We did it gamers. 2020 is almost over. I can’t believe it. And while it was definitely a wack year, I didn’t entirely hate it!
The world has been exploding. We all made a shift towards a more online-centric way of life. It’s bittersweet; I like not having to walk through the snow to get to class during a storm, but I also miss hanging IRL with my friends. Being on the computer is fun, but also Twitter and social media in general are hell. Not to mention being on the computer sometimes is NOT fun (they don’t like to talk about that).
Through all the bullshit, this was a year of playing together, enjoying virtual community, and finding new ways to maintain bonds. Video games did an exceptional job of providing spaces that allow for all that. I played a lot of games this year (most of which were not from 2020, *cough* Metal Gear *cough*) and among them there were so many slappers. Watching how quarantine affected what we play and how has been a light in the darkness of 2020. I never would’ve expected to love all the games I did from this year, but after reflecting on them, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Anyways, I won’t keep you waiting. Here are my favorite games of 2020!
10. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Sometime in mid-March, the world was still frantically figuring out how to deal with a worldwide pandemic. It mostly still is. But this is when “outside” became more hazardous than ever and phrases like “social distancing,” or “Make sure you bring your mask!” quickly entered our collective lexicon. Separated from our old every day, we needed new ways to connect and communicate as we adapted to new (hyper online) lifestyles. Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrived at the perfect time to serve as a bridge into our more virtual-oriented world, coming clutch as a relaxing substitute for quality IRL time with pals.
It was so much fun running around this world, because I could finally be me! I was able to sport my natural haircut and skin color for the first time in Animal Crossing, without awkward tanning methods or Mii Masks, and it felt great to be seen.
I’ve never seen as many friends logged onto their Nintendo Switch systems at once as I did during the launch month of New Horizons. It was fantastic being able to hop onto the random islands of friends I’ve connected with through so many different avenues, like work, school, and social media. Crafting the sickest outfits and saving them on lock with my handy fashion wand, fishing contests with pals, and discovering my wack interior design tastes were my highlights with the game. I truly admire how it makes the mundane fun, forcing me to attune to its pace, slowing me down to enjoy the little moments that make life oh, so special.
“I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost,” I whisper to calm myself down. I am hiding in a cramped closet with three of my friends as we’re hunted in a haunted house. It could be a Phantom, or a Spirit, but we’re honestly not sure. We’ve been too busy screaming at every change in the environment to really take any notes. Our flashlights stop flashing.
“Okay let’s run OUTSIDE NOW.” We start running but the door is locked. The flashing is back. I turn around and see my friend Ben has stopped moving, his mic is now off, with his body jiggling strangely. I’m actually scared… He’s been possessed. It looks like we’re next.
Each round of Phasmophobia feels like a mini-horror flick where you and your friends are the main cast. Your objective is to uncover what kind of ghost is haunting the building. When you first enter a house it’s like an interactive Nancy Drew-type game; you look for clues of the ghost’s presence which could be anything from fingerprints, ultra-cold temperatures, or even the paranormal figure speaking directly to players. The game flicks like a switch when the ghost gets upset — turning the detective-like experience into an anxiety-inducing coward simulator.
The most impressive thing about Phasmophobia is its smart use of the microphone both as a realistic tool of proximity communication, and a source of voice recognition is utilized so what you say can trigger a ghost interaction. They could throw something, or even hunt you based on your attitude in the place you’re exploring, and that is some refreshingly cool gameplay. This game can definitely be janky at points, but the intense and frightful moments that come out of it are exceedingly funny.
8. Risk of Rain 2
While my team and I bolted back to our ship, as endless alien fireworks shot our way in the wake of vanquishing Mithrix, King of Nothing, for the first time, I felt a camaraderie and sense group accomplishment that games seldom give me. We were all playing vastly different characters with distinctive builds that synergized well enough for us to just barely get the win. It was a crazy run, but we did it. The last time I remember that collective rush to escape was when I played the Halo 3 Warthog mission on legendary with my pals after school.
I never touched the original Risk of Rain, which was a 2D action platformer-roguelike, but I have to give props to developer Hopoo Games for taking such a risk (lol) and switching up the series’ art style and mechanics into an aesthetically pleasing 3D shooter. This is one of the first games I started streaming with the Fanbyte squad, and the randomized elements always made it a blast to play while still giving us enough breathing room to goof around.
7. Final Fantasy VII Remake
The first time I saw this game was in my friend’s basement — watching them play as I chowed down on some high quality homemade spaghetti. As I laid back on the beanbag, they started a new save file and I felt absolute comfort. The opening theme played and I instantly fell for the cheesy dialogue, giant sword, and motley crew of eco-terrorists. I knew then I was going to totally dig Final Fantasy VII Remake.
When the game dropped, I listened to so many plot breakdowns, theories, and review roundups that I was shocked a remake of this size actually happened. They turned Cloud from a moody bunch of polygons into a cool young man with a sword who has probably been asked to join a boy band. Thinking about the changes makes my head explode! I still haven’t played it yet; I’ve been busy playing through the original Final Fantasy VII to gain a stronger background knowledge of what I’m hopping into. Yet I already have so many feelings about it. This remake has connected generations of gamers, young and old, illustrating how powerful and bonding the medium of gaming can be.
ALSO, side note: Sephiroth is in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate now and he is the funniest dude on earth. Why is his sword so long?!!!
I’m a competitive soul at heart. I cannot say no to a chance to prove my skills. The high-stakes matches of Valorant are not an exception. Even though I normally steer away from shooters, I hopped on the game during its spring beta, and I’ve been clicking heads (on and off) since then.
Familiarizing myself with its cast of super-augmented agents and arsenal of firearms has been fun; it’s an unfiltered adrenaline rush to the system when I clutch out a round by remembering the fundamentals, like crosshair placement and checking corners.
Losses stink. And ranked competitive modes come with their own flood of matchmaking issues including toxicity, AFK players, and cheating, which are frustrating (but not surprising) ills of the genre. But I’m still constantly digging Valorant. I love devising new strategies and techniques with agents, switching up my playstyle, from the sly and venomous Viper, to Phoenix, the bold and flaming king of bravado. I’ve had a long history playing Riot Games’ League of Legends over the years, but Valorant has replaced it in my regular rotation. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where victory feels so achievable every single time; you really just need to calm down and think. Sure, it’s a shooter, but the tactical elements outvalue aim in a way that makes the game incredibly approachable and always electrifying.
5. Among Us
Among Us actually came out two years ago, but it is undoubtedly the game of 2020.
I reported on it back in September when it was slowly blowing up significantly post-launch, but I still didn’t expect it to reach such levels of attention. I’ve never seen a game pull so many people that weren’t interested in video games. Yet people are obsessed these cute blobs and their ruthless deceit. In what I remember as a weird fever dream, American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even streamed it with Twitch powerhouses including Hasan Piker and Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh!
I’m almost always down to play this game with a huge group of friends, because of how it sucks everyone into the drama so quickly. I deeply appreciate that a simple, free, and very accessible game has blown up and managed to serve as a fun quarantine hang, as well as a gateway for many of the people I know to get into (or back into) video games in general.
4. The Last of Us Part II
Every moment of this game is either heartbreak or stress. The rare moments that it gives you to rest are only there to make the future pain sting even more.
Streaming the game with Twitch chat was a weirdly intimate experience unlike any other. It’s such a personal game: passionately violent, cruel, and forcing you to wallow in those emotions. I don’t know if I ever had fun playing The Last of Us Part II, but I still find myself thinking about its vicious story to this day. This game made it on my list because it’s a striking whirlwind of a narrative that continuously shocked me, and transformed my apathy towards the first title into a deep care for its indecisive, human characters. This game is also a product of crunch culture. A developer at Naughty Dog, the studio that worked late nights and weekends to make The Last of Us Part II, told Kotaku “[The Last of Us Part II] is really good, but at a huge cost to the people.” I don’t think this is something that can be overlooked when talking about this game. The Last of Us Part II makes wastelands look drop-dead gorgeous, gives space for characters to create insanely tense scenes, both of which are cool, but I don’t want audiences to treat this as a standard that they hold future games to.
The AAA games industry desperately needs to change its formula so that workers aren’t pushing to produce unsustainable pipe dreams. This game is proof of that.
There was a roguelike renaissance in 2020 with titles like Going Under, Scourgebringer, and Risk of Rain 2 showcasing how varied games can get under the genre umbrella. Even in such a year, Supergiant Games’ Hades still stands out — pairing enticing high-stakes combat mechanics with tightly written characters to make one of the most well-rounded games I’ve come across.
One thing I love about Hades is that it’s a game designed to be revisited again. Solid dialogue and abilities are locked behind runs; each completion leads to more customization, items, and settings to unlock. Even after beating the game over 10 times I still hop into it every once in a while to test out how fast I can finish. Also, I had not cared about Greek mythology at all before playing this game. Now I’m actually fascinated with these bizarre gods. Somebody please stop me before I go and read the whole Percy Jackson series…
2. Umurangi Generation
About an hour into Umurangi Generation, I realized it was teaching me to be a photographer. The game has a very welcoming tutorial which sprinkles basic concepts and composition tips between levels to help you step up your photo game. By the time I was finished, I could clearly see my own photography style: how I like to edit, as well as what moments I value enough to capture on film.
It gamifies photography in a way that is educational — enhancing the player’s understanding of the art medium while challenging them to stay creative with their problem solving. There are some very cool sets that the game gives you the tools to creatively explore, all while the environmental storytelling gets at a futuristic dystopia that feels all too close.
Umurangi Generation‘s carefree charm and anti-establishment vibes remind me of Jet Set Radio, another game near and dear to my heart. This game makes it clear that art is subjective (a concept that art schools like to dance around), and is a go-to for anyone interested in photos, puzzles, or a thoughtful cyberpunk world.
1. Paradise Killer
I got lost in Paradise Killer when I first played it.
Its whimsical vaporwave world holds an aesthetic equal parts bold and charming: parallel universe apartment complexes, Greek statue busts, pyramids, demonic shrines, yachts. It’s all so eclectic, yet so very Paradise Killer. Everything fits together like puzzle pieces. The visual look is cemented by the soundtrack of the year, which is an enchanting fusion of jazz, city pop, chill disco, vaporwave, and more that plays around the island during your quest for justice. The tunes were produced by Barry “Epoch” Topping, and they’re all strangely timeless bangers that I’ve kept listening to long after my playthrough.
Paradise Killer is a freeform investigative game that innovates on the detective genre by straying away from the linear. The premise is simple: a crime was committed and you can solve it however and whenever you want. You can chat up any residents of the island, sift through crime scene evidence, or just take in the scenery. I had the chance to review it before it officially released. Even then it was so hard not to shout about how awesome it was after playing through the beginning sequences. Mysteries are plentiful in Paradise. Everyone’s conclusion will be different, and I love that so much about this game. There are so many twists, backstabs, and reveals that left me shook at my desk, hand on my mouth. And even though you can walk anywhere and talk to any character at your discretion, the overall exposition and pacing still feel very solid.
There is so much history and conflict embedded into the island you explore. The writing does a great job of letting you digest all of it in a way that’s not overwhelming. Speaking to characters and figuring out what they’re really about is a huge chunk of this game. Thankfully, the dialogue is never a bore to read (especially when you cross-reference and realize someone must have been lying to you). Even the short sentences for items and memorabilia descriptions help you get a better vision of what the otherworldly island lifestyle is like. It’s a lot of reading, but I’m here to tell you reading is fun, especially when you have the perfect soundtrack pairing playing in the background.
Paradise Killer is the first game by Kaizen Game Works, and it is so, so impressive. This game is unapologetically itself. It drips on every ffront with a quirky, oddball style inspired by niche internet subcultures. I am so excited to see what this studio creates next. If it has even half the heart of Paradise Killer, I know it’ll hit.