Best of 2020
Fuck Twenty Twenty.
Who even needs a preamble on these things? Let's get this shit done.
[Obligatory Spoiler Warning]
- Kentucky Route Zero - It didn't click with me. I feel bad because I made it to Episode 4 and really should just push through to finish it. But, I was just bored.
- Picross S4 - Just keep pumping them into my veins, Jupiter Corp.
- Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics - Mancala might be the #11 GOTY.
- PGA Tour 2K21 - I love golf games and this isn't a bad one, but it feels sterile and clinical in a way that is averse to fun.
- Super Mario Bros. 35 - I won.
Did Reckoning really need a re-release? No. Not really. Hell, it didn't even make my Best of 2012 back when it came out. But, something I discovered this year during isolation is that sometimes I just needed some comfort food. A game where I could just zone out and smash some stuff while I catch up on podcasts or listen to music streamers. Re-Reckoning was perfect for that.
I will say that the game is still too dense for its own good. If you're doing all the side quests, you're stuck in the forest zones at the start of the game for 30+ hours. And it certainly feels like a game from 2012 in terms of inconvenient things like inventory, maps, etc. I didn't finish the game in 2012, and I didn't this time either. But, it served its purpose and I thank it for that with this #10 spot.
Fall Guys took the world by storm this summer. While the mass hysteria didn't last very long, the game is still fun. The games go quick, so you never feel like you wasted a ton of time even if you lose at the very last moment. And it's the perfect mix of learned strategy/skill and pure, chaotic nonsense. Yes, you can learn the fastest routes, but you're inevitably going to get bumped by someone and get rekt. The constant updates and multiple seasons kept me coming back for nearly 50 crowns so far, and the community management has been a masterclass from the get-go.
I also spent a sizable amount of time watching streamers like GrandPooBear, BarbarousKing, and TheDragonFeeney play it, which was often good some laughs while working from home. GrandPooBear's FallMania tournaments have been some of the best competitions I've seen in a while. All of them were fun to watch whether I knew who the competitors were yet or not.
They did it. They made an excellent, new Crash game for the first time in twenty years. It's slightly less surprising after how good of a job they did with Crash Trilogy and CTR, but still. Crash 4 does the impossible in feeling like a true sequel to the first three Crash games while also adding a bunch of fun, challenging new mechanics. You'll hear many people talk about the difficulty, and they're not wrong. But, I feel like people have forgotten how difficult those original games were. You can casually play most Crash 4 and have a blast. But, if you're like me and *need* to 100% everything, you could spend dozens of hours grinding out all those awards for every crate, speedruns, deathless runs, and a dozen gems per level. If you want a true challenge, the sheer amount of content here is incredible. I will never ever platinum this game. I have begrudgingly accepted this.
If Crash 4 wasn't enough of a shocker, this one sure as hell was. The Tony Hawk franchise, which I adore, has been an utter disappointment at every turn for over a decade. Nothing they did with it turned out good. But, Vicarious Visions pulled it off. Muscle memory from 20+ years ago came flooding back into my hands, and it feels right. It also sounds right, which is almost equally important. It's Tony Hawk done right. And it was yet another helping of comfort food that I desperately needed this year. Also, they didn't just slap a new coat of paint on the first two games. The new challenge system is great and definitely gave the game legs that it wouldn't have had otherwise. I need to get back in there and tackle some more of those.
Marvel's Spider-Man was by #4 in the Best of 2018. While I enjoyed getting the platinum trophy in that game, I appreciate how they trimmed the fat off with Miles Morales, which allowed for a more focused, streamlined experience. The story was captivating all the way through and it was fun to revisit Insomniac's version of New York with a fresh coat of paint on the new hardware. I immediately did a NewGame+ speedrun after completing the game to get that platinum trophy. Definitely looking forward to the inevitable Spider-Man 2 (or whatever they decide to call it).
Assassin's Creed is one of my favorite franchises of all time. While I do miss the "old" style of AC games, I have greatly enjoyed these last three games as well. After 120+ hours roaming Norway, England, Asgard, Jotunheim, and Canada (yes, Canada), I snagged Excalibur, Mjolnir, and that elusive platinum trophy. I've always been a sucker for Ubisoft's brand of mixing historical events with their world of sci-fi nonsense, and Valhalla does not disappoint. The game takes the series' lore into some wild new directions by revealing that Norse gods, much like the Roman ones, were Isu (the precursor race of beings). What's different here is that these Norse gods (as we know them) found a way to reincarnate themselves in humans as a way to survive Ragnarok. The way this unravels throughout Valhalla is wild considering characters like Odin are simultaneously depicted as a historical person in the lore and also in the way that the Norse like Eivor and her clan believed him to be.
While I enjoyed Valhalla quite a bit, England (where you spend the vast majority of your time), while beautiful in its own way, is not nearly as exciting as Greece. Nor is Eivor as endearing of a character that Kassandra was (although I do love that raspy Danish accent). So, I think Odyssey is still the best of these last three AC games, but Valhalla is definitely a fun, albeit long, ride. And, as always, I can't wait to see where they go next.
Straight up. Final Fantasy VII Remake has no right being as good as it is. Remaking one of the most beloved games of all time in a truncated form after years of hype (preceded by decades of speculation) should've been a nigh impossible task, but they nailed it. Ditching the turn-based combat sounded sacrilege at first, but when you start nailing combos with Tifa, you wouldn't want it any other way. While the story is mostly the as we remember it, they drop in elements from the spin-offs, and outright change some things that sets off all kinds of conspiracy theories going forward. They also inexplicably found ways to reference little things from the original in a big way. The biggest example of this is fighting the haunted house in the arena. There were so many instances of tweaking nostalgia in FF7R that I spent much of my time playing it with a dumbass grin on my face.
Ghost of Tsushima is hands down the most beautiful game I've played. And by a gracious miracle, it also has the best photo mode ever implemented in a game. I spent many hours just taking photos all around the island. With all that said, the game is a lot of fun too. It doesn't necessarily do anything super innovative, but it does everything you'd expect "one of those" open-world action-adventure of the last decade to do and does them very well.
Also, you can pet foxes.
Jin Sakai's story is a conflicted one in that he slowly sheds all of his beliefs for the betterment of his people, and saves them despite losing himself in the process. And it doesn't end in any sort of happy way for Jin, which I guess is to be expected in this sort of samurai tale. I enjoyed his journey from beginning to end, and I can't wait to see what Sucker Punch does with this story moving forward on PlayStation 5.
Astro's Playroom is a game that feels like it was crafted specifically for me. Astrobot Rescue Mission was already the best VR game I've played, and now they took an already excellent 3D platformer and then jampacked it full of PlayStation nostalgia. First and foremost, Astro's Playroom does an exceptional job as a tech demo for the DualSense. That's great, yes. But, all of that pales in comparison to the first time I saw Robbit hopping back and forth in the background, punched the logo on the PlayStation 2 into the upright position, dove into a pool with the PS2 rubber duck, or found that PocketStation. If all that makes me weird, I don't care. The countless number of easter eggs and references that Asobi Team lovingly crafted here is astounding. It is the epitome of delightful. I can only hope that a "full" Astro platform adventure is coming in the future.
New Horizons defined this year. In the future, whenever someone makes me begrudgingly remember this atrocious year, Animal Crossing is the game I will think of first and foremost.
On March 19th, I got a call from my supervisor at 7:00 PM. He told me to drive back to the office and get my things because they weren't going to let us in the building in the morning. New Horizons launched that exact same night, so I will forever associate it with this pandemic. And, like countless others, Animal Crossing is exactly what I needed at the time.
Whether we were trading tarantula strategies, commiserating about a god damn stringfish, trying to figure out the science behind blue roses, or working together to own the stalk market, New Horizons was an escape. It was a way to "see" friends. It was something to look forward to each day, which has been a struggle this entire year.
I've loved Animal Crossing for fifteen years and I still can't concisely explain why to the uninitiated. But, that doesn't matter. Animal Crossing is unique and that's part of why we love it. And it is without a doubt the Game of the Year.