New Game Releases: 2021 Buyer’s Guide – Part 2

With 2021 coming to a close, and Christmas just around the corner, most game companies have taken the next few weeks off.

OH MY GOD?! IT’S ALMOST CHRISTMAS!!!! What do I do? My kid/wife/husband/secret santa wanted some game about…I don’t know, European villages, or psychic astronauts, or killer robots, or maybe something that had all three. Do those exist? If they don’t exist what can I get?? HELP ME!

Okay, okay, stop fretting, I got you covered. I will be giving you a buyer’s guide for each month with my top picks in BOLD. What were the best games to come out; which ones sucked, and which ones flew under the radar and deserve your attention? Get ready to find out!

Since this guide tends to be on the long side, and in the interest of keeping your attention, I will be splitting it into two parts; January to June and July to December. Get your pencils ready folks, the games are coming and you better be taking notes.

 

July:

  • Best – Death’s Door (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S), The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (PC/PS4/Switch), The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD (Switch), Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin (PC/Switch), NEO: The World Ends with You (PS4/Switch), Pokemon Unite (Android/iOS/Switch), Samurai Warriors 5 (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
  • Avoid – Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ (PS4/Switch)
  • Hidden Gem – Blaster Master Zero 3 (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)

From publisher Devolver Digital and developer Acid Nerve (creators of Titan Souls) comes July’s top pick, the soulsborne-esque Death’s Door. Hailed by several critics in 2021, the game received the Golden Joystick Award for “Best Indie Game” and was nominated by The Game Awards and IGN as “Best Indie” and “Best Action Game”, respectively. Death’s Door was initially an Xbox exclusive but, like The Medium, it would eventually get ported to the PS4 and Switch, where it was highly anticipated. If you’re a fan of Dark Souls and Hades then you should definitely give this game a look.

July was a weird month. It felt both incredibly stacked but also slightly devoid of anything major. Yeah, we got a new Monster Hunter Stories game, that’s clearly a big deal, but did anyone really talk about it after release? I didn’t see a lot of chatter on it. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was very well received, and is likely the most notable game from a major studio, even though Nintendo did put out a remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Stripping out a lot of the things that annoyed players in the Wii release, Skyward Sword is the best way to play one of the most divisive Zelda games ever made. We got another RPG with NEO: The World Ends With You, a free to play MOBA with Pokémon Unite, and a new musou title with Samurai Warriors 5. See, fairly stacked, but none of them really cry out “OH MY GOSH, PLAY ME!”, right?

Even July’s title to avoid and it’s gem aren’t really inspiring much hate or love. I’m a big SHMUP fan, so Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ seemed like something I would really enjoy, but the onscreen text and HUD are so fucking small that I can barely see anything on my TV screen when I play, so imagine how it plays in handheld mode. It’s a great shoot ’em up, but the presentation is ridiculous; hard pass. If you’ve been a Switch owner since day one then you might have picked up Blaster Master Zero on a whim as the launch lineup for Switch was a bit lackluster. If you did then you know how great that game was and maybe you picked up its sequel in 2019 and loved that too, I know I did. That’s also why I got Blaster Master Zero 3, not just because I knew it would have the same great gameplay as the previous two, but also because it was the end of Jason’s story. If you’ve gone this long without playing the Blaster Master Zero series then maybe go back to part one and work forward, but you could probably start here and still be entertained.

 

August:

  • Best – Axiom Verge 2 (Switch), Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut (PS4/PS5), Humankind (PC), Madden NFL 22 (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S), No More Heroes III (Switch), Psychonauts 2 (PC/PS4/Xbox One/Series X|S), Road 96 (PC/Switch), Twelve Minutes (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S)
  • Avoid – Lawn Mowing Simulator (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S)
  • Hidden Gem – KeyWe (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S)

Good things come to those who wait and, after 16 years, fans of Double Fine’s Psychonauts were treated to a fantastic new entry in the series. Taking place not long after the events of the first game, Psychonauts 2 finds protagonist Razputin (Raz for short) in his dream job, working as a Psychonaut, however he must start out as an intern, despite the adventures he’s already gone on. Of course shit eventually goes down and Raz will once again go on a zany adventure through people’s minds, dealing with their emotional baggage and helping them to cope with their various mental health issues. The Psychonauts games are beloved by a very core, niche group of players out there, and despite its critical accolades, it just can’t seem to break through to the mainstream (a problem that has plagued Double Fine since its inception). If you’re an Xbox Game Pass subscriber you should 100% give this game a try, and if you aren’t, well, pony up some dough and play it. You won’t be disappointed.

The rest of August’s games are a bit lowkey, even more than July’s, however the latest game from game auteur Suda 51, No More Heros III, is the second biggest highlight of the month. Continuing the story of anti-hero Travis Touchdown, players must kill a bevy of alien assassins, collecting the bounty on their heads. It’s outlandish, offensive, abrasive, slightly wonky, and carries a “fuck it all” punk rock attitude. A trio of indies also released in August, with the long awaited Axiom Verge 2, the highly replayable adventure game Road 96, and the star studded Twelve Minutes, because obviously games are better when movie stars do the voices. If you’re a football fan (American style) then Madden 22 is here for you, again. PC players were treated to a Humankind, a new series looking to take on Civilization in the world building simulation genre, and one of 2020’s best games, Ghost of Tsushima, received an upgraded version for the PS5 while also adding new content. Eh, maybe August was pretty good after all.

I shouldn’t have to tell you why you should avoid Lawn Mowing Simulator, the reason is right there in the name. Instead of playing a game where you literally just mow grass, play the delightful co-op game KeyWe. Similar to It Takes Two, KeyWe has you and another person playing as two kiwi birds named Jeff and Debra, fulfilling menial tasks in a post office, working together to solve puzzles. What it has over It Takes Two, in my opinion, is that you can play KeyWe by yourself, controlling each bird independently. It’s charming, cute, and a ton of fun.

 

September:

  • Best – The Artful Escape (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S), Deathloop (PC/PS5), Diablo II: Resurrected (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S), Kena: Bridge of Spirits (PC/PS4/PS5), Life Is Strange: True Colors (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S), Lost Judgement (PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S), NBA 2K22 (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S), New World (PC), Tales of Arise (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S), WarioWare: Get It Together (Switch)
  • Avoid – Sonic Colors: Ultimate (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
  • Hidden Gem – Toem (PC/PS5/Switch)

For a couple years I was getting a bit sick of Deathloop as it would continually show up at every Sony event from the smallest of small to the biggest of the big. I was getting sick of hearing the characters bicker with one another, I was getting sick of the “hip” art direction, I just wanted to see something different. In hindsight it was such a stupid way to think, clearly it kept being showcased because there was nothing else Sony could show as their 2021 exclusive output was abysmal, but also it was stupid because Deathloop is, arguably, the best game of the year. From developer Arkane Studios, creators of Dishonored, Deathloop is a first person shooter in which players take on the role of Colt (no last name), who appears to be stuck in some kind of time loop. He is being tormented/hunted by a woman named Julianna (no last name) for reasons that Colt doesn’t understand. As you progress through the game you begin to uncover more of Colt’s backstory, all leading up to a final confrontation with Julianna where the ugly truth is laid bare. It’s a crushing, punishing game that will have you dying over and over again, but as I played through the game I never felt like it was unfair or lacking in fun. I had a total blast with Deathloop, I’m glad I gave it a chance after it annoyed me for what seemed like an eternity. That’s a bit on the nose…

September and October were both massive months with tons of big, AAA games to choose from. Dealing once again with an entity trapping you in something, WarioWare: Get It Together is a stellar party game that finds Wario and his cohorts stuck inside of a video game, requiring players to work together to get through a myriad of micro games. On a personal level, my young daughter adored this game and thought it was hilarious, so this is a great gift for kids. We also had a couple of big indie titles this month, The Artful Escape from Annapurna and Kena: Bridge of Spirits from first time developer Ember Lab. Both games feature beautiful graphics, but it is possible that they’re a bit superficial, not holding a lot underneath the surface. Lost Judgement came out, the sequel to Sega’s Yakuza spinoff Judgement, with protagonist Tak investigating a sexual harassment case that eventually leads to a full-blown murder investigation; you can also skateboard. Tales of Arise also came out, the latest entry in that long running series, and yet another RPG I bought and never got to play. The latest Life is Strange game came out, called True Colors, and is the first in the series to not be developed by its creators at Dontnod Entertainment. The remasters continued this month as well with Diablo II: Resurrected, a game published by the hellish ghouls at Activision. I mean, you could play it, if you want everyone to know you voted for Donald Trump, you piece of shit. God, there’s more? Oh, New World came out, Amazon’s MMO that has surprisingly not failed yet; give it six more months. What the fuck, there’s more? NBA 2K22, it’s basketball.

September’s game to avoid is yet another port; Sonic Colors: Ultimate. When this released on the Wii back in 2010 it was seen as a high point in the Sonic series’ 3D games, but its port to modern consoles was plagued with issues that rendered it almost unplayable (particularly on the Switch). It has been supposedly been patched, but I’m not about to find out anytime soon, and neither should you. Instead of Sonic Colors, you should be playing the delightful puzzle game Toem. In Toem you will embark on a journey through a magical forest, meeting people along the way that all seem to require your help. Luckily, their requests are easily accomplished by taking photographs, a hobby you happen to be quite good at. It’s quirky, unique, and features chill beats to study to.

 

October:

  • Best – Age of Empires IV (PC), Back 4 Blood (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S), The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S), Far Cry 6 (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Xbox One/Series X|S), FIFA 22 (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S), The Good Life (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Guardians of the Galaxy (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S), Mario Party Superstars (Switch), Metroid Dread (Switch), Nickelodeon All Star Brawl (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S), Nintendo Switch OLED, Riders Republic (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Xbox One/Series X|S), Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania (PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S)
  • Avoid – Aeon Must Die! (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One)
  • Hidden Gem – Inscryption (PC)

September may have given us what is probably the best game of 2021 with Deathloop, but my personal favorite of the year was Metroid: Dread developed by Nintendo and Mercury Steam. The game is a throwback to the old 2D Metroid titles, particularly Super Metroid, but it more closely resembles Mercury Steam’s 3DS title Metroid: Samus Returns. Dread was a welcome addition to the Metroid canon, and was a nice return to form after Other M bungled things. Like Returnal, though, Metroid: Dread was seen as too difficult and once again brought us all into the conversation about if video games need to allow for changes in difficulty to accommodate every player. Dread is not perfect, and it can be fairly obtuse if you don’t already have an idea of how Metroid games work, but for longtime fans it is a true treat.

The rest of October’s lineup was pretty big, starting off with the surprisingly great Guardian’s of the Galaxy. Early looks at the game had me immediately writing it off, based solely on the way the character models looked, but once people started playing it I found out that, not only was this game good, it was one of the best of the year. Ubisoft farted out two new games, Fry Cry 6 and Riders Republic, and that’s all I’ll say about those. Aside from Metroid, Nintendo also released Mario Party Superstars, a sort of “greatest hits” collection, featuring boards and mini-games from its long history. Hey, not only did Nintendo have new games come out in October, they also put out a new console, the Switch OLED Model. The new device improved things a bit on the inside, but it was mostly upgraded on the outside, with a larger screen, an improved dock that allowed for a hard wired internet connection and (if the rumors are to be believed) is capable of outputting faux 4D graphics (eventually). Bandai Namco published the next installment of The Dark Pictures Anthology, called House of Ashes, Microsoft put out Age of Empires IV, auteur developer Swery put out his Kickstarter game The Good Life, Sega put out the remastered collection Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, the developers behind Left 4 Dead put out their spiritual successor Back 4 Blood, and a Smash Bros. clone called Nickelodeon All Star Brawl came out; phew! Oh, and FIFA 22, it’s soccer.

Need something to avoid? Why not Aeon Must Die. Initially there was a lot of excitement surrounding this game when it was first announced, but it quickly soured when word got out that the original developers of the game had all been fired and their work was being co-opted by someone who didn’t do any of the work and was taking all of the credit. The game went dark after that only to quietly get released this past October. I have too many games in my backlog, and you do to, so just skip Aeon Must Die. Instead, fill your backlog with the card game Inscryption. Developed by Daniel Mullins Games, Inscryption plays with your expectations in wild an unexpected ways, similar to Mullins’ previous games Pony Island and The Hex. The game is an intense mind bender and I hope it gets ported to consoles soon, as it deserves to be seen by as many eyes as possible.

 

November:

  • Best – Call of Duty: Vanguard (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S), Forza Horizon 5 (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S), Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S), Jurassic World Evolution 2 (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S), Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl (Switch), Shin Megami Tensei V (Switch), The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Anniversary Edition (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S)
  • Avoid – Battlefield 2042 (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S)
  • Hidden Gem – Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda

I had a hard time picking the top game of November but, at the end of the day, Forza Horizon 5 isn’t a remaster, and Microsoft could use the win. Set in the gorgeous jungles, ruins, cities and backroads of Mexico, you will have the honor of desecrating, I mean racing, through each of these locales, smashing into piñatas and crates of chickens, just like they have on every street corner in Mexico. Forza Horizon 5’s graphics are absolutely stunning, making it the first “must-buy” Xbox Series X games. Hey, not too bad, that only took one full year to happen.

The new releases slowed down considerably in November, but they weren’t slouches. One of the biggest releases of the year was Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition. Featuring the three PS2 era games (III, Vice City, San Andreas), developer Grove Street Games did a full remaster of each title, upgrading the graphics and adding in various “modern” upgrades, including weapon wheels and mission checkpoints. Some critics and players were less than thrilled by the way the graphics looked, there were problems with the Switch port’s gameplay, and PC players were basically shut out of the game, so take that into consideration when purchasing. Looking for more remasters? Why not pick up the 43rd release of Skyrim, this time with a bunch of mods baked into the game, or you can grab Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, Switch remakes of the old DS games. The rest of November’s releases were sequels, with a brand new Call of Duty called Vanguard, the park building sum Jurassic World Evolution 2, and the long awaited Shin Megami Tensei V.

This month’s title to avoid is the bug riddled disaster that is Battlefield 2042. For a while it seemed as if the Battlefield franchise was all set to dethrone Call of Duty as the premier online shooter. However, starting with 2015’s Battlefield Hardline, each game has gotten progressively worse, leading us to this current garbage fire. Dice has obviously “heard you loud and clear” which is industry code for “we know the game is broken, but we recouped our costs from people who pre-ordered it, so fuck off, but since you babies are going to keep crying we’ll finally start fixing the bugs we couldn’t get to before launch because our shareholders demand that the game be released in the 2021 holiday season“. Hey, you know what’s not broken? The Game & Watch version of The Legend of Zelda. It’s flawless, and features three fantastic games; The Legend of Zelda (NES), Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES), and Link’s Awakening (Game Boy). Not only that, but it has an interactive clock, as well as the classing Game & Watch title Vermin, re-skinned with Zelda characters. It is a fantastic gift for the Zelda lover in your life, or even just something you’d like to pick up for yourself.

 

December:

  • Best – Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain (Switch), Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker (PC/PS4/PS5), The Gunk (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S), Halo Infinite (PC/Series X|S/Xbox One), Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One), Solar Ash (PC/PS4/PS5)
  • Avoid – Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp (Switch)
  • Hidden Gem – Record of Lodoss War-Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S)

Theoretically, you could just give the Xbox Series X a mulligan on its launch in 2020 and declare 2021 its actual launch year, because before this November, what the hell were you playing on it? If Forza Horizon 5 was the Series X’s first “must buy” then I guess Halo Infinite is the consoles first “must MUST buy”. I mean, if you have a Series X and you don’t own a copy of Halo Infinite then you might as well just own a PS5 because there’s nothing else all that special about the Series X (I guess Game Pass, but you can get that on PC and XBone). Originally slated to be the Series X’s big launch game, early footage was severely panned as lackluster and unpolished, looking more like an Xbox 360 game than something truly next gen. Thank goodness Microsoft and 343 Industries decided to delay the game by a year because the finished product is gorgeous. Yeah, the multiplayer mode has its flaws, and the single player campaign isn’t totally groundbreaking, but it’s the best Halo has been in over a decade, and that’s something we can all be happy about.

The rest of December is pretty dang solid, starting off with the latest expansion for Final Fantasy XIV. Titled Endwalker, this is considered the end of the story that first began over ten years ago when the original version of the MMO launched in September of 2010. After a disastrous launch, the game went on hiatus and returned as A Realm Reborn, beginning one of the greatest massively multiplayer online role playing games of all time. It’s sad to see the story come to an end, but that doesn’t mean FFXIV is shutting down, if anything it’s only getting bigger and will likely be sticking around for years to come. Unlike other online multiplayer games that basically require you to play with other people to advance the story, Final Fantasy XIV is easily completed as a solo player, with AI controlled characters that can join you in, I believe, every dungeon if you so desire. Leveling up is a breeze (for the most part), and if you do/want to play with other people, there’s a very easy to use matchmaking system that is always populated. Check it out. That’s a lot about FFXIV, um, we also got a new Shovel Knight game called Pocket Dungeon, which is like a dungeon crawling puzzle game. Then there’s Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain from Nintendo, a new entry in their party game oriented Brain Age spin-off. As for indies, the creators of Steam World Dig released an Xbox exclusive called The Gunk, and the creator of Hyper Light Drifter put out his newest game, Solar Ash, that has been getting rave reviews. You could also just play Final Fantasy XIV.

I hate to to do this, but December’s game to avoid is, again, not really a game you need to ignore. I’m talking about Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp, a game that isn’t really bad at all, it’s just unnecessary. After a really stellar trilogy of Ace Attorney style visual novels, a board game spin-off that puts the characters into bathing suits and has them prancing around is pretty lame. Still, you probably wouldn’t have the worst time with it, you’d just probably have a better time playing the mainline trilogy of games. If visual novels and the board games they are based on don’t do anything for you, how about a Metroidvania? You should check out Record of Lodoss War-Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, a game with a title so long that I’m pretty sure it’s now 2022 because it took forever for you to read the entire thing. Jokes aside, this was a completely out of left field title to see pop up in December for all of the major game consoles, and an even bigger surprise when I learned that it came out months earlier on PC. Relieve all of your fondest memories of going to Blockbuster on Friday night and looking at all of the Record of Lodoss War VHS tapes in the anime section, wondering what the hell it was, and play this fun little game.

 

Oh boy, we did it! That’s all twelve months recapped and dissected. I hope you were able to discover a few titles you missed over the year, and I also hope that I’ve steered you clear of a few of the stinkers. As 2021 comes to a close I am again reminded by how much I enjoy writing these columns every week and seeing all of your wonderful, happy avatars in the comments. That’ll do it for the buyer’s guide, but special coverage will continue with the notable events from 10, 20, 30 & 40 years ago this coming Tuesday. See you next week!


Andy Tuttle
Andy Tuttle

If you like what I’m doing here consider supporting me on Patreon. You can also find me on Twitter and GG. I eat a lot of corndogs.