2021 is about to end in approximately one day (depending on where you are in the world). And while this year hasn’t been the best showing in the world of gaming, The Game Awards was kinda ehh. There have been some awesome games that have come out that could have slipped under your radar.
Not all games have the marketing budget of Capcom or Bethesda Studios. But it doesn’t mean that those games aren’t any good. There are a good amount of games that deserve more of the spotlight. In fact, this list has been hard to shorten down. But ultimately do yourselves a favour and check out some of these hidden gems of 2021.
Inscryption is one of those games that’s hard to review without spoiling everything. In fact, most of its intrigue lies in the unknown, the twists and turns that happen mid to late game. Unravelling the mystery, experiencing the terror, is truly what makes this game great. And for horror puzzle-adventure game fans it could be your game of the year.
What I can tell you about Inscryption is that it’s mainly a deck-building roguelike game. I know it doesn’t tell you much and it doesn’t scream horror but just trust me here. In the game, you’ll be faced with some escape room puzzle elements, a heavy dose of atmospheric horror and of course card battles.
The card metagame is in itself very interesting and is a great example of the roguelike, strategy genre. Should you stitch two cards together to make a more powerful being? Did you find that hidden jar of ooze card? What does it do? So many questions and the only way to answer them is by playing the game.
The Artful Escape
The Artful Escape is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of music and colour but under the blockbuster casting, dazzling worlds, and awesome guitar wailing is a genuinely sincere story. Francis’ journey of self-discovery is universal—he just happens to be part of a spectacular, laser-powered light show.
This story-driven, choose your own adventure, platforming adventure. And it’s about Francis’ journey to rock stardom. In his quiet Colorado hometown, the community is expecting him to continue his Uncle’s musical legacy. But on the night of his performance, he gets whisked away on a strange intergalactic adventure, one that helps him discover his new psychedelic stage persona.
Get sucked into the gorgeous visuals, music and overall story of The Artful Escape. It’s a story for the ages and one not to be missed. It even made our Game of the Year mentions!
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Mac, iOS
2021 had an interestingly large amount of photography games, from Beasts of Maravilla Island to Pokémon Snap. In TOEM you’ll set off on a delightful expedition and use your photographic eye to uncover the mysteries of the magical TOEM. Get lost in this hand-drawn adventure game that’s complete with quirky characters and photo-based brain teasers.
In this game, you will not use your photography skills to solve puzzles. There will be no photo scoring or looking for rare shots. It’s a different kind of photo game that’s cute, humourous and rewards your curiosity. TOEM is the perfect game for snuggling under the blanket.
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac
Death’s Door combines inspirations from two of the best games all wrapped up in one pretty lush package. A game that’s sure to satiate the heart of most gamers, it has the exploration and dungeons of Zelda mixed with the fast-paced brutal combat of Dark Souls.
The premise for Death’s Door is straightforward yet intriguing. Work for the Reaping Commission by harvesting the souls of strong monsters unwilling to submit to the mortal coil. However, when the soul you are commissioned to retrieve is unexpectedly stolen from you, your path leads to a hauntingly beautiful undying realm that holds the titular Death’s Door. To open it, you’ll need to search the lands for three powerful souls in need of a good reaping — by way of some entertaining and challenging boss fights.
Death’s Door is a must-play for any action-adventure RPG fans.
Platforms: PlayStation 4|5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Few games exhibit a sense of speed and agility quite like Boomerang X. The first-person action game is all about maintaining momentum as you fly around arenas by way of your character’s thrown boomerang. Throw it at enemies to slice them up, then vault towards it for aerial combos reminiscent of the visceral mid-air stunts of old Quake rocket jumps.
Harness the power of a mystical boomerang to fling yourself through the air. Slice, fly and blast through arenas swarming with evil creatures. Stay agile, hone your skills with tight combat and fluid movement. It’s a fun arcade game for fans of Metroid Prime, Quake and Doom.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Chicory is a wonderful colouring book that handles some shockingly deep experiences and themes I wasn’t expecting.
Chicory beings with our main protagonist Pancake that inherits a magical paintbrush. It’s your job to bring colour back to an otherwise-colourless world. Objects change and grow when they’re filled in. A tree that’s blocking a path can be retracted by erasing its colour, creating a clearing to walk through. Colour it in again and it’ll return, stable enough to use as a bridge between platforms. Throughout the chapters, Pancake’s bond with the brush will grow, and with it, the things they can do with it change.
At its core, it’s a game about art and legacy, about worth and worthlessness, about believing in yourself, or not. But it’s also about tearing down systems that no longer serve you and your community, about imagining a new world that’s less about competition and hierarchy, and more about equity and mutual aid.
Platforms: PlayStation 4|5, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac
A beautifully illustrated strategic tactics game for lovers of tabletop RPGs. Wildermyth is a wonderful role playing game that combines the best of storytelling with procedural generation. If you’ve played any tabletop RPG Dungeons & Dragons and the like, then you’ll like this.
The essence of Wildermyth includes complicated choices, constantly evolving narratives, deep character-building, skill-based tactical combat, and surprising scenarios over the advanced presentation elements that should separate (and elevate) video game RPGs over their tabletop counterparts.
This endlessly replayable game is best experienced with friends, but even on your own makes for a grand adventure. Wildermyth is a champion in capturing the flexible and evolving nature of tabletop RPG and is a triumph of a game.
Platforms: PC, Mac
LoopLoop Hero is a strategy game about the end of the world. The Lich has thrown the world into a timeless loop and plunged its inhabitants into never ending chaos. You’ve got an expanding deck of mystical cards to place enemies, buildings, and terrain along each unique expedition loop for the brave hero. Recover and equip powerful loot for each class of hero for their battles and expand the survivors’ camp to reinforce each adventure through the loop. Unlock new classes, new cards, and devious guardians on your quest to shatter the endless cycle of despair.
Loop Hero takes the focus away from controlling the hero directly; instead, it’s your job to craft their environment, weapons, and abilities to get them ready for the road ahead. You can’t do it for them, but you can improve their chances of success. Loop Hero’s masterful blend of deckbuilding, roguelike runs, and streamlined RPG mechanics tap into the heart of this complex genre.
It’s a simple game to pick up and play and each round isn’t too time-consuming so you can play it in-between meetings. I know some of you are looking for an easy game with this whole work from home situation!
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac
For those that love to explore, Sable is a unique and unforgettable journey. A sweeping, third-person open-world adventure set in a vast desert landscape where you play as a masked girl named Sable. Throughout the game, you’ll explore its world by climbing and gliding Breath of the Wild-style, as well as humming around on your hoverbike.
Sable isn’t your typical action-packed adventure, though — it’s a game whose beauty comes from the joys of slowing down and appreciating the current moment of life. It’s a game that basks in its own beauty and best of all gives us the permission to simply be and enjoy. A moment spent by yourself or with someone else. It’s like coming up for air.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Mac
The Forgotten City
Last but not least, The Forgotten City is one of our Game of the Year contenders. It tells the story of a traveller stuck in a time loop who must solve the mystery of an ancient society where every citizen is punished if just one person commits a “sin.” It’s an almost Twilight Zone-like premise that immediately inspires you to dive deep into this game’s world and not come up for air until you find answers.
In the cavernous Roman city with a supernatural law that forbids sin, if a sin is committed everyone will turn to gold— everyone except you. You get to restart the day with all of your current knowledge and inventory in an attempt to catch that pesky sinner and avoid a golden apocalypse. Over the course of several permutations of the same day, the game weaves an intricately plotted mystery that doubles as a meditation on the repeating nature of civilizations. And without spoiling anything, there are moments where the writing is so good it’s practically leaping out of your screen, standing up there with some of the best moments in any RPG.
The Forgotten City’s elaborate premise only works because this game takes the time to sell this incredible world and makes you dread the possibility that all of the incredible little things you discover and amazing people you meet while trying to solve this mystery could go away in an instant.
Platforms: PlayStation 4|5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC