The Vooks Awards – The Best of Switch, Indies, the highs and lows of 2020

While 2020 has been a bit crap, the games that came out this year haven’t. We’ve been spoiled for games, and we’ve been given more than enough time indoors to play a lot of them.

While there’s wasn’t multiple blockbusters from Nintendo, third parties and Indies stepped in and filled the gaps. This year was all something different, and the awards given this year reflect that. Let’s start off with the big one, our game of the year.

You’ll never guess it.

Winner: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Was it going to be anything else? Actually it could have been with Hades only a couple votes behind.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was going to be a big game no matter when it released, but it’s gone places where even Nintendo hasn’t thought it would. Released at the beginning of what would be a worldwide lockdown, a one in a hundred year event, Animal Crossing: New Horizons brought the globe together, gave people an escape and a place to play where it wasn’t possible to do anywhere else at the time.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t just the game of the year because of this, even without a pandemic you’ve got an expanded, quality of life addressing life simulator that’s bigger and grander than the series has ever been. As of September 30th, 26.04 million copies of Animal Crossing have been sold. It’s only 2 million behind Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – and that game has been out four years.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a world away from life’s problems and worries – it’s right there in the name. – VOOK

Runner-up: Hades

Hades came close to topping out our overall GOTY 2020, but it takes the spot among this year’s indie releases. All kinds of genres in recent years have been generously iterated and innovated upon, and the meteoric rise of the roguelike/roguelite formula has been refined further by Supergiant Games’s latest.

In case you missed it: the game is a robust hack-and-slash, try-and-die roguelite set in the Greek underworld starring Zagreus, son of Hades. What sets it apart from other roguelites is its consistent encouragement to keep the player moving forward with various rewards: permanent stat increases, new items, more powerful upgrades, and more. But, most importantly, each run is punctuated with small fragments of story delivered by new dialogue among its characters. All this combined with some of the most gorgeous hand-drawn art and design, tight combat controls, and a dynamic and deep boon system for decking out your skills in each run, and you have a recipe for one of the best games of this year. – Angelo Valdivia

Winner: Hades

There is very little one should say about Hades because the game unfolds the more that you play it, you are the son of Hades and live in Hades, the place, not the god. Your single ambition is to escape to the surface and no matter how many times you fail you will always try again.

This set up one of the most satisfying gameplay loops that players have encountered, because not only does Zagreus get stronger, whenever he dies, he learns a little more about his extended family, the gods of Olympus.

With multiple weapons and a constant and ever-changing layout, each run offers something new to attempt and your least liked weapons can quickly become your favourites, should you be blessed with the right power-ups. No matter how many runs it takes you to escape, you know what they say, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try… try, try and try again. – Luke Henderson

Runner-up: Spiritfarer (Thunder Lotus Games)

Spiritfarer is a management game about death, life, and moving on. For all of its cartoonish charm and lovingly drawn art style, there’s a surprisingly dark and touching side to it. For every minute spent exploring beautiful new vistas, you’ll spend twice as long tending to your residents on Charon’s ferry — feeding them, making them happy, giving them things to do, and above all, helping them move on, both in their life, and at the end of it.

It’s a tragic, heartbreaking game, and ferrying a lovely soul, with whom you’ve spent dozens of hours, to their final resting place never gets easier. But it’s an important, necessary story, about finding peace in the world, during life, death, and everything in between. It’s a game that personally helped me to get through this nightmare year, and if it hadn’t been released in a year with a Supergiant Games release — which are always phenomenal — it undoubtedly would have won this category. If I had my way, it’d win every category here (somehow) (except the bad ones). – Oliver Brandt

Winner: Moving Out

What if you take Overcooked, and instead of fighting against work together with the horrible tasks of moving home. You’ve got yourself the SMG Studios and Devm Games developed romp that is Moving Out. It was a great year for Australian developers, with some quality releases – but everyone on the team picked Moving Out as their best.

Winner: Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

A lot of surprising things happened this year, but the team picked Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. It’s not a game, but a Nintendo product we didn’t see coming or ever think was actually possible.

Strapping a camera to an actual Mario Kart toy, then having the signal beam to the Switch is just – genius. Upon announcement, there was doubt it could be done well, but when you’re playing it and if you have the room it actually just feels like a Mario Kart game. It’s odd, there’s a toy rolling around your house, but the game on the Switch – same great Mario Kart. – VOOK

Runner-up: Steve in Smash

Whenever there is word that a new Super Smash Bros character will be revealed, the hype level explodes into the stratosphere, when they are revealed, usually, most people are ok with it, a few vocal ones are not and then there is Steve.

Minecraft joining the Super Smash Bros series was a massive deal, because not only did it prove that Nintendo can play nice with other companies yet again, but it also added in entire mechanics that Smash Bros had never dealt with before. Many players just enjoy the game as it is, but there are some that get really into the nitty-gritty details, learning all they can about a character, but with the Minecraft building additions, that adds so much more, if you are willing to learn.

If that wasn’t enough, Steve joining the fight also brought with him another stage that is randomly created, which can sometimes be the best stages. – Luke Henderson

Winner: Ori and the Will of the Wisps / Bioshock: Collection

Runners up: Borderlands, Burnout Paradise, Immortals Fenyx Rising

2020 was a lot of things, but it was also the year of really good Switch ports. From the technically amazing, the feature complete and of course some franchises making their way back to Nintendo for the first time or returning after a long time. The voting was tight in the category as evidenced by so many games. Both Ori and the Will of the Wisps and BioShock Collection had just one more vote more than the others.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is up there because for a while the Switch port ran better than the Xbox version of the game, BioShock is there because all three games are presented perfectly – and with all their DLC. The Switch continues to be a home for games that publishers have forgotten about or never had the gumption to release them on a Nintendo system before. We like it, let’s see it continue in 2021. – VOOK

Winner: Nintendo Time Limiting Everything

Nintendo calls it a celebration, we call it something less nice. This year Nintendo announced several products with a shelf life on them. No, it’s not milk, it was Super Mario 3D All-Stars, the Super Mario Bros Game & Watch, Super Mario 35 and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light. All of them will be gone from sale on March 31st 2021. Why?

Speaking to Polygon, Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser had this to say when asked about why they’re doing it:

Yeah, I think I use a simple word: celebration. It just — this is a celebration of Mario’s 35th anniversary. And we wanted to celebrate in unique and different ways, and we’ve done that through games like Super Mario 3D All-Stars, or we will be doing that through future releases, such as Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury.

And then we’ve also done it through releases such as Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros., or through Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. There are various ways that we’re celebrating Mario’s 35th. And with some of these titles, we felt it was an opportunity to release them for a limited period of time.

For physical games with big special editions and collector’s items like the Game & Watch you could understand this mentality, it doesn’t make sense to sell such a low yield product for a long time. But just because your companies to want to market a celebration for less than a year, that shouldn’t mean digital games get removed from sale.

Streaming services like Disney+ and Game Pass are showing that people value legacy content, so pulling the likes of Super Mario 3D All Stars, Super Mario Bros 35, and Fire Emblem in March just seem stupid.

Nintendo’s created a problem for themselves here if they do decide to go back on this, and no one is going to believe it going forward. They’ve already recanted on Jump Rope Challenge, why wouldn’t Mario All Stars be next? – VOOK

Runner-up: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles

Square Enix has surely had a rollercoaster of a year… well, that might be putting it a little optimistically., so let me rephrase. Square Enix has had a year in which they started off strong with the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and then immediately careened off a cliff with the widely derided Marvel’s Avengers in early August (kind of, it was a pseudo-early access/beta trial thing? Let’s just pretend for the sake of the timeline here that it was early August). Then, just a couple weeks later, their chance at redemption: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered. A modern remake of a beloved Gamecube classic, surely they couldn’t mess this up too? Hoo boy.

In the leadup to release, it seemed like every piece of information about the game made it sound worse. First it was that there wasn’t any local multiplayer, opting for online-only play (that’ll be important in a bit), then it was revealed you wouldn’t be able to play outside of missions with friends, meaning you’d have to lobby up again and again for each and every mission in the game. But hey, it had cross-platform online multiplayer between Switch, PS4, and Android/iOS, so as long as that worked well, it should be okayish at least. And then Square Enix’s ‘Cliff 2.0’ happened.

To cut a long story short, when the game released in Australia and New Zealand, the online multiplayer didn’t work. At all. On any platform. It’d just time out after about 30 seconds, every single time. We waited a bit to see if the servers were just having some launch hiccups. Fast-forward over three months, and the game’s only way of playing with others — the whole point of Crystal Chronicles in the first place — is still entirely non-functional in the ANZ region. It’s been pulled from sale in the region on PS4 and Switch, though it is still somewhat available on mobile for some reason. Square Enix mentioned it once, shortly before pulling the game from storefronts, but they’ve quietly gone about their ways without ever fixing the problem. Despite several sizeable updates to the game, the game is still fundamentally broken in Australia and New Zealand, and if we were putting bets down, we’d bet on that never changing. Ah well, maybe 2021 will be better for Square. Maybe. – Oliver Brandt

Tie: (in no particular order) The Last of Us 2, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Star Wars Squadrons

The Last of Us Part II (Naughty Dog)
There is little doubt that The Last of Us Part II would never reach the expectations that gamers had for it, Naughty Dog had set the bar so high with the first, that any sequel was bound to fail. However this didn’t, while it might not have been the story some were after, it did off a new tale, with a host of new character and most importantly new perspectives.

Who knows what the future holds for the series, outside of the HBO TV series, but any addition entry into the world is going to have a very high bar to clear. – Luke Henderson

Yakuza: Like A Dragon (Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio / Sega)
The Yakuza series as a whole has its audience and whilst the games have been very good, they have also been very niche. This changed with this year’s entry, because Like a Dragon got rid of all the baggage that the series had picked up over the years and gave it a new protagonist, new locations and most importantly, a new combat system. The series has been running for almost two decades, but this was the first time it truly welcomed new players — and with amazing success. – Luke Henderson

Microsoft Flight Simulator (Asobo Studio/Microsoft)

2020 saw most of us stuck inside for a significant chunk of the year, and even when we weren’t, air travel has pretty much been off the table since March. For those of us who live far away from our friends and loved ones, this was a particularly difficult aspect of 2020 to grapple with — but somehow, Microsoft Flight Simulator made that a little less tough. Learning to fly a plane, and flying wherever you want in a virtual, 1:1 recreation of our planet would be wonderful at the best of times, but in a year where we’ve never been more cut off from the world, it’s almost a spiritual experience. There’s so much beauty in the world, so much to explore and discover, and Flight Sim brought that beauty into the reach of just about anyone (provided your PC could handle it). That’s a win in any climate, but in 2020, well, that win means a whole lot more. – Oliver Brandt

Final Fantasy VII Remake (Square Enix)
It is almost impossible to believe that this year, held the release of so many titles that were highly anticipated by gamers around the world. Final Fantasy as a series has a special place in the heart of many gamers and Final Fantasy VII is perhaps the most well-known of them. Remake was an interesting game, because it is only half the game that the original release was, but if you ask any gamer that played it, they loved their time with it. Now, players just need to wait until the other half of the game is done and then they can live happily ever after with Aerith, please don’t tell me how that ends. – Luke Henderson

Star Wars Squadrons (Motive Studios)

Star Wars games from EA have been mixed, to say the least, we have had some good with Jedi Fallen Order and some not so good with Battlefield 2. When Squadrons was announced, many felt that the game could be the one, to bring balance to the series as it brought forth a sense of nostalgia from games in the series past.

A lot of emphases was put on making the player feel like they were a pilot, locking you into the first-person perspective was critical for that, but even being required to manage power levels, you know, raising your deflector shield, immersing you into the game like no other. – Luke Henderson

  • Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel
  • Runner-up: Pokémon Snap 2

Come on, you knew this one was still going to be here. A year later and we’re still thirsty for more Breath of the Wild action. Pokémon Snap 2 was a big announcement for sure, but nothing will likely topple this Zelda until it’s release – which we hope is 2021.

Thanks for reading Vooks in 2020.

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When more than one of the Vooks team writes something together we use this account to publish it. No mere single account can hold us all.

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