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Best Games of 2020

As ever, keep in mind that I have quit my job and put a mortgage on my house in order to buy and play every single game released in 2020 just to spare you, my loyal readers, the trouble of telling me that I missed something. No thanks are necessary, I do this for you! 

17. Resident Evil 3 (Capcom, PC/PS4/XBone)

As successful as Resident Evil 2's remake was, it was only natural that its followup in the 90s would get the same treatment.  Resident Evil 3 doesn't quite hit the same high notes as its predecessor, though.  The first 2-3 hours of the game are incredible - Nemesis is damned intimidating, not just for his resilience and aggression, but because he's crafty, setting traps and striking when you least expect it, and never giving you a moment's rest; every time you think you've evaded him, he'll pop up from somewhere and take a pot-shot at you with a rocket launcher or a flamethrower.  It all culminates in a wild boss fight on the roof of a building that ranks among the best in the entirety of the series.  Sadly, they couldn't keep up that same intensity for the rest of the game - once you get on the the train it lapses back into standard, slower RE fare for the most part and it becomes significantly less fun, particularly dealing with the multitude of enemies that can kill you in a single hit.  It it's also rather buggy at times - there were several instances where I was hit in the midst of a dodge, and on at least one occasion an instant-death attack registered and killed me despite the fact that I was in the middle of a hit animation from another enemy, so Jill was still standing up, completely unmoving, when the Game Over screen popped up.  Still, while it may be a mixed bag overall, Resident Evil 3's high points make it clear they were on to something great; I just wish they could have kept it up for the duration.

16. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo EPD, Switch)

I haven't played an Animal Crossing game in a long while, but with that whole terrible pandemic sweeping the world, I decided it was time to give the series another shot.  Thankfully, New Horizons provided more than I could have imagined it to.  It's basically Animal Crossing with a dash of Minecraft - not only do you decorate your house, but you gradually unlock the ability to customize your entire island too.  Crafting items, placing houses and buildings anywhere you like, and even reshaping hills and lakes after a point, lets you truly customize every element of your island life.  And of course, it is oddly addictive playing all the seasonal events and collecting all the rare items to deck out your house and island while you do it.  Just a fun, charming game for you to get engrossed in for an hour or two a day as you work toward your longterm goals.

15. Double Dragon and Kunio-Kun Retro Brawler Bundle (Arc System Works, PS4/PC/Switch)

After years of futzing around with individual releases, sequels and spinoffs of varying quality and really crappy remakes, Arc System Works finally stepped up to the plate and finally just made a Double Dragon/Kunio collection to appease beat-em-up fans.  Five classic NES games, two not-so-classic games, and seven never-before-localized Kunio titles, running the gamut from a historical period drama with beat-em-up mechanics to wacky, hyper-violent sports games.   They even have some significant performance improvements over the original versions, greatly cutting down on lag and sprite flicker when there are a lot of characters and objects onscreen at a time (which is quite often).  The fact that they all even support online play is a very delicious cherry on top.  If you love classic beat-em-ups with a high degree of polish or just want to experience some of the wildest sports games ever created, this is definitely one you need to check out.

14. Crystal Caves HD (Emberheart Games, PC)

Crystal Caves may not be one of the most talked-about games from the legendary company Apogee, but it's a high-quality one regardless.  Platforming, finding secrets, maneuvering around various obstacles, clearing 16 stages in each episode and ultimately trying to rack up the highest score you can.  This HD remake faithfully recreates the original three episodes with more colorful graphics and sound (which sounds a bit out of place - not bad by any means, but it sounds more like NES chiptune music than something appropriate for its inspiration).  It also adds in a totally new fourth episode and even a level editor with Steam Workshop support so you can share your creations online.  Good stuff.

13. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (Omega Force, Switch)

The first Hyrule Warriors was a big, silly, over the top tribute to the series, incorporating little nods to almost every game going all the way back to the original.  Age of Calamity, on the other hand, is very much based on Breath of the Wild in every respect, even working many of its game mechanics into the Warriors fold.  Things like summoning bombs and ice blocks, getting to do a "Flurry Rush" after narrowly evading an enemy's attack, and of course collecting mountains of weapons and items for crafting purposes (though thankfully, they don't break in this game) all return from BotW proper and are integrated expertly here.  There are quite a few other clever nods - Link's combos incorporate shield-surfing, and all characters can utilize a glider to get around the battlefield quickly and ambush groups of foes from above.  It's not without its weaknesses - the framerate feels a bit low overall and gets even choppier during huge battles - but its nonetheless another fun Warriors title with a lot for Zelda fans to enjoy.

12. Trials of Mana (Xeen, PS4/PC/Switch)

Square properties have had a lot of ports and updates of dubious quality, and after the atrocity that was the Secret of Mana remake, I didn't have much hope for the Trials one either.  However, upon seeing that they got a slightly better-known dev on board for the game (and that it got much better reviews overall), I decided to give it a shot, and I certainly was impressed by what I found.  Not only is it a good looking game, retaining the colorful storybook style of the original game in a seamless jump to 3D, but it's the best playing Mana game I've ever experienced.  It drops the dopey "stamina meter" mechanic entirely in favor of a pure action-RPG design, with customizable quick buttons for items and special moves.  As in the original game, you pick one main character and two support characters, altering the story slightly in the process and confronting one of three final bosses at the end, so there's plenty of replayability.  But the feature I liked more than any other was that there's actually a quest marker now, telling you exactly what NPCs you have to speak to in order to progress the plot (handy, as they were often unmarked and innocuous in the original game, which got very tedious in the large maze-like towns).  It's the first Mana game I've legitimately enjoyed playing, so it definitely holds a special place for me.

11. XCOM: Chimera Squad  (Firaxis Games, PC)

Chimera Squad is a spinoff of the series, combining its gameplay with elements of SWAT and an overall story somewhat reminiscent of  X-Com: Apocalypse.  Basically, you get a squad of premade characters and follow their exploits as they attempt to keep the peace in City 31, keeping tabs on various terrorist factions and thwarting their efforts with a series of raids and covert missions.  As in previous games, collecting resources and researching new tech remains an integral part of the experience as enemies' equipment will quickly ramp up.  Some new twists - room breaches, interwoven player and enemy turns, and some characters being able to combine their abilities for further effectiveness - ensure that it's anything but a standard cashin sequel and that it will require a very different set of tactics.  It's not quite XCOM 3, but it's a very worthy side-game that's well worth the asking price.

10. One Step From Eden (Thomas Moon Kang, PC/Switch)

A crazily addictive little title that combines Mega Man Battle Network's combat with the wrappings of a roguelike - randomized events and rewards from battle, shuffling enemies and boss types, and every single decision you make feeling like the wrong one.  Basically, you pick a character (each of which has several variants with different starting loadouts and a unique weapon), steadily build up a deck and try to make your way through increasingly tough waves of enemies, hitting the occasional shop or rescue mission to try and tilt the odds further in your favor.  Simple enough at first, but you really do have to be on point as the boss battles start to ramp up, as they can very quickly whittle down your health and bring your run to an end.  As with any good game of this type, you do steadily unlock more things as you play more and more and you're given plenty of options to experiment with, so while the game is short, the replay value is strong.   Even moreso with the PC version, which supports modding (and appropriately has several Battle Network characters on Steam workshop already).

9. Ghost of Tsushima (Sucker Punch Productions, PS4)

A pretty stylish and creative open world action-adventure title, Ghost of Tsushima takes place during the first Mongol invasion of Japan and has you waging a one-man war to retake Tsushima from their occupation.  You can battle honorably, of course, but there are plenty of other options too - sneaking around and executing your enemies silently, picking them off at range with bow, setting all manner of traps, using poison and explosives, and so forth, and you can find and upgrade various outfits to benefit whatever playstyle you choose.  While a bit drawn-out and repetitive after a point, the gorgeous scenery and variety of gameplay nonetheless make it a standout game in the genre.

8. Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Insomniac Games, PS4/PS5)

I had a blast with Marvel's Spider-Man, so of course I was quick to grab this one too.  Not quite a full-fledged sequel (evidenced by the lower price), but it definitely shows a level of refinement in most respects - not only does Miles get a handful of new moves to utilize (including his signature camouflage and Venom strikes), but the UI and overall presentation have been significantly overhauled (and even on the PS4 version, the framerate is quite a bit smoother when the action gets hectic).  You can also add visor and suit mods now to tweak the gameplay to your liking.  I love the first Spider-Man, I enjoyed it's mini-sequel, and am definitely looking forward to whatever Insomniac does next.

7. Shantae and the Seven Sirens (WayForward, Apple Arcade/PC/PS4/XBone/Switch)

The ever-popular Shantae series makes a return, and this might just be its best entry yet.  Returning to the more Zelda-esque format after a brief foray into something more akin to Mega Man, Seven Sirens also adds in some very high-quality animated cutscenes by Trigger and some new gameplay twists.  In addition to new, instantaneous transformation abilities to reach new areas, defeating enemies sometimes causes them to drop cards, which can be equipped to bolster Shantae's moveset - making some sub-weapons do more damage, getting more healing effect from food, crawling or climbing faster, et cetera.  A well-made, very fun and light-hearted adventure, so it fights right in with Shantae.

6. Horizon's Gate (Rad Codex, 2020)

A game that has been described by many as "Final Fantasy Tactics by way of Uncharted Waters", and upon playing it, I can certainly confirm that is indeed the case.  You build a character, take part in turn-based battles both on foot and by sea, unlock new classes as the game progresses, and can basically explore, trade or become a privateer at your leisure, taking part in ship battles or legitimate business to earn loot for later upgrades.  Inventory management and item manipulation is simple as can be too, using a keyboard-and-mouse interface that reminds me more than a bit of the classic Ultimas.  It's certainly not the deepest example of anything it attempts to be, but it is a lot of fun, and really, that's what I come to a game for anyway.  Sacrilege, I know.

5. Final Fantasy VII Remake (Square Enix, PS4)

Teased, hyped and teased again for longer than any of us care to admit, we finally got Final Fantasy VII's remake after more than a decade of waiting.  Well, part of it at least - it's the Midgar chapter of the story stretched out into a full game, but I'm glad to say they did a very good job with it.  The gameplay is completely reworked to be more of an action title, though with a substantial turn-based element worked in, and it works surprisingly well, proving both intense and tactical.  The story is expanded on in a very logical and well-done fashion, and of course, the game is beautifully realized - seeing Midgar from eye-level, with high-quality models and voice acting and very few recycled assets, gives you a true sense that you've stepped into Final Fantasy VII's world.  It may not ever match up to the original's hype and popularity, but it's a high quality remake that pays homage to everything that made its predecessor great while doing much to distinguish itself too.

4. Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Ryu ga Gotoku Studio, PS4/XBox One/Xbox Series X/PC)

Yep, Yakuza is back for more, though it takes a very bold new direction in terms of gameplay - rather than being a light RPG with an actiony beat-em-up combat system, Like a Dragon goes full-tilt into turn-based RPG territory, emphasizing stats, elemental resistances, timed button presses for extra damage and even magic (yes, magic - you summon pigeons and spit booze-fueled flames and do other silly things with it).  The story is once again a fairly dark crime drama, but the atmosphere outside the story scenes is the same usual Yakuza charm - irreverent, goofy nonsense packed to the brim with minigames and side-stories, all of which are excellent in their own right.  Yakuza continues to be a fantastic series that isn't afraid to have fun with its concept even as it punches you in the feels.

3. Ikenfell (Happy Ray Games, PC, MacOS, PS4, Switch, XBox One)

It seems like there are a lot of low-effort RPGs that are content to just copy the visual style and basic format of the classics but have nothing new or interesting to set themselves apart, and I tend to get bored of those extremely quickly and just go back to playing the actual classics instead.  Ikenfell is one that breaks that curse, though - while it has an aesthetic inspired by the likes of EarthBound and Undertale and gameplay that feels much like Mario RPG some light grid-based tactical elements, it's well-executed enough - it manages to be challenging, fun and captivating, pretty much requiring that you learn and get adept at timing attacks and blocks to win.  The writing is a treat too, with a colorful cast of characters and some sincere chemistry and charm between them.  It's just the right length too, lasting a good 25 or so hours, and it's well paced enough that it never feels padded.  Oh, and it actually has queer characters who are well-written, have plenty of personality beyond that and that element never comes across as empty pandering, so that's quite nice too.

2. Hades (Supergiant Games, PC/MacOS/Switch)

2020 was seemingly the year of action-roguelikes, and Hades is probably the best-acclaimed of all of them.  Following the story of Hades' son as he attempts to escape from Tartarus and make his way to Olympus, it's got plenty of the usual roguelike tropes - different weapons and upgrades to purchase and find, currencies to upgrade your character between runs to give yourself a better shot next time, and of course, plenty of risk-versus-reward tradeoffs in the form of making deals with Chaos.  But what sets its apart is the presentation of its story, becoming another element that gradually gets revealed the more you play through the game, die off and return to the start; all of the characters are amazingly well-written and performed, and seeing all of their interactions each time you die and return to the start keeps you invested and ensures you never get frustrated. A very challenging, yet stylish, immaculately well-made and highly rewarding experience that will keep you coming back for "just one more try" we'll into the early hours of the morning. 

1. Half-Life: Alyx (Valve, PC/Linux)

Having lived through the brief fascination with virtual reality in the '90s (as well as a few very underwhelming forays into it like the VFX1 and the Virtual Boy), I scoffed at VR's return in the 2010's as being desperate and gimmicky.  All that said, Alyx was the game that made me a believer.  It incorporates Half-Life's brilliant blend of puzzle solving, creativity and good old gunplay in fine fashion and its atmosphere is top-notch, dropping you right into the oppressive and dangerous world of City 17 armed with only a few firearms, your Gravity Gloves (not quite as powerful as the good ol' Gravity Gun, but still a lot of fun to tinker with) and your wits.  The controls are surprisingly natural,  the dialog is wildly funny, and it had me absolutely hooked throughout its entire runtime.  It still isn't the proper third entry we've been clamoring for, but it's a wonderful new addition to the Half-Life universe and well worth getting immersed in if you have the means.