These are my top ten games of 2020. There are ten of them.
Paperball is a Super Monkey Ball clone, and the best one I’ve played so far. The level designs are generally pretty good and feel like they could be actual SMB levels, although some of them are quite annoying to beat. I love the time trial-esque nature of the game, particularly in the medal mode, where you get medals for beating each level as fast as possible. It reminds me of TrackMania races or Gran Turismo license tests. Moving the paper ball feels similar to moving the monkey ball in SMB, although Paperball’s ball feels a bit more sluggish. I also enjoyed the feature unlocked when beating the hardest level, which completely breaks the game in a fun way.
My biggest issue with the game is the inconsistency of the controls, depending on whether you’re playing with a keyboard or controller. While I generally prefer the smoothness of the controller controls, there are some levels that feel like they’re only possible, or at least much easier, with keyboard controls. I think what’s happening is that pressing up + right on a keyboard results in the ball moving one unit forward and one unit to the right, whereas holding up-right on a thumbstick results in the ball moving 1/sqrt(2) = ~0.71 units forward and right, due to the circular geometry of thumbsticks. The end result is that diagonal movements are slower on a controller than on a keyboard, which can be quite annoying. If this discrepancy was accounted for, then the game would be even more fun to play.
9. Puyo Puyo Tetris 2
The most striking thing about Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 is how similar it is to the first Puyo Puyo Tetris. The graphical style is the same, the gameplay modes are largely the same, the menu is the same, even the unlockables are mostly the same. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as there wasn’t much wrong with the first Puyo Puyo Tetris.
The new Adventure mode is similar to the first game’s Adventure mode, with a few minor changes. There’s an “auto-difficulty” mode which sets the difficulty of this mode relative to your skill level. It’s a good idea in theory, but poorly executed. It takes about 20 matches before the game figures out your skill level, so these first matches will be really easy. Then the game suddenly becomes quite challenging, making some of the levels a real chore to beat. If you turn the auto-difficulty off and on again, the game will forget your skill level, so you’ll have another 20 or so easy matches to do before the game gets hard again. I preferred playing with auto-difficulty off, as I felt it conflicted somewhat with trying to get all of the stars in each level. Additionally, the developers have no idea how game completion percentages work.
The one new gameplay mode is dumb. It’s just versus mode, but you have an HP meter and special power-ups. Often the matches end in just a few seconds, as the HP meters deplete very quickly.
Also new is a Lesson mode, which contains 100 problem challenges for both Puyo Puyo and Tetris modes. I’m not a huge fan of these modes, as their format leads you to memorize where you’re supposed to put the specific set of pieces you’re given, instead of learning how to actually perform the required techniques. I would have preferred if the number of pieces you were given in each problem was infinite.
Online play now lets you choose your own starting skill level (novice, so-so, or pro), which I’m not sure how I feel about. I chose the pro skill level, but based on how good my opponents generally were (or how bad I was), I think I should have gone with so-so. I wish there was some sort of placement system instead, so that you got put in the right skill bracket after your first few matches.
There are more little problems with Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 than there were with the first game, but the core gameplay is still the same fun combination of Puyo Puyo and Tetris. Those are arguably the two best puzzle games ever made, so this game makes my Top 10 list fairly easily, despite its flaws.
8. Microsoft Flight Simulator
I remember watching a Giant Bomb video at some point where they were playing Panzer Dragoon on the Saturn (I think), and one of the hosts (I don’t remember which one) talked about how when they first saw the graphics that consoles like the Saturn and PlayStation were capable of, they were amazed, but they simultaneously realized that graphics were still going to get so much better in the future. I feel the same way about Microsoft Flight Simulator.
There’s no doubt that this game is a technical masterpiece (apart from the convoluted installation process). There has never been a more realistic version of Earth in video game form, and when flying at altitude it’s mesmerizing. When you get up close, however, things start to fall apart a bit. Buildings are often generic, and trees frequently show up as floating blobs in the sky. To be fair, planes are not supposed to fly 25 feet above the ground in a city, or drive down a highway. I’m not playing the game correctly. But I’d rather fly a plane into my friends’ and my houses than properly pilot an aircraft.
Things are not meant to be seen up close right now, but it’s clear that one day we’ll have the technology to render the planet in an even far greater detail than we currently can. Perhaps a decade or two from now, we’ll be able to make a driving simulator that lets you drive on every road in the entire world, exploring landscapes and cities in highly accurate detail. That’s a game I’d really be excited for.
7. The Jackbox Party Pack 7
The yearly Jackbox Party Pack happened again this year, and it’s one of the best ones yet. Blather Round and Talking Points are my two favorites. Blather Round is basically a word-based version of charades, where you’re given a random set of words to combine to create clues to help the other players guess your phrase. Talking Points requires you to make presentations on outlandish topics, while a co-presenter gives you random images for you to talk about and figure out how they are related to your presentation topic. It’s pretty hilarious.
Quiplash 3 is another Quiplash game, and it does a very good job at being a Quiplash game. I really like the clay model graphics used in the game. Champ’d Up is this year’s drawing game, where you draw characters based on either a prompt, or on what another character looks like, trying to infer what their prompt was. I liked it a lot too, although I didn’t get very many opportunities to play it. The only dud in my opinion is The Devils and the Details, which is just yelling over other people a bunch as everyone’s trying to do different tasks and needs the help of others to complete those tasks.
Overall, this is my second favorite pack, only topped by Party Pack 3. It’s going to be very hard to make a better game than Tee-KO.
6. Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics
This was one of the bigger and more welcome surprises of the year for me, as the original Clubhouse Games is probably my favorite Nintendo DS game. The sequel feels similar and yet very different at the same time.
The visual aesthetic between the two games is completely different. The DS game is uses distinctive 2D pixel art, while the Switch game is rendered with realistic 3D graphics. They both have their merits, and while I prefer the DS game’s style, perhaps due to nostalgia, the Switch game’s aesthetics hold their own as well.
I also prefer the game selection of the DS game over the Switch game. Fun and oddball games like Takeover and Balance are replaced with filler games like War, Pig’s Tail (which is just a variation of War), and Takoyaki (which is just another variation of War). The Switch game is missing a lot of the more advanced card games available in the DS game as well, although it mostly retains the selection of board games. The Switch game does include a bunch of sports and toy games, which are hit-and-miss. Golf is a fun tabletop game played on the nine holes of Wii Sports Golf Course, but Bowling is annoying to play with its objectively bad controls. You’d think Nintendo wouldn’t mess up a bowling game, but here we are.
The way the games are played is different as well. In the DS game, there was a stamp mode where you played each game in a set order until you got enough stamps from beating it to move on to the next game. There’s no such mode in the Switch game, but you can instead earn up to four stars in each game by beating each CPU difficulty level. Again, each mode has its own merits, but I think I like the way the Switch game handles it a bit more.
Overall, I may prefer the DS game over the Switch game, but this year’s Clubhouse Games is still a great compilation of board-and-other games that you’ll come back to every now and then for years.
Trackmania is back! Again!
The gameplay is very similar to previous TrackMania Stadium games, in which you drive through crazy tracks with loops and jumps and stuff over and over again to grind out the best time you can. All of the game’s block-based track pieces have been revamped in this iteration, and the physics have been slightly altered. Several new pieces have been added, such as one that make your car hover over the ground, and one that prevents your car from steering. The gameplay is as good as ever.
The pricing system is a bit bizarre and unnecessary, with three different tiers that each let you access a different amount of the game. I bought the top tier because I like TrackMania, but the game is also free-to-play if you just want to play the current campaign. New campaigns are added every three months, and there’s a new Track of the Day each day, which is really cool. The leaderboards for these tracks are only available for one day, which I wish wasn’t the case as I don’t play the game every day, but I understand why it is.
The main menu is a bit of a disaster. It’s poorly organized, glitchy, and missing a lot of features you might expect. I hope the menu is renovated at some point, because it leaves a poor first impression of what is otherwise probably the best TrackMania yet.
4. Project Cars 3
I may be the only person in the world who likes this game.
Project Cars 3 is fairly widely disliked in the sim racing community for betraying the realistic simulation of the first two Project Cars games in favor of a more sim-cade style. It has one tenth of the players Project Cars 2 does at any given time on Steam. It’s certainly not a good racing simulator, but it’s not trying to be one. It’s trying to be a fun racing game, and in that regard, it mostly succeeds.
The biggest improvement over Project Cars 2 is the revamped controller controls. It feels like a completely different game, for the better. Cars in the first two Project Cars games were extremely twitchy, with some being nearly impossible to drive. Every car feels responsive and controllable in Project Cars 3 (although some cars have way too much wheelspin in lower gears). It’s one of my favorite handling models in a current-gen racing game, along with Gran Turismo Sport and Forza Horizon 4.
The new career mode, while repetitive and containing some dumb challenges, is a significant upgrade over the very nebulous career modes of the earlier games. There are series of events to complete, much like in Forza or Gran Turismo. Each event has three challenges to complete, and beating these challenges is required to progress in the career, to the point where winning the race (or even finishing not-last) isn’t necessary. It’s very similar to DriveClub in that regard.
Project Cars 3 is far from perfect, though. By far the biggest problem with the game is the difficulty of the AI. There seems to be a hidden difficulty for each race, which makes the AI easier or harder regardless of the difficulty level you’ve set. This means that some races may be difficult on the “easy” difficulty, while others are a cakewalk on the “legendary” difficulty. The problem is exacerbated by the fact the AI cars don’t abide by the same laws of physics that your car does. They’ll frequently have more grip in the corners than you, meaning that getting passed when the difficulty is set too high is simply an inevitability. It doesn’t feel fair, and it’s not fun. The end result is that choosing the right difficulty for each race becomes a crapshoot. It shouldn’t be this way. “Easy” should be easy, and “hard” should be hard, regardless of the event.
That being said, I still completed every event in the career mode because I guess I’m a masochist or something, and I generally had fun doing it. I put over 100 hours into this game this year, more than I ever did for the first two Project Cars games combined. It’s definitely my favorite Project Cars game, and I’m kind of sad that it’s not more popular, because it really is a good game if you get over the fact that it’s not a simulator.
3. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Fall Guys is one of those games that came out of nowhere and took over the world for a few weeks, and I was one of the suckers that got taken over by it. It’s the first game with a tier-based season system where I actually bothered to get to the highest rank (in Season 1).
The gist of Fall Guys is that you platform your way through various stages, trying to qualify in a high enough position so that you advance to the next round. It becomes addicting quickly, and since most players will advance to the next round each time, you’ll win rounds more often than you’ll lose them. Making it to the final is exciting, and winning the final is always a great feeling, especially when you get an ever-elusive crown for victory.
Like most games of this type, there are daily items available to buy that rotate each day, so you’re incentivized to open the game each day to see what new things are available to buy, and then play a match or ten.
Most of the different levels in the game are great. There are a few duds, like Tail Tag, but Slime Climb and Hex-A-Gone will reign as two of the best platformer level designs of all time, in any game. The number of separate levels isn’t massive though, so you end up playing the same levels pretty often, which gets repetitive after a while.
I stopped playing once Season 2 came out, as the update was underwhelming, only adding a few new levels. I was burnt out by the end of Season 1, having done multiple hours-long playthroughs near the end of the season to reach max rank. I played a bit of Season 3 and didn’t like several of the levels, as I felt that they were a bit too random, or designed so that you fell over too often, being momentarily unable to control your character. Still, the initial experience of Fall Guys in Season 1, back before that game that rhymes with “a fungus” took over the world, was fun enough to make it one of my favorite games of the year.
I got Hades without knowing anything about the game apart from the fact that it was supposedly very, very good, and after playing it, I can confirm that it’s very, very good. While I feel like I’ve focused a lot on the things I didn’t like about the games in this list, Hades is the only game from this year that I can’t think of anything bad to say about.
Hades is a rogue-lite game where you play as Zagreus, a God who is trying to escape Hades because it kind of sucks there. You’ll navigate through a number of worlds, fighting enemies in fast-paced and fun battles. After each encounter, you’ll receive an award, which could be extra health or coins, or a modifier that grants you a skill or modifies the way your weapon works for the rest of that playthrough. No two playthroughs are alike, and your strategy often varies greatly between them.
It’s very easy as a game developer to just make a game difficult for the sake of it being difficult. Take, for instance, Spelunky 2, where making it 30 seconds without dying feels like an achievement. Make one wrong step and you’ll get stabbed by an arrow shot from halfway across the screen, or fall into spikes and instantly die. The only want to make progress is to get better — a lot better. The game does not help you. Spelunky 2 wants you to lose, which in my opinion, isn’t fun.
Hades, however, wants you to win. I died quickly in my first playthrough, but I made considerable progress throughout each of the next few runs. I learned more about the game’s mechanics, but I also gained permanent skills and unlockables after each playthrough that meant that I had a greater chance for success each run. This is a fantastic feature for a roguelike-like, and I hope it becomes a standard feature in the genre. The feeling of permanent accomplishment and continual progress has made me attached to this game in a way no other roguelike has.
Two other areas where the game excels are the graphics and story. The visual style of the game is simply fantastic, it’s a joy to place your eyeballs near the monitor when Hades is being displayed on it. The story is also captivating and surprisingly detailed. The story also progresses through each playthrough, meaning you’ll learn more about the characters and interact with them differently as time goes on. In the first twelve hours I’ve played the game so far, I have yet to encounter a single repeated line of dialogue. The dialogue feels fresh, and not at all esoteric, as you might expect in a game about ancient Gods. The voice acting is also spot-on.
Have I won yet? No, but I only got the game a week ago, so I haven’t really had enough time to. But I’m sure that I’ll beat it in the near future, just as much as I’m sure I probably won’t beat Spelunky 2 any time soon. I look forward to beating the game and seeing what new features are unlocked afterwards, which is a great thing to say when trying to permanently rank how good a game is on a list.
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing is fundamentally a game about doing chores. Pull up weeds, plant flowers, chop trees, gather fruit, buy things, sell things, do this, do that. Perhaps any game could be boiled down to a series of tasks that need to be completed, but the concept seems more prescient in Animal Crossing than in most.
Animal Crossing is also a game about patience. If you want to build a bridge, you have to wait until the next real-life day for it to be built. Sure, you could fast-forward the Switch’s internal clock, but that’s cheating. The game is deliberately slow-paced, forcing you to appreciate the things you have now.
Why, then, is Animal Crossing the #1 game on this list? It’s an escape to a completely new world that grows and changes over time. Sure, you may be pulling up weeds, but the end result might be an upgrade to the store, which lets you buy more things. You can use those things to decorate your house, your yard, or give them to your animal neighbors. You’ll get to know these villagers over time as they move in and you have conversations with them, and you’ll become attached to them over time. Eventually, they may ask to leave, and you’ll have to make the difficult decision to let them leave or not.
As the days and weeks go on, you’ll go from living on a deserted island to creating a bustling town, filled with the various destinations and areas you make, as you gain total control over your island, and are able to truly make it your own. Then you can visit your friends’ islands, or have them visit your own, and show off your island and house. It’s like hanging out in real life, except it’s Animal Crossing, which isn’t real life.
That’s important, because one thing that I think can’t be understated is the timing of this game’s release relative to the current events of the world. The Covid-19 pandemic started in full force at basically the same time Animal Crossing came out, resulting in many millions of people being stuck in their home with little or nothing to do. Animal Crossing provides an alternate life, free from the misfortunes and inconveniences of reality, with plenty of ways to interact with your friends. The result is that AC:NH became a cultural phenomenon in a way few games have before. (It also helped that the Switch is a successful console and that there was a ton of hype for the game before its launch.)
The result of this result is that pretty much everyone I knew had the game. I was continually motivated to come back to my island each day and check out the stores, talk to my villagers, do whatever daily tasks I had, and generally improve my island, so that my friends could see the improvements I made. I got invested in turnip investing, and after getting lucky a few weeks in a row, had enough money to pay off my home loan and buy all of the house extensions. I traded exotic fruits with friends, I wore a McDonald’s work outfit for fun, I watched a meteor shower with friends as the sun set.
And then I got bored and stopped playing. Many of my friends have played the game for many hundreds, if not thousands of hours by this point. But after around the end of May, I closed the game one day and only opened it a couple of times since. That’s how I tend to be with games, I rarely play a single game for more than a few weeks at a time. AC:NH is a game that rewards playing throughout an entire year, however, with new game modes and experiences for each major holiday. I feel like I’ve missed out a bit by not participating in them.
When deciding on the order of the games in this list, I kept thinking about whether the ranking was a representation of how much I liked each game, or of how objectively good I thought the game was. In the end, I think this ranking is a good combination of the two philosophies. I may have fallen off the Animal Crossing boat like a rock after May, but I still had a great time with the game while I regularly played it. Furthermore, the cultural importance of the game, the way the game brought people together and provided comfort when the world seemed like it was falling apart, is significant. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is my game of the year, and I expect that it will appear on many people’s Best Games of All Time lists in the years and decades to come.
Tin’s Eleventh Best Game of 2020: F1 2020
Codemasters finally made an F1 game where you can make your own team, something I’ve wanted for years. And while the gameplay is the best ever for the series, I wasn’t able to get hooked on it like I expected to.
Best Re-release: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered
Nearly identical to the original release, which isn’t a bad thing, unless you don’t want to spend $30 for a game you already own. The Scott Pilgrim re-release might have taken this award if it came out this year, but it didn’t.
(This game also wins this year’s Most Similar to Burnout 3 award).
Most Convoluted Title: UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[cl-r]
I hope I don’t have to provide an explanation for this award.
Best Indie Puzzler: Flipon
A fun clone of Panel de Pon with an engaging story mode (apart from the story itself, which is very generic). My main complaint is that you lose too quickly once pieces reach the top of the screen, making efforts to recover sometimes feel fruitless.
Best Game That May or May Not Exist: Cooking Mama: Cookstar
Okay, this game definitely exists, and is currently available to purchase. But the story behind its initial release and subsequent removal from stores is fascinating, and it’s the only Switch game I know of that’s only widely available on cartridge (apart from those that require peripherals, like the Labo games or Ring Fit Adventure).
Most Disappointing Game: Super Mario 35
It’s a Mario battle royale game! But it self-destructs after a few months, and also the mechanics kind of suck! Wow!
Most Disappointing Device: Oculus Quest 2
I got my first VR headset recently and haven’t been too impressed with it so far. I definitely still need to spend more time with it, but the Oculus Link software is super finicky and annoying to work with, and my eyes get sore after 20–30 minutes of use. I did really enjoy using a VR and steering wheel combo in Assetto Corsa, though.
Biggest Regret of 2019: Putting Dr. Mario World on my Top Ten Games of 2019 List
I still shame myself for this decision every day.
Best Pre-2020 Game I Started Playing in 2020: The NY Times Crossword
Yeah, this is a weird one. I watched a streamer do a crossword puzzle a few months ago, and wanted to do a few myself. So I downloaded this app and kind of became a little bit hooked on them. I’m bad at them, so I tend to stick with the Monday and Tuesday puzzles, or the Midis every now and then.
Most Anticipated Game of 2021: Gran Turismo 7
I love racing games and will buy a PS5 just for it once they become readily available. I already sold my soul to the devil to get a RTX 3080, I don’t have any souls left to give for a PS5.
In conclusion, 2020 was a bad year, but at least there were some good games, I guess.