2020 sucked. I know that’s not an original thought, but it still feels like it needs to be said. And video games, or rather the industry itself, didn’t always help alleviate how truly awful it was.
Ubisoft was hit with numerous allegations of sexual assault and abuse, Activision continues to make all the money in the world yet lays off its employees, and where do I even start with Cyberpunk 2077?
But, for as crappy as it all was, there were occasional bright spots. 2019’s Among Us found belated success thanks to livestreaming and put its studio, InnerSloth, on the map, Animal Crossing: New Horizons managed to unite the world and foster connections while everyone was trapped indoors, and the release of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition meant more people could play my favourite game of all time.
2021 isn’t going to automatically be better than last year but, as always with these lists, I’m going to focus on the potentially good things coming this year; specifically, the games I’m most excited for.
Before I start, I want to give special mentions to Haven and World’s End Club, since they technically released in 2020, but the versions I’m planning to play are coming out this year. Anyway, on to the actual list.
1. Balan Wonderworld (PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
This one’s probably the game I’m the most cautious about. Not only does it appear to be a pretty basic platformer, its simplistic visuals that make it look like a Wii game combined with a rather choppy framerate hardly make it a particularly impressive first title from new studio Balan Company.
So, why is it on the list? Because, despite being a brand-new IP, there’s something nostalgic about it. Balan Wonderworld‘s art style and design make it feel like an old Sega game from the 90s, which makes sense considering Yuji Naka and Naota Ohshima are spearheading it AKA the guys that made Sonic the Hedgehog. Hell, I know I’m not the only one that’s noticed how Balan’s design is very similar to Nights, another one of Naka and Ohshima’s creations.
I doubt it’s going to blow peoples’ minds, but Balan Wonderworld could be a wonderfully weird and charming little game that, hopefully, will do well enough to justify the new studio’s existence and lead to more unique games that aren’t built out of focus group results. Maybe don’t sell it for £60, though.
Goodbye Volcano High (PC, PS4, PS5)
One of the first games announced for the PlayStation 5, Goodbye Volcano High has already been labelled as Life is Strange but with dinosaurs. And as someone that really enjoyed the first Life is Strange, I am onboard with whatever this game has planned.
It’s weird how, even as a 27 year-old man, high-school drama stories can continue to be appealing. Maybe it’s because us adults still find these kinds of experiences relatable. After all, we’ve been there and have likely dealt with the kind of teenage issues the main characters will no doubt face, though I was never part of a band like protagonist Fang is (nor was I a dinosaur).
Aside from getting brownie points for featuring a non-binary lead, I hope Goodbye Volcano High will offer something distinctly its own outside of being a high-school story where the students are dinosaurs. Or, at the very least, a compelling and emotionally gripping narrative where our choices will have lasting consequences.
3. F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Touch (PC, PS4, PS5)
So far, we’ve had two games with very cartoony art styles. This one goes in the exact opposite direction, offering a grim, gritty, industrial world populated with otherwise realistic depictions of animals (at least in how they look, I’m confident rabbits can’t operate complex machinery).
To me, F.I.S.T. looks like a cross between Metroid 2D platforming and Devil May Cry action gameplay. But it’s admittedly the game’s setting that’s grabbed me. While I tend to prefer games with a lot more colour to them, populating the dieselpunk setting with anthropomorphic animals who have lost their home to an invading machine empire was just the thing to suck me in. Not to mention the main character’s rather unique weapon – a large, mechanical fist that he wears on his back.
I hope we get a public demo down the line so I can get a feel for both the platforming and action. At a first glance, the action at least looks delightfully snappy and fast-paced, but if either side falters or is significantly weaker than the other, it will really hamper the final product.
4. Gnosia (Nintendo Switch)
Among Us coming to Nintendo Switch may have been the biggest announcement from Nintendo’s last Indie World showcase but, personally speaking, Gnosia was more of a surprise. And not just because it’s a port of a PlayStation Vita game that came out in 2019 and only in Japan.
Set aboard a drifting spaceship, mysterious beings called Gnosia have snuck aboard and are pretending to be crew members. The rest of the crew have to figure out who among them is a Gnosia and put them into cold sleep. Whether they get it right or not is another story.
While it’s probably best described as a single-player anime Among Us, it being part visual novel means this could fill the Danganronpa shaped hole in my heart. A single playthrough reportedly lasting between 5 and 15 minutes was initially a put off but then it won me back by revealing that time keeps looping and one of the key mysteries is figuring out what’s causing it.
Throw in some role-playing elements, an eclectic cast of characters, and some reportedly impressive AI (fellow crew members will form their own theories and can even suspect the player of being the Gnosia), this could become a new favourite of mine that I’ll be raving about to friends.
5. Cris Tales (PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia)
Another surprise indie title that nearly fell under my radar and makes me glad I gave the demo a shot, Cris Tales sells itself on being a turn-based RPG inspired by classics like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger.
While the visuals were what ultimately pulled me in, it’s the gameplay that made me stay. Dreams Uncorporated may have namedropped some of Square Enix’s most prolific titles, but I felt strong similarities to Nintendo’s Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario games, as it features turn-based combat but requires button inputs to maximise damage and defend against enemy attacks. And with the former series seemingly dead and the latter barely resembling an RPG these days, Cris Tales looks to be a more than satisfactory replacement.
It even has a unique take on a time travel mechanic, with protagonist Crisbell able to see into both the past and future at the same time. It was pretty neat to see how the world around her changes depending on the era and it makes for some potentially interesting puzzles and sidequests.
But the best aspect of it is how Crisbell can use it in battle. Enemy giving you too much trouble? Send it into the past when it was a wee baby and make it weaker. The boss fight in the demo requires using water magic on its metal shield, and then sending it to the future so the shield rusts and becomes useless. I think that was the moment that truly sold me on the game and why I’m willing to grab a copy day one, despite already being swamped with other RPGs.
6. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut (PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia)
This is kind of a cheat pick since it’s a re-release of a game from 2019, but it will include wholly new content so that counts as a new release in my eyes.
I had always intended to eventually get Disco Elysium once it became available on consoles. The sheer universal acclaim it received when it first came out had me curious and, thanks to a friend, I’ve developed a mild interest in tabletop role-playing games and their mechanics.
There are plenty of games that will try to convince you that “your choices matter” when they really don’t, but it sounds like Disco Elysium legitimately achieves that. And how the story progresses isn’t entirely dependent on your skill, but on how you choose to play the role you’re given and sheer luck of the dice.
Quite frankly, it sounds so intriguing, and it’s good to know that it’s finally coming to consoles this year. The extra content is just an added bonus.
7. Gotham Knights (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
With how long it took for Warner Bros. to finally announce a new Batman game, 5 years after Batman: Arkham Knight, I wasn’t feeling confident with whatever said game would turn out to be. And I’m almost annoyed how excited I actually am for it.
It’s concept alone is startlingly engaging: a Batman game with no Batman. Old Brucey’s apparently dead and it’s up to Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and Red Hood to work together to keep Gotham’s streets safe from common criminals, supervillains, and the Court of Owls, the mysterious organisation that’s been controlling the city from the shadows for centuries.
I’ve wanted a Batman game with multiple playable characters all working together for years and Gotham Knights, so far, is hitting that exact sweet spot. Hopefully, there’ll be plenty of fun interactions between the main cast, especially with how disparate their personalities are.
There’s some concern over Rocksteady not being at the helm and Warner Bros. Montréal handling development instead, considering the latter made Batman: Arkham Origins, easily the weakest entry in the series (though I personally found it to be pretty decent overall). But what little gameplay we’ve seen shows the classic combat and stealth mechanics back in full force, with some RPG elements thrown in.
Warner Bros. still has plenty of time to screw things up, whether it by releasing the game in a buggy state or making an obnoxious amount of paid DLC, but it’s at least making a better first impression than Square Enix’s Avengers did.
8. Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
I never played the original Nier, but I did watch a Let’s Play of it, therefore I am an expert. All joking aside, its consistently melancholy tone, captivating character writing, stunning soundtrack, and the many ways it took advantage of its medium to tell its story almost made me regret never playing it when it first released.
The reason I say “almost” is because I didn’t hear consistently good things about the actual gameplay. From what I understand, it was Nier‘s weakest aspect, which is what makes this remake so exciting. Not only will it introduce this cult classic to a new audience and give it a deserved second chance, it will address that one aspect and maybe help push it into must-buy territory.
A part of me is a tad disappointed that there will be no option to play as dad Nier like the original game, but the remake will be giving fans who played the original the chance to play as the intended version of the character – an older brother caring for his sickly sister – without needing to buy a Japanese copy, so that’s neat.
Despite already knowing pretty much how it will play out, I’m very eager to experience this game first-hand for myself and let director Yoko Taro not so much tug at my heartstrings but yank them out of my body.
9. Persona 5 Strikers (PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4)
I still don’t understand why it took as long as it did for Persona 5 Strikers to get localised. When the announcement trailer was leaked early, my initial reaction was a frustrated “Bloody finally!” But that frustration melted away as soon as that amazing remix of the original game’s boss theme started and I realised I was just happy to see it on its way to the West.
Rather than simply slap a Persona 5 skin on top of a Dynasty Warriors game, P5S combines the Musou formula with elements from the RPG, making for possibly one of the most unique takes on the Musou series. Plus, it’s basically a sequel, bringing the Phantom Thieves out of retirement and on a new adventure that takes them across Japan to stop a whole new threat.
Aside from the simple pleasure of seeing the Thieves cooperating to mow down swarms of enemies with flashy attacks, it’ll be nice to hang out with these characters again and see what kind of shenanigans they get involved in. And if this ends up being the last Persona 5 spin-off we get, it’ll make for a nice send-off before we move on to Persona 6.
10. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (PS5)
Whenever the technical side of new hardware is discussed, my brain almost tunes out because they could be saying anything and it wouldn’t really matter to me. Stuff like ray-tracing and haptic feedback could’ve been replaced with completely made-up terms like extreme polygonal dampening and HXR strike force technology and my response would still be “But what games are on it?”
Sure, these aspects sounded neat, but they were hardly selling points for me and could’ve ultimately been false, unachievable promises or have very little impact on how I perceive games. But when I gameplay for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, I found myself thinking “Oh NOW I get it.”
On PS5, the duo can jump from one planet to another almost instantaneously, with very little loading needed. One of Ratchet’s new gadgets can pull pieces of the level towards him or propel him forward in the blink of an eye. This is how you demonstrate a piece of hardware’s new capabilities.
Even if this wasn’t a PS5 game, though, and was planned for PS4, I’d still be happy to see the duo making a return, especially since we’re going back to the original continuity instead of the less than stellar movie reboot. The very fabric of reality itself is in dire straits thanks to the return of Dr. Nefarious (one of my all time favourite gaming villains) and the existence of that new girl Lombax raises some fascinating possibilities for alternate dimension hijinks. Kudos to Insomniac for also confirming early on that she will be playable, rather than string us along for months.
As I don’t have a PS5 yet, I can’t say for certain whether Rift Apart will be a perfect demonstration of the PS5’s capabilities, but I’ve been hankering for a new Ratchet & Clank for years and will gladly pick up a PS5 to play it.