Stephan’s Top 10 Games of 2020

Note: I wrote this in December 2020, wanted to publish the same time I finished the video and that just ended up staying on my “To Do” shame pile for months, so… if anything here reads as outdated that’s why. Thanks!

2020 reaffirmed many of my qualms with the games industry that’ve been festering in my soul these past few years. AAA studios pumped out bloated and unnecessary sequels in The Last of Us Part II and DOOM Eternal, souring the fond feelings I had of the games they succeeded. The slimy tendrils of “ The Brands™” who still refuse to be silent wrapped around the few mainstream games I did enjoy this year, manifesting hideous Fall Guys beans and setting up shameful, miserable habitats in Animal Crossing to cash in on the trend du jour. Also, did no one tell the rapist-elect he maybe shouldn’t get a private island in a game meant primarily for kids? Especially after… you know.

Biden campaign launches official Animal Crossing: New Horizons yard signs -  The Verge
Thanks, I hate it.

Thankfully, indie game creators were still breathing hope into my games library.

Something must have been in the indie dev water three to four years ago because this year was unequivocally the year of the Roguelite/like. Hades, Spelunky 2, Toxicant, Rogue Legacy 2, Going Under, Risk of Rain 2 version 1.0, Undermine, Scourgebringer– hell even the original Rogue returned to Steam.

get it?

Thing is, I’m not a big fan of Roguelikes or lites, so while I found great joy in watching the rogue fans in my life gorge themselves I turned to the front page of to find my next meal. The indie scene proved that a new concept, whether swung and missed or executed brilliantly, will always be more interesting than retread ground cashing in on brand recognition- no offense Spelunky 2 or Super Meat Boy Forever.

Just like in 2019, most of the games I fell in love with this year entrenched me in my favourite design mantra: quality over quantity. Most of these games can be beaten in a few hours. The few bigger games I did connect with this year were primarily ways for me to spend time with friends who I weren’t able to see in person for obvious reasons. But even those longer experiences are still quality experiences, free from the vomit-inducing monetization models that plague most mainstream games.

So here are my top ten favourite games I got a chance to play in 2020, I hope you find something that piques your interest and cheers to more amazing indies in 2021!

I also made a video for those of you who are more audio-visually inclined.

voila, video!

Anyways, enjoy reading!

Tetris Effect blew me away when I beat it in VR back in 2018, so I was sceptical the non-VR version launching alongside the new Xboxes (and Windows) would be able to impress me in the same way. It didn’t, but instead, it featured the coolest shakeup to the Tetris formula I’ve ever seen in my almost 2 decades playing Tetris.

In the new Connected mode up to 3 players join forces to defeat a single enemy’s screen, but the kicker is once players have cleared enough lines they initiate a single connected space where all their team’s screens connect and they begin alternating dropping pieces.


This fucking blew my mind the first time it happened. I got into a rhythm with my teammates where we were finding our next spot and dropping pieces within seconds, filling up the screen to send as many lines possible to our foe. It was the most surprising moment I encountered in a game this year, one I probably wouldn’t have been surprised by if I read up on the game or watched a single trailer, but I just saw it on game pass and jumped in. I went back and replayed the Journey mode which still owns, but I’m desperately looking for people to play Connected with, and as it’s crossplay… well, add me if you’re down.

Everyone knows the pitch for SUPERHOT: time only moves when you move. It’s a concept first executed in 2016’s SUPERHOT, then in virtual reality the next year and then brought to every platform under the sun. SUPERHOT Team took some time away from the spotlight to begin publishing games (like one of my favourite 2019 gems Frog Detective 2) but returned this year with what started as an expansion turned into a full-fledged sequel in SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE– a game given free to everyone who owns SUPERHOT, which is pretty dope.

This is one of the few Roguelites I really dug this year, as each “level” is a series of challenge rooms with a selection from a random group of upgrades available after clearing each one. I found these bite-sized runs perfect to mediate the rapid boredom that sets in for me in other Roguelikes and lites. If you liked the original SUPERHOT chances are this one’s already free for you in your inventory. If you like Roguelites and want to see an FPS-take on the increasingly crowded genre, this is the game for you.

For me, New Horizons is going to live and die in 2020. It released the week I started working from home and I almost didn’t get it because mall security shut down the line I was in at EB Games (but thankfully my much bolder friend Chris got us in there) and I played it pretty much every day from when it launched until The Last of Us Part II released. I’ve booted it back up twice since that day, and both times I ran around my house killing all the cockroaches and walked around my island remembering I did pretty much everything I wanted to do which was mainly roll credits and then find all the fossils. And that’s that, but that’s all it needs to be.

I had pretty much the same experience with New Leaf back in 2013, although maybe I played it a little bit longer after the big amiibo update, and if New Horizons ever gets a bigger content expansion I’d gladly hop back in. But in a year where my girlfriend and I needed something to do besides go outside, I’m so glad this game was here for us to dive into, to give us routine, something to obsess over and something to connect us to our friends. It’s not my favourite game of 2020, but it is most certainly THE game of 2020.

For someone who failed his driving test multiple times, I’ve only really excelled at driving in Mario Kart, a game I busted out multiple times in 2020 to whoop my friends.

Sporting activities like Tony Hawk Pro Skater’s tapes and letters, art of rally has several overworld levels to play through at your leisure or meticulously crafted tracks to race through with your rally car of choice. As a car illiterate player, this game welcomed me into its arms and let me have a great time on my own terms, setting my own goals and nudged me in ways that never felt as condescending as other racing sims I’ve played, and for that I love it.

art of rally is also a very different racing game to any I’ve played before in that it asks a much deeper question- is driving art? Not are cars art, or is a winding road through a beautiful landscape art, but is the act of driving art? In the same way a painter’s brush creates art on the canvas does a driver’s car create art on the road? Is the motion of a metal body on rubber treads through space a form of expression in the same way a dancer’s fluid movement across a stage is?

Well, yeah.

What if Guacamelee! was a linear level-based arcade game that got soaked in a pastel swirl of cute colours and cuddly characters? That’d be Super Crush K.O., the next game from Canadian indie action powerhouse Vertex Pop, consistently the beacon of hope in a genre increasingly abandoned by indie studios in recent years like the almighty Housemarque.

This game is cute as heck and tight as hell, and I think largely forgotten about in the conversation this year due to releasing so early in January. That and not being a Roguelike. But whether you check it out on PC or Switch you’re in for a good time. Save that cat!!!

The internet phenomenon none of my in-person friends would check out (except Sean, bless you), Blaseball captivated me and pretty much my entire digital friend group for months. What is Blaseball? It’s essentially a web-based score box and standings for a fake league that plays a version of baseball that was virtually unrecognizable by the 5th or 6th season due to all the crazy rules that got layered on when fans vote in at the end of each season. For a much more comprehensive and entertaining explanation of the internet phenomenon, watch People Make Game’s great video on the best sport to grace the internet.

While I fell off in later seasons due to being unable to pay attention 24/7 as you needed to do to understand what’s happening, I am excited to see how they shake it up when they return from the big siesta… whenever that happens.

Internships are heck, and Going Under is the only other Roguelite that resonated with me this year. Going Under is an efficient 3D fighter elevated into another hemisphere by its amazing art style partnered with a brutally funny and scathing script. Skewering nonsensical startup culture, vertical monopolies, the desperate job market and so much more, Going Under dolls out its brilliant story in between runs that kept me coming back, again and again, to hear more.

Janice fights with whatever she can pick up, and this absurd inventory complements the game’s absurd enemies, levels and uh, premise. Doing free labour? For a billion-dollar company?! Fuck that! Going Under speaks to me on a spiritual level, in my own meme-laden vernacular and in my own cynical tone. It’s the most “Stephan” game I played that year… which might be a deterrent based on how well you know or don’t know me, but that’s why I loved it so much.

Dialogue choices in games suck ass. Most of the time, anyways. They’re often arbitrary decisions meant to provide some sense of control while guiding you to the one or two endings the narrative designers need you to land on. Different flavours sprinkled over the same low-fat, butter-free, disappointing popcorn. Signs of the Sojourner asks the all-important question: what if they didn’t suck? What if there weren’t dialogue choices at all? But rather we designed a visual system to convey the often messy, often difficult ways human communication actually works?

Players build a deck of cards (wait no, come back) with a symbol on each side, and sometimes a special effect at the top. Players place these cards alternating in turn with the person they’re talking to on a horizontal line of spaces, trying to connect the symbols on each side to successfully move the conversation forward. It’s an incredibly simple system that devastated me each time I couldn’t connect with someone I needed to and felt so good each time I reached the end of a conversation successfully. Nothing has more accurately captured the nuances and frustrations of actually talking to people, and it’s worth checking out to see this system is executed even if you don’t care about narratives and even if you don’t like deck builders.

As I said on our 2020 wrap-up episode of the podcast, Dépanneur Nocturne is like a nice cup of hot chocolate. It’s a little late night adventure to a local bodega to find a present pour mon bichette. A solo dev’s little passion project, this game feels ripped out of a magical night in the designer’s Quebecoise life with fantastical, astrological elements added and very Canadian references made.

Whatever you do, make sure you insist on using the facilities here as that tangent was my favourite of the whole experience- and one I missed on my first playthrough. Also, play through this game several times! It’s short, you can make it home to your bichette in 10 minutes if you want or 30-40 minutes if you want to really meander and test the cashier’s patience. I want more intimate, personal games like this one. I applaud indie game coop studio KO_OP Mode for letting their designers put out these passion projects with their support and I hope more studios will follow suit.

Kentucky Route 0: Act V is the end of a 7-year long episodic adventure that wrapped up at the start of the year- followed by Kentucky Route 0: TV Edition for consoles and PC Edition which collected all the Acts in one package and added little interstitials between each episode.

I really struggle to put into words why I like Kentucky Route 0 so much.

It’s a game whose meanings are hard to sus out, but game whose meanings are so captivating and fascinating to sus out. I don’t know if what I think the game is trying to say is actually what that game is trying to say- and I don’t think it matters.

Haunting passages like these are peppered throughout.

Much like Night in the Woods (my favourite game of 2017), Kentucky Route 0 is a tale of late-capitalist fallout in the American rust belt. It’s a story of people at the end of their rope, struggling for stability and answers. People discarded by the economy, failed by their government, abandoned by civil society and left to their own devices. But it’s in this dire state they find each other, and this miserable life is punctuated with beautiful moments that give hope- or at least respite.

It’s a game I still think about all the time. In many ways Kentucky Route 0 is a game about the journey, not the destination. It’s such a different game from anything else I’ve played. It’s unique and refreshing in a way I really needed this year after I was getting more and more cynical with all the games I was seeing, playing and, well, cyberpunk.

Love that bird…

It provides a sense of peace and a pacing I really appreciate and really needed this year. I think this game transcends what games and interactive media can be in many ways, and that probably sounds pretentious and douchey but I think it’s true.

Kentucky Route 0, with a story that’s very hopeless, gave me a lot of hope for videogames, for how we can pull together and work together, and live and love together to make the world a better place- and make life worth living.

It’s on all major platforms, check it out.


Thank you so much for reading! I’d love to know what you think of my list, if there’s a game you’re going to check out now or one you think I missed that I should play. I really appreciate every person who takes the time to read my work and I’d love to know what you think in the comments below!

Stephan’s Top 10 Movies of 2020

Obviously, 2020 sucked ass- especially for moviegoers.

The theatre is one of my favourite places to be and the optimal setting to experience a film. In 2019 I was spoiled, I saw over 40 movies on the big screen (all with my amazing girlfriend), and thought the good times would roll on. But this year, despite our own movie fan prime minister winning reelection at the end of 2019 and the correct rapist winning the election south of the border in 2020, we were still only able to see a few films in theatres at the start of the year and a brief window in the summer when Nova Scotia had zero cases for several weeks… but it didn’t last.

Our very nice Prime Minister in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020).

So I, like many film fans and film studios, turned to streaming services to salvage the year. While I’d never pay $30 to see another bastardized live action remake of an animated Disney classic (with all the great songs taken out) I did subscribe to Disney+ and shared it with my mom to start paying back the decade of Netflix I’ve mooched. Between Disney+, Netflix and Prime Video I still managed to watch a lot of 2020 movies, and I’m bending my rules a little to include a few films from the very end of 2019 I only got around to this year because they’re just so goddamn good.

So here are my top 10 films from the hellish year we’ve had, and fingers crossed for another unprofitable year for the morally bankrupt, monopolistic Disney corporation in 2021.

Oh, and if you don’t like reading then here’s a video I spent way too much time on.

Enjoy reading, nerd!

Like most filmgoers of taste, I enjoy British culture at an arm’s length, ideally through the lens of a self-absorbed British director and definitely not set during the nation’s weird hat era (sorry, Emma). That made The Gentlemen, a crime thriller about a druglord’s attempt at retirement, the perfect big blockbuster British film for me. The action slaps, the lads are chads and it’s all retold through the silky voice of Charlie Hunnam. Well, that right there’s a good time.

The Gentlemen has some style, and some cringe which I’ve been informed isn’t so much cringe as mainstream British hip-hop culture but uh, be warned. I really dug the action in this movie, it’s dumb it’s fun and I’m also partial to Matthew McConaughey ever since Interstellar so that might be clouding my judgement a little but hey, it’s on Netflix, give it a watch.

This is essentially the 2-hour version of that vine of the football coach asking what’s better than this? Filmed right here on the East Coast, The Lighthouse is a mind-warping dive into isolation and insanity that hit a little close to home being viewed during the self-isolating year many of us had. Don’t let the arthouse, black and white and 4:3 aspect ratio turn you off, there’s so much depth (get it) to this perilous tale of two men trapped in their own little hell under the ever-watching eye of the Lighthouse.

William Dafoe wins my unofficial award for most amazing facial expressions in a movie (most likely ever) and I loved how easily and jarringly he could transition from endearing and funny to terrifying and bone-chilling in a single scene. Robert Pattinson is cool too, a young foil to Dafoe’s old madman vibes. I don’t know how it ended, I don’t think I fully understood everything that happened, but I definitely know I loved it.

Chadwick Boseman’s last two performances of his career were released in 2020. The first is as Stormin’ Norman in Spike Lee’s meandering Da 5 Bloods, a movie I struggled to get through but that’s no fault of Boseman. The second is as aspiring blues band composer and trumpeter Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which released posthumously this December and in so many ways adds a bittersweet tone to Boseman’s final performance.

Directed by playwright George C. Wolfe, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom really feels like a play in how its scenes are set and its many monologues delivered. Across just a few sets Boseman puts everything into each word, each movement. He slides across the room and pushes through every scene with such charisma and captivating delivery I cannot believe he filmed this whole movie while he had stage four colon cancer.

Carried by Boseman and an amazing cast in Viola Davis, Colman Domingo and the hilarious and heartbreaking Glynn Turman as Toledo, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is in no way an easy watch and nor should it be. I also can’t help thinking how fitting that Boseman was able to get his acting career started at the Oxford Summer Program in 1998 because of donations from Denzel Washington, and then ended his career in a film Denzel produced. It’s almost poetic.

It took Pixar twenty-five years but they seem to have finally realized black characters can exist outside of a side character for comic relief. With Soul, the prolific animation studio has finally delivered a story not only about a black character and his lifelong dreams of becoming a famous jazz pianist, but a story about the black community that surrounds him. While they still won’t let this black character be himself for the majority of the movie, presumably because black men aren’t as marketable as cute blueish blobs or adorable cats named Mr Mittens, and they only let audiences experience blackness through the lens of a white-coded perspective, they still delivered a visually stunning film exploring the dreams we set for ourselves and the challenging yet worthwhile process of reexamining who we want to be at all parts of life.

Soul resonated with my girlfriend and I, touching on conversations we’d had many times about why we’re doing what we do, what we want out of life and whether or not it matters if we know the answer to either. I’ve always loved Pixar’s standalone films more than their watered-down sequels, and Soul further cemented my belief this studio is at their best when they’re pushing new ground, exploring new perspectives and giving the mic to new voices.

Okay well not new voices, it stars Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey… but new characters, rather than cashing out on nostalgia.

I’d recommend further reading Charles Pulliam-Moore’s piece Soul Feels Like Pixar’s First Black Movie Made With White People in Mind for a better critique about the way this film treats its black characters than I could ever make.

Pitched as a loose retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, The Half of It is another cheesy, heartfelt teen rom-com that I’ve found myself enjoying more and more the further I get from my own high school years. For those who’ve followed my Top 10 Movie lists in recent years you’ll remember the dumb fun I had watching Netflix’s To All the Boys I Loved Before, and while that film had a sequel this year I found myself drawn to this highschool drama instead.

Starring Leah Lewis as Ellie Chu, a highschooler picking up the slack for her widower immigrant father, Ellie helps her dad pay the bills by writing papers for her peers, filling in for his job at the train station and cooking small pies she can reheat in the evenings. She has a crush on a girl Aster in her class but lacks the confidence to do anything about it, so when another classmate Paul asks Ellie to write love letters for him to give to Aster she initially refuses until Paul offers to pay just like his peers pay for papers. The tangle of love, lies and growth that follow warmed the cockles of my cold, cynical heart- and maybe it’ll do the same for you.

Lindsey Ellis argued in one of her last essays of the year that Borat as a character works even better in 2020 than he did in 2006. Truth be told I didn’t even see the first Borat until earlier this year when my friend Chris found out neither my girlfriend or I had and I got to see where all those memes and quotes I’d been seeing my whole life originated.

There’s some truth to Ellis’ argument. After the election of Trump and the complete breaking down of any legitimacy our political and cultural “leaders” (including Borat) actually have there’s no way to satirize a world like ours anymore, really. So with Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Cohen and his new companion rip across the US of A reminding us all these are just people. We’re all just people and how we treat one another that matters.

I kept thinking of this quote I heard on a podcast earlier this year:

“The great unasked question in our public life is, ‘Given my role here, how should I behave. Given that I’m a journalist, politician or a parent, what should I do in this situation.’

That’s the question I bet that the people that you most respect seem to ask that question, in moments of decision. And the people who most drive you crazy seem like they never ask that question, and everything they do makes it clear they didn’t asked that question first.”

Everyone in this film either asks, or doesn’t ask, this question. These contrasts expose the division more than who voted for who. I think the lesson of this film is that we should all try to ask this question a lot more.

Oh, and the holocaust definitely did happen.

As I’ve seen Jeremy Kaplowitz say time and time again when Christoper Nolan comes up, “he just makes big fun goofy blockbusters,” and I couldn’t agree more. The common theme throughout Nolan’s work is time, from Momentos to Tenet I’m amazed he finds new ways to play with this theme in bigger and bigger budget ways. And while most of the shots in Tenet that I thought were dope was basically normal footage played in -1x, I still hung on every shot like my cat when a bird is on the TV.

There are so many stupid lines in this movie that have been pointed out on Twitter ad nauseam by now and I won’t pretend this script isn’t dumb as balls at times. To the point I can say lines before the character on screen does, a habit I think pisses off my girlfriend more than anything else I do at the theatre. But I simply don’t care. This blockbuster is big, goofy and fun and coincidentally stars another Robert Pattinson foil character I really loved, he’s just killing it lately.

I relentlessly mock the anime fans in my life for their poor choice in entertainment. It’s not fair and needlessly cruel but they understand. After all, anime was a mistake. But where underage girls in school skirts turn many like me away from anime shows, I’ve watched a few anime movies that managed to really hit me in a way a real movie would (just teasing). One such film was CoMix Wave’s 2017 bombshell Your Name. So when I learned the studio’s next film was releasing and actually showing in my local theatre, I hopped on it without even seeing a trailer.

Weathering with You didn’t hit me nearly as hard as Your Name., but it still sported an endearing and funny script (enjoyed best with subtitles, of course) and magical animation that played with wet and water in some really beautiful ways. I’m out of my element in anime and I think that might contribute to my enjoyment of the few I do watch, but even the anime aficionados in my life spoke highly of this film so I’d encourage you to check it out if you’re an anime sceptic like myself or weeb trash like my friends.

Bending the rules cause it’s my list and I dunno, I’ll do whatever I want, I want to give a huge shoutout to all the Pixar shorts released this year for being some of the most gorgeous, heartwarming bits of animation I had the pleasure of watching this year.

Loop captures the frustration of trying to communicate to those who are different than us, and how it can be immensely rewarding to find common ground.

Out is a rollicking look at the struggle of being yourself with those you love most, and the fear they won’t accept us.

And Burrow, especially after the year we’ve endured, showed me that only through working together with those around us can we all thrive.

They’re all on Disney+, and I hope you’ll cuddle up to someone you love and give them a watch.

It might not mean much for some when I say this, but gambling addict Howard Ratner is unequivocally Adam Sandler’s best performance in his entire career. I think Sandler’s been coasting on his few early hits and pumping out abysmal Netflix movies in recent years, but he fucking nails it in this nerve-wracking, incredibly compelling roller coaster of stressful, tense standoffs and devilish cons.

I did experience Uncut Gems incredibly high which may or may not have impacted my enjoyment of it, who’s to say. I will never watch this film ever again in order to preserve my one, perfect viewing experience but I have it on good authority the film still owns sober so check it out if you like risky wagers and/or want to understand all the Sandler memes you may have seen and not understood this year.

Oh, and that ending, come on!


Thank you so much for reading! I’d love to know what you think of my list, if there’s a movie you’re going to check out now or one you think I missed that I should try and watch. I really appreciate every person who takes the time to read my work and I’d love to know what you think in the comments below!