Top 5 Games of 2021


A departure from my usual video appearance on Project Falcon Punch, here are my top games of 2021 in written form!

5. Deathloop (PS5)

Everything great about Dishonored, with a sixties sci-fi setting and a videogame thematic favourite time loop. Deathloop is fast, violent and satisfyingly deterministic, respectful of the player's intelligence but always ready to lend a hand to see things through. Its guns, powers and upgrades offer a lot to experiment with, but in a setup always nudging the player towards a particular brand of quick, murderous stealth gameplay. Like Dishonored, the game offers plenty of replayability through self-imposed (or trophy chasing) challenges, and the central performances of Colt and Julianna are a delight. The unfortunate queue times for the game's integrated multiplayer are perhaps the only real blemish on what is an excellently realised concept.

4. Neo: The World Ends With You (Switch)

This is the sequel we've been waiting for. It brings back everything great about the original The World Ends With You, most importantly that unceasingly cool sense of style, updated fittingly for modern expectations. Simply moving around the game's version of Shibuya is a delight, with striking fixed camera angles that pan to follow your character as the architecture of the city warps in an ever changing perspective. The combat, a necessary departure from the dual screen reliant original's, is a marked improvement. Fast paced, frenetic, and allowing a wealth of experimentation and customisation, it remains a draw throughout the game's lengthy playtime, the variety never really letting up and retaining that multitasking challenge on a single screen. The plot and cast of characters are similarly strong, tying back to the original with plenty of fan service but without being overly deferential, justifying its own existence and giving reason to return to this still-captivating world. It's a game aimed squarely at satisfying existing fans then, but it does so without ever relying on nostalgia and cutting corners in quality. This is a deserving sequel that also stands up by its own merit.

3. Hitman 3 (PS5)

Hitman 3 rounds off a trilogy that is undoubtedly one of the best in a decade for anyone who loves stealth games or densely designed mechanical sandboxes. The third game mixes up the formula the most, with most levels built on gimmicks while retaining enough of the series' guiding design principles to not lose appeal. In that way its what the final game in a trilogy should be, reaching a natural end in exploring the ideas established by the first and developed by the second. It also might now be better considered a single complete game, in that the previous two can be played through it and benefit from all of its mechanical and technical refinements, the overall experience being split into a trilogy just the episodic model writ large. An excellent game on its own then, and when considering the trilogy as a whole, perhaps one of the best ever.

2. Monster Hunter Rise (Switch)

Anyone familiar with my gaming tastes will know Monster Hunter often features in these kind of lists, so all I really need to tell you is that Monster Hunter Rise is the best Monster Hunter has ever been. Where Monster Hunter World made sacrifices in favour of quality of life and bringing the series into the mainstream, Rise perfectly weaves together the old and new, retaining everything great about the classic games and blending it seamlessly with modern design. Area design is at its very best, taking what would be perfectly good classic maps and building layers upon them, opened up by the fantastic new methods of traversal. Wirebugs in particular are a sublime addition, allowing an ultra mobile finesse reminiscent of Super Mario Odyssey's cappy jumps - superlative as far as comparisons go. In fact every part of Rise now feels great to play, an impressive turnaround for a series that was once infamous for its claw-like control scheme and punishing learning curve. Everything else that the series is renowned for is here too, including a wealth of content in monsters to fight and weapons to craft, some of the new designs amongst the best the series has ever had. It's all tied together by an excellent village hub, its cast of characters lifelike and charming, grounding the player in this fantasy world of flying monsters. Monster Hunter Rise is only set to get even better next year with the expansion, Sunbreak, and I can't wait.

1. No More Heroes 3 (Switch)

Can a game feel both sincerely punk and mechanically refined? No More Heroes 3 answers with a resounding yes. A final return to the world of No More Heroes was always going to be difficult, but Suda51 and Grasshopper have pulled it off with abandon. From the opening animation the game pulls you in with its casual style, always reminding you with its TV show credit reels and guitar riff cutaways that this game is inarguably cool. The katana-fighting combat is polished to a beaming shine, contrasting deliberately against the sketchy framerate and not-so-distant draw distance of the open world - still nearly as empty as the original, but far from pointless when serving as pacing, as too are the returning and inexplicably endearing odd jobs like mowing lawns for money. The plot of course is off-the-deep-end wild, throwing about niche references to the previous games and other Suda series without hesitation. It can be hard to keep up even for those well versed, but worrying about such things would really be missing the point. This is a game about the vibe, not the details. It invites analysis and evades it. You could reduce it in summary to a boss rush broken up by combat challenges and minigames, but that wouldn't do the game justice. Instead the only summary I can confidently put to writing is that No More Heroes 3 is one hell of a videogame.

Most Disappointing

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (PS5)

Rift Apart looks incredible, like a playable Pixar movie, and the titular rifts provide an impressive demonstration of next generation loading times. Unfortunately the gameplay doesn't match up with frequent invisible walls and incomplete geometry a cruel reward for exploration and platforming experimentation. Far from the mobile delights of Mario, Ratchet (and Rivet) fail to deliver on platforming fundamentals, while an ill-conceived approach to experience carrying over after death robs the player of any progression feeling earned.

Most Anticipated

River City Girls 2 (Switch)

Promising more sumptuous sprite work and attack animations, more masterful music from Megan McDuffee, and a bigger beat-em-up world, everything about this sequel looks to be delivering on more of what made the first game so great. I can't wait!

Honourable Mentions

New Pokemon Snap (Switch)

In a year of long-awaited sequels, none were as long-awaited as New Pokemon Snap. Over twenty years since the release of the original on the Nintendo 64, was it worth the wait? Fortunately Bandai Namco have done enough. Pokemon in their natural habitat have never looked so lovely, and the scripted but influenceable routes are as satisfying now as they were at the turn of the millennium. It's still a somewhat niche pitch, and the game unfortunately takes most of its initial playlength just to hit its stride once all the abilities are unlocked, but this is Pokemon Snap done justice, and with an impressive amount of content too.

The Silver Case 2425 (Switch)

A Switch port of a first-time English translation of remakes of two adventure visual novels, the earlier being Suda51's first under Grasshopper Manufacture - it can be hard just to describe what The Silver Case 2425 is. Ostensibly a crime drama, it's complex, surreal, obtuse and contradictory. Certainly not for everyone, but well worth experiencing for dedicated fans of Suda's works.

Mythic Ocean (Switch)

What do you get if you cross Abzu with Quarantine Circular? A somewhat confused audience thanks to that pretty niche comparison, but that probably lands with those who would enjoy Mythic Ocean. An adventure game that combines relaxing exploration of the ocean with somewhat philosophical but not-too-challenging branching dialogue, where your choices determine which of the cast of deities will create the world anew.

Mon Amour (Switch)

It looks like a Japanese spin on Flappy Bird, but the mechanical origins of Mon Amour are actually found in a minigame in the creator's better known Moon: Remix RPG Adventure from 1997. Suffice to say the game is simple - just one button controls all the action - but that doesn't mean it's without depth or merit. Some interesting boss-like stages and some well thought out scoring mechanics makes this a good distraction for high score chasers with a Switch and limited free time.

Rider's Republic (PS5)

Rider's Republic is effectively a sequel to 2016's Steep, which also happens to have been my favourite game of that year. It's too early for me to laud Rider's Republic with such accolades, having only got the game this Christmas, but the similarity in appeal is obvious and it already has its hooks in me. Biking is a great new sport addition, the open world now having much more variety beyond just snowy biomes, and the mass races top off the improvements to the massively multiplayer side of the game. Unfortunately it's also let down a little by losing that singleplayer experience without, for example, deterministic race times, and most disappointingly of all in the introduction of unlockable equipment with varying stats, very much unlevelling the playing field - a frustratingly significant setback for what could have been a fantastic follow up. That and it's an Ubisoft game, who still haven't adequately addressed their culture of abuse, as much as games like this might present themselves as inclusive and accessible otherwise.

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