Mo’s Games of 2021
So, it’s that time of year again, ain’t it? This is the third annual “Mo’s Games of the Year that He Really Liked and wants to Highlight’’ entry in the writing and is the last piece of work I’m doing for the year because the next two Fridays are taken up by Christmas Eve and New Years respectively and ain’t nobody reading anything during those days, so I might as well get this out of the way now. There are some honorable mentions for this list but I want to have this be dedicated to the main 10 that I got narrowed down because even though 2021 was mostly kind of a delay-filled year because of the Pandemic, a lot of really good videogames came out this year. Just to get them out of the way: Halo Infinite and Final Fantasy XIV are not on the list because the former came out in its entirety last week and while it’s really good, it just barely missed my cut-off point for eligibility, and the latter I’ve not put nearly enough time into to get to the current bracket of content (to put it into tv watching terms, I’m nearing the end of the kind of interesting, but ultimately not very good first season that is A Realm Reborn before the show kicks itself into high gear which is Heavansward onwards).
With that out of the way, I also want y’all to know that this list is in no particular order because there wasn’t anything as standout fantastic this year for me games wise as Hades and Doom Eternal were, but that doesn’t detract from any of these games in the slightest. Now let’s get this show on the road.
11: Skul The Hero Slayer
Because I have to and it’s my list. A huge chunk of my writing catalog has been taken up by the action-platforming RPG Roguelite, a genre mashup that scratches several of my gaming itches at once, particularly “Big Number Go Up” and “Do Combo”. With its quirky aesthetics and interesting case of role reversal in the form of you playing as a lowly undead soldier in the Great Demon King’s army fighting off hordes of human soldiers and adventurers, Skul the Hero Slayer gives a staggering amount of customization and tools to tackle the runs at hand with a skull system that lets you mix and match different character styles to see what fits best for your playstyle and then crank it to 100. Wanna be a berserker dual-wielding greatswords? Do it. Undead Werewolf? Sure. The motherfucking Grim Reaper? Do you, booboo. It’s wild and ridiculous and it’s a great way to burn an hour when you got nothing else to do.
10: Monster Hunter Rise
The Only reason this isn’t up higher on my list is that I seriously fell off of it for a few months after getting to high rank. But even with that, it still came in at my most played Switch Game this year according to my Nintendo annual recap thingy. The changes from Rise to World, specifically the addition of the Wire Bug for increased mobility and the lessening of requirements to get gear, add up for a more ready-to-play experience. If you know Monster Hunter, you’ll be able to jump in no problem and if you are a new player, this feels like a better intro to Monster Hunter than World was, at least for me because even though I liked World, it felt a bit too handhold-y for me after playing Rise, the person those tutorials were designed for at the time.
The main things that I took away from it were the much more interesting Feudal Japanese aesthetics and art style and the new batch of monsters introduced in Rise all being based on various flavors of Japanese Yokai, which is rad. And I’ll admit that a good chunk of my ease of this game is because I’m a Longsword user (don’t give me that look) and the Quick Sheathe skill speeds up my sheathing speed and that’s amazon compared to the fat load of nothing that it did in Iceborne. But on a more serious note, the Wirebug and Silkbind Arts (special moves for your weapons that could be swapped out for others) both add a deeper layer to the monster hunting combat in-game, and the endemic Life buff adds a little extra spice to go along with it. I just wish that some more monsters were designed around the additional mobility of the Wirebug that were the Final bosses. Here’s to hoping Sunbreak capitalizes on that.
9: Resident Evil Village
Take a trip down to the village
One of my most anticipated games of the year, and one that I dedicated an entire month of writing to playing its predecessor, my favorite in the series, and the remakes of the two most beloved entries in the series. I’m keeping it at this point in the list because while I’m still of the opinion that it’s a fantastic game, thinking back on it has me going “this is rad, but it’s reminding me of another, a better game in this series on top of having personally had my fill of first-person Resident Evil for now”. Even with that said, it has probably some of my favorite set pieces in the entries series by nature of them being super ridiculous, which is how I like my Resident Evil personally. I highly recommend going in fresh because the marketing rather brilliantly focuses on only the first quarter of the game, meaning everything past Lady Demitrescu’s castle is not shown and I deeply appreciate it. It also filters a bunch of classic monsters through Resident Evil’s lens and it is an inspired move. That’s all I’m saying because to go further would be to venture into spoiler territory. If you like Resident Evil on the more ridiculous side, then give Village a try.
Okay, so I’m continuing a trend I have for Early Access games: If it’s good enough I’m putting them on the list. I did it with Hades, and now I’m doing it with the next two entries. Because it’s my list and I make the rules.
With that out of the way, Viscerafest is a collectathon boomer shooter with a cool as heck arsenal, rad protagonist, great levels, ridiculous speed, and tough as nails difficulty curve and combat encounters. I’m keeping this one short and sweet because that’s what the released first chapter did. I beat that first chapter in two sittings. It was great. And now the second chapter is almost here and I’m vibrating with excitement. God, this one is gonna be SO GOOD.
Now that I got that out of my system, Prodeus is the second Early Access game I played this year that was so good that I am not only adding it to this list while it’s still in Early Access, I’m also going to buy the full version when it inevitably comes out. It’s one of the best examples in recent years of wearing one’s influences on its sleeves. Because Prodeus not only does that, it wears that influence like a bloodstained badge of honour. In terms of game feel, it’s the HEAVIEST game I’ve played in all of 2021. Everything about it is designed in a way to feel as…well…heavy as possible. This has contributed to its excellent arsenal of weapons and densely packed combat arenas. Not to be outdone on that, it also has possibly the best level design I’ve ever seen in a first-person shooter, full stop. It’s so good that you never have to use its fantastic map to tell you where to go. It’s that organic.
The enemies, while perhaps a bit too derivative of Doom 1’s monsters with the Cacodemon thrown in for good measure, are all mixed and matched with different variants to make sure that combat is kept fresh. But it’s also the small things that keep me going back to this game: The Super Mario World style map, the Speedrun medals, the sound and music done by Musical Alchemist, and Wastebin Receptacle Enthusiast Andrew Hulshult. It’s all tied together to make possibly the best Early Access I’ve had since Hades.
(We’re gonna be alluding to spoilers in the ending, so if you haven’t played it yet, do that and come back)
And here is one of the two best-written games to come out this year (We’ll get to the other one later). Backbone is a game of storytelling efficiency in my opinion. The script is lean and to the point, every word serves a purpose, every character makes the most of their screen time, it builds a compelling world within the first hour of playtime and the events of the narrative are paced to perfection. While I’ll admit that the ending is abrupt at first, after thinking about it for a few months, I’ll go to bat and say that it’s the right call to make because it effectively shows that the point of view is shifting to other characters in the world. Backbone’s tale starts as Noir and ends as Science Fiction Political Thriller, a genre shift that a lesser script would have botched completely, but is done wonderfully here. If this is the beginning of a series of stories set in this interesting world, then sign me up for the Backbone Gaming Universe.
As an aside, check out the director’s cut of the script when you’re done. It’s fantastic.
5. Deltarune Chapter 2
Talk about blindsiding your players, right? Deltarune Chapter 2 is the definition of “Be Radio Silent for 3 Years, Drop an Absolute Banger, Refuse to Elaborate, Leave” because it does that for a goddamn power move. It’s Deltarune But More, but when the But More is as good as this, you tend to not mind as much. With the refinements to the combat, elaborations to the characters and general setting, and some rad bosses, Chapter 2 shows a kind of confidence that’s rare to see in this amount. And Toby Fox And his team aren’t even done yet and that’s the wild part. It also probably has one of the two best soundtracks of the year. How good is it? I’ve had Attack of the Killer Queen and [BIG SHOT] in my permanent rotation for months since I finished the game. It’s that good.
It’s probably the best RPG I’ve played this year, but I think a good chunk of that comes down to the fact that it only took me around 5–6 hours to get through it. Which is great. It packs so much good into that small amount of time. The story (during the pacifist route at least) is absolutely silly in the best way and had me chuckling to laughing out loud the entire time depending on how well the jokes landed. The demo is free to check out right now you owe it to yourself.
4. Guilty Gear Strive
I’ve written at length around the time of its release that I was interested in where Guilty Gear Strive was gonna go in terms of its direction, and so far I think I like it a lot. It was a Guilty Gear game and I like those, so it was always going to be an easy sell, but it has the one thing that Xrd, the previous game in the series, didn’t: A character that I want to sink all of my time into and learn all of the intricacies and inner workings of.
For context: the Guilty Gear X series of games had a Character called Order-Sol who was an alternate version of the series main character Sol Badguy. His moves revolved around managing a charge meter that made his moves progressively more power the more you charged up, leading to some devastating effects. It was a design from a different era of fighting games and one I’m more than willing to admit was the result of literal years of power creep, but goddamn it: I missed Order-Sol when he was not in Xrd because it lead to me having a bit of a character crisis in that game and not finding out who I really vibed with. Strive fixed that problem with Nagoryuki, who is the only character I’ve managed to get somewhat competent at that hasn’t changed dramatically. His low mobility combined with his long-range and high damage all added up to make for a somewhat slower character in a game as fast as Guilty Gear and Strive is what these games look like slowed down (still kind of fast).
All of the system changes are done with the means of making things more accessible to newer players while still providing depth for players who’ve cut their teeth on Guilty Gear in the past. While the changes to Gatlings are a bit of a disappointment, I understand that it was done by showcasing the new designs for a lot of fo characters. While you have some like Sol and Ky, who are largely the same; you also get characters like Ramlethal, Jack-O, and Zato-One who are more or less completely different characters. But I feel like, from what I’ve seen of the systems and how they’ve developed thus far, the newly introduced characters make the best use of them. The aforementioned Nagoryuki, Giovanna, and DLC characters Goldlewis and Happy Chaos were all designed with the current iteration of the system from the ground up, and I kind of love that? Like a lot? Because they all showcase what the differing gatling routes and revamped Roman Cancel system look like. As with all fighting games it’s still developing from a metagame perspective and a literal game development perspective with the release of the first season of DLC characters and the real ease of balance updates and bug fixes. While I like Struve where it’s at now, I wanna see where it goes another six months from now.
On top of that, the game is still a visual marvel, The implementation of rollback net code has been crucial to me playing this when I can, and it had the other best soundtrack of 2021, where the themes enhance all of the character’s stories, with the older characters feeling like they are in the latest chapters of their stories and the themes of the newcomers feeling like bold, swaggering, and confident introductions. It’s great stuff all around.
Oh, and can we bring back Johnny? Please?
3. Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2 came out this summer. That’s a sentence I never thought I would catch myself writing ever and it gets onto the list for that regardless. The reason it’s so high up is because of the strength of its writing. Like Backbone, every word, character, and plot thread is used in the most efficient manner possible. The game also wastes no time building up the world into something far bigger, handles its themes in regards to various mental health issues with the utmost respect and empathy, and does all of this while stepping back into this world after 15 or so years and not skipping a beat. That is rad. Combine this with vastly improved platforming and combat, alongside some of the most truly imaginative levels I think I’ve seen in a game this year and you have my summer standout game.
2. Metroid Dread
So, MercurySteam sure can make a Metroid game, huh? But in all seriousness, Metroid Dread is, and this is probably some recency bias talking because I think this might be my favorite Metroid game? Granted I never played the Prime trilogy or Other M and my experience has largely been with the 2D games, I think it might be my favorite, yes even outpacing Super Metroid aka the one everyone likes. The reason for this is that it not only updates itself for the 21st Century in a way that feels hella exciting, but it also looks at all of the other games in the genre and goes “this is how it’s done” all while looking at them straight up in the eye while doing so. It’s a flex I respect because it has an excellent world map to back it up and remembers to give you a significant combat challenge and great boss fights. I think the reason I like it way more than most Metroidvania games is that they tend to come off as really easy to me. They also go out of their way to show new dimensions to Samas as a character by not only reinforcing that she is, in fact, the biggest badass in the goddamn room, but they also give her humanity in ways that I can’t describe without going into spoiler territory. It’s great stuff.
AND OH MY GOD, DOES THAT FINAL BOSS FIGHT SLAP. THAT SHIT WAS FUCKING AWESOME.
1. Cyber Shadow
Honestly, at this point, it’s a bit of a toss-up between whether this or Dread is at #1 because I like them both a lot for various reasons. But Cyber Shadow wins out because I found myself comparing it to Mega Man X, and when I find myself comparing a game to my all-time favorite video game, it’s gotta be doing something right?
A large chunk of that has to come down to the fact that it’s possibly the best use of iterative gameplay and level design I’ve seen this year in a game. It just gives you new toys constantly and builds on said new toys as time goes on. It’s fantastic. Combine this with a wonderful pixel art style and soundtrack that evokes nostalgia as your brain remembers those games from yesteryear in the same way that Shovel Knight does and you have quite possibly my favorite action game of the year.
And with that all said and done, that is the Games of 2021 list in the books. Bit of a weird year, but it was packed with writing, games, and the launch of the new site. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Once again, if you’ve stuck around until now I just want to say: Thank you for your time, your support means the world to me. Fee free to share this around if you’d like, and have a Happy and Safe Holiday Season and Happy New Year. I’ll see you nerds in 2022.