Before we get started, I want to clarify to anyone who has stumbled upon our GOTY awards that we are a Nintendo-focused site, and our awards reflect that. This doesn’t mean that we don’t love and play games on other platforms, but for the sake of these awards we stick to games that appear on Nintendo platforms only.
Also, for these awards we define eShop as anything that seems more focused on the eShop than retail (indies, etc.), while our regular awards apply to games that seem more focused on a retail release. There is no clear line between the two and we do the best we can to put games into the categories that make the most sense!
So let’s get to it!
It wasn't the biggest year for Switch games that push visuals, but we still got a fair amount of solid candidates.
And the winner is…
Metroid Dread (69 points)
Runner-ups: Monster Hunter Rise (22 points) (tie) New Pokémon Snap (22 points) (tie)
Not quite: Chicory: A Colorful Tale (13 points) (tie) No More Heroes III (13 points) (tie) NEO: The World Ends with You (12 points)
It will probably come as no surprise that Metroid Dread blew away the competition here. Full of beautiful environments where no two rooms look quite the same, it was as much of a treat to look at as to play. Monster Hunter and Pokémon tie for the 2nd spot, while the rest come in a bit behind.
As a fan of audio it was an interesting year, with newcomers as well as ports of older games and a collection of formerly Japan-only entries in the Ace Attorney series that finally made it to the West.
And the winner is…
WarioWare: Get It Together! (31 points)
Runner-ups: The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (22 points) Monster Hunter Rise (21 points)
Not quite: No More Heroes III (17 points) Tetris Effect: Connected (16 points) Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 (11 points)
WarioWare is always a great place to go for a wacky soundtrack and all kinds of zany effects, and Get It Together! lived up to past games in the franchise. Ace Attorney and Monster Hunter weren't too far behind, and the rest of the pack scored pretty well too.
The Switch got a lot of narrative focused games this year, as well as some others that were more action focused but still had a strong narrative.
And the winner is…
Metroid Dread (44 points)
Runner-ups: The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (28 points) Famicom Detective Club: The Two-Case Collection (21 points)
Not quite: NEO: The World Ends with You (7 points) (tie) Danganronpa Decadence (7 points) (tie) Shin Megami Tensei V (3 points)
Whether you believe it is truly the end of a decades old story arc for Samus or not, Metroid Dread contained enough key story beats and interesting developments to take our award for best narrative. Ace Attorney and Famicom Detective Club filled out the runner-ups in style.
Switch eShop Most Wanted
Our eShop most wanted this year is a mix of titles from last year and newcomers, so it was interesting to see where the hype levels currently stand.
And the winners are…
Hollow Knight: Silksong / Metal Slug Tactics (31 points) (tie)
Runner-up: Sports Story (26 points)
Not quite: Shovel Knight Dig (19 points) Sea of Stars (16 points) Samurai Gunn 2 (9 points)
A tie! Last year's most wanted eShop game Hollow Knight was joined by newcomer Metal Slug and neither could overtake the other. The sequel to the beloved Golf Story, Sports Story, fell not too far behind.
Switch eShop GOTY
I wouldn't personally call this the best year for the eShop, but there were still plenty of great titles to check out, including a few highly anticipated games.
And the winner is…
Spelunky 2 (21 points)
Runner-ups: Disco Elysium: The Final Cut (19 points) Bonfire Peaks (10 points)
Not quite: Tetris Effect: Connected (9 points) Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tassos (5 points) Chicory: A Colorful Tale (3 points)
Disco Elysium scored more points in our eShop most wanted last year, but Spelunky 2 managed to overtake it for our eShop GOTY in a very close race. The rest of the pack fell a bit further back.
Switch Most Wanted
And here we have another most wanted category with some titles that have been on our list for way too long, as well as a few newcomers.
And the winner is…
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 (81 points)
Runner-ups: Metroid Prime 4 (57 points) Kirby and the Forgotten Land (28 points)
Zelda easily wins again, and to be quite frank, I really hope that it is not in the runnings for most wanted 2022 as well, it's time for this game to release! The same goes for Metroid Prime 4, though that one releasing in 2022 feels a bit unlikely. Kirby's brand new adventure rounds out the top 3.
Our list of contenders includes a great mix of titles in a lot of genres, though it is perhaps another year where the ultimate winner is a bit predictable.
And the winner is…
Metroid Dread (82 points)
Runner-ups: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury (39 points) Monster Hunter Rise (19 points)
Not quite: Mario Party Superstars (12 points) The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (10 points) WarioWare: Get It Together! (9 points)
Metroid Dread more than doubles the competition for an easy GOTY win. There was a strong consensus on Negative World that Dread is one of the best Metroid games yet, from the presentation to the story to, of course, the gameplay. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury picks up a solid 2nd place, in large part because of the love of Bowser's Fury as a short but excellent new take on the Mario formula. And alas, the rest of the contenders feel far behind, but in a year with Dread, what can you do?
Strong top 3 with Dread, Bowser's Fury and MH: Rise. Same as mine, and though I'd have them ordered differently, I was very happy with all three games. I feel like it's the strongest overall end-of-year "top 3" on Switch, even with some real heavy hitters in previous years.
Metroid Prime 4 and Bayonetta 3 made my "Switch Most Wanted" top 3 for the fifth year in a row!! Third year in a row for those + BotW2. I suspect that Prime 4 will make it on there a sixth time a year from now, but hopefully one or both of the others will finally release in 2022.
Yeah Dread took me 6 hours, and I wasn't rushing or anything. #humblebrag Plus an extra three hours for 100%ing it after beating it.
Bowser's Fury was probably 3-4 hours to reach the credits and then 5-6 to 100%.
Which one I liked more is a toss up, but I think I'd give the edge to Mario. And I think most people prefer 3D Mario to 2D Metroid, we just got so spoiled by Odyssey being so HUGE that Bowser's Fury feels tiny in comparison! Whereas Dread feels like a "full" Metroid game.
I feel like Bowser's Fury would have gotten more love if it was a standalone release somehow (eShop, or whatever.) It wasn't until after the whole package came out that people started talking like this is not only A. Awesome but B. Feels like its own new thing too? To package it in with a port is a bit of an odd decision since it doesn't even seem to be built using the same logic as 3D World? (I still need to play it but that is the sense I get?)
It still got a lot of love around here though, doubt Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury would have taken such a strong 2nd place if it was just a port of Super Mario 3D World. I think that vote was effectively for Bowser's Fury, not the port.
To package it in with a port is a bit of an odd decision since it doesn't even seem to be built using the same logic as 3D World?
It's very much the same systems and spirit as 3D World! Same enemies, same moveset, same physics. Just with a 3D camera and different level design.
I think part of the reasoning for the pack-in was that so many people skipped 3D World on Wii U (because no one owned a Wii U) that Nintendo wanted to give that awesome game a second chance. The timing is better now too; when 3D World came out after years of NSMB games and 3D Land, it felt pretty played out. But now that we have Odyssey, it's much easier to appreciate 3D World as being the pinnacle of linear 3D Mario.
Expected. I again didn't vote for the GotY, however I also haven't played it, though I suspect I still wouldn't have voted it over all the other good stuff this year. It was a pretty good year for games all around, 2022 certainly has a run for its money. Though if all releases according to plan, it definitely has the chance to surpass '21.
Thanks for running this, Zero--always fun to participate in and see the results!
That said, it hasn't been my favorite Switch year. Even my two favorite games of the year (Great Ace Attorney and Metroid Dread) weren't really games I was in love with like past GOTYs. That said, I really dug all the visual novels this year. I (will have) played through 7 of them!
To me, Bowser's Fury seems like it may have been a focus test of sorts, wanting to see what people thought of it. It feels like it was a prototype they were working on to experiment with some gameplay ideas, so they were using the existing assets of 3D World, and decided to toss it into the 3D World port to encourage double dippers and generate buzz. No idea if any of that is true or not, just what it felt like to me from playing it.
nate38's top 27 games played in 2021! (that'd be all of them) Games released in 2021 have ***Asterisks Nintendo system games are in Red
27. Castlevania: The Adventure -- Finished the game with liberal use of save states. Definitely the worst Castlevania game. 26. Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge -- Finished the game with liberal use of save states. A big step up from its predecessor, almost as good as the NES original. 25. ***Celeste Classic 2: Lani's Trek -- 13 berries, 237 deaths. Didn't feel as good to me as Celeste Classic 1 (or the full-on Celeste game, of course). 24. Kid Dracula -- Finished the game with liberal use of save states. Charming little import classic, not winning any awards nowadays but it still has its moments. 23. ***Cyber Shadow -- Finished the game on Normal. Takes too long to get fun, and even then it feels like it lacks an identity. 22. Dragon: Marked for Death -- Beat the game in 2-player online coop as the Witch (with Anand, as the Empress!). Fun MMZ/Gunvolt-style gameplay with pretty good character gimmicks, marred the unfortunate padding typical to loot games. 21. ***Picross S: Genesis & Master System Edition -- Finished all puzzles, no hints. It's Picross, it's Sega, what's not to love? 20. Castlevania: Bloodlines -- Finished the game on Normal with both characters. The second best 16-bitvania, after Rondo. 19. Ys: Memories of Celceta -- Beat the game on normal. A step up from Seven, a step down from VIII. 18. Donut County -- Finished the game. Funny little short game. 17. Halo 3 ODST -- Finished the campaign in co-op on Heroic. Not very memorable outside the long pixel hunts. 16. Control -- Beat the game. Neat game for sure, but I don't really get all the hype. 15. Star Wars Squadrons -- Finished the game on Pilot (Normal?) difficulty. Pretty good midpoint between Rogue Squadron and TIE Fighter. Would love to try it in VR someday. 14. Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition -- Beat the game, got all non-Origins teensies. Gorgeous and tightly tuned, but a lot of it feels samey, to itself and Origins too. 13. Titanfall 2 -- Finished the game on Normal. A nice popcorn shooter. 12. Banjo-Kazooie (Xbox 360) -- Found all jiggies and notes. Great presentation, pretty good gameplay. 11. ***The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures -- Finished the game. Why couldn't Gina be the sidekick? 10. ***The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve -- Finished the game. Why couldn't Toby be the sidekick? 09. ***Psychonauts 2 -- Beat the game, got most collectibles. Imaginative and wonky, like the first. 08. ***It Takes Two -- Played through the game as May with a friend online. Avoided most side games. Fun and unique co-op puzzle platformer. 07. ***New Pokemon Snap -- Beat the game. I really want to get all Pokemon with all ratings, but it's kind of a grind. 06. Halo 3 -- Finished the campaign solo on Heroic. Feels like how I remember Halo 2. Rough back half of the campaign. 05. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age: Definitive Edition -- Finished the story and most quests. Pretty charming and great attention to detail, but too long. 04. ***Bowser's Fury -- 100% cat shines. This really should have been an Odyssey DLC Kingdom, but I understand that Nintendo likes money. 03. ***Metroid Dread -- 100% item completion. Feels real good to get a great 2D Metroid after all these years. 02. ***Halo Infinite -- Beat the campaign on Heroic. All FOBs, bases, targets, Spartan Cores, Mjolnir Armories. Honestly, this would be the worst Halo campaign if it weren't for the grappling hook, which freaking rules. 01. Return of the Obra Dinn -- Solved all fates. Neat and unique mystery game. You should play it.
@nate38 I am honored to be part of the experience of your 22nd favorite game of the year!
Haha, now I want to do a ranking, too, but how did you even remember all of these??
I'll go Top... 4. The games which made me step back and go, "Man, this is a good game!"
4) It Takes Two - A delightful co-op experience! Super linear, but very inventive. The gameplay shifted so frequently, but the quality stayed consistent. It was almost Nintendo-like!
3) Metroid Dread - Having played Samus Returns just before, it felt like a natural evolution. Really cool stuff. Top-class boss battles. I wish that the world was a little less segmented, though. Also, lock down that framerate!
2) Binding of Isaac Rebirth: Repentance - A huge expansion to a huge game. Just so much variability from run to run. And the new co-op is brilliantly executed. As long as your pals are, y'know... into buttholes.
1) Returnal, maybe? I haven't played too far, but this game is the only real reason to own a PS5. The runs could definitely be more varied, but the core gameplay and progression are rock-solid. It just feels SOOO slick to play. Very Metroid-y (a.k.a. Alien-y) in the atmosphere. And kind of Jet Force Gemini-y in the enemy design? It's hard, but it's good! And, most importantly, it feels fresh.
Pre-patch, though, it was kind of a shitshow. A lack of interrupt saves and frequent crashes are a match made in hell.
Honorable Mentions: Spelunky came out on Switch, so I fell back into that rabbit hole. I feel that Mario Golf is pretty underrated. Ruins of Tassos is a cool, multiplayer Roguelike clone of the first Zelda. Boomerang Fu was a fun versus multiplayer game. Game Builder Garage had a very fun tutorial. But then I didn't make any games! The Demon Souls remake was good, but came out last year. Ditto for Astrobot. Really cool (though gimmicky) use of the PS5 controller's features. And I finally ran through Samus Returns. Very solid, surprisingly long, and utterly crippling.
Dishonorable Mentions: That Nickelodeon Smash clone suuucked. And why does everyone like that Hot Wheels game so much? It's way too easy to fall off of the track! I also couldn't play too far into Judgment. It was fun to hit the in-game arcades, but everything else was so freaking boring!
Game That I Beat Out Of Pure Obligation: Ratchet & Clank: Another One! I actually used to be a huge fan of this series, and the presentation was jaw-dropping, but the actual game just felt like trudging through the motions, and the rift concept just made for annoying kill-room combat. Returnal felt as fresh as Ratchet & Clank didn't.
Games That I Really Should've Played More Of: Monster Hunter Rise, Spelunky 2, and Bowser's Fury. ... I know!!
22nd Favorite GOTY: Dragon: Marked For Death!
I've forgotten all of the other games I played in 2021. Oh, I did get a ton of Smash time in. Mostly Smashdown, with Auto Handicaps. Always a good time!
@nate38 I always look forward to your write-ups! Even if they make me feel like I miss out by being a single-console owner.
Guess I'll figure out a top ten myself right now:
10) Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection: huh, this made my top ten of the year...? 2021 was kinda lame! Anyway, I played through the first two and a half of these games and sorta just got burnt out. I remember liking ZX so maybe I'll try Advent soon, but I just don't really see the hype with MMZ. The level design feels cramped and zoomed in for the speed of the game, and something about the structure and the unintuitive Cyber Elf thing just don't land with me.
9) New Pokemon Snap: my sister in law has this and I put in a couple hours. The features added to extend the game's length kind of straddle the line between being novel and grindy (of all things in a Pokemon Snap game). The animations are great and the camera gameplay is fun as always, but I would've liked a little more forward momentum. After 3 hours I probably would've unlocked the entirety of the original game's environments...here, I've only been to two places!
8) WarioWare: Get it Together!: it's fun and has a good concept, but I just don't go for high scores the way I used to. As such, this really felt more like a rental to me than a purchase. It's short and I'm not really into the whole Prezzie grind. I wish the online challenges were permanent things you could try anytime in single-player. Love that Penny song though!
7) Subnautica: I got this as a Christmas present so I haven't been able to put a lot of time into it yet, but it's intriguing so far. Actually, one of the big reasons why I haven't played it much yet is because it's terrifying. Something about exploring the alien ocean depths in first-person as this helpless dude it tremendously unnerving. By far the scariest E10 game you'll ever play!
6) Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir: pretty wild seeing a Nintendo game dip into murder, mystery and intrigue. Some of the images in this go way beyond just about anything in other 1st-party titles. The story itself is good as well, even if it can be a little slow and obtuse.
5) Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind: a little better than TMH due to its better-paced story and more accessible cast of characters. It doesn't quite have the emotional oomph of the first game but it makes up for it in a general spooky atmosphere. A really cool chunk of Nintendo history.
4) Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2: fun, and plays like old times. Create-a-skater is somewhat limited, but this game pretty much did all the stuff it needed to do in scratching an old itch.
3) Danganronpa Decadence: hard to place this one at the moment since it's three games, but I'll put it here. Danganronpa 1 was great overall, a little off at times but mostly an exciting and compelling story. DR2 was a bit lesser but still captivated me despite some really annoying characters. DR3...admittedly I haven't played yet. Hey, this game came out in December and it features a lot of long games! But I hear it's a pretty divisive title so I don't expect this cart's placement to change much.
2) Metroid Dread: really went back-and-forth between my top game and second place, but after the newness wore off, its flaws became a little more apparent. The exploration still doesn't quite have the it factor of the best Metroid games, as all the areas feel rather unconnected, the music completely underwhelms, and the excellent controls are marred by some goofy decisions (like using the awful clicky stick for non-menu purposes). Even so, it's fun from start to finish, it has a couple of outstanding boss fights, and MercurySteam went the extra mile in featuring some really obtuse sequence-breaking, which really surprised me. It's basically a straight upgrade on the already good Samus Returns, but I can't help but compare it to the best games in the series (which happen to be some of the best games of all time).
1) The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles: not to disparage the game, but if this is my GOTY, it's been kind of a weak year. Nevertheless, TGAAC delivered 100+ hours of visual novel fun, and while its first half was a little slow, its second half had a lot of twists and excitement to answer earlier mysteries. Great characters like Susato, Van Zieks, Gina, and the imitable Herlock Sholmes ensured I cared about solving these cases and the localization was as strong as ever. In a year where I played six (!!) visual novels, this was the best one.
@Anand I try to keep a running list each year of the games I played, and for how long, just so I can have a look back at the end of the year. And I assure you, the honor of marking dragons to death with you was all mine!
@TriforceBun I also feel that 2021 wasn't an amazing year for gaming. Had some nice surprises for sure, but even my favorite 2021 game would have been a step down from its previous iterations if it weren't for one saving gimmick. A few friends did strongly insist I play some of their favorite below-the-radar games this year, so maybe there's gold to be found in 2021 games somewhere.
And hey, since you're such a murder mystery master these days, you should give Return of the Obra Dinn a shot sometime! Definitely a different feel than visual novels, with much less of an emphasis on dialog and character dives, but it scratches some of the same mystery/investigation itch in a neat new way.
Alright, I'm going to give out a few random awards of my own for games that I played this year (that didn't necessarily release this year.)
Dicey Dungeons gets my "I should have trusted this would be great, why didn't I?" award. Terry Cavanagh made two of my favorite indie games ever, but for some reason this one didn't look as appealing to me so I held off on it. Why? It's awesome! And has a ton of content! It's already climbing up into my most played Switch games. And it certifies Cavanagh as my favorite solo developer who has more than one game out.
Resident Evil 8 gets my "Probably would have been one of my favorite games if I actually got around to playing it" award.
Alien: Isolation gets my "Best game I started playing in 2020 and finished a year later because I'm a coward about horror games" award. Just a very well done game that focuses on stealth. Maybe a bit long in the middle but it's still great.
Disco Elysium gets my "Best game of 2021 that I started playing in early 2022" award. Hard to say how I'm going to feel about it overall.
Mario Golf: Super Rush sorry Anand, but it gets my "Biggest disappointment of the year for a few small things that they could easily have done right" award. I don't actually hate it as much as some people, but I was honestly pretty hyped about it because it looked like it was packed full of lots of neat modes. And it kind of is? But they just messed up some core mechanics. OOF.
Metroid Dread and my "Didn't totally know what to expect but didn't actually expect it to be THIS amazing" award goes to Dread. Metroid Prime 4 really has a high bar now.