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Jason Oestreicher's Top 10 Games of 2021

2021 was lookin OK? ‘till it didn’t.

Art by @konebomb
Art by @konebomb

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2021 was lookin OK? ‘till it didn’t. It was rough. You know, one of the biggest things that happened was the cross-country move to Atlanta. That’s Big and Exciting and… Stressful. Marry that with my mom passing a couple weeks before, a foot that was infected (and that I had to end up getting a toe amputated), and more than a couple of hospital stays for various reasons and… holy man…

BUT!!!

2022. My year (I hope I’m not jinxing this). The number 22 is super dominant in my life. I don’t really believe in this sort of stuff, but hell, this is some crazy coincidental shit.

  • I was born on the 22nd of March
  • My oldest son was born on 12/2 (kind of a 22?)
  • My daughter? May 22nd. At exactly 10:22PM which, in military time is: 22:22
  • My youngest son, born a week late… on the 22nd

Stuff’s crazy, right?

What does that mean for this year? That it’s gonna be a crazy good year! Or it’s all gonna come crashing down. Who the hell knows?!? YAY!

All I really know about 2021 is that I didn’t have the heart I normally do for video gaming. I did, however, put in some crazy numbers on a couple select titles, but they were comfort games. I stayed in my lane for the most part this year.

Yo… real quick…

Best Old Game to Get Rollback Netcode in 2021

The King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match Final Edition

KEPT ON ROLLIN' IN '95

PIECES FELL IN PLACE IN '96

IT CAME TO THE END IN '97

AND NOW IT COMES AND HERE WE GO

THE K O F IS HERE AGAIN

NOTHING's GONNA STOP IT'S 1 9 9 8!!!!!!!

The Real Shit is Down Here

10. Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Lookit these little shits!
Lookit these little shits!

Kena’s inspirations are clear. It very much wants to be the action/puzzle/platformer of yesteryear. So while it's not doing anything new, what it does, it does very well. You get the feeling that a lot of heart and experience went into crafting this world. It very much borrows the formula of an old PS2 or Gamecube era game-there are environmental puzzles, collectibles, and light combat. But the visuals and animations are on par with some of the best stuff we’ve been seeing this generation. Kena’s a looker and has the heart and charm to match.

09. The Ascent

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The Ascent, in many ways, is what comes to mind when I think of cyberpunk. It’s dark, gritty, crime-ridden, damp as hell, dimly lit with neon, a corporate hellscape, with body augmentations, and holograms a-plenty. Far as I’m concerned, The Ascent absolutely nailed the aesthetic. And frankly, gameplay was pretty all right. It’s a loot-driven, twin-stick shooter with upgradeable skilltrees and somewhat engaging combat. I think the look and feel is the star of the show here aside from the price. It’s on Gamepass as well as it only being $30 on Steam. Definitely worth a shot.

08. Demeo

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I had tinkered with VR before for work and with my PlayStation VR, but Demeo is what made me finally take the plunge and get a Quest 2. Let me preface what I have to say about the game with this: 65% of what wows me about the game is purely the VR novelty of it. Picking up the little miniatures, twisting my hand around and having a flourish of cards appear, grabbing the dice and rolling it, twisting and turning the game space to get a better perspective, etc. All of this… SUPER COOL! But underneath all of that is still a super-solid tactical turn-based RPG. And it’s multiplayer! There’s even progression and skin unlocks. Since launch, they’ve updated it with an additional module and character class with more to come according to their roadmap.

Demeo one of the first things I recommend to people picking up a VR headset, albeit with some caveats. It’s tough as balls. You constantly feel as though you’re fighting from your back foot. Dungeons/maps are not randomly generated either although, I think your starting location may be. Regardless, some sort of difficulty slider and a dynamic map would go a long way to ensuring the game’s long-term success.

07. Forza Horizon 5

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Previous Horizons failed to hold my interest for very long, but this one clicked with me in a way that the others failed to do. But it wasn’t the activities or progression that kept me coming back, rather it was the driving and scenery and just straight-up chillin’ the ‘ef out while driving a truck with an anime lady on the hood. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve felt like an outsider in previous games. Like the Horizon Festival was this occupying force that took over a town so some dumb kids could have races and tear up the countryside. Horizon 5, on the other hand, feels like we’re there to take in the scenery more than we are there to mess up short stone walls. Does that make sense? No? Whatever, hop in and let’s drive through a sandstorm and blare the Windows XP shutdown sound. Oh! Yeah… uhhh… it’s a f’n beautiful game.

06. Scarlet Nexus

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My biggest surprise this year wasn’t necessarily a specific game or moment in one, it was that I put 65+ hours into a JRPG that wasn’t God Eater. I just don’t have that kind of time anymore. But I made time, albeit at the expense of my sleep and time with other games. This is all to say that Scarlet Nexus is pretty damn rad. I put a lot of value in combat in games and there’s a fair amount of variety in Scarlet Nexus. In fact, it really encourages you to experiment and synergize with all of your party members.You control your one main character, but you can also call upon your pool of party members’ powers to enhance your attacks with certain properties or just give you whole new abilities. All of this can be done at will and once you get the hang of it, flipping between powers feels natural and downright satisfying. That’s barely even scratching the surface of combat, but suffice it to say, I had a great time all the way through.

05. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart

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Ratchet and Clank games have always been a blast to play. Rift Apart is no exception. But couple that with truly next-gen visuals, literally things that could not be done on the previous generation’s hardware and you’ve got one hell of a gameplay experience. This game was a huge hit in my house this year. The various accessibility options and difficulty sliders ensured both myself and my son could play how we wanted as we passed the controller back and forth.

04. Guilty Gear Strive

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I’ve never considered myself much of a Guilty Gear player. While I’d always admired the art style and character designs, I never possessed the skill required to be even somewhat competent in that game. Things started to fall into place a tiny bit with Strive. I was stringing together some basic stuff and winning a match here and there. I was still far from “good”, but I had a better grasp of some of the more difficult concepts. I was having a great time! But then… I got sick. Hospitalized for a while. By the time I got out, it seemed I had forgotten everything I learned. I was back at square one and had to keep on keeping on. I still boot it up whenever a new character is released just to check them out. Guilty Gear has some of the most interesting character designs in the business and, frankly, the best looking fighter out there.

03. Inscryption

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Even without the weird, meta, game-within-a-game layers to unearth in Inscryption, I’d still play it. It’s a solid deck-building / escape room game and is just drenched with an eerie style and mystery. The talking stoat gave me the first inclination that I was in for something out of the ordinary, but by the time I had to pluck out my own eyeball as a game mechanic, I was already so deeply invested in other going-ons that I was unfazed by the self-mutilation. I HAD to know what happened next.

02. Psychonauts 2

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For us, it’s been a hot minute since Raz and crew have been together. For them, it was probably an actual minute. Psychonauts 2 picks up directly after where Rhombus of Ruin left us and hits the ground running. Regardless of how long it’s actually been, I’ve missed the imaginative and clever depictions of “worlds”. I’ve missed the doofy looking, but charming cast of characters. The dialog and writing is absolutely silly and lighthearted, but damned if I didn’t need this wacky nonsense in my life when it rolled around.

01. Monster Hunter Rise

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Let’s face it… Monster Hunter World hit the scene in a big way, was massively popular, and even broke into the mainstream a little bit. Capcom had a winning formula and very easily could’ve just played it safe by scaling it down to the Switch, remix it a tad, and had a nice little hit on their hands. Imagine my surprise when Rise was revealed. Capcom appeared to be going for it. New location, maps, features, characters… this was a proper, new Monster Hunter. Wirebugs and Palamutes completely changed how you traverse a map and added new layers to the already nuanced combat. Several quality of life improvements fundamentally altered how the game was played. For a Monster Hunter player, the new attempts at streamlining were sleek and sexy. Overall, it’s a great package and, most importantly, fun to play. With hundreds of hours clocked, hands-down, it’s my game of the year.

<3jason