Now that we’re squarely in the holiday season, some of you may be getting a jump on the gift-giving (and gift-buying) time of the year. So whether you’ve got a gamer on your holiday shopping list or are a gamer yourself, you might be wondering just what 2020 titles offer the best bang for your buck. Which games are worth the purchase price? Which ones will keep you playing for mere hours or for days and weeks to come? And which titles are appropriate for gamers of all ages and interests?
That’s where we come in! The following list of 18 video game titles, all new in 2020, is here to give you a good starting place when it comes to your shopping list. Black Friday sales and other discounts abound this time of year, so if you see one of the following titles pop up, it’s a safe bet to do so, as far as we’re concerned. Your mileage may vary, of course, but these are the stand-out games of the year in a variety of categories. And hey, you can always make that special someone on your list super happy by picking up a next-gen console like the Xbox Series S/X and/or, if you’re incredibly lucky, a PlayStation 5.
For Family-Friendly Gamers—Paper Mario: The Origami King
If you’re looking for a fun, colorful game you can share with the whole family, look no further!
Despite some frustrations with its battle mechanics, this delightfully silly game is a laugh-a-minute experience, as our own Gregory Lawrence said in his review. The 2D characters you know and love battle against the Folded Soldiers and the threat to turn the Mushroom Kingdom into all-out origami. The latest entry in the flattened franchise managed to expand both the mythology of Paper Mario and the world itself, delivering plenty of laughs alongside some surprisingly emotional character moments. It’s well worth a pick-up, especially for younger gamers just getting into the fun of all things Mario.
Honorable Mention(s): Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Ori and the Will of the Wisps
For Fans of Platformers—Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
For many gamers, platformers are the go-to sub-genre of the industry. Crash Bandicoot 4 is a great return to form for these fans in particular and all gamers in general.
Toys for Bob came back in a big way with this new installment of the PlayStation platformer darling. Once known for bursting onto the video game scene ruled by the Super Mario Bros. and their Sega counterpart Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash brings nearly 25 years of running, hopping, crate-smashing experience to bear in this title. It’s About Time feels like a throwback and a modern game at the same time, bringing plenty of classic mechanics (and options) to consoles while also pushing the franchise’s story forward (and backwards, and, well, you get it) and introducing fun new wrinkles (in time). It’s a blast, and an easy pick-up this holiday season if you’re so inclined.
Honorable Mention(s): Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia – If you have a youngster on your list who is just getting into action-oriented video games, this back-to-basics platformer based on the hit Netflix animated series is a great choice!
For RPG-Enthusiasts—Persona 5 Royal
In Persona, the massive Japanese franchise that is itself part of the more-massive Megami Tensei series, ATLUS may have found itself a worldwide success as Western markets embrace the series’ signature style and personality.
Persona 5 Royal is an enhanced edition of Persona 5 that brings new characters and new material to the story, but it also comes as a complete version of the vanilla game with all the available DLC included. That’s not just a bargain, it’s a selling point for the company who’s had similar success with past releases. Persona 5, including Royal, is now the best-selling game in that franchise, and might just be the best game of the year overall. But while it might not reach many casual audiences, it should absolutely be on every RPG fanatic’s wishlist.
Honorable Mention(s): Final Fantasy VII Remake, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Genshin Impact
For Fans of Metroidvania Video Games—Ori and the Will of the Wisps
The relatively new sub-category of action-adventure games dubbed “Metroidvania” takes aspects of the classic Metroid and Castlevania franchises and mashes them up in interesting new ways. You’ll often find a large, 2D world map that’s open to exploration by the player, but limited depending on what upgrades, skills, and tech you’ve acquired in the game so far. Those level-ups won’t just help you clear the map but defeat enemies as well. Make sense? Even if it doesn’t, that’s okay; you’ll still want to pick up Ori and the Will of the Wisps regardless.
Why? Well, it might be the 2020 Game of the Year. It’s a gorgeous game with a compelling story and characters to boot; it picks up from the acclaimed 2015 title, Ori and the Blind Forest, also from Moon Studios. However, new 3D models and many-layered levels and backgrounds add more depth to the experience, just as the new story does the same with Ori’s mythology. The only thing better than picking up the 2020 title is getting a two-for-one!
Honorable Mention(s): Carrion
Our Pick for 2020 Rogue-likes—Hades
Another relatively new sub-category of games is the so-called “rogue-likes”, often a dungeon-crawling fantasy-tinged RPG with procedurally generated levels and a permadeath component. Sounds fun, right?
Hades changes up the typical Diablo-styled fantasy element for more of a classical pantheon of the Greek gods” inspiration, which Rafael Motamayor brilliantly discussed in this piece. The write-up also helps to explain just why Hades is such a unique and compelling game, through and through, and why it keeps being talked about, even as it vies for a Game of the Year award. But even if you’ve never picked up a rogue-like before or aren’t into Greek mythology, Hades will give you a chance to play like a god for once … and who doesn’t love that?
Honorable Mention(s): Monster Train
Our Go-To Souls-like Game of 2020—Demon’s Souls (PS5)
Our last “-like” sub-category goes back to the games that pretty much invented it: FromSoftware’s Souls series of games. Known for brutal difficulty and outstanding boss fights, the latest entry in that franchise is a modern remake of its first title, Demon’s Souls, released back in 2009. They never looked back … well, at least not until they looked back to release the title as a PS5 launch exclusive this year.
All signs point to the newly refurbished Demon’s Souls being just as tough and enjoyable(?) as its original release. The hardest part may not be taking down bosses like the Vanguard Demon, but securing a PS5 to play it in the first place.
Honorable Mention(s): Nioh 2
For Gamers Who Are Into Social Sims & Management—Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was all anyone could talk about for the better part of this year. Nintendo’s real-time “life simulation” game saw players taking on the role (and responsibilities … and cost … and headaches) of a community manager tasked with developing an island paradise for anthropomorphic citizens and visitors alike. It was an instant hit. It remains one of the best-selling video games of all time in Japan, within the franchise itself, and for the Nintendo Switch. So what was it about the stylized “life management game” that was a hit with folks all around the world?
Another Game of the Year contender, Animal Crossing: New Horizons hit at roughly the same time as the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A silver lining and good timing for Nintendo. With more free time and downtime than ever before, gamers found some solace and comfort in the fact that they could still grow and harvest crops, visit shops, and perform other relatively mundane tasks in the virtual world at a time when they couldn’t do the same in the real world. Add to this the fact that Nintendo updates the game with new content every few months, and you’ve got a hit that keeps on giving
Honorable Mention(s): Spiritfarer, Mars Horizon — If you want to try a life simulation that’s actually got a bit more of a fantasy or sci-fi element to it, respectively, try these!
Get Tactical With This 2020 Title—Gears Tactics
When you think about real-time strategy (RTS) games, you don’t often think Gears of War. That’s because, until Gears Tactics, the Xbox exclusive title franchise was a bloodily violent third-person shooter. What a difference a change of approach makes!
This turn-based RTS from Splash Damage and The Coalition takes the lore you know and love (and the enemies you love to hate) from the franchise and plunks related characters down into its prequel setting. The approach to the playstyle may be all-new, but the aggressive combat and massive boss battles that GoW is known for are still here. The only difference now is that you’ve got a it more time to catch your breath and enjoy the ride!
Honorable Mention(s): Desperados III, Transformers: Battlegrounds — If you’ve got a young gamer who’s a Transformers fan and wants to get into RTS games, this would be a great introduction!
For Action Video Game Enthusiasts—DOOM Eternal
(*PS4 version running on PS5)
Subtlety is overrated. From the title drop onward, Doom Eternal is here to blast Satanic metal energy in your face loudly, bluntly, aggressively, and ferociously. It is beyond entertaining, a throwback FPS in dialogue with its own, controversially violent franchise history while also eagerly rewriting and heightening everything we’ve loved about it thus far. There’s always been a sense of humor implicit within the revolutionary 3D pixel walls of Doom; in Eternal’s campaign, developed by iD Software and published by Bethesda, a gnarled, satirical, They Live-esque taste of comedy is present in every bite. As you shoot and chainsaw and “glory kill” your way through scourges of demons and mutated soldiers, robotized voiceovers remind us cheerfully that this overtaking of Earth by the most grotesque and bloodthirsty of Hell’s demons is actually a good thing for the good of our corporate overlords (an always-laugh-out-loud comedic clash of context that reminded me of other Bethesda games like Fallout).
The game wears its Mature rating like a performative badge of pride, blood and guts dripping throughout the screen, backgrounds oozing with genuinely upsetting, Hieronymus Bosch-esque designs (all of which I can’t wait to see rendered even more explicitly in the forthcoming free next-gen update). It shamelessly traffics in aesthetics that my sixteen-year-old self would’ve simply luxuriated in, would’ve been eager to try and buy from my local GameStop without getting carded, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to dive into this horror-metal-loving world with no sense of self-seriousness or detachment again. It’s a simple-on-the-surface rush of adrenaline, this game, but it’s not without its deeper additions to structure. Your Slayer (aka DoomGuy) can do some mild platforming, including a nifty double jump and wall-climbing ability. You may not be able to, or need to, aim with precision, but you’ve got all kinds of dope mods you can add to your arsenal, and some fun puzzle-solving that comes with which mod to use on which demon. And if you wanna dive into its multiplayer, you’ll spend plenty of time on its Dead by Daylight-leaning Battlemode, which allows you to play either as a Slayer or a Demon, giving you tons of deep, RPG-leaning, high-difficulty-curve options to play with.
If you’re looking for a gloriously blunt antidote to some of the more saccharine trappings of the holiday season, Doom Eternal will give you all the goofy, gruesome, gigantic pleasures you need and more. – Gregory Lawrence
Honorable Mention(s): Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War, Marvel’s Avengers
The Best Title for Action-Adventure Gamers—Ghost of Tsushima
One of the best new properties of the year is Sucker Punch Production’s Ghost of Tsushima. It’s a solid game, through and through, with little to criticize or wish the Devs had done differently. The core game itself got a multiplayer bump (via a free upgrade) when Ghost of Tsushima: Legends arrived this fall. GoT is also on track to compete for the 2020 Game of the Year award. So is there any reason not to pick up this title immediately?
None that we can think of! The base game now comes with the newly updated DLC that lets you play along side your favorite samurai friends. But the main game itself also got a NewGame+ addition that gives you extra incentive to save the island of Tsushima all over again. That’ll help you pass the time while we wait to see what Jin Sakai does next!
Honorable Mention(s): Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
For the Sports Video Game Fans on Your List—Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2
Call it a remake, call it nostalgia, call it a comeback, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 could have been a quick cash grab; it was anything but. If you’ve got a 90s skater, video game or IRL or anything in between, this remastered redo is an easy purchase to make.
The iconic title stays true to its roots and feels very familiar for fans who have been keeping up with the acclaimed franchise all along, but it brings some new tricks to the park as well. There’s local split-screen play (a rarity these days) and online multiplayer available, and there are both create-a-skater and create-a-park options to mess around with. Perhaps best of all, the new game introduces new and up-and-coming skating sensations to gamers around the world alongside household names. Plus, who can resist those bombtracks?
Honorable Mention(s): F1 2020
This 2020 Fighting Game Came Out on Top—Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate
It’s good to be the Khan.
If you’ve got a gamer who’s been duking it out in Earthrealm, Outworld, and/or Netherrealm since 1992, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is a must-buy. (Don’t take my word for it; read our own Gregory Lawrence‘s PS5 review here.)
The core game is perfectly grand on its own, but the Ultimate version is what you’re really looking for this (bloody) holiday season. It includes the “Aftermath” DLC expansion, as well as both Kombat Pack 1 and 2, the latter of which was released along with the Ultimate version mere days ago. If you hear the game shouting “GET OVER HERE!” to your bank account, it’s best not to fight it.
Honorable Mention(s): Street Fighter V: Champion Edition, Granblue Fantasy: Versus
When Simulator Video Games Are Realer Than Real Life—Microsoft Flight Simulator
How wild is it that 2020 became a year in which most people were actively discouraged from flying on airplanes, advice that many actually listened to? So perhaps it was the perfect time for Asobo Studio and Xbox Game Studios’ hyper-realistic, all-Earth flying simulation. It arrived at a time when folks were feeling cooped up and had a bit of wanderlust, giving them a way to satisfy that need without sacrificing financial security or personal safety. So yeah, we’ll give the game a break for its occasionally long load times and factual inaccuracies regarding real-world landmarks. It’s the closest thing we have to safe, convenient travel at the moment and that’s worth the world to us.
Honorable Mention(s): Snowrunner
Get Some Friends Together for This Multiplayer Game—Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
If your gamer ever wanted to be a cute little bean bobbling around amongst other wildly dressed beans in a race to be the last bean standing, there is literally no other game out there like Fall Guys!
For a time, this surprise hit was a worldwide phenomenon. The Devs at Mediatonic and the sages at Devolver Digital took a super-simple premise and ran with it. They ran through walls, over obstacles, past whirlybirds and around Big Yeetus. They dodged the jinx and grabbed tail feathers, kicked oversized sports balls of all shapes and sizes, and outlasted the competition through skill, strategy, luck, and lots of laughter. It’s a game that absolutely must be played with friends, but the good news is that those friend are folks you might just meet along the way as you race for the crown!
Honorable Mention(s): No Man’s Sky, Among Us
Take Your Gaming Experience Into VR—Half-Life: Alyx
VR is the way of the future. Sure, folks have been saying that for years, but it’s never been truer than right now. More and more boundary-pushing ideas are being developed for the latest VR tech, just as the tech itself continues to make progress moving forward in terms of affordability, accessibility, and wow-factor. The iconic sci-fi franchise Half-Life went a long way toward making VR more of a household reality with its awards-worthy title, Half-Life: Alyx.
This ambitious approach to a beloved game mythology nestles itself between the first and second titles to take on the alien Combine. It features the same sorts of combat, puzzles, exploration, and thematic material the franchise has become known for, just with a VR twist. Valve has been tweaking their VR tech since the days of Portal and clearly continues to do so, leading to groundbreaking titles like Alyx. If you can pick it up for your VR rig, do it ASAP; it might just become the first legacy title for a whole new generation of virtual reality games.
Honorable Mention(s): Iron Man VR, Star Wars: Squadrons
Go Mobile Game With This Top 2020 Title—Legends of Runeterra
Did you know that mobile gaming accounts for roughly half of the overall gaming market, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars? You probably did. Just like you knew that everyone is walking around with a veritable supercomputer in their purses and pockets these days. So even if you don’t have a next-gen console or a cutting-edge GPU in your PC rig at home, you can absolutely find a mobile game you’ll love on your very own mobile device.
Our pick for this section is the surprisingly highly rated Legends of Runeterra, a free-to-play collectible digital card game developed and published in part by Riot Games and inspired by their massive hit League of Legends franchise. If you’ve played any similar card games, the mechanics are simple to pick up and pretty addictive, making it relatively hard to put down. If you’re a fan of LoL, or the gamer on your list happens to be, this is an easy download … even if it doesn’t cost you a dime. You can, of course, drop some real-world currency on the game’s in-game currency system in order to buy cards, but unlike similar games, you can buy exactly the cards you want instead of random packs that grant you the possibility of getting a good roll. Add to this the fact that Legends of Runeterra is in its infancy compared with other big-name card games, and this is one to check out sooner than later.
Honorable Mention(s): Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells
In a Year of Remakes, This One’s the Best—Final Fantasy VII Remake
Remakes used to have a bad connotation — many still do — but modern redos of classic and beloved games have started to change fans’ opinions of the word and the new industry it’s inspired. (TV shows do this pretty well, too. Movies… maybe not so much.) So what we have here is a win/win: Studios can take existing IP they own and bring about a bold new vision and version of it to the masses, and those masses can enjoy a title they have fond memories of in a lovely new iteration.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is how you do a remake. Capcom has done an admirable job with their Resident Evil titles, but now it falls to Square Enix to carry that torch forward. And boy do they have a lot of IP to work with. A remake of Final Fantasy VII has perhaps been the title that fans have made the most noise for over the years, and now we’ve got it. It’s drop-dead gorgeous, and its fully rendered characters have reignited the Tumblr-verse all over again. Re-imagined combat will shake you out of the turn-based ease you know from the original game while beautifully realized cut scenes will let you see Midgar City and Mako Reactors in a whole new light.
But be careful what you wish for: FFVIIR covers just the first third or so of the original game, and we don’t quite know what the plans are for the rest of the story going forward. For now, it’s a solid standalone remake of an all-time classic, and that’s enough.
Honorable Mention(s): Resident Evil 3, Destroy All Humans!, Mafia: Definitive Edition, Demon’s Souls
And Finally, the Best 2020 Video Game for Mature Audiences—The Last of Us: Part II
I’ve written extensively about The Last of Us: Part II this year, and this probably won’t be the last time I do so. It’s a game that’s stuck with me since its release this summer, a fact that’s unlikely to change in the months and years ahead. It’s not just a continuation of the fantastic original story that won over so many fans around the world, and it’s more than the fallout of a single storytelling decision that many angry fans have reduced it to since its release. It’s a treatise on violence, revenge, and most importantly, forgiveness.
The Last of Us: Part II is absolutely my pick for Game of the Year 2020. It’s important, it’s timely, and it’s perhaps more meaningful now than ever. I can’t recommend it strongly enough, so be sure to add it to your holiday shopping list now … even if, maybe, you wait until after the otherwise cheery holiday season to actually play it!
Honorable Mention(s): DOOM Eternal, Metro Redux, Cyberpunk 2077 (we hope!)
Anyone else feeling a bit…hobbled these days?
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