2020: Ranking the Rest

OK, now for the bigger list: after making my top 10 list for 2020, it's time to rank the rest of the games I played from the year. It's a tradition I've stuck to for a few years now, and it gives me a chance to briefly speak to all the new games I played over the year. It's fun, and hopefully paints a more holistic picture of my gaming year; though I should say that it's a fairly loose ranking, so don't put too much stock in the exact order. I also managed to hit pretty much everything I wanted to in 2020; obviously I can't play everything, and I'm sure in a few months I'll discover something important I missed and think "if only I had played that last year!" But for the time being, I'm pretty content with where I'm at, and the number of games I managed to hit. If anything, I touched more games than usual in 2020, but there's a very good reason for that: between Game Pass, PlayStation Plus, and straight up free games in many places, there are so many games I can play nowadays without having to pay anything extra. That makes it easy to just jump in and try a lot of different games that I would have likely not tried otherwise. That probably inflates the sheer number of games on this list, but it's also kind of neat to have that ability. Anyway, on with the list, and thanks for reading!

1-10. See my GOTY 2020 list.

#nostalgia
#nostalgia

11. Astro's Playroom. Ah, 2020’s tough cut, the game I liked a lot but barely missed my top 10. This is a super charming platformer, and a great showpiece for the new DualSense controller; it’s more or less the PlayStation 5’s Wii Sports equivalent. It helps that it’s a free pack-in too, and I enjoyed most of my brief time with it. My main gripes are, first, other than the controller gimmicks it’s a fairly basic platformer. And second, some of the more gimmicky levels that leaned harder into motion controls could be pretty annoying/frustrating. But otherwise Astro’s Playroom is just a cute, endearing, well-playing platformer that anyone with a PS5 should absolutely play.

12. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2. I don’t think I like this sequel quite as much as its predecessor. That’s perhaps mostly due to a loss of novelty; throwback games can work great the first time for me, but not as much the second time without something new. But I also think the levels themselves are a bit more tedious, and while Hachi is cool, his invincibility kind of broke the game for me, as I was able to cheese my way through so many scenarios that way. Those gripes aside, this is a still a great 2D action game, with cool characters, engaging scenarios, and a totally rad audiovisual presentation. The first Curse of the Moon was an awesome game, and even if the sequel doesn’t reach the same heights for me, it’s still pretty cool.

13. Doom Eternal. This is not a bad game, but as a follow-up to the excellent 2016 Doom, it’s pretty disappointing for me. I feel like they didn’t quite grasp what made that game so much fun for so many people, but instead doubled down on the more tiresome aspects of its combat, lore, and tone. It carries too many layers of systems to juggle during combat, which makes it feel like you have to follow a pre-prescribed list of actions to be successful. If you do that, combat can still be thrilling: the guns are awesome, the enemies are exciting (well, not all of them…), the music is rippin’, and the movement is as fluid as ever. So I did have plenty of fun during those moments where everything clicked, and the highs of Doom are still as high as ever. But Doom Eternal simply did not land those moments consistently enough, which is a bummer.

Such a beautiful game.
Such a beautiful game.

14. Ghost of Tsushima. It’s been a few years since I’ve played an open world game in this particular mold, and this one mostly reminds me why I do so as infrequently as I do: it’s too big, too messy, and too repetitive for the fairly basic mechanics it has on offer. It’s real easy for me to get burnt out well before it’s over, and that happened here as well. However, Ghost of Tsushima does have some things going for it that makes it stand out among similar games. Mainly that its world is downright gorgeous, but also the combat and stealth control pretty well. There are a lot of nits I could pick about it (screw that yellow bird), but if you want a lizard brain checklist to follow, Ghost of Tsushima is probably as good as any open world game for that.

15. Spider-Man: Miles Morales. I liked 2018’s Spider-Man well enough, but also got worn down by its open world bloat around halfway through. Miles Morales does better by being a tighter, more focused experience, and I really like all the characters and the story. But I think my fatigue from the previous game carried over to this one, as I was pretty bored with the combat and other challenges almost from the start. Which maybe just means I don’t like the basic gameplay of Spider-Man all that much? It has me questioning whether I will play any more Spider-Man games… but I was still happy to see the campaign of Miles Morales through.

16. Murder by Numbers. I like picross, I like Phoenix Wright, and this loose mashup of both concepts works well enough. I think both the picross puzzles and the narrative take a little bit to really get going, and the individual cases lack the same level of buildup and excitement you’d get from a Phoenix Wright style courtroom showdown. But picross is still fun, the puzzles here are (eventually) good, and the story and characters endeared themselves to me by the end. Scout’s a real one.

A straightforward but fun beat-em-up.
A straightforward but fun beat-em-up.

17. Streets of Rage 4. I don’t know that there’s a ton to say about this one other than it’s a generally very well-made beat-em-up across the board. It certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and beat-em-ups probably only carry so much weight nowadays. But if you enjoy a “good one of those” and have a buddy to play it with, I found Streets of Rage 4 to be worth it; especially if you have Game Pass. Also, that soundtrack is legit.

18. Star Renegades. Talk about “kitchen sink” design; this game’s mechanics have mechanics, and it pulls them from a wide array of influences spanning multiple genres. In some ways it doesn’t come together all that well, and can feel like a bit of a scattered mess. But when it clicks, there’s some really cool stuff here. I especially like the tactical battles, and the way character abilities interact with enemies as well as the timeline to pull off some cool stunts. And, as a roguelike of sorts, if it wasn’t as long and as grindy as it is, I would be willing to play more runs to try out more characters. But as it stands, while I appreciate and genuinely enjoyed the time I put into Star Renegades, I doubt I will dig through the bloat to come back for more.

It's a silly game, but the art is striking.
It's a silly game, but the art is striking.

19. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. I’m still in the middle of this, so it could move up or down this list by the time I finish. Its art is gorgeous, and it has a lot of interesting storytelling ideas in the way it allows you to bounce between each characters’ story, and see how they all interconnect from different angles. As for the story itself… it’s a lot of sci-fi anime nonsense, and in a way I’m not sure it earns yet. It can be heavy-handed or self-important in moments that mostly feel silly to me, and the battles themselves are too rote to be engaging. So the jury is still out on this for me, and given that like 90% of this game is its (barely interactive) story, how the story unfolds is going to dictate my final impressions one way or another. It certainly has potential, but needs to step it up from here.

20. Lithium City. This is a short but fun romp that has a lot of great style, both in its visuals and its soundtrack. It feels pretty good to play too, though a couple late-game stages were more frustrating to me than I feel they needed to be. The main thing holding it back is that it’s a pretty slight experience, and doesn’t always feel as varied or as inventive as it could be. It’s all stuff we’ve seen before, but Lithium City still does it pretty well.

21. Spiritfarer. Man, this game could be so much better than it is. I love the art, animation and music, I love what it’s doing narratively, and I love how your actions propel said narrative. Sadly, it’s all brought down drastically by terrible pacing that unnecessarily stretches everything out way too long. I spent more time growing carrots and brewing coffee than anything else in Spiritfarer, and those rote management tasks ultimately overshadowed the other enjoyment I was getting. There are some truly touching moments in Spiritfarer, but this is a textbook example of an otherwise great game being all but ruined by being too long.

Four-in-a-row anyone?
Four-in-a-row anyone?

22. Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics. What a cool package. None of its individual games are all that noteworthy on their own, and I admittedly didn’t play a ton of it. But by collecting 51 classic games together, adding in excellent tutorials and some challenges to chase, it’s a good bet that anyone could find something they like here. I enjoyed the little time I’ve spent with it, and could easily see myself picking it back up down the road, especially for multiplayer.

23. Resident Evil 3. This is nowhere near as good as 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake, a game I truly loved. RE3 has less interesting environment and encounter design, less variety, worse progression, and somehow, an even dumber story and cheesier acting. Yet, taken as a campy, lighthearted romp, I had fun with this short campaign. The shooting still feels solid, the guns have that kick to them, and I could laugh at all the stupid shit going on. It’s your quintessential “popcorn flick” type of game, and on those grounds I had a solid time with it.

24. Wide Ocean Big Jacket. This is a great story that is also paced well and ends in a timely fashion: the writing is great, the characters are great, and the length is perfect. But, at the risk of sounding like an ass, it didn’t do much for me as a game. It’s a good story that I enjoyed seeing, but its story is the entire game itself, and I think said story could have worked in another format just as well, if not better.

Gross.
Gross.

25. Carrion. This is a great concept, and I was happy to check it out via Game Pass. I’m not sure the monster controls worked for me as much as I would have liked; it often felt chaotic and imprecise, which was annoying in the moments when it required precision. Its world design was also sometimes uninspired, and I got a little tired of it before it was over. But in the moments it worked, Carrion proved to be one of the more interesting and unique games I played this year. And something about playing as the monster terrorizing the bad scientists is just fun.

26. Star Wars: Squadrons. I feel like they played it too safe with this one. Its production values are incredible, with a look and sound that should make any Star Wars fan happy. And the feel of flying these iconic ships -- even with a controller as I experienced it -- is totally solid. So while I did derive some enjoyment on those fronts, both the story and the mission design are just too bland, straightforward, and repetitive to have any real impact. I would guess the lasting appeal of Squadrons will be in its multiplayer (if anything), but as someone who only played the campaign, I found it lackluster.

27. Umurangi Generation. I love the vibe and the music, and I respect everything it’s trying to do narratively. But, as with many games in the lower half of this list, I simply didn’t enjoy the act of playing Umurangi Generation all that much. Taking pictures was a pretty rote affair, and the game’s levels were all pretty short and simple, meaning I was unfortunately somewhat bored during my play. Still, I respect this one quite a bit.

What a neat thing.
What a neat thing.

28. Microsoft Flight Simulator. I’m still not a flight sim guy, and I don’t know that I really enjoyed anything about the process of actually playing this game. But man, I think it’s one of the coolest games this year. Just the way they rendered the entire world and let you fly anywhere is super rad, and the most enjoyment I got in my short time with it was just picking some locations -- both personal and exotic -- that I wanted to briefly fly over and look at in awe. It’s a magical thing that, if I liked flight sims, would probably become one of my favorite games. As it stands, it’s something I marvel at more than I enjoy playing.

29. Paper Mario: The Origami King. I like a number of things about this one, including the art, the writing, and parts of its adventure game aspects. Unfortunately I did not like the combat at all, nor the minimal character progression they implemented, both of which are meaningless at best and frustratingly tedious at worst. And ultimately, the sheer amount of combat overwhelmed The Origami King’s better aspects for me, leading to me abandoning the grind about halfway through. If only they could make worthwhile combat in Paper Mario again...

30. XCOM: Chimera Squad. Man, I had a time with this one. I love XCOM in the broad sense, and the idea of a smaller spinoff sounds appealing. And while it certainly doesn’t have the depth of a full XCOM game, the characters and unique mechanics it introduced seemed like they could be engaging for a short while… until it all came crashing down at once. After slogging through a lengthy (hour+ long) boss mission, and tediously save-scumming my way through the actual boss -- which was a difficulty spike orders of magnitudes higher than anything the game had trained me for at that point -- the game bugged in a way that I could not complete the mission after defeating the boss. My only recourse would have been to restart and replay the entire mission again, and at that point, I was over it. I moved on, never to return. Why did you have to do me dirty like that, Chimera Squad?

In another life, this is my favorite game of all time.
In another life, this is my favorite game of all time.

31. Crusader Kings III. I want to like this game more than I do, and I love hearing stories about it. But every attempt I’ve had at getting into a Paradox game has fallen flat, and Crusader Kings III is no exception. I think for how my brain works I need more explicit goals to work towards, or some form of timely endgame, as the open-ended nature of Crusader Kings always leaves me unsure of what to do. The level of complexity on display doesn’t help; I’m not going to spend dozens (hundreds?) of hours learning all the ins and outs needed to fully enjoy this game. I’m truly glad it exists, and am thrilled so many people seem to be loving it. Just not one for me.

32. Valorant. This seems like a very good game that I won’t play much of, as someone who simply doesn’t spend a lot of time with competitive multiplayer games. But as far as free multiplayer shooters go, based on the few rounds of it I tried, Valorant seems pretty solid.

33. Ghostrunner. I love the idea of this game, and some things about it are really strong: it has cool powers, looks great, and performs well, which is a must given how fast-paced and precise the action needs to be. Yet something about the feel of the game never clicked with me. After plenty of experimenting and practice, I would still miss seemingly simple platforming jumps regularly, and the bullet-time dodges felt similarly finicky. I don’t know that I can pinpoint exactly why it felt so off to me, but as someone who has enjoyed plenty of challenging 1-hit death games before, Ghostrunner’s basic, core actions just never felt as good as I needed them to.

34. Risk of Rain 2. I enjoyed parts of the first Risk of Rain, but I ultimately ended up feeling similar about it as I do a lot of roguelikes. In 2020, after the genre has expanded and found ways to appeal to more people -- myself included -- it has become more apparent that a lot of "older" roguelike design doesn't do much for me. Risk of Rain 2 rebuilt itself in 3D, and has some of the same interesting quirks as the original, but overall it succumbs to the same tired roguelike pitfalls to me. I have barely played it, and might play more in co-op at some point. But otherwise I have no desire to touch it again.

I didn't think it was possible to make Superhot boring...
I didn't think it was possible to make Superhot boring...

35. Superhot: Mind Control Delete. I really liked the original Superhot, but where that game knew how to take its admittedly simple idea, pace it appropriately, and end before it got old, Mind Control Delete spends way too long repeating and watering down those same core ideas. Those ideas are still fun in spurts mind you, but after a few hours of rinse and repeat with Mind Control Delete, it managed to make Superhot boring to the point where I didn’t want to finish it. That feels like some form of gaming sin.

36. Super Mario Bros. 35. Another freebie that also didn’t do much for me. The idea of a Mario “battle royale” is amusing, and playing Super Mario Bros. is still fun. But Mario 35 takes too long to ramp up, and then when it finally does, I don’t particularly enjoy the type of play the late game incentivizes. I’m admittedly not a big battle royale person, but the balance on this one just felt off to me, and I ended up not spending much time with it as a result.

37. Perfect Vermin. It’s free and like 20 minutes long, so I hold no legitimate ill will towards this game. But I appreciate the metaphor it’s trying to convey more than I appreciate its actual execution, which I don’t feel enhanced its message in any meaningful or satisfying way. This game didn’t do much for me as a result.

I wanted to like KRZ, but alas.
I wanted to like KRZ, but alas.

38. Kentucky Route Zero. I really wanted to like this given the positive reception for every episode along the way, and I waited nearly a decade for all five episodes to release before diving in. Yet what I found was nothing but profound boredom. Yes, there are worthwhile themes and some effective imagery here. But the writing and narration style didn’t do it for me the vast majority of the time, and navigating the world was more obtuse than I could bear. My lasting memory of Kentucky Route Zero is that it put me to sleep almost every time I tried to play it, which makes it one of my biggest disappointments of the year.

39. Jump Rope Challenge. Is this a game? Does this count? I don’t know, but it was free and I downloaded it and did my reps for a few days. As a free thing intended to get you moving, it’s perfectly fine. As a legit workout tool, it’s pretty bad; it never accurately counted my jumps, often either double counting, or not counting them at all. Motion controls continue to be fickle at best, and there are countless better video game exercise tools than this, including better options on the Switch itself.

40. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. I only tried this because it was all the rage for a month or so in the summer, and it came free with PlayStation Plus… but it took me all of three minutes to realize I hate how this game feels. The controls are (perhaps deliberately) imprecise in a way that made the rote platforming more frustrating than I could stomach, and after three games I decided that was enough. I get that this game isn’t supposed to be serious, and a “fun time party game” type of thing. But I don’t consider that an excuse: poor controls are poor controls, and I’ve played plenty of better “fun time party games” than this. This may sound harsh, but I did not enjoy any of my (admittedly limited) time with Fall Guys.

Bonus: Some (but not all) non-2020 games I played and enjoyed this year:

BRONZE RANK
BRONZE RANK

Sayonara Wild Hearts. This "playable pop album" is an excellent take on what a music video game can be. I played through it twice, and found it to be a memorable and somewhat moving experience; not to mention its soundtrack is incredible. This would have made my 2019 top 10 had I played it in time.

Final Fantasy VII. I replayed the original this year before the remake came out, and honestly, dated visuals aside, I think it holds up. Maybe that's just my nostalgia talking, but I liked seeing the story again after so many years, and the materia system is still cool.

Kind Words. This is a really neat idea, executed well. I had some pretty touching interactions in the short time I spent with it. I'm glad it exists.

Tetris Effect. I replayed the campaign once it hit Game Pass, and Tetris Effect is still kind of magical.

Dandara. This is a neat exploration focused game, and while I didn't outright love the movement, I enjoyed seeing some new ideas in this space. Combined with cool art and good music, and it was a short and fun campaign.

Super Metroid and Ocarina of Time. I replayed these two all-time favorites this year. It has been at least a decade since I've played either, and it was nice to revisit both during a very stressful year. Both hold up well, and it was very nice to revisit some classics.

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