Let’s get the obvious out of the way: 2020 was terrible. From COVID-19, social isolation, and wealth gaps to raging wildfires, battles with cancer, and racial injustice, there was very little to feel good about this year.
Except games. At a time when folks were distanced physically, video games kept us together. Animal Crossing gave us a happy place to share with friends. Fall Guys had us compete for fame, glory, and wacky outfits, while Among Us had us hurling accusations in fits of laughter.
These games couldn’t make up for a tough year, but they certainly made it better. So, without further ado, let’s celebrate the five very best experiences of 2020:
Favorite Game Released Before 2020, Played in 2020: Devil May Cry 5
Wow, is all I can say. While I played Devil May Cry 1 and 2 years ago, I never got around to the rest of the series. Only now am I realizing what a mistake I’d made. Devil May Cry 5 takes the superb combat the series is known for and throws in overhauled visuals, new mechanics, and a rippin’ soundtrack. It all comes together in a beautiful package that shouldn’t be missed.
2020 Honorable Mentions
Top 5 Games of 2020
5. Streets of Rage 4
When I demoed Streets of Rage 4 at PAX East 2020 (remember conventions?), I came away impressed. I’ve never been much of a beat ‘em up fan, yet SoR4 caught my attention with its crisp visuals, accessible controls, and diverse cast. The final game ended up being shorter than I’d have liked, but when that’s the main complaint, you know you have something special.
Supergiant’s latest is a masterclass in how to make a compelling roguelike. Each run through Hell builds upon the last, layering on new gameplay mechanics and providing tantalizing story tidbits. The tale of Zagreus and his father unfolds beautifully, supported by a strong cast of characters, sharp writing, and some of the finest voice acting I’ve heard in a long time.
In short, Hades never fails to entertain, and the fact it’s number four on this list speaks volumes about the games to come.
3. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Moon Studios’ sophomore effort is a gorgeous game, through and through. From its colorful visuals to Gareth Coker’s whimsical soundtrack, Ori and the Will of the Wisps depicts a world teeming with life and full of secrets to discover. Unlike its predecessor, which tended to prioritize tight platforming over compelling combat, Will of the Wisps expertly balances both. And, in true Metroidvania fashion, it instills a sense of freedom and wonder few games can match.
2. Final Fantasy VII Remake
I never expected to like Final Fantasy VII Remake as much as I did. Though a massive fan of the original game, I’d been burned by recent Final Fantasies a bit too much for my tastes.
I’m happy to admit how wrong I was. Not only does FF7R knock it out of the park, but it does so with a confidence I haven’t seen from the series in years. The combat system takes the best ideas from XII, XIII, and XV, and leaves the rest behind. The visuals are stellar, the story is a welcome reimaging of the original, and the soundtrack brought tears to my eyes. If it weren’t for some sluggish pacing and a weak final chapter, FF7R could have been the best game of 2020.
But it wasn’t. That honor goes to…
1. The Last of Us Part II
The Last of Us Part II isn’t the game we needed in 2020. Animal Crossing, Fall Guys, Among Us… all these are better picks when it comes to finding positivity in an otherwise depressing year.
And yet, sometimes the best form of escapism is exploring a world beyond repair. The story of Joel, Ellie, and Abby showed people at their best and—more often—their absolute worst. By letting anger and heartbreak run wild for nearly 30 hours, The Last of Us Part II forced players to come to terms with these emotions—so they too could heal and move on.
Playing The Last of Us Part II was tense, arduous, and nerve-racking. It was also cathartic, moving, and profound. Much like 2020, it’s an experience I won’t forget, for better and for worse.
This piece was originally featured on DarkStation.com.