The Games of 2021

This is a continuation of what I did last year, where I offer a brief review of the new games I played this year. For many reasons, the last two years have seemed to blur together and the quality of new games released has contributed to that in a small way. I did end up playing a few more games from last year including Ghost of Tsushima which was exactly what I assumed it would be — yet another open-world game only distinguishable by its setting.

One observation I will make about the new games I played this year is that we have now reached a point where publishers have all but normalised releasing games first and finishing them later. The idea of “games as a service” has been around for a while but it is really getting into a swing now. The real warning signs are that Nintendo — a company with a reputation for quality, is now doing it with major releases now too. We’ll start with these.

Mario Golf: Super Rush

The most egregious offender on Switch for being unfinished this year is definitely Mario Golf: Super Rush. If this were a house, it would offer shelter, the plumbing and wiring would be done and you would have doors and windows. It would just need flooring, insulation, painting and a whole lot of minor maintenance — but you could live in it. The golfing mechanics are great and it looks great too; it is just when you get into it and see the total lack of features and the lazily produced story mode that you notice how little there is to it. The new draw is the Rush Mode which has characters racing to complete each hole rather than being automatically plonked next to their ball after each stroke. This is fun initially but gets old fast. What I almost immediately thought of was 2003’s Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour on GameCube which has a lot more content and was complete when the disc was originally pressed. A high definition remake or remaster of that would honestly have been preferable. It looks like Camelot came through with plenty of content post-launch but I think most would have preferred to wait a bit longer for a complete game.

New Pokémon Snap

During the short life of the Wii U, Pokémon Snap was one of the more obvious games that could have made a comeback and taken advantage of the Wii U’s controller. I’ve no doubt it was considered but it wasn’t to be. This very belated sequel to the original (that was a lot more fun than you’d expect), came just a little too late. As with Super Rush, this isn’t a bad game and was a lot more complete on launch but it lacks ambition and made changes to the original game for the worse. It looks great and has a neat variety of areas to explore but that is the limit of my positivity. This isn’t really my kind of game anyway but I would have said the same thing about the original which I nonetheless enjoyed. There was some post-launch support too but again, it would have been better to delay and complete the game.

Halo Infinite

This was a game I was really looking forward to and the last new game I played this year. It is also absolutely the most disappointing game of the year and the most unfinished of the three covered so far. Additionally it is yet another victim of the genre amalgamation I described in a post earlier in the year. Admittedly, some of these complaints are moot as I played the game digitally and for very little expense with Xbox Game Pass. Even with that, Halo 5: Guardians came out in 2015 so this has been in development for a long time so it has clearly had problems during this time.

The events of the previous game are all but ignored and for a long time I couldn’t work out what I’d missed. The bad guys from Halo Wars 2 are the main antagonists throughout but by the end there were at least some connections with the previous game. I am sure there are lengthy fan videos that explain all this but I’ll leave it at that as the Halo story was convoluted from the beginning. The point of all this was to give Master Chief something of a blank slate to keep doing what he does and in familiar territory.

The game definitely feels and plays like Halo where the gunplay, traversal and general action are concerned but the developers unfortunately felt the need to include the same sandbox design that makes so many AAA games hard to differentiate outside of their settings. So playing single-player now involves capturing bases and completing side-missions. Though even with these changes the game retains the long, boring corridors of the original in many story missions. There is also very little variety in the environment within the open-world. You’re either outside in areas reminiscent of the first few levels of the original or in underground structures (again reminiscent of the original). And the first Halo still had more environmental variety — as did the sequels.

I browsed mainstream reviews and nearly all were positive and called back to the now twenty year old original in the positive sense. I think this must have been lifted from a review guide sent out by Microsoft as I don’t see this as a positive. The multiplayer never much interested me but it is free to play so it is hard to complain about that. Though I have heard it has limited options and absurdly overpriced cosmetic DLC items. The only thing I really enjoyed about this was the grappling hook which did shake up the gameplay in a positive way. Halo Reach remains the peak of the series and ironically, Halo Infinite has taken the series in the same direction Bungee went with Destiny.

One other side issue is that I couldn’t even play this for a couple of weeks after release as the game wouldn’t launch due to some bug in the Windows Store of Xbox app. The Steam version was apparently working fine this whole time. I only mention this to note that these sort of problems are regular in a system that Microsoft wants consumers to use exclusively. 

Bowser’s Fury

This was a rather substantial bonus included with the re-release of Super Mario 3D World on Switch earlier this year. Nintendo could have easily got away with releasing the game without this so it is a great bonus. This is a short game that uses some mechanics from 3D World but plays more like Super Mario Odyssey and is something on an experiment at a fully open world Super Mario game. Although brief, this is an engaging title that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Psychonauts 2

The sequel to 2005’s Psychonauts from Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions. I quite enjoyed the original which I played much later after the recommendation of Yahtzee Croshaw many years ago. Even coming sixteen years later, I was impressed that the game feels like a sequel that followed a few years later. The narrative continues almost immediately where the original left and brings back many voice actors, designers and the composer from the original. It may have taken a while but they certainly did an admirable job creating a sequel that captures what made the first so great. I’d still rate the original slightly higher but that’s not faint praise. I’ve written about a couple of Double Fine games here before and this is their best release since 2011’s Iron Brigade.

Resident Evil Village

This was the first big release of the year and one that seems almost forgotten already. A direct sequel to 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard  with both plot and general gameplay but notably takes some cues from the earlier games. I’ve not played through all of Resident Evil 7 but I had assumed it was a complete break from the previous entries. This is not the case and one of the original protagonists — Chris Redfield is still a prominent character

What most appealed to me about Village was the similarities with Resident Evil 4. Although the characters and events differ, the areas and progression follow the game quite closely — only condensed. Despite the more serious tone taken, the narrative is just as ridiculous as earlier entries. It also takes place in similar areas to Resident Evil 4, most notably the entry into the titular village as well as the castle of Lady Dimitrescu. This antagonist was cleverly promoted early though she is ultimately only in a small but certainly memorable part of the game.

There is a lot more to enjoy than what was shown in promotions and a few unexpected surprises throughout. Resident Evil 4 remains the gold standard of the series for me but this was still a great entry and one of the best games I played in 2021.

Metroid Dread

A surprise announcement of a game rumoured since Metroid Prime 3: Corruption in 2007. Admittedly this rumour was based entirely on an obscure data entry found within that game but it certainly seems to be one Nintendo had planned in one form or another. Developed by MercurySteam after their excellent remake for 3DS Metroid: Samus Returns, this was the first original 2D Metroid game for almost twenty years. I have no idea of how much remains of the original concept for Dread in this but this is a very well-made game that captures the spirit of the series with some enjoyable twists.

I have never been really into the original Metroid games and would rate Metroid Prime as my favourite in the series. However, I have played all the main entries and would put Metroid Dread ahead of all except Super Metroid. There were complaints about the game’s difficulty but I thought it was just right and the boss fights mostly well-designed. The final encounter in particular really felt like a final fight through both its intensity and challenge. The game came to an unsurprising (if you’re experienced with the series) but satisfying conclusion.

Of all these games, Metroid Dread and Resident Evil Village were the two new games I most enjoyed. With a special mention deserved for Psychonauts 2. All three of these games released complete and stuck to their respective genres. This is increasingly rare and it is strange that I should praise them for something that should be normal.

Most of the games I played this year were older games including a number of games I replayed. This is increasingly my preference when I have the time as like movies, video games are getting worse — not better. If this follows my reading preferences, I’ll probably have no new games to write about in a few years time.

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