Best of 2020: James’s Picks

2020.. what a year. It will be hard to look back at 2020 and not remember it for the obvious issue which has affected all of our lives, around the world, to some degree. For me though 2020 will also go down as the year my passion and love for writing returned.

I’ve covered a wide assortment of games this year with plenty of surprises along the way. I’ve raided tombs, gone back to school, played card games, battled all sorts of monsters, laughed, cried, got angry, died over and over, explored a variety of lands and drank a lot of coffee. It’s been a heck of year for gaming. This is a rare year where I genuinely struggled to pick out my favourites, but here I’ve done my best. With that in mind it’s time to look back and give out my personal game of the year awards. Enjoy!

Surprise Award

This award goes to the game I went into not really expecting a lot but ended up coming out loving the experience.

Winner: Frost

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Will the cards draw in your favour?

I reviewed Frost as part of the Card Bundle Vol 1 and was really quite blown away by it. A brutal card based survival game where you often had to make tough decisions in order to survive including potentially resorting to cannibalism. I actually felt cold playing this title I got so into it. Brutally unfair but a nice surprise. A title I easily went into not really expecting much but it ended up leaving a lasting impression.

Runner Up: Tank Mechanic Simulator

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Don’t mind me just washing a tank

A game with simulator in the title I ended up liking, how odd. This ended up drumming up fond memories from my past despite appearing a little dull. Despite being a pointless busy work game I just kinda liked exploring the outdoors looking for rusty tanks to dig up and then restoring them to working order.

CO – OP Award

This award is partly dedicated to my wife as she basically assisted playing through several co-op games this year locally so she of course helped decide this winner.

Winner: Haven

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Love with see us through

Got in in the nick of time at the end of the year. I played this on PC but it’s releasing to Switch sometime in 2021. Haven is co-op game I walked away from and ended up thinking about a lot afterwards. You play as the adorable couple Yu and Kay as they try to make life work on a new planet away from their society. To me a game that leaves a lasting impression is something special. A great premise with excellent voice acting, storytelling and entertaining gameplay which mixes exploration, crafting and light RPG mechanics. You can quite literally pet all the animals you rescue in this game and there is also a fantastic score to go along with it. It’s a game I know won’t suit everyone. But for some, including us, this was something very special.

Runner Up: Cat Quest II

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Time for a quick dog/cat nap

I played the cat she played the dog. An addictive hack and slash RPG with a simple design but addictive gameplay. Being able to play couch co-op felt just purrrfect for this title. Very much looking forward to the rumored third game in this series.

Hard Hitter Award

For the game that had a serious message to it. While games are fun and entertaining, sometimes its pretty impressive when you get those titles that just make you stop and think for a second while also entertaining you.

Winner: Warsaw

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Think your outnumbered buddy

Warsaw ripped my heart out and left it in a alley somewhere. Set in the Polish capital during World War 2, Warsaw is a brutally tough turn based game. Combat is generally not advised but sometimes necessary to complete objectives. If an ally falls they’re gone for good and it’s heartbreaking. For some this design will feel unfair and a bit over the top if your looking for a more casual, happy experience. To me though it just seemed to fit so well with the theme. It’s that over the top difficulty that reminded me just how utterly horrible war is.

Runner Up: Emma: Lost in Memories

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Simple and beautiful

A nice little platformer that tackled the difficult subject of dementia. Emma was a sweet little game a lot of people may not even know exists. While not breaking the boundaries of platforming it’s subject matter and execution made it a star in the crowd to me.

RPG Award

Think I surprised myself this year by playing through a decent amount of RPG titles. But of course there can only be one winner.

Winner: Bug Fables  

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So many fun characters

Three bugs, a beetle, a moth and a bee go off on a adventure with fun humour and a unique RPG mechanic to boot. For those longing for the days of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year door this fills that void left by the popular plumber side series. While the paper feel of the graphics feels quite familiar, the rest of the adventure feels totally original and unique. Whenever I was playing Bug Fables I was smiling. There was often some silly bug related joke that made me chuckle.

The turn based RPG combat system was engaging, requiring a players full attention, asking the player to make correct button presses and choose moves wisely. It makes a change to the usually grindy gameplay you expect from regular turn based RPGs where you just mash the attack command and hope to win but then maybe I’ve been playing turn based RPGs wrong this whole time.

Runner Up: Trails of Cold Steel III 

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High fives all round

Despite messing up the title of the game in my review (wrote originally as trials not trails) I did have a good time playing through this RPG that gets the sub award for ‘anime as heck’ game of the year. Rean and his band of students are on a mission to save the land. Tons of story to digest, maybe a little too much. But, in-between the long cut scenes is an enjoyable battle system and the opportunity to explore and engage in a variety of other activities including a spot of fishing which is just excellent.

Retro Award

I do love my retro games so this award goes to the game that gives a little love to the retro days of old.

Winner: Darius Cozmic Collection 

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Two bosses for the price of one

M2, knocks it out the park again with another fantastic collection of games from the popular marine based shmup from Taito. While not a complete Darius collection you do get a decent supply of arcade and console based titles. These are not simply roms thrown on a collection. This is M2 performing magic by adapting the games for modern hardware, providing multiple versions and even providing a little history. Plus they show some love to the Sega Master System which is just brilliant. If you love space shooters this is a collection not to be missed.

Runner Up: Bubble Bobble 4: The Baron is Back

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Watch out for the Baron

After being a bit disappointed by the initial release last year. Bubble Bobble 4 re- releases with the Baron is back a large expansion which almost acts a completely new game offering many more levels and a new mode that feels nicely reminiscent of the original arcade title. The best part is if you already own the previous version you get this for free.

Zen Award

To the chill out game of the year. Sometimes you just want to sit back and play a game to relax.

Winner: Urban Flow

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Traffic control has never been so much fun

Who would have thought controlling traffic by switching traffic lights on and off would be so much fun? The reason this game easily nabs this award is my wife and I spend many occasions playing this game together in handheld mode with the touch controls which are excellent, usually I can’t stand touch controls. It also has a great soundtrack to boot that may even get your feet moving whilst making sure the cars don’t smash into each other. If you haven’t tried Urbanflow I’ve noticed it’s often on sale so be sure to check it out if you missed it.

Runner Up: LineLight 

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More entertaining than it looks

A game where you control a line across some simple puzzles. Beautiful music and a great example to budding game developers that sometimes the most simplest premise can still create a entertaining game.

Coffee Award

A term I coined multiple times in reviews this year. A coffee game is generally a game that doesn’t take that long to complete and is best enjoyed with a nice drink in hand held mode.

Winner: Space Grunts 

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Makes turn based dungeon crawling fast and fun

Probably my favourite Orange Pixel game to release to Switch this year. Space grunts does the turn based dungeon crawler rogue like formula but makes it fast, fun and accessible to a new audience. Randomly generated levels keeps runs fresh and new and since some runs last between seconds to minutes it makes this the ideal title to enjoy with a good coffee to hand.

Runner Up: Duck Souls +

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This duck is too cool for school

A cute little level based platformer that had a heart of gold. I loved the little message the developer left at the end of the game and it sort of stuck with me till the end of the year. Great to play in short bursts with a good drink.

Dave Award

Named after a good friend of mine this is the name of the best online game of the year.

Winner: Heroes of Hammerwatch: Ultimate Edition

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OK time for attempt number 42 at the dungeon

After playing the original Hammerwatch online over a year ago we sort of made the mistake of jumping on the next game Heroes of Hammerwatch on PC a little too quick. Fast forward to 2020 and we try the game again on Switch and this time the experience just seemed to click. It’s more of a rogue lite experience compared to the first game and feels more like a arcade style Hack and Slash title. It has a rather high barrier to entry with its tough difficulty but once the game sinks its claws into you it doesn’t let go. Pretty good alone but brilliant if you can share with friends.

Runner Up: Quest Hunter

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I see you’ve noticed my fine beard

It was hard to choose between this and the winner. Quest Hunter deserves lots of credit for being one of the few games to incorporate cross play between different consoles. A fun dungeon crawler style game where two of us played on PC and the wife played on Switch in handheld mode. The game ran just great as well. Plus your characters open treasure chests in this game by appearing to rub them which I only really appreciated the humour by sharing it with friends.

Early Bird Award

I was lucky enough to cover a few games in Early Access. The winners here were on PC but both are due to release on Switch some time next year. So keep a eye out.

Winner: Gunfire Reborn

When it comes to Early Access some developers choose to do their big updates after a few months. Gunfire Reborn went above and beyond any Early Access game I covered this year and updated weekly. The communication of the developers working with the gaming audience was excellent with regular messages to explain their plans providing plenty of confidence that the product would certainly complete. Oh and the game is also brillant. A first person rogue lite title where you play a cure little animal of your choice and go from level to level blasting away at enemies with wacky weapons. It brought back memories of playing the original Quake on PC only much more family friendly. Also it has co-op. I could not be more excited for the Switch version.

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Always bring a cat to a gun fight

Runner up: Skul: The Hero Slayer

A 2D rogue lite adventure where you play a common video game baddie, a skeleton. The unique hook of the game is that you can change out your skull and transform into a variety of skeleton characters. It kinda reminded me of Kid Chameleon from the old Mega Drive. Skul deserves praise as even though the game was in Early Access it felt pretty complete even when I first covered it.

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I’m still GROOT

Otter Award

Because who doesn’t love otters?

Winner: The Otterman Empire 

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Protect your head with a colander

Otterman Empire is a 3D game where you complete simple missions alone or in split screen co-op. It  is by no means a perfect game but what I admired here was the developers passion and dedication to the project. Despite many rough edges to the graphics and controls the developers are still committed to the project and often reach out to their fans for feedback and advice on how to improve the title. They’re planning to release a big update to the game next year and I wish them all the best.  Plus we are forgetting the obvious thing here it has Otters!

Runner Up: Joey the Otter

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Joey is the cutest

Ok, this isn’t even a game. Joey is an otter I adopted for my wife early in the year. A young cub who was sadly orphaned. The aquarium looking after him has been streaming his recovery on YouTube and often  when I’ve felt down during the year I looked in on the litter critter and it just warmed my heart. It’s possible I watched Joey more than I played any game this year so he definitely deserves a runner up award.

Game of the Year

And finally we come to my definitive choice for my favourite game of the year.

Winner: Streets of Rage 4 

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Great art, great gameplay and fun alone or with friends, SOR 4 rulez

After being dormant for so long the Streets of Rage series finally returns thanks to Lizardcube, the guys that did the impressive Dragons Trap remake. The game is not simply just a retread of the original series. The developers bring plenty of new mechanics to the mix such as new characters, great combat and a fantastic art style. The game also returns to being a  reasonable length. It’s nice to finally have a game you can finish in a single sitting but instantly want to replay again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played through this game and I ended up playing it on PC, Xbox and Switch. Great alone, great online or local with friends. Streets of Rage 4 is the full package and every time I thought of my personal favourite game this year there was no question that this would reach a high spot. Whatever the developers decide to work on next I’m sold.

Special Thanks

Finally before we say goodbye to 2020, I’d like to take another opportunity to thank the website LadiesGamers. Had it not been for their support and inviting me to this wonderful site I wouldn’t have been able to share so many articles and reviews with you fine folk. It’s been great reading the work from my fellow writers but I want to stretch a particular thanks to Yvonne and Paula who have done an amazing job running the site in the background and being there to listen to my silly rambles.

Thanks to all the game developers and publishers providing review codes.

Finally, thank you to all the readers who have taken time out their days to read our articles. You guys absolutely rock. Have a great holiday season and we’ll see you for more fun and frolics next year.

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