Favorite Games I Played in 2020

2020 was a wonderful year for video games. The end of the generation always seems to show off developer’s ability to squeeze every ounce of power out of the older consoles and explore the new potential of the next generation of home console gaming.

It was also a year where folks could sink their teeth into their back catalogs and replay their favorite games. Needing to stay inside more than usual greatly lent itself to playing games. At least, that’s part of how I took advantage of being furloughed earlier this year (outside of writing 18,000 words about Naughty Dog).

So here are my ten favorite games I played in 2020 with a little bit on each one. They are listed in alphabetical order, although I’m sure you can guess what my favorite game was this year.

Astro’s Playroom

From a pack-in demo on the PS4 to a VR Platforming marvel to a full-blown launch game pack in, Astro has had quite the rise during the life of the PS4. Astro’s Playroom is a charming and engaging 3D platformer. It masterfully showcases the DualSense controller and its possibilities while making you all nostalgic for PlayStation consoles of year’s past.

Death Stranding

This is certainly not the game I thought I’d come back to this year. Maybe it was because I had time on my hands. Or the fact my friends gave me an impossibly hard time for selling my Death Stranding PS4 Pro for the The Last of Us Part II variant. Kojima out of the shadow of Metal Gear is a sight to behold.

Donkey Kong Country

DKC never looked so good.

On a slightly more serious note, I never actually played the original SNES version of Donkey Kong Country. I only had the Game Boy Color version as a kid. DKC was one of my earlier pickups when I was given a Super Nintendo. I finally decided to play it when I bought a new wireless SNES controller from 8bitdo. No better way to test input lag than with a wireless controller. There is a clear reason why DKC, both the original game and the series as a whole, has stood the test of time as a pillar of platformers.

Hades

I’ve been aware of Hades since Noclip started their documentary series two years ago. I even tried to buy it on the Epic Games Store for my MacBook Pro, but it isn’t available for macOS. I snagged it late-ish November/early December on the eShop because it was on sale and I had points expiring.

What a rock solid action game. I love the constant tug of decision making to increase your chances of making it further in each run. I could see myself get better with each run.

I do wish the narrative sucked me in more. I “beat” the game twice and felt satisfied. I still have eight more runs to see credits roll apparently. I just don’t feel a pull to keep going though.

Halo 3: ODST

Furlough and quarantine presented the perfect opportunity to replay the Halo series with my pals. And ODST is the best campaign followed closely by Reach. Halo is at its best when the stories feel smaller in the sprawling conflict. The way the narrative is stitched together; chef kiss.

Luigi’s Mansion 3

A Christmas present from last year, my playthrough ran into this year. The game is an absolute delight and a treasure for series fans. The animation and art direction will ensure that Luigi’s Mansion 3 will always look good. Just add another feather in Nintendo’s cap of timeless and charming art direction. The only real issue I had was the terrible final boss design. It was definitely a roadblock and totally crushed my pacing in the narrative.

Night Trap

Night Trap is utterly timeless thanks to its infamy. I had watched a documentary a few years ago and grabbed a copy for Nintendo Switch from Limited Run Games back in 2018. I had never played it and always thought it’d be a fun group game.

This summer I visited my parents and decided that one afternoon would be perfect for it. My wife, my parents, and my friend Logan were all there and we fumbled around the house as vampire ninjas abducted friends left and right.

We were captivated by the cheesiness of it all. After failing on our own a few times, Abby pulled up a guide and was shouting out rooms and timestamps. I bounced the cameras around the home while trying to watch teens dance and vampire ninja’s plot.

We were doing great until a poorly executed command on the final life or death scene; the final boss, if you will. It kicked us back to the half way point. I couldn’t convince the group to sit through another 13ish minutes. What a fun, goofy, unforgettable afternoon.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori is an absolute masterclass in fluidity of movement. I’d be hard presses to think of a game I’ve played in 2020 that had better movement.

The game’s soundtrack gave me Grant Kirkhope and David Wise undertones. The game world gave off both DKC and Hollow Knight vibes. Ori is definitely evocative and engrossing.

While the combat felt great, I wish I was more enticed to swap powers/weapons more. I kept the sword and the health recovery equipped always. I felt like the weapons I found and bought weren’t worth engaging with regularly.

Beyond that, I’d say Ori is an essential metroidvania game for any fan. And it got robbed at The Game Awards 2020.

Super Metroid

A consistent theme I tried to adhere to this past year was playing one game at a time. This also was applied to books and TV shows. I have a bad habit of starting and stopping games.

Early on in the year, Super Metroid was one of my first “I’m gonna finish this” games. I had myself a FAQ from GameFaqs and would play in the morning.It happened to be after buying our new TV. I really started getting my money’s worth out of the Super NT this year.

There’s a reason that “metroidvania” is a term used for exploratory adventure games with upgrades. Super Metroid is part of the reason games like Ori, Hollow Knight, and Guacamelee soar.

The Last of Us Part II

It’s rare for a sequel to not only surpass the original, but to elevate it as well. Despite covering the game so closely, The Last of Us Part II surprised me continually. I played it three times. While this list may be in alphabetical order, this was far and away my favorite game of 2020.

For my spoiler-filled thoughts, check out my review. If you’re interested in the game’s history, check out Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

As a part of research for Chasing the Stick, I replayed all of the Naughty Dog Uncharted games. Not a bad way to research if you ask me. I think this was my fourth time playing the game and it continues to stand tall as my favorite in the series. Some didn’t care for the pivot to a more grounded Drake and adventure. For me, making it personal for Drake, Elena, and Sully was the only way to take Uncharted as a whole to the next level. It’s part of what makes Uncharted 3 better than Uncharted 2 in my book. Uncharted 4 has personal connection and consequences as a cornerstone of its design and it  pays out in spades.

Analogue Nt mini Noir: RGB321 – My Life in Gaming

Analogue Nt mini Noir – The Ultimate NES FPGA console? :: RGB321 / MY LIFE IN GAMING – YouTube

Nothing quite like a brand new MLiG video to kick off the weekend. Coury and Try go over every perceivable inch of the revised Nt mini Noir from Analogue, which no one can buy.

Maybe I should have gotten one of these instead of a PS5…Kidding aside, I always love MLiG’s videos and find them satisfying and oddly soothing. It is definitely worth the watch whether you copped a Nt mini Noir or passed.

Seeing the tech inside the Nt mini Noir reminds me that the Pocket is only supposed to be five months away. I am eagerly anticipating my own Pocket console and the newly announced Analogue Duo. I really should dig into that one soon.

Google Stadia at First Blush

My wife’s friend got a free Stadia Premium with her YouTube Premium membership. She graciously asked if I’d want it. I can’t refuse adding another controller to my collection. It also gave me a chance to try out Google’s foray into the world of dedicated gaming hardware.

The “Console”

It’s just a Chromecast Ultra. Or my laptop. Or my iPhone.

The iPhone support was just rolled out and is clunky given the fact Apple has a stance against game streaming services in the App Store. The workaround is a web app. To get proper full screen play, you have to save the URL as a shortcut on the home screen. Far from ideal.

The Controller

The actual bulk of the box. I am happy the analog sticks are adjacent. All hail! The buttons are surprisingly clicky. They remind me of cell phone buttons, which actually makes a ton of sense. The D-Pad is good, much better than I expected for a first go from Google.

There are five buttons in the center of the controller; start, select, capture, Google Assistant, and the Stadia Home button. The first three make sense in this post PS4 share button world. The Google Assistant feels unnecessary, but extremely Google. I asked my controller what the weather was and it answered. Then I asked how much Cyberpunk 2077 cost and it started reading a GamesRadar+ article about how sweet and costly the $250 collector’s edition was for the game. Not quite what I expected or would have wanted. Unsurprisingly, the Google Assistant feature is not available on Chrome for macOS or the iPhone web app.

The trigger are easily the worst part. They are mushy. They remind me of the PS3 triggers and that is not a ringing endorsement.

You could also use on-screen controls, but I would stay away from those. It is pretty hard to tap four or five buttons at once.

Speed

When it comes to speed, the promise of Stadia isn’t the same as PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. It’s not so much load times as it is never having to install a patch or download a game again. It’s a different measurement of time, but still noticeable.

I was able to play the games I redeemed through Stadia Pro on my TV and my laptop without having to install squat. It’s impressive.

All of this game streaming comes at a cost of data though. I have played roughly 30-45 min of various games (mostly Celeste). According to my router, I have downloaded roughly 1.5GB during at playtime. Both my connections were wired and I was streaming in a max of 1080p resolution (the Chromecast is plugged into my monitor, not my 4K TV). Google claims that 4K gaming is roughly 20GB an hour.

While you may never have to download a game or patch with Stadia, eventually you will download more data than the game itself.

I did try Stadia on my iPhone over Wi-Fi and there was a noticeable difference in latency than through the wired connection. Not egregious, but noticeable nonetheless.

Set-Up

This should have been easy. Stadia should be plug and play, and it eventually is, but the initial set up did not go smoothly for me.

The controller and the Chromecast needed updates, which is par for the course. You have to use the Google Home app to start and manage these updates. Once the software is up to date, you have to connect the controller to the Chromecast through the Google Home app. This process failed for me and my controller was not connecting to any device. The help page that appeared after failed attempts was unclear. I had to Google around to figure out how to factory reset the controller. After that, I was able to successfully connect the devices.

This was a far more technical process than I had hoped for, making the initial barrier to playing higher.

After establishing a link between the controller, my account, and devices, the sync process has been solid. You enter a button combination on the screen you want to play on.

Games

I took advantage of a one month trial of Stadia Pro and redeemed a couple games I was familiar with to test; Celeste, Into the Breach, and Hitman 1 and 2. I did the guide for Celeste over at IGN as well as the first three episodes of Hitman 1. I felt pretty confident that I could get a grasp on if Stadia was performing up to the standard of local hardware.

On a wired connection, they all felt rock solid. It’s no secret that I have been skeptical of game streaming’s ability to perform soundly. Color me impressed.

In a precision platformer like Celeste I didn’t notice any perceptible latency when using a wired connection. Over Wi-Fi on my iPhone, Celeste just off enough that I’d have to adapt to its off kilter timing. I would never want to play a platformer like that. I imagine that having the controller connect to the servers directly over Wi-Fi helps alleviate lag, more so when the picture/game is hardlined to the Internet.

Stadia is better than I thought. Game streaming impresses me just as much as it did when I played Just Cause 3 on my Vita for guide work while at my girlfriend’s (now wife) house. The technology is cool, convenient, and additive. It’s nowhere near replacing dedicated hardware for myself, but I am curious to see where it goes from here.

Cyber Shadow Launching on January 26, 2021

Now this is a cyber game I can get behind.

Yacht Club Games and Mechanical Head Studios just announced that Cyber Shadow is launching on January 26, 2021. I was fortunate enough to preview Cyber Shadow at PAX East 2019 for DualShockers. Here’s what I thought of it hot off its initial announcement:

If you had told me a month ago that the first game I’d play at Yacht Club Games’ booth wouldn’t be Shovel Knight: King of Cards, I’d probably would have been very confused. Yacht Club Games is one of my favorite developers in the business. I’ve bought Shovel Knight five times for myself, plus as a gift for friends. I’ve beaten it countless times, earned the Platinum on Vita, and snagged each vinyl of the killer soundtrack. But Yacht Club Games threw me a curve ball the day before PAX East 2019 and announced the next game they are publishing—Cyber Shadow.

I showed up at my appointment with my favorite developer at the show and booted up Cyber Shadow right off the bat. It did not disappoint. If there were more levels available in the demo, I easily would have played this for the entirety of my appointment, forgetting to check out Shovel Knight: King of Cards altogether, because Cyber Shadow is so good.

The new trailer is oh-so-slick and I cannot wait to play in just a little over a month’s time.

The Cross-Generational Bottleneck: Cyberpunk Edition

Cyberpunk 2077 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 Review by Destin Legaire for IGN

While I had just as much fun playing Cyberpunk 2077 on PC as Tom did playing for his review, on the base PlayStation 4 or Xbox One it is a different game entirely. It fails to hit even the lowest bar of technical quality one should expect even when playing on lower-end hardware. It performs so poorly that it makes combat, driving, and what is otherwise a master craft of storytelling legitimately difficult to look at. It is not an exaggeration to say that I’ve felt nauseated after playing because of the terrible frame rate. It really is that bad, and it’s very suspicious that CD Projekt Red refused to provide console review copies ahead of launch.

I’d say it is more than suspicious. It was downright intentional. They knew the state the console version of the game was in, deliberately showed PC-only footage, and took people’s money anyway. CD Projekt Red figured it would be easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

Seeing is believing though.

This is the type of bottleneck I feared for cross-generational games. Cypberpunk 2077 “runs” on 11 different platforms (PS4, PS4 Pro, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox One S, Xbox One X, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, PC, and Stadia). From a business perspective, I understand wanting to launch on last generation consoles. There are 165+ million PS4 and Xbox One consoles out in the world. I think it is safe to say the vast majority of purchases this past week were for those platforms. CD Projekt Red spent a lot of goodwill this past week.

Halo Infinite is supposed to run on nine different consoles. I think Xbox will slowly kill off their cross-generation support by running out the clock for the promised two years of support. Sony may have made the right call by not promising all their games will be cross-generational and instead announcing them as they see fit.

I bought Cyberpunk for a couple of my friends for Christmas and now I’m starting to think coal would’ve been a better present.

– Logan Moore via Twitter

I was one of the friends. If he bought me coal, at least it’d work as intended. Thankfully, I can wait until the proper PS5 version is released in 2077.