Top Pick: Dreams (PS4)
It’s been a weird year, to say the least—but it’s also been an incredibly ideal time to play video games. Between many of us skipping our commutes to work from home and also the near-absence of physical social events, the appeal of cozying up on the couch and digging into a game (solo or with online pals) has become one of the most compelling ways to pass time.
There have been several no-doubt blockbusters released this year, from The Last of Us Part II to Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom Eternal, with plenty more on the horizon, as the annual fall/holiday gaming barrage begins in a matter of days with the likes of The Avengers and will continue with other huge games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, not to mention the release of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles.
Before we get too deep into the fall onslaught, it’s high time to revisit some of 2020’s games that maybe didn’t see the same kind of big, splashy launch, even if they received stellar reviews and earned devoted fans along the way. If you’ve already snagged these games and they’ve been sitting in your unplayed pile of shame, now’s the time to dig in. And if you haven’t, then follow the links below and grab these potentially overlooked 2020 gems, some of which are already significantly discounted.
The extended early access launch might’ve muted the impact of the proper launch, but this PlayStation 4 exclusive should be in the library of anyone who appreciates creative experimentation and sampling thoughtfully-crafted homemade experiences.
Dreams hails from LittleBigPlanet makers Media Molecule and similarly is built around a play-create-share model. This time, however, the tools are much more flexible and advanced, and the proof is in the pudding. Dreams players have unleashed some truly startling creations that don’t remotely look like the kind of cookie-cutter results you might expect out of a game’s creation mode.
Some creations are surprisingly accurate recreations of existing, popular games, which makes sense—when you just start out, you emulate what you know and love. But it’s the original concoctions, the odd hybrids, and dazzling dreamscapes that really stand out the most. And they just keep coming. Better yet, Dreams recently added optional PlayStation VR support, vastly expanding the kinds of experiences that can be made and enjoyed within. Even if you’re more apt to play than create, there’s always something new worth scoping out each and every time you load it up.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Xbox One)
I’ll let Kotaku reviewer Mike Fahey sum it up with his proposed back-of-box quote: “Ori and the Blind Forest is the best. This is better than that.” He even suffered through pre-release bugs that have thankfully been squashed in the final release; even so, he said, “It’s still one of the best games I’ve ever played.”
High praise, no doubt, but hardly surprising considering the brilliance of 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest. Like that Xbox One and PC (and now Switch too) gem, Ori and the Will of the Wisps sets your glowing guardian spirit on a quest through an absolutely stunning, ethereal forest in search of its missing owl pal. What results is another dazzling and heartbreaking narrative journey anchored by truly satisfying combat and exploration—a total package, really.
You should play the original game before diving into Will of the Wisps, but here’s some good news: While you can purchase the games individually, you can also play both on either Xbox One or PC via an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership. This might be the perfect time to give Microsoft’s value-packed subscription service a shot.
Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics (Nintendo Switch)
Nintendo’s own Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics doesn’t look like much at first glance. It’s primarily a recreation of international board and card games, all dressed up with the kind of look and feel we saw from games like Wii Play and Wii Sports back when.
But this wallet-friendly compilation wins on quantity and quality alike, not only delivering more than 50 playable games but also packaging them in a charming and accessible manner. You might know checkers, chess, poker, and bowling, but do you know the intricacies of mancala or Hanafuda cards? There are plenty of other variants of familiar card and board games here that you might not be familiar with, and each game is taught either on video or through an interactive tutorial.
Better yet, it plays to the Nintendo Switch’s versatility. Nearly all of the games are for multiple players and can be played directly on the Switch screen wherever you are, across multiple Switch systems using one game card, or on the TV. You probably wouldn’t buy many (or maybe any) of these individual games on their own, but all together on a cartridge, it’s tough to resist.
Nioh 2 (PS4)
I’ve been surprised to see Team Ninja’s Nioh 2 already selling for half-price or less just months after release. Super hardcore, well-reviewed games like this tend to have more staying power, but then again, Nioh 2 released the same week that COVID-19 panic really took hold in the states … so it might have been slightly overshadowed.
At any rate, don’t let the steep price drop deter you from checking out this seriously challenging, yet rewarding PlayStation 4 action affair. Although numbered as a sequel, the Dark Souls-esque Nioh 2 actually takes place before the first game, and lets you create your own hero or heroine rather than use the predetermined lead from the original. That’s all great for newcomers.
Also great: the incredible, expanded combat system. This Sengoku-era Japanese quest has swords a-swinging and newly lets you tap into yokai spirit abilities. Heather Alexandra explained in their Kotaku review, “There’s no other way of saying it: I’ve never played a game where fighting feels as good as this.”
“If you’ve never played Nioh or shy away from Souls-like experiences, I can’t stress enough that Nioh 2 is worth checking out. It’s an incredibly smart game that rewards you for your time and patience,” they concluded. “Also: there’s a fat cat spirit called Scampuss. What more do you need to know?”
You might be surprised to learn that Streets of Rage 4 is one of 2020’s best-reviewed games. I was definitely surprised to find that out. Beat ‘em up games are tough to update for the modern era due to the simplistic design and rapid monotony of the classic arcade genre, and it’s been 26 years since Sega’s last Streets of Rage on Genesis.
Amazingly, Dotemu’s brand new sequel works. Streets of Rage 4 doesn’t make vast changes to the old-school approach: it’s still a side-scrolling, co-op fighting affair, but the hand-drawn style is much cleaner, the mechanics are beefier, and the stellar core campaign is flanked by all sorts of charming extras that will appeal to longtime aficionados. It’s a classic beat-’em-up without the harsh, punitive elements of the era the series was born into and a total nostalgia bomb for fans. Streets of Rage 4 is available on all three consoles, and the physical console releases come with a bonus art booklet and keyring bundled in.