Top 10 Best Games of 2021

It’s that time of year. The time where every reviewer starts putting together their top ten lists of whatever they’ve experienced. Now, I haven’t been doing this blog that long (a few months), but I’m still going to follow this tradition. Because I want to and lists are fun (see my top Metroidvania list).

For this, I will be listing every game that I experience for the first time on the system I’m listing it for. That doesn’t mean the game is necessarily new. While it’s awesome that some reviewers can get games as soon as they come out, others of us are left with getting them when a sale hits and the price becomes reasonable. This is entirely based on my opinion as I’m making the list, but it’s going to be filled with games that got good scores.

Also, I will be making lists for my favorite television shows, books, and possibly graphic novels too. While this blog is mostly dedicated to Switch Games, I do review other things as well.

10 Guacamelee 2

I almost didn’t buy this game.

I didn’t really care all that much for the first entry in the series. I thought it was alright, but it’s weird system didn’t really do it for me. On top of that, the story was funny and somewhat different, but at times just didn’t feel all that special. It felt normal to me.

Guacamelee 2 improves on the original in every way. The story is a bit more unique, if stretching a bit to get the sequel going (there’s alternate universes). The gameplay feels sharper to me, helped by the fact that you’re a chicken more often (seriously). And there are fun little bits throughout the story. It felt genuinely engaging, and they did an excellent job making the main villain feel like a mirror of Juan, the hero. It’s all too easy to see the main character becoming the villain.

It’s also a Metroidvania where I nearly 100% completed (I didn’t get quite all the heart and energy upgrades, because I didn’t feel like I needed them). The system was rewarding, the story engaging, and the fights fun.

9 Shantae and the Seven Sirens

In my Metroidvania listing, I pretty much stated that the Shantae series is the stand in for the various cartoony Metroidvanias that are out there. It’s a sub-genre of the game that frankly should be more popular than it is, particularly given how often Metroidvanias lean on “destroyed world on the brink of collapse” (I blame Hollow Knight).

The game leans into this idea that you should be having fun. While it’s definitely an adventure with stakes, those stakes still feel lighthearted. Yes, the island will blow up, but, uh, everyone can kinda get free if need be and we all know Shantae’s going to save everyone.

The production is absolutely fantastic here, with brilliant animation and engaging set pieces. The voice acting is on point (Christina Vee plays Shantae, and she’s always great); it really feels like everyone who made this had a blast, which makes it that much easier to do the same as a player.

It doesn’t quite reward exploration as well as some Metroidvanias (like the one I just mentioned), but it’s still enough to get me to branch out and look around. The combat felt solid, and I always felt like the balance was just right. They’re apparently introducing a new patch to this, so I’ll probably return to the game and write a full review when I finish that (though this is already the second time I’ve written on it, sooooo….)

8 Pokemon Snap

What’s this? A game that’s not a Metroidvania or RPG? A triple A title? What is this doing here? (Spoilers: at least two others on this list don’t fulfill this category). I literally just wrote the review for this one a few days ago, and my opinion still stands from that: Pokemon Snap is a genuinely fun experience that made me feel like a kid again.

I’m just old enough that “feeling like a kid again” is something I seek out. This game specializes in giving you those moments of wonder, where you see your favorite Pokemon out in the wild doing adorable or impressive things, where you watch as you’ve managed to get two pokemon to engage in an epic, real time contest of strength and will, or where you just find the secret path.

Oh, it’s repetitive, and the story is laughable (but somehow fully voice acted and animated?). But the experience alone is enough to make it rank above the rest of the games here. And yeah, nostalgia definitely counts (this is objectively a worse game than the previous two entries; I’ll say that bluntly. it’s gonna be your subjective reaction to Pokemon that sells this to you).

7 Saga Frontier Remaster

This one feels a bit like cheating. I knew going in this game was going to be at least alright: I owned and beat the original Playstation version of it. For the readers who don’t know, this is a classic JRPG from the 90’s era. That’s the time right around Final Fantasy 7’s release, where it felt like every RPG from Japan was being launched at us. Surely at least one more would hit at that FF7 level.

What I love about this is that it almost feels like they just put whatever they wanted into its interconnected world and expected people to go along with it. Vampires (excuse me: Mystics)? Sure, they rule over the secret realm and do spoopy stuff in the shadows. Robots? Of course! There’s a whole conspiracy to take over the world. Monsters? Oh yeah, they think and have their own dimensional world that’s collapsing. Superheroes? Totally a thing, and they fight crime syndicates.

Again: this is all one world in one game. Most of my favorite parties included a lesbian vampire swordswoman, the twin who will kill his brother for magic, a superhero, a cute black dragon, a bum who punches things, and those are just most of the protagonists.

On top of that, this game is an excellent example of doing a remaster right. The graphics are vastly improved, they’ve added a fast forward button that lets you zoom through battles, the soundtrack is still amazing, they left all the fun glitches (you can get infinite bazookas), and there’s an additional story that I admittedly never fully played through.

I actually preordered this game. I then sat and played through an entire character’s story in one sitting the day I bought it (Asellus the lesbian vampire, btw; best story). It’s how remasters should be done.

6 Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Remember how I said that with Guacamelee 2 I didn’t care as much for the prequel? Yeah, that applies here too.

Don’t get me wrong: the Ori series is breathtakingly gorgeous. The graphics are absolutely stellar, with brilliant use of light. And the story is absolutely engaging. It feels like something from Miyazaki or another master storyteller.

The sequel here tops all that.

Okay, it’s debatable if the story is better. It’s still engaging, but at times feels like it’s stretching things. Ori’s teamed up with the child of the first game’s antagonist, a cute little owl that has issues flying. Together they overfly using one of Ori’s previous powerups and the bird’s abilities (a great in-game way to explain why a char loses all her abilities between games). They land on a dying forest and Ori has to save everyone.

But they fixed everything. The deaths no longer feel cheap. The jumps are just a tad more forgiving. The combat is engaging and rewarding. The exploration has some of the best rewards, mixing genuine new abilities with lore in a way that’s way up there.

And that ending. I don’t wanna ruin it ,but it’s melancholic, it’s realistic, it’s hopeful, and it’s everything I’d want in a video game’s ending story.

Also the game is gorgeous.

5 Lost Words

What’s this? That surprise game I mentioned out of no where that nobody’s heard of that’s actually been out for years is in my top 5? Again, I wrote a complete review of this one, and everything I said there holds. There’s just something so intimately engaging about this. It almost feels like a game that was created for people who don’t like video games, who think that it’s nothing but mindless engaging stuff.

You know, those that only know video games from cell phone games, or from those on Facebook (or from the halycon days of Nintendo).

Here the game and the story are so intertwined that they constantly feed off one another. The characters feel real: you’ve seen this story before, and it’s all the more heartwrenching and heartwarming as a result. It’s about the power of story and hope and it’s all tied up in an interactive experience that forces you to experience every moment.

Seriously, if you can: play this game; anyone can do so, and it deserves more attention than it’s getting.

4 Ikenfell

Okay, from here on out it gets hard for me. It’s almost like picking my favorite children, with a lot of perfect scores to hand out. Or, you know, this one, which I keep remembering months after playing it.

It might be because I bought the soundtrack (it’s amazing and I play music while I Dungeon Master DnD), so I’m constantly listening and engaging.

It might be because the experience felt so real and raw to me.

Or maybe it’s just that this is precisely the sort of game I like. One that combines unique combat with a fun story, engaging characters, and yeah, romance. I like romance in my stories: I like it a lot. I read romance novels. It gives me warm fuzzies. Ikenfell gave me warm fuzzies (there are at least two adorable romances and one cute crush).

Objectively, this game should rank a lot lower. It’s not as well put together as pretty well everything on this list. The dungeons are repetitive, I’m still annoyed by the sheer amount of healing items, and there’s awkwardness abounding. But for me, this is the game I’m still thinking about as I put this list together.

3 Deltarune: Chapter 2

Part of me isn’t sure about adding this. It’s less a game than a section of a game, and the whole game promises to be much bigger. But it’s also one of the few games I’ve played this year I’d call outright perfect. It’s perfectly done. The story tells something unique. The characters are wholesome, believable, and engaging. The combat works in a nonviolent approach that’s not boring (*cough*Undertale*cough*). I loved that we could group up to hug. Or that we had to dance battle our way to victory.

It’s technically not complete, but this little slice was just too amazing not to be celebrated. It also didn’t surprise me that it came during that Fateful Nintendo Correct, right along with several other excellent drops (including some like Actraiser which just fell short of this list). But it’s free, and I enjoyed this title more than some games I’ve dropped $30 or more on. For someone who games on a budget, that matters.

2 Hades

Okay, yeah, this technically came out last year. I also played it during its pretesting period, beat it several times there (including playing all the way through the story on top of doing several successful runs). I fully demolished it before playing the Switch version. I also don’t know 100% that I finished my story playthrough on the Switch in 2021 or 2020, though it would’ve had to be at the tail end of 2020 (game came out on the Switch in September).

If you’re at all into games, you already know Hades is amazing. It comes from Supergiant games, makers of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. And I’d give the lowest among those games an 8 (Pyre’s another 10, a game I play through once a year, though it’s sadly not on my Switch). It’s a rogue-like game, which means that the difficulty is insane and they expect you to die. In this, you’re Zagreus, son of Hades, who is fighting to escape the Underworld. The player eventually finds out that Zag’s mother is out there somewhere (it’s who you think it is), and he’s working to get to her. Each time, you venture out into a changing Underworld and fight through the various levels of Greek mythology.

The gameplay is fast and engaging, sure. It feeds into that “one more run” impulse in a lot of us, and nearly all gamers. But what did it for me was the characters and story.

At its core, Hades is about family. there’s some bits about relationships: the romance in this is incredibly well done and quite unique (it leans toward polyamory, though that’s optional). Let me put it this way: you romance a floating medusa head, and yes, she’s amazing. (You also can romance death and a fury, and yes, one of those is male).

But the main story details a family that’s fallen apart and is working to come together. Your struggle becomes about fixing that family as much as anything. On top of that, you meet other people and help them, growing closer to the world around you. It’s brilliantly well done, and there are times when I think Hades might be my favorite game of all time, dethroning Final Fantasy 9 (which isn’t perfect; they botch the last portion of that game).

And with that, you gotta wonder about my favorite.

Honorable Mentions

(psych; gotta do this)

Actraiser: Renaissance – almost made the list with its oddness and surprise drop; just not quite as good as Guacamelee 2

Sundered – eldritch horror meets hand drawn animation meets Metroidvania meets fun story. Why not on the list? Basically, the random elements kinda throw it off.

CrisTales -I like this game more than most. But it feels like when a student submits a really good draft: I can see a better product in here than I actually got. Go back and revise and resubmit.

Afterparty – f**k this game’s ending. f**k the mandatory stacking the cup bull**** that ruined my entire f**king playthrough with its nonsense.

Now that that’s out of my system…

1 Spiritfarer

This game isn’t perfect. The gameplay loop gets a bit redundant. It feels a little stretched…

… oh who am I kidding. I found this game perfect. It’s a whole experience that deals with something so incredibly deep that it feels wrong to talk about it in a casual manner, particularly after I just made the joke about Afterparty (which, ironically, deals with a similar subject manner in a much different manner).

This is a game about death. You control Stella, who’s taking over Charon’s job as the boatman. Your job is to journey across a realm and gather passengers onto your boat. You help them adjust to their life as newly dead. You give them what they want: you feed them, you build their homes, you answer their questions, you hug them.

Then you take them to the blood red sea and guide them to their eternal, final rest.

Just mentioning this has me tearing up. That’s why I haven’t written about this game yet (that and they’re still releasing DLC and promise to finish with all the characters by the end of this year). I can still vividly recall meeting that old hedgehog woman. The one who reads mystery novels, the same ones you do. you escort her through a town and talk about books.

then she loses her memory. Finds her body failing her. Everyone knows it. And you have to take her away.

I’m literally bawling about remembering this. I played this game eight months ago. It’s that emotional. It hits you differently than any other game, nearly any other media. There’s a lengthy documentary that goes into depth about how the developers went the extra mile, basing each character after people they knew. And I guarantee you each one is gonna hit you different: they’re all different experiences with death. Maybe it’ll be the child who died too soon, the gaming adventurer, the bickering married couple, the cancer survivor who eventually succumbs to “her dragon”, the lost uncle, the artist who wants to create, I can’t say.

What I can say is that it’s eight months later, I’m crying as I write this, and I remember every detail. I know why I stayed up till 2 AM playing this, refusing to put down my controller. Why I knew from the jump I’d be writing on this. Almost why I wanted to put this list together.

I’ll put my full thoughts together on this game at some point in the nearish future. But it’s an experience worth having.

(I hope that lists like these also help you to see my personal tastes and preferences regarding games, which I find important. I’d encourage anyone interested to pick up any of the games on this list, except maybe some of the honorable mentions. Several go beyond expectation of games, and I think we don’t always hear enough about those. I’m hoping I can continue to provide that more in depth perspective, and that’s what I intend to keep providing to whomever is reading this).

2 thoughts on “Top 10 Best Games of 2021

    1. Spoopy is a sort of internet slang term used for something that’s “spooky” but stated in a more comedic way (in this case, I’m making fun of how over the top the game portrayed the Mystics).

      Like

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