Oisin Kuhnke’s top games of 2021

Overlode alumnus Oisin adds even more to your backlog

This list is part of our GOTY guest picks, where we invite previous writers and special guests to give us their favourites from 2021. Read more here.

I think a lot of people weren’t sure what to expect in 2021, games and otherwise. Going into this year, I wasn’t looking forward to anything in particular. Mostly because there was no guarantee anything I might want to play would actually be released this year. – you know what I mean.

In the end the games I did play mostly surprised me in different ways. They might not all be perfect, some of them definitely have the odd rough edge. But I’ve been bored of the slew of games that came out of the last console generation that were supposedly some of the best games ever made. For me this year gave me games that generally left me with quiet, subtle emotions and feelings to mull over. I hope 2022 gives me more of that.

10. Metroid Dread

I don’t think Metroid Dread is a perfect game. BUT: it absolutely rips. My first experience of a Metroid game was the Game Boy Advance title Metroid Fusion, which I played specifically because of the announcement of Dread. And my first and only other Metroidvania I’ve played is Hollow Knight, which certainly set the bar high.

Dread doesn’t have as incredible a sense of exploration in the way Hollow Knight does, and the amount of buttons you have to combine to function can be overwhelming, but when you get it right you feel like the strongest bounty hunter in all the galaxy. Games are often power fantasies, and no other game this year puts you in the hot seat quite the way Metroid Dread does.

9. Before Your Eyes

I discovered that magic was real when I played Before Your Eyes. If you don’t know the concept behind Before Your Eyes, it’s simple: at set points, when you blink, the story progresses. That’s it! It of course needs a webcam to use this function but… I just can’t think of a game with such a simple verb that made a game feel so special. It is maybe the best example of narrative and gameplay molded into one. The central thesis of the game is ‘blink and you might miss something’, and all of the pain that might come with it. Life is magic, it is pain, and it is brief. So hold your gaze upon things just a little while longer than comfortable, just so you have those few extra seconds.

8. Loop Hero

I am always thinking about the loop. Wake up, eat breakfast, do work, eat dinner, go to sleep, repeat ad infinitum. Loop Hero sets you on your predetermined path, but it only sets it in stone for a little while. The loop constantly changes. Your needs and its needs diverge depending on your actions as a player. Life isn’t always wake up, breakfast, etcetera, sometimes there are moments with friends, or a delicious meal, or a lich king you have to defeat.

The loop is complicated, dense, and hostile. But we walk it, and we make the best of it when we can. So I’ll keep thinking about the loop, and the different ways I might be able to change it.

7. NEO: The World Ends With You

The original World Ends With You is through and through a cult classic. Mostly ignored at the time, and still somewhat now, it’s a series about the struggle of youth. The original is about the difficulty in making a connection with someone. And NEO, in my opinion, is about the struggle to keep and balance those connections. Making friends isn’t so easy for everyone, but even when you do manage to, keeping them is a whole separate challenge.

The way NEO represents this idea through it’s expertly written characters is mostly unparalleled this year. Truly, it has some of the best character writing in a game released this year. I haven’t played a game that truly captures what it feels like to be young maybe since the original TWEWY, and we all like feeling we’re still young right?

6. Guilty Gear Strive

HEAVEN OR HELL: LET’S ROCK. Guilty Gear is a lot. Like a lot a lot. It’s not a serious title that’s for everyone, with character designs that many would reductively describe as ‘anime’, and a gameplay style unlike many others in the fighting game scene. But hot dog is it exhilarating. It’s probably the game I’ve put most time into this year, and one of the few online games that have ever really clicked with me. More importantly, it’s a game that has helped me bond with a number of new friends. When a game can do something as special as that, you know it’s a good one.

5. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Ratchet & Clank was one of the series I grew up on. The character designs, the explosive, kinetic weapons, the slingshot. It was also just so cool to my little baby brain. Over the years the games became less ‘cool’ and more ‘charismatic’, with a clear Pixar influence on the later titles. That change might be for everyone, but the years of iteration have cultivated in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and it’s made for an extremely loveable and simply fun game. Games can be fun! They don’t have to be violent or realistic. A good double jump can be enough to make a game good, and Rift Apart does that and so much more.

4. Sable

I find time a very difficult concept. There’s not enough of it! I just can’t quite seem to take hold of it, and every time I feel like I come close to, something gets in the way. A loved one dies, another year passes, a pandemic passes by in a blur. It’s really tough.

Sable is a potent reminder that there’s more time than you think. The open world isn’t yours for the taking like in many other games. It’s not remotely yours. The desert dunes belong to themselves, and you’re simply gliding along them at your own pace. There’s no set point where you have to finish the game. You never have to if you don’t want to! Sable respects my time, and acknowledges the value of it in a way many games don’t, and easily makes it one of the most subtly educational games of the year.

3. Deltarune Chapter 2

Toby Fox, you sly… fox. You did it again. I love Undertale. I’d go out on a limb to say that isn’t particularly controversial. And when Deltarune was shadow dropped in 2018, it would also be fair to say I lost my shit. With the addition of Deltarune Chapter 2, it isn’t clear where the series is going. But once again, Fox and co. have proven that it doesn’t matter. I just desperately want to be on this wild rollercoaster. Comedy feels like it can be a rarity in games, but Chapter 2 is full to the brim of jokes that almost killed me. What more can I ask for?

2. No Longer Home

Do you ever play something that hits home surprisingly hard? I’m non-binary, and that aspect of my identity is something I am still unpacking years on after coming out. Trying to understand how that part of me fits into my future, as well as what my future might even hold, constantly takes hold of me.

That’s kind of what No Longer Home is about too. I’ve not seen myself reflected so accurately in a game before. A game about two non-binary people, reflecting on their time spent at uni, unsure of what’s next? That’s based on the developers real life experiences, and the uni they attended was the one I attended? When I say it hit home, I mean it.

1. Garden Story

Look, my top game of the year was always going to be one where you play as a delightful grape called Concord. One of my favourite consoles is easily the Game Boy Advance. Nostalgia is definitely a factor, but it’s more so because games on the handheld felt so full of life, and colour.

And Garden Story feels like it could easily fit right at home there alongside Mother 3 and Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. Garden Story feels the way the first frost smells. It’s comforting, homely. Concord feels like the kind of character that you would be best friends from the first second. And I need that right now.

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