Two things might strike you as strange about the title. The first is that I’ve gone with ‘Gaming Experiences‘. Not ‘Top 5 of the Year‘, not ‘Best Releases of the Year’, but my own personal best experiences. In recent years I’ve really leant in to my pre-existing predilection to retro gaming and with that comes both old games and crucially revisits of old games. The list I keep of all the games that I’ve played during the year (for this exact blog post) contains more and more asterix’ed entries indicating that I’ve technically played the game before. So this year I decided to say that anything from the list of games I’ve played during the year can make the cut: new title, old title, first playthrough, revisit, or just a comfy run through of a much loved classic.
The second curiosity probably had you rolling your eyes at another classic patented Hundstrasse typo, but no, that’s correct, this is my 2021 list because I never actually got around to posting my top 5 last year and posting the top 5 from this year felt somehow dishonest before I’d even had the decency to wash my hands of my 2021 blogging obligations. So I dug out last years list and decided to finally compile the top 5 gaming experiences I had back when … heck, I can’t think of anything particularly memorable about 2021. Let’s face it, it just felt like the director’s cut version of 2020. Whatever, here is the official ‘Top 5 Hundstrasse Gaming Experiences of 2021’:
5. Resident Evil 3 (Remake, PC)
One final dash through Raccoon City. Jill Valentine’s Last Escape. The Re3Make took the spirit, if not that many actual elements, from the original Resident Evil 3 and pulled them into Capcom’s slick RE Engine. As I’ve often said, being such a fan of the original trilogy, I was always likely to be the remakes’ biggest critic, but I found myself playing it a few times back-to-back when I finally jumped in. Sure, there are things that I think could’ve been better, and the short gametime was always going to divide gamers. But there’s also a heck of a lot to like here, and if you just set aside your preconceptions of what this game should be then you’re much more likely to enjoy the great bits about what it is.
4. Dead Island Definitive Edition (PC)
Who doesn’t enjoy a tropical holiday with friends? And for a few hours on our weekly online gaming evenings, this is exactly what Dead Island gave us. Ok, so not exactly, but Dead Island did provide some fun zombie slaying entertainment, that was super cheesy, and so loosely hung around a plot that I never quite knew/cared/needed to know what we were supposed to be doing outside of the one active quest. It’s a game that I’ve started at least twice before this successful run, and despite the jank, flaws, and cheese, it is certainly entertaining with friends. From the continuous voice chat cries of “Ooooohhhh Champagne!” to the desperate scramble to be in one of the passenger seats whenever we drove anywhere to mercilessly mock the hapless soul stuck wrestling with vehicle controls.
And you know, it was definitely the friends that made it. Our online sessions are a chance to catch up as well as do something together, so really, we’re not after anything too serious or stressful. Dead Island fit the bill to the point that we even checked out the slightly less engaging Riptide Edition. Who knows, if number 2 ever sees the light of day we might even decide to play that!
3. SSX3 (PS2)
A healthy dose of that pop-punk-rock soundtrack, quick pre-event flythrough of Snow Jam, and my hands just couldn’t help but find their form as soon as they hit that first jump of the event to the last rail grind. SSX3 is a game I spent a long time playing when the PS2 was current, and revisiting I fell straight back in to comfortable grooves of playing; timing the rotations, holding combos with nose presses, and just knowing the lines to take. Having said that, I’d never fully 100%’d a character mostly due to some of the more painful challenges. I picked up an (almost) new character and finally got that elusive 100% albeit after a mindnumbing amount of time spent on one particular challenge.
SSX3 is just a great PS2 game, but sadly the series just never quite found the same balance in any of its subsequent offerings. For me a lot of the appeal lies in the idea of one coherent mountain; seamlessly gliding from one run to the next choosing whether or not to head to the event start, or just take in the scenery and pick up collectables in a free run. Tie all that in with some fluid gameplay, stunning track design, and oozing with early 00’s style… it just comes together. Even writing this, I want to hit reset and do it all again.
2. Kentucky Route Zero – TV Edition (Switch)
I’ve got few blogging rules, but one of them is definitely “write as little as possible about Kentucky Route Zero”. This isn’t out of any community minded spirit of not wanting to spoil, or because I’ve got little to say about it. KR0 is one of my favourite games ever… but sadly I never seem to be able to find words to adequately capture what it is that I love about it, nor any words to even do justice to just how much I like this game. What I can say is that KRO0 is more experience than game. A heavily text based stroll through a number of different concepts, stories, and surreal dreamscapes. Best enjoyed when you are absolutely not going to rush it… because there’s nothing to rush. Sit back and take your time over it.
… and finally completing it has been a long time coming. Consisting of five episodes with a few interlude distractions, KR0 was released very very very slowly over what must’ve been a the best part of a decade. With each new release I played from the start up to that point. I decided to order a physical copy of the full game for Switch in order to play that final episode (along with of course a full replay up to that point). Somehow fittingly the physical edition took the best part of a year to be produced, but that just made seeing those end credits roll all the more bittersweet.
1. Psychonauts 2 (PC)
… and that brings us to Double-Fine’s stand out release of 2021. Another long awaited title that I actually backed on fig years ago. Finally fans got the follow up to the cult classic 3D platformer Psychonauts in the form of Psychonauts 2. Picking up directly after the VR title ‘Rhombus of Ruin’, which itself followed almost immediately from the original title, Psychonauts 2 dropped the player once again into the shoes of Raz, Psychonaut in training. Jumping into various unique psyches once again displayed the team’s ability to come up with wonderfully unique metaphorical worlds to make every moment a delight to play. It also somehow, despite the surreal silliness, manages to explore some pretty serious topics in a remarkably sensitive way … for a 3D puzzle platformer collectathon.
I can’t even say that this would normally be ‘my type of game’, but it was so well done I didn’t hesitate in putting this at the top of my 2021 list. It’s unique, well crafted, and wittily written. My only advise would be that you should probably play the other games before jumping in to this one.
Excellent – finally ticked that off my 2021 to do list! Hopefully I’ll be able to compile my 2022 list with much less delay.