GBAtemp's 2021 game retrospective - Metroid Dread, Pokemon BDSP, and more
How is everyone's 2022 going so far? As far as gaming goes, there's still a few weeks until any blockbuster titles release, like Pokemon Legends Arceus, Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves, and the God of War PC port. So while we all wait for the exciting games that 2022 has to offer, we'd like to take a moment and look back on some of best games of 2021 that we didn't get a chance to talk about last year.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl @Chary
If there's ever been a video game equivalent of comfort food, it definitely has to be Pokemon. Familiar, simple, nostalgic, these games are easy to play and have just enough going on to keep your attention throughout the journey to the Elite 4. Remakes of older Pokemon games tend to hit those notes even harder, allowing older fans to revisit memories they had from playing the originals as a child, or letting new fans discover old adventures. When it comes to remaking a game, developers have to be careful not to change too much, or else the game will lose its original charm, but in the case of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, it feels as if Studio ILCA feared changing even the slightest of details.
In fact, where previous remakes like Fire Red and Leaf Green, Heart Gold and Soul Silver, and Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire added lots of new features and content, these games play it a little too safe, try to be too faithful to the original Diamond and Pearl. Where TMs have long been since turned into infinite-use items, BDSP reverts that back to how things used to be in Gen IV. It's things like that which make you feel like you're just playing the old games but with a texture pack added. That's not to say there aren't some exciting changes made--the Grand Underground is interesting to explore, while Ramanas Park gives players the change to catch all sorts of legendary Pokemon, but that's about all the differences between these and the originals. It especially feels like a downgrade, too, when you consider that once again, the content from the third game, Platinum, is almost entirely ignored, including the beloved Battle Frontier.
At the end of the day, it's Pokemon, and though it may be a barebones remake, it's still got a lot of what made Diamond and Pearl such fun, memorable games.
Mario Party Superstars @relauby
It's no secret that the Mario Party franchise has been in a tailspin for a long time now, and Mario Party Superstars finally sets out to right the ship by returning to a basic, back-to-formula Mario Party game. Featuring five boards from the classic N64 era and 100 minigames from the first ten console titles (though mostly from the first seven, since many of the Wii and Wii U minigames relied on those consoles' gimmicks). And, even though it's a basic package, it works really well because of the solid foundation the classic Mario Party titles provide. The reworked maps look gorgeous and pop with colour, and all the character models look terrific as well. There's a lot of variety to the minigames and just about every one feels like a classic since they're able to cull the best ones from the past 23 years. There's also a nice variety to the maps, with the ones from the original Mario Party offering the biggest divergences from series formula, which prevent this collection from feeling as stale as it could have been.
There are still some disappointments here; five maps is standard for a Mario Party game but feels underwhelming when they're all recreations, and the minigame modes feel lacking as well, with the decathlon being a notable absentee. It feels like a game that should be supported with free content updates the way Mario Tennis and Mario Golf on the Switch have been, but Nintendo has yet to announce any. Still, even if it's a little barebones, it's hard to overstate how exciting it is to have classic Mario Party back.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic @Prans
It’s 4000 years before the Galactic Empire; and you find yourself in the midst of a tense battle between the Jedi and the Sith. As you piece together your past and gather fellow space-faring adventurers, you grow to develop a pivotal role in this conflict. Indeed, your in-game actions and choices influence the course of the plot and the game’s ending thanks to a morality system. Will you lean towards the Light or Dark side of the Force?
Released back in 2003 on PC and Xbox, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) still packs the distinct BioWare touch to it. It’s a heavily narrative-driven game where the world is fleshed out with characters packing personalities and backstories of their own for you to uncover. You can further indulge in the Star Wars universe through mini-games ranging from a card game to racing on a swoop bike.
However, even with the improved textures and lighting in this Switch version, KOTOR still looks dated. Environments aren’t as detailed as you’d expect of a modern game and you’ll often come across same-y character models. While I can personally overlook the aesthetics, the same cannot be said of the controls. They need some getting used to, especially as selecting actions emulate point-and-click maneuvers through rotations. Moreover, combat is also a disguised affair. Battles are really turn-based but masked to appear as real-time ones. While this mirage is well executed and might have impressed back in 2003, it feels odd nowadays and needs some getting used to.
Nevertheless, this KOTOR port plays smoothly on the Switch and it better do so on this handheld given that it is a nearly 2 decades-old game. But despite its age, fans of narrative-driven games will find likeable aspects to this title, especially with its branching narrative approach. While we wait for the upcoming full remake of KOTOR, you can still relive this classic on the go for nostalgia’s sake or if you’ve never picked it up before, it’s as good of a reason as any to do so now.
Resident Evil 4 VR @RyRyIV
What better an entry for a thread about favorite games of the year, than a game that came out in 2005? In the sixteen years since Resident Evil 4 was unleashed upon the world, the game has been ported a downright absurd number of times. Being available on every major console since the GameCube with a whopping total of fifteen ports, including mobile versions and the “upgraded” iPad mobile version. Today I’ll be singing the praises of the latest, and in my opinion nearly greatest, port of this survival horror/third person action/overall gaming masterpiece, the VR version exclusive to the Oculus Quest 2.
Resident Evil 4 VR manages to stand out amongst a sea of ports by taking a cue from the PlayStation 4 version of Resident Evil VII: Biohazard and making the jump to virtual reality. The game takes the familiar story, settings, and characters fans will know (potentially by heart at this point), and brings them into a fully immersive world for you, the player, to enjoy through the eyes of fan favorite protagonist Leon S. Kennedy. Offering a chance to explore the game’s world in this way, and take on some of my favorite monsters and bosses face to face, was a chance that just stood out to me as a “must experience” the second I learned about it. Add in the typical VR shooter control scheme, and this quickly became my second favorite way to play RE4, being beaten only by the still masterful Wii port. In this way, the staying power that Resident Evil 4 has managed to have over the years plays to this specific port's benefit, going far on nostalgia alone even if one ignores how much fun the gameplay is.
Offering different levels of immersion for every VR experience level, from fully immersive to a more point-and-click option, RE4VR manages to have something on offer for everyone; from VR newbies to experienced players, horror fanatics, Resident Evil lovers, and even just VR shooter fans. The game isn’t without flaw, and it’s had its experience of controversy with the Quest 2 exclusivity and some cut content. But regardless of all of that, RE4VR is a worthy and unique port of a game that’s received far too many.
Metroid Dread @Scarlet
Metroid Dread is a great game. If you own a Switch, you should buy it. That it, that's my recommendation. I'd been on the fence on buying this one since it launched. As my first experience with the series, I debated whether it best to start elsewhere, whether the genre was for me, whether I'd even put in the time to play it if I did buy it. All of this ended when I ended up buying an OLED Switch, after being told by so many media outlets just how great this game was on the flashy new system. I hate it but they're right.
What a game. To me it is the perfect explorative platforming experience. You have a huge map full of environmental hazards and puzzles, constantly being kept fresh by a drip feeding of new abilities, and the abject terror of the EMMI robots hunting you down. The game shines in its movement, and it underpins the entire experience. From the first room, despite having none of Samus' signature abilities the game is a joy, and constantly pushes you further to use the tools at hand. Whether you're running from killer robots, fighting a screen-filling boss, or just playing around with a new ability, you're having a blast.
With Dread having a free demo, I cannot encourage you enough to give it a shot. I was hooked from the start, and I imagine many others will be if they just take that first step to try it.
Twelve Minutes @relauby
Twelve Minutes: Time loop games are becoming more and more common in games, with a few notable ones releasing this year. Twelve Minutes tries to stand out with its impressive voice cast, but it's unlikely those in it for the cast will be satisfied. The two leads, James McAvoy and Daisy Ridley, feel wasted, their voices largely unrecognizable under their American accents, and the material not giving them nearly enough to play with. Willem Dafoe as the home invader fares a little better - he's at least recognizable - but with a voice role we lose the terrific expressiveness of his face, plus the subdued villainous role robs him of the manic energy and great dramatic acting chops that mark his most memorable roles.
If Twelve Minutes will be remembered for anything, it'll be its twist, but that's not necessarily a good thing. There's a moment near the end where everything seems amicably resolved, yet the time loops continue. After pulling at a few more threads, players discover a dark secret that recontextualizes the entire game, and writes the narrative into a corner. Without directly spoiling it, McAvoy's character is discovered to be doing something awful, and the only real endings the game presents are for him to just...stop doing it. Which makes sense, but is very anticlimactic and narratively unsatisfying. It leaves you wanting more, to find a better ending where your investment in McAvoy's character pays off, but that would mean enabling and continuing the repugnant behaviour.
Twelve Minutes mostly works as an adventure game. There are a few moments where the logic or connecting tissue doesn't totally make sense, but for most of it, it's fun to connect dots and it's satisfying to see new permutations on the loops as you continue. Unfortunately, the acting and the script, which are likely the main draw to a game like this, fall short.
For those who don't care about spoilers, I do want to talk about the ending in detail. Near the end of the game, you discover that McAvoy and Ridley are siblings, which makes their marriage and her pregnancy seem a lot less viable. At this point, the game flashes back eight years to a conversation between McAvoy and his father, who tells him he's not allowed to date his sister, and it's revealed that the entire game was in McAvoy's imagination as he tried to envision a future where he could live happily ever with his sister, with the home invader representing his father's desire to break them up. The only possible endings are to give up on dating her, or to ask your dad to hypnotize you so you forget her. (You can insist that it's true love forever, but this will just reset the time loop.) It's very unsatisfying narratively, since it handwaves away everything we'd gotten invested in in the apartment - the mystery surrounding your father's murder, Dafoe's struggles to pay his daughter's medical bills, and, most importantly, the relationship between McAvoy and Ridley. The narrow scope of the game gives their relationship a cozy, lived-in feeling and it's easy to get invested in them as a couple. This makes the ending brief and unsatisfying, feeling like a bad ending. It made me wonder if I did something wrong, like there should be an ending where you go back to the apartment and save your marriage. But, of course, that would mean fathering a child with your sister, which isn't a goal that's likely to motivate many players. It's an awkward setup that has no real solution.
Rune Factory 4 Special @Chary
Usually, when it comes to a new port of an old game, we don't tend to re-review it. With both an official review and recommends article written about it, Rune Factory 4 is no stranger to being praised on GBAtemp. However, with the game recently coming to new platforms, I won't miss an opportunity to excitedly proclaim why everyone that has ever had even the slightest of interest in Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley should go pick this game up right now.
Rune Factory 4: Special is, in my mind, is the perfection of the farming sim-RPG genre. Like Story of Seasons or Harvest Moon, you're thrown into ownership of a farm, and it's up to you to build it up and plant and harvest various crops as the in-game calendar marches on. But unlike those games, there's far more to do than just work the fields. Rune Factory loves to continually throw new ideas at the player at every turn; now that you've learned how to farm, would you be interested in cooking? Armor and weapon crafting? Magic? Potion brewing? Exploring and battling enemies? Monster taming? Foraging for rare materials? Marrying the cutest waifu?
There's never a dull moment throughout the likely 100+ hour journey where you'll start by killing small chickens with your basic sword, and end somewhere around the time where you're slaying dragons by alternating attacks with your sick invisible sword or maxed-out fireball spells. That, or you'll tame the dragon into your rideable pet by throwing beef stew at it until it becomes your friend.
You don't have to take on all the overwhelming tasks that Rune Factory 4 throws at you, but you might find yourself wanting to, because the basic gameplay loop of watering your crops, feeding your pets, and getting married is a tried and true formula, only made even better thanks to the incredible variety that you're given to play around with. Now that Rune Factory 4: Special is available on more than just Nintendo platforms, it's the perfect time to try out this fantastic game.
Baldur's Gate 3's Update @RyRyIV
Last year I reviewed Baldur’s Gate 3, a continuation to the ever popular Baldur’s Gate series of role playing games that updated the franchise for a modern audience, and took its gameplay cues from a more modern interpretation of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition ruleset. In that review, while there was plenty that I did like, I still lamented that Larian Studios were charging full price for admission to an unfinished, unpolished, buggy product. Though many would argue that this is, simply, the nature of early access, it still didn’t sit right with me that such a price was being charged on the promise of getting a finished game “eventually.” In my mind, the better move would’ve been to ask a discounted price for early access adopters, and incrementally increase the price as updates are made and content is added. With all of that in mind, Baldur’s Gate 3 is still one of the games I spent the most time in this year, thanks in large part to the many content updates that Larian Studios made to the game throughout 2021.
It would take forever, and frankly get boring, to list every single improvement, balance change, and general update that Baldur’s Gate 3 received in 2021, so I’ll simply be sticking to the major updates that actually improved the game by a significant margin, and actually added content. Our tale starts in February, with the release of Patch 4; titled the “nature’s power” update, Patch 4 started the year with arguably the game’s biggest update at the time, the introduction of the first new playable class and two associated sublcasses; the druid. Bringing nature-based magic and the ability to wildshape into various animals, I viewed Patch 4 as a welcome breath of fresh air into the game. While previous patches and hotfixes focused simply on fixing and fine-tuning what was already in the game, this was the first update to actually bring something new to the table, and not have me lamenting that I had to restart my entire save file again if I wanted to experience the updates. Finally, a patch worth restarting for, in my mind. This would be the game’s most significant update for the majority of the year, with July’s Patch 5 mostly, again, just focusing on fine tuning content, making balance adjustments, and some small updates to a single character's personal sidequest. One notable addition from Patch 5, however, was the change to how long rests work; in short, for those unfamiliar with Baldur’s Gate or D&D, a long rest is the system that the franchises use to heal your characters and re-set their personal abilities for a new day. While previous versions of the game made it all too easy to simply press a button and take a long rest any time you’d like, Patch 5 added “camp supplies” as a form of resource management, forcing you to collect food and such to gain the full benefits of a long rest. Take a rest without enough camp supplies, and you don’t gain the healing benefits. A welcome addition, but nothing even close to Patch 4. October, and the release of Patch 6, however, would push the game further yet again.
As of the writing of this article, Patch 6 is easily the largest content update made to Baldur’s Gate 3 yet. Adding the game’s second new class, the sorcerer, and a ton of extra spells to the pool of those available. Two distinct subclasses for the sorcerer came with it, as well as a huge graphical update, music additions, and “environmental” effects added to your characters models throughout the day to reflect the hell you’ve been through. There was also the addition of the Grymforge, an underdark fortress that became the first new region added to the game, bringing with it a new quest, new combat encounters, and a slew of new NPCs to meet and mess around with. But perhaps the biggest, most game changing update? You can now equip a log of salami to be used as a melee weapon.
In 2020, I lamented that Baldur’s Gate 3 was far from a finished game. And in 2021, that really didn’t change. There’s still a bunch of bugs, and plenty of work to be done before the final update that pushes it out of early access. But there was clearly plenty of ground made on the updates front this year, and the game’s in an inarguably better state than it was upon release. While it’s still a bit of a bummer to pay full price for an unfinished game, Baldur’s Gate 3 is at a point where I can comfortably recommend it to any fans of RPGs, D&D, or even just fantasy in general. Some will continue to hold out until that final release, I’m sure, but those who’d like to jump in and follow the early access journey are certainly in a much better spot to do so.
Dying Light: Platinum Edition @Prans
There's a strange sense of self-awareness when playing zombie games during a pandemic. Playing Dying Light is no different and the overall tone of the game, first released in 2015, feel eerily prescient; even if it does overplay the drama. In this dramatic depiction of a plague-ridden world, you play as agent Kyle Crane who is on a mission to retrieve crucial files in the city of Harran. But shortly after his parachute landing, Kyle is attacked by looters, followed shortly by zombies. Thankfully, he is saved by some other survivors who bring in him as an errand boy. Under this guise, Kyle befriends the members of this group and learns more about the on-goings in Harran.
While not spectacular, Dying Light’s plot is rather original; although some of the acting can be unconvincing at best. But, by far, the game’s highlight is its gameplay which largely helps overlook the shortcomings of the plot’s presentation. It brings an original concept that merges parkour and stealth action in a zombie apocalypse; and it executes it pretty well. In Dying Light’s open-world universe, you can climb on practically anything, and you’ll have to use heights to your advantage. Climb up structures to get a vantage point and decide your maneuver; or even to jump on pesky zombies and make a run for it. Stealth is also your main MO given that bullets are rare and the melee weapons can only handle so many zombies that are naturally drawn to sounds. But thanks to the RPG levelling up mechanic, you’ll be able to up Kyle’s abilities to overcome challenges that the game throws at you.
Given that this is the Platinum Edition, Dying Light on the Switch comes with extra goodies that developer Techland cooked up over the years. More specifically, you’ll get 4 DLCs and 17 skin bundles; with the former adding quite some chunk of playtime. The Switch version also brings in some new control features like gyro aiming and touchscreen support. I found the latter rather neat to quickly access the map and scroll through menus.
As expected from a port, the Switch does suffer from some performance issues with occasional drops in framerate when things get busy on-screen. But generally it plays well and even looks somewhat good on handheld. And with the amount of content that Dying Light: Platinum Edition delivers, it’s an easy recommendation if you’re looking for a zombie game with an original take. The fast-paced action doesn't fail to deliver adrenaline-inducing fun whenever you get ready to perform some crazy jumps in the zombie-filled city of Harran.
Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator @Chary
It's so difficult to describe the kind of game Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator, partly because the wordy name perfectly describes the experience, but also because the game throws so much at you at every moment that it really is the kind of game you need to experience for yourself. If you haven't stressed yourself out enough through 2021 worrying about your GME, AMC, NFTs, and crypto, then this is the perfect game to fray your every last nerve and destroy any sense of security you had left. And I mean that in the best way possible.
SWOTS sees you enter the frenetic market of valuable organs. Customers are lined up the block just waiting for you, their black market dealer, to seedily supply them with limbs and internal body parts for their various needs; that's the Space Warlord part of the equation. Hearts, eyeballs, souls, and foreign alien body parts are the everyday cargo you'll be peddling to desperate buyers, hence the Organ bit in the title. Where the Trading Simulator aspect comes from is apparent the very moment when the bell rings and the market opens. Much like the stock market, you only have so much time to invest and trade in a single day, as prices, buyers, sellers, current events, and inventory all impact each market day.
Your main goal is to complete requests from customers: they need a lung, so you need to procure one from the market while making a slight bit of profit on the whole deal. It's simple, until it isn't. At first, you're juggling how to work the intentionally clunky menus and performing tutorial-level tasks. Then, things begin to ramp up in a dramatic fashion. Competing dealers will start buying up stock for their own stores, leaving you desperately running around trying to pick up the leftover dregs. Meanwhile, your customers are going to start demanding more specific parts; yes, they want a soul, but only a particular kind. See, each and every organ is graded, like a coin or trading card would be, and there are rarities, much like item drops in looters, oh but don't forget, there's sizes, blood types, the condition will deteriorate if you don't sell them quick enough--by the way, you have to manage your cargo ship otherwise it'll fall apart and then you won't have space to store your fleshy goods. Got all that? Okay good, now you have a mere handful of minutes to pore through everything, GO GO GO!
By the end of the first trading day, I felt mildly stressed by SWOTS's gameplay. After I'd completed my fifth day, I was cursing the alien dog who had bought the last Shiftwux out from under me, lamenting the fact I hadn't bribed him to take the day off. On the tenth day, a tragedy had occurred, leading to the deaths of many--a boon for the organ dealers...except for the fact that I'd put all my money into investing eyeballs, and now an influx of them were on the market, ruining my entire week's worth of gains. Tense, ridiculous, hilarious, and stressful like nothing else, Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator is definitely one of the most unique games that 2021 had to offer.
SkateBIRD got a lot of attention before release due to the cute and relaxed vibe it presented. You play as a little bird, skating around various environments trying to help your owner. It's a surprisingly effective setup, that makes the initial exploration of each level fun, as you spot cute details like how the ramps are made of cardboard and duct tape, or grinding rails are little plastic straws, and with pun-master Xalavier Nelson Jr. as narrative director, the dialogue and quest names are full of smile-inducing jokes and quirkiness. The music also fits the relaxed vibe and helps set the game apart tonally from, say, the more rebellious Tony Hawk series.
Unfortunately, while SkateBIRD excels at all the small details that make a good game great, it face plants on skating fundamentals. Your bird feels surprisingly heavy and sluggish, and it's difficult to make quick, intricate movements accurately. It takes a bit of time to build up speed, and it's so easy to wipe out that you'll be stopping to build that momentum constantly. With practice it's functional, but it's never fast or smooth enough to be fun, and I couldn't stop thinking about how I'd rather be playing a better skating game. Which is a shame, as there's a lot of charm to SkateBIRD, but it's buried underneath an undercooked skating system.
Life is Strange: True Colors @Chary
The first three Life is Strange games have managed to grip me with their stories, start to finish. Even with the departure of writing and developing team Dontnod from the franchise, Deck Nine has proven they can do a good job at telling emotional stories using the set dressing provided by their predecessors as they did with Life is Strange: Before the Storm. This time, however, theirs has to stand on its own, in a new setting, with fresh faces...for the most part.
Life is Strange: True Colors manages to carry on the torch, with everything you could hope to expect from the series. Emotional teenage angst, a weird, unsettling mystery lurking in the background, dorky dialogue, and choices that impact how the story unfolds. It does a lot to improve upon previous games--main character Alex Chen has a lot of growth and development going on that isn't purely dependant on the main narrative itself, whether it's in how you shape her inner thoughts, the sidequests and activities you can do, and how you decide to help the residents of Haven Springs, if you do so at all. And because True Colors puts such a focus on Alex's powers to see into the emotions of others, it helps you get a better idea of everyone around her. Coupled together with what feels like much more realistically written characters and not just high school archetypes, and it's easy to care about the cast and town.
Despite that, I still find myself having a preference for the first Life is Strange, even if I think True Colors is a better game, objectively. Even so, this is a fantastic entry that both fans of the series can enjoy, and one that can interest newcomers looking for a well-written story with fun characters.
Now that you've seen our opinions, what did you think of 2021? Were you happy with the games that released throughout the year? As always, there are plenty of instant classics and major disappointments to be had, so feel free to share your own thoughts!