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Marino

Is it the shoes?

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Best of 2021

Twenty twenty-one. Better year than 2020, but still a steaming pile of hot garbage as far as years go. It wasn't the best year for games either. Not terrible, but definitely not one for the record books. That seems to be standard for "year after new consoles launch" when you look at years like 2014. It's just that this year the trend was exacerbated by... well... *waves arms around wildly gesturing at everything*

For me, there were large portions of the year where I just felt completely unmotivated to play or do much of anything. There were games that seemingly were made for me that I just found myself not giving a fuck after a few hours. I often found myself just going to the "comfort" games where I could more easily mentally check out for a bit.

Anyway... we made it to the end once again, so we are contractually obligated to list the things we liked in a numbered order as we have always done. So, without further ado, here are my favorite games from 2021.

[OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING]

Mentions

Don't kink shame.
Don't kink shame.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim - I played this right after completing my GOTY list last year in early January. I'm not big on visual novels, but this time-bending story from Vanillaware was great and I'm glad Jan got it onto the site's list.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons - Yes, I still check in. No, I still don't have all the art. Fuck you, Redd!

Chicory: A Colorful Tale - I love the message this game tells and the music is great, but playing it on console clearly isn't the best option. If I had a PC, I'd probably give it another shot.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Intermission - I played all that Fort Condor.

Ghost of Tsushima: Director's Cut - I relish the opportunity to keep using this game's photo mode. The new content is pretty good too.

Petting the monkeys was worth the price of admission.
Petting the monkeys was worth the price of admission.

Hades - Finally played it thanks to Game Pass. I get it now.

Mario Golf: Super Rush - I hate to say this, but we gotta stop expecting Nintendo to get back to making sports games the way they used to do it. I'm part of the problem. Gotta stop buying these.

Persona 5 Strikers - This should've been right up my alley, but I couldn't get past the first 8 hours or so. I think this speaks more to my mental state at the time than the game though. The game is clearly more than just "a Persona Musou" game. It feels more like a real sequel than I would've thought.

Picross S: Genesis & Master System Edition - Jupiter will keep making picross games and I will keep buying them. That is my promise. I just hope they keep making themed sets like this one.

10. Mass Effect Legendary Edition

Oh, Mordin...
Oh, Mordin...

Much like last year, I'm using this #10 spot for a remaster that worked as comfort food in a largely crummy year. Throughout the summer, I platinum'd all three games in the trilogy, and had a great time. I thought maybe I'd run out of steam partway through considering how I relatively recently watched all of Mass Alex, but nope. I couldn't get enough. I did every possible mission and side quest. It's still the best trilogy in video games. Sure, the ending in ME3 isn't great, but journey there is unbeatable. Still, would feel weird putting it any higher on a list of 2021, so here we are.

9. Metroid Dread

Samus is a badass and she knows it.
Samus is a badass and she knows it.

Before this year, I had never finished a Metroid game despite owning many of them. They just never were my thing. But, I figured it's been a long time, so let's give it another shot. Something about these types of games (I'm not gonna say the word) just doesn't work for me. My brain wants to clear out an area before moving on, but in Metroid Dread you have to just keep pushing forward and then endlessly backtrack. Despite getting my ass handed to me about 25 times by the final boss, I made it through and overall had a fun time. Maybe I'll be ready for another one in seventeen years.

8. Tales of Arise

Yes, there are silly hats and sunglasses you can equip.
Yes, there are silly hats and sunglasses you can equip.

I bought this game on a whim. You know... sometimes you're just sitting around the house in the middle of September and are like "I need a JRPG right now." You feel me? I own a few of the Tales games, but never got deep into them. There's nothing incredibly unique about the narrative here. It's laughably another story about an amnesiac protagonist who's almost immediately forced to team up with a member of "the enemy", but if you can get past that, the game super fun to play. The combat is extremely flashy has some serious fighting game elements in there. We know tons about LiMB Systems around here of course. and even though they don't do a great job forcing you to play as the other characters in the group, you definitely should. They're all very different from each other, which keeps the encounters fresh throughout the long journey.

Also, there's fishing. And it's HARD!

7. MLB The Show 21

It's wild to me that they got the Chick-fil-a cow in the stadium now. Before they had the license, they replaced it with a dalmatian.
It's wild to me that they got the Chick-fil-a cow in the stadium now. Before they had the license, they replaced it with a dalmatian.

MLB The Show has been the best sports sim on the market for many years, but it never gets any recognition or awards. The quality of life enhancements they've made in recent years are incredible and truly let the player decide how they want to play. Not just the modes themselves, but intricate options within the modes themselves. If you wanna play all 9 innings of every game for an entire season, you can do that. If you want to play as only one player, you can do that. If you want to switch your created player from a slugger third baseman to a pitcher in the middle of your career, you can do that now. You can also entirely ignore the cards and "Stubs" microtransactions and still have countless hours of baseball fun here. It's really up to you. Obviously I'm never gonna sell someone on it if they don't already like baseball, but it's on Game Pass now, so what do you have to lose?

Side note: For the first time ever, I took my Road to the Show player from AA minor leagues to leading the Braves to a World Series. Then the real life Braves won the whole thing too. Coincidence?!

No Caption Provided

6. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

Snagging your Walkman out of mid-air in the midst of a galactic dragon fight... this game is good.
Snagging your Walkman out of mid-air in the midst of a galactic dragon fight... this game is good.

Straight up. This game is way better than it has any right to be. The way it was presented ever since E3 has been kinda terrible, but it had some decent word-of-mouth, so I picked it up during Black Friday and I was not disappointed. Much like the Guardians themselves, this game is greater than the sum of its parts. It's a fun ride from beginning to end with incredible set pieces, and the story delves deeper into the characters than the MCU films do in some ways. By the end, I found myself liking these versions of the characters as much if not more than the movie versions. The combat is a bit shallow and repetitive, but most of the fights are relatively quick. One of the best compliments I can give a game is that it's "not a podcast game", and this is true here. These characters never stop talking, but not in that repetitive, quippy, annoying way. They constantly have contextual and interesting things to say, which makes the ragtag crew of the Milano seem more captivating.

5. Unpacking

She kept those GameCube games for a long time. Priorities.
She kept those GameCube games for a long time. Priorities.

Can you tell someone's life story with boxes? This game proves that you can. I'm that guy that still has shelves and shelves of games all neatly alphabetized. So, this game pushes a lot my organization buttons. In addition to that though, I found it fun to see what items she kept through the stages of her life, how the boxes became more organized, and how they were able to convey storytelling without hardly any voice or text.

There's this one level where she moves in with a boyfriend and it's immediately clear that he is not willing to move any of his stuff. It's nigh impossible to fit your stuff in there, but the final straw is that the devs specifically made sure that there is no wall space to put your college degree on the wall. Literally the only place you can put it is under the bed. I was like "well, this relationship just ain't gonna work" and, sure enough, it didn't. Unpacking is such a unique game that it easily left an indelible mark on this year for me.

4. Forza Horizon 5

Never been a better time to fly through Mexico.
Never been a better time to fly through Mexico.

Forza Horizon has always been good. It's been the best racing franchise for almost a decade. But, this fifth installment is the cream of the crop. Yes, it's a stunning showpiece for a new console like racing games seemingly always are, but it's so much more than that. The open world of Mexico has fun and exciting events around every turn. It's actually overwhelming when you first get started and see how many icons start populating the map, but the range of events types so varied that the experience never gets old. I continuously found myself thinking "okay, just one more event" when it was past time to stop playing. At some point, I stopped trying to systematically clear out areas and just let the roads (and off-roads) take me wherever the nearest thing was regardless of event type.

Did I mention you can race against luchadors?

3. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Hopefully Rivet is here to stay.
Hopefully Rivet is here to stay.

It's kinda ridiculous how good Insomniac has been lately, right? Prior to the 2016 remake, I had fallen off the more recent games in the Ratchet series. But, that game from five years ago is still one of the best damn looking games on the PS4 especially if you have a nice TV. Now, with the PS5, Insomniac has set the bar quite high once again. It's visually stunning no matter which graphics mode you decide to use. Visuals aside, it's simply a joy to play. Flipping back and forth between all the guns and gadgets has never been easier, and combining them in some of the big battles never gets old. On top of all the flashy explosions and shiny toys, Rift Apart has an abundance of heart too. Rivet and Kit are immediately endearing as newcomers and I can't wait to see where they go next ...in like 7 years when Insomniac is done with Spider-Man 2 and Wolverine and whatever else.

2. Halo Infinite

A man and his hologram.
A man and his hologram.

I am by no means a super Halo fan. I didn't even have an original Xbox until a couple years after launch. I didn't like Halo 4 much and completely skipped Halo 5. So, when Halo Infinite was first shown and then delayed for over a year, I was quite skeptical. But, they fuckin' did it. Halo Infinite is great. The multiplayer is stellar and they did an excellent job making the open world campaign still feel like Halo.

Despite not being a sweaty FPS competitor, something about Halo multiplayer just clicks with me. While it is competitive obviously, it feels like everyone's just there to have a good time. Hardly anyone ever speaks, so there's no way I can prove this of course. Maybe I'm delusional. All I know is I'm having fun even when I'm losing. Yeah, the battle pass progression isn't great, but they've already made several improvements in the first few weeks. Personally, I don't think it's too slow. I'm already level 80 and this thing is supposed to go until May 2022? My main gripe was that the weekly goals often make people do things that don't necessarily contribute to the team, while the in-match medals and points system was meaningless. They've already fixed that a little bit with new types of goals that are based on performance, so that's a great step in the right direction.

While it's disappointing that campaign co-op isn't there yet, I had a blast ghosting, wasping, and grapple shotting my way around the shattered sections of Zeta Halo. I even found three skulls without help! That grapple shot is just so damn fun though. It feels like it's been part of the series forever. And when that classic music swells during big moments... damn. I look forward to coming back to Halo Infinite for a long time.

1. Kena: Bridge of Spirits

The game is gorgeous from beginning to end.
The game is gorgeous from beginning to end.

Several people have called it the "Best PS2 Game of 2021" and, in the most endearing way possible, that could not be more true. Some might see that as a pejorative, but it most definitely is not. If you loved that era of 3D action-adventure-platformer-whateverthehells, this is the game for you. It truly feels like a modern day evolution of that style of game.

The world is gorgeous and chock full of unique puzzles. The story is loaded with of heart and emotion beyond just "restore the world from corruption". The most surprising thing about Ember Lab's first game, though, is the difficulty. On its surface, Kena: Bridge of Spirits seems like it would be a casual stroll through a beautiful action-adventure game, but after a couple hours, it really starts kicking your ass if you're not careful. This is my only real complaint about the game; the difficulty spikes with the boss fights is a bit much. I welcome the challenge, but it just feels like whiplash sometimes. With that said, some of the late game boss fights are incredible despite how hard they are.

While some people have distilled their description of the game down to "what if Zelda and Ori had a baby?", they're ignoring a dollop of Dark Souls in the mix. Minor gripes aside, I love this game. After multiple delays, it's nice to see a game live up to expectations. After the final boss, I spent several hours exploring the world and finding the rest of the collectibles to get that platinum trophy and only wish there was more. I can't wait to see what Ember Lab does for the second game with this experience under their belt.

Peace out, 2021. <>
Peace out, 2021. <>

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