EGM’s Best of 2021: Mollie L Patterson’s Picks
Hey, remember when we were all like “2020 has sucked, but at least we’ll be past this whole pandemic thing by next year and everything will be back to normal, including for video games!”
I don’t even know what 2021 was at this point. I look back on reviews I did earlier in the year and swear that I wrote them eons ago. As I’m writing this intro, I don’t even know all five games that are going to be on this list. What I do know, however, is that I’ve come to a decision: This year, I’m voting strictly with my heart. There are games that really should be on here, like Shin Megami Tensei V, or Metroid Dread, or NieR Replicant, or Microsoft Flight Simulator, but so much of what I’ve played in the last 12 months have been games that I think are good and know are good but which didn’t have that extra something to truly capture my heart.
So, these five games might not be the best that this year had to offer, but each of them made me feel excited in a way that no others did.
I first discovered Lemnis Gate as part of a streaming event that Frontier had for press last summer, and its concept of taking turns bending time to defeat an opposing team was an incredibly fascinating one. Getting the hang of the game can be hard—frustratingly so when facing off against a foe who knows what they’re doing—but there’s just something to the mix of shooting and strategy present in Lemnis Gate that triggers my excitement. In an industry full of first- and third-person shooters all vying for attention, this is a game that grabbed mine without any effort at all. The problem is, it’s a very niche, intimidating experience—and having taken a bit of a break from the game, I’m kind of scared to go back and see how its population numbers are. (If you’re curious at all, Lemnis Gate is part of Game Pass on Xbox, so you can try it for yourself having only spent the time it takes to download if you’re a subscriber.)
|04||Blue Reflection: Second Light|
Blue Reflection: Second Light is the perfect example of what my personal top five represents this year. Its gameplay can be rough, its ambitions rarely realized, its budget clearly tight. And yet, while it couldn’t compete with most of this year’s other RPGs in all of those ways and more, it won me over in a way that few of them could. It’s a small, personal story about friends helping one another, and how we can’t save the world without saving ourselves first. Second Light is the kind of game that’s tough to recommend to the majority of you out there, especially if you’re not the kind of person who can tolerate all of the nonsense that tends to come along with JRPGs. That’s fine, though—what mattered is that it resonated with me, and gave me something this year that so many other releases could not.
As many games as we here at EGM play for the purposes of reviews or previews, sometimes there are titles we check out that we never really get the chance to talk about. I got a copy of Deep Silver and Fishlabs’ Chorus to help out with an article I was working on, and it came at a time when doing a full review would have been tough. Which is a shame, because Chorus was a total surprise for me, and more people should know just how special the game is. It’s part outer space flight sim, part open-world action adventure, part gothic horror, all wrapped up in a package that can be a joy to play even if you aren’t particularly interested in one or more of those parts. Darting around asteroids in the sentient ship Forsaken while using pilot Nara’s otherworldly abilities to take out enemies never gets old—nor does the humor of seeing two spacecraft hovering near each other, looking at one another as their pilots talk, as if the ships themselves are the characters.
|02||Tales of Arise|
How is a Tales game on my personal list of top games of the year? How does this happen? And how do I feel okay with it? There was no bigger gaming surprise for me this year than how much I came to love Tales of Arise, and how excited I now am to see where the franchise goes in the future. Even if things do totally go to hell as the game nears its end, everything leading up to that point had a hold on me and wouldn’t let go. There’s perhaps no bigger compliment I can give Arise than to say I came to adore every one of its main cast members, something I almost never say about modern-era JRPGs outside of Atlus releases. Upon them was then built an adventure that shines in so many other areas as well, giving us a game that truly fulfilled Bandai Namco’s promise of “change” for the series. I still cannot fathom calling myself a Tales fan, but I am absolutely a Tales of Arise fan—and even saying that is something I still can’t get over.
I literally only started playing Returnal in early December. As of this moment, I haven’t even beaten it yet. And for both of those points, I don’t care. There may be no more consistent game studio in the world for me than Housemarque, as I’ve loved every single one of its releases that I’ve played—and Returnal is no exception. Returnal is like the heavier drug that you chase after once your body is so used to the lower-level drug that it has no real effect anymore. Dying in Dark Souls? Whatever. Dying in Returnal? Now that’s scary. The rush of nerves and adrenaline as I keep pushing Selene deeper and deeper into Atropos, and knowing how much I’ll lose if she succumbs to its dangers, is just blissful torture. It’s funny that I started playing Returnal right around the time I received my copy of Toaplan Arcade Garage: Kyukyoku Tiger-Heli (which I’ll talk about more below), as both result in me desperately seeing how far I can build up my firepower before everything falls apart. And, in both, I’ve yet to stop being excited to start again from scratch once that happens.
|SP||The “This Game Should Really Be On My List But Can’t Be” Award
Toaplan Arcade Garage: Kyukyoku Tiger-Heli
The most excited I was for a video game this year was for a video game that came out just over 34 years ago—and I say that without any intended insult meant to the games up there on my list. As a child, getting proper home ports of arcade games was something that almost never happened, leaving so many of the cabinets that I loved as experiences that I could only ever have by plunking down quarters. One of my most treasured favorites that never got a full and proper home release* is Twin Cobra, but this year, finally, it happened. And, even better, it came at the hands of M2, the Japanese studio known for its mastery of porting retro releases. Through a special physical ShotTriggers two-pack, I can now not only play Twin Cobra (and, to a lesser extent, Tiger-Heli) whenever I want, but now records of my high scores are out there for the world to see, instead of erased every night when Ames Bowl cut the power to its arcade area. Unfortunately, given it’s a Japan-only release for now, and technically might fall under our “it’s not a new game so it doesn’t count” rule, Toaplan Arcade Garage: Kyukyoku Tiger-Heli has no place on my top 5 list—but it absolutely has one in my heart.
*So, okay, supposedly the PS1 release is arcade perfect if you turn off the terrible remixed soundtrack, but trusting the original PlayStation with 2D games was something many of us became weary of doing during that era.
|SP||The “I Love You, I Hate You” Award
Years ago, on a podcast I was doing with a friend, I talked about my dream for the perfect video game console. My idea was simple: a device that would function as a standard handheld, but which could then be plugged into some sort of dock to turn it into a more powerful console. (Kinda like the old MacBook Duo, just a wee bit more portable.) And then Nintendo announced the Switch and my dream came true. The problem is, on some days, the system is less dream and more nightmare. I don’t expect (or even want) the Switch to try to compete with the 4K consoles, and I love that smaller Japanese devs have somewhere they can create their games in peace. But man, is it too much to ask for games that run at a stable framerate at 720p handheld and 1080p docked? That’s all I want, and yet even getting that feels so far away—and things are going to get even rougher if the Switch continues to get more exclusives due to its utter dominance in Japan. I know many are pinning their hopes on the rumored Switch Pro, but there’s a small problem with that…
|SP||Biggest Loser of 2021 Award
Look, if you’re reading this, then you’re well aware of the total clusterfrack that is trying to get a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X at this moment in time. The thing is, as bad as 2021 was for games, holy lord was it even worse for the hardware we play them on. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a single platform that was scheduled to hit this year that didn’t see its plans completely set on fire. Steam Deck? Delayed until next year. Evercade VS? Stuck in shipping containers. Playdate? Had to be sent back overseas due to bad batteries. Analogue Pocket? Delayed multiple times, and even jumping into the new round of pre-orders the second they launched, and being within the first 5,000 orders, still means waiting until Q4 2022 for a unit even though you’ve already paid the full $220. (I mean, not that I would know or anything.) Analogue Duo? We’ll probably all be flying off to Mars by the time it arrives. Intellivision Amico? Oh boy. And the best part? Some of this isn’t set to get better until at least 2023.
Returnal header image credit: Ilmari Kumpunen
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.