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Games Completed in 2021

Last year I, completely bafflingly, managed to succeed at my goal and see credits roll on 30 games, new and old, and in the process I found some absolute gems of games that now easily are some of my favorite games of all time. Last year I finished Death Stranding, Ape Out, Necrobarista, Earthbound, Journey, No More Heroes, and Outer Wilds, all of which were amazing, so I'm hoping to find some more gems this year.

Goal and the terms are the same for this year as they were last year: my goal is to see credits roll in 30 video games in 2021. They can be from 2021 (as quite a few might be, I have a lot of games I'm looking forward to this year), or from any point in the past, and they can be new to me, or replays, but each game only counts once in the year.

Looking forward to what kind of good stuff I'll find this year!

List items

  • Rolled credits on Hades after a triumphant 10th clear, but I think this will remain the game I go back to whenever I have a little bit of free time left on my hands to enjoy.

    Honestly, with the well-deserved praise this game is getting all around right now, especially with regards to Game of the Year deliberations, there's not much I can add to the conversation other than to add my voice to the chorus (heh) saying that this game is incredible.

    The way it doles out narrative, the way conversations with characters react to your play, the way storylines ebb in and out of each other, the tight, snappy gameplay, the fantastic upgrades which let you play in so many wonderful, different ways, the way all of the systems slowly unfold like a lotus as you play, the fun of setting your own challenge with the Pact, it's all just so perfect.

  • Believe it or not, my first complete Castlevania! Managed to kill ol' pops in his stupid upside-down condo.

    I think the back half of this game in the Reverse Castle is dramatically inferior to the first half. You've already seen the castle's secrets and found pretty much every room to find, so it's just a matter of slogging through a bunch of old areas tracking down your dad's bits, which is kind of annoying, especially because you don't know what areas are going to be important and which areas, which were important in the regular castle, have garbage in them.

    Still, though! When this game is firing on all cylinders, it's easy to see how it basically singlehandedly argued for the "vania" in Metroidvania. A great game, and I'm excited to see how the rest of the series turned out!

  • With my return to the World of Assassination, I took it upon myself to replay the entire trilogy, ICA Training Facility to the Carpathian Mountains, tip to tail. This was my first time going through 3, obviously, but also my first time going through New York and Haven Island. This review will be discussing Hitman 3 as it exists with all previous Hitman content inside of it.

    Hitman 3 is one of the greatest video games ever made, bar none. It is, frankly, a sublime package in all regards. A mechanics-heavy sandbox design philosophy created in 1, evolved in 2, and finally perfected in 3 carries this entire series, making this entire game feel to me like a sort of beautiful piece of masterwork clockwork, one which I want to just stare at and fiddle with and see how all of the pieces move.

    The new batch of maps in 3 are probably my favorite of the series. It sort of feels like 1 set the groundwork for this sort of game structure and created some solid maps to demonstrate its ideas. 2 expanded those ideas both in scope and complexity (which was good) and by starting to toy with some non-assassination objectives to spice things up, which were a mixed success. 3 perfects this new variety, crafting missions that feel very distinct from each other and all of the other missions in the game, while still offering that freedom and mechanical complexity all the way through (unlike, say, the Sapienza lab, which feels extremely railroady).

    Altogether fantastic. I understand why IOI might want to stretch their legs and make new games after this, and I'll support them every step of the way, but I could play another 7 of these games.

  • Is this what this game is called? Damn I would have played this much faster if this was the title on Steam.

    Known more commonly as "Ladykiller In A Bind", this is an absolutely fantastic erotic LGBTQ+ visual novel about consent, about vulnerability, and about, well, bondage. The writing is absolutely excellent, managing to clearly surpass thin-excuse-for-pornography that other VNs of its ilk reach, and instead creating an interesting mystery, some very strong and well-developed characters, and sex scenes that actually have a narrative purpose on top of just being hot.

    I should play more visual novels!

  • Man, I was sort of expecting this thing to not hold up, having been overshadowed by the legacy of Immersive Sims that fell after it, and admittedly the Liberty Island intro is rough (put points into melee attacks, the knock-out point is at the base of the spine), but this game is a classic in all the best ways.

    The level design just feels really really good. Although the levels feel a little barren by modern standards, making the available options and routes stick out by merit of... existing, and not being plain grey walls, the game still does a good job of having clever workarounds and secrets available to players who are attentive. Even back in '99, this game is still creating interesting puzzle boxes to play with that put some modern immersive sims to shame.

    The story here, eh, it's fine. The cast of characters and the global conspiracy here feel a little flat, far surpassed by the reboot games in every regard. Special, uh, anti-credit goes to the Chinese accents which, wow, what the fuck is going on there, guys.

    Has that beautiful immersive sim power curve, where at the start of the game you're skulking through every vent and tunnel scrounging for parts, and at the end you're kickflipping into combat with a goddamn laser sword just murdering mechs and supersoldiers left and right.

    Ultimately, this game totally holds up 20 years later. Absolutely phenomenal.

  • So, hearing that this game was on the chopping block, and seeing that it's free with Game Pass, I decided to gaze upon 2019's biggest train wreck for myself, see the carnage.

    The thing is, though, parts of this game aren't bad. Parts of this game are honestly *really good*. Many people have cited the flying as being excellent, but honestly I enjoyed most of the combat. Sticking with a Storm for most of my campaign playthrough, the powers were an absolute treat to use, and my brief foray into Colossus was also quite fun, with that thing feeling weighty and like a tank. The character writing, too, is actually pretty solid. There's a decent cast of characters here that I quite enjoyed talking to, and there are some fun twists with their character arcs along the way that I was really excited to watch unfold.

    Aaaaaand the bad parts. Two years on, these servers are still unforgivably unstable. I was dropped from missions, almost always almost-done ones, a dozen times in about as many hours. The load times (or, I suspect more accurately, the server connection times) are abhorrent, massive stumbling blocks that absolutely ruin the flow of play. The loot is all incredibly samey, and I was never excited to find a drop. Literally every mission of the game is the same, just fly to a spot, shoot stuff, maybe do a thing, repeat. And boy, god, the bullet-spongey bosses are negative fun to fight.

    But, ugh, dammit, parts of this game feel so solid. There's a good idea buried in here, but a lot of the rot that would need to be yanked out to find it probably entails ripping up a lot of fragile and complex backend server code that couldn't be fixed easily. I think I'm actually pretty bummed that Anthem Next is officially dead: there's a version of Anthem that could have been absolutely phenomenal, and parts of it poke up through the surface regularly enough in the Anthem that does exist to make its faults infuriating.

  • This game, bizarrely, is an absolute *motherfucker* to emulate. There's a room 95% through the game that seems to hard crash a lot of emulators, so heads' up. Use mGBA if you're going to emulate this thing.

    Anyways, yeah, Minish Cap is one of the best Zeldas ever made. Despite some early interactions with Ezlo giving me big "uh oh, are you gonna be this game's Fi" vibes, it actually does a remarkably good job of not spoonfeeding you puzzle solutions and letting you expreriment and figure things out. The eponymous ability to turn small feels kind of more like a gimmick than anything else, but it's not a bad gimmick, and the few moments it really shines, it's great.

    I mean, honestly, this thing's an all-timer. Great puzzles, great dungeons, great items, great exploration. My nitpicks, beyond "please stop crashing my emulator", are relatively minor, and didn't come close to ruining what is otherwise an incredible experience.

  • An exquisitely cool, darkly moody adventure game, made by one guy! It's genuinely motivating to see a work this good made by one person.

    This game's world is deeply fascinating, feeling horrifying and unknowable but also the smallest amount friendly and familiar. The puzzles here are really satisfying to solve (except for ending 9, which kind of feels like bullshit? if you've gotten all but one ending and are out of leads, just check a guide, you're not going to guess it), and the endings feel at once meaningful, but also toned down enough so as to not drown in melodrama.

    This game is an exceptionally interesting vibe, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone curious.

  • I regret leaving this unplayed in my library so long, this is an absolute ton of fun! I was under the (wrong) assumption that the game's time limit would have put a lot of pressure on you, that it was gonna have this old-school-Dead-Rising-y push for you to get stuff done fast, but as it turns out, a minute is *such* a short time frame that it wraps all the way around and becomes super chill! Every meaningful piece of progress takes less than a minute, if you biff something it's only a minute wasted, it's super relaxed!

    Genuinely a delight! Lots of neat fun little puzzles and ideas in here, and absolutely nothing overstays its welcome, for obvious reasons. This is maybe the gamiest of the genre of "chill indie exploration games" I've been playing a decent amount of lately, and I think I like it a lot for it.

  • Slight asterisk on this one. Original Pokemon Red and Blue border on completely unplayable, between some excruciating bugs and, just, horrible QoL, so I played this with the Pokemon Red++ ROM hack applied, which fixes a lot of the bugs present in RBY, makes some lifesaving QoL improvements (in particular with movement speed), and adds in the three types added later to the series to improve balance. You can find the hack here, I highly recommend it:

    Yeah, honestly, what can I say about Pokemon Red at this point? It's still really good, and a classic JRPG. The difficulty curve still, as would become grand tradition for all Pokemon games, fuckin nosedives near the end, as I ended up just actively avoiding all optional fights and still steamrolling the last 2 Gyms and the Elite Four, but it was still fun! Also, maybe it's a quirk of the translation, but a lot of this game seems mean in a way I don't normally associate with these games. Like, trainers and gym leaders are much more *malicious* than I remember? Weird!

    Anyways, yeah, it's Pokemon. Still Pokemon, still really good. It was a treat to go back and relive a bit of my childhood, but using the miracles of modern technology to play it how I remember it, not how it was.

  • This game is to me what I think Devil Daggers was to a lot of people. It's a pure, white-knuckle distillation of the thrill of the FPS, into a short, fast as hell game that only takes about 10 minutes to complete a run of.

    FUCK the pacing in this game is insane. Between the intense movement speed, the constant time pressure, and the almost migraine-inducing quick flashes the game makes liberal use of, this game genuinely might have the single greatest sense of speed I've ever felt in an FPS. It's only until after I beat the game and looked at screenshots that I *knew what the enemies were*, that's how fast this game is.

    This thing rules, I'm gonna beat it 1000 more times.

  • You probably don't need me to tell you this, but Final Fantasy VI is fucking incredible.

    A game I played a lot as a kid but never actually beat, Final Fantasy VI was an absolute joy to come back to. It ticks a lot of boxes for things I absolutely love in RPGs: a large, diverse ensemble cast (many of whom are given surprisingly compelling arcs for how large the cast is and how relatively sparse the script is), unique mechanics and abilities for each of those party members, interesting boss fights with tactical dynamics, extremely fine-tunable abilities and skills, a fantastic story, a great villain who's built up through the whole game.

    Honestly, I think this game totally deserves its spot in the pantheon of great RPGs, and still generally holds up as a fantastic game to play in 2021. There are a few bits of friction that come with the territory of playing a SNES game (inventory management namely being a bit of a pain in the ass), but it's just all around an absolutely incredible experience that manages to fit a lot of really really good ideas into what is, by modern standards, a relatively compact package. Incredible.

  • This is a weird one! A classic of the indie RPG Maker scene and one of the earliest real hits out of that scene, OFF is... well, it's sure as hell weird.

    I ultimately dug this, but I feel like it was both too and not enough weird for my taste. The main plot kind of hints at a world and setting, as well as an ultimate theme and idea, but obliquely, to the point where I have trouble wrapping my head around it after the fact, and not in a "fun mind-bender"-y way, but in a "there isn't enough to go on" way. On the other side, the gameplay is relatively bog-standard JRPG faire, with some rather middling puzzle design.

    Still, nevertheless, cool vibes and good ideas abound in this thing, and as a cornerstone of the Weird RPG Maker community, it's hard to deny its charm.

  • I've never actually beaten a 2D Metroid before, so I thought I'd pick up Zero Mission as a nice game I could play on a plane and see the inception point (of sorts) of the Metroidvania genre.

    It's fine! It's fine. It's a good game! I think this game is thoroughly Seinfelded, in that so many games (including Metroid games) have tried to be "Metroid + <other ideas>" that "just Metroid, no plus" feels weirdly plain after the fact. In particular, a lot of post Metroid Metroidvanias have done such a good job at creating progression upgrades that are interesting and work with the world in interesting ways, and in ZM it's really just "various kinds of explosive you can make a block explode with". Can't hold it against it, the game's 30 years old or whatever, but it definitely makes this game feel aged.

    Still glad I played it though!

  • Playing through this collection has reignited a spark within me: Mass Effect is one of the best trilogies of games ever released.

    There are absolutely problems with these games, some through the entire trilogy, others that start and stop between installments, but pound for pound, no other set of games have ever made me care so much about a group of characters, think of them like friends, get excited to see them, to talk to them, quite like Mass Effect. It feels ridiculous, and in hindsight some of the "choices matter" stuff feels kind of ridiculous. The ending is still a little wack. Kai Leng is still stupid. The combat in 1 is still kind of bad. I don't care. I love this world, I love these characters. I love being here in these games.

    I dunno, I think after maybe the shittiest year in living memory, something about coming back to these games, about staying close to your friends, about leaning on the people you care about to overcome what feels like apocalyptic odds, it kind of means a lot to me right now.

  • Uuuuuugh, I have such mixed feelings about this game, which is heartbreaking because I *really want* to love a No More Heroes game unconditionally, I really do.

    They made a lot of good steps forward in Desperate Struggle! The boss fights seem, in general, of a higher quality, which a lot more thoughtful encounter design in the best fights (Margaret especially, what a highlight). There's way less chaff across the board: no crap open world, no bland insta-fail assassination missions, the lead-up to boss fights feel way shorter. The minigames here as well, both the errands, the gym, and the extremely good Cat Minigames, are also all a step above 1's offerings.

    But I can't love this game whole, heartedly, however, because so much of the fundamental gamefeel here is *awful*. The dodge feels sloppy and unresponsive, and not being able to dodge cancel out of button strings in a game that otherwise encourages extremely mashy combat is downright unforgivable. The minigames, while dramatically better! are still bad. And basically every moment the game decides to mix things up and put you behind the wheel of anyone or anything other than Travis, it controls like garbage.

    I feel like No More Heroes is slowly circling an execution I could really really really love, there's just always too many rough edges for me to unconditionally like this series. Fingers crossed for 3!

  • After a 16 year wait, I would have been okay if Psychonauts 2 was a delightful return back to the world of the Psychonauts and Whispering Rock, a fun little jaunt that managed to recapture the whimsy and joy that first game had.

    Psychonauts 2 is one of the greatest games ever made.

    The platforming and levels in this game are wonderful, each delightful adventures into surreal mindscapes just like the first game. But where 2 really, really shines and vaunts itself into legend is in the characters and the writing. The characters in Psychonauts 2 are each interesting, enjoyable to be around, funny (but not, like, MCU Quip Machines), and most importantly, they all grapple with real, genuine problems.

    With a premise like this, it would be so easy to delve into people's minds like "Oh no, they have Brain Goblins, go blast 'em!", and that is sort of the case, but instead everyone whose minds you plumb is dealing with a genuine, real human problem. Less Brain Goblins, and more "the survivor's guilt from the death of my friend has sent me to the bottom of a bottle, which is what killed my own mother". These issues are handled with respect despite whimsy, and they treat these characters like people, not puzzles to be solved. There is a running theme of Psychonauts 2 of redeeming the flaws in oneself, and not allowing you to be consumed in your own failures, which is, just, genuinely wonderful.

    This game is amazing, simply amazing in all regards. A must-play.

  • Hey, y'know, it's fine! It's a match 3. I did a lot of flying the last two months or so, and YMBAB was a great little plane game. I wish the dynamite didn't make the game absolutely /chug/, I wish it was slightly more clear about where the threshold to fail a run was, and I wish the stuff on the boat was slightly more interesting, but hey! It's a good Match 3!

  • What a goddamn video game, Deathloop is an absolute triumph of Arkane leveraging their experience making immersive sims into making something that feels entirely fresh and new, and even though I have some minor quibbles with it, I think it easily belongs in the pantheon of their best games.

    The slow obtaining of mastery, not just of game systems and of increased stats but of knowledge of the world, feels like the perfect distillation of what people normally get through a dozen playthroughs of immsims like Deus Ex and Dishonored, but within a single playthrough and formalized as a part of the game itself. The best part of these games is playing with systems, trying out weird new strategies, unraveling weird, off-the-wall mysteries, and at Deathloop that stuff is at the front and center, alongside Arkane's best combat to-date, some excellent guns, great art direction, wonderful writing and great VO, and delightful stealth.

    My one minor quibble, and it's honestly not even a quibble as just a personal preference, is that I wish the game was a bit more open-ended with letting you put things together. There is *one* way to break the loop (as far as I can tell), and getting all of the parts together to make that happen is layed out in a very idiot-proof, formalized manner, and I just wish there was a bit more flexibility in how you go about that, maybe some more options in "correct" Loops than just the one, but maybe I just need to play more?

    All in all, an absolutely amazing game. Bravo to the team at Arkane Lyon for a masterpiece.

  • Man I am really hitting all of the hottest mobile games of 10 years ago lol.

    Really good! Perfect little puzzle game, has a fantastic core idea that permutates in interesting and intuitive ways as the game goes on, the art style and music are both delightful, and the DLC maps are extremely clever and worth the two bucks. Really nice all around!

  • This is cool, but ultimately ended up falling a smidge short of my expectations. I think I was hoping for something a little bit more systemic, and there are definitely some neat systems here, but I think a lot of it ends up being a little sparse, and the core of the game is mostly just shooting dudes, which, hey! That bit's pretty fun, especially once you get the grapplendix and the jump legs.

    Also, of course, the real best thing here is the aesthetic. Everything looks like dogshit and is an assault on the senses and I love it.