CJ’s five favorite games of 2021 that Destructoid didn’t review

CJ's 2021 GOTY

Because you can’t review them all

Anybody who says that 2021 was a lackluster year for gaming must have been asleep for the past 365 days. Despite a lot of titles getting kicked down the road to 2022, there were plenty of games for every type of player last year. Like, so many that you don’t even have to look that hard to find them.

If anything, there were too many good games last year. The cup runneth over in 2021, and like many sites, Destructoid wasn’t able to cover every single one with a proper review. Thankfully, my actual 2021 GOTY, Death’s Door, was given an excellent review by our own Chris Moyse. I guess I could review all these games right now during this incredibly slow month, but if my experience with being a games blogger has taught me anything, it’s that very few people give a shit about a review after the game has been released. So, I’ll do the next best thing and round up the five best games I played last year that Destructoid didn’t review.

CJ's 2021 GOTY

5. The Artful Escape

One of the most disappointing aspects of the games industry for me is there is more money being injected into this hobby than ever before, yet all we seem to get out of the big developers are games that strive for realistic presentations. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s cool that there are artists out there trying to make cheek skin and chin stubble look as realistic as possible. But I grew up in an era where games were set in fantastical worlds with imaginative art direction where nobody gave a shit if each blade of grass in a field was rendered individually.

Thankfully, indie developers have picked up the slack in this regard over the past decade or so. And in 2021, there was no more visually interesting game than The Artful Escape. Released in September, the Beethoven & Dinosaur developed side-scrolling adventure game takes protagonist Francis Vendetti on a psychedelic journey to the stars to find his alter-ego. It’s a great little story, if a bit too neat, about the creative process and breaking away from the expectations that burden you. As somebody still trying to find my voice in this world, it’s great motivation to keep on keeping on.

If I’m being honest, you don’t actually have to play through The Artful Escape to get the complete experience. Like many “story-first” games that have become more common in the age of the indie developer, if you can find a good Let’s Play where the YouTuber keeps their mouth shut, you should be fine treating it like a long movie.

Hoa

4. Hoa

At the other end of the indie visual spectrum is Hoa, a lite puzzle platformer from Skrollcat Studios. Unlike The Artful Escape, the game isn’t trying to melt your mind with its outrageous visuals. That’s because nothing about Hoa is outrageous. Instead, this two-ish hour adventure featuring a Borrower cosplaying as the Traveler from Journey is a more tranquil experience, with beautiful hand-drawn visuals and a soothing soundtrack that keeps the whole affair in a place of quietude. 

It’s not going to blow anybody away, but making my way through this world was the video game equivalent of meditating last year. And if there is anything I needed in 2021, it was entertainment that put my soul at ease. I should probably keep this game at the ready on my Series S, just in case 2022 turns out to be as much of a nightmare as last year.

CJ's 2021 GOTY

3. NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1

A couple of years ago, the developers at Cardboard Robot Games finally put the finishing touches on their long-in-development fighter Pocket Rumble. It was a pretty okay game, but what excited me about it more than anything else was that it was a glimpse into an era of gaming that I completely missed out on. 

For most of my adolescence, we only had one console at a time in our house. Because I grew up in a pretty rural area, that meant we only got access to the biggest names in the industry, i.e. Nintendo and PlayStation. I didn’t even know what a NeoGeo Pocket was until I was in college and made the crushing mistake of wanting to be a games blogger. With no financially feasible way to get my hands on the device, I thought the NeoGeo Pocket would always be something I’d view wistfully from afar.

But last year, SNK threw me a bone with the NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1. Bringing together 10 of what I hope are the better games in the handheld’s catalog into one package, it provided me with a crash course of sorts on the history of the NGPC, and I loved every second of it. From Gal Fighters to SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium to Big Tournament Golf, there isn’t a game in this collection I haven’t spent at least a half-dozen hours with.

Here’s to hoping SNK continues bringing these games to Switch and that it releases enough of them to warrant a Vol. 2.

2. Melty Blood: Type Lumina

In my book, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is the greatest traditional fighting game that’s ever been made. Unlike our own Chris Moyse or Chris Carter, I never got deep enough into the genre to master all the special moves and combos that professionals like SonicFox and Tokido pull off with ease. That’s why I love TvC so much. It simplified the formula enough that a simpleton like me could not only understand how the fighting engine works but actually get pretty damn good at it. Of all the fighting games I’ve played since then, Melty Blood: Type Lumina is the only one that’s been able to simulate the sensation I experienced the first time I threw down the fisticuffs as Frank West or Jun the Swan.

I know nothing about the Tsukihime series and how the hell it spawned a fighting game spin-off. All I know is I love this game enough that I actually can see myself getting back into the genre. Despite having a lot of mechanics to consider as you fight your foes–including the Magic Circuit, Blood Heat, Last Arc, and the Moon Icons–Type Lumina is incredibly easy to get into with some newcomer-friendly additions like the Rapid Beat auto-combo. As somebody who is routinely looking at this genre from the outside in, I can’t stress enough the importance of allowing new players to feel powerful even if they don’t fully understand all the mechanics of the game. Looking like a badass right out the gate only makes me want to learn more of the finer details this outstanding engine has to offer.

Despite being one of the few original fighting games of last year, this one flew so far under the radar that no version of it has an official Metacritic score. If you’re in the market for a new fighting game as we wait to figure out how Capcom will screw up Street Fighter VI, it’s not a bad choice. You may not care about the story or the characters, but just like with Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid, it’s the fighting engine that matters, and the team at French Bread has put together something really special here.

CJ's 2021 GOTY

1. Unpacking

One thing you should know about me is that I tend to move around a lot. I have moved to several different houses and apartments over the past decade as my job and living situations have changed. I move around so much I stopped bothering with plain, brown boxes to pack all my crap into and instead have a nice collection of plastic bins that most items don’t get taken out of when I schlep them from place to place.

So it should be no wonder that Unpacking is one of my favorite games of 2021. I first heard about the game after somebody I follow on Twitter tweeted out a short clip of the sounds the items make when you place them on different surfaces. The curiosity born from watching that clip fueled me to finally give it a go over Christmas break.

Unpacking immediately spoke to me with the first room I decorated, if only because that room is a near spitting image of my childhood bedroom. I too had the bunk bed with the desk underneath, a dresser full of toys, and too much stuff on my shelves. As I continued to help the unseen protagonist unpack their life with each subsequent move, I was reminded of all of my past changes in address and how each item I’ve kept with me throughout the years has a story of why it hasn’t been donated to Goodwill yet.

That same story is being told throughout Unpacking. Just like with a real person, you can learn a great deal about the person making all of these moves just by looking at the items they keep with them through each life-altering event. Environmental storytelling at its finest, I’ve actually played through it three times now just to see if I could paint a full mental picture of who this person is, which is not something I thought I’d do with this puzzler. Unpacking is easily the most human game I’ve ever played, and it’s a damn shame I didn’t get around to playing it in time for our Game of the Year awards.

CJ Andriessen
Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games.