This was not a close contest. At all.
In spite of how terrible the current situation has been all around in general across the world, the one area where this year has gone above and beyond is with video games. Video games as a medium are thriving, with more and more people flocking to them as an escape from the grim and dark reality that the calamitous events of the year have posed thus far – and thankfully, games, in turn, have put their best foot forward, with so many amazing, incredible titles coming out, from all sectors of the industry, and on all platforms, that this has been one of the best years for games in recent memory – definitely among the best ones this last generation.
The true star of the year has been the PlayStation 4; with the console in its final year before it makes way for the next generation PS5, one would expect things to be slowing down now, ceding the limelight to its successor. It wouldn’t even have been an unreasonable expectation – last year wasn’t the best for the PS4, after all, and it wasn’t that much of a stretch to think that beyond the handful of releases Sony had lined up for the console this year in order to ensure that its next generation system would hit the ground running.
The PS5 did in fact hit the ground running. But it as the PS4 where Sony’s true prowess as a platform holder was on display, with an inspired slew of releases, from AAA to indie, third party to first party, Japanese to western, multiplatform to exclusive, and any other categorization you might care to come up with. In this, the final year of the console’s life as Sony’s flagship, it got Nioh 2, Resident Evil 3 Remake, Fall Guys, Yakuza 7: Like A Dragon, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs Legion, Sakura Wars, Immortals: Fenyx Rising, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 HD, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Spelunky 2, Cuphead, Streets of Rage 4, Trails of Cold Steel 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War… this isn’t counting some great first party releases, from Dreams to Ghost of Tsushima, Spider–Man: Miles Morales to Sackboy’s Big Adventure.
And through all of this, I haven’t even mentioned the knockout titles the PS4 got, with the console receiving an unprecedented three 10/10 titles this year – Final Fantasy VII Remake, the first part of Square Enix’s ambitious reimagining of their 1997 seminal hit; Persona 5 Royal, the culmination of P-Studio and Atlus’ craft, delivering arguably the best RPG of all time, and one of the best games in generation; and The Last of Us Part 2, Naughty Dog’s bold and ambitious follow-up to their 2013 classic, which subverted expectations and delivered one of the most daring stories the medium has seen, and one of Naughty Dog’s best playing games ever.
The full range of games the PS4 got was truly mind-boggling. It doesn’t matter what kind of game you like, the PS4 probably had you covered this year regardless. A year such as this for a single console at any point in time is remarkable, of course – but to deliver such an outing in the console’s last year on the market is an unprecedented feat. Going all the way back to the NES, I can’t think of a single console or handheld that ever went out on such a high note. Not even the much vaunted PS2 managed this. Truly, this final year firmly cements the PS4’s legacy and elevates it to an all time great console.
While the other consoles didn’t quite hit these same highs, they had reasonably strong showings in and of themselves. The Xbox One, for example, got some of the strongest games Microsoft’s first party has put out in a while, including Ori and the Will of the Wisps (another GamingBolt 10/10), Wasteland 3 (inXile’s surprisingly excellent and compelling sequel to the disappointing revival of the classic cRPG), Tell Me Why (Dontnod’s excellent and empathetic graphic adventure game that showed them moving from strength to strength), as well as the more disappointing Bleeding Edge and Minecraft Dungeons.
All of this was in addition to a bunch of great multiplatform games that it shared with the PS4 – Yakuza 7, Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed, Immortals, Tony Hawk, Crash Bandicoot and Resident Evil. This, of course, isn’t even counting some belated releases the system saw this year, such as Yakuza 0, Kiwami, and Kiwami 2. The console certainly had a bit of a blow with Halo Infinite‘s delay (which also hurt the Xbox Series X, of course), and in general, Microsoft’s weakness with first party titles and exclusive third party games (the latter of which, at least, Microsoft is looking to address with the Series X), did mean it wasn’t quite as incredible as its rival, but even so, the Xbox One ended on a very strong note this year.
Nintendo had a very quite year in 2020, and while that sort of thing can color perception, they really didn’t need to do a lot of talking, because the Switch was firing on all cylinders this year as well. Now, to be fair, it was nowhere near as good a year for it as 2017 or 2019 had been. In fact, this was easily among the worse ones the system has had. But even accounting for that, the Switch actually managed to deliver a surprising number of great games. The star of the year was without a doubt Animal Crossing New Horizons, Nintendo’s radical rethinking of their life sim franchise that hit at exactly the right time, giving everyone around the world the escape they needed from COVID-19 and the lockdowns that ensued. New Horizons became a phenomenon, basically becoming the kind of runaway success that we saw with Pokemon GO back in 2016, and probably is responsible for single-handedly propelling the Switch to its meteoric success this year.
Animal Crossing aside, the Switch also saw some other first party titles, including Paper Mario: The Origami King (which was surprisingly great), Mario Kart Live (the augmented reality Mario Kart spin off that gave us the kind of left field swerve we expect from Nintendo at this point), and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, Clubhouse Games (a pretty easygoing board game collection for the Switch which was perfect for this long summer), C the Dynasty Warriors style prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo also re-released a bunch of their older games on the Switch, from Xenoblade Chronicles Definitve Edition, Pikmin 3 Deluxe, and Super Mario 3D All Stars.
All of this was in addition to a surprisingly strong showing of third party support for the system as well, with games such as Trials of Mana, Kingdom Hearts: Memory of Melody, Catherine: Full Body, XCOM 2, Borderlands; The Handsome Collection, Burnout Paradise Remastered, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered, Metro Exodus, A Short Hike, Raji, Rune Factory 4, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, CrossCode, No More Heroes, No More Heroes 2, Streets of Rage 4, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and of course, Game of the Year contender Hades (which Switch was actually the only console beneficiary of).
Again, this wasn’t the Switch’s best year, and Animal Crossing and Hades aside, there weren’t any big heavy hitters – but it was a well rounded lineup, and helped bolster the Switch’s library further (albeit, of course, it was thoroughly outshone by the PS4, which shone with the brilliance of a thousand suns).
Everyone was a winner this year as far as games go, because each of the three current generation consoles did extraordinarily well, even though the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch were quieter than than the competition (and in the Switch’s case, quieter than even its past few years). But once you put aside the console warring that inevitably comes with the territory when discussing games, you will see that what we got this year was one of the strongest outings that this medium as a whole has had – and in the end, what more could you really ask for?