2020: I actually have 10 games in my Top 10

2020's been an interesting year for all sorts of reasons. The less said about that here the better. Video games are for escaping reality!

It was a tough decision ordering this year's list. I could have seen any one of my top five games as number one. Considering that my top choice was obvious, despite my grievances with it. It was truly the game OF 2020, regardless if it was the overall "best" or not.

Dreams saw its official release but I'm not including it this year's list. It made my list last year in early access. Yet, it was 2020 when I got the most out of it. I made a full level, it was the most fulfilling experience I had with games this year. I really should return and make the follow up.

I Split my time between games at home and at work on the switch. In the last few months of the year I was slogging through multiple games at the same time. Some could become quite joyless as a completed daily chores. I was thankful for the tight, short and sweet games to balance out the tedium.

Also omitted from this list are Super Mario Bros 3D All Stars and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2. I don't have a hard and fast rule about rereleases, remakes, or repackaging games, but it was an even 10 without them. Plus, these are some of the greatest games ever made, how could I even compare them in a list of 2020's games? Check out what I have to say about them here on my 2020 Game Journal.

List items

  • I loved Animal Crossing New Leaf, but I was initially unsure if I would get into New Horizons. After playing the GameCube version I felt one of the follow ups was more of the same and I skipped the other (I mix up the Wii and DS versions, not sure which I played). Pocket Camp was my last taste of the series, that was underwhelming too.

    Thanks to the passionate community online I was fully hyped by the time New Horizons came out. Plus terraforming looked cool.

    This game provided the perfect escape from Covid worries. I've never shared so many game clips online. I've been inspired by the creativity of other players sharing their islands. I'm even hooked on Gary Whitta's in game talk show "Animal Talking".

    What makes New Horizons the best game in the series is the freedom of expression. No longer limited by only decorating your home opens up a whole island of endless possibilities. New Leaf felt restrictive in how you played the game. For example, the best way to make bells was to farm island bugs every night. Now saving my resources to craft daily hot items and selling tarantulas/scorpions to Flick got me to complete my home much faster than before.

    My favorite thing to do in New Leaf was trying to collect the creatures to occupy my museum. New Horizon's museum is gorgeous, it puts the old one to shame. I have completed the fossil wing (I was short by only one in NL) with the help of some new friends on Twitter, I usually play alone. My ambition is to find every fish and bug in real time over the next year. I'll try to get as many items as I can and I'm deep into flower hybrids.

    2021 Update:

    Oh flower hybrids, when everything started to go bad. It's fascinating how complex and flower breeding is in animal crossing and it felt great getting every flower by the end. Yet it was a tedious process that took up so much time and space it got in the way of the fun, creative things I wanted to do. I'm not sure it was worth it. Even up to now I'm dealing with flower clutter.

    New Horizons has many design and interface issues that make it painful for long term completionist players. Like earning the gold fishing rod only after catching every single fish. Why even fish? Gold tools still break, it's not worth farming the gold!

    Additional storage space was added in the fall. Early on I thought storage was unlimited, but once I hit the limit I was fighting it constantly. Items that have low stack sizes became torture. I wanted to get one of each clothing item, but the dressing room interface limited what I could buy. A simple check mark (like the one next to crafted items) to indicate clothes you have in your catalogue would make things much easier. I wish the catalogue and storage was somehow combined to make item management more tolerable.

    I made a second character to help with storage, get additional rewards and have a new house to decorate. Compounding my frustrations when my things were in two different places, each with their own catalogue. I vowed to fight any impulses to become a collector on my second character so I wouldn't go insane.

    It took a while to whittle down my daily routine to simply check the shops, beach and the day's guest. I could still find enjoyment in the occasional project or seasonal event. I achieved my primary goal of collecting every fish and bug, but the museum isn't complete. On New Years Day I tried time travel for the first time, it's more complex then I thought to exploit for Redd's art and haven't played since.

    At this point I've taken the my longest break yet from the game with no plans on returning. I'll probably play the final seasonal updates and may finish the museum one day. For all of its ups and downs there was something special about committing to an Animal Crossing for all of 2020.

  • I had almost forgotten how great Ori feels to play. It was a treat returning the this beautiful platforming world.

    This time the influence of Hollow Knight is very clear. The weapon combat doesn't take away that this is still a inventive platformer at its core. As much as I liked Hollow Knight, I don't miss the Dark Souls style tedious retreading and brutally hard bosses. Will of the Wisps still has its challenges, but they aren't insurmountable.

    Exploring the world of Will of the Wisps is a blast. The map is refreshingly forgiving. It displays many hidden secrets just by getting near them. It might be too easy if it wasn't for the often puzzling, inventive, and skillful ways you need to reach them. Ori has some of the most varied and fun traversal mechanics in games.

  • I didn't want a remake of The Last of Us, the original was fantastic and ended perfectly. Much like Toy Story 4, I'm happy to have been wrong.

    The deliberate gameplay is not terribly different from the first. I wish I could snap to cover more easily, trying to peak around a corner butt first is not ideal. It plays fine, but it could be better. Let's face it, we're here for the story.

    TLoU2 takes Ellie to a dark place, this is one reason many online are upset with this game. I found it a very understandable place to take a young woman who grew up in a lawless world. She was taught to kill as a child, and knows she's good at it.

    The new villain turned co-protagonist, Abby, is not that different from our beloved Ellie. Their characters are each on the same arch, but at different parts. While Ellie is on the blood path, Abby is trying to deal with life after getting her revenge.

    Transforming the character that murdered the hero of the first game into a sympathetic hero of her own is a master stroke.

    Many were not looking forward to playing a grim game in the midst of Covid. It's important to note, as in life, there are a lot of moments of joy in TLoU2. It's easy to let the bad overshadow the good in all aspects of life, this is how hatred thrives. Don't forget in the end Ellie chose forgiveness. Plus, this game has Dinosaurs!

  • Just the game I needed. Not long ago I was playing 4 games at once, two endlessly tedious games designed to hook you forever, a remake of a game I've played on and off for years, and one I was forcing myself to play, but wasn't really into.

    The refreshing charm of this small independent game hit the spot. Sludge life the perfect distillation of what I want in a game. Give me a handcrafted open word to explore with plenty of humor and a cool art style. I don't need anything more to get in the way.

    The controls are pretty janky and take a bit of getting used to. I had to turn my sensitivity way down. But the handful of upgrades you find make it easier to get around.

    Sludge Life's characters occupy a nasty urban, industrial world. Corruption, oppression, workers rights, drugs, and pollution are all a part of this world. Yet this community is largely indifferent. They are living their lives, having fun and making mocking jabs at the establishment whether they are bored at their cooperate jobs or hanging out on the street.

    It may be grounded in the real world, but it's the creativity that makes this game shine. I love this wacky, surreal cartoon world with a touch of psychedelia. Fly people, talking mutant cats, smoking heavy machinery, demented mascots, there's a ton of humorous touches that reward thorough exploration.

  • I beat the original Paper Mario over a couple day rental and Thousand Year Door was better in every way! Unfortunately later games in the series didn't meet my expectations. Yet, I was cautiously optimistic about Origami King.

    Online discussion prerelease was dominated by old school PM fans complaining about the lack of XP. I didn't care about that. What I loved about TYD was the variety. Each chapter mixed the structure up just enough to keep the game feeling fresh through the end.

    Origami King does a great job at capturing that feeling. One area is a theme park, another a desert you drive around in a car, there's even a section that is like a mini Wind Waker ocean with islands to discover.

    The charming, funny writing, another staple of the series, is in full force here. They've done a fantastic job at giving the Bosses distinct personalities despite being inanimate objects. Every character has something unique to say. Exploring the world and discovering Toads hidden in creative ways to hearing the goofy things they say is a delight.

    The turn based combat system in this game is a unique subversion the typical RPG. I wasn't always great at correctly rotating the arena to position enemies, but it was forgiving enough to not matter too much. The greatest challenge and source of frustration was with the trial and error boss fights. I appreciate that they are clever puzzles, but I don't need to replay them.

  • As always, it's a thrill to be introduced to a new land in WoW. A fresh start to shed the overbearing systems, quests and currencies of the previous expansion.

    Shadowlands is a unique leveling experience in that we get 5 new distinct worlds rather than the usual zones of one connected world (or two). The result is a refreshing, if jarring, shift in tone and new every few levels. Each has their own rich lore, people and mostly self contained story. Once I hit level 60 my first thought was "I miss my XP bar."

    I dabbled with the end game dailies and progression for a few more weeks, but I wasn't particularly compelled by any of the rewards. The community response to the endgame seems very positive this time around. Problem is I just play WoW like a single player story game and don't want the daily chores.

    The difficulty of solo questing seems to have been ratcheted up this time with a greater focus on multiple enemy encounters. WoW is usually friendlier to multiple play styles, but I had less trouble once I got a few world quest gear upgrades.

    Torghast is the major new end game feature. WoW's take on a rogue like. On my first attempt I got to the level boss without much issue, but wasn't powerful enough to beat him. A run is a 30-40 minute time sink. I didn't get any kind of reward and it was required for a campaign quest. I was annoyed, I considered quiting the game right then. I learned to kind of like Torghast after gearing up a bit more. It's fairly fun powering up your abilities to an insane degree within the instance.

    Fortunately I didn't quit out of anger, but mere disinterest weeks later when my subscription ran out. A record time from launch to unsub. I bought a token with in game gold and plan on coming back in February to get a moose mount and maybe dabble with the changes they've made for alts. I don't expect to spend much time with it until just before the next expansion arrives.

  • As a fan of Octodad I was down for whatever Young Horses was going to do next. The Bugsnax announcement was delightfully odd and intriguing.

    The best part about Bugsnax are the characters. Lovable and complex anxious Muppet people. The main thrust of the story is to unite them all again. The dumb jock that defies stereotype by being a selfless lover was a favorite. I even grew to care for the vicious bully after she shared the inner turmoil that made her so cruel.

    Catching bugsnax does not feel great for the most part. It's a struggle against wonky physics, puzzling logic and aggressive AI. But when it works it can be a fun challenge.

    Bugsnax themselves are delightful pun monsters that hide adorably gruesome secrets.

  • I bought this thing ages ago and have played each chapter as they come out. Now, after seven years the fifth and final chapter is out. I got it for free, so I might as well play it. I remembered very little from the previous acts. The amount of reading can get get tedious, so I didn't want to replay them.

    The game does very little, if anything, to catch you up with the story. Besides getting the characters a little mixed up, it didn't matter much. I was engrossed in the history and the people of this isolated little town.

    After a flood, the future is uncertain. Different people have come and gone over the years. One society is replaced by another. Only animals remain as a reminder of the founders, they will reclaim the land even if the people decide to leave. It serves as a metaphor for America today, or any place that has reinvented itself over a long history.

    The atmosphere is what drew me to the game in the first place. There was a striking mystery to the horse head gas station in the first episode. This final chapter is much more warm and inviting, but still has an ominous feeling of a place haunted by its past.

    February 10

    I only realized when I watched the Quick Look that I missed the Act V prologue. Took me a while to get around playing it. The set up made much more sense. I assumed I had simply forgotten how Act IV ended.

  • Carrion is a fantastic concept, "You play the monster", and executes it well. Removing the restriction of a humanoid player allows for some super creative new gameplay possibilities. The writhing mass of flesh and teeth alone makes for one of the best title screens in games.

    What does a carnivorous ball of gooey tentacles do? It gets bigger as it eats the people it snatches. Grabbing enemies, flailing them about and eating them is a lot of fun. I wish it was a little more clear when an enemy was dead, I always smashed them a few extra times just in case. Getting bigger makes you stronger, but has its drawbacks. Storing sacks of your body mass in bio goo is a gnarly logical solution that allows the for different abilities at varying sizes.

    While not linear, the game had a very straight forward flow for me. Unlike other Metroidvanias this game has no map. I never had, nor needed, much of a grasp on the layout of the world until I got lost. I tried backtracking only to find other areas I've already visited. I've intended on returning to Carrion, I don't think I was far from the end. Unfortunately it's been a few weeks since I've touched it at this point.

  • As a huge fan of Rogue Squadron who has always been intrigued by Xwing/Tie Fighter I wish I liked Squadrons. The twitch gameplay combined with power allotment was challenging to get used to. Early it felt chaotic and futile, but I was able to get some kind of a handle on it.

    Even then the talking head story telling format was dull and the missions felt the same. I tried it with PSVR, it was neat, but target ships were tiny and pixilated. It was days between my play sessions and I just fell off after attempting to force myself to play. Granted, I was also deep in the Animal Crossing and WoW grind at the time. I may have been generally unmotivated to play another game.