Despite all odds, 2020 turned out to be an incredible year in gaming. Beyond the launches of the Xbox Series X and PS5 we also had countless open world adventures, Switch hits, remakes, life simulators and multiplayer stories to plow through. While I didn’t get to play everything I had on my list this year, I did play more games than I ever thought possible. Working from home was strange at first, but it meant I had more spare time on my hands — and having a Switch in them more often.
It was the year I spent 250 hours of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, got really into the Just Dance franchise and battled with the urge to open a cursed copy of Cooking Mama: Cookstar. (It’s still sealed.) It was also the year I entered Pokémon canon, sort of.
Here’s everything I loved in 2020, and my personal candidates for game of the year.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
I’ve talked about how much I love Animal Crossing: New Horizons all year. If you’re a Kotaku Australia regular, you’ve probably seen many dozens of columns, tips, tricks and opinion pieces from me.
The simple fact is, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a joy, and it helped keep me in touch with my friends throughout all the vicious lockdowns Australia faced.
It’s a simple life simulator but there’s so much to do, from catching fish and bugs to terraforming your entire town and building a palace out of the ruins.
While it won’t be for everyone, New Horizons gave me the escape I needed this year.
Paradise Killer was the surprise hit of 2020. It’s not every day the detective genre is completely turned on its head, but Paradise Killer managed just that by crafting a weird technodrama about the death of deities and the blood worship of gods.
This open world adventure was a masterclass in unique game design, and managed to craft an exciting and very intriguing mystery purely by sending players on a self-guided quest of discovery. The freedom in this game was awesome, and wandering the island at your own pace, putting the clues together and solving the mystery at its heart was fantastic.
It absolutely deserves a spot on any GOTY 2020 lists.
Super Mario Galaxy
In September, Nintendo released the epic Super Mario 3D All-Stars Collection, which featured three of the best 3D Mario platformers around. The collection was superb, but the real standout amongst the games was Super Mario Galaxy. While it was originally released for the Nintendo Wii in 2007, it looks and feels exactly like a modern Switch game.
It’s fantastic fun, and has just the right amount of challenge to make puzzling pure joy.
I missed this game when it first came out on the Wii but I did manage to play its sequel and loved the absolute shit out of that. To my delight, Super Mario Galaxy is just as good — and I’m very pleased I finally got to play it in 2020.
Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima might be the prettiest game I’ve ever played, and in a time when you couldn’t really leave the house much it was simply excellent to go walking in a sunlit field of blossoms or a high, snow-filled mountain path. The world distracted me a lot in this game and I didn’t manage to get around to every side quest and village, but that’s a testament to how gorgeous this game looks and feels.
The combat is excellent and multi-layered, the characters are devastatingly believable and the narrative is as epic as they come. Ghost of Tsushima largely slid under the radar in a year filled with open world adventures but if you’ve yet to play it, now’s the time to dive in.
There was plenty to love about Ghost of Tsushima, and it was one of 2020’s best (and arguably most underrated) games.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
Confession time: I’ve tried to play the original Final Fantasy VII on three separate occasions and failed. The sad fact is games age very quickly as technology advances. The original was heralded as absolute classic for good reason, but not all games stand the test of time. As much as I love Cloud, Tifa, Vincent and the gang, I found it near-impossible to be engaged by the original.
That’s why Final Fantasy VII Remake was so magical for me.
It meant getting to experience a world I’ve loved from afar for a very long time. And the best part is the game is excellent. The visuals are incredible and push the bounds of what the PS4 capable of. The combat is diverse and challenging. The story, like the original, is well-paced and always exciting.
I loved Final Fantasy VII Remake, and it deserves a place in the GOTY 2020 award ranks.
And now, for a less common pick.
Pumpkin Jack is an indie adventure styled as a spiritual successor to the MediEvil franchise. As someone who loves MediEvil, I was completely jazzed by Pumpkin Jack. It manages to capture the free-wheeling spirit, humour and visuals of MediEvil to perfection.
While it’s fairly short (around six hours), it’s extremely entertaining and it made for a great bite of Halloween entertainment this year. It’s also solo-developed, which is an impressive achievement in itself.
In lieu of more MediEvil, this was the next best thing.
Monster Prom: XXL
Monster Prom is an absolute delight, and early this year it was ported to Nintendo Switch. This was an excellent decision, and it made diving into dating rounds so much simpler and more accessible.
Basically, you play as a monster. And you date other monsters. It’s very sweet, smartly written and endlessly replayable.
While I was initially rebuffed by the object of my affections (Damien, the horned demon), eventually I was able to win over his heart with my considerable charm and cunning. There’s a surprising amount of strategy involved in Monster Prom, and gameplay really does keep you on your toes.
Romancing monsters is an excellent time, and this is one game you need in your life.
What games made your GOTY 2020 list? Is there anything you think I should play before the year is out? Pop on down to the comments and let me know what you think.