This article is available in both written and video format. The video shows the games in action in full 4K and 60 frames per second while I read the article as a voiceover, so if you watch the video you won’t need to read the written article that follows since it’s the same ‘script’.
Look, let’s not go there. Every single article these days starts with a reference to the pandemic so let’s just focus on the fact that 2020 has been a pretty bloody interesting year for video games. After all, with two new consoles launched, the continued growth of Xbox Game Pass and whatever the hell Cyberpunk was, it’s fair to say there’s been a lot going on.
Despite the small matter of writing my Mega Drive Encyclopedia this year, I did manage to dabble with more than my fair share of new releases, partly thanks to my continued freelance review work. With that in mind, here’s yer man Scullion’s 10 favourite games of 2020.
As with last year’s list, there are a few caveats to bear in mind before we get started:
• it’s in alphabetical order, not best-to-worst. I can’t be arsed deciding whether a game was my 6th or 7th favourite of the year. They’re all great: get them all.
• before you even think about writing a comment saying this, I didn’t “forget” anything. I haven’t played every game released this year, and this is my personal list. So no, I didn’t forget Miles Morales or The Last of Us Part II. I just haven’t played them yet, and I’m not going to add games I didn’t play in case I end up not liking them.
That said, let’s get cracking!
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
It’s almost a lazy cliche to say it now because every review at the time made the same statement, but the new Switch version of Animal Crossing really was the ideal game for everything 2020 brought.
When the game was released most of the country was on lockdown (sorry, I couldn’t resist mentioning it after all), and New Horizons provided the perfect escapism for those struggling to deal with an existence that rarely allowed them to venture outside their own four walls.
Put that narrative to the side, though, and it’s still a fantastic entry in the Animal Crossing series regardless of the real life circumstances surrounding it. Had there not been a pandemic it would still be in this Top 10 list, as well as that of many others, and while the fact that it was released during a global crisis became its main talking point, it was still a much-needed refresh of a series that had felt pretty similar on GameCube, DS, Wii and 3DS.
Perhaps the most exciting thing is that the game has already been given multiple decent-sized updates since launch, and with new features being added on a regular basis there’s every chance that in a few years’ time it could have transformed into something even more impressive.
A lot of people refer to Astro’s Playroom as a tech demo, and by definition I suppose it is, in that it shows off the new features of the console and its DualSense controller. Given that previous tech demos included the PS1’s impressive but limited dinosaur animation, however, to simply tar this with the same brush undermines what it actually offers.
A more accurate description would be a bite-sized platform game, because other than its brevity Astro’s Playroom is just as fully accomplished and well-rounded as any other platformer I’ve played in the past few years, and outdoes them in plenty of ways too.
As a sequel of sorts to the PlayStation VR game Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Astro’s Playroom is a short but delightful adventure that delves into the PlayStation’s history with plenty of clever nods and references that long time fans will love
By looking back at the company’s past achievements the game got me more excited for the PlayStation 5 than anything Sony’s own marketing managed to accomplish this year, and it’s a testament to the game’s quality that of all the PS5 games I’ve already played (which to be fair isn’t many yet), the one that came built in is the one I’ve had the most fun with so far. Oh, and without spoiling anything, that final boss is an absolute masterpiece in fan service.
I’ve dabbled with the Dirt series over the years, but I’ve never really found myself fully. committed to seeing one through to the end in the past.
For whatever reason, though – I don’t know if it’s because it does anything particularly unique or whether its launch game status fills the Ridge Racer-shaped hole in my heart – Dirt 5 is the first in the series to really hook its claws into me.
This is probably the next-gen game I’ve played more than any other so far and it still isn’t getting boring. It continues to be a delight, thanks to a combination of its great arcade-style handling, its over-the-top weather effects and the option to run it at a silky smooth 120fps.
More importantly, though, I just love it because of the general sense of fun it evokes. This is a racer that certainly doesn’t take itself seriously, and it’s all the better for it.
Mr Driller: Drill Land
I’d actually played Mr Driller: Drill Land before, when I imported the Japanese GameCube version way back in the early 2000s. Back then, it had an extra security check which meant you couldn’t save your game unless you were playing on a legit Japanese console.
This HD Switch remaster, though, marked the game’s first official English language translation, allowing western fans of the Mr Driller series to play the GameCube edition on their home turf for the first time. It might just be my favourite game in the series too, offering a bunch of distinct variations on the classic Mr Driller formula and wrapping them all around a fun plot about a sinister underground theme park.
Although Mr Driller began life as an arcade game and has seen a bunch of console ports and sequels, fans generally agree that its most natural home is on handhelds given the brief nature of each playthrough and its brilliant pick-up-and-play nature. While it’s been brilliant on the likes of the DS, though, there was always the slight disappointment that it just didn’t look as good as the console versions (especially the Xbox 360 one from 2008).
This Switch port of Drill Land is the perfect compromise, then, because its HD revamp makes it the best-looking version of the game ever released, while also offering that portability that makes the game so compelling. If you’ve never played Mr Driller before (or even if you have), this is the definitive edition.
No Straight Roads
Sometimes a game can be so full of charm that it’s easy to forgive its shortcomings. That’s definitely the case with No Straight Roads, which has more than its fair share of glitches and bugs but still manages to be a thoroughly entertaining game despite this.
If you’re unaware of it, it’s a third-person action game where you play as Bunk Bed Junction, a two-piece rock band who are trying to save their hometown of Vinyl City from being taken over by an evil EDM empire by gatecrashing a number of concerts and fighting the boss artists involved.
The soundtrack is phenomenal, the sense of humor throughout is endearing and it has some of the most inventive boss fights I’ve seen in a while, one of which had me chuckling away and another almost bringing me to tears.
If you haven’t played this one and you enjoy quirky unusual adventures that take some risks and try to do something different, you should definitely give this one a go. It’s fairly short – it’ll take you 5-6 hours to beat it – but it’s a hell of a fun ride while it lasts.
Part Time UFO
Part Time UFO was originally a mobile game released by HAL Laboratory in 2017. This new Switch version builds on the mobile original by adding a bunch of new stages, new outfits and extra modes on top of what was previously available.
It’s the ultimate example of ‘one more go’ gameplay, where the aim is to pilot a small UFO called Jobski around a series of stages where the aim is simply to use his crane to pick up various objects and place them in certain locations.
Although the simple one-button controls make the game extremely easy to get to grips with (ahem), the tasks you’re expected to perform become extremely difficult, but never in such a way that it becomes frustrating to play. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also one of the most charming games you’ll play on the Switch: it feels like a given that it was developed by HAL, because it feels like a Kirby game even though Kirby’s not in it (save for a tiny cameo role).
Add in the new two-player co-op mode, which I reckon is even better than Snipperclips, and you’ve got a hugely entertaining game that everyone should really pick up. If you see what I did there.
Streets of Rage 4
Streets of Rage 2 on the Mega Drive is one of my top five games of all time so I was extremely concerned when it was announced that the series would be returning. After all, you don’t mess with a legendary series unless you’re going to do it justice.
Turns out I needn’t have worried, because Streets of Rage 4 is a phenomenal beat ‘em up that takes everything that made the original games so fantastic and adds its own spin on them, resulting in a game that perfectly walks the near-impossible balance between remaining faithful to the source material yet still carving its own identity.
The brand new combat system adds combos and juggling to the mix, which could have been a recipe for disaster but somehow manages to feel right at home, and while the soundtrack could never have hoped to hold a candle to Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets of Rage 1 and 2 scores, the tracks that do work are absolute belters.
Streets of Rage 2 will always remain one of my favourite all-time games, and this new entry could never have replaced it due to the decades of nostalgia I have for it. For those who don’t have that personal attachment to the series, though, I reckon this could be the best beat ‘em up ever.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars
It sort of goes without saying that a compilation featuring three of the greatest Mario games ever should have a place in my top 10 of the year by default. That’s not to say that Super Mario 3D All-Stars was a straight copy and paste job, mind you.
Each of the three games has been given their own little tweaks that, while not entirely revolutionary, at least improve things to an extent Super Mario 64, for example, has a shiny new HD upgrade along with some much-needed upscaling of the UI and other sprite-based elements, as well as rumble support similar to that of the Japanese N64 re-release.
Super Mario Sunshine is also given the HD treatment, and its awkward camera controls have been inverted (though an update was added later that allowed people to undo this if they preferred). Finally, Super Mario Galaxy gets its own HD upscale, but this time to a lovely 1080p as opposed to the 720p of the others.
The only negative here is that it’s only available until March 2021, which is bewildering. This doesn’t take away from the quality of the compilation itself, though.
Super Mario Bros 35
Super Mario 3D All-Stars may be getting delisted at the end of March 2021, but at least those who own it will still be able to play it, and those who don’t will be able to get a pre-owned copy.
As an online-only title, Super Mario Bros 35 will enjoy no such preservation: in just a few months time it’ll be gone forever and that’ll be an absolute scandal, because I can’t remember the last time a game has completely transformed a classic in such an accomplished manner.
Anyone who’s been following my work for a while will know that the original Super Mario Bros is my favourite game ever, and I’ve played it at least once a week since I was five years old. That’s 32 years playing the same game, so the fact that Super Mario 35 manages to breathe new life into it for me is nothing short of staggering.
I never expected a 35-player Super Mario Bros battle royale to work, but when you get matched up against other experts the sheer tension, combined with the screen filling with enemies, is engrossing. I adore this game and I’ll be absolutely gutted when it’s gone.
Tetris Effect: Connected
Truth be told. I’ve had a hell of a year when it comes to revamped versions of some of my favorite series. Not only have Streets of Rage and Super Mario Bros been given a modern twist, Tetris Effect – the incredible modern take on the best puzzle game ever made – also launched on Xbox One and Series X/S with a new online multiplayer mode.
The same single player mode as seen in the PS4 and VR versions remains intact and is as beautiful as ever: play this thing in the dark with headphones and it’s the closest you’ll come to a psychedelic drug-infused experience without actually taking anything.
However, the new multiplayer options that warrant the game’s Connected subtitle are an absolute treat for anyone who plays Tetris to a high level. Whether you’re playing an old-school Score Attack battle or the new Zone Battle with its Matrix-style time-freezing effect, there’s a very real danger you’ll play this for so long your thumbs get numb. I’m speaking from experience here.
After slogging my way through countless terrible attempts to resurrect Tetris over the years, it’s so satisfying to finally play one that lives up to the likes of the Game Boy and DS versions, but also puts its own spin on it with incredible visualisations which feel like a mash-up between Tetris and Lumines. And even better, it’s on Game Pass.
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