You’re on break. You miss your friends. You have some downtime. You wanna disengage and get some game time in. What are you going to do?
Between the resurgence of high quality couch cooperative play options flooding the Nintendo Switch and Xbox platforms, creative competitive options on all new consoles, or on PCs, we’ve had a banner year for good, new multiplayer games. While none of them hit the stratospheric highlights like Fall Guys and Among Us did in 2020, there were many of note in 2021, and there’s something for everyone here even in the most unexpected places. So here we are, our final list, and final send off from the games section this year: The Top 12 Multiplayer Video Games of 2021.
And to the year itself: we’d like to say “Sayonara, Piss Off, and See You Never”. Here’s to hoping that 2022 treats us all better than the last couple and we get to spend time gaming with each other a little more. Okay, here we go, this is the list. [Evan Griffin]
12. Mario Golf: Super Rush
Mario Golf Super Rush is the latest addition to the Mario sports game catalog. While this game includes the normal golf mode like the Mario Golf games that came before it, this time around there are a few new modes that really spice up the gameplay. In Speed Golf, four players literally race through the course and hit the ball like it’s a Black Friday sale at a local mall. In Battle Golf, four players play golf in a futuristic game show looking environment with different elevations and obstacles making it sometimes near impossible to sink a shot. With the classic roster of characters and many familiar levels, this game allows you to play/scream your way through the most infuriatingly fun 18 holes with your friends online, which is what I think makes it worth your time. [Tyler Carlsen]
11. Pokémon Unite
Pokémon Unite first sounded like a strange concoction but has become one of the larger new multiplayer games this year. The extremely large Pokédex now allows for a pretty diverse range of playable creatures – a roster that has been steadily increasing since launch. These selections have ranged from the extremely popular to equally bizarre, which is a good sign of a robust roster to come. While the game lacks a lot of the depth of less-mobile focused MOBAs, it fits the pick up and play nature of the Switch and mobile devices perfectly. There are some pretty reasonable concerns regarding some of Unite’s F2P elements, but to the development team’s credit, those concerns are seeing addressment through updates and balance adjustments. Regardless of whether or not those concerns have been fully solved, the quick actions and consistent support carries a lot more confidence than many other of the non-GOPokémon mobile games that get spat out and forgotten. [Travis Hymas]
10. Pac-Man 99
Shadow-dropped out of nowhere early in the year, Pac-Man 99 slots right into the “didn’t know you needed it” category. A strange blend of battle royale tactics and the fast paced nu-arcade feel from Namco’s Championship Edition series, Pac-Man 99 is frantic fun that taps into the “just one more” feel both genres offer. Serving as a much better highlight of the Nintendo Switch’s Online service than other things provided this year, Pac-Man 99 proves that the console can have an excellent and unique multiplayer experience, provided Nintendo is willing to put in the same quality effort they put into their first party titles. An added bonus is that unlike similar battle royale games, Pac-Man 99’s classic origins are still fresh enough to not need constant content updates and drops – you can easily find a game now just like you could the day the game leaped out of the ether fully formed. [Travis Hymas]
Even nowadays games tend to fall into pretty constricted categories. That’s why whenever we get an experience that is truly experimental and genre-bending, it’s such a treat. Deathloop is a first-person shooter with time travel, stealth, mystery, powers, and a creative variety of weapons and ways to take out your opponents. All wrapped up in a neat swinging sixties-inspired bow and delivered by Arkane Studios and Bethesda.
Players take control of protagonist Cole, stuck in a Groundhog’s Day style loop, reliving his death at the hands of an evil time-looping syndicate. Cole has to take out eight members of this syndicate to break the loop and live to see another day. Deathloop features the best mechanics in Arkane’s recent years. The game combines several elements from Dishonored and Prey (two previous Arkane titles) and gives them a nice and shiny polish. Controlling Cole as he shoots and parkours his way across the island feels great, and the story is engaging enough to keep you invested in this timey wimey caper. [Adonis Gonzlez]
8. Knockout City
The brothers who once founded Vicarious Visions follow up last year’s Mario Kart Home Circuit with one of the most creative multi platform multiplayer games with Velan Studio’s Knockout City. A game that captures the experience of the likes of Splatoon but with the particular fidelity of a PS5 and Xbox Series X, Knockout City is a team based dodgeball brawler match with cartoonish sensibilities. Multiple styles of balls, jumps, spins and power ups make for hundreds of variables through maps that get crowded, treacherous and hectic, but are always fun to navigate through. On top of all of that, you can counter attack by catching opponents balls, turn into a ball yourself to then be thrown by teammates to dive bomb onto foes, or do the launching of teammates yourself. [Evan Griffin]
7. Sea of Thieves: A Pirates Life
Microsoft and Rare’s goofy pirate simulator has made a lot of strides in making its content more fulfilling since its 2018 release. However, the unsurprising but (way later than anyone would have expected) tie-in with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean is the biggest value-add the game has gotten. Missions are chunky and set up to be completed with a crew of other players in ways that feel far more intentional than the main game. The new areas — sectioned off from other players to avoid being grieved — are filled with a lot of atmosphere and feel more complete thanks to the leaning on the familiarity of both the films and the ride. On that note, the first mission is dedicated to reliving the story and experience of the Disneyland ride, but in such a subtle way that it’s difficult to realize you’re basically in an ad until halfway through. There’s also a sense that the team at Rare threw everything they could at the wall, knowing they’d only get one shot, and a lot of the easter eggs are excellent and fun discoveries. [Travis Hymas]
6. Mario Party Superstars
What’s better than a new Mario Party? Ironically, an old one. In this case, a new Mario Party consisting of five revamped boards from the original trilogy and over 100 mini-games from the entire series. Mario Party Superstars is that guy.
Superstars takes fan-favorite playing boards from Mario Party 1, 2 and 3 from the N64 and brings them to beautiful HD on the Nintendo Switch. Mixing the past with some fresher Mario Party mechanics proved to be a formula for instant success, with fans absolutely gushing at the idea of some of the series most iconic boards, games and characters getting a fresh makeover with some fresher mechanics. It even brought back the old mini-games that gave people hand injuries from spinning the analog stick with the palm of their hands. No that isn’t a joke. [Adonis Gonzlez]
5. Guilty Gear: Strive
The fighting game community has truly been eating good in recent history, and at the apex of the mountain of fantastic content coming to us stands Guilty Gear: Strive. A fundamentally simple, mechanically deep entry in the hard rock anime fighter’s series, Strive’s accessibility and friendliness to beginners in no way casts away its overwhelming style nor its mechanical depth for those who are looking to dive deeper. The game is, in ways, a reinvention of the franchise to be something a bit more pick-up-and-playable compared to earlier entries in the series, which has only served to blow up its fanbase to astounding new heights. If you’re looking for a place to start your fighting game journey, you are absolutely in luck: this year just gave you the jumping on point you’ve been looking for. [Aaron Reyes]
4. Super Mario 3D World + Bowsers Fury
2D Mario is dead, long live 2.5D Mario. When Super Mario 3D Land launched for the 3DS, it was one of the best selling, critically lauded Mario games ever released, as it took the structure of 2D Mario games and finally upgraded them with a bit of an angle: a 45* angle to be exact, giving the game an isometric view, and a fundamentally new way to play. Little did people know, Super Mario 3D World is by many leagues a much better game. They didn’t know because nobody owned a Wii U. Now that the game has been upscaled and optimized for Nintendo Switch, people can experience the Isometric view, the creative level design, the chaotic 4-player co-op play either on the couch, online or even both, as well as the fancy fury cat suits. Mario 3D World is simply some of the most creative level design in a Mario game that we’ve been blessed with in the last decade, and its value is even bolstered by a semi-open-world expansion in Bowser’s Fury. However, for that classic couch multiplayer hit, this game delivers the teamwork, the competitiveness and the pure blast of sunlight serotonin from the HD Mushroom Kingdom that we could ever ask for. [Evan Griffin]
3. It Takes Two
Hazelight Studios and its auteur founder Josef “Fuck the Oscars” Fares have been keeping couch co-op games alive in a world where they otherwise feel all but forgotten. They came to the table with A Way Out back in 2018 with the artistic sensibility of Fares’ filmmaking origins, and made for both engaging characterization and perplexing puzzle gameplay. It Takes Two, the game about a divorcing couple trapped in their daughter’s toy replicas of them. Through old school split-screen cooperative play, Hazelight pushes players teamwork skills to the limit with intriguing level design that demand communication and tried and true cooperation. Anyway, Take Two the company tried to trade mark the colloquialism like a bunch of greedy monsters, thus making it really hard for this game to get any marketing out there so go play this game. [Evan Griffin]
2. Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
You never hear most people talk about the deep, personal writing of an MMOs groundbreaking story – those people have clearly not touched the incredible, ever-growing Final Fantasy XIV. I could go on here to tell you about the massive comeback story from the original 1.0 launch of the game, or about the frankly insane free trial the game offers to new players, but you’ve already heard about those things. Instead, draw your attention to the incredible character writing, thrilling conflict, stellar design of the world and its inhabitants, and the thrilling, diverse soundtrack that drives it all home. The game’s newest expansion, Endwalker, goes even further beyond the quality of the content thus far, bringing not just an incredible conclusion to a major arc of this ongoing story, but also a frankly obscene number of new players. Final Fantasy XIV is a game to experience with friends and old, virtual or not, and I’m looking forward to meeting you there in Eorzea. [Aaron Reyes]
1. Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite Multiplayer
Good news everyone! Halo infinite multiplayer is a fantastic, FREE game with some wacky monetization shenanigans, but with a VERY solid gameplay loop. Thankfully, the folks over at 343 have been very quick to fix and improve the game, which is an absolute plus for the development team and a sign of good things to come. The map list is relatively sparse and the playlist system is a bit lacking, but has already gotten a significant boost, including adding in my personal favorite game mode, SWAT. But where the menus and organization could stand to have some extra time in the oven, the gameplay loop is just as solid as ever. I have some minor gripes with the gunplay balancing, like the shotgun needs a boost to curb the domination of the sword, and the EMP grenade is a tad too useful for how prevalent it is, but on the whole, the game is an absolute jam. It makes me miss the good old days of Halo 3 and reach multiplayer and the frankly embarrassing amount of time I sunk into it back in the day, but because of lovely folk at 343, the dumpster fire that was the Master Chief Collection is not only good now, but it continues to be an absolute MUST play for any keyboard warrior with the PC games pass.
Good game. But seriously, fix the shotgun. [Miles Stanton]