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Best of 2021

In far too many ways this year was just a repeat of the last, but in other strange ways, it was something entirely new. For video games, it feels as if AAA is still spinning its wheels trying to gain some traction into the next generation of hardware. Perhaps that dam of big games is about to burst. In the meantime, there were plenty of new ideas in smaller games to fill those gaps and arguably in better ways.

There were a few games I didn't have enough time to dig into. Shout out to The Forgotten City, Everhood, Inscryption, and Biomutant, all of which I hope to find time for and soon.

List items

  • When Minecraft first came out there were no tutorials, no in-game guides, no role-playing Twitch channels. There was just this strange block game. Valheim is the closest I've ever come to that original Minecraft feeling. Very quickly a small group of friends and I banded together to beat every boss in the game. We unraveled the game together, sharing an experience I had only ever experienced on my own. It's an imperfect game that became the perfect excuse to be together with friends in a very strange world of social distancing. Now if only they'd update it again.

  • Life ain’t easy. It’s an unpredictable ride that, at its worst, feels isolating and lonely. It can be all too easy to slip into the idea that our experiences and struggles are our own, alone. Unpacking showed me that it’s okay if life doesn’t always move upward because you aren’t the only one. We all make the best with what we have and keep moving forward because one day we’ll reach that nice home, with people we love.

  • Sometimes you need that 80 hour, open-world adventure game to while away the hours. Sometimes you wanna suck up a bunch of gunk. None of the puzzles are too easy or too hard. None of the hazards feel too dangerous or deadly. Just like with SteamWorld Dig, The Gunk is the right balance and pace that always left me feeling satisfied and happy.

  • There’s a strange fear I believe a lot of players sometimes have after completing a very good game. That it’ll never happen again. Would there still be enough creative juice left to fill yet another world of pure assassination? Turns out, pretty easily. There’s the Knives Out level, the German club, or the massive winery and vineyard all of which keep the haphazard world of Hitman alive.

  • Pokemon are adorable and cute. Let me stare at the Pokemon as they do adorable and cute things: the game. Littered with the right amount of secrets and unlockables to reward those willing to put in the effort. But still offering that right amount of immediate joy if all you wanna see are some Pokemon hanging out together.

  • I feel that some games lay bare their design loop a bit too often. Loop Hero takes the basic loop and spices it up. I love that the game never explains itself. I love that the simplicity is deceptive. I love that I don’t need to pay total attention to it. Loop Hero is a great game when you want something to play without making it your entire hour. Engaging and casual all at the same time.

  • The first game had some good ideas but they felt stretched thin. Although the sequel doesn’t layer on too much, it expands the idea of creating your own dinosaur park in the right ways. Since I was a kid I always wondered how a properly put together Jurassic Park builder game would look like and for my money, this is the one.

  • It wasn’t much of a surprise to watch Halo slowly fall off over the years. The many sequels and side games weren’t bad, they just weren’t reaching the peak the franchise had been known for. Watching Infinite get that feeling back while adding in the open-world elements is genuinely refreshing.

  • I don’t really like Scrabble. I get frustrated and stumped staring at those letters. And I sure as hell don’t know enough words that contain the letter Q. Babble Royale manages to add just enough items and time crunch to make that pressure a part of the game. I don’t need the best or longest word, I just need a word to survive. You can wildly guess with your letters, praying you to find a word to get you out of trouble. Or slowly plan out your expansion toward another player only to be beaten by that elusive S. Scrabble with killing, what could be better?