This year saw two new console launches in the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, but the Nintendo Switch is still going strong in its own separate lane. The hybrid console-handheld had another great year, rocketing to massive sales on the strength of its games lineup and quarantine conditions fueling consumers to look for new ways to occupy themselves and their families.
Nintendo obliged, of course, with particularly strong first-party offerings like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which became a bona fide cultural touchstone. (Just ask US Representative AOC.) But the wide slate also included an anniversary celebration for Mario with Paper Mario: The Origami King, the battle royale Super Mario Bros. 35, and the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection. The fall brought a remaster for Pikmin 3 and the musou game Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. And some of last year’s games continued to get more love, including the two large expansions for Pokemon Sword and Shield.
Meanwhile, third-parties continue to release some of their biggest games on Nintendo Switch. This year brought such varied games as Hades, Fuser, Minecraft Dungeons, and Ghostrunner, as well as tons of beloved indie hits. And Switch is starting to get some games usually reserved for more powerful platforms through cloud-based streaming tech, like the recent release of Control.
Suffice to say that 2020 was a great year to be a Switch owner. It was difficult to narrow down the best to just five, but the GameSpot staff decided on some of our absolute favorite games of the year below.
If you’d like to check out some of our other favorites, be sure to read all our end-of-the-year coverage in the Best of 2020 hub. You can also look over our top games of 2020. We’ll be highlighting each with insights as to why we picked them as the best of the year. Then on Thursday, December 17, we’ll reveal which one is named GameSpot’s Best Game of 2020.
Animal Crossing has been delighting fans for two decades, but this year’s world events truly made it the game of the moment. As people all over the world cope with a pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a simple, socially distanced pleasure–a sense of routine and togetherness in a year sorely lacking both. Many games were notable in 2020, but none were as uniquely matched to this specific year and all that it entailed. New Horizons refines the tried-and-true Animal Crossing formula with new quality-of-life features and a true live game approach that keeps you coming back for the special holiday events. This has been a challenging year, and Nintendo’s sweet, gentle town simulator made it feel a little brighter.
In GameSpot’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons review, Kallie Plagge gives the game a 9/10, writing “New Horizons has a slower pace even than other Animal Crossing games, and at times, that can feel unnecessarily restrictive. But there’s still plenty to do, and each of those activities feeds into the next brilliantly for a rewarding and relentlessly cheerful experience. New Horizons certainly came at the right time, and its strengths are particularly comforting right now. I’m as excited to see what random events await me each morning as I am glad to have it during hard times, and that’s sure to keep me coming back for the foreseeable future.”
Supergiant Games has become known for its stylish action games that break genre molds. When it came to producing the roguelike Hades, the studio introduced the one thing that a genre based around repeated death and retrying doesn’t tend to tackle: an excellent, engaging story that develops and enriches because you die and restart, not in spite of it. As Zagreus, son of Hades, your various runs are attempts to escape the Underworld of Greek mythology. Your buffs are Boons granted to you by the gods who have an axe to grind against your dad or a soft spot for his child. As you fail, you learn more about the motivations and feelings of the various deities and demigods helping you, and even your own internal drive to escape. It culminates in an ending that feels rewarding and complete even as it maintains its roguelike roots.
The majority of your time is spent in combat, and Hades excels there as well. Supergiant taps its accumulated knowledge from hits like Bastion to create an isometric action game that is fast, fluid, and strategic. By merging impeccable combat mechanics with a story that keeps you coming back, Hades is a hell of a good time.
In GameSpot’s Hades review, Suriel Vasquez gives the game a 9/10, writing, “Like in the Greek myths Hades takes inspiration from, endings aren’t tidy, and they’re almost never final. They’re protracted, often unsatisfying, and are hard to find real closure in, and the fact that Hades understands this is its greatest strength. I’m sure there’s a point where, after running through hell enough times, I’ll have seen all Hades has to offer, both in its clever and endless fights and its many alluring characters, intimate moments, and rewarding quests. The story does end. But what matters so much more are all the moments between the start and end of a story, and the people who help us see those climactic moments but also stick with us between them. They’re the reason we keep trying, and the reason we keep coming back.”
Picross games are common on Nintendo handhelds, but Murder by Numbers stood out this year by marrying the common nonogram gameplay with that of a visual novel. The strength of Murder by Numbers’ writing and characters made it a uniquely memorable experience. You play as Honor Mizrahi, an actress on a cheesy 1990s procedural crime show who turns into a real-life detective with the help of her robot buddy, Scout. He’s the one to scan and interpret clues, pushing all the hardware power 1996 can muster, which makes sense of why the clues appear as pixelated images. The story is particularly strong, thanks to a memorable cast of characters that puts an emphasis on representation through a modern lens. It infuses all of this with a kind spirit that and humor that makes even the grisly subject matter of murder investigations feel like a good time with your friends.
In GameSpot’s Murder by Numbers impressions, Steve Watts wrote, “Murder By Numbers has a special place in my heart. It stands the risk of flying under the radar and being missed, and that would be a real crime.”
Detective stories are common in video games, but Paradise Killer is the rare game that captures the spirit of it. Confronted with a mystery to solve, you aren’t hand-held through the major plot beats or driven toward a series of suspects. Instead, it’s an open-world structure where you can speak to everyone, draw your own conclusions, and go to trial to accuse your suspect–whether or not you have the necessary evidence or even the right suspect in mind. That freedom means each of the island inhabitants has a high degree of complexity and dialogue that reveals their underlying motivations. Just when you think you understand how everyone fits into the puzzle, you discover an even deeper layer that makes you question everything. All of this is complemented by a stylish aesthetic, wild character designs, and a fantastic soundtrack.
In GameSpot’s Paradise Killer review, James O’Connor gives the game a 9/10, writing, “Paradise Killer is a singular, exemplary experience. It’s a detective game that feels like real detective work in a way few games do, and it makes its extremely complex worldbuilding feel effortless. I put off the final trial for as long as I can not only because I wanted all the evidence I could find, but because I did not want to leave the island or the game. Paradise might have been killed, but when you’re deep into untangling the game’s conspiracies, it feels very much alive.”
In some ways, Spiritfarer is a farming and management game in the vein of Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing. What’s more, your friends are adorable, anthropomorphized animals. You can even give them hugs! It has all the hallmarks of a cozy-core romp. But the setting gives it an added layer of depth that extends well past the satisfaction of doing a job and doing it well. In Spiritfarer you are the ferrymaster for the underworld, keeping your passengers comfortable and happy as you usher them toward eternity. It’s a concept that lends itself to pensive reflection, and as you proceed with your passengers and learn more about them, you start to understand their personalities, their lives, and what they need to move on. It’s a death-positive approach that imbues all of your interactions with an added layer of grace and profundity. Even in the afterlife, or on their way there, everyone just wants to connect and to be understood for who they are.
In GameSpot’s Spiritfarer review, Hope Corrigan gives the game a 9/10, writing, “Spiritfarer is somehow a game with no risk but all reward. There’s no death, no pain, no rush on any task, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever felt this complete. You’re allowed to totally take your time, play on your own terms, and even though your tasks are easy, they are incredibly fulfilling. If the game had kept giving me quests, I feel as if I would have kept doing them for eternity, just because I wanted to. All of Spiritfarer’s novel mechanical variations kept potentially repetitive actions from ever growing old. Its gleeful little islands got more exciting to explore as new platforming abilities were unlocked. The characters, even small ones with funny little quips of dialogue that you encounter, were friends that I cherished. I absolutely adored existing in Spiritfarer’s beautifully animated, compassionate world so much that it genuinely came to feel like home.”