2020 was a weird year for everyone, myself included. In many ways, I was very fortunate to work the entire year and work from home since the moment the COVID-19 pandemic started getting fierce in March. However, my full-time job never slowed down at all either and many weeks there was, and there still is “highly encouraged” overtime as well. Sadly, this job creates a lot of mental exhaustion, couple that along with my year-long dread of losing our home, (which we finally received that news in September after courts figured out how to use Zoom,) and I’ve had some major mental tug-of-war happening. I’m actually in the process of finishing the move as I write this. So this doesn’t help my other job at this site and other places I write for. I’m used to having physical jobs that I can completely just leave behind at the workplace for the day. So, this was a unique challenge for me that took time to overcome. Due to that, my editing and review writing suffered a lot this year. This upsets me greatly as I had goals to push this website forward, which were dashed, but at least I can make it a goal for 2021. And although the actual writing, (these are games I bought myself), of many of my reviews, didn’t occur, the time I spent with them was super enjoyable. So, this is why you’ll see games such as: Streets of Rage 4, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Yakuza: Like a Dragon on my list.
A Little More Explanation on My List
There are also many games from 2020 that I completely missed out on because the timing window came and went for them before something else came along that required my attention. Whether it be from too much work, my daughter, girlfriend, or other family needs, having to put more focus on a game I was to be reviewing, or the Video Games 2 the MAX podcast, which was a major positive this year, as we actually didn’t miss a week for the first time in eight years.
So, games that I know are up my alley that I didn’t have time for such as: Ghost of Tsushima, Persona 5 The Royal, Resident Evil 3 Remake, If Found…, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (only because I like Vikings stuff), Call of the Sea, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, Gears Tactics missed out.
Then, there are many others that I enjoyed a lot but just didn’t go back to or didn’t get to play enough of that I feel I can truly express something for them as much as I can for others such as Ori and the Will of the Wisps, The Last of Us Part 2, Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition, One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 The Pathless, Ikenfell, Star Renegades, Haven, Gears 5: Hivebusters, and probably several more I can’t think about right now.
Finally, this is a list of 10 games that either truly resonated with me in a certain way, I enjoyed and played quite a lot, or they just absolutely surprised the heck out of me. Hopefully, you find something you like in here too.
Carrion is an absolute delight in a myriad of ways, as you play what would be the typical villain inside a Metroidvania. While helping this Monster grow bigger and stronger by literally eating people. There’s a certain satisfaction to the crunch of bones and watching bodies fly aimlessly around only to pull them back in to finish them off. However, this is what Carrion literally is and that gameplay loop is rather enjoyable. Although its origin story isn’t necessarily the best, it does not try to overstay its welcome either. Letting you get back to save points disguised as progression paths that unlock the next dingy part of the brief romp. You don’t unlock a ton of skills, but the ones you do, make getting through its world easier. Perhaps it doesn’t do something tremendously revolutionary, but I enjoyed every minute I had with the game and that’s what counts in the end.
This is a game I discovered thanks to Xbox Game Pass which is honestly not in my wheelhouse. Something akin to a Harvest Moon with building, keeping track of vegetation, and exploring for certain items is not my jam. But this is what I love about Xbox Game Pass, you can give anything a try and who knows, you could find your Spiritfarer. Immediately, the art style, Stella the main character, and the use of animal spirits as the impetus for essentially fulfilling their last wishes before going off to the great beyond grabbed me.
Each one of their stories fits wonderfully into the overarching narrative that death is a part of life. These spirits are what made me want to keep building, crafting, and managing just to see more of what they would say. Thunder Lotus Games packed a lot into Spiritfarer and yet it never becomes overbearing. In fact, I’d argue it is the complete opposite. Spiritfarer was my go-to relaxation game as I went to find craftable items by searching the various spots on the map, or built the next needed thing. Stella and her cat are also so endearing as characters that it encouraged me to keep playing too. This was a game that was truly needed in 2020. A game that teaches you to care for others with such a bittersweet charm is something absolutely special.
8. 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim
I grew up with the Tim Schafer LucasArts games. So, a modern adventure title that also has old school point-and-click aesthetics, plus, a time-twisting Sci-Fi story with 13 compelling characters and beautiful art done by Vanillaware is a match made in gaming heaven for me. 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim is 2/3 visual novel and mystery with 1/3 Strategy RPG mech battles. On the surface, it may seem like quite the odd pairing but it works sublimely well. The best decision Vanillware made was making them each their own thing. Much of the story can be experienced without even doing a lot in the Strategy game section and vice versa. At face value, the strategy RPG battles are not difficult, but there is plenty of depth there in maximizing attacks, special maneuvers, defensive aides, and improving various teams as a whole. Not to mention, you can also up the difficulty if you truly want a challenge.
There’s also no doubt that the art is simply impressive and perhaps does not jump off the screen like say Odin Sphere or Dragon’s Crown, but this is more due to the dour and darker tone of 13 Sentinels. Where the game truly shines though is in its soundtrack that absolutely has some great bangers for the Strategy battles, but then has softer touches for the story moments. While also having its times where the story sequences ramp up in intensity and the music soars right along with it, making it an even grander experience.
The story is absolutely the reason to play this game though. Without a doubt, it is one of the best narratives of the year. What I liked the most, is that each character also has branching narratives depending on the decisions you make. Once you complete one, the key to unlocking the others is shown and you can complete a major part of one character’s story before moving to the next. The impressive thing is watching how they all intertwine in some way. Making it feel even bigger by the end. I wish I could have spent more time with Aegis Rim, but from what I did get to play there is a lot to love.
7. Immortals Fenyx Rising
Immortals Fenyx Rising is the third game released in a short span of time that uses the Ubisoft open-world formula. Sadly for that reason and also due to being a new IP it went under the radar. But put me squarely in the camp that absolutely enjoyed it. I decided to put it here because I haven’t really been able to explore it fully or get super far into it. However, from what I have played, it is funny, fun to play, and it has puzzles that make it stand out on its own. This is from someone that wasn’t the biggest fan of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as well. What perhaps I enjoy most is, its personalities, from the magnanimous Zeus and his quarrels with a narrating Prometheus made me laugh a few times. Your own character, Fenyx, has some pretty great lines as well. I’m also a huge fan of games that give you the most tools possible to get rid of nuisances and also to explore its landscape. Super quickly you get all three weapons and even the wings to fly around leaving you to progress at your leisure. This is where Immortals thrives because it has a lot for you to do and you set the map from the vantage points. Perhaps what I enjoyed most were the various dungeons that had all types of puzzles for you to figure out. I wish I had spent more time with Immortals Fenyx Rising, but it just came out at a time with so many things that I got to it rather late. Still, I feel it is one of the best of the entire year.
6. Spider-Man: Miles Morales
To be honest, I played about halfway through the original Marvel’s Spider-Man as it was a game I didn’t pick up until a Black Friday sale in 2018. However, what I did play I was enthralled by. After seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, I took a deep dive into Miles Morales from the comics. Learning about his origins and some of his adventures made me excited for what was to come with this game. To say the game lived up to my hype is an understatement.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales proved to be much more than just a simple DLC or expansion. Having the use of his Venom voltage and invisibility powers are terrific differences from the usual Spidey fare. Streamlining all of the extra stuff you can do is also a wonderful saving grace, as it was easy for the original to get bloated with icons. For me, the major reason I kept going with Miles lies beyond swinging around the city and punching bad folks in the face, despite how fun that all is. The story was profoundly interesting for me, especially as a half Latino guy (Venezuelan) myself that has one side of the family where Spanish is the language you speak at home. Just seeing that in a major video game is absolutely touching and meaningful. I’m not Puerto Rican, but my girlfriend and her family are, seeing that flag just there proudly as a symbol of not only the diversity of New York City but also for our culture as a whole is pretty awesome.
Miles Morales has his own style and that is super important to differentiate him from regular Spidey. This game really showcases him in a great way and leaves open the door for more Miles solo games in the future. I also want to mention the soundtrack here too. A mixture of Hip-Hop and orchestral music similar to what you hear in the Avengers films is something I never knew I wanted. The two musical tastes combine well whether it is a major fighting theme or a more mellow jaunt through the city song. Insomniac did a great job in providing something both entirely familiar and surprisingly fresh all at once. I truly hope we get to see Miles in his own game once again in the future. And oh yeah, the game looks gorgeous in Fidelity mode on PlayStation 5.
5. Astro’s Playroom
The little game that could, turned out to be sublime. Leaving you wanting more in all of the best ways. In essence, this is a tech demo for the PS5 Dualsense controller. Even with knowing what a tremendous experience Astrobot: Rescue Mission is firsthand, I was still floored by Astro’s Playroom. There’s certainly something to be said for a game that leaves you smiling during its entire run time. Obviously, Astro is an adorable mascot, and exploring the grassy jungle or feeling the sandy beach was just so delightful. Feeling the haptic feedback in the controller with the springy frog character or in the movement of the rock climbing monkey is a neat introduction to what could be possible in the future with a unique controller. But the charming and most memorable part of Astro’s Playroom is its love and reverence for Sony’s history. Finding the rendered PlayStation 2 Network Adapter hidden somewhere is certainly odd, but when you see it in the PlayStation Labo museum it all looks like an amazing collection of memorabilia. Astro does a fantastic job of just immersing you in what it is and making you curious to find every sliver of PlayStation nostalgia. It also does it with some beautiful visuals, speedy gameplay, and an intoxicating soundtrack that sticks with you long after finishing it.
4. Streets of Rage 4
Streets of Rage 4 is a nostalgia explosion that hits you in all the best ways. Everything about it is rooted in the old games, but it takes elements of what were some of the best beat-em-ups of all-time in the first few Streets of Rage games and modernizes them. I was not a SEGA kid at all and I’ve only dabbled in the original games, but Streets of Rage 4 is just such an enjoyable game that I couldn’t put it down once I started. Both of the new characters, Cherry and Floyd are wonderful additions to the main roster and fit exquisitely into its environment. Cherry literally smashes with her guitar and Floyd smashes dude’s heads together. You couldn’t make a more perfect pairing. There’s also added depth in using specials and then rewarding you for beating up more baddies. combine that with a great art style and an absolutely banging soundtrack. Seriously, if the music in Streets of Rage 4 doesn’t make you feel some type of way, you may consider seeing a physician. This is one of those I listened to many times outside of the game because it is really THAT good. Not to mention, whooping up on all those villains is just total fun.
Talk about a total surprise. The roguelike genre is mostly something I avoid because I don’t like the feeling of playing a lot of the same game over and over. However, Supergiant Games solved that issue by making each run feel unique. Not only with procedurally generated levels, but also in its dynamic storytelling that makes conversing with each character different after a run. They directly ask you about your defeat or victory against a certain boss, the way you died, or even Zagreus’s personal thoughts on his father or other matters. Gods appear randomly to bestow gifts and also will ask questions or make comments that feel specific to what is occurring at the moment. This level of detail is special not just for the genre, which many times is severely lacking in narrative, but for gaming as a whole. The Greek pantheon is nothing new for media and games, but there’s something about the way Supergiant portrays them that just works. It stays true to what you expect but distorts it just enough to feel like Supergiant also could have just created these characters as well.
The moment to moment gameplay in Hades also just feels great. Whether using a shield, a trident, or even a gun they all have their uses depending on your specific build. I never grew tired of just slaying the hordes because it was fun to take them out with the latest toy I unlocked. However, the bosses are a different story and they can certainly get frustrating as you try to figure out the best way to defeat them. But this is where the storytelling comes into play. Death is a reward instead of a punishment. You discover a little more about the world Zagreus inhabits. I mean, you can even pet Cerberus that’s a plus right? Another thing that sets Hades apart is that there’s also just so much to unlock and upgrade. Runs are not wasted at all. You can gain something even from the shortest ones. Making Hades feel even that much more interconnected. Certainly way more than other roguelikes.
What really shines for me about Hades aside from the supremely well-done story, is the art and its music. The character designs in Hades are a marvel to behold. From the enemies to the gods, the bosses, and even Zagreus they just have this awesome feel to them. Giving them this heavy metal sheen that makes them look badass, but they also the personality which makes you want to see more of them, except Hades he’s just purely unlikeable. Of course, this is a Supergiant game so I have to talk about the music. It’s absolutely incredible. Supergiant games in general all have terrific soundtracks, but somehow another level has been reached with Hades, which totally helps in making the game that much more replayable. The soundtrack has this total jamming quality to it that makes it something you could also recommend to a hard rock fan. The way it blends not just guitars and bass, but also more melodic instruments like harps so well is just great. There is so much to love about Hades that I could go on further, but I’ll just leave it at, just go play this game already.
2. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
I’ll admit that I started my Yakuza journey when Yakuza 0 released and made everyone take notice that the Yakuza series is freaking great. Subsequently, the success of the game led to the remakes of Yakuza 1 and 2 under the names Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza Kiwami 2. After that came the end of Kazama Kiriyu‘s journey with Yakuza 6: Song of Life. So, this created a void for the seventh entry in the franchise for Ryu Ga Gotoku studio. Having to start totally fresh with a new protagonist. However, the studio decided to not only move away from Kiryu but also the genre that has powered their games for all these years. Instead of opting for new inspiration in the form of the legendary Dragon Quest franchise. Pushing their main source of battle firmly into the turn-based role-playing direction. Cause many of their longtime fans to wonder “what in the hell are you doing?” Well, they proved themselves right, they may have well figured out a way to create two distinct branches of their beloved franchise.
The turn-based combat is fast and especially with everyone moving around it makes battles quick and painless. Largely retaining the same feeling you get with the beat-em-up gameplay of the other games. Skills and special attacks are plenty, there are tag-team attacks, crazy summons called Poundmates, and then on top of that is the job system. This truly brings the RPG elements into it with some wacky jobs included like a Break Dancer, Chef, and even a Dealer. Somehow this all works in the Yakuza universe now. Including its new main character Ichiban Kasuga who’s so enthralled by Dragon Quest that he sees enemies as Human-like monsters. Ichiban himself is so silly and loveable that you can’t help but like him. However, what makes him even better is how much he cares about his party members and how endearing he is to everyone else. Sure, this also means he’s a naive dumbass, but considering how this year’s gone, he may be the perfect protagonist.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon also manages to somehow pack-in an entire Dragon Kart racing game, a business management sim that also ties into unlocking a side character, and all the usual accouterments that are normal in other Yakuza games. The story itself takes the twists and turns of other Yakuza games too. What sets this Yakuza apart is its characters, particularly the ones that join Ichiban on his journey. This is furthered by Persona-like character moments that are available with each of them that progress throughout the game into one playable final climax that makes all of that time worth it. It also helps that they are also older characters that have all been through some crap and it makes them instantly relatable too. So much could have gone wrong for this entry in the Yakuza franchise and it wound up being an absolute joy to play all the way through its 15 chapters.
1. Final Fantasy VII Remake
What else is there to say about Final Fantasy VII? It turns out that there was way more in Midgar than we ever imagined. Final Fantasy VII Remake is a triumph. While far from perfect, it has now set the bar for what a remake can be. Truly blurring the lines between being faithful to the original and reimagining what Final Fantasy VII is. Now, FFVII is in its own new reality where the main villain Sepiroth appears earlier in the adventure, Jesse Biggs, and Wedge have meaningful personalities, and the battle system’s hybrid of action movements with turn-based decisions is here to stay. I don’t have this absolute love for FFVII as many that were waiting for this game’s release probably do, but I have tried to get through FFVII probably around 20 times. Each time I always at least get through Midgar which is really about 5-7 hours of the entire game. So, I’m extremely familiar with how this part of the story is supposed to go. And maybe not everything that was added to the story hits the mark, but the sum of the entire game is fantastic.
Obviously, Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s graphical update is impressive and the outstanding music was somehow made even better with all of the additions and remixes to the original’s score. But what makes the game special is how it enhances every single one of its main cast and the aforementioned side characters. Putting aside the newly added Whispers, Aerith perhaps benefits the most from the hyper-focus in one area as she now has a personality that exudes through the screen and is absolutely loveable. Barrett really gets the point across of his mission and proves to be more caring than you would have thought previously. Tifa is even more of a badass and her girl power moments with Aerith are so fun. Then there’s Cloud who is just a total dork and is a bit more cautious than in the original. Certainly, the improvements to Biggs and Wedge are great. But Jesse is the star of the show. Her interactions with Cloud are hilarious. She makes some of the best moments for that first half of the game. I still think about my time with Final Fantasy VII Remake and there is so much to love about the game, but the characters are what I remember most.