2020 might have put most of us through the wringer to a greater or lesser extent, but it’s been a surprisingly strong year from a games perspective.
Of course, it’s become Nintendo’s MO in recent years to concentrate discussion on projects it has in the pipeline for the year in question, so while we’re all desperate to hear about big future games like Metroid Prime 4 and Breath of the Wild 2, we don’t expect to get any chewy details about those until they’re a matter of months away.
While this silent approach might be frustrating, it has also led to some delightful surprises this year, with excellent games like Paper Mario: The Origami King and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity announced and released in relatively short succession.
In the article below we shall recap some of the most significant stories and games of 2020 covered by our top news and reviews teams, as well as highlight the most popular article and review on Nintendo Life from each and every month of this long, long year. (You can check out longer reads from the past twelve months by perusing our Best of 2020 feature selection).
So, while you might be hesitant to take a trip down Recent Memory Lane, we promise this recap of 2020 will include mostly positive recollections. That said, there’ll be a couple of unavoidable negatives to touch on, too — we’ll try not to dwell.
So strap in and let’s have a look back on an eventful twelve months.
January – Pokémon Direct, Byleth Direct, but no ‘proper’ Direct
Looking at Nintendo’s 2020 slate, there was Brain Training at the start of the year, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore in mid-January, the delayed Animal Crossing coming in March… and not much else on the horizon. While many were hungry for a full-fat Nintendo Direct (something we wouldn’t end up seeing all year, in fact), the January Pokémon Direct revealed a plethora of details around the Sword & Shield Expansion Pass, Pokémon HOME, and more with over 200 old ‘mon returning to the expanded Galar National Dex.
Elsewhere, Byleth was revealed as the 5th DLC fighter for Smash Bros. Ultimate (as well as a whole new Fighter’s Pass), Bethesda’s retro DOOMs received an update that made them essential purchases for rip-and-tearers, Masahiro Sakurai revealed that he’d played an awful lot of Playstation games in 2019, a prolific leaker suggested we’d see a Paper Mario game and a 2D Metroid game later in the year (we’re still waiting on the latter, of course), and Hideki Kamiya started off the year in fine form with his opinion on the Switch Home Menu (and Switch fans took to mocking up their own theme and folder ideas).
January games included the excellent Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition, the also-excellent 198X, and the triply-excellent To The Moon.
February – Wonderful 101 returns while we await the big one next month…
The same leaker that mentioned a Paper Mario release made an oblique reference to a planned Holiday 2020 release with “tires” in it — not exactly much to go on, but Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit did end up releasing in November. Platinum Games teased The Wonderful 101: Remastered just prior to its official announcement, Nintendo was bullish about upcoming competition from next gen consoles and Sakurai reacted to accusations of too many Fire Emblem characters in Smash by pointing the finger in Nintendo’s direction.
Elsewhere, we wondered where in the world Pikmin 4 has got to and NL readers voted for their favourite Pokémon starters ever (with somewhat predictable results!). More details about Animal Crossing were bubbling up, people were getting antsy with the lack of Nintendo Direct, Witcher 3 on Switch got an impressive update, and a story about Nintendo Customer Support going above and beyond for an elderly Tetris fan gave us all the warm fuzzies.
The gravity of the global situation that would come to dominate the rest of the year started to become apparent as events began to be postponed, adapted or cancelled. We got an Indie World Showcase, the Nintendo PlayStation sold at auction, Nintendo hit a legal road bump in the ongoing Joy-Con drift fiasco, and everyone and their dog was trying to get their hands on Ring Fit Adventure ahead of lockdown and the gaming event calendar was dealt a significant blow as E3 2020 was cancelled three months out from its planned June slot.
It wasn’t all bad news in the gaming world, though. March heralded the significant and very welcome return of a old favourite around these parts: we are, of course, referring to the resurrection of our dear sister site, Pure Xbox. Nice to have you back, old friend.
In other news, Nintendo put out some random little life sim where you potter about doing nothing much. All eyes were following it, apart from the ones on other platforms which were on DOOM Eternal, and even those got distracted occasionally by the delightful Doomguy / Isabelle fan art and memes.
Yes, Animal Crossing: New Horizons would come to dominate the news cycle for a good few months, fuelled partly by its awesomeness and partly by global circumstances that led millions to find comfort and escape to Nook’s getaway island. Islands filled with critters, the ability to poop, Isabelle and the Doom Slayer in animated form — you name it, Animal Crossing provided.
Animal Crossing fever took over and people got busy showcasing their talents with incredible island projects and custom designs (and bemoaning Bunny Day). The start of April was also filled with customary pranks, Super Mario Maker 2 received its ‘final’ update, thousands of Nintendo accounts were reported to have been compromised, and Lord of the Rings star and all-round good egg Elijah Wood visited randoms on the internet to flog his turnips.
A slew of Summer 2020 online presentations were announced to fill the vacuum left by E3 2020’s cancellation. Japanese ratings organisation CERO shut down temporarily as the world reacted to COVID-19, although Nintendo’s biggest release of the year couldn’t stop making headlines, with the game making the front page of the Financial Times in amongst all the sobering pandemic-related news articles.
Games-wise, Jupiter put out its 472nd Picross title, Trials of Mana delivered a beloved and long-missing RPG classic to the West in reimagined 3D form, Sam Barlow continued pushing at the boundaries of the FMV detective genre with Telling Lies, and Dotemu, Guard Crush Games and Lizardcube took us back to the ’90s in the brilliant retro revival Streets of Rage 4.
The news, though, was dominated by Animal Crossing as the game exceeded Nintendo’s lifetime sales predictions in its first six weeks on sale. Toom Nook grabbed the zeitgeist by the throat and wouldn’t let go, with Gary Whitta’s Animal Talking chatshow attracting huge celebrities, artists reimagining characters as humans, players exploiting glitches before they were patched out, and even the person who wrote the Sea Bass joke admitting he was getting tired of it.
Elsewhere, Pac-Man turned 40, Indivisible snuck out onto the Switch eShop without the knowledge of the developer, and Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition launched at the end of the month.
In other news, Min Min was revealed as the next Smash fighter, the Joy-Con drift saga continued, the opening of Super Nintendo World was postponed to 2021, supply constraints hindering Switch production eased a little, and Nintendo and Lego lifted the lid on their Super Mario collaboration.
Fans took to creating their own Direct presentation, Ori developer Moon Studios threw us off the scent of a Switch port of Will of the Wisps, turned 25 in the US, and Sega revealed the impossibly cute (and entirely useless) Game Gear Micro. And Animal Crossing continued its rampage across news desks, with a host of brands jumping on Nook’s band wagon.