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30 Best Video Games of 2021 (Part 1)

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30 Best Video Games of 2021

The 30 Best Games of 2021

There was once a time when our staff could easily publish a list of the best video games of the year and most of us would have played the majority of the games featured on that list. Those days, however, are over.

As with any publication, our staff simply can’t keep up with the number of games being released each week, but we rely on each other to decide what we should spend our valuable time playing and what games we should maybe avoid. With that said, what follows is a list of the 30 games we’ve championed the most over the past 365 days.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Metroid Dread tops our list, given our love for both Nintendo and the Metroid series as a whole— but it is worth noting that it was such a tight race that Dread only took the number one spot by one vote, followed by Resident Evil Village and Halo Infinite which were also separated by one vote each.

As for how our voting system works, well it is somewhat complicated. Essentially, our writers each submit a list of their ten to fifteen favourtie games released in 2021, and points are assigned to each game based on where they appear on each individual list and how often they were voted on. A game must have multiple votes and be released in 2021 in order to qualify. It’s a long, tedious and complicated process that drives us insane every year, but a system that works no less since the results have always accurately represented our staff as a whole.

So, whether you’re into blockbusters or sleeper hits, multiplayer mayhem, epic single-player quests, and everything in between, chances are, you’ll find something to love on this list. Without further ado, here are the 30 best video games of 2021.

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Cybershadow
Image: Yacht Club Games

30. Cybershadow

An uncompromising spiritual successor to the Ninja Gaiden games on the NES, Cyber Shadow is a blood-pumping ninja adventure that remains unflinchingly committed to the difficulty of the classic games that inspired it. Cyber Shadow is filled to the brim with instant-death obstacles, unrelenting enemies, and pixel-perfect platforming challenges. Even then, though, the game is never unfair: it introduces just enough modern sensibilities to keep the game from ever getting too brutal. Simple additions like generous checkpoints and unlimited lives bring even its steepest challenges within reach, minimizing frustration while maximizing satisfaction.

Cyber Shadow provides a full-fledged roster of abilities along with dependable controls, giving players all the tools they need to jump, slash, and dash their way through the fiercest robot hordes. A surprisingly deep storyline, immaculate pixelated presentation, and a soundtrack filled with unforgettable chiptune beats make it tough to put the game down even after hundreds of deaths. With a striking sense of style and supremely satisfying gameplay, Cyber Shadow brilliantly scratches that ever-present retro itch. (Campbell Gill)

Famicom Detective Club
Image: Nintendo

29. Famicom Detective Club

The two Famicom Detective Club games, The Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind, delivered some of the most elaborate and memorable mysteries to ever grace Japanese consoles back in the late 1980s. More than thirty years later, the rest of the world can finally experience all these adventures have to offer with a pair of excellent HD remakes on Nintendo Switch. These revamps may not significantly touch the base content of either title, but they provide a handful of modernizations and beautiful all-new artwork to help bring both experiences up to modern standards.

Both games boast enticing mysteries that masterfully twist, turn, and unravel over the course of each investigation. With stories covering family dramas and even a touch of the supernatural, these cases offer plenty of intrigue to keep players sleuthing for hours on end. The already-great stories are brought to vivid life with the addition of fully redrawn art, including many fully animated characters that add new dimensions to otherwise static scenarios. These games may be decades old, but their Western debut is proof that great stories and compelling mysteries never age (Campbell Gill)

Olija \ Best Video Games of 2021

28. Olija

Ethereal landscapes crawling with shadowy creatures, elusive societies emerging from the mist, and an ancient prophecy come true: Olija is an action platformer with an unrivalled sense of atmosphere. The story of Lord Faraday’s quest for redemption in the desolate archipelago of Terraphage overflows with beguiling mystery told through wordless cutscenes and enticing pieces of environmental storytelling. Hints of romance and a shadowy call of destiny make for a truly memorable tale that keeps players guessing through to the very end.

Alongside its plot, Olija boasts a lightning-fast gameplay loop that marries traditional action combat with brisk exploration. Faraday wields a mystical harpoon that he can toss across the stage and immediately zip to it, allowing for dynamic exploration and snappy combat. With a vast island nation to discover, robust gameplay, and a mesmerizing story, Olija is a truly remarkable expedition that stays with the player long after the credits roll. It may have gotten lost in the shuffle since it was released in January, but even now, Olija deserves a place among 2021’s very best. (Campbell Gill)

The Medium
Image: Bloober Team

27. The Medium

Bloober Team have made quite a name for themselves in the world of horror, putting out some fantastic surreal offerings in Layers of Fear 1 and 2, as well as the stellar Observer in between. The Medium is their latest release, following Marianne, a ‘medium’ with the power to swap back and forth between the regular world and the spirit realm. Whilst trying to track down a mysterious man named Thomas who knows of her powers, as well as trying to unravel her own story, the dangers of the spirit realm become all too real.

One of the most incredible parts of The Medium is the environments. Based on real locations in Poland, everything feels so fully realized. The Niwa Worker’s Resort lays dilapidated and crumbling, and guiding Marianne through the building and the forests surrounding builds up such an atmosphere. Then there’s the spirit realm, drawing on the dystopian surrealist artwork of the late great Zdzisław Beksiński, straddling that thin line between otherworldly and the uncanny valley. The Medium juggles great level designs with some terrifying visuals and a cloying psychological horror seeping through the story. Seeing such great influence of Zdzisław Beksiński brought to life in the spirit realm is incredible, his unique oppressive surrealism isn’t tapped into nearly enough in horror media. Couple this with Akira Yamaoka composing and even just snippets of this game ooze style.

The ending may leave a bit to be desired, but as a whole package, The Medium is a thrilling ride and a great new addition to horror gaming. Bloober Team isn’t always on point, but when they are everything just aligns perfectly. (Shane Dover)

Little Nightmares II
Image: Namco Bandai

26. Little Nightmares II

The prequel to 2017’s Little Nightmares hits all the marks, diving deeper into the captivating story cryptically revealed in the first and looking damn good while doing it. Instead of playing as Six like in the original, the player takes control of a new character named Mono, instead teaming up with Six in their own journey through the Pale City.

The gameplay is very similar to the first game, although adding the extra dynamic of being able to swing certain objects as weapons. The ability to fight back against a few enemies though doesn’t take away from the tension present at all though, as the greater threats aren’t bothered in the slightest by Mono’s efforts. Plus, there’ are now collectible hats! Maybe not TF2 levels, but hats!

Little Nightmares II not only meets the first game’s incredible storytelling and tension but manages to exceed it. As the game proceeds and reality starts to bend around the duo a fantastic and surrealist world is opened up. Navigating the terrifying environments and slowly unraveling the origin of Six is captivating. There are a few moments that tug at the heartstrings, and others that grow to be profoundly unsettling. There are a lot of horror game gems shining brightly over the past few years, and Little Nightmares II finds its way right near the top. From the mannequin level to the dark and eerie school, right into Pale City and the Signal Tower as things fall apart more and more, so much of this game sits with you long after it’s done. (Shane Dover)

Toem | Best Video Games of 2021

25. TOEM

TOEM, created by Scandinavian developers Something We Made and available on Steam, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch, is a short and sweet photography adventure that feels like a warm hug. Unlike the sprawling nature of 2021’s largest, most ambitious adventures, TOEM is comparatively quiet and modest. The player character is on a journey to ascend a far-off mountain and observe the Toem phenomenon. On the way there, they will fill their photo album with as many fun and interesting pictures as they can, fulfilling discreet goals to earn stamps to progress to the next area.

TOEM has many strengths, but its most striking aspects are the stunning black-and-white art direction and the beautiful, subtle soundtrack. The music is mostly acoustic guitar and mellow synths, the perfect accompaniment for a walk through the woods or a stroll by the sea. Every new area is bursting with variety, delighting the curious without feeling overwhelming. The entire game feels like a friendly picture book, but it doesn’t feel overly cutesy or pandering. It is simply lovely at every turn and a welcome respite from the bombast of AAA blockbusters. (Cameron Daxon)

Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade
Image: Square Enix

24. Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade

One of the best games of 2020 returned bigger and better for the PlayStation 5 with Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade. It isn’t just graphical tweaks and quality of life upgrades here either, Intergrade also includes the all-new Intermission campaign starring fan-favorite ninja thief Yuffie Kisaragi.

New mini-games, new bosses, and new characters are just the icing on the cake here. With a good 10 hours or more of additional content, Final Fantasy fans who have been holding off on the first part of the Remake couldn’t find a better time to jump into the most entertaining and exciting title the series has had in years.

Packed with fan service and lovingly recreating one of the greatest RPGs of all time, Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade is an incredible and endearing reimagining of the iconic PS1 original and a game that can be enjoyed by fans of the series old and new alike. (Mike Worby)

Shin Megami Tensei V | Best Video Games of 2021
Image: Atlus

23. Shin Megami Tensei V

SMT is a very longstanding series, however, it’s been a hot minute since we got a brand new mainline entry. Shin Megami Tensei V came on the scene, and honestly, it may be the best one yet.

The player character begins with a rather typical day at school, although there are inklings of a darker undercurrent to what’s going on, with rumours of disappearances and violence abound. No one seems to know exactly what’s going on, and all of a sudden, Tokyo is gone. The city becomes a ruin stabbing out of a vast desert, like a mouthful of broken teeth skyscrapers are brought down to crooked rubble. Roaming these deserts are a host of angels and demons, monsters of all sorts, and an entity that fuses with your character to create a being capable of combating them.

The story is captivating, with the weighty philosophical musings in full force along with questions of morality, and as players, we really do want to find out what exactly happened to Tokyo as we know it. On top of all this though, this entry finds itself focusing on the character-driven side of the narrative, creating a cast who we grow to really know.

The dungeon crawling gameplay is complemented by a host of side quests and collectibles, along with some kickass RPG goodness. Things are designed to be fairly linear, which helps with furthering the narrative and never getting the player lost, however, the world is interesting and broad enough that exploration is still quite an important element.

SMT V hits home on everything that makes a SMT game, as well as honing their narrative and gameplay elements and improving across the board. It’s not just possibly the best SMT, but also one of the greatest JRPGs in recent memory. A captivating story that digs its hooks into you and doesn’t let go throughout. There’s so much to do, so much to see, and a system that expertly allows for strategic flair. (Shane Dover)

No More Heroes III
Image: Grasshopper Studios

22. No More Heroes III

It is easy to look at No More Heroes III and fixate on all the myriad faults it has. Textures pop in constantly, the framerate chugs during the open-world segments, and certain elements of the game, such as the Neo Brazil area, feel blatantly unfinished. Dwelling on these flaws, however, would do a huge disservice to what director Goichi Suda and his team at Grasshopper Manufacture have accomplished here.

Nearly every element of the game, particularly its UI and several of its cinematics, are oozing with character and style, which makes even the most mundane of scenarios and gameplay interactions a real treat. The combat feels more polished, visceral, and strategic than ever before, a notable achievement for a series that has traditionally focused more on the sheer catharsis of battles rather than their mechanical complexity. And this improved combat is propped up by some of the most creative, challenging, and downright fun boss battles of any game this year.

More than any of that, though, No More Heroes III stands as one of the few modern non-indie titles that is almost completely uncompromised in its vision. The game is more than willing to regularly throw traditional narrative and gameplay design out the window in service of a unique experience. It constantly left me guessing what kind of batshit crazy scenario would happen next, and it is filled with an intoxicating level of passion for video games and media in general. No More Heroes III marches to the beat of its own drum, and I cannot help but want to march right along with it. (Daniel Pinheiro)

Loop Hero  | Best Video Games of 2021
Image: Digital Devolver

21. Loop Hero

Loop Hero is an indie standout that is not easily categorized. Part role-playing adventure, part idle game, part weird base-building simulation, Loop Hero is a puzzle box that keeps its secrets close. Players control a hero who has woken up in a world that has forgotten itself. A powerful lich has wiped seemingly everything from existence, but as the hero explores his surroundings and meets living beings, it seems like there is more going on beneath the surface. Our hero decides to unravel this mystery, by building a settlement out of loot found during expeditions into the darkness. The story is intriguing, but it’s the gameplay that ends up being the most compelling and addictive part of Loop Hero.

At the start of any expedition, the player character moves around the titular loop, presented on a pixel-art grid. They will encounter monsters to battle as they travel. Players don’t control movement or battle strategies beyond equipping their character with different gear. The goal of these expeditions is twofold: to scrape together enough loot to expand their home settlement, and to defeat a boss at the end of each chapter. Loot is collected by adding tiles to the loop and the surrounding areas. It sounds confusing – and it is, at first. But once players start to understand the flow, Loop Hero becomes addictively fun. There is nothing else quite like it. (Cameron Daxon)

Guilty Gear Strive | Best Video Games of 2021
Image: Arc System Works

20. Guilty Gear Strive

The last few years have been pretty rough for fighting games, with the live scene being gutted by the pandemic and a bit of a gap in larger releases. Guilty Gear Strive came at a great time considering that and has given a bit more life back into the fighting game community. Over time it has dropped a bit back down, but the boost in awareness of the FGC as well as a whole host of brand new players entering it has done a world of good.

The anime fighter is fast-paced but finds a way to bring the entrance barrier further down to a new player’s level. There’s still a lot of flash, and skill expression abound, but this entry is much easier to pick up and get into than the rest of the series. There’s a good bit of depth, and most importantly it’s just a load of fun to mess around with characters and run sets online. There were some issues with online early on, but with rollback netcode the connection is always smooth as butter.

The returning cast is quite interesting, a few notable absentees but largely a great roster with enjoyable newcomers that bring their own flair into the series. And once again, Guilty Gear is a beautiful looking fighting game, they’ve changed direction slightly with their art but the breathtaking visuals and the hype of revealing the 3D models that look just as good as high-quality sprite work are still alive and well.

Getting into fighting games can be hard, but finding a game with a lower skill floor but one that’s still incredibly fun to play is a great entry point. There’s a lot of playing around with characters you can do on your own, spending some lab time on combos and set-ups, and jumping into an online match is easy, Guilty Gear Strive is such a good time all around. (Shane Dover)

Kena: Bridge of Spirits  | Best Video Games of 2021
Image: Ember Lab

19. Kena: Bridge of Spirits 

Being a showcase of indie magic and the current console generation’s eye-candy, Kena: Bridge of Spirits delivers splendour in spades, which more than makes up for its lacking gameplay and re-playability.

Envisioned and spearheaded by brothers Mike and Josh Grier, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a collaboration of indie studio Ember Lab’s development prowess, and animation studio Sparx’s eye-popping artistry. Mechanically, Kena: Bridge of Spirits feels out of time: a forgotten relic of the Nintendo GameCube era, but with a modern coat of paint that gives peak Pixar productions a run for their money.

Exploring jaw-dropping environments as the titular protagonist, solving puzzles with the aid of creatures called Rot, and beating baddies in satisfyingly simple combat has its highlights, but Kena: Bridge of Spirits stumbles in its scope. It doesn’t quite have the depth or content to back up its lofty ambitions, being somewhat forgettable upon its conclusion. However, it certainly succeeds at creating a uniquely beautiful experience that’s just begging for a bigger and better sequel.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits might not be the most flawless game of 2021, but it’s the one that has me most excited about the future of this crazy medium we call video games! (Harry Morris)

Monster Hunter Rise | Best Video Games of 2021
Image: Capcom

18. Monster Hunter Rise

After Capcom completely overhauled the “Monster Hunter” franchise with 2018’s World, it was difficult to imagine how they could innovate any further. Monster Hunter Rise proves that the sky is the limit for the series, though. Literally.

Rise knows exactly where to shake up the formula and where to stick to what the series does best. The brand new Wirebug mechanic that lets you zip around the environment like some sort of prehistoric Spiderman introduces an unprecedented amount of mobility to the game that made the simple act of moving from point A to point B a terrific joy ride. The newfound mobility never detracts from the thrilling victories born from careful preparation and cunning skill that the series is known for, though. The result is a game that is once again welcoming to newcomers and veterans alike.

Just like with World, Capcom has also been providing continuous free content updates to Rise since its launch, ensuring those looking to join the hunt will always have something to sink their teeth into. (Matthew Ponthier)

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

17. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

After the debut of 2020’s Avengers game, expectations were rather low for whatever Square Enix would publish next from their upcoming lineup of collaborative Marvel projects. However, Eidos-Montréal’s Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has ended up blasting its way through the cosmos for one sincere and passionate superhero adventure story. Exploring familiar chemistries popularized by its Hollywood brother, the latest cosmic adventure to come from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise proves that the whimsical atmosphere of the James Gunn movies and delicate lore of the paper source material can be combined for something even more epic. Its mix of third-person action and rollercoaster of emotional story beats will keep any player stuck in the rocket boots of Guardians leader Peter Quill, Star-Lord, long after the credits roll.

While Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy may show problems of repetition in gameplay and some odd cinematic direction, its issues are never able to hinder the core experience that players will easily get absorbed into. You will be shocked, hysterical, and gitty all at once as the game jumps from planet to planet and battle to battle. Whether you are a fan of Marvel Studios’ blockbusters or the Annihilation comics series by Dan Abnett and Andy Lannin, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has it all for fans of the company’s head-banging space group of music loving protectors. From Lady Hellbender to Cosmo the Space Dog, the game is constantly utilizing everything Marvel Comics spearheaded that audiences loved. It may not be perfect in every regard, but it is a “flarking” great experience that brings Star-Lord and his gang of heroes for hire to the interactive digital front with an explosion of justice. It is without a doubt this year’s narrative-driven title that you cannot miss. (Marc Kaliroff)

Best Video Games of 2021

16. Chicory: A Colorful Tale

There are plenty of games this year that have explored topics of self-hate, depression, and realization, but none will likely ever be akin to the success that indie developer Greg Lobanov and his team of friends have created. Chicory: A Colorful Tale may yield adorable esthetics and an artist tool kit adaptable for painters of all ages, but behind its digestible gameplay is a sea of emotion and trauma that players will find themselves tearing their own heartstrings with. The story of an anthropomorphic dog who is hilariously named after the player’s favorite food is nothing short of a living wonder. Chicory: A Colorful Tale is quite literally a game that players will decide whether or not it lives in a prosperous land of color or a gloomy monotone horizon.

Surrounding itself with the key philosophies of art and painting, Chicory: A Colorful Tale is constantly creating a perfect picture that is bleeding with emotion, color, inspiration, and heart. While the story and characters of the game do take a primary focus, the puzzle-solving, collecting, and artistic capabilities of the gameplay have not been simply presented as secondary colors. It is both an epic adventure across the land of Picnic Province and a stroke of relaxation as it welcomes players to a land they may fill to their heart’s content. From its beautiful hand-drawn graphics and vibrant world to the heartfelt story and characters worth investing time into, Chicory: A Colorful Tale is truly a title that will go down in gaming history as a cult classic of its time. Its aspirations culminate into an emotional venture that is nothing short of beautiful. (Marc Kaliroff)

PART TWO | TOP 15

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Ricky Da Conceicao, Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Patrick Murphy, Editor, co-founder
Mike Worby, Managing Editor
Marc Kaliroff, Games Editor, (NXpress Podcast)
Brent Middleton, Indie Games Editor
Campbell Gill, Indie Editor; (NXpress Podcast)
Izsak Barnette, Senior Writer
Renan Fontes, Senior Writer
Mathew Ponthier, Senior Writer
Cameron Daxon, Staff Writer, (NXpress Podcast)
Antonia Haynes, Senior Writer
Christopher Cross, Senior Writer
Tim Maison (Game Boys Podcast)
Ryan Kapioski (Games Boys Podcast)
Alex Aldridge (The Winner is You Podcast)
David Smile (The Winner is You Podcast)
Marty Allen, Staff Writer
Patrick Morris, Staff Writer
Caitlin Wiliams, Staff Writer
Daniel Pinheiro, Staff Writer
Dylan MacDougall, Staff Writer
Michael McKean, Staff Writer
Nicholas Straub, Staff Writer

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