by John Rogers & various contributors
2021 is upon us. Welcome to a bold new world where we don’t have to listen to Tr*mp’s honking, Australia is no longer on fire, and all we have to worry about is stuff like a crazed conspiracy cult trying to overthrow US democracy.
But even in this new, glorious, not-at-all-terrifying post-2020 era, many of us are somehow still in lockdown. So we dared to tackle the real big question of the day: what video games are coming down the pipes this year to keep us all occupied?
The results turned into the varied and exciting list below, compiled by some of our gamer friends, from streamers to video game collectors, critics and podcasters. Their picks range from a super-creepy driving game to Viking hellscapes, far-future photography, a dystopian insect kingdom, and… lots of games about cats, for some reason.
It’s the indie games that I’m most excited for in 2021. First up is Solar Ash, the follow-up to the seminal Hyper Light Drifter. Alex Preston’s first game was a Kickstarter project, and his second is a headline title in the (somewhat delayed) PS5 launch lineup – a great story, and a well earned leap into the bigtime. Solar Ash graduates from HLD’s gorgeous pixel art to glossy 3D; the gameplay looks fast and fluid, and the aesthetic is on-point. I can’t wait.
Stray is the cat-with-a-backpack sci-fi game that went viral upon its announcement in 2020. Not much gameplay has been revealed, but it has been described by the developers as a “third-person puzzle-simulation game.” With the fantastic Annapurna Interactive acting as publisher, all the signs are good. Annapurna are also publishing Open Roads, a game from the makers of Gone Home – in continuing quarantine, I’m absolutely here for a cosy virtual road trip.
The console ports of ZA/UM’s Disco Elysium – which entails the player negotiating with conflicting voices in the protagonist’s head – promises a reworked control scheme, new content, and a fully voice acted script. Hopefully it’ll further elevate an already fascinating game. Umurangi Generation is a highly-rated but Windows-only cyberpunk photography game that I’m eager to play when it finally drops on Switch. This next one may be a bit optimistic, but Giant Sparrow – the studio behind The Unfinished Swan and What Became of Edith Finch? – have been advertising for staff for an unannounced project that continues their bird theme, this time with a heron. We may not see in 2021, but I’m excited nonetheless.
On the big-budget side of things, I’m hoping for the AAA sequel Horizon: Forbidden West to be every bit as good as the original. Aloy, the game’s protagonist, is perhaps the most human-seeming video game character I’ve ever encountered, so I’m looking forward to being in her company again. Finally, Fumito Ueda – the singular mind behind Shadow of the Colossus, Ico and The Last Guardian – has been teasing an as-yet unannounced 2021 release. I’ve full faith that his latest will be as original as his mesmerising trilogy of works to date.
I played a demo for Driving Horror game Beware last year, and it was some of the most exquisitely designed fear I had experienced in a long time. The demo is a valuable thing on it’s own, but I need more.
Blendo Games has a knack for getting the most satisfying detail out of places you didn’t know had any to begin with. Every game they make takes a step further into deeper systems and chunkier mechanics, all crunched around subtle storytelling. I need to know how Skin Deep, their next game, pushes this further.
The first Hellblade game has some stunning moments and is a genuinely complex exploration of a woman’s struggle with psychosis. With the once independent Team Ninja being bought up by Microsoft, I’m very curious to see if a butt-tonne of money can help Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 expand on the original’s personal story – or flatten it into AAA mildew.
Sokpop releases two small bundles of indie game warmth a month, and for a small fee on Patreon you can play with them. I keep finding myself delighted and amazed at their talent, and jealous of the lifestyle that has to exist to facilitate such consistently charming work.
My partner loves Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, Ooblets and, of course, Animal Crossing, and Mineko’s Night Market is another game in that lineage. A rather cute one, in fact. We stumbled onto the trailer a couple of years ago, and she still frequently asks me when it’s coming out. “I have no idea,” I say. I see pain in her eyes. Please, Meowza Games, stop the pain.
As a very non-gamer gamer, I tend to just let games fall into my lap when they arrive. However there are some games that managed to find me and make me take note. First up is the new Pokémon Snap, which was fated to make an appearance on this list given the amount of hours I spent snapping on the original as a kid. I haven’t kept up with the new generations of Pokémon (my last was Sapphire) but I’ll be looking forward to this one anyway.
I wasn’t clamouring for a PS5 on release day, but because of these next two games I’ll have to get my hands on one ASAP. Stray is a cat-based adventure game where you (a cat) must explore a futuristic city to find your way home. And most importantly, you’re a cat. What better way to boast the PS5’s new teraflops of GPU power?
My excitement for this next PS5 game should be pretty self-explanatory. Ghosts? Check. Tokyo? Check. Wires? Less than you’d think, but that’s okay. Ghostwire: Tokyo is one of those spooky-looking games that boast visuals and a storyline that’ll compel me to play even if I’m screaming the entire time.
For this next game, I’d like you to imagine Super Smash Bros, but replace all the characters with cats. That’s Fisti-Fluffs, the second cat-based game to grace my shortlist, despite the fact that I’m more of a dog person. The Nintendo Switch website slates this game’s release for “Early 2021”, so I guess I’ll just keep refreshing that page until it’s available.
Lastly, but not least-ly… I’m looking forward to the (unconfirmed) full release of Ooblets, another cute indie which I can only describe as a mix of Pokémon, Stardew Valley and somehow Just Dance. The game released an early access version last year and is updated pretty frequently considering the tiny dev team behind it. Hopefully we’ll be able to see the full game this year but it’s worth checking out even in its unfinished state.
Full time gamer, part-time poet, would-be novelist | Twitter
As gamers we live in one of two states at all times: nostalgia and anticipation. We are constantly either looking back fondly on the experiences of yore, or clock watching for the experiences of tomorrow. Today I present to you my internal mental process of the latter.
2021 has a number of releases that I am very excited for but the top of the list (by a large margin) is Hollow Knight: SilkSong. Originally this was supposed to be a new playable character for the hit-metroidvania title Hollow Knight, but the people at Team Cherry have turned it into a fully fledged sequel. Players of the original will be familiar with the sometime antagonistic character Hornet, who’ll take centre stage, bringing with her a new, more fluid play style. I was completely taken with the world and story of Hollow Knight, so I’ll use any excuse to get some more.
Next is Persona 5: Strikers. I hadn’t heard of this series before the main protagonist entered Super Smash Bros Ultimate. I immediately bought a copy of Persona 5, and I haven’t looked back. The series is typically a social simulator crossed with a turn-based combat JRPG, with a slight Pokémon flair. P5 Strikers takes a more action-oriented approach, with hordes of enemies to take down. Sadly, there will be no reflection of the additional story presented in Persona 5: Royal – the ‘definitive edition’ of the game – but it’s set to be a heart stealer nonetheless.
Last but not least, I’m looking forward to the release of Resident Evil Village.
Okay: “looking forward” is a bit of a stretch. Anyone who knows me likely knows that I’m a total wimp when it comes to horror games. But the masochist in me just can’t stop playing them. This latest entry in the Resident Evil/Biohazard series takes place after Resident Evil 7, and retains both the protagonist – Ethan Winters – and the first-person gameplay. I’ve tried to stay spoiler-free with this one… but I’ve heard tell of a nine-foot-tall female antagonist who has set certain parts of the internet on fire. Also... werewolves, apparently? If you need me, I’ll be behind the sofa.
Lover of games, collector of cats | Twitter
Here I was thinking 2020 had thrown me so many fantastic Indie games that it was almost overwhelming – and it appears that momentum is continuing into 2021 with some fantastic titles on the horizon.
First up is Eastward from the Shanghai based Pixel Games, a project it feels like I’ve been following for half a decade that will finally hit consoles this year. An adventure puzzle game with a few RPG elements thrown in, Eastward is set in a slowly decaying world presented in full colour ‘90s Asian-inspired pixel art.
Next up is a project that has been gracing my social media feeds with gorgeous Moebius-esque clips and GIFs for a few years – Sable, from the two man team at Shedworks. The large, colourful open world seems to be yelling at you to explore every nook and cranny, glide your hoverbike across every sand dune, and climb every monolith you see.
I’m also excited to check out a few Xbox launch-exclusive titles. It Takes Two is a new co-op game from Hazelight Studios. Considering this is the same dev team behind A Way Out – which I consider a new standard for experiences designed with co-op gameplay in mind – I am beyond excited to play this one with my wife when it drops in March. Next is 12 Minutes from solo dev Luis Antonio. It’s published by Annapurna Interactive, and totes some pretty big names in the voice acting cast. It has a unique top-down viewpoint, coupled with a constantly repeating time loop of a violent home invasion. It gives me psychological thriller film noir vibes, and I am here for it.
Lastly is Wild at Hearts from Moonlight Kids, a game that takes me back to my childhood with its storybook inspired art style and a dreamy soundtrack. The gameplay looks reminiscent of Pikmin – you enlist a group of tiny adorable plant people to help you defeat enemies and overcome puzzles and obstacles. I’m really looking forward to checking these (and many others) out in 2021. It’s going to be another great year for indies.
Games publicist, Editor of Switch Indie Fix | Twitter
I’m a little skeptical that games with 2021 release dates will actually be released, with most of 2020 being dominated by lockdown, and developers working from home. However, hope dies last... so here are the games I am most excited for in 2021.
I bought an Xbox Series S on release day last year, in the hope of playing Halo Infinite. However, after the ‘Craig’ incident, Microsoft and 343 Games decided to delay the game. I think this was the right move. Microsoft want to make Halo the flagship in their Game Pass armada, so it has to be top quality. Therefore, I’m excited to suit up with Master Chief and take on the Galaxy!
I’ve dabbled with some Monster Hunter games before but none of them really got their claws into me. Monster Hunter Rise’s graphics look so good for a Switch game, and the portability is a huge draw for me, since I can grind away at it whilst lying on the couch.
Horizon: Zero Dawn spoiled Sony games for me. The story, graphics and mechanics put other Sony games to shame, and it meant that when I started games like God of War, I didn’t think it measured up. Horizon: Forbidden West may be the game that forces me to buy a PS5 in 2021.
The next game I’d be playing on PS5 would be Solar Ash. Hyper Light Drifter is one of my favourite games ever, and I can’t wait to see what the guys at Heart Machine have lined up for us in their new game.
Probably the least known game on this list is Griftlands – a card-based roguelike in the same vein as Slay the Spire. This game has a gorgeous art style and a sci-fi story, so I can’t wait to dive into the card based gameplay and find out what is going on in the strange sci-fi world.
Finally, I’ll give a shout out to SkateBIRD, Sports Story, Bear and Breakfast, and Spelunky 2.
Games critic | Twitter
The first game on my list is actually a free-to-play title – Apex Legends. I’m a huge first-person-shooter fan and after finding out that Panic Button is involved in its development, I now have high hopes that it will run flawlessly on the Switch.
My second pick is Monster Hunter Rise. With so many entries in the series you’d think Capcom wouldn’t know where to go next. Thankfully, the demo showcased some new mechanics that have me, and the rest of the Switch community, pretty excited.
I’ve never played the original but am pretty interested in the new Pokémon Snap with its updated graphics. Hopefully use of motion controls could make this a great voyage into the world of Pokémon photography.
Last up is SkateBIRD, which sees you controlling a bunch of different birds on skateboards, tricking your way around different skate parks. It looks adorable. It has been delayed a few times but, talons crossed, we’ll see it in 2021.
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John Rogers is an Iceland-based journalist. He is the Gaming Editor of the Radical Art Review and the host of Gaming In The Wild