Fawzi Mesmar’s Top 15 games of the year 2021

Making games is pretty hard, making games during a pandemic is a different level of diffcult. It’s a miracle games get finished and released at all, all the more impressive when some really awesome games that went through a bulk of their Dev time under crazy circumstances actually launched this year. I played a bunch. These were my favourite 15.

15 – Psychonauts 2

I love that the classic 3D platformer managed to get to it’s sequel eventually. Full of charm, funny witty humour, a world you want to explore and a cast of peculiar characters that inhabit it. Psychonauts 2 plays so much better than its predecessor and takes to heart modern game design to play great while still making it feel like the original.

14 – Curse of the dead gods

It’s hard to play this game and not think of last year’s wonderful Hades. After all, It’s a stylised rogue like isometric view game where you go down the layers of the underworld battling god’s to gain powers. However, the game really stands apart to it’s fun combat and upgrade system that allows for exploration and experimentation. The curse system on its own adds an overlaying element of challenge and depth that keeps each run fresh and intense.

13 – The Wild at Heart

Its been a while since I played a Pikmin game and I didn’t realize how much I missed these games till I tried The Wild at Heart. A beautifully and artistically rendered world that brings together themes of childhood sense of wonder, nostalgic era and a bit of Miyazaki like creatures that aid you on your journey.

12 – Wario Ware Get it Together

It’s so good to play Wario ware on the big screen! It’s even better now that you can play with friends. This iteration brings one of the biggest changes to the series. Usually you need to figure out the objective of the micro game as well as how to navigate it, in this new one the how is already determined by the character you choose since each of them has a set way to move and interact. Allows for more frantic couch co-op to errupt in those few seconds you have to beat the level. It’s funny, whimsical as imaginative as ever.

11 – Valheim

This game appeared to have come out of nowhere and took the world by storm. Massively fun with friends, venturing out in the world of Valheim to gather resources, slay enemies and build all kinds of stuff is hard to get enough of. With an ever changing world to explore and lots of secrets to unravel, it’s a tried and tested formula that has been executed wonderfully and brought to a theme much loved by many.

10 – Metroid Dread

Mercury steam does it again! The studio behind Samus returns utilizes their passion for the metroidvania genre and reinstates what put metroid in there to begin with. The game flows so nicely, sectioning off sections in a digistable way and allows for the genre’s trademark backtracking without it having to feel cumbersome or detracting from the overall experience.

9 – Deathloop

It’s hard not to appreciate how clever deathloop design is, especially as a designer. It is specifically designed to creative narrative context that allows you to use and reuse a limited set of locals to investigate and perfect the navigation and skill combos in these mini sandboxes. The game had a very sharp sense of style and direction that magically captures developer Arkane’s super powers all in one place.

8 – Riders Republic

Riders is pure adrenaline fun, and it’s completely focused on having a fun ride of multiple different types of extreme sports under one open world package. There’s enough content here to keep you rolling down the hill for many many hours. Even for someone that doesn’t enjoy snowboarding or biking to that extent theres an Arcady sense of fun here that should be entertaining for everyone.

7 – Resident Evil Village

Resident Evil 7 was excellent and it was the redirection that the series really needed to modernize it while keeping elements long time fans have loved about the series for close to 30 years now. Village adds to the structure VII put out by breaking out the linearity and producing a central hub that allows you to explore the game in a bunch of different branching directions and also encourages exploration for optional rewards and goodies. Wonderful in atmosphere, the different sections of the game had different themes – and designers – that lead to them feeling fresh and unique to themselves making it a nice combo of different horror experiences wrapped under one wholestic Resident Evil package.

6 – It takes two

Developer haze light studios have been working on the couch co op formula for some time now, and it seems that they have nailed it home with it takes two. A whimsical adventure that will have a couple cooperate in different odd circumstances to come through eventually for their relationship and daughter. From riding spiders to swinging on nails, the game seems to be throwing a new mechanic at you at every turn and keeps you and whoever you’re playing with on your toes for the ride.

5 – Persona 5 Strikers

It’s no secret that I love Persona 5 and for good reason, it’s one of the best games of 2017 and probably amongst the best jrpgs of all time for me. Strikers gives you the opportunity to continue living in that world for longer. Though the game is made by a different studio and with different mechanics it’s kind of staggering how they managed to keep everything feeling the same while being so different. If you liked persona 5 then this is a no brainer. It’s great to be back in that world with the shadow theives and get to see more of their shinanigans.

4 – Hitman III

Hitman games have always been a lot of fun, I do believe that this is the best one yet. The general tool kit that the game provide is so much fun and create for a variety of funny situations that I spoke about a bunch in my podcast the Habibis. From slamming a banana in someone’s face to accidentally dumping a dead body in a center stage of a party there’s a lot of goofs that can be had as well as feeling like a total badass at the same time. The game’s second mission is a stand out moment for me where the game switches entirely to be one of the most captivating detective games I’ve played in a long time and just clearly demonstrates what can be created using the depth of its systems.

3 – Unpacking

Unpacking is a prime example of a game I wish I made. A concept so elegant that it’s hard to not think “why didn’t I think of this?”. As someone that spent the majority of their lives moving, unpacking touched a part of my life that is constant and emotional. And it manages to convey that purely through the beauty of its simple mechanics. It was pretty difficult not to try and figure out more about the people that live in a place by snooping through their belongings and it unfolded a beautiful story that I ended up playing again and again.

2 – The Artful Escape

Every creative goes through a journey where they need to find their voice. Whether that being in painting, music or game design there’re many moments of doubt, refusal and just failure until everything comes together and the creative fullfils their creative journey. Wonderfully put in game, the artful escape is that journey captured in a deeply personal musical journey that mirrors a lot of the creator’s wonderfully capturing the feeling of playing live and finding your musical sound. While the gameplay can feel clunky at times, it doesn’t distract from the artful escape’s ability to inspire. It will pluck a string in every creator’s heart in one way or another.

1 – Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy

When I think of my favorite Marvel IP I would normally think of 5 other things before I talk about Guardians of the Galaxy, they’re cool and all, not top of mind for me. So when the game came out I was curious to check it out but fairly neutral, then as I started playing I saw that I was laughing out loud multiple times at the incredible writing and banter between the guardians, I was at awe but the amazing world design that is captivating in every corner and I was enjoying the lot of the combat system as i’m pulling off all sorts of combos to clear out waves and rooms. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorite Marvel IP games in a long time and my game of the year 2021.