Yes, I have ten games. Yes,. ten games that came out in 2020. I know that surprises some of you.
For the podcast listeners in our audience, you know 2020 was the year I became truly disenchanted with what system launches have become over the years, and truly baffled at the fact that platform holders now feel they can justify introducing new hardware while bringing virtually nothing unique to the table right out of the gate. 2020 was also the year I returned to the games, genres, and design approaches that made me love gaming in the first place, which might make it seem a bit strange that there were even ten games that came out this year that I could give top games props to, but here we are.
10. Hotshot Racing (Multiplatform)
Sumo Digital teaming up with ex-Criterion staff to make a new traditional arcade racing franchise? Yes, please! While Hotshot Racing suffers from one major design flaw that comes between it and true greatness (the fact that your car can get rotated in a collision, thereby making it all to easy to get redirected into a wall, effectively ending your chances at winning a race in one moment), Hotshot Racing displays the lessons Sumo learned from working on games like OutRun 2 and Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, as well as design cues directly from Virtua Racing. Hopefully this collection of racing minds will be back for another attempt, because there is something truly special with this team that the arcade racing genre desperately needs..
9. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 (PS4, Xbox, PC)
Here’s a game that required no marketing whatsoever. “It is the first two Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games,” is really the only tagline needed here. After a miscue in seventh-gen’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, 1 + 2 sticks the landing that HD could not, reminding an entirely new generation of gamers why THPS was an instant classic when it landed in 1999.
8. NHL 94 Rewind (PS4, Xbox)
The biggest problem with this game is that it isn’t being sold separately from NHL 21, and beyond that, is only made available with the flagship NHL title at specific times and in specific ways. If you were/are lucky enough to get your foot in the door, you get a well-done remake of NHL 94 with modern teams/rosters and even a couple of quality of life improvements brought in from other 16-bit NHL installments. Online play would have been nice, but even now, Rewind makes it abundantly clear why the original NHL 94 was so legendary.
7. Pacer (Multiplatform)
Pacer is less a tribute to the Wipeout franchise than the direct continuation thereof. Developed by former Psygnosis staff, and even featuring Wipeout’s quasi-mascot Angry Man alongside other bold references to its predecessor, Pacer isn’t structured at all like Wipeout (which admittedly cost it a spot or two on this list), but definitely holds on to the core feel of the iconic futuristic racing series. Hopefully a new tradition can be established under the Pacer banner.
6. NHL 21 (PS4, Xbox)
EA’s NHL franchise finds its way onto yet another one of my Game of the Year lists, and although this year’s installment isn’t as groundbreaking as some, the upsurge in quality is undeniable, as is EA Canada’s commitment to giving you as many ways to enjoy Hockey in video game form as possible. Whether you’re a regular customer like me or someone looking for a good jumping-on point for EA Sports NHL, this game gets an easy recommendation for me no matter what it is you’re actually looking for.
5. Persona 5 Royal (PS4)
Atlus has long established a penchant for making top-notch, quick-turnaround remakes of their titles, from Shin Megami Tensei to the likes of Etrian Odyssey and Radiant Historia, so it’s really no surprise that Persona 5 gets the same treatment here. Introducing a new party member and story arc, Royal is definitely the best way to experience Persona 5 if you just haven’t found your way to it thus far.
4. Hades (Switch, PC)
Supergiant Games can really do no wrong, as evidenced by their isometric action outing, Hades. Their most straightforward game since their debut, Bastion, Hades gives up no quality whatsoever in so doing, and cements Supergiant’s status as a studio that can truly do it all. I once regarded them as having all of the makings of a young Atlus, and Hades feels less like the perpetuation of that status than the fulfillment of it.
Billed as “The End of Saga” in Japan, there was some concern that Cold Steel IV would mark the end of the epic Trails branch of The Legend of Heroes franchise altogether. Thankfully, it only marked the end of the epic-in-its-own-right Erebonia arc, and the subtitle was left off of the North American release. There isn’t much else to add here except that if you still haven’t experienced why Trails is so amazing, Cold Steel IV finishes the second full story arc for North American audiences (a third arc, Crossbell, is still lingering in the ether, but don’t give up hope on that one yet), so you can see for yourself how Falcom is blending quality storytelling with amazing gameplay for the best JRPG experience of our time.
2. Streets of Rage 4 (Multiplatform)
I’m still honestly surprised that this game came together at all, let alone stuck the landing the way that it did. Sega is finding a lot of success these days in reviving classic IPs, and if Streets of Rage 4 is any indication, there’s no end in sight for this initiative within the company.
1. Phantasy Star Online 2 (Xbox, PC)
Long-time listeners of the Day 0 Update will know that my history with Phantasy Star Online 2 is complicated, even years before I actually got my hands on the game. It finally landed in North America this year, thanks to an assist from Microsoft, and putting everything else aside, it is absolutely the best gaming experience I’ve had all year. It fundamentally operates on the same structure as the original PSO, but it’s a timeless formula that translates beautifully to the modern era, and wears the Dreamcast DNA extremely well to this day.
As much of a train wreck as 2020 was, it’s nice that the game industry came through with plenty of things to keep us entertained during those long stretches at home. As cynical as I am about the PS5 and Xbox XS launches, those platforms will inevitably come into their own sooner or later, which makes me hopeful that 2021 has a lot of potential in its own right. Games like Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis, Guilty Gear Strive, The Legend of Heroes: Trails to the Beginning, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, Gran Turismo 7, and the yet-to-be-named Final Fantasy XIV 6.0 expansion are sure to keep me occupied in the coming months.
Of course, I would be remiss not to take a moment to plug our new podcast here. Check out SmashPad’s Gamers Without Borders in order to keep an eye on the industry as an ongoing masterpiece, and find even more ways to stay occupied and enjoy all that is gaming into the new year. See you soon!