We all know that 2020 has been nothing short of horrible, for so many reasons. But there is at least one bright spot: a lot of fantastic video games were released! I know I’m not alone in being grateful for games in a time of quarantine and such anxiety. They’ve really helped me manage stress in a difficult year. I want to share my top 10 best games of 2020, with a personal highlight of each, because it’s a fun addition!
Keep in mind these are games I had the time and ability to play. I don’t have a Playstation 5 yet, so no Demon’s Souls for me. I’ve missed out on some bigger games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Doom Eternal. I haven’t even gotten to play Streets of Rage 4 yet because I’m still waiting on my physical copy from Limited Run! But what I have played, I’ve really enjoyed. Let’s jump in!
10. Ring Fit Adventure
Okay, I’m aware I’m starting off by cheating, since this game released at the end of 2019. I picked it up on sale during the holidays last year but didn’t actually start it until quarantine in 2020! (and apparently I wasn’t the only one with the idea-it was going for near $300 on eBay!). The main reason I have to include it is just how much I enjoyed it during the uncertain times in March and April. Exercise has always helped me manage anxiety (I’m an avid runner) and this game combines running, cross training exercises, RPG mechanics, and a colorful world and story into a delightful experience. It’s my 3rd most played game this year, according to my Switch “Year in Review”!
Personal highlight: Playing with my daughters! They love running in place with me and trying to do the exercises. Also my oldest constantly tells me I need to make more smoothies, which always cracks me up!
“A cozy management game about dying” might be best tagline for a game ever. And it’s the perfect way to describe Spiritfarer! Your character, Stella (and her adorable cat Daffodil) is taking over as the titular spiritfarer from Charon. As the new ferrywoman, you must find, take care of, help, and eventually say goodbye to several wondering souls in the afterlife. You move your boat throughout a fairly large world map, and stop at locations to gather resources, gain new abilities, and “recruit” new spirits. Eventually, they ask to be taken to the “Everdoor”, the final gateway to what comes next, and you will dearly miss them when they’re gone. If you enjoy management games and are up for a deep dive into the meaning life and what comes with death, this is your game! I personally found it very therapeutic after a brutal year, and the themes to be beautiful in more ways than one. If you’re interested, check out my full review I wrote after finishing it!
Personal highlight: Taking the spirits you have gotten to know and love to the “Everdoor”, the final passage to the afterlife. It’s beautiful in so many ways.
8. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is my favorite game of all time for so many reasons. And I really enjoyed the original Hyrule Warriors for its fan service and crazy mashup of all things Zelda, despite some repetitive gameplay. So I was very much looking forward to playing Age of Calamity! And overall, it was quite a fun ride! It was delightful to spend more time with the characters and the world from Breath of the Wild. Many of the battles and set pieces were epic, and combat was surprisingly varied. I did feel some of the missions slightly overstayed their welcome, and side quests were very grindy for how overwhelmingly numerous they were. But on the whole it’s still a joy to experience!
Personal highlight: Simply getting to revisit this version of Hyrule, and spend more time with the Champions. Especially Urbosa, who is clearly the best!
7. Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) is tied as my favorite PS4 game along with Horizon Zero Dawn (can’t wait for that sequel!). I was psyched to step into Miles’ shoes for this side story after it was announced. Though I didn’t get to play it on PS5, it was still awesome to experience on PS4. The gameplay doesn’t deviate too much from the original, but Miles’ character and his family, friends, and culture is what distinguishes it for me. It’s the quieter moments that resonated the most. I actually really wish we would’ve had more time in the story-the pacing is a bit frantic as it’s a short game. But that just means we’ve got more to look forward to in Spider-Man 2!
Personal highlight: The story between Miles and the main “villain” of the story. I won’t spoil anything, but I wish more games had narratives between the protagonist and antagonist like this!
6. Coffee Talk
My wife and I loved this game so much that I actually wrote a complete review on it! You can check that out yourself, but I’ll quickly summarize by saying this awesome indie game is an ideal blend (pun fully intended) of cozy, calm, fun, creative, and emotional resonance. It’s only a few hours long and well worth your time. It quickly earned a spot in my top 10 best games of 2020. Go check it out!
Personal highlight: I genuinely love all of the characters in the game, but Freya is my favorite. She truly felt like a friend and I was deeply rooting for her success as a writer all through the game!
5. Final Fantasy VII Remake
FFVII was the big reason I bought an original Playstation! I simply had to play the original game when it released-its scope was mind blowing at the time. And it’s still my second favorite Final Fantasy after FFVI. So my hype was high for this beautiful remake, and for me, it largely delivered! It was amazing to see the cast of characters, and the city of Midgar, fully realized in gorgeous HD graphics. I found the battle system very fun and kinetic, despite occasionally being tough to manage. It was also lovely to see the Midgar section of the story breathe a bit more, even if there is a good amount of “padding” that occasionally kills the pacing. I’m very curious to see what they do with the future installments of the remake from here, but regardless, I’m very excited!
Personal highlight: Getting to know many of the characters (like Biggs, Wedge, and Jesse) in much more depth than the original game. I was far more emotionally invested in a lot of side characters!
4. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Okay, if you own a Nintendo Switch, then I’m almost certain you’ve played ludicrous amounts of this game. Looking at the everyone’s “Year in Review” on social media, this may be a lot of folks’ #1 in their top 10 best games of 2020. Released right as lockdowns starting happening around the world, it was the perfect calming, anxiety reducing experience many of us needed. And it’s just so happy and colorful! I personally had a blast visiting my friends’ islands to pick some of their fruits while chatting and catching up on life. I eventually decided to move on to other games after about 50 hours of gameplay, but I know for many (including my wife, and even my kids) spending a few minutes with AC: NH has become calming daily ritual throughout this entire year. I’ll be revisiting it soon!
Personal highlight: I created a little “zen garden” in the northeast part of my island around a pond. I visited it every single day and just hung out for a bit. It’s crazy how calming it was to me in the real world!
I usually find the rogue-like genre to be infuriating. It’s one of the few games types that I actively avoid because it’s just not that fun for me. But Hades won me over! (I’ve always thought the best games have the power to do that). The mythology is deep, the gameplay is kinetic and fast-paced, and everyone is just so good looking. Each death in this game does not feel like a punishment to me. Each run, you really learn more about the world and characters, and get stronger in ways you truly feel. Sure, the gameplay can wear a bit thin after dozens of runs, but for the price I’m not complaining at that point. I strongly recommend trying it out, even if you’re apprehensive. Just be prepared to get very, very addicted!
Personal highlight: I still haven’t taken down Hades yet (that jerk) but defeating the bosses at the end of Elysium was a huge high!
2. The Last of Us: Part II
Like many gamers, the original Last of Us is one of my favorite PS3 games. The narrative and characters hooked me in a way few games ever have. So I was both excited and apprehensive about the sequel and the long wait for it. And on the whole, I think it’s a masterpiece. From a technical standpoint alone, the game is astonishingly beautiful. The environments seriously look like the real world, and the character models, voice acting, and motion capture is second to none. The score is also spectacular. The narrative takes some huge risks, and whether or not they pay off is a matter of personal perspective. For me, the story largely worked, despite dragging a bit in the back half. The game is certainly not for the feint of heart, but to fans of the genre it’s must play experience and easily one of the top 10 best games of 2020.
Personal highlight: Finding notes and relics of the world before, and just after, the outbreak. Lore is one of my favorite parts of story-base games, and discovering all of this during a real-world pandemic was very surreal.
1. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Released right around the time lockdowns began around the world, I feel like this game flew under the radar! A sequel to the already-excellent Ori and the Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps is a better game in every capacity, and might be the most beautiful game ever created. The graphics are absolutely breathtaking. The character models are utterly charming. The soundtrack is outstandingly emotive (I was tearing up before I even left the title screen). The gameplay is fluid and sublime-Ori is a delight to control, power ups are perfectly paced, combat is fun, and boss fights are insanely epic.
And then there are the themes of the game. What it means to be a true friend or a family. The beauty and fragility of nature. Coping with loss. The difference between forgiving and moving on versus clinging to past resentment. And let’s not even start on the ending here, my friends. That’s easily the most my wife and I have cried during a video game. It’s perfect.
Ori and the Will of the Wisp has my highest recommendation, especially if you’re a fan of platformers or Metroidvanias. It’s now one of my top 10 games of all time and easily the #1 pick on my top 10 best games of 2020 list!
Personal highlight: This is going to sound cliche, but literally everything. The game is so beautiful and such a joy to control that I savored every minute of it!
Does my list have any overlap with your own personal top 10 best games of 2020? What’s the same or different? Or in the madness of this year, did you not have time to even play 10 games? (I barely did!) Please share in the comments below!