This has been a weird year, and looking back on the events of the last 12 months, it feels even weirder to think about my personal favorite games. Indeed, in hindsight, there aren’t a huge amount that stick out to me. There are plenty that I think of as “good,” but for whatever reason it’s really hard to figure out many that I thought were truly exceptional. I blame 2020, and the general mood it caused.
Nonetheless, there were some truly stellar titles this year, and there are a few that I particularly want to highlight. Some got me through particularly rough bits of the year. Others were just entertaining as all hell. One or two are here not because they’re necessarily what I think are the “best,” but because I really want to highlight them. What follows are, in no particular order, my personal picks for games of 2020.
I’m a complete sucker for basically anything that Harmonix releases. Frequency and Amplitude were great. Past those, the first two Guitar Hero games were stellar, and then the move to Rock Band propelled the team’s rhythm-action genius to new heights. And then the plastic guitar revolution pretty much ended.
Fuser is something very different. Rather than being a rhythm-action “game,” it’s more of a live music creation engine with game elements added on. The campaign is largely a tutorial to teach you the ropes, and from there you can mix and mash-up any of the songs however you like. It toes a weird line between being both limited and surprisingly powerful. But it’s extremely entertaining, and the fact that even I’ve managed to make a lot of music that sounds pleasing to my ears says volumes about what’s possible here. I’ll be going back to this again and again for some time to come. If only it hadn’t launched at a time when DMCA restrictions were really kicking off.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
When I have to drop 80+ hours into a game for a review, I’m elated when it turns out that the game is good. And Yakuza: Like a Dragon is very, very good — excellent, in fact. This is a fresh start for the mainline Yakuza series, dropping most of the past characters and plot arcs to help welcome new players in. It also ditches the brutal brawler combat and replaces it with a JRPG system, and it somehow works.
Despite these heavy changes, it’s still recognizably Yakuza. While the main plot is a deep and emotional crime drama that’s got more twists than an amateur’s pretzel, it hasn’t lost any of the series’ bizarre humor, or its love for minigames and side activities. Somehow, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio managed to make a game that works perfectly for both newcomers and old hands, without making either feel confused or left out. And then it added the most punny enemy names this side of Dragon Quest, because why not?
Monster Prom 2: Monster Camp
I knew what to expect from Monster Camp thanks to my long-lasting and torrid love affair with Monster Prom, but in case you don’t, here’s a primer on the sort of events and text you can expect from this visual novel/board game mash-up. One of the very first events I saw in Monster Camp had the player accidentally trigger a gray goo scenario — but not just any gray goo scenario. See, he’d accidentally convinced a robot into turning every piece of matter into metal dicks. It’s okay! It resolved itself and the world didn’t end in a barrage of metal cocks. It did, however, result in him losing some affection with those characters, and some stats.
And yet for all the sophomoric humor and insane references, there’s a lot of heart here. Monster Camp is one of the most inclusive games of any year, which is mildly surprising when you bear in mind your chief objective is to try and sex up a robot. Or a demon, or a grim reaper, or…
Finally, I want to shine some light on something that I think is a bit underappreciated. Desperados 3 is great, and deserves recognition as such. It’s a super good sequel to a franchise that hasn’t really been around for a long time, and a really good update of the real-time tactics/puzzle stuff that was mostly around in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The fact that it’s been getting constant updates and DLC (right down to letting you play any mission with any character, turning things into a real playground) is just the icing on what’s already a very delicious and multi-layered artisanal cake.
Let me just quickly rattle off Spelunky 2, Risk of Rain 2, Monster Train, Ring of Pain, and Hades. All are excellent, and all would honestly be easy candidates for my picks of the year if I’d had the time to play them more. Once I actually get around to spending more than five or six hours with each, I’m probably going to regret not pushing them harder, here. I’d love to talk about each of them in more details, but these are Honorable Mentions and not Honorable Diatribes, so I’m afraid you’ll have to be satisfied with just this.