July saw the last major PlayStation 4 exclusive, the return of one of Nintendo’s most charming series, and the next evolution of the skateboarding game. It also introduced us to our new best friend, and put us in control of a disgusting sack of meat trying to escape from an underground bunker. In other words, it was yet again a month with videogames in it. Here are Paste’s picks for the best new games of July 2020, from Sony’s samurai epic, to Devolver’s hat tip to Metroid.
Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t really do anything poorly, but it also doesn’t try to do anything that we haven’t seen before. It’s a well-produced B movie of a game that lifts the look of actual art—a slick, commercial piece of work using Japanese cinema as set dressing. It demands almost nothing from me other than my attention, and makes sure to have enough clearly defined goalposts and climaxes to keep teasing out my interest. I may not remember too much about it going forward, but I will remember that it exists, which is more than can be said about a whole host of games I’ve played.
“Charming” isn’t a word we get to use enough when we write about videogames, but it’s the perfect word to describe Paper Mario. Mario’s latest papercraft adventure has its problems, but it’s so funny and adorable and personable that it’s easy to overlook its flaws. It’s legitimately good at comedy, has an amazing art style, and features perhaps the single best scene in games so far this year. It’s definitely worth unfolding.
I’m not used to a game needing me—to a game that routinely makes me feel guilty for not playing it. That’s why Bird Alone is so powerful. George Batchelor’s iPhone game is acutely aware of my presence, or lack thereof. It turns the push notification into emotional warfare. When that window pops up on my phone to tell me that Bird Alone is ready for me to visit again, and I’m not in a place where I can immediately do so, I feel legitimate anxiety.
I just want the virtual bird that lives in my phone to be happy. Is that asking for too much?
Skater Xl is not so much a return to form for skateboarding games as it is a distillation of what made them great in the first place. Yes, it borrows its core control scheme (with a few minor changes) from the Skate series, but it adds an extra layer of challenge to it. The physics are more grounded, and it’s cool that the game minutely recreates some of the most famous skate spots in America—from the Radio Korea plaza to the Staples Center and the West L.A. Courthouse. The fact that Skater XL is grounded in reality is not what makes it truly special. What makes it so compelling is that you can customize your skater with real skate shoes, pants, boards, and more. Okay, that is not what makes it so great, but it is cool nonetheless. What makes it one of the best games of July is how it just distills the pure joys of skateboarding into a deceptively simple experience. No real objectives or stories or challenges are in the game—just various levels, your skater, and their board. It is all one needs because skateboarding is boundless. Use your imagination, try to skate new spots, craft compelling lines, and then get lost in the simple-yet-fun in-game video editor.—Cole Henry
There will always be a market for Metroid homages, no matter how uninspired so many of them can feel. Carrion is one of the few recent examples of the genre to actually stake its own unique territory. It’s not just that you’re in charge of what would conventionally be the main enemy in a game like this, and tasked to slaughter your way through the science experiment that imprisoned you, Ape Out-style. Carrion rethought the genre’s entire approach to motion. Instead of the predictable pattern of unlocking double jumps and grappling hooks, your amorphous blob of a creature glides throughout its brutalist prison with startling grace. It’s not elegant to look at, unless you like dripping viscera and globules of raw meat, but to play it is to recall the delicate arcs of Geometry Wars. You’re basically tracing your way through this game, and the contrast between grace and grisliness never grows old.
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.