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Best Surprise of 2020

Best Surprise of 2020 - Article

by Lee Mehr , posted on 17 January 2021 / 2,523 Views

In a year like 2020, who wouldn't want to stumble upon a nice distraction they didn't expect to enjoy?  Whether it was a risky gamble, a rental, or a free-to-play game that didn't take up much hard drive space, one of the best sensations for any gamer is the Wow! moment when making said discoveries.  This is amplified further by stories of 2020 & pre-2020 titles, such as Among Us, taking over social media like never before too.  Whether it's awesome climbs to fame or humbler stories of studios regaining street cred, this year's selected titles epitomize the overnight success story.


The Shortlist:


Astro's Playroom




Mafia: Definitive Edition


Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout


Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin





The Winner:

Astro's Playroom

Runner-Up: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Despite not elevating Astro's Playroom to the same degree as most critics, I still voted for it as my first choice for Best Surprise of 2020.  That may seem strange until you consider the whole context.  This pack-in game, which comes free with each PlayStation 5, strives for something few thought possible: prying the Best First Party Controller crown away from Microsoft.  Sony effectively crafted a piece of corporate propaganda (in a loose sense of the term) that argues for its hardware and controller updates better than any other launch game.  On top of that, developer Team Asobi brought one of PlayStation's best new mascots to center stage.  This came out of nowhere and I'm among the millions who are glad it did.

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LuccaCardoso1 (on 17 January 2021)

This is a really bizarre shortlist to me. The only one I feel really fits here is Fall Guys; it's a really enjoyable game that came out of nowhere. Sakuna and Ghostrunner are two good small games, but there are plenty of small games released in 2020 that surpass them in terms of quality. Mafia is just a remake, what the hell is it doing in a "surprise" list? It's not like they took a bad game and made it good, they just took an old game (that was already good) and modernized it. And, finally, Astro's Playroom is just a technical showcase... It's a sequel (that's not as good as its predecessor) and a pack-in game for a console we all knew was coming out. I wouldn't really call it a surprise.

Some of the games I would consider the best surprises of 2020 would be There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension, Embracelet, Spiritfarer, If Found..., Paradise Killer, Umurangi Generation, Murder by Numbers, Filament, and The Pedestrian.

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coolbeans LuccaCardoso1 (on 17 January 2021)

This is our supplementary note on being a surprise: "e.g. a game from a middling series that was unexpectedly great, or a game no one had heard of that got an awesome reception".

In regards to Mafia, Hangar 13 hasn't really excited fans since they've took it over. Mafia III, although still credited with a solid narrative, became a generic Ubisoft-esque game. And Mafia II Definitive Edition came out of the gate in a rough state just a few months prior. So we have a series whose name has been sullied and then the team comes roaring back with what could be considered on GOTY shortlists (at least it's on mine). I think that's more than enough to be considered for this category.

Also, I'm not sure why Astro's Playroom wouldn't qualify like Fall Guys did. Just because Asobi's done a great VR game doesn't mean people weren't surprised that a free tech demo would be a solid game in its own right too.

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Red_Beard (on 17 January 2021)

Honestly, with how heartbroken I was after the Secret of Mana remake, I was blown away at the amazing job they did with Trials of Mana. I had an absolute blast with it and it really took me back to SNES glory days.

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Dulfite (on 17 January 2021)

For me it was Bug Fables. The game only came out on PC in late 2019, most of us didn't experience it until 2020 when it was out for longer and came to the Switch. That game is only the third game I've ever given a 100/100 to and that's out of like 135+ games reviewed and many more games played that were so bad I couldn't finish them.

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coolbeans Dulfite (on 17 January 2021)

As far as our list goes, Bug Fables wouldn't count then. We go try to go by first release on any platform.

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Dulfite coolbeans (on 17 January 2021)

I know, I used to be a writer with you lol. I'm just saying for games that release so late in a year and to a small fraction of their eventual gamers don't stand a chance to win awards in their release year so we really should consider them for the next year.

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coolbeans Dulfite (on 17 January 2021)

Oh no, I remember that. I just thought it was a good opportunity for users checking out the comment section to see how we handle those odd cases. Bug Fables is in a similar position to Mosaic for me: Apple Arcade release in Nov/Dec 2019 with later launches in early 2020.

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Xeon (on 17 January 2021)

This was my vote too. The only thing bad about it is it makes games that don't use the new dualsense features well disappointing lol.

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LivncA_Dis3 (on 18 January 2021)

Fall guyz was terrific haha deserves 1st or 2nd although the playroom did showcase the dual sense by miles away right?

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Vendrom (on 17 January 2021)

Astro’s Playroom would also be my personal pick here, I can’t believe how well made a free platformer could be. However, I’ll admit that the biggest surprise was the popularity of Fall Guys that almost came out of nowhere.

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