In the 2020 gaming judgment system, year-end lists are determined by two separate but equally important groups: the players who play the games, and the games they enjoy playing. These are their stories. Bah-Dum.
Everyone knows what happened in 2020, at least the broad strokes. What they may not know is that 2020 was a pretty great gaming year for me. Since I became paralyzed from the chest down back in 2018, I’ve been struggling to find a comfortable way to game on a regular basis. This year I got my groove back. I have created the perfect over-the-bed gaming setup, allowing me convenient access to two high-speed monitors, one hooked to a PC, the other to all of my consoles via an 8-port HDMI splitter. Everything I need to play is within arm’s reach. I am growing more comfortable with my disability, which gives me more time to discover and enjoy outstanding games. Games like these.
I’ve been drooling over George Kamitani’s epic sci-fi adventure epic since the first screenshots of attractive anime people standing in front of massive mechs surfaced back in 2015. The finished product is pretty much two games in one. There’s a point-and-click style adventure that hops between a group of high school students possessing the ability to control massive robots from the future. Then there’s a minimalistic, neon-soaked, real-time strategy mech battle game. The story’s time-travel twists and turns kept me guessing up until the very end. It’s one of the most unique games I’ve played, and it’s super-pretty to boot.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t much of a game. It’s a low-key relationship simulator. It’s a clothes and furniture collect-a-thon. It’s a social space. It’s a creative sandbox. Most importantly, however, it’s an excellent diversion from horrible things I won’t mention, because again, it’s my list and I don’t effing have to. My spouse and I spent so many hours together over the summer and fall fishing, catching bugs, trying on outfits, shopping, and just basically bonding over New Horizons’ cuteness. We got to run around together, something I’ve not enjoyed in real life since my legs stopped moving back in 2018.
My favorite thing about New Horizons is how quickly and completely my partner in all of this took to the game, quickly becoming an authority on all things Animal Crossing. They’re the one responsible for making sure we don’t miss special events. It makes them happy, which in turn makes me happy. And while I probably won’t play much of the game in the new year, my spouse shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, they asked for the Gamecube version of Animal Crossing for Christmas, and have commandeered my 2DS XL for Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
One of the finest puzzle games I’ve played, you’d think I would have at least written one thing on Kotaku about Draknek & Friends’ A Monster’s Expedition (Through Puzzling Exhibitions). I’ve extolled the virtues of this delightful log-rolling puzzle game to my coworkers multiple times since its release, but never once did I share the game with our readers. Maybe I just wanted to keep the game all to myself. Or maybe, and this is quite possible, I was being lazy. Whatever the case, I hope this rectifies my mistake and gets everyone to go play the game. It’s on Steam and Apple Arcade.
Yeah, one of my favorite games of the year is a platformer that comes bundled for free on every PlayStation 5. Astro’s new adventure is bright and shiny, and while it’s on the short side, it’s a brilliant showcase for PS5 power and the console’s new DualSense controller. It looks and feels great. Packed with high-resolution 3D models of decades of PlayStation hardware, it’s also a great way to experience the history of Sony gaming consoles, from the original PSOne to the ultimate gaming hardware, the Vita.
I have written many stories over the past couple of months about how boring and empty I find the post-story content of Square Enix’s Avengers game. It’s a popular opinion. Once you finish Marvel’s Avengers’ story, there’s not a lot to do except grind for gear and wait for the next helping of downloadable content. Here’s the thing, though—I had a damn good time playing through that story mode. The hours I spent playing Kamala Khan, Tony Stark, Thor Odinson, Natasha Romanov, Bruce Banner, and Steve Rogers were some of my favorite game-playing hours of the year. When I got my PlayStation 5 in November I accidentally overwrote my save file and had to play through the whole thing again in order to get to the Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop DLC. I came out the other side just as pleased as I was the first time through.
Moon Studios’ sequel to one of my favorite games of all-time did not disappoint. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a gorgeous follow-up to Ori and the Blind Forest. It adds new game mechanics while maintaining the same precision-platforming challenge of the original. It expands the story beautifully, bringing the story of Ori full-circle in an endearing, satisfying way. I played it once on the Xbox One. Months later it came out on the Switch, and I played it again, and it was every bit as enchanting. Then the Xbox Series X came out, and suddenly I could play Ori on a game console at 120 frames per second, and all was right with the world.
My dear friend and former Kotaku coworker Evan Narcisse worked on the story for Spider-Man: Miles Morales, so there is a chance my great pride in his accomplishments is muddling my opinion, but damn this comic book video game is simply perfect. Playing through the short-but-sweet adventure makes one feel as if they’re a part of Miles’ new Harlem home. There’s an amazing feeling of pride and community, so much so that I’m tearing up just thinking about the residents of Harlem claiming the teenage hero as their Spider-Man. Also there is a cat in a backpack that fights crime. Truth be told, the game probably would have made my list for that fact alone.
Some games just speak to you. Paradise Killer whispers seductively, making me blush. It’s a murder mystery set in the last moments of a nearly-completed, eons-old experiment in societal perfection that’s obviously not panning out, considering the murder. The setting is a fully-explorable 3D island populated by 2D characters. The music is super-funky. The atmosphere is mildly unsettling. There is a woman with a goat head. I love everything about Paradise Killer.
I’d say Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 put a fresh coat of paint on a large chunk of my childhood, but the originals came out when I was 26 and 27. What these glorious recreations of games-gone-by did do was briefly transport me back to a simpler time, when the only thing I had to worry about was how many snacks and video games I could afford after paying rent and utilities. I mean, here I am, growing older all the time, feeling older all the time. This remaster made me feel younger in my mind.
Leading up to the release of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands I was excited, but not why one might think. For the first time since I started writing for Kotaku in 2006, I would not be in charge of writing about a new World of Warcraft expansion pack. With the young and spritely Ashley Parrish taking point on Shadowlands, I was free to not get deeply distracted by the colorful cartoon MMORPG. I could, if I wished, not play the damn thing at all. I am playing it now. As I write this. Let me ALT-TAB and grab a screenshot.
That’s my druid, Gerbil. She’s doing a world quest in the Night Fae lands to earn renown for her chosen covenant, the pustule-crusted Necrolords. She’s one of four characters I am currently juggling, including one level 60 paladin I started fresh at level 1 just a couple of weeks ago. There’s just something about the whole four-covenant structure and post-leveling narrative content that’s grabbed me. You could say I am enTHRALLed. Hahaha. Ha. Kill me.
It’s very nice but not for me.