Who Will Lock Down the Top Spot?
If someone had told me five or ten years ago that I’d be writing this in a “tier 4 lockdown” – only periodically emerging onto the empty streets to search for food and basic necessities, wearing a mask and cowering away from everyone I meet – I’d say that sounded like some sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare, but that has been 2020 in a nutshell. It has been a year particularly flush with remakes and remasters as people look back fondly to better times. It’s also been a year when game sales have blossomed as folk have been trapped indoors, making competition for the lockdown dollar particularly intense amongst a great crop of games. Join us as we count down the gaming highlights from this tumultuous year and find out which title has emerged from the turmoil as our 2020 Game of the Year, holding HPP’s coveted crystal joystick as its rightful reward.
– Jonathan Trussler
25. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV
Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel series certainly had a knack for stringing its Western fanbase along for a few years. While we got the first two in the series with no issue, the final half of the series seemed, if only for a little bit, like it was never going to get here. Fortunately, things changed for the better when we got CSIII in 2019, and, of course, when we got the final installation just last year.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV is, without a doubt, a game that truly showcases just how wonderful the modern-day JRPG is. Not only does it masterfully carry on the Trails of Cold Steel storyline—finally presenting fans with closure at its end—but it’s also, at least in my opinion, flat-out the most fun that I’ve ever had with the series. As far as video games go, CSIV will always be a work of art. Sure, it might not be the most popular game around, but that won’t stop me, or anyone else who picks this game up, from realizing just how great it is—and that’s exactly why it deserves a spot on the list of 2020’s best games.
I’m not entirely sure where the Trails series is going after this. Well, I guess I sort of am, but I’m not counting anything as legitimate until we get some official news. We’ve been following Trails of Cold Steel for a long, long time. However, if it’s anything like the latest game that’s hit the West, I’m sure that fans, myself included, will have plenty to look forward to in the future.
– Kenny McKee
24. Coffee Talk
It’s January 2020. You own and operate a small coffee shop in a fantasy-inspired Seattle open during the evenings. Chill lofi beats play overhead while rain gently raps at the windows. Your regulars come and go, talking about their troubles while your drinks soothe their souls. These interesting people may have different perspectives and problems, but they remain connected through your good brews and great atmosphere. While they sip their cares away, you read scintillating short stories penned by your resident green-haired writer, the music and warmth making you melt into the walls of this cozy space. Life is good.
It’s hard to think of a time in 2020 when we were freely able to enjoy pre-quarantine life, let alone remember a game from January, but Coffee Talk by Indonesian indie team Toge Productions is too important to forget. Earlier this year, the “coffee brewing and heart-to-heart talking simulator” reminded players of a cozier VA-11 Hall-A; after COVID struck, it became that comforting connection to public life that few of us were able to participate in.
Fans of the series Midnight Diner (available on Netflix) will immediately understand what Coffee Talk is all about: ordinary people with lives and history connected only by the space they’ve come to know and love. The individual tastes and textures each character brings blends seamlessly into the perfect cup of coffee — some sweet, some bitter, but always good — that aims to reduce the blood pressure in a calm and caring manner. This is pixel art paradise down to the very last drop — enjoy!
– Heather Johnson-Yu
It’s not often you get to play the villain in a video game. It’s even less common to play the monster. But that’s the exact premise in Carrion. You’re a pile of nondescript red sludge, bristling with teeth and tentacles aplenty. Doesn’t sound like your standard protagonist, but that’s why I was so drawn to the game.
You make your way through a titanic facility where all sorts of dangerous experiments occurred, slowly growing more and more powerful. You do so by absorbing nuclear material and evolving new tricks on the spot. Not only can you become invisible, you can shred heavy machinery and even puppet master unwilling human soldiers.
Despite all the amazing techniques you’ll acquire, Carrion never feels one-sided. The humans have all sorts of tricks and nasty tech at their disposal, and you are much more fragile than you might expect. So the game is surprisingly well balanced, not to mention eerily attractive. There’s great use of color and texture to make everything feel unsettling and mysterious. Honestly, if you’re looking for something utterly unique, Carrion is the game to play.
– Josh Speer
22. Touhou Luna Nights
Touhou Luna Nights came into my life one Saturday afternoon and served me with a pleasant and relaxing time. Much like its maid heroine, Sakuya, would. In fact, I was able to obtain all the game’s achievements in a single sitting. While you might think that means this game is way too easy or boring, it’s quite the opposite. The game is extremely well designed and doesn’t try to overstay its welcome. But what sets this apart from other Metroidvanias? The grazing system.
Luna Nights combines elements of both platforming and bullet hell games. Something you might think wouldn’t work, but does so masterfully. This is accomplished by having the player recover HP and MP whenever the player has a near-miss with any projectiles or enemies. In this way, you can’t play Luna Nights like you would most other games by staying back and being defensive. You need to learn the art of masterfully dodging while aggressively attacking your foes. Especially when it comes to the bosses.
The bosses in this game are fun and fantastic puzzles themselves. You’ll need to learn what attacks you can dodge, which are safe to graze, and which attacks you need to slow down or stop time for. And these same mechanics apply to the main game itself. Many of the platforming puzzles rely on time manipulation. Additionally, some enemy attacks and platforms/hazards work differently when time is stopped. Meaning you need to be on your toes even when controlling time.
In the end, Touhou Luna Nights may not be the longest game out there, but it doesn’t need to be. With solid platforming, fun mechanics, and a fantastic soundtrack (go look up this game’s version of “Love-Colored Master Spark” for an example) you’ll feel as if Sakuya herself showed up to serve you tea and cakes before mysteriously vanishing.
– Benny Carrillo
21. Bayonetta/Vanquish 10th Anniversary Remasters
The presence of remasters on any games of the year list is bound to pique one’s curiosity. However, in the case of this dazzling double bill from PlatinumGames, their presence is fully justified.
Bayonetta tells a fantastical, often quirky (and gory) tale of angels, demons and witches. Umbran witches to be exact, with the titular character being one such witch. Awaking from a 500-year slumber, with a desire to know what-the-fuck-is-going-on (as will you, but hey, its worth it), Bayonetta unleashes her combat credentials and shape-shifting abilities in a modern-day world that is blissfully unaware of its fate. And it is the combat that really gives Bayonetta its credentials. Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya has taken the third-person hack-and-slash action blueprint and ramped it up to eleven. With its recent 4K remaster, Bayonetta stands up easily with the modern crowd. There is simply nothing like it, with only its sequel able to match it.
Vanquish comes from another ex-Capcom big hitter in Shinji Mikami, creator of the Resident Evil franchise. You play as Sam Gideon, a defence research agent thrust into war against a Russian robot coup d’état. He is equipped with the Augmented Reaction Suit, which allows for multiple weapons, enhanced reactions, and AR Mode, which slows down the flow of time to exploit weak spots and pick off enemies with greater precision. Although military grey (or is it ocean grey?) to look at for the most part, the 4K upgrade makes Vanquish faster and smoother than ever. It may be short and sweet for sure, but this third-person action-shooter is as good as they come. Intuitive, intricate, immense.
Both titles were mostly overlooked and underappreciated when released originally, with Bayonetta relying on Nintendo to continue, and Mikami moving away from PlatinumGames altogether to create his own studio, Tango Gameworks. These remasters are proof of what they mean to PlatinumGames, and the pride they take in the two projects. As two of the best games of the PS3/Xbox 360 generation, as well they should.
– Kevin Kissane
20. Ghost of Tsushima
The Playstation 4 has had a plethora of solid exclusive releases over the years, each showing off what the plucky little trapezoid was capable of. In my opinion, Ghost of Tsushima pulls all the stops and shows just what the PS4 can do, all while being yet another masterfully crafted title by Sucker Punch – the minds behind franchises such as Infamous and Sly Cooper. Ghost of Tsushima tells the tale of Jin Sakai, a samurai deployed to battle on the titular island of Tsushima in 13th century Japan in an effort to push back invading Mongolian forces. The Mongols absolutely slaughter almost every Samurai in the battle, and capture their master Lord Shimura. Jin somehow survives, and feeling a sense of duty to both his people and Lord Shimura, whom he has a close bond with, he sets out to free Tsushima from Mongol rule, and rescue his master. Along the way, Jin encounters others who help him with tools and techniques that help him take on the Mongols, but at the cost of violating his warrior’s oath of honor. The inner conflict of Jin and his beliefs versus his desire to protect the innocent adds a fascinating layer to the narrative that makes it ever more engaging.
Aside from being a visually striking game, Ghost of Tsushima is oozing with atmosphere. The game is mostly non-linear, allowing you the opportunity to explore the sprawling island wilderness on both horseback and on foot at your leisure. The wind blowing the trees and tall grass (which also serves as a visual guide to your next waypoint) is calming, and sounds of actual Japanese birds and other ambient noises like running streams and distant thunderstorms really drive home the feeling of adventuring in the wilderness. Of course, the gameplay is superb as well. There is plenty to climb and scale throughout the island, both in the wilderness and in the many villages you come across, which usually lead to rewards, materials, and other collectibles to find. The combat is also fluid, fun and engaging. Much like a true samurai, engaging an enemy requires patience, a steady hand, and a quick wit. In Ghost of Tsushima, it pays to be defensive and strategic with your strikes versus a full-on button-mashing assault. With all the tools at your disposal, there are a lot of ways to take enemies on, and it’s this variety that keeps the combat engaging.
Though there are some historical inaccuracies, Ghost of Tsushima almost flawlessly evokes the feeling of playing an Akira Kurosawa film (especially if you turn the black and white film filter on). It’s beautiful, fun to play, full of areas to explore and things to find, and has some awesome sound design, which also includes some top billing voice acting from the Japanese cast (Jin Sakai is voiced by Roronoa Zoro’s voice actor from and Lord Shimura is Akio Otsuka, the man behind Solid Snake’s voice), this is one PS4 title you definitely will not want to miss.
– Kevin Chapman
19. La-Mulana 1&2: Hidden Treasures Edition
La Mulana 1 and 2 are the sorts of games that only come along once in a blue moon. While, at first glance, many in the present era would be quick to label them as some form of “Metroidvania”, I believe that description to be inaccurate. They are 2-D Action-Adventure games that can best be described as “Indiana Jones: The Video Game – SANS plot armor.” The puzzles can require you to make use of retained knowledge that you could have come across several hours prior. The bosses tower over the player avatar making each attack into a risky venture. The traps are both numerous and very deadly. I do not mince words when I say that you will die quite a few times during your time with these games. And, with those deaths and puzzle stumps, you’ll also experience a fair share of frustration as well.
While an FAQ would be a valid option to press through puzzles that have stuck around well past their welcome, I believe that to use one would be to cheat yourself out of that which I feel makes these games truly special – the bonafide sense of earned satisfaction and accomplishment that blossoms within you every time that you surmount one of these hurdles through the experience – one that makes a similar feeling from other games feel meagre in comparison. Every note that you take and every death that you experience feels that much more worth it when the end result is the uncovering of a new area or a new piece of equipment or tool.
The beginning of 2020’s quarantine was already taxing for me and it would have been far worse had it not been for the release of this game. A good friend and I worked together to run through La Mulana 2 on our own respective save files. We’d collaborate on the tougher puzzles while also encouraging each other to press onward with each personal success in our game files. It gave me a positive outlet to direct all of my attention and focus towards when I wasn’t performing daily work tasks. For all of the years that I’ve been playing video games, I have to say that this is quite possibly the greatest collaborative game playing experience that I have ever had and I wholeheartedly recommend this method of play if its available to you. But, even if it isn’t, La Mulana 1 and 2 are absolutely worth your time and effort should you have the perseverance to stick them out. They are amongst my list of greatest games ever made and for good reason.
– Pernell Vaughn
18. Resident Evil 3
It’s rather apt that a title set within a city scrambling to deal with an outbreak of its own post-apocalyptic pandemic should be one of the top titles of 2020. A remake of the classic survival horror original, Resident Evil 3 Remake sees hard-boiled cop Jill Valentine thrust into the task of navigating the zombie-infested Raccoon City.
Right from the start, Resi 3 is an unapologetic action thriller. It zips from literally explosive chase sequences across burning buildings to intense survival sequences where you’re holding out against hordes of zombies, blowing apart undead craniums with your shotgun, creating satisfying showers of gore like watermelons being smashed by a sledgehammer. It takes a breath from the action only for the exchanging of quips between the lovely Jill and the shaggy-haired hunk Carlos. Even though there are some straightforward puzzles and some searching for hidden goodies to be done if you’re so inclined, nothing ever slows down the action. The ending credits rolling have the same exhilarating effect as watching the denouement of classic eighties action flicks like Terminator or Aliens.
The game spawned countless mods, including different costumes for the sexy lead characters (oddly including even the freakish mutant Nemesis), of which I’ve compiled a saucy video list of here. You can also see my video review where I give my thoughts more thoroughly, giving it a stonking 4.5/5, guaranteeing its ghoulish presence on our GOTY list.
– Jonathan Trussler
17. Paradise Killer
Generally speaking, the detective genre tends to scatter clues for the player to find that will ultimately lead them to a set, pre-written conclusion. Which, you know, is nice and clean, but can feel a little on the rails and not only fails to represent how these things work in the real world but has left the genre feeling a bit dusty. I’m a massive fan of Phoenix Wright and the like, but the time for something new has been long overdue.
Enter Paradise Killer, the lore-dense, open world detective standout with a vaporwave aesthetic that asks players to understand the critical distinction between truth and fact. Players take on the role of Lady Love Dies, the previously exiled investigation freak who was called by Justice Incarnate to solve the horrific murder of the entire Council during the ritualistic destruction of the 24th island before moving onto “Perfect 25.” Players can interrogate the remaining Syndicate members and the lone suspect being held in captivity before the island’s fate is sealed, running around an eerily empty yet overwhelmingly aesthetic community while doing so.
What sets Paradise Killer apart from the rest is that players can investigate as little or as much as they want. They can frame certain people they believe responsible for the murders while letting their friends go free, or apply the hand of justice evenly. As long as the player has gathered a reasonable amount of evidence to back up their claims, the suspects will be judged accordingly, meaning different outcomes depending on the players’ perspective.
Each player arrives at their own truths, and by laying down the law do these truths become fact, turning the detective mechanic completely on its head. And while all praise is deserved for this absolute game-changer in the genre, Paradise Killer also takes the Vaporwave aesthetic and finds a way for humans to fit into it while still making it work instead of the general assortment of visually pleasing assets — a Herculean effort for those in the know. No matter which way you slice it, Paradise Killer is unique in every way, an absolute must play of 2020 that will blow any gamer away.
– Heather Johnson-Yu
16. Shantae and the Seven Sirens
I promise I’m not too upset that I was one of the few people to vote for Shantae and the Seven Sirens. Okay, maybe I’m a little perturbed, but that’s just because I’ve become a big fan of the series. WayForward has made a habit of bringing colorful and fun games to fans for a while now, but Seven Sirens is one of their best.
Not only is Seven Sirens a solid Metroidvania, but it’s also chock full of humor and heart. You can’t play a Shantae game without falling in love with the cast of characters. There’s pirates, zombies, genies and all manner of dangerous critters and rascals. And though this isn’t the longest adventure you’ll play, there’s all sorts of extra goodies strewn about to provide incentive for a replay or two.
Best of all, Shantae and the Seven Sirens has some amazing animated cutscenes, a first for the series. They really bring everything to life and makes me excited at the prospect of an animated series. Admittedly WayForward hasn’t admitted anything of the sort, but a boy can dream.
Honestly, if you’re already a fan of Shantae, you should own Seven Sirens. If you’re new to the series but love platformers, then give this a shot. You won’t regret it.
– Josh Speer
15. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Following up 2014’s Hyrule Warriors was a tall order: the meaty Zelda spin-off’s Wii U debut enchanted series fans with everything from confident, referential movesets to NES-styled Adventure maps, yet two years’ worth of DLC in addition to two separate versions — a 3DS port featuring exclusive story content and new battlegrounds as well as a definitive Switch edition combining everything into one ultimate package — and you’re left with a timeless Zelda-themed toy box set to entertain aspiring adventurers and battalion commanders alike for years. With roughly the entire Zelda series represented throughout its multil-dimensional war, it’d feel redundant to just plop down another iterative sequel; thankfully, the series’ most ambitious, successful game in Breath of the Wild had released since, and Koei-Tecmo and Nintendo wisely went to work on translating the critically-acclaimed open-world game into the Warriors world as Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
With Nintendo providing hands-on supervision, it’s no surprise Age of Calamity looks and feels like a natural Breath of the Wild prequel: the general aesthetic’s a 1:1 copy of the original game, the Sheikah Slate functions utilize unique physics-based attacks for each and every character, and the economy of food ingredients, Korok seeds, and enemy loot maintain an addictive cycle of exploration and mission-taking for developing and rebuilding a Calamity-ravaged Hyrule. Complete with an original story that just might pull at your heartstrings, certain features courtesy of Koei-Tecmo might even render themselves superior to Breath of the Wild’s experimental missteps. (No weapon degradation and weapon blacksmiths imbuing new abilities? Take notes, Nintendo!) Breath of the Wild 2 may still be a ways off, but Age of Calamity isn’t just a worthy holdover: it’s yet another engaging stepping stone for Zelda’s future.
(Also, come on: how can you say no to playable Hestu? It’s maraca time, baby!)
– Anthony Pelone
14. Brigandine: Legend of Runersia
Given the new challenges that 2020 brought to game development, I was originally expecting there to be a lot less releases during the year than we had become accustomed to. But what I didn’t expect was for the revival of a cult-classic franchise that hadn’t seen the light of day since the late 90s to hit the market and make a wonderful splash upon landing.
Brigandine tasks players with choosing from one of rulers governing over six rival nations and battle it out to rule over the entire kingdom. Unlike the majority of strategy RPGs that release these days, this game has players make use of armies consisting of a variety of fantastical monsters each lead by their respective Rune Knight squad captains. The gameplay loop for this process is broken up into two phases: a planning phase that is loosely reminiscent to the game, DragonForce, with players being tasked with choosing which castle nodes to attack and what squads to send in to do so. During this phase, a number of additional planning options are available to the player including squad configuration, the equipping of armaments, and even character class changes.
The second phase of the gameplay loop is the actual battle phase where the squads of each opposing kingdom battle it out for control of the castle, which is under attack. The cool thing about these battles is that victory isn’t particularly determined by wiping out the enemy force. Rather, the primary goal is to defeat the Rune Knights dispatched to the fight because, without them, the monsters have no one to control them and lose the will to fight. Sometimes, you can even recruit the monsters left abandoned by the defeated squad. I love the fact that, with skilful play, it is possible to defeat an army that would have appeared to had the advantage on the surface.
And this game is no slouch in regards to time investment. Each skirmish that I described above can easily run up to about 20-30 minutes and there will plenty such battles waged over the course of the game. But, if this is the sort of flavor that you are interested in then I can say that most of that time will feel very engaging and well worth the time invested. Brigandine: Legend of Runersia is a game packed with deep unit customizations and fantasy strategy RPG gameplay that I didn’t even know I was waiting for until the day that it landed in my lap and it was easily one of the best gaming surprises, and gaming experiences, to come out of 2020.
– Pernell Vaughn
13. Sakura Wars
Well done, SEGA. Well done. While I had my concerns about Sakura Wars, you certainly proved this series not only still has staying power, but can also evolve. For those who are unaware, Sakura Wars is one of SEGA’s primary franchises in Japan. In the West, the only game we received was the fifth one: So Long, My Love. Now, after more than a decade of dormancy the franchise has returned in a big way.
This newest entry in the Sakura Wars franchise stars a new generation of heroines while simultaneously doing its best to pay homage to the cast of old. And much like So Long, My Love, I have thoughts about all these characters. By far though my absolute favorite two are the badass and adorable ninja Azami, and the hot-blooded miko Hatsuho (or as I call her Hatsu-bro). Each character is distinct and has a developed personality. This also extends into their fighting styles.
Combat in Sakura Wars is one of the things that’s been completely revamped from the previous games and it is awesome! If you’ve played Dynasty Warriors or Senran Kagura then you’ll feel right at home with the combat style here. It’s a quick-and-fast paced mech combat button masher. In fact, I want to see this combat style spun-off into its own game I loved it so much. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the last we see of not only this group of characters, but this franchise as well.
– Benny Carrillo
12. Mad Rat Dead
Mad Rat Dead is one of the most bizarre games that I played in 2020. Rhythm platformers themselves are already pretty rare (I can literally count the number of different ones that I’ve played on one hand), but this game takes that rhythm game subgenre to an entirely new level—and I absolutely love it.
Normally, rhythm games are auto-runners, right? Well, not Mad Rat Dead. This is, quite literally, a rhythm platformer in ever sense of the word—meaning that you’re responsible for each and every move Mad Rat makes. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. It was a cool concept, but was something like that even possible? Can you make an actual platformer out of a rhythm game? Like, with wall jumps and everything? Hah, definitely not… is what I thought at first—but, boy did this game ever prove me wrong in the most spectacular of fashions.
Mad Rad Dead is truly a one-of-a-kind experience, as far as rhythm platformers go. It’s cheeky, fun, sports just the right amount of challenge, and doesn’t brutally punish players for making mistakes (which is very much appreciated in this game). And, when you take all of that platforming goodness and slap a heaping helping of wonderfully addicting, highly energetic tracks to enjoy, you’ve got yourself a Frankenstein’s Monster of success.
– Kenny McKee
11. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2
Over the years, I’ve come to a realization. The folks at Inti Creates are wizards. I don’t mean that literally, but they’ve truly impressed me with their dedication to making great games. Not only have they created awesome IPs of their own, but they’ve done justice to classic games as well. Both Blaster Master Zero games are incredible, and feel faithful to the classics while still innovative. And that pattern continues with Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.
The first Curse of the Moon was amazing, and really upended expectations. It was just supposed to be a simple demake of Bloodstained: Ritual of The Night. But it instead was a faithful love letter to Castlevania III. Curse of the Moon 2 builds on all the elements of the first game, and makes something truly transcendent. It introduces a bunch of new characters, including a battlemech riding Corgi. Beyond that, there’s a ton of amazing replay value, and a veritable army of different characters to play as.
Best of all, Curse of the Moon 2 features fantastic pixel art. It might break some of the NES pixel rules, but I don’t mind a whit. There’s great attention to detail and a whole bestiary of demonic forces to contend with. And though the game isn’t the easiest, it’s also not unfair. If you really need a leg up, it even allows co-op play between two players.
Curse of the Moon 2 proves that retro can still be relevant in the current landscape. If you adore classic platformers or just are curious about this sidestory to Bloodstained, I can’t recommend this highly enough.
– Josh Speer
10. Microsoft Flight Simulator
A lot has been made about the next-gen consoles. Yes, Demon’s Souls is a fantastic game. Yes, it’s technically, much better than the original, and of course, it should be celebrated. But of all the next-gen games, it’s Microsoft Flight Simulator that leaves me truly mesmerised in the way next-gen games should do.
I don’t want this to descend into a PC vs console gaming culture war, because this isn’t what this is about. Instead, imagine floating effortlessly in the sky, flying the Cessna 172 Skyhawk. You’ve spent about five minutes in the air after taking off from Inverness Airport, and then, it hits you: the sun erupts on the horizon and bathes your screen in a golden light, illuminating the Scottish Highlands in all its magnificent splendour.
Magical moments like this are frequent in Microsoft Flight Simulator. And frankly, it’s all down to technological wizardry lead developer Asobo has injected into the game. They combine detailed photogrammetry of major landmarks with data directly streamed from Bing Maps to fill in the gaps. The result? A stunningly realised 1:1 creation of our planet.
Charter a flight from LAX to Atlanta? Fine. Peek out of your cockpit and you’ll see Bing Maps helpfully creating farmers fields, entire forests and entire cities from data Microsoft has created.
And the best thing yet? It’s a game that’s surprisingly accessible for newbies. I have to confess, this is the first flight simulator I’ve played, and I didn’t feel out of my depth at all. Sure, there’s a raft of options for the folks that love to dig into details, but if you’re new, install the game and fill your boots.
So, if you’re looking for the perfect panacea to 2021, grab yourself a HOTAS, slap on your captain’s hat, and take to the skies with Microsoft Flight Simulator.
– Jon Davis
9. Command and Conquer: Remastered
Gamers of a certain age will doubtless recall fondly the first time they played a Command and Conquer title: the newfound joy of clicking on something they’d like to destroy and watching a pixellated blob approximating a soldier marching towards it with murderous intent. C&C Remastered lets you enjoy that feeling all over again, sprucing up the graphics by turning those aforementioned pixel blobs into sharp 4K compatible shapes.
Whether it’s GDI battling the sinister baldie Kane in the original Command and Conquer or the Allies attempting to stop Stalin in Red Alert, you’ll also have access to beautifully remastered cinematics from the original games. Not only that, but completing missions also unlocks behind-the-scenes footage of the original actors performing takes in front of a green screen, giving C&C enthusiasts a chance to see what it was like recording those iconic briefing scenes way back in the nineties.
Command and Conquer would certainly not be the classic series we remember without Frank Klepacki’s distinctive score, and pretty much every single track has been remastered and remixed by the mechanical man himself. Of course, if you want to hear the low-fi versions of the original songs, that’s an option too, and the player is free to compile a custom jukebox of pounding industrial tunes to their taste.
Command and Conquer Remastered is everything a Remaster should be, improving on every aspect of the original games whilst giving the option to switch between polished and pixellated at will, also heaping on piles of extra content and goodies. Every other studio looking to spruce up a game from their back catalogue should follow C&C’s example and ju-ju-ju-ju-just do it up!
– Jonathan Trussler
8. Demon’s Souls
Gamers that were lucky enough to get their hands on a PlayStation 5 really didn’t have that many games to show off their oversized, shiny new console. I mean, Astro’s Playroom is cool and all, but come on, it looks like a last-gen title. This is where Demon’s Souls comes in. Arguably the best looking next-gen title (Spider-Man – Miles Morales comes close), Demon’s Souls has been the game that’s dropped the most jaws and garnered the most “ooh’s & ahhhhh’s”. It looks, sounds, and runs stunningly.
Many of Dark Souls’ rabid fan base have never even played Demon’s Souls, myself included. I purchased the PlayStation 3 version years ago, long after experiencing Dark Souls, but the game case sat on my shelf collecting dust. Witnessing the remake’s beautifully created trailer during Sony’s PS5 reveal event was exhilarating, and after seeing that Bluepoint Games, the team behind the Shadow of the Colossus remake, was handing the Demon’s Souls remake, my excitement was through the roof.
After completing the remake, I can say that my lofty expectations have been far exceeded. Dark Souls fans that have been putting off a Demon’s Souls playthrough NEED to play Bluepoint Games’ remake. It really is a masterpiece that deserves a place in your game room, sitting firmly alongside its Dark Souls counterparts. Remake or not, it also deserves a spot on this list.
– Mike Vito
7. Fall Guys
The obvious comparison for Fall Guys is the beloved Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle (which was a staple of my childhood) but you could argue it encapsulates the bullshit of 2020 in one exuberant, fun-filled extravaganza.
Take Egg Scramble, the level where you have to steal eggs from the middle and deposit them into your team’s basket. That all sounds all too easy, right? Of course, it is, it’s 2020! Some arsehole is going turn up and steal your toilet rolls – I mean eggs – for their own stash.
Pithy comparisons aside Fall Guys is tremendous. It’s bottled lightning from the folks at Mediatonic who have carved out a Battle Royale niche of silliness and mayhem. The game centres around competing with 59 other bean-shaped opponents, navigating a series of rage-inducing obstacles and traps.
You’ll jostle and compete your way through levels like Slime Climb, a stage where you steadily climb a trap-infested slope; Hoarders, which involves hoarding (duh) giant balls; and Hex-A-Gone, an infuriating honeycomb platform that disappears the minute you stand on them.
Fall Guys is best played with four mates, as you all try and make your way to the final stage. If you haven’t played it yet, what are you waiting for? Download it on PlayStation or PC, and crack on!
– Jon Davis
For months and months, I kept hearing how amazing Hades was. And sure, I figured it would be good, since I’m already a fan of Supergiant Games. But I still take it with a bucket of salt when I hear about something I have yet to try. But eventually Hades was on sale enough that I could justify buying it. And that was the right decision.
Hades is a lush, well written and emotional tale about the young god Zagreus and his attempt to escape the underworld. His father is none other than Hades himself, and he’s not keen on his son’s misadventures. Along the way, Zag will recruit his distant cousins, the Olympian Gods, to aid him on his quest. They provide incredible powers such as lightning strikes, love shotguns, raging waters and much more. It all works together very well and keeps things interesting in this dynamic rogue-like.
But the best part about Hades are the characters. Sure the gods are interesting, but so are the other denizens of the underworld. There’s a bodiless gorgon head who’s darling, a cranky Fury, a man and his boulder and much more. They all lend a lot of nuance to the fabric of the world, and make each unsuccessful run worthwhile. Cause you will die as you play, but you’ll always be unlocking something new and interesting.
Even if you’re not a fan of indies or rogue games, Hades is an amazing experience. It’s easily one of my personal favorite games of 2020, and for good reason.
– Josh Speer
5. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
To say COVID-19 was a horrid time for everyone would be an understatement: the ensuing lockdowns separated family and friends alike, with everything from birthday parties to funerals off-limits. The smiling faces of our nieces and nephews were restricted to electronic Zoom meetings, whereas last goodbyes to dying parents were but an impossible dream. As furious rhetoric and protests further divided us over everything from police brutality to the Presidential Election, a battered, exhausted population could only agree on one thing: 2020 was an absolute dumpster fire of a year, with the Coronavirus alone still plaguing us in the New Year and its catastrophic aftereffects primed to haunt us for some time to come.
And yet, as if Nintendo themselves foresaw the world-changing disaster, the world’s best communication game arrived just in time to bring us together. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a literal island retreat from the horrors permeating our lives — it wasn’t just the goofy antics of our lovable animal buddies or the endless customization options in decorating our new tropical homes; nay, New Horizons celebrated and advocated life and communication in a time where we couldn’t. I think back to the examples listed in my review:
“State representatives are asking for Dodo codes, celebrities participate in the game’s high-risk, high-reward turnip stalk market to score huge Bells (the in-game currency), and weekly talk shows are held in this dude’s basement. In this age of viral social media and social isolation, the games island getaway package has become a way of life — a makeshift method in everything from wedding festivities to funeral farewells.”
And I can’t be more grateful at how New Horizons penetrated the mainstream for the world to share. The game’s’ real-time clock compelled universal reaction to in-game events, not the least in recoiling at the wide-eyed horror that was Zipper T. Bunny and groaning at the endless deluge of Bunny Day easter eggs. The pervasive online discourse made us balk at the “black market” trafficking beloved villagers for sale (remember everyone going gaga over cool cat Raymond), left us in awe of Pokémon Gold and Silver island recreations, or cackle at the crass Photopia shoots populating our timelines.
Witnessing New Horizons’ ubiquitous presence recalls the memory of Wii — another barrier-breaking phenomenon courtesy of Nintendo. Yet whereas the “blue ocean” strategy was greeted by cynicism and (comically baseless) accusations of betrayal, New Horizons and its fitness-emphasising cousin in Ring Fit Adventure have borne no such ill-will. We could dive into the multitude of reasons why that’s the case, but the likely culprit doesn’t solely lie in its quality (let’s not pretend it doesn’t have downsides: as always, online scammers are everywhere, and I do wish the game launched with more content/series staples (where my Gyroids at?!?) — it’s that something that so cherishes the value of human communication was simply there for us in our time of need. Through Animal Crossing, every one of the little things we sorely missed — be it merely exchanging pleasantries to playing tag under the starry night sky — was delicately preserved in this time of strife, and for that I’ll always be thankful.
– Anthony Pelone
4. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Never in my wildest dreams did I expect my beloved Yakuza series to get a total JRPG-style makeover, but here we are. The seventh entry in Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s long-running series of crime epics, Yakuza: Like A Dragon turns the bare-knuckle action the series is known for on its head. And you know what? It’s all the better for it.
The game stars Ichiban Kasuga, a hopelessly loyal member of the Arakawa Family who’s burning obsession with the Dragon Quest series carries over into the moment-to-moment gameplay. The game features turn-based combat, an engaging job system that allows you to customize a party of colorful characters, and even over-the-top “Poundmates”, which function like Final Fantasy’s iconic summon abilities. Sound bananas? It sure is! And if you’re like me, you’ll love every second of it.
If this all sounds a little too silly for you, don’t worry. Yakuza: Like A Dragon is still a Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio production, after all. And with that in mind, the story gets very heavy, very fast as you dive into a shadowy web of conspiracies and underworld melodrama as you navigate the Isezaki Ijincho district of Yokohama’s complex criminal underworld. Thankfully, there are tons of distractions to help take the edge off. From arcades teeming with classic Sega games, karaoke clubs, and kart racing circuits to turning a struggling snack company into a mega-corporation, you’ll never run out of reasons to keep coming back for more.
I went into Yakuza: Like A Dragon cautiously optimistic, considering how drastically Sega changed the core gameplay formula. Thankfully, Sega made the right call. With its more methodical combat, a wealth of customization options, and a story filled with unforgettable characters you fight alongside, it’s one of the best games in the series yet, and easily one of my favorite games of 2020.
– Francis DiPersio
3. Last of Us Part 2
The Game Awards GOTY winner for 2020, The Last of Us Part 2 makes a majority of all media gaming outlet’s best-of lists, praising the game’s story, representation, accessibility, acting, and really, just every technical feature uniquely added into the game. Genuine rope physics and a playable acoustic guitar included. A narrative action-adventure that was equally as beautiful in its designs as it was unsettling, The Last of Us Part 2 was as much about enjoying life, nature, and the reasons for living, as much as it was about surviving. Both against grotesque mushroom monstrosities, but also, against everyday people. Some of the most horrifying atrocities of the story — like burning and murdering an entire village — were sins not committed by monsters, but by folks of conflicting interests. Showcasing evil is not so black-and-white as much as it was needs-to-survive.
But even now, the game’s release is still marred by controversy. As outraged fans over the death of one of the game’s main characters, on top of a lot of anti-LGBTQ voices, outright user review bombed the game. Whereas Last of Us was a tale about survival at all costs, often at the cost of humanity, the Last of Us Part 2 was a game that showed audiences the consequences of such actions. An unprecedented look at humanity from each side of both ally and enemy. Whether you’re an Ellie or Abby fan, there are no heroes in The Last Of Us Part 2. Just people showcasing what it means to be human. Living in a post-apocalypse. Trying their best to get by. It is a message that falls on deaf ears even now during the apex of the pandemic: that in the end, nobody deserves to die. A harrowing message, yet also a necessary one, especially during these trying times – which is why I think it deserves a spot on our GOTY list.
– Christian Angeles
2. Streets of Rage 4
The latest instalment in Sega’s beloved beat-’em-up series was a long time coming, but it was certainly worth the wait. Released 26 years after the conclusion of the 16-bit trilogy, Streets of Rage 4 was a spectacular return to form for the franchise, tweaking and refining the rock-solid fisticuffs of its predecessors while keeping the spirit of the classics alive.
Developed in partnership with DotEmu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games, Streets of Rage 4 marks the return of the evil Syndicate as they once again try to overtake Wood Oak City. However, with Mr. X long dead, this time, the organization is led by his vile progeny, the aptly named Mr. & Ms. Y. The game once again puts players in control of ex-cops Adam Hunter, Axel Stone, and Blaze Fielding (along with a handful of new crime-fighters) as they hit the town to deliver beatdowns to the city’s criminal element.
Streets of Rage 4 has everything a fan of the series could want. Its visuals are sharp and exquisitely detailed, the combat is snappy and satisfying, and the music is nothing short of sublime. Of course, this should come as no surprise. Many legendary composers lent their talents to the project, including series veterans Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, Street Fighter II composer Yoko Shimomura, Ninja Gaiden composer Keiji Yamagishi, and, of course, lead composer Olivier Derivière, who provided the striking scores for A Plague Tale: Innocence and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
As a fan of the franchise since its inception, I had tremendously high hopes for Streets of Rage 4. I’m happy to say that the game beat my expectations to a pulp, easily standing as one of the finest games in the series to date.
Now, where’s my Golden Axe 4?!
– Francis DiPersio
1. Final Fantasy VII: Remake
When I first heard about the decision to remake Final Fantasy 7 it almost seemed like blasphemy. How could anyone dare to create a craven image of what so many, including myself, regard as the greatest game of all time? Square-Enix has had an uneven record with the Final Fantasy series over the last couple decades, often struggling to recreate that sublime alchemy of perfect storytelling, diverse gameplay and heartstring-plucking music that they brought together way back in 1997.
But Square made the right choice with this Remake: to show reverence for the original and respect for the millions of devoted fans it has across the world. The fundamental mechanics of FF7’s Active Time Battle and Materia systems have been reworked and translated into a more action-packed experience. Instead of taking turns, Cloud, Tifa, Aerith and Barret can merrily shoot, slash and punch away, building up segments of an ATB gauge which allows them to use abilities or spells. Materia works just the same, with armour and weapons each having a limited number of slots to insert the little magical mako globes into.
Using lots of different weapons is also encouraged as you can permanently learn unique weapon abilities from each one, but are able to switch back to your armament of choice once you’ve done so. The addition of the stagger gauge, which promotes well-timed attack on enemy weaknesses, bring a level of strategy to action-packed battles. Overall, the combat system manages a tricky task: re-inventing the first FF7’s battle system by discarding the traditional turn-based model, yet somehow showing scrupulous fidelity to the spirit of the 1997 classic.
All the mini-games are back with more besides, showing Square understood the importance of them in creating an immersive roleplaying experience. Everything from wild motorcycle chases to darts to squat contests are available. There’s still some of the more endearingly off-the-wall quests like Cloud dressing as a woman to infiltrate the palace of the villainous Don Corneo but, as our very own Christian Angeles noted, with a more inclusive approach to LGBTQ culture. Likewise, the central storyline theme of a plucky band of rebels battling the ruthless Shinra corporation exploiting the poor and destroying the environment in an endless quest for money and power is explored in greater depth, and is even more relevant in 2020 than it was 23 years ago.
Of course, as much as Square has been faithful to the spirit of the original FF7, it might have been a bit redundant if this remake was simply the first chapter in a beat-by-beat retread. Final Fantasy 7: Remake subtly diverges at certain points from its forebear, with mysterious ghostly spectres trying to put things back on track towards the original story. By the end of the game, it’s clear to FF7 fans that they’ll be breaking free of the original narrative to experience an entirely new story, and it’s an interesting meta-commentary on the idea of remakes themselves.
When Cloud and company emerged from the dystopian metal pizza of Midgar onto the wider world for the first time, it was a moment of profound excitement for lots of folk who were children or adolescents in the late nineties. The intervening two decades have often been painful, and it’s sometimes led me to wonder if I’m capable of feeling that same joyful anticipation of the future again. But as the party emerges for the second time outside of Midgar at the game’s end, everything old is now new again, and the future is, as Aerith puts it: “an endless blue sky”.
The reason why I think the HPP team rightly voted Final Fantasy 7: Remake as our Game of the Year is that it recaptures that old materia magic for us once more: it reminds us that however old and grizzled we get, and however bleak the times we live through, an endless blue sky of wonder, beauty and possibility is still out there.
– Jonathan Trussler
So there we have it! Final Fantasy 7: Remake walks out of the fray with a bloodied Buster Sword and our crystal joystick in its arms. What do you think of our list choices? Were you shocked by the omission of a certain punky game of the cybernetic variety, or do you think this omission was fair under the circumstances? Be sure to sound off in the comments section below.