As 2021 draws to a close – definitely another wild ride of a year – I’d like to take the time to reflect on many of the brilliant games I was given the opportunity to play and review during the first ever year of Qualbert.com. It’s been a truly surreal experience to finally pursue a lifelong dream of writing reviews for videogames, and thanks to the generosity of many developers and publishers, I was lucky enough to play many of this year’s finest.
This article will not only cover some of my favourite games this year, but also games that stand out in particular categories due to their compelling narrative, audio design, artistic style, and even significant emotional impact. Please note that this list is only comprised of games that I have personally played this year and is incredibly subjective; it’s not exhaustive and likely missing out many other amazing games I just didn’t have the time to fit in. But I strongly believe that all of these games have a quality and polish that can be enjoyed by anyone!
So, drumroll please, as we celebrate the inaugural Qualbert GOTY awards!
Best Visuals – Scarlet Nexus
In an era of powerful consoles and PCs where games constantly push the limits of graphical fidelity, those with unique art-styles are beginning to have more of an impact than any that are hyper-realistic. That’s why Scarlet Nexus is my choice for the best-looking game of 2021, a choice that likely won’t rest easy with many of you!
Although it’s not the most graphically-detailed, especially when compared to the likes of Forza Horizon 5 or Resident Evil Village, Scarlet Nexus has a visual impact like no other. Running at a silky smooth 4K 60fps on PS5/Series X, the vibrant colours and detailed combat animations were jaw-dropping and enhanced the experience significantly. It’s easily one of the best-looking games to date.
Best Soundtrack – NEO: The World Ends With You
Anyone who has played the original TWEWY will appreciate the importance of its music, a unique style fitting for the stylish streets of Shibuya. NEO: TWEWY takes this soundtrack one step further, adding a multitude of new tracks while also remixing and revitalising music from the original. Iconic songs like “Twister” and “Three Minutes Clapping” make a comeback alongside some of the banging original songs like these two:
“Breaking Free” has some serious emo/rock vibes. Really takes me back.
What’s most impressive about the soundtrack to NEO: TWEWY is the sheer variety, with over 50 tracks which no two sound the same! With an incredible production value, the music sounds less like a videogame soundtrack and more like a compilation album from some of the best bands in Shibuya. Definitely give it a listen.
Best Indie Game – Death’s Door
Few games this year captured me quite like Death’s Door, an indie action RPG about a soul-reaping crow, which manages to achieve impressive world-building and gripping, polished gameplay in a mere 8 – 10 hours. With its combination of stunning visual presentation, quirky and unique characters, and clever exploration meshed with thrilling combat, Devolver once again proves the sheer quality of their indie arsenal.
Having played both the PC and Switch versions, and with the game also available on Xbox and PlayStation, there’s no excuse not to give it a go. Fans of action/adventure RPGs the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, would be foolish to pass by Death’s Door; it’s definitely a game to die for.
Best Remake/Remaster – Diablo II: Resurrected
Remasters and remakes really were a hot commodity in 2021, with popular games like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, NieR, Super Mario 3D World, Pokémon Diamond/Pearl and even the infamous Grand Theft Auto Trilogy receiving a re-release. Some of these re-releases were obviously done with a bit more finesse than others, but the most polished in my opinion is Diablo II: Resurrected, a remake of one of the most influential games from my childhood. Thankfully, aside from a massive visual upgrade, very little has been changed compared to the original game.
Diablo II: Resurrected is without a doubt the game Diablo fanatics have dreamed of for years. While revitalising the game’s visuals tremendously, it manages to do so while retaining the most important aspects that fans have grown to love: traditional RPG gameplay, and a dark, gothic aesthetic. So, for fans of the original, is it worth playing? Without a doubt.
Best Narrative – ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos
Visual novels generally have an emphasis on story, given their almost complete lack of gameplay. Thankfully this is one visual novel where the story well and truly delivers. ALTDEUS quite literally surrounds the player with a compelling sci-fi narrative, with an immersive experience thanks to its delivery through VR. Experiencing the twists and turns, plot twists and betrayal, all through the eyes of the main character is an incredible way to involve the player.
ALTDEUS delivers a story that is gripping, emotional, and has heavy themes of human connection despite the game’s many artificial characters. Featuring eight separate endings, choices made during character interaction and battle sequences bear significant weight and will drastically change your outcome.
Best RPG – Shin Megami Tensei V
The JRPG for JRPG fans, Shin Megami Tensei is a series that is universally well-respected and almost revered among those fond of turn-based combat. After an arduous wait since its announcement almost 5 years ago, fans of traditional JRPGs were at last treated to this Switch exclusive. Combining the series’ iconic demon fusion with brutal difficulty and a compelling religious narrative, SMTV lives up to the series’ reputation in every single way.
Having nearly finished the game, I can confidently say this has been the most enjoyable and polished JRPG experience I’ve had this entire year, and is a must-play for fans of traditional JRPGs. Honourable mentions go to Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin for being an excellent Pokémon rip-off, and Tales of Arise (which I unfortunately didn’t get around to playing) for being our writer Leigh’s GOTY.
Best FPS – Resident Evil: Village
Unlike many gamers, I’m not particularly fond of first-person shooters, but Resident Evil is certainly the exception. Since playing RE4 many years ago on the GameCube, the series has had me hooked. The latest entry in the iconic survival horror series, Village (the one with the tall vampire lady that the internet went wild about), is arguably one of its finest.
Though less terrifying when compared to its predecessor, and by no means a game that will require a change of pants, Village still offers one of the most gripping, immersive and thrilling experiences in the entire franchise. Intricate level design and captivating audio combined with smooth gameplay and gunplay create an unforgettable survival horror experience.
Funniest Game – Say No! More
I needed to find some way to include this game in the list, as it’s without a doubt one of the most joyful experiences I’ve had with a game to date. Say No! More will have you smiling ear-to-ear throughout its entire short but sweet office-themed adventure. Make NO mistake, this is one of the best games of 2021.
It’s a unique comedic romp through an office that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone thanks to its witty dialogue and simple, approachable gameplay. Completion will only take 2 – 3 hours and you’ll be laughing and smiling the entire time. Fans of Katamari or any gamer who works in an office absolutely should be playing Say No! More.
Best Australian Game – Unpacking
Packing up a house can be an exciting and sometimes daunting experience – I would know because I’ve just had to do this. Unpacking on the other hand is full of potential, opening up new opportunities and signifying important changes in life. That’s the exact message of Unpacking, a zen indie puzzle game overflowing with gorgeous pixel art made right here in my hometown of Brisbane.
There are few games I’ve played that I can say are truly beautiful, heart-warming and touching, but Unpacking is all that and so much more. Such a simple gameplay concept not only manages in itself to be incredibly entertaining and strangely satisfying, but when combined with detailed pixel art and themes of human emotion, manages to become almost poetic. Even the simplest moments of the game have the ability overwhelm the player with joy and happiness. Unpacking is a moving experience.
Game of the Year – Metroid Dread
Long dreamed of by Nintendo fans and more than fifteen years since rumours first surfaced, it’s surreal to think that Dread was real all along. Good things definitely come to those who wait, and that could never be more applicable to a game than for the latest instalment in Nintendo’s flagship sci-fi series, Metroid Dread.
While its predecessors Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion initially set the bar for explorative platforming gameplay, Dread surpasses both games in almost every aspect. Samus’ controls are more fluid and intuitive than ever, boss fights are tense and challenging, and the addition of the E.M.M.I enemies adds a layer of tension not seen in any other Metroid game. Metroid Dread is a near flawless adventure from start to finish, with some of the most polished gameplay ever created, and that’s why it’s my game of the year for 2021.
So that’s it for 2021 and all its brilliant games! Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to support Qualbert.com in our very first year, whether it’s through reading our reviews, interacting on our social platforms, or even providing amazing games for us to play. If I missed out on any of your favourite games this year, be sure to reach out and let me know what made it onto your list!