DualShockers' Favorite Games of 2020 -- Michael's Top 10 (Kind Of)
2020 kind of sucked, but at least there were some solid video games to keep us occupied.
As 2020 (thankfully) comes to a close, the DualShockers staff is coming together to share their personal favorite games throughout the year. Unlike our official Game of the Year Awards, each of these lists is meant to reflect which games stood out personally to each of our staff members. Additionally, any game — not just 2020 releases — can be considered in each Top 10 List.
Out of all the years since starting with DualShockers, 2020 has been the craziest for me. Not just because of COVID-19 or the presidential election (although, that goes without saying), but because of my personal journey in this industry. This year was filled with moments of anger, confusion, and sadness. In some ways, video games were the last thing I really wanted to think about. But without these games listed below, I don’t think I would have come to the realizations that I now have.
Anyways, we’ll come back to these “realizations” in a bit. Here are my “top 10” games of 2020.
WARNING: This post will contain minor spoilers to Final Fantasy VII Remake. If you haven’t played that game already and do not want to get spoiled on a story from 20 years ago, then do not read that section.
Runner Up: Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Back in March, I was in quarantine since my day job was shut down for what would be a few months. I took this opportunity to catch up on my backlog and revisit some of my favorite classics. This includes Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
The Halo games are among some of my favorites of all time. But obviously, these games weren’t released this year. So, why are they here? Well, since many of us were stuck inside, this gave me and my friends (former DualShockers staff Logan Moore and Max Roberts, as well as current video boy Mario Rivera) a chance to hang out and shoot aliens. In a way, playing through every single Halo was therapeutic. While I can’t speak for the others, I was always looking forward to getting together and finishing the fight. It was my chance to get away for just a moment and just have a fun time with friends.
Also, I never played Halo 3: ODST or Halo Reach until now. I can confirm that those are the best games in the series and I will not be taking any further questions or comments on the matter.
10. Coffee Talk
When I heard about Coffee Talk, I was immediately drawn to it. It felt like something I could relate to as I work in a coffee shop. In a way, I wanted to play it so I can write about its portrayal of a barista.
While it does fail to capture that experience, I had such a memorable and joyous time with it. Every monster that came into my coffee shop had an interesting tale that satirizes a number of subjects like racism, crunch, immigration, dating, and much more. While some of it lacks a bit of depth, the writing is compelling and keeps you interested in each of your customers’ lives.
In creating this list, I was pretty certain I wasn’t going to add this game to the list. But the more I think of it, the more that Coffee Talk stands out as one of the more unique games I’ve played in 2020.
Check out DualShockers‘ review of Coffee Talk.
9. Observer: System Redux
Remember when I said quarantine allowed me to go through my backlog and play some games I may have missed this year? Well, here is another backlog game that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I’m just going to say it; Observer and the enhanced Observer: System Redux are the best “cyberpunk” games I’ve played this year. I played the original in the middle of the year and loved every moment. Despite me loving the genre for film, horror games typically freak me out too much to finish. But Observer delves more into the psychological side of the genre rather than the spooky stuff, so I had no trouble.
Observer does a great job in telling a unique narrative about age-old questions that have been explored in science fiction movies and books for years. It’s really great if you’re into dystopian sci-fi, and even features the late Rutger Hauer, who is known for his role as Roy Batty in Blade Runner as well as lending his voice to some popular video games.
Honestly, my only problem with that original release were its visuals and performance, but that all changed with Observer: System Redux. With this newly remastered version, it looks and plays great and even has some side missions that were not in the original release. Like Coffee Talk, I wasn’t really expecting to love Observer as much as I did, but I now consider it one of my favorite horror games of all time.
Check out DualShockers‘ review of Observer: System Redux.
8. NHL 21
EA’s NHL games will always be the game I play to unwind. Finding the time after work, just chilling with my dog, and playing a few games of hockey is relaxing. The game itself isn’t all that special; it isn’t unlike last year’s entry, really. But I do think it gets overshadowed by the powerhouses that are FIFA and Madden. It’s a great sports game if you dig hockey, and that’s all it really needs to be.
Check out DualShockers‘ review of NHL 21.
7. Final Fantasy VII Remake
Yes, I have openly blasted Final Fantasy VII Remake. I have quite a few problems with it, including its ugly skyboxes, bad texture pop-in, cringe-y dialogue, and boss fights that overstay their welcome. There is quite a lot I do not like about this game. However, despite the flaws, this “remake” was tremendous and one I was not really expecting to enjoy as much as I did.
I think what makes it stick out for me is how hopeful Final Fantasy VII Remake is, which is nice considering this released in the middle of quarantine. Despite all the terrible things happening to Cloud Strife and his gang of misfits, they found a way to endure and have a “glass half full” mentality about the shitty situation they were in. Like, Cloud says Jessie owes him a pizza as she is dying in his arms. It is so cheesy (no pun intended), but again, always positive.
What stands out to me the most with Final Fantasy VII Remake is its soundtrack. The orchestral recreations of some of the most iconic songs in gaming are masterfully composed. It is, far and away, the best soundtrack of the year and now one of my personal favorites of all time. Each song is perfectly implemented in the game, making each scene more impactful than it already was.
I guess, for me, Final Fantasy VII Remake came out at the right time. I was stuck at home and had a lot of time to spare. If that wasn’t the case, I’m not entirely sure I would have finished it. In the end, I am really glad I did.
Check out DualShockers‘ review of Final Fantasy VII Remake.
6. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
On a real level, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is only low on the list because I haven’t fully completed it yet. So, I wouldn’t feel right putting it anywhere above the next six games. However, that doesn’t mean the opening 20 hours that I’ve played (since writing this) haven’t left a lasting impression.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s strengths are the same as any of its predecessors. It manages to balance the strange, the goofy, and the melodramatic in such a way that can only be described as masterfully. One moment, I can see a grown-ass man in a diaper crying like a baby, and the next moment, be weeping because of Ichiban Kasuga’s personal journey in Yokohama.
The one facet of Like a Dragon I thought I wouldn’t be into is its turn-based combat. Not that I hate that type of gameplay; I just love the ridiculous action of the previous Yakuza games. However, Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s take on turn-based combat play incredibly well, and is more ridiculous than ever before, thanks to its summons (which are hilariously called “Poundmates”).
Just from my time with Yakuza: Like a Dragon, I can tell it will hit the same highs the series is known for, and I cannot wait to dive back in.
Check out DualShockers‘ review of Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
5. DOOM Eternal
DOOM Eternal is the first game I played in 2020 where I thought to myself, “this could be a potential Game of the Year contender.” While it didn’t get that honor from me this year, I certainly enjoyed my time slaying demons like the one and only Doomguy. Yes, it double downs on the ridiculous DOOM lore and demon-slaying, but the gameplay has evolved and is better for it.
Adding more verticality and platforming has made each encounter almost feel like a puzzle. The same enemies will appear during any given encounter, and you have to figure out the best way to take them out. There are so many games where you just mindlessly shoot things, so it was somewhat a breath of fresh air to play a shooter that not only plays tremendously, but also asks the player to actually think about what they’re doing.
Bethesda and id Software really doubled down on the goofy side of DOOM (2016) and I thought it was better for it. Yes, the last few bosses in DOOM Eternal are pretty terrible, but there was never a moment where I felt like that time was wasted. In terms of first-person shooters, this was the best one to release in 2020.
Check out DualShocker‘ review of DOOM Eternal.
4. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the most beautiful game I played in 2020. At the time of the review, it had some bugs and I gave it a score that reflected that product at the time. Now that it seems those bugs have gone away, I can finally say the latest from Moon Studios is a masterpiece.
Everything about Ori and the Will of the Wisps, from its tight gameplay to its emotional tale, is second to none within the “Metroidvania” genre. The premise of the story is simple, but the journey to its conclusion is filled with moments of extreme happiness to undeniable defeat. Again, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is just filled with beauty.
Check out DualShockers‘ review of Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
3. The Last of Us Part II
Speaking of emotional journeys…
If you don’t think The Last of Us Part II, at the very least, is a technical masterpiece, then you must have some crazy expectations for video games. This game looks incredible, and it feels incredible to play too. Just from its presentation and gameplay, I was invested in Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic, clicker infested world.
In terms of The Last of Us Part II’s story, I think it doubles down on all the dreadfulness in that world to a pretty spectacular degree. It was hard to play; not because it was poorly written, but because that world is just so depressing. But to counteract that feeling, every story beat, good or bad, kept you invested in Ellie or Abby’s tale. It probably could have been executed better, but I really think the story is incredibly well told. There are moments here that are incredibly powerful and unlike anything I’ve seen in a game. You have a connection with every character, and when that connection is severed, you really feel it.
Also, pour one out for the homie, Jesse.
Check out DualShockers‘ review of The Last of Us Part II.
2. Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, and Yakuza Kiwami 2
Ha, you thought this list only had one Yakuza game. Wrong! This list has four of them! Again, going back to that whole backlog thing, I played Yakuza 0, Kiwami, and Kiwami 2 all during quarantine and enjoyed every single minute of it.
Like I explained above, the Yakuza series just does a tremendous job of balancing the outlandishly goofy moments with the more serious ones. It is a game that isn’t afraid to have a heartfelt moment, but also reminds the player that they are still playing a video game. I absolutely adore it. Out of the three, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is probably the high point for me in the series, but I would recommend playing Yakuza 0 and Kiwami before doing so as it is a continuation of Kiryu’s arc.
Honestly, it is incredible how this series has become a staple franchise for me. Any time I see news about a new Yakuza game, I need to know what it is. I absolutely adore these games and I cannot wait to see what the future holds. Also, I still have like four more games to play, so I have plenty more Yakuza left to go!
1. Skater XL
Skater XL is far and away from the best game on this list. I am very aware of that. But unlike the others, Easy Day Studios’ skateboarding sim fundamentally changed how I live.
To put this into perspective properly, let me rewind to the middle of this year. I announced I would be taking a bit of a step back from writing about games; in fact, I am still only writing a few things here and there. But with my departure from that grind, it felt like a part of me was lost. My life, for the past 5 or so years, revolved around video games. So, to take a step back from this world was a bit much for me.
Adding to that bit of emptiness, I was at my worst in terms of physicality. I had become comfortable with my lifestyle of sitting around, playing games, and drinking lots of beer. So, not only did I put a halt to something I really loved doing, but I was just living an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle.
Shortly after that announcement, I was reviewing Skater XL for DualShockers. I had put a little bit of time into the early access version but not enough time to have a real opinion on it. But like Skate before it, I was hooked. I loved the “trial and error” nature of trying to record a clip. It also has an incredibly approachable and simple replay editor that can easily create great-looking clips. I would just spend hours putting together clips of tricks and lines, which was both the most fun and satisfying gameplay loop that I experienced in video games in 2020.
This obsession with Skater XL, and even my time with Session before it, got me thinking; I kind of wanted to try hopping on a board again (I used to skate when I was in my teens). But as I said before, I was at my most unhealthy. I wasn’t really sure if I could just hop on a board and feel comfortable. Luckily and coincidentally, my brother-in-law was in town and recently bought a new board. So naturally, we played a game of Skate.
During that game of Skate, I had this realization that I was so out of shape. We skated for maybe 30 minutes — and we were taking turns, so we weren’t even on a board throughout the entirety of that session — but I was breathing as if I ran 10 miles. I felt awful, but at the same time, I had so much fun. It’s as if this dormant part of myself was finally awakened, and it felt great.
In a week, I picked up a board and started skating again. First, it was only two or three times a week and maybe for 30 minutes to an hour. However, as I started progressing and getting more in shape, I started skating every other day, and for two hours or more. And since I rationalized to myself that my weight was holding me back from progressing on the board, I started eating way more healthily. Most importantly, I was (and still feel) so happy after every session, no matter if I did anything of substance or not.
I got all dumb excited when I landed. pic.twitter.com/HswIcXFi9f
— Mikey Ruiz (@TheMichaelRuiz) October 16, 2020
When I look back, I am still a bit down that I am putting writing about games on the backburner for a bit. I really do love telling you all my dumb opinions about the latest game releases. But there was a point where I felt like my quality was dipping and I just was not happy with myself or my writing. I needed (and still kind of need) a break.
But that “regret” is instantly overturned by the thought of my next skate session. In some ways, taking a break from writing, playing Skater XL, and hopping back on a board showed me that my identity isn’t just tied to video games and writing. I don’t need to actually be so invested in the world of gaming. I can just take things at my own pace and be happier in doing so.
Check out DualShockers‘ review of Skater XL.
Check out the rest of the DualShockers staff Top 10 lists and our official Game of the Year Awards nominees:
December 26: Michael Ruiz (Contributor) // Mehrdad Khayyat (Senior Staff Writer)
January 4: Game of the Year Awards 2020 Official Winners Revealed