After 2020, many of our lives had been changed dramatically. The foundation of our daily lives changed indefinitely, and those changes persisted and transformed throughout 2021. While we continued to adjust and persevere throughout the year, a constant remained: video games were always there.
Every year brings a plethora of new games and, by extension, new favorites. 2021 was no different. We explored and created worlds together in the games we loved. Whether we’re taking down giant corporations or conquering gods and befriending demons, video games have provided us with a much-needed escape and even more ways to connect. So on that note, please join us and discuss all your favorite games you played in 2021!
My favourite game of 2021 is without a doubt Guilty Gear Strive.
Every year I’ve said to myself “this is the year I’m going to learn to play fighting games” and I’ll inevitably spend a few days mashing buttons, failing to improve and then giving up. This year, Guilty Gear Strive hit and I loved it enough that I spent a lot of the year playing online, labbing offline and seeing myself improve dramatically. I’m not some amazing fighting game player now or anything, but I’m a damn sight better than I was at the start of the year.
In a year which has been broken up by various lockdowns and spikes in covid rates and so on, it has helped a lot to have a multiplayer game like Strive around. Most weeks I’ve spent at least an hour or so playing with and chatting to the Waypoint discord folks and that has been great.
It also helps that I’ve always loved the character designs in the Guilty Gear games, so having one that has worked as an entry point into the series for me is super satisfying.
Other than Strive, this is what my top 10 games of the year would be. I’m currently playing Chicory though so that might displace something…
Excellent net code that allows me to connect, and play with, anyone in the world in mere moments. A roster of characters filled with intricate little complexities, but who are all still fundamentally simple enough that it’s easy to find one you’ll love. An excellent community that’s always willing to help, or go another round. This: https://mobile.twitter.com/Liamtrty0/status/1467244479350411265 (Which speaks for itself honestly)
Strive is the most I have EVER been committed to a single fighting game and the one that’s finally made the genre “click” and folks, there’s never been a better time to get into 'em
So, I played 33 games this year [and I’m planning a big end of year post talking about that elsewhere].
7 of them were games I’d “played before” [if we count Quake map packs as “Quake”].
There were only 3 games released this year - Loop Hero, Get in the Car, Loser and Inscryption.
If I just had to pick from 2021 releases, only Loop Hero was interesting and enjoyable enough to qualify - for all the “idle game” aesthetics, the core gameplay loop is actually a pretty tense variation on the now popular “card game” model [with multiple hands - terrain cards you play to change the hero’s journey, and gear cards you play to level up the hero’s abilities], interleaved with the between-missions village-building and Encyclopedia unlocking games.
But the narrative - and the rest of the writing - is what makes it all work. The entirety of Loop Hero is suffused with a sense of world-weary humor, just-weird-enough worldbuilding, and a plot which goes surprisingly philosophical [and looks like a prog rock album cover].
(The music is also great, too.)
If I could pick from any game I played first this year, regardless of when it was released, then I would be choosing, instead, between two strong contenders: Sayonara Wild Hearts, which does an amazing job of being a playable hour long pop music video, and rumination on love and loss…
and Heaven’s Vault, which does an amazing job of being a novel-length work of IF combined with a lovely artistic vision, a good (even if it deserves to be better) linguistic minigame, and some great writing.
I am pretty sure, at the moment, that I’d give the thing to Heaven’s Vault.
[But there’s still a week of 2021 left, and I’ve not played Overboard! yet, since I only just bought it!]
My favorite game that came out this year was Mundaun! It’s a game that dares to try a lot of pretty out there stuff, and hits it out of the park every time! The game looks like nothing else I’ve ever seen. It’s all sepia tones and charcoal drawings, but it’s never visually hard to parse. It cuts its scares with a hefty dose of levity, which allows for more humanity than most horror media can achieve. There’s also a deep and studied specificity to the setting that makes exploration rewarding, and allows for some really strange character designs. It’s really good!
I played a bunch of other good games this year! Here’s the rest of my top ten:
There were some good games this year, mostly in the indie scene. The political sim-visual novel, Suzerain, was the kimd of game that shifted my whole view on what I want out of a strategy game. The immersive sim Cruelty Squad felt cathartic and aggressive, but still fun in its own way. Loop Hero told a good story in a roguelite-ish idle game I got lost in for hours. co-open was heartwarming and felt nice in a time where my ability to connect with my real-life community was limited. And An Airport for Aliens Currently Run By Dogs was just delightful.
But my Game of the Year was just one episode, the second, in a game I imagine I may nominate for GOTY every other year or so for the next 10. It’s Deltarune Chapter 2, because it kind of has everything going for it. Some major improvements and interesting twists on the combat from the first (letting your companions ACT independently of Kris, being the biggest one). The music is very good, with Attack of the Killer Queen in particular standing against many of my favourites from Undertale. And the story is progressing in ways I couldn’t have guessed. It’s a great game on its own, too, each chapter has a pretty self-contained narrative in addition to the one building up over the entirety of Deltarune, and it took me a good 8 hours to finish. And it is free! It’s one of the easiest games to recommend from the year; it’s hard to find any fault in it.
… okay, except maybe for unleashing Spamton. I need to blacklist his name on Twitter, I have seen too much.
Based on an incomplete sampling (Inscryption is at the top of my “Games That Made Me Sad That The Steam Deck Was Delayed” list), it’s Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart for me. Growing up with Insomniac’s games seems to have given them some kind of master key to my brain. That Insomniac feel (where the animations are crisp, the controls are responsive, and you feel like you have a bunch of options at your disposal) smashes the big shiny red button in my brain labeled “endorphins” like few other games around. Plus, Insomniac borrowed some of the motion tech from Spider-Man, making R&C feel a lot more dynamic than it ever has.
Even on a purely technical level, Insomniac being allowed to make a PS5 exclusive let them do insane technical things. That’s not to say that a game is all about technical prowess (that’s largely a budget feature), but going from starting my PS5 to playing R&C in 31 seconds is wild. Playing a console game at 1080/60 with (limited) RTX is wild. Having a game that doesn’t load is wild. Playing Ratchet & Clank cut my Twitter time in half, which might be the healthiest thing I did all year lol.
And even from a narrative perspective, Ratchet & Clank managed to exceed (the albeit very low) expectations. Rivet (Jennifer Hale) and Kit (the peerless Debra Wilson) make for perfect additions to the Ratchet & Clank universe, full of heart and just delightful to see come to life.
Disco Elysium: Final Cut is it but there wasn’t really much doubt otherwise. I didn’t get to play this upon original release, it was the first new game I got to play on PS5. I don’t think anything else had this much hype for me.
I loved this world, I loved this style, I loved how my game unfolded as endless failure and incompetence slowly revealed itself to be a cover for a super genius cop who was playing dumb like Vash the Stampede all game. The ending is incredible. I couldn’t put this thing down.
Played a lot of great games this year, but my gut is saying Undermine was the best.
Reductively, Binding of Issac is this games core, but you’re a tiny miner with a close range pick ax attack that you can fling like a boomerang.
As these games do, you unlock more and more of the world as you keep playing and the intricate systems of items, curses, blessings and potions.
While always mining that gold. Keeping slimes from grabbing gold you just pickaxed from the earth is important. Those theiving slimes. Gold and Slimes, the pillars of this game.
A lot of things came together to make me love this game: all these interlocking systems that you learn to take advantage of, difficulty wasn’t easy but not impossible, music and visuals are great, cute slimes of all varieties, you fight a wizard with a pickaxe.
Just a brief reminder that while this thread will continue to remain open, the official nomination form will be closing soon, so get your submissions in if you’d like your favorites so show up on the poll!
I didn’t play a huge number of new games this year, but the ones I did I really enjoyed. Metroid Dread, Skyward Sword HD, Mario Party Superstars, Suzerain, Age of Empires IV, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond. The new Animal Crossing DLC also got me to put a lot more hours into that game.
I think that in the end, though, the game I’m still thinking about the most is The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. It’s a package of two games in one, but it is functionally one game with a cohesive plotline throughout. There is a lot of thematically interesting stuff in this game, but a lot of it is probably spoilers, so instead, I’ll just say that if you like this kind of game then this is a very good one of those.
Psychonauts 2 is one of the most well executed follow ups considering the expectations and bar set by the first game. Themes involving mental stability and neurodiversity needs to be handled with a soft touch. Easy to imagine most studios being hesitant on committing to the subject matter.
Sure there’s lots of gags and silly moments, but P2 truly shines at its most earnest and sincere moments. This also includes incredible payoff from some of the core characters from the first game and introduced a whole lot more important characters. P2’s visual language is probably the least expected quality that I would hook me into this world. P1’s aesthetic was unique, yes, but could get a little messy in that 90’s nickolodean way. P2 brings the art into the modern world, but retains all the original spirit and direction that P1 had. It only gets better as you get later in the game.
Shout outs to Inscryption for creating an impeccable atmosphere and inspiring me to check out other decklike roguebuilders. Mundaun also impressed me with its choice of pencil-drawn textures and in-depth view into rural Swiss life.
Unsighted was my favorite Zelda-like I’ve played in a very long time. I could get enough of its tight-feeling parry combat and movement mechanics that I ended up diving right into NG+ (which happens way less often these days). Loop Hero had all the textbook elements of a pseudo retro indie darling (crt filters, pixel art, chiptune music), yet I almost didnt play it based on the fact I don’t normally play card/idle games. Luckily there was a demo that got me hooked instantly.
gloob’s mention of Loop Hero’s crt filters leads me to mention something else exceptional about that game - it’s actually got a bunch of accessibility options (you can turn off the crt filter - but it also has features to use a more dyslexia friendly font as well).
I think accessibility features in games should be something we should call out as requirements for “Best Game” type awards nowadays, so…
For sure, there’ve been games I either had to stop playing or had to play with my spouse on the couch the whole time answering questions about what was on screen when I couldn’t read it. Some studios and publishers seem to be standardizing a few accessibility features, but it’s still not uncommon for me to just be incapable of playing a game for a reason as mundane as font size or style.
It has to be Inscryption for me. The second act of the game hit me with nostalgia for a specific Gameboy Color game I sunk hundreds of hours into as a kid and I knew right then and there it was my favorite game of the year. Just everything about the game in general though I absolutely adored. The art styles, the sound design, the narrative, and just that feeling of thinking you got one over on the game and found a way to break it even though it’s part of the design.
Prior to that I would have said Loop Hero, but I’m going to be honest I fell hard off the game after sinking 56 hours into it and still not seeing credits. Loop Hero is to me a game that is great in all ways except for pacing. Starting out is amazing and it has the same thing as Inscryption where you just want to experiment with everything because as you learn early on things change based on what you place next to them and in certain patterns.
But there’s sadly not enough there, you will reach a point mid game where you stop discovering new combinations and so maybe you go look it up on a guide and what you find is maybe there’s one or two you didn’t find but they’re not exactly revelatory. Where Inscryption wants you to break the game and feel smart for doing that Loop Hero doesn’t offer that. Instead you reach a point where you are honestly expected to grind and grinding in Loop Hero is just not fun.
And that’s my biggest issue I think, the progression is just much too slow for me. The idea of building out your village/town from nothing and getting all these upgrades for buildings and such while getting story bits is really awesome. However getting the resources to do that is incredibly tedious. You might spend 30-45 minutes grinding out resources only to come back to town and be able to only buy a single upgrade. In addition there’s so many resources you have to keep track of and while there is a way to convert between different resources it’s often at a huge ratio. On top of this the idea that you can just cap out on gathering resources feels like a terrible design choice. Why should I be punished for continuing to push my luck doing more and more loops to get resources only to then lose some after successfully completing it because I earned too much?
To me what does make Loop Hero good is the influence it’s going to have on other designers. As I was playing it one of the first things that popped into my head was “this would make for an interesting multiplayer game” and I can’t be the only one. I don’t know what genre you would call it but it feels like a new sub genre in the same way auto battlers are now a new sub genre. There is just so much you can do with this core gameplay loop that I am excited at what comes out in the next 3 years that’s been influenced by it.
I think this is the highly specific nature of Mullins’ design at play though: for me, who never had a Gameboy, this entire second act shift was just… intensely irritating. (As much as the first act also completely missed the mark for me).
I typically like to write a short little essay summarizing my GOTY, bring a sharp little thesis to it. But I’ve done a lot of that this year, and sometimes it’s hard to do it every time. And sometimes? There’s not a lot to say.
My favorite game this year is An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs.
I’m sure I could muster some reason, some clever analysis and pointed critique and explain why I love the dog airport game. But I feel like I’d be lying on some level, because the truth is it just makes me smile.
There are going to be people who hate this game; it’s a series of fetch quests, after all, and maybe you won’t gel with the writing. But I couldn’t care less about the fact that its all fetch quests. It never mattered to me. I just liked the dogs. I liked hanging out with them. I liked the sweet romance. I liked the silly jokes. I liked helping the dogs with their silly problems. It made me smile. Sometimes we can diminish the value of that, but in a year like 2021, I desperately needed a reason to smile. And An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs was one of those reasons.
Inscryption and Halo Infinite have been mostly very good but somewhat compromised experiences for me over the holidays.
Deathloop, DOOM: Eternal’s The Ancient Gods - Part 2, Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye and Boomerang X were sublime experiences.
But I think it is Subnautica: Below Zero that truly has to be my favourite this year. There is something so special to me about the particular combination of visuals, mechanics, audio and music that inspires my imagination and puts me at ease.