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If you listened to the 231st episode of GamesBeat Decides, you’ll already know what my picks are. I explained my thought process somewhat on that show, but I’d like to expand upon it here.
For my personal list, I don’t want to just spit back the same list the Gamesbeat team put out earlier this month. So the games on this list are the games that gave me the most enjoyment this year, not necessarily the most technically exceptional. 2021 was a rough year, and if I made it through a game, it must have been special.
I’m a huge fan of Ace Attorney to begin with, so I was already excited for The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles before it launched. It scratches two of my itches: Mystery and historical fiction. Getting both with the distinctive Ace Attorney flair — earnest defense attorneys, flamboyant prosecutors, and the most extra side characters ever — was everything I wanted.
I agree with Mike, in that the game does take a little while to pick up steam (ironically), but when it’s in full Ace Attorney swing, it’s such fun. I enjoy the inclusion of a Sherlock Holmes-adjacent character, especially as he’s just as baffling to hero Ryunosuke as I imagine he would be to anyone not named Watson. The mysteries and story also have surprising depth, touching on issues of racism and xenophobia.
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I’ve already honored Village in my year-end awards, in which I acknowledged that it’s not perfect, though it is memorable. But I didn’t need it to be perfect — I needed it to be Resident Evil. While Village does smack of Capcom revisiting the series greatest hits — the Gothic European setting of RE4, the gameplay of RE7, the villain design of RE2 Remake — I can’t say I minded. I enjoyed all of those games, just as I enjoyed Village.
This on-form Resident Evil game really hooked me in earnest. It may not be doing everything right, but it presents even its most ridiculous ideas and plots with such conviction and passion. That’s enough to keep me playing right to the end, despite the occasional stumble or unwanted appearance by Chris Redfield.
When Rift Apart was first announced, the major focus was on how it would test the limits of the PlayStation 5’s SSD. Before I played the game, I could have told you nothing about the story other than that it had a female Lombax and another universe in it. Once I booted it up and started playing, I was having so much fun that the last thing I noticed was the lack of loading times. The game is quite charming and simple, uncomplicated fun to play.
Rift Apart feels like a return for me to a simpler time — my PS2-era Spyro the Dragon days, when I would look for the lava level or the forest level in every game. For the record, Rift Apart has both. The game also experiments with different kinds of level design, with one level being a funny-but-unnerving shout-out to Alien Isolation. It has its drawbacks: I still say Rivet needed to have different gameplay than Ratchet. But 2021 was a rough year, and if I cared enough about a game to see it through to the end, it must have been doing something right.
I was not a fan of the first few Life is Strange titles. I appreciated what they were trying to do — and goodness knows we don’t have enough video games aimed at exploring the trials of being a teenage girl. But something about them rang inauthentic. I blame the dialogue, personally. Then True Colors comes along and does everything the first game did, but better. Alex Chen is a delightful character, dealing with a whole cadre of personal demons while being empathetic and supportive of those around her. You love to see it.
I love adventure games and small-town mysteries, so the combination of both was already a tick in the pro column for me. True Colors is a great example of the latter genre, with everyone having their secrets and complex interior lives. Like almost all the other titles on this list, it’s not a complicated game or a long one. But it does what it needs to do right and well, and it puts a smile on my face.
While I enjoy a massive open world or a smorgasbord of enemies to kill, I enjoy more games that can give me a full experience without needing a lot of extra fanfare and padding. Unpacking manages to tell a complete, moving story with very little text, no dialogue, and with only the briefest appearance of the characters on screen. Instead, it tells you about characters through the medium of their stuff. I had the George Carlin monologue about “Stuff” in mind while playing: “Your house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”
Unpacking is complete without feeling short, relaxing without being boring, and deep without being padded. No, it won’t get your blood pumping or test the limits of your hand-eye coordination. But I was more invested in the life and problems of the unnamed main character than I have been in just about anything else I’ve played in 2021. Unpacking sets out to be a very specific kind of game, and it achieves that almost perfectly.
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