My Best Games of 2021

Because multiple people started asking me about what I played and liked this year, here's the list. No Metroid Dread though. I certainly enjoyed it, but once I wanted to put into words what I thought about it, I stumbled upon my Samus Returns article and realised I already wrote those. Has a way more massive speedrunning endgame for the hardcore, making it perfect for first-timers and niche-enthusiasts, with little in-between.

Anyway, here we go.

5. Castlevania Advance Collection

Is this cheating straight out of the gate? Yeah, it sure is. Three classic metroidvania titles, each with their own strengths and weaknesses but stuck together they're an incredible package and way too much fun to play through once again. There are some niggles overall: the new features added to this collection are clashing severely with the style of the original games and no adjustments have been made to visually compensate for the original GBA screens used, but hey, apart from that this is an insane deal. Even if it does mean sending Konami money for doing the bare minimum.

4. Cyber Shadow

I thought it was just a nice retro-platformer, but it turned out to be a superb 2D game that picked up some moves from its 3D character action game brethren instead. The soundtrack is killing it in the way that the murderer is nowhere to be found on streaming services or Bandcamp, but you really need to find him, and the game's flow is exceptionally smooth with great escalations of skill applications. Just a nice, comforting slice of apple pie like grandma makes now that she has her new prosthetic.

3. Axiom Verge 2

The first was my personal Metroid V way before the current owner Metroid Dread hit the scene and the sequel is... completely different. Well, it builds upon a lot of stuff from the original, but it also manages to bend it over backwards to more exploration and navigation, to the extent that - for all intents and purposes - you can turn the combat off in the settings, and are still left with a game that's amazing. If your idea of a good metroidvania is scratching that exploratory itch, figuring out where to go next and how to get there, then boy is this a treat.

1. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut & Returnal

This is really just a shared first place, as I've been aching for months now trying to discern which of the two I prefer over the other. Both these games are instant classics but on completely different grounds. So please accept my dirty cop-out.

Disco Elysium is simply the best RPG this side of Planescape: Torment, while Returnal might be the best thing Housemarque has ever produced (which is saying something).

Like Axiom Verge 2, Disco Elysium also bends the notion of genre almost to its breaking point. It constantly threatens combat, violence even. But it never wants to give in. Until it does and then it becomes one of the most gut-wrenching clicks on text I have ever made. Looking back on it, it's simply a lush, luxurious, and elaborately designed conversation tree, but it really doesn't matter once you are enjoying the sturdiness of its branches as they hold up an abundance of characters. And that's not even touching upon the game's setting and world building. Or the narration that makes Bastion look like amateur hour. Or the politics. Oh god, the politics. It's the RPG for RPG nerds, and it clings to your mind for way too long, in the way a good book would do.

Not to be outdone, Returnal also bends the notion of genre, branding itself a roguelite, but in the same fashion that a salad at McDonald's can be regarded to be the healthy option. The unlock highs are very rare, but true progression can be found in the twitch skills you build up during each subsequent run. It's not easy, it even feels a tad miserable at times ("THE DARK SOULS OF SHOOTERS?!"), but when it flows, it flows beyond into the gaping void within your brain and makes you forget the outside world. Wading and dashing through the projectile showers feels refreshingly new, yet strangely comfortable, with a thick sci-fi Twin Peaks sauce slathered all over. If you've ever played Super Stardust or Nex Machina and wondered what it would be like to be in that world, Returnal is your golden ticket. If you just want good shootey bang bang game, it still doesn't lose its lustre. God knows why Housemarque thought a suspend-save feature was not needed, though.

Honourable mentions

Honourable meh-ntions