Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Best of 2021: Top 15 Games

You can try to tell me 2021 was a bad year for good videogames. Tell that to my backlog. Look it in the eyes and tell it.

Don’t get me wrong: 2021 definitely was, without a shadow of a doubt, a slow-starting year for videogames; maybe even the slowest since I started writing these lists. It was also a bit light on Playstation exclusives thanks to development delays. But this was also the first full year of a brand-new console generation out in the wild; the year League of Legends finally began to make good on its promise to expand into other genres (and a Netflix show too); the year Apple Arcade finally drew some attention from core gaming audiences with a suite of nostalgic releases and the exclusive new Mistwalker RPG Fantasian; the year the whole Pokemon Unite thing happened; the year Microsoft’s XCloud mobile streaming service expanded to PC, Xbox consoles themselves – and Australia.

There was real, exciting movement in the games industry throughout 2021, and the big games – eventually – followed suit. When they did arrive they were continuously scoring over 80 on review aggregate sites, leaving September in particular packed with games lining up to try and distract from one another. More than half of this list’s games come from the release window starting late August and going through October – and only one from traditional powerhouse November. A weird year indeed.

But a good one: I always set a five-hour playtime minimum for a game to qualify for this list, yet I’ve actually finished 12 out of the 15 games on this 2021 list (and two out of the remaining three are JRPGs). Any of my friends will tell you that’s a sky-high conversion rate for me. Quarantines will do that, but so will great videogames. It’s hard to believe I had no room this year for Hitman III, Scarlet Nexus, Returnal, Mario Party Superstars, Monster Hunter Rise, Monster Hunter Stories 2 or Deathloop – into which I put a combined 60+ hours, and all of which I enjoyed. I’ve never actually been in that kind of a position before.

If you don’t see a 2021 game on this page, I didn’t play it enough to qualify. Parentheses indicate on what platform(s) I played each game.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. New Pokemon Snap (NS)

Over the two decades since the original Pokemon Snap came out, the idea of a sequel has naturally been thrown around all kinds of Pokemon fan circles; what most nostalgia-seeped memories tend to forget, however (mine included), is just how short the original game was. Pretty much accidentally designed for the repeatable game rental market, you could see all the game’s content in an afternoon if you knew what you were doing. Knowing this Bandai Namco concocted the clever New Pokemon Snap, which is not only the sequel we’ve been asking for, but the significantly more substantial sequel we didn’t know we wanted.

Carrying many more areas stuffed with randomly-shifting occurences, stacked with secrets, and teeming with Pokemon hiding four different scoring poses each, the completionist player has a ton to do in New Pokemon Snap – even before the chunky free content update released months after launch. The week of near-day-long sessions I played with my siblings passing the controller around was an absolute blast.

14. Shin Megami Tensei V (NS)

As a “JRPG guy” without the time or attention span for the truly unforgiving genre entries these days, the entire mainline Shin Megami Tensei series has mostly passed me by. That finally changed with the long-awaited open-world-ish fifth entry, a truly ambitious shift for both the series and Nintendo – who slapped their publishing label on the game and gave it their main first-party slot right in the middle of November (knowing Pokemon was coming out the following week to clean house, sure, but it was still a big deal).

SMT V may not care all that much about its story or supporting human characters, but it stands as a shining testament to the merits of a rock-solid battle system using a crisp UI – especially when paired with deep team customisation mechanics built to last. Boasting a stunning main character design and truly rewarding nook-and-cranny exploration, this is a game I suspect I’ll be playing for a long time yet.

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE LIST

Best of 2021: Top 10 Gaming Moments

While this year provided plenty of unscripted moments during the chaos of multiplayer videogames (I could probably make an entire second list made up of just Monster Hunter Rise, It Takes Two, Knockout City, WarioWare: Get It Together, and Halo Infinite shenanigans), I was fortunate enough to play through a ton of new single-player story-driven adventures in 2021, so only some of those multiplayer games make the cut. That’s not to say it wasn’t a really good year for playing games with friends – it really was – but it was also good eating for the spoiler-type moments that are so much fun to talk about at a time like this.

And so, much like with yesterday’s list, today needs a hefty spoiler warning. Proceed with caution.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

SPOILERS FOLLOW.

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10. Fireworks – Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

In late June 2021, we arrived once again at that special moment that comes around maybe twice a decade: The first exclusive videogame made for a new Playstation console by a Sony-owned studio. And Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is extraordinarily keen to mark that occasion with a celebration of both its own series history and the unique technical possibilities of the shiny new PS5. Our titular heroes must navigate a parade and re-enact key moments from the series (all of it went over my head personally, as a franchise newcomer) as beautiful effects whiz past them – then suffice to say things go wrong and the seams between dimensions start showing.

Cue colourful effects-laden battles, instant portal-based relocation and that money shot from the game’s first trailer with all the rapid-fire playable segments in entirely new worlds that load instantly. The fruits of Mark Cerny’s hardware design team in building that PS5 SSD storage interface are plain to see right here – and nowhere else in 2021. This is a breathtaking way to start a game, and the moment “next-gen” arrived for me.

9. Compton’s Cook-Off – Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2 is an unbridled fever dream of level ideas, some of which feel almost purely conceptual – such as the psychedelic sense-collecting saturation overload that changes the game’s art style – and some almost too real – like the lavish casino as a direct metaphor for the American medical system. But the most ludicrously pitch-perfect combination of idea, presentation and gameplay I found in the game is Compton’s Cook-Off, a section where you must participate in a hilarious imaginary game show called “Ram It Down”.

You’re given anthropomorphic ingredients to pluck from the audience and place in bigger anthropomorphic kitchen appliances – which you must reach within a strict time limit using precise platforming towards increasingly-difficult recipe requirements – all while a boisterous television host throws sly taunts your way. The sequence is frequently hilarious, decently challenging and a ton of fun.

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE LIST

Best of 2021: Top 10 Disappointments

I’m finding it even harder to be deliberately negative at the end of 2021 than at the end of 2020. It was a rougher year for me personally, but I know I’m not exactly alone there so let’s get to the point. It’s the same point as last year: There’s enough genuinely terrible stuff going on in the business of entertainment media, so this list is just gonna be real personal, real first-world and real petty.

What it will not be – for once – is gaming-only: the return of blockbuster movies with the rich potential to disappoint made sure of that. On that note, I’m giving a very light spoiler warning for No Time to Die.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. The Same Old Slow Aussie Movie Schedule

It’s come up a few times on this list over the years, under varying degrees of specificity each time: For all manner of reasons, in Australia we still have to wait weeks to months for many movies to hit cinemas. This still happens even though such a problem has been long-gone in gaming and music circles for ages, and the increasing presence of streaming-exclusive films hitting on the same day worldwide makes the disparity feel even worse.

Two things brought the issue back into discussion this year: 1) There was a whole lot more to talk about on the blockbuster front; and 2) usually the bigger the movie, the less likely there will be a big delay, but even before the big lockdown extensions we were looking at extra waits of a month or more for the likes of No Time to Die, Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Dune. The sheer familiarity of this whole situation leaves it low on this list, but in the age of widespread and early reaction content the phenomenon looks increasingly baffling each year.

9. Couches Passing in the Night

Of course the late movie situation was also exacerbated by the timing of lockdowns on the Australian east coast – and a couple of supremely unlucky videogames also felt the pinch. It wasn’t long into the year before fans of local multiplayer shenanigans had June circled as a month worth celebrating: We were set to see the long-awaited HD debut of the Mario Golf series with Super Rush alongside the impossibly good-looking Guilty Gear Strive, which stood out as easily the historic fighting game series’ best-ever chance to attract newcomers.

I don’t know about any of you reading this, but I was hyped. I had plans for these games; plans that kinda required people to be around. But the rest is history and long-story-short, neither of them held much appeal for me without local multiplayer. They were merely victims of bad timing and nothing more, but as a huge fan of the underappreciated Mario Tennis Aces and a regular dabbler in Arc System Works fighting games, I can’t help wondering what could have been.

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The Year(+) of Halo – Part 5: To Infinite and Beyond

At last, we’re on the doorstep.

Surely now – a year on from its original planned release date – we are nearly in the presence of Halo Infinite‘s story campaign. The wheels are set in motion for a committed launch, and though the game’s release will be aping all manner of giant hulking spacecraft in Halo lore by crash-landing without some of its parts, at least it won’t be on fire. You know, metaphorically speaking. We can hope. I’ve been playing a lot of the game’s multiplayer “beta” that’s basically just final release code, and it’s fantastic, so that’s promising at least.

As you may recall if you perused any of this site’s 2020 output, I spent a decent chunk of free time last year playing through and writing about the PC ports of the Halo campaigns – most of them in co-op while weaving through connection errors, bugs and other technical hurdles – in an effort to get ready for an otherwise-intimidating leap of faith into a dense, lore-soaked story spanning (officially as of last month) decades – plural. As you may realise if you perused any of this site’s 2021 output thus far, I haven’t been spending a whole lot of free time this year doing any of those things.

On one hand, a break from the series was just what the doctor ordered; on the other, it kinda seems like the whole ordeal (and make no mistake, it did feel like an ordeal at points) isn’t really worth much if it isn’t finished. But at the time of writing, there isn’t much time left in the year; there has been a pretty constant stream of new things to play and watch throughout 2021 and almost nothing about Halo Infinite‘s launch has seemed set in stone until quite recently. So to finish this lengthy project, I’ve taken inspiration form – stay with me – the Kingdom Hearts series.

Yep, for all intents and purposes I’m packaging the three remaining Halo campaigns as if they were a twisted sci-fi gun-spraying version of Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX or Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX, and the mental gymnastics required to get us to that comparison are surprisingly light. Both collections repackage three older games using the same formula: one headlining main-series title, one title with “spin-off” vibes (though this is no indication of lesser polish or quality) and one lesser-regarded title presented only as a collection of cutscenes. Spot the incredibly neat coincidence yet?

Basically, I set out to play the Halo 4 campaign to completion on my own time by myself, allowing the “spin-off” Halo 3: ODST to be a co-op side project as time and schedules permitted – with no pressure to finish the game because that’s the only Halo campaign I’d already seen through entirely long before this project began. That leaves Halo 5 as the stubborn outsider that I decided was best left experienced via cutscenes and/or story summaries on YouTube, for reasons including but not limited to:

  • It’s the only Halo game that still hasn’t come to the PC, and there’s still no sign of it doing so;
  • Though I loved Halo 5‘s multiplayer enough to lift it firmly into my top five games the year it came out (and that was a very competitive year), the campaign is almost universally panned as being short, repetitive and unsatisfying;
  • Perhaps more than any other Halo campaign, Halo 5‘s is designed around four player co-op, and there’s no way I can be bothered going through the hassle to get a fully-stacked willing team together given the above factors.

So that’s the setup. Got it memorised?

Halo 3: ODST

What a game! No sooner had I booted up the opening mission with my long-suffering Halo co-op mate Toby than I was hit with a wave of 2009 nostalgia I hadn’t yet experienced on this long PC campaign journey. This was one of my very first tastes of dark, moody Triple-A HD gaming back in the day, and the polished visual contrast between shadowy night-time city streets and funky alien weaponry is preserved superbly in ultrawide aspect ratio today. But the game’s art is certainly not the main reason why this campaign such a stellar reputation within the series.

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Some Really Quick Thoughts on Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I promise.

You don’t disappear down the N64 Zelda nostalgia rabbit hole for 30 hours this late in a game-stacked 2021 without at least writing something about your experience. Well that’s how you justify the time spent. If you’re me.

You see, it turns out it’s been a tick over a decade since I last played through The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – in the form of its wonderful 2011 3DS remake – and almost two decades since I gave its original blocky Nintendo 64 iteration a go. I have never played the 60Hz version – as I’ve only ever lived in (50Hz) PAL regions and so only remember a version of OoT that runs literally 16.7% slower than the American/Japanese release. I never owned an N64 Rumble Pak either. Despite this blog housing lengthy posts devoted to Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword – even a short reflective post on Spirit Tracks – I have never typed out anything on the legendary time-travelling 3D Zelda standard-bearer lasting longer than two consecutive paragraphs.

The recent addition of N64 games (and a controller to match) to the Nintendo Switch Online service gave me a fine opportunity to address all that.

It’s All Been Said Before

The most imposing barrier to my Ocarina of Time writing motivation has always been its status as “everyone’s favourite Zelda game” during my formative years playing videogames. I didn’t own any gaming platforms when the game first came out, but was properly invested in the medium for every subsequent Zelda game release; every 3D Zelda since OoT was already destined to be measured up directly and exhaustively, but this timing made the game’s shadow feel especially inescapable. For well over a decade I found any opinion other than “Ocarina is the best one” to be unpopular at best.

Discourse always felt dead in the water.

I’ve always enjoyed Ocarina of Time, but attempting to discuss it with people has never been particularly fruitful for me; it seems like every other game in the series has more interesting strengths and weaknesses. Not only that, but Ocarina did a genuinely fantastic job of bringing the stellar Link to the Past Zelda formula into three dimensions; the adulation it receives is not undeserved. The nostalgia haze around the game is strong, make no mistake, but there is no great wool-pull conspiracy going on here. It may have understandably aged in places, but this is a good videogame.

It’s just a boring one to write about. Or it was, until recently.

Now my thoughts can take flig- you know what I just find this picture really funny.

From the beginning I’ve thought of Ocarina of Time as the “vanilla” 3D Zelda game, because it codified so many successful series tropes. The inevitable side implication is that its successors each take a couple of those tropes and implement them with far more razzle-dazzle.

Majora’s Mask does sidequests and minigames better while tap dancing all over the tonally unsettling parts of its predecessor; The Wind Waker does combat and wonder like a champion and looks / sounds sensationally timeless doing it; Twilight Princess outdoes its direct inspiration in scale, heft and dungeon ambition; Skyward Sword nails narrative, pacing, item quality and lore substance; and Breath of the Wild just blows the doors off what was thought possible for nonlinearity in 3D Zelda. It’s been a long time since I genuinely believed Ocarina of Time was the best Zelda game in any particular category; even if it does plenty of things well, it has a real master-of-none vibe in retrospect nowadays.

And speaking of Skyward Sword, I wrote a LOT about it this year.

It wasn’t long into my 2021 test-turned-playthrough of Ocarina of Time before I realised this neat internal summary of the classic might need a tweak or two, because it turns out the game does do something better than its younger counterparts: It’s arguably more rewarding to replay than any of them.

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The Second Age of Uncertainty for the Nintendo Switch

And (probably) the second-last article I’ll write about it. But we can’t be certain…

In late 2016, the questions were made of ‘if’s. Plenty of takes were ready to answer those questions with doom and gloom predictions, sure. But mainly, it was ‘if’s. Nintendo was back in the home console doghouse after a string of Wii U-tinted flops and an ambitious handheld/home hybrid seemed like an uncertainty at the very best. As a period in the Big N’s history, it’s been well-covered – although it still seems a little surreal to think about. If the Switch made a real sales impact, Nintendo would have pulled off yet another unlikely comeback. If it didn’t, the company was in for some real trouble.

Of course 2017 gave us a definite, emphatic answer. The Switch did just about everything right all year, dropping a steady stream of compelling titles without a single delay. But by 2018, the ‘where’s started to creep into the online chat. Any serial Switch YouTuber subscriber will remember the hysteria at the beginning of the year: Where was that Nintendo Direct? Then later, as the wave of ports and DLC expansions gathered momentum, where were all the brand-new games? Where was the launch content in the new Kirby and Mario Tennis games? Though nothing in Nintendo’s history suggested a year like 2017 could ever be properly backed up, their new console’s success made pundits ravenous.

In 2019, we got a nice big serving of ‘why’s in the air. Some of Nintendo’s announcements that year inspired heavy-duty communal head-scratching: A portable-only Switch that couldn’t switch? A poorly-justified ‘dex reduction in the new Pokemon games? A new fitness game with a plastic ring accessory costing north of $100? Why? Of course all of these sold super well – 2019 was ultimately a strong year for exclusive games and big third party support alike – but no one could accuse the Big N of resting on their laurels to get there.

As we all know, 2020 was a very different story. The releases dried up when an already light year collided with a worldwide pandemic, and the ‘how’s came out to play. How would Nintendo stay relevant amid such a climate when new Xbox and Playstation consoles were set to dominate headlines and interest all year? But the Switch had its most successful year of hardware sales ever, with periods of unavailability easily trumping its launch year as Animal Crossing finally smashed into the top tier of Nintendo franchises. Incredulous analysts could only ponder how such serendipity had lined up for Nintendo.

Now here we are, coming up quickly on that magical (usually final for Nintendo) five-year mark in a console life cycle. As hardware sales settle down again in 2021 and restless 4K Switch successor rumours refuse to go away despite an unprecedented global chip shortage, the ‘if’s have returned. There have been valid questions asked of the Switch throughout its life, but the ageing technology within what is functionally a handheld console now compares even less favourably with its beefy direct competition. Will it be able to hold its own or is another Nintendo nosedive coming up? Is the Japanese giant about to abandon support in favour of its next console, as it has done so often before around that half-decade point? Not since that first trailer five years ago has such an air of uncertainty hung around the hybrid gaming platform.

Allow me to present two points suggesting that probably shouldn’t be the case.

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Revisiting The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – In High Definition & High Detail

Yep, we’re doing this again.

Ten years. Wow.

It has somehow been (almost) ten years since The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword hit the flailing, ailing Nintendo Wii to a chorus of crickets. Essentially the last major release on the console, there was already a mighty stack of factors going against its success before November 24th, 2011 rolled around: The Wii had endured an extremely light year after a banner 2010 that already felt like a celebratory send-off, as Nintendo pivoted first to launching and then to saving the fledgling 3DS; the game required the purchase of the Wii Motion Plus attachment in order to work with its ambitious controls; and perhaps most tellingly, the lightning had left the bottle for the casual Wii audience and everyone else was playing Skyrim.

Yes, Link, it’s true.

This left a smaller audience than Nintendo would’ve liked to pick up its latest 3D Zelda extravaganza, the endcap to a year-long celebration of the series’ 25th anniversary. Skyward Sword sold in the millions, but for a game five years in development and an install base as record-shattering as the Wii’s, it was nothing short of a disappointment. The day I started writing this it still held the record for the worst-selling 3D entry in the Legend of Zelda series (Edit: Switch sales may have changed this by now). And despite an initial wave of critical acclaim customary for a Zelda game, the reputation of Link’s motion-controlled escapade took a sharp downturn before long and stayed down for years. After all, who wants to dust off their horrifically outdated Nintendo Wii and buy an extra controller attachment just to challenge the notoriety of a finicky, linear, repetitive, excessively hand-holding game in *ugh* standard definition?

omg ewwwww

Five years. Oh no.

It has somehow been (just over) five years since I put out what is still the longest singular piece of writing I’ve ever cobbled together in my lifetime: A 10,000 word behemoth on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Edit: Um, about that…). Inspired by a decade of mixed personal feelings, lengthy conversations with friends, and triple-digit hours of watched YouTube content on the strengths and weaknesses of the game; the post ended up perhaps a touch unwieldy and yet oh-so-cathartic. Thanks to a bucket of alternate perspectives and a highly underrated Wii U remaster, I had never felt so assured that – despite its flaws – um, I liked the game, actually.

And I’d be OK never writing another word about it.

The last thing I was thinking as that project slowly came together was “I’m setting a template here and I definitely want to put myself through this again.” And yet you know where this is going, because you read the title: It’s Skyward Sword’s turn. But this time around, dear reader, we’re not investigating if years of Zelda franchise evolution and some neat nips and tucks have improved my sentiments towards an inconsistent videogame; we’re seeing whether my third favourite Zelda game of all-time (behind only Majora’s Mask and Breath of the Wild) can possibly still hold such a lofty position after it has been exposed to a decade of stiff critiques, a lack of clear historical identity and a radical reinvention of the entire franchise in its wake.

Challenge accepted.

But we are going to try our very best to do it in less than 10,000 words this time, probably (Edit: We failed, and we failed hard). Regardless, this one will need a beverage or two to get through; at the time of writing Skyward Sword is the last 3D Zelda game to release on a second console, and rest assured I have no intention of leaving stones unturned. Whatever it will cost.

You guessed it – we’re in for another long one.

(I’m going to go ahead and re-purpose a paragraph from the Twilight Princess post because it fits too well this time, and kinda feels poetic too)

Be aware that this post contains a huge amount of spoilers that get steadily worse the longer you read – worth mentioning if you haven’t played the game before. All you need to know if you’re a Skyward Sword newcomer is that yes, I believe this HD / portable release is definitively the best version of the classic title, and yes, you really should play it. If you really want to read on, continue at your own risk, but you should know that what follows is so exhaustive that you may not even feel like you need to play it by the end. But maybe play it anyway?

HERE WE GO: Click here to regret your choice to click here.

So Let’s Talk About E3 2021…

Deep down, we all knew it had to happen.

Only a full E3 show would get me writing agai

Something had to give. Following on from a year without the traditional Los Angeles summer videogame hype extravaganza – a year peppered with spread-out morsels of tasty videogame announcement news carrying a considerably lower combined profile due to the all-consuming effects of a global pandemic – the Electronic Entertainment Expo returned in June 2021 more electronic than ever. This time, it was all-digital, all the way; and after so long for fans in the proverbial desert, the inevitable had to happen. Millions of gaming pundits lined up to sate their thirst, and plenty set their expectations into overdrive.

And who could blame them?

Like many things in life, the global pandemic rendered the gaming events of 2019 a distant memory. Way back then, we were wondering how relevant a trade show like E3 truly could remain in a world where major game publishers were growing increasingly confident following the example of the revered Nintendo Direct model, holding their own digital news events on their own time. Discourse was shifting steadily towards questioning its very existence; but fast-forward to 2021 and the benefits of a concentrated week of hype are now abundantly clear. Lots of eyes, lots of Twitter accounts, lots of people who want to want things, all looking in one place; in greater and more idle numbers than ever before.

Too Many Cooks

Not Enough Recipes

But the industry isn’t magically positioned as it was five years ago just because a legion of fans feel nostalgic for a bit of LA-flavoured normalcy. Understandably, not every big company was ready to march to the beat of the notoriously difficult ESA, E3’s governing body. Traditional E3 heavyweights Sony and EA decided their plans did not line up with a mid-June blowout – as they have for the last three years at least – and even a considerable pack of parched players was not enough to change that. But the opportunity was there, and so the ESA made the call to bolster the size of the event by widening its arms.

The ESA began to rope in the increasingly numerous satellite showcases from recent years with a history of capitalising on residual mid-June excitement, making them officially a part of the E3 lineup. And so the likes of the PC Gaming Show, Guerilla Collective showcase, Future Games Show, and yes, Devolver Digital all suddenly had pride of place on official E3 Twitch and YouTube feeds – complete with lead-ins by well-known games media voices on a souped-up soundstage. What’s more, without a traditional show floor to show off their typically limited wares, some familiar publisher names decided to add their clout to the ever-expanding roster and pivot to a conference/showcase format.

Whether or not they had anything new or noteworthy to show off.

CLICK FOR MORE E3 HOT TAKES

Best of 2020: Top 15 Games

Ah, 2020 – you came, you saw, you reduced us all to the last shreds of our sanity. But my word; you sure gave us some incredible videogames to fill the time.

This past year brought the interactive goods like it was 2017 all over again: the genuine power behind Dreams’ boundless player expression; the frenetic flow of Doom Eternal; the absolute ton of new content in Persona 5 Royal; the revolutionary VR jaw-dropper Half Life Alyx; the shiny systems sandbox of Watch Dogs Legion; the viral push of Valorant; the unreal ambition of Microsoft Flight Simulator‘s return; the grand scale of Immortals: Fenyx Rising; the unlikely success of long-awaited sequels Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Spelunky 2 and Streets of Rage 4.

We had gorgeous remakes like Resident Evil 3, Demons’ Souls and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. We had acclaimed games with laser-targeted niches and actual budgets, like Wasteland 3, Star Wars Squadrons and Nioh 2. We had strategic gems like XCOM Chimera Squad, Gears Tactics and Othercide; amazingly fresh indies like Spiritfarer, Carto, Paradise Killer, The Pathless, Bright Memory and Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin; hugely successful spin-offs like Minecraft Dungeons and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. And of course, we had the one and only Cyberpunk 2077.

That’s just the stuff that didn’t make my list.

To qualify a game for this top fifteen I need to have played it for more than five hours and/or finished it, unless it’s multiplayer-focused. That disqualifies a lot of good stuff that I was enjoying but stopped playing early due to interruptions, such as plenty of the games I just mentioned but particularly Ikenfell and Sakura Wars. I also cannot use a 2020 re-release of an old game on a new platform unless I didn’t play the original release at all – This last point means some of the best games released this year (A Short Hike, Pikmin 3 Deluxe, Dragon Quest XI S – all of which you should definitely play) cannot count.

Without further ado, these are my fifteen favourite videogames from 2020. Parentheses indicate where I played each game.

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VR BEST OF 2020 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NS)

2020’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons really could have gone anywhere on this list; anyone who got involved in that initial two-month wave of communal playing could tell you that as long as it’s got new content to offer, this is less a game and more a daily life activity on roughly the same level of necessity as brushing your teeth. As a result some people will have this in their number one spot while others may forget to even think about it in the GOTY conversation – and so using it as an introduction of sorts to this list just feels right.

I’ve been playing the Animal Crossing games for almost two decades, so I’ve seen plenty of games in the series get away without adding much shiny new content. Though it’d be easy to see New Horizons as simply another addition to that legacy when looking at the right screenshots, the genius of this one is that it takes the opening moments of most Animal Crossing titles and essentially makes them the endgame of this one. You build up day-by-day from a desolate island with a mere campsite to a bustling remote town with a host of diverse facilities – all with the help of a clever new crafting system – and then eventually you get to terraform the island itself. The secret of Animal Crossing has always been about self-expression, but New Horizons takes the concept through the stratosphere.

14. Genshin Impact (PS4/Mob)

This is a weird one, because I played Genshin Impact for eight hours on its PS4 launch day (my laptop was being repaired at the time), then checked in daily over a couple of weeks for no more than the login bonuses, tried the mightily-impressive (sadly cross-save-incompatible) mobile version for an hour or so, then never went back to it. But I just can’t not have it on the main list; this game may be a confusing pitch blending the gacha mechanics of standard free-to-play mobile RPGs with a distinctly skin-deep Breath of the Wild approach to environment design, but in its moment-to-moment gameplay it is something else entirely. It plays more like an action RPG with on-the-fly elemental mixing mechanics that – bizarrely enough – remind me of Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Its cast of characters bring vastly different playstyles to the table and slot into the story interchangeably without consequence – or emotional investment. Genshin Impact somehow feels like both the shallowest and deepest game I played in 2020, and I’m still trying to reconcile that in my head.

Two down, thirteen to go – click here

Best of 2020: Top 10 Gaming Moments

What a spicy year for videogames this was. I’ll get more into the sheer volume of good ones in a couple of days, but long story short I played a lot of games this year and finished a fraction of them. This gave me a monster of a shortlist for cool moments within those games, and they came in all sorts of flavours. The year brought us gameplay surprises, narrative shocks, and good-old fashioned feelings of accomplishment. Sadly 2020 was lacking in the ‘local multiplayer gathering’ kinds of moments that usually find their way onto this list most years, but we’ll just have to hope 2021 lets us bring more of those back.

Anyway, these are the ten gaming moments I feel like talking about the most this year.

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VR BEST OF 2020 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

THERE ARE BIG VIDEOGAME SPOILERS ON THIS PAGE.

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10. Space Infomercials – Journey to the Savage Planet

Every time you return to your ship in the darkly funny commoditised exploration adventure Journey to the Savage Planet, a colourful screen buzzing with over-the-top energy and a yelling voice of some kind awaits you. Sometimes it will show a plot-focused recorded message from the CEO of Kindred Aerospace, the 4th-best interstellar exploration company in the galaxy. But whenever it doesn’t, there’s a randomly-chosen bizarre advertisement with daytime TV vibes to chew on – and I can’t pick just one for this list. Whether it’s the visceral horror of the animated waste Meat Buddy, the purple structure-changing food replacement goo known only as Grob, or the explosion-laden pitch for fictional game Moba Moba Moba Mobile VR v17 (where microtractions are the game), the main adventure always had to take a break whenever one of these came on during my playthrough.

9. Baby Shark… – Maneater

I didn’t exactly love Maneater, but it’s definitely quite a bit of fun at the start, and I wasn’t expecting the weirdly charming low-budget-aquatic-GTA shenanigans to turn so suddenly dark immediately after its extended tutorial. I had a physical reaction when the powerful, confident shark I’d been playing as fell into the clutches of happy-go-lucky villain Scaly Pete; the guy abruptly puts an end to your predatory avatar with one gruesome slash of his knife, revealing that you were pregnant the whole time. As a sneering act of cocky faux-pity, Pete throws the newborn shark into the river, simultaneously revealing that this shark is actually the game’s true protagonist. Then it’s back to the goofy attack-feed-upgrade loop.

Click here for more moments (with some spoilers)