The best games of the year is a popular topic for obvious reasons, and it’s even fun to talk about the worst. But a topic that goes unexplored far too often are the games that were great, but for one reason or another didn’t get a whole lot of traction. Often, these games end up building good fanbases overtime despite missing out on their time in the spotlight. With that, here is our list of the 10 best sleeper hits of 2020.
While a game about playing a shark and eating people in various different situations might not be everybody’s bag, in fact it might only really appeal to a small subset of gamers generally, Maneater goes out of its way to be a far deeper and goal-oriented experience than most might assume when looking at its core gameplay loop. While that Loop is still generally pretty simple and doesn’t throw a lot of variation at you throughout it’s fairly short campaign, the degree to which it does develop its handful of ideas do add up to a rather fun experience, as ridiculous as it is. Maneater will probably never go down as a classic of its time, but that does not stop it from standing out amongst the plethora of derivative action-adventure games that we have access to today and taking a bite out of your expectations.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Much like Vanillaware’s previous games, the absolutely gorgeous art style of 13 Sentinels is more than enough reason for you to at least take a look at it to see if it’s something you might enjoy. It’s definitely a more passive experience than Dragon’s Crown or Odin Sphere, as its gameplay almost teeters into visual novel territory for much of its run time, but that slower paced development is also broken up by a deliberately methodical battle system that burns quite slow but is all the more engaging for it. It might take some time before 13 Sentinels’ appeal is ever really fully realized, but the game is without a doubt yet another fantastic outing from Vanillaware that complements its wonderful storybook art style with engaging gameplay and a story that is more than worth your time.
Cloudpunk is not particularly well optimized on consoles, and it doesn’t do quite as much with the intriguing world as it perhaps should have, but that doesn’t stop it from being an interesting romp with characters, story threads, and impactful choices that are all likely to exceed your expectations at least in terms of their impact on you most of the time. Kind of like 13 Sentinels, Cloudpunk is a bit of a slow burn, but it also rewards your dedication by showing you deeper and deeper layers of the characters and world in which it exists. It’s not the kind of game that stands out quickly or grabs a lot of attention at face value, but given that there is so much good underneath the surface of Cloudpunk, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s fanbase continued to grow for years to come.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin
The world just plain needs more games like Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. It’s a very straightforward side-scrolling platformer action game that doesn’t bite off more than it can chew with its story or its gameplay, and as a result it executes its core tenants extremely well and delivers something quite special for fans of the genre. If this game looks like something that you would be into odds are you’ll enjoy it. Definitely give it a shot.
Spiritfarer is a game that is unlike most others as it really drills down on the idea of death in a productive way and also explores the trials and tribulations associated with making sure that the life you led was meaningful. It basically centers around finding other spirits who are lost and helping them find their way over to the next phase by helping them with their various needs in very story-driven quests. It’s a very low-key adventure, but it has some intensely heartwarming moments and of course as you can see the wonderful art style makes it all the more inviting, and it’s driven home with an excellent subtle soundtrack that gives important moments the gravity they deserve while also providing a calmly emotional tone for everything else.
2020, like most years, had its share of top-down strategic games that reward patience and planning. But Desperados 3 was arguably the best game in this variety from last year. It’s a western with stealth that is rewarding, challenging, and at times downright complicated. But because of that it’s a stealth game for fans of stealth games through and through. If it weren’t for the spaghetti western aesthetic oozing out of every corner, you could certainly get some original metal gear solid vibes, but as it stands it’s very much its own thing and certainly worth a try for those it’s most clearly aimed at.
Neon Abyss was a game that was fairly well advertised, but as soon as it came out got quickly overshadowed by many bigger games that came out around the same time. Nevertheless, it’s an extremely high-octane shoot-’em-up mass of neon lights and retro carnage that cannot be ignored for fans of this sort of thing.
For every person that says the arcade racing genre is dead I point them in the direction of games like Hotshot Racing that not only revived the genre with expertise in and appreciation for that style, but also bring some interesting ideas to it that previously hadn’t really existed in the older games that inspired it. Great racing, a steady sense of progression, and a few extra modes to keep things interesting are the main reasons why you should definitely give this game a shot. While the bigger budget racing games of 2020 like Dirt 5 and Project Cars 3 have definitely overshadowed things like Hotshot Racing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep digging until you find the gold nugget that is this game.
Streets of Rage 4
Very few games have ever flown under the mainstream radar less deservedly than Streets of Rage 4. It takes basically everything the previous three Streets of Rage games did and very conservatively improves upon them in subtle ways to make arguably the best game in the series, and thus, one of the best beat ’em ups of all time. The Saturday morning cartoon art style might be hit or miss depending on your taste, but it’s done so well that it’s hard to be distracted by it for very long. Excellent gameplay, a genuine affection for the source material, and some modern tweaks all make Streets of Rage 4 an outstanding experience that will likely build in popularity for years to come.
Until You Fall
As the modern VR World continues to mature, we’re starting to really see it coming to its own with a steadier stream of excellent games. Until You Fall might be 2020’s best example of the medium from the entire year, and certainly has earned it’s spot in your library with its precise swordplay and visually striking art style. A reasonably deep RPG system and a good variety of weapons serve as icing on the cake for this title, and it’s without a doubt one of the biggest sleeper hits of the year.