When perusing the list of games this accursed year has given us, contenders for overlooked titles were bountiful. However, and regrettably, haven’t played many for ourselves – if we were to cover them here, we’d simply be paraphrasing.
So, let us give a noble salute to the eccentric Switch brawler Fight Crab, the PS2-era throwback Pumpkin Jack, rodent rhythm actioner Mad Rat Dead, Paper Mario tribute Bug Fables, imaginative adventure Horace, and Atlus’ mech RPG 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim.
One game that didn’t make the cut is Skully. We picked up this 3D platformer, starring a spherical lead able to roll around, during the Black Friday sales in hope of discovering a hidden gem. While pretty in places it’s sadly mediocre at best, with pesky precision platforming being a buzzkill.
The games below are more worthy of attention, we feel, even if a couple fall into the ‘6/10 but a good 6/10’ category. Rest assured though that they’re all worth playing.
Journey to the Savage Planet
Yes, Journey to the Savage Planet launched this year – we had to check twice too. When it arrived at the end of January it was met with critical acclaim. The buzz soon faded, however, to the point where the predictably belated Switch conversion came and went without fanfare. This is a friendly reminder that not only does it exist, but it’s also one of 2020’s brightest gems.
It’s a perfectly paced open-world adventure that’s curiously respectful of your time, with little filler and helpful pointers. Playing as a mixture of Metroid Prime and No Man’s Sky, it involves exploring a colour, peculiar, planet while both harvesting and cataloguing its resources, eventually gaining access to its deepest depths and highest peaks. Combat plays a part too, albeit taking a backseat somewhat due to the focus on exploration. This makes the boss battles against colossal creatures an even more welcome diversion.
A compelling gameplay loop and a warped sense of humour – fuelled by faux adverts shown on your field base’s TV – make Journey to the Savage Planet a trip worth taking. Thanks to co-op support, it’s possible to bring a friend along for the ride too.
Proving that it’s good to be bad, this pixel art Metroidvania gives you control over a gruesome blob of biomass. After escaping from an underground facility, it’s a case of creating havoc while heading to the surface, pulling doors off hinges, smashing apart robotic drones and impaling anyone stood in your path.
It plays differently to the majority of games within the genre as the crimson-hued beast has a wide, ever-evolving, skill set. Who needs a double jump when you can cling to walls? The blob can also grow and shrink in size, altering their skill set accordingly, which helps expand puzzle solving.
A 2D physics engine cranks up the carnage further, allowing objects – including hapless scientists – to be grabbed and thrown. There’s joy in tearing a mech apart piece by piece to forcibly evacuate the pilot inside (i.e throw them against the nearest wall).
Speaking from experience, it’s best to play through this one over a few evenings. We jumped in and out over a couple of months, and consequently spent the start of each session trying to get our bearings – the environments look a little similar, each having industrial styling.
Much like its star, Carrion is a grower, successfully giving the genre a new set of legs. Well, vicious spiky tendrils…
Indie publisher Sometimes You acts as a middleman, helping small developers bring their PC games to consoles. Every now and then something interesting and genuinely pleasant comes along – we quite enjoyed Potata, a 2D puzzle platformer with a smartly designed hub. The majority of their games, though, are mediocre at best. We can see potential in some, but they always fall short.
Then came along 7th Sector. It’s easily Sometimes You’s best game, and by a wide margin. It takes its cue from Playdead’s Limbo and Inside, being a sci-fi physics-based puzzler, complete with an intriguing story and set in a rich world with excellent environmental storytelling.
It starts with a spark. Quite literally – you control a bolt of electricity, able to hijack various electrical devices and harness their powers to progress. Everything from computers and CCTV cameras, to security drones and children’s robotic toys. Puzzles are deceptively tricky, and you genuinely feel as if you’re connected to a world where your actions have dramatic consequences. Slowly, it builds to tell a much bigger story, complete with a dramatic finale.
Why other indie publishers didn’t battle over publishing rights is a mystery – it’s the kind of polished experience the likes of Digital Devolver, Team17, and Curve Digital strive for.
Super Punch Patrol
2020 has been quite a year for scrolling beat’em ups with numerous new entries arriving off the back of Streets of Rage 4’s success. WayForward’s beautiful but brutal River City Girls almost made the list, as did 9 Monkeys of Shaolin, but instead we opted for the Switch exclusive Super Punch Patrol, created by the smallest of small teams. The one-man outlet behind Gunman Clive, no less.
Featuring three playable characters, Super Punch Patrol is a love letter to the scrolling brawlers of yore, lifting the grapple mechanic from Streets of Rage and combining it with the silliness of Dynamite Cop. There are elements of TMNT Arcade here too, despite the realistic urban setting.
The move set features just the right number of attacks – including a health bar-draining super move – to give the experience sufficient depth without plying superficial bloat, and every attack is accompanied by a string of pleasing whacks and smacks.
If you go looking for them, you’ll find nuances too. The dodge may not seem advantageous when playing on the cakewalk practice mode but it certainly comes into play when limited to just three lives.
Smart presentation rounds off this small but perfectly package nicely, including a sketchbook visual style, online rankings, and some leg-jiggling music. Still not sold? It costs less than a fiver, making it one of 2020’s best budget buys. The ideal game for a quiet evening.
Destroy All Humans
We’re usually apprehensive about PS2-era games being given a current-gen remaster. Turn the clock too far back, and you risk re-releasing something that forgoes all modern sensibilities. Even re-release overlords Capcom shows restraint here, only re-issuing their upper tier titles such as Devil May Cry, Resident Evil 4, and Okami.
During 2020, THQ Nordic started to explore the dustier corners of their IP library. This resulted in the surprisingly well-received SpongeBob Rehydrated, along with a Destroy All Humans re-release – two PS2-era titles. Both needed a lot of work, but that effort eventually paid off, especially in the case of Pandemic’s cult classic Destroy All Humans. It looks great, showcasing excellent explosions and comical character designs, and it remains a lot of fun.
It has a lot going for it. More so than even initially realised. Crypto is the rarest of rare things – an antagonist to root for as he commences an attack on Earth. The 1950’s setting is compelling, being an era far from overused, while the stereotypes wheeled out – including redneck farmers, clueless mayors, and dumb supermodels – are satirical to the extreme. Crypto has some delightfully over-the-top weaponry in his arsenal too, and it’s also hard to dislike the ability to hop into a UFO and destroy an entire city before jetting off to the next.
Hiccups are few, such as an escort mission which ideally needed modernising. More significantly, the final boss battles needed a complete rework, feeling like they’re trapped in 2005. Unless you’ve unlocked the ability to rebound missiles, you’re going to struggle. Consider that a word of advice.
Destroy All Humans remains a joy to play, helped in no small part by a substantial graphical overhaul. Bring on the sequel.
No Straight Roads
Pigeonholing No Straight Roads isn’t easy. It fancies itself as a rhythm action platformer, but it’s more of a hack ‘n slasher with a musical theme.
Describing what it entails is an easier task. In a quest to bring back rock music, you’re out to defeat a hierarchy of soulless electronic musicians. This mostly involves a simple platforming stage spread across small floating islands leading to a boss battle with comical cut-scenes. Combat has a rhythm action slant, with drums creating shockwaves and piano riffs acting as projectiles, both requiring acute timing to dodge.
Between battles, the two lead characters – the snarky Mayday and her green-skinned pal Zuke – head back to their sewer-based den, which expands every time a new freedom fighter is recruited. It’s also here that they can improve their weapons (read: musical instruments), partake in radio interviews, and decorate their digs.
A sprawling neon-hued Tokyo-inspired city acts as a hub, inviting comparisons with Jet Set Radio Future. It’s also here that the game looks its best. The plot is further compelling, involving a shady corporation who has led the public to believe that electronic music is powering their beloved city. To try and introduce any other musical genre is an offence, forcing Mayday and Zuke to battle the city’s security robots and drones.
No Straight Roads presents a heady mixture of ideas and gameplay styles, and if it sounds like something you may enjoy you should absolutely seek it out. It misses a few beats here and there – mostly related to the game’s small budget – yet with the meagre resources available, Metronomik has created something with soul. A festive update has just rolled out too, so there’s no excuse not to rock around the Christmas tree this year.