Zach’s Favorite Games of 2021

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The nice thing about this article is that it’s timely.

I don’t play as many video games as I used to, but 2021 was a good year in that regard. I didn’t play a ton of brand-new games in 2021, but rather tried to catch up on a bit of my backlog. My acquisition of an Xbox Series X in late 2020 has guided many of my gaming purchases, although I have a couple notable PS4 games on my list as well. Obviously, this isn’t a strictly Nintendo-based list, because my time was pretty evenly split between all three of my consoles in 2021.

Best Nintendo Game: Metroid Dread

As if there was any doubt. Much like John Rairdin, I came away from Metroid Dread supremely impressed, and that’s after taking part in NWR’s 2D Metroid Game Club. Every part the experience was engrossing, from the fun combat, satisfying boss fights, and fast, butter-smooth movement. It looks great too, with sharp character models and lots of color flourishes. The zig-zaggy path through the map is initially confusing but Dread offers plenty of sequence-breaking opportunities. My only real complaint is aimed at the soundtrack, which isn’t nearly as energetic or atmospheric as previous Metroid games. Seriously, though, after not loving Mercury Steam’s previous Metroid attempt (Samus Returns), I’m kind of floored by how much of an improvement Dread is. I found the story to be mostly nonsensical, but there’s a story moment with Samus that I found surprisingly touching, and there’s another moment when Samus is leaving an area where I dropped my jaw and said aloud “oh fuuuuuuu…”

I wish she at least got her helmet off at the end, though. That was my favorite character moment in Metroid Prime.

Best Non-tendo Game: Guardians of the Galaxy

I know this game is technically available on Switch via the power of the Cloud, but it’s apparently not good (and for those of us with bandwidth caps, not practical). Based entirely on the high recommendations of all three co-hosts of the Player One Podcast, I bought the game on a Black Friday sale for Xbox Series X, and holy lord is it a fun time. If, like me, your Guardians of the Galaxy knowledge is largely confined to the Marvel movies, you may be initially put off by the off-brand character models for Peter, Drax, and Gamora but I quickly grew to love them (although Gamora is weirdly thin). The gameplay is extremely simplistic, involving light environmental exploration—which is largely corridor-based—and fun combat encounters where you work as a team to take out large groups of enemies. The game’s unique “Huddle” mechanic, where Peter psyches everyone up during long fights, is a lot of fun, too.

But it’s the story and characters that kept me coming back, and more specifically the discussions between them. They never shut up, but it’s always entertaining and genuine. Drax, largely reduced to a punchline in the MCU movies, gets a very strong arc here, and Mantis is hilarious. As a big fan of Frank Cho (please be surprised), the mere presence of Lady Hellbender put this game over the top for me. The soundtrack is also fantastic, including the bevvy of licensed music and original rock ‘n’ roll album which you can just sit and listen to in the opening cutscene.

Graphically, the game is beautiful, with imaginative alien vistas and great animation. I’m not sure how much flarkin’ legwork the Series X patch it doing, but you can’t argue with the results.

Best Game I Reviewed in 2021: Axiom Verge 2

When I was speculating about what the sequel to Axiom Verge would be, I never thought it would (a) not involve Trace; and (b) not involve Contra-like gunplay. Fittingly, perhaps, Axiom Verge 2 does not involve Trace and does not feature any gunplay. Instead, you take the role of a woman from Earth named Indra who becomes stranded on a parallel world—Kiengir—and spends most of her time trying to find a way back. In doing so, she learns of the planet’s war-torn past and finds unique technology to help her get around. The ties to Axiom Verge 1 are there, but they’re mostly subtle. Combat is relatively rare but surprisingly melee-flavored when it appears. Drone exploration makes a triumphant return—upgraded and better than ever, and the drone can access a secondary map that’s extremely fun to explore. Despite the surprising divergences from its predecessor, Axiom Verge 2 still manages to feel like Axiom Verge. It’s a wonderful game and I can’t wait to see what Tom Happ does next.

Please look forward to my perpetually in-progress breakdown of the games’ complicated lore.

Biggest Disappointment(s)

Last month, I finally successfully pre-ordered an Analogue Pocket, but my excitement was quickly tamped down by the news that it would not arrive until Q4 of 2022. Similarly, I would very much like to play Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart but Sony seems dead-set on selling PS5’s exclusively to bots and scalpers. To add insult to injury, Walmart and Best Buy are only selling (online) to customers who are enroll in their paid programs. For a system that came out at the end of 2020, it’s borderline offensive that both, but especially the PS5, remain out of reach for so many customers. For my Nintendo entry, I was very disappointed by WayFoward’s Bloodrayne Betrayal. I remembered it being a super hard game back on the PS3, but I didn’t remember why. Ugh, just don’t play it.

Best Game I Finally Played in 2021: Robot Dinosaur Zelda

I’m not sure how long I’ve owned the PS4 disk of Horizon: Zero Dawn, but in 2021, Sony offered it for free on the Playstation Store. I downloaded it, gave the disk away, and finally sat down to play what I’ve come to call “Robot Dinosaur Zelda.” I became instantly hooked, basically playing the game nonstop for about a month in the summer, which led to a Platinum trophy. This is basically Breath of the Wild with archery combat and robot dinosaurs (but sadly no climbing), and I would wager that there’s no feeling quite like taking down a rampaging mechanical tyrannosaur with grenades and armor-popping arrows. Even with maxed-out skills, you still have to approach combat strategically and it’s unwise to try and brute-force your way through a flock of robotic oviraptorids. Horizon’s lore is bonkers and learning about how the world wound up relatively human-free and robot-populated became highly motivating, though I was largely unmoved by the game’s primary storyline of a group of humans trying to control the machines, which resulted in hero Aloy’s quest to run errands for everybody in the realm to prevent disaster and fight approximately a billion Glinthawks. Robot factories (dungeons) and the ruins of ancient human strongholds provide a lot of fun as well and tend to involve some measure of Prince of Persia-esque platforming.

The game is also just plain gorgeous, providing some of the most beautiful environmental effects I’ve ever seen in a video game, and shockingly brief and rare load times on my vanilla PS4. Most of the game’s humans (including, sadly, Aloy) tend to fall headfirst into the Uncanny Valley, but goddamn the robots look amazing. I can’t wait for Horizon 2: Forbidden West which hits next month.

Best Game I Started in 2021 but Haven’t Finished Yet: DOOM Eternal

DOOM Eternal is fucking metal.

I was surprised how much I loved DOOM (2016), so when DOOM Eternal came out, it was a day one purchase for me. I ripped and tore my way through the campaign in no time, wholesale ignoring all the lore that the developers seemed to take incredibly seriously (sorry guys). I’m not particularly good at DOOM Eternal—at least compared to videos I’ve seen on YouTube—but it’s supremely enjoyable. This may be my favorite modern FPS franchise. Somewhere around August, the DLC (“Forgotten Gods”) was on sale, so I picked it up but haven’t played more than an hour because I got distracted by other things (see above). It’s also hard as nails, but I fully intend to get back into the Super Shotgun swing of things in 2022. DOOM Eternal is another game that already looked incredible in its launch state, but the Series X patch knocked it out of the park. Exploring a demon-infested future Earth provides a lot of stunning sights—at least when you can pause to appreciate them between waves of demons—and I was constantly delighted by what I saw. Being on this franchise’s art team must be great fun.

As in the first game, DOOM Eternal’s heavy metal soundtrack provides an excellent backdrop to the flamethrowing, chainsawing, spike-goring, heavy rifling action, and it’s even managed to cross over to my group D&D campaign, where our Dungeon Master routinely plays DOOM Eternal music during boss fights.

Best Game That I Played Through Several Times Since Release: Control

In early 2020, when it was on sale, I bought Remedy’s Control for my neglected Xbox One. I played through much of the game but eventually got sick of the spasming framerate and minute-long load times between (frequent) deaths. Control is gorgeous and clearly a fun, well-made game, but it ran like butt on my Xbox One. Unwilling to upgrade to Microsoft’s middleware console (Xbox One X), I bided my time until I could get an Xbox Series X. My some miracle, that actually happened in December of 2021. And the first game I played? Control. With the benefit of essentially zero load times and a butter-smooth framerate, I blew through the entire game and both DLC expansions in about two weeks. I feel comfortable saying that Control is one of my favorite games of all time. My parents bought me the Ultimate Edition for my 2020 birthday, which got me a free next-gen graphical upgrade in early 2021. I was sad to see, however, that the Ultimate Edition doesn’t carry your game save over, so I started a new game just to see the beautiful ray-tracing and reflection effects (which are fantastic, by the way).

And wouldn’t you know it, I found myself replaying the entire game and both DLC expansions again. I still dip back in from time to time, mostly to show the game to friends. Control is fun to, well, control, because the powers that you accrue over time function in a both a Metroid-vania exploration sense but also tend to augment your combat abilities, which are frequently exercised. No two fights are the same, so they’re never boring. The true star of Control is The Oldest House, a gigantic Brutalist structure, constantly shifting in perspective-bending ways, that you spent the entire game exploring. The environments never stop being the stars of the show, from the most mundane office spaces to the extra-dimensional Black Rock Quarry and Foundation and the vast emptiness of the Astral Plane. The game is also packed to the gills with lore, much of which is quite funny.

Based on how the “AWE Expansion” ends, it sounds like the recently-announced sequel to Alan Wake may tie directly into Control, so I guess I should play Alan Wake. Control is another game available on Switch through the power of the Cloud, but I couldn’t tell you whether it’s good or not. John Rairdin did a video comparison, though.

Biggest Source of Shame in 2021: Not Finishing Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2

I love this game so much. I have it on Xbox Series X and I’ve gotten through most of the first and second games’ campaigns.


I am currently angry at Microsoft because of this: allegedly, if you have the Digital Deluxe version of this game (which I do), you get the Xbox Series X upgrade version for free. Nope, it shows up as fifty bucks on the Microsoft Store. When I follow the Microsoft Store’s instructions, I get some bullshit saying that I simply can’t choose the Xbox Series X edition, because it’s part of a bundle. But I also can’t select the standalone Xbox Series X edition, because that costs fifty dollars. What do you want from me, Microsoft? I even bought the $10 upgrade patch to be safe, but no dice. I tried calling Microsoft but was connected to a customer support bank in India and I could not get the guy on the phone to understand the problem. I was then accidentally (I’m sure) disconnected and I was too frustrated to call back.

Get it the fuck together, Microsoft.

Best Game From 2015 That I’m Still Playing Nonstop in 2021: The Binding of Isaac

In 2015, fellow NWR contributor Adam Abou-Nasr bought me a New 3DS game called The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and I haven’t looked back. I genuinely fear how many hours I’ve pumped into that game, especially after getting Afterbirth+ on Switch. Seriously, there are still things I haven’t accomplished in that never-ending game. Just recently, the final piece of paid DLC, called Repentance, dropped and I was powerless to resist. It adds a couple new unlockable characters, a metric poop-ton of new items, and whole new alternate path through the game featuring new bosses and a gauntlet of increasingly ridiculous final bosses—which I still haven’t beat! Please look forward to an upcoming episode of Intervention in which my friends and family try to get me to go a treatment facility for my Isaac addiction.

Best DLC of 2021: Senna Forever

It’s been a minute since I finished Horizon Chase Turbo, which was my Game of the Year in 2018. This fall, that team released a massive single player campaign called “Senna Forever,” which chronicles the career of Brazil’s Aryton Senna, often considered one of the best F1 racers. I sank a ton of time into this impressive campaign. You can read about it in my review, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Best Multiplayer Game I’m Still Playing in 2021: TowerFall

Sorry guys, it’s not Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, although I continue to log hours in that and have been enjoying most of the new characters. It’s also not Fortnite, a game my honorary nephew keeps asking me to play with him and I always rebuff him since Fortnite is hot garbage. No, dear reader, it’s something much older and low-tech: TowerFall, from Matt Makes Games. If you’ve never played this local-only multiplayer extravaganza, you’re really missing out. Up to four players try to shoot each other with arrows in a screen-sized platforming arena. There are a host of items and environmental effects that gives the game a real Smash Bros. sense of randomness and leads to a lot of hilarity. Win or lose, you’ll have a great time. It also now includes Celeste from her self-titled precision platformer that I really wish I liked more than I do.

Most Anticipated Games of 2022

Well, assuming it actually comes out in 2022, I’m really excited about the Breath of the Wild sequel. I know it’s not going to happen, but wouldn’t it be cool if Metroid Prime 4 hit sometime this year? Speaking of Metroid Prime, the conveyor belt of rumors surrounding a Switch port of the Trilogy eventually have to produce said port, right? If that’s announced for 2022, that might be my most anticipated game of the year.

But if we’re going with games that have been announced for, and will probably release in, 2022, I’ve got several.

First and foremost, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, from Dotemu and Tribute Games. It has a vague “2022” release date, but every time they show a trailer it looks so damn good, and as a TMNT superfan, I’m going to enjoy looking out for all sorts of in-jokes and homages. Can’t wait for that one.

In a similar vein, I’m eagerly anticipating River City Girls 2 from Arc System Works and WayForward. The original is fantastic, and the sequel looks to be the same game but just more of it in every sense of the word. I think it has a “Summer” release window but I would not object to an earlier shadow drop!

Finally, and you should’ve seen this one coming, I’m pretty excited to play Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars in the spring. Everything I’ve read about the PS4 release says that it’s a little light on content compared to other Senran games, but the Switch release allegedly includes additional difficulty modes, outfits and “sub events,” whatever that means. Let’s be real: the game could just be Asuka and Vert chewing gum and I’d probably buy it.

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