2021 was not a great year for me writing about video games. As I write this, I see that last year’s top ten list is only six posts down from this one. But, even though I struggled to write about them, I did still manage to play a good amount of games, which means I can still tell you about my ten favorite ones.
Just like every year, there are three rules that determine if a game is eligible to be on my list. The first is that its first release in the United States was in 2021. The second is that I had to play it. So if there’s a game that’s a really big deal but you don’t see it here, there’s a good chance that I simply didn’t play it. There’s also a chance that I didn’t like it, it is my list after all. And the last rule is that remasters/re-releases are not allowed (unless it’s their first time releasing in America), but full remakes are perfectly fine.
Before we get started, here’s a few honorable mentions. With these, none of the rules I just outlined matter, it’s just whatever I want to shout out.
(note: while most of the following images are screenshots I took myself, some of the games I didn’t have any screenshots and as this post is already late, I used easily found images on Google)
Persona 5 Strikers
I was pretty excited for Strikers, even though I’ve never cared for any Dynasty Warriors-style game. But I love Persona 5, and this game was more of a Persona game with Warriors style combat than it was a true Warriors game. I really enjoyed the early going, but the story really peters out by the end and the dungeons are way too repetitive. Still, I enjoyed it enough to finish it, but not enough to make it on the main list.
Mario Party Superstars
The previous Mario Party game, Super Mario Party, was a huge step in the right direction. After several misfires, the standard Mario Party gameplay was back. Unfortunately, the boards were very small and severely lacking in interesting concepts. Superstars, instead, is a collection of boards from the N64 era games, showing that they really were better back then. With great boards, a great collection of minigames, and online play that works really well, Mario Party Superstars is an excellent entry in the long running series.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
I don’t need to say too much about New Horizons, it was my game of the year last year after all. I’m still happily addicted to the game, partially thanks to an outstanding big content update that brought in a lot of features players had been asking for. So far, I have played this game every day since it’s release. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s still true this time next year.
Sea of Thieves
This is probably the year that I played the least amount of Sea of Thieves since it’s release. Still, they introduced new Pirates of the Caribbean themed story missions that were a ton of fun and one of the highlights of the year for me. This was also one of the games that I used to test out my Series X when I first got it, and it was clear immediately how much better the new hardware was.
Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis
I loved the original version of PSO2. It was a weird mess of a game, but also fun and goofy. New Genesis is a much more traditional, straightforward game, which in a lot of ways makes it “better”. However, I kind of feel like some of the charm of the original release has been lost, so even if it probably is better, I strangely didn’t like it as much. Still, a fun time.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
I really struggled with whether or not this game qualified for being on the main list. 3D World is an old game, but Bowser’s Fury is totally new. I decided this still counted as a re-release, but Bowser’s Fury is such a unique, new take on the Mario formula, that it definitely needed to be shouted out. Plus 3D World is also very good and went ignored the first time around since it was stuck on the Wii U.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore
Look, I just like Tokyo Mirage Sessions.
And now, my top ten games of 2021.
I’ve never been the biggest rougelike fan, Dead Cells being the only one to really get its teeth in me before this year. I ended up getting my PS5 is a bundle that came with Returnal, and it quickly became the second roguelike to completely consume me. The combination of an addicting gameplay loop, intriguing story, and gorgeous graphics kept me coming back for more.
9. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
Somehow, I had never played a Ratchet and Clank game before. Because of that, I didn’t have any connection to the characters or world of Rift Apart. But despite that, It’s such a solid action-platformer that it didn’t really bother me that I would meet alternate universe versions of classic characters and have no idea how they acted in the original universe. Cool weapons, breathtaking graphics, fun writing, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is a must play if you have a PS5.
8. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles collects two Ace Attorney spinoff titles that had previously never been released in the West. These games take place in the 19th century, meaning way before the other games. This means the connection is pretty loose, which is both a good and bad thing. On one hand, if you’re a big Ace Attorney fan, you might miss the classic characters. But on the other, this could be your first game in the series and you’d be just fine. Whichever one of those fits you, the game’s interesting story and typical Ace Attorney humor result in a game (games?) that anyone can enjoy.
7. Monster Hunter Rise
You ever play Monster Hunter? Or seen someone play Monster Hunter? Then you pretty much know exactly what you’re getting into here. While the couple new concepts in this game, such as the tower defense style rampage quests, didn’t do a whole lot for me, the classic loop of fighting big monsters and turning their carcasses into weapons and armor is just as addicting as ever. The fact that the online works great, especially for a Switch game, is a bonus too.
6. New Pokemon Snap
We’ve been waiting way too long for a sequel to Pokemon Snap. I wasn’t sure going in if a game of Snap’s structure would make sense at full price in 2021, but there’s a surprising amount of stuff to do in New Pokemon Snap. With different times of day and versions of each course as well as special missions to get specific types of pictures, New Pokemon Snap takes the simple concept of the original and really fleshes it out.
5. Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
I hadn’t played the first Monster Hunter Stories, so I don’t know if I would feel as strongly about it if I had. But, without the context of the original, I was really surprised by how well the gameplay loop of the Monster Hunter games translated into a Pokemon-style turn-based JRPG. You still defeat monsters and use their body parts to construct weapons and armor, but you also team up with monsters, like you would in Pokemon. It’s a really cool combination and one that held my attention for much longer than I thought it would.
4. Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind
I’m kinda cheating with this one. I love both Famicom Detective clubs almost equally, and I didn’t want them to take up both the number 4 and 5 spots, so I’m just going to count them both as number 4. These are two remakes of old Famicom adventure games that had never released in America previously. Think of them as sort of proto-Ace Attorney games. The characters are fun, the art is gorgeous, the stories are intriguing. It’s really a shame that these games were largely overlooked, because they are some of my favorites of the year.
3. Halo Infinite
It was very easy to be worried about Halo Infinite. The game was supposed to be a launch title for the Series X before being delayed for over a year. Those concerns were quickly reversed when the multiplayer released ahead of schedule and was just as fun and addictive as Halo had ever been. If it was just the multiplayer this wouldn’t have ended up so high on the list. But thankfully, the campaign turned out great too. The new open world design does leave a bit to be desired, as they don’t do a whole lot with it. It does lead to plenty of great Halo combat though, and the more scripted missions are outstanding. While not my favorite game of the year, Halo Infinite proved way better than I had feared for the last year or so.
2. Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil has a tendency to reinvent itself each entry, at least since 4. While Village at first seems to be just more of 7, with it’s first person perspective and return to pre-RE4 style puzzle solving, it turns into something way bigger. It has four dramatically different areas, all of which have a distinctly different tone to them. I’m not one who gets freaked out by horror games very regularly, but one of the sections of this game messed me up more than I’d care to admit. Few games can straddle the line between horror and silly while still being compelling, but Resident Evil Village does it flawlessly.
1. Metroid Dread
I may have been worried about Halo Infinite, but Metroid Dread was something else entirely. The first completely new 2D Metroid game in almost two decades, Dread could have very easily failed to live up to expectations. Thankfully, it surpassed all my hopes with a massive map and tons of secrets to uncover as well as amazing bosses to fight. This is the Metroid game we had been dreaming of. The story is pretty neat too, which is nice to say since traditionally, story isn’t really the reason to play these games. Metroid Dread isn’t just the best game of 2021, it might be the best Metroid game of all time.