Super Auto Pets was robbed
Another trip around the sun has been completed and so we conclude our year-end look at the best video games that came out in 2021. While the staff has had their say, we here at Destructoid love to give the community a chance to voice its game of the year opinion as well.
As always, I reached out to various community members and moderators for insight as to how the selected games affected them. It also helps since I apparently was vastly out of touch with the community at large and didn’t touch a single of the games in the top five. So without anymore brouhaha, let’s get into the top five games of 2021 as selected by you, our community!
5th place – Shin Megami Tensei V
JRPGs have always had a good home on Nintendo’s systems, all the way back to the golden days of Final Fantasy on NES and SNES. For proof that the Switch is living up to that proud tradition, look no further than Shin Megami Tensei V.
Shin Megami Tensei V quite noticeably decided to put gameplay first, but nevertheless managed to expertly set the post-apocalyptic scene. From the opening cutscene detailing how the Christian God took divinity from all other deities and reduced them to mere demons, all the way to the very end, it’s easy to get sucked into the dark setting filled to the brim with religious commentary.
That said, the real draw of SMT V is the combat system, as well as optimizing your team of increasingly stronger demons. SMT after all, is not unlike Pokémon, if Pokémon had you fighting alongside Loki, Quetzalcoatl, Shiva, and some ridiculously obscure monster from any culture’s folklore you care to name. Also unlike Pokémon, Shin Megami Tensei V forces you to constantly change up and improve your team. Every level-up comes with new opportunities to recruit something stronger, and you’ll constantly be making new decisions about how to spec for upcoming bosses.
Pair all of this with the series staple “Press Turn” system, which massively rewards exploiting enemy weakness, and you’ve got a JRPG that is endlessly addicting. Every time I wanted to put the game down, I realized that just one more level would let me finally get that demon I’ve been eyeing for hours. Every time you turn a corner, there is some distant landmark calling your name. And every time you start wondering when the story is going to progress again, some impressive scene of gods, angels, and demons is there to greet you.
Long story short: if you’re a fan of JRPGs, if you’re looking for some of the best combat of the genre, and if you like your ‘mons to be a little more dark and serious, look no further than Shin Megami Tensei V.
4th place – Resident Evil Village
The Resident Evil series reminds me a lot of Lady Gaga. Reinvention is a word that comes to mind. Also, meat dress. The success of Village comes from the RE team’s ability to balance the sensibilities of the franchise while moving it forward into the future. This was evident in how Village felt like a greatest hits collection of the franchise. The four lords domains each took cues from prior games, a gamble that paid off. Taking the player back to the halcyon days of wandering a baroque mansion solving puzzles had me grinning like a kid again. Then I went to the doll’s house.
We don’t talk about the doll’s house.
The RE team has shown that they know what makes Resident Evil work. They get the atmosphere, the horror, and the camp. You’re playing your favorite straight-to-video horror movie that somehow got a summer blockbuster budget.
Village played to its strengths. It had so much of what we’ve grown to love and celebrate in the RE series but it still felt fresh and new. That’s all I’ve ever wanted from my beloved Resident Evil games.
Meat dress. Doll’s house. This game was awesome.
–Occams Electric Toothbrush, Lead Moderator
3rd place – Psychonauts 2
Was the original Psychonauts 16 years ago, or three days? The answer depends on whether you ask us gamers or the characters in Psychonauts 2. The newly released sequel continues the story from Psychonauts without a single hitch.
Be that as it may, video games have moved forward quite a lot since 2005, and it goes without saying that Psychonauts 2 incorporates many improvements to the formula. Platforming feels a lot smoother, combat is a lot more involved than it ever was, and the mental worlds you visit look better than ever.
However, Psychonauts 2’s greatest achievement is in its characters, level design, and how incredibly well the two align with each other. Many characters whose minds you enter suffer from some kind of mental illness. This ranges from addiction to overstimulation, and from anxiety to losing a sense of identity. Each of these is reflected directly in its respective level as well as in its enemies.
For example, jumping into the mind of the character who gets overstimulated leads you to a psychedelic landscape of oversaturated colors where lots of objects just move too fast. While there, you encounter Panic Attacks. That is to say, enemies representing panic attacks. They are fast, scary, they hit you when you’re not looking, and just seeing them pop up fills you with dread. In short, they’re an apt representation of real panic attacks.
Psychonauts 2 thus deals with mental health in a very respectful and recognizable way. Every character is handled with a gentle touch, and each is integral to solving their own issues, albeit with a lot of outside help on the part of the player.
Of course, Psychonauts 2 never sacrifices tight level design, fun, and wonder to make its points. If anything, its mental worlds go far beyond what the original managed to pull off. Great set-pieces, beautifully themed worlds, and new surprises around every corner make Psychonauts 2 one of the most heartfelt and imaginative games of 2021.
Runner-Up – Metroid Dread
Metroid Dread had a lot to live up to, being the first entirely new 2D side-scrolling Metroid game in about 20 years since Metroid Fusion and its direct sequel as well. Fusion also happens to be the game that got me into Metroid as a franchise, being my first experience with it so I was nervously excited for this game. MercurySteam’s previous effort remaking Samus Returns was a good game, and I figured Dread would be good at worst, but also accepted it probably wouldn’t live up to its predecessors.
I’m glad to report that I was wrong. This game is great and in my opinion, deserves to stand amongst the other 2D Metroids. Additionally, Dread fixes many of the criticisms I had with Samus Returns. Map design is good and it generally keeps nudging you in the right direction, with teleporters cutting down on transit time as the map gets larger. Areas look really good with a solid variety of biomes, lots of nice attention to detail and the EMMI chases can be really tense and exciting, even if a little more variety or personality would have helped them stay fresh. The new monster designs are pretty appealing and/or downright repulsive, and I think this might be one of my favorite suits of power armor that Samus has worn.
One of the best elements of the game is the gameplay. It feels so good to play and it has been refined very well. It’s fun just to move, and it’s obvious lessons have been learned from other Metroidvanias that have come about in the intervening years since Fusion. I think generally the combat flow is good, especially as you begin to click with it (an option to rebind controls wouldn’t go amiss though). The aiming feature and being able to stand in place while firing is a welcome continuation from the Samus Returns remake and the slide among other combat abilities allow combat to get more complex, with some pretty enjoyable and challenging boss fights.
The story is also surprisingly enjoyable despite a few quibbles, building on the previous lore and the universe proper in some positive and interesting ways. Samus shows her personality in cutscenes and in gameplay without needing to say a word in a way that greatly reminds me of Doom 2016 and there’s a lot of good attention to detail in the animations generally.
I adore Dread if my gushing hasn’t made it obvious, and I think one of the highest compliments I can pay it is that immediately after I beat it at 100%, I started a new save. I know not everyone gels with it, but speaking purely for myself I love it, and I still almost can’t believe that it even exists. And I’m hungry for MORE.
–Gamemaniac3434, Community member
2021 Community Game of the Year Winner – Deathloop
Time loops constituted one of the biggest trends in video game storytelling in 2021. Whether you were exploring a roguelike planet in Returnal, trying to find your way out of a doomed city of antiquity in The Forgotten City, or spending six hours committing some very questionable acts in 12 Minutes, it seemed many games writers wanted players to get the most out of a short period of time last year. Each of those titles handled the concept in their own unique way, but I don’t think any game in 2021 was as effective in utilizing this storytelling technique as Deathloop.
Expectations were high for Arkane Studio’s oft-delayed follow-up to its past hit titles like Prey and Dishonored. Thankfully, outside of one horribly misguided plot twist at the end, Deathloop delivered. Not only did it feature outstanding stealth gameplay, a satisfying feel to all of its weapons, and some creative ways to kill your enemies thanks to the slabs, but it also approached the concept of a time loop in an extremely thoughtful way.
Each run of the day, each failure on the part of the player, only made Cole more efficient, more capable, and more deadly. With the most stylishly designed world of 2021 just chock full of little areas of interest, Deathloop slowly transitioned from a game I thought I could kill a few hours with into one I never wanted to end until I was sure I had seen it all.
Sure, other players hopping into my game as Julianna to kill me right before I made my escape was a real kick to the shins, but it was all part of the fun. I’ll admit, it took me a while to really get into Deathloop. For whatever reason, it just didn’t click right away. Probably all those damn tutorials. But once I got into the flow of things, once I started knocking off those Visionaries and stealing their powers, I didn’t want to put the controller down. Undoubtedly well worth the wait, it’s easy to see why so many votes were stuffed into ballots this year to name Deathloop as the Destructoid Community Pick of 2021.
–CJ Andriessen, Staff Editor
And there you have it, congrats to Arkane for putting out such a loved and cherished game that it received 70 community votes for top game of the year within the span of an hour! The final results of the vote, as well as the top 25 games chosen and a full rundown of the points amassed, can be viewed here.
As a reminder, a game that got voted in the top spot received three points, while a game receiving a runner-up vote received two points, then the third-place vote got one point.
Don’t you worry Hell Let Loose, you’re still number one in my heart.
Thanks as always to all the readers and community members for continuing to be a part of this little slice of the internet.