I'm not sure why choosing a Game of the year is so hard. Do I pick the game I spent the most time with? Or do I choose a game because it invoked a certain feeling the other games didn't?
I think it's a mixture of things actually, and if I'm very honest and I'm sure you'll agree, this wasn't the best year for games for so many different reasons. What that's left us with is the best of the bunch being very close together as Game of the Year contenders.
The gaps between the games I'm about to mention are marginal for all different reasons.
Monster Hunter Rise - Nintendo Switch
When I thought about my GOTY, Monster Hunter Rise wasn't the first game that came to mind. It was released at the start of the year in a year that looking back, had months that seemed to all blur into one.
I was late to the whole Monster Hunter craze. I only started in Monster Hunter World when it released on PC in 2018, but was instantly obsessed with slaying monsters and turning them into fancy armour and weapons.
So when I heard Capcom would release a new Monster hunter game, this time for my favorite of the consoles, the Nintendo Switch, I thought “Nahh, no way will they be able to capture the scale of Monster Hunter World and have it run well on what is essentially a glorified tablet,” and I couldn't have been more wrong.
It plays almost identically to World minus the graphical and frame rate advantage, captures the game's essence almost perfectly, and even introduces a load of new features to make it unique.
The first reason I'm so drawn to Monster Hunter is that it requires skill. You need to learn, gather information, then prepare accordingly and go into hunts with a game plan. There are no cheat codes or difficulty sliders. It's all about honing your skill and rising to a challenge and if you can't beat a certain monster then that's too damn bad - try again. Its difficulty makes it all the more sweeter when you finally take down a monster you've just spent 30 minutes on.
I did expect some new weapons in Monster Hunter Rise, but nope. What we got instead are the 14 existing weapons that have been expanded upon with some new move inputs and the introduction of silkbind attacks which use the main new feature in Rise, the Wire Bug.
These moves are incredibly flashy and look like they were pulled straight out of an anime series, and weaving them into your default moveset feels great. The satisfaction of killing a monster with one of these silkbind attacks is off the charts.
Also, something you'll hear me mention often about games with melee combat is weight. Can you feel the difference between a swing of a big great sword vs the swing of light dual blades and when these weapons hit an enemy do you feel the impact? To me, these are very important to a great feeling game and Monster Hunter has always done well to really make you feel the weight in combat.
During hunts there are so many options now: swing around like Spider-man on the new wire bug, collect endemic life to help you in fights, mount up and ride your Palimute, or even ride the monsters and make them fight each other with the new Wyvern riding feature.
You can easily get 150+ hours out of Monster Hunter Rise from the main missions, side missions and just going out on hunts to gather materials for new gear. There's no shortage of things to do and this can all be done with friends in four-player co-op.
I just love a challenge, the ability to build my own character, theory craft builds with weapons and armour, and fight monsters that each have their own unique personalities, and Monster Hunter does all of that fantastically.
Check out the review discussion we recorded for even more on the game.
Returnal - PS5
Returnal was quite a misunderstood game to most of its players. It just isn't for everyone and is probably the last game I'd recommend to friends. It's an incredibly difficult roguelike that lures you in with some of the best visuals the PS5 has to offer yet, uses every feature on the new Dualsense controller to enhance its rapid gameplay and combat, and has some of the best audio design and music I've heard in a long time.
Hats off to the devs Housemarque, but at the end of the day it was hard to ignore that this is a £70 roguelike. I play a variety of games and know roguelikes well so I knew what i was in for but I do think about the very casual players who only buy one or two games a year that purchased Returnal, played for about two hours, then died and wondered why they were back at the start again with nothing to show for it. A costly realisation to players who are unfamiliar with the genre but nevertheless, I really enjoyed my time with Returnal.
Eastward - Switch, PC
i've not got a bad word to say about Eastward. It's one of those games that just reinforces my love for indie games and makes me want to try them all.
It's a stylish action adventure RPG that will take you back in time and fill you with nostalgia with its modern pixel art style and retro sound effects. It's simple to play and might be just what you're looking for if you've got an hour or two before bed and want to relax and unwind.
Check out this video for 5 Reasons you need to play Eastward.
Metroid Dread - Nintendo Switch
Metroid Dread was soooo close to being my GOTY and the funniest thing is that it's a game that wasn't even on my radar until a week before its release.
A great story that showcases how much of a badass Samus is (you should read Alex’s Article on how she's cooler than Master Chief), Level design that promotes exploration and always gives you subtle hints on where to go next without hand holding, and it features one of the most detailed mini maps you'll see for a while.
Saying that, you'll often find yourself lost for a little while after being chased out of an area by the EMMI who are absolutely terrifying! I'm sure there's cracks in my Joy-cons from gripping my Switch so tight out of fear and adrenaline.
I did play Metroid Dread on the new OLED switch and it was amazing on there. As you play the game, Samus finds all kinds of upgrades, the majority of which are for your weapons that when fired basically turn the game into a disco light show against the darker backgrounds and really make the neon coloured bullets pop off the screen.
Lastly, there are moments when the game goes from a side scroller dynamically into these cinematic 3D gameplay sequences that make the game so much more engaging, especially during the boss fights when you hit a perfect counter and it basically turns into a movie.
Get this game, you wont regret it.
For more on our picks for the best games of the year, head over to our GOTY 2021 archive page.