2021 won’t rank as one of the best years in gaming compared to recent years, and there are quite a few I missed out on. However, here’s my personal list of the best games I played this year.
2022 is on the horizon and along with it comes an overwhelming excitement for highly anticipated games. On paper, it has the potential to be a phenomenal year for the industry as a whole and I, for one, am incredibly hyped up to experience all of these upcoming titles. For now though, it’s time to pay tribute to what has come before it. I can honestly say 2021 wasn’t the best year for video games. I mean, there are quite a few games I didn’t play though, so maybe that isn’t a fair assessment on my part. But, it seems the majority of gamers feel the same way.
Speaking a bit more about the games I didn’t play, the four main ones I wanted to play the most but just haven’t had the chance to do so are Psychonauts 2, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Far Cry 6, and Metroid Dread. I will eventually get to all of these in the near future once I can manage my time a bit better. Hopefully, in January, I’ll be able to play through at least two of these before the big 2022 games start releasing.
I played quite a few games this year and, for obvious reasons, not all of them can make the list. I simply enjoyed some more than others. There might even be a game on this list that didn’t even release this year, but this specific game garnered a huge boost in popularity due to updates which improved the overall gameplay and feel of it. When it came down to it, there were 12 games that were the most memorable for me in 2021. Here we go!
12. New Pokemon Snap
The original Pokemon Snap gets a lot of praise, but I used to think it was simply an overrated game that’s gimmicky and only remembered for being completely different than anything else released in that era. So, what does Nintendo do? It makes an entirely new game for a new generation of gamers and doesn’t stray too far from the formula. This is one of those titles I didn’t expect to particularly like very much, but I picked it up anyway and ended up enjoying it far more than I expected to. Sure, there isn’t much to it and it could get a bit redundant after playing it for a few hours, but it still has the Pokemon feel in terms of “catching them all,” in a sense. Only this time, you’re taking pictures, and the different settings are full of gorgeous, vibrant colors. It’s a nice change of pace compared to some of the other games I spend my time playing and it’s an overall refreshing experience.
11. Bowser’s Fury (comes bundled with Super Mario 3D World)
If this is a glimpse of what Nintendo has in store for Mario’s next adventure, then I have quite a lot to be excited about. In a sense, Bowser’s Fury is a short expansion and somewhat of an appetizer to hold us over until we get the next big Mario title. In fact, this is one of my biggest complaints with the game, which is it’s far too short. Another gripe is the repetitiveness of having to fight that annoying Fury Bowser over and over again. Although those aspects are slightly disappointing, I still had so much fun with it and I felt the world that was established had more potential. It’s also a testament to how fun this series can still be after so many years. Super Mario Odyssey really took it up a notch with its open world exploration and gameplay in general. Bowser’s Fury has similar gameplay elements, although it feels a bit more like Super Mario 3D World with the movements and abilities. Think of it as a demo, and a very good one at that.
Remember the game I was discussing earlier? Well this is it. Technically, Splitgate released in early access in 2019. However, the game was never really that popular. The developer then stated the game would stay in beta indefinitely and revamped the game with improved visuals and gameplay mechanics, while also adding new game modes and playable maps. Suddenly, the game surged in popularity with record-breaking downloads, and I’m assuming it release on consoles definitely helped. This all happened in July, which is when I started playing it. I was always aware of Splitgate since it was first announced, but it never called my attention. I considered it a poor Halo clone in my ignorance. Finally, I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did. Yes, it’s definitely inspired by Halo, especially with the guns in the game. But, it also has elements of Unreal Tournament and Portal. It’s a very unique competitive multiplayer arena shooter any fan of the genre should try out since it scratches the casual itch while also delivering a unique challenge for those trying to test themselves and climb up the ranks. I haven’t played it in a few months, but it’s definitely a free-to-play game I can always circle back to in the future.
9. It Takes Two
It isn’t my game of the year, but I can understand why it ended up winning it at The Game Awards this year. It Takes Two is an absolute blast to play, especially when you play it as it’s intended to be played; with a friend. Then again, it’s the only way to play since you can’t play it by yourself. What I mean is the experience is that much more enjoyable when you play it with someone you know, at least from my perspective. This game is very child-friendly with its scenery, character design, and art-style. However, its themes are definitely catered towards the older players. Ultimately, it’s a story about family and truly learning about someone and accepting them for who they are. Not only is the story a highlight, but so is the gameplay. The puzzle solving can be challenging, but I loved figuring it out with a friend a laughing along the way while also traveling through strange, new levels, encountering different characters, and so on. It’s one of the best plat-formers I’ve played this year and definitely one of the most unique games I’ve ever played.
Some say Deathloop isn’t a roguelike game, but rather an action-adventure game. In that case, I’ll say it definitely has roguelike (or rogue-lite) elements. In the past, this hasn’t always been my favorite genre and it still isn’t since it can be very frustrating at times restarting from the very beginning and going through the same (or sometimes different) levels all over again. Then again, you gather knowledge from your previous run and you try at it again. This kind of game definitely makes you respect it over time, and once you get over a specific hump, you learn to appreciate it as you gather new intel, story details, and upgrades. The results can sometimes be very satisfying. I still haven’t beat Deathloop, and yes, you can still have an opinion about a game even if you haven’t beat it. But, I still go back to it frequently and I’m always discovering something new. Whether it’s story or character details, new areas, clues, or ways to play, it’s always a fun time playing as Colt and annoying Julianna (and vice versa). It would probably be higher up on my list if I completed it in its entirety, but for now, this’ll do.
Another roguelike making the list is Returnal. It’s actually pretty criminal this game didn’t get nominated for game of the year, but I’m assuming recency bias plays a bit of a role here since it came out so early on in the year. Then again, so did some of the other nominees. Regardless, considering the kind of game it is, compared to Deathloop, this one is a lot more challenging and really goes into those roguelike elements most players expect from the genre. This yet another game I didn’t finish in its entirety, although I did get fairly far in it to form a proper opinion on it. Unfortunately, there was a game-breaking glitch and it reset my entire progress. But, fortunately enough, the game was good enough for me to restart the entire thing and still progress pretty deep into it. Returnal is insanely mysterious and ominous. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and every step you take is a chance since the creatures and level designs you encounter are incredibly unforgiving. On the bright side, the combat is very entertaining and dynamic in every aspect. The more you play, the more you understand the story as details start to uncover themselves. This may be the best PS5 exclusive to release this year and everyone should give it a shot even if it means mentally preparing yourself for its difficulty.
6. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
So many years later and the Ratchet & Clank series is still going, delivering a ton of charm and entertaining gameplay. What this new entry, Rift Apart, does differently, however, is take the series to new heights with stunning visuals. I remember being absolutely blown away with the ray-tracing feature on this game while playing it on the PS5. It’s, without a doubt, one of the best looking games of the year and easily, the series. Incredible special effects aren’t the only thing it has going for it though. Since it’s called Rift Apart, obviously, playing with rifts and portals plays a huge factor in the entire game since, as Ratchet and Clank, you’ll travel through different dimensions and even encounter a female counterpart of Ratchet, Rivet. You’re able to find ripples in your current dimension and open them up to go through. Suddenly, you’re in a brand-new location. What’s so impressive is how the game seemingly transitions between one new place to the next almost right before your eyes and there aren’t any loading screens. The gameplay is as fun as I remember the games of the past being as well, introducing new weapons and abilities, while also getting creative with new combinations. It suffered from various bugs and glitches, especially at the very beginning, and the dialogue between the characters isn’t as witty and clever as it used to be, but Insomniac Games continues to create awesome Ratchet & Clank games and I don’t think the developer will stop anytime soon. I’m hoping the next entry really goes open-world with it since I feel there’s a ton of potential to make that work with this IP.
5. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
After the colossal misfire that was Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers, once I saw the trailer for Eidos Montreal’s Guardians of the Galaxy, my intentions were to steer clear from this since I saw some similarities and red flags from the very beginning. Initially, the lack of a co-op/multiplayer feature was a huge turn off, especially since this team is full of iconic and lovable characters you want to play as, especially with friends. What’s even worse is you’re only able to play as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, even though you can make commands for the other members of the squad. That right there was enough for me not to be invested. Then, I saw some gameplay, along with reactions from those who tried it out first, and most of it was positive. I have a soft spot for GotG, especially after seeing what James Gunn was able to create in 2014. So, I pulled the trigger, and I’m so glad I did. I was so wrong about so many things and I shouldn’t let one game’s failure dictate what every other game in a similar genre will be like. Guardians is so much fun on so many levels. Of course, those gripes are still present since I would love to experience it with friends and play as the other characters. But, it’s the story here that really grabs your attention and makes you stay for the long haul. Much like the movie, you get invested in these characters and their arcs. In reality, they’re a dysfunctional family, constantly arguing and bickering with each other and cracking jokes, but at the end of the day, they’re there for each other through thick and thin, and it really hits home for me. The combat plays similarly to Final Fantasy VII Remake, as well as the movements and world exploration. It feels a bit linear and I wish we had more room to explore the galaxy, but it still works. For me, this was one of the biggest surprises of 2021.
4. Death’s Door
Death’s Door really scratched almost every box for me. Think of it as a Dark Souls mixed with The Legend of Zelda. The world is full of life in every location you visit and, at times, it’s creepy, mysterious, and engaging all at once. The characters you meet are all very interesting and all have a different story to tell. It’s simply a game I didn’t expect to be so invested in, but it captured me completely. I didn’t love the fact that there weren’t many other things to do in the world other than the main mission and gathering some collectables to aid you on your quest. But, the combat is slick and pretty straight-forward to pick up on. In those battles, it’s mostly about movement and how you can avoid taking damage which really makes the difference. Death’s Door has some of the best boss fights I’ve ever played, along with the monster design. Each fight is unique in its own way and it’s extremely rewarding once you’re able to get past it and move on. You’ll find your challenges and difficulties as you progress, but it isn’t as unforgiving as the Souls series. As mentioned, you’ll get the Zelda vibes from all the exploration, dungeons, puzzle-solving, and weapon collecting. I never thought I would love a game where you play as a small crow so much.
3. Halo Infinite
This is the Halo game I’ve been waiting for since Halo 3. It’s been a long 14 years and although I’ve been able to revisit the greatness of Halo 3 thanks to The Master Chief Collection, I think everyone is in agreement that it feels amazing to finally play a new Halo that’s actually good. Unfortunately, I have yet to dive into the campaign since I’m mostly waiting for the online co-op to play it with friends, but the multiplayer is fantastic. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect, of course, since in its current state, at least on PC, it definitely needs some work with the frequent crashes and overall stability. It’s still a work in progress since I’ve heard it runs smoothly on the Xbox Series X, but I’m hopeful 343 Industries is working on some fixes to improve the overall quality of the game. The ranked modes, and overall playlists in general, can use some work as well. Sometimes, I just want to exclusively play Team Slayer, maybe even some Team Doubles, and Free-For-All from time to time. The ranking system can be a bit tedious, especially when you barely get any points for winning, but are penalized pretty severely for losing. The battle pass is also flawed. Basically, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. But, I’m not worried at all since I’m confident this game will continue to improve and become even better as time goes on. At least I can say the foundation is there and the fundamentals of the game are in tact. It’s about putting it all together now. I played it almost non-stop when it first came out and I’ve taken a break from it the last few days. However, I know I’ll be returning to it soon and it’ll probably be one of my most played games in 2022.
2. Little Nightmares II
I never played the first game in the series, but I know it’s highly regarded as a fantastic indie game. Seeing all the hype behind this entry and the love it was receiving from the gaming community, I had to try it out for myself. Little did I know it would end up becoming one of my favorite games of the year. It’s not the longest gaming experience, but it sort of plays like a long movie that doesn’t feel drawn out, poorly written, or messy. From the very start, you’re progressing through the game and trying to figure out what’s going on. You run into someone who ends up being your companion throughout the game and together, you’re constantly facing dangerous situations in order to survive and continue on. It feels like you always have to be watching your back and someone is always after you. It’s a very tense feeling and you’re on the edge of your seat from the very beginning. The people/creatures in this game are absolutely terrifying, especially the ones with long limbs and necks. You have to be creative with your movements and choosing when to run, hide, or fight. The twist ending blows my mind till this day and I have to think the story will continue on, even though this entry is technically a prequel to the first game. If you haven’t played Little Nightmares II, I highly recommend it. It won’t take up too much of your time and I find it very hard to believe you won’t leave it feeling satisfied and absolutely thrilled.
1. Resident Evil Village
There isn’t a game I remember enjoying more than Resident Evil Village this year. I was a big fan of its predecessor, Biohazard, for a lot of reasons, mainly because it revamped the traditional Resident Evil formula after it was growing stale throughout the years. Village continues that same trend but goes even further with it, adding broader areas to explore and expands on Ethan Winter’s story in supernatural and interesting ways. Village, at times, feels more like a first-person action game, while Biohazard is 90% horror. But, it doesn’t mean Village doesn’t deliver the scares because it certainly does. The characters are fantastic, along with the performances from the voice actors, and I loved the differences between each of them. Each area you play in delivers a brand-new dynamic as well, giving off a completely distinct vibe and tone, but still staying true to the formula Biohazard established. I loved playing through this from start to finish, and one of the most memorable parts was having a friend of mine commentating it with me and joining me on the journey as I live-streamed it. Whatever comes next, I hope it follows the same winning pattern Resident Evil has created. There’s no denying it’s a recipe for success. Village is my game of the year, without a doubt.