Has it really been one whole year since we last compiled our annual top games lists and not the two decades it’s actually felt like? Weird. Many of the games on my 2021 list feel like they came out ages ago. Technically, two of them did, but it’s my list and I declare them fair games. Let’s go.
I’ve been putting together these annual lists for over a decade now and every year they feel a little different, as if my gaming taste were slowly changing over time. Am I evolving as a person? Am I becoming more selective in my old age? Or did I just make a list of all the games I liked and rolled dice to see which ones made the cut? I’ll never tell. See if you can.
No, not Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, just Bowser’s Fury. Super Mario 3D World is nice, but Bowser’s Fury gave us a brand new way to play a Mario game. Instead of traveling from world to world, everything is contained on a single open-world map. It’s a massive Mario obstacle course, a playground to show off your sweet plumber moves. More of this, please.
It is December 21, 2021 as I write this. I heard a few seconds of the Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! theme three days ago, and it is still playing in my head on an endless loop. Despite knowing exactly what surprises were in store in this year’s expanded re-release of the original WTF visual novel, I still spent hours on the Switch version uncovering every secret and exploring every relationship available.
Now it can live in your head, too.
Yeah, yeah, it took me a while. Turns out the Fortnite I imagined in my head, filled with highly-skilled players taking out older, slower folks like me while cackling diabolically isn’t the actual game. Sure, if I tried playing competitively maybe, but the more casual side of Epic’s battle royale is filled with kids who are easily tricked by hiding behind a tree or rock. And the goal, instead of trying to be the last man, woman, superhero, cartoon character, or real-world actor standing, is to complete quests and earn experience levels to unlock cool shit.
I like cool shit, and Fortnite gives me leeway to play around with the stuff I don’t quite enjoy. Instead of winning first place, when I find myself in the top 10 my goal is to make it as annoying as possible for the other nine players to kill me, hopping from car to car, ducking in and out of buildings. Last season my favorite game was “hop in the turret and kill everyone who comes to see what the noise is.” My record is 12 in one match.
Welcome to all of my new Forza Horizon friends! After years of singing this series’ praises, you’ve finally caught on to how outstanding it is. Hundreds of cars to level up in RPG fashion, miles of roads to explore, the freedom to pull into the woods and smash through trees at any time–it’s been my jam for ages. Not sure why it took you all so long. Were you waiting for Mexico? Was it Game Pass? It was Game Pass, wasn’t it? Either way, it’s nice to have you all with me. Now turn around when it is safe to do so.
Love, loss, heroism, sacrifice, puppies and kitties. The latest game CyberConnect2’s Little Tail Bronx series is a turn-based strategy game about a group of children searching for their parents from the inside of a mysterious and massive battle tank. Together they traverse their war-torn countryside, engaging in fierce battles against seasoned opponents. Not only do these poor children have to deal with the horrors of war, they also have to come to terms with the fact that their most powerful weapon, the Soul Cannon, requires one of them to sacrifice their life to fire. It’s so heartbreakingly good.
As both a Hot Wheels collector and a fan of high-speed arcade racing, how could I resist Hot Wheels Unleashed, the toy car game made by a studio with a legacy of racing sim experience? I followed this pint-sized thrill ride throughout its development, getting more and more excited with each new racing environment reveal. Then the game came out, and it was even better than I expected. Plus, with new cars regularly added, I no longer need to collect all the Hot Wheels cars. I still will, of course. They’re only a dollar.
I cannot remember the last time I was as surprised by a game as I was with Square Enix’s take on Guardians of the Galaxy. The game’s early trailers did not impress. A Guardians game where I only play as the least interesting character? Besides, after two named movies and countless MCU cameos, I was getting tired of seeing their faces.
Read More: Guardians of the Galaxy: The Kotaku Review
Turns out I was only tired of the MCU versions. With outstanding performances and some of the best comedy writing in gaming history, the game I was sure was going to flop became one of, if not my absolute favorite game of the year. I fear for the next time I see the cosmic team on the big screen, for they are no longer my Guardians of the Galaxy.
Sure, the game is almost a clone of Lineage II: Revolution but with Marvel characters. And for the most part, it plays itself–but damn if I haven’t had a fine time this year exploring the mashed-together Marvel Universe of Marvel Future Revolution. The slick graphics, the shiny collectible costumes, the special events based around movies like Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home: there’s just always something to appreciate in the mobile Marvel MMO. Recently I’d begun waning myself from the game, only to jump right back in when Netmarble added Magik from The New Mutants as the game’s first new playable character. Since her debut last week I’ve played far more Marvel Future Revolution than I really should.
What a delight Neo: The World Ends With You turned out to be. I was not a huge fan of the original, something about the touchscreen controls rubbed me the wrong way (hee). But Neo, with its gorgeous art, clever writing, and fast-paced combat just clicked for me on all levels. As I said in my review, it’s got this endlessly cool and controllable sort of chaos to it, making it one of this year’s most unique games.
Scarlet Nexus turned me into the psychic anime superhero I’ve wanted to be since I saw Akira for the first time, and it looked damn fine doing it. I look at this screenshot I took during my first playthrough and I want nothing more to go in that world immediately. Chances of me ever visiting Japan at this point in my life are slim, so I am just going to pretend I went and it looked just like Scarlet Nexus.
Did I miss anything? No, of course not, this is my favorite game list, not yours. But hey, feel free to talk about your favorites in the comments below.