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!

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review

I would give Ori and the Will of the Wisps a glowing recommendation; it hits all the right notes in terms of gameplay and controls, wrapped in a beautiful musical score and an art-style that would give Bob Ross a run for his money; but I can’t. As much as I would love to recommend this game, it needs a lot of work on the performance front. It stands on the precipice of greatness but falls short in the most important aspect of all. This game is incredible, but also very disappointing.

A sequel to the 2015 “Ori and the Blind Forest”, it surpasses its predecessor in so many ways while staying true to what made the first game so great. You follow the adventures of Ori, a guardian spirit who finds herself on an adventure in a strange land outside of her home of Nibel. She, along with her owlette companion Ku, fly far across the sea only to be stricken down by inclement weather and trapped in this foreign land. Ori and Ku struggle to go back home after being separated and Ori becomes entangled in an adventure to restore the land from the corruption that had long since consumed it. The story is very emotional, and I even shed a tear when I reached its gripping conclusion. Moon Studios just knows how to tug at the heartstrings of anyone who is fortunate enough to play through the game in its entirety.

The combat has been refined and smoothed out with a fine-toothed comb. No longer are you limited to the Spirit Flames that served as the primary attack in the Blind Forest. Now, Ori has access to a versatile assortment of weapons giving the player freedom of choice in a variety of play-styles. These weapons include, but are not limited to, a sword that slashes away at enemies quickly, a bow that provides range, and a cumbersome hammer that can destroy enemies’ armor and shields. Combat is much more pleasant in this sequel and empowers the player where the Spirit Flames did not.

The platforming should also be praised. Movement is buttery smooth, and each platforming sequence feels perfect in every sense of the word. If you are competent with the controls (and after playing some of the more challenging sequences in the Blind Forest, you should be) you can achieve these incredible platforming feats with such grace and fluidity. It is a masterpiece to behold. There were moments where I would initiate a sequence of jumps and launches and just be amazed by the mobility of the character, almost in disbelief that I input what I was witnessing on screen. It wouldn’t be unfair to say this may be one of the best platformers on offer in 2020.

The art is breathtaking to say the least. Each individual frame of the game can be screenshotted and would make the perfect desktop background. This is the perfect example of games as an artform. Side scrolling backgrounds are masterfully hand drawn and are bursting with color. Landscapes are jaw-dropping and awe inspiring, creating environments that are so full of life. This game, along with its predecessor, are two of the best-looking games I have ever laid my eyes on. It’s pure perfection.

The musical score contributes to the flavorful landscapes in the best way. It is all orchestral tunes that elevates the gameplay to a whole other level. The music howls at you as chase sequences pick up the pace and lulls you to sweet serenity when leisurely exploring the beautiful environment. The art alone is beautiful. The music alone is beautiful. The combination of the two is like Reese’s chocolate and peanut butter, and I honestly could not imagine one without the other. Not only is this one of the best-looking games I’ve seen, but the music stimulates the senses in ways I never thought possible. Expertly orchestrated, from a visual and auditory standpoint the execution is flawless.

And that brings me to my one and only complaint about the game, and boy is it a doozy. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is plagued with performance issues at nearly every turn. It stutters often, especially when transitioning into a new area. This is almost game breaking, and heartbreaking for an otherwise perfect title. At about the 8-hour mark I was frustrated by the constant slowdown and stutters. In one instance the game even crashed on me and I had to load into it from my last checkpoint. I was overwhelmed with anger and frustration that I thought about hanging my hat with this one and finishing my playthrough there, but I persevered and made it to the end, and I am glad that I did. This game desperately needs a patch. I would give it a perfect score were it not for these persistent performance issues. As it stands, this game is incredible but these issues in a 2020 release, and published by Microsoft at that, is unforgivable.

While Ori and the Will of the Wisps exudes perfection in almost every objective angle, where it faults is in one of the most important areas of a video game. I would not be surprised if many people put this game down out of sheer frustration, but I implore anyone giving this title a go to persevere through it, because the ending really needs to be experienced. If you can look past its flaws, there is so much more here than can be described. I believe that an almost perfect score is appropriate for an almost perfect game.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 5/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 4/5

Total: 23/25 or 92/100