I originally planned to go all-out and include some superlatives and other categories for this list. After some pondering, I would rather keep it simple but sincere. I mean, that’s basically been my M.O. for the past 9 months I’ve been writing at GameCritics.
So, I’ll start this off with a quick story.
Back in January of 2020, I took the Metrorail to Downtown Miami to meet up with So…Video Games co-host and collaborator Carlos Rodela. Two months later, after really struggling to find my place in the gaming industry, I emailed the editor for GameCritics on a whim. The first line in the response I got back was: “Hey CJ! Thanks for writing in. You’re the guy that Carlos met up with a while ago, yes?”
In a way, I owe whatever success or joy to Carlos. Because of that encounter, I have about 39 pieces up on the site, with at least four more in the queue. Every single time I see my byline or a blurb I wrote appear on Metacritic, my mood instantly lights up. Writing for GameCritics has not only given me a chance to put myself out there, It’s also introduced me to some of the greatest friends, collaborators and mentors I’ll ever know. It’s become my new home, and I couldn’t be happier.
With that said, choosing my favorite games of the year is a daunting task. This was the first time I’ve played more than 10 *new* releases in any given year, so I had a lot to work with and a lot to cut out.
That means the likes of Rogue Company, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin, Twin Mirror, Art Sqool, West of Dead and Five Dates did not make my final list.
Games like Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Hades, Immortals Fenyx Rising, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Astro’s Playroom and Spider-Man: Miles Morales all fall into a separate category of games I need to put more time into. There are only so many hours in a day, people.
The only rule I have for my list is that the game needed to come out in 2020 and could not be a remaster (though remakes are allowed, to qualify one special game).
These are my favorite games of the year.
10. Mafia: Definitive Edition PS4, XBOX, PC (my review)
It’s rare for me to love a game simply on the merits of its writing and performances, but Mafia Definitive Edition is basically The Godfather of video games — it’s a sprawling and dark story of betrayal and the importance of family. Tommy Angelo’s tale is a beautifully tragic one and seeing it all play out was like watching some of the best mob dramas ever put to screen. If people continue to compare games to film, I hope Mafia DE is brought up in those conversations.
9. New Super Lucky’s Tale PS4, XBO, Switch, PC (my review)
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again — I miss the budget platformers of the PS2 era, so New Super Lucky’s Tale is a delightful romp that never failed to put a smile on my face by harkening back to a simpler time. Its adorable protagonist and accessible approach to platforming, exploration, and combat made it one of the most enjoyable experiences I had all year. It’s comfort food in videogame form, and in a year as dreadful as 2020, it’s something we could all use.
8. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla PS4, PS5, XBO, XBX/S, Switch, PC, Stadia (my review)
I played this on PS4, and it ran significantly worse than the versions released on the new consoles. It wasn’t too bad because I still enjoyed the exploration and combat, but now that I’ve played it on PS5, I’m happy to report that AC Vahalla is one of the greatest open-world games I’ve played all year and among my new favorites in the series. Exploring gorgeously-crafted England as a Viking warrior on a much more powerful machine made it feel like a brand new experience, and I’m happy to dump even more time into this massive world.
7. Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 PS4, PS5, XBO, XBX/S, Switch, PC (my review)
I’m still playing this and it might be the reason I’m unemployed. I’ve spent well over 25 hours in Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 since I started in late November, and this addicting puzzler is what got me into Tetris, a series I always assumed I was too awful at to even try playing competently. I’d say more but I’m too busy trying to beat my own high score.
6. Call of Duty: Warzone PS4,PS5, XBO, XBX/S, PC (my review)
While 2020’s main Call of Duty release disappointed me, the battle-royale spinoff released in March is probably the greatest multiplayer experience of the year. Building upon the foundation of 2019’s Modern Warfare with a massive map featuring 100 players was a smart move by Activision, and streamlining most BR elements made it one of the best to jump into regularly. It’s rare for me to play one game for months on end, but the thrill of Warzone’s play and trying hard to win with a group of friends made this my go-to online experience of 2020.
5. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time PS4, XBO (my review)
Thank the gods that Activision released more than one game this year, and one of them was a wonderful triple-A platformer. Crash 4 is a delight through and through, bringing one of gaming’s greatest mascots back to the spotlight he deserves. While I admit that the difficulty spikes were wild and I will probably never attempt to 100% this game, I can safely say it was nice to see a major studio bring this style of play back.
4. Doom Eternal PS4, PS5, XBO, XBX/S, Switch, PC, Stadia (Mike Suskie’s original review)
I think a running theme in this list (and my reviews overall) is that I love games with simple mechanics or straightforward gameplay elements. It’s why I gravitate towards experiences like Burnout Paradise or Devil May Cry 5. I love games where the act of playing them is more than enough to satisfy me, and where forward momentum is the goal. Doom Eternal’s non-stop barrage of action checks off so many boxes that other triple-A games don’t while reminding me that not every major release needs to tell much of a story to be great.
I wasn’t exploring massive worlds, filling out an obnoxious checklist, or making dialogue choices that didn’t matter here. Instead, I was killing demons in the most entertaining ways possible. I got into a comfortable groove of shooting, hacking up grotesque monsters with a chainsaw, and occasionally cracking skulls. Doom Eternal isn’t just a great shooter, it’s one of the greatest action games ever made.
3. Going Under PS4, XBO, Switch, PC (my review)
In my initial review of Going Under, I said that this roguelike dungeon-crawler was one of the most important games I had played in all of 2020. Now, unemployed once again, I still resonate with protagonist Jackie in her quest to do everything in her power to secure a job through an unpaid internship.
Going Under’s writing is painfully hilarious, parodying start-up culture and the bullshit people go through in trying to work for a field they’re passionate about. Playing a game set in an office and having to do things over and over again for very little reward resonated a bit too well with me. It’s rare that a game *gets* me as well as this one does. I don’t know what 2021 holds for me as far as employment in the games industry, but I’m happy to know my experience and the experience of others is being told in a unique way.
2. Fuser PS4, XBO, Switch, PC (my review)
Harmonix is a studio I hold near and dear, and I’ve spent hundreds of hours across Rock Band, Rock Band 2, The Beatles Rock Band, and Lego Rock Band. Getting the chance to play their latest title, Fuser, felt like taking a peek at the next step in music games. Being able to take different parts of songs and create weird and interesting mixes never got old. The Freestyle mode was a huge time sink for me, allowing me to combine the vocals from Erasure’s A Little Respect and the beat from Grandmaster Flash’s The Message to craft the greatest synthpop song never released.
Sure, some could argue that the ‘game’ part of Fuser isn’t terribly deep and the career mode acts as an extended tutorial with very little variation, but the actual toolset that players are given to mess around with is unlike anything I’ve played this year. It’s always nice to see innovators continue to innovate.
1. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 PS4, XBO, PC (Brad Bortone’s original review)
2020 sucked. That’s no secret. A global pandemic had completely changed most of our lives for the worse, police brutality and state-sanctioned murders of POC are becoming the norm and I was (and still am) dealing with my own personal issues. It was not a good time, and I fear 2021 might get worse. Regardless, the one beacon of light in one of the darkest years came in the form of the world’s greatest nostalgia trip. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 brought back a style of gameplay I had missed for years and distracted me from the horrors of the real world in ways no other game could.
I felt like I was six years old again, playing through Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 for hours on end. The rush of skating around levels, collecting SKATE letters, and landing insane combos has never felt better. This is the greatest remake I’ve ever played and arguably the best game Activision released this generation. While the past 365 days have been less than stellar, those first few hours I spent playing THPS 1+2 on launch night were the happiest I had been in ages. For a brief moment, I pretended I was Superman and it was amazing.
He has a knack for talking about movies and games he‘s passionate about. If anyone ever needs an expert on Jim Jarmusch, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Donkey Kong Country, or Kanye West, he’s your guy. Don’t say we didn't warn you, though.