NHL 20 isn't a huge update over last year's version, and its graphics continue to lag behind the competition. Still, it brings with it plenty of solid refinements, and its franchise mode continues to stand out as a strength. Returning players may be disappointed by this year's features, but if you're a hockey fan who hasn't picked up the series in a while, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
NBA 2K20's presentation is unparalleled, but beneath its shiny exterior are continued problems with its online infrastructure and some pretty odious microtransactions. The latter are a bit less punishing than last year, but the former is worse than ever, and it affects almost every aspect of the game. These elements, which seemingly come up every year, unfortunately overshadow what should be an amazing sports sim.
River City Girls is as bubbly as the pop song that soundtracks its intro cinematic would lead you to believe. With all-around excellent art direction, you'll be hard-pressed to find a game this year with more style and confidence than River City Girls. While the first few hours are a slog as you level up and learn the ropes, once your moveset grows bigger, any encounter is a blast full of combos, and yes, dabbing. Just be sure to bring a friend along for the ride, as it's much harder to brave alone.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne skimps a bit on introducing totally new monsters, but it's still a large expansion filled with very smart refinements. The campaign alone comes close to matching the scale of the base game, and it wisely ditches some of its more tedious elements. If you played through the original and wanted more, then Iceborne is almost everything you could ask for. It's not a full sequel, but it's pretty darn close.
Gears 5 survives on its solid cover shooting gameplay and a campaign that isn't afraid to pose difficult questions about problematic topics. But the largely stagnant Horde mode and general mess of an Escape mode really pull the sequel back from being a bold step forward.
The new additions to Catherine: Full Body are mostly a win, with sharper graphics, more complex puzzles (and better hand-holding for players intimidated by them), and more background on Katherine in particular. Where it lacks though is in the new romance route, which is awkwardly shoehorned in and feels too separated from the rest of the story. Still, for Catherine fans, Full Body has enough nightmare-inducing goodness to make it worth another round 'til last call.
With Man of Medan, Supermassive builds on the foundation established in 2015's Until Dawn. While the core of the game remains the same, driven by dialog, choices, and quick-time events, the developers has added some multiplayer action to the mix. The two-player online Shared Story is the primary highlight here, allowing two players to simultaneously determine the course of the story. Unfortunately, the story itself isn't as good as the horror yarn spun in Until Dawn.
For every cool "a-ha!" moment in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, there has been something that has me on the verge of rage quitting. There's a fascinating, novel concept in Ancestors, but with so many bugs and other tedious issues blocking it, the joy of this survival game feels like it's constantly kept millions of years and a bundle of evolutionary feats away.
Astral Chain is the directorial debut of Nier Automata designer Takahisa Taura, and it proves that he's a creator worth paying attention to. Part melodramatic anime, part overly complicated Tamagotchi, it's an eminently playable action role-playing game that delivers the pleasure of good teamwork in a way few singleplayer games accomplish. Building on action design ideas seeded in Nier, Astral Chain encourages you to bond with your beloved pet cybermonster both on and off the battlefield. Then, it teaches you how to fight as one.
Oninaki is a likable RPG. Its story and setting are interesting, and the Daemons you collect to help you fight are cool. Unfortunately, bashing through uninteresting swarms of high-HP enemies puts a damper on the fun. Oninaki is still better than Tokyo RPG Factory's previous games; the studio seems to be moving in the right direction. If it can get past its extended growing pains, it'll be a contender someday.
Telling Lies feels like it's about four times as big as Sam Barlow's previous game Her Story, and it shows. You feel it not just in the four characters you're sifting through footage of, but in the variety of its videos too: from FaceTime calls to hidden cameras capturing secretive meetings. In Her Story, it was famously easy to go down a rabbit hole of sorts on your own intuition; in Telling Lies, that tendency is mechanized in smart, intuitive ways. When it comes to good interactive mysteries, Telling Lies is among the best you can get.
The charming dungeon crawler builds itself around the chaos of dice. Choose one of six characters, each with their own unique skills and way utilize your rolls of the six-sided die. Combat is rather fun, the artwork feels like a pop-up book, and the electronic soundtrack will have you tapping your foot. Despite the characters and additional modes though, it doesn't feel like Dicey Dungeons expands upon its early hours of play enough. Still, it's an enjoyable roguelite dungeon crawler.
Zachtronics make a detour from its puzzle game destiny with the visual novel Eliza. It's slick in its design, though shy on the big choices you might expect from most visual novels. Still, packed with a stellar solitaire minigame, impressive voice acting, and one of the most prescient narratives I've seen in games, if you're a fan at all of interactive stories that'll have you gripped from start to finish, Eliza is it.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses soars on to Switch with a fully-realized school setting, deep character customization, and multiple full-length campaigns. While it loses momentum in the second half, it still manages to come off as a striking reinvention of the well-worn Fire Emblem formula. That makes its first real console appearance in more than a decade a triumph.
Elsinore is simple and focused, aimed squarely at avid readers who want to manipulate Hamlet with their own hands. It succeeds at this, building a wonderfully meta-textual world that's fascinating to unravel and earns a good few gasps, laughs, and tearful moments, but the long waiting periods and frustration between different events overlapping can grate on after a while. Elsinore is time-looping <em>Hamlet</em>, and that premise is what will likely hook you or not.