Halfway through 2021 already, eh? While things in the world slowly return to normalcy, we enter the summer with a great showing of new games to play in our downtime here at TYF. We’ve already seen emerging indie gems, comforting and nostalgic titles, and, finally, some worthwhile titles to incentivize booting up the PlayStation 5, for those who actually have one. Some of these games are built around cooperative or competitive play, some with the intent of some solo chill time. No matter how you use games to decompress, energize, or narratively engage, 2021 has had some outstanding titles so far. The following just happen to be our favorites.
Pac Man 99
As a famous man who reviews video games once said with the biggest sarcastic wink and a nod, “Video Games Have Come A Long Way Sine Pac-Man.” That said, a lot of Millennials and Generation Z would argue Pac-Man had peaked with Pacman Championship Edition for the Xbox 360. Pac-Man 99 tries to capture the energy of the Championship Edition titles by taking the arcade classic and mashing it with the format used for Tetris 99 and Mario 35. It’s not quite the same depth of a battle royale as in Fornite, and it doesn’t need to be. Sometimes you want to play regular old Pac-Man or a version of Pac-Man that will actively make your eyes sore, or both. Pac-Man 99 has hidden gameplay depth that suddenly gives a rush of competitive single-player prowess not seen since Tetris DS. [Evan Griffin]
Mario Golf Super Rush
A game with a myriad of qualities in its game modes, Mario Gold Super Rush is the first entry in the beloved sports spin-off Mario title since the Nintendo Gamecube. While it’s not perfect and has the visual appeal of an excel spreadsheet in its UI, its function as a group multiplayer bonanza, both on the couch and online makes this title stand out even more than the latest Tennis and Party titles in the Mario series. As long as it’s played in standard mode, the Joycon motion controls give players satisfying nostalgia for the days of Wii Sports, and the game’s Battle Golf mode combines the golf mechanics with both Mario Party, Smash Bros, and Mario Kart to the degree of making older millennials sigh in exhaustion as they get bombarded with bob-ombs countless times. [EG]
Little Nightmares 2
(PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia)
Horror and Tim Burton aesthetic fans devoured the first Little Nightmares like a giant chocolate cake piece. The sense of dread in every step, the gothic art style and the creative yet straightforward puzzles made this small game into something much, much bigger. So when Little Nightmares II was released in January 2021, fans were ecstatic to continue this era of impending doom with a game about impending doom.
Instead of being set on a cruise ship, Little Nightmares II has a slightly more extensive setting. It takes place in a horrifying town with even more horrifying residents. You play as Mono, a little kid with a brown paper bag on his head, who must traverse the unknown and discover the town’s dark secrets. Its storyline is even more emotional than the first, with an ending that will leave you feeling raw.
It’s a shame that Tarsier Studios announced that they were done with the IP as a whole because we could easily play ten of these games and never get tired of it. The Little Nightmares series is an underrated gem that I will treasure as one of my favorite IPs of all time and you absolutely should play both of them. [Yasmin Kleinbart]
Famicom Detective Club
There is a certain charm in visual novel games that you can’t quite get elsewhere. The best visual novel games make you feel like you’re part of the story rather than just a bystander reading text on a big screen. The Famicom Detective Club series is one of those series and makes you work to get the most out of the story. The Famicom Detective Club is one of the OG series and was remastered for the Switch, and oh boy, is it an excellent introduction for players who have always dismissed visual novels.
The remaster comes with two different stories: The Girl Who Stands Behind and The Missing Heir. As a detective, you have to solve two gruesome murders by questioning witnesses, looking for clues, and leaving no stone unturned. [YK]
Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield
(Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows, MacOS)
Never Yield is a perfect example of what kind of creative energy the independent game scene currently has brewing. At first glance what might be written off as just another “runner” style game, Never Yield is absolutely dripping with a flavor that reflects solo-dev Aerial_Knight’s (real name Neil Jones) desire to highlight aspects of an underrepresented culture. That flavor reflects several points of inspiration: Jones’ life in Detroit, cyberpunk fiction, and a specific intersection of Black and anime culture that exists all over the both but only recently has been acknowledged much less has moved the needle on representation. On top of that, there’s a certain “law of cool” that definitely applies to protagonist Wally as you guide him around, over, and through various obstacles dynamically. Even if you can’t squeeze in a couple of hours to play through a run (which you should), definitely at least make room for the soundtrack in your playlists. [Travis Hymas]
Nier Replicant ver 1.22474487139…
(PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows)
If you can’t tell from its title, NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22474487139 is a significant remaster of the original 2010 NieR. This version introduces significant polish both to the original game’s aesthetic and its combat system. Even if you came into the series with its sequel NieR Automata, or if you just enjoy JRPGs like Final Fantasy but have been craving something thematically darker, then this game is a must play. Yoko Taro’s track record for making games that subvert genres and flaunts expectations is legendary. The only real drawbacks to NieR Replicant are its old-school fetch quests and repetitive pathing, but even those have rewarding thematic ties to the game’s core thesis. Players may bemoan the barren game world and lackluster side quests at first, but they stay for the heart-wrenching narrative and startling plot, especially if you give it multiple playthroughs, as the series is now known for pretty much requiring for full story consumption. While many may disagree over just how innovative this game truly is, few can argue with the fact that it presents a delightfully strange experience and is worth playing, and at the very least gives an eye-opening blueprint to its revolutionary sequel. [Rachel Helvea]
Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
In 1995, Michael Jackson released the double-disc album HIStory, a greatest hits package at the front cementing his legacy as the King of Pop and a batch of new material on the second disc that offered a revealing look at where he was at the time. It was a bold move that only could be made by someone with a status that towers over everyone else in his or her respective fields. Take Nintendo, who bought themselves a bit more time between Super Mario Odyssey and their mascot’s next grand adventure by releasing one of their best Mario games no one got to play, package in a remaster: Super Mario 3D World with a souped-up mini-game showing the plumber’s current abilities in Bowser’s Fury in the series’ first-ever open-world map. 3D World took the basic classic Mario platforming and added the quality of life improvements that Mario’s game devs have picked up over the years: gorgeous orchestral music, intuitive camera controls, expanded level elements, and new power-ups. The real headliner here is Bowser’s Fury, basically, an expansion for Odyssey, wearing the aesthetics from 3D World. It may be a short game on a single smaller map, but it’s hard not to get lost in the beautifully dense designs of Lake Lapcat or test your timing with the jumping mechanics of each area. Not that we needed another reminder of it, but this dual endeavor proves once again that Mario is the King of Video Games. [Jon Winkler]
Roguelikes have never gotten enough credit over the years. Yeah, a few of them are simple, procedurally generated grind machines that you can turn your brain off for more or less, but some are absolute genre-smashing masterpieces like Binding of Isaac and Hades.
That’s the easiest way to summarize Returnal: it’s a revolutionary, genre-defining game. The gameplay does boil down to your average third-person shooter/rogue-like, but where the game really shines is in the world-building amongst those mechanics. The procedurally-generated levels and random weapon/perk drops blend perfectly with the psychological horror story of Returnal, and the mystery of unlocking the protagonist’s memories as you die and try again each time feel immersive and is engrossing enough to keep player coming back for more instead of making a new run feel like a chore.
As an elevator pitch, presume this game is Alien meets Bioshock, with just a little bit of P.T. thrown in there, and you’ll have some idea of the kind of game Returnal is, but even that doesn’t do it justice given the ride that this game takes you on. [Adonis Gonzalez]
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
The Ratchet and Clank series has been going for almost two decades and continues to be a beloved piece of video game history for so many gamers. This year Insomniac Games released Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart on the PlayStation 5 and reminded the world why we love this series. Using the power and capability of the PS5, this game looks, sounds, and plays better than any of the others in this sprawling series. What makes this entry so unique is twofold: the rift mechanics that throw Ratchet and Clank through interdimensional portals in real-time thanks to instant loading SSDs on the PS5, and the introduction of a second main character named Rivet, a female of the same species as Ratchet from an alternate universe. The game splits the player’s attention between these two characters as they race to fix an increasingly dangerous dimensional problem and stop the evil Dr. Nefarious. With gorgeously detailed maps, strange and quirky characters, an emotionally satisfying plot and some badass weapons this game both feels like a nostalgic trip down memory lane and a brand new adventure. [Tyler Carlsen]
Resident Evil Village
(PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia, Xbox Series X and Series S)
Horror takes a trip to a mysterious destination in Resident Evil’s latest survival-horror entry. Resident Evil Village is a direct sequel to the creepy and terrifying Resident Evil 7 Biohazard, with many elements built off of, and a story picking up from that previous game. The game once again focuses on Ethan Winters and his pursuit to find his wife, Mia. But, where this story differs is the introduction of their newborn daughter Rose and the villains plotting to use their family for their bioweaponry schemes.
Resident Evil Village continues the first-person POV as Ethan travels throughout the European countryside. Though it’s the changes in the game mechanics that offer a fun new experience. Instead of item boxes and tape recorders as save points, players hold onto items themselves for easy access to crafting, heightening the survival-horror theme of item management. “The Merchant” in-game store from Resident Evil 4 makes a reappearance, but this time in the form of The Duke, where players can purchase needed items throughout the course of the game.
The villainous characters themselves provide electric energy to a deeper story more than ever before. Resident Evil Village goes for a Van Helsing-esque aesthetic with its creature designs and environments, creating a larger-than-life character presence, resulting in villains like Alcina Dimitrescu stealing the spotlight and taking the internet by storm from the second we saw the 9’6” vampire mistress. [Justin Carreiro]
New Pokemon Snap
Living up to the promise on the box, New Pokémon Snap is a brand new game that is definitely more Pokémon Snap, which is in and of itself a big deal. The game is also a wonderful photo safari game filled with evolving environments and tweaks from the original that will definitely encourage you to come back again and again. While the team at Bandai Namco could have played it safe and done just a very similar revival or even a shot for shot remake, instead they chose to think about what exactly made the odd pairing of a creature collection JRPG with a photography game work in the first place and build from that appeal. They understood the original’s appeal so well that there are actually official polaroid printers for your Pokemon photos now that Blockbuster is out of business. Having that understanding leads to a fun and polished experience that begs the question of why it took so long to get this into production in the first place. Just as we noted in our review of the game, hopefully, it won’t take another couple of decades to see even more polish and evolution of this side series (pun intended.) [TH]
Monster Hunter Rise
Capcom’s been on fire for a while as a publisher, but it has been able to get that way on solely the back of the stability of the Monster Hunter franchise. Rise is a perfect example of that stability as a stripped-down and streamlined version targeted to Nintendo Switch owners. Since being on a portable title like the Nintendo Switch, Rise makes the smart change of cutting some of the longer tracking and fighting cycles of other entries. This trade-off of Palamutes and the Wirebug are a pick-up-and-play design that fits the Switch’s strengths perfectly. Instead of weakening the experience from the relatively dense Monster Hunter World of 2019, Rise stands out of its sibling’s shadow to show why this franchise has only continued to grow in popularity in a more time-friendly package. Bolstered by a pretty steady stream of updates since its launch, there’s a pretty safe argument for this game being one of the only games anyone’s had time for all year long as well. [TH]