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

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Sound

Now let us begin my 2020 video game awards proper (celebrating the video games of 2019). Why don’t we go with tradition and start with the Best Sound category?

Sound effects are among the unsung heroes of any medium, particularly video games. Just imagine Mario grabbing a coin with no shimmering *clink* to accompany it. It just wouldn’t feel right.

When it comes to the category of Best Sound, I find myself usually going with either games that use sounds to help create their personality (such as the aforementioned Mario or other such platformers) or games that use sounds to create and enrich their atmosphere, which seems to be where I’ve been leaning the past few years. And 2019 continued this trend, because…

 

Winner: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

No one in the video game world does sound better than FromSoftware, and that was once again true in 2019 with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which continued the studio’s tradition of pulling players into its world with every last sound effect.

I admit I’m not the biggest fan of Sekiro (though I do hope to get back to it soon), but no doubt it continues the traditions of Dark Souls and Bloodborne of giving a sense of weight to its every creature and object through the sound work.

The clank of armor, the growls of monsters, the sickening sounds of cutting them down with your blade. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice once again showcases FromSoftware’s mastery of sound design in video games.

 

Runner-up: Super Mario Maker 2

 

Past Winners

2014: Dark Souls II

2015: Bloodborne

2016: Dark Souls III

2017: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

2018: Red Dead Redemption 2

Video Game Awards 2020: Introduction

It’s that time of the year again…award season!

 

What’s that? Award season is usually January and February?

Let’s ignore that for now, shall we?

Yessir, it’s time once again for Wizard Dojo’s annual Video Game Awards! That is to say, it’s my own personal video game awards that I do based on the games I played in the previous year. Eh, still beats the actual televised Video Game Awards (because who the hell remembers Dragon Age: Inquisition?).

2019 was a pretty good year for video games. Maybe not as good as the preceding two years, but it still churned out some stellar titles. Which ones did I think were best in numerous different categories? Well, stay tuned to find out. Or don’t, I suppose. No one’s making you read this. But I hope you read it, anyway.