HPP Gives Some Love to the Indies
We gamers have a bit of an embarrassment of riches these days. For every cool game we know about, there’s usually several dozen more we haven’t heard of. And with the industry’s focus on AAA titles, most of the others get left behind. But I’m a bit different. Generally speaking, I could care less about AAA games, and devote myself to everything else. And while I certainly can’t play everything out there, here’s my list of my Top 20 outstanding titles you may not have played in 2020. And while I’ll do my best to focus on the more eclectic fare, there might be a few indie darlings, remakes or classics on the list. To avoid bias on my part, I’ll just list the games alphabetically below.
Top 20 #1 – Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition
Ara Fell is one of those games that I probably should have played earlier, but I’m kinda glad I didn’t. Cause the extra time allowed the devs to really iron out all the rough edges of an already wonderful game, and make it even better. Not only is Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition a wonderful tribute to the golden age of RPGs, but it’s full of humor, heart and dynamic combat. Lita is a wonderful protagonist, and she’s aided by an eclectic cast you’ll fall in love with. Sure, the game is more than a little linear, but I was so caught up in the lore of the land of Ara Fell that I wasn’t bothered in the least. This is a fantastic RPG, and an easy choice for my best Switch games of last year. Now I just need for a sequel to come out, cause I want to spend more time in this wonderful world.
Top 20 #2 – Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2
I generally don’t have high expectations for projects meant to showcase the beginning of a story. But Inti Creates has a way of constantly defying my expectations, and the certainly did so with Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2. The original game was a surprising breath of fresh air. It showed how Miriam meets up with some of the main characters from the main Bloodstained game, and simultaneously evoked memories from Castlevania III. While a sequel to that sort of game might seem unnecessary, they did a tremendous job of making things interesting. Not only does Curse of the Moon 2 introduce a bunch of great new characters (including a corgi riding mech armor), but they managed to also bring back the cast from the first Curse of the Moon. It might seem like a small game at first blush, but there’s a ton to unlock and experience here, including hidden areas, alternate endings and fantastic boss fights. When you mix all that with a visual style that’s retro yet full of flavor, how could I not include this title?
Top 20 #3 – Dicey Dungeons
At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to double dip on Dicey Dungeons. Not cause it was bad when I played it on Steam, mind you, but cause I wasn’t sure there was enough difference between versions to justify the purchase. But I’m so glad I wound up buying Dicey Dungeons on Switch. Reason being, this is a game perfectly suited to quick play sessions, which matches the Switch in portable mode perfectly. But that’s the only easy part of the game, cause Dicey Dungeons is very hard. But in a way that still feels delightful. Maybe that’s due to the cartoony artwork provided by Marlowe Dobbe, or maybe cause of the bumping tunes. Either way, both help the many losses you’ll accrue go down easier. Fans of rogue games with steep difficulty owe it to themselves to check this one out.
Top 20 #4 – Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light
I cannot fully articulate how excited I was to hear that Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light was coming to Switch. After all, it had previously only released in Japan a long time ago. So finally getting the opportunity to play a classic was invigorating. Granted, I’m still salty I wasn’t able to snag the physical edition, but that’s not really important. What is important is how well this ancient game still holds up. Sure, Nintendo added some modern conventions like bookmarks to keep things fresh, but the combat is still quite fun. I take special joy in the hand drawn pixel art of the random villagers and units under your command. They’re absolutely full of humor and great details, especially how effeminate my Smash nemesis Marth looks. In a time where console exclusives are practically extinct, it’s nice to have another on my Nintendo Switch.
Top 20 #5 – Firework
I’m very much a visual learner. So I’m often drawn to the art style of a game. And given that I love retro gaming, it should be no surprise I found my way to Firework. Granted it came out on Steam a bit ago, but I’m very happy it finally made its way to Switch. This game is like the love child of Cave Story and Mega Man, weird as that sounds. Oh and did I mention you’re fighting what appears to be an army of sentient, shapeshifting fire monsters which are burning down your facility? Yea, this is one unique platformer.
Top 20 #6 – Grindstone
Grindstone is a game I’d been clamoring for since it was exclusively on Apple Arcade. I’m not generally a fan of mobile, but I am a fan of great puzzle games, which this is. Grindstone was completely worth the wait, and was one of my most pleasant surprises from 2020. It features simple yet complex puzzle gameplay, tons of RPG quirks to mix things up and hundreds of levels to slash your way through. When you add the amazing visual flair, pumping tunes and great boss fights, Grindstone becomes an instant classic. If you own a Switch, you should pick this up. Period.
Top 20 #7 – Hades
What more can I say about Hades? Turns out, a wee bit more. If you’ve been online, you know this one was an indie darling the moment it launched. And there’s very good reason why. Supergiant has crafted a game with delicious artwork, strong storytelling and dynamic combat. This is a game where you’re gonna die repeatedly, but always with a smile on your face. Cause each time you get a bit stronger, learn a new maneuver and find a combination of tools to take down the boss that sent you back to the underworld. I’ve spent a ton of time playing Hades, but still have several achievements I’m eager to unlock. In my mind, that’s the mark of a truly worthwhile game.
Top 20 #8 – Indivisible
Indivisible was the last great title by Lab Zero Games. I won’t get into all the horror show that followed it, but suffice to say I’m glad the game exists. It showcased the best elements capable by the team behind Skullgirls, but in a color coated action RPG package. Despite the linearity of the adventure, the combat was a huge draw. You could mix and match crazy teams of combatants to beat equally colorful foes to a pulp. Throw in some intense challenges in the form of boss fights, a story about saving the universe and you have one whopper of an adventure. The only downside for me was how long I had to wait as all the other consoles got Indivisible first. But then again, I wouldn’t be able to include it here if it had released on Switch earlier. So that’s something.
Top 20 #9 – Iris and the Giant
Sometimes my instincts are dead on. When I first saw Iris and the Giant, I knew I liked something about it. Sure, the art was eye catching, but there’s so much more here. Iris is a deck building rogue game that’s hard as nails. But it’s not just that. It’s also one of the most emotional stories I’ve played in recent history. Without spoiling anything, there are layers to the story that get revealed bit by bit. By the time you reach the summit and defeat the Giant, you’ll get a serious case of the feels. But that won’t stop you from jumping back in to unlock more features in this thrilling adventure.
Top 20 #10 – Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory
It still seems odd to me that I’m featuring a Kingdom Hearts game on this list, but fair is fair. Even though I have never been immersed in the meandering lore of the Kingdom Hearts series, I do love rhythm games. And Melody of Memory has rhythm to spare. This game plays a lot like a 3D Theatrhythm, which just so happens to be one of my favorite rhythm games of all time. So even though I don’t know a ton about the larger series behind Melody of Memory, I can appreciate what’s here. There’s tons of great songs, boss fights and cinematic battles to appreciate. If you’re a Kingdom Hearts fan, then owning this is a no brainer.
Top 20 #11 – KUNAI
The moment I saw KUNAI, I knew it was my sort of game. I’m a Metroidvania fanboy, so when you mix one with robot ninjas, you officially have my attention. I was quickly drawn in by the frenetic hack and slash action in the game, but there’s an interesting plot as well. And have I mentioned the visual style? I was a real fan of this distinct aesthetic, and it held up well in my time with the game. If nothing else, KUNAI cemented my respect for publisher The Arcade Crew, not to mention developer TurtleBlaze. If you’re a fan of quirky platforming and tons of action, KUNAI is a dream come true.
Top 20 #12 – Minoria
As I established earlier, I’m a fan of Metroidvanias. Mostly thanks to Symphony of the Night back in the day. But as a result, I really like Metroidvanias that are Gothic in nature. And Minoria is definitely that style of game. It’s mournful yet beautiful and features witches, holy women and strange creatures to destroy. While it first seems the story is about defeating the evil coven, things quickly become a lot more complicated. Best of all, Minoria has great artwork, music and combat that is very strategic and nuanced. If you’re already a fan of other games by Bombservice, such as Momodora, this is the next great project by that same team.
Top 20 #13 – Ori and the Will of the Wisps
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, perhaps you’re not familiar with the Ori games. Everybody else has little excuse to ignore this delightful series. Ori and the Will of the Wisps started out as an Xbox exclusive, but finally made it to the Switch. I quickly grew to love Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition on my Switch, and Will of the Wisps is just as great. It takes place in a whole new region called Niwen, and has some really cool new features. For one, now Ori can actually face off against twisted bosses. Better yet, Ori can team up and ride his owl buddy Ku to fly through dangerous new realms. Both Ori games are wonderful, and will melt your heart with their tales of healing and forgiveness. Just get ready to avoid a ton of spikes and traps along the way.
Top 20 #14 – Panzer Paladin
Panzer Paladin is the type of game that makes me proud to be a fan of indies. Not only was it a wonderful retro throwback reminiscent of the NES days, but it’s a standout great platformer. Back at my old site, I raved about it, and said it was Tribute Games’ best adventure yet. I still stand by that, especially since they added new content since that review, including a challenge mode and more. Perhaps best of all, Panzer Paladin has a mode where you can create your own weapons that then get encountered randomly by everybody that plays the game online. Honestly, I love pretty much everything about this game. So please, give it a look!
Top 20 #15 – Part Time UFO
Even knowing how devious and unexpected HAL Laboratory can be, Part Time UFO still caught me by surprise. But it really shouldn’t have. I’ve loved other side projects such as the BOX BOY series, which lets HAL flex their creative muscles. Part Time UFO is a fantastic mixture of the crane game, aliens and just totally random humor. You’re trying to learn about humans by taking on odd jobs, such as picking up produce, stacking food and even the odd cheerleader and sumo. It’s a very strange game, but in the best way. It’s especially fun sharing screenshots online, such as the one I took above. If you need something fun to just relax with, Part Time UFO won’t disappoint.
Top 20 #16 – Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin
I’m very glad that one of the first games I reviewed for HPP was Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin. Normally I don’t love sim or farming games, but the mixture of that element with combat and a deep story won me over. As did the wonderful voice acting. Each and every character here is brought to life by the talented voice actors, and it made a great story even better. Sakuna herself starts as a spoiled godling, but slowly learns to rein in her temper and moderate her worst instincts. Throw in some angry monsters and a bit of mystery and you have an adventure that everyone should give a chance.
Top 20 #17 – Seven Knights -Time Wanderer-
If you had told me that Seven Knights -Time Wanderer- was based off a popular mobile series, I wouldn’t have believed you. Just because Time Wanderer is a very well made, compact RPG adventure. There’s a lot of amazing artwork here, solid and addictive combat and some entertaining characters. You can mix and match your team of 5 from a huge roster of characters, all with something to add. While it’s true the game is very linear and has some awkward writing at times, that didn’t stop me from absolutely adoring my time with it. If you’re a fan of classic styled RPGs and want something you can enjoy in your free time on Switch, this is a title you should strongly consider.
Top 20 #18 – Shantae and the Seven Sirens
Let me be upfront – I’m a big fan of the Shantae series. I have been since I started playing in Risky’s Revenge. And while the series has had some growing pains over the years, it’s still one I’m fond of. Mostly cause of the colorful artwork, tight gameplay and fantastic cast of characters. WayForward isn’t afraid to poke fun at themselves and the industry, which only makes Shantae better. Seven Sirens may not be my absolute favorite entry in the series, but it came damned close. It’s full of incredibly animated cutscenes, stunning vistas and deadly boss fights. If you’re a Metroidvania fan, this is a great game. If you’re a Shantae fan, then Seven Sirens will make you excited for the future of the series.
Top 20 #19 – Shoot 1UP DX
I know lots of folks like to complain about Twitter. And sure, there’s lots of trolls online. But I’ve found that sometimes I discover truly compelling games there. One such game was Shoot 1UP DX. The title alone made me think it would be a bad game, but some fellow game journalists were speaking highly of it. So I took a shot, and ended up really pleased with the game. Shoot 1UP DX is beautifully simple. Each extra life is a ship, and you can expand or contract your fleet of ships to spread out the damage or avoid damage. It even has alternate paths with extra difficulty, achievements and rollicking boss fights. If you enjoy the occasional SHMUP, this is worth your time.
Top 20 #20 – Tanuki Justice
Tanuki Justice was another game in 2020 that totally caught me by surprise. It’s simple, sweet and short, but full of challenge. This one is definitely for old school fans, and plays very much like a classic NES title. Meaning it has levels full of foes, simple yet nuanced controls and massive boss fights. It even has more modern conventions like achievements and alternate modes to keep things fresh. Honestly, Tanuki Justice isn’t for everyone. But if you don’t mind a bit of a challenge, I’d highly recommend it.
And that’s it for my Top 20 Switch games of 2020! Thanks kindly for giving it a read. Hopefully I helped shed some light on games you might have otherwise missed. And many, many thanks to Greg for helping me with the wonderful featured image!