Are These the Best Games of 2020?
2020 has certainly not been the kindest year when it comes to how our livelihoods have played out. As our routines and daily experiences evolve to rapidly adapt to the world’s current pandemic and growing problems, there is one shred of light that will never change no matter how dark the year may grow. Great games still release every year from some of the most talented visionaries across the globe. Entertainment helps keep our minds off of our stressful problems and gives us positive experiences worth sharing with others. Whether they are experiences centered around complex narratives or subjects made to make us analyze, arenas designed to make us cooperate in four-player harmony, or perhaps even something crafted to be the ultimate solo getaway vacation package, there are still plenty of fantastic games to dive into from 2020. Here are our staff picks for the games you absolutely should not miss from this year.
Special Mention: Super Mario 3D All-Stars
Super Mario 3D All-Stars wasn’t quite what people expected when it launched back in September. Featuring retouched, but not remastered, versions of three classic 3D Mario games, 3D All-Stars was panned for being available for a limited time, launching in a seemingly rushed state, and excluding Super Mario Galaxy 2. Despite these quibbles and a price tag that might make the eyes of the non-Nintendo faithful water (that’s the Nintendo tax for you), Super Mario 3D All-Stars repackages three of Mario’s adventures in luscious HD paint that helps these three classic titles look better than ever. Whether its playing Super Mario 64 without the hideous input lag that plagued the Wii U Virtual Console release, experiencing Super Mario Sunshine for the first time in HD, or reliving Super Mario Galaxy without the need to waggle a Wiimote, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is an excellent collection of games that–Nintendo’s foibles aside–stands out as a must-play title for every Switch owner. (Izsak Barnette)
22. Paper Mario: The Origami King
The Paper Mario series has never been shy to… experimentation, with every successive entry after The Thousand-Year Door being radically different from the last. The Origami King continues this trend and if not for The Last of Us Part II releasing just a month prior it would probably be the most polarizing game of the year thus far.
Mileage will vary greatly from person-to-person on the ring-based battle system and lack of RPG elements, but The Origami King has undeniable charm in other areas that overshadows its short-comings. An RPG, it is not, instead placing the emphasis on tightly crafted interactable environments and humorous wit that brings colorful character to timeless Mario universe mainstays. Every area is begging to be explored and jam-packed with collectibles to find, secrets to uncover, and Toads tucked away to save. A curious hammer swing here or and short investigation there is bound to delightfully surprise you every so often, and that’s kind of emblematic of The Origami King on the whole.
It aims to surprise and delight you with its characters, featuring one of the most endearing Nintendo sidekicks to date in the form of the bubbly Olivia. Beyond the quirky, self-aware writing there are even some character arcs that hit surprisingly close to home. It surprises and delights with its soundtrack, which has no right featuring what’s probably the best score of the year thus far, let alone for a Paper Mario game. It surprises and delights with just how different each zone feels like and how you go about exploring each one, whether by bootleg car or Wind Waker-esque boat. It surprises and delights with its boss battles, each one a satisfying puzzle to figure out how to beat that takes full advantage of the ring-battles in all their puzzle-solving weirdness.
If it wasn’t for the fact regular battles can quickly settle into the mundane, The Origami King could easily be one of the greats. There are still redeemable aspects of the combat system, though, and with some more refinement, some more agency over how you attack, and maybe some more incentives, it could really carve out an identity in a follow-up title that finally nails it on all fronts. (Matthew Ponthier)
21. Yakuza: Like A Dragon
Yakuza: Like A Dragon is an absolute beast of a game, a JRPG with one of the most endearing narratives in recent years. This is the newest installment of a beloved franchise that comes as a curveball, one that was expected to come someday but still hits with an incredible impact.
Ichiban Kasuga, the protagonist of Yakuza: Like A Dragon, has been through a great many hardships in his life, capped off by spending almost two decades in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, all for his beloved father figure Yakuza boss. Getting out of prison he finds no one waiting for him, and the truth behind the machinations of his boss slowly starts to come into focus. Things go from bad to worse, and yet all the while Ichiban still finds a positive, his never-say-die attitude along with occasional buffoonery instantly sets him up to be a memorable new lead of the Yakuza series.
The seventh mainline entry to the series does take a good few risky steps away from what could be seen as ‘core Yakuza,’ and yet everything just works. The combat of the series has always been thrilling, and mastering the mechanics felt amazing, and yet somehow the semi-meta turn-based style Yakuza: Like A Dragon has adopted feels natural enough and deep enough to be a worthy mix up. But let’s be absolutely real, the combat of Yakuza has never been the king draw, it’s the absolutely insane yet brilliantly crafted narrative. And if I may be so bold, I think Yakuza: Like A Dragon may be up there contending for the greatest story in the whole series. Kiryu is an iconic hero, but his story has concluded for the moment, and now we dive deep into the burgeoning legend of Ichiban.
If you’ve been sitting on the fence for one reason or another, be assured that the hilarious and at times heavy magnitude epic that embodies Yakuza games is still alive and well here. This isn’t an odd offshoot, it’s not a broken mess, it’s an RPG at it’s finest. Between the off the wall sub-stories and the heavy emotions dealt with in the main story, Yakuza: Like A Dragon is one for the ages. (Shane Dover)
20. Astro’s Playroom
A total surprise to most who purchased the PS5, Sony’s fun little pack-in distinguishes itself as one of the best free games ever offered to purchasers of a console. Essentially just a playable demo that showcases each and every function of the new PS5 Dualsense controller, Astro’s Playroom utilizes a small but tight set of levels that show off all the cool ways that the haptic feedback, adaptive triggers and nuanced microphone of the Dualsense can be used to heighten the gameplay experience.
It’s also a wonderful celebration of the history of the PlayStation. With fun little Easter eggs and collectibles that will take players of all stripes down memory lane, Astro’s Playroom will remind you of all the fun you’ve had with every iteration of the PlayStation for over two decades. If all of this weren’t enough, the game is also just really charming.
Rounding a corner to find a Bloodborne hunter showing off their skills or a couple of Joel and Ellie stand-ins trembling around the corner from a clicker provides endless joy and the wayAstro’s Playroom finds dozens of exciting ways to show off its impressive new controller features is truly transcendent. This is an absolute must-play for anyone who purchases a PS5 and (as a bonus) a really easy platinum to boot. (Mike Worby)
19. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater wasn’t the first of its kind. Prior to its release, several skateboarding games could be found both in the arcades and on home consoles, but Tony Hawks Pro Skater was different — dare I say, it was ahead of its time. Atari may have kicked off the genre with the now legendary 720 Degrees and Electronic Arts may have developed one of the best early skateboarding games with Skate or Die, but regardless of their success, it was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater that would take the genre into the realm of 3D, cementing itself as a pioneer of modern sports video games while popularizing skateboarding amongst a new generation.
Chance are, if you were a gamer in the ’90s, you most likely played any one of the three original Tony Hawk games. The series set a high standard for the genre, and sports games in general. No seriously; there’s a reason we named Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater the best game of 1999. And there’ a reason why the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 currently ranks as the second-highest reviewed game on Metacritic, second only to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. They’re just that damned good.
So why the remake?
Technically, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 is the third attempt at remixing and re-releasing a version of those original games, but this time around, they finally got it right. It brings together the first two games in the series in one glorious package, rebuilt from the ground up in gorgeous HD. But more importantly, it’s just plain, good old-fashioned arcade fun and everything one could want from a skateboarding game. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is simply put, a perfect example of a remaster done right and a better example of how some classics will just never go out of style. (Ricky D)
18. Demon’s Souls
The original souls-like is back in Bluepoint’s knockout remake of FromSoftware’s surprise hit, Demon’s Souls. Rebuilt from the ground up, Bluepoint’s remake sands off the rough edges of one of the best games on the PS3, bringing a wildly challenging and totally original title to a whole new generation of gamers.
Set in a world where a creeping fog is slowly consuming a medieval kingdom, players are tasked with killing the 5 archdemons of Boletaria and putting an ancient beast back to sleep to bring peace to the land. Standing in their way are some of the toughest levels in any game ever and a staggering 20 bosses of increasing size, skill and difficulty.
While the nuanced challenge of Demon’s Souls will not be for everyone, as a showcase for the impressive new graphics and features of the PlayStation 5, players can do little better thanthis. It’s a remake so impressive that many have already hailed it as the greatest launch title of all time and it isn’t hard to see why. Players who like to be taken to task and pushed to the edge will find a welcome challenge here and gamers who have been playing souls-likes for years can finally see where it all started with this gnarly little gem of a game. (Mike Worby)
Spiritfarer is like Stardew Valley meets Tamagotchi in the visual style of Hayao Miyazaki. It is also one of the most surprising and delightful games of 2020.
You are Stella, and you’ve taken over for Charon as the ferry master of the dead. But this is no grim show. Spiritfarer is about death, and coping, and grief, but it is also a light and cozy and beautiful affair, which makes it truly unique.
The gameplay is a kind of satisfying loop, wherein you find a spirit, they move onto your boat, and then you help them get ready for their final journey. You feed them things they like best, build them comfy houses and rooms, and as you do so, their stories unfold. And these stories are surprisingly deep and touching, pulling together a rich cast of well-thought out and beautifully flawed characters onto one big rickety magic boat. There’s some roguish and endearing lives in this unbelievably cute adventure, and you’ll come to appreciate all of them.
Tucked in with this cozy mix, there are lots of little tasks like fishing and cooking and growing vegetables. And as you accomplish them, you sail around, finding materials and unlocking story beats. You both open up new activities on your boat, like woodworking or using a loom, but you also unlock little activities like catching lightning or mining for minerals on a dragon, a mixture of mini game mechanics that often look rote on the surface, but are kept nicely varied by tying them to fun audio and visual showpieces.
And wow, those visuals. Spiritfarer feels like it was lifted from an unknown Miyazaki film. In addition to beautiful hand-drawn designs in every corner, it includes one of the greatest video game hug animations of all times. Because hugging is a thing you do a lot of in this game.
Heartfelt, beautiful, and fun to play, Spiritfarer draws from a variety of venerable influences but emerges its own surefooted and extraordinary game and story, an existential journey and series of adorable chores that shouldn’t be missed. (Marty Allen)
16. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
At times, playing Ori and the Will of the Wisps genuinely feels surreal. It’s a tight puzzle-platformer boasting some of the highest production values in the medium. Every environment is painted with such painstaking detail that it’s frankly overwhelming at first. The level design is phenomenal from both a structural and artistic standpoint; there’s rarely a set piece that seems unnecessary or a platforming challenge that feels haphazardly thrown together. In that same vein, the connecting tissue that permeates all of this is the absolutely astounding score by returning composer Gareth Coker. From the rambunctious theme of Inkwater Marsh to the ominous violins of Kwolok’s Hollow, every piece of music fits its environment like a glove and does wonders in setting the mood for each area.
Of course, Will of the Wisps is more than just a pretty face. The emphasis on combat in this sequel paid off in major ways; every slice of a sword and swing of a hammer feels visceral in a way few action games do, let alone metroidvanias. The handful of bosses that appear throughout the campaign are grand spectacles that live up to their name in every sense, providing a serious challenge in what’s already a no-holds-barred platformer. Add in some of the best level design in the genre and deeply upgradable combat and platforming skills, and this is easily one of the best titles released this year. With the recent news that Moon Studios’ next project will be a new IP altogether, it’s safe to say that Ori’s story finished on the highest note possible. (Brent Middleton)
15. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
What the world needs now is some goofy fun, and Fall Guys delivers.
You are a colorful jellybean in a competitive gameshow with fifty-nine other strangers (as well as up to three friends online). Building off of the massive-multiplayer Battle Royale model of Fortnite, Fall Guys takes this template and slides it into a more garishly playful environment.
Your colorful avatar is initially dropped into one of twenty-four (and counting) blindingly bright and bouncy mini-games. A percentage of the initial sixty players are eliminated after each round, and with a bit of luck, three or four randomized rounds in, you race for a coveted crown in one of a handful of finishing-round games.
Each race you participate in yields in-game currency, kudos, which can be used to purchase cosmetic upgrades. The aforementioned coveted crowns can, too! Fall Guys is free-to-play if you are a PS Plus member, the only cost is the all-to-familiar in-app purchases so that you can dress as the jellybean duck you’ve always dreamt of. In short, in-app purchases are easily avoided.
The twenty-four games that you might encounter are pretty varied in both quality and style. Many are effective obstacle courses, some are survival games of varying quality, a few are team games of even-more varying quality, and still a few more are logic games that sometimes fall flat. As mentioned, thus far the obstacle courses and their variants are the ones that shine, but even in the less-engaging games, they move quickly and you’re excited to try. The simple controls of jump, dive, and grab are a bit floaty, too, and you’ll often feel like you were cheated out of that sweet sweet crown. And you know what else? You’ll want to play again.
Fall Guys has that certain something that just makes you want to jump back in for one more run, and that special sauce is its own reward. Fall Guys has a lot of flaws, but it manages to be fun as heck. It looks great, and initial server issues aside, it plays well.
If you’re ready to get goofy, get frustrated, and to have fun, jump into the jellybean gameshow and race for the crown. (Marty Allen)
14. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
2018 was, in many ways, the year of Spider-Man. Peter Parker has always been popular, but the release of the PlayStation 4 exclusive game Marvel’s Spider-Man and the incredible animated film Into the Spider-Verse helped draw attention to a different character: Miles Morales. Spider-Verse rocketed Miles into the popular consciousness and it was a no-brainer to see him emerge as the lead in Insomniac’s follow-up to Spider-Man. A compact, thrilling adventure, Spider-Man: Miles Morales proves that players can go home again.
Players who enjoyed 2018’s Spider-Man will find the kinetic combat and energetic webslinging of Miles Morales just as incredible as it was in the first game. Miles’ electricity powers add an explosive new wrinkle to battles against the criminals and thugs who roam New York’s streets, and his invisibility completely changes how stealth encounters are approached. Suits and mods return, giving Miles everything he needs to learn how to be his own Spider-Man. Though there are skill trees to master and challenges to overcome, everything in Miles feels intuitively streamlined, proving that not every game needs to be a 50-hour epic.
While Miles takes place in the same map as the first game, the change of season to winter makes a tremendous difference. New York looks even more incredible than ever, and players fortunate enough to be playing on the PlayStation 5 will be amazed at the snowstorms and reflections that the powerful new technology takes advantage of. The opening setpiece, where Peter and Miles subdue an enraged Rhino and a group of escaped Raft criminals is an incredible showstopper. But all the bells and whistles of the current generation don’t mean a thing if a game doesn’t have heart, and heart is where Miles Morales excels. At its core, Miles Morales is about community and family. The writing and performances are excellent throughout, characterizing not just Miles but his best friend Phin, guy-in-the-chair Ganke, and estranged Uncle Aaron as interesting and relatable. The drama is standard superhero fare, yet everything feels elevated by Miles’ genuine earnestness and love for his neighborhood. Miles is a down-to-earth kid, and Miles Morales is a tremendous leap forward for focused and exciting superhero storytelling. (Cameron Daxon)
13. Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition
Kentucky Route Zero is moving.
It is beautiful, soulful, eerie, strange, confusing, and funny. It is so much.
The main premise or at least the inciting incident of KRZ is, at least initially, that you are Conway, a truck driver who has one delivery to make before cashing in his chips. You travel from scene-to-scene, chapter-to-chapter, inhabiting other people that circle this initial protagonist, too, sometimes occupying others for long stretches of the game. You learn deep truths and stray details about a menagerie of the cast, you circle a metaphysical roadway and a somewhat real one, you fly as a bird, go to a rum bar, encounter a room full of bears, make poetry inside a point-and-click meta-game homage, and talk to your dog, all the while trying to find your way to Route Zero and deliver a package.
While there are places to explore, things to find, and some glorious experimental asides, the bulk of all of these settings are defined by the conversations you have in them. You are typically given a tree of choices, and they are well-crafted poetry. Sometimes the choices seem idle and amount to conversational flair. Other times they feel as though they have a strong effect on the arc of the bizarre story that is unfolding. But they are always meaningful.
These conversational trees are unlike anything else in games. They are often seemingly banal, but it is their very idleness that gives the player a deep sense of agency. “This is not a story about strategizing, or knowing where you’re going, or having a certain goal that you can accomplish in a certain way,” says the game’s writer and creator, Jake Elliott. “We want the player to be in a state where they’re asking characters questions about themselves, just inquisitive and curious.”*
In one of the earliest scenes, Conway is asked to make his delivery. “We have a mail order delivery today. Might be a long drive. I hope the truck holds up.” Conway is given three choices: “What makes you think so?” or, “They sent it by mail?” or, “That truck will outlive us all.” The distinctions are so small and so meaningful.
Later, Conway has mysteriously had a limb replaced. He awakens and the surgeon says, “Anything about the bill that didn’t make sense? I don’t mean to rush you, but I have an early fishing trip.” You can respond as either Conway or Shannon. Shannon suggests, “Tell him about the payment plan in the bill.” Conway’s options are: “I don’t want to think about the bill right now,” or, “What are you fishing for?” Meanwhile he sits with a glowing gold cybernetic limb that is otherwise unaddressed.
You get the sense that there are whole swaths of this game that you can only discover by accident. Songs, conversations, threads, voice messages, paths, scenes, whole lives. And rather than feeling like you’ve missed a completionist’s Easter egg, you feel satisfied, because you’ve touched a deeper part of the character in the smallest and most profound way. The result is that it feels as if you are a part of an artistic exploration that you are discovering together, with the creators, and that in itself is a triumph.
It took ten years to make this bizarre and beautiful game of disjointed conversations and artistic vignettes, and it was worth every moment. It is messy and confounding and stunning, and it is always rooted in its sharp and strange and well-articulated voice. It manages to be both ambitious and smart without feeling like it’s lost in weighty pretense. Like an effective post-modern novel, the piled on abstraction works to make you feel more feelings because, despite all of this staggering ambition, it also doesn’t take itself too seriously.
In KRZ, you often feel as though you are walking, and talking, through a dream. It’s a dream of regrets, a contemplation on the crush of capitalism and what it means to be a family as much as it is an exploration of the forms of both story and interactive gaming. But it is also a celebration of choices and moments, both small and large.
In one of the many strange interchanges, you pick up a phone and check-in, and the character on the other end of the line reminds you of something he once heard from a theologian: “Why make art? To quiet the mind, making it susceptible to divine influence.”
We can try, but KRZ is that rare work of art that truly defies description, as it goes so many places in its gameplay and emotional tone. Kentucky Route Zero is haunting and melancholy and curious and weird and sad and silly and aching and smart and pretty and uncomfortable and imperfect and wonderful. Like life, it is so many things. And like all great art, it moves you. (Marty Allen)
12. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2
There is nothing more satisfying than returning to an 8-bit realm inspired by vampire killers and moving castles. Bloodstained: Curse of The Moon 2 is a fantastic sequel to the phantasmagoric action-packed title from Inti Creates that was originally designed as a prequel to coincide with Koji Igarashi’s successful Ritual of The Night Metroidvania styled game. It is the perfect fix for any fan of the classic entries in Konami’s dormant Castlevania series that first relied on two-dimensional point A to B simplicity.
If the first Curse of The Moon title is comparable to the original Castlevania game that debuted on the Nintendo Entertainment System though, then its followup skips the intensity of Simon’s Curse and jumps right ahead to the third entry in the trilogy Dracula’s Curse. When it comes to creating a new tough as nails adventure, Inti Creates was not letting any fan who proclaimed the first entry in the series as being easy or hand-holding. Curse of The Moon 2 will absolutely whip you into shape as the game progressively cranks up the difficulty as it progresses to its incredible final showdown.
Zangetsu’s return to 18th century England pulls absolutely no punches- this is an adventure dedicated to the hardcore fandom of these titles. Despite its unique cast of seven characters to utilize throughout its multiple episodes, the solo journey ahead is filled with more hurdles than either Curse of The Moon or any of the classic Castlevania entries. The only way around its overwhelming challenge is with the help of a partner ally through its new two-player cooperative gameplay… or that may just cause a larger disaster fueled by arguments and pure frustration over a lack of viable companionship. It will take you more than one cursed night to complete this five-chapter story arc. (Marc Kaliroff)
11. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is not as much of an evolutionary leap forward as the previous two games, Origins and Odyssey, represented for Ubisoft’s flagship open-world franchise. However, it is unquestionably a lateral paradigm shift for the series that takes improvements made to the exploration, combat, as well as character advancement mechanics introduced in recent years and refines them just enough to give this latest entry a unique style and substance all of its own.
Granted, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla doesn’t have the same shocking freshness as Origins or the bombastic panache of Odyssey. What it does have is a quiet, confident mastery of itself that is not usually on display in the vast majority of AAA games. From a soundtrack that merges hints of Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell that runs in sober counterpoint to a poignant narrative; to its deeply detailed and richly evocative environmental design; all the way to its robust and streamlined combat and progression systems Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla expertly plays to its strengths whilst minimizing its flaws. It’s a worthy addition to the franchise and one that I personally will be singing the praises of for ages to come. (Christopher Underwood)