Best of 2020

Eat my butt, 2020. But at least there were some good games to get me through the misery.

List items

  • The devs at Mimimi really know what they're doing when it comes to building these stealth tactics games. I was enthralled by Shadow Tactics from a few years back, and their newest game swaps the ancient Japanese setting for a Wild West adventure, all while adding even more quality of life improvements. The actual story is a fairly boilerplate tale, but the camaraderie between all your characters coupled with voice acting that puts a lot of bigger budget games to shame really brings everything to life.

    The level design is intricate and clockwork, like the best of IO's new Hitman games, and as a player you are given a wide swath of tools coupled with a well-designed user interface that makes the trial and error of planning out your moves fun rather than frustrating. This is one of those games I was up until 3 am playing ("I just KNOW I can pull this off, let me try again!") for many nights and was definitely my GOTY.

  • After playing an entire Kiryu story arc worth of Yakuza games, I was very excited to see RGG take a wild swing with a new protagonist, battle system, and city. Overall, I loved this game! Ichiban is a great character - caring, reckless, and passionate; a nice foil to Kiryu's stoicism and honor above all. There are definitely some rough spots and quality of life improvements that could be made to the combat (hopefully there is a follow-up to this game!), but for a first implementation, I think it is quite good and the battles flow pretty well.

    The game gets bogged down in the last third with some excessive grinding and some plot points that seemed a little unnecessary, but this game has the usual mix of serious and silly that I love coupled with a touching story.

  • This game was a really fun romp through genre fiction that is doled out in a way to keep you absolutely hooked the entire time. Once you understand what is going on, it's not all that complicated, but the way everything is meted out to the player is well thought out. I also appreciated the in-game resources and codex they provide to help you make sense of everything as you progress.

    As for the light RTS/tower defense mech battling, I really liked that piece as well and wish there had been more of it required for the story. There are difficulty options for it, but even turning it up to Hard, I didn't have too much trouble until near the end of the game.

  • Hades is a very cohesively designed game that actually takes good advantage of its roguelike genre. Many times, these games can just feel like you are starting over for the sake of it, but Supergiant somehow managed to make death feel like progress and not a setback. Failure is actually baked into Hades' storytelling, rather than most games where success is the only way to progress the narrative. After a run is finished, you get to come back to the hub, talk to all your cool deity friends (and foes!), pet a cool dog, and get some nice upgrades. In one way or another, the game will have moved along despite the fact that you just died on your last run.

    Speaking of the writing, I was genuinely blown away by how reactive the game is to the player. There were so many moments that characters will comment on your actions with a wild amount of specificity and it just knocked my socks clean off.

    And on top of that, you get all the normal top-tier art and music that you expect from Supergiant Games.

  • This game came out of nowhere for me this year - a Dangaronpa-influenced synthwave-drenched detective game that really makes you work your brain to figure things out ticks a lot of boxes for me. A lot of times, these games can feel like it is just a preordained linear story where you are figuring out things at the writer's pace, but Paradise Killer subverts that in a major way, basically giving you a huge amount of free reign from the beginning to explore a huge island, find evidence, and follow leads at your own pace, which is incredibly satisfying.

    ...on top of that, it is just a incredibly weird game with a ton of wild lore and worldbuilding that I would love to explore even more in a follow-up game.

  • Carrion is the "The Thing" game I always wanted. The PS2 game from 2002 is pretty good, but c'mon, I want to play as the monster, not the humans. And this game absolutely NAILS playing as the monster! The movement and locomotion in this game is amazing; it controls so effortlessly as you slither across the facility just absolutely terrorizing humans and gaining some really cool abilities along the way. It's a nice mix of action and puzzle-solving that culminates in a very satisfying ending.

  • Would not have guessed a Picross game of all things would have some of the best writing I've seen in a video game, but here we are. And the cast is quite diverse, too, which is great. Not a lot of games with a recently divorced black woman as the main character and a whole case devoted to figuring out if a giant parade float that crashed into a drag club is a hate crime or not. And they somehow balance heady topics like that with a semi-breezy tone and totally nail it, somehow. Great art/character designs and music as well. The theme song when you boot the game up slaps pretty hard (as the kids say).

    It is missing some quality of life stuff on both the visual novel and Picross sides, but it wasn't a deal-breaker by any means for me.

  • A great classic-style Castlevania game, even better than the first Curse of the Moon. I like the spread of characters in this game more, they are fun and their abilities complement each other pretty well. As with the first game, I loved the art style and soundtrack a whole bunch.

    But the most interesting thing about the game is the structure of the narrative as a whole; it is divided up into 4 episodes (that latest Vinnyvania just covered episode 1) that change things up in interesting ways, running the gamut of gameplay mechanics, available characters, and pathing through the levels.

  • I was really impressed with Crash 4, I can't believe they made a super excellent new Crash game so long after the original trilogy. It feels like those games (complete with the high difficulty!), but with a bunch of cool new mechanics added via the new masks.

    You also get a lot of bang for your buck; it is a surprisingly lengthy game with a ton of ways to approach the levels, ranging from playing them inverted (N. Verted), trying to get all the boxes, not dying, time trials, etc. I was thinking about trying to 100% this game, but I slowly realized it might be above my skill level at this stage in my life.

    Hey Activision, if you want to give Toys for Bob some resources to make a new Spyro as well, I would love that ;)

  • Speaking of bringing back a old game to 2020 (see #9), somehow THPS 1+2 turned out to be a home run in spite of this series' recent track record. They just nailed the FEEL of the game perfectly, and playing this felt like seeing an old friend after a long time and just getting back into sync immediately.