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Mary Kish's Top 10 Games of 2021

Mary Kish loved many games in 2021 but these are the only 10 worthy of being listed.

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Mary Kish is Head of Community at Twitch. She's @merrykish on Twitter and you can also find her on the Fire Escape Cast.

10. Toem

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Toem is so cute and sweet and pure and I just think you should give it a whirl alright? A simple concept of taking photos of environments, selfies with animal friends, and just helping out the local kids capture their awesome skateboarding tricks in the city. You travel to locations like deep into the woods, long walks on the beach, and high on snowy mountain tops, each filled with a large variety of cute items and different characters like talking balloons and g- g- ghosts! You solve problems like finding lost dogs or helping a instagrammer take pics of hot dogs or whatever. Nothing feel imperative, but all the same still valuable. I wanted to assist, but was never stressed or concerned during my time. I casually strolled along and took some pics, and that was enough for me. Paired with a super adorable soundtrack, this game was easy to pick and easier to play until credits rolled.

9. Axiom Verge 2

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Listen I like Metroidvania games, and I absolutely adored the original Axiom Verge so I was very much excited about this game. True to my expectations I traveled around many areas and had a really good time becoming a lil robot. In fact, I liked it so much that when I had an opportunity to return to my mortal self I preferred robot form. I believe this is likely true to how I would react in real life. I just prefer robots, they are more compact, lightweight, and get shit done. Efficient metal multi-legged web slinging crabs from the future. Where was I..

This game is a solid Metroidvania experience, the music and art go together incredibly well. There’s lots of good music in video games this year, but Ancient Armaments is such a dynamic and energetic track it got me boppin my head while playing every time. Tom Happ is a champ, making tracks filled to the brim with human culture, incorporating Eastern note values and instruments that truly brought the scenes to life. Bravo.

8. Forgotten City

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This was a surprise for me! Hearing good things through the grapevine, I downloaded the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim mod with low expectations. Hoping it would be a fun murder mystery to bide my time. The game starts out pretty talky, with everyone having long winded stories (some true some liar liars) that had me waving through possible outcomes of who’s a troublemaker. There's a real possibility that people playing this for the first time may be tempted to quit, because although it has a really intriguing plot where the world goes into chaos at the end of everyday due to a timed event of voting in the next president or whatever, you may think it's just a trial and error game. But it's more than that! If you can get to a cool twist and alter a fundamental change in the story line, it opens up a chain of events that really pick up the pace.

One of my favorite aspects of this game was how it solved the issue with looping games repeating themselves. There's a character you meet at the beginning with dialogue options. If you solve a puzzle one day, there will be a new dialogue option where the dude you talk to essentially takes care of that puzzle on your behalf. So now you can solve a different puzzle and not waste your time doing it again. It was a pretty ingenious way to stop that loop fatigue that plagued a lot of other games this year that were titled 12 minutes.

I was so into this game that after I got an editing I went back and got a different one, and then the really cool super secret one, which I won’t reveal in this GOTY list. But needless to say, it was super cool. The kind of ending that you wish you could spoil on the GOTY list, because it would be really fun to talk about. Alas, you’d have to play the game to find out for yourself, and when you’ve invested that much time in the game, you'll find that it is indeed, pretty cool stuff.

7. Chicory

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Absolutely a wonderful experience from start to finish, but for me personally, the first hour of this game made me question if I would continue. How simple would the mechanics be? And even if I was intrigued by a plot about the main character reluctantly getting a valuable item that colored the world, the whole thing felt like it would be a bit slow. It wasn’t until the first ‘boss’ fight the game really clicked for me. It wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, and it was going much deeper into my emotional attachment to these characters.

My character (named cheese after my favorite food) starts on a path of self discovery and investment. There are parallels in this game everyone can identify with, regardless of whether or not you’re interested in art. I personally doubted my work in the industry for years, my abilities to both play games and editing videos, two things that were integral to my success at my job. Offering yourself space to improve is paramount, our journeys are never over. We’re always seeking to be better, but if we doubt ourselves too much, we can travel down a path that stops progression, for fear that we’ll never get to the level we expect from ourselves. To me, Chicory is a story of grace. We need to give ourselves grace to know where we are in life and be humbled from it, to work to improve our skills, life and relationships (especially the relationship with ourselves), and to acknowledge our journey is ours and ours alone. We cannot compare ourselves to others, because our path is unique and must be judged as so. It's because of these delicate lessons that Chicory is so important to me. I’m so so glad I kept playing, and I put this game on my list so that you do too.

6. Psychonauts 2

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Psychonauts is a funny, charming, extremely polished experience that I would feel comfortable playing around anyone. It's got a wonderful sense of humor and wit that works well with the mechanics and main story arc. The beginning level really sets the tone for your experience. Running around a giant mouth with nerves and teeth and other mouth stuff I don’t enjoy. Why would anyone make this!? It seemed reasonable that Double Fine had a meeting where someone must have said, ‘Hey, don’t we think a level about teeth will make people uncomfortable and grossed out?’ and they were overruled by everyone else at the table who like making people uncomfortable. They crave it.

They want to push your boundaries, but do it with humor and love to keep you in a relatively safe space while talking about some serious shit. Like sadness, lies, hiding deeply stored emotional baggage. They find a way discuss it in an offhanded way, which somehow really works to help think about the thing that upsets you without making you feel targeted or judged. I mean, after all, we all have some. Why shouldn’t we explore other peoples minds a bit, and find out we’re not so different after all. I think there's a magic sweet spot that Double Fine always seems to find in its games. To express our mental state as a work in progress, a place to learn and discover, not fear, that makes it so impactful. There's something so much more valuable about a game that helps people dispel common myths or concerns and also lets you gamble for your brand new baby.

I dare you to play this game and not laugh, I double dare you. It’s filled with so much care and detail you’ll find something within the first hour that makes you smile. As far as sequels go? They just nailed it.

5. Metroid Dread

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As an avid lifelong Metroid and Metroidvania game lover I came into this prepared to love it. Expectations were set fairly high, this game had a long time in the oven and they knew what players wanted. What's awesome about Metroid Dread is that is does the series proud and it added some cool new twists. The E.M.M.I sequences are frightening and do a good job and changing the pace. I always feel in these games that I can just slow own and think, but the E.M.M.I really shake up the standard experience and adds a bit of horror into the mix. As a fan of scary games, this felt like my worlds were colliding in the best of ways. These thrilling sequences mixed in with solving the puzzles of how to use my fancy new suit upgrades felt like a good balance.

The environments were varied and I very much enjoyed the classic feeling of having a suit that allowed me to be in the lava area, or finally getting the jump I needed underwater. There’s always a big smile on my face when I get something and I know exactly where I can go back and use it. The game helps with pointing me in the right direction, and is designed to often just put me in the exact right place to move forward, but having the memory of wanting to dash through a beam and then finding out you can do it is always a good feeling. Dread just flowed well from beginning to end.

4. Death's Door

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Deaths Door ticks all the boxes for me: It’s cute and fun to look at, I gain skills as I play that help unlock new areas and cool moves, the boss fights are interesting and there's some difficulty to get it done. You won’t hear me complain about this game, it's hard to find anything wrong with it. It just does its job well. The environments are fun to explore, with writing that was witty and humorous. A boss called me a little shit, which I would agree with. But even simple NPC’s would sometimes have a something fun to say to me. I was smiling a lot through this game, at the world building, cheeky characters and creative design choices that let me feel like I was really exploring an old witch's mansion or overgrown ruins. I felt like the devs had fun making this, which is a lovely thought honestly. They probably enjoyed writing silly dialogue and placing secrets in the world. The fact that hidden objects are called shiny things is itself quite funny considering you play as a crow. They didn’t just execute a solid game, they enjoyed creating a world that's fun to run around in, and they never took it too seriously.

3. Resident Evil Village

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I love you Resident Evil. I love you so much. Resident Evil Village isn’t my favorite Resident Evil, but it's really up there. With a strong opening sequence ripe with interesting characters that I knew would end up being unique and wild boss fights, I started this game with a big smile on my face. Running around the castle being chased by Lady Dimatreque is exciting! And they knew it would work because of Mr. X, so they had a lot of fun with this. The pacing in this game is at its best. I thought I would be in that castle a lot longer, and at first I was a little bummed when I left. But opening up the game to a series of paths to collect the pieces of my daughter was a brave and strong design decision. This game knew when it was good, and when to quit. No games do that anymore. They all just keep going because there’s this assumption of a long game being a good game, but this is as outdated as doing the floss dance. Making a game fun from beginning to end is the true victory, and Village is a fantastic example of that.

Most people talk about Lady D as the star of Village, but I personally really like Moreau, also known as fish guy. He’s pretty unique and honestly a sad character, his backstory feels honest and a kind root for the guy a bit. Mechanically it's fun to jump around roofs trying to avoid being scooped up by this massive shark-esc swamp monster, and I found the boss battle exhilarating. He’s scary when he starts sprinting at you, and it took me a couple tries to bring that gross fish frog down.

This game had multiple moments of yelp out loud spooky moments. House Beneviento might be an all time scariest for me, but everything just clicked. Even when the game became absurd, it still made sense within the universe, and I bought it. Truly one of the best in a series that continues to impress, and a must play in my book.

2. Returnal

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The only thing I asked Santa for Christmas this year was to beat Returnal, and that bastard did not deliver. Returnal is a brutal time suck, it easily takes an hour to build up a solid character, with enough health to withstand a few hits from an impending boss fight, and some upgrades that will no doubt save my life. My personal favs are anything lifesteal (but damage based lifesteal is truly a godsend) and items that help get my adrenaline level to 5. There’s a lot of small mechanical things that come into play with Returnal: an adrenaline level of 5 makes the game currency double (and the stores in this game are more expensive than Whole Foods). Maxed adrenaline also prevents you from taking one hit, and gives you lots of perks based on your build, like extra damage, speed or dodge abilities. It took me many runs to understand that truly, you’re quite formidable at max adrenaline, if only you can keep it up. One hit resets your adrenaline, so I found over time that this game is really about not taking any damage at any time, ever. No problem!

Getting past the ‘half way point’ seems like a nice way to let your character progress quickly, but you learn over time that you need to spend time in area one to get that thick skin before venturing out into a new area. The perks matter, and this game has a big focus on RNG, so the more time you run around, the more likely you’ll find that upgrade you really need. I have a massive appreciation for the way the world is built, with rooms stitched together via an algorithm that changes when you die. Even though I’ve been to these rooms dozens of times, the world feels unique and real, and i never know what room i’m about to enter. The game also mixes up all upgrades and items, enemy types and laser rooms (yes we cannot forget about the endless laser rooms) to ensure you’re not just resting on muscle memory. There's no doubt about it, if you put the time into this game, playing it for hours and hours, you’re learning the world and getting better at it each time.

I appreciate the deep lore and world building, the lead character in this game is a trooper, to say the least. She doesn’t talk much, and when I get a glimpse into her experiences through an audio tape, it reminds me of Twin Peaks in that a lot is being said and I really don’t understand any of it. The environmental storytelling however, is just incredible. Seeing these massive statues and thousands of dead on the ground where they fell is difficult to process. So much happened before my time, and so much will after I’m gone. The game does an incredible job of making me feel so small, yet so impactful in this strange journey.

To be quite plain, I’m addicted. I’m always saying, one more run. I’m defeated, but I always return to build another character and take that boss on again. It's beautifully designed to make me stay, in a game where the character wants nothing else but to leave. But hey, I’m in control here I’m pretty sure.

1. Inscryption

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My feelings towards Inscrytption, like the game itself, came in about 3 parts. At first, I thought to myself, this is a really good card game. Not that I play them honestly. I’ve always avoided card games. Even the ones where people say, Mary, this card game is different, its so good! I just avoided them all under the stubborn stigma that they would get too complicated and I would feel overwhelmed. I think that was always my fear, was that at some point I would just come to terms with the fact that I’m not smart enough to keep all those mechanics in just one brain. But Inscryption does something incredibly well. It teaches you fundamental, essential mechanics slowly and thoughtfully. So that by the time you’re really getting into some tough fights, you’re ready (whether or not you realize). Learning to sacrifice cards to get stronger cards that are really good against certain other cards? You can figure it out. There’s nothing on that board you can’t solve, it just takes a bit of time and patience, and if you’re lucky, an incredible death card. I have been cursed by the RNG Gods numerous times in this game. In fact, one of the times I streamed this game, I had an unbeatable card, it cost nothing to play, did an outrageous amount of damage, and then returned to my hand upon defeat. All I needed was to draw it. Welp, it never came up, and I died. But, I didn’t get mad or frustrated at all. It was just the way it was, and I knew, armed with even more knowledge (and sweet sweet death cards) that my next go would be victorious. And it was! But then everything changed.

I became attached to the Stoat, he was obnoxious but I’m notorious for liking that in a friend. Finding secrets in that room fueled me. If I ever got a lil bored of the cards, I took a turn about the room (a good phrase if you ever find yourself in rural England at the turn of the 19th century) and found a couple secrets that provided endless intrigue for the road ahead. But I promise you I was not ready at all for the FMV files. I have said, ‘What in the actual fuck’ so many times while playing this game! I will never forget playing it on Halloween Eve, with actual children ringing my doorbell to collect candy, and I’m sitting there, mouth agape at the actual twists and turns this game continuously threw at me. Oh you understand the basics? We’re changing the card packs now. Oh you know the environment? New world new artstyle and its topdown camera now deal with it. Oh you like the sacrificing of cards and are used to it? Well its battery based and we kinda went back to the original style but everyones a robot. And the world is ending. How did I get here?

It's overwhelming. It's mechanically obtuse and like Who’s Line is it Anyway the points have no meaning. I played it everyday and when I wasn’t playing it I was thinking about what was going to happen to me in the story next. I have never played anything like it, and it's the easiest #1 Ive ever had on any GOTY list. Try it, play something new and get weird with it.