Another year has come and gone and while 2020 sucked on so many levels, it my be up there as one of my favorites in gaming. As has become my tradition in recent years, I find myself unable to stay confined to a meager Top 10 games so once again I’m looking at my Top 20 (and a few Honorable Mentions) so we’ll keep the intro short. And since nobody leaves empty-handed, I decided to give every game included a little award, as well.
If you want more Game of the Year content, check back throughout the week for other lists and you can find our site-wide Top 10 games of the year conversation that went live today as this week’s That Nerdy Site Show…just be sure to set aside about 5 hours to do so.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
Best Non-2020 Game I Played in 2020
Despite being my #3 Game of the Year in 2015, I never really got too deep into The Witcher 3 before 2020. The Netflix show gave me the itch (and a bit more context on the history of the world) so I spent most of the slow January sinking my teeth in and finally finishing the story. Solid game. Shame how Cyberpunk 2077 ended up turning out.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Best Rocket League-Like Game
If I’d made this list within the first month or so of this game’s release, it would have probably cracked the top ten. But the more I played the more I grew to hate what Fall Out guys turned into. First, I became increasingly furious about the bullshit Infallible trophy for getting 5 straight wins that kept me from the Platinum on this game, especially when 3- and 4-game win streaks would be interrupted by shotty servers and disconnects. Then I just hated how much they leaned into throwing all sorts of other shit into the levels that tipped the well-balanced scales of skill and luck into pure chaos. Still proud of us for seeing early on at PAX that the game was gonna be a hit though and naming it our game of the show.
Persona 5 Royal
Best Way to Play Persona 5
I didn’t really intend on picking up Persona 5 Royal at the beginning of the year after putting over 200 hours in the original game. But as the pandemic started to ramp up in April, I found myself looking for stuff to play and people were singing its praises so I hopped back in for a 3rd adventure with Joker and the gang. Easily the definitive version of the Persona 5 story; I just wish I could have experienced the new stuff without having to replay the first 80 hours again.
Best Virtual Vacation Game
I really missed going to Disneyland this year. So much so that when I got my new Xbox Series X, I spent the majority of my first couple days with it playing this game on Gamepass just to run around its version of Disneyland and enjoy a bit of nostalgia. The “game” aspects are pretty basic and nothing to really write home about but it made for a nice distraction while I waited for my PlayStation 5 to arrive a few days later.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
Most Open-World Game of the Year
I put 125 hours into Valhalla on my way to finally 100% the game and getting the Platinum trophy just a few days before writing this so I must have enjoyed it a bit. And admittedly, until being repeatedly frustrated for the last 5 hours of my playtime as I encountered 3 separate bugs in my quest to get the last two trophies, Valhalla was sitting comfortably somewhere in the #11-20 range. But the utter bullshit that was the Overdesign II trophy led me to boot it out of my top 20 in a symbolic gesture. I spent hours attempting to get that trophy before learning via reddit that it was glitchy. When I tried some work-arounds the community discovered and finally popped it, I immediately opened the google spreadsheet I tracked my list in and moved it down in anger.
Most Surprising Game to Be Re-installed on my Consoles
After getting really into Fortnite for a summer a few years back, I thought I was over and done with it. But damn if The Mandalorian and Child didn’t bring me back in. And either the other players have gotten way worse or I’ve gotten way better because I’ve even picked up a decent number of wins in the last month or so, including accidentally winning a game of Duos while playing by myself.
Most Surprising Game I’m Still Coming Back To
After my much-maligned 24-hour stream with Bloodborne a few years back, I’ve constantly flirted with the idea of producing a “let’s watch Trevor suffer” Let’s Play series playing through other games in the Soulsborne genre. With Demon’s Souls as a part of the PlayStation 5 launch, I thought, this is as good a time as any to try revisiting the series to see if it can connect. And surprisingly enough, it sort of did. While my initial Extra Life stream of the game ended abruptly with me rage-quitting on the game. I had already defeated three of the game’s bosses and was having a good enough time until regularly getting lost and turned around. But after sleeping on it, I decided I would try and stick with the game, albeit off screen, and with a healthy dose of grinding, farming for healing items, and looking at strategy guides online. The result has had me keeping with the game in a slow-but-steady approach. I’m still too early in the adventure to properly rank the game, but the fact that I’m still with it, and even continuing the Let’s Plays on camera, was enough to include it here as an honorable mention.
Best Portal-like First Person Puzzler of the Year
I’d been keeping an eye on Superliminal at multiple PAX events over the years, finally playing it at PAX West 2019. So when it finally came to consoles in 2020, I happily enjoyed exploring it’s perspective-twisting puzzles. I wish it were longer and had a bit more character to it but it was a great time for what was there.
19. Sackboy: A Big Adventure
Best Game That I Wish I Had Kids to Play With
As with the Little Big Planet games that came before it, Sackboy: A Big Adventure oozes charm out of every fiber of the character’s being. Great platforming and a fun soundtrack, I found myself almost wishing I had people to play the co-op levels with, but not enough to actually reach out to anyone once they added online functionality. The levels choreographed around Uptown Funk and Toxic were easily my favorites.
Best Retro Faux-MMO Game
I didn’t know anything about Crosscode until the embargo dropped for its console release and I saw a handful of friends really talking it up so I gave it a shot. And then I had a great time putting 30+ hours into this Super NES-era inspired game that also gave me great .hack vibes. I just wish I’d put more time into before Fall Guys swooped in and stole my attention away because I found it real difficult to try going back to later in the year.
17. Doom Eternal
Best First-Person Shooter Platformer
I started working from home March 18th. My birthday was March 19th. And then on March 20th, we got Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing New Horizons to kick off the quarantine-era of gaming. While I put almost thirty times as many hours into Animal Crossing, Doom Eternal was no slouch. I really liked the way the new platforming elements changed up combat in the game and constantly juggling different kills to manage ammo, health, and shields made each enemy arena like a mini-puzzle to solve. I just wish the game’s difficulty – even on the easiest mode – didn’t ramp up so brutally in the game’s closing hours. And almost every level was at least 20% too long.
16. Marvel’s Avengers
Best Mindless Podcast Game
According to my PS5, I’ve put almost 260 hours into Marvel’s Avengers. I would say 220 of those were mindlessly repeating the same handful of missions to get various characters up to max power, complete all of the battle passes, and grind out trophies (I’m one of the 1st 50 Platinum achievers on psnprofiles thanks to a glitched trophy not getting patched until a couple weeks after launch). Like Destiny before it, there are a million things I wish they did differently and I hate a lot about the game, but at least for now, I’ll keep checking back in when they add new story beats and characters to play (I just got Kate Bishop to the end of her battle pass the day I wrote this entry).
Best “Swimming in 7s” Game of the Year
Maneater isn’t trying to change the world. It’s just trying to be a fun open-world game where you play as a shark powering up and going on a rampage, captured by a Deadliest Catch-style documentary featuring a wonderful deadpan Chris Parnell. For my money, the numerous Easter eggs you can come across under the sea, ranging from Arrested Development’s banana stand to Spongebog Squarepant’s pineapple abode, are the best bits of fun the game has to offer.
14. Animal Crossing New Horizons
The Quarantine Game of the Year
600+ hours. 35 million+ bells. A full fish and bug index in my Critterpedia. A museum only missing two sea critters and a handful of Art pieces. Animal Crossing has never really been my thing but damn if I didn’t get sucked in this year. I still check in on it regularly and likely will until at least my birthday (which as I mentioned above I just missed in game because of the release date). I just really hate that it does those typical Nintendo things of repeat the same text a billion times (see also: Isabelle’s daily announcements, the flavor text for doing ANYTHING in the game, talking to any villager) and having the absolute worst online infrastructure/design.
13. Cyberpunk 2077
Unintentionally Baldest Character of the Year: My V whenever she looked in a mirror and her hair didn’t load.
I was obviously fortunate in that I didn’t encounter nearly the amount of problems so many others had with the console edition of the game. It just barely cracked my top ten after playing it because I had a good enough time with it but a few games snuck in during the last couple weeks of the year to push it down the list. While the big story here is that I wish it just did more interesting things with its characters, story, and Night City overall, I still look forward to eventually hopping in for another playthrough of the game exploring a different career path and some different choices within the game when it is way more stable.
Best Harry Potter Game That J.K. Rowling Would Loathe
The last game I played in 2020 (technically I didn’t finish it up until January 1st but I’m still gonna count it), Ikenfell is a great tactical RPG that’s like if you took Harry Potter but made it about Dudley going to Hogwarts when Harry goes missing and suddenly Dudley has powers and has to save the day with Ron, Hermione, Draco, and a couple others. And then swap out the kids with a wonderful diverse cast of LGBTQ+ witches and wizards. And then throw in turn-based RPG tactics combat with a splash of Super Mario RPG-esque timing on the attacks for bonus damage. Bonus points to the developers adding in accessibility options to automatically give you perfect timing on every attack/defense if you want it and an option to auto-win battles entirely if you just want to progress through the narrative.
11. Immortals Fenyx Rising
Best Breath of the Wild Game (Including Breath of the Wild)
After 120+ hours in Valhalla, the 45 hours I spent in Immortals Fenyx Rising en route to the Platinum was a breeze by comparison. As someone who is repeated on the record as not really liking Breath of the Wild, this game fixed pretty much all of my issues with the game. No breakable weapons. Check. A more engaging story and cast of characters. Check. A denser world to explore. Check. Charm. Check. Of the many Ubisoft open world games, this is the one I look most forward to revisiting in future installments.
Best Gotta Catch ‘Em All Game
Bugsnax was a great companion piece to some of the other games ahead on my list that made up the PlayStation 5 launch line-up. I loved running around the island and was always excited to see what food/bug mashup creature I was going to uncover next. As a fan of puzzle games, I had a great time figuring out how to use the tools provided to capture some of the trickier bugsnax and get them back to Snaxburg to feed the various Grumpuses, who all had their own fun and quirky characteristics. Then there was the game’s slightly sinister underbelly. I was drawn to the hints at a darker tone throughout that really hit full gear in the game’s last act and leave me excited at the possibility of a future sequel.
9. Tell Me Why
Best Putting Me In Someone Else’s Shoes Game
With the Life is Strange series and now Tell Me Why, Dontnod has done a great job taking the narrative stories ideas that put Telltale on the map and escalating them. While their latest title didn’t quite hit as hard as the Life is Strange games, Tell Me Why still tells a really compelling story from unlikely protagonists in twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan. Playing as the transgender Tyler was a welcome experience that helped me get a glimpse at a life experience outside my own. The pacing dragged a bit for me over the course of this 3-chapter adventure but some elements really shined, most notably the Book of Goblins. This in-game collection of fairy tales from the Ronans’ past does a great job at providing additional context and backstory from their youth while also playing into some of the game’s more interesting puzzles.
8. The Last of Us Part Two
Best Musical Moment of 2020: Ellie Playing a Cover of “Take On Me”
I think The Last of Us Part II is Naughty Dog running on all cylinders, for better and worse. The narrative, characters, and design elements are all top notch. But I really found myself wishing for a more edited experience throughout. This is another game where the pacing really drops the game a few spots on my list as Naughty Dog’s attention to detail left me wandering through multiple mostly empty areas to get from one beat of the story to the next. I was always a defender of The Last of Us getting a sequel, especially one that dealt with the ramifications of Joel’s choice at the end of the first game, and this is what we got with Part Two. And despite my issues with the pacing, it definitely had some incredible stand out moments like Ellie playing in the music store and Joel’s birthday present to Ellie that will stay with me for a long time.
7. Ghost of Tsushima
Best Assassin’s Creed-Like Game
Ghost of Tsushima is arguably one of the most beautiful games ever made. It’s vibrant use of color and atmosphere makes every inch of Tsushima island compelling and a delight to explore. The stories of Jin Sakai and, perhaps more notably, his allies are masterfully told over the course of the adventure. The different approaches to combat allow for wonderful focuses on stealth, stand-offs, or my personal favorite, fluidly switching between your full suite of four stances, each suited for a different enemy type. As with many open-world games, Tsushima suffers a bit from map fatigue as you follow your 30th inari to a fox shrine but the decision to turn nearly every single location into a fast-travel spot is greatly appreciated for the completionist in me as it made getting around so much easier. The cinematic flair in Ghost of Tsushima is easily above and beyond any Assassin’s Creed game ever produced, and the inclusion of elements like the Kurosawa mode is icing on the cake for fans of the genre.
Best Relationship: Yu and Kay
I played Haven during my Christmas break and it was exactly the chill, relaxing game I needed. Skating around the world of Source, clearing out rust from across it’s scattered islands, and digging into the deeper story of what happened on this mysterious refuge of our protagonist couple was a delight. And the relationship between Yu and Kay even moreso. Their dynamic might go down as my favorite relationship ever depicted in video games. The banter, love, and support they have for one another was pure bliss. Throw in an interesting combat style where you control both heroes simultaneously and this made for an all-around great end of the year addition to my list.
5. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
Spider-Man Miles Morales is a great follow-up to Insomniac’s 2018 Spider-Man. Putting us in the shoes of Miles gives us the Spider-Man origin story we didn’t get with a more seasoned Peter Parker in this universe. Miles brings with him his own great cast of characters and, by placing him in Harlem, Insomniac has fleshed out another great part of their New York City. And by focusing on a smaller story, there was less bloat and the game never wore out its welcome (in fact, it left me wanting enough more that I replayed the entirety of the remastered 2018 game). My hope is that this sets the stage for Insomniac to follow-up the eventual Spider-Man 2 with a game focused on Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman/Spider-Gwen, leading to the trio all teaming up in Spider-Man 3 down the line.
Best Goodbye Hugs
I’ve written at length about why Spiritfarer is a special game to me so I won’t be long-winded here. But the beautiful art style, relaxing farm simulator-esque gameplay and touching narrative and stories all combined to create an incredible examination of a topic that while overly abundant in games, rarely gets a spotlight like this: death and strength it takes to come to terms with it.
3. Astro’s Playroom
Best Love Letter to PlayStation
While playing Astro’s Playroom, one thought continually crossed my mind: shame on Nintendo for never showing their lineage this much love and care. Littered with wonderfully nostalgic easter eggs to PlayStation’s history, Astro’s Playroom will be especially delightful to fans like myself who have been with PlayStation since the original grey console. But even setting aside that, SIE Japan Studio’s Asobi Team follow-up the great Astro-Bot Rescue Mission from 2018 (one of PSVR’s best offerings) with a free pack-in title for anyone who has been lucky enough to secure a PlayStation 5 and an incredible 3D platformer in its own right. Serving as an introduction to the new features of the DualSense controller, Astro’s Playroom is a pitch perfect encapsulation of PlayStation’s past, present, and future.
Best One More Run Game
Supergiant Games delivers another in their line of masterpiece titles with the formal release this year of Hades. By debuting the game in Early Access in 2018, they were able to build and tweak the game with the input of their biggest fans and deliver a standout title, not only in the roguelike genre, but in all of gaming. The trademark style I’ve come to expect from Supergiant shines through and, as someone who rarely connects with roguelikes, I was amazed to find myself routinely up until 4am with a game that absolutely nails the “one more run” addiction. A great cast of characters, wonderful level design, and incredible variety in weapons and perks made every one of my 150+ runs engaging and rewarding. But the real special sauce might be the narrative seamlessly woven in across the roguelike adventure that left me wanting to see everything the game had to offer.
1. Final Fantasy VII Remake
Best They Actually Pulled It Off Game
In any other year, Hades or Astro’s Playroom could have topped my list. But 2020 also gave us the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake: a game that, by pretty much every conceivable metric, shouldn’t be as good as it is. From impossible to meet expectations built up over 20+ years to a rocky development, this is a game that so easily could have failed or left people disappointed. But it connected with me and so many others by presenting a beautifully fleshed out take on the early Final Fantasy VII story. The cast of characters has never looked or sounded better, the music features incredibly updated orchestrations of some of my favorite songs in gaming, and the approach to combat is one of the funnest experiences I’ve ever had in my 30-ish years with Final Fantasy, especially in Hard Mode that invited me to rethink strategies and really get the absolute most out of the tools provided. Without delving into spoilers, the way the game’s closing chapters leave the door open on future installments has me more excited to be a Final Fantasy fan than I have been since probably the lead up to Final Fantasy X nearly 20 years ago. I still can’t believe they actually pulled it off, let alone that they did it so well that I awarded it a 10 and am here giving it my Game of the Year.