A full year into the new generation of consoles, a glimpse of hope towards the end of the pandemic… just to be back in it all over again. 2021 felt like a year "stuck" waiting for something to happen – for the vaccines to be available, for restrictions to be lifted, for concerts to return, for people to get back together.
Here are some of my favorite games, movies, tv shows, and podcasts in 2021.
A new 2D Metroid game on a console was not on anyone’s 2021 bingo cards, but Nintendo surprised everyone by announcing and shortly releasing 3 months later a direct sequel to 2002's Metroid Fusion.
Few games can have whole genres named after them. Metroidvanias have been a staple of the indie game scene in the last decade — many feared that a new Metroid game would have a lot of catching up to do to stay relevant. Indeed, Metroid Dread brings a new level of polish and gameplay fluidity in a surprisingly challenging game.
After the narrative disaster of Metroid Other: M, Samus returns to their role as a badass bounty hunter, not afraid to confront deadly E.M.M.I. robots.
I hope we don’t have to wait 19 years for the next one.
Halo Infinite captures the essence of an incredibly fun multiplayer without many of the negative elements that set people back from giving it a shot in the online arenas.
Matches are quick, dynamic and the matching system feels balanced that you are always playing with other players of similar skill.
In the single-player campaign, Infinite embraces the influences of open-world games like Zelda Breath of the Wild, giving players more freedom to decide what and how to conquer objectives around a non-linear map. A new grappling hook keeps battles dynamic and helps players navigate the world faster without vehicles. The story, however, is convoluted and confusing.
Some ideas make no sense on paper but click after experiencing them. Who would want to play a game about one of the most laborious tasks related to moving to a new place — unpacking your objects into the right place?
Unpacking transforms the titular action into a zen activity as you take objects out of boxes and put them in the right place. The challenge is light - after all items are out of boxes, you are notified if any items are out of place and have a chance to move them around.
Each level is a different “move” from your character, and the objects that you unbox are used as a storytelling device, giving hints about what your character's interests are, which state they are in their life and what has happened since their last move.
Huge bonus: charming music, immaculate pixel art, and surprising attention to detail on sound design.
Resident Evil: Village
Village had a perfect blend of good elements from the long-running series while embracing the surreal goofiness of its universe. The level design is a lot more experimental than 7, with each level appealing for a different kind of horror. On top of that, the art style was stunning - with impeccable attention to detail at every corner.
Returnal is a challenging "blink and you lose" action shooter and one of the few PS5 exclusives out so far. It's another roguelike - dying means losing everything and starting all over again. Luckily, most encounters feel fair, and some unlockables are persistent across runs.
The story and universe are mysterious, with some strong Metroid Prime and David Lynch influences that were especially captivating to me.
Star Wars Jedi: The Fallen Order
Games based on established franchises are usually… fine at best and set new standards for bad games at worst. The Fallen Order surprises by how great it is, regardless of Disney's franchise.
As a 3rd person action-adventure, the battle style is inspired by Dead Souls - but with lightsabers. There's quite a bit to explore, as upgrades unlock areas visited in the past.
Charming defines Psychonauts 2. Gameplay-wise, it is a refined take on the 2005 cult-classic original platformer, but with plenty of usability improvements. I had a blast checking its stunning levels, inventive style, and heartfelt story.
Succession Season 3
Personally, I had tried to watch Succession when Season 1 came out a couple of years back but found it hard to connect to the characters and the plot. After they received the Best Drama Emmy for Season 2, and hype started building for Season 3 I gave it another shot, and I’m glad I did.
After going through the hurdle of getting familiar with the dynamics of the characters and their unique personalities, it’s hard to not get hooked on what happens next in the Roy family.
Why care about a bunch of rich characters fighting for power? The writing is exquisite, the cast and performances are outstanding and the direction feels particularly authorial in a way that is not common in dramas like these.
Season 3 was uneven - some of the big twists of season 2 finale didn’t pay off in any meaningful way and even on a smaller season it felt a bit stretched out. However, a sequence of fantastic episodes closed the season with a fantastic setup.
Highlight episode: All the Bells Say
The White Lotus
Another show about wealthy people being miserable? Yes. This White Lotus stands out for their dark humor and social commentary. It's also fairly short - only 6 episodes - so a lot happens on each of them. (the athetesis the Netflix strategy, which tends to stretch shows out).
Highlight episode: The Lotus-Eaters
Nurture by Porter Robinson
Nurture blends catchy beats with touching lyrics in a "this won't get out of your head" way.
Screen Violence by CHVRCHES
A welcome departure from the path in Love is Dead (which tried to appeal to a broader audience), screen violence showcases CHVRCHES best qualities - impeccable production and catchy hooks with an underlying horror theme.
Pressure Machine by The Killers
Brandon Flowers looked for inspiration for their hometown and made songs about fictional characters that lived there. Quite a reinvention in style and tone, Pressure Machine is filled with introspective ballads that sound like nothing the band has done before.
Loving in Stereo by Jungle
Danceable beats and a series of well-shot music videos recorded in a single take.