With nothing else to do, 2020 was a great year to sit down and play games. It was a year of overhyped releases, franchises reinventing themselves, and plenty of sleeper indie hits.
5. Sakuna Rice and Ruin
In terms of a new IP brimming with originality and great ideas, nothing could match Sakuna Rice and Ruin in 2020. A slow development cycle eventually led to one of the most innovative releases to wrap up the year. A combat RPG matching the style of Vanillaware greats like Odin Sphere, Sakuna Rice, and Ruin offered great 2D action gameplay that wasn’t short on high kinetic enemy encounters.
Juxtaposing it all, it was also a farming simulator that offered a completely different pace of gameplay. Rather than the “set and forget” gameplay conventions of most video game farming sims, Sakuna Rice and Ruin expected players to really get their hands dirty as they carefully manage their crops and make their own fertilizer using well… you’ll see.
4. Yakuza Like a Dragon
Why fix something that isn’t broken? In the case of most big game studios, when something works and sells then, there’s no real point reinventing the wheel. After six successful mainline games and other spinoffs, Yakuza wasn’t losing any momentum any time soon. In fact, it received more acclaim with each new release, each subsequent game further enhancing the winning open-world beat ‘em up formula.
With the seventh installment, SEGA took several risks by introducing a new protagonist, implementing an entirely new turn-based combat system that effectively changed the genre, and dropping the number 7 from the title for the game’s international release. The risks were well worth it, as Like a Dragon reinvented Yakuza for the better, providing fans with an experience they never knew they needed.
With so many artsy indie platformers, Horace was a breath of fresh air. Where so many try to be different for the sake of being anti-establishment, this game instead celebrated gaming’s roots and heritage, all while pursuing its own vision. It’s crammed full of references to gaming culture, and all of them are very cool to discover.
With a meaningful story celebrating the past of video games, all situated in a challenging yet satisfying platformer, Horace proved that you could be all hipster and indie without necessarily going against mainstream video games. All video games are beautiful, so quit being a nerd about it.
2. Evan’s Remains
Evan’s Remains is likely going to be one of those games a lot of people would have overlooked in 2020, but this one-person effort delivered one of the most interesting stories in any video game this year.
Vague and cryptic in the beginning, Evan’s Remains does a great job of unraveling its characters’ true nature and premise with plenty of well-timed shock reveals, all revealing some rather ugly realities. The cryptic puzzle design also perfectly fits the game’s narrative style, using runic-based platforms to deliver some head-scratching situations.
1. Mad Rat Dead
Imagine if Sonic the Hedgehog was a rhythm action game, and that’s basically what Mad Rat Dead was. A fun and intuitively appealing platformer that has the spirit of the ’90s tude era.
The game’s core rhythm mechanic was easy to get into, as players synced button presses with the beat of the heart and navigated some enjoyable levels, which also benefited from a time reverse mechanic. The soundtrack had an all-star cast of guest composers, and it was one of the more enjoyable releases of the year, both in its vibrant presentation and gameplay ideas. Anyone after ‘90s tude platformer featuring a unique gameplay hook will instantly fall in love with this vengeful Mad Rat.
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