While it's probably safe to say that 2020 hasn't been the best year ever, a small silver lining is that as a network, we've had the opportunity to play a lot of excellent video games. We here at Geek to Geek Media took some time this month to reflect on and discuss this year's releases and selected a few network-wide favorites to highlight. In celebration of the best in gaming from an otherwise challenging year, we are proud to present our first annual Geek to Geek Media Game of the Year Awards!
A quick point of order before we get to the awards: Any video games our creators played that were released between Dec-01 2019 and Dec-01 2020 were eligible to be nominated for awards. Games released after Dec-01 this year can be nominated in 2021. In addition to an overall Game of the Year, we created 10 category awards, some of which are pretty standard in the game industry and others that are unique to our network. We hope you enjoy honoring some great games with us, and enjoy our Game of the Year post!
Best Turn-Based RPG
Look at any of the content our staff puts out and one thing is abundantly clear, we love RPGs! So much so, in fact, that they wouldn't all fit in a single category. Best Turn-Based RPG honors roleplaying games in which battles are won through strategy rather than reflexes.
Winner: Paper Mario The Origami King
Origami King‘s ability to turn every battle into a test of puzzle-solving and turn-based combat prowess made for an RPG experience unlike anything we've ever played before. Outside of combat, exploring Paper Mario‘s rich papercraft world full of creativity, humor, and sometimes even low-key body horror was equal parts bizarre and delightful. Capsulejay streamed this game from start to finish on his Twitch channel and found that exploring this frankly absurd game with our community provided some much-needed levity in a really tough year. Elinzia was also a big fan of this game, describing it as “a true gem” in her review.
Honorable Mention: Cthulu Saves Christmas
Ironic, self-aware humor is pretty big right now, but it can be difficult to pull off effectively. It’s often mean-spirited or overly condescending, but Zeboyd Games, the developer of Cthulhu Saves Christmas, does it right. H.P. Lovecraft’s tentacle-faced elder god Cthulhu might be the most unlikely protagonist in a Christmas-themed RPG, but his journey to save Santa Claus in exchange for the power to destroy the world is surprisingly heartwarming and consistently hilarious. Steve had a great time getting into the Christmas spirit with this one recently, and strongly recommended it in his review.
Best Action RPG
Sometimes you don't wanna wait your turn and would rather just bash things with the nearest sword, gun, or giant robot you can find and watch the numbers go up. For those cases, there's Action RPGs.
Winner: Final Fantasy 7 Remake
Of all of Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s (many) accomplishments, its transformation from a traditional turn-based RPG to a fast-paced and accessible Action-RPG just might be the most impressive. One of the most talked-about games of 2020 has stunning graphics and a gorgeous orchestral soundtrack, but it’s the addictive combat mechanics that keep fans coming back for more. The game also impressed us by having the courage to make some controversial changes to the story of the revered original game. The changes might not have worked for everyone, but they give this remake a wholly unique identity. You can hear Void and Beej discuss this game in-depth in their FF7 extravaganza podcast episode.
Honorable Mention: Demon's Souls
2020’s Demon’s Souls, developer Bluepoint’s remake of FromSoftware’s seminal 2009 dark fantasy Action-RPG, takes great pride in testing the limits of the player’s patience before utterly breaking them. The original is one of Steve’s all-time favorite games, and despite knowing the levels and enemies inside and out, the remake still ruthlessly broke his spirit, again and again. Still, perseverance can allow anyone to find success against the seemingly insurmountable odds, leading to one of the most rewarding gaming experiences of the year.
Best Action Game
While we may be an RPG-loving crew, sometimes we crave a pure white-knuckle experience. For the purpose of these awards, “action” is a catch-all category for combat-focused genres like shooters, brawlers, and fighting games.
The rogue-like genre may have peaked this year with both Hades and Spelunky 2 releasing in the same month. Putting you in the role of a child of the Greek God of the Underworld trying over and over to fight your way out of your father’s domain. This game earned tons of praise for building a narrative structure around the fight-die-repeat structure of the genre. However it’s worth noting that the moment to moment gameplay is also exceptional. A variety of weapons at the start, along with different boons and challenges randomly popping up during a run always keeps things fresh, fast-paced, and action-packed.
Honorable Mention: Streets of Rage 4
Making a modern entry in one of the most revered beat ‘em up series is an unenviable task, but developers DotEmu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games made a game for the ages with Streets of Rage 4. With fast and furious action gameplay and plenty of unlockable content, it’s a game that loses none of its appeal with each successive playthrough. Even as a single-player experience, SoR4 knocks it out of the park and is a great example of how to evolve a long-dormant genre while sticking close to its roots.
Best Platforming Game
Running, jumping, falling, and skewering your cute cartoon mascot on spikes are hallmarks of the platforming genre. These games follow in the long-running tradition of classics like Mario and Sonic.
Winner: Astro's Playroom
Astro’s Playroom is pure Playstation joy wrapped in a platformer shell. Pack-in games that come with a new console rarely reach the heights of greatness but this one clears that bar. In a true showcase of the PS5 Controller, Astro’s Playroom also manages to pay respect to all the Playstation systems that have come before it. Not to mention this game has an entire mode that lets you do platforming speed runs to see how you stack up against the rest of the internet. From moment one all the way to a platinum trophy, Astro’s Playroom gives an amazing platforming experience! You can listen to Void recounting his experiences with Astro's Playroom on Geek to Geek Podcast episode S5E32 “PS5 Review – It Feels Like a Zipper”.
Honorable Mention: Evan's Remains
Sporting some of the most gorgeous pixel art in recent memory, deceptively tricky puzzle platforming, and a mysterious story. Evan's Remains is an indie platformer that largely flew under the radar this year. Capsulejay played through this game on his Twitch channel and found that he and his audience were so engrossed that he couldn't resist completing the entire campaign in a single 5-hour stream!
Best Spooky Game
Whether they're actually terrifying or just spooky in a more welcoming way, we love games that give off that Halloween vibe.
Winner: Bloodstained Curse of the Moon 2
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 completes the hat trick of quality for the modern successor to the Castlevania franchise. It provides a tough-as-nails journey that made Steve proudly pump his fist in the air after completing some of its tougher challenges. It’s also a wonderful homage to classic horror with a striking 8-bit aesthetic. The graphics and music convey a uniquely morbid tone that feels like the natural evolution of the Castlevania series. With a new group of supporting characters and some downright insidious level design, CotM2 will take a good amount of time and determination to complete but is well worth the effort. Check out Steve's review for more info.
Honorable Mention: Resident Evil 3 (Remake)
Following up 2019’s Resident Evil 2 – often cited as one of the finest remakes ever – was never going to be an easy task for Capcom. While Resident Evil 3 didn’t quite live up to expectations, it is still a very intense and well-paced action-horror experience. Steve's review covered how much he enjoyed the game’s polished presentation. This offers a cinematic take on Jill Valentine’s explosion-filled escape from Raccoon City and the tenacious Nemesis. The game is short and sweet, but it’s a fun ride when approached with appropriate expectations.
Best Cozy Game
Want to curl up on the couch with a blanket and warm beverage? That's where cozy games come in! This category recognizes laid-back experiences like slice-of-life games, puzzle games, point-and-click adventures, and visual novels.
Winner: Animal Crossing New Horizons
A cozy game is one that provides a feeling of comfort and relaxation. It provides a sense of calm. Animal Crossing: New Horizons feels like a snuggly blanket. It’s cartoony and cheerful. Bright colors and fun personalities. The villagers on your island all adore you. Even Tom Nook is laid back and willing to let you pay him whenever. You can explore a tropical paradise and engage with others (whether real or not) from the safety of your own sofa. Even now, nearly a year after its release, this game continues to provide a safe-haven from the world.
Honorable Mention: Café Enchante
We all love getting comfy with a good novel and a nice hot drink. Café Enchanté is a visual novel about coffee, as well as an endearing cast of regulars. Few things are a better fit for a “cozy game”. And even when the story gets deeply dramatic in its latter hours, that feeds in just as well to getting hunkered-down and engrossed in fantasy. Curl up and enjoy.
Best Map Game
A big open world, a bunch of vague symbols, and a massive to-do list? Sign us up! Map games are those that focus on the joy of discovery and the satisfaction of checking off boxes.
Winner: Spider-Man Miles Morales
Insomniac’s 2018 Marvel’s Spider-Man game set a standard for open-world games by cramming a ton of activities into a relatively small map of New York City. This year, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales showed how versatile an open-world map can be by building a brand new, fresh experience right on top of that same map. Mechanically, this game didn’t do a whole lot to differentiate itself, but it still managed to feel like a fresh experience thanks to a new attitude in the way Miles moves, a wintery reskin to New York City, and a whole new set of map objectives that felt uniquely personal to the younger webslinger.
Honorable Mention: Genshin Impact
We were understandably skeptical when we heard about Genshin Impact, a free-to-play gachapon-based game that borrows heavily from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That all changed once we began exploring the massive world of Teyvat and found ourselves hooked! Check out Austin's review and Steve's beginner's guide to learn more about this surprise hit.
Best Multiplayer Game
In a year like 2020, having an activity that could be done with other people but also from a safe distance has never been more valuable.
Winner: Fall Guys
In a year where real life was dark and lonely… Fall Guys took the video game stage with bright colors, adorable “bean” people, and lots of competitive silliness. As Data_Error said in his post about it earlier this year, Fall Guys is a game that isn’t really comparable to any other video game out there right now. It’s a game that is fun to be awful with, right alongside everyone else.
Honorable Mention: Streets of Rage 4
Everyone knows that a beat ‘em up game is better with multiple players. Streets of Rage 4 is a finely-crafted single-player experience that is consistently well-balanced. With three additional human players, however, it is the pinnacle of the genre. In Void’s case, this was a great way to get the family to game together. Online play is limited to two players, but you can still rack up some insane combos with a buddy by juggling opponents back and forth as you fight to take back the mean streets of Wood Oak City from Mr. X’s sadistic successors.
One of the great things about video games is that they're not just interactive software, they can be literature as well. This category highlights games that told us great stories, developed interesting characters, or maybe just made us laugh.
Winner: Spider-Man Miles Morales
After Marvel’s Spider-Man from 2018 gave us a glimpse at the life of an established Peter Parker, the most amazing thing that Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales does is giving us a look at the life of a brand new Spider-Man that’s just coming to terms with his powers. Miles truly feels like a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in a way that 2018’s game never quite hit. Plus, Miles gives us a completely new window to see this Spider-Man universe through while he’s a high-schooler settling into a new neighborhood in Harlem with his mom. His culture and heritage infuse the game in the best way possible. There’s a fantastic story here with real emotion that hooks you and keeps you coming back for more all the way to credits. On the Geek to Geek Podcast, Void and Beej discuss the storytelling of Spider-Man Miles Morales in episode S5E47 “Spider-Man Miles Morales & Assassin's Creed Valhalla – I Couldn't Put This Game Down”.
Honorable Mention: 13 Sentinels
It’s hard to ignore when a video game gets nominated for awards outside the games industry, and the Seiun-nominated 13 Sentinels has certainly earned it. With layered worldbuilding, a broad and appealing cast, and an information-driven “adventure game” mode, it demands your attention throughout. And your attention will be well-rewarded; 13 Sentinels marks the first time in years I was theorizing with friends about a game’s plot between play sessions.
Sometimes games resonate with us in ways that reach beyond the buttons we press or the things we see on the screen. For games that had significant cultural or community impact, we honor those games with the Touchstone category.
(Note: Since this category has more to do with the effect a game has on people rather than the game's content itself, any game, regardless of release date, can be considered for this category if we felt it was an important part of the year 2020.)
Winner: Among Us
Among Us may not have released in 2020, but this is certainly the year that it caught fire. For a game with a staff of three creators to rocket from “relatively unknown” to half a billion active players by November is nothing short of ludicrous. This is the type of game with ample momentum to break out of the normal “game discussion” circles. In fact, we've heard many stories of people who recently installed Steam and Discord explicitly to play Among Us. It’s everywhere in a way that we simply could not ignore. Oh, and it’s a pretty fun and flexible video game to play together, too; shouldn’t forget about that.
Honorable Mention: Spiritfarer
Spiritfarer‘s use of adorable artwork and cozy management sim mechanics to deliver a story about learning to come to terms with loss felt especially poignant in 2020. A game that tackles such a tough subject yet wraps it in such a digestible package was so helpful to a lot of players that found themselves trying to process difficult emotions.
Game of the Year 2020
This award probably speaks for itself. Without further adieu, our overall favorite game of the year for 2020 was…
Animal Crossing New Horizons
Nintendo should have bought a lottery ticket. The luck they had in releasing Animal Crossing: New Horizons when they did is amazing. 2020 has been a difficult year with a worldwide pandemic causing upheaval to the planet. New Horizons was there to give us all a big hug right when the panic was beginning to set in. It was so much more than just a game given the circumstances we were all facing. It was a comforting escape for people to calm their harried minds. A digital world in which to hold virtual graduations, weddings, or birthday parties. And a home to give us control of our situation. Would Animal Crossing: New Horizons have made Game of The Year if this had been a normal year? Most likely not. However, for 2020 it was exactly what we were all needing. And still do.
Now that we've taken some time to recognize some of our favorite games and game of the year from 2020, we'd to thank you, our community members, for hanging with us through what felt like a very long year! What were your favorite games this year? Let us know in the comments below!
Happy New Year from all of us here at Geek to Geek Media!
Acknowledgment: While Capsulejay's name appears in the byline of this article, this post was a collaborative effort that includes not only his writing, but also segments written by Data_Error, Steve, Elinzia, Void, and Troytlepower.