In the past, I've written long-winded reviews of my favorite games of the year under the guise of ranking them as a top ten list. That took a lot of time and I don't feel like doing it again, so in lieu of that, please enjoy these categories I made up off the top of my head and the award winners for each one.
The Hollow Knight Award for Best Metroidvania with a Major Glaring Flaw
Samus Returns was good, and Samus Returns 2: This Time It's Harder and On the Switch is also good!
Goodness is this game linear. After playing Hollow Knight, which is a very, very good game with a very, very terrible map system that is generally non-linear in how it presents the world to you, it's disappointing to essentially be railroaded down one path. I spent a lot of time in Dread trying to figure out what the one room that would let me progress was, which, y'know, not great. Overall the game was fun though. I liked it.
The Spore Award for Best Glorified Tech Demo
whoa it's like odyssey but without motion controls!!! forced time cycle stuff annoying!!! was still fun!!!
The Slay the Spire Award for Please Copy This Game
I think I ultimately found Loop Hero a bit disappointing. The game moves slower than I like it to (though I believe they've since patched this? not sure), and the central mechanic of "put tile next to other tile to get third contextual tile" is super cool, but could be fleshed out more I feel.
That said, I love tile placement board games and this is just a video game version of that and so it's fun.
The Mass Effect 2 Award for Best Mass Effect of 2021
Mass Effect (2007)
I commentated a speedrun of this and it was fun. mako my beloved.
The Boxie Award for Best Cat
The Pokémon Sapphire Award for Best Pokémon Release
New Pokémon Snap
I honestly never really cared that much for the original Snap. It's a novel thing and all, but I never had an N64, and so I have no nostalgia for it. By the time I did play it, I just felt the whole thing was a bit thin.
New Snap fixes that by having WAY more Pokémon and also being gorgeous. Holy moly are there some PRETTY POKES IN THIS GAME.
It's just cute and pleasant idk. There's only two other real competitors for this category: Pokémon Unite, which is surprisingly fun but also very one-dimensional when it comes to its macro gameplay, which, as a reformed Dota 2 addict, really limited its longetivity for me; and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, which are hot messes that I did enjoy casually but are 6.5 out of 10 games at best. I could write a whole article on my problems with BDSP honestly.
The Pokémon Alpha Sapphire Award for Pokémon Alpha Sapphire
Pokémon Alpha Sapphire
The Dragon Age: Origins Award for Game I Was Looking Forward To But Just Wasn't For Me And That's Okay
Darkest Dungeon II
The original Darkest Dungeon is one of my favorite games ever. I love a roguelike, and I love a turn based RPG, and I love a game that lets you name your
death fodder beloved party members after your friends. For years I was convinced Darkest Dungeon's quirk system would get copied by, like, everything, and yet it never was. Please copy the quirk system. It's very good.
Darkest Dungeon II is a Slay the Spire-like without decks but with Darkest Dungeon's combat. It's a run-based game. Despite loving both Slay the Spire and the original Darkest Dungeon, II just didn't do it for me. The first game had its flaws – the "treadmill" of grinding various parties up to eventually take on the titular Darkest Dungeon is often cited as a huge barrier to sticking with the game – but one of it's strongest aspects for me is how attached I got to my party members. Deaths in the original game felt meaningful. I'd watched these characters grow from level 0 to the combat monsters they are today and goddamn stupid shambler encounter I swear to god awjeirojaweriwerwer PLEASE.
II suffers from the same "flaw" as XCOM: Chimera Squad: by replacing emergent storylines with pre-written ones, it takes away some of the charm. I put "flaw" in quotes because it's not inherently a flaw; there's obviously a lot of games with storlines that I quite like. Something about giving me that and then taking it away, though, just never works for me.
The animations are gorgeous though. They look SO GOOD. The combat is better designed, as well, so I honestly still recommend the game. It's a really good game, it just didn't do what I wanted, and again, that's okay.
The Game of the Year Award for Game of the Year
I liked the original Psychonauts well enough, but never finished it. That's not a judgment on the game, I'm just bad at finishing games.
It's very hard to talk about Psychonauts 2 without spoiling all the cool and/or hilarious shit it does, so just play it. It's on Game Pass. It's so goddamn good y'all. They somehow made a PS2-era game in 2021 and it's incredible.
The Control Award for Second Best Game of the Year That You Should Also Play
Deltarune: Chapter 2
I didn't play Chapter 1 until Chapter 2 came out because I forgot about it. Chapter 1 is very good. Chapter 2 is just a long-form shitpost and it's great. Go play it.
The "I'm sorry, my companion, but no. We all have our own destinies, and yours cumulates here. I would not rob you of that." Award for Best DLC That Is Really More of a Sequel
Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye
My 2019 Game of the Year was Outer Wilds because it's incredible and awe-inspiring and thought-provoking and if you haven't played it, go do that now. This year they released a DLC, and it's, like, good? It's not as good as the base game, but it does some cool stuff.
It's not really connected to the base Outer Wilds, though. And that feels weird when you consider how tight Outer Wilds is as a narritive experience – you discover information all over the solar system that all pieces together to solve the puzzle. You can't just stick a DLC into that framework without entirely reworking the game, and so they didn't, and, yeah, that makes sense. Echoes of the Eye is essentially a paralogue that you can work on instead of the main plot, and it works, it just feels weird as a DLC. I dunno. I think I just got sick of flying to the same place over and over again, which was a bit annoying in the base game but was at least understandable.
It's a genuinely unnerving experience, though. Play with the lights on.
The Burnout Paradise Award for Best Forza Release of 2021
Forza Horizon 5
It's more Forza Horizon. It's rad. Highly recommend.
Other Games I Played This Year (This Is Not an Award)
Back 4 Blood
Left 4 Dead with more interesting progression. The dialogue in this game is horrible, but the game is overall pretty fun.
Winner of the Worst Default Control Scheme award. Didn't play much of this because it was very buggy on release, but I might go back and try it more, cuz it's cute.
Monster Hunter Rise
Wirebugs good. Not being able to play on PC at high frame rate bad. Capcom's online services remain a nightmare. The tower defense stuff is horrible. Overall fun game. Bring back the delicious look food, the mochi is not as good.
Winner of the Best Movement award. It's still fun!
Caves of Qud
Neat game, I'm really, really bad at it. Also fuck off I don't know vim controls.