Nobody’s going to forget 2020, that’s for sure. I doubt many will remember it fondly, but some good managed to come out of it for me. I started writing again, and even found a new outlet for my work through Mega Dads. I was able to spend more time at home with my family, and we found new things to bond over. Despite several scares, I managed to avoid catching COVID or bringing it home to my wife and son. I’m thankful for all of those things, but now is the time to talk about video games.
Unexpected delays and radio silence felt like the theme for video games in 2020. As COVID changed the way we worked, so too did our expectations about video games need to change. E3 was cancelled, and we didn’t really get a replacement. We knew almost nothing about the Xbox Series or PlayStation 5 until a couple of months before release. Nintendo had more “Indie” Directs than regular ones. Games received delays less than a month before the scheduled release date. It was a weird time for our hobby.
Despite the weirdness that was 2020, we were still fortunate enough to receive some absolutely stellar video games. I’m sure you remember spending a lot of your early quarantine sprucing up that Animal Crossing island you haven’t touched in two months (I know I do). While Animal Crossing may have lost its momentum, other games stayed with me and earned a place on my Game of the Year list. (Not a particularly graceful transition, I know, but I felt like Animal Crossing deserved at least a name drop.) But before we talk about my top 3 games of 2020, I’d like to give a pair of special awards for Best Update and Smiles Per Hour.
At one point I was going to call this award “Throw the Original in the Trash”, but decided that was too wordy.
Persona 5 was one of my favorite games of the previous console generation. I say “was” because Persona 5 Royal came along and completely outdid the original in every way. The new content starts early and finishes with a meaty epilogue. There are fewer in-game days that end with the player being forced to go to bed (yes, this was a real problem), more places to explore, shop, and hangout. There are completely new characters with fleshed-out stories and motivations. I could go on and on, but I don’t want to spoil anything.
Persona 5 Royal is the definitive version of a masterfully-executed JRPG. If you have even a passing interest in the genre, Royal is more than worth your time.
I was fortunate enough to get a PlayStation 5 last year, and I was very excited to play Miles Morales and get my first glimpse of what next-gen had to offer. But then a little robot stole my heart.
What makes Astro’s Playroom memorable for me is its the love and reverence for the history of PlayStation. Special pickups placed throughout the game contain artifacts from the various PlayStations. Controllers, memory cards, multitaps, consoles and even the PocketStation are all present with detailed models for you to rotate and examine. As someone who’s been gaming on PlayStation consoles for as long as I have, Astro’s Playroom was a nostalgia-fueled romp down memory lane.
Every time I picked up one of the PlayStation artifacts, I couldn’t help but smile like an asshole and spout, “Oh! It’s a -insert obscure PlayStation accessory here-! I remember that!” Astro’s Playroom made me so incredibly happy in a way I desperately needed this year.
GAME OF THE YEAR – THIRD PLACE
Streets of Rage 4 is the game that sold me on Game Pass. It has all the pieces to get my attention; online co-op, classic beat ’em up gameplay, and a gorgeous art style.
Streets of Rage 4 plays exactly like any good beat ’em up should, and a robust combo system enhanced with strategic special moves really elevate the game above its predecessors. Streets 4 is the sort of step forward any good sequel should strive to be. The game can be a little rigid at times, but it never took away from the fun I had fighting my way through the 12-stage arcade mode.
Playing Streets of Rage 4 online with my friend Brandon was one of the highlights of my time in quarantine. We must have beat the campaign at least a half-dozen times! The short length didn’t matter to us, we just turned the difficulty up and did it again! Streets of Rage 4 made playing online 700 miles apart feel like sitting together on the floor of my parent’s living room with my old Genesis.
GAME OF THE YEAR – RUNNER-UP
Final Fantasy VII is one of the defining games of my life. I may not be writing this at all if not my best friend didn’t bring his FF7 instruction manual to school one day. I fell so hard for Final Fantasy VII that I even imported the Advent Children sequel movie just to watch it as soon as possible. I’ve been dreaming about a remake ever since the now-infamous 2005 tech demo. I actually cried when Remake was revealed for the first time. You could say my expectations were high.
Somehow, Final Fantasy VII Remake was everything I wanted it to be and more. Seeing some of my all-time favorite characters and locations from the original game given a modern facelift left me genuinely emotional at times. I would just stand still for minutes on end, moving the camera around, drinking it all in. Combine that with a dynamite soundtrack and an exciting new combat system that finally marries real-time and turned-based combat in an elegant way, and it all comes together as one of the best gaming experiences I had this generation.
It’s no secret that Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t a shot-for-shot remake of the PS1 original. But for all of the changes and creative liberties Final Fantasy VII Remake made, the soul of the original game I love so dearly is still there. Remake had a near-impossible job to do, but somehow Square Enix pulled it off and then some.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Looking at my list to this point, I’m surprised how much of it leans on nostalgia. If a game isn’t a sequel or remake to an old favorite, it finds a way to remind me of happier times from my past. Perhaps it’s surprising then that my Game of the Year is not only a new IP, but also in a genre I typically don’t engage with. A game unlike anything I’ve enjoyed before. Hades.
It’s no secret that I am head over heels in love with Supergiant Game’s latest title, I’ve already gushed about it in my review. Since writing that review, I’ve completed all of the Steam achievements for the game, and I’ve already made plans to do it all again when the game (hopefully) comes to PlayStation. I just can’t get enough of this wonderful video game. It’s just so much fun to play, look at, and listen to!
Supergiant already had a reputation for making damn good video games, but Hades stands head and shoulders above its siblings. Hades went toe-to-toe with the games I grew up with and came out on top. I dedicated nearly 90 hours of my 2020 to cutting through the hordes of the Underworld, and the only thing I would change would be to not wait until nine days after release to buy it.