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2021 Game of the Year

Posted at — Jan 26, 2022

Year Summary

One of the things that stuck out to me was how much I wanted to do the act of “grinding,” where you just do a repetitive task for moderate character improvement, in video games in 2021. It was pretty critical to helping me get through so many dang books and podcasts. I read 56 books in 2021. This was an improvement on almost zero in 2020 and virtually none since college. The repetitive grind was replicated with my domestic life as well where I did a lot of cleaning to get through some of these books. I mopped my whole house twice thanks to Brandon Sanderson. Robin Hobb kept my vacuuming on schedule. I’ve even did some driving around to finish an audio book now and then (“Well, I guess I can drive an hour and half to go get a growler of beer. Sure.”). Anyway, I put together some ordered lists of video games. Here they are.

Best Old Games of 2021

Here are the games I played in 2021 that didn’t release in 2021. I ranked five for no reason other than I like to rank stuff.

5. Picross S

I finally finished all of the puzzles. I can now move on to S2 for the next three years.

4. Good Sudoku

This is that good sudoku. There is a real chance this is the game I played the most in 2021. Grabbing the iPad, turning on some garbage book, and doing puzzles is a guaranteed good time.

3. Double Dragon Neon

I’ve never had a bad time getting drunk and playing this game with a friend. I think it’s impossible to not enjoy this.

2. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

The only thing I played through completion on the switch online service was Donkey Kong Country 2, the best Donkey Kong Country game. You’d think Switch Online would be better by now. It’s not. That’s wild.

1. Demon’s Souls

I really like Demon’s Souls. I cannot believe it’s been 12 years since I played it for the first time. I bought a TV and a PS3 the first time I saw the game in action. The remaster is a perfect example of why HDR is important to video games. It was a great reason to own a fancy TV then and it’s a great reason to own a fancy TV now.

Okay, so I have a rant that I put together explaining how one of the levels in Demon’s Souls is perfect level design. Lemme go grab that real quick. You can skip it if you want.

The Rant

The Shrine of Storms leads you perfectly to what might be the best encounter of the entire series.

The Silver Skeleton at the start of the Island’s Edge are excellent at reinforcing the basic mechanics of combat In Demon’s Souls and how attack interruptions work on you and on enemies. You learn and internalize this while the level design hints at ranged combat with the archer skeletons firing at you and the flying sting rays shooting the stingers. The game reinforces this with the Vanguard demon being big and present and scary, and then easily dispatched with a bow and arrow. You get through all of these encounters to finally fight the Adjudicator, which hints at ranged combat again.

You encounter one of the earliest magic damage weapons in 4-1 as well. This influences how you play 4-2, the Ritual Path. You first encounter Shadowlurkers and Reapers which reinforces and changes the expectations of how enemies behave. Shadowlurkers don’t follow the same rules as the silver skeletons as they cannot be interrupted. These mechanical changes are intended to cause confusion and ultimately fear as these enemies are dangerous and hit like a truck. The Reapers are killed easiest with fire damage to reinforce what we learned about elemental weapons in the Island’s Edge level. Then, once through the reapers, you have the most memorable NPC encounter in the series with Patches who kicks you down a hole. The boss of this area is The Old Hero. The old hero fight is great because it teaches you about boss fight gimmicks. If you listen to the hints other players leave, they will tell you a ring is important. Once you figure out that the boss is blind via mechanics and cut scene clues the ring that keeps your character silent, that didn’t really make any sense, now has a purpose. This informs you that you may need to change your equipment just for boss fights to exploit specific mechanics and behaviors.

This all fits PERFECTLY into the encounter with the final boss of the area, The Storm King. This fight forces you to do the scariest thing the game has asked of the player yet - navigate the menus to change equipment in the middle of the boss fight. Every single game mechanic, with player hints, equipment, item weight management, and the dang menu play into the encounter with the Storm King. The specific weaknesses of the boss and how you plan for them are crucial. It’s perfect. It’s the best thing in the whole series.

The Top 5 Video Games of 2021

Here are the games I played in 2021 that came out in 2021. I ordered five of them.

Runner Ups

Cyber Shadow, Loop Hero, Dungeon Encounters

5. Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi

Undernauts is a Japanese developed classic dungeon crawler that deals with lower social and economic classed individuals waging life-or-death battles against monsters in a dungeon for mega-corporations to harvest energy. That’s 2021, baby.

4. Monster Hunter Rise

Another good Monster Hunter game. The new movement mechanics made it easy to enjoy turning giant bird-lizards into fun coats by using a pointy stick that is also a shotgun.

3. Pokémon Unite

Sell me Pikachu wearing a luchador mask fighting a Snorlax in a Hawaiian shirt. I want more of that.

2. Mario Golf: Super Rush

This is not the best Mario Golf game. This is, however, the best Mario Golf game I have played online with friends after a late night text of “Galf?” It’s really fun to get on a voice chat and shoot the shit while getting in 18 holes. A Wiggler golfs now.

1. Bravely Default II

When I talk about “games that have that good grind in them” I am talking about Bravely Default 2. I loved exploiting the games systems to turn the boss fights into cake walks. Having the enemy heal you with every attack? That rules.