GOTY Deliberations for 2021
An inside look at what Game Loot is playing for Game of the Year
As I type this, November is nearly over. That means I have one long month before the New Year approaches. This means a couple of things in my world (and the digital world of Game Loot). I do my best every year to play as much of the gaming field as I can. I like a good mixture of indie releases and AAA titles, trying to dig into what makes every year artistically interesting.
This means that I have to do research! I generally cycle through all my usual podcasts, looking for titles that I may have missed. It’s the same for reading articles from places like IGN, Kotaku, and Polygon. This also means that November/December is utterly stuffed with all the fall releases. I don’t have time to play everything for GOTY deliberations, nor should I be expected to. I play the brightest gems and the games that interest me.
This article is an experiment of sorts. I’m playing a metric ton of video games right now, and I have a lot of feelings about all of them. Each probably deserves a piece all to themselves, but that’s not in the cards. This is my 49th article at Game Loot, which means that the next piece I publish will be my utterly massive ‘All the Games I Beat in 2021’ piece. This is an article a literal year in the making and will be the perfect endcap for the first 50 articles at my humble publication. This piece will be a potpourri of small reviews and thoughts, which will give you a preview of my Game of the Year list. I’ll have five slots, so if you want to get an idea of what it will look like, you can see 2020’s below.
It’s helpful to start with what I’ve already played. Games like Deathloop, Alan Wake Remastered, Returnal, Knockout City, Resident Evil Village, and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Between these six games, we can see a hodgepodge of different ideas and big pieces of art. Alan Wake Remastered is like unearthing some kind of odd treasure. It’s a Rosetta Stone for Remedy Entertainment’s current line-up, especially in regards to the excellent Control. While I enjoyed Control way more, Alan Wake Remastered has a tone and feel that speak to me as a horror fan and creator. Deathloop is a confident piece and is a product of our time, complete with an ever-popular timeloop mechanic and a streamer’s toolbox of death and mayhem. Knockout City is more streamer catnip, though it’s only a thimble deep in comparison. Despite its shallow nature, Knockout City’s multiplayer feels fresh and unique, which is certainly a rarity in the current marketplace.
Resident Evil Village and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart make for strange bunkmates, but they don’t have a choice. They are brilliant and polished gems that show off what the new generation of gaming should feel like. Returnal is also there, but it stands apart for me in that it’s the best game I’ve played (since Bloodborne) that I will likely never finish. This game is a blast to play, but roguelikes have never been my favorite genre. Hades — I beat it on Switch last year and have played the PS5 version for another dozen hours — is the exception to the rule.
These games all belong on the shortlist. They’ve come out over the last ten months and I love all of them, warts and all. I’ll have a ranked list soon, and many of these will be on it.
Currently in Consideration
I’ve talked quite a bit about how I select my games for this process. I’m missing some PC games this year — I need a new computer — but that can’t be helped for now. I’ll also have a meaty list of games that I didn’t get a chance to play. I think it’s important to acknowledge the stuff that I just couldn’t get to. That way, I can also have a bonus shopping list for myself.
I have a few more games that are currently in consideration that I hope to complete soon. Let’s start with a big one:
Pokemon Shining Pearl
I had a bad feeling about this remake. From the first trailer we saw, I hated the art design. Sword/Shield are some of my favorite Pokemon titles, and I didn’t understand why the excellent character design would be thrown away. I know they had the assets! It just didn’t make very much sense to me.
But Pokemon Shining Pearl has surprised me. Shocking. Or maybe not? My love of Pokemon is well documented here at Game Loot and beyond, so I perhaps should have seen this coming. These are remakes of Pokemon Pearl/Diamond, but with a modern flourish and an eye to improvement across the board. The art design is an interesting modernization of the original Pokemon titles. This design feels purposeful now, and that was something that I misunderstood.
But that isn’t all! The Underground feels substantive. The game is faster to play and the core adventure is still a delight. The post-game content in Pokemon games are nothing to sneeze at, and Shining Pearl is no exception.
I know that these two games have taken heat in how safe they are. I understand the criticism, but I’m also aware of the pressure that is leveled at Game Freak. While I would have loved to see a remake closer to Soulsilver/Heartgold, that’s not what we got. The formula remains popular, and it must be difficult to balance fan expectations with forward progress. If they change the remake too much, they anger the fans of the original. If they play it too safe, they get hate from the other side of the fandom. I happen to believe that Shining Pearl splits the difference. I intend to eventually write a piece about the Pokemon franchise overall, but that will take more thought.
Shin Megami Tensei V
This is exactly the kind of RPG I needed. This game has so many things that speak to me: monster collecting/fusion, a dark story, a controlled open world, and rigid design. SMT V is tough. As a series veteran — from SMT IV on — I knew where this combat was going. It’s punishing, but it doesn’t feel unfair.
But not all is well in the Netherworld. SMT V has many of the same weaknesses of previous titles in the franchise. The plot is unimportant and the game mostly doesn’t care about it. In the previous handheld titles, this felt like a limitation of the tech. Now that we are on the Switch, the scope and animation are better, but the grandiose blandness that is Shin Megami Tensei’s world has remained the same. Demon NPCs give us small details (a boss ahead, an environmental background piece), but this is far from feeling like a real place. It’s a big RPG system, so that’s okay. I can’t help but compare this monster-collecting RPG to the monster-collecting RPG that I mentioned above. Shining Pearl is a kid’s game with a complicated and rewarding RPG behind its chibi exterior. It also doesn’t have a living world, but it does try. It makes its lore central, while SMT V’s feels loud and hollow.
You play SMT V for its challenging gameplay and look. I enjoy it, and I’m glad I was able to play it.
Death’s Door rocks. I’m forever glad that they ported this to PS5. This game fits me like a glove. It’s a dark fantasy world with interesting lore and some genuinely great characters. They are well designed and interesting to talk to/slash with my magic sword.
Playing as a Crow that works for a Grim Reaper organization is fascinating enough, but the game uses maze-like levels and just-right combat difficulty to make the perfect Pothead of gaming soup. Balancing magic spells with different weapon times makes the encounters breezy even while your Crow is quite fragile.
In between mini-boss battles, the game uses environmental puzzles to challenge everything you’ve seen before. Death’s Door is impressively designed, and a joy to play.
Trying to narrow down the best of the best can be tough. So much of what we love about various media is wrapped up in ourselves, driven by what fascinates, entertains, and horrifies us. I’ll read all Game of the Year articles I come across to get a brief glimpse into what makes that writer tick. I hope that this look into my process sheds some light about me when I share my list early in the new year.
(The new Guardians of the Galaxy arrived in my mailbox early, which may throw off the list… We’ll see soon enough.)