On It’s that time of the year again; Game of The Year. The joyous occasion where the gaming industry takes a deep look at new releases from the following year and determines their favorites. We here at Marooner’s Rock have varying tastes and preferences on gaming. That’s why we thought it would be fun to spotlight staff’s top pick for the year, as well as take a vote on our staff’s overall top 5 games of the year.
Frank’s Five – Only Games I’ve Played Released in 2021
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy was announced and released, without much being known about the game. This initially drew up a red flag, as that is typically a deceptive marketing move. When Eidos-Montréal released the title back in October, fans were at ease. Not only was the game, not a total disaster, but actually a lot of fun! This iteration of the galaxy’s mightiest heroes is completely standalone to the movies, comics, and other game adaptations. While this was initially offputting, as the storyline progresses, the attachment for each of the Guardians grows. This is important, as a huge portion of the game contains cutscenes and heavy dialog sequences. Thankfully with a well-rounded cast, great visuals, and an entertaining plot, this is a welcomed addition.
When not coercing with comrades, players take the reins as Starlord. Guardians of the Galaxy is a 3rd-person action-adventure title, with a few personal touches to make it feel unique. While players control Starlord directly, they can also command the other Guardians into performing various tasks. When exploring around galaxies, the other Guardians can perform environmental abilities, which will grant Starlord access to specific areas. While in combat, they can perform special attacks. Using these, in conjunction with Starlord’s blasters, is crucial to efficiently take out waves of enemies. Guardians of the Galaxy was a joy to play, from start to finish. Check out my video review, or written review, for a more in-depth analysis.
Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart
Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart, the latest entry in the long-running franchise, was the first title released after Sony’s acquisition. This was also the first title to release under the PlayStation Studios umbrella. While Rift Apart isn’t necessarily an open-world title, it borrows heavily from the genre. Controlling Ratchet has truly never felt better. With his movement being tweaked and refined, this is the smoothest controlling Ratchet & Clank to date. The increased power of the PlayStation 5 also enhances the experience. The series has always had a Pixar-esk appearance. At a stunning 4K resolution and raytracing capabilities, Insomniac Games has created something that outshines its inspiration. The DualSense controller’s advanced rumble capabilities also help enhance the immersion. Each weapon truly feels and different.
The storyline for Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart is pretty endearing. It explores many heavy topics, such as betrayal, trust, and of course multiple dimensions. Due to the nature of this title’s multi-verse theme, Rift Apart sees our heroes traveling to both new and familiar locations. Without giving away anything, let’s just say Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart likely contains one of the strongest plots of the franchise. Everything about Rift Apart is top-notch!
Back 4 Blood
Let me be honest, Back 4 Blood released in a fairly rough state. Single-player mode restricted players from unlocking or progressing. Many players were disconnected from lobbies. The difficulty, even on the easiest setting, seemed unbalanced and unfair. Turtle Rock has released patches since release, many of which addressed players’ complaints. Needless to say, it isn’t perfect. That said, Back 4 Blood was created to hold the torch Left 4 Dead lit many years ago. I would say it manages to do so very well.
At its core Back 4 Blood is a cooperative zombie shooter. Those familiar with L4D will be immediately familiar with the premise; get from one safe room to another. Back 4 Blood amplifies the story element, creating a reason for our characters to be performing objectives. This is definitely a welcomed addition. Turtle Rock also implemented an all-new deck-building mechanic. I was initially turned off by the idea of using cards to form decks, which power up your character. The system began to click with me, and now I am a big fan. This mechanic is incredibly important in creating a character that fits your playstyle. Back 4 Blood is a very well-rounded experience, with DLC on the way!
Kena Bridge of Spirits
Kena Bridge of Spirits is in my opinion one of the sleeper hits of 2021. Ember Lab, the title’s developer, has been producing animation work for many years. Kena proved to be their biggest challenge yet, as it was their first foray into video games. While it initially appeared to be borrowing influence from other titles, such as Horizon and Zelda, Kena Bridge of Spirits has a very unique feel. While Kena’s bow is initially reminiscent of other titles, it fundamentally plays very differently.
Playing through Kena on PlayStation 5, Ember Lab’s expert animation talent is on full display. Kena Bridge of Spirits has the production quality of a Triple-A studio. Thanks to ray-tracking capabilities, environments are visually vibrant. Each area feels unique in its lighting and feel. While I was a little off-put by Kena Bridge of Spirits’ lack of meaninful collectibles, the main story is absolutely worth a play. Check out my written review for a more in-depth analysis.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
The idea of adding this to my top 5 list is a bit controversial. I typically have a rule not to include remasters or ports. And while yes, on the surface Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury appears to just be a port of the Wii U title. And while it does a great job fixing the character movement the Wii U title was plagued with, the enhancements it made to 3D World are not what landed it on my list. The standalone smaller adventure Bowser’s Fury is what won its spot. Bowser’s Fury takes the 3D World engine and created a completely separate bite-sized Mario adventure. Recycling elements from both Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario Odyssey, Bowser’s Fury still managed to create an experience that felt very different from anything before it.
From the get-go, Mario is free to collect shines in any order, giving players the freedom to choose how they approach Bowser’s Fury. This felt like the concept created in Mario Odyssey further expanded into a more open world. The usage of shines, the central setting, and Bowser Jr’s inclusion in the story also feel like a nice call-back to one of Mario’s most controversial outings, Super Mario Sunshine. What sets Bowser’s Fury apart from the rest is the inclusion of Fury Bowser battles. Mario and Bowser must come face to face in a gigantic battle, almost reminiscent of a Godzilla vs Kong battle. At full price, it’s hard to recommend Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury just for the new content. That said, any fan of 3D Mario games will not want to skip out on Bowser’s Fury!
Matt’s List – Games I’ve Played Released 2021
Resident Evil Village
Up first is Resident Evil Village. Resident Evil has been one of my favorite franchises since Resident Evil 5. Yes, many people consider that to be one of the worst ones, but a fun Co-Op experience is what had me hooked. After playing through that, I decided I would go back and play through the ones that I had missed. This meant going back to Resident Evil 1,2, 3, and even 4. Thankfully, Capcom has released remastered versions of the game to be able to experience the story; this enabled me to see that Resident Evil is so much better as a horror franchise rather than a run and gun series.
Resident Evil Village is yet another example of why Resident Evil is better as a horror series. Yes, there may be action moments, but the jump scares and surprises make you go holy s… word while still giving players an intense feeling. The use of previously established characters while establishing new ones kept us on the edge of our seats. Finally, once the ending came, it was a mix of heart-wrenching and shocking all in one. Not only did they do a great job continuing the story they were telling but introduced a new and future one as well. With the conclusion of Resident Evil Village, it will be interesting to see where they go and it leaves so many options available.
Out of the five titles I have nominated, Xbox is a clear winner. Since Halo Infinite has not been fully released and is being released in sections, it does not make the cut. Then there is Forza Horizon 5 and Psychonauts 2. Below I will discuss some of the reasons why Forza Horizon 5 should be nominated for Game of the Year and why it was an insult that The Game Awards snubbed them, but this part is about Psychonauts 2.
Psychonauts 2 is ultimately my main choice for the Game of the Year and here is why. Since the release of the original Psychonauts, Double Fine has done an excellent job improving the game’s quality of life while making it still relevant. Typically, when a game releases a sequel after a decade it normally falls to the wayside and seems more like a cash grab. If you don’t believe us, look at the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy Definitive Edition or Duke Nukem Forever.
Psychonauts 2 not only builds on the characters and story that was told but expands on it and helps players remember or discover what happened in the first game. At no point were the words, what’s going on mentioned. The story is strong, fun, and wild. The gameplay has options for small children to pick up the game and play all the way to making the game more difficult for seasoned veterans. Although Psychonauts 2 may have wrapped up major parts of Psychonauts 1, it didn’t feel like the end of the story but rather the beginning of a new one. Every gameplay element felt crisp and clean and outside of one bug we noticed, there were no issues.
So Deathloop was definitely a game that might have been lost in the mix of other game releases and some of the controversies surrounding it. Similar to other exploration games, Deathloop provides the player with as much information as is needed and leaves it up to them to find their own way. Yes, that can make it hard for some players to find their way or make for multiple loops, but that’s ultimately what it was created to do. The game is meant to be a mystery where the player must figure out what is going on, how to carry out their objective, and find new ways to do it.
Yes, Deathloop can be time-consuming if you don’t fully discover what’s going on, but who wants a linear narrative nowadays. Now, Deathloop definitely missed the mark with its multiplayer feature, but the game’s story, dialogue, and voice acting make up for this blunder. The two main character’s interactions with one another feel like that of either rivals or former lovers. You are always on your toes and invested in what kind of quip the two might make towards one another. Sometime’s the character dialogue can even be more interesting than the mission at hand.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shinning Pearl
If Pokemon wasn’t somewhere on this list, someone would probably riot. Now the game by far is definitely not innovative. Nintendo and Gamefreak stuck with their well-refined methods on what works for a Pokemon Game and it really shows. Yes, they ultimately played it safe, but that didn’t stop Pokemon and Nintendo fans from rushing out to pick up Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shinning Pearl. These remakes of the Gen 4 games show that with proper respect, modifications, and advancements, that a franchise built on nostalgia can be successful if executed properly. By improving some Quality of Life features the game feels fresh to trainers who previously played the originals while giving new players a chance to experience it for the first time.
Forza Horizon 5
So what is not to love about Forza Horizon 5? Playground Games has done an excellent job of improving on what they learned from Forza Horizon 4 and executing it almost flawlessly in Forza Horizon 5. The way cars move, how the environment changes, and the overall landscape create an impactful impression. Sometimes, you can easily get lost driving through the world on your way to a race and get sidetracked exploring all the things that Playground Games has put into Forza Horizon 5.
The reason Forza Horizon 5 ultimately losses to Psychonauts 2 in my book is not solely based on the game itself but the game’s that came before it. Forza Horizon 5 feels more like a well-polished and enhanced version of Forza Horizon 4, just in a new area. Meanwhile, Psychonauts 2 has improved drastically since Enter the Rhombus and Psychonauts 1. Yes, fine tunning is a great thing and the game as itself is wonderful, but when you compare Forza Horizon 5 to its predecessors can you say that it is vastly superior? I know with Psychonauts 2 I can.
Roberto’s Games Played In 2021
It’s a space opera and a puzzler. It’s a grand epic drama between the Soviet Union and the United States while being a cosmic calamity that is tremendously balanced between comedy and drama. I found it strange while also delightful in all the right ways, with potatoes, cyborgs, and 4th wall breaking. Kosmokrats is the game I kept smiling and laughing about. Its unique take on tetrominoes and puzzles kept me on my Switch for hours and hours, enthralled at the creative vision and distinctness of the experience. Kosmokrats is a lot of fun, and with multiple endings and choices, it’s the game that keeps on giving like a Capitalist marketplace. More games like this, please!
Curved Space is a tremendous throwback and innovation. A mix of that classic twin-stick shooting as established by Eugene Jarvis and Robotron 2084, while also providing a white knuckle shooting experience in the depths of space, powered by a pulsating soundtrack and a storyline with quantum mechanics thrown in. On multiple occasions, I would play Curved Space at work. I played on the go and at home. I played Curved Space everywhere; it was a blast to show off dimensional robot alien spiders whenever I could because the game was that great. Curved Space reminds me that games can be fun, enjoyable, and just thrilling to play. They don’t need big-themed stories or cutting-edge tech. They just need to be fun. The industry can learn more from Curved Space, and honestly, everyone on this list.
Astro Aqua Kitty
Astro Aqua Kitty is a huge upgrade from the original Aqua Kitty, and a solid send-off to Sony’s beloved handheld, the PlayStation Vita. The original was an enjoyable throwback to Midway’s Defender, but Astro Aqua Kitty takes a huge leap, with gargantuan levels, a rock-solid presentation, and sharp gameplay that strikes the line between a shoot-’em up and a bullet hell. It was a blast to play this one, as well as a bitter-sweet send-off. I played the first Aqua Kitty during my last year in college, six years ago, also with my vita. Now, at the end of 2021, and the vita’s life cycle, I played a great game on a great platform. Where Aqua Kitty goes from here is a mystery, but I cannot wait for what is next.
Art of Rally
I work at a hospital, and in the chaos of everything going on around me, both at work and outside, I took to appreciate the 80s and 90s synth-wave scene, a collection of art and music that highlights the culture of these decades, with synthesized music tracks and bright neon colors. It relaxes me, calms me down, and in a way, recharges me art of rally gave me these vibes, with an incredible soundtrack. Art of Rally is a profound example of creating a vibe and inventing something simple yet spectacularly engaging. Its minimalistic visuals, colors, and soundtrack are in stark contrast to its gameplay, which will challenge players at every nook and cranny but will give players such an immense reward and satisfaction for crossing that finish line.
Neptunia Virtua Stars
The ladies of Hyperdimension have been weathering out the storm that is the gaming industry for quite some time, a testament given the PlayStation Censorship Policies that have been enacted, as well the overall rebuke of anime-styled games. Still, iDead Factory brought the girls back for a wonderful spin-off in Neptunia Virtual Stars, a game that out players into the star of their very own anime, with solid comedy, including that classic 4th wall break.
What was your Game of the Year 2021? Let us know in the comments section, and on social media!