Branching Path: George Foster's Top 10 Games of 2020
In some ways, it feels wrong to put the word “top” in front of 2020, but despite all of the difficulties we’ve faced this year it has been an absolutely cracking year for gaming, and I think it’s right to celebrate that. So I thought I’d take the time to do my first ever personal top 10 for the site, and point out some games that really stuck with me throughout the year.
Around half of the games on this list are actually RPGs, but if you’ve ever read my work or listened to me on the Tetracast, you’ll know that my palette is odd and arguably more mainstream than some of the other site contributors. That’s how you get content on Marvel’s Avengers and rants about how awesome Gotham Knights looks!
That isn’t to say that 2020 hasn’t been an amazing year for RPGs, but more showing that even on a genre-specific site, all of our contributors enjoy games across the board, with all manners of consoles and genres. We’ve all got different tastes and that’s what makes gaming so much fun to talk about.
I’ll be following the same rules we use for our staff deliberations, which means that any games released in December won’t be counted this year. Sorry Immortals Fenyx Rising, maybe in 2021 eh?
Honourable Mention: Kingdom Hearts III ReMind
I may already be breaking the rules a little bit here by having an honourable mention on the list, but it didn’t feel right by me to not at least mention Kingdom Hearts III ReMind.
Acting as the “Final Mix” version of Kingdom Hearts III, ReMind adds a new post-game story scenario and 14 boss battles that’ll really test your mettle. Although the main scenario is only good at best, the boss battles are genuinely some of the best in the series and an absolute treat for fans who wanted more post-game content. A free update that was released alongside ReMind also added the best two Keyblades in the game, and completely reworked Sora’s base combos to make them infinitely better than the base game.
If you played Kingdom Hearts III when it released and were disappointed by the game’s combat or lack of content, I implore you to load up a Critical Mode run with the new combo abilities and play all the way through to ReMind’s new content. It truly changes the game into what Kingdom Hearts fans always wanted.
10) Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
That’s right, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot actually came out in 2020! The ongoing buzz for games like FighterZ and XenoVerse 2 has made it seem impossible that a brand new Dragon Ball game came out this year as well, but Kakarot made quite the impact on me in January, and I’d be remiss not to talk about it.
If the idea of a retelling of the Dragon Ball Z story makes you roll your eyes, you’re not alone but in many ways this is one of the best and most fully-featured versions we’ve seen in a game for years. You get a lot more detail than you might expect, and it’s fun for Dragon Ball nerds like myself to see all of the little moments alongside the bigger ones.
Although I think they could definitely use some development in another potential game, the RPG elements of Kakarot are a lot of fun as well, and there are even some Disgaea-level damage numbers that really make you feel powerful. It can be a grind, but it’s a lot of fun throughout.
For those who enjoyed the base game, I’m also happy to say that the two DLC packs that have been released for the game so far are great fun as well. The third, and supposedly biggest, will hopefully be good enough that I get to talk about Kakarot more next year!
9) Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time
I’ve been waiting for a new game in the Crash Bandicoot series ever since Crash of the Titans came out and almost ruined the public perception of the orange marsupial. Two fantastic remakes later, and Crash is finally back in an adventure that is worthy of the original trilogy, and often even surpasses it.
Beyond the masks, new moves and a few new playable characters, what I like most about Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is just how authentic to the series it feels. At its core it’s a challenging and creative platformer that trims the gimmicky fat that was present in some of his previous adventures.
The only thing that slightly lets this new adventure down is a bloated post-game with some incredibly challenging collectibles and completionist tasks. If you don’t mind the intense challenge, then It’s About Time is a fantastic platformer and a show that Crash’s new adventures have just as much staying power as the originals.
8) Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory being a part of my top 10 is probably going to come as no surprise to some readers, but that's indicative of how fantastic this game is for fans of the series.
Make no mistake, although this is a fun rhythm game at its core, it's really just a celebratory package for the last few generations of Kingdom Hearts games. All of the music here, all of the pieces of art and all of the love put into making it feel like Kingdom Hearts are really what stuck with me here, and it's why I've put close to fifty hours into it across two different systems.
Beyond that, the new story developments are really exciting for fans of the series and there's a clear through-line into what comes next for the franchise. If you're looking to reflect on why you love Kingdom Hearts with some great tunes and a wealth of content, look no further than Melody of Memory.
7) Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2
Fun fact: before Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2, I'd never actually played a Tony Hawk game before. I'd heard great things about it growing up, but I was always more of a Skate guy, especially as the franchise seemed to crumble under the weight of motion controls and half-hearted sequels.
I'm incredibly happy to say that this remake of the first two games is exactly the kind of good things I'd heard about the franchise many years ago. In-fact, in many ways Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+ 2 is a genuinely perfect video-game. The skating is addictive and fine-tuned to perfection, and the music and vibe it all gives off is intoxicating. Back in September I would have sworn that I could do a kickflip in real life just from how much I absorbed Tony Hawk.
Even after putting in a ton of hours into the game and fully levelling up my skater, I still hop in to the Warehouse every now and again and remind myself of that perfect combination of rock and failed 900's. That's how you know that a game has made some impact on me.
Remake all of the Tony Hawk games like this Activision, you know we'll buy them.
6) Spelunky 2
I've gone on record several times to call the original Spelunky a perfect game, and that sentiment extends to its sequel Spelunky 2.
The core gameplay loop of Spelunky 2 is incredibly punishing, but there are so many special moments in each run you do that it never feels like a waste of time. I was just as happy at the times I reached a brand new area or found a new character as I was when my turkey accidentally ran me into lava, or a bear trap was knocked onto me from a distant explosion.
Learning is the word I'd associate most with both Spelunky games, and the sense of slowly figuring a game out and seeing what makes it tick has never been stronger for me than when I've finally perfected my sticky bomb throw. Spelunky 2 is a game about adventuring, but it's also a game about studying.
The only reason that this isn't much higher up on this list is that my playtime was interrupted by another rogue-lite game on this list, and I never quite settled back into my groove. You'll see that game in just a bit.
5) Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Although I was a huge fan of Insomniac Game's original Spider-Man game back in 2018, I was a bit concerned that chasing the platinum and playing through all of the DLC had burn me out on wall-crawling. Then came Marvel's Spider-Man Miles Morales to show me that not only am I not burnt out on Spider-Man games, but that this is the best one that I've played. Considering Into the Spider-Verse is my favourite film, I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised...
Insomniac have taken everything that worked about the previous game and improved literally every element. The swinging is better, the combat is better, the characters are more interesting and the Christmas-makeover the city has received is infinitely more interesting. There's no element of the original game that isn't improved upon here, and I think it's going to be incredibly difficult to go back to Peter Parker after this.
Sure, it's not a very long game, taking me 17 hours to platinum, but considering how many 50 hour releases I've played this year, I was more than happy to have a smaller adventure that I enjoyed just as much. This is the PS5's best game so far, and I don't say that lightly.
4) Final Fantasy VII Remake
Against all the odds, Final Fantasy VII Remake managed to live up to years and years of anticipation and become one of the best games of 2020. I've talked about it in a separate article, but I was incredibly impressed at just how much I enjoyed the adventure without having played the original game. There's definitely more here for fans, but I think a big strength here is that Remake really does try to make a brand new experience that everyone can have for the first time.
It really is the characters and world-building that made this adventure stand out so much to me. The whole party are shockingly human and believeable, and although it's somewhat controversial, I think the choice of changing some things around makes things a lot more exciting in the long-run. Remake's combat system is another massive highlight, and feels like the perfect balance of the original series and something like Final Fantasy XV.
Looking back at it now I can't help but think of some of the things I didn't like as much, like the side missions, but when I was originally playing through it I was convinced it would be my favourite game of the year. It's not quite there, but it's certainly very close.
3) Yakuza: Like A Dragon
No-one is more surprised than me that Yakuza: Like A Dragon is so high up on my game of the year list, but it really is that good, and that's coming from someone who doesn't usually like turn-based combat. That's how good it is!
The real highlight of Like A Dragon is its characters and writing. Ichiban is an incredibly loveable protagonist surrounded by a whole party of equally interesting characters. There's a genuinely fresh feeling here following a crew of worn-down 40 year olds try to navigate through an adventure. The story can get a little far-fetched at times, but there were also some really tender moments and scenes that made me gasp out loud.
Although I think there's some tweaks that need to be made to the combat system to really make it shine, what's here already is a massive accomplishment from the Yakuza team and some of the most fun turn-based combat I've experienced. It's simple stuff, but it's engaging throughout the whole adventure and feels like it could be opened up even more in another game.
Oh, and that soundtrack? One of my favourites of the year, no doubt. If this is the direction we can expect from Yakuza in the future then count me in.
Much like many other people who booted Hades up for the first time this year, I wasn't really sure what to expect. The awesome trailers and critical response were encouraging, but I didn't know what I'd make of it myself.
There's no one elements of Hades that doesn't succeed in one way or another. It's beautifully presented, has incredibly engaging writing and characters, and some awesome rogue-lite gameplay systems. For my money, it's the way that the game mixes its story-telling with the rogue-lite genre and makes you want to die over and over again in order to get every last piece of story content and spend as much time with these characters as much as possible.
Everyone was right to go on about how great Hades is. It's truly one of the most heart-felt, rewarding, replayable games of 2020 and one that I'm hoping to see continue on into next year. Give me a port to some other consoles and my god my playtime is going to go up to a hundred.
1) The Last of Us Part II
Not only is The Last of Us Part II my personal game of the year, it's also got a permanent position as one of my all-time favourite games.
This isn't a perfect game, but the impact that the story and the characters have on you is something that I've genuinely never seen before. The cycle of violence theme might not be brand new, but the level to which it goes and how it maturely deal with those themes is fantastic. There were so many mometns where I felt exactly how Naughty Dog wanted me to feel, and I genuinely didn't want to continue the story in order to allow the awful things to happen. That's a powerful thing to do in a game, to make the player truly uncomfortable with events that they can't shape.
Many people brush over the gameplay of The Last of Us in order to discuss the story, but I'd argue that this is a fantastic evolution of what the original game did, and it feels truly satisfying to play. Calling it fun almost seems like a cry for help of sorts, but it's brutal and engaging for almost the whole lengthy adventure.
When you play a game that's always going to be special to you, there's just a completely different feeling to playing other games, and that rare emotion is exactly what I felt when I rolled credits on The Last of Us Part II. I'm still thinking about it six months later.