Best Video Games of 2021

Check out the best games of 2021
Check out the best games of 2021 Screencap from Kena: Bridge of Spirits
It’s been sort of a dismal year in gaming. Ongoing supply chain issues continue to stall the new generation of consoles and releases, and a series of exposes about the abuses rampant in the video game industry have made participating in a lot of it feel like a human rights violation. Still, there were a few great games this year worth talking about and here they are!

5. Psychonauts 2

Following up one of the most influential games of all time is no easy feat, but the long-awaited sequel managed to make a mark even in the crowded third-person adventure genre this year. Writer/director Tim Schafer has lost none of his touch and turned in a smartly written game that tackled heady issues like substance abuse, mental illness, and the radicalization of a loved one in a nuanced, careful way. On top of that is an excellent platformer with a brilliant combat system that makes exploring both the real world and the minds of the quirky inhabitants a joy.

4. Resident Evil: Village

Resident Evil: Village was simply delightful. The series is enjoying its renaissance, and the first-person shooter branch of the franchise really turned up all the dials this year. Featuring a campy, but terrifying cast of characters as well as the single best horror sequence since P.T., Village manages to combine real scares with completely over-the-top ridiculousness to make something truly unique. It was hands down the most fun Triple A game of 2021 as you shotgun your way past giant sexy vampire ladies and Nazipunk Frankensteins.

3. Before Your Eyes

Every few years a game comes along that redefines how purely narrative interactive media is done. Before Your Eyes is one of those titles, and the saddest thing about it is that it’s unlikely anyone will ever be able to be more than a pale imitation. The game is about a man who is entering the afterlife and having his tale told through flashbacks that are controlled by the player’s eye blinks. Each time you blink, the narrative skips ahead uncontrollably. It’s a weird way to tell a story, but it makes the experience feel dynamic and grounded in a way few purely narrative games can. I sweated more trying to keep my eyes open and not miss a scene than I did in several boss battles this year.

2. Unsighted

It’s weird that Nintendo finally releases a new sidescroller Metroid game after nearly two decades and it isn’t even the best Metroidvania of the year. Unsighted is an isometric, retro-pixel adventure that borrows heavily from Mega Man and Legend of Zelda. You play as an android trying desperately to restore a crystal that gives machines sentience before all your friends turn into mindless attack drones. The timer mechanic is a real devil that gives the game a frantic feel unmatched by any of the more conventional “hard” games released this year. The combat is butter-smooth, though you really have to get good at parrying to survive, and the boss fights are absolutely breathtaking. Created by a small Brazilian team run by two trans women, you can feel the questions of identity and medical freedom in the world full of beings built for the service of another race who are just trying to live their lives. It was a stunning game that stayed with me long after I finished.

1. Kena: Bridge of Spirits

The best game of the year was Kena: Bridge of Spirits. The lush world of ghosts that Kena travels through trying to right the wrongs of the angry dead is prettier than a Pixar joint, and the puzzles have the kind of intuitive design that makes a player feel like a genius for finishing them. The storytelling is moving and perfect, and Kena’s small army of woodland sprites are the cutest thing to come out of gaming since the Companion Cube. The developer, Ember Lab, got started doing Zelda fan films, and the fingerprints of the legendary series are all over Kena. However, I feel that Kena has actually surpassed the last couple of Zelda releases thanks to its tight story and compact focus on its core mechanics. It was a marvel.

Honorable Mention: Spiritfarer

Spiritfarer was released in 2020 but has spent the year fine-tuning and releasing new content to the point that the most recent (and apparently final) patch feels like the game just finally came out for real. I played nothing this year as much as I played the adventure of Stella and her cat Daffodil as they built a city-ship that helped the dead pass to the next life. Part platformer, part life sim, the game mixes resource growing with a deeply compelling story of the nature of loss into an unforgettable experience. With some quality of life additions and a new sequence explaining Stella’s story in full, the game is now complete enough to love fully.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner