The Most Important Indie Games of 2020 Some of Which are Actually from 2020.
Subnation | Scott Bernberg | October 23th, 2020
Another year is almost in the books, and as we look back at the best indie gaming has had to offer in 2020, we once again celebrate the storytelling, the exceptional game design, the genre-mashups and everything else great that indie devs continue to provide year after year. The biggest difference this year has been that several of the most important indie titles had their genesis in years prior, and only now have had their finest moment. Let’s take a look what we discovered, and rediscovered this year.
Among Us (Steam, iOS, Android)
Gaming in 2020 in a nutshell:
- We all played Animal Crossing
- We all played Warzone
- We all played Fall Guys
- We all played Among Us
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve played Among Us, or have seen the memes or been called out multiple times as the Impostor. Originally released in 2018, the social hit for PC and mobile has showed no signs of slowing down since it began taking over Twitch streams everywhere, and topped the Steam sales chart at the end of the summer.
Why it’s important: It proved that good things come to those who wait, and that game developers who release a reasonably priced cross-platform game can hang with the AAA’s and change the current meta of game content creation. It’s all possible when your game is social, full of fun-filled deceit, and connects with gamers’ state-of-mind. It also single-handedly pushed Discord into heady air by becoming the platform’s killer app. Not too shabby.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (PC, PS4)
The player base may be shrinking and the mania subsiding, but for one wonderful summer, we were all captivated by a motley crew of colorful…what are these things anway? Beans? Extras from the set of the kids show Boobah? The game has that Peggle magic, where there’s lots of luck involved but just enough skill required to keep you coming back again and again, making you believe you actually control your own destiny.
Plus, it’s hard to hate on something this adorable.
Why it’s important: A game “for the whole family” at a time when they are few and far between. It also offered a fresh take on battle royale when we needed it most. But once again, this:
Kentucky Route Zero: Act V (Multiple systems)
The final chapter of this atmospheric, innovative serialized adventure arrived in 2020 and it’s bittersweet for us. We’re sorry to see the series come to an end, but so glad that something like this existed in the first place. Hard to think of a game that felt more like it knew us — personally. A title that whispered in our ear, “Hey there, lover of True Detective season one, David Lynch’s L.A. Trilogy, music of Kavinsky and Robert Johnson. Did you know there’s a video game made just for you?” You had a great run, Kentucky.
Why it’s important: Throughout its lifecycle, Kentucky Route Zero set a high bar for art direction and storytelling, influencing numerous other indie games with its look and feel. The characters we met on this journey will stay with us forever, once again shrinking the distance between outstanding game storytelling and great filmmaking.
Spelunky 2 (Multiple platforms)
Finally, a game released in 2020…which is a follow up to the original game from 2008. But not just any game. An effort considered by many to be the most challenging and near-perfect platformer ever produced. With all that to live up to, Spelunky 2 improved on everything the original already did well. It’s just more of a good thing, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Why is it important: How do you take something that’s already perfect and make it even better? You keep in close contact with your fans. In the 12 years since the original Spelunky was released, the one man dev team Derek Yu has incorporated player feedback to improve on the highly-rated original. And yes, you read that correctly: one single human being is responsible for both these tremendous efforts.
Slay the Spire Mobile (iOS, Android)
Like Among Us, Slay the Spire was not technically released in 2020, but it did make a long-awaited move to mobile platforms, which is a very good thing as STS deserves as wide an audience as possible, and always felt perfect for touchscreens. The deckbuilding rogue-like is a true masterclass in game design and pushed this unique niche forward. The biggest compliment you can pay Slay the Spire is that it spawned dozens of clones, and although some of them, like Monster Train, are quite innovative, it still stands as the best in its class.
Why it’s important: The balance is sublime, the personality is unforgettable and the developers have maintained updates that are low-key but important in prolonging the game’s life.
Just look at those play hours!
Hades (Steam, Switch)
Making its way out of Early Access in September, Hades was a revelation for all, except those who had already bestowed it with the hallowed “Overwhelimngly Positive” rating on Steam months before it was even truly finished. It was a slick action-RPG masterpiece then, and even more of one now. Potential “Game of the Year” contender? Hell, yes.
Why It’s Important: Hades doesn’t do anything particularly new, but what it does do, it does better than almost anyone. Smooth gameplay that’s hard-but-fair, great characters, funny writing. It’s a love letter to game design and living proof of dev SuperGiants claim to be “a small developer with big ambitions.”
Super Mega Baseball 3 (Switch, PC)
The first two Super Megas were outstanding efforts, but like a young ballplayer who we’ve seen grow during their time in the minors, this is the year they put it all together. Polished and addicting, Super Mega Baseball 3 is two distinct types of sports games in one, both done well. It’s a fun and well-designed arcade baseball game, but it’s also a fairly deep simulation effort that gives you the chance to build a team from scratch and see it through decades of play. Trust us, the names of the players may be unfamiliar, but you get attached. Very attached.
Why it’s important: SMB 3 is proof that you can build a terrific sports game without a license from a major sports league or players association. It’s also a lesson in why annual, incremeental updates to our sports games aren’t always the preferred way of doing business.
It’s been another outstanding year for indie gaming, even if that year was occasionally 2018. We look forward to what 2021 holds for the developers above and their hard-working brethren who keep pushing our industry forward.