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Game of the Year 2021

If I remember 2021 for anything it would be that it was my first year with a gaming PC and as a result spent most of my time on the latest multiplayers with friends or the obscure indie games I'd hear about from the Bombcast or streams. As such this list was filled with shorter, less involved games overall.

Honorable Mentions:

Tales of Arise

Disco Elysium (Director's Cut)

10. New Pokémon Snap

I loved the old Pokemon Snap and in its simple 6 levels came endless replayability... or maybe because I was an uncoordinated 10 year old who couldn't throw bait and snap pics at the same time. The game looks gorgeous, and the Pokemon all interact with the environment in fun, innovative ways at the highest levels, which leads to my biggest issue with this game: the progression. Ramping up each area to the most populated (interesting) levels requires maybe more than a dozen runs of the same course, and the grading system for picture quality is convoluted an confusing; instead of a straight score the game separates photos into 1-4 star categories with a Pokemon's pose/interactions determining what star category your picture belongs in. Because of this there is a lot of trial and error to see what kinds of interactions make up a starred photo. These evaluations are not the same across the board either (a feeding Pikachu may be a 3 star photo whereas a feeding Charmander may only be 1 star). This system, and the fact you may only submit 1 picture of a pokemon per run regardless of star level, pad the game out into a grind and I found myself dropping quickly. For me this is the kind of game to get really into every few months before bouncing back off; which isn't the worst thing.

9. Inscryption

The Indie Darling of 2021 has a fantastic if infuriating first act that simmers to a merely competent game later on. While difficult to talk about this game without spoilers I will say that the story beats did not land for me and though there were many variations on the card game I found myself just wanting to return to the magic of Act One with every twist. Overall I found Inscryption a solid, if frustrating game, and for its price would recommend it to anyone curious about it, as it will surely populate GOTY discussion in the GB spheres.

8. Yakuza: Like a Dragon

I've never been a fan of the Yakuza series of beat em ups, but the idea of throwing fantasy JRPG tropes into the shady urban underbelly appealed to me and though I only managed to get 15 hours in this whole year it has not disappointed and in the past few hours has finally managed to grab its hooks in me.

7. Neo: The World Ends with You

The wait between The World Ends with You and its successor was a long one wrought with pain, with many fake announcements and constant re-releases sprinkled with enough new content to believe something else was on the horizon. Now that this game has finally arrived I can confidently say while it has nailed the spirit of its predecessor, it takes a bit more to modernize the spirit and soul that made the original special. Like the original I believe this games gameplay trumps its simple afterschool-special story. And in that department I think it does very well; there are several pins to use to match playstyle and creating combos out of them provides a lot of depth. I'm looking forward to finishing it.

6. Splitgate/Halo Infinite (Multiplayer)

I attached these games at the hip because functionally, they were the same. I played them in the same group, and the guns and movement occupy the same space in my brain since they are so similar. Somedays we'll boot up Halo, others will be Splitgate. Either way they became the perfect chat n shoot that I'd been missing since becoming the odd man out of my Apex Quartet.

5. Monster Hunter Rise

Much more my speed was the cooperative nature of a Monster Hunter game. Having sunk hundreds of hours into Monster Hunter: World there was not too much different gameplay wise in this game, though the shorter load times (even on switch!) and smaller maps made this a much tighter, fun experience to grind out. Now that this game is coming out on PC I may have to start over and check out an even more polished experience. I'm very much looking forward to it.

4. Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX

The surprise wasn't that I would like this game, having only played a little bit of it at my friends house over 20 years ago. The surprise was that this port came out at all. Monster Rancher on its surface looked like one of many shortlived competitors to Pokemon in the 90s, but experiencing the game now showed me that it is very different. Training monsters and keeping them happy and healthy is a constant juggling act and more often than not end in failure without proper guidance (of which this game gives none). On top of that each monster has a very short lifespan that grows shorter with every failure and with even a hint of fatigue or stress. When these games were first imported, monsters in NA versions were given additional years added to their lifespan, a QoL change absent in this re-release of a Japanese mobile port. Having said all that nothing beats becoming a Monster Champion by inputting "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water" into the disk shrine and getting a giant blank slab named Monol. That's the other thing about this game; the monster designs and names are terrible. Fred Durst gave me a weird grey wall; The Room gave me a dopey looking furry dog-dinosaur. These monsters are ugly. These monsters are unmarketable. I love every single one of them.

No Caption Provided

This ugly little bugger came out of Rod Stewart's Downtown Train. Funny stuff

3. Phasmophobia (version 0.5)

2020's surprise hit Phasmophobia received several substantial upgrades this year to the point where it plays like a different game entirely. While a sleeper hit last Halloween it became easier to rush in the house and plant as much equipment as you could before getting evidence and exiting in a few minutes flat. 2021's updates gave out new ghosts, less predictable interactions, and tinkered both player and ghost speed to make it a faster paced experience. With the studio expanding beyond a single person, I have high hopes for what this game will become once it reaches an official release.

2. Hitman 3

Hitman 3 for me has some of the highest highs and lowest lows of the series. For every murder mystery there was to solve there was another tedious icon hunt for the next story beat and the game suffered for railroading 47 into certain less-favorable situations as the story went forward. These beats were minor though as the Hitman series is strongest with its replayability, to which this game has in spades. Dartmoor, Berlin, and even Dubai have many unique options to sneak, murder, and slapstick your way to some truly incredible moments for the series. This game was bumped to number two as soon as I heard that more maps were coming; it's been almost a year and I am itching right back in to cause more mayhem.

1. Pokémon Unite

Perhaps the biggest change I made this year was my growing curiosity towards Mobas. I had followed other streamers who played League of Legends and was surprised how much I enjoyed watching the tug of war, very similar to the joy I found in Overwatch's pacing. From my first 3 matches in League I could tell that the pace and stress to perform was not for me, but bringing that knowledge to Pokemon Unite gave me more than enough of a headstart to competitive competency. Pokemon Unite has become the de facto group game for my friends and I and can comfortably play for a half hour to several hours thanks to the short match times and the closely competitive nature those matches bring out (Teams aren't usually completely out of it until they lose Zapdos around the 2 minute mark which can be sniped by a lucky player every so often.) I adore the frequent updates and balance changes in this game and am glad that the famously toxic MOBA community is mostly silenced outside of occasional griefing. The pay 2 win aspects are severely overstated and thanks to item level caps don't affect a majority of players below the highest ranks. If I had any gripe it would be that they are not nerfing Tsareena quick enough (though past history shows they will sooner rather than later). I can see myself getting thousands of hours in by this time next year, and that is something I never thought I would say about a game.

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