There’s been a lot to be unhappy about in 2020. Not video games, though.
When it comes to video games, 2020 has been outstanding. This year has given us hit after hit, culminating in a couplet of consoles, the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, that are collectively pushing games in a faster, more beautiful experience for players.
From early pandemic successes like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom: Eternal to the mid-summer madness of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, followed by big AAA hits to usher in the new generation of consoles before the holiday, like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, 2020 hasn’t really given gamers a break. This year has produced something noteworthy for absolutely everyone, from long-waiting Star Wars: X-Wing fans with Star Wars: Squadrons to a return of the spooky series Amnesia for horror lovers and a new Yakuza game for all the eclectic weirdos out there.
Even games that didn’t come out this year had excellent showings. Among Us from 2018 surged in the fall, becoming a huge hit among streamers and regular players. Apex Legends continued to put out new content and has managed to stand out as one of the strongest battle royale games out there.
It’s the kind of year that makes a top 10 list difficult and divisive. But we did it anyway. Without further ado, Mashable’s top 10 video games of the year:
10. Genshin Impact
If you reduced Genshin Impact to a list of bullet points, you couldn’t pay me enough to play it. Sure, it looks and plays a heck of a lot like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but never would I have imagined that I’d get sucked into a free-to-play time-sink with a healthy amount of grinding and a way to put real money into a virtual slot machine for unlocking new characters
Joke’s on me, because 90 hours later and counting, Genshin has captivated me more than almost any game in 2020. Chinese developer miHoYo produced an open world of breathtaking vistas around every corner. That, and it has a huge roster of characters whose interlocking elemental abilities make for an active, nuanced combat system. This is mostly a game about finding creative ways to make lightning and fire touch each other as often as possible, because it makes things explode real nice.
Beyond that, the free-to-play trappings are not nearly as insidious as they seem, with plenty of ways to get the stuff you want without spending money. Since its massive open world is only going to get larger (and its story more interesting) thanks to free content add-ons for years to come, Genshin Impact earned a rare distinction for me this year as a game I will probably never delete to make space on my hard drive. —Alex Perry, tech reporter
Bugsnax is a charming puzzle game propelled by a surprisingly moving story and a delightfully lovable cast of characters. The much-memed bugsnax — literally, food items in the form of animals — are the hook that draws you in and the focus of the gameplay, which sees you wandering around Snaktooth Island and helping the residents of Snaxburg catch and eat the native fauna.
There’s also a not-so-obvious dark underbelly, though. It’s not long before you’re hanging onto every character’s word as you become enmeshed in their personal struggles. Bugsnax is a game filled with hidden delights, and one that rewards those who take the time to think on what it’s all saying. —Adam Rosenberg, weekend editor and senior entertainment reporter
8. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Clocking in at 345 hours played since March 20, my Animal Crossing: New Horizons record speaks for itself. The first Nintendo Switch title in the adorable social simulation franchise, ACNH delivered in every single one of the ways it turns out we really, really needed in 2020. Some players reveled in the outdoorsy fun. Others took solace in a chance to connect with friends. And a select few (I won’t name names*) even enjoyed changing their clothes digitally because doing so in real life briefly became too much to bear. The definition of escapist entertainment, ACNH was an emotional life raft when so many of us needed one — and I’ll always be thankful for that. Y’know, even if that life raft came with a ridiculous mortgage. And that asshole Rodney. (Fuck you, Rodney.) *OK, it’s me. —Alison Foreman, entertainment reporter
7. Final Fantasy VII Remake, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, and Demon’s Souls
This entry’s a bit of a cop-out, but a worthy one. In 2020, we saw three incredibly high-profile re-releases: Final Fantasy VII Remake, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, and Demon’s Souls. And while all of them are definitively old games, the remaster package for each is such a massive improvement and step forward that we couldn’t simply ignore them.
The best re-releases don’t actually recreate the thing you played however many years ago. Instead, they find success in delivering an experience that feels like the thing you hang onto in your memories. If you’ve played the original FF7, jumping into Remake and replaying that opening scene in the train station feels inexplicably familiar and comfortable, despite the glaringly obvious visual and mechanical upgrades that define the 2020 release.
All three of these re-release packages nail that feeling exactly. Whether you’re skating through the Warehouse again in Tony Hawk or exploring the Nexus with fresh eyes and dazzling PlayStation 5-showcasing graphics in Demon’s Souls, you’re getting something decidedly new. Nintendo may have put together a great package in September’s Super Mario 3D All-Stars, but it’s FF7, Hawk, and From Software’s original Soulslike that truly stand out. —AR
6. Kentucky Route Zero
Few play experiences stick with you like Kentucky Route Zero — and in 2020, I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. A dream-like road trip that morphs into an emotional experience akin to existential bungee jumping, this descent into Big Questions, Big Feelings, and oblivion oscillates between narratively confusing and personally invasive. Achieving a kind of kaleidoscope effect only the best trippy shit can, Kentucky Route Zero is disruptive art sure to stand the test of time. (Considering its first chapter came out in 2013, one could argue it already has.) —AF
5. If Found…
Every so often an indie game comes along that’s widely accessible for all levels of skill, with its success powered by an emotionally resonant story. There are other 2020 games that might fit this bill, but none landed with more of a splash than If Found… The latest game from Dublin-based studio Dreamfeel and publisher Annapurna Interactive tells the story of Kasio, a 23-year-old transgender woman and recent college graduate who moves in with a group of friends after she’s shunned from her family’s home. There’s also a sci-fi twist that springs out of Kasio’s personal interest in outer space.
The whole thing comes together around a simple game mechanic of scrubbing away scenes and text with a virtual eraser. This is one of those games that’s better played than described, so get on it. If Found… is available for Nintendo Switch, Windows/MacOS PCs, and iOS, so you probably have the hardware you need already. —AR**
4. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is not only the most beautiful platformer I’ve played in my life, but it’s also some of the most fun I’ve had in the genre. Despite how crowded the genre is, Moon Studio’s sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest makes a handful of tweaks to the series and manages to stand out, marrying gorgeous visuals, excellent music, a haunting story, and some of the smoothest platforming I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
One of the most impressive things in Ori 2 is the progression. Like so many platformers in the spirit of Metroid or Castlevania, this game trickles in new abilities and skills that slide into your repertoire, unlocking new areas or combinations to improve movement and combat. By the end, you’re hitting so many buttons in a row and chaining together so many things, without even realizing how much skill you’re actually utilizing; it’s just that good at teaching you. It’s a seamless ramping up of both challenge and skill that, when paired with its devastating story, makes for an unforgettable experience. There aren’t many platformer games that can stand next to Ori 2 in quality. —Kellen Beck, entertainment reporter
3. Spider-Man: Miles Morales
When the Sony PS5 announcement event revealed Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales as a launch title, expectations for the long-awaited follow-up to 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man could not have been higher. Spider-Man: Miles Morales exceeded those expectations by giving players not a sequel to Spider-Man, but a spinoff game that opens the door to a new era in the Spider-Verse. Miles Morales enhances the combat of the first game with new abilities, suits, and powers while anchoring its story in Miles’ strong ties to his family and community. Peter Parker may have been the first Spidey in Insomniac’s New York, but Miles proved he’s the most beloved in a much shorter length of time. —Alexis Nedd, senior entertainment reporter
2. Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima slid into home base as the final PlayStation exclusive of the PS4 generation and stands as a shining example of everything open world games can achieve at this point in technology. Its stunning, filmic art style and incredible facial capture performances make the game feel like a playable samurai movie, and its gracefully violent combat adds challenge and satisfaction to the gameplay. The original tale of Jin Sakai proved that games don’t need existing IP or franchise recognition to achieve greatness; all it takes is a visible dedication to story, character, design, and developmental excellence. —AN
Oh Hades, you beautiful bastard. You scoundrel. You came out in September after gestating in early access since 2018, fully formed and ready to be embraced by all. Many games, even some of those that make it to the tops of these kinds of lists, are at least somewhat divisive. I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t loved Supergiant Games’ Hades.
Hades is excellency incarnate. As a roguelike action game, with its randomized room layouts, enemies, and power-up drops, forcing players to restart from the very beginning every time they die, it’s challenging. But while many of these kinds of games are frustrating, the story woven into this journey of Zagreus, the son of Hades, as he tries to escape the underworld is intoxicating. Every character from Aphrodite to Zeus is compelling and interesting, with their own quirks and unique interactions. They’re also all sexy gods, demigods, and other beings voiced by a talented array of artists — including Logan Cunningham, Darren Korb, and Courtney Vineys — elevating everything up a notch as you uncover their secrets and relationships with Zagreus.
The action itself is perfect. The ability to choose different weapons before escape attempts can completely alter how combat feels and how you should play. If one boss is giving you grief up close, try the bow next time. The upgrades (some that stay with you forever, some that stay just for a single attempt) feel like an ever-expanding pool of possibility until the end, keeping up the excitement and variety even as you make your 10th, 50th, or 100th attempt. —KB
** The blurb comes from a previous list this year.