Video Game Awards 2020: Best Platform

Now’s the time when we take a break from awarding the games themselves, and instead award the platforms we play them on. Or at least, award one of them as the most consistent of the year.

Part of me doesn’t want to do this, as I don’t want to feel I’m fanning the flames of any console wars, which are dumb and in actuality non-existent (fanboys just like to pretend it’s a thing). But at the same time, I’d feel bad about not acknowledging the merits of a console in a given year. So here we are.

 

Winner: Nintendo Switch

I admit 2019 wasn’t the Switch’s best overall year, but with the likes of Luigi’s Mansion 3, Yoshi’s Crafted World, and even *begrudging groan* Pokemon Sword and Shield, it was definitely the place to go for exclusives. Couple that with the seemingly endless barrage of indie titles and classics that are always making their way on the platform, and the Switch’s continued strong third-party support, and the Nintendo Switch had another strong year, even if it didn’t have a Mario Odyssey or Smash Ultimate equivalent.

Playstation 4 also had another strong year, but I think, if I had to pick, 2019 leaned a little more in the Switch’s favor.

 

Runner-up: Playstation 4

 

Past Winners

2014: Wii U*

2015: Playstation 4*

2016: Playstation 4

2017: Nintendo Switch

2018: Playstation 4

 

*Retroactively awarded.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Handheld Game

Handheld gaming has come a long way. Once a simple means to get a quick fix of gaming on the go, that convenience came at the expense of quality. But over the years, as gaming evolved, so to did handheld gaming, with the GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS notably taking it to new heights and success.

Now, handheld games are largely indistinguishable from console and PC titles (aside from graphics). And most notably, the Nintendo Switch has completely bridged the gap between home console and handheld. By merging the two concepts together, Nintendo has created a hybrid console that stands as one of the best of all time.

Because handheld gaming has changed so drastically in recent years, I’d like to once again stress that, as long as traditional handheld platforms are still (somewhat) prominent, I am only including games released on said traditional handhelds and Switch exclusives. If a game is released on Switch, but also available on other, non-handheld hybrid consoles, it seems a bit unfair to refer to them as “handheld games.” So even though the Switch is a home console, its duel status as a handheld makes its exclusive titles eligible for this award. Ya dig?

 

Winner: Luigi’s Mansion 3

Yeah, I know Pokemon Sword and Shield was Nintendo’s big seller and most anticipated Switch title of 2019. But I don’t know, am I the only one who found them to be way too padded out? And to be honest, Pokemon – ironically enough – is the Nintendo series that seems to refuse to evolve.

That wasn’t the case with Luigi’s Mansion 3, however. Taking the atmosphere of the GameCube original and combining it with the more level-based structure of the 3DS sequel, Luigi’s Mansion 3 surpassed both of its predecessors with a game that’s consistently fun and inventive.

The Ghostbusters-inspired action of the series has never been so deep as it is here, and with the game absolutely exploding with personality, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is one of the unsung heroes of the Nintendo Switch.

 

Runner-up: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey

 

Past Winners

2014: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

2015: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

2016: Kirby Planet Robobot

2017: Super Mario Odyssey*

2018: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

 

*Retroactively awarded after deciding Switch exclusives should qualify for this award.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Multiplayer

Multiplayer has never been more important nor prominent in video games than it is today. With the internet connecting players from around the world, more and more developers are putting an emphasis on multiplayer.

Sometimes, we wish to play video games to take us on epic adventures, but other times, we only want to connect with friends (or random strangers) and have some fun.

2019 may not have been the strongest year for multiplayer titles, but it still provided some good ones. Strangely, my favorite of the lot wasn’t originally from 2019 at all…

 

Winner: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

Back in its day, Crash Team Racing was – along with Diddy Kong Racing – hailed as one of the only Mario Kart clones to actually be as good as Mario Kart (considering the most recent Mario Kart at the time was Mario Kart 64, there’s an argument to be made that, in that era, CTR was actually the better racer). Though Mario has since unquestionably wrested that crown – due in no small part to the exceptional Mario Kart 8 – the remake of Crash Team Racing still proves to be one of the best mascot racers not called Mario.

Though its single player modes can leave a lot to be desired (there is seriously no reason for the time trials in a game like this to be that precise!),  Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is all too easy to get sucked into when it comes to its multiplayer. With great track designs, a constantly expanding roster of characters, character skins, and karts, and a bevy of different modes of play, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is like a gift that keeps on giving.

Not bad for a remake of a game from the PS1 era.

 

Runner-up: Luigi’s Mansion 3

 

Past Winners

2014: Mario Kart 8 (Online) and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (local)

2015: Splatoon

2016: Overwatch

2017: For Honor* (Online) and ARMS (Local)

2018: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

 

*Retroactively awarded

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Indie Game

Now more than ever, Indie games are as vital to the gaming world as any other release. No longer relegated to being the pretentious, artsy corner of the gaming landscape, Indie titles now showcase all the variety and fun that their bigger budget counterparts do. Gaming is all the better for it.

Admittedly, 2019 wasn’t the best year for Indie games, and notable fell short of the string of strong years that predated it. Still, the little guys still managed to put up a good fight, and provided what I guess can best be described as my most “unique” selection for Best Indie Game of the year so far…

 

Winner: Untitled Goose Game

While Untitled Goose Game may lack the depth of some of my previous winners in this category, it makes up for it with its undeniable charm and sense of humor.

This breezy, wonderfully casual experience sees players take on the role of the Goose, who is out to have a productive day and completing his daily checklist of chores. Because he’s a goose, that means these chores are comprised of different ways to be a jerk to unsuspecting people.

Taking inspiration from Super Mario 64, Untitled Goose Game has the player tackling miniature areas (the game’s levels) and completing that area’s tasks as they see fit. Only instead of collecting stars like good ol’ Mario, the Goose’s only goal is to mess with the humans around them. Whether it’s moving a chair just as an old man is about to sit down, scaring a kid to lock himself in a phone booth, or stealing some dude’s flip-flops, the Goose’s tasks are always fun and funny.

It may not be the next Shovel Knight or Undertale, but not every Indie game has to be a classic like those games to be enjoyed. Sometimes, the good, simple fun of video games is all you need. And if Untitled Goose Game doesn’t put a smile on your face, you must have a heart of stone.

 

Runner-up: Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove

 

Past Winners

2014: Shovel Knight*

2015: Undertale

2016: Stardew Valley

2017: Hollow Knight**

2018: Celeste

 

*This particular award wasn’t given for 2014, but upon  reflection, Shovel Knight was the clear winner that year.

**I originally awarded Cuphead with the honor, but upon further consideration, Hollow Knight is probably the more deserving of the two.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Gameplay

Gameplay is the lifeblood of video games. I mean, just think about what video games would be like without gameplay. They’d be really awkward movies, I guess.

Even if all else fails in a game, it’s the gameplay that can ultimately save it. Gameplay is the connection between developer and player that separates the medium from all others. It is of the utmost importance to game design.

Winner: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Okay, so Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night isn’t going to get any awards for originality in gameplay, as it is virtually a spiritual recreation of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with a little Aria of Sorrow thrown in for good measure. To Bloodstained’s benefit, however, Symphony of the Night remains one of the best games ever made, and Aria of Sorrow comes a bit closer to SotN’s quality than many admit.

Basically, we have a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Though many other Kickstarter-funded spiritual sequels came and went, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was the one that went all out and recreated the intricate gameplay and sharp level design of the game that inspired it.

Yeah, it might be “more” of the SotN-style Castlevania gameplay, but in a gaming landscape that’s grossly starved of such gaming greatness, Bloodstained is something of a godsend.

 

Runner-up: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair

 

Past Winners

2014: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

2015: Bloodborne*

2016: Dark Souls 3*

2017: Super Mario Odyssey

2018: Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

 

*Retroactively awarded after further consideration.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Content

It seems like every game today wants to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the player. Games have become so big, that they seem hellbent on adding as much content as possible as if daring themselves to see how big they can get.

This has had a notable negative effect, admittedly, with some games feeling more bloated than they should (do I need to bring up the Guarma section of Red Dead Redemption 2 again? It’s because of that chapter alone I scored the game an 8 instead of a 9). But the quest for content has also done good as well, particularly when it comes to titles with player interaction with one another. Which brings me to this year’s winner…

 

Winner: Super Mario Maker 2

Go ahead and call this cheating, but are you really going to argue with a game that provides infinite Mario levels?

No, not every one is going to make a great Mario level, and there are far too many undesirables out there making flat-out trolling stages. But there’s still so much good to be had, and so many players rethinking how Mario levels are played, that Super Mario Maker 2 truly is an endless toy box of fun. There are already more Mario levels than you could ever play in the game, and the number just keeps going up every day.

Mario gameplay is simply at the peak of gaming, so while other game-creation games may be more fun to build than to play, the fact that Super Mario Maker 2 has the timeless gameplay of classics to fall back on means it’s just as much fun to play stages as it is to build them. And the addition of Super Mario 3D World elements is icing on the cake.

Of course not every player-created level will be a winner, but that’s a small price to pay for infinite Mario levels.

 

Runner-up: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Feuled

 

Past Winners

2014: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

2015: Super Mario Maker

2016: Overwatch

2017: Super Mario Odyssey

2018: Red Dead Redemption 2

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Remake/Re-Release

One of the dumbest complaints gamers make (and boy, is that saying something) is how they hate it when publishers “force them to play the same game over and over” in regards to remakes and re-releases. Unless these publishers are villains in a Liam Neeson movie and have taken your loved ones, no one’s forcing you to play anything.

Re-releases and remakes in the video game world exist for a reason: gaming  advances so quickly, that re-releases are a necessary way to preserve them. It’s a very self-absorbed way of looking at things to assume that, just because you’ve played a particular game before means it doesn’t need another release (of course, gamers and shortsighted, self-absorption tend to go hand-in-hand). Movies get home video releases, which continue to be adapted into whatever the latest form of home video is. More popular movies even get theatrical re-issues. Video game technology advances so fast and moves on to the next thing so quickly, the medium needs some way to keep the classics around. Hence, remakes and re-releases.

They exist for the people who may have missed out on them the first time around, but still want to experience them. And they exist for the people who loved them enough the first time around that they want to experience them again. No one’s “forcing” anyone to play anything.

2019 was a pretty strong year for such remakes and re-releases, and though I didn’t get around to playing them all (sorry, I’ll try to eventually), I definitely know which ones stood out to me the most.

 

Winner: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered

 

One of my favorite handheld games/RPGs, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, was also re-released in 2019, and was a strong contender for this award. But I admit I agree with some of the issues fans have with the remake adding more dialogue (making it feel more bloated with words like Super Paper Mario or all the post-Bowser’s Inside Story Mario RPGs), and the new visuals just don’t have the same charm.

Thankfully, the remastered version of one of my other favorite RPGs – Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – didn’t suffer any such unnecessary changes. It’s the same fun, deep, emotional RPG it was back in 2013, only now with the additional sheen of the PS4 to make the Studio Ghibli provided visuals pop all the more. It’s just a shame that the Switch release of Ni No Kuni was in its original state and not the remaster for some reason (I get that the Switch isn’t the most graphically powerful console, but it seems like it should be able to handle Ni No Kuni, considering some of the other stylized games it houses).

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was my favorite game of 2013, and one of my favorite games of the decade. So to experience it all again – looking better than ever, no less – is nothing short of a treat. Now I just hope that if Ni No Kuni 3 ever happens, that Bandai Namco actually teams up with Studio Ghibli again for the artwork (yeah, they had some of Studio Ghibli’s artists work on Ni No Kuni 2, but it just wasn’t the same).

It’s good to be back in the other world.

 

Runner-up: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey

 

Past Winners

2017: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

2018: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Switch Version)

Video Game Awards 2020: Biggest Surprise

Oftentimes, the games we end up loving are ones that catch our eye early on. Games may not always live up to our expectations, but it seems more often than not, we have an idea about which games we’re going to enjoy.

Other times, a game comes out of seemingly nowhere, with no hype or build-up, that ends up being an utter delight. A pleasant surprise, if you will.

 

Winner: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair

I liked the original Yooka-Laylee, but no doubt it wasn’t the game it could have been. Others were less warm to it than I was, which surely wasn’t the response Playtonic Games was hoping for with their Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor. After that, I figured Playtonic would change course and try again with different characters down the road.

Instead, Playtonic admirably stood by the characters they made, and put them in a new scenario that was probably a bit more appropriate for an early title from a studio of Playtonic’s size.

Placing Yooka and Laylee in a don’t-call-it-a-spiritual-successor to Donkey Kong Country, Playtonic proved their belief in their inaugural IP to be justified. While Playtonic may have backed themselves into a corner with the first Yooka-Laylee – with Kickstarter stretch goals forcing their hand in certain directions – Impossible Lair allowed Playtonic more creative freedom with the 2D platformer genre.

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair proved to be one of the best 2D platformers in years, and re-established Yooka-Laylee as a viable video game franchise. Considering the lukewarm reception to the original, and the fact that Impossible Lair was rather unceremoniously announced as part of a montage in a Nintendo Direct and released a short time thereafter, I’d say that makes for quite the pleasant surprise.

 

Runner-up: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

 

Past Winners

2017: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

2018: Deltarune: Chapter 1

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Visuals

“Wow, nice graphic! I’d like to get my hands on that game!”

– The original US Legend of Zelda commercial

 

As a visual medium, video games have always had a focus on their visuals. While this has lead to some problems (remember when people used to deride a console for not having as good of graphics as another? *shudders*), graphics and art play a vital role in video games.

Following in the tradition of animation, video games use visuals to convey their vision. Whether it’s capturing a look of realism or displaying a striking art design, visuals – though not necessary for a game to be good – are vital to the video game medium itself.

Similarly, when it comes to naming what I think deserved Best Visuals of any given year, I go for either a title of striking technical realism (a la Uncharted 4) or wondrously imaginative art direction (like Cuphead). As far as 2019 goes, the winner for Best Visuals falls into the latter category, and is probably a bit obvious…

 

Winner: Yoshi’s Crafted World

Much like FromSoftware seemingly has a monopoly on excellence in video game sound work, developer Good-Feel has a similar dominance in visuals.

Starting with the hand-drawn, anime artwork of Wario Land: Shake It!, Good-Feel then elevated video game visuals with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, whose fabric-inspired graphics were carried over to Yoshi’s Woolly World. And now, Good-Feel has created a follow-up to Woolly World that changes things from yarn and wool to crafting materials like cardboard and plastic.

Yoshi’s Crafted World, in true Good-Feel fashion, is bursting with visual creativity. This was Good-Feel’s first time revisiting a Nintendo property they had already worked on, but that didn’t slow down Good-Feel’s imagination. The fact that they’ve managed to re-imagine Yoshi’s universe twice with different makeshift motifs is a testament to the studio’s unparalleled knack for visual invention.

Who know where Good-Feel will go next? One thing’s for sure, it’s bound to look astounding.

 

Runner-Up: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

 

Past Winners

2014: Mario Kart 8*

2015: Yoshi’s Woolly World

2016: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017: Cuphead

2018: God of War (PS4)

 

*Retroactively awarded

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Music

Music. Glorious music! Music is important in any medium, but it seems to have a particular influence in video games. Just think of how different gaming would be without all those infectious tunes of yesteryear. I shudder to thought.

Though modern gaming doesn’t have quite the consistency of excellent soundtracks that the medium once had (namely, AAA western releases have a tendency to sound like Hollywood Minus), but it still provides some truly unforgettable soundtracks from time to time (mainly from Japanese titles or Indie games).

2019 was something of an exception in this regard, as my favorite game soundtrack came from westward, although I don’t presume it could be called a “AAA” title…

Winner: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair’s excellent soundtrack can be attributed to two words: David. Wise.

Okay, so that’s actually one name, as opposed to two words, but just work with me for a second.

Yes, the great Grant Kirkhope once again contributed to Yooka-Laylee’s score, as did newcomers to the series Matt Griffin and Dan Murdoch, but it’s the unmistakeable sounds of David Wise that seal the deal.

Although Impossible Lair avoided referring to itself as a spiritual successor to Donkey Kong Country (seeing how the original Yooka-Laylee’s status as a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie fell a bit flat on most), there is no doubt that it draws heavy inspiration from Playtonic’s past work with Rare on the DKC series. And by promoting David Wise – the man behind DKC’s immortal soundtracks – to primary composer for Yooka and Laylee’s second go-around, Impossible Lair echoes a similar sense of atmosphere and emotion as DKC. In fact, it almost sounds like David Wise conducted Impossible Lair’s score as a kind of follow-up to his work on Retro Studio’s Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

Impossible Lair may not quite reach the nirvana of video game music that Tropical Freeze did. But much like Impossible Lair is the first 2D platformer that could be compared to Tropical Freeze since its initial 2014 release, the same goes for its soundtrack.

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair’s soundtrack is fun, catchy, atmospheric, and full of variety and feeling. In short, it’s David Wise.

 

Runner-up: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

 

Previous Winners

2014: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

2015: Undertale

2016: Dark Souls III

2017: Super Mario Odyssey

2018: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate