I’ll warn you now that Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t feature anywhere on my list. In fact, it doesn’t feature anywhere in my life as budget and doubt made their presence known very early on. But despite missing out on this sure-to-be stellar game when the kinks are ironed out, 2020 hasn’t been too disappointing for me – gaming wise – despite nearly everything else coming up very short. Granted, I haven’t played as much as I’d have liked. And nowhere near as much as lockdown should have allowed. But my backlog has been revitalised, thanks to a number of older purchases, so I’ve got my fingers in a number of pies. And I’m enjoying every little bit (though it is hard to type with those pastry-crusted digits).
As a result, it wouldn’t be fair to name my top ten games of 2020 without making a few honourable mentions. After all, I picked them up at a bargain price and they repaid me handsomely. But I promise my final countdown will be restricted to games from this history-making year, otherwise the boss may get his red potato of a work’s calendar out and remind me just when 2020 started. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t in 2019, or 2018, 2017 nor 2016…
So, without further ado, I’d like to firstly give a round of applause to LA Noire. It’s a game I never got round to on the PlayStation 3, so you could say I’m lucky they re-released it during this subsequent generation. But I’ve more than made up for it since. From its first case, I was engrossed in my new detective identity, to the point I felt butterflies during the interrogations and even tried to grow a Poirot moustache (spoiler alert: I was probably more successful than I’d care to admit…). And the facework – you could argue it’s ahead of its time now never mind back then.
Then there’s the eye-catching Okami HD, which sees you painting in parts of its world as you undergo your journey. This mechanic sounds clunky, yet it manages to integrate itself so naturally into the gameplay that it becomes second nature in next to no time, making this a truly wonderful RPG that I’d encourage you to try for yourself. Finally, we have the Dangaronpa Trilogy. And if I’m honest, I don’t know where to begin with this one. Other than saying it’s a Japanese visual novel with an evil teddy bear at its core. That probably tells you all you need to know as to decide whether it’s your cup of tea, but if you’re into digital murder mysteries with their fair share of text, I can’t recommend it enough.
Anyway, let’s get on with what you’re here for. My top ten games of 2020 are…
1 – Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age
The original release of this JRPG was practically flawless. It boasted an engaging story, colourful world and a combat system we’ve all grown to love. Yet, the ‘S’ release – a port of the Nintendo Switch’s enhanced version – brought with it all that and more as it reimagined what it means to be the latest game in a very established series. That’s because, despite being a new release, it incorporates the 2d 16 bit graphics of old, which means you can play the entire story cloaked in nostalgia. And it’s been done with such affection that it really is something worth experiencing at least once, regardless of your gaming fetishes. Personally, I recommend a playthrough in each, as the modern 3d offering is itself a thing of beauty and that way you really experience the contrast between the two art styles. But if you’re undecided, you can change between the two visual offerings – chapter by chapter – by just popping down to the local church. Elsewhere, there are a few new chapters on offer, fleshing out the story even further, and Japanese voice acting for those of you who are like me and trying to learn a language through gaming. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age may be the second release for the game, but boy is it the best.
PS: any visual downgrade due to it being a port is neither here nor there, and the extra elements more than make up for it. So, if you’re sitting on the fence, jump on down and grab a controller!
2 – Persona 5 Royal
Had Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age not received the 16-bit treatment, then Persona 5 Royal would have probably clinched gold. Heck, truth be told, it could very well still be a tie as I’m torn between which is better. But that merely reinforces the fact that Persona 5 was another top-notch game made even better by an expanded re-release. Even if it’s a bit of a money-spinner for the companies involved. But let’s not get into the politics of things. Instead, let’s focus on what made this game the hit that it was and why the Royal title is duly earned.
You see, Persona 5 Royal is a reason in itself to rebuy/relive the original adventure, just in case you were wondering. That’s because it comes complete with new story arcs and characters, which only make the best JRPG game ever made even better. The Phantom Thieves manage to capture our hearts all over again, and Morgana has even found a conscience. Granted, it also comes with some possibly game breaking DLC, but that is optional (and we wouldn’t be daft enough to activate that early on would we?). So, if that’s its only fault – and it is – then this is a truly worthy purchase that can easily justify another 100+ hours of your life.
3 – The Yakuza Remastered Collection
The Yakuza Remastered Collection is the final game to have wrestled with me for the top spot. And with three games bundled into its single case, maybe it should have won – on the balance of things. But the truth is there is a slight deviance in greatness between the third and fifth instalment of the series (with the fifth building on everything that came before), so it was only fair to consider things with that in mind. But I shan’t pretend it was easy not to place this at the top. That’s because it’s the greatest series of all time, if you ask me!
The release of the trilogy on PlayStation 4 means you can now follow the Yakuza story straight from the start, all the way through to its reimagining in Like A Dragon. Something that is a privilege to do given the quality on offer here, and that never feels like a chore. I can honestly say I played them back to back and never once grew tired of them, unlike Assassin’s Creed which made my brain feel as though it had traipsed Origins’ map itself.
The inclusion of all previously cut content makes these the definitive version and it’s a nice selling point. Not that it needs one. That’s because the script is immense throughout the trilogy whilst the action will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Side quests remain outlandish and unrivalled (where do they get the ideas from?), and you really gain a bond with all the characters – despite playing as a handful of them in the fifth. The only criticism I have is there’s a step down in the controls between Yakuza Zero/Kiwami 1&2 and the third game in this remaster, but it’s not long before you’re brawling like a natural again.
4 – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1&2
I’ve been squawking for a decent skateboarding game for ages, so imagine my delight when this remaster finally hit the shelves. I really was a kid in a candy shop. Or at least I would have been if that shop were called Smyths and there was actually candy. But let’s not get bogged down in the finer details. A quick glance at the back cover made old wounds from my attempts at skating flare-up in disgust. But memories can be both beautiful and painful at the same time, so I paid little attention – just money.
On booting up the game, the memories came flooding back and it hasn’t disappointed me once. Instead, it has just made me question why they hadn’t done this sooner. The soundtrack is once again the perfect accompaniment to the action, the controls have been faithfully translated (so much so that you quickly pick things back up again) and the reworked environments shine. Plus, there’s always the sense that there’s something new to see every time you boot it up.
I just hope we don’t have to wait too long for a decent sequel because it deserves one.
5 – Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
This sequel has been too long in the making. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve beaten the original trilogy in the interim, but they have never stopped me longing for another. Yet, the team appeared reluctant to meet that demand. Until now. And what a game to get! You see, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time feels like a brand new challenge whilst retaining all the charms of old. Something I doubt was easy to achieve but comes across so naturally that it really is a credit to all involved. However, with Toys For Bob’s pedigree, I never doubted it for a second.
The graphics are modernly crisp, but still act as a throwback to the games of old. The levels are as intricately designed now as they were then. And the new playable characters are a nice twist on tradition. But be warned, crates are still expertly hidden, so much so that achieving 100% across levels will be one of the biggest challenges of your life. And if the difficulty infuriated you before, it will only do the same now. However, if you’ve enough stress balls to hand, you should be safe to play; you could always play it in modern mode with no game overs and extra help from Aku Aku.
6 – Two Point Hospital
2020 has been a year filled with too many hospitals. But this is one medical department I’d make an exception for. Thinking about it, though, it’s not one I’d personally go to – unless I’m looking for a fun time. Then it’s the one place you’d struggle to keep me away from. And that’s exactly what happened here.
Two Point Hospital is a homage to the sim games of old, featuring a number of nods to the past. Yet it still manages to stand on its own two feet, which is quite the achievement in this age of tired blueprints. Whether it’s the writing (the receptionist often reminds the dead that there’s nothing more the hospital can do for them), clown-like cases (lightheadedness meaning a literal lightbulb in place of your head and many cases of ‘grout’ are reported) or stop-motion-esque graphics (in the style of my beloved Wallace and Gromit), every shift on duty is a true joy – made all the better by the number of hospitals that are available and challenges on offer. I really hope this will not only lead to a sequel but also to an influx of similar games.
Just don’t ask me to check your inappropriately placed rash; I’m still in training after all and my eyes are delicate!
7 – F1 2020
This year, the Formula One Championship has been predictable – mostly – despite the upheaval and changes brought about by Covid. But something that did break the mould was F1 2020, which launched as the most ambitious game in the franchise yet. Despite the high aspirations of Codemasters, though, it managed to meet those targets. And implement them very well, given past performance. It’s far from perfect, granted, but the wrinkles are far outweighed by the giant step forward the team have made, which included a fully fleshed out F2 series and more realistic lighting. All of which leaves me feeling like a proper racing driver, driving on the edge of adhesion, and excited to see where this will lead (and no, I don’t mean the checkered flag) – I bet F1 2021 is going to look amazing on the PlayStation 5!
It’s just a shame there is no chance of having this year’s calendar ported in, especially given the unpredictable races a few of them produced.
8 – Mafia Definitive Edition
I would like to have placed the trilogy here, but considering the second instalment is a buggy mess, I couldn’t justify a joint achievement. Instead, all glory will go to the Definitive Edition of Mafia, which is an underappreciated and faithful remake of the original. Granted, the characters don’t look all that pretty – there are still jagged edges and starched trouser legs calling the shots. But look a little wider and it is more than passable for 2020. It also boasts a far grittier tale than the likes of Grand Theft Auto V has to tell, and this is only the second time it has tried to sell itself to you, so it’s got that going for it too…
It would have been great if it were a little longer in length, and if there was more freedom to the story given the openness of its world. Not to mention, some refinement to the cover system when it comes to combat. But those are consequences of its time rather than a criticism of this remake. So, all in all, I’m more than happy with the time I spent in the 1930s climbing this seedy career ladder – just call me The Don(na)…
9 – Saints Row The Third Remastered
The humour of Saints Row The Third Remastered probably shouldn’t work given the years that have passed since it was originally released (and the maturing that should have happened by this writer). But the truth is it still manages to coax a chuckle out of you and that isn’t too common in games these days – even the ones that promise to be funny. That’s because the writing and themes, despite being immature, are really well crafted – evidently thought about, even if it comes across as the complete opposite, and not forced. And it’s timeless, too, which isn’t easy to achieve either. It’s also supported by a ridiculously crazy world, which is a cacophony of colours that you can’t help but smile at.
It isn’t without its bugs (what is these days?). For example, cutscene audio is out of time with the characters’ lips at times. But I’ve experienced nothing game-breaking to date, so I can let it slide this time. Besides, some of them simply add to the fun! So, if you’re looking for mindless fun, be sure to give Saints Row The Third Remastered a chance – just be prepared to say, ‘What the heck?!?’, quite a lot.
10 – Darksiders Genesis
The Darksiders series has always kept me entertained thanks to its mostly fluid and fun hack ‘n’ slash action. Couple this with some very intriguing “dungeons” and you’ve got yourself a treat of a game. Now, I’m happy to report that Darksiders Genesis managed to retain all the charm of the first two whilst carving out an identity of its own – even if certain boss fights are as annoying as ever. It’s just lucky that the combat is so darn fun!
The Diablo-esque makeover sounded as drastic as Yakuza Like a Dragon’s change of style. But it works, and even manages to make the game better for it – which is a bit of a surprise considering there was nothing wrong with the previous genre. It even retains the feel of Darksiders we’ve become accustomed to, which may or may not be a failure in design (I’ll leave that up to you to decide). Elsewhere, the map is a pain in the butt and the camera can have a mind of its own. But overall it’s an enjoyable chapter in the series, which puts you very much in Death’s shoes. I only fear that the mixed reviews may make this the only step away from the usual perspective, though.