This is it, folks, the end of the year. Hooray, we made it! While 2021 was a major improvement in most of our lives compared to 2020, the output of games was probably not the best. Still, as we take a look at the last batch of major games to come out this year, we can sit easy knowing that these last three months have had more than their share of great games, including this week’s top game, Halo Infinite!
Halo Infinite (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 8th
Originally planned as a launch title for the Xbox Series X & S last November, Halo Infinite had a disastrous early preview that looked ugly, uninspired, and clearly unfinished. Vowing to “get it right”, publisher Microsoft and developer 343 Industries announced that the game would be delayed until it was ready, which was apparently just a little over a year. The game now looks much better and has been getting great pre-release buzz. The game’s multiplayer beta went live a few weeks ago, and while there are some players crying foul of the way that rewards are slowly doled out, likely due to more generous games like Fortnite, the classic feeling of multiplayer Halo is supposed to be better than ever. It’s been twenty years since the release of Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, so let’s all get together and sing HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MISTER MASTER CHIEF!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TOOOO, YEEEEWWWWWW!!!
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Dec. 7th
All good things eventually come to an end, and so it seems that Final Fantasy XIV’s story is coming to a close with the release of its fourth expansion, Endwalker. Does this mean that the game is ending and shutting down? Of course not, there’s bound to be new content doled out over the next two years, which is a typical expansion cycle for the series. Beyond that, however, Square Enix has said that the game could receive new story content for at least the next five years, with new content after that dependent on how engaged people still are with the game. If you’ve been on the fence about joining the millions of players already exploring Eorzea, don’t wait any longer, grab a copy of the game and get to leveling!
Yu-Gi-Oh! Rush Duel: Dawn of the Battle Royale!! (Switch) – Releases Dec. 7th
This is supposed to be, like, a super crazy Yu-Gi-Oh! game with, like, tons of stuff that’ll make you go “woah,this is nuts!“. Wow.
Monopoly Madness (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 9th
It’s Monopoly meets Overcooked meets Mario Party meets Fall Guys meets Fortnite and they all walk into a bar. The bartender looks them over and says, “why the long face?“. I think that’s how that joke goes.
Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 13th
It just isn’t December without a Shovel Knight release. We’re in December, right?
The Gunk (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 16th
From the creators of Steam World Dig comes their newest game, The Gunk. I’ve got high expectations of this Xbox exclusive, I hope they were able to nail it.
Ports and Re-releases:
Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space Remastered (PC/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 8th
It’s the hilarious antics of everyone’s favorite dog and rabbit private eye’s, now with a new publisher! Zombies, mariachi bands, and giant robots are just some of the wacky things you’ll encounter in this bizarre adventure game.
Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX (iOS/PC/Switch) – Releases Dec. 9th
I wonder what kind of monster I’ll get when I put in this Lit CD. Please tell me; please tell me whyyyyyyyy!
Record of Lodoss War-Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth (PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|Sx) – Releases Dec. 9th
I guess this came out earlier in the year on PC and it totally flew under my radar, sorry about that. Record of Lodoss War is a metroidvania action game that received so/so reviews from critics, but has an overwhelmingly positive rating from players on Steam. I’ll probably make this December’s hidden gem in the buyer’s guide.
Rounding out the rest of December we’ve got a game based on Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a new entry in the Syberia series (delayed to Q1 2022), as well as a new entry in the Five Night at Freddy’s franchise. We might also get the last Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster with part VI, something called Neon White, and River City Girls Zero, but don’t hold your breath. I do, however, think OlliOlli World will come out, but there’s no release date. Are you still reading this?
- Heavenly Bodies (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Dec. 7th
- Thunder Tier One (PC) – Releases Dec. 7th
- White Shadows (PC/PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 7th
Syberia: The World Before (PC) – Releases Dec. 10thDelayed to Q1 2022
- Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Dec. 14th
- Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo (PC) – Releases Dec. 16th
- Five Nights At Freddy’s: Security Breach (PC/PS4/PS5) – Releases Dec. 16th
- Aspire: Ina’s Tale (PC/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Dec. 17th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC) – Released Dec. 20th, 2011: Wiki Link
The Star Wars franchise is a massive beast with multiple characters, planets, factions, and lore that making an MMO out of it seemed like a no brainer, which is why The Old Republic is actually the third one. The first was Star Wars Galaxies from Sony Online Entertainment, the developer behind EverQuest, which ran for eight years, shutting down just one month before the release of The Old Republic. The second was called Clone Wars Adventures, also from SOE, released in September of 2010. It was geared more towards children and was able to last until 2014. While both of these older games were popular, The Old Republic blew them out of the water when it came to popularity, with the game achieving 1 million subscribers in the first three days after launch. The game was developed by Bioware with its story being tied to characters and events that happened 300 years earlier in their previous game, Knights of the Old Republic.
Players can choose to align themselves with either the Galactic Republic or the Sith Empire, which determines how their story unfolds and which NPCs they encounter. While you may choose the classically good or bad side, you are able decide if your character’s morality falls on the Light Side or the Dark Side, with your alignment playing a role in quests you can receive and also how your NPC companions react to you, in typical Bioware fashion. The Old Republic plays like a typical modern MMO, which are all more or less aping the style of World of Warcraft, wherein players accept various quests to progress the story and gain levels. Once the player reaches the level cap and have completed the main story, they will spend the rest of their time doing post-game content, which is essentially taking part in instanced dungeons and raids (called flashpoints and operations here) in order to gain better gear. One thing that set The Old Republic apart from WoW and Final Fantasy XIV is that players also have access to their own starship and will occasionally take part in space battles.
Critical reception to the game was mostly positive at launch, with many outlets praising Bioware’s exceptional storytelling, as is their forte, but criticized the gameplay, noting it was basically a WoW total conversion (similar things would be said about Anthem in just a few years, was this the beginning of the end). Still, the allure of playing a, at the time, very high end Star Wars game that allowed you to live out your most indulgent Jedi fantasies (or bounty hunter, or Sith, or Smuggler, or republic commando, or imperial agent) was a huge part of The Old Republic’s allure. When the game was first launched it was subscription based, similar to WoW and FFXIV, but it would eventually switch to a free-to-play model, with players being given the option to subscribe, allowing them perks such as extra inventory slots and the ability to add armor to your NPC party members. The game is still going strong today, with a whopping eight expansions; six story expansions and two content expansions. As it’s free-to-play, there’s no harm in giving The Old Republic a chance, and you’ll even get access to the first expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel. This should fill in the Star Wars void in your life until the remake of KOTOR comes out in 2022, or 2023, or 2024…
Final Fantasy X (PS2) – Released Dec. 17th, 2001: Wiki Link
It has been commonly accepted that the first Final Fantasy game was series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s last ditch effort to try and make a hit, lest he leave the industry forever. What he couldn’t have expected is that his little RPG would one day be one of the most recognizable names in the video game industry, and in just fourteen years it would release ten entries across four different gaming platforms. Not only would the series continue, but it would often showcase the might and power of a new console. Final Fantasy IV showed the ability of the SNES to render beautiful pixel landscapes, allow space for grand story telling, and display the machine’s stellar sound. Final Fantasy VII pushed the boundaries of cinematics in gaming and further pushed grand storytelling in video games. When Final Fantasy X arrived for the PS2 it expanded upon previous entries, upping the bar for cinematic visuals, continuing to push storytelling in bold directions and, in a first for the series, let the characters speak, with full voice acting for all cutscenes. In some ways, Final Fantasy X was the last game to follow the model created by Sakguchi and his team in 1987 and, in other ways, it laid the groundwork for all future Final Fantasy games.
Development on FFX began in 1999 with Sakaguchi in a kind of symbolic Executive Producer role, with actual development being run by Yoshinori Kitase who had previously directed FFVI, FFVII and FFVIII. Sakaguchi initially had reservations about the new direction FFX was going in, particularly with voice acting and the removal of the traditional overworld map, but he was quick to point out that Final Fantasy had always welcomed experimentation and new ideas, stating that the series’ success had to do with the developers constantly challenging themselves to try something new and unexpected. The game’s story was a collaborative effort between Kitase, event director Motomu Toriyama, and writers Kazushige Nojima & Daisuke Watanabe. Nojima was head writer of the game, with his main concern being the players connection to the main protagonist, Tidus. Since Tidus is a stranger in a strange land, the story was written in a way that as players progress through the game, Tidus (an by extension, the player) gradually learn the lore, customs, and backstory of the world. In this way, both Tidus and the player learn things at the same pace, giving you a connection to the protagonist in a way that hadn’t really been done in a Final Fantasy game before.
When the game begins, players find Tidus standing outside of the ruins to an ancient city, surrounded by the cast of characters that will eventually become his companions. Narrating, Tidus bring players back to where it all started, a blitzball tournament in is home city Zanarkind. Tidus is the most famous blitzball player in the world, yet he often feels overshadowed by his father, Jecht, the previous most famous blitzball player in the world. Suddenly, during a match, the city is attacked by a giant entity. Tidus eventually meet up with his father’s friend Auron, sword master, who tells Tidus that the entity is called “Sin”. As Tidus watches Zanarkind crumble around him, Sin scoops him and Auron up, transporting both men to a strange land called Spira. Separated from Auron, Tidus is rescued by Al Bhed salvagers, one of whom will eventually join your party, a woman named Rikku. Sin attacks Tidus again and he is thrown overboard, where he meets up with rest of cast (although not all at once). There’s Wakka the blitzball player, Kimhari the cat man dragoon, Lulu the quiet, reflective black mage, Rikku the young woman who saved Tidus (who is also an Al Bhed), Auron the sword master who seems to know more than he’s letting on, and finally we have the love interest, Yuna, who is a summoner making a pilgrimage around the world in order to become strong enough to defeat Sin. Together, this motely crew will try their very best to save the world.
Critical reception to the game was overwhelmingly positive, receiving a near-perfect score from Famitsu, Eurogamer, Game Informer and IGN, and a perfect 5/5 from GamePro. Players reacted with the same thoughts as the critics, shattering Square’s expectations selling 2 million copies in just the first day. It might have a few little cheesy moments, but Final Fantasy X is a triumph that really ushered in the next generation of home consoles. Thankfully, Final Fantasy X is very east to get for Switch and PS4. Go check it out!
Super Castlevania IV (SNES) – Released Dec. 4th, 1991: Wiki Link
I’m going to blaze through this as I am literally falling asleep at my desk. Castlevania IV takes place in 1691 as Simon Belmont attempts to slay the evil Dracula. If you’re wondering to yourself, “again?“, don’t worry, this game doesn’t fit into the Castlevania timeline and is considered a standalone story in an alternate dimension. While the game lacked some of the ambition seen in Dracula’s Curse on the NES, critics and players were smitten with the game, with some outlets later saying that Castlevania IV is one of the best games of all time. I’m not sure I agree with that, Castlevania IV is often too difficult and monotonous, but it is often very fun to play, so in that regard, the ride seem like a winner. I’m going to bed now, so long.
Welp, ladies and gents, that’s a wrap on New Game Releases for 2021! Over the next three week’s you will get special coverage here, starting with the two part 2021 Buyer’s Guide on Tuesday the 14th and Wednesday the 15th, followed by the Notable Events from 1981/1991/2001/2011 the week of Christmas, and finally, the 2022 Preview will arrive the week of New Years Eve. Thank you so much for spending every Tuesday here with me, from long time readers, to new fans, and to the few that pop in every now and then when the header looks cool. I might not get every fact right, and I certainly have my share of typose and misspalled words, but it’s all for your pleasure. What you see is what you get. MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!