There’s something about this year that is incredibly difficult to describe without a heap of emotion to follow said description. Everything from ‘outrageous’ to ‘utterly dreadful’ encapsulates what will be an unforgettable year not only for myself but for the world. A full blown pandemic in the 21st Century has completely changed how our daily life and culture will venture on into the future, socially and business-wise. Even I don’t see myself removing my face-masks and distancing practices out of my life as we progress into the next year.
Still, with loss plaguing our lives and the constant fear of the next day lingering over some of our heads, it was more than enough reason to try and escape out of this reality as much as you can. Video Games were my escape this year in much more weighted manner than the years prior. Anticipating the upcoming releases for the year, keeping up with my daily rituals of screaming at my frequently played favorites such as Apex Legends and Hearthstone and revisiting critical favorites that I missed last year were more than enough to keep me busy.
There was no shortage of incredible, addictive and incredibly divisive titles to come out of this year. These are some of my favorite titles to release.
10Streets of Rage 4 (Developer: Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games)
If you were to tell me that a Streets of Rage sequel NOT developed by the original team and also NOT composed by Yuzo Koshiro would actually turn out to be phenomenal, then I would have called you crazy. Those were the kind of criticisms that publisher Dotemu faced once this game had been announced to fans. After multiple runs of this incredibly-deep installment of one of the best beat-em-up franchises ever, I am glad to say that Streets of Rage 4 has surpassed all of my expectations from start to finish.
Every layer of combat interaction is remarkably polished and thorough in it’s combo potential, allowing some of the most refreshing combat encounters and boss battles that few beat-em-ups could dare to match. Its controversial visual stylings warmed up on me after seeing classic bosses reimagined and new, exciting characters introduced into the mix. Whether it’s that outstanding playthrough of Stage 5’s Chinatown setting or Stage 7’s art-house romp there was never a shortage of incredible music and sound design accompanying it.
It will be a very, very long time before any beat-em-up in the future can dethrone my love of Streets of Rage 4.
9 Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (Developer: Toys for Bob)
Unlike Streets of Rage, there was little doubt that this title would destroy any of my expectations for the worse. After multiple revitalizations of the Crash franchise with remasters and the powerhouse package that was Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled I was 100% full sail for whatever the hell Toys for bob had in mind for the ambitious, fourth-numbered title.
What I got was an impeccably designed, clever 3D platformers by a developer that absolutely despises completionists. Even with the huge level count, multiple unique playstyles and unlockable bonus levels that comes with the base package Toys for Bob were utterly hellbent on making the player do those same levels AGAIN until the coveted 100% completion was done.
Without question Crash 4 is one of the finest platformers to release this year, and within my top ten of the previous generation right alongside the likes of Mario and Sonic’s best titles of the same gen.
8Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of An Elusive Age (Developer: Square-Enix)
This would be the first Dragon Quest game that I have played in a very long time. I was introduced to the franchise by what I assume most people my age were; I saw a copy of VIII in a game store and picked it up for the Final Fantasy XII demo that came with it. While I anticipated XII more, the package that I had gotten in VIII had been great in it’s own right!
While not too much has changed about the core gameplay of XI S, that’s arguably one of the most appealing things about this game. Dragon Quest XI S doesn’t attempt to reinvent itself and what it means to play a turn-based RPG like it’s sister series Final Fantasy does. It wouldn’t be fair to call some of the core mechanics dated because there’s such an incredible level of polish and thought to how it’s systems interact with one another. It’s simplicity can feel deceptive and that would be one of the hooks for me to invest time into it’s quirky, exciting cast and overworld. (Toriyama designs just do not get old!)
7 Gears Tactics (Developer: Splash Damage)
I knew the developer of this game due to the great work they’ve done as a support studio for The Coalition and the mainline Gears franchise. They’ve come up with some great multiplayer maps and post-launch content, arguably a lot better than The Coalition themselves. Gears Tactics was one of the first games that the developer of titles such as Dirty Bomb, Enemy Territory and uh…uh, Brink — could define their own Gears title on their own terms.
With Gears Tactics, Splash Damage answers the question: how do you make the modern Strategy RPG faster? The introduction of the execution system more commonly seen in the mainline Gears franchise would completely flip the table on how intense SRPGs could be. Throwing yourself into the fray for that extra execution to stack on your other buddies movement points is an insane feeling of risk-reward that I hope other SRPG franchises look into replicating. Couple that with an entertaining Gears storyline (I like the lore!), some deep customization and player build options and you’ve got what is essentially my favorite RPG of the year!
6 Legends of Runeterra (Developer: Riot Games)
I fucking hate League of Legends.
Let me rephrase: Riot Games’ flagship title has always captured me with it’s vast character catalogue and visuals that the constant desire of playing something that is not a MOBA has always been on my mind. As I await for other titles announced out of Riot — like that fighting game!! — Runeterra was mostly meant to serve as a route to get into the same-named world of League of Legends.
In the end Riot created a hard answer to the steep investment curve of CCGs. Gone are the booster packs meant to be paid with in-game or real currency, gone are the RNG aspects that come with those booster packs. Everything in Legends of Runeterra can be acquired through gameplay through it’s region-based progression passes that reward players with cards from that region set. The currency — shards — meant to craft missing cards come plentiful and OFTEN. Runeterra is one of the most cost-effective products to come out of a developer who probably puts out $60 skins on that evil MOBA that I will never invest time into.
Along with the accessibility comes a well designed CCG with interesting mechanics that don’t feel too tied to RNG like other card games do. With Runeterra I finally have more of a reason to get immersed in the world of League of Legends.
Without playing it!
5 Nioh 2 (Developer: Tecmo-Koei)
This is the first non-fighting game that I have played out of Tecmo-Koei since the abysmal Ninja Gaiden 3. With seeing one of my favorite action franchises reduced to…well, a totally bad time, I didn’t find myself getting interested in their next action-franchise in Nioh. I picked up Nioh 2 on an absolute whim, wanting to experience an intense Souls-like game because I haven’t really played one since Dark Souls 3.
I like Nioh 2. I really, REALLY like Nioh 2. One of the reasons why I would put this title over other Souls-like titles — and even above last year’s Sekiro — is the level of build versatility that compliments it’s 4-stance system. Different styles of axe-wielding and katana-slashing, multiple defensive elements, TONFAS! even. There’s layers to this game that even with the time put in it thus far, I only feel as if I’m scratching the surface.
I don’t think Nioh 2 really reignited my excitement for action games out of Tecmo-Koei and, honestly, that’s okay. I really love what this series does and I am definitely looking forward to it’s next installment.
4 Granblue Fantasy Versus (Developer: Arc System Works)
Legends of Runeterra and Granblue Fantasy Versus exist in the same space of, “wow! I would really like to get into this franchise but the source material is incredibly intimidating to me!” GBVS’ source material being, well, a mobile only RPG that comes with all of the trappings that most mobile RPGs come with.
Versus was my first real exposure to these characters and — along with a very great, surprisingly accessible fighting game to accompany it — I’m glad that the game exists as such. GBVS introduces a clever way of implementing a simplistic special mechanic system while still making room for EX mechanics and more of the higher-ceiling fighting game mechanics that developer Arc System Works is famous for. It’s another deceptively simple fighting experience like Samurai Shodown was for last year.
I really like Djeeta!
3 Hades (Developer: Supergiant Games)
Hades is an isometric Action RPG developed by the creators of Bastion, Transistor and Pyre. Hades is the tale of a young man who desperately seeks liberation from his father, who happens to be Hades. With heavily roguelike elements, challenging boss encounters and a seemingly endless array of build customization Hades in itself is probably one of the deepest gameplay experiences that you will get out of this year.
That’s not the reason why I like Hades. I’m immersed into the stylish Greek mythos that comes with Hades — from the fact that the sigil of the underworld is Hades’ beard for some reason, the tension you could cut with a knife between main character Zagreus and his underworld adversaries Megaera and Thanatos, to the charming nooks and crannies of the underworld halls. Hades accomplishes what even few AAA experiences can do; introduce life and a breath of fresh air within every individual level you can think of.
Hades is one of the best written experiences that you will ever get this year and arguably for the foreseeable future, but that’s to be expected of Supergiant.
2 DOOM Eternal (Developer: Id Software)
One of the key criticisms DOOM Eternal faces from fans of the previous games is the amount of work and micromanagement that’s involved in it’s stellar combat system. Chainsaw kills = ammo. Glory kills = health. Each higher tier demon has a weak spot that can be exploited. There’s a rune and perks based system I guess. There’s a lot of collectibles! All of that stuff you learned about the combat system doesn’t apply to the controversial Marauder enemy type. There’s so many frantic, split second decisions that you have to make in the combat grounds of DOOM Eternal that makes the experience to be undeniably brutal. It’s a game that doesn’t really work with a controller without the addition of extra buttons like paddles. There’s little to…no downtime to soak in the chaos of the hell-ruined world. There’s also a TERRIBLE boss-fight in the end.
Everything involved with DOOM Eternal will immediately click and the game refuses to compensate for your displeasure in its mechanics. It’s a bold doubling down of everything that worked properly in it’s previous game back in 2016, standing as one of the deepest single player FPSes of all time. It’s a love letter to DOOM, a love letter to action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Everything about it, the level design, the enemy design, the fact that the game just decides to be a 3D platformer for a good 20 minutes or so AND that the 3D platforming can be so masterfully tuned that you’re asking for more. The sawed-off has a goddamn grappling hook and you can do hard drifts around Mancubus, how can you NOT like this game.
DOOM Eternal is so desperately close to being a sheer perfect gaming experience. Even still I struggle with conquering its oppressive post-launch expansion and yet I demand more from it.
1 Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 (Developer: Vicarious Visions)
No less than five years ago Activision-Blizzard burned down the Tony Hawk franchise with it’s absolutely atrocious Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5.
Then I guess they did a remaster of the first two Tony Hawk games. That turned out to be my favorite video game of the year, bar none.
There’s something particularly great about the Tony Hawk franchise is that you could argue the franchise was perfected with the release of THPS2. (Personally I’m a fan of THPS3). Fans of the franchise argue that the series jumped the shark with the introduction of reverts, spine-transfers, natas-spins, wall bouncing etc. yet I couldn’t possibly imagine playing Tony Hawk without those divisive mechanics included in the experience. That’s exactly what Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 did, and in-turn amplified what is already a perfect video game experience. Like Pac-Man Championship Edition, Ghosts N Goblins Ultimate and Tetris Effect, this is undeniably the greatest skateboarding experience to release.
It’s a celebration of what skateboarding has done to video games as a culture, and what the video game franchise has contributing to the skateboarding scene. Through the aged, familiar faces of Rodney Mullen and Kareem Campbell (Activision convinced Kareem fucking Campbell to get on a skateboard again!!!) come new, youthful skateboarding pros alongside of them. New challenges, a fully realized creative suite of custom maps that are just as insane as the rail parks made in previous TH games years ago.
There’s no better video game experience for me than this game. I see myself enjoying this title for years to come. This without a doubt is the most important video game for me in 2020.