Another year has passed. 2021. Despite it all...video games...still exist. And now it's that most wonderful time of the year when I spent the better part of a month chipping away at writing about and arbitrarily ranking my favorite games of the last year!
In all seriousness, I didn't do much writing over the last year. Even less so than the previous year, which already felt like I was slipping. Barely any blogs, and no fiction writing at all. I tell myself I'm taking a break, but I dunno. At least I put in the effort to get this done, because for as miserable as so much of the world is these days, even the world of video games (or at least so much of what's around the production of them), I did enjoy a lot of games this year. Several of which I hadn't written about previously, so look forward to some surprise takes from Moosey!
I will say, for anyone who missed it months ago, or forgot, I did manage to get my hands on a PS5 over the summer. I was very impressed with it in the moment, and since I've continued to really enjoy it. I've gotten used to most games being at 60 FPS, and while the usage of the DualSense gimmicks varies a lot from game to game, I do still enjoy both the haptics and adaptive triggers. But I do have to be honest and say that the sheen has worn off, and the PS5 has just become another thing in my life. I like it a lot, and aside from a couple annoyances (the disc drive is loud and the controller's battery is kinda bad) I still think it's a great console.
Traditionally I start the yearly Moosies with a recap of my predictions from the previous year, but in 2020 I gave up on making new predictions because of how unpredictable everything has become. Largely because of the pandemic, which as you know, is still a threat (get vaccinated and/or boosted if you can (anti-vaxxers don't interact, I'll just ignore you)). Instead I ended last year's with some long and short term hopes for the games industry, so I figure I can take a moment to check in on them.
“I hope that the games industry as a whole can make meaningful progress in bettering work conditions.”
Meaningful? Just as an outsider looking in, it seems like there's more pressure than ever to push for change. But also more than ever coming to light about so many abuses from companies like Ubisoft and Activision most recently, but even PlayStation has had allegations of gender discrimination made, so I feel like there's still yet more to learn about even more companies.
In other ways, I'm encouraged when I see things like Eidos-Montreal moving to a four day work week, because hopefully that means more reasonable work hours. But I don't know! That's just me reading a headline and assuming it works out. I hope so. Since I wrote this, Vodeo Games (a smaller studio I hadn't heard of) has become the first “certified” unionized game studio in North America. So again, this feels like progress to me, even if it's slow, and one step at a time.
“I hope that the big three consoles get better about what they let through cert.”
After games like Control, Marvel's Avengers, Cyberpunk 2077 (which I still have not played), and (*shudders*) Dead2y Premonition, I was in a real bad mood regarding my thoughts on what the consoles let onto their systems. I know it's impossible that every game will always have a totally locked framerate and no other technical issues, but it really felt like they had all but given up on having serious quality control. Now? I don't know that their standards have improved so much as it being that the new consoles have the horsepower to just run everything well. Sure, just about every PS5/Xbox Series game has a 60 FPS mode for now, but I still feel like that won't be the case by the time we get to the end of the generation and these consoles are showing their age.
(Again, since I wrote this, that Matrix Awakens tech demo (which looks amazing) released, which can't even hold 30 FPS (tech demo, so you know) but the return to 30 is coming...)
But for the moment, I do feel better about it than last year. At least since I have a PS5, I have no frame of reference for how these cross gen games run on PS4/Xbox One. I hope they're okay for the sake of the people still on those machines.
“I hope that consoles actually get widely available.”
Well, I got my PS5, and I get the vibe that most of my friends that wanted new consoles have managed to, at least. And honestly, part of me wants a Series X now (largely due to FOMO of seeing friends enjoying Halo-ing and Forza-ing together), but they still just sell out, and I don't have it in me to go through that rigmarole again. Doesn't feel like it's going changing any time soon either. Blame the pandemic, still, I guess.
“I hope that whatever new hardware Nintendo probably announces in 2021, it doesn't make me too mad.”
I was not happy last year when I finally bought a Switch, and about a month later the rumors of the new Switch seemed to turn concrete. Thankfully (for me only), that new hardware this year was not anything that made me upset, haha. I'm sure the people with the Switch OLED are enjoying their organic diodes, but a better screen (at a higher price) on a console I basically only use connected to the TV is not enough to make me wish I'd held out longer. Now if we can just get through all of 2022 without Nintendo releasing the Switch 2, because I'll have had the Switch for three years, which my brain arbitrarily decided was long enough to make me not upset. Listen, if I understood how my brain works, I'd tell you. Next time I don't think I'm going to wait so long before getting the next Nintendo. It'll reduce my grievances in the long run.
“I hope the games are good.”
Of course this one's entirely subjective, but I'll say this hope was true for 2021! Last year I had to struggle to get ten games I felt were worthy for a list, but this year I felt myself tempted to make the list longer. Instead I'm sticking to the same format I've used for years, which is the top ten list, and interludes between the numbered entries for the other games I've played this year that didn't quite make the cut, but still felt noteworthy.
Anyway, here's the games what I liked this year...just after a quick award...
Hashtag of the Year: #STRANGEROFPARADISEFINALFANTASYORIGINTRIALVERSION2
What can I say? Yeah, that game was kind of a meme from the moment that Jack Stranger of Paradise said, “chaos.” And the meme only grew after the cutscene of him just blasting some nu metal/rap rock after a boss fight. I say this, having played both of the then publicly available demos for the game, and actually having found it fun enough that despite the laughable nature of what we've seen of the cutscenes. And despite it looking (artistically and technically) and running like a PS3/360 era game, I think it has potential.
But also, when I PlayStation Shared a screenshot of it, and it auto generated the hashtag, I knew I had to write that down and remember it for the Moosies. Surely nothing could top #STRANGEROFPARADISEFINALFANTASYORIGINTRIALVERSION. Right? Well, I was wrong, because later in the year, the second demo gave us, well, you saw it already, and frankly I've written it more than a person should. And more about it too, so time to carry on!
10. Co-op only experience(s?) of the year: Operation Tango and It Takes Two??
Okay, I know I know, I put two games in there, give me a moment to explain. A few years ago my friend Larry and I played A Way Out together, and had such a good time that we kinda agreed the next time there was a game like that, we'd play it together too. So, fast forward to this year, and the followup from Hazelight Studio, It Takes Two arrives. But then we don't get around to actually playing any of it until December, and even then we only managed to find the time to play about two or three hours.
Operation Tango, on the other hand, that we were able to finish over the summer, so that can just be on this list, on its own. Problem is, those first few hours of It Takes Two were pretty great, so I know that if it remained that fun and absurd throughout, it'd be a top ten game of the year. At least for me, and probably for Larry too. So I'm in this spot where I want to acknowledge that it seems like a great game, and also cover for myself in case between my writing this and the literal end of the year we do find the time, so I don't need to go back and change my ordering here.
(Spoiler: We didn't.)
All that's to say there were a pair of great co-op only games that I played in 2021. Operation Tango is a sort of game that I'm honestly surprised there wasn't already something like it, a game where one player is a spy out in the field, and the other is the hacker providing backup. Larry and I swapped which ones we played every couple of missions, so we both got ample time with each, and the game does a great job giving both a lot of different tasks. And for the most part, finding engaging ways of making both players work together.
Only issue I had is that there's some instances where the timing seems tight enough that with internet lag, it took us enough tries that it got frustrating. Only a couple of specific puzzles, if I remember correctly, but they still stand out in my memory months later, so that's something to watch out for. And unlike A Way Out/It Takes Two, which are kind of meant to local but have online because local isn't always feasible (especially during the pandemic), Operation Tango is meant for the players to be in separate locations. Both to go along with the premise of the game, but also because a lot of the puzzles boil down to one player having to tell the other something, and so on. Kind of like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (though I've not played that personally).
It's a lot of fun, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone out there looking for a good two player game. It Takes Two, like I said, I'm not deep enough in to really judge as a whole, but Larry and I were laughing and having a great time with it, so I'm excited to get back to it! Eventually! Hopefully... I want to see what happens. Is the whole game basically, “Honey this a-hole book shrunk us and is continuing to ruin our lives by trying to make us reconcile but in the most obnoxious ways possible?” Will the little girl who sounds like a British orphan waif ever be happy?
Operation Tango also wins:
- Best cooperating of the year.
- Best hacking of the year.
Moose simulator of the year: Moose Life
Okay, this one is kind of a joke. Not the game, I think the game is pretty fun. But honestly the only reasons I played it were that it was on sale for four bucks, and it has Moose in the title. To be honest I don't even think the in game moose is that great, it looks more like a regular deer than a moose, but I'll take what I can get.
I guess for anyone who doesn't know, Moose Life is the latest game from Jeff Minter, he who does games in a very particular style. That being the aesthetics and design sensibilities of a particular era of old arcade games, but also includes a whole bunch of forest critters and barnyard animals. Like moose in this case, and little sheepies. Lots of moose/deer related puns in what little text is in the game.
And you know what? I bought the game on a laugh, but like I said, it's fun! I hadn't played any Jeff Minter games before, but I'm pleasantly surprised with this one. It looks really sharp and nice too, which I wasn't really expecting to think something like that. It's a good time, and also the best (and only?) game I played in 2021 with moose in it.
9. Farming Game of the Year: NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139...
When I write these yearly Moosies, especially about the games that I already wrote about extensively, I'm always torn between not wanting to just repeat myself, but also feeling like I need to write a decent amount. If these are really my favorite games of the year, surely I can find at least another (arbitrary) page's worth of words in me, right? But I'm not going to just rehash my thoughts on Replicant's story (I liked it overall, even the new Ending E), and I don't think there's enough interesting things in the game part to go in depth about again. So instead, here's two separate thoughts about Replicant that I've had in recent days while trying to determine what to write here.
The first, is something that I did actually mention in that old blog, but has a bit of a different feeling to it now. I was playing Replicant when I saw the news about Vinny, Brad, and Alex leaving Giant Bomb, and Replicant's fantastic, melancholic soundtrack (in particular the music I heard in the moment), just through nothing more than sheer chance, was the exact embodiment of how I felt at the time. Just this gut-wrenching feeling that things were going to be different, they were moving on, and Replicant was there with music to make me felt like the knife was being driven in even deeper. I spent like ten minutes just sitting in the in game tavern listening to Devola or Popola (I forget which) sing, and again, the deep melancholy the game is capable of eliciting with the music only accentuated what I was feeling.
Then of course, those three started their new thing, and got back to streaming games, and podcasting like nothing changed, and boy did I feel silly getting so worked up over them leaving GB. I bet a lot of us did, and I know this has nothing to actually do with Replicant, but these two things have been irrevocably linked in my mind. Personally, I think the people who worked on NieR would be happy to know I had an experience like this with their game, because it feels so in line with the general mood of NieR.
The other thought I've had of late about Replicant is that despite all the game's flaws (most if not all of which have their roots in the original NieR being a modestly budgeted game with too large a scope for its own good), and despite the fact that I had to replay so much of the game in the course of just working through to Ending E...part of me wishes I could go back and re-experience it all over again? Not even just to relive the story, there's something about this genre of game, this generic semi-open action-adventure game design that's...comforting to me. Something about having just enough space to feel like I can explore a bit, but not so much that it's an enormous world where I know I'll never see it all. That, and it having plenty of side quests keeping me running about to and fro, even if the majority of them are super generic in terms of what you do, I like it. It's comforting.
Part of me misses Replicant, especially those early hours where the main character is still an innocent little kid, just going on adventures with his snooty book friend and foul-mouthed violent friend, and then that got me thinking... Here I am missing this genre of game, this style of play that feels like it's mostly left in the game design bin of history, and I'm thinking that about a game with a time skip in it. One where the protagonist goes from a wide-eyed innocent kid who just wants to help his sister, to a vengeful adult willing to slaughter his way to his end goal, and I just...
Yoko Taro did it again. He got me. He'll never know, but he got me again.
Also I spent way too long gardening trying to not only get the special white flower for the Trophy, but then after the fact I got the idea in my head to try to make a special pattern with the blue, pink, and white flowers. Which, aside from some accidental cross-pollination, I think I mostly achieved.
Anyway, it's fair to say that flaws or not, NieR Replicant ver.1.22...etc was well deserving of getting onto my top ten, even if it didn't get high on it.
NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139... also wins:
- Fishing minigame of the year.
- Most novel character: Grimoire Weiss.
- Best use of profanity: Kainé.
- Orb of the year: Emil's head.
- Best (not so) feral hogs.
- Most endings.
- Best seals.
Non-co-op Multiplayer game of the year: Knockout City
These days I don't really play much in the way of “competitive” multiplayer games. And believe me, I'm using the word “competitive” loosely here. Aside from the Crucible in Destiny 2 (which even that I don't engage with that much), most of what I play online these days is strictly co-op. Knockout City though, is a surprisingly fun multiplayer game of the “competitive” variety. There's more depth to the mechanics than I would have thought a “dodge-brawl” game could have, like a fair amount of technique to the different ways the balls can be thrown. Plus, it just feels good to run and jump around in, never mind the weirdly satisfying bonk when hitting an opponent. Not only that, but you can roll up into a ball and be thrown yourself! Innovative.
Of course the game has all the dirty tricks to try to coax people into spending money on cosmetics, so there's that. I'd say it feels grimier because it's not a free to play game...but I got it “free” on PS+, so it's no grimier than anything else these days. At least until EA announces their own NFT thing (I wrote this section the day after Ubisoft announced theirs, for your information) and that's wormed into this game or something.
Anyway, grimy monetization (that plagues so many games these days) aside it's a fun little game, and one I find myself hopping into when I've got some time to kill, but not enough to really dig into a proper story focused game. I'd say worth checking out, but it's back to being paid by now, haha, so I dunno! But I enjoy it.
8. Immersive Simulation of the Year: “DEATHLOOP”
2021 has been a bit of an odd year in the frequency with which I played new games, and particularly ones that I really, really enjoyed. The bulk of the year I was mostly catching up on games from older years, and only played a few from 2021. That picked up a bit after I got my PS5 in the summer, but it wasn't really until the fall that I played a bunch in close succession. Almost each of which at some point I found myself thinking, “is this my game of the year?”
The first of those, through luck more than anything else, was “DEATHLOOP.” A game that I could barely contain my excitement about in the moment, as was evident in the blog I wrote right after finishing it. It'd been years since the last time I played an “immersive sim” style stealth game, and combined with the great sense of styyyle, the dynamic between Colt and Juliana, and the novelty of the time loop (in this genre), that game just consumed my thoughts at the time. By which I mean when I wasn't playing it, I was still thinking about it. Wondering what deeper secrets there were to uncover, how to go about accomplishing certain things, the best combinations of powers, etc.
Conversely, you may notice “DEATHLOOP” is fairly low on the list. Also that I did not specify how low so I wouldn't need to go back and rewrite it if I change my mind at the last second, haha. Certainly no higher than middle of the pack, which is still a ways to fall from seriously thinking it was going to end up my favorite game of 2021. But I don't mean that to imply that I've soured on the game. Aside from the lackluster ending being more disappointing the more I've thought about it since then, I don't have any significant issues with the game. And it doesn't change that I had a blast with the game in the moment.
Problem is, as I'm trying to write about it without just regurgitating my previous blog, I'm not quite sure what to say. I guess in some way it'd be fitting to time loop and repeat myself. Colt and Juliana have a great rivalry, and their antagonistic dynamic was one of my favorite parts of the game. I loved exploring every nook and cranny I could find. Learning levels, enemy placements, how best to infiltrate, best powers, etc etc etc etc etc. I'm even repeating what I already wrote here!
I still think “DEATHLOOP” is a great game, and even if there's valid criticisms to be made about the AI and other things (I definitely read the comments on my previous blog, even if I didn't reply (writing this year has been hard enough, let alone responding to other people, haha)), I'd still readily recommend it. Regardless of where it lands on this list, it's still among my favorite games of the year.
I know I don't play dozens of new games every year like some people who make (or try to make) a living talking about video games, so saying everything on my top ten is “one of my favorites of the year” doesn't carry as much weight as it might from someone like that. But 2021 isn't like last year where it felt like I had to scrape the bottom of a barrel to get to a full ten games. I had to think a lot about the placement of every game on this list, and honestly, so many of them I liked so much they really could be swapped around and I'd still be happy. Never mind the games that didn't quite make the cut but were good enough that I could have made this list longer than ten and still feel great about every game on it.
Which is all to say, I had a great time with “DEATHLOOP.” I just would have had a greater time with it had some things like the ending been...better. That, and I do wonder if playing most of the game single player (so I could pause whenever) did rob me of some cool encounters with human players. Or maybe it saved me from frustration, who can say?
“DEATHLOOP” also wins:
- Time loop of the year.
- Rivalry of the year: Colt vs. Juliana.
- Nail gun of the year.
- Stealth game of the year.
- Best sliding.
- Hack tool of the year: Hackamajig.
- Best in world floating text of the year.
- Machete of the year.
New Loot Game of the Year: Outriders
Outriders is one I definitely have mixed feelings on. In a lot of ways it's pretty fun. The different classes have fun abilities (though I really only played Trickster in the final game), a lot of the weapons feel good (especially the shotguns), and there's lots and lots of interesting perks and mods that allow for cool ways to build out your character. On the flip side, I think the enemy variety is fairly lacking, the story/writing are mostly bad, and perhaps most damning, the crossplay the game is advertised as having doesn't work.
Well, at least that was most damning for me, because one of my friends that I wanted to play this with was playing on Xbox, because he had gotten a Series X (also a PS5 at that time), and the game launched on Game Pass. Obviously “free” with the subscription is a better deal than sixty bones (or whatever the absurd UK pricing was), and with the promise of us still being able to play together, it didn't seem like it'd be a problem. Turns out that, I think also due to the fact that he lives in the UK and I live in the US, that transatlantic divide made the game basically unplayable for whoever wasn't hosting. And that's frustrating because plenty of games don't have issues like that for us. Destiny 2 has never been a problem, and in fact that's what we ended up playing together instead of Outriders. Not just big games like that either, we played Overcooked 2 online this year with no issues (speaking of, we should play more of that, Tom!).
Regardless, even if I played through most of the campaign alone, I did have fun with Outriders. And now after recent balance changes/updates to the endgame, a different friend and I have been poking around in the game again, and it's still fun! Just not enough to sneak its way onto my top ten.
Outriders also wins:
- Time blade of the year.
- Glitch of the year: Dying in the second phase of the last boss fight, then it counting as me beating the boss after it loaded back in, fully playing the end cutscene and credits, giving me the Trophy, and putting me into the game's end game.
7. Most Dependable Game: Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet & Clank is one of those franchises that I would describe as “dependable.” I know I've only played a few of them, and in a way they're all kind of samey, but they also excel at what they do. They're fun! And at least since I've started playing them (Tools of Destruction on PS3), they're very pretty games too. Turns out, when I've just bought a new console, a dependable game that's a lot of fun, and shows off the new hardware well was exactly what I needed.
Aside from using the new hardware to load things at ridiculous speeds, Rift Apart doesn't really do anything new. It's the same dependable formula, but it's just as fun as always. And fun enough that I played through it multiple times, which is something I don't do nearly as much as I used to. Not only that, but when I recently got a new TV (finally bringing me into the era of 4K and HDR), one of the first things I loaded up to see on it was Rift Apart. Aside from the game looking even better than it had before (even still in the performance + RT mode, which I know isn't full 4K), I just got straight back into the groove, and felt myself wanting to play through it again a third time! I haven't yet though, because there's still other stuff I haven't beaten twice already that I'd like to finish first.
I don't think I wrote about Rift Apart earlier in the year, so I should probably write a bit more than just this now. One new thing it does, is how it uses the DualSense triggers. Or, at least new for the series because the way it uses them is mostly just emulating how the GameCube R and L worked. Those had that inner click that could be used for a separate function from only pulling in the button partway. The only example I remember offhand from back then is Rogue Squadron II, where a light pull would speed up your ship, but a full pull would make it go even faster by putting an X-Wing into closed wing mode.
In Rift Apart, it's basically the same principle. Half pulls of the trigger (which you can feel with the trigger creating like a stop point) do one thing, and pulling past that does something else. The sniper rifle will slow down time with a half pull, and shoot with a full one, there's a minigun (that also creates black holes) that a half pull spins up the gun/cools it down, and full pull shoots. A lot of grenade style weapons where the half pull aims, full throws, etc.
Is it anything revolutionary? Nah, but it feels good. And the same with the feeling of the haptics in the rumble, this game just does absolute magic with that. Like the Pixelizer HD (a shotgun that turns enemies into voxels). A half pull charges, and while charged, the gun plays a little song, and the controller not only rumbles in time with the song, it changes the pitch to match. Like literally, just using the rumble (because I have the speaker turned off), the controller plays music. It's bananas.
Tech gimmicks aside, I did also enjoy the story and characters in Rift Apart. Rivet and Kit particularly are, in one game, more interesting than I remember Ratchet or Clank really ever being. Okay, maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but Rivet isn't there just to be “lady Ratchet,” even if in the lore she is explicitly the alternate universe equivalent of Ratchet. Her past encounter with Kit without realizing it was also kind of a darker plot beat than I would have expected from this series, but not too dark. Just enough to be interesting.
And like I said, even if Rift Apart is just “more Ratchet & Clank,” it was dependable, and another great entry in that series. Again, I think the best praise I could give it is that even after playing it twice this year, I still want to go through and beat it a third time. Just a good old dependable fun time.
Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart also wins:
- Biggest and most creative arsenal.
- Most robot friends.
- Kraken of the year.
- Best use of DualSense triggers/haptics.
- Best traced reflections of the year.
- Best use of SSD.
- Best looking game.
“Brainpunk” Game of the Year: Scarlet Nexus
On paper, Scarlet Nexus sounds like the sort of game that I should love. A dystopian future (apparently referred to as “Brainpunk” by the developers) where a military force comprised largely of teens with special powers are kept from aging through drugs. Naturally you form a crew of misfits from amongst the ranks and build up the found family trope that I find so endearing. And said super-teens (the Scarlet Guardians) are conscripted to fight creatures literally called “The Others,” and said Others being some of the most bizarrely designed enemies I've ever seen. The only consistent thing I could tell about them is their weak spots are light bulbs.
That all sounds like an interesting premise to a game, and to some extent it is. Scarlet Nexus tells a tale (or rather, two tales) that touches on things like government surveillance, what does it mean to be human, can fate be changed, the lengths that someone would go to save a loved one, and all the found family tropes you'd expect out of a game with a cast of party members alongside the protagonist. All that, and as mentioned, two versions of the story, depending on if you pick Kasane (like me), or Yuito. As best as I can tell you get all the major plot beats either way, but some of them just through being told they happened, rather than seeing them yourself.
Story wise I think it has its moments, and overall I liked the characters in Kasane's crew, though less so the ones in Yuito's when they showed up. But none of it ever really gelled in a way that elevated it from enjoyable in the moment but ultimately forgettable in the long run.
Where Scarlet Nexus shines is in the combat. While Kasane and Yuito have different melee weapons (Kasane uses flying knives, and Yuito a sword), both have telekinetic skills, which allow them to lift and throw objects at enemies. If there's anything that I love across games, it's the ability to throw things with my mind. It was one of my favorite things in Control, and though this one's a lot more dependent on lock-on than that, it's still a lot of fun here. And it's not just simply throwing objects, there's also special ones that have different interactions, and require additional inputs (mash a button, spin sticks, etc) to do. Controlling a spinning chandelier, driving a loader machine into foes, or crashing something so huge it made my controller rumble loud enough that my dad heard it in another room are just a few examples.
And the telekinesis can be comboed in with melee attacks, and accentuated by the squadmates' skills. Shiden's electric powers buff both Kasane's knives and thrown objects with extra damage, and even more so to enemies splashed with water. Add in Kyoka's duplication skill, and every thrown object is doubled (as are Kasane's melee attacks (and later tripled once the bond with Kyoka is leveled enough)). For the most part the game isn't super difficult (at least on normal), so you could get through without really getting too deep into skill synergies and the like, but I think they give the game enough depth to raise it above just being another generic melee action game.
Scarlet Nexus game has a decent sense of style to it too. A lot of the characters themselves are a bit generic anime-esque design, but the world has a great use of holograms. Like there's a restaurant the characters frequent where the floor ripples like water, and holographic fish swim around, both floor and fish reacting to your foot steps. Holographic ads atop buildings tower over the streets, and one of the cities even features more holographic fish floating around some walkways. Listen, I think the fish are cool!
So that's Scarlet Nexus in a nutshell. It's a good game, just not quite a great one. Definitely glad I played it, though I will say I'm glad it doesn't lock a true ending behind beating it with both characters, or anything like that. Kasane's crew was a fun bunch of dumbasses (I genuinely do not know how else to describe them, just know I mean that endearingly), but Yuito's seemed a bit...blander, to be frank. Maybe that's only because they obviously got less screen time. Either way, fun game.
Scarlet Nexus also wins:
- Telekinesis of the year.
- Strangest enemy designs.
- Best use of holograms/holographic fish.
- Best use of flying knives.
6. High School After School Club Adviser Simulator of the Year: Lost Judgment
More so than maybe any other game this year, Lost Judgment is a tricky one to write about. In some ways, it's “another one of those games,” with an evolution of the previous Judgment's combat, minigames, etc. In regard to those aspects of the series (including the Yakuza games), I think Lost Judgment is the best they've ever been. All of Yagami's fighting styles feel great, and even have some good synergy between them once the right skills are acquired, letting him get buffs from using certain skills, then swapping to the next style, getting another buff, etc. Just wish I had figured out/gotten those upgrades sooner in the game.
And again, I think it has the best collection of minigames. The boxing is just about as fun as the main combat, but distinct in its own way. The skate park is a little underwhelming, but the street skate racing is a lot of fun, definitely more so than Dragon Kart was in Like a Dragon. The drone races are fun too, and there's even a dual stick shooter hidden in Lost Judgment that's probably better than a lot of the games of that ilk released back during its heyday in the early days of the Xbox Live Arcade. All that, a rhythm dancing game, and more!
Then there's the story, which doesn't really come close to reaching the heights of its predecessor, but still...it tackles subjects that I never expected this series to, and even though I don't even if it handles them as well as it could, I still can't help but admire it for trying. But maybe it isn't that surprising considering the first Judgment was a game ultimately about big pharma trying to cover its abuses made in the attempt to find a “miracle cure,” because now Lost Judgment is a game about bullying, suicide, and what happens when the justice system fails to do its job.
The driving force in Lost Judgment is about a student who was bullied so badly he committed suicide, and then the lengths his father went to in an attempt to get justice after the legal system failed to do anything at all. I gotta be clear here, I don't know anyone who ever committed suicide, and I wasn't/don't know anyone who was bullied to the point of it being traumatic. If I had, maybe I wouldn't be able to get through a game like this, or maybe not even want to. And I definitely understand why some people wouldn't like this game because of that, and that's fair.
Even beyond the bullying and suicide, the focus on the justice system being more interested in sweeping its own mistakes under the rug than actually doing the right thing, it resonates. Because let's be frank, that's most likely how these things really work. And I know Lost Judgment is about the Japanese legal system, but I'm gonna guess that there's lots of people with issues with the Japanese government, considering this is I think the fourth game published by Sega in two years that I've played that has some beef with how things are run.
So, I appreciate what Lost Judgment is going for, and ultimately I had a great time with the game as a whole, it's just...gosh does it have a slow start. And kind of a slow middle. Seriously, I know the Yakuza games always had a reputation for being slow starters, but I swear it's not until literally halfway into Lost Judgment that the story picks up and does more than alternate between spinning its tires and driving in circles. Had the story been good from beginning to end, I could have seen Lost Judgment being a game of the year contender like how the previous game was (and honestly, as much as I love DMC 5, in retrospect I think Judgment may have been the right choice). As it is...a stronger second half and a good ending aren't enough to make up for the glacial pace of the beginning.
Oh, and lest I forget, there's also an enormous subplot about this high school being taken over by organized crime (more or less, it's complicated). So Yagami has to go undercover as an adviser for every conceivable after school club there is, and solve all their problems in order to get to the bottom of that. Even if some of that stuff (robotics club) got tedious, just the joy I got out of seeing how ridiculous the clubs started to get (there's an eSports one where you need to play Virtua Fighter 5), and I think there's a lot of good side stories in there. And I think the ending is good, even if I did predict who was going to be revealed as the nefarious Professor pulling the strings from behind the curtain.
So, that's Lost Judgment. I think the game part is the best RGG Studio has made yet, and while I greatly admire the things the story tries to tackle, I wish they'd gotten it going a lot faster than it did. Especially now that the future of the series is in jeopardy over whether or not Yagami's Japanese voice actor/likeness (most people reading this probably know me well enough to know I play these with the english dub, haha) will return. I like Yagami a lot as a character, even if he isn't as goofy as Ichiban, Yagami's still my favorite of the two. I think the series could continue without him, but I really question who they'd try to replace him with. I don't think Kaito could carry a game on his own, and given he's getting a DLC expansion for Lost Judgment, that's probably who they'd pick.
Personally? I think they should let Saori be the lead in the next game. Just say that she started taking martial arts lessons between the games, and take it from there. She definitely deserves more than being the go to undercover person whenever Yagami needs to get intel from a night club.
Regardless, it has its faults, but I still had a great time with Lost Judgment. You can walk a dog who is also a detective.
Lost Judgment also wins:
- Terrestrial dog of the year: Ranpo the Detective Dog.
- Dog walking of the year.
- Most pettable cats.
- Moosey and Ajay present the award for most traffic cones.
- Hand to hand combat of the year.
- Best finishing moves.
- Best made up kung fu style of the year: Snake Style.
- High school club of the year: Mystery Research Club.
- Dancing minigame of the year.
- Skateboard racing of the year.
- Boxing of the year.
- Motorcycle racing of the year.
- Best use of a forklift.
- Best in game arcade machines of the year.
- Russian ninja of the year: Borscht Kalashnikov.
Best series I'm glad I gave another shot: Hitman II/III
Back in 2016, I spent the better part of the year watching along as Giant Bomb played just about every bit of the Hitman soft-reboot (Hitman, 2016) as they reasonably could. But when I got around to actually playing it myself, I ended up banging my head against frustration, and coming away from it ultimately disappointed. Both at the game, but to some extent also at myself for not enjoying it as much as everyone else. Especially because I love stealth games, and on paper Hitman should have been something I enjoyed, but it just never clicked. Because of that, I just skipped Hitman II entirely since at the time I figured the series just wasn't for me, and that was fine.
Then jump to 2021, and after watching Vinny and Brad speedrun through Hitman III on stream, I felt a weird urge to give it another go. But jumping into III without playing II would be silly, so instead when the opportunity arose (aka, the price was low enough), I decided to finally give Hitman II a shot.
And you know what?
It finally clicked!
I think it was a combination of things that led to me having a lot of fun with Hitman II, as opposed to frustrated. One of the biggest ones being the levels themselves. I know general consensus seems to be that Paris and Sapienza are most people's favorites from the trilogy, but I think I had more fun with every level in II than I did anything in the first game. II feels like it's operating on a bigger scope, with sprawling levels and still tons and tons packed into every one. Even the DLC levels are great!
Another thing, and this is more to do with my mindset, is that I went into II knowing the game's limitations. My biggest issue with the first one at the time was that it felt limiting. Everyone talked about that game having so many possibilities, and so much room for experimentation, yet when I played, I just kept bumping into limitations. Any time I tried to think of something, it wasn't something actually implemented in the game.
The best example I remember, because it was the last time I ever played that game, was in an elusive target. He was a restaurant critic, so naturally my inclination was to dress as a waiter and poison him. But, my idea of delivering poisoned food to him was impossible because the game simply didn't have a way to deliver food. So if you wanted to poison him, you had to know to poison a cake in the kitchen that the critic would go and taste on his routine. Of course you wouldn't know that without waiting like five minutes for him to get up from the table, walk around, then go back to his table where he'd wait again, and so on.
Point being I knew better this time, and went into II knowing I'd have to play by its rules, and that was for the best. The slapstick nature of some of the more ridiculous “bespoke” assassinations is my favorite part of these games anyway, so just focusing on trying to see all of those was a better way for me to play.
And the last issue I had with Hitman I was I ran into a lot of bugs. Things like AI completely breaking, and forcing me to reload saves, or worse, restart levels entirely. Not fun.
So, thus having found my way into being a Hitman enjoyer, naturally I wanted to play III. Which I did! And it's also good! I don't think as good as II, and I think a lot of that comes down to what feels like a significantly reduced scope. Or rather, I get the impression that going fully independent left them with fewer resources, but they not only didn't want to compromise on the visual presentation of the game, they wanted to push that even further. So the levels had to be smaller, and fewer in number to compensate (I don't consider the train to be a proper level). Again, just a theory, I have no idea.
Fewer in number, and I think on average they don't have as many “bespoke comedy kills,” as I like to call them. Things like dropping a moose statue onto someone, or pushing the target into the pool of a blood thirsty man eating hippo. Mendoza (the winery level) has some great stuff on the wine tour (lots of comically large machinery), but overall the game feels a lot more restrained. Not enough to ruin it by any measure, but enough that II is definitely my favorite of the trilogy.
I will say though, that the ability to have the levels from all three integrated into one game is very cool. Especially since IO Interactive managed to optimize the game's files to the point where all three games (on PS5 at least) are smaller in size than II was on its own.
I'm glad I decided to give these games another shot, even if Hitman III couldn't cut it and get into the top ten. I did have a lot of fun with Hitman games this year, just more so with the one that came out a few years ago.
Hitman III also wins:
- Best “accidents.”
- Most immersive nightclub (the haptics in the controller vibrate in the direction of, and in sync with the music).
- Winery tour of the year.
- Hit of the year: Grape press.
5. Castletroid of the year: Metroid DREAD
Of all the games in 2021, I think Metroid DREAD is still the most surprising. Out of nowhere did Nintendo not only announce a new Metroid, but one done in the classic side-scrolling style, rather than the floundering in development hell Metroid Prime 4 (I wish the best for those devs having that level of expectations on their shoulders, especially after that other team had to just give up). And on top of THAT it was releasing just a few months after the announcement, and the game itself was none other than the long rumored and presumed dead Metroid DREAD. I'm not exaggerating at all when I say that during the announcement trailer, I genuinely gasped. I could not for the life of me believe that they were finally making good on that after what, fifteen years??
Yet here we are, with the first fully new Metroid game in eleven years, the first good fully new Metroid game in fourteen years, and the first fully new side-scrolling Metroid in nineteen years!! I should probably clarify and say that because I don't have a 3DS, I didn't play the Samus Returns remake from a few years ago, so I really had little idea of what to expect from DREAD, considering both are Mercury Steam games.
Metroid is a series that ever since I jumped on with Fusion, I have just absolutely loved. Exploration focused games with a super cool space aesthetic? What's not to love? And on top of that, Metroid Prime was the game that convinced stubborn twelve year old me that actually first person games can be good and worth playing (to be clear Metroid Prime is also an all time favorite of mine, just like Fusion, I'm saying twelve year old me had a lot of bizarre opinions and Prime helped me fix one of them).
All of this is to say that even if I told myself I was keeping expectations in check, I knew a lot was riding on DREAD here. Thankfully it's about as good a comeback for the series as I could possibly imagine happening. Everything I loved about the old games is back, and just enough is modernized around the combat and traversal that it feels fresh too. When everything clicks, there's a fluidity to this game that feels so good. A flow to the level design in combination with Samus' moves that is a lot of fun to pull off.
Of course it wouldn't be Metroid if the game was just a platformer, without there needing to be more to the exploration than simple traversal. In some cases DREAD relies a little too much on fake walls that need to be shot to open up the path forward, but for the most part it has a lot of really great, intricate level design. In some ways it's a bit on the linear side, but in the moment it doesn't feel like it. It's so intertwining once all the upgrades are had, and the warp spots connecting the zones unlocked that I'm really impressed with what Mercury Steam pulled off.
The combat too, with “new” (again, I know it was from the 3DS remake) things like the counter, add just enough to make things fresh and exciting. Some of the controls are a little wonky at first (plus the lack of ability to remap anything when Super Metroid had that in the early 90s is unfortunate), but once I got the hang of it, it all felt great. And it's good that it does, because DREAD is a challenging game. Like to the point where spending time scouring the world for power-ups will only get you so far, because at some point if you can't properly dodge the bosses' attacks, you're not going to last.
And they're not just huge, screen filling monsters, more than I can remember from any previous Metroid, DREAD has a lot of fights that feel like duels against similarly sized/equipped bosses (or maybe mini-bosses in this case). They're not quite on the level of say, the Raiden vs. Jetstream Sam duel from REVENGEANCE (you know, everyone's first thought in the duel style boss fight realm), but it was still refreshing and fun to have to use Samus' agility to the fullest to get through so many fights.
Speaking of her agility, for as much as I loved DREAD, there is one part of the game that I think holds it back. Namely, the source of the dread in Metroid DREAD, the E.M.M.I. robots, which stalk and hunt down Samus whenever she dares enter one of their zones. Now, upfront, I don't hate the E.M.M.I. sections, and I didn't find them as frustrating as a lot of people seemed to. But that's also not to say I didn't find them frustrating, because some of them I definitely did. For as cool of an idea as they are, and for as tense as the E.M.M.I. zones feel when I managed to get through them, there were enough moments of getting caught, the randomly timed QTE not going my way, that eventually I did start to lose my patience with them.
Thing is, on the whole with how great the rest of DREAD is, I still loved the game. It's everything I wanted from a new Metroid and so much more. Even the story is interesting! That's the last thing I expected from a new Metroid, especially after... *shudders*... Other M. Really, there's so much more going on in DREAD's story than I thought there would be, and it was a great surprise. Going into more depth about the Chozo, the X parasites, and even filling in some more details about Samus' past! I won't spoil anything, but there's even some funny memes floating around there relating to a late game reveal, and some of the motivations behind a certain character that I found to be very funny.
As much as I love DREAD, and think it really is a fantastic game, the pain of doing these numbered lists is eventually you wind up with games that had things been a little different, it could have been your game of the year, but then winds up in fifth place. That's mostly to say that 2021 had a lot of games that I really loved, and I'm so happy that a new Metroid got to be one of them. With Prime 4 (hopefully) on the horizon, maybe this means a new dawn for the franchise, and we might not have to wait a decade plus for new entries anymore. I can hope, can't I?
Metroid DREAD also wins:
- Best ominous robots: E.M.M.I.
- Wall jumping of the year.
- Best boss fights.
- Best counter attacks.
- Most fluid movement.
- Fluid dynamics of the year.
- Orb form of the year: Morphball.
- Best long rumored game from when I was in high school to actually be real and release.
- Air dashing of the year.
- Grappling hook (beam) of the year.
- Cutest parasites (listen in 3D the X look like Flubber).
- Best intertwining maps.
- Coolest upgrades.
Deltarune Chapter 2???
So, Deltarune. This is one that I'm not entirely sure how to handle for Game of the Year purposes. Technically speaking Deltarune released in 2018, and Chapter 2 is a free update to that game. So me, being Captain Literal whether I like it or not, I feel like it shouldn't be eligible for Moosies Game of the Year. On the flip side, however many years from now when all seven(?) chapters are released, I'll probably be upset at myself for being so stubborn over semantics.
So, a compromise: Every time there's a new chapter for Deltarune, I'll include an update during the Moosies, assuming it remains good and worth writing about, at least. And then when the whole thing is finished, I'll re-consider it for that year's Moosies (never mind that Chapter 1 on its own was in my top ten in 2018), and in all likelihood it'll be that year's GOTY. Again, assuming it remains good throughout, based on how it's been so far.
Even if I felt the need to establish all that, I do continue to think Deltarune is something special. Chapter 2 was probably the funniest thing I played all year. It also almost gave me an existential crisis, which I think I touched on in the blog I wrote earlier this year but don't think anyone read? Which is fine in that case, haha.
Anyway, I know Undertale was a game special to many, many people, and as much as I did really love that game, my short take on Deltarune Chapter 2 is that Deltarune is on track to be, long term, the better of the two, even if it might never fully escape the shadow of Undertale. Definitely plays better, and I think is overall paced better. And the episodic format seems to work well enough, despite it taking three years between chapters...this as a seven parter is going to take...a long time...
Deltarune Chapter 2 wins:
- Moosey and Ajay present: Best Video Game Traffic Cone of the Year: Dog Cones.
- Funniest game of the year.
- [[BIG SHOT]] of the year.
- Award for coming the closest to giving me an existential crisis.
- Best game to theorize the future of.
- Game that most sent me down a wiki hole.
4. Most Ridiculous Game of the Year: Resident Evil VILLAGE
Over the years, I've come to accept that I'm really only a fair-weather Resident Evil fan. I'm one of those people that jumped on with 4, and while I have dabbled with some of the previous games, it's really only been in the last few years that the series has excited me in the way that 4 did. Now granted, that's partly because after 4 being a groundbreaking game, the series went in...a direction. One that at the time I had fun with, but now feel bad about because of the...you know, the fact that 5 is a game about a white dude shooting his way through African villages full of infected people turning into monsters. And then 6, while less immediately racist, was very much not a good game, so that didn't help.
Now though, I think the series is in an exponentially better place. The Resident Evil 2 remake is my new favorite in the series, and tied with The Evil Within 2 as my favorite survival horror games of all time. Again, fair-weather fan of the genre, I know, but it is a genre and style of play that I've grown to really, truly love in the modern era. To the point where just earlier this year I finally got around to playing Resident Evil VII, which was the game that salvaged the series after 6's multiple train wrecks. And I liked it a lot!
One of the reasons why I finally got around to it was because I really wanted to play the newest Resident Evil, VILLAGE, but with that being a direct sequel to VII, I had to do the thing and play that game first. And I'm glad I did, because VII being such a tense, and gripping survival horror experience focused so tightly on ammo and inventory management, that it helped make VILLAGE seem all the more ridiculous once I got into it.
Resident Evil VILLAGE is a silly, ridiculous, absurd game. And I love it. I had such a great, dumb time with this nonsense game, that I'm almost surprised at how great it is. VILLAGE isn't the honed to a razor edge almost perfect realization of the genre like RE2 remake is, but its sensibilities and the logic it operates by are just so out there that I cannot help but love it.
This is a game where the antagonists main character Ethan deals with are, in order: A vampire giantess, a living doll, a fish man, and I kid you not, a character that I can only describe as, “off brand Nic Cage Magneto.” Plus the main antagonist cult leader lady, but I still can't believe that someone decided what this game needed was someone with Magneto's metal objects control power, and then also what if that character was played by the closest they could get to Nic Cage? AND also written like the sort of hammy Nic Cage we all love to see?
He has my favorite line of dialog from any game this year, partly because it's such a specific reference (and said during a boss fight where it's easily missed) that I bet a lot of people didn't notice it. In reference to Chris Redfield, he says, “That boulder punching asshole!” If that doesn't mean anything to you, don't worry about it. It meant enough to me that I cackled at that line enough for all of us. I had to pause the game during that boss and message a friend (hi Ajay!!) about it, it was just so much.
Also I can not bring myself to spoil the context of that boss fight because it is unbelievable and I don't want to ruin it for anyone that hasn't gotten there yet. Just trust me, in a game full of bizarre, ridiculous occurrences, the Heisenberg fight is the one. It's the most ridiculous one, and I'm just so happy someone came up with that idea for a Resident Evil game, and it got in. Thank you Capcom for letting this game be this silly.
That's really the vibe for most of this game. It's just so over the top, and in the best possible ways. It's also still a really good playing game too, even if the dial is turned more toward “action shooter” than “survival horror,” but at least it's closer to the “survival horror” side than RE4 was back in the day. VILLAGE is definitely a game where you can shoot your way through just about every situation, but at the ammo counts are such that I was at least close to running out, or running out with some weapons after most big fights. As opposed to 4, where I'm pretty sure I was just a walking armory a few hours in.
There's also parts of the game where Ethan is...disarmed, thus forcing you to have no options but running or hiding. I'm not really a big fan of that side of the horror game genre, but I can't write about this game without mentioning what was probably the single sequence in any game that has unsettled me the most. Like, seriously, out of all the games I've ever played. Even more than that bit with the eye in Dead Space 2.
That would be the dollhouse, most of which was just your usual, campy RE fair. The doll is trying to get into Ethan's head, and mess with him, and all that stuff's fine. It's really just typical RE find some keys, solve some light puzzles, etc. No combat, because Ethan's guns are gone, but that's fine. At least until the...thing appears. It's, I mean I guess this might be a spoiler (but not really because it doesn't affect the story but I'll white it out anyway), but a giant human fetus appears and starts chasing after Ethan.
Now I know what you're thinking, that's gross, and yes, it is. Also it creeped me out and left me rattled so much that despite the fact that I want to New Game Plus this game to go through it again, I keep hesitating when I remember I'd have to play through that sequence again. I'd like to go through shooting werewolves with my magnum revolver named Wolfsbane, but then I shudder thinking about that creature in the dollhouse.
So much happens in VILLAGE that I cannot possibly hope to cover it all and do any of it justice here, so I'll just quit while I'm ahead. As much as I want to write about all the things that happen to Ethan's hands, because this game is just so much. Like, is it a perfect game? No, I'm still disappointed that when it came time to finally bring a new merchant to the franchise, the best they could come up with was, “what if we made him so fat that the first time you see him it's just his belly fat bulging out from these wagon doors,” but that one fatphobic character design is really the only actual issue I have with the game. Otherwise, it's silly, and over the top, and nonsensical at times, but I love that they really went for it this time.
And for as ridiculous as it is, I do think Ethan Winters ended up endearing himself to me as my new favorite Resident Evil protagonist. Not that that's a high bar to meet, but still noteworthy, I think. To paraphrase my friend Ajay (a much bigger RE fan than I), “he's the closest to resembling an actual human being of them.” And I agree with her, he does resemble a human being, haha.
Again, maybe not my favorite Resident Evil, but a close second to RE2 remake, and absolutely earned its place in my top five games of the year. So much silly fun.
Resident Evil VILLAGE also wins:
- Trophy name of the year: “Not Lycan This...”
- Survival Horror game of the year.
- Collectible of the year: Traditional wooden goat bobble heads.
- Most werewolves.
- Guy you have to HAND it to the most: Ethan Winters.
- Off brand Nic Cage of the year.
- Most crystal skulls.
- Best cooking noises.
- Silliest boss: Propeller Man.
- Most inexplicable [REDACTED] fight.
- Best retcon: [REDACTED].
Destiny 2 Yearly Check in.
Like with Deltarune, Destiny 2 is one that gets a bit of a special treatment. There wasn't even a singular big expansion in 2021, and yet here I am writing about it. Why? Well, because after taking all of 2020 off from playing the game after Shadowkeep and (from what I've heard) the ensuing seasons were bad...Destiny 2 got...good again.
Granted, that probably started with the Beyond Light expansion, which was 2020, and not 2021 (when I played it). But, after my friends got back into the game, I followed, and I'm here to report that I am fully back into Destiny 2.
Beyond Light was a pretty good expansion, and I enjoy the new Stasis subclass. At least for Warlocks, because I don't think I've touched my other characters since...Forsaken? But it's not just that it was the one good expansion, I think the seasonal stuff, while still having its FOMO-infused faults, is a good way to continue the story throughout the year. It's an ongoing story that updates every week after doing a weekly activity, which is probably enough for some people, but for the loot lovers out there like myself and my friends, well we typically played more than that.
And the story's been mostly interesting too. All the stuff with Caiatl and her faction of the Cabal was neat, then there was Mithrax and his group of refugee Eliksni allying with the Vanguard and all taking residence at the Tower. The Eliksni, of course, being the proper name for the “Fallen.”
Then there's Crow, formerly Uldren, and his journey to becoming a guardian (which I actually missed the start of in whatever season that was before the Caiatl stuff), and now coming back into contact with this sister Queen Mara, and Savathun... It's good! Certainly enough to keep me paying attention, and make me want to see what happens next in the Witch Queen expansion.
Of course, there's also the fact that, as I mentioned, I missed out on one of those seasons, so as far as I can tell, that's not something I could ever go back and do if I wanted to. Just like how the original Red War campaign is gone, and Forsaken (still my favorite time in Destiny 2) is being “vaulted” in February, just in time for Witch Queen. The Dreaming City and a couple of the Strikes are apparently surviving, but The Tangled Shore? That campaign? Soon it'll be gone, and unable to play.
And honestly? That sucks. I hate it. Not even just from a “I paid for that” perspective (and right now Forsaken is free for everyone who didn't buy it), but from a games preservation perspective. I hate how easy it is for games to just disappear. Especially how frequently it seems to happen, usually for licensing reasons. As best as I can tell in Destiny 2 it's for technical reasons more than anything else, perhaps being held back by last gen consoles? But I can't in good faith say Bungie should just immediately abandon those when there's likely more people playing there than current gen.
So that's why I think the current situation of Destiny 2 is just good. In terms of the game, it's some of the most fun I've had with it in a long time, but the removal of large swathes of content just rubs me the wrong way. Clearly not enough to get me to stop altogether, but enough for me to write about it.
On the other hand, as of this writing the Bungie 30th Anniversary event is going on, complete with blatant nostalgia grabs like bringing back weapons from Halo. The Halo CE pistol is finally back...as The Forerunner. After Bungie was cowardly enough to not include it in Halo 2, they're finally brave enough to bring it back in Destiny 2...and it's great. I love it.
Also Xur is running a game show with a space horse??? Its name is Starhorse and it seems to be the one running the show? I don't really understand what's going on, but I like it.
Okay, as one last addendum, also as of this writing, an article had been posted to IGN detailing some info about things that have happened at Bungie over the years, and I felt bad writing positively about the Bungie anniversary event without at least mentioning this. You know I care about the people who actually make games, and I think industry wide huge amounts of work need to be done to get it where it needs to be. I still like to think Bungie is sincere about trying to improve, and I hope they keep improving. And that's all I really have to say about that, given I don't have any special insight or anything.
Destiny 2 wins:
- Game Show Hosts of the Year: Xur and Starhorse.
- Celestial Horse of the Year: Starhorse.
- Best new gun of the Year: Forerunner (the Halo CE pistol returns!!!!!!).
3. Road Trip of the Year: Persona 5 Strikers
Considering Royal was the Moosies Game of the Year for 2020, Strikers being here is the least surprising thing. All those characters I got so attached to going on one last adventure, and this time it's a road trip across Japan? Yeah, of course I was going to have a great time with this game! The only question in my mind was how high on the list was it going to be, and considering how the first three fourths of the year went, there was a long time where it felt like Persona was going to be the first two-peat in Moosies history, and win GOTY twice in a row.
Despite the fact that I really did genuinely have a blast hacking and slashing across the Metaverse (no, not that one, the good one that Persona 5 did years ago) with the Phantom Thieves again, it didn't quite make the cut to make that two-peat a reality. But honestly, this is one of those years where I went back and forth on the games in my top five so much that even while writing this, I kept moving some of them around!
Strikers' storytelling ambitions might not be as high as the original Persona 5/Royal, but in some ways the (at least initially) lower stakes of Strikers was comforting. Just a bunch of good friends going on a road trip for the summer, getting up to hijinks, and having fun. Of course even before they hit the road they had to resume their Phantom Thieving ways, but the more relaxed vibe is there. The whole gang is already together without having to go through their traumas like in the first game, just ready to have a good summer vacation. Even now, as I'm re-listening to Strikers' soundtrack to get myself back into the mindset of playing the game (I always try to do this with every game as re-installing and replaying stuff is too time consuming to be practical), I'm feeling that comforting feeling again, and just remembering how much everything about the Phantom Thieves means to me.
Granted the game still has issues, some of which are the same sort from P5/Royal (there's not one but two clichéd hot springs scenes in Strikers), and some of which are new to the P5 “series” (I'd be remiss not to mention this is the second of two games in my top five this year with a character that has a really fatphobic design for absolutely no reason). But between the fun road trip, the good Persona 5 vibes still vibing, the characters being as charming as ever, the story being compelling, and the combat being a lot of fun, it's still a great time.
I'm honestly still impressed at how well the combat works, and just how fun it is. That many playable characters (even if it's small compared to what you'd get in a proper Dynasty Warriors), that many Personas, and all the different systems from P5 integrated into a real time action game! FF VII Remake is still the pinnacle of integrating mechanics from turn based RPGs into action combat, but of the games I've played this one's second. It's just fun to dash around, swapping characters, and using the right combos to get the Persona attacks flying without draining the SP meter. Especially on Hard it's demanding enough that you really need to be on top of things, and maximize those Persona weaknesses and strengths.
What's not to love about a game that lets you summon a supernatural motorcycle and use it to plow through swarms of enemies? It was great when Dante did it in DMC 5, and it's great here when Makoto does it! Plus new character Sophia (who I found delightful) uses yo-yos to fight, and again, I think that's cool. Yes, Joker was the character I played the most because he is the main dude, and being able to switch between so many Personas on the fly is usually more useful than a supernatural motorcycle...but I still appreciated being able to play as (almost) all the Phantom Thieves (Futaba still doesn't fight directly), and that they all had their uses throughout the game.
Plus I want to give a shout out to my favorite boss fight of the year. That being the two stage fight against...a giant mech. Stage one is a lot of darting around the arena, dodging attacks, and using giant rail guns to knock it out of the air, and eventually put the robot out of commission. Stage two then, the mech's pilot steps out, draws an energy sword, and the fight turns into a frantic duel amongst the wreckage of the mech, and it's just such a rad, fun fight. And listening to the stage two music again (it was a big enough fight to get a unique track) just has me SO pumped up all over again. What a great battle.
And the music, I can't write about a Persona game without mentioning music. I know some amount of Strikers' music is either from P5/Royal, or rocked up remixes with more guitar, but hey, it works! Plus the wholly new tracks are super fun and great too. Whether they're chill beats to road trip/vibe to, or ripping guitar backing you up as you shred through hoards of shadows, it all fits, and I'd say that even if Persona 5 didn't get the GOTY two-peat, it got the best music two-peat.
Also, still surprising no one, the best styyyyyyyle two-peat. What can I say, they're stylish games! The higher framerate, even on PS4 (at the time) was nice too, just to make everything look and feel that much more fluid. Some of the aliasing was a bit rough, but I wonder if playing on PS5 in the higher res mode might improve that? Or the PC version I'm sure helps. Not Switch though, I've heard that's not a great port.
Anyway, I just need to reiterate one more time that I just had so much fun with Strikers. In some ways it was bittersweet to have this great adventure with the Phantom Thieves again, knowing it was the last one...but on the other hand, considering they're still re-releasing the Persona 4 spin-offs, I really should not assume anything about P5 being at its end. Either way, Strikers met and well exceeded my expectations, and it was without a doubt one of my favorite games of the year.
Persona 5 Strikers also wins:
- Most styyyyyyylish game.
- Best music.
- Anime intro of the year.
- Most friends.
- Most Jacks Frost.
- Most frantic combat.
- Boss fight of the year: Konoe and his mech.
- Remix of the year: Last Surprise Scramble.
- Best Yo-Yos.
- AI of the year: Sophia (aka Sophie).
Best DLC for a game not released in 2021: Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye
As with the original Outer Wilds, this is tricky to write about without spoiling anything. And, I do think it's worth playing Echoes of the Eye without knowing too much about what's in there...even as much as there's a couple of extremely cool things that I do want to write about. Like, some of the coolest stuff in the whole game levels of cool.
So as one might extrapolate from that, I like Echoes of the Eye. It's still got some issues, though. At its best, this is more Outer Wilds doing what Outer Wilds does best. It lets you explore, and uncover piece by piece what happened to an ancient civilization, all while exploring one of the coolest “planetary bodies” I've visited in a video game. The magic of discovery, the wonder at what happened and what lies beneath the next discovery, that's all here, just as great as it ever was.
The problem lies in the fact that the developers decided to also include...stealth sequences. Where you not only need to evade enemy AI, but also do so while stumbling around in basically pitch black areas. I did not enjoy these sections. To the point where eventually I looked up how to get through them as quickly as possible. Also, a pro tip for anyone else struggling, the “reduced frights” option isn't just there to make the game less spooky, it also makes the AI less aggressive. Thus easier to evade.
I hope that doesn't dissuade anyone from playing the DLC, because I still think it's well worth playing. My jaw literally dropped when I entered the new area, and realized what it was. It's just such a cool, incredible thing to see done in a game like this. It's worth coming back to the game for, and worth buying, I'd say.
Outer Wilds Echoes of the Eye also wins:
- [REDACTED] of the year.
- [REDACTED] of the year.
2. Game that most left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling: Life is Strange: True Colors
Life is Strange games are always some of the hardest ones to write about, at least without feeling like it's okay to just go full out with spoilers. But this isn't the place for that, this is a GOTY blog, so instead I'll try to focus on how the game made me feel, which is appropriate given main character Alex Chen's empathy related power.
I felt a lot of trepidation going into True Colors, partly because this series holds a special place in my heart (despite not playing LiS 2, which I swear I will some day). The first game I initially experienced through watching GB East play, but that was during a particularly rough time in my life, when watching stuff like that was...comforting, and helped me get through a lot. A couple years later we had the Chloe focused prequel Before the Storm, which came closer to matching Breath of the Wild (aka the greatest game ever made (or at least my favorite)) for my game of that year than anything else. Both the original and Before the Storm have plenty of issues (they both end pretty poorly), but they mean a lot to me.
So seeing people saying True Colors was the best Life is Strange yet, well that sets expectations in an interesting place. Having played it I'd agree with them, it's the best one I've played, and my overall favorite of the series. In so many ways it feels like what these games should be. It's got the melodrama, and while there is still a supernatural power, it doesn't overtake and consume the more interesting parts of the story like it did in LiS 1.
And I think importantly, both the performances and the writing are good and consistent enough that I never found myself wincing at goofy “teen” dialog (I think about the watch Spirits Within on a “tasty plasma” line too much), or finding the voice acting beyond the main cast to be on the lacking side. It does something I can't think of any other game doing so well, which is having intentionally awkward conversations feel awkward in the ways they do in real life. Not like the dialog was timed wrong, or the performances don't quite sell it. It's not something I can describe in text, but particularly some of the early conversations between Alex and Charlotte. I know I've had conversations just as awkward as theirs, I bet most people have, and it was just weirdly relatable to see in a game.
One last thing about the performances, but Erika Mori's performance as Alex is genuinely one of the best I've heard in a game in a long time, which is even more impressive because as far as I can tell this is the first thing she's acted in? At least the first one noteworthy enough to be Google-able (note for anyone else, she's the second Erika Mori that shows up, not the one that was in Kamen Rider). In a game that's all about emotions, and talking to people, Alex runs the gamut of just about everything a person could feel, and I think Erika Mori did an incredible job that made this game what it is.
I'd say I felt pretty happy with the game as a whole, and I do, but it's still Life is Strange. It's meant to tug at the heartstrings, to make you feel people's pain at the loss of a loved one, feel the void that leaves. Feel the anger at betrayal, but also the desperation at being caught in a seemingly hopeless situation. For a game that isn't super long, there really is a lot crammed in there, but I think it all accomplishes what it sets out to do.
And it's not all melodrama (to be clear, I mean melodrama positively), a lot of True Colors is bright, and happy, and heartwarming. It's funny, and goofy, and silly too. It's a game where an extended sequence is dedicated to running a LARP to cheer up a depressed kid, and while it's every bit as corny as that sounds, I loved it. During that LARP the “fights” turn into JRPG styled turn based combat, just with Alex and Ethan (the kid) saying what they're doing instead of literally attacking the “monsters” (just another character wearing a costume). Though most of the fights are actually avoidable if you find the right items, which is a nice touch.
True Colors is also maybe the first and only game I've played with optionally “romance-able” characters where that stuff not only feels like it would happen naturally, but also both of them seem like good people that I could see Alex actually being in a meaningful relationship with. Of course, of the two, Steph and Ryan, naturally I went with Steph. I mean, Ryan's nice and all, it's cute that he's a forest ranger, but Steph's a radio DJ lesbian. Hard to compete with that.
Honestly though, there are some genuinely touching and beautiful moments in the game around this trio, and particularly down the relationship path. There's one scene that I'd like to describe as, “a lesbian kiss so powerful it created an Aurora Borealis,” but I bet the Aurora happens with Ryan too. Still, it's a nice moment in a game full of them.
I went back and forth a whole lot on where to put this game on my list. Should it be number one? Maybe? But what if it was lower on the list, because I don't laugh every time I think about it like I do with VILLAGE, or it doesn't quite give me the same bittersweet feeling I get when I think about Strikers.
Then I remember the afternoon after I finished True Colors, and just the welling of true happiness. Like, legit, the happiest I've felt in years, and for the longest, most sustained amount of time. Now part of that may have been I went from finishing this game to playing the new Destiny 2 event with a friend, so some amount of nostalgia for Bungie was in there (they brought the pistol back!), but it was mostly thinking about how good the ending of True Colors is. Truly Deck 9 did the impossible, which was not only give one of these games a good ending, but a happy one. Or at least the potential for one, I could see there being a sad, or melancholic ending depending on how some of those choices go.
So yeah, I think I picked the right spot for True Colors on my list. It's very close to being my game of the year, but just not quite. As for what that game is? Well, soon ye shall see...
Life is Strange True Colors also wins:
- Best new character of the year: Alex Chen.
- Best performance of the year: Erika Mori as Alex Chen.
- Most idyllic scenery.
- Gnome of the year: Cool flower shop gnome.
- Valkyrie of the year – Record store cat.
- Air (broom) guitar of the year.
- In game musical performance of the year: Alex and Steph at the Spring Festival.
- OTP of the year: Alex and Steph.
- Gayest Aurora Borealis of the year.
- Foosball of the year.
- LARP of the year.
Old Games of the Year: Showcase?
So, I'm handling the old game of the year thing a little differently this time. Normally I pick a winner, and just write about that, and then maybe a runner up or two. But since my two favorite “old” games that I played (for the first time) this year were Marvel's Spider-Man Miles Morales, and 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim, both of which I already wrote about extensively, I decided to instead highlight a few games that might not be as well known as, you know, Spider-Man. Even though Miles does win the Award for 2021 Moosies Old Game of the Year.
I don't blame you if you haven't heard of this one. The only reason I had was that it was amongst the thousands of games in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality last year. The one that was only $5, contained literally thousands of things, and went to a good cause. Despite almost never playing games on PC, I still got the bundle, and this year (yes, a year after the bundle was new) I got around to trying a handful of games from it. It was really nothing more than pure luck that I happened to give this one a shot, though of the ones I tried, this is the one that stuck out in my mind.
It's very much like the old style of Zelda games, except just about everything in the layout of the world is procedurally generated based on the name of the save file. It's neat, and while I think the combat and dungeons aren't...that great, the game has a lot of charm, and some interesting stuff in the story/lore. Even if I did see the big twist coming a good ways away, I still thought it was a good twist. That, and there's some abilities late in the game that are legit cool, and made me feel like I was breaking the game, but in a good way. Despite the fact that very clearly everything with said abilities was intended, it still gave that feeling of breaking it.
All that said, my favorite part of the game was the music. It has two different versions of every song (because the game has two separate art styles that can be toggled (I left it on the GBA inspired one because that's an aesthetic I have more nostalgia for)), and they're all good! The boss music especially was one of my favorite songs I heard all year, it's just a good piece of boss fighting music.
Definitely give this one a shot if any of what I wrote intrigues you. I don't know how much it costs, but I'm sure it's affordable. And again, if you bought that bundle last year, you have this game on itch, just go get it there! (I think that's how that works?) It's neat, and a good reminder that there's a whole world of indie indie games that I don't spend nearly enough time with. I know I should but...well, you know how these things go.
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling
You ever find yourself thinking, “what if there was a new Paper Mario, but all the characters were cute anthropomorphic bugs?” If so, then Bug Fables is the game you've been waiting for! In all seriousness, this is a game that I really didn't know much about, aside from the Paper Mario inspiration, and the fact that I know a few specific people who really, really love this game. So, I decided to finally give it a shot.
And I like it a lot! At first it feels almost litigious in how it's “inspired” by Paper Mario, with so much of the combat, the look of the game, and so on feeling like the devs were almost copying those first two Paper Marios. But as I got deeper in (and it's long for an indie game; it took me 38 hours to finish, and that unlocked a few post game side quests!), the game's own charm, and its own characters kept growing on me, so I had a great time with it.
Don't just brush this game off as a cheap knock-off of those old Paper Marios. There's some really compelling and touching stuff that happens in the story, and I grew really attached to the main trio. Vi, Kabbu, and Leif make a great team, both in and out of combat. Speaking of, there's some neat things in the combat, like being able to just switch the order the team goes in on the fly, that I think more turn based games should have. I'm sure this game wasn't the first to do that, but I think it should be a standard feature of the genre.
All that, and the game is adorable. I don't really think bugs in real life are cute, but the ones in this game are, and there's a whole lot of them. If like me you thought the lack of varied character designs in Paper Mario The Origami King was disappointing, this game does not suffer a similar fate. Aside from some repeats used for generic guards, as best as I can tell every NPC in the game is a unique character sprite, and there's a lot of them, which I think is super impressive for an indie game.
So yeah, again, highly recommended, and a great game.
Baba is You
Baba is probably the most well known of the games here, so it doesn't really need me to tell anyone to give it a shot. It's also somehow the game I spent the most time playing on my Switch this year, despite the fact that I never actually finished it. And at this point I'm too afraid of having forgotten how everything works to ever go back and finish it. Especially considering I was already resorting to looking up solutions, which kind of defeats the point in these sorts of games. Of course, the alternative was just stopping altogether, which wasn't good either.
Regardless, it's a very good game. And I think it recently got an update with new stuff? Maybe it's time to check out again...
And finally, it's...
The 2021 Moosies Video Game Awards Video Game of the Year: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
In a lot of ways, I'm just as surprised as you. Never in all my out there, jokey predictions would I have thought that not only would a Guardians of the Galaxy game be my favorite of any year, but that it would be because of the story. I'm not a big fan of the GotG movies (they're okay), I've never read the comics, and for this game specifically, it had a really poor unveiling at E3 that left me, and everyone else I know convinced the game had little chance of being better than mediocre. At best.
On the flipside, looking at this game now, it's so many things that I love that it absolutely fits in amongst the pantheon of Moosies Games of the Years. A ragtag crew of misfits that grow to be the found family each of them needs (even if they don't realize it), an almost shockingly heartfelt and touching story (that I swear had me tearing up in one scene near the end), a cool sci-fi aesthetic (I'm still blown away by the art design as a whole), and of course lots of genuinely funny humor along the way.
Even the combat, while not as good as some other big budget comic book games of late, has interesting ideas in it, and that's good enough for me. Like I said, this is a game about the Guardians growing as a team, and a family, so the combat being focused on teamwork, on combining abilities effectively to take out enemies with smart tactics, rather than just brute force makes a lot of sense. Now granted the game is never really hard enough, or smartly designed enough to make the combat feel like more than interesting ideas, but that's the sort of classic video game-y “they could iterate on this in a sequel and make it way better” thing that I really appreciate. Even if there isn't a sequel, at least they didn't make this just a generic shooter with Starlord or something.
Speaking of, one of the unsung triumphs of this game is that they not only managed to make Peter Quill a great character (the movies didn't), but also believable as the glue that keeps the Guardians together. A motley crew whose natural inclination is going to be bickering and fighting amongst themselves, especially when you have things like the adopted daughter of “The Mad Titan” Thanos working alongside a man whose main goal in life was avenging his family killed by Thanos. Though as one would guess, and as Peter would try to remind them, their shared hatred of Thanos is more of a connection than anything else that would try to get in their way.
Really though, for as much as Peter is still a goofball, he's also an empathetic guy who really, truly believes in every member of his team, and that together they have what it takes to make the galaxy a better place. And to make a few bucks along the way. Maybe it's just because the MCU interpretation was particularly poor, or maybe it was because of Chris Pratt (likely both), but this game's version of Peter is just such a better character than I ever thought he could be.
One of the main plot threads is about the idea that Peter might have a now teenage daughter he didn't realize he had, and for as boilerplate and generic a story that could be, it works. As I'm writing this out, trying to convey how much I loved this game, I bet some of this stuff just seems eye-roll worthy. “Oh it's just another game about sad dads?” I mean, sort of, but in the game, it works.
“Found family” stories are a dime a dozen, and I know I'm a sucker for them, but this one got me hard. Every member of the Guardians has had some sort of traumatic past, and for as grim as it sounds in writing, that's part of what draws them together. Drax lost his family to Thanos, and almost lost himself to his quest for vengeance. That pain and loss is felt in him throughout the story, but it's not just there for him to be sad, and mope. And thankfully it's never there to be the butt of a joke, because again, I'm genuinely shocked that a game about a group known for wise cracks and jokes takes these things as seriously as it does.
There's a scene, I think technically it's optional dialog after finding a collectible, where Gamora confides in Peter that she's had suicidal thoughts before. Peter's response is to basically say he has too, and even if their lives were different enough that he can't truly know how she literally felt, he understands it. The game doesn't make a huge deal out of it, it's just a conversation between friends comfortable enough to share this sort of thing, and like so many other things in the game, it really hit me.
That the game takes the time to focus on things like this, without trivializing them, without just making them one off things to be dealt with and then never mentioned again, again, I just really appreciate it. It feels like a game that understands that these aren't things that you can just magically move on from. It takes time, and work, and sometimes most importantly of all, the support of the people that care about you to learn to live with what's happened, and do your best to move on.
The fact that this game manages to ride the line between the basically nonstop goofy wise cracking banter and the serious moments, while doing both so well I think is incredible. It's hard enough to get one tone right, let alone two, and to be able to switch between them without it ever feeling forced is one of the most remarkable feats in game writing I can think of in recent history. Like what other game can handle the discord between the deep pain of losing your family and also a rude raccoon and his walking tree friend?
Even Rocket, for as much of a wise-ass as he is, and for as much as he sometimes feels like he enjoys causing problems for everyone else (aside from Groot), even he's just trying to cover up his own insecurities. Trying to act tough and cool to cover up his own fears, even though he really just wants to find a place he can be happy, and part of a real family. And again, to also make some money doing it.
I've managed to write all this without directly addressing what the main A Plot of the story is, but honestly I don't think I need to. Like I've said indirectly, it's a story about the pain of lost loved ones, and the lengths some would go just on the promise of bringing them back, trying to fill that void with anything at all...even if it's just empty promises. Of course, as a counter to that, it's about a group coming together as a new family to help themselves heal those past traumas, at least as best as anyone can.
Anyone who hasn't played this game, I really cannot recommend it enough. Assuming you don't hate the idea of these characters bantering with each other. I personally like it, but if you don't it'd definitely be grating during the running through the levels doing video game stuff portions of the game. The story and characters are all so good that it clicked with me more than any other game this year. In ways that I never ever would have guessed a Guardians of the Galaxy game could. There were a lot of games I really loved in 2021, but at the end of the day this was my favorite. It just has so much heart, and character, and a deep love for a bunch of characters that just want to be loved and accepted, despite all their flaws, and if that isn't relatable, then I don't know what is.
Plus, there's a psychic Russian space dog and one of the most incredible, “oh they're making good on that bit from earlier in the game” moments I've ever experienced. I'm not going to spoil it, and not ruin the surprise. What a tremendous game.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy also wins:
- Mass Effect of the year.
- Best story of the year.
- Motliest crew of the year.
- Tree of the year: Groot.
- Hunky but sad middle aged man of the year: Drax.
- Ex-assassin of the year: Gamora.
- Rudest “raccoon” (in an endearing way) of the year: Rocket.
- Teen character of the year: Nikki.
- Worst hair of the year: Young Peter's mullet.
- Russian space dogs of the year.
- Most endearingly Canadian game of the year.
- Space llama of the year.
- Chewbacca of the year.
- Quippiest game.
- Most unreliable refrigerator of the year.
- Best fake band of the year: Starlord.
- Scanning visor of the year.
- [REDACTED] of the year: [REDACTED].
And that's 2021, and the Moosies! I definitely noticed a theme in my top games of this, and also that probably bled back into last year's too. Regardless of that, thank you for reading, and sticking with me after all these years. Especially when I all but gave up on actually writing about games for a good chunk of the year. I can't make promises that I'll write more frequently in 2022, partly because even if I have it in me to, it's still dependent on my playing games worth writing about, but I'd like to get back into the habit of writing more often. So, we'll see!
With that, thank you once again, and take care of yourselves out there!