing elevate it to the status of one of the year's best (though technically the first episode came out in 2013... time sure flies!).

  • A free pack-in game shouldn't be this good! Astro burst onto the scene with Astro Bot Rescue Mission on the PSVR, one of my favorite games of 2018. If Astro's Playroom is any indication, Sony may have a new flagship mascot. Astro's Playroom showcases the abilities of the new DualSense controller on the PlayStation 5 in so many clever ways that make it feel like more than a gimmick. Beyond that, it's just a really solid platformer. But my favorite thing about Astro's Playroom is how it's a love letter to all things PlayStation. There are so many neat references, hidden easter eggs, and collectibles. As someone who has grown up with every PlayStation, it was a fun trip down memory lane.

  • Slay the Spire showed me the wonder of deck-building games, and thus Monster Train stands out as one of my favorites of the year. Figuring out card combinations and synergies is so satisfying, and Monster Train does a great job with its character and deck variety. The game puts its own spin on the formula with a tower defense element and the requirement to select two characters/decks for each attempt. It was just enough of a departure from some other games in the genre to keep me hooked. Oh, and I think @chaser324 picked this as his podcast game of the year, and he's absolutely right. There was so much Monster Train + Comedy Bang Bang in my 2020.

  • How do you approach storytelling with no dialogue or real narrative to speak of? Just take a look at Umurangi Generation. This first-person photography game tells so much about its cyberpunk world through the use of imagery - in this case, with images you actually take. There are bounties to complete and special objectives, and the "video game" part of Umurangi Generation is solid, but the way it evokes feelings and tells a story about a dystopian future through its environment and mechanics is truly impressive. Also, one of your friends is a penguin. So that's cool.

  • I'm terrible at battle royale games. Well, I guess I should say "was terrible," because I finally found my niche with Fall Guys. It turns out if I have to out-platform a group of other players, I have a much better chance than if I have to shoot them. The obstacle course game show theme is such a smart idea, and Fall Guys is brimming with personality. I slowly saw myself improve over time, and I managed to win 20+ times in season one. I haven't played in a while so who knows how I'd perform now against seasoned veterans, but I was happy to be a part of the Fall Guys zeitgeist back in the summer of 2020.