Jason’s Best of 2020

There’s probably no better way to spend the extra time at home that many of us experienced in 2020 than by playing video games.  And I can’t remember a time in my life where there have been so many games to choose from.  Much like Netflix, I frequently found myself staring at the list of games available on GamePass trying to find something to play before finally deciding to play Super Metroid for the 257th time.  Even though 2020 had its share of delays, there were still plenty of great games to play last year!  Here are my notable picks!

Before this title came out, I had never played a MS Flight Simulator game before. I’d played various war and space flight games, but never had the desire to explore the mundane aspect of civilian flight virtually. So when it was announced that this iteration would be coming to GamePass, I figured it was worth checking out. And it was. For the 6 hours I put into it.

I usually get overwhelmed with “Go anywhere” games.  That was also the case with Microsoft Flight Simulator.  I did the training missions to get comfortable with the controls and UI.  And when I decided to try out my first solo flight, I chose to fly from Richmond, Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland—Both relatively close to where I live.  During the trek, I discovered that virtual flight is BORING!  I quickly dropped altitude and began exploring the area around my home.  This led to my main enjoyment of the game:  Exploring places I was already familiar with.  I visited Disney World, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Skellig Michael in Ireland, and Ft. Walton Beach, Florida.  I spent some time flying by places I’d like to go, but quickly grew bored with this as well.

MS Flight Simulator did offer some great options for visual accessibility.  Being able to customize many elements of the UI was great!  However, increasing the font size or scaling often led to spacing issues in menus and text boxes.  This is a common theme among many games that offer accessibility options:  They offer the ability to scale some elements, but don’t follow through with the implications of that scaling on other elements.

The game is beautiful, and I’m sure there is more to it than exploring familiar places, but the prospect of spending several hours flying from one location to another just isn’t for me.


Emotions ran high for just about everyone in 2020, and maybe Ori and the Will of the Wisps hit me so hard because the it was released right at the start of our self-imposed quarantine and the feelings of hopelessness were just starting to set in, but this game hit me in the feels several times during my play-through.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is another fantastic sequel released last year.  It brought back what I loved about its predecessor and introduced new features that really make it shine!  The map was greatly expanded, new mechanics and skills were introduced, and a charm system similar to the one found in Hollow Knight was added as well. 

Perhaps the most memorable addition for me were the NPCs.  Each character met during Ori’s journey has a unique personality and you as the player genuinely want to help those that need your assistance.  Even the item trading quest that you take part in during the entirety of the game doesn’t feel like a chore.  The characters that meant the most to me were of course those involved in the main story line.  The friends Ori met in the first game are all back and as loveable as ever and the trials they go through will definitely tug at your heart strings.  By the end of the game, I even felt bad for the villain. 


GAME OF THE YEAR – THIRD PLACE

Animal Crossing – New Horizons is the game that got many of us through 2020.  It came out at the perfect time when we were realizing the long-term implications of quarantining at home.  It supplied much needed daily tasks when a common question in my household was “when was the last time I actually put on structured pants?”  It provided a way of connecting with other (although virtual) beings when human interaction was limited to online avenues.  It is a game for everyone and one of the few that my wife and kids enjoy with me!

Yes, the online experience sucks, but it is functional.  By jumping through several hoops and an overabundance of dialog boxes, you can visit other people’s islands and spend time together, and with a decent (read: non-Nintendo provided) voice application, you can even have a decent chatting experience while visiting.

New content is continually being pushed out and is becoming more polished over time.  What started as an annoying grinding effort to collect Easter eggs for items has evolved into more villager-focused tasks like exchanging candy and gifts for rewards.  And the monthly changes in the fishing and bug catching tasks offers enough variety to keep me coming back to see what is new.  I see myself playing Animal Crossing – New Horizons with my family well into 2021!


GAME OF THE YEAR – RUNNER UP

I’ve played through Final Fantasy VII in its entirety several times.  It’s a sprawling adventure that spans the planet of Gaia.  The opening area is the city of Midgar and should take about 5 to 6 hours to complete.  Midgar is the sole focus of Final Fantasy VII Remake.  Square-Enix have taken this prologue and turned it into a 30-40 hour installment in what will eventually be a tale that takes hundreds of hours to tell. 

Every aspect of the original game has been revisited and expanded.  Characters that were introduced in passing and could have been considered disposable are fleshed out and given backstories that explain their in game motivations and desires—including the executives of Shin-Ra, the evil company that the protagonists are fighting to overthrow.  Shanty towns that were merely passed through have been redesigned and given their own stories and side quests.  One section in particular that was originally a 10 minute platforming sequence has turned into an hour long series of battles with some of the most breathtaking views of all of Midgar.

Overall, Final Fantasy VII Remake is the epitome of what a remake should be.  I cannot think of a single aspect of the original that was not improved upon.  I loved every minute spent exploring Midgar!  Going back to the original game and playing this area now seems like an abridged version of a much grander story.


GAME OF THE YEAR

I’m late to The Last of Us party. I didn’t complete the first one until early 2020. I tried getting into it when it was released on the PlayStation 3, but got distracted by some other game for whatever reason. I didn’t have children at the time and even still, the prologue stuck with me. When I saw that Part 2 was coming out, I wanted to be ready.  It was still several months after release when I got around to playing it, but I was blown away throughout the entire experience.  Naughty Dog took everything great about Part 1 and expanded upon it.  Some of my favorite parts from the first game were the “nice” moments.  Those chill scenes when the player sees that even in a post-apocalyptic world everything isn’t terrible.  The sequel takes these to a whole new level and these added experiences are much needed to balance the increased tension and brutality that were also included.  The larger cast of characters drives this further home by emphasizing that everyone has something positive in their lives worth fighting for.

I think one of the best parts of Part 2 is how it really makes you think about how the decisions you make impact others.  Each NPC in the game has a name and other NPCs are noticeably shaken if they happen upon the corpse of a comrade.  I found myself thinking about certain situations and their outcomes for weeks after finishing the main story and how I’d react differently on another playthrough.

The Last of Us Part 2 is probably one of the greatest achievements in accessibility I have ever experienced.  Naughty Dog put a lot of care and attention to thinking of difficulties people with disabilities might have and did a very good job at mitigating those issues.  Everything from highlighting enemies and objectives, using callouts to the direction of speaking characters, preventing unintentionally jumping from ledges, and the ability to skip puzzles entirely make the game accessible to a wide range of people who may have otherwise grown frustrated and given up on it.

If Final Fantasy VII Remake is everything a remake should be, then The Last of Us Part 2 is everything a sequel should be.  I cannot wait to see what lies ahead for the series!

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