GOTY 2020: This Time, It's GOTY

In a year that needed as much joy, relaxation, and escapism, these games dared to do more. Far more in some cases, and juuuuuuuuuuust barely above more in others.

HONORABLE MENTIONS!

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2

An unexpectedly excellent follow-up to the unexpectedly excellent Kickstarter rewards prequel game, Bloodstained Curse of the Moon 2 takes the old-school Castlevania feel of the first game, and stretches it just about to its breaking point. But that “just about” is an important qualifier as the game can get a little repetitive, replaying the same levels over and over, but with a completely different loadout of characters and abilities, the game manages to stay fresh combining old-school challenge with deeper, wider content. All that said: it overstays and repeats just a LITTLE too much to make the list, but is an easy #11, if the list extended that far.

Spiritfarer

This would be higher on my list, and probably #1, but I haven’t played enough of it to truly judge it as it seems like the kind of game I shouldn’t rush through for the sake of a fake deadline, seeing as how I’m not being paid/asked to make this list. The combination of farming and managing people to make them happy, coupled with a mellow “sort of” combat is something I can see myself enjoying very, very much in the coming year. A more directed Stardew Valley is something I’m behind.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

I'm only 2 hours in and there's no way I'm finishing it before the 25th, but so far so good! Guess what: more daddy-issues, more absurdity, MORE YAKUZA GAMES!

Marvel's Avengers

Wait! Don’t go! This winds up on my mentions with about a hundred asterixes, but here’s the thing: sometimes all you need is a fun, pleasant videogame to keep your hands occupied and use as an excuse to listen to a podcast or watch a Youtube series about terrible English-dubbed Dutch animation. And while this game didn’t quite have the staying power I hoped it would, I have learnt at this stage to disregard “roadmaps” and “future plans” on live service games. So when I heard about a “surprisingly heartfelt and excellent” story campaign in addition to a workable, functional, replayable endgame starring a squadron of characters with actual, diverse powersets, I figured check it out. And honestly? It delivered EXACTLY that. Nothing more, which is disappointing, but as a longtime comics fan, anytime a game or piece of media can show me something truly new and different with old characters, I appreciate it. That said: its flaws are all there. The UI is a mess, it’s unstable, and the ‘roadmap’ has led us down a dead end and I’m pretty sure I can hear a revving chainsaw in the distance getting closer. But it’s still too much fun, as is, to disregard entirely.

List items

  • It’s just so good. It’s a balanced roguelite with near-endless replayability paired with a deep and wide lore and massive development across a vast cast of wild characters, each more brilliantly designed than the last. It’s adorable and vicious, it’s fun and tragic, it’s got a diverse cast of voices and an even more diverse amount of weapons, each with unlockable forms, one of which COMPLETELY changes the way the weapon works, each one encouraging you to use different abilities in your starting build. If you hate a weapon, just work with it long enough and you’ll find a way to love it. This feels like the game Supergiant Games has been building to with their previous (also excellent) entries. It takes little things from each one and makes them all work together to absolute perfection. Truly a game of the year.

  • The friend-of-the-site favorite that just keeps on giving. Taking the same basic “build food, strive for perfection” gameplay and wrapping it in new, increasingly absurd concepts has continued to work and continues to be an absolute delight every single time. If you still haven't checked it out, just start with the newest one as every new one builds on what came before. And enjoy the mellowest music this side of the apocalypse.

  • All I really wish is that they added more. There’s an entire new dungeon, a ton of new mechanics, and two new, very likeable and fascinating characters, but I always just want MORE out of these Persona games. And isn’t that a glorious compliment, in its own way? At times embarrassing or cringey, but hey: isn’t that everyone’s high school experience? Royal makes the original obsolete in the best possible way: by taking that experience and making every aspect better.

  • These musou spin-off games quietly got really, really good while the rest of us were still holding Dynasty Warriors in needless contempt. Not just a new coat of paint, this actually takes the incredible, apocalyptic, dark tragedy of “Breath of the Wild” and rather than retelling a tale you know you can’t win, runs the complete opposite direction into a story that somehow still has a ton of emotional resonance while being patently, joyously absurd. And the best of the old-school musou games as every single character plays COMPLETELY differently. The bar for a certain OTHER side-story game relevant to the above entry has been set shockingly high.

  • When I finished my original run of Spider-Man, all I wanted to do was play more Spider-Man. So after I beat it on the hardest difficulty, all I wanted was more Spider-Man. And after I beat the DLC, I STILL wanted to play more Spider-Man. This was the perfect, smaller-scale expansion/sequel/whatever they’re calling it for $10 cheaper, and they still added a fair amount to the package with new powers and, of course, a new protagonist. And ya know what? With how much fun it is, and how well told the story is in such a short time? I STILL want more damn Spider-Man! Here’s to hoping an expansive, character switching game is on the horizon.

  • I was prepared to absolutely adore Slay the Spire, but as I get older I'm starting to realize my own need and appreciation for narrative, framing, and artistic style as something that draws me into an endlessly repeating rogue-adjacent game, even when said game is a deck-builder. Enter: Monster Train. All the badassery of a '90s indie comic with the narrative to match (THE DEMONS ARE THE GOOD GUYS!) but unlike so many of those: this one knows when to hold back and when to be subtle.

    Brilliant, small changes to the deck-building genre (ensuring your champion card is always in your starting hand really, REALLY helps reduce frustration, especially in a game were bad things can cascade very easily very early) and unlocking new cards and new conditions consistently helps the "one more hand" loss of time that is so common with the best of the genre.

    Succeed or fail, I almost always found myself thinking, "I'll just start a new game to see what cards I wind up with..." and almost always went beyond the first round...and the second one.

  • Came out of nowhere and instantly hooked me by taking the dreaded third dimension out of the Battle Royale formula. I’ve been intrigued by competitive 2D shooters in the past, but never really stuck to one the way I’m finding myself absolutely stuck on Worms Rumble. I have played hours and hours and HOURS of this franchise in high school and college, and this is the first time I’ve gotten back in like this. The game rounds are long in Death Match, but that’s to its benefit as the meta of the game really changes with each arena and each new crop of battlers, but at the end of the day: it’s just nice that one of these remembered to put in a solid solo death match mode on top of the very solid battle royale/squad modes.

  • The comeback we always wanted but never expected to be THIS great. Precision gameplay that actually lets you feel in-control and not like you’re playing a game that was originally designed to have quarters pumped into it, a selection of different-playing and incredibly fun characters, and just enough story to keep it going and stay entertaining. A few hangups like certain characters not being playable and the oddness of having 16 bit hidden characters rather than new sprites aside, this is a phenomenal example of doing less to make a genre work can sometimes be just enough.

  • Oh, I sure am I sucker for these games. Until Dawn is one of my favorites of last generation (Get MONKED, son!) for being the revelation, at last, of a game that functions like an interactive movie. But unlike other, less successful attempts at that, it wallows in its cheezy, corny, often tropey mire without getting lost in it altogether. “Man of Medan” was a disappointment because it felt like it was leaning on the multiplayer too hard and the twist was far too telegraphed, but “Little Hope” is a true return to form, and probably the closest thing to a real Silent Hill sequel we’re going to get in the foreseeable future. More fun with people on the couch, either controlling the action or impotently shouting, “NO, DON’T GO IN THERE!” as you proceed to go in there. Or don’t! For once: it’s your choice! And they’re 3/3 on awesome covers of “O Death” as their recurring theme song.

  • I absolutely adore an ambitious game, and even when the ambition outstrips stability, I can still appreciate both the effort and the vision.. I picked up Empire of Sin after hearing it described as a smaller-scale Crusader Kings with XCOM-style combat, and that would have been enough. But what it really is is a plot-driven, mission-based RPG nestled within a kingdom-builder with the combat of XCOM. I’ve had a dream of having a heist-based RPG with tactical mechanics for years now, and this is as close as I’ve seen to someone realizing it. Set in 1920s prohibition Chicago, the cast of characters you can play as is varied and wide, and atypical of the setting as it uses actual figures instead of skimming over them for the usual 3 names (but don’t worry: Capone is still here, and you can still either be him or take him out). Something that always drives me crazy about mission-based RPGs is that they often take place in a big, empty open-world that makes it so that I yearn for just a simple, linear structure, but instead of giving me that, Empire of Sin just leaves the open world as a true playground. Take over businesses, make them part of your empire, and fund your story being told. But herein lies the biggest problem: on the Switch, the game is incredibly unstable. Never to the point of crash bugs, but just about everything up to them. I’ve had character pathfinding break, I’ve had quests become unfinishable because characters don’t spawn, or plot triggers don’t go off, and all of that is incredibly frustrating, but it’s hard to drag down the game with them, because the empire management and combat are both SO well done and satisfying. Honestly, it’s an RPG where the plot and characters aren’t necessary, the game CAN be played as a straight management/combat sim, and still functions perfectly well. It feels like the devs overreached and tried to do too much, but still accomplished more than I would have hoped for.