The Biggest Video Game Surprise Hits of 2020

A gorgeous, lifelike world with verdant greenery and lush landscapes? Check. The freedom to go anywhere and do as you please? Double check. An anime-styled protagonist tasked with finding their missing twin after being separated during their travels to distant worlds? Triple check

Developer miHoYo’s Genshin Impact had everything it needed to become a massive hit, and potential players were initially drawn to its anime aesthetic and gorgeous animation. But it looked quite familiar—almost exactly, some would say,  like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, down to cooking, combat, and exploration.

While Genshin Impact does share multiple similarities with Nintendo’s massively popular Zelda sequel, it diminishes its own influence to write it off as a “copycat” game with little to offer. In reality, it’s a wide world teeming with new areas and content to discover, satisfying combat, challenging puzzles, and a grind that can keep anyone coming back for more. 

There’s a reason that it ended up grossing over $393 million on mobile devices, where it debuted, in just two months, which made it the second-largest mobile game in history. Not bad for an “anime game,” a derogatory phrase many tossed at Genshin Impact in a bid to undermine its success. Though it’s free-to-play, it isn’t mired in the same trappings as other games in the genre, and it truly is free in that, if you put in enough world, not only can you reach a satisfying endgame, but you can collect all of the characters available to explore the fantasy world of Tevyat.

While Genshin Impact is available across multiple platforms, including PC and consoles, the fact that such a beautiful, smooth game can come to life on mobile and offer such an all-encompassing experience is nothing short of astonishing. Perhaps the only thing that really should be surprising about its success is that people aren’t tired of listening to companion character Paimon just yet—she can be a little grating. 

Among Us

Avatars in Among Us hit by flame
Courtesy of InnerSloth

Have you heard? Not understanding how or why Innersloth’s online multiplayer game Among Us reached the heights it did in 2020 is basically sus. No one could have predicted how this unassuming game would catapult to such heights of popularity, especially since it initially released two years ago in 2018.

The setup is simple: Four to 10 players gather in a spaceship. A handful of players are selected to be the “impostors” for each round in this suspenseful game of Werewolf. Across three maps, regular players, called  “Crewmates” (they resemble pudgy astronauts with few discernible features), are asked to complete a series of tasks around the ship. Impostors must complete tasks concurrently with “real” players, though their job is to sabotage Crewmate progress and even kill them. The idea is to figure out which of the team is actually an impostor before a successful sabotage is completed or all of the Crewmates have been eliminated.

It’s devilishly simple to understand, but as in any game with a social element, massively difficult to conquer, given that every new game is different, with human players approaching it in different ways. The game enjoyed a small following in 2018, but it wasn’t until 2020 that streamers like Sodapoppin, Pokimane, xQc, Shroud, Ninja, and PewDiePie eventually jumped on board to stream their exploits with the game. 

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