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Hidden Gaming Gems You Missed In 2020

With quarantine and social distancing, 2020 gave gamers a lot of time to sit, reflect, and play lots and lots of video games. While different groups had different favorites, and while everyone can't agree on what game was the best of 2020, some were more popular than others. However, with only so many hours in a day, even the most observant, well-read gamer will have some blindspots in their gaming to-do list.


Even more elusive are indie gems that often fly under the radar. Just because a game has a small developer doesn't mean that it isn't worth time and energy. In fact, some small independent games are the perfect thing to refresh the gaming palate and remember there's still creativity and imagination abounding in the gaming world. You might have missed these games in 2020, but that just means you get to ring in the new year with fantastic games.


Xbox Game Pass picked up Carto as one of its featured games in October last year, but this adorable puzzle game might not have shown up on many gamers' end-of-the-year lists.

The game follows Carto, a little girl with mysterious map-making skills. After she gets separated from her grandmother, she must use her powerful, and somewhat magical, topography knowledge to find her way back to her family. As she traverses the world, Carto rearranges tiles of landscape, which literally changes the world around her, clearing paths and offering new ways to move throughout the area. Carto travels across many different types of terrain throughout the game, including harsh deserts and lush jungles, all the while encountering amusing, lovingly rendered NPCs that help her in her journey. The art style of Carto appears hand-drawn, offering a personal touch to this puzzle game. As an added bonus, the game is also pretty funny.


Game Informer gave Carto an 8 out of 10, praising its cute style, tricky puzzles, and use of riddles to keep gameplay fresh. While the review does note some performance issues and especially difficult puzzles, the game ultimately succeeds at presenting a successful journey.

And never forget that the game snuck a cartography pun into the title of the game.


Though Roki was announced in 2019, this indie gem didn't make its way into the world until mid-2020, a time when Nordic mythology was decidedly having a moment. With games like God of War and Assassin's Creed: Vallhalla sponging up all the critical attention, there's one Scandanavian-inspired game that slipped through the cracks, but it's not too late to play it.


Instead of perpetuating Scandanavian stereotypes, Roki jumps deep into mythology. The game's plot is playful while also connecting to real life-Norse myth. Tove, a young girl, meets a large gray cat and must find mystical artifacts in order to save him from having his hair turn gray, thus ruining his reputation. The cat figure might hearken back to Freyja's chariot-pulling companions, but he's intimidating in his own right.

One review of Roki noted that it revives the point-and-click genre with its beautiful backgrounds and sad, moving story, through it also observes that the puzzles throughout the game aren't that difficult. Roki, like many indie games, packs an emotional punch into 10 or so hours, but it also presents enough charm to create a cozy adventure through Nordic mythology.


One Step from Eden

One Step from Eden never quite picked a lane. Instead, this ambitious title combines elements of deck-building, real-time action, and rougelike games, combining the three genres into one fast-paced thrill ride. The game unapologetically borrows some gameplay elements from Mega Man Battle Network, but it differs in the use of magic spells, which the player can acquire throughout the game in order to expand their spellbook.


Like many roguelikes, the beauty of One Step from Eden is its replayability. As the game progresses, players find more spells, discover artifacts, and unlock new playable characters. The battle system utilizes the Flow and Trinity mechanics to combine and use spells in devastating combos, all while adding a strategic element to the game. Players can even team up with friends in co-op mode, which adds another layer of complexity to the game. 

One Step From Eden is one of those games where players are bound to die repeatedly, but eventually learn to enjoy those deaths. They only make victory that much sweeter.

A Summer's End: Hong Kong 1986

A Summer's End: Hong Kong 1986 takes all of the best elements from visual novels and combines them with the decision-making seen in games like Life is Strange. A Summer's End puts players in the shoes of Michelle, a sheltered and traditional young woman, and Sam, who behaves more impulsively. Michelle doesn't know what to make of Sam, who completely changes her day-to-day routine, but she doesn't know that she likes the independent woman.


The official Steam description of A Summer's End says that it's "about seeking identity and meaning in a rapidly changing world where conflicting worldviews and cultures collide," but it's also about queer identity and history. 

In her review of A Summer's End, writer Bonnie Qu discusses how the game encapsulates a very specific time in Hong Kong history, when the British returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule. Coming out of colonialism makes for a strange transition, and Hong Kong struggled with its identity after being free of British rule. Qu describes the game as a hopeful look at what that time was like for many young Hong Kong citizens, which makes it an important play for people today. Who doesn't want to experience history and a lovely romance at the same time?


The Pathless

The Pathless was one of most interesting launch titles for the PS5 in 2020, but that doesn't mean it's the breakout it should have been. The game puts players in the shoes of an unnamed hunter and her eagle as they try to lift a curse. The game received favorable reviews before its release, and remains one of the best gems in the PS5's limited selection of games.


Exploration is the name of the game in The Pathless. Since there's no fast travel, players must learn to love running, jumping, and flying across the beautifully animated island. That's not too much of a problem, though, as the island is lovely despite its impending doom.

Shooting the Hunter's bow and arrow also feels smooth and natural thanks to the PS5's adaptive triggers and haptic capabilities. While the game might not have the scope of other open world adventure games like Breath of the Wild, The Pathless does justice to its name by providing a moody, artistic experience like few others, allowing players a true chance to explore the world piece by piece.

Also, it's undeniable that having a trained bird of prey at your beck and call is very, very cool.


Call of the Sea

Don't you just hate it when your husband goes missing during an expedition in the 1930s and you have to go find him? Call of the Sea lets players live this fantasy through the perspective of Norah, a woman who just wants to find her husband, but ends up finding strange creatures and mystery instead. Voiced by actor Cissy Jones, Norah makes her way across a beautifully rendered island paradise that's not quite as perfect as it initially seems.


The game uses tropes from Lovecraft-style eldritch tales to help bring the world to life with horror, mystery, and just a touch of the unknown. Most critics agree that the game's strength lies in its environments, which are simultaneously realistic and extravagantly colored with a bright, cheery palate. Another strength of Call of the Sea is its story, which feels deeply personal and emotion-driven. The game has puzzles and mysteries, sure, but at its heart, it is a story about a woman looking desperately for her husband.

Fans of mystery, Lovecraftian fiction, and games with impactful stories should definitely pick this one up.


Anyone who's ever fought over playing a game knows that a good co-op title is difficult to come by. Someone always ends up being stuck as player two, a sidekick, or worse, a hat. Thankfully, Haven solves that problem by presenting gamers with a co-op mode featuring two main characters in a beautiful love story. Though the game doesn't require two people controlling the characters at all time, playing with a friend definitely makes the game feel more immersive.


Critics were mixed on the gameplay in Haven, but reviewers felt the love story of the game made it worth experiencing. Playing the game with a real-life friend or romantic partner changes the gaming experience into a bonding session, something to talk about and have fun with.

And really, the love story is the most crucial part of Haven. The game's levelling system depends on the characters' relationship. As the relationship deepens and the couple becomes closer, they both gain experience points for emotionally investing in each other. While the game isn't perfect, Haven provides players with a unique opportunity to share their gaming experience with a loved one, which gamers shouldn't overlook.


Spelunky 2

Spelunky is the perfect game for masochists looking for a fun challenge. Its sequel, Spelunky 2, lives up to its predecessor by offering fans another difficult (but rewarding) experience. Like the first game in the series, Spelunky 2 combines platforming and roguelike elements with procedurally generated worlds for players to explore.


Spelunky 2 focuses on a family of explorers on the moon who must venture underground in order to gather resources for their base. The procedurally generated environments mean that Spelunky 2 has an enormous amount of replayability. Each time players dive into the moon, the environment will be just a bit different, but always difficult to navigate and filled with danger.

Polygon's Chris Plante said that Spelunky 2 is a chance for fans of the original game to recapture the wonder they felt upon first playing the game. Everything in Spelunky 2 may feel familiar to fans of Spelunky, but the environment is presented in a entirely new way. Parts of the stage are covered, concealing the dangerous traps that will inevitably kill the player. Items that meant one thing in the original game now have new abilities. In many ways, Spelunky 2 is an evolution of its predecessor.



Spiritfarer seems like a whimsical game, free of anything deep or daunting. In a way, it is, but it is also all about death. The protagonist of Spiritfarer, Stella, has inherited the role of ferryman to the afterlife from Charon, who really just wants a break. Stella takes souls onto her boat and befriends them until they're ready to pass through an intimidating gate into the afterlife. Spiritfarer combines narrative-driven gameplay with crafting and resource management to provide an experience that is both soothing and complex.


Nicole Carpenter's review of Spiritfarer touches on the most important aspects of the game: it's ability to discuss death. Spiritfarer arrived in the middle of a deadly worldwide pandemic, a time when the world must consider how death factors into life. However, Spiritfarer does not treat death as something to be feared. It's a part of life.

Even though Spiritfarer made some best-of lists for 2020, it might have gone unnoticed by many gamers. Considering its emotional, impactful plotline, more folks may want to pick it up in 2021. Fans of Animal Crossing will particularly want to grab Spiritfarer for its innovative use of resource management and planning.

Umurangi Generation

If Pokemon has done anything for gaming, it has proven that a game about photography can be cool. Umurangi Generation takes that idea and runs with it, putting characters in the shoes of a post-apocalyptic photographer in New Zealand who simply wishes to document the world around them.


One of the most impressive things Umurangi Generation does is use that environment in order to tell a desperate, yet hopeful story. Players must puzzle out what happened in various locations throughout the game through environmental elements. Deducing what happened to the colorfully post-apocalyptic landscape makes Umurangi Generation a pleasant, if sometimes isolating, gaming experience. Instead of being told what to think, gamers must figure it out on their own, which feels refreshing.

Umurangi Generation even has DLC that gives players more creative tools to take photographs, giant mechs, and social commentary on the contemporary political world. And yes, that includes new lenses for the player's camera. In a game about photography, documenting political unrest seems particularly poignant. Fans of Pokemon Snap rejoice! There's a new photography game in town that just might tide you over until the new Snap game arrives on Switch.


Raji: An Ancient Epic

Mythology plays a huge role in many video games, but Hindu mythology doesn't appear to be one of the most borrowed pantheons. Sure, there have been Nordic-inspired games like Assassin's Creed: Valhalla or Greek-inspired games like Immortals: Fenyx Rising and Hades, but Hindu mythology, in all its rich detail and beautiful storytelling, often gets left out. Raji: An Ancient Epic changes that. 


Players are Raji, a young Indian woman who falls into a battle between gods and demons, selected as a champion to save all of humanity. Even though Raji has a big job to do, all she really wants is to save her brother, who she lost during a demon attack. The game uses real-time action and a multitude of weapons and battle techniques to make combat fun and fast-paced, but the world of Raji makes the game shine.

Raji: An Ancient Epic lets players glimpse into an oft-bypassed mythological canon while enjoying navigating the lush scenery via wall-runs and various acrobatics. That alone is worth the price of entry.

The Solitaire Conspiracy

Yes, The Solitaire Conspiracy is a card game, but it's also much more than that. The Solitaire Conspiracy begins after a spy organization falls, the player being a rogue spy who must put all the pieces back together and tackle a dangerous supervillain. Game after game, players get closer to thwarting the enemy and saving their former spy organization. Of course, this wouldn't be a noteworthy solitaire game if there wasn't something surprising up its sleeve.


As players level up in The Solitaire Conspiracy, they gain new "crews," or new stacks of cards. Each crew has a different aesthetic, all in the beautifully illustrated style of the game. Levelling up adds a new dimension to solitaire and makes The Solitaire Conspiracy feel like a truly narrative-driven game. Each match won means unlocking something new and discovering a new aspect of C.A.R.D.S, the powerful network of spies scattered throughout the story. 

Yes, the game is a little cheesy and relies on card-based puns, but it's also refreshing to see an old game transformed into something new and exciting. As an added bonus, the game has lots of replay value and daily challenges for solitaire fanatics.



The cyberpunk aesthetic has been popular in 2020, but all cyberpunk games are not created equal. With the messy release of a different sort of futuristic game clouding the news of last year, Cloudpunk slipped past gamers who like their adventures with a side of artificial intelligence.


Cloudpunk's style is reminiscent of Cyberpunk 2077, but it plays a lot like Minecraft. The game centers on Ravia, a new courier for Cloudpunk, a "semi-legal delivery company based in the sprawling city of Nivalis." As Ravia, players navigate the tall city by hovercar and on foot, delivering packages and interacting with characters going about their daily lives. Eventually, Ravia begins questioning what exactly she's been delivering, and the plot kicks into high gear, but the key to Cloudpunk remains its dedication to exploration.

Cloudpunk offers players a chance to observe people in their natural habitat, which satisfies the itch to be nosy about each character's interesting little life. The game also allows for exploration of a beautifully sprawling city. Even though it might not be as big or complex as another certain cyberpunk-themed game, it doesn't have crazy glitches to contend with. Plus, who doesn't want to drive a hovercar?!



Fans of Sailor Moon and adorable kittens need to check out Calico, an aesthetically pleasing romp from Whitethorn Games. The game tasks players with reviving a local cat cafe after their aunt retires. Taking care of the cafe requires all sorts of cute activities like cooking delicious cakes, finding cats to live in the cafe, and running through the pastel landscape to find ingredients and tools.


Calico began on Kickstarter, but has finally made its way into the real world, raising over $70,000 from backers. Whitethorn Games created a truly inclusive game to satisfy all players, featuring an expansive character creation menu that includes size-diverse, gender-diverse, body positive options. Players could spend ample time in the character creator alone.

Calico also has many LGBTQ+ characters and an extensive array of cat companions. The game feels peaceful, and allows players to create a cat cafe that fits their style perfectly, complete with matching furniture sets and cuddly spots for the local cats to sleep in. Any player looking for a relaxing slice-of-life game with slight Animal Crossing vibes should check out Calico.


Oh, and Calico also allows players to ride giant cats via a magical potion. You're welcome.


Though it got a little hype before its release date, Bloodroots deserves a closer look. The official game description calls the game a "one-hit kill die-retry murder ballet," which really sells the game's main conceit. Anything can be a weapon if you try hard enough, even vegetables. While players can opt to use traditional weapons like axes, they are also able to wield less-familiar objects, including but not limited to carrots, as seen in the game's box art.


After being left to die, Mr. Wolf battles his way through a bleak world, using anything he can as a weapon, in order to find his killer and exact revenge. According to IGN's official review, Bloodroots isn't in the business of character development or intimate story, but that's okay. What the game lacks in narrative, it makes up for in joyful combat. Sometimes, gamers just need to hit something with a carrot.

Bloodroots is violent, weird, and action-packed, so players that enjoy hack and slash romps with beautiful combos should definitely pick it up.


Part game, part creation studio, Dreams allows players to create their own fantastical worlds by giving them the tools to create a video game without learning coding or complex technology.

Dreams doesn't just throw fledgling creators into the deep end without any guidance, though. The game provides players with an extensive tutorial that feels more like a campaign, guiding them through the prerendered objects and tools available to them. After completing the initial part of the game, players can craft "dreams" to share with other players, post online, or simply enjoy themselves.


Media Molecule, the creator of Dreams, promised fans that they own the rights to their creations and will eventually be able to share them via other platforms, but there's no clear way that can happen considering that Dreams remains a PlayStation exclusive. Legal rights aside, though, the game still allows gamers a new way to experience a taste of game development without actually learning the tools of the trade. Fans have made some pretty amazing things, too. Anyone who enjoys exploring creative tools and making their own stories should check out this innovative tool bringing art to the masses.


Another cyberpunk game that fans might have missed in 2020 is Ghostrunner, a first person platformer/action game that pits players against Mara the Keymaster, the tyrannical ruler of humanity's last shelter. Ghostrunner offers a challenge in its one-hit-kill mechanic. Anytime the player character is hit, they die, just like that. No multiple lives, no second chances. This mechanic ups the tension considerably, making each run high stakes. IGN compares Ghostrunner to other difficult games like Ninja Gaiden, which also has gained a notorious reputation for its difficulty.


Ghostrunner takes traditional ninja themes and transforms them into cool cyberpunk-flavored features. Cybernetically modified swordsmen fight to protect and serve, all while neon lights glow bright in the background. Ghostrunner also packs a sensory punch with its precise platforming and quick sword fighting. Speedrunners might flock to the game, honing their skill to decrease their playtimes, but anyone who enjoys punishing Souls-like games might want to check out Ghostrunner.


Magic school settings are a favorite among gamers and young adult novel enthusiasts alike, but few games have successfully depicted magical boarding school life well. Fans feeling the sting from the words of a certain author may find a lot to love in Ikenfell's cast of characters, many of whom identify as LGBTQ+. Beyond that, Ikenfell is a beautiful gaming experience.


Ikenfell is a combat tactics game, sure, but its rich story makes the game stand out in its field. With music from Aivi & Surasshu, the team behind Steven Universe's award winning soundtrack, Ikenfell provides a lovely experience from start to finish.

Ikenfell begins with Maritte, a young woman born without magic powers, goes to Ikenfell to search for her sister Safina. Those who want to experience the story without the stress of tactics can opt to win battles instantly in order to progress, which makes the game accessible for everyone, even younger players.

One review of Ikenfell notes that there is an abundance of "courage and kindness" throughout the game. Even when things seem dark, friends arrive to pull the player out of the pits of despair. With retro graphics and an enchanting soundtrack, fans of magic and friendship should pick up this gem.


Mortal Shell

Souls-style games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls punish players with unrelenting enemies, horrific boss battles, and unclear pathways to success. Mortal Shell takes the Souls-like formula and adds a healthy dose of mystical powers to the mix.


Throughout the game, players inhabit "mortal shells," fallen heroes that the player will possess. Different mortal shells unlock various abilities, allowing the player to have a more diverse combat experience. The game is hard, though, and as with any Souls-like game, players should expect to die frequently.

Polygon's review of Mortal Shell notes that it's not as expansive as Souls games usually are, but it's also not as expensive. Mortal Shell offers a Souls-like experience in a smaller, more compact package. Because the game is on the shorter side, the developer was able to cut much of the bloat that sometimes finds its way into huge console games, presenting a more streamlined experience. The end result is a tight, difficult game that will satisfy any gamer looking for a taste of Souls on a time limit, or budget.



Creaks is a puzzle-adventure game that asserts things are not as they seem. There could be bird folk living in the walls, or furniture that comes to life. There could be mind bending puzzles and a sprawling mansion of mysteries.


After hearing an odd noise outside his room, the unnamed player character goes to check out the commotion. Instead of receiving an answer, he falls into an architectural nightmare of ladders, towers, and tunnels. Soon, he discovers that there are violent monsters that turn into furniture when hit with beams of light. The Washington Post review of Creaks notes that players should savor the game, as completing puzzle after difficult puzzle can be mentally draining. The experience of the game matters most, and Creaks' beautiful art style, interactive paintings, and overall creativity make it special. Speedrunners, look elsewhere.

Gamers that enjoy complicated puzzles and exploration should pick up Creaks. The art style alone is worth the price of entry.


Who knows how many hidden gems 2021 will bring gamers? It's time to catch up on that backlog pronto, starting with these wonderful additions to any gaming library.