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!

Streets of Rage 4 Review

The Genesis was home to a couple of my favorite beat-‘em-ups, one being Golden Axe and the other being Streets of Rage. It’s safe to say that when news broke of a new SoR game coming to the current generation of consoles, I was ecstatic. When I saw gameplay footage, I was blown away and had the release date marked in my calendar as soon as it became available. And it definitely lives up to the pedestal I put it on. Not only does it provide a story that’s appropriate for a revamp of the series, but it bolsters a lot of extra content and unlockables that will keep you coming back, even for just a level or two.

Following the collapse of Mr. X’s syndicate, a new organization is emerging to take control of the city. It is up to Axel, Blaze and  their gang of misfit tag-alongs to once again free the city from the clutches of corruption and evil. It is impossible to get into the story without spoiling it (it’s rather short as it is), but it’s important to note that the story doesn’t hold any real significance to the fun the player will have with this game. Instead, it is the constantly scrolling level design and gameplay that really drives this one home. The environments are beautiful, albeit a little dystopian, and the gameplay is reminiscent of the 16-bit adventures while also being new enough to provide some quality of life improvements to the classic gameplay you know and love. It is essentially a love letter to the 90’s, and is one that is welcomed with open arms. A pinch of nostalgia and a dash of gameplay improvements makes this a great time to be had by old fans and new ones alike.

The game feels fine-tuned, a departure from the clunky movement of the past. Everything flows nicely, and will assuredly make you feel like a badass as you jab and throw your enemies around. The new special moves add just enough flavor to satiate anyone’s taste and the combos are very similar to what we’ve seen before. It’s very much still a game that is rooted to the side-scrolling and up-and-down movements of the past. To dodge, you will often have to move upwards or downwards on the two-dimensional plane. It’s the mastery of the movement and fighting combos that will take you a long way into the harder difficulties. For newcomers, the easy difficulty is inviting and will allow you to learn the ropes. Anything past Hard though is excruciating as you are limited to the number of lives you are appointed. Luckily there are accommodations that the game provides allowing you to sacrifice points for more lives to help you beat that tricky boss you’ve been stuck on for ages. There is an ideal balance of difficulty for newbies and pros alike.

Graphics have shown a huge departure from the original 16-bit sprites and environments. Everything looks silky smooth, almost ripped out of a comic-book. It all has a nice polish to it that is easy on the eyes. The character models blend seamlessly with the colorful environments, animations never look out of place, and the backgrounds are alive with character and charm. It looks exactly like you would imagine a Streets of Rage reboot would look. Absolutely phenomenal. The series’ graphics looked good for their time back in the 90’s and they have advanced with the ages.

The sound has also evolved to find a place here in the 21st century. The music pumps you up to smash down some baddies, and the collision sound effects are satisfying to say the least. Right from the onset you have the option to play with the soundtrack uniquely designed for this entry, or the classic Streets of Rage soundtrack, which are both incredible. Even if you are a veteran, bound to the game by nostalgia, I would recommend playing the game with the new soundtrack first, soaking in all that the developers have intended. Later you will unlock the sprites from the first three games and it’s fun to run a playthrough again with the old characters and old music that fits them.

The amount of content you can unlock is outstanding, and it really draws the player in to multiple playthroughs. The only way to unlock everything is to continue playing and building up your lifetime score to meet the various milestones set out for you. The older sprites that are unlocked really clash with the sleek levels, looking out of place. It is still fun to see this clash, as odd as it seems. If you are playing on a platform that allows achievements, there is a great deal more content to come back to as you are challenged to finish the game on various difficulties and with various characters, multiplying the duration of the game at an astounding rate. With achievements, the amount of time completionists will have with this game far extends the initial one or two hour story.

Streets of Rage 4 is more than a solid entry in the series and acts to revitalize the genre showing that games like this can still be successful. For veterans of the series, this will likely scratch an itch that has persisted for over 20 years. It is also inviting to newcomers, being solid as a stand-alone experience. I would highly recommend this game to anyone who may find pleasure in old-school beat-‘em-ups and those looking for a refined beat-‘em-up experience.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 21/25 or 84/100