On the gaming side, 2020 has been kind of a weird year for me overall. Perhaps it’s not too strange given everything else happening in the world, but when it comes to video games I’ve been just a tad out of the loop. Most of 2020’s heavy hitters seemed to have escaped my immediate interest, and even though I have Game of the Year contenders like DOOM: Eternal and The Last of Us: Part II I’m yet to actually start playing them.
As a big Nintendo fan, the Big N’s relatively lacklustre presence didn’t help things out too much, although the Switch certainly had a few games that made up for the otherwise slower pace. Not only did my favourite game of all time receive a remaster in the form of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, but being able to play and review Super Mario 64 from my Switch was certainly a personal highlight of the year.
My game of the year: Spiritfarer
Spiritfarer’s official tagline perhaps sums up the game better than I ever could — it really is “a cozy management game about dying.”Everything about this self appointed summary rings true the entire way through. Taking control of the acrobatic and ever cheerful Stella, you assume the role of the eponymous Spiritfarerafter the previous holder’s tenure comes to a close. As part of your new job, you’re required to travel around a boundless sea in the aim of taking aboard lost spirits and safely guiding them into the great beyond.
While the game gives you a large amount of freedom to explore the ocean as you see fit, completing small objectives and upgrade your ship, the heart of the game comes from seeing each spirit’s story come to a close. The different characters you invite upon your ship are all weighed down by troubles and regrets from their time spent in the realm of the living, and it’s your job to see these worries come to a close. Whether this is by revisiting a nostalgic childhood home, or by searching the seas to find the partner in a complicated and messy marriage, everything ties back to the life-sim like gameplay that’s involved in building up the small town that you harbour upon your ship.
Spiritfarer initially enchants you with a child-like wonder through it’s gorgeous hand drawn art, but it doesn’t take too long to realise how mature the game really gets. Even though all the spirits take the form of anthropomorphic deers, frogs, snakes, and the sorts, your time with each character slowly pulls back the curtains on what feels like an actual person hidden inside. It’s hard to convey what made me fall in love with Spiritfarer so much because it was such an intensely personal experience. There’s certainly a critique to be made that the end of the game can feel a little “grindy” if you’re aiming to get everything done, but everything else made any complaints I had feel like a moot point. It’s an addictively fun game wrapped in an adorable yet immensely emotional experience, and easily my favourite title of 2020.
I briefly mentioned it before, but the original Xenoblade Chronicles is my favourite game of all time. As one would expect, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition trounces the original in every way. If I had to choose between the original and Definitive Edition, the Switch remake is obviously the superior game, but something about it doesn’t quite make it my game of the year. Maybe it’s the fact that I went in with most of my opinions laid out in front of me, whereas Spiritfarer was something new that could take me by surprise. Either way, I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t mention it. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is an excellent remake of an excellent game.
Honourable Mention: Super Mario 3D All-Stars (sort of)
The cynic in me knows that Super Mario 3D All-Stars doesn’t really deserve to be held in such high regard. The games included are of superb quality, but as a 2020 release, 3D All-Stars does little to establish itself as much more than a basic trio of ports. Ultimately though, I find it hard to stay frustrated at 3D All-Stars, if only because it gave me the chance to play through Super Mario 64 again.
2020’s biggest hits and misses:
Hit: Dragon Quest XI comes to EVERYTHING
Even though it first came to the PS4 in 2018, I didn’t get to play Dragon Quest XI until it came to the Switch the following year as the enhanced port, Dragon Quest XI S. I started my playthrough with the extremely generous ten-hour demo from the Switch eShop (which you should absolutely try out) and before I had even picked up my own copy I knew it was one of my favourite games of the year. Now in 2020, not only has the Switch’s Dragon Quest XI S been ported to both the PS4 and Xbox One, but its introduction to Xbox Game Pass has made it easier than ever to play. It might seem like something trivial, but I genuinely believe DQ11 is one of the best RPGs ever made, and a game that deserves more love than the series receives.
Miss: How Nintendo’s been treating its fans
I’ll keep this one brief as it’s been talked about to death — including by me, right here on Doublejump — but Nintendo’s recent treatment of its fans has been pretty poor. Between the forced cancellation of The Big House Online, its action against the Etikons fundraiser, and its restrictive limited releases with Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, it’s been hard to feel like more than just a consumer to the Big N.
Hit: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC continues to not disappoint
…And now all of a sudden I love Nintendo apparently. While I am somewhat disappointed by what the company has been up to, that doesn’t mean I can’t love the quality games they put out, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is no exception. Although many fans won’t find the first-party additions of Byleth and Min Min too intriguing compared to the third-party additions, but the fact that Minecraft’s Steve and Final Fantasy’s Sephiroth are going to be sitting next to each other on the roster for the rest of time is insane.
What I’m looking forward to in 2021:
Resident Evil Village:
Out of all the games we know are coming out next year, Resident Evil Village is probably the one I’m most excited for (although that might change if Nintendo says anything about Breath of the Wild 2). Even though this year’s Resident Evil 3 remake was a pretty disappointing sequel to one of my favourite games of last year, I’m still looking forward to Village’s new take on the franchise.
Xbox Series X Backwards Compatibility:
As someone who’s never owned an Xbox before, one of the biggest draws of the Series X is its compatibility. Not only will I be able to start collecting original Xbox games, but I’ll finally be able to get around to filling in my 360-era blindspot.
The Legend of Zelda’s 35th Anniversary
One of the best parts about celebrating Super Mario’s anniversary, is that The Legend of Zelda’s always follows the year after. Hopefully, continuing in the trend of 2020, 2021 brings a 3D Zelda Collection onto the Switch, or maybe Breath of the Wild 2 will drop as an anniversary celebration. Either way, I’m just excited to see what Nintendo’s planning for my favourite gaming series of all time.