For those of you unfamiliar with my GOTY series, I pick a list of games that I have played in 2021 that stood out for me. Sometimes the list is ordered, other times it is not. A game is eligible as long as I played 1 hour of that game since my last GOTY post. It's more of a reflection of what caught my attention in 2021 rather than what the industry produced as many places already cover that content. It's designed as a personal reflection and should give you some insight into things that interest me outside of tech.
I have come to love my GOTY lists, particularly in a year where (for me) creating content was difficult. I have been saddled with a lack of motivation, a change of jobs, and a push toward looking after myself more which has meant letting go of things I enjoy but ultimately have no time for. The GOTY list provides not only a time of reflection for me but also a nice self-contained piece of content I get to write each year.
Interestingly the introduction to my 2020 GOTY article still feels wildly relevant, very telling perhaps as to how I've felt as 2021 was quite a struggle both in and out of games. A slog of a year with many coping mechanisms away from the screen, despite the time I relish with it.
I was thrilled to compile my list this year though, as seeing many of the titles getting jotted down gave me pure joy and I realised that I really did get to play a lot of great (and different) games, particularly early, in 2021. So what were they?
The Games I Played
The following is an alphabetically ordered list of games that I played (and largely finished) in 2021:
- Dream Daddy
- Hot Lap League
- Lego Builder's Journey
- Minecraft Dungeons
- Pokémon Unite
- Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
- Rocket League Sideswipe
- Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
- Wide Ocean Big Jacket
- Wild Rift
I am super happy with my split of games this year, from short indie gems (like Wide Ocean Big Jacket) to beautifully polished AAA experiences (like Ratchet & Clank). Additionally, I got a decent split across Switch, PS5 and mobile.
I also love how I thought my closing thoughts from last year would play out versus how they actually did. Interestingly, I did get back to a game I felt bad about not finishing in 2020 and I also did buy a PS5... I was worried about getting FOMO if they ran out of stock, which it turns out they did.
I really didn't know how best to pick my list this year. I have so many good things to say about so many of these games, but I fear that defeats the purpose of having a shortlist. As a result my somewhat arbitrary decision was to pick my favourite game on each platform. This means the Switch loses out a little as it dominated as the platform of choice for my indie titles, but this seems like the only logical way to prune the list.
Minecraft Dungeons (PS5)
Minecraft Dungeons was a game that almost made my first honourable mention for being such a horrible experience in 2020. This was a game I felt was going to be perfect for my partner and I to play semi-regularly so I picked it up on the Switch. The experience was horribly unoptimised and, in my opinion, completly unsuitable for the platform.
However, there was something there, sitting under that unoptimised pile of rubble that interested us both. Enough for me to buy it again on PS5, which definitely annoyed me, rebuying a game because the first platform I got it on was unplayable. Lesson learned.
What has followed though has been hours and hours of great couch co-op. A really gentle intro into the world of dungeon crawling for my partner in the very familiar setting of the Minecraft universe. One they are familiar with in both the original game and the Telltale story mode adaptation.
There is still a glut of content for us to get through and it looks like it will be our first platinum on the Sony platform (just two achievements to go!) It's not deep, and there will come a time where we run out of things we want to chase. The latest Cloudy Climb update is by no means perfect but it looks like with new seasonal content I will at the very least continue to check in on this in 2022.
Spiritfarer (Nintendo Switch)
I had a lot of wonderful narrative experiences this year on the Switch, most of which will feature in my honourable mentions later. Of those Spiritfarer stood out as a finely polished example above the rest of the games.
For something that is largely about checking off a laundry list of tasks (something I tend to rush) Spiritfarer had me playing patiently. I wanted to hear all of that story, I wanted to wander that entire world. I cared about the characters, some much more than others. They blended platforming, building and storytelling into something that worked together so well despite them looking a little at odds with each other on the surface, particularly with the story they were telling.
I don't normally mind when a game ends, in fact I celebrate it because it means I can move onto the next one. But I was definitely a little disappointed when my time with this game was done, I could have had just a few more hours in this wonderful experience.
Rocket League Sideswipe (Mobile)
I routinely check in on mobile games just to see how the landscape is changing, if I can have an enjoyable time on the platform and as research given my current role.
I'd been looking for something I could pick up and put down but that didn't feel pay-to-win, or that I could enjoy without sinking in hours that I just didn't have to be competitive. While the latter may not be attainable over the coming weeks and months so far my time with Sideswipe has been fantastic.
The port feels a lot like I used to remember the PC version feeling (when I played that). I've had to deal with a surprisngly small amount of emote spam and I've got to enjoy really edge-of-my-seat gameplay all from my phone.
I'm finding the Rocket Pass a little underwhelming, and also sort of confusing? I feel like I've gotten a few duplicates from chests already. But definitely deserving of your time. It runs phenomonally on my mid-range phone and I've experienced very little issues with network latency and I mostly play over 4G.
I played so many great narrative experiences this year and I really wanted them all in my GOTY list. If I had to pick a theme for this year it would definitely have been "narrative", perhaps "emotion".
While some games like Wide Ocean Big Jacket were quite explicit with their narrative, others like Lego Builder's Journey or Unpacking told their story mostly through gameplay.
Others completely took me by surprise. Bugsnax was weirder, and deeper than I expected. Having played it after it was a meme I didn't know what to expect but what was there was funny, and genuine.
Dream Daddy may also never have me more invested in hot dads, or what it means to be a good father than any other media that follows it, perhaps if they make a sequel.
I am glad I am still making times for games. I have trouble juggling commitments and seem to double down on one particular aspect of myself quite deeply at any given time. With my family growing next year I am trying to set a theme of consistency. Mostly for my sporting goals but I would love to be able to extend that to games too. I ended up with a bigger list than I'd expected for 2021, and if I can hold a similar count in 2022 then I think that would be a great achievement.
What was your year in games like for 2021? Were there any standouts that I missed and simply have to play? Let me know on Twitter!