Year In Review: The Indiependent’s Top 10 Games Of 2021

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Image Assets ©Capcom/Arkane Studios/Witch Beam/Nintendo/The Pokémon Company/Bandai Namco/Nintendo/Mercury Steam/Turtle Rock Studios/Housemarque. Image Design: Jack Roberts

From the confines of lockdown, gaming has been integral to keeping us all connected, as well as providing an essential escape. From hosting weddings in Final Fantasy XIV, to visiting our islands that have taken 250+ hours to polish to perfection in Animal Crossing: New Horizons in 2020 (and then going back to those islands in 2021 after months away to enjoy a delicious cup of virtual coffee with a dash of questionably sourced pigeon milk). Each of the games that have made it onto this list, as voted for by our contributors, has provided comfort, fun, scares and escapism in some form or another. Games within games that you can play with your families. Simulations that recreate everyday experiences that have been near impossible to think of during lockdown. The return of franchises that needed some love during their most trying times. The most terrifying horrors that have us running to turn on the lights. Each one, important in its own right, doing its part to bring joy when it is needed most. – Jack

2021 has been an incredible year for gaming. From Resident Evil Village bringing us some new horror icons to the welcome return of Samus in Metroid Dread, to Unpacking bringing joy with its comforting art style, there really has been something for everyone. The arrival of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X & Series S brought the beginning of a new generation of gaming, and with it, a whole new world of games while Nintendo continued their run of solid exclusives for the Switch. With gaming playing such a pivotal role in connecting people through their stories, characters and even a game within a game, the titles in this list have made 2021 that little bit brighter… or scarier, or funnier, or tenser depending on your game of choice.

Narrowing down the list of top games to just ten wasn’t easy but we managed it. So, take a look, enjoy and here’s to the games of 2022! – Megan


10: WarioWare: Get It Together!

©Nintendo

Despite being an utter charlatan, Wario has firmly established himself as one of the darlings in Nintendo’s vast repertoire. But he may not have got that far without his gaggle of crazy cohorts. WarioWare: Get It Together makes that abundantly clear. What makes a WarioWare game? The variety in the microgames and interwoven stories that form their backdrop. But this time, you’re not confined to just being a generic stylus or Wiimote tweezing and prodding your way to success on the other side of the screen. Now you’re in full control of the characters in their own domains. Ashley, Orbulon, 9-Volt and more. That’s what gives this game its personality.

Taking the very best concepts from the previous games and accentuating them into Wario’s most daring set on microgames yet, WarioWare: Get It Together oozes charm and is the franchise at its peak.

Read our review here

Words by Jack Roberts


9: Famicom Detective Club

©Mages.

After all these years, I never thought that Nintendo would go out of their way to remake a twenty-year-old visual novel for the Switch. And I certainly didn’t think that this Japan-exclusive would then be localised for the first time.

Famicom Detective Club is actually two games: The Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind. You are a young apprentice detective, working with your partner Ayumi Tachibana (who you may remember as a trophy in the Super Smash Bros. series) to solve crimes. If you’ve ever played Phoenix Wright or Danganronpa, this almost feels like their great-grandpa.

Both stories feel like an Agatha Christie style whodunit, where you meet uncanny characters and attempt to figure out which of them committed a seemingly impossible murder. The game is simple but effective, with smooth visuals and a crisp, concise UI. While the gameplay can be a little convoluted at times, it’s an effective mystery that will have you hooked right to the end.

Words by Alex Daud Briggs


8: New Pokémon Snap

©Nintendo

Comfort games have been crucial to so many throughout the last two years, confirmed by the mega-success of Animal Crossing last year. New Pokémon Snap, whilst not as much of a phenomenon, certainly picks up the mantel from New Horizons as this year’s cutest gaming escape. An on-rails Pokémon photography game, New Pokémon Snap sees you riding a preset safari course whilst trying to take the best snaps of Pokémon you can. It’s a simple premise that works, especially when you factor in the amount of variation and depth packaged here.

1999’s Pokémon Snap was criticised for its severely limited course list, but New Pokémon Snap corrects this by injecting the game with more Pokémon, more courses—more everything. Delightfully, the Pokémon slowly warm to your presence, subtly changing their behaviour as they get more comfortable with you, and if that doesn’t win you over, I’m not sure what will.

Words by Jake Abatan


7: Back 4 Blood

©Turtle Rock Studios

Zombies, action, and a whole lot of weapons. Back 4 Blood has it all and then some. Made by the team behind Left 4 Dead, this multiplayer FPS puts players right in the action pretty much from the minute you enter the game.

With a choice of eight different characters to play as there’s an option for everyone. My own personal choice is Holly as her shotgun/baseball bat (aka Dottie) combo is a great fit for how I enjoyed playing the game getting into the melee. Karlee is a very close second with her team speed perk coming in handy more than once.

 For an always-online multiplayer, Back 4 Blood is also pretty easy to pick up and play. Just set the difficulty level, pick your ‘Cleaner’ and go straight into the game with the rest of your team being made up of either random players or friends.

Without getting too far into detail, the story is standard for a survival horror game and the heart of this game is really in the action of each part of the campaign.

With solo play, an offline mode and more coming in 2022, the future of Back 4 Blood is looking pretty good.

Words by Megan Roxburgh


6: Little Nightmares 2

©Tarsier Studios

Building on the Tim Burton-esque horror of its predecessor, Little Nightmares 2 is cute, creepy and cleverly crafted. Playing as a little lost child, Mono, along with Six returning from the first game, you are forced to navigate a world far bigger and far scarier than your wildest dreams… or nightmares as the case may be.

Whether you’re being chased down by relentless pursuers, be it by a shotgun-wielding hunter or a teacher with an ever-stretching neck, or calmly contemplating a solution to a particularly intricate puzzle that’s made all the harder by your short stature, Little Nightmares 2 will always find a way to keep you on your toes.

While, much like its namesake, the game is short, this brief burst of horror has a way of making you feel for your young wards and ensures you will have a fun, albeit tense time in attempting to protect them on their silent quest.

Words by Jack Roberts


5: Deathloop

©Arkane Studios

It was impossible to miss the hype around Deathloop. It felt as if every PlayStation Showcase and State of Play wouldn’t be complete without some mention of Arkane Studios’ latest venture. And for good reason. Deathloop has gone on to make its way onto many a Game of the Year list, including ours!

Taking control of an assassin, Colt, you’re tasked with taking out eight “Visionary” targets that run the island you’re trapped on. But of course, there’s a twist. In a year that’s seen multiple roguelikes/lites hit the big time, Deathloop is no exception. Every time you die, you start back on the beach you began, ready for another shot at completing your objective.

Deathloop is a stylish and thrilling shooter that adapts to your approach. Whether you prefer to work from the shadows or go in guns blazing, there is always a way forward… that is, until you loop back to the start.

Words by Jack Roberts


4: Unpacking

©Witch Beam

A game that might not be familiar to wider audiences, Unpacking has made quite the impact in the short time since its release.

The premise of this game is very simple on the surface. Each level features a room or rooms, and you must unpack all the boxes and put everything in the right place. Where Unpacking makes a connection is that this is your life, these are your things and your room(s).

Each level is a time in your life. From your first childhood bedroom to your college dorm and finally, in your forever home, this takes players on a journey through the years. These are moments most people will have gone through in their lives or are even experiencing now

The gameplay is very easy to pick up and the added puzzle challenge of putting things in the “right” place adds an extra dimension to the game. There were a couple of moments, however, where I was glad that the puzzle element can be turned off because where I wanted to put something wasn’t where it “should” have been and that was a little frustrating.

On the flip side, Unpacking was also very calming. Being able to focus on each item and figuring out where they go can be quite relaxing as it takes away all the other distractions and allows you to really make each place your own.

If you’re looking for a well-designed, thoughtful, and endearing game to spend a few hours in then Unpacking is the one for you.

Words by Megan Roxburgh


3: Returnal

©Housemarque

As I took my first steps onto the planet Atropos as our lone hero Selene Vassos, I felt a serious case of déjà vu. Not because I was caught in one of Returnal’s many time loops, but because of the story and the characters themselves. If ever I wanted to play a spiritual successor to Ridley Scott’s Alien, then this would be it. From the ominous atmosphere, to the action that feels so intense as it reverberates with the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback. This was the Alien experience that I had always wanted.

Returnal is an experience of Sisyphean proportions. With every death, or every completed run of the planet, you begin again. Refresh, renewed and ready to dive back into the intricate narrative that the game is weaving. If playing Hades this year has taught me anything, it’s that I’m a sucker for a battle of attrition, and Returnal scratched that itch completely.

Words by Jack Roberts


2: Metroid Dread

©Nintendo

19 years after Metroid Fusion, Samus’ return to the series’ 2D roots is sublime. The Metroidvania genre has had a flowering of sorts in recent years, meaning that for Metroid Dread to impress, it had to break out the big guns. And boy, does it. True to its name, you spend a lot of time in Dread trying to escape the terrifying E.M.M.I.s‚ combat drones far stronger than you, as what begins as a noble mission to extinguish the last X Parasite quickly morphs into an escape mission.

Introducing a mixture of stealth and run for dear life-mechanics, Dread is an addicting update of the familiar Metroidvania formula. The foundations of what makes 2D Metroid so special—a solitary atmosphere, dynamic exploration, and rewarding secrets—are still very much intact, and make this both an enriching entry point for newbies and a satisfying conclusion for series mainstays.

Read our review here

Words by Jake Abatan


1: Resident Evil Village

©Capcom

Despite some tonally jarring dialogue and some of the easiest puzzles in the franchise, Resident Evil Village is by far one of the best games of the year. With some gorgeously gothic environmental design and some hauntingly beautiful lighting, Village manages to be the franchise’s best-looking entry.

From a gameplay perspective, Village is the perfect blend of Resident Evil 4-like action and original Resident Evil horror, with a wide selection of upgradable weapons and unlockable attachments to use against hordes of horrifying Lycan enemies. 

The boss fights in Village are a particular stand out, with Lady Dimitrescu being an obvious highlight of the game. Lady D. not only has a now-iconic visual design and superb voice acting, but her Nemesis-akin AI offers some of the best scares and some of the most intense gameplay sequences in the entire game. 

Resident Evil Village provides a tight, polished, and unique AAA action-horror experience that deserves to sit among the other greats of the year.

Read our review here

Words by Cameron Swan


Introductory words by Jack Roberts and Megan Roxburgh


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