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The Most Underappreciated Games Of 2021

When it comes to video games, players have never had more options than they do right now. As budgets increase and technology allows them to become more impressive and immersive, the world of games just keeps getting bigger. It's no surprise that the industry is booming, and every year more and more massive titles release and dominate the public conversation. Over 3,000 games were released on the Steam store in 2021, so it's natural for a few games to slip through the cracks and be missed by audiences and critics


Even really great games can go unseen and unsung when there's so much out there to play, especially when flashier titles push them out of the spotlight. Sure, 2021 has been full of excellent games, but you can also dig a little bit deeper and give the underdog a chance. 

From sequels huddling in the shadows of their predecessors, to indie releases without the reach of massive developers, to promising games hampered by mixed reviews or release-day bugs, there are a lot of hidden gems out there. And you don't even need to venture into a cursed cave or flee from an Indiana Jones-style giant boulder to get to them. You just have to buy them and play. 

So, if you've already made it through your gaming wishlist for the year, why not take a chance on one of the most underappreciated games of 2021? You might just be pleasantly surprised.


Little Nightmares 2

2017's "Little Nightmares," originally titled "Hunger" (per NME), received critical praise for its engagingly macabre world and simplistic (yet tense) gameplay. The story of Six, a hungry little girl trying to escape the Maw, a place crawling with monsters and untold horrors, had fans clamoring for a sequel. They finally got their wish in February 2021, when "Little Nightmares 2" was released. 


The sequel, which follows Six and her new companion Mono, expands on the elements that made the first game so great, from the 2.5D art style to the frightening bosses and a tone that pairs moments of calm with a creeping sense of dread. Some mechanics have been added, including AI-controlled co-op that allows Mono to hold her hand. As noted in CBR's review, this element specifically separates it from the original game, reminding players that they are not in this alone. The world may be frightening, but these children are facing it together. 

Of course, that also means that the moments you have to face alone feel that much more isolating and terrifying. Though fans of the franchise and critics responded lovingly to "Little Nightmares 2," many still feel that the franchise as a whole is underrated. That's a shame, because there really is nothing out there quite like this series.

  • Release Date: Feb. 11, 2021
  • Available On: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
  • Genre: Platformer, horror, adventure
  • Game Modes: Single-player
  • Metacritic Score: 82 (Nintendo Switch), 83 (PC), 82 (PlayStation 4), 79 (Xbox One)


Housemarque's "Returnal" combines elements of bullet hell, roguelike, and horror games, leveraging the PS5's DualSense controller to allow for quicker combat and more flexible button usage. The game's story follows Selene, an explorer with the ASTRA Corporation who lands on a planet called Atropos in search of a mysterious signal. There, she finds herself trapped in a time loop. 


From a developer not known for action-adventure titles, but rather one that largely came on the scene with indie retro-inspired arcade-like shooters, "Returnal" came seemingly from out of nowhere. And according to outlets like Pocket-lint, a combination of underwhelming marketing and the lack of name recognition kept it from being a larger part of the gaming conversation.

After its release, "Returnal" has divided PS5 gamers, with some users citing issues with the long runtime, with an average run through the ever-changing world lasting 90+ minutes and no way to save in the middle of a run. Others insisted that it can be a plus when game time can be blocked out in clear increments. Whether this style of game is for you or not, IGN's review argued it is a challenging, immersive shooter than rewards its players handsomely.

  • Release Date: April 30, 2021
  • Available On: PlayStation 5
  • Genre: Third-person shooter, roguelike
  • Game Modes: Single-player
  • Metacritic Score: 85 (PlayStation 5)


As noted by the New York Times, folk horror — a subgenre of horror that tends to take place in a rural environment and deals with the evil and terror lurking beneath seemingly quaint, idyllic locations — has been having a bit of a resurgence. Ari Aster's "Midsommar" and Scott Cooper's "Antlers" are recent examples of this isolated and rural breed of scary story. Video games are not exempt from the reach of folk horror's twisted roots, as Hidden Fields' "Mundaun" thankfully shows.


"Mundaun" tells the story of Curdin, a man returning to his grandfather's remote hometown for his funeral. There, a seemingly charming façade hides a darkness and something rotten that is ready to be revealed. These old wooden barns house, not livestock, but curses and demons, and things quickly begin to spiral out of control. 

Critics have praised the game's unique hand-drawn art style, which gives it the feeling of a gothic storybook, as well as its compelling moments of slow-burn horror. As a result of these strengths, many fans consider the game to be an underappreciated piece of indie horror that deserves more attention. Hopefully, "Mundaun" will be engaging (and terrifying) more players as they discover its secrets. 

  • Release Date: March 16, 2021
  • Available On: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
  • Genre: First-person Horror
  • Game Modes: Single-player
  • Metacritic Score: 72 (Nintendo Switch), 72 (PC), 75 (PlayStation 4), 73 (Xbox One)

Evil Genius 2: World Domination

If you were a supervillain, how would you run your evil empire? How would you manage your lair, corral your henchmen, and keep your enemies from destroying you before your wicked plans come to fruition? Those are the questions posed by 2004's "Evil Genius" — and now, by its sequel, "Evil Genius 2: World Domination". 


The game, published by Rebellion Developments after the collapse of the first game's developer, Elixir Studios, tasks the player with building a villainous lair on a tropical island under the guise of a casino. There are four playable evil geniuses: Emma the former spymaster, Red Ivan the ex-henchman, Maximillian the gold-obsessed tyrant, and Zalika the mad scientist, each of whom bring something dastardly to the table. 

Fans were excited about the sequel, interested to see a follow-up to a game they already considered underrated. Luckily for those fans, "Evil Genius 2" has delivered for critics. A review from Cultured Vultures praised its cartoonish style, wide range of content, and the different benefits of both the campaign and sandbox modes. Why not try your hand at taking over the world (virtually)? You might just be in for a wicked good time. 

  • Release Date: March 30, 2021
  • Available On: PC
  • Genre: Strategy, simulation
  • Game Modes: Single-player
  • Metacritic Score: 75 (PC)

Cozy Grove

What if "Animal Crossing" was haunted — not by the lingering specter of debt or the demands of the oh-so-fickle turnip market, but by actual ghosts? Taking place on an adorable island full of spirits, "Cozy Grove" is pretty much exactly that.


But don't let the promise of ghostly apparitions put you off, this game has "cozy" in the title for a reason. These ghosts are friendly, and more closely resemble foxes and teddy bears, rather than the string-haired little girl from "The Ring." You play as a Spirit Scout performing helpful tasks for the residents of the island and filling the muted gray landscape with color. 

In spite of inviting comparisons to a much more popular game franchise (as highlighted by Polygon's review), "Cozy Grove" holds its own with a charming world, delightful dialogue, and relaxing, easy gameplay. Who knew a haunted island could be so cute? 

  • Release Date: March 19, 2021
  • Available On: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, iOS
  • Genre: Simulation, adventure
  • Game Modes: Single-player
  • Metacritic Score: 72 (Nintendo Switch), 72 (PC), 71 (PlayStation 4)


If you're a fan of 2D role-playing games like "Undertale", then you might just be interested in "Everwood," a rhythm-based dance battle game that takes its aesthetic inspirations from the Toby Fox title (per IGN). 


In "Everhood," the player takes on the role of Red, a wooden gnome whose arm is stolen, who must make a strange journey to find the thief that took it. The world of "Everhood" is filled with doors that lead to different strange places and bizarre creatures. The cast of characters includes a vampire with a chronic case of the sneezes (delightfully named Nosferatchu), a banjo-wielding frog, and a floating goldfish. 

The game received critical praise from outlets like RPGFan for its whimsical setting, rhythm combat, and surprising plot twists, which mostly make up for slight gameplay issues and technical glitches. Fans who have experienced "Everhood" feel that the game is criminally underrated, with some hoping that the indie title will eventually become "a household name." 

  • Release Date: March 4, 2021
  • Available On: Nintendo Switch, PC
  • Genre: Adventure, RPG, rhythm 
  • Game Modes: Single-player
  • Metacritic Score: 81 (Nintendo Switch), 84 (PC)

Curse of the Dead Gods

Roguelike action dungeon crawler "Hades" has dominated the conversation when it comes to games in its genre, even winning Game of the Year at the 2021 DICE Awards. And while "Hades" deserves the praise, its popularity has caused it to eclipse other titles that might get compared to it in reviews, like "Curse of the Dead Gods". 


Though the comparison makes sense, it's also unfair as "Curse of the Dead Gods" is great in its own right. Even critics who aren't quite as wild about the roguelike genre, like Gaming Trend's Ben Lombardo, found it to be a ton of fun. Reviews have lauded "Curse of the Dead Gods" for its deeply satisfying gameplay, which manages to still be fun even with the amount of grinding it requires to progress. Many fans of the genre have agreed with this assessment, and feel that the game is a bit of an unsung hero in the genre.

  • Release Date: Feb. 23, 2021
  • Available On: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Genre: Roguelike, dungeon crawler
  • Game Modes: Single-player
  • Metacritic Score: 78 (Nintendo Switch), 78 (PC), 79 (PlayStation 4)

The Medium

Anyone who plays video games is familiar with the notion of living in two worlds at once. Maybe you're physically in your living room, but you're also in the middle of a medieval adventure, exploring an abandoned castle, or throwing a ball at wild animals until you catch one of them so you can watch it fight. 


While all gaming involves having a foot in two worlds at once (to some extent), Bloober Team's "The Medium" employs this concept in a much more literal fashion. The player, through the perspective of protagonist Marianne, is able to navigate two worlds at once: the world of the living, and the world of spirits. The Verge noted that the game takes a little while to get going, but its slow burn builds as the player makes their way through the puzzles and unravels the story. 

The game may have a slow build, but critics have praised "The Medium" for its strong protagonist, brilliant use of the split-screen mechanic, and frightening imagery. No spoilers, but sometimes you have to slice through curtains of skin with a knife made of bone in order to move forward.

  • Release Date: Jan. 28, 2021
  • Available On: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S
  • Genre: Psychological horror
  • Game Modes: Single-player
  • Metacritic Score: 75 (PC), 75 (PlayStation 5), 71 (Xbox Series X)

Sky: Children of the Light

Sure, sometimes you want to rain down a flurry of bullets on some zombies, but other times you might want to play a game that lets you just kick back and relax for a little while. In those moments, open-world social games with low-key gameplay can be a welcome break for your brain. 


"Sky: Children of the Light" is one such game from developer thatgamecompany, creators of other similarly relaxing games like "Flow" and "Flower." In "Sky," you play as the titular children of light, working to spread hope and joy by helping spirits and learning their stories. The concept is simple, but a combination of varied gameplay (including jumping puzzles and unlocking hidden areas) and stunning visuals has drawn positive attention from critics like those at GameSpace

Although the mobile version of the game has been out since 2019, the 2021 Switch port has received acclaim for being one of the best free-to-play titles on the console (per Nintendo Life), even outshining the original release in some aspects.

  • Release Date: June 29, 2021 (Switch version)
  • Available On: Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Game Modes: Multiplayer
  • Metacritic Score: 82 (Nintendo Switch), 82 (iOS)

Oddworld: Soulstorm

Welcome to the planet of "Oddworld," a land with a surface area ten times the size of earth, full of giant craters and strange creatures. This is the setting of "Oddworld: Soulstorm," a remake of "Oddworld: Abe's Odysee" and direct sequel to "Oddworld: New n' Tasty." "Soulstorm" features the return of the heroic Abe, who works to rescue his fellow Mudokins from exploitation while reckoning with the aftermath of massive social change. 


"Oddworld: Soulstorm" arrived as a welcome addition to a franchise that fans consider "undeservedly forgotten." As noted in Impulse Gamer's review, the game is gritter and darker than its predecessor, placing the protagonist in more danger than he has ever experienced before. Critics highlighted the iconic design elements of the game, with Ramapo News calling it "both grimy and beautiful" and particularly praising its 2.5D style and attention to detail. Don't be intimidated if you haven't played previous games in the series, as "Soulstorm" it is a great introduction to this rich, bizarre, and completely unique world. 

  • Release Date: April 6, 2021
  • Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
  • Genre: Action-adventure, platformer, stealth
  • Game Modes: Single-player
  • Metacritic Score: 73 (PC), 66 (PlayStation 5)