My Top 5 Games of 2020

What a year 2020 has been. With many people being shut-ins due to lockdowns across the globe, video games have offered the most pleasant of respites from the otherwise stressful, scary times. It is for this reason that I would like to celebrate this year in video games with my top 5 picks for the best games of the year. This may be a somewhat unconventional list, simply because I have not played everything out there. You will find many games that are not included here that should probably be on everyone’s list. I do not have access to the entirety of the Playstation library, so do not expect to see games like Ghost of Tsushima or Final Fantasy 7 Remake. I have heavily favored playing games on my Nintendo Switch this year, so many of these picks are titles that are easy to pick up and play, jump in for a short period of time and jump out just as quickly. If you disagree with anything here, please feel free to share your picks in the comment section. But enough of my rambling, let’s get into it.

5. Minecraft Dungeons

This was a nominee at The Game Awards for best family game of the year. While it did not win, I believe it is a true contender for best games released this year, or at the very least best games I have played this year. It is a fun, top-down, isometric dungeon crawler that is accessible to a wide audience. It has Minecraft’s aesthetic, along with a low barrier of entry. I beat the game alone but have recently gone back to it with my fiancée who is not well-versed in the video game sphere. But even she was able to learn the mechanics with relative ease, and she was enjoying her time with it. I hold the unpopular opinion that Dungeons is a much better game than the original Minecraft. From a design standpoint, it is a more polished experience. This opinion may also derive from my apathy toward large, procedurally generated sandbox games where there is no clear direction. I favor the more linear, clear-cut game design that Minecraft lacks but Dungeons offers in spades. For that reason, it is number five on my list.

4. Streets of Rage 4

Anybody who knows me well will understand why this has made my top five list. I have been a sucker for the Streets of Rage series since I played it late in the Sega Genesis’ life cycle. The originals were among my favorite beat ‘em ups I have ever played, and this long-awaited new entry captured the essence of those classic games while turning up the heat in close-combat action. Not to mention it has one of the best artistic designs I have ever seen. The colorful palette was vibrant and made characters pop with so much life. It also had a good amount of content to unlock with multiple playthroughs, and it is a game I kept coming back to throughout the year. It is another game that is geared toward cooperative play, providing a lot of fun for me and my brother, throwing us back to our childhood when we played the first in the series many times over. What a phenomenal nostalgic trip.

3. Hades

As a contender for Game of the Year, Hades is a rogue-lite that took Nintendo Switch owners on an adventure through the underworld. Its air-tight mechanics and pleasing visuals rocketed this game toward a top spot on my list. This is particularly fun for anyone interested in Greek Mythology, whether knowing the lore or wanting to learn more about it. The game offers a compendium of mythological goodness and as you progress through the game, conversing with various gods, the story develops and you learn more about the world in which the game is based. Be forewarned however, this game will kick your butt if you are not paying attention. Selecting the proper power-ups and branching pathways will be crucial to your success, or failure. Admittedly, I have yet to beat the game because I suck, but the continuous progression, even after failed attempts, is enough of a hook to keep me playing. You shouldn’t pass on any of the games on my list, but I think this one is a must have for anyone interested in Greek Mythology.

2. Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Every game on this list, with the exclusion of maybe Minecraft Dungeons, have made it in the top 5 in part due to the aesthetic choices. These games are B.E.A.utiful! The most visually stunning of them all must be Ori though. I fell in love with the Blind Forest in 2015 and have waited 5 long years for its well-deserved sequel. Will of the Wisps takes everything that made the first game great and adds a plethora of features to improve upon that foundation. Most notably, the combat is a lot more interesting. The new abilities are nothing to sneeze at either though, with the inclusion of my favorite technique that allows you to burrow through sand and launch out to reach new areas. This game is nothing short of a masterpiece, and it takes the Metroidvania genre and refines it into a perfect gem of a game. The only issue I had with it was at launch on the Xbox One. It suffered a great deal from framerate drops but has since been patched and runs seamlessly. This one is a must-own, but it is also included with Gamepass for anyone already subscribed. If this one flew under your radar, be sure to check it out!

  1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Of course, it is this game, what else could it be? Animal Crossing, from a technical standpoint, may not be the best game of the year, but it is THE game of the year. It came out in North America right around the time a good portion of the population was ordered into a lockdown. It offered the perfect escape from everything that was going on in the world around us. For hours at a time, we had this beautiful island to tend to, with a troop of cute animal villagers to converse with. It gave us an opportunity to connect with other island-dwellers as well. I had so much fun visiting my sister’s island, fishing, catching bugs, and shaking trees. It allowed us to stay in touch in a fun, happy-go-lucky environment. Timing could not have been more perfect for this deserted island getaway. Do I think they will replicate sales with the next entry in the series; I am not sure. To me, it seems to be a product of the circumstances that surrounded its launch. It is nonetheless a fantastic game and well-deserving of the top spot on my list.

So there you have it, my top 5 games of the year. I understand some may be disappointed that their favorite games may not have made this list, but if it is any reconciliation, I probably just have not played your favorite games. I am only one person and it is unhealthy how much gaming experiences I consume in a year as it is. To add any more to my plate at this time would be irrational. In addition to everything that has been coming out, I have a HUGE backlog of games that I am slowly whittling down, the vast majority of which have released outside of 2020. All this to say that I cannot possibly review every game I play, or even play every game I want. However, I do hope that some of you see at least one game you enjoyed on this list. I am interested in what your top five is too, so don’t be shy; leave a comment down below. Happy Holidays!

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review

I wasn’t going to write a review of this game; I mean, how could I? Is it even possible to review a game that has no end? That is experiential and follows real-time? It’s impossible, but I did want talk about Animal Crossing: New Horizons in some form. So, consider this more of a “first impressions” rather than a full-fledged, extensive review. I am currently in day 5 since the conception of my island, appropriately named Hilo after a town in Hawaii I was fortunate enough to vacation at. There has been a lot of progression even now, looking back on all I have accomplished in these very short days. And that is something I would like to highlight. This new entry in the Animal Crossing franchise has a steady stream of progression at every turn, and you will rarely find naught to be done.

If you have played an Animal Crossing before, you already know how inexplicably fun and addictive these games are. Where else are you given what are essentially chores, that deliver a lot of fun and relaxation. There was no perfect time to release New Horizons than in this age of uncertainty, where many people are in lockdown or self-isolation. Instead of going about your daily routines, the hustle and bustle of everyday capitalist life, and striving for financial comfort; you are now tasked with staying home, which is for the betterment of all humanity. You are literally saving lives by hunkering down in a warm-knit blanket, sipping a morning coffee as you escape to this fairytale island. And oh, what an escape this is. You will develop new routines, as in-game tasks open up to you and must be completed. It is the perfect distraction to what may otherwise have serious ramifications on the mental health of many individuals. Timing could not be any better.

The game revolves around a character whom you create at the onset. You are offered an Island Getaway Package that entails moving to a secluded island with two other anthropomorphic strangers. In your time here you will create relationships with your brand-new villager companions, newcomers, and in-real-life friends who have also chosen to purchase the game. This game is an experience and can only be described as a life-simulation; however, it is much more than that when you consider all it has to offer. Tom Nook of Resident Services sends you on your way with direction to locate a spot you can see yourself settling down in. Once this is completed you are given the choice of where your villager companions can set up shop. You eventually learn how to craft your own furniture and tools, send letters, and visit other islands in your journey to collect everything and expand your horizons. In all honesty, the game must be experienced for a better idea of what it’s all about.

The graphical fidelity is far beyond anything we have seen in previous entries. Everything looks clean, polished, and all around impressive in its child-friendly, cartoonish style. The new improvements are evident in the items you collect, the wildlife you capture, and the trees. Oh my god, THE TREES. The leaves rustle in the wind and fall from the branches when the trunk is shaken. Minor details, yes, but they go a long way in making an experience that is both immersive and charming at the same time. And this game drips in charm. The music has had an overhaul, sounding more fluent and pleasing to the ears than in previous years. The islanders all speak in their signature language that consists of each individual phoneme interlocking and strung out quickly. It is incredibly charming, albeit seemingly annoying to people on the outside looking in.

When it comes to replay value, the randomly generated worlds and character appearances make this game incredibly enjoyable to start anew. In a game that demands progression, even at your own pace, I don’t see why anyone would want to restart though. Of course the game can be replayed ad infinitum and still be enjoyable, but the real treasure here is in the constant progress that is made in the development of this deserted island and the relationships you build with the various characters. It is compelling to continue to progress, and therefore draws the player back in at the turn of each day. It is not only replayable in the sense that you can restart from scratch and still have a good time, but that the player is compelled to advance in the game, day after day, for the rest of eternity should they so wish.

My first impressions of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is that it is the definitive entry to date, and any longtime fan will find an endless amount of content to enjoy here. Newcomers to the series are also likely to enjoy themselves if they are looking for an escape from the dark times we are living in now. This time will pass, and there is no better way to pass the time than with Animal Crossing.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 4/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 24/25 or 96/100

Note: I have only completed 5 days of the game (I am no time traveler), so the number score may not reflect the actual quality of the game going forward; however, I have unabashedly sunk around 20 hours into the game so far (that’s the self-isolation life for you) and am an adherent that this is more than enough time to offer my opinion.