It is time for the annual tradition of cataloging my favourite video games of the previous year so that future generations may look back at my work and mock me. I played over sixty games in 2020. Some were new, some were old. I’ve a lot to cover, so let’s lay out the ground rules and dive in.
- All games that chart were played for the first time in 2020
- No repeats from previous years are allowed
- A game’s year of release has no impact on the list
Enough stalling, here’s my favourite games played last year.
Old Man’s Journey
Old Man’s Journey is a testament to the idea that as long as you have a good story and present it well then it’ll resonate with people. You don’t need to tell a story that is surprising or shocking for it to leave an impact. The viewer can know exactly where it is going and still have a strong reaction.
Old Man’s Journey is not here because of a ground-breaking gameplay innovation. Rather, I enjoyed it because it told a compelling story about love, loss, and forgiveness. It made me feel something and I felt that was notable when so few games manage to illicit any kind of emotional response out of me.
Outer Wilds was a game that I didn’t have any interest in playing, but after Mir finished it she insisted that I would enjoy it. Thankfully she was correct.
Outer Wilds’ greatest strength is its ability to let go. So many games are concerned with making sure the player goes only where they’re meant to and feels a specific way while doing so. Outer Wilds trusts in the player’s sense of exploration and curiosity to drive them to discover all of its many secrets. This does lead to an experience that, at times, is a little too directionless, but I still appreciated having the freedom to let my own sense of discovery drive my repeated journeys through space.
One Step From Eden
What a surprise. A deck building rogue-like.
One Step From Eden is definitely one of the hardest titles I played all year. The game has such an unreasonable difficulty curve for new players to overcome. However, finally clawing over that wall was one of my most satisfying gaming accomplishments of the year.
Eden has a ton of variety in not just its card selection, but also its classes. Each character class is designed around a specific mechanic, which can increase the effectiveness of certain card combos. This gives Eden an almost overwhelming amount of variety that supports a lot of player expression and experimentation.
More than anything though, Eden happens to align very closely with various aspects that I love about gaming. It’s highly replayable and extremely satisfying to master.
Shovel Knight: King of Cards
The only expansion to make the cut, King of Cards finally provided me a platforming experience that I loved as much as most people loved 2014’s Shovel Knight.
King of Cards makes two distinct, but important changes to Shovel Knight which dramatically improved my experience with it.
Firstly, levels are broken down into much smaller chunks which focus on a single mechanic. This gives the game a brisk pace that is more inline with Mario than it is with Megaman. As someone who prefers Mario, this was a very welcome change that made the game hard to put down once I started playing.
Secondly, King Knight’s signature move is very satisfying to use. Doing a shoulder bash into a pirouette is a bit goofy, but once you get a feel for it you can do some hilarious platforming combos that see you bouncing through entire levels while almost never touching the ground. If that doesn’t make for some great platforming, I don’t know what does.
The card mini-game sucks ass though.
To absolutely no one’s surprise another deck building rogue-like fusion is here.
Like Eden, Monster Train very closely aligns with a lot of my tastes in gaming. You’ve got depth thanks to a variety of different card combos and mastery by way of modular difficulty. Combine the two together and you have an experience that I lost several weeks to as I continued to dig deeper and deeper into it.
The big win for Monster Train over similar games was the change in flow. Instead of using your cards to support a single hero unit you’re splitting your forces up across three separate lanes. This gives the whole game a unique cadence encouraging a different decision making process when compared to something like Slay the Spire.
For those of you that I convinced to play Slay the Spire – give Monster Train a look once the console ports drop.
I don’t enjoy reading. Disco Elysium has an entire novel’s worth of writing and is almost exclusively centered around having players spend time reading through said writing. With that in mind, when I say, “I really liked Disco Elysium“, you should go, “damn…that game must be pretty good.”
While you do play as a detective, the focus of Disco Elysium is set far more on how character attributes are handled then the murder you’re investigating. Your skills are represented as your inner monologue each with their own distinct voice and making decisions about which voices to entertain and which to ignore lent itself to Disco Elysium being one of the most interesting experiences I played all year.
I think I’d have liked more freedom in who and what I could have interacted with. There are the odd times where I’d have an idea and wouldn’t be able to act on it in the same way that I could have in traditional table-top RPG experiences. Despite that, Disco Elysium’s more cerebral experience is inline with what I like about RPG as opposed to typical stat sheets and grinding for levels.
There’s also some not so subtle commentary on the police and class warfare. After the shit-show that was 2020 such themes feel especially on point.
Carto is one of the most intelligently designed games released all year and I can’t believe more people aren’t talking about it.
Carto is a puzzler where you move pieces of a map to both solve puzzles and traverse the world. Unlike other games that feature a single mechanic, Carto fully explores the depth of what its core mechanic is capable of over the course of several hours offering a variety of clever puzzles. You won’t be left wanting more, nor does the mechanic become stale while outstaying its welcome.
For those of you who are more story focused I can report that area delivers. It’s largely focused on a coming of age theme with wholesome characters and overwhelming kindness that make for a joyful accompaniment to the excellent gameplay mechanics.
I still don’t know why more people aren’t talking about it. Carto is great.
Prey is a game I regret not getting to earlier, but I’m glad I finally gave it a shot. It mixes system driven gameplay with a ton of free roaming exploration. Had I known that sales pitch earlier I’d have likely played it sooner.
The most intelligent aspect of the game is its signature weapon: the GLOO cannon. This device allows players to cover enemies in an adhesive substance that solidifies them. What’s more, the GLOO cannon can be used to create platforms throughout Prey meaning, in a lot of instances, where you want to go is only limited by your imagination. It might seem silly to praise a game almost entirely because of how smartly its signature weapon is designed, but trust me when I say it is one hell of a signature weapon.
There is also a whole other layer to Prey that I don’t want to get into because going in spoiler free is a big part of the experience. If you have a passing interest in psychology and ethics there is some very interesting questions that Prey asks players to consider. There’s a whole Extra Credits video on the subject, but I highly recommend you play the game first.
Yakuza 0 was a game that I was not expecting to enjoy as much as I did. It starts off on a thunderous note establishing a story of hardened criminals slithering through the criminal under-belly of Kamurocho. This is followed by leading lad Kiryu being framed for a murder which kicks off a dramatic story filled with mystery and betrayal. Yakuza 0 never stops being thrilling and is a joy to experience from start to finish.
However, despite the serious tone, you will routinely find yourself embroiled in goofy bullshit that has nothing to do with being in the Japanese mafia. Side activities and a host of different side-quests are as integral to Yakuza as the main plot and offer light-hearted distractions to help modulate the more dramatic happenings of the story.
Yakuza’s ability to blend these two types of gameplay together into a seamless experience made it one of the most thoroughly enjoyable games I played all year. It’s gripping and goofy. Serious and silly. Yakuza 0 is one hell of a game.
You all knew it was coming to this.
I’ve been a long time fan of SuperGiant and am glad to see that Hades, their most recent game, resonated so well with so many people. There is a lot to love about it: well realized characters, fantastic visuals, deep and fluid combat, and a suitably metal score. On top of that, in typical SuperGiant fashion the gameplay and story feel intertwined once again demonstrating the studio’s understanding of what makes video games unique as a story-telling medium.
For me there are two factors that made Hades stand head and shoulders over all the competition it had this year.
Firstly, the character writing. SuperGiant adapted various Greek myths and stories to flesh out a cast of very well realized characters. Everyone in Hades feels as though they could be a real person. This depth of character makes continuing to interact with them for hours upon hours across the whole of Hades very enjoyable. It’s a rare sight when a game actually manages to make me care about or like members of its cast beyond superficial levels, but the quality writing in Hades did just that.
Secondly, the depth of gameplay. Between the various different weapons and boon synergies that can be found, players are given a lot of opportunity for experimentation and meta-gaming. When combined with the pact of punishment, a modular difficulty system, players can continue to grow their understanding of Hades over many hours of playtime. This slow accumulation of mastery is my crack and Hades managed to hold my attention in this regard far longer than any other game this year.
Hades is a phenomenal game. Go play it.
Well that’s my favourites from 2020 sorted, but what games did you enjoy most from last year? I’m sure some of you have already made your own posts, but for those who didn’t or don’t plan to I’d be interested in knowing what the stand-outs were for you. Perhaps you can even convince me to try them this year.