2020 sure was a shitty year. The entire planet was engulfed in a pandemic with never-before-seen consequences. My heart goes to the many people affected by both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. I was lucky in only being confined to my house with my family for most of the year while my job and health were safe.
Being at home, I naturally played a bigger number of games than the previous years, making my selection of the top 10 games I played harder than in 2019, 2018, and 2017. As usual, I didn’t play a single game that was released this year, opting to play the classics of the far and near past as I go through my infinite backlog. From what I have seen, there are some interesting games to look forward to playing in the future, but I will be playing most of them on the PS5 or the Switch 2 at this rate.
Last year, I finally played many of the great games released in 2017, and boy was that a great year for gaming. Also, since I bought a Nintendo Switch late last year, this plucky console is prominently featured as it occupied most of my gaming time (with everyone being cooped up in the house, the TV becomes a scarce outlet). As for my review blogs, I finished reviewing the Sega Saturn and consequently reached the cream of the crop regarding its games.
For this year, I expect more games from 2017 and 2018 to show up. Also, I wonder if the 3DS has a final surprise for me as I am nearing finishing all the notable games on that brilliant system. Not to forget, I expect the PS1 to show up in future lists as I go down reviewing some of its best games.
Without further ado, here is my list of the best games I played in the cursed year of 202, alphabetically ordered for your enjoyment:
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia: (3DS, 2017)
After skipping the Fire Emblem franchise due to Fates horrendous release, I erroneously thought that my wonderful experience with Awakening was an aberration and that the series may not be worth all the love. I am glad that Echoes: SoV proved me wrong in every way.
Simply put, there aren’t any other TRPGs that are as concisely designed and balanced as this series. Everything runs very fast and intuitively, all the while having an interesting array of characters that serve a decent story. Echoes may not have the same depth of characters or customization that Awakening had, but its more straightforward design was just what I needed to sink back into the franchise’s wonderful gameplay loop.
Of course, it also helps that the game has some seriously good artwork and music, which became the norm for Intelligent Systems so far.
Echoes: SoV doesn’t break any new grounds for the genre or the franchise, but it is an excellent remake of the Famicom title that thrives on the 3DS, and now I am more excited than ever to play Three Houses.
Hitman: Season 1 (PS4, 2016)
When Hitman: Absolution was released to the disappointment of some of the franchise’s fans, I wasn’t one of those disappointed. Absolution, was, I insist, a good game despite not following the excellent formula of Blood Money. Still, it was obvious that something that was key to the franchise’s DNA was missing.
In comes the “reboot” of the franchise with the first “season” of Hitman. With its weird episodic format, temporary elusive targets, and focus on numerous online activities, I thought this wouldn’t be a game for me and I ignored it for a long time.
I was wrong.
Even if you strip down all the extra fluff in this game, you are still left with five excellent (and one weak) assassination missions that you can approach in varying ways. It is extremely fun to figure out how to best kill the targets, solving a puzzle, and responding to emergent situations. It is a seriously unique gameplay system that hasn’t been as good since Blood Money¸ and you can get as much as you wish to engage with it.
Bring on Seasons 2 and 3.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch, 2017)
I came into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild prepared to be contrary and dislike it. I am not a big fan of open-world games, and I made my opinion on the check-lists and icon-filled maps of the genre known on several occasions. If it feels like bust work to enjoy your game, then I am not bloody enjoying it, am I?
Yet, Breath of the Wild has none of that. It has an empty map, and one icon, Calamity Ganon in the distance.
Unlike your typical Ubisoft game, the map in BotW fills with icons as you do stuff, and everything you therefore do is not tracked in a list or you feel like you have missed anything. Most importantly, the simple act of traversing the open-world was half the fun. It was a true open-world, similar to what was promised in the original LoZ.
Outside of its main gameplay hook, the game still has some of the series’ signature charm, with all four main stories having their share of colorful characters and heartwarming tones, and the same with some of the many side-quests I encountered. Sure, dungeons with a unique aesthetic look may be missed, but the sum of the shrines makes a bigger amount of dungeon than was ever made for a Zelda game. Overall, I spent over 150 hours in the game, and I regret none of that time spent, which is the first time I say this about any open-world game.
As a final note, I would be remiss not to point out the main criticisms regarding the game (other than the lack of dungeons which I noted above). First, regarding the limited music in the game, which I think is a misconception since the majority of the time you spend outside is filled with ambient music. Honestly, the soundtrack is HUGE, but the game is even bigger. I think that ambiance works for the nature of the game, but I do understand if someone wanted a radio system of sorts (that would have been cool).
Second, regarding weapon breakage. Here, I simply cannot understand this point at all. Anyone making seriously lacks understanding of how the game is designed. Simply put, weapons and resources are depleted at a slower rate than the fruits of your exploration. The more you explore the more your weapons will break, but also the more replacement weapons that you will find. Not once did I find myself in a situation where I needed to retreat to get more weapons or resources, and I frankly prefer this system to most other open-world games where the majority of loot is useless and is weaker than my current equipment.
Nier: Automata (PS4, 2017)
I didn’t know much going into Nier: Automata and anyone interested in the game shouldn’t either.
I knew that it has a reputation for an amazing videogame story and a killer soundtrack, and both accounts are true. Also, I knew that the game has multiple endings and that you need to beat the game at least four times to get the “best” ending, and this turned out to actually be false.
There is only one real ending to the game, and it requires you to go through three different “playthrough” which actually compromises the true length and scope of the game. It is a disservice to the game to claim you need to beat it three times since that suggests a degree of repeatability that is honestly absent from the game.
Not that would necessarily be a negative thing, since Nier’s Platinum designed gameplay is a joy to behold even if it doesn’t have the same depth as their other titles. The game is routinely called an Action RPG, but it is really an Action game first and foremost, especially in the way it changes within the Action genre from a 3rd person action romp into a side-scrolling or twin-stick shooter.
As for the story, I am not going to say much other than support most of the accolades the game has. This is not a “good story” as if it is a good book or a good movie. Nier is constructed as a video game, and its story is great because it utilizes the medium very well instead of attempting to be a simple interactive movie.
Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn, 1998)
Not that being an interactive movie is necessarily a bad thing. After all, games have attempted to have the visuals to present a “realistic” world since the onset of 3D graphics. One of the first games to present such a realistic world convincingly is Panzer Dragoon Saga, the almost mythical Sega Saturn RPG.
For its time, the graphics, voice acting, and sheer direction ability shown in the game’s many cutscenes are revolutionary. It had what is probably the best-directed videogame story of its time and five years in advance. Besides the pioneering value of the game’s visuals and sound, which also includes an amazing soundtrack, Panzer Dragoon Saga is a triumph of world design.
The bio-technological post-apocalyptic world of Panzer Dragoon was hinted at in the two Rail Shooter games that preceded PDS, but this game presented the world at the forefront, presenting something that is alien and exotic and completely unique.
The same can be said for the gameplay, which somehow manages to convert the Dragon riding Action gameplay of the first two games into a logical and strategic RPG system. As the Dragon rider (which can be customized with various attributes), you glide through four quadrants in the battlefield in real-time as you use your gauges to attack or do special moves. It is a unique battle system that is both fun and works wonderfully within this unique game series.
Did I also mention that the game has a seriously good soundtrack?
Resident Evil VII (PS4, 2017)
Out of all the games on this list, I probably have spent the least amount of time playing Resident Evil VII. Like all the best Resident Evil games, this one is perfectly paced to keep you in tension from start to finish, both with its gameplay and story.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to receive a first-person RE game, but within the second hour at the Baker residence, I was buying into this new direction for the franchise (but I also wish for traditional 3rd-person to come back as well).
Playing as Ethan, a clear novice at his threatening position, was a breath of fresh (or foul) air back to a series that gravitated more towards Action than Survival. Here, it felt like a first-person rendition of the first game, and the stakes were high in every encounter.
Interestingly, the free DLC starring Chris Redfield shows you just how much of a disadvantage playing as Ethan was. Chris moves as if this was a military shooter FPS, with speed and purpose, and all threats were insignificant to him. I am not sure Chris can star in any Survival Horror game anymore unless you are playing as the zombies trying to survive this hulk of a man.
Shining Force III, All Scenarios (Saturn, 1997-1998)
I am cheating a bit with this choice. After all, only the first scenario was ever officially localized to the West. However, both the second and final scenarios have expert fan translations, and I ended up playing them after I really enjoyed the first.
From its conception as a three-part story, it was clear that Camelot Software had high ambitions for the game. In my opinion, the early TRPG Shining Force games were just as good, if not better, than the early Fire Emblem titles, and this game was the last TRPG in the series.
Each scenario stars one of three heroes as they appear on opposite sides of a massive political conflict. This conflict may be propagated by an ancient war between the gods, and so the story goes. Seeing the story unfold from different perspectives is great as it gives you more appreciation for the involvement of all the characters in the story, as well as how the plot moves.
Finally, the story converges and you alternately control all three armies in some great battles. No game has shown the same ambition before, and that is, along with the failure of the Saturn, is partly why all scenarios were not officially localized at the time.
Splatoon 2 (Switch, 2017)
Just take a cursory look at my play history and my favorite games, and you will immediately realize that I am heavily a single-player gamer. Usually, I either dislike or get bored of online multi-player games very quickly. Also, I find many of them similar looking, similar playing, and they lack any individuality or character.
That’s probably why Spaltoon became the exception to the rule. This is a multi-player game with some uniquely genius gameplay ideas that has a lot of personality and character. Seriously, the world of Splatoon, its graphics, and music, would be enough to carry the game even if it was your regular 3rd-person shooter, which it is not.
Last year, I didn’t play Splatoon 2 the most, but I put in more than 100 hours into it. Lucky for me, there were some splatfest to enjoy (I won two and lost one). I think my performance was overall good, but I will know for sure as I continue to play the game in ranked mode. Also, the Salmon Run mode is really fun, and it's available more often than not.
My one complaint is that the single-player content, minus the amazing boss battles, is still a bit lacking,
SteamWorld Dig 2 (Switch, 2017)
At first, it looks like SteamWorld Dig 2 is exactly the same game as SteamWorld Dig. However, it soon becomes apparent that this is a game with a much wider scope and variety than the first game. True, the main thrust of the game is still digging down a massive well and getting treasure out, but this game has more of a focus on story, several extra caverns along with a bigger central well, more variety in the types of environmental puzzles, and is obviously a much bigger game.
As such, with the addictive structure of the first game as well as its unique, Western-inspired steampunk design aesthetic, this is more of a good thing with extra good things on top.
Rarely is a game consistently fun to play from start to finish, and that’s why I consider this one the best indie game I played in 2020, and I am now more interested than ever with the other games in the SteamWorld universe.
Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
What can I say about Super Mario Odyssey that hasn’t been already said by a hundred other outlets? Here is another expertly crafted 3D Mario game, which is something that graces us twice a decade only, if we are lucky.
Taking inspiration from the originator of the genre, Mario 64, SMO is a return back to the big sandbox stages in lieu of the more constrained levels of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World. Every level has a variety of objectives, gameplay mechanics, and secrets to discover.
Initially, I thought it was too many secrets. Nearly every level has an absurd number of “Moons” to collect, which I thought would be overwhelming or even cheapens the value of getting a moon. Also, I thought that the more open-ended nature of the game means that the excellent platforming mechanics of the game will be under-utilized.
Thankfully, both concerns turned out to be unfounded.
First, the excess number of Moons is immaterial. It gives you as much as you are willing to have fun and simply explore and play in each sandbox. I can understand it being a nightmare for completionists, but I never had to look for a guide to find any specific moon, and approaching this game with a completionist mentality is simply asking not to have fun with it.
Second, while the main sandbox rarely fulfills the potential of the game’s excellent platforming and capturing mechanics, every stage has secret obstacle courses that do just that. Mario never moved as well as he does here, and that becomes super apparent if you choose to engage with the Balloon finding online mini-game, where you compete to hide balloons in the environment and finding the balloons hidden by others. Naturally, the hardest balloons to find are usually hidden in obvious places that require tremendous platforming skills to reach.
Breath of Fire IV (PS1, 2000)
This is an underrated PS1 RPG with a really good story, fun characters, excellent music, and gorgeous sprite-work. It is the culmination of the very good Breath of Fire franchise, and it begged to start a new direction for the franchise. Unfortunately, the franchise died with the fifth game in the series which went in a completely different direction.
Golf Story (Switch, 2017)
The only reason that I ended up preferring SteamWorld Dig 2 as my favorite indie game of the years is that I am not a big fan of golf, not at all. Yet, despite that, the charm and brilliant gameplay of Golf Story won me over to the videogame representation of the sport. Also, this is seriously a funny game that is only let down occasionally by repetitive busy work or jokes that fall flat. Only then to rise wonderfully through ingenious story sequences and smart golf puns.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (Switch, 2017)
I expected that I would like Kingdom Battle DESPITE the presence of the Rabbids, as the XCOM-inspired strategy gameplay seemed very promising at the game’s surprising reveal. I didn’t expect that in the end, I like the game more BECAUSE of those bloody Rabbids. Seriously, even if you ignore the game’s stellar gameplay, the charming interaction between Nintendo’s wholesome world and the nightmarish obnoxiousness of Ubisoft’s Rabbids is worth the experience by itself. True, the game does have some pacing issues, but the grand package is worth it, especially if you also include the excellent DK campaign DLC.
Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS, 2017)
In what is considered a return to some form after the disastrous Federation Force, Samus Returns didn’t even need to be an excellent game. Yet, despite some reservations regarding the polygonal 3D looks and the melee counter mechanic, the game is really great. Alas, being a remake of the Game Boy classic, this is yet another 2D Metroid game that doesn’t provide anything “new”. Yet, I think that the fluidity and spirit of the game prove that there is room for a completely new 2D Metroid game. Unfortunately, the sales for this one does not help at all.
Yakuza Kiwami (PS4, 2017)
It is a testament to the quality of the games I played in 2020 that I had to leave Yakuza Kiwami, which I thoroughly enjoyed, out of the list. In truth, this game is an almost retread of Yakuza 0 which had better gameplay elements and story, and so its position in the honorable mentions section is fair. Still, this is a Yakuza game, and as such, all the crazy goodness of the series is still there.