Unlike many of you, I didn’t suddenly have a lot more free time for games in 2020. I already worked from home, and my kids are still young and need a lot of my attention. So I maintained a rule I set up last year that I wouldn’t put much time into any game I cannot pause. In reality, that rule is more like I won’t have time for games I can’t play on Switch or using the Steam Link app on my phone. Despite those restrictions, I still have plenty of games to put on my list. Here’s what I ended up with.
10. Streets of Rage 4
Above: Streets of Rage 4 with the classic character sprites.
I love going back to play Streets of Rage 2. My wife and I end doing that about once a year. The nicest thing I can say about Streets of Rage 4, which I reviewed, is that I intend to go back and play it just as frequently in the future.
9. Microsoft Flight Simulator
I knocked Animal Crossing: New Horizons off my top 10 for this, but that’s right. I love Animal Crossing, but it occupies a space alongside Fall Guys and other intrinsically social games that are more about my relationships with other people. And I don’t want to think about putting those games on a list — they’re not even competing in my brain. Flight Simulator is a technical marvel that feels like it is opening up the genre to more people than ever with its great difficulty scaling. This is also one of the rare games that I turned into an event by getting out the flight stick.
8. Paper Mario: The Origami King
Nintendo and Intelligent Systems nailed so many of the crucial aspects of Paper Mario: The Origami King. It’s funny with tons of great characters, and it has variety in both its mechanics and environments. Its only shortcoming is its battle system, which is boring at best. Thankfully, you can avoid many battles, and that leaves you with just the good stuff.
7. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
As I wrote in my review, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is gaming’s platonic ideal. Skateboarding and video games are soulmates. All these years later, games still don’t get much better than this.
6. Pikmin 3: Deluxe
Pikmin 3: Deluxe is still mostly Pikmin 3 from 2013, but this is also the best Pikmin game so far. It edits the Wii U game into something that plays effortlessly on Switch. And that means you get to enjoy the satisfying loop of working with your little crewmates to round up fruit and expand your Pikmin army.
5. Astro’s Playroom
Here’s all that I have to say about Astro’s Playroom:
4. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori and the Will of the Wisps has some of the best locomotion in a 2D game ever. Combine that with fun exploration, thrilling boss fights, moving characters, and the best music, and it’s easy to see why it’s GamesBeat’s game of the year. It’s also one of my favorites and a game I’m already stirring to go back to.
Sometimes a studio pulls it altogether to create what feels like a miracle. That’s what happened with Supergiant Games and Hades. This masterpiece plays and looks better than almost any other game. It does Greek mythology better than any other game, and that’s saying something considering how many games go to that source material. And if it only did those things, that would be enough. But then Supergiant went ahead and solved the roguelite barrier by building a linear narrative that progresses even when you have to start over.
In five years, prepare to play a lot of games from indies and big-budget studios that all cite Hades as a key influence.
2. Hardspace: Shipbreaker
Games where you build things get a lot of attention and credit. Minecraft is endlessly popular, and Roblox is probably going to have one of the biggest IPOs of 2021. But we shouldn’t forget that games are really great at empowering us to tear things apart as well. And Hardspace: Shipbreaker does that better than almost anything else. It is so satisfying to use a laser gun to slowly peel apart junked space shuttles. But it’s also exciting when you forget to depressurize the cabin and end up blasted into space before the ship goes nuclear. That was one of my favorite moments of the year.
I could spend dozens of hours in SnowRunner trying to move a truck 50 feet. That is what I consider a good time. And the game encourages my bizarre behavior. Fighting for every inch feels like real progress. So I get that to many people, a game about getting stuck in mud or snow seems baffling or boring. But the reality is that it’s a game about taking ownership of your choices. If I get a truck stuck in the mud, SnowRunner makes me want to do everything it takes to get it moving again so I don’t lose the progress I already made.
Developer Saber Interactive also improved SnowRunner as a game relative to MudRunner. This comes in the form of building shortcuts and bridges that provide a tangible reward for completing missions.
But really I’m here for the physics and the terrain deformation. The realistic behavior of the terrain makes every problem feel analog and tactile. You aren’t going to suddenly find your wheels on the good dirt — you really do have to pull your rigs through every inch of the muck. So when you finally do get to your destination, you earned that accomplishment by overcoming your own failures. What a hell of a game.
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