Game of the Year 2021

That’s right, unlike other sites, VGU actually waited until the year was over! So here we are again. Coming at you with our favorite games of 2021. A list heavily dictated by spare time and funds in our bank accounts. Both of which I am dreadfully low on!

So with the year at a close, I’ve ranked my top 5 games of the year, and like I did in 2018 and 2020 (2019 was a whole different beast), I’m also going to list my favorite games I played that released pre-2021. So strap in, and if you see something you didn’t play, make a note to do so!

5. Psychonauts 2

Game of the Year - Psychonauts 2
Credit: Xbox Game Studios and Double Fine

I sadly missed the original Psychonauts when it released. For whatever reason, I have always had an unexplained hangup as to why I never played it since. Maybe I was afraid of badly aged mechanics or I wasn’t fond of the look, but with Psychonauts 2, I gave it a try. What I found was a brilliantly crafted game featuring the wonderful Double Fine humor, creative design decisions, trippy visuals and music, and so much more.

Psychonauts 2 dives right in where the original left off. The game does a great job not only reminding old players what happened, but is thorough enough to have new players up to speed. The emotional impact with characters and their internal struggles is believable and human, although they have the weird Burton-esque touch to it all making it all the more…uneasy. While the platforming does have an outdated feel in areas, the use of powers helps aid this dilemma assuming the other highlights of the game doesn’t make you forget about what little negatives you may find such as the mapping of powers to the controller.

All in all, Psychonauts 2 is a joy to play through. Very rarely do games run a gamut of emotions the way this game does, and even more rare do they succeed. Psychonauts 2 may very well be the best game Double Fine has ever released, and everyone should do themselves a favor and play this game even if you never played the original.

4. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Game of the Year - GotG
Credit: Square Enix and Eidos-Montreal

My expectations going into Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy were quite low. After a poor reception for Marvel’s Avengers and awful trailers for Guardians, it was hard to be hyped. Add in some of the surface details like designs I just was not feeling (looking at you Peter Quill) and the combat not blowing up my skirt; I pretty much wrote the game off until I saw it for $25 on Black Friday.

Needless to say, while some of those issues are there, plenty elevated the game to be something truly special. In particular, the story, character interactions, dialogue, and voice acting were top-notch. So much so that I would say it felt just like the movies in those respects. That’s not to say the gameplay itself was bad, because it wasn’t. It felt stiff in areas and I ran across some glitches that resulted in me needing to restart from a load point. Yet, despite those issues, it was the crew and everything involving their stories and relationships that made me love the game.

The closest thing I can compare the game to is Uncharted. While the game can stand for itself, it is the character work that really pulls the game along. Yes the set-pieces are nice and it looks amazing, but in the end I fell in love with the characters again moreso than the game I was playing. But the fact that it’s my number 4 should speak volumes about just how great all of that was to overcome any faults I saw. Though Peter Quill’s design still sucks.

3. Scarlet Nexus

Game of the Year - Scarlet Nexus
Credit: Bandai Namco

Every year I have that one big RPG of sorts I play. This year, that would be Scarlet Nexus. And like many of those JRPG’s, it hits so many of the notes I love. Cliche JRPG characters? Check. Time travel? You better believe it. Obtuse story that barely holds together? Oh for sure. And while the tropiness of this game may put off others, it certainly doesn’t do that for me.

As one would expect, the story goes places which immediately has my interest. No, I won’t spoil it here. But even besides the story, the action feels good and gets better the further into it you get. What starts out simple and barebones turns into an orgy of superpowers with the help of your comrades. It makes playing a game with repetitive cool-designed monsters feel fun every time an encounter starts. It feels great, stylish, frenetic, and an all around good time. If the level design was a tad more interesting and side quests were compelling to do, this would be an even better game.

Scarlet Nexus won’t be for everyone. It’s a shorter action-adventure RPG allowing for multiple playthroughs (two characters to select from, each with a different story), and some of what’s there can be utilized better than it was. However, the game was still a blast to play, and was something I was eager to hop into every night before bed.

2. The Forgotten City

Game of the Year - The Forgotten City
Credit: Dear Villagers and Modern Storyteller

I had this game at my #1 for a while. It wasn’t until our game of the year deliberations that I realized…I like one game even more. But that doesn’t mean The Forbidden City is bad. Quite the contrary. The Forbidden City doesn’t overstay it’s welcome while inviting a number of intriguing mysteries to solve. It does time loops right, leaving you to solve a mystery once before eliminating the need to solve (and do) it again, and again, and again. And while I think some of the limited characters are a tad lackluster, the experience through the end is still an absolute blast.

The greater mystery of The Forgotten City is fun, but not really why I enjoyed the game so much. The joy of this game was determining how to break the loop, and the way to do it was by learning about, and helping, everyone in this small city. Some were relatively simple while others were horrifying, but they also were satisfying. The gameplay feels familiar (in thanks to it being a Skyrim mod), but it won’t be the best feeling game by a long shot. But the few complaints I have with this game would be selling the game short. In a year where a time loop game can feel too complicated (Outer Wilds expansion) or just plain disappointing (12 Minutes); The Forgotten City hit the sweet spot for me.

While I never saw all four endings (missed ending 3), The Forgotten City has stuck with me. I loved that world and I keep thinking of jumping back in. I didn’t test out the different starting classes, and there’s one in particular I’m curious about. Whether I do or not is one thing, but if you haven’t, I highly suggest you to do so. The Forgotten City doesn’t deserve to be forgotten, because it’s easily a top tier 2021 game.

1. Inscryption

Game of the Year - Inscryption
Credit: Devolver Digital and Daniel Mullins Games

Inscryption is rad. I had no reason to enjoy the card game like I did, but it’s real good – all variations of it. For someone who typically dislikes card games, Daniel Mullins finds multiple ways to get players like myself over that hump. He simply lets you break the game. Not to the point it’s unchallenging, but with some careful planning, patience, and understanding; anyone can see why the game is (in my opinion) the greatest game of the year.

Yet, again, I’m not spoiling it. If you played Daniel Mullins previous games, I’m sure you’ll understand. Things happen. Things I wasn’t expecting. Both with the story and the card mechanics. But without speaking about what changes, I want to note that the card game(s) are incredibly well crafted. While RNG can definitely ruin a run, there will be a point where it clicks. You will understand the other intricacies the game provides to help certain hurdles to move you towards the endgame of each act. One may be the usage of death cards. One may be how you structure totems. The love and care to make Inscryption both an easy game to understand and an enthralling one makes it stand out.

The one draw back, and I do mean the ONLY drawback I find with Inscryption is the story. And it’s not because it’s bad. Far from it. It just feels…familiar. There are certain similarities with how things play out that make me feel like I’ve been here before in one of Mullins’ previous games. Even to an extent, a rare few other games. What makes Inscryption‘s story stand out though is the level of detail in crafting the lore while giving players an experience that is rarely seen. Inscryption is very much a video game. And I say that not for the obvious reason that it is a video game, but because what it does is something I can’t imagine any other medium is capable of doing. It’s absolutely spectacular and the best game of the year, and I say that without having taken part in the ARG or dipping into the files to find the details Mullins 100% expected fans to do.

And there it is. My top five for 2021. Check out not only the VGU podcasts where we discuss the site top 10, but also everyone else’s favorite games of the year on the site as well. And as for games I played this year that released pre-2021…well…check out the next page for my favorite 5 I played of those too.

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