20 From 2020
It’s crazy to think, but we’ve made it halfway through the year. To be sure, 2020 has been a strange time to be alive, and it hasn’t always been the best–so it’s no surprise that everything feels like it’s moving so quickly. Regardless, some fantastic games have been released in the past six months. Many of this year’s most excellent games have been integral in making living through these times more bearable, while others have helped us find peace. Games like Final Fantasy 7 Remake, The Last of Us Part 2, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons–to name a few–have captured our imaginations and served us in ways we all least expected. But more importantly, their exceptional quality as interactive experiences should not go unrecognized.
Below is a list of games released in the first seven months of 2020 that the GameSpot staff personally find exemplary enough to be considered some of our favorites so far. If anything, what we’ve highlighted here could easily be in the running for our annual Game of the Year Awards. If you’d like to see all the games in this feature in motion, check out the video version above.
Which games do you adore from the first six months of 2020? Let us know in the comments below.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)
I’ve played Animal Crossing: New Horizons every single day without fail since I first received my review copy on February 28. It’s my most-played Nintendo Switch game by a long shot–515 hours as of this writing, over 200 hours more than my second-most-played game. While New Horizons may have reached its mainstream peak already, I’m still completely obsessed, and I can reasonably see myself playing for another six months at least.
For me, New Horizons’ staying power comes from the features that are new to the series–and how well those features blend with Animal Crossing’s foundational gameplay. In the short-term, you have all the trappings of Animal Crossing life to enjoy: catching seasonal critters, talking to visitors and neighbors, doing daily tasks, buying and selling items, and so on. The new additions, including terraforming and the ability to decorate outdoors, provide more long-term goals than any previous Animal Crossing game, and I’ve been spending a lot of time on these week- and month-long projects. I slowly transform my island day by day, moving one rock or building at a time, as I take care of the little tasks that present themselves to me along the way, and the mix of both short- and long-term goals makes each day feel more valuable and therefore more rewarding.
There’s also the promise of future updates to look forward to, all of which have been free so far. While some fans have complained about “missing” features being added in through updates, I’ve found that it has helped keep the game from being completely overwhelming. I’m glad I didn’t have to worry too much about sea creatures while trying to understand terraforming in the beginning, for example, and having brand-new content to look forward to over time fits Animal Crossing’s real-time pace. Plus, I love surprises! I’m excited to continue discovering more about New Horizons as time goes on.
And yes, New Horizons was a bit of a cultural phenomenon for a few months after it came out. Outside factors, most notably the COVID-19 pandemic, bolstered the game’s popularity out the gate. But it’s an excellent game on its own merits, and I’ll be glad to keep playing it even when the darker times are past us. | Kallie Plagge, Reviews Editor
Call of Duty: Warzone (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Call of Duty: Warzone, the free-to-play battle royale game, has elevated the already gigantic series to a new stratosphere of success. Millions play the game, and it’s one of my favorite games so far this year. The Gulag mechanic, where you can respawn after winning a 1v1 fight in a Russian jail, is a great idea, and it’s well-executed, but that’s not my favorite thing about Warzone.
Call of Duty is known for having some of the best, most solid gunplay across the entire spectrum of FPS games, and this is what makes Warzone so fantastic. It just feels so good. Call of Duty had historically been known for its smaller scale multiplayer, leaving the large-scale warfare to franchises like Battlefield. I will admit I was skeptical about Warzone and the idea of how Call of Duty’s formula would apply on a different, much larger scale. But it not only works, but it excels.
The size and scale of the map, Verdansk, is jaw-dropping. There is so much variety and so many different paths to take to find success as a solo player or in a Squad. Warzone delivers white-knuckle, Hollywood-style setpiece action every match. Jumping out of a helicopter onto the top of a building and mowing down enemies who never saw you coming as your helicopter crashes to the ground and explodes feels like it’s ripped out of an Expendables movie.
It’s fantastic, and this “anecdote factory” element of Warzone keeps me coming back. Overall, Warzone is just an excellent and fun battle royale experience that feels polished, deep, and enjoyable. | Eddie Makuch, Editor
Doom Eternal (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Doom Eternal is precisely the game I wanted it to be. I’ve written before about how 2016’s Doom was at its best when played on harder difficulty settings, where you’re unable to play it like a traditional shooter–the intensity of the enemies forces you to stay on the move constantly. The same can be said for Eternal, which doubles down on that style by giving you a variety of mobility options that make each level into a seamless jungle gym for you to traverse while demonic foes nip at your heels.
Beyond that, Eternal also gives you new considerations to account for in combat, ensuring it has a depth beyond inflicting brutal carnage on whatever happens to be in front of your crosshairs at any given moment. Enemies have weaknesses to certain types of attacks, and you’ll regain health, armor, or ammo, depending on how you approach an encounter. These are essential elements for surviving combat, helping to keep you fully occupied in any given fight.
New mini-bosses scattered throughout the campaign proved to be divisive among players, but I’m of the mind that the Marauders are great additions. Killing them does involve a particular approach, but the process still feels natural within the flow of combat and provides a distinct feeling to the areas where you encounter them.
There’s also a new asymmetrical multiplayer mode–forgoing the vanilla deathmatch-style multiplayer of its predecessor–but it’s on the strength of the campaign alone that Eternal is among the best games of the year, and one of the best shooters in recent memory. | Chris Pereira, Engagement Editor
You might ask yourself: “What is Dreams? Is it a game where you make games, is it a game where you play games, or is it a game where you make music?” Well, it’s all of those things and more, and despite juggling those different elements, it manages to do them all exceptionally well–and dare I say, let you live out your wildest Dreams.
The thing about Dreams that makes it unique in my eyes is that it continues to grow, and there’s always something new to experience. When you first start the game, you should play its single-player portion titled Art’s Dream–a two-hour adventure that tells a surprisingly heartfelt character-driven tale that utilizes everything Dreams has to offer. It’s remarkable what they were able to do with the creation tools provided, and the game even starts by challenging you to make something greater.
But what I love most about Dreams is playing the thousands of user-made games created by people worldwide. A personal favorite of mine is the Pig Detective series, with the 2nd game having tons of different gameplay mechanics and a runtime of around 90 minutes. The team is even working on a 3rd entry that’s releasing soon. Honestly, it’s surreal to experience games developed in this capacity; something about discovering a meme-filled sh*tpost, but then stumbling upon a masterful narrative experience is thrilling because you never really know what you’re getting into. I’m always in awe because all of it was created within Dreams.
If you’re more into the creation aspect of Dreams, the tools can seem overwhelming at first, but there’s a slew of tutorials to help you get your bearings that are easy to use. There’s not a lot you can’t create in the game, and that’s what makes it so exciting to play–even if it can be a little daunting. You don’t need to make a game either; you can easily create a movie with tons of cinematic flair, or even just standalone assets that others can use in their creations.
Ever think about that perfect game no one has ever made, or just have some wacky, off-the-wall idea you’d love to see realized? Then Dreams can be a place for you to start. | Evan Langer, Video Producer
Evan’s Remains (Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC)
Designed and developed solely by Argentina developer Matías Schmied, Evan’s Remains is one of my favorite games of 2020. It’s hard to talk about what makes it so amazing without spoiling the game’s best parts, so I’m just going to urge you to play it. And for your time, you’ll experience a platformer that ties the mechanics of its puzzles to the themes of its story in a way that’s honestly really cool.
Evan’s Remains sees you play as Dysis, a woman assigned by a shadowy employer to visit a strange island full of ruins from some ancient civilization to find the titular Evan. What begins as a simple treasure hunt quickly morphs into conspiracy before finally twisting into horrifying revelation at the story’s conclusion. It’s a surprisingly emotional ride, but one that I’m happier for taking–it’s been weeks since I’ve finished the game. I still sometimes lay awake at night trying to wrap my head around how it compels you to subconsciously want to partake in something that on paper is horrible but, in practice, feels like the right thing to do.
Granted, Evan’s Remains ticks a lot of boxes for me. I’m the resident weirdo at GameSpot who’s low-key obsessed with games that look into death and grief and coping with mortality, and despite its brightly-colored South American-looking setting, and cute Japanese-inspired character sprites, Evan’s Remains fits that bill. If you like puzzle platformers and visual novels and want something that combines the two, I urge you to look into Evan’s Remains. | Jordan Ramée, Associate Editor
Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)
Final Fantasy VII stands as one of the few games regularly regarded as one of the greatest of all time. For many, it was their introduction to video games, and for others, it introduced them to JRPGs, popularizing the genre in the West. It helped the Playstation 1 win its generation of the console wars (in terms of sales), ousting both the already well-established Nintendo and Sega. And as it’s been over 20 years since the game’s 1997 release, fans have been clamoring for a graphical update.
I remember when FFVII Remake was first announced, and everyone was voicing their strong concerns: “They’re changing the writing?! You can’t touch that!” “It’s not going to be turn-based combat? But that’s what I love about the game!” Honestly, I was cautiously optimistic. As much as I enjoy turn-based combat, I did enjoy FFXV’s action-oriented combat. And at the time, I’d been replaying FFVII, and I admit I felt the writing was dated and needed a tune-up.
So when I first started to make my way into Mako Reactor 1 in FFVII Remake early this year, looking around at the breathtaking new visuals, I realized one thing: I wasn’t sure how I felt about the combat, and I didn’t know if I’d pick up on it. Flash-forward to the end of the game, and here I was: a master of combat, bouncing back and forth between the playable characters and genuinely looking forward to battles. I hadn’t expected to love playing FFVII Remake this much.
The FFVII Remake took the original game and improved upon it in almost every single way. The writing is more grounded, and the side characters and individual slums of Midgar are further fleshed out. The visuals are stunning–not to mention the redone soundtrack was a joy to hear as my eyes feasted on the new detail of every familiar locale from the original. I could not put the game down once I started and I cannot recommend it more. Taking a classic and improving it is no small feat, and yet, here we are with one of 2020’s best games so far. | Dave Klein, Video Producer
Half-Life: Alyx (PC VR Headsets)
I really wish virtual reality was accessible to more people, because folks, I’m here to tell you that Half-Life: Alyx is very good.
I mean, of course it is. It’s a Half-Life game, and Alyx has all the delectable ingredients from those timeless classics: The fantastic atmosphere that emanates from its environments; the tense gun brawls designed to almost always resolve with you on the brink of death; the understated character moments that make its wacky sci-fi narrative feel grounded.
“But there’s no crowbar! No gravity gun!” I hear some of you chuff. “How can this VR sideshow call itself Half-Life!?” My friends, my cynical friends. Those were the crowning tools of the old games. Half-Life, as always, is trying to do new things.
Look around you right now. Find a small object in the distance, and point to it. Yank your wrist back, as if there was a string connecting your finger and the object, and imagine it flying directly towards you. Open up your hand and pretend to catch it. That’s what it’s like to use Half-Life: Alyx’s new signature device, the Gravity Gloves (also affectionately known as “The Russells”).
Now imagine you’re pulling shotgun shells from the floor, slamming them into your gun as soon as they land in your hand with a thud. You’re plucking an airborne grenade from the air and then throwing it back. You’re maneuvering your arm through a crack in the wall and trying to jostle a medical injector, just out of reach, into your hands. It’s an incredibly unique and satisfying series of actions that only has the impact it does because of motion-based hand controllers and the all-encompassing experience of VR. And it never gets old.
Half-Life: Alyx is built around these wonderful “only-in-VR” moments. Physically using your hands to rummage through boxes and lockers for supplies. Cowering behind a pillar with enemies closing in, frantically trying to fumble another magazine into your pistol. Desperately trying not to make a sound in a life-or-death situation and catching a falling glass bottle in the nick of time.
Gravity Gloves aside, these ideas aren’t brand-new if you’ve been keeping up with the VR space. But Half-Life: Alyx is the most well-put-together version of these ideas by far, a package of some of the coolest stuff VR has to offer, wrapped up in Valve’s penchant for excellent storytelling and exquisite attention to detail. At the very least, it’s a major landmark for VR games, and like any good landmark, you need to stop and check it out the next time you have the chance to take a VR headset for a drive.
Also, it’s the second game Valve launched this year? What a wild time we live in. | Edmond Tran, Senior Editor
If Found… (PC, iOS Devices)
Without a doubt, If Found is mechanically the least complicated game I’ve played this year, but I think that’s why it works so well. It tackles the nuanced complexity of being a marginalized person with something simple. In the process, it curates a deeper understanding of its story that a more intricate game may have muddled.
For almost the entirety of If Found, all you can do is erase the words and pictures that the protagonist Kasio has written in her journal. You specifically look over a month-long list of journal entries that detail Kasio’s return to her small Irish island hometown in late 1993. Facing the struggles of being both a transgender woman and a directionless university graduate, Kasio grapples with a family that doesn’t accept her, falls both in and out of love, and yearns for a place to belong. And you explore her memories by slowly erasing them all one by one.
The continued use of an eraser as the sole mechanic for reading a visual novel takes on greater meaning the further into the game you go, especially when you begin drawing a parallel between what you’re doing and If Found’s side story–which sees an astronaut struggling to save her world from being swallowed by a black hole. Portions of If Found caused me to cry or feel deeply uncomfortable, but just as many moments made me laugh or evoke feelings of hope. I ultimately came away from the game with a bittersweet appreciation for the overall experience. | Jordan Ramée, Associate Editor
The Last Of Us: Part II (PS4)
I sometimes close my eyes when I play The Last Of Us Part 2. It’s a testing combination–racing through its brutal action while holding my breath at every twist and turn of the story. Meanwhile, the most affecting moments are slowed down to a grinding halt, forcing me to commit to memory what I see on the screen, andit can be too much at times.
On the other hand, there are moments where I feel a lump in my throat, and my eyes begin to water as I watch every character struggle, grieve, and push forward as shocking details are unveiled, and the weight on their shoulders grow heavier. It’s a hair-raising tightrope walk that developer Naughty Dog has created, where you feel every facet of the grim reality it presents.
The rich cast of characters always had me wanting to listen to their backstories. Their different perspectives and priorities push their conflict to compelling heights as much as it challenges them to find common ground. The game consistently shines when it recognizes its characters’ agency, humanizing them to the point where every decision (or consequence) will affect you as much as it will them. The Last of Us Part 2’s story is tremendous to me, and I can’t help but admire its ambition.
Actually playing The Last of Us Part 2 is another part I enjoyed. The intensity of the combat and the seemingly endless possibilities of combining your various weapons and tools is so seamless and smooth that I would continuously reload encounters so that I could experience them again. All the while, exploring the game’s dense and detailed post-apocalyptic world always felt rewarding as I searched every nook and cranny for notes and letters to better understand those who once inhabited it.
There’s so much to say that can’t be said out of respect for players interested in the game who have managed to avoid spoilers. Just know that for every dark pit the game asks you to traverse, the pockmarks of light that slip through the cracks will stay with you for hours on end. It has been a very long time since I have felt this moved by a story-driven game, and if there’s one good thing about 2020, it’s that I had the pleasure of experiencing that feeling once more. | David Ahmadi, Video Producer
Ori and the Will of the Wisps (PC, Xbox One)
Ori and the Blind Forest was a delightful surprise in 2015. The combination of metroidvania exploration and sweaty-palmed action-platforming all wrapped up in a heartfelt story hit a sweet spot for me as few games do. I had been excited about the sequel, but also apprehensive. Can lightning strike twice?
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a little less novel, but it is a bolder and better experience in every other way. While combat in the first game had been a serviceable break from the stellar platforming, Wisps blends the two seamlessly together to make Ori a graceful, acrobatic warrior. The environments are beautifully rendered and varied; each of them pocketed with hidden pathways and secrets. A series of larger-than-life boss battles took advantage of the new combat mechanics, gave it a greater sense of scale, and escape sequences brought back the first game’s breathless action.
The story in Will of the Wisps is a little more melancholy than Blind Forest. The original was a simple fable with a potent message about loss and how family can connect people who might otherwise be enemies. There is no similarly optimistic silver lining to the antagonist in Will of the Wisps. The message instead is that sometimes hurt has cut too deep, and some people are too far gone to come back. I’m still grappling with how I feel about this, but I admire the boldness. | Steve Watts, Associate Editor
Persona 5 Royal (PS4)
I try not to think about Persona 5 Royal too much; if I do, I get a little too emotional, which derails anything I was doing at the moment. Now, maybe it’s not fair to declare a “director’s cut” of a 2017 game as the 2020 GOTY, but I make my own rules, and to me, P5R isn’t just a personal game of the year, it’s my favorite game of all time.
My love for P5R continues to grow even after putting my all into the review earlier this year because the more I reflect on its themes in the context of our changing world, the more it fires me up to be better and take action. I grew attached to my in-game anime friends as their arcs tell very human stories about being haunted by their pasts and dreading their futures, but coming out stronger than before through the power of friendship. And the fact that they put their foot down against many injustices we see in our world makes P5R hit harder with many moments of asking myself if I’m doing enough in real life.
P5R, in particular, introduces two new characters: Kasumi Yoshizawa and Takuto Maruki. And they’re not here to be simple additions to the roster. Their story arcs are cleverly inserted across the core narrative and reach a tremendous, awe-inspiring conclusion when you play through the brand-new content that brilliantly caps off the game’s 120-hour journey. I was just happy to have an excuse to replay Persona 5, but having so many more powerful, surprising moments in Royal on top of what I already loved seals the deal for me.
Persona 5 is famous for its lavish, badass art style and attitude, and it never loses its luster, even through its lengthy runtime. What was already an iconic soundtrack is enriched with Royal-exclusive songs that fit right into each moment, further emphasizing music as a mechanism for communicating the emotions felt throughout the game. And all the great gameplay systems that expertly weaved RPG combat, exploration, and social simulation are enhanced with smart features and tweaks.
I believe that very few games can draw you into its world, characters, and struggles the way P5R does. So, when the last in-game day came around, and I had credits roll, it was genuinely hard to say goodbye. P5R is at the top of its class. | Michael Higham, Associate Editor
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX (Switch)
It’s shaping up to be a great year for Pokemon spin-offs. Not only did Nintendo announce a long-anticipated Pokemon Snap sequel “coming soon” to Switch, but we also got a remake of the original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games in March, and it did not disappoint. Developed by Spike Chunsoft, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a remake of two games that were virtually the same–Red Rescue Team on Game Boy Advance and Blue Rescue Team on Nintendo DS–reimagined with a charming, painterly art style.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX follows the same story beats as the original titles: You’re a human who, one day, wakes up to find themselves transformed into a Pokemon. One of 16 Pokemon is possible, and your species is determined by a personality quiz taken at the beginning of the game. You soon encounter another Pokemon (who will be one of the 16 Pokemon you didn’t choose), and together you form a rescue team, taking on missions to help lost Pokemon, retrieve lost items, or escort clients to safety, recruiting more members for your team as you go. Inside the dungeon, you’ll engage in turn-based battles that take place directly on the dungeon map, and you’ll also have to keep track of your team’s hunger, eating food as needed, so no one passes out. There’s also an intriguing storyline surrounding natural disasters plaguing the Pokemon that takes some pretty unexpected twists and turns (if you didn’t play the originals).
Rescue Team DX adds new features and quality-of improvements while also retaining the best parts of the originals, including the way Pokemon are personified as three-dimensional characters with distinct, memorable personalities and emotions, and the compelling relationship you form with your partner. The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series isn’t for everyone. Still, if you played the older games or are intrigued by the idea of a Pokemon roguelike, Rescue Team DX is worth playing, showcasing the series at its best. | Jenae Sitzes, Commerce Editor
Resident Evil 3 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
When Resident Evil 3 first released, I found the varying opinions around its merits intriguing. My colleague Alessandro Fillari concluded in his review of the game: “While it has a strong start and gives its principal villain some great moments, this truncated retelling of the concluding game from the original Resident Evil trilogy doesn’t do it proper justice.” After giving it some thought, I wholeheartedly agree that RE3 doesn’t quite stick the landing in all its parts. But for a while, I couldn’t help but constantly replay it, even despite the harsh flaws of its pacing and length. With nearly four runs through the game’s subsequent difficulties, I feel I can confidently say that I genuinely adore RE3.
It’s easy to see that most of RE3’s successes stem from its predecessor, at least from a mechanical standpoint. Even its most prominent feature, the hulking behemoth known as Nemesis, is a semi-expanded rehash of RE2 remake’s reimagining of the Mr. X encounter. But there’s something so fulfilling about meticulously navigating and overcoming the increased undead threats in RE3. The larger focus on action conditioned a heightened sense of awareness that only got more thrilling on harder difficulties. And with the added step-dodge giving a greater sense of control when fighting monstrosities like Nemesis and those dreadful Hunter Betas, RE3 feels so good to play.
I admit that another part that kept bringing me back was the excellent character work done with fan-favorite RE protagonist, Jill Valentine. Her stronger will, endurance, and wit in the face of harrowing dangers made her more likable than ever before; it’s easily the best rendition of the character in the series thus far. She’s equally matched by a more endearing Carlos and a surprisingly eccentric, yet treacherous new take on the game’s other big baddie, Nikolai. Simple as it is, RE3’s character writing is perhaps its most standout quality.
It may not come close to its predecessor’s pulse-pounding frights, but RE3 is still a satisfying survivor-horror experience in its own right. Once you balance your expectations around its shortcomings, you have a game that serviceably bridges the gap between the franchise’s zombie apocalypse survivalist roots and action leanings of its later sequels. Give it a chance, and you’ll soon find it as fulfilling as the series’ best. | Matt Espineli, Editor
Shantae And The Seven Sirens (Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC, iOS Devices)
I’m a big fan of the Shantae franchise and Shantae and the Seven Sirens is one of my favorite entries to date. The fifth game in the franchise returns to the more metroidvania-inspired world design of the first two games, which I’ve always considered to be a better fit for the half-genie hero than the separate levels you travel between from a hub area as seen in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.
Metroidvania games are one of my favorite genres, and I especially love when a metroidvania implements a feature or mechanic that transforms the traditional formula of the genre in an interesting way. The original Shantae did this by injecting The Legend of Zelda-like dungeons into its interconnected world, a formula that sees a return in Seven Sirens.
In this way, Seven Sirens provides the open-ended challenges of a traditional metroidvania where you have to use context clues to solve riddles and think about how you can use certain abilities to further explore. At the same time, it offers confined stages where developer WayForward can design combat encounters and puzzles that escalate in difficulty–as it knows players will find the necessary tools for completing said challenges within those areas.
The Shantae games are also just full of charming characters and catchy music, a trend which continues in Seven Sirens. Shantae herself can’t stop dancing throughout Seven Sirens, and her bubbly personality comes to life in the game’s fully-animated cutscenes, including an opening created by Studio Trigger that I absolutely will never stop singing or dancing to despite my roommate’s annoyance and protests. 2020 has been an emotionally exhausting year–I’m thankful for Shantae and the Seven Sirens, as its joyful tongue-in-cheek humor went a long way towards elevating my wellbeing this summer. | Jordan Ramée, Associate Editor
Streets of Rage 4 (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
I’ve been a longtime fan of the beat-em-up genre, and the one series that has stuck with me more than most other brawlers is the Streets of Rage series. I have fond memories of the second game, Streets of Rage 2 on the Sega Genesis, especially with such a fantastic synth-heavy soundtrack from Yuzo Koshiro that helps to set the scene for the many brutal and exuberant back alley brawls that the game had to offer. The last game we got from the series was Streets of Rage 3, released in 1994, and the iconic brawler quickly fell into obscurity, becoming one of those franchises that fans hoped would make a comeback. When Streets of Rage 4 was announced in 2018, I was immediately excited to get my hands on one of the most overdue game sequels. While there have been other beat-em-ups in recent years that have managed to scratch that itch, Streets of Rage 4 became one of the most refined and satisfying brawlers in years and reminded me of what made the original games so special.
Set many years after the original, SOR4 brings back many returning favorites as they team up with a new generation of fighters. Like in the previous games, you’ll fight your way through the city, facing off against returning ruffians like Galsia and Y. Signal, along with more cunning adversaries who work for the Y Syndicate. The latest game is filled with many callbacks to the original series, but at the same time, it tells its own story that builds upon the events from the previous games. Returning characters such as Adam and Blaze utilize an updated moveset from the earlier games, and they’re so fun to play as in a hectic fight against the familiar foes. However, the new cast of characters, the guitar-wielding Cherry and the cyborg Floyd, have some new tricks that are a blast to use in a fight. Fighting through the many stages of SOR4 brings back those familiar feelings for the nearly 30-year-old series. Yet, the latest game manages to inject some new twists into the mix, offering up an incredibly fresh, vibrant style and a pulse-pounding pace that keeps its poise throughout the game.
While the original games were made in-house at Sega, SOR4 comes from two Western developers, Guard Crush Games, and LizardCube, the same teams behind Streets of Fury EX and the remaster for Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap respectively. Both developers have made a name for themselves for their unique style and focus on action, and seeing them blend their unique talents to revive the SOR series was an incredible sight. Although I’ve finished SOR4 multiple times, I still have that itch to go back for another run. Streets of Rage 4 may have its sights set on the past, offering up a retro jaunt through one of gaming’s most classic action genres, but its approach is so fun and exciting to take part in, and I still can’t get enough of how great this follow up to a classic series turned out. | Alessandro Fillari, Editor
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners (PSVR, PC VR Headsets)
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a surprisingly great VR game based on a media franchise that has all but lost the last semblance of its luster. After some unfortunately awful video game adaptations and a TV show that has probably gone on for too long, I didn’t expect anything from Saints & Sinners past a simple VR experience where you got to say hi to some iconic characters and shoot some zombies. But defying all odds, it impressed me from the jump.
After completing the tutorial, I was greeted by a man who said that if I was ready to go, he could take me to the main game. After a few seconds of decision, I shot him in the head. He dropped to the ground and was replaced by a different man, who said the same thing and was treated to the same fate. After a few more replacements, a text box popped up and said, “Tutorial Guy will remember this,” spoofing the Telltale Walking Dead series. This caught me off guard and had me laughing hysterically in a VR headset. It was a clever joke that showed me Skybound Entertainment wasn’t taking itself too seriously.
And while Saints & Sinners isn’t parading you through a post-apocalypse as it peppers you with jokes, this small goof was proof that Skybound understood the inherently silly nature of VR–something that’s too often forgotten in games that try to tackle serious subject matter. Thankfully, Skybound deftly backs it up with satisfying zombie combat in an engaging survival-horror package. Ammo is scarce, so you’ll want to use melee weapons as much as possible. One-handed weapons like daggers and screwdrivers are common, and thankfully, using them against the undead results in some of the most satisfying melee combat in VR. Killing a zombie requires you to forcefully stab them in the head, feeling the power needed to push past their skull and destroy the brain. Retrieving your knife is as simple as grabbing on to their head as leverage and ripping it out of their head. It’s a simple, yet well-executed mechanic, and if Saints & Sinners wasn’t an excellent game throughout, it would be worth playing just for that. | Mat Paget, Tech Commerce Editor
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (Switch)
Ten years on from its original release, Xenoblade Chronicles remains one of the finest RPGs Nintendo has ever published, and this Switch remaster truly is the definitive way to experience it. Despite the original being developed for the Wii (which even at the time was notoriously underpowered), Monolith Soft’s open-world adventure still feels as towering and ambitious as when it first arrived. And now, it’s even more accessible thanks to some smart UI updates and other welcome refinements.
Outside of Future Connected, a brand-new (and fairly lengthy) epilogue chapter that continues Shulk and Melia’s journey one year after the events of the main story, Monolith has left the core game mostly unchanged in its move to Switch, focusing its efforts primarily on visual touchups and other refinements to help make the dense systems easier to parse. The character models, in particular, have benefited handsomely from Switch’s extra horsepower, but the textures around the world have gotten a significant facelift as well and look considerably better than before.
And what a world it is. Xenoblade Chronicles’ story is robust enough, but its setting is its biggest draw. It remains one of the most captivating and imaginative worlds I’ve ever explored in a video game. Although some aspects of the environment show their age, each locale still has the power to stop me in my tracks, and every area feels more stunning than the last, from the rolling hills and archways of Gaur Plains to the phosphorescent glow of Satorl Marsh and floating islands of Eryth Sea.
Complimenting the environments is a deep battle system that continually adds new wrinkles and layers of strategy to master as you work your way through the adventure. Despite being the first game in its series, Xenoblade Chronicles remains perhaps Monolith Soft’s best effort. It’s one that Switch owners shouldn’t miss (particularly if you’re looking for something to tide you over until Breath of the Wild 2 arrives). | Kevin Knezevic, Associate Editor
Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics (Switch)
I wouldn’t be surprised if Clubhouse Games is my most-played game by the time the Nintendo Switch’s lifecycle ends. The Switch–like the Nintendo DS before it where the original game released–is the perfect console for another entry in this series that compiles classic card, board, and parlor games. Whether you’re playing multiplayer in console mode with friends and family or trying to beat the CPU in handheld mode before bed, Clubhouse Games is an absolute delight.
I’ll admit, it feels slightly weird to call Clubhouse Games one of my favorite titles released this year. After all, Clubhouse Games is filled with well-known board and card games like checkers, chess, Texas Hold’em, and blackjack, as well as parlor games such as darts, billiards, and air hockey. There are even rudimentary sports games like Toy Baseball and Toy Tennis. The vast majority of these games won’t feel new to most, but that doesn’t take away from their greatness in this collection.
Clubhouse Games doesn’t take any shortcuts in terms of presenting these timeless classics. Each game opens with a cute little tutorial to (re)introduce you to the rules before sending you on your way. Crisp animations, unique sounds, and colorful visuals give each game a pleasant and differentiated vibe; you can tell that Nintendo cared about adding flair and welcome polish to these ubiquitous games. Clubhouse Games also takes advantage of the numerous Switch control schemes, boasting single Joy-Con multiplayer, touchscreen controls in handheld mode, and even motion controls for games like bowling and darts.
The Switch’s grab-and-play mentality sets up well for Clubhouse Games. I can easily play a game of chess or a few hands of poker whenever I have a few minutes to spare. And if you exit before finishing your current game, it saves your progress for next time. My wife and daughter aren’t really into video games, but Clubhouse Games has proven to be a huge hit, as it essentially digitizes a substantial chunk of games we play at home already.
Since its launch last month, I’ve played Clubhouse Games almost every day, and I anticipate this will continue for months–maybe even years–to come. | Steven Petite, Associate Editor
Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch)
One of the first lines of dialogue you read at the beginning of Paper Mario: The Origami King is Luigi stating, “I’m gonna go park the kart, ok? I don’t wanna tip the valet.” Then later you meet an excited Goomba who’s a big fan and would love to battle you, even if it means they get stomped on. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what the latest Paper Mario has to offer in its humor, and I found myself genuinely laughing aloud at most of these moments. I’ve not experienced this sort of writing from a Nintendo game before, so to see the company embrace such wacky comedy this hard is something I never knew I wanted until playing Paper Mario: The Origami King–my first ever Paper Mario game.
While the characters and their humor take the spotlight in my eyes, the unique battle system also shines just as bright. The main idea is to line up enemies on a rotating board, and if you line them up right, you get an attack boost and can potentially wipe them out in a single turn. It’s extremely satisfying to pull off, especially since there are some really tricky ones that often had me scratching my head.
Oh, and the music? The music is my second favorite part of the game next to the humor. It gets me excited every time I enter a new battle. As I played, I often found myself running into Goombas just to listen to the songs more. I don’t even think describing it here does it any justice, so here’s 30 minutes of the first battle theme (also the song I used as background music in the first half of the video review).
As mentioned, I’ve never played a previous Paper Mario. After doing some research, I can understand the criticism of how this game compares and holds up to the legacy of its predecessors. But that doesn’t change a thing for me: I absolutely adored almost everything about Paper Mario: The Origami King and believe it’s well worth a spot on your Nintendo Switch! | Evan Langer, Video Producer
Ghost of Tsushima (PlayStation 4)
2020 has certainly been a year so far, and sometimes you just want to check out of real life for a bit and just lose yourself in a far prettier and less complicated world. Ghost of Tsushima is perfect for that.
As a love letter to the depiction of feudal Japan seen through films and comics, Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world action game that features a huge, beautiful, and grandiose island full of colour, life, and a picturesque scene to be found every few seconds. Its biggest gift is an in-world navigational system called Guiding Wind, which allows you to devote your full attention to the environment around you–no mini-map to distract your eyes.
Combat is also a treat. Ghost of Tsushima has a great interpretation of the stylised samurai combat seen in popular media, conveying the tension and deadliness of close-quarter combat without being overly-strenuous. And though the camera isn’t always your friend, some fun proto-ninja tools come into great effect to help even the odds later on and also allow for some breezy creative stealth approaches too.
The game does fall back on a well-worn open-world formula lot of the time–its large slate of quests often feels dull with straightforward objectives, perfunctory stories, and a degree of lifelessness to the characters which can make them draining if you do too many back-to-back. But a well-worn formula comes with comforts, too–there are dozens upon dozens of small side activities for you to do, and letting your own curiosity and the environmental navigation distract you towards them is the best experience Ghost Of Tsushima has to give.
Maybe you’ll be riding through the windy grasslands and be distracted by a songbird, who will lead you to a breath-taking mountain climb. Or maybe you’ll stumble upon an occupied village, and upon liberating it someone will direct you to the nearest hot springs or a haiku spot, which will let you pause and relax for a minute. The game might not have some of the great innovations of more modern open-world games, but there’s something very pleasant and comfortable about checking off all these little tasks, getting small rewards for them, and receiving those nice endorphin hits that make you just want to keep doing more.
And it’s going to be an incredibly pretty journey no matter where you go, and that’s why Ghost of Tsushima stands out. It’s a wonderful feeling to hop on your horse and let the world wash over you with its beauty, as the wind from your PS4 Pro’s exhaust fans blows through your hair. | Edmond Tran, Senior Editor
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