2020 End of Year List: Video Games
So, 2020 is drawing to a close. One notable thing about 2020 compared to prior years is that I consumed a lot more media than usual (wonder why), whether they be albums, video games, or movies. So, I’m splitting my Top 10s into three lists, one for each medium.
It’s important to note that I’m not necessarily talking about games, movies, or albums to be released in 2020 — just that I experienced them substantially for the first time this year.
And before you all ask, I did not play Hades this year. Also, my GOTY 2020, not that it’s included on here, is Persona 5 Royal, a game that I haven’t played, but I’ve played 66% of.
Sea of Thieves (2018): This one’s on the HMs because I haven’t played very much of it this year. Great game, however, and lots of fun with friends. However, my laptop really…is being stretched thin by the game. Integrated Graphics is not good enough for this, let me tell you.
Yu-Gi-Oh: Legacy of the Duelist — Link Evolution (2020): Imagine Magic the Gathering, but with no resource restrictions. That’s Yu-Gi-Oh. Yu-Gi-Oh is always a good time. Until you play stall decks. I just wish they could have had more dynamic draft play, however.
Among Us (2018): It’s Among Us. I don’t really know what else there is to say about “mungus” that hasn’t already been said. Stellar mafia-style gameplay with buddies. Me when the imposter is sus!
Splatoon 2 (2017): Another case of “only on here because I just started”; stylish aesthetic and fun gameplay lead to a certified Good Time. I just wish the gyro didn’t suck as much as it does. Everyone who plays Splat tells me not to worry about it but here I am, worrying about it.
BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle (2018): I’m learning a fighting game! Hugh-Jay’s learning a fighting game! I just wish I had friends to play with.
10. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020)
Platform: Nintendo Switch
tl;dr: Fun and innovative progression of the Animal Crossing franchise, yet falls short of New Leaf
Bet you weren’t expecting to see THIS one so early, huh?
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was THE game of Spring 2020. My friends and I spent March through June feverishly collecting fish, bugs, fossils, and furniture, all while working to optimize our outfits and island. And to New Horizon’s credit, every customization feature was a direct upgrade for the franchise and every frustration from New Leaf had been removed. Villagers could no longer randomly plop their house down on your flowerbed or paths. You had a legitimately workable amount of inventory space, so there was no need to keep your tools in letters. Wands enabled quick changes of clothes. At the same time, so much of the game felt like a step back; my favorite part of New Leaf, Brewster, had magically vanished. I understand that content is being added back in free updates, but it makes the product that I had purchased in March feel barebones at best.
Furthermore, the game‘s attempts to innovate the franchise have yielded problems of their own. The addition of crafting has lead to a new, completely unneeded frustration: why can we not quick craft? I was blessed with my controller’s turbo button, allowing me to put my controller down and check Twitter, but it’s a terrible design decision. You know your game is not optimized for long-term enjoyment when YouTubers make fan quality of life updates.
I think the biggest issue to me is how watered down the villagers feel compared to the two other Animal Crossing games I’ve played: the original and New Leaf. Even within New Leaf, I had villagers (re: Croque) that were assholes to me. And it might be because I played the game at 14, but I felt more connected with the villagers there simply due to how they interacted with the world around them. In New Horizons, the villagers feel like empty shells. They have six personalities, and you have ten spaces for villagers, so you WILL have two villagers with the same personality type. It’s weird watching people “sell” Raymond for real world money because he feels just like any other villager.
But when it boils down to it, Animal Crossing is a magical franchise. There’s a charm to it that hasn’t been captured by any of its contemporaries. New Horizons adds so much, but it missed too much on a lot of the basic stuff, and ultimately it’s lead to a slightly stained reputation. I’m sure I’ll return to the game in two years, and have a great time coming back to my island, but for now I haven’t touched the game since July (barring taking the screenshot for my Halloween costume)
9. Bloons Tower Defense 6 (2018)
Platforms: iOS, Android, Steam
tl;dr: do y’all run glue gunner or ice tower
Hours: 5 (and counting)
When I was 10 years old, I went to iD Tech Camp at NYIT. I have no clue why I went at NYIT. I live a block from Columbia. While there, however, I learned how to make a terrible, terrible, terrible tower defense game. Those flash drives have since dissolved from existence, but my love for the genre never died. And nothing encapsulates the perfect tower defense game like Bloons Tower Defense. I played copious amount of BTD5 as a kid, and I went into 6 curious to see how the franchise had changed. So I guess it came as a surprise to me that I enjoyed this game for the exact same reason I had enjoyed it as a kid: watching and hearing balloons pop is satisfying.
The gameplay loop of BTD6 works like a charm. Place towers to pop balloons, which in turn generate money to buy more towers. Positioning and upgrading towers in turn let you deal with more difficult to pop balloons, which in turn yield more money. Nothing about this gem has fundamentally changed.
For what it’s worth, the nail towers are slept on.
8. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate (2017)
tl;dr: I Shoot Da Big Dragon
Hours: 60 (and counting)
This game was my first foray into the Monster Hunter franchise, and 60 hours in, I can say that Monster Hunter is fun. I don’t think any Monster Hunter game is aiming to be high art, but I think there’s a stupid, childlike joy in shooting at a dragon with your friends for twenty five minutes straight. Yeah, this game is fun as hell. However, it suffers from two problems, both of which tie into each other: it’s hard to recommend to friends, and it’s a game that’s most fun with friends. For point A: the gameplay mechanics are slightly clunky, and it requires a LOT of patience. This game is a port of a 3DS game, and truly, it shows. For point B: playing on your own is perfectly fine, but being able to call out for cover to heal, set traps, or use explosive Hunter Arts adds a new depth to play that makes it a damn good time. I’m very excited for Monster Hunter: Rise, but I can say with confidence I had a great time playing through this.
Not all video games need to be art. Sometimes things can be stupid and be wonderful, and Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is the epitome of that. The cat is contracting me to hunt a wyvern? Of course it is! Why wouldn’t it be!
7. Super Mario Sunshine
Platform: Gamecube, Switch (through Super Mario 3D All Stars)
I talked about this game in depth in a prior article. Let me summarize my thoughts on this hellish, hellish game.
This game is a monument and the black sheep of the 3D Mario games. It’s different in every way, and it works in most of them. I just wish they’d be…a little nicer to you. Just a little bit.
6. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon DX (2020)
tl;dr: The hardest Pokémon game and it isn’t even close
So I owned Red Rescue Team as a child. We’re not talking 12–14 year old as a child, we’re talking about 5 years old. I had the hardest time playing this game. There were too many mechanics to balance, and although I loved Pokémon (I had played Sapphire before this) I was only able to barely beat this game, and I could never beat the first postgame dungeon. So when I heard they were remaking this game (in the bathroom during class), I was ecstatic. I popped off and played the demo later that day. And let me tell you, Anton Ego Really Ate The Confit Byaldi.
I wasn’t able to play this game until later in quarantine thanks to a…time consuming game that shows up later on this list, but when I got to it, I had a ball. The gameplay mechanics were streamlined to be much simpler, but retained the deep level of complexity and strategy that the franchise was known for. And let me tell you: unlike with mainline, this game does not pull any punches in difficulty. It starts off easy but it gets INCREDIBLY difficult. I never finished Buried Relic, Wish Cave, or Purity Forest. I can’t. I’m not strong enough.
Still, all love for my Pikachu partner. Shoutout Laser Focus + Discharge.
5. Ring Fit Adventure (2019)
tl;dr: exercise rpg
Hours: 5 (and counting)
I’ll be the first to say that I’m not a big fitness person. I try my best to be healthy, but the biggest roadblock for me is working out. I’ve resolved to try to start getting on fitness plans and keeping schedules for my workouts, but they’ve all failed due to apathy (except for my 2020 resolution to workout, which ended January 10th after I sprained my ankle getting OFF of the treadmill). There have only been two times where exercise has really been made engaging to me. They were: the three weeks running up to high school badminton tryouts, where my ex got onto the girls team but I didn’t get onto the boys team, and playing Wii Fit Plus as a child.
Cut forward six years from the latter experience (and try to move past the former experience), and a few things have changed about me. Namely, I’m an RPG dude now. Blame Persona 5. I love optimizing builds and going into battle with the tools I can carefully think through and choose. Turn based combat is lame for some people, but I think it’s cool being able to work through all the options built for me. Also, it’s 2020 so I’m trapped inside my apartment. That’s another thing I have going for me.
Ring Fit Adventure succeeds where every workout schedule failed because it takes a video game I like, with an activity I feel as if I should do more, and pushes them together to make exercise as close to enjoyable for me as possible. I’m genuinely driven to advance in the (admittedly lackluster but not really important) plot and win boss battles and collect equipment! I think the visuals are cool as hell! I’m having a good time.
Ring Fit works, and that’s a testament to the game itself.
4. Pokémon Sword + Expansion Pass (2019–2020)
tl;dr: My character weakness is that I like this game and I love the DLC
Hours: an embarrassing 460 (and counting)
Pokémon Sword and Shield are controversial games. From “Dexit” to graphical issues to a lackluster release, many people spend their time lamenting on missing “the old Pokémon” to calling Game Freak the “next EA”. And to be clear: I’m not here to lick this game’s boots. It suffers from a lot of real, legitimate issues. This game clearly was rushed, and major sections feel scrapped. The world is the most fleshed out world a Pokémon world has been in game, but the cities and towns feel so empty. The Wild Area is so fun and so perfect, but it seems to be the only actual route in the game.
But deep down, this game has a good game in it. And that’s where the DLC comes in.
The Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra are some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a mainline game. Everyone talks about how much they want an open world Pokémon game, and Game Freak gave us two of them. Neither of them are particularly long, but they have amazing design, fun challenges and places to explore, and the plots of each DLC lend themselves to being the best postgame in the franchise. I’m genuinely reinvigorated with hope that Game Freak’s next endeavor (cough cough Gen 4 remakes) are going to be legitimately great because of this. Please don’t fumble the bag.
And I suppose it’s impossible to talk about Hugh-Jay’s 2020 Pokémon experience without bringing up VGC, the namesake of my server. Simply put, VGC is the competitive game I’ve been looking for my entire life. It fits me like a glove. It’s every part of Pokémon that I loved growing up — the optimization, the mind games — condensed into a singular (albeit excruciatingly slow due to in game clock) format. There’s currently Twitter discourse about whether or not VGC20 is “the easiest format”. It helped me get into it and genuinely make friends within the community. Thank you, shiny Dragapult. I love you, even if you took me 1303 eggs to hatch.
3. Hollow Knight
Platforms: PC, Windows, Linux, Switch, Xbox One, PS4
tl;dr: why is boss music playing
Hours: 75 (and counting)
During my first playthrough of Hollow Knight, there was one magical moment that solidified this as one of my favorite games of all time. I was on Discord fighting the Mantis Lords with three of my friends who had beaten the boss before. The Mantis Lords, for context, are a boss of three mantis siblings who test your worth before allowing you to progress in the game.
I began the fight by fighting the first Mantis Lord, and immediately got my ass curbstomped into the ground. An NPC had recommended I get my equipment upgraded before trying this fight, but I am a determinator, so I pushed through it and got my ass kicked by the first Mantis Lord over and over again while the other two sat in their chairs and watched me. Talking to my friends, I asked if “the other two Mantis Lords had the same attack patterns”. They both responded by telling me “yeah they do”, an anecdote that surprised me, as I expected the second and third Mantis Lords to fight differently. I responded with “I bet you two are smiling right now because they’re going to hit twice as hard or whatever”. These two assholes are giggling and I can’t figure out why.
Cut to twenty minutes later, and I finally learned the attack patterns of the first Mantis Lord enough to defeat her, and suddenly both remaining Mantis Lords get out of their seats and immediately begin double teaming me. I’m yelling in confusion and lose pretty much instantaneously. When I die and pause the game to get water, my friend on call hits me with the stinger.
“You said twice as hard.”
This is a master class in game design.
2. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (2017)
tl;dr: a strong argument as to why tutorials are important
1. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)
tl;dr: everyone is here but i sure wish sonic wasn’t
hours: 400+ this year (and counting)
To my chagrin, this game takes the number one spot.
I spent the beginning of 2020 wanting to succeed competitively, and to put it bluntly, failing. I’d commute for an hour to Des Plains, Illinois only to go 0–2 and get three stocked by some rando Captain Falcon who didn’t understand how bans worked. (Great bubble tea though!)
This game put me through so much stress and I genuinely felt like it was starting to serve as a reflection on me. It’s dumb to tie a video game to your self esteem, but I had spent hundreds of hours up until that point trying and failing to win. Thoughts of “if I’m this bad at the things I thought I was okay at, imagine how I’ll be at the things that matter” began clouding my head and pushing my self esteem (at already a pretty bad time) lower and lower.
Then, two things happened:
Quarantine was a great way for me to take a step away from competitive Smash and re-evaluate what made the game enjoyable for me. I switched mains entirely and realized that I didn’t need to be a top player to be involved in the scene. I pushed myself to get more involved. I applied for a social media internship with Panda Global (which I didn’t get, but hey Dr. Alan, my docket’s always free), and I applied to be Smash leadership for Northwestern Esports. Helping to run tournaments, a task I already volunteered to do some, seemed like a noble task. I began to both have fun in the game and dive into the community.
Then, the Smash community had their #MeToo moment, and hearing heartbreaking stories about figures that I personally looked up to and figures close to both of my homes. It was incredibly rough to see this community, which helped me through some of my hardest times, so fundamentally broken. I resolved back then to try to push the Smash communities I’m a part of to be the safest space possible, and I’m sticking by it.
Now, it’s December. I’m markedly improving as a player, but I still have more to learn. I’m making friends in the community (shoutout any of the PPA guys, if they’re reading this. no way!) and I’m trying to grow as much as possible, using Smash as an outlet. It’s like dumb for me to get all Haikyuu on it, but it’s instrumental for my growth. And for all the shit I give it, Smash is the beautiful game. There’s an elegance in it unparalleled in any other fighting game. Smash is a game that I couldn’t really imagine my college experience, or my development as a person without. It’s something that’s genuinely very important to me. I’m going to TO at Northwestern when we pull it back offline, I’m going to help run ICCS, and I’m going to finally go 2–2. When you’re at the place I am, every win’s an upset, and every victory is to be celebrated.
Captain Falcon’s still lame as hell, though. Annoying ass char
So, that’s my 2020 in video games. I want to thank my Nintendo Switch for genuinely getting me through this year; I don’t know how I would have passed the time without it. The counterargument to that usually is “being productive”, but I’m not going to let myself be guilted for having a good time.
Especially when the games are this perfect.
Happy 2020 guys, and I’ll see you guys in a few days for my top 10 movies.
-Hugh-Jay “Trade War” Yu.