The past year has been great for gaming. Microsoft and Sony’s next-gen systems continue to sell out as soon as retailers restock them. Nintendo’s latest hardware, the OLED Switch, impressed everyone with its bigger, bolder screen.
Whether you spent most of your time playing first-party Nintendo titles, PlayStation exclusives, or Microsoft’s latest offerings, there were plenty of games to keep you occupied. In short, it’s a great time to be a gamer.
If you missed out on some of this year’s biggest titles, don’t worry. Today, we’re taking a look back through 2021 to count down the ten best games of the year. Is your favorite entry on the list? And which title stole the show to become number one? Let’s check out this year’s best games. Get ready for greatness!
10. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
The Bowser’s Fury half of the Switch-exclusive rerelease of Super Mario 3D World was one of the best surprises of 2021. Bowser’s Fury is an open-world adventure and one of the best since Super Mario 64. It’s a charming, unique experience, tasking players with exploring an interconnected series of islands.
There are no loading screens and no discrete levels in Bowser’s Fury. Mario is free to run, jump, and explore through a feline-themed playground. The game is joyous and free-form, challenging players to concoct thoughtful solutions to exploration-based puzzles.
If we’re lucky, Bowser’s Fury is a sneak peek of the shape of Mario to come. If Nintendo keeps this style in place for the next mainline Mario title, they might end up creating the best 3D platformer of all time.
Returnal takes Metroid’s creepy atmosphere, blends in unsettling horror elements from the Aliens franchise, and ties it all together with white-knuckle roguelike gameplay. The resulting game is Housemarque’s best yet. The PS5-exclusive Returnal is one of the greatest roguelikes ever made.
Players control a space explorer named Selene after she crash-lands on a hostile alien planet called Atropos. Somehow, whenever Selene dies on Atropos, she finds herself back in her crash-landed ship, ready to start the next loop. She battles across the planet’s numerous biomes to find the source of a signal called “White Shadow” and hopefully break the cycle that continues resurrecting her on the planet’s unwelcoming surface.
The game is tough-as-nails, sporting blistering action and a punishing difficulty curve. However, players that stick with it and push their limits will find a mind-bending and surreal story buried under layers of abstract meaning. Fans of David Lynch will adore the game’s layered symbology and dark meditations on the nature of life.
8. Neo: The World Ends with You
Neo: The World Ends with You carried significant weight on its shoulders. The game is a sequel to the 2006 cult classic The World Ends with You, one of Square’s most underrated RPGs. Neo introduces players to a new cast of characters who battle within the Reaper’s Game, a deadly contest in which the recently departed struggle for the amusement of Shinigami. Players control Rindo, an indecisive young man who fails to grasp the desperation of his situation.
Neo throws players back into the stylish city of Shibuya, complete with Tokyo landmarks and returning locations from the first game. The game challenges players in combat by tasking them to juggle all four party members across fast-paced real-time encounters with monsters called Noise.
The game’s equipment system relies on Pins, stylish accessories that grant players of the Reaper’s Game psionic abilities. Your success hinges on using the correct pins for each encounter. Thoughtful party management can turn impossible boss fights into thrilling showdowns. Fans of JRPGs should check out this hidden gem.
Read the full review: Can ‘The World Ends With You’ Sequel Stand Up to Its Cult Classic Predecessor?
Deathloop is the newest game from Arkane Studios. Arkane is well-known for its well-received first-person stealth series, Dishonored. Like that game, Deathloop stars a grizzled protagonist armed with supernatural abilities and trapped in a grimy world controlled by powers he can’t understand.
Unlike Dishonored, Deathloop doesn’t mind if the player gets a bit messy. Stealth is a viable strategy, as you might expect from Arkane. However, the game doesn’t punish you for being detected. Instead, players are encouraged to experiment with their approach each time they “loop” through the game’s single “day” of content.
What’s a loop, you ask? The player awakens, trapped on an island that repeats the same day ad infinitum, a la Groundhog Day. To break the cycle, protagonist Colt must defeat all the Visionaries, a group of super scientists who call Blackreef Island home. If he fails, the loop repeats. At least he has infinite chances to get this right!
Read the full review: Deathloop’s Mind-Bending Gameplay is a Refreshing Twist
6. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a sleeper hit late in 2021. The game could have easily been mistaken for licensed shovelware, little more than a cash-grab to capitalize on the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thankfully, it’s anything but a lazy tie-in.
Guardians is a charming game that will make you laugh. If you’re a fan of characters like Star-Lord and Drax, this game will appeal to you. It’s a character-driven single-player adventure that lets you take on hordes of bad guys as the legendary outlaw Peter Quill.
The nonstop action and witty banter provide plenty of texture for an enjoyable experience. If you’re looking for a great story in video game form, look no further than Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
5. Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil Village continues the horror focus that started with its predecessor, Resident Evil 6. Protagonist Ethan Winters is back, though he’s learned a few things from his harrowing adventure at the Baker house. Village is a more action-oriented entry than RE6, but it’s still packed with scares and monsters.
Players explore a European village inhabited by werewolves and vampires as Ethan scours the landscape for his daughter, Rosemary. Along the way, he battles four lords: Alcina Dimitrescu, Donna Beneviento, Salvatore Moreau, and Karl Heisenberg. Each lord controls a section of the village, ranging from a Victorian castle to an industrial factory.
The game is one of the best showcases for next-gen technology. The graphics and physics are impressive, with players able to construct makeshift barriers to fend off monsters during hair-raising shootouts. Village is one of the best Resident Evil games yet, and easily one of the greatest games of 2021.
4. Monster Hunter Rise
Monster Hunter fans will refer to future games as “before Rise” or “after Rise.” Yes, it’s that big a deal. Monster Hunter Rise introduces a slew of quality-of-life changes that shift how the game works. Two new features steal the show.
The Wirebug allows hunters to move freely across the battlefield, grappling up to otherwise-unreachable locations. Fighting towering monsters is a bit less scary when you can grapple your way above them and plunge your weapon down on their heads.
The new Palamute companions allow hunters to ride into battle at high speed. Like the Palicoe companions from previous games, the Palamute battles monsters alongside the hunter. The series’ trademark loot system returns, rewarding players with monster parts that can be crafted into new weapons and armor to battle ever-greater foes.
3. Metroid Dread
Metroid’s triumphant return to 2D is everything for which fans hoped. After nearly two decades of waiting, Metroid Dread reminds everyone why Samus’s adventures defined an entire genre of exploration-based 2D platformers.
Dread lives up to its name by pitting Samus against the unstoppable EMMI robots. Players must employ stealth to avoid detection by the dangerous robotic hunters or face a swift game-over screen. The game also explores Samus’s backstory in a nuanced and compelling way, solidifying itself as a fitting capstone to the long-running Metroid storyline.
Read the full review: ‘Metroid: Dread’ Review: Rewarding Challenge and Precision-Based Gameplay
2. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet and Clank’s newest adventure showcases what the PlayStation 5 can do when software is made exclusively for a next-gen system. The dazzling colors, lightning-fast loading times, and silky-smooth framerate make Rift Apart one of the prettiest video games ever made.
Fans of Ratchet’s running-and-gunning antics will love this entry. The new protagonist, Rivet, is as charming as her alternate-reality counterpart, too. Rift Apart features stellar voice work, laugh-out-loud writing, and some of the best action gameplay on any system.
PlayStation 5 owners need to try out Rift Apart to see what their new system can do. It’s easily the best game to hit the system in 2021.
1. Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite is the best game of 2021. Infinite does everything right. It’s got a compelling single-player mode, putting players back in the role of Master Chief, the unyielding Spartan warrior who protects humanity from alien conquerors. Infinite also boasts a robust competitive multiplayer environment that tests players’ skills without devolving into a twitch-reflex contest like its less-inspired competition. Most importantly, the game recaptures the magic of earlier series entries like Combat Evolved and Halo 3.
Exploring Zeta Halo fills players with a sense of wonder due to the gorgeous landscapes and numerous challenges hiding in each corner of the world. Developer 343 Industries has imbued this Halo title with all of the open-world trappings that make games like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed so much fun to play.
Longtime fans of the series will love Infinite’s back-to-basics story and refined gameplay. Newcomers will discover why Halo earned its reputation as the best shooter series of all time. Most of all, anyone who picks up Halo Infinite will get to enjoy the best game of 2021.