2021 has been quite the hectic year for me. I got my bachelor’s degree in archival management, have been busy at my restaurant job, acquired volunteer work at a museum nearby, and am still trying to find a place to call home and a job within the lines of my studies. Thankfully, games and chatting with people about this media has helped me to relax, with these titles truly deserving a mention for keeping my sanity in check.
However, before I get on with these entries, I just want to quickly glance over the repeated rules for these Favourite Games of the Year lists of mine. At this point, I feel it is as much a tradition to me as Christmas itself.
- This is only my favourite top 12 games of 2021. I am really interested in hearing what other gems I might have missed out on this year, so think of this list as more of a conversation starter than anything else.
- While some remakes are impressive, unless they have something that makes them completely different overall from their original versions, they will not be on this list.
- If I have not fully invested my time in a game, despite how much I enjoyed it, I do not feel compelled to put it on the list or even really talk about it.
We good? If you read on, I suppose we are.
#12 Hundred Days
I will not deny that the initial impression this title gives is not the greatest because of a shallow story, but this is actually an addictive management game about you being a winemaker. Hundred Days makes you decide on how to spend your days by letting you put pieces that represent different actions into a limited format, in order for you to make the perfect wine for your customers. There will be plenty of varied aspects to be aware of, such as what grapes to use, how to market your products, what tools do you need to fix or upgrade, and which stats to affect like tannin and acidity. With tons of elements to sink your teeth into, this simple premise turns into quite the demanding experience.
However, this is also an incredibly peaceful title to play. The simple and colourful visuals, sweet animations, and relaxing music are definitely reasons for this, but due to how personal the playthrough can be as well. You are able to be creative with your design for bottles, and despite that you will have customers that are willing to pay more for specific products, how much of a challenge you wish to take on is all up to you. There is no rush in reaching greatness and getting more difficult tasks, with the turn-based structure making it easy for anyone to jump in. If you enjoy farming simulators or city management games, this is truly a nice change of pace.
#11 Axiom Verge 2
The changes made to this sequel confused me at first, but everything fits wonderfully into this surreal adventure. Taking place on a mountaintop with varied locations, Axiom Verge 2 is a fantastic game focusing on exploration and utilizing your tools for multiple purposes! A highlight is the ability to tinker with the environments and creatures, making it even possible to turn fiends into platforms. This opens up a ton of clever approaches with how diverse your arsenal will become, especially with the imaginative level designs and fierce opponents to encounter.
In fact, this is one of the few metroid titles that have made me feel hostile and consider what alternative routes to take for avoiding enemy attacks, such as luring them from an area or having them fight each other. You will certainly get upgrades that are just as interesting for exploration though, with even a small robot being used for going to a parallel universe! Since you are vulnerable as well, the game expects you to use your noggin for figuring out not just where to go, but also how to do so unscathed. While I cannot say I cared much for the extra lore to find, I was always intrigued to uncover every corner of this world to the point that I have tried to speedrun this entry multiple times.
#10 Steel Assault
Probably the best way to summarize this title is Bionic Commando mixed with Castlevania. This is a short and sweet project that harnesses back to the old school setup where you are expected to pay attention and skilful play will be tested. It is truly a challenging game that throws tons of foes at you, but never in unfair matters as you are always able to see what is coming up ahead and constantly have to react accordingly using your few capabilities to your advantage.
The core gimmick within this indie title is its neat rope mechanic, where you can use it to hold onto areas and make it function as a climbable tool or a double jump! This is utilised well for providing exhilarating platforming segments, with the combat being integrated lovingly to create great tension throughout the entire journey by having tons of enemies attacking you. Thankfully, your whip is long and can even work in eight directions, with the power-ups being a saving grace whenever you come across them. This is overall a focused game that uses everything it has for a short, but beautiful experience that is filled with action. Hopefully, it will get a sequel.
#9 Cruis’n Blast
I have a hard time describing this as anything but a silly racer and that is why I absolutely adore it. Personally, I have never been a big fan of the Cruis’n series, but this entry left me stunned with the insanity it contained. Driving through London on top of moving trains while the police are chasing you, was just one of the many highlights of this arcade title, offering me tons of fast-paced moments that put a stupid grin on my face. While all of the cups included in this switch port are remixes of the original tracks, they are still packed with enough variety to make replays exciting and entertaining!
There are hidden keys to find and money to collect for unlocking more vehicles to pimp up, such as a motorcycle, firetruck, and unicorn! Going at high speed through colourful and mesmerising locations with magnificently cheesy music being played in the background, it is hard to not have a good time with this racer. Though there are actually some depths to this title too, such as the different kinds of wheelis for jumping over cars and drifting being as significant as the shortcuts to take. With local multiplayer readily available, it was hard to not invite friends over and have a fun time crashing into each other while reaching the finish line.
#8 Tales of Arise
As controversial as this might be, I can only recommend a handful of the Tales of games, but Arise luckily turned out to be one of those. This RPG combines the best of the lacklustre entries and produces an exhilarating adventure due to its action. Recharging AP for using special attacks are back for providing the combat with a gorgeous flow, while one mana pool is shared amongst the party for supportive arts like healing. The latter cannot be refilled without resting or using items, and with strong fiends to fight and money being hard to come by, this title offers a wonderful challenge with enough diverse enemies to take care of to be engaging.
Yet, even with each character having unique capabilities and skill trees that are unlocked through exploration, Tales of Arise is easy to jump in thanks to its simple controls! This is what impresses me the most about this product; while it has a linear structure and is not too complicated, it will still reward your curiosity and your skills will be tested! Furthermore, not since Symphonia have I seen such an outstanding cast of characters with clear backgrounds and arcs, providing discussions about big subjects like racism. It never claims to have clear answers, but this story offers thoughts on the matters that are cleverly tied to the different cultures and characters you meet! With every part of this world offering something mesmerising, this was an incredible return to the series that shows me once again how deep action games can be in multiple ways.
#7 Monster Hunter Rise
This is probably the most fast-paced entry of the series thus far. Monster Hunter Rise focuses heavily on the battles against the enormous creatures that each comes with their own set of devastating attacks, which you need to take down in order to make new armour and weapons. It is all spectacular yet again, with your diverse arsenals making sure that the combat is constantly entertaining. However, you now have a dog as a helpful companion for riding around and attacking dangerous foes, making them a valuable partner to have. You still get a cat along for the ride too, which is also customizable and a cute support for the hunts.
Exploration is important for finding materials in order to create supportive items and equipment like before, but now you can find spirits that give you temporary upgrades as well. Nothing is stopping you from taking on these huge beasts directly, but being able to prepare by becoming more versatile and even luring them into fighting each other, are wonderful inclusions. Combine this with an insect to use as a midair hookshot for climbing and dodging around, and you get what is probably the best Monster Hunter game. Even if the tower defence parts are just underwhelming, going on multiple hunts with friends has never been this satisfying.
What an adorable little creature! This metroid title has you playing as a small spider trying to get her boyfriend back by helping critters within a vast forest. Your only moves are jumping, shooting web, and firing lasers, but all three are utilized for creative sequences, such as carefully traversing through hazards, puzzling together constructions, and fast-paced platforming! All are fun and diverse enough to be thrilling tasks to take on, with even the hub being easy to lose time in swinging around thanks to the joyful physics alone!
Furthermore, there is a ginormous amount of charm to this project! The comrade ants have a stern but supportive tone and the sound of a guitar is being played at different pitches as you walk on the web strings, showcasing that someone put their heart and soul into this game. The arachnophobia mode included also makes sure that everyone can enjoy this fantastic platformer. Which I can assure you that you will, as there is not a single dull moment here.
I am always in for a TTRPG that is not about making you into an overall demigod. Being forced to traverse cautiously due to your own mortality, realizing that you are nothing more than another mercenary in this world, and gaining a new feat being a massive upgrade, are key reasons for why I love traditional D&D. Solasta brings the 5th edition to this interactive media beautifully by focusing on this setup! It provides tactical combat that challenges your ability to strategise through using the enemies’ weaknesses and the environments to your benefit, with a wonderful difficulty curve making every fight tense.
However, an RPG also needs a solid setting and story, which this entry has by offering a dark universe with lighter moments included. Even the lore is digestible, where the humans are the strange race in this land. Although, my enjoyment for this tale comes from how silly it can be at points, while still being clearly well crafted. In a sense, this aspect reminds me of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion because of the awkward moments, but in a positive way and with actually good gameplay. If you have ever been curious about tabletop gaming, this is a great way to get your feet wet and eventually be trapped in the TTRPG community forever.
#4 Gunfire Reborn
Roguelike is a genre I find severely hard to do right, as it should have a challenge that is not based only on your avatar getting stronger upon repeated deaths or having too randomised RNG that can make a run laughably easy or unfairly difficult. Gunfire Reborn is one of the best entries within this setup, being a co-op shooter focusing on finding as much loot as possible in a playthrough. All of the weapons are creative with different functions and features, with the characters varying in abilities they have in order for you to find a suitable playstyle! Which you are going to need to do, as there is never a downtime in this title thanks to hordes of foes to take down and challenging obstacle courses to leap through.
Upon each death, you can level up and expand your characters specific stats, with more possible elements to find upon multiple runs being also unlocked after clearing specific challenges! However, due to a helpful dodging mechanic and imaginative tools to find throughout, you can get far on your own merits as well. Because of all of these nice implementations, this roguelike is truly a special one that is fun to jump in for long or short rides with friends! Can it please be released on the switch soon?
A surprising indie project that took my heart by storm, Sizeable is a puzzle game about analysing small dioramas and changing the sizes of their set pieces in order to affect them in interesting ways. Only visual means are used to tell what each level requires you to do, such as the icons in the upper left corner or the layouts of the areas themselves, providing perfect immersion to these tiny locations. After all, it is pretty obvious what you do on a golf course, for example.
However, this creativity goes on for every stage and it is hard to not be charmed by how imaginative each of them is. Set in outer space, at a camping site, under the sea, and outside a haunted house, are just some of the diversity you can expect. Not to mention, more free levels have been added to this package, strengthening its content even further! Alongside the calming atmosphere and relaxing music, Sizeable is truly an artistic puzzle title that shows how interactivity can offer a magnificent experience in its simplicity. I
This entry sold me on its pure style alone. Waking up in a land unlike any the protagonist has seen before and with only a harpoon in his hand, he has to find a way to save the inhabitants from an unrecognisable threat and get himself home. This is a semi-linear metroid game with a huge focus on using your spear for both combat and traversing. The platforming is incredibly fast with neat moves at disposal, such as the ability to teleport to where your thrown spear landed. Every jump provides a lovely adrenaline rush, and none of the levels become stale thanks to requiring all of your powers in order to venture through them.
The same goes for the fluent battles, as your acrobatic skills are also needed for dealing with dangerous fiends that can be far apart from one another. It is always a thrilling experience due to the fierce creatures to fight against and you always having to react accordingly, with even multiple tools and supportive hats being at disposal to give the combat some extra flavour. By letting the beautiful pixel art tell the atmospheric story and the mysterious landscapes’ origins, Olija is a title that should be studied and played.
Here, I present minimalism at its finest. I was already a huge fan of Mini Metro’s approach to managing railroads for creating the best flow for transportation, but Mini Motorway takes it all a step further by making you have to structure roads for general cars, offering more opportunities and mechanics to consider for how to make the rides comfortable for the citizens. This can be certainly a deep game thanks to this, but it is simultaneously easy to grasp and always evolves the playing field as you progress.
Onwards, you will have to tinker with your constructions constantly and even completely change up your plans as you play. However, this is a relaxing title too. It is never too daunting to take on a stage, with you having all the time to alter a setup and the RNG always feeling fair, providing a perfect difficulty curve. This lovely atmosphere is also enhanced by the hypnotic sound effects, sweet music, and admirable visuals that always made me forget the entire world around me. This is why Mini Motorways is my favourite game of 2021.
It was not easy to pick only 12 entries for this list, so I would like to give some honourable mentions to No More Heroes 3, Everhood, Wildermyth, Inscryption, Metroid Dread, New Pokemon Snap, Beard Blade, Toem, Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon, Bowser’s Fury, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, Super Squidlit, and Bravely Default 2 as they are truly stellar titles as well! However, I want to hear your favourite games of this year too, as there are certainly some that I have missed out on! With that said, I hope you all had lovely holidays and are ready for a new year with tons to look forward to!