You know why you’re here. I know why you’re here. Last year may have been bullshit, but that doesn’t exclude it from the annual tradition of cataloging our favourite games played throughout the year. I managed to finish 69 (noice) titles last year, so I can assure you that only the cream of the crop made it onto this list. So…without any further ado, here are the best games I played in 2021.
Huniepop 2: Double Date
We’re starting things off strong with the only horny game to make the list this year: Huniepop 2. While I wouldn’t fault anyone for assuming it was here because of the booba, Huniepop 2 is actually here because of its mechanical complexity. I know some of you will be skeptical, but hear me out.
In a genre that is chock full of low effort Bejeweled copycats, Huniepop 2 is a breath of fresh air. It builds on the match-three foundation of its predecessor by, as its title implies, introducing double dates. Instead of focusing all of their matches into a single target, players need to balance between two targets to successfully navigate each level. This adds an extra layer to each board, forcing players to consider their score multiplier, stamina levels, remaining moves, and available token types when lining up multi-line combos. The culmination is a game with a surprising amount of depth that never really stops being fun.
The writing is also surprisingly funny. It’s completely degenerate, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it was written as a huge joke at the player’s expense. I don’t actually know if Huniepop 2’s writer is that smart, but I’d rather work under that assumption instead of thinking that every line in the game is serious, because it’s some real incel level shit. That said, I was constantly laughing at how dumb it was, which added an additional layer of enjoyment to the whole experience.
While it is a degenerate booba game, Huniepop 2: Double Date is genuinely a fantastic puzzle game and easily lands in the top shelf for 2021.
It Takes Two
I have struggled to articulate exactly why It Takes Two is so damn good, but heard Skill Up do a great job in his recent best of 2021 video, so I’ll loosely paraphrase him here. It Takes Two is filled with ideas that could easily be their own full length game. But they aren’t. Instead you bounce from idea, to idea, to idea in such rapid succession that it feels like the game was designed by someone with zero attention span. Despite this, none of the different pieces that make up It Takes Two feel out of place. It’s this variety, in combination with the co-op gameplay, that results in one of the most fun games to be released in the last calendar year.
I think the other aspect that I really liked about It Takes Two is just how accessible it is. Overall the game is fairly relaxed, meaning it should be easy to pick up and play with anyone, even if they aren’t terribly game literate. For a dedicated co-op experience, I believe designing the game such that anyone can play is incredibly smart. Considering the variety of game mechanics on offer throughout, the amount of fine tuning Hazelight Studios accomplished here is impressive.
Do yourself a favour and sit down with your favourite person to play this one if you haven’t already. I’m fairly certain you won’t regret it.
Hitman 2 is such a goofy game and I’m absolutely here for it. The game begins by setting the stage for a global conspiracy, where a secret shadow organization is trying to wrest control over the known world. But then you load into the first proper mission of the game and you’re running around in a fucking Flamingo costume, break dancing on an award podium. Never ever has a game about killing people been so silly and that’s one of the key things that makes Hitman 2 such a joy to play.
My favourite aspect of this game was going through each of the levels over and over again, finding new ways to kill my targets. You’ve always got the classics available to you, but developer IO Interactive also made sure to include a smattering of specialized assassinations that result in much flashier kills. These help to add some much needed variety to the game, but also encourage players to experiment and explore each level. Hitman 2’s levels are at their best when players are combing them across several playthroughs. In this way, players can discover new potential assassination routes while executing on possibilities they observed in a previous run. Repetition has never been more fun than it is in Hitman.
I’m also a really big fan of the social stealth mechanics, as I don’t find traditional stealth all that satisfying. Hitman allowing players to hide in plain sight by acquiring the right outfit and acting the correct way is genius. You don’t need to sneak through the shadows if you can convince someone to let you through the front door, and that feels a lot more gratifying to pull off.
It should go without saying, but I’m glad Jason convinced me to give Hitman 2 a shot. Hopefully I’ll have as much fun when I play Hitman 3 later this year.
Them’s Fightin’ Herds
For some unknown reason, fighting games seem to be trapped in the stone age. A handful of the most well known franchises refuse to adapt and evolve with technology, meaning fighting games are woefully behind the rest of the industry in terms of basic features – especially when it comes to online. This has resulted, largely, in indie fighters blazing the trail of bringing fighting games into the current era and Them’s Fighin’ Herds stands as a bright example of how to do this correctly. Nothing it does is new, or innovative, but everything it does is executed superbly and many of the bigger names in fighting games could stand to learn from Herds when it comes to lobbies and netcode.
On top of that, there are just a host of really smart features within Herds that are designed to help onboard new players. The story mode, while having an incomplete story, helps to teach players about a variety of fighting game concepts in an environment where they can practice said concepts. Similarly, the training mode and tutorial feature beginner friendly and expert level options, so players of all skill levels can find out what they want to know in a package that is catered to their current level of understanding. I also wrote about the combo trainer last year, which is the single smartest feature of the game, as it allows players from across the community to share information and help one another learn in a way that fighting games seldom offer.
I know that some of you scrungaloids are going to get all harumpfy and not give the game a shot because of the art style and I get it. I really do. But do yourself a favour and try it out. Them’s Fightin’ Herds is one of the most feature complete fighting games on the market, and will give you a much better appreciation for the standard that we should be holding all fighting game developers to.
Oh, also it’s just like…really fun to play. So you know…give it a shot.
Enter the Gungeon
I still haven’t forgiven the developers of Enter the Gungeon. This is one of the hardest video games I’ve ever played. It does not give a fuck about the player and will kill you as quickly as Dark Souls. Despite that, or maybe because of it, I couldn’t stop playing Gungeon until I finally triumphed over it. Let me tell you, that was one of the most satisfying things I accomplished all year.
Under the brutal difficulty, Gungeon hides a game about learning and slowly overcoming a variety of challenges. Each of the game’s rooms are tailor made, so you’ll become increasingly familiar with them and the ideal strategy to counter them. Instead of leveling up a video game character, the player themselves is leveling up and seeing this is so much more enjoyable than simply watching numbers go up in an RPG. At least, for my money it is.
It won’t be for everyone, but Gungeon is absolutely one of the best games I played this past year. Nothing feels quite as rewarding as dancing on enemies and bosses that you once struggled against because you put in the time and effort to counter them at every step.
Know that I really wanted to put Wildermyth at my number one spot. I’ve been called a gaming hipster before, and this game is one hundred and ten percent my indie-hipster-design-innovation-winner of the year.
Wildermyth is the best RPG I’ve played in years owing to its ability to craft stories. Instead of relying strictly on traditional narrative, Wildermyth attempts to collaborate with the player. Your input as a player will help to shade the experiences and attitudes of your character in a way that binary dialogue trees can’t. This results in far more memorable and interesting stories than any writer could craft on their own. I still remember characters like Maya and Nyxa because of the unique journeys I was able to accompany them on, which is more than I can say about the majority of games I’ve played.
It also doesn’t hurt that the game features strategic turn-based combat. If you, like myself, dislike when turn-based combat devolves into healing faster than the enemy can deal damage then you’ll enjoy Wildermyth. Healing mid-fight is a rarity, so players need to carefully consider the position of both their fighters and the enemies. This brings a sharp focus onto the unique abilities of each character, as you’ll want to utilize them to their fullest while navigating each combat scenario with as few casualties as possible.
Wildermyth is an absolute banger on both the story-telling and gameplay front. It’s one of the few games I played this year where the writing impressed me as much as the mechanics; it would have been my game of the year were it not for the sheer volume of time I spent with the number one game. If you like RPGs, you need to pick this up. With an upcoming Switch release, I’m hopeful I hear a lot more people singing Wildermyth’s praises in the coming year.
Guilty Gear Strive
Guilty Gear Strive: game of the year 2021, baby!
You all knew it was coming. As mentioned, my inner hipster wanted to give Wildermyth the top spot, but I simply couldn’t. I spent almost a hundred and seventy hours playing Strive in the span of five months and I’m likely to spend another hundred hours this year. It’s just so fun that I can’t seem to stop playing.
One of the things that makes Strive so appealing to me is the aesthetic. Each of the character designs just oozes style. The characters are so distinct in both their appearance and their moveset. Where else are you going to find a game with a Witch who smacks people with a guitar, a pirate girl who beats people up with an anchor, a big ass dude wearing a robot suit, or a vampire samurai? You’re not, because no other game is this outrageous.
There’s also no denying that a big part of what sold me on Guilty Gear was the soundtrack. Butt rock was a very big musical influence during my formative years, so I’ve never really gotten tired of listening to power chords and growling. On its own, the Strive soundtrack is fantastic, but you can also listen to, what I believe, is the whole original soundtrack from the previous game, Xrd, as well. This gives Strive an enormous collection of fantastic music that I haven’t grown tired of listening to, despite how long I’ve spent playing.
Finally, you have what I believe is Strive’s biggest success: it’s complexity. Relative to other Guilty Gear games, I’ve come to understand that Strive has been simplified. However, it still has several layers for new players to slowly peel back as they play and learn the game. This structure reminded me of my time with Monster Hunter – there is always something new to learn or improve on. I can see myself continuing to dig into Strive for a long time to come, finding new things to learn, and eventually master.
With Baiken’s imminent release later this month I’m sure that I’ll continue playing Strive for a long while yet. I had such a good time with this game in 2021 and I hope that I’ll continue to enjoy playing it well into 2022. Of all the games I played last year, Guilty Gear Strive stands out as the single best game and consistent source of joy throughout an otherwise bleak year.
Well that’s the best games sorted. If you made it this far, thank you for reading and I’ll see you on the flip-flop in the next post.