Hello! My name is David Galindo, aka chubigans, and I run a small little indie company, Vertigo Gaming Inc., known best for the Cook, Serve, Delicious! series and a new Twitch-only free game called ChefSquad! I love making games and will continue to do so until the company either makes one hundred million dollars or declares bankruptcy, whichever comes first. Woo!
The Tabletop Zone
Before we get into my games list I wanted to talk a little bit about my favorite tabletop games of 2021!
- Super Mega Lucky Box is like Bingo mixed with strategy. With each number that’s called you get to choose which number to cross off on your number cards. Get a row or column cleared and you win a prize that can help modify numbers or add to your end score, and completely black out a card for lots of points. Easy to teach and extremely fun for any skill set, whether that’s your hardcore tabletop player or someone that’s only played (ugh) Monopoly in their life.
- Splurt is a game you can just throw on the table for a quick 10 minute fun session as you reveal the letter of the word you need to shout out as well as the theme (“stuff you pack in a suitcase” or “things you eat”, while the letter card can be “starts with B” or “ends in T”, etc.). Shout it out first to win the card, and the player with the most wins. Party games don’t get much simpler and fun than this.
- Project L is a fascinating Tetris-like game that mixes the satisfaction of sliding those tetrominos into place with the strategy of deciding when to gain pieces, boards and points. This is a more advanced game to put on the table but even novice tabletop players were able to catch on fairly quickly as you trade up tetromino pieces for more complex shapes as you fill in boards to score points. Its beautiful in its presentation and satisfying as heck to play, and is one of my all time favorites.
- Wonka’s Golden Ticket is one of those instant family classic boardgames that works for just about any skill level. You choose one of the kids as your character as you wander the town collecting money and Wonka candies and powerups to exchange for actual Wonka bars. These little Wonka bars are incredibly cool to use as a game element as a few of them contain a golden ticket slipped in and shuffled around beforehand. Once all the Wonka bars have been distributed everyone opens up their bars to see if they’ve won. I played with my family over New Years and despite my Wonka bar pile being twice as big as everyone else’s I had no golden tickets- while my mom with the least amount of bars ended up having all three (and played as Charlie to boot). Is that fair? Who cares, it was hilarious and exciting at the same time. Highly recommended.
- Finally the Back to the Future: Back in Time game is one that captures the spirit of the classic film while adding tabletop friendly elements that make it feel like both a great adventure, fun co-op and a throwback to film that is loved by so many. In fact every bit of this game feels like a love letter to the movie, and it’s very fun to play as you run around Hill Valley trying to gain all the parts for the DeLorean as Biff wanders about, while also trying to make your parents fall in love before lightning strikes the tower. While it’s replay value is a bit more limited than the other games on this list, it’s still a blast that any major fan of the movie should check out.
I’d love to see Project L in videogame form to be quite honest…speaking of which, let’s break down all the games I loved in 2021!
The Videogaming Zone
10. Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon/Loop Hero
Two games that fall short of being instant classics in one way or another, but deserved to be talked about- you can almost think of this as my Honorable Mentions list!
(Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon) A quirky puzzle roguelike that’s unfortunately quite short, Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon is one of those games that is so close to greatness. It’s incredibly difficult and quite a fun mix of fighting and puzzle elements, but I was able to buy out the shop of unlockable items within the first two hours and aside from different colored outfits there doesn’t seem to be a ton of content to progress to, yet the fun enemy matching and damage dealing is unlike any other puzzle game I’ve played. I had fun with the game and I hope they can take this idea even further with DLC. (Played on Switch)
(Loop Hero) I really thought this game had me with its brilliant design, amazing art and sound effects and fascinating story, yet it never quite got there for me to get hooked on. It could be the sometimes unforgiveable difficulty (which honestly can be chalked up to my fault- you can choose to leave a level any time you want to get all 100% of the collected resources) or luck of the draw with what cards you get on each level. The fact that this isn’t near the top of the list feels more like a me problem rather than the game- if it looks remotely interesting to you based on the trailer, you should absolutely check it out. The controls fare better than expected on Switch given the mouse-focused PC version, though I found the Switch version to ultimately play slower as a result, not a bad thing per se. (Played on Switch)
Some games are content with just being solid. Arcadegeddon is a very stylish game with some good shootin’ and good lootin’, with each run being as long as you’d like it to be (or, of course, until you die). Arcadegeddon is at its best when it focuses on a ton of enemies on screen as you blast your way through to the warp gate (less so during the optional player vs. player segments) and the guns feel great. At the moment it’s a bit light on content and the roadmap looks promising, but as of now is a great fun diversion to blast through with friends. (Played on PS5)
Is this the future of videogames? When I saw the Mario 64 demo for the first time as a kid in my local blockbuster, playing Dire Dire Docks, it was a magical moment, as if I had been thrusted years into the future. I couldn’t believe I was playing a game that looked this incredible. The Matrix Awakens wants to conjure a similar feeling- that this is the future of not only games but entertainment/movies- but as a game dev, it hits differently. It looks incredible, yes, but will devs pick up Unreal 5 and master this tech as quickly as the engine’s authors have? How expensive is it? Can we go about 30fps and still retain most of this fidelity? God, I hate asking most of these questions, but it’s all I can think of when I see tech demos like this- stunning, stunning tech demos, but a glimpse into what can be all the same. This is not a game of course, but a statement. This is Unreal Engine 5 and it blows the crap out of all these cross gen games and even some first party titles on next gen so far. Mission successful. I hope devs adopt it and we see actual games looking like this- but goodness, it’s gonna take a while. (Played on PS5)
Sometimes the hardest things to get right are the seemingly easiest looking games out there. Powerwash Simulator could have just lived up to its title as you go around blasting mud and grime off vans, pools, skate parks and even a rover on Mars. But it was all of the small details that made this game zen-like. You get paid by the piece of equipment cleaned, such as a park bench or the right side mirror of a van, and once you get 90% of the grime off of it the object flashes clean and money is deposited into your account. It makes tackling the largest levels much easier as I skipped around levels trying to earn enough money to buy a little spray nozzle attachment. This is such a satisfying game. It belongs in a genre that I’m striving for in my next unannounced title- a satisfying experience that just makes you feel good. The way the water sounds when it hits different surface types. The way I blast bird poop off a playground. Saving enough money to be able to afford a cleaner that can blast rust off a classic old car. The only reason I stopped playing was to wait until my Steam Deck gets here so I can play this in bed. I can’t freaking wait. (Played on PC)
Video games have the ability to tell stories wholly unlike any other medium out there. How difficult would you think it would be to tell a story without words, without actual characters except the ones we manifest by actively playing? Unpacking is full of brilliant moments. This is exactly the game it appears to be: an unpacking simulator where you pull items out of boxes until they’re all in the place you feel they should be and move on to the next stage of the game (progressing through the life of a young woman through adulthood). This game never subverts your expectations- something I’m not overly fond of as it feels like everyone is chasing the Frog Fractions dream- but instead creates real moments of emotional power simply by the places your items go. I was completely shocked at some of the negativity surrounding the game for being a short experience. The game so completely nails the unpacking aspect that I found myself taking weeks to do one of the larger levels, taking it box by box each night and enjoying the nice chill moment before bed. But even if I were to run through it quickly, it feels like a game that is exactly as long as it needed to be. (Played on Switch)
Honestly my two minute video sums up everything you need to know. (Played on PC)
Sometimes a game just comes along that you want to hang out in and have some low key chats with friends, whether that’s blasting bugs in a deep underground cave while I’m searching for eggs or protecting a drilldozer as it burrows into the cavernous alien planet that has explosive sacks littered everywhere. There are only four classes in this game yet each one feels both integral to the experience yet also unnecessary to win a mission. Sure, the three of us can do without a Scout, but boy, when you have a Scout on your team that can light up the dark caves with beautiful light, that’s when you realize how much you missed them. Sure I can dig through this rock, but when the Driller comes to burrow the dirt like it’s made of paper, hoo man it feels like the difference in riding in a luxury car. (The purposefully imbalanced classes also make for some great funny moments, like myself as a soldier trying to climb up a cliffside oh so slowly only to see the scout with their scout-only zipline zip past me like Spider-Man as she shouts “wheeeeee!” on the Discord call- Lizzy if you’re reading this I still think about that moment and laugh.) The best thing about this game is the dynamic difficulty you can set each mission to, as some friends may like an extremely intense experience while others can appreciate a chill, easy bug-shootin’ splatfest. Grab some friends, explore the caves and get ready for a hell of a good time. (Played on PC)
Is it OK for a game to lie to you? I don’t mean in the sense of subverting your expectations- I mean in the sense of telling you this dice roll was completely 100% random even though you know that’s some grade A bullshit and has to be an absolute lie.
Dicey Dungeons wouldn’t be the first game to tilt the scales of power for a more fun game- heck, that’s what rubberbanding is all about in Mario Kart, or the fact that you always miss 3 point shots in NBA Jam if you’re too far ahead (and always make them if you’re too far behind). But in a game where my rolls determine the attacks I will do to my opponent, who are also running “random dice rolls” to do the same thing to me (like hell you are) I have to wonder just how much of this game really falls into the sphere of chance.
I’m sure the creator, Terry Cavanagh, has outlined their game dev of this game in a really good GDC talk or blog post, and I never want to read it. No, I rather feel like I was cheated of my amazing win by some really tilted sixes a random dungeon enemy rolled to cut me down immediately. Could a game like this really be random? Would you really want to leave your game design completely up to chance instead of making sure enemies are constantly hitting you 50% of the time? Wouldn’t that make for better design anyways? Oh this enemy has to roll snake eyes to freeze my dice huh? Well good thing that has a rare chance of happe-AH CRAP! All of this is a weird set up to my number three game on my list, but for every complete bullshit roll an enemy has rolled against me, I have rolled against them to win in spectacular fashion. While I can change the rolls of the dice with a specific tool to get the number I want, it takes up a slot in my inventory, which might be better served with a weapon that activates on six instead. The way you can strategize how you attack your opponent with completely luck based rolls (there’s that luck word again, something I’m sure this game actually rigs right???). I love this game, except for the parts I absolutely hated. This game is incredible, most of the time, most all of the time, sometimes. (Played on Switch)
I am not a fan of most Marvel movies, and I especially hated Guardians of the Galaxy, so much so that I almost want to watch it again just because I can’t precisely say why I disliked it so much. The trailer for this game was so poor that I instantly wrote it off as another Avengers debacle (right up until release I thought it was a multiplayer game) and had no interest whatsoever. The Twitter buzz of this being a good story and a great game still didn’t win me over- a great Marvel movie/game/show is still a Marvel movie/game/show I have zero interest in- but what do you know, one lazy Sunday afternoon I saw it on sale and thought, sure, why not. My goodness- this is one of my favorite games of this generation. The story, motion capture and acting, as well as the game’s dazzling graphics (especially in raytracing mode) hooked me about an hour in. It takes its time to tell a story, build characters, and feel as if there’s lore brimming underneath that I actually want to explore, unlike other Marvel properties that feel like I walked in at the middle of a story (which, in most cases, you are). But it was the weaving of certain story choices and gameplay that makes this even more special- nothing that games haven’t done before, but gosh, when I get access to some areas hours after a key moment I explored in the narrative simply because I wanted the story to progress in that direction- it feels extra special. Small moments, like your crew doing various tasks in levels far later in the game that you don’t have to direct them to because they’re functioning better as a team- small moments that pay off so well. Less special is the gameplay, which leaves a pretty bitter impression for the first few hours as the main character’s gunplay is very unsatisfying, and never gets all that much better (along with some of the most baffling enemy designs I’ve seen that looks like a fried GPU graphic glitch). Thankfully directing the rest of the Guardian crew is fun and with more unlockable moves later on actually becomes quite fluid and a blast in the late stages of the game. Years ago there was a game called Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus that had such an incredible story, full of funny, tragic, emotional, fun and heavy moments, all with a property that had no right being so good. That game felt like a small miracle. Here is another. (Played on PS5, Raytracing Mode, Quicktime Events off)
Here we go- another attempt at Covenant Rank 15, a difficulty modifier that essentially has made the game’s base difficulty 15x harder (well, perhaps not 1:1, but it certainly feels that way as I am on a losing streak of 20+ games, which is about 12-15 hours). I have tried so many different clan and allied clan combinations and nothing is working. The game is about placing monsters in your four level train, with the top floor being the train’s engine that must be protected, and the next three floors being where enemies shuffle in and battle their way through to the engine room (or Pyre Room). You start with a hand of five cards and a deck, which can be added to and upgraded/modified as you progress through the world to the literal end. God, I love so much about this game. I love the gameplay mechanics, which never feel unfair, just brutally difficult at times if I’m not paying attention to what’s ahead. I love the music and beautiful sounds of some of the monsters- truly special care was placed with the sound design of a lot of the bosses, which sound haunting and powerful all at the same time. I love the graphics and UI, which gets a lot of the game’s mechanics across as clear as possible (though the Switch can get a little clunky at times with using the d-pad as opposed to the mouse on PC). I love that each run feels different yet can synergize well with your deck depending on the decisions you make early on, and the risks involved in taking powerful upgrades which can also increase the difficulty. Finally, I have won. I beat Covenant Rank 15 after weeks of hitting what felt like an unsurmountable wall. The joy and sense of accomplishment feel incredible. Ten more ranks to go. I can’t wait. (Played on Switch)