Games have always provided an escape of the real world, and with what the world has been going through the past few years they’ve been worth more than their weight in gold. From the crazy ideas put to cardboard and plastic, to the ever unpredictable indie scene that never ceases to amaze us, to the AAA sequels we play but don’t cover on this site. We are thankful for all the people who put their ideas through the absolute grind of multimedia making and released their work for all of us to see. Today we highlight what we have experienced in 2021 and award the best (as well as worst) that this year had to offer. These have no merit but our good graces, and we hope that’s enough.

As a footnote: games we played in 2021 made it into our consideration for these awards, but some games may have come out on a year other than 2021.

Kyle – Knockout City: Something about EA published indie games have shined the past two years, first with Rocket Arena and now Knockout City. A simple premise jacked up on Mountain Dew: take the ever-lovable game of Dodgeball and give it a deceptively deep combat system with a bright palette and an addictive personality. We played the living hell out of this game in its first season and I only wish I had more time in the day to spend with it. Not much is more satisfying than the sound of rubber making contact with your opponent’s face.

Demetri – Deep Rock Galactic: Did DRG win best surprise last year? Yes. Should it earn another award this year? Very yes – if anything the game deserves the recognition even more. It graduated from early access last year but the devs never stopped releasing quality updates, most notably the game’s first season, which added so much spice to the game’s delicious brew that I haven’t stopped chugging it for the duration of 2021. There’s no other recent game that can claim that. Load up on guns, bring your friends.

Demetri – Star Fetchers: Nominating Star Fetchers feels like a bit of a cheat when all we have is effectively a prologue, but if a game’s soundtrack can sock you right in the emotions from the moment the title screen flashes on you’re obligated to give that game recognition. I’ve listened to the tracklist of this more than any other game OST this year, blasting it out of my headphones and car stereo alike. Hearing more of this stuff might be my single largest source of excitement for the upcoming episodes, and that’s saying something. Oh my lady fantasyyyyyy~

Kyle – Double Kick Heroes: I may be biased but I love me some Rock/Metal and this whole OST is it.  When you take that OST and chart the drums to kill monsters by slamming blast beats and double bass kicks with some solid Tech/Death/Industrial Metal, shades of Prog, Hard Rock, and all the other sub-genres around those, it’s an absolute blast to play and makes the music that much memorable. Time to put Lord of Coucy back on repeat…

Kyle – Impostor Factory: Impostor Factory starts itself as a Clue-like whodunit and finds a way to cram in well timed comedy with a sci-fi centric love story spread across an Inception-style timeline that not only stays cohesive but emotionally resonant throughout.  It’s a tour de force, a fitting end to the decade long trilogy, and it’s script and pacing is front and center to its success.

Demetri – Adios: Adios has two specific scenes carefully engineered to physically rip tears from your eyes. Which one will hit harder depends entirely on your personal lived experience, but the fact that even one of these exists in a video game is astounding. Adios doesn’t just make a case for games as a narrative art form, it raises the bar, challenging all from this point on to get on its level. I only hope this is the start of Mischief’s assault on your emotions.

Demetri – Critters for Sale: Surprising is an appropriate word to describe Critters for Sale but far from the only or most descriptive. It’s also hysterically funny, gorgeous, well beyond bizarre, and debatably breaks a couple laws but I’m not narcing. I cannot and will not attempt to explain what the game is about, not just because I want people to experience Sonoshee’s madness for themselves, but because I do not think I’m capable of doing so. If you want to see something truly beyond compare this is the one.

Kyle – Knockout City: Even though this game ended up high on my list, the initial trailer and lead up did not bring a lot of attention from me.  I initially decided to try it out on PC Game Pass via EA Play but was tempted to hear more before playing at all. But man, I’m happy I didn’t wait and dropped nearly 100 hours on this bad boy.  Honestly I’ve hyped myself back to play some more, time to go download it!

Kyle – Twelve Minutes: God I was so hyped for this game.  Mysterious one setting looping whodunit that just fell on its face with a ho-hum final third and an entire game plagued by repeating obnoxious dialogue, bugs aplenty and just a laughable unfolding plot.  Seriously, that ending was bad.  Baaaaaaaaaaaad.

Demetri – Cuphead Fast Rolling Dice Game: There are so many potentially interesting ways you could adapt Cuphead to a board game. None of them are in this box. Instead it’s a completely uninspired cooperative game that somehow manages to be wholly devoid of excitement despite being a real time dice chucker. Licensed games have improved dramatically since the shovelware days, but you wouldn’t know it looking at this.

Demetri – Shamans: It wouldn’t be indicative of my tastes if I didn’t highlight a game that makes use of cards and numbers, and Shamans is the most creative game of that description I’ve played in years. A trick taking/social deduction hybrid? The roles shuffle with every deal and sometimes during play? Also you can stab each other??? It sounds like madness, and it is! But not only does it work, it’s a brilliant design that has lodged itself in my brain like a lunar ritual dagger. The more you play with your group the more depth it reveals, and those depths are truly dizzying.

Kyle – Odd Taxi: I wouldn’t be surprised if you missed this. In a year full of bombastic AAA titles getting their anime debut or the many sequels of big hits that dominate the streaming services you use, Odd Taxi looked like a dinky but intriguing slice of life romp from the eyes of a taxi driver roaming the underbelly of an anthropomorphic-animal populated city. What’s buried deep is a sharply written, forever on your toes murder mystery with an electric cast and enough twists and turns to fill that taxi meter. An absolute stunner that outclassed many projects above its weight class and deserves much more recognition than it’s going to get this year.

Kyle – Critters for Sale: There’s always one game a year that makes me happy I spent the majority of my year playing indies rather than awaiting the next AAA blockbuster that’s half done. It’s the enigmas and lunatic ideas that would be laughed out of a publisher’s boardroom if presented that show the will of a handful of people to make whatever the hell they want and throw it into the gaming world to see if it sticks. I couldn’t give you a complete explanation for Critters for Sale; I already kinda tried this year when I reviewed it. It’s an abrasive, deafening, yet compelling title that will confuse the shit out of you, and you will willingly move forward because it’s so interesting. I’m happy such a thing exists even if I’m still wrapping my head around it. I love it so much.  Toodle-pip.

Demetri – Cruelty Squad: Cruelty Squad is a little bit Immersive Sim, a little bit Hitman, a little bit Tom Clancy’s Whatever, even a smidge of Mario 64. It’s also none of those things and bringing preconceived notions to it will lead you astray. Taken on its own terms it’s an entirely singular experience that I loved head to tail, replay after replay. From both gameplay and experiential perspectives there’s no element of this game that doesn’t shock and awe. The explosion of popularity that it’s seen since release is well deserved and its long-term impact will be felt for some time to come, though I fear what that entails. Ville Kallio is a genius and his game is truly the epitome of what’s achievable with a CEO mindset.

That’s another year wrapped up here! Thank you again to all the teams making bangers year after year and the very generous readers taking time to check out our website. We’ve had over 7,500 unique visitors find their way here and our site broke 10,000 views without having to sell our soul to advertisers. For a site we decided to make on a whim two years ago, seeing this little nugget of success will mean more than most will ever know. Thank you once again.

Here’s to a safe, enjoyable, and well-played 2022!