Starting off with a bit of a different format this year, our Games of the Year 2021 are going to start in a bit of a reverse order keeping the best for last, so without further ado, here are our staffs picks for their biggest surprise of 2021!
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Pierre-Yves: The Vale: Shadow of the Crown
The Vale: Shadow of the Crown was perhaps my biggest surprise because I really didn’t think that it could be done this well. Very limited in the terms of titles out there at the moment like it, The Vale is an audio based action adventure where there’s nothing to look at on the screen. Designed to be put into the shoes of the protagonist, you are as blind as they are and are reliant on nothing more than the sounds around you and how fast you react to them. The development team did an amazing job here and I really hope to see more accessible titles like this one in the future.
Richard: Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights
I won’t lie, the only reason this is in Biggest Surprise and not Game of the Year for me is because I hadn’t heard of it. Ender Lillies is a wonderful blend of Metroidvania and soulsborne gameplay, with a heavier lean towards metroidvania, and I loved every second of it. This was the Metroidvania I had been missing in my life, and I can’t express how thoroughly I enjoyed all of it except the chains and waterfalls that look like the background but aren’t.
Susan N.: Mini Motorways
Sometimes simple is better, as is the case with Mini Motorways. I had been introduced to its sister title Mini Metro a while back and I really wasn’t convinced about the game. However, when given the opportunity, I jumped at the chance to give Mini Motorways a shot and I enjoyed every minute of it. The game strips away all of the cosmetics that hide any potential flaws, which is something that certain titles do and manages to challenge the players in an organic way. Mini Motorways is an incredibly simple game that can be frustrating at the same time and it shocked me as something that I would enjoy. Maybe it was the simplicity or maybe it was the increasing difficulty level, but regardless I was surprised by Mini Motorways. The game is perfect for a wide range of ages and I love the challenge of beating my high score.
I’m not sure if Wingspan qualifies as a ‘surprise’ when it came out of nowhere for me. I knew next to nothing about this title when it first released, and I came into it with almost no expectations. What I found instead was a surprisingly deep card game, based on a board game, with a charming nature aesthetic and tons of replay value.
Robert: Star Citizen
In rare form, seemingly perpetual technical alpha, “Star Citizen” by Cloud Imperium Games has managed to break away from their more traditional mold releasing quarterly patches that, since Alpha 3.7 have largely just been downhill- however, with the rebalancing of ship-borne weapons, capacitor gameplay, medical gameplay, a slew of new straight-to-flyable ships, the release of the long-awaited Crusader Mercury Star Runner and Aegis Redeemer, and a slew of technical achievements, that 2021 though rough at times for CIG, he been a standout year for the independent gaming giant. From new missions that introduce new loops, or the first implementation of the long-talked of “Death of a Spaceman”-based mechanics (which tie nicely into the new Actor Status that tracks metrics like hydration, oxygen levels, heart rate, G-forces/force reactions, etc.). Each and every year Star Citizen keeps growing- is it becoming too big to fail? We’ll just have to wait and see.