My Favourite “Old” Games I Played For The First Time In 2021

Obligatory reminder that “Old” in this context just means “released before 2021”.

2021 hasn’t been a fantastic year for games, on the whole. That’s not to say there haven’t been any good ones, but the list of major releases this year felt pretty lacking compared to the past few. I mean, the reasons why are fairly apparent, but still.

However, that just means there’s been more time for me to play some of the games from previous years that passed me by, and I played some really great ones this time around.

REALLY great.

As in, I got a new favourite game of all time this year…but we’ll talk about that in a bit. As usual, I’ll be updating my 100 Favourite Games list throughout this piece, stating the ranking I’d give to any game I felt deserved a spot.

9 – Slime Rancher

Release Date: 1st August 2017
Publisher: Monomi Park, Skybound Games
Developer: Monomi Park
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac, Linux

Interestingly, I was partly convinced I’d already played Slime Rancher at some point, but it turns out I didn’t even own it until this January, so I immediately jumped on it.

This kind of game has had its formula perfected by this point, so new games don’t necessarily need to do much innovation to be great. All they really need to do is have a strong sense of theme and enough explorative elements to stop things from getting too repetitive.

Slime Rancher is brilliant at that. Its map isn’t particularly huge, but it carefully staggers the rate at which you can explore it to ensure you’ll always be working toward something. Even with such a limited inventory, it was always a great thrill to come home with many new slimes and things to feed them.

The game’s story and atmosphere were nice and warm too. It’s fairly simple, but life-sim games don’t need huge & complex plots to be memorable. This tale of lovers forced apart is one of those bittersweet things that hits you in just the right way to stay with you for a while after the game is over.

Technically, players can keep going infinitely, but personally, I found the credits rolled at just the right point in the game, and I was satisfied to leave it there, which is something not many games like this can manage.

8 – Fable 3

Release Date: 26th October 2010
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studio
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Platforms: Xbox 360, Windows

This is a game that I’ve wanted to get into for a long time. I finally got around to finding a PC version of the game, and I had a great time with it.

I’m aware that the Fable series comes with a bit of a stigma of disappointment thanks to Peter Mollenuex’s propensity for overpromising and underdelivering, but since I wasn’t exposed to any of that, it didn’t affect my experience in the slightest.

It was far from a difficult game, that’s for sure, but I didn’t really care about that because the world was such a fun and engaging place to be. There are plenty of other games out there that offer deep lore and endless sidequests, but that isn’t what this game wanted to be, and I love what it is instead.

The aggressively British charm is naturally going to appeal to me, and recognising the voices of various British comedians I didn’t know voiced in the game never ceased bringing me joy. It’s a cartoony world, but it felt so alive. It drove me to try and reach that good alignment no matter what else I did.

Being king/queen was a lot of fun too. Admittedly, the banking system does break the challenge of it, but so few games give you that proper experience of ruling a kingdom. It was so endlessly charming how people would come to you and ask you to make key decisions about the world you’d spent the first half of the game exploring.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 89

7 – Professor Layton and the Lost Future

Release Date: 27th November 2008
Publisher: Level-5, Nintendo
Developer: Level-5, Matrix Software
Platforms: Nintendo DS, Android, iOS

When I initially wrote my 100 favourite games list a few years ago, there were a couple of games that I managed to forget, and perhaps the most noteworthy one is the Professor Layton games.

At the time, I had only played Curious Village and half of Pandora’s Box, but I still had lots of fun exploring the world and completing the puzzles. This year, I endeavoured to play more of the series, and I’m now 4 games in. They all offer very similar experiences, but the one that I think is the most tightly crafted so far is Lost Future (known as Unwound Future outside of Europe).

All Layton games have a great selection of puzzles on display. They’re genuinely great puzzles too. While the early game is generally filled with very simple riddles that can be breezed through, towards the end, I came across some genuinely challenging ones that make me feel smart to solve.

What separates all of the games in the franchise, though, is the story, and that’s where this game stands out. Layton’s worlds are strange in just the right ways, and Lost Future draws you in immediately with a fantastic premise. The idea that a future London is being ruled by an evil Layton is the kind of concept you can’t turn your nose up at. It gets perhaps a little ridiculous towards the end, explaining how time travel wasn’t actually involved, but in a weird way, that just made it more fun.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 71

6 – Hades

Release Date: 17th September 2020
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Developer: Supergiant Games
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac

During 2020, I rolled my eye sat a lot of Roguelike/lite Dungeon Crawlers. I was a bit tired of the genre, having played so many over the past few years, which meant that when the entire internet started heaping praise upon Hades, I decided I wasn’t going to bother.

I wish I hadn’t, though, because I finally got my hands on it in January this year, and I loved every second of it. While it doesn’t really break any new ground in the genre, it is arguably the most masterfully crafted game in said genre since The Binding of Isaac.

Just about every aspect of the game is worthy of at least some praise. The art direction is gorgeous. Everything on the screen just pops in the right way, even when in the heat of battle. Speaking of battles, the combat system is smooth as butter, with the different weapons allowing for plenty of variety and letting players pick the play styles most suited to them.

The bosses are finely tuned and plenty of fun, even after fighting them several times. The way all of the different Gods interact with the player make them all endearing and memorable characters, and the story was the biggest surprise of them all, cleverly working in the repetitive nature of the genre.

Eventually, I reached a point where I was satisfied with it and haven’t felt a desire to play any more ever since (which is why it’s not higher on the list). However, I still thoroughly enjoyed all of the time I spent with it.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 69

5 – Tetris Effect

Release Date: 9th November 2018
Publisher: Enhance, Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Esonair, Monstars, Stage Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Oculus Quest

While I don’t have much of a connection with the “classics” of gaming, I’ve always had a soft spot for Tetris. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s an inherently satisfying game to play and an excellent way to keep the brain active while having some time to kill.

I’d heard for a while that Tetris Effect was one of, if not the best, version of Tetris ever made, and having now played it, I can say I am firmly in that camp. Disregarding the classic atmosphere of Tetris, with none of the classic music, this instead looks to create a version of Tetris that feels more like experiential art than a game.

That perhaps makes it sound more pretentious than it is, but I really can’t name another video game experience like this one. At its core, the gameplay is your basic Tetris affair, but it’s surrounded by this wonderfully atmospheric and powerful soundtrack, aided by some incredibly beautiful visuals that respond and build as you play.

Even when it gets intense in Tetris Effect, the game still exudes this calming aura that makes it such a great way to focus your mind for just a little while and play a genuinely great classic game.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 66

4 – Miitopia

Release Date: 8th December 2016
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS

What may at first seem like “baby’s first JRPG” is actually an unapologetically warm and joyful adventure…that is also a relatively easy JRPG.

Despite being one of the most “Nintendo” games ever made, there’s something about Miitopia that can’t help but draw people in. I’ve always thought Miis were a fairly dull concept. They play to that minimalist style I hate about Funko Pops. However, this game does all the work necessary to inject personality into them.

I think that’s the keyword to describe what makes this game such a joy to play; it’s stuffed to the brim with personality. Being able to create any character your heart desires and go on a grand adventure with an ever-growing cast makes for endlessly fun scenarios. It means that every character becomes meaningful to the player because they’re someone meaningful to the player that created/chose them.

While the gameplay mechanics are fairly simple, it’s still a formula that I get a lot out of. I tend to prefer micro-managing my party and choosing all of their moves, but only having one under my direct control makes for interesting scenarios and stops battles slowing to a crawl as I desperately min-max everything.

It could’ve easily gotten repetitive, but it makes sure that there’s always something new on the horizon. Be it something to do with the area, or a new character, or even just the constant fun designs with the new gear for the party members. It’s a well that seemingly never runs dry, and I just couldn’t pull myself away from it when I played.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 54

3 – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All

Release Date: 19th October 2002
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance, Windows, iOS, Android

Last year, I played the first Phoenix Wright game and immediately loved it. It drew me into the Visual Novel genre (one I’ve never particularly cared for) and showed me exactly what it could be at its best. The mechanics were brilliant, the characters were all lovable, and the story was endlessly compelling.

Justice For All does exactly what a sequel should do. Expand on everything that was great about the original while keeping the core of what people loved. As great as Phoenix Wright cases are, they had the potential to get repetitive over the course of an entire trilogy, so in the second game, it’s brilliant to see how they’re keeping things fresh.

Firstly, the writing quality is still as good as it ever was. New characters are brought in, and they all have clearly defined personalities that get exactly the emotions they’re supposed to out of the player. More so than that, though, they know exactly how to manipulate the situation to put the player in a different mindset in each case.

Going into full spoiler territory, they pull great tricks such as having you defend someone genuinely unlikable. Plenty of clients before have been a bit difficult to love, but Maximillian Galactica and Matt Engarde are genuinely douchebags. Speaking of Matt Engarde, that whole final case is utter genius.

After putting the player in the mindset of bluffing and talking in circles to keep trials going and force clients to slip up, they are forced into a situation where they have to pull at those straws to defend someone they know is guilty. When the client is innocent, all of those tricks seem like fair play and needed for justice, but when they know their client is guilty, the slimy underbelly of it is exposed.

It’s masterfully put together, and the quality hasn’t dipped from the first game, so expect to see the final game in the trilogy on this list next year.

2 – To The Top

Release Date: 18th May 2017
Publisher: Electric Hat Games LLC
Developer: Electric Hat Games LLC
Platforms: PlayStation VR, Windows, Oculus

I haven’t played as much VR as I would’ve liked this year, but that isn’t to say I didn’t get to experience more of this rapidly developing field.

A game I initially stayed away from was To The Top. The Parkour seemed fun, but when I first got my VR kit, it seemed like a recipe for motion sickness galore. While that may still be the case for some, I’ve been lucky enough to not experience such problems, so I gave it a go.

I’m glad I did because I can honestly say that this is the most fun I’ve ever had in VR. There are plenty of VR games that give you great power fantasies. Blade & Sorcery makes you feel like a warrior, and Superhot VR will make you think you’re in the Matrix. There’s just something so joyous to me about flinging myself around a big open space without a care or worry in the world.

In real life, I have quite a fear of heights and drops. I won’t even get on rollercoasters for this reason. Playing this game felt like it was giving me the thrilling experience those things could, only without having to confront my phobias.

The movement system is so fluid, and something about how I treat VR spaces made it click with me immediately, and I was clambering around these giant playgrounds and flinging myself off of tall things in no time. To me, it’s just an uncomplicated burst of joy whenever I play it, something no other VR game has given me in the same way.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 38

1 – Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Release Date: 1st December 2017
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Monolith Soft
Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Those who read the 2020 edition of this list may remember that the first Xenoblade game took my number 1 spot last year, hitting number 14 on my all-time favourite games list. I wanted to have a good gap between playing the two games, and this summer, I just couldn’t stay away.

I came into this sequel with slightly lower expectations than the first. While I know now that the fanbase is fairly split on this debate, at the time, I’d only heard that Xenoblade 2 fell a bit short of the original. Having now played it for 200 hours, I can see why some people feel this way.

However, personally, I couldn’t disagree more.

Xenoblade 2 is definitely messier, I can’t deny that, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Sequels always run the risk of piling too much stuff onto something that already works, but I can honestly say I think everything Xenoblade 2 added was worthwhile and enhanced my experience from the first.

The Blade system is utterly genius, and the personality injected into the unique Blades made me want to experiment with my loadout and get a feel for what everyone was like. Even when I had my reliable strategies, I didn’t just want to stick to them because every Blade brought something new to the table.

The world feels so much more alive than in Xenoblade 1. That’s not to say the original’s world was bad, there was some real beauty in there, but Monolith Soft took a hard look at what the Switch was capable of and pushed it to its absolute limits. I don’t care that sometimes the framerate stutters or that sometimes things take a moment longer than they should to load. It’s worth it for what they’ve created.

I could talk for another thousand words about all the things I love, so I’m going to boil it down to the moment that made me decide this was my new favourite game of all time. Which it definitely is, by the way.

One of the reasons I love JRPGs so much is how easily I find I can connect with their characters and stories. Not necessarily because they’re realistic or relatable, but because the length of the games have so much time to develop them into fully-formed people with a satisfying story.

I’ve connected on deep emotional levels with plenty of games over the years. However, there’s one thing no form of media has been able to do for me since I was a kid. Make me cry. To be clear, I don’t just mean tearing up a bit; I mean full-on tears were streaming down my face with no way of stopping it. Not that it’s a sensation I seek out, I’ve just noticed over the years that nothing I’ve played can push me to that emotional extreme.

Then I watched the ending of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

I absolutely refuse to spoil it, but it did what I thought no game would ever do. I can’t even put my finger on exactly why. The plot is so masterfully crafted, and the characters had grown to mean so much to me that the ending pulled tears of both joy and sadness out of me in equally immeasurable amounts.

When I think about my “favourite games of all time”, there’s some intangible quality that connects me to all of them. I can’t describe it, but it’s a powerful feeling I can immediately recognise. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 gave me that intangible feeling in a more powerful way than any piece of media I’ve ever experienced in my life, and that’s what makes it so special to me.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 1

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