I think it’s safe to say we’re all glad 2020 is behind us. Sure, it was a pretty shitty year all around, but that doesn’t mean it was all bad, right? I mean we did get a lot of time to spend at home, which meant we got way more time to play video games than we ever have before. Hurray telework! 😉
In the games industry, 2020 was certainly a momentous year. For starters, we had the launch of an entirely new console generation with the release of the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 (if you could get one). The COVID-19 global pandemic caused industry-wide event cancellations, including E3 – we’re hoping these can safely return soon. Last but not least, Microsoft blew everyone’s minds when it was announced the corporate giant would purchase Bethesda for $7.5 billion.
But aside from the big headlines, there were a lot of fantastic games that released last year, and we thought it’d be fun for each Mega Visions staff writer to list their favorite game! Be sure to let us know your favorites in the comments below!
Streets of Rage 4
Creating a sequel to a series as beloved (and dormant) as Streets of Rage was a monumental task. Had Lizardcube simply made a carbon-copy of Streets of Rage 2 or 3 with updated visuals, I think most fans would have been satisfied, and relieved, that the game captured (or at least mimicked) what made the Genesis originals so great. Instead, what they delivered was nothing short of revolutionary. Streets of Rage 4 (read our review) is as significant to the beat ‘em up genre as DOOM (2016) was to arena shooters. Streets of Rage 4 didn’t just revitalize the genre, it set a new standard.
Controls are straightforward, with the game gradually pushing you to hone your skills over the course of the campaign, hiding its depth under a veneer of simplicity. Core series mechanics like spacing and weapon use are here, and the game does still feel like its predecessors. However, what makes Streets of Rage 4 so significant is its retooling of side-scrolling combat, incorporating elements like juggling to make it feel more akin to a fighting game.
However, it was the music which was faced with the highest expectations. Opening the game with Koshiro’s tracks immediately put my mind at ease, as he is as much an author of the franchise as anyone of the programming or design personnel. The work of Yamagishi, Kawashima and co. make the soundtrack into a dream album for retro gamers. However, special praise needs to be given to Olivier Deriviere. His understanding of not only what the game needed to sound like, but also how integral music was to progression and immersion, is a big part of what makes Streets of Rage 4 work.
While I knew Streets of Rage 4 was in good hands at Lizardcube, I had no inkling they would make an absolute masterpiece worthy of Game of the Year. Here’s hoping it’s not another 15 years until Streets of Rage 5.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
My game of the year has to be Animal Crossing: New Horizons. That’s almost by default, as I’ve spent more time with it than anything else that’s been released this year. And what a year for it. It’s been a nice bit of consistency in a world that’s been turned topsy-turvy for the last 12 months.
Truth be told, I wasn’t even really all that interested in it when it came out. My wife, on the other hand, was quite interested, so she made the purchase, and I went along with it. If it was there, why not? Now things are different; I check in daily, and have to nag her to hop on periodically when I need the “main” player to do something (a considerable shortcoming of the game).
Nevertheless, this has probably been the most enjoyable Animal Crossing experience I’ve had in my time playing the entire series. Previously, I’d had an iron focus on getting all of the Nintendo items in the game, casting most everything else aside. However, that’s no longer the case here, and I’ve found it much more fulfilling as a result. (Take from that what you will.)
With this latest installment, I’ve managed to completely max out my house, creating a diner (and later a seafood restaurant) inside. And with the new addition of being able to place items outside, I’ve expanded to create a patio for the restaurant, and in the center of the island, an outdoor ACW (Animal Crossing Wrestling) arena.
As things are now, though, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll keep playing. It’s almost habitual at this point, but I’ve accomplished most of my major goals, and only need to round out some museum exhibits to feel like I’ve done it all. So while it may not be a major part of my gaming life in 2021, it still did a wonderful job of filling out my 2020.
As many of the Mega Visions staff members know, I’m not one to jump at new AAA video games unless they really catch my eye. I definitely lean more to the indie side of gaming. With that being said, my choices for game of the year for 2020 are hands down Hades by developer Supergiant Games and Panzer Paladin (read our review) by developer Tribute Games.
If readers are familiar with our picks from 2019, then they will know that I have a soft spot when it comes to roguelike dungeon crawlers. The ease of picking up a controller and jumping into some runs without a prolonged time commitment is what sells me on most of these types of games. Hades takes this to the next level with its captivating story telling along with its phenomenal art style. Weapon selection and customization play a huge part in Hades, which can ultimately make or break a run. Whether it be the hit-and-run tactics of an Aries Shield build or the lightning dynamite punches of a Zeus Gauntlets build, there is a play style for almost every type of player. Also, the music, sound design, and voice acting are top notch.
Runner up: Panzer Paladin
On the other side of the table, we have Panzer Paladin. This game brings so much joy to my heart with its beautiful pixel art, intuitive difficulty curve, and its absolute stellar soundtrack. I must give it to the members of Tribute Games for taking me back to my childhood on this one. For readers wanting a more in-depth dive into the game, check out my review and praise from earlier in the year.
Hades is available digitally for PC and Nintendo Switch while Panzer Paladin is available on the same platforms, with a physical version releasing for Nintendo Switch sometime in early 2021 via Limited Run Games.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
I’m sure this will be a popular one. However, I can’t help but gush how I really enjoyed the first part of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Out of all the games that came out this year, this one was the most nostalgic. It was like being taken back to the world that Final Fantasy VII builds and seeing it with a whole new set of eyes. The breathtaking scenes, the small changes from the original and the new battle system made for a recipe that I just couldn’t stop chowing down on.
Sure, the game had a few drawbacks that I’m sure will be improved in later releases, such as the weird static backdrops and ceilings in the far distance. They also did some deviation from what the original did during the Honey Bee Inn scenes, but also added some to it. The voice acting did an amazing job giving characters voices for the first time that really hit the mark. Exploring was expanded a little while still leading you along a linear path, just as the original did. Then there was the music. My gawd, the music was fantastic! So much so, that it made me run out and buy the collector’s edition that SquareEnix released on their website the moment it went up on their website!
Nostalgic feelings aside, I really felt the game gave me a reason to visit not just that world, but RPGs in general. Before then, I had been losing interest in the genre and it really made me look back at some others that I might have missed out on before. That’s probably a small part of what nostalgia does to you when you really enjoy something. I look forward to the future parts of the Final Fantasy VII Remake world being done.
Ori & the Will of the Wisps
The Ori series (all two games) has quickly become one of my favorite franchises of modern times. The art style goes from absolutely gorgeous, to hauntingly beautiful at times. The story is brilliantly told through dramatic cutscenes and in-game events, some of which really tug at the heart strings. It’s a testament to any game which can have you fearing for the protagonist’s life, while also having sympathy for the ‘evil’ within the game.
The gameplay is rock solid, and it feels great to see little Ori’s your abilities grow the more you play. And on top of all of this, Ori & the Will of the Wisps, features one of the most ambient and compelling soundtracks to any game I’ve played this year.
If I had to sum-up this game in one word, it would simply be: “beautiful.”
Runner-up: Yakuza: Like a Dragon
I’m not a fan of turn-based RPGs. But I am a fan of the Yakuza games – which is why I wanted to give this game a chance. And I’m so bloody happy I did.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon has turned out to be one of the biggest surprises for me this year. The story of Ichiban Kasuga is brilliantly told and the contrast of his character over the series’ previous protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, is such a big difference and welcome break from the usually gritty world of Yakuza.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of grit and violence in this game – but Ichiban’s child-like outlook on the world and his unwavering loyalty to those around him, makes his character stand out and gives the game a unique feel for the franchise. Such a fun game and the turn-based-style combat is surprisingly enjoyable! Well worth picking up, if you haven’t.
Ghost of Tsushima
Out of all the games I got to play this year, Ghost of Tsushima takes the gold medal. The art style, story, and gameplay make this game the whole package. The action made you truly feel like a samurai, with melee combat that was a true joy to play. The different stances and combos, down to the sword and bow customization was addicting to explore. I tried my best to max out all of my abilities! Ghost of Tsushima is one of those titles that I actually enjoyed exploring every inch of. Some open world games feel overwhelming to me (ie Elder Scrolls, Red Dead II), but Ghost of Tsushima had the perfect amount of pacing and content, and I never felt bored exploring 13th century Japan. Sometimes I would climb to the top of one of the mountains just take in the beautiful setting. If you haven’t gotten a chance to play my personal game of the year, experience it on the PS4 Pro or PS5 and get sucked in to the best game of 2020.
Runner Up: Two Point Hospital (Switch)
In 1997, me and my brother grabbed a copy of Theme Hospital on PS1 and spent hours and hours trying to perfect our hospital, enjoying the whacky commentary and cooky diagnoses for the various patients. When SEGA and Two Point Studios announced a spiritual successor to Theme Hospital, I was over the moon. I had the chance to play it on PC and grabbed the Switch version as soon as it came out in February.
I think Two Point Studios did a fantastic job porting it over to consoles. They even include previous expansions which were the cherry on top. Two Point Hospital is a faithful follow up, maintaining the same humor and style as Theme Hospital. With an expanded library of diagnoses, rooms, and levels, this is one game I would definitely recommend to my business management simulator fans.
Phantasy Star Online 2
I’ve been bitching about how SEGA has failed their Western fans for not having released Phantasy Star Online 2 years ago, like they had originally announced back in 2012. It eventually got to the point where I believed the proverbial ship had sailed on PSO 2 ever releasing in North America.
So let’s just say the day when PSO 2’s open beta began, myself and the entire Mega Visions crew jumped at the chance to relive our Dreamcast online glory years. Well, all that anticipation quickly grew into frustration when the servers began filling up and crashing, resulting in hardly anyone being able to play the game for around 12-24 hours. Kudos to SEGA, though, because they got it all sorted within a few days and have been consistently releasing new content seemingly all the time.
Am I having the same levels of joy and amazement that I did back in 2002 when Graham, myself and the rest of the Dreamcaster’s Realm/SEGA Nerds crew would play together on the originally PSO? No, I don’t think so, but that’s OK. PSO 2 is an incredible game that has levels of customization and gameplay variety that will blow your mind. There’s so much content to get through that I’ve played the game for well over 30 or 40 hours and haven’t scratched the surface, let alone visit some areas, like the Casino.
PSO 2 is everything I wanted in a new Phantasy Star Online game. The combat feels invigorating and fun compared to the original’s fairly simple three-hit combo system. The customization has been ramped up big time, with you being able to create some hilariously bizarre creations. I have to hand it to SEGA for finally delivering on that promise to release the game in North America.
Now where the hell is Shining Force 4?!
So there you have it, folks. Be sure to let us know why Graham is wrong for his picks in the comments below! 😀 In all seriousness, though, 2020 was a pretty bumpy year for the video game industry, and we hope things can settle down and get back to whatever the new normal will be. Here’s to a much better year!