Welcome to my personal list of things that helped me tolerate 2020. While last year certainly sucked as a whole, and we got a masterclass in how to not make a AAA game multiple times over, I managed to enjoy a few titles, some of which I never expected to love. I’m keeping my list short today, so as to not waste any more time whining about it: let’s look at my top five favorite games of 2020.
5. Monster Prom 2: Monster Camp
This game is exactly as simple as it sounds: you’re trying to get a date while you’re at monster summer camp. This competitive multiplayer board game-ish dating sim is a fun, immature, and lighthearted take on what a visual novel could be. The game has a diverse cast of characters largely poking fun at different horror and fantasy tropes, and an extremely cute art style that juxtaposes itself against its constantly off-color humor. Monster Camp isn’t a deep or evocative visual novel in any sense; in fact, most of the game is toilet humor followed by desperately hoping that your monster crush will take a liking to you, only to get rejected in some new embarrassing way. In most cases, it’s the opposite of a game you really want to crack open and discover its inner workings. Sure, there are rules to get the “good endings”, but all it takes is a wrong move or two and you’re back on your ass with the game making fun of you for drinking a glass of bees or something. Since it’s such a unique experience though, with a fun, cute atmosphere and tons of event scenes for both successful and unsuccessful endings, it kept my friends and I coming back whenever we needed a new casual game instead of Jackbox.
4. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
I almost let this game fall through the cracks last year since I had been meaning to work through the rest of the Yakuza series in order before getting to this one, but man, I am glad I didn’t. By now it’s well known that this is a Yakuza game with turn-based, JRPG style combat. You manage your party, improve relationships, choose classes, but the gameplay isn’t the only huge change with Yakuza: Like a Dragon. This new title includes a brand-new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, who takes all the built-up dramatic aura and tone from past Yakuza titles and flips it on its head. Ichiban is not Kiryu, he is not cool and suave; he’s goofy, loud, and brash, and he makes it known that he loves his friends. Sure, there are still dramatic moments and big plot points like past games, but I loved how much this game managed to shake up everything I knew about Yakuza. The game also takes place in a totally new area in Yokohama, and while it includes the usual vast selection of minigames and things to do in the city, it’s nice to see something different for a change. The unique combat system works great and combined with everything else, it makes Like a Dragon a great and memorable entry in the Yakuza series.
3. Persona 5 Royal
I wasn’t sure how high I should’ve put Persona 5 Royal on this list since it’s another updated Persona game that we knew was coming out eventually, but it did have enough improvements on the formula that it feels about right to put it at number 3. The new story content added in Persona 5 Royal is…conflicting. It’s got great setup, a bunch of strange actions and motivations in the middle that almost broke my suspension of disbelief, and it boasts one of the strongest, most satisfying ending sequences to a game I’ve ever played. Of course, Persona 5 had a pretty crazy drawn-out end sequence, but after playing through a 150-hour game, Royal really felt like every single hour paid off just for the ending, as it should if you’re going to sink triple-digit hours into a game.
In terms of what has been updated from vanilla, the experience of playing Royal with its new areas and updated gameplay is probably the best representation of a Persona game purely from a gameplay perspective. Tons of quality-of-life changes were made to the combat, and the game has a much clearer path to set you up for its strong endgame with the new Kichijoji area. My favorite part of the updated content is the updated dialogue; it’s small, but lots of dialogue was rewritten and it definitely plays up the relationships between characters a lot more than the sometimes-stiff sounding dialogue of Persona 5. I was skeptical of how meaningful the new content and changes would be to the experience of playing Persona 5, but as I played through the game everything kept adding up to make this a much better feeling experience and definitely worthy of a spot on my list.
I didn’t expect to love this game as much as I did but here it is close to the top of my list. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of roguelikes, but every time I played Hades I was so interested in every aspect of the game, I couldn’t find myself caring about gameplay aspects I normally don’t like. Everything is just so cool: the music is great, the characters are super interesting both in the underworld and on Mt. Olympus, and the gameplay is way better than I expected. While I was skeptical of how a roguelike could create an interesting story while also having fun gameplay, Hades delivers. The way that the game doesn’t quite give you information in the same order all the time, and how it really does feel like you’re finding out new things at the same time as Zagreus makes a lot of story beats feel much more impactful. It also gives you more motivation to get right back into the game and try to progress. Everything, from the presentation to the gameplay is great in Hades and it oozes style while doing so.
1. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
I don’t have a graceful reason for why this game is at the top of my list, but here it is: it has Zombies. That’s all it takes. Don’t get me wrong, I love the campaign of Black Ops Cold War, and the multiplayer is great from what I’ve played, but damn can I sink hundreds of hours into running in circles with a Ray Gun. This was the year I thought my interest in COD would fizzle; I surely thought that Activision wouldn’t let Treyarch make an interesting story, much less spend resources tuning multiple game modes. I was prepared for another Call of Duty title with a battle royale mode I’m not interested in and a milquetoast campaign, but I was surprised.
All things considered, Black Ops Cold War delivered tons more than I expected, and the game was hitting on all fronts; Campaign, Multiplayer, and Zombies. I was floored by the campaign’s story, at least for a Call of Duty title, and ended up loving the combination of classic Black Ops faces and new characters. Once I finished through each ending of the campaign and hopped into Zombies, I found an experience so far beyond my expectations that I was certain I would be playing this game for quite a while. Everything about Zombies was improved and expanded upon, and after the shaky course of Black Ops 4’’s Zombies, it felt like Treyarch once again meaningfully put resources into crafting Zombies. With continued, free support for a game mode I’ve always loved but didn’t always want to spend $90 on, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has certainly solidified itself as a game I’ll keep coming back to.