Another year, another top ten.
Putting absolutely everything else but videogames aside for the moment, 2020 was a strange twelve months — I played many games that I really enjoyed, but I had a very hard time picking ten. Ranking them was even tougher. It sounds weird to say that there were no standouts because that wasn’t the case, but it’s more accurate to say that each one of these was my favorite at a different time in the year.
Also, of course, this is just the top ten of the games I played. If you would like a complete list of absolutely every game I played in 2020, you can check out my series of articles detailing just that. It was a fun exercise that I will definitely continue into 2021.
If you like even more info on the ten games covered below, then I would invite you to listen to the So Videogames GOTY podcast where we talked about each one of these in-depth. If you haven’t given the show a listen yet, please check it out!
And now, my top 10 of 2020.
10 – Vampire the Masquerade: Coteries of New York
This is a fantastic visual novel excelling in storytelling, choices, and visual presentation. The writing is sharp, the graphics are engaging, and this is the visual novel that I recommend to people who don’t think they like visual novels.
9 – The Eternal Castle Remastered
This one earns a spot mostly due to the incredibly strong visual presentation. The bold colors, minimalist illustrations and extremely high contrast are stunning, and it makes an decisive statement for games as purely visual art. It was also great to play, and offered an updated spin on oldschool 2D platformers from the ’90s. It’s a wonderful homage that is perfectly updated for modern times.
8 – Max Gentlemen Sexy Business!
I barely ever play PC games, but this one was good enough to get me to spend some time clicking a mouse. The writing is funny and irreverent, the gameplay is the perfect blend of busy enough/not too busy, and the artwork was fantastic. All of the characters are cute and sexy, and I appreciated the options for LGBTQ players as well. This is the perfect kind of ‘adults only’ game, if you ask me — plenty of laughs, there’s a legit game to play, and enough titillation to please those who like a little spice.
7 – Nine Witches: Family Disruption
Nine Witches has something in common with Coteries — it’s a perfect example of its genre, and a title that I would recommend to people who say they don’t like the style. In this case, Adventure games. I actually don’t like adventure games at all, but and I think this one is great. The scale of its design is small and smart — a limited number of locations and items keeps everything manageable and prevents the player from getting too stuck. The mechanics are unique and give the player interesting options, and like many of the others on this list, the writing was great. I laughed out loud multiple times and I appreciated the takedown of World War II Nazis.
6 – Nowhere Prophet
This one is a standout roguelike in a year full of standout roguelikes. The art style is amazing, the gameplay is nuanced and flexible, and the real hat trick is that it managed to incorporate lots of different story elements to enrich the gameplay. Each card in this deckbuilder was also a character, numerous story events popped up depending on who was in your deck and the choices that had been made along the way, and the endings were substantial from both story and play perspectives. Great stuff all around.
5 – Iris and the Giant
I thought Nowhere Prophet was going to be the best roguelike of the year for me until I played this one — it’s absolutely perfect in all respects with an emotional story, stylized art, a clean interface, simple rules of play and tons of great work done on the UI. Every aspect was incredibly polished. The main campaign is perfectly balanced, and there’s plenty of challenge for those who want to play in the postgame. Every I is dotted and every T is crossed.
4 – Yes, Your Grace
This one is a wonderful little experience that I’m not quite sure how to categorize, other than to say it was completely awesome. Being a king and engaging in a management/resource sim sounded dull to me until I played it — it’s a wonderfully balanced series of yes-or-no questions rationing limited resources, and every request granted has appropriately dire consequences afterwards. On top of that, there’s a lot of juice in managing relationships with neighboring kingdoms and your family members, each with their own quirks and foibles. Even better? It was an absolutely fat-free experience that ended when it needed to end and had literally no padding whatsoever. Chef’s kiss!
3 – Wasteland 3
This is exactly the kind of post-apocalyptic game that I enjoy — great writing, quirky quests with multiple solutions, dark humor, lots of interesting situations that impact other situations, and the ability to really roleplay in a place where most of the rules have been thrown out the window. The main story was fairly par for the course, but there were a lot of small twists and touches that made it incredibly satisfying to play through, not to mention that the ultimate ending was a twist I didn’t see coming. The mix of custom and pre-scripted characters was wonderful too — I wish that it was a slightly less buggy experience, but even the bugs weren’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for it.
2 – Nioh 2
If I had to boil everything else away and choose just one kind of game that would make me happiest down deep, I’m probably an action gamer — and few were able to deliver action better than Nioh 2 this year. The story is absolute nonsense but the gameplay is so strong that it really doesn’t matter. Every weapon feels completely unique, there were tons of options to customize the attacks and abilities the main character has, there’s tons of peripheral supporting systems that further enrich every aspect of play and it now boasts a greatly improved co-op mode which provides solo players the option to have AI companions for almost the entire campaign (if desired) and the ability to play with a friend at any EXP level without the need for special codes or other nonsense. There are very few games which are purely enjoyable based only on mechanics to me, but Nioh 2 is exactly my kind of sauce simmered to perfection.
1 – Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Out of a year with so many outstanding games, it was exceptionally tough to pick one for the top spot, but I think this has to be it. As a longtime fan of the Yakuza series, I had doubts about where they could take a series that has already gone so many places. Following that, I had no idea how they could possibly replace Kiryu as the main character — to me, one of the most iconic stars in all of gaming. To my utter surprise (although I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised!) new protagonist Ichiban is fantastic, the cast of supporting characters are all strong, and I love that so much of the experience revolves around angst that’s easily relatable to people in modern times due to the difficulty of finding work, financial insecurity and the corrupt state of the world. Going further, I wasn’t sure how the series’ history of real-time combat would transfer into a new turn-based system, but I think that I might like it better than ever? From any perspective, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an absolute success, and a game that can stand proudly beside everything else the studio has done — quite a feat, indeed.