2021 was filled with its fair share of gaming surprises: We got a new Switch, a new Metroid (it’s still hard to believe!), and The Rock even ended up in Fortnite. Alan Wake not only got a remaster, but after over a decade, a sequel is finally coming. Finally, we not only got both a release date for and gameplay of Elden Ring, but some actually got to play it via the game’s network test.
This year’s game lineup was also surprising — to me, at least. I branched out to several franchises I was either unfamiliar with, or had lost interest in long ago, and I’m sure glad I did. I was never a big Monster Hunter person, having previously failed to get into World, but I took a chance on Rise, and it’s become one of my go-to games. Halo Infinite was also a pleasant surprise. Halo 5 made me apprehensive about 343’s take on Halo, but Infinite took me back to 2001; it made me feel like I was just a kid landing on Installation 04 for the first time, only this time, there was much more to explore. In short: Video games were quite good in 2021, and here are some of my top ones this year.
10. Bowser’s Fury (Switch)
When Nintendo announced that Super Mario 3D World would be headed to Switch, it wasn’t exactly clear what this “Bowser’s Fury” mode was going to be. I surely wasn’t expecting it to be a pretty revolutionary take on 3D Mario. The level design is brilliant, making heavy use of perspective, much like Galaxy’s levels. Perhaps my favorite feature of this 3D platforming gem is that everything — every level, character, etc. — simply exists in the game’s semi-open world. To be able to travel from area to area with nary a loading screen allows for the smoothest transitions between levels ever seen in a 3D Mario game. I got a taste of the future of Mario with Bowser’s Fury, and god, I want more.
9. Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (Switch)
The Generation IV Pokemon games are among my all-time favorite games, so it’s only natural their remakes make it on this list. If nothing else, these games prove it’s really hard to botch Pokemon. The simple gameplay loop of “catch, train, repeat” is as addicting as ever.
Playing through Shining Pearl also reminded me of how far ahead of their times these games were in some ways. Both day/night cycles and daily/weekly challenges are elements seen in tons of games nowadays, but I don’t remember the mechanics being all that popular in 2006 when Diamond and Pearl launched with them.
8. Halo Infinite (Xbox, PC)
Halo Infinite’s campaign is one of the best FPS campaigns I’ve played in a long while. From the moment I stepped foot on Zeta Halo, I felt like a little kid again. The game is uniquely Halo. You’re constantly scavenging for ammo and supplies, making use of everything around you, and every victory — no matter whether you’ve taken down a boss or a small group — feels earned. The story is hardly memorable, but in all honesty, this is the one Halo game where I don’t think that matters.
The multiplayer is quite a treat too. Those same things I like about the campaign — having to scavenge, survive, make do with what I have — also define the multiplayer experience. In its present state, it’s not without faults; I don’t like going 25-7 in Slayer to only be rewarded minimal amounts of XP. However, based on how communicative 343 has been thus far, I feel confident the progression system will improve with time. More than anything, I’m just glad to have a Halo game that feels like Halo again.
7. Resident Evil Village (PS4, PS5, PC, XBO, XSX)
Plain and simple: This is the best original Resident Evil game since RE4. Like Leon Kennedy’s defining adventure, Village is unapologetically weird, boasting an incredibly zany cast of villains, including a 10-foot-tall vampiress, a psychic puppeteer, a giant sea monster, and Heisenberg, who is basically an homage to Nicholas Cage. Throughout your journey, you see the main character, Ethan, undergo extreme forms of hand torture — including getting it cut off only for him to just superglue it back on. It’s not always frightening, but it doesn’t need to be. Village’s weirdness is unsettling on its own, as it indicates that one should expect the unexpected when exploring the titular village.
6. Monster Hunter Rise (Switch, soon to be on PC)
As Eileen the Crow from Bloodborne once said: “A hunter must hunt” — a saying that I know to be true based on my constant urge to play Monster Hunter Rise. When I’m between games or don’t know what to play in my free time, Rise has been a go-to for me. I love booting it up for an hour or so at a time to go on a few hunts or see what gear I can forge/upgrade. It’s hard to be bored playing this game, given that it’s overflowing with content, and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future if Capcom’s generous post-launch support for this title continues beyond the upcoming expansion, Sunbreak.
Additionally, I have to give this game credit for being the Monster Hunter title that finally got me on board with the series. As someone who tried (and failed) to get into Monster Hunter World, I highly recommend Rise if you’re looking for a gateway into Monster Hunter. It even has a free demo on PC and Switch!
5. Cyber Shadow (PS4, PS5, PC, Switch, XBO, XSX)
I will never turn down a Ninja Gaiden-inspired game, and that’s exactly what Cyber Shadow is, albeit set amidst a neon-lit, cyberpunk backdrop. It’s tough as nails, but the grind is gratifying as hell, resulting in a triumphant feeling every time you conquer a boss, level, or difficult platforming section.
4. Metroid Dread (Switch)
Metroid is alive, and better yet, it’s thriving. Nintendo opted to let Mercury Steam, the folks behind the 3DS’ Samus Returns, helm the first original 2D Metroid in over a decade, and thank god they did. Playing Dread made me feel anything but. Its intricate level design, rewarding sense of progression, and wonderfully atmospheric setting made the game an absolute joy to play. Given the game’s critical acclaim and financial success, I can only hope I’ll get the chance to write about Metroid Prime 4 while recapping my top games come this time next year.
3. Boomerang X (PC)
It’s Doom meets Spider-Man, what more need be said? Boomerang X was a delight to play from start to finish. Like Dread, the game gradually grants you more and more abilities throughout its campaign, and the progression’s pacing is quite perfect. You get the right amount of time needed to learn the ins and outs of each power — no more, no less. Every kill, victory, and evasion feels earned, while every death feels justified. The game rarely feels cheap.
Furthermore, Boomerang X is rather accessible. Like fellow indie title, Celeste, you can effectively activate a God Mode to let you enjoy the power trip of being a boomerang-wielding bringer of death with none of the risks.
2. Hitman III (PS4, PS5, PC, XBO, XSX)
Hitman III was one of my favorite games to play in 2021, and it was also one of my favorites to watch. I spent roughly an hour in the game’s first mission surveying my surroundings, plotting enemy movement patterns, and carefully considering how I should kill my targets; it was a deeply fulfilling experience. Post-mission, I decided to compare my approach to others’ courtesy of a simple YouTube search. I discovered I had barely scratched the surface of what this game had to offer.
People were employing methods of killing I never thought of, accessing areas previously thought inaccessible, and one person even cleared the first level in under 20 seconds. Every clip I see of this game makes me want to jump right back in and try such approaches myself. As I play Hitman III nowadays, I’m still discovering things I didn’t know were in it before, and the game never ceases to amaze me.
1. Deathloop (PC, PS5)
Arkane just doesn’t miss, and that claim holds true with Deathloop. Take the best parts of DOOM, Dishonored, and Hitman, and you get this super stylish, highly replayable title. Like Hitman, I took great pleasure in figuring out all the ways to assassinate Deathloop’s various Visionaries, and I greatly appreciated just how many methods there were. Whether you’re putting a bullet through one’s head or dropping them into a meat grinder, every kill feels gratifying, so much so that you might hope the main character, Colt, doesn’t succeed in breaking the loop so you can keep doing this forever.