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There’s a discussion to be had about “games of the year”, what that means, how to pick them, whether that’s a meaningful discussion at all… I don’t really have much to bring to it. I could outline the arguments, but you know them already. Instead, I’m just going to talk about some (mostly great) games that I played this year, and hopefully inspire others to check them out. These are in no particular order.

Also, some games I wanted to get to, but just didn’t have the time or prerequisites: Inscryption, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, Gunfire Reborn, Psychonauts 2 (which I did watch like three times and is probably the actual game of the year), Loop Hero, Chicory: A Colorful Tale, FFVII Remake Intergrade, Axiom Verge 2, the Outer Wilds DLC, fuckin’ Disco Elysium (still). Also, imagine telling teenage me that they would make a new Pokemon Snap and remake Diamond/Pearl and I would barely play either game. There’s too many damn video games.

List items

  • A game about sneaking aboard ships and stealing tech, assassinating or abducting people, or commandeering ships. Plays like Hotline Miami by way of Superhot. I found the difficulty curve pretty fun, because it’s mostly about learning how you can take advantage of the game systems to do some absolutely ridiculous shit. Would be even better if it had a real-time replay system, a la Katana ZERO, because at the higher end it’s definitely about teleporting into a room and gooning five soldiers in the blink of an eye with a combination of guns, shields, and thrown wrenches.

  • A game about assassinating just, the worst motherfuckers, often via sheer nonsense. The game-to-game transfer of maps and unlocks is a mess, but the games themselves are just a lot of fun, and have the right tone and humor to them. If you’re like the one person who hasn’t checked these out yet, definitely try one.

  • A game about carving up old, abandoned spaceships to get out of debt. Nails the tone of “blue-collar post-Americana, in space”. I played enough of this in early access to know I wanted to hold off until the full release. Lets you do some goofy physics-y shit with grapple beams, too. (Edit: since writing this I played another 22 hours, despite it not yet being at full release. Excellent game.)

  • You know what this is. Also, nobody really knows what this is. I wish it had been able to fully commit to low-/no-combat MGSV. Felt unique enough to play that I don’t mind recommending it, and might revisit it someday. Has some great acting and some top-tier Kojima insanity, for better and worse.

  • Probably in my top five games of all time. Competes with Undertale and Dwarf Fortress in terms of “size of dev team to game quality” ratio. Excellent character and environmental art. Diverse, meaningful music, satisfying SFX work. Feels great to play from start to finish. I felt that the expressive character animation and musical themes combined well with the writing to really make the characters pop. Very polished, as well, and it’s clear time was spent thinking about making the game play smoothly.

    I’m not sure what Konjak has lined up next, but I’m eager to play whatever it is. An absolute diamond of a game.

  • It’s picross. It controls well on mouse or on gamepad. The music and background are soothing, if eventually repetitive, but the humorous titles of completed puzzles stay fresh. A great “one of those”.

  • Jan was absolutely right to push for this to end up on the top ten of its year. An absolutely insane narrative that I can’t believe works — but it does. I have nothing to say about the gameplay, but really, most of the fun is theorizing about what the fuck just happened and trying to figure out what the hell is going on, at pretty much all times.

  • Donut County, but if you controlled a raincloud. Deeper gameplay, but maybe not as much of a narrative. Cute and fun; tried it on a lark and ended up knocking out the whole thing.

  • I’m kind of glad I put this off for two decades — I wouldn’t have clicked with it in 2001. Undoubtedly the best vibes of any game in the series. I’m not sure what I mean by that… I guess it just has a very real atmosphere to me? Plays well enough, too; ditching the ATB system was a refreshing decision. A very solid Final Fantasy.

  • I wrote a review on here on this, and my thoughts on it then are going to be more coherent than anything I can say now. I’ll just reiterate that I really like the quality and diversity of the characters, and I think it serves as a great example of how to write, and how to handle, trauma.

  • A difficult platformer with an interesting movement conceit. Looks and sounds nice, too. Feels unique to play, which is always great.

  • It’s as good as you’ve heard it is.

  • An excellent follow up to Deltarune’s first chapter. Uses both humor and horror more effectively than most games manage to use either. Even if they’re not your style, you should probably play Deltarune and Undertale if you want to understand the influence they have had and will continue to have on video games and Internet culture (whatever that means) for years to come.

  • A lot of games want to be like Link to the Past. This game manages to achieve that while carving out space for itself in that realm. Very funny, with a fresh aesthetic and a great soundtrack. I completed it and immediately replayed it two or three more times, which is a dead giveaway that a game is at least pretty good. Also, this game super holds up on a replay, because a) you can play through it in most any order you want, and b) the puzzle and item design is excellent — puzzles typically have several solutions ranging from “I am solving this the way I am supposed to” to “I am doing some truly heinous shit that I can get away with because I know all of the weird interactions”. Really, excellent puzzles.

  • I… actually didn’t like this. Like, it’s fine. The bosses are fun. I did not find the EMMI segments to instill horror or tension, but tedium, as I often ended up replaying them or moving around in frankly goofy fucking patterns in order to navigate them as safely as possible. And as interesting as the environments are, I found them really slow and boring to navigate, especially if you needed to backtrack or if you missed something and had to spend minutes looping around to go back and get it.

    However, a good 50% of the people who I know beat this game were inspired either to replay it a couple of times, or to pick up speedrunning it. Maybe it’s just that most games are just too fucking long to inspire that in anyone these days, but you just don’t see that much anymore. As I noted earlier, bad games don’t typically inspire that. This is definitely a real game, even if it didn’t click with me.

  • A firefighting game inspired by the SCP foundation from the creator of Dead Cells. Sweet. Fun, but short. I shudder to think how many people bought this, played it to completion, loved it, then immediately refunded it because even a first playthrough can last less than two hours. Would like to see more.

  • It’s difficult to compare this to other Final Fantasies, or most other games in general. Most other games don’t get a failed first execution or a decade to iterate and improve, nor do they have the technical debt and amount of character arcs and storylines to tie up resulting from… a failed first execution and a decade of pre-existing work. Really, it’s hard to even consider this a Final Fantasy. At some point, it became a game about Final Fantasy. Later, it became a game about itself.

    Barring a few missteps (mostly issues with writing that I both do not want to spoil and am not articulate enough to articulate), I think this is an effective conclusion to the first decade or so of this game. Like with Shadowbringers, I cried a lot, burned through it way more quickly than I should have, and now am left feeling both satisfied and kind of sad. It’s weird watching something as sprawling as this get to sum itself up. But it’s neat. It’s hopeful. I appreciated (and, lately, needed) the pragmatic optimism — the relentless hope — that this story is built upon.

    Could I recommend it? Shit, I don’t know. At this point, this game is just too big to truly recommend as a game; it’s more of a hobby or a pastime.

  • Late entry! This might end up my new Spelunky or Dead Cells — a game which I dump 40 hours into up front, love it to death, then boot it up once every month or two until the year 2090. If you haven’t heard, it’s like Mega Man Battle Network x Slay the Spire (or so I hear — I haven’t actually played either game). What that turns out to be is a game that thoroughly tests your reflexes and rewards you for scrutinizing its every aspect, from its enemy patterns to your deck composition. It may not be my game of 2021, but apart from FFXIV, it’ll see play in 2022, 2023, 2024…