When I’ve sat down to write these year-end lists in the past, I’ve usually done so with a sense of urgency that belies my intentions for them. Inspired by the industry-wide personal best of lists Giant Bomb publishes to celebrate the year that was, I envisioned mine having the same panache. In reality, my procrastination leaves me with little time to revisit my previous sentiments, and the best I can muster is maybe a cursory thought and a link to any applicable reviews (SEO!). The last couple of years, I’ve kept a thorough log of what I played, simultaneously maintaining a top ten list all the while. As such, compiling my favorite games come December isn’t hard; I just don’t leave myself enough time. But this year I’ve got a secret weapon – I’m starting early.
As always, it’s worth clarifying that these are my favorite games that I played this year, regardless of their release. If it wasn’t apparent from my intermittent posting, I don’t have a career in games media and like anyone reading this, I have limited resources available to me, chief amongst them time. As such, the games I do sit down to play are already pretty curated. Now, that doesn’t mean the games themselves are universally regarded, or that I even come to like them, but I’m usually pulling from a list of only about fifty titles. And I try not to include repeat entries, because otherwise Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Go would ALWAYS be present. With those caveats out of the way, let’s get to it!
Akai Katana – In a year that I delved into a half-dozen or more shoot ‘em ups, this was the cream of the crop. It was a balls-to-the-wall experience that never let off the gas, from the hundreds of bullets on screen to the vintage war craft summoning bosses. It was one of the bullet hell shmups I played with accommodating difficulty options and achievements, that had me reevaluating my perceptions on the subgenre’s toughness.
Alienation – At any given moment, there were like five different things I was working towards in this game, which is often when I’m most happy with a game. My character’s level, the weapons I used, the add-ons, there were a lot of crunchy systems of progression that kept me hooked. For these systems to be baked into a twin-stick shooter, alongside loot drops, remains a novel combination.
Everybody’s Golf – It was around the release of Mario Golf: Super Rush that a friend and I started dabbling with arcade golf games. This is the one we kept returning to, both eventually starting single player campaigns. A couple months later and we’re both still chipping away at it, too.
Indivisible – A Metroidvania system of platforming and progression, and a Valkyrie Profile inspired turn-based combat system both took a backseat to humorous writing and delivery. It wasn’t enough of an RPG for my tastes, but it was still a worthwhile, relatively brief, adventure.
Metal Slug 3 – General consensus appears to be that this is the best Metal Slug game, and it was apparent why after I played through it. It was the most jam-packed entry up to that point, and one could argue still is. The run and gun action is as good as it ever was, with a variety of shoot ‘em up sections that offered something different.
Nex Machina – The other Housemarque game on my list, this one is much more in line with their arcade-inspired games. This was an evolution of the Smash TV formula, but as I noted in my review, even more insane.
Nier: Automata – While I admit I didn’t find this game as impactful as others have, I nonetheless thought it was a peak character action game. The shmup sections were great, and there was plenty of collectibles and upgrades to search for to satisfy my desires for such things, but not feel overwhelmed.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond – Listen, I gotta have one Pokémon game on my list; this series is comfort food for me. This entry, alongside Shining Pearl, are very faithful remakes of the fourth generation Nintendo DS games, which despite having fond memories of, are among my least favorite in the series. Still, there was a lot for me to enjoy this time around, especially with a fairly robust amount of post-game content that I’m now working my way through.
Suikoden III – Of the Suikoden games I’ve played so far, this one has the most robust character progression mechanics and systems. It should come as no surprise then, considering my affection for crunchy systems, that this is my favorite entry in the series. I spent way more time with this game than I should’ve, just because I found it so fun to min/max the Stars of Destiny I had recruited.
Trauma Center: Under the Knife – I’ve wanted to play this game since first reading about it in Nintendo Power more than fifteen years ago. What do I think now that I’ve finally played it? I think I’m ready to play the sequels!
In addition to this curated list, here’s all the games I played this year – at least for a half-hour or so. There were plenty more I popped in, just to check out for one reason or another. This list is sorted chronologically based on when I started the games, so some completions will seem out of order. And those games that I completed are in bold.
Games Played in 2021
- Pokémon Sword – completed November 26, 2019 in 34:33
- Pokémon Go
- Picross: Lord of the Nazarick – completed April 20, 2021 in 40+ hours
- Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (a little bit of most)
- Alienation – completed January 23, 2021 in a few hours (replay)
- Nier: Automata – completed February 19, 2021 in 16:06
- Castlevania Anniversary Collection (a little bit of all)
- Contra Anniversary Collection (a little bit of all)
- Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection (a little bit of all)
- Sega Genesis Classics
- Metal Slug (via Metal Slug Anthology on the PS4 in 25 and 23 continues) – completed January 24, 2021 in about an hour
- Metal Slug 2 (via Metal Slug Anthology on the PS4 in 35 continues) – completed January 25, 2021 in 0:50
- Metal Slug X (via Metal Slug Anthology on the PS4 in 27 continues) – completed January 26, 2021 in 0:50
- Metal Slug 3 (via Metal Slug Anthology on the PS4 in 51 continues) – completed January 27, 2021 in 1:05
- Metal Slug 4 (via Metal Slug Anthology on the PS4 in 42 continues) – completed January 28, 2021 in 0:47
- Metal Slug 5 (via Metal Slug Anthology on the PS4 in 25 continues) – completed January 29, 2021 in 0:43
- Metal Slug 6 (via Metal Slug Anthology on the PS4 in 6 and 27 continues) – completed January 30, 2021 in 0:27 and 0:45
- Phantasy Star II (via Sega Genesis Classics on the Switch)
- In the Hunt (PlayStation) – completed February 13, 2021 in 0:37
- Growl (via AtGames’ Legends Gamer Pro) – completed March 20, 2021 in about a half-hour
- Resistance: Retribution – completed May 21, 2021 in 10:24
- Sword of Vermilion (via Sega Genesis Classics on the Switch) – completed April 24, 2021 in 18:34
- Pac-Man 99
- Indivisible – completed June 12, 2021 in 22:49
- Toree 3D
- Pokémon Picross
- Peggle: Dual Shot
- Trauma Center: Under the Knife – completed October 19, 2021 in 8:04 (3DS says 10:20, aka including failed attempts)
- Akai Katana – completed… many times over the course of May
- Root Beer Tapper (Xbox 360)
- Deathsmiles – completed… many times over the course of late May and early June
- Super Destronaut DX (PS4 & PSV) – completed June 1, 2021 in about a half-hour
- Super Destronaut: Land Wars (PS4 & PSV) – completed June 6, 2021 and June 7, 2021 in about a half-hour
- Raiden Fighters (via Raiden Fighters Aces on the Xbox 360) – completed June 9, 2021 in 0:23
- Pacific Wings (PS4) – completed June 12, 2021 in less than a half-hour
- Raiden Fighters 2 (via Raiden Fighters Aces on the Xbox 360) – completed June 13, 2021 in less than a half-hour
- Raiden Fighters Jet (via Raiden Fighters Aces on the Xbox 360) completed June 16, 2021 in 0:25
- Resistance: Burning Skies – completed June 20, 2021 in 5:35
- Suikoden III – completed September 14, 2021 in 97:43
- Pokémon Unite
- Folklore (dabbling)
- Raiden V (dabbling)
- Everybody’s Golf
- No More Heroes III – completed November 14, 2021 in 12:59
- WarioWare: Get It Together
- Raiden IV – completed September 16, 2021 in 1:51
- Ragnarok Odyssey Ace
- Nex Machina – completed October 24, 2021 in about two hours
- Castlevania (NES, via the Castlevania Anniversary Collection) – completed October 31, 2021 in 3:34
- Pokémon Brilliant Diamond – completed December 19, 2021
- Contra: Rogue Corps