2020 has been an… Interesting year, to say the very least, and although Sony and Microsoft released the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X to excited us all, those new consoles were far from my mind’s priorities (thanks and fuck you, COVID-19). This year, I predominantly found myself playing single-player games that allowed me to unwind, or taking in some lower-stakes multiplayer fare. Ultimately, my favourite games I played this year highlight the importance of taking some time out for oneself, but also of connecting with friends and family, especially given the absolute mess that 2020 was.
My game of the year: Hades
What can I say about Hades that hasn’t already been said? Ruby did a great job highlighting just how addictively chaotic Supergiant’s latest effort is, and a whole bunch of my colleagues here at Doublejump have put it up as their Game of the Year as well, but it bears repeating all the same.
As is tradition when it comes to Supergiant, Hades is absolutely stunning, filled with intricate detail that will never fail to inspire awe as you trek through the Greek underworld. I’m quite fascinated by Greek mythology, and I was particularly impressed by how accurate many of the details were, right down to character personalities and relationships, which shows just how much research and love the studio put into the game. For example, each of the weapons available to Zagreus — who, funnily enough, is a minor god of rebirth — are historically accurate; at some point or another, Aegis and Varatha were Zeus and Hades’ weapons respectively, for example.
The combat is insanely addictive, too. Its classic beat-’em-up style doesn’t seem to get old no matter how long you play, and that’s helped by the presence of six different weapons — each with four “aspects” to unlock — and a plethora of godly Boons available that change with each run, ensuring that there’s always some variety to the chaos. On top of that, Hades even rewards you for dying by revealing a little more of the story each time; as I’m writing this now, I’m still yet to fully complete it, which is a testament to just how much Supergiant was able to put into the experience. The characters are also charming, with fully voice-acted dialogue that further encourages you to try out all sorts of combinations of weapons and Boons.
I can safely say that, if you own a Switch or a PC, Hades is an absolute must-buy.
Honourable Mention: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out at a time when the world desperately needed it. Historians of the future will never be able to fully grasp the amount of stress and hardship people went through over the course of 2020 — especially here in Victoria where we had a three-month lockdown, a three-week period of “freedom” and then another three-month lockdown. I’ve spoken at length about how Animal Crossing helps players de-stress and lose themselves in the experience, and it’s for that reason that it’s a fantastic video game, global pandemic or no global pandemic.
Animal Crossing as a whole encourages players to take a step back, relax and do whatever they please on an island all to themselves, and New Horizons has been no exception. Its simple, repetitive gameplay loop can captivate you for hours at a time, and the real-world clock encourages you to form daily routines, which is crucial to maintaining mental health. Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out at the perfect time, and I’m glad I was finally able to see how stunning it is for myself.
Honourable Mention: Next Generation Consoles
This might be cheating as they’re not games, but the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S are set to define the next generation of gaming, and the future is looking really, really bright. There aren’t too many true next-generation games available at the time of writing, but Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Gears 5 work to highlight Ray Tracing and other leaps in performance on their respective consoles, but I can imagine that we’ll be seeing some astounding displays of technical brilliance on these consoles in the near future.
If only they weren’t so hard to get…
2020’s biggest hits and misses:
Hit: Among Us
Who would’ve thought that Werewolf in space would captivate so many? Among Us was downloaded almost 42 million times in September alone, and it still continues to be a game night favourite in many a social circle. Having released in 2018, Innersloth’s nigh-overnight success goes to show that with a little perseverance and a little luck, indie titles can explode into the mainstream; in a year where connection was more important than ever, I’m glad that people everywhere were able to access this previously-hidden gem and lie and manipulate their way to victory.
Hit: Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout
I imagine the pitch meeting for Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout started with someone in the room asking “what if Fortnite and Wipeout had a video game baby?” It’s the question that made Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital millions, because there’s something inherently timeless about running through a dramatised obstacle course, desperately trying to reach a checkpoint while competing against opponents and your own teammates. It made 2020 just that little bit more comforting, and I’m looking forward to what Mediatonic adds to the jelly bean-fuelled chaos next.
Hit: JackboxParty Packs
The community’s mileage when it comes to the Jackbox Party Packs tends to vary: sometimes, you’ll find yourself in fits of laughter and fun that go on for hours; other times, the answers that come through might be so unfunny that people question why they decided to even buy one of the now seven titles available. I find myself very strongly in the former camp – during lockdown, Jackbox became a reliable go-to among my social circle. Whether it’s Quiplash, Fibbage, Monster Seeking Monster or Trivia Murder Party, there’s always something there to keep you entertained.
Miss: Pokémon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass
Instead of releasing the typical “third version” (see Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, Platinum, and so forth) of its Pokémon titles, Game Freak opted to join the revolution and release two expansions to Pokémon Sword and Shield: The Isle of Armour and The Crown Tundra. Unfortunately, though, those two expansions are just… not good. For AU$45, players received an additional ten-hour campaign (at most), less than half of which was actual new content; one of the major selling points is the ability to capture Pokémon that weren’t originally in Sword and Shield – the same Pokémon that Game Freak said wouldn’t ever be patched in. Instead, we got to pay AU$45 for them. Thanks!!
Pokémon Sword and Shield is a pair of rushed, unfinished games that needed a whole lot more polish, and the same can be said for the expansions: The Isle of Armour is basically just another Wild Area with a dojo-style side-quest and a mini-game; and while The Crown Tundra does include some actual new Pokémon and a new type of raid den, they certainly do feel like cut content and I’ve got no idea why they couldn’t have been included in the base game.
Miss: Marvel’s Avengers
With the word from Square Enix being that Marvel’s Avengersmanaged to lose nearly US$63 million for the company, you’ve got to start questioning just how it failed so spectacularly, especially when Marvel’s Spider-Man has performed so very well. The answer you’d find to that question is pretty simple – Marvel’s Avengers is a “live service” game, and it fell into all the familiar traps: a grindy loot system, micro-transactions and even corporate sponsorships (seriously? Who asked for those?!), all mashed together to create a game oozing with money-grabbing intent and entirely lacking in charm. It’s a shame, too, because Kamala Khan’s story is good enough to be a redeeming factor if it wasn’t so short.
What I’m looking forward to in 2021:
The Breath of the Wild Sequel
By combining Breath of the Wild’s exploration with Dynasty Warriors’ chaotic action, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity provided a nice stop on the way to the main event, but I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t just a little neurotic for an update on the next mainline Legend of Zelda installment. Breath of the Wild was a bit limited in the dungeon aspect for my liking, and Age of Calamity was a completely different kind of game, so my desire to play a new Legend of Zelda game is at an all-time high. My big hope for 2021 is that we see a summer release date for this sequel, but at this point I’ll even settle for a trailer. Until then, I’ll just play through my entire Legend of Zelda backlog one more time.
More Indie Hits
With Among Us, Hades and Fall Guys showing us all just how much fun the indie scene can be, I’m excited to see what surprises await us in 2021, when the studios have access to newer, better technology to create the perfect game.
Something, Anything, About Metroid Prime 4
At this point, I’m with Luke: even an announcement that the game still exists would be enough at this point. Announced in 2017 and completely restarted from scratch two years later, and then with a global pandemic to work through, I would be surprised and excited just to know that Retro Studios is still working on Metroid Prime 4.