10. Murder by Numbers
Mediatonic takes two series I love, Picross & Ace Attorney, and meshes them together to create a new lovable IP. Each chapter presents a host of lovable characters to accompany you on a well written story. I hope this series continues because I would love a sequel!
9. Streets of Rage 4
I played Streets of Rage 2 earlier this year and followed it up by playing Lizardcube’s take on one of Sega’s classic IP’s. While the general flow and gameplay is a seamless blend of the past, the new artstyle and music are fantastic in bringing the series forward. The difficulty system implemented is smartly done, letting returning players continue with what they are familiar with, while allowing new players to jump into the series and complete the same experience, albeit for a lower total score when adding additional lives. Your score unlocks new characters & music, some straight out of the previous game accompanied with the same movesets providing a fantastic replay value.
A sleeper hit I hope more people play in the future, Huntdown takes hints from Contra and delivers a phenomenal indie action shooter. Every aspect of the game is top notch from gameplay, pixel art style and soundtrack. While the game can be difficult, it never feels unfair with a host of checkpoints that take out backtracking, keeping you always moving forward. At the end of every level a boss will test your skills, none of which reuse the same quirks/movesets which makes them all engaging.
7. Animal Crossing
It’s cute as hell, and when you are talking with your significant other about islanders you know it’s made an impact in your life. Animal Crossing might only draw me in for a few minutes here and there, but it quickly added up to over 90 hours this year. I am excited for what Nintendo continues to add to this game in the coming years.
Rouge-Lites are a dime a dozen these days. While they normally provide a fun loop the constant thought in the back of my head is I just would rather keep playing the Binding of Isaac. Hades stands on its own two feet and is the second best game I have played in the genre. While the core gameplay loop is enjoyable, the real highlight is how they build a meaningful story in this genre that even after 60 hours it is still providing new content to explore.
Each of the six weapons feel unique, with skill variants that provide different playstyles. Once completing a run, you can make subsequent runs harder with a number of different parameters. Instead of a straight enemy health increase (Which you can pick) that most games do, options include adding a timer to beat each section, selecting from less skills, taking a money hit. It’s a smart way that lets players consistently feel challenged as their own play skills increase.
5. Nioh 2
I actually beat the original Nioh earlier in the year and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t see the need to play additional runs. Nioh 2 refines the formula to create an addicting experience. With over 130 hours and on my 3rd playthrough I am hooked. The second game in the series by Team Ninja provides an overall refinement to the experience while introducing a few new weapons and better designed bosses & environments. This game also offers a fantastic multiplayer experience as well, letting players easily jump into others to provide help and change the dynamic from a tough as nails action game to hack and slash type experience.
4. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
My favorite story of the year, the 8th entry into the Yakuza entry introduces a number of risky changes that are executed brilliantly. With a new cast of characters, town and combat style, I enjoyed my 75 hour playthrough and am looking forward to a second one in the near future. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio continues to nail home why the Yakuza franchise is my favorite series.
3. Ghost of Tsushima
This was a surprise entry for me. Open world games lately tend to have a massive map with little content of value filling them. Ghost of Tsushima is filled to the brim with meaningful content and gameplay. The main campaign takes you across a beautiful interpretation of the island of Tsushima during the mongal invasion. The story is engaging and is accompanied by an equally great cast of characters from all strands of life.
Later in 2020, free multiplayer dlc was dropped which was not only great, but showed that this tightly focused single player game could be a fantastic multiplayer game as well with story missions, raids & horde-wave modes.
In a fitting way, Sucker Punch opened the PS4 off with Infamous and closed it with Ghost of Tsushima.
2. Demon’s Souls
FromSoftwares initial venture into the Souls series began in 2009 on PlayStation 3. Brought forward with next generation technology by Bluepoint Games, it’s a testament to both studios on why this game ranks so highly on my list. Even without some of the best graphics I have ever seen and favorite soundtrack of the year, Demon’s Souls provides meaningful gameplay that makes each run feel fresh as you mix up your weapons and items. While the bosses include more set pieces then later Souls games, these are normally tied to really interesting environments that elevate the experience. Playing the Storm King with headphones left me in awe.
I plan on starting 2021 with a Demon’s Souls level 1 run.
1. The Last of Us 2
Without a doubt one of the most technically sound games I have ever played, The Last of Us 2 takes a number of risks in its sequel to one of the most popular games of all time. While linear in nature, the environments and weapons give you a multitude of options on how you want to tackle moving forward. The enemy AI is intelligent, splitting up and forcing you to move in cover constantly. Always tense thanks to its phenomenal sound design, this game is a must with headphones. The Last of Us 2 is set in a bleak world, and its story never shies away from showing you the grim reality of it.
This is another game I plan on returning to in 2021 with grounded mode difficulty run. I also hope they add Faction multiplayer mode from the first game!
Late to the Party Honorable Mentions
Below are a few games I played for the first time in 2020 that were not released this year. There is no order on the below, just a quick snippet about a few I wanted to highlight.
Dark Souls: Remastered
Most series, it’s not advised to play the games backwards due to quality of life improvements and new ideas implemented that elevate players’ experience. I did this with the Souls series going Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3, Sekiro, Dark Souls 2 and finally Dark Souls Remastered. A testament to how phenomenal Dark Souls is, I ranked it as the 5th best game out of the 104 I beat in 2020. Its tightly designed world, bosses that test your skills and to top it off one of the best DLC’s I have ever played, i really enjoyed my experience start to finish.
I had Control pre-ordered originally and then cancelled it after playing Alan Wake. While I enjoyed the premise of Alan Wake, I really found the gameplay lacking. A year later, I picked up Control and was blown away. First, the gameplay is fantastic with unique weapons and abilities. Sam Lake takes the weirdness to a new level by creating a shifting labyrinth inside a FBI-like building leading to one of the more interesting stories I experienced this year.
Baldur’s Gate I & II: Enhanced Edition
After a long RPG, it’s nice to take a break for a little bit. Once completing the first Baldur’s Gate after 50+ hours, I had to continue and went right into Baldur’s Gate II. These games are perfect in achieving the goals in what they set out to do by letting the player engage in a “choose your own adventure” type campaign in the Dungeon and Dragon ruleset. There are a ton of great characters, quest, areas to explore and delve deeper into their history. These games provided some of the best moments in 2020, even 20 years after release.
Ace Attorney Investigations 2
Never released in North America, this is my new favorite in the Ace Attorney series. From start to finish I could not put this game down. Edgeworth & Kay provide a great duo plaything off one another. True to the series, the game offers a fantastic story & soundtrack and removes some of the bloat found in other Ace Attorney titles. If you can pick up a japanese DS cart and patch it with the phenomenal fan translation I would highly recommend it!
Streets of Rage 2
Side scrolling beat-em ups is a genre I have not really touched before. After fumbling around a little bit, Streets of Rage 2 clicked and was a great experience. I plan in 2021 to delve deeper into this genre.
Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom
I actually played the original NES trio this year. With modern technology implementing save states, this cuts out Ninja Gaiden’s III biggest gripe upon release about the life mechanic introduced into the US release and lets you enjoy the gameplay. It feels like a SNES game and provides smooth mechanics that you can enjoy even further in games like The Messenger today.
Another game I played through the first three games of the series, I wanted to highlight the first game as it does horror the best in my opinion. Its controls and visuals have not aged particularly well, but even with those slight negatives it was a top 25 game for me this year.
Silent Hill 2 brings the series forward on the PS2, while implementing a greater focus on psychological horror, while its successor Silent Hill 3 returns closer to the original.
Gravity Rush 1 & 2
Gravity Rush is an underplayed series for most. This PlayStation exclusive offers one of the most loveable protagonists in Kat with a unique gameplay aspect of being able to shift gravity on the fly and hurl her across the screen. The last boss fight & ending for Gravity Rush 2 had me on the edge of my seat and I replayed it the following morning because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.