Somehow we’ve made it through September, the second-to-last month we’ll know before the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X enter our lives. It wasn’t a good month, by any means, but it was certainly one that was good for videogame fans. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a monthly wrap-up with a more diverse slate of games than this one, from grand strategy, to AAA games-as-a-service action, to two distinct kinds of roguelike, to the glorious return of skateboarding’s best. Here’s what we loved playing the most in September.
Platforms: Switch, PC
What makes Hades so great—and what elevates it above other roguelikes—is how it creates a consistent sense of progress even as you keep dying and restarting. Part of that is mechanical—although you lose all the boons bestowed upon you by the Greek gods after a run ends, along with other power-ups acquired during your journeys through the underworld, there are a few things you do hang on to when you return to the game’s hub world. More important than that, though, is how the game’s narrative unfolds between runs, driving you to keep playing through whatever frustration you might feel in hopes of learning more about the game’s story and characters.
Between every run in Hades your character, Zagreus, returns to his home—the palace of his father, Hades, the God of the Dead. Yep, he’s another rich kid who feels his first bit of angst and immediately starts slumming it. Here you can interact with various characters, upgrade the decor, unlock new permanent perks, and practice with the game’s small arsenal of weapons. Every time you return the characters who live here have new things to say, slowly unraveling their own storylines and deepening their relationships with Zagreus. And given that the writing in Hades is as consistently sharp and human as it’s been in all of Supergiant’s games, getting to talk to these characters alone is a reason to actually look forward to dying in this game.
2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 remasters the first two games in the iconic series, updating all the levels from the original games and featuring both the original skaters and new ones. If you’ve been hoping a skating game could recapture the look and feel of those old classics, well, here you go. When I picked up the controller it was like no time had passed. I haven’t played the warehouse level from the very first game in literally decades, and yet it all came back to me immediately once I put thumb to stick.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 isn’t mere nostalgia. It’s a revival. It exhumes a true classic but roots it deeply in the modern world and not in some idealized version of its past. It doesn’t try to hide or ignore the changes of the last 20 years. And that’s one reason it’s one of the best games of 2020.
3. Spelunky 2
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
With most videogame sequels you expect the three “-ers”: bigger, badder and better. At least that’s what the standard marketing boilerplate drones on about at every E3 press conference. Spelunky 2 can scratch off that “bigger” tag, at least—it has more worlds than the first game, although its branching structure makes sure that you don’t see them all during a single playthrough. There are multiple tweaks throughout that marks this as its own unique game, and yet despite those changes the ultimate experience perfectly recaptures how it feels to play Spelunky. It’s less a sequel than a continuation, or some parallel dimension’s version of what Spelunky has always been.
The genius of Spelunky 2 is that it somehow adds new possibilities to a game that already had endless possibilities. That’s legitimately impressive. And that’s why I’m sure I’ll be playing this for as long as I’ve played the original, both games coexisting blissfully together as one of the absolute best parent-child pairs in gaming.
4. Paradise Killer
Platforms: PC, Switch
There’s a lot to like about the stylish murder mystery Paradise Killer. It’s one of the most unique games you’ll play this year, an open-ended first-person investigation game built around searching for clues and interrogating characters that all look like art school demons from some kind of hipster-exclusive hell. With its ‘00s-era 3D aesthetic and vaporwave visuals, it doesn’t really look like any other game you’ll see this year. It’s the writing that really sets it apart, though—often philosophical, often funny, and with a depth and nuance that’s still too rare in videogames.
5. Crusader Kings III
Crusader Kings III is the strategy game for people who think Civilization is just a little too impersonal. Yeah, you can conquer the known Medieval world, or try to stick to diplomacy and cooperation, but you don’t play as some distant deity overseeing millennia of development. You’re a very specific individual whose goal is to build a thriving kingdom to leave to your heirs—who you then play as when their predecessor passes away. And so on, and so on, for generations. The fractious relationships between power-hungry members of your dynastic clan will regularly have unforeseen consequences for your empire, making Crusader Kings III as unpredictable and chaotic as life itself. For more, read our review.
6. Marvel’s Avengers
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t start with any of the characters famous from the Marvel movies. The first person you play as, and the one whose perspective dominates most of the campaign, is one who’s never been seen in a Marvel movie. It’s Kamala Khan, the current Ms. Marvel, who has been one of Marvel’s best and most beloved comic book characters since her debut in 2013. By centering the game on a character who hasn’t been in the MCU, Marvel’s Avengers cuts off the likeness issues people had with the trailers. And by focusing on Ms. Marvel specifically, and her gradual introduction into the world of the Avengers, the game chooses a point-of-view character that perfectly fits its plan to establish its own continuity.
Kamala Khan might be a relatively new character, but she’s already made several appearances in Marvel videogames and animated programs. She’s effectively a modern-day Spider-Man—a nerdy, awkward teenager suddenly thrust into a life of heroism, only without 60 years of history as baggage, and with a Muslim heritage that makes her a perfect superhero for today’s multicultural America. She was born and raised as American as Steve Rogers, but by parents who immigrated from Pakistan, and the comics have largely explored the friction between those two cultures with an understated grace. That doesn’t exclusively define Khan as a character, but it’s a crucial part of who she is, and the comics have done a great job of portraying her as a well-rounded, realistic human being. She’s endearingly relatable, and the Ms. Marvel in Avengers is about as faithful to the comic character as possible.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.