The Fancies 2021: Niki’s Normal and Regular Game of the Year List

siri, play "normal guy – interlude" by the lonely island

I spent my last night as a 25-year-old weeping on the floor. The floor is an underrated place to cry, imo. You can just kind of writhe there and not hit anything. The rug that I wept on used to sit under my coffee table and couch in LA. It was one of the first things we laid down on in the house, a warm, square beacon symbolizing a new start. Now it lies flat and stained from a couple of years’ worth of love and spills in my bedroom, with one body on it instead of two. It was one of those crying sessions that starts small and quiet but eventually progresses to something so heavy that it feels like the air has been sucked out of you. It was the first time I’d cried since I left L.A. in July – I needed it. My body, caterwauling and shaking, was speedrunning a year’s worth of trauma I’d kind of just pushed aside. 

As of now, there is no playbook outlining ways to live a happy and healthy life during a pandemic that continues to ravage the globe because of the willful negligence of world leaders. If that playbook did exist, though, I don’t think it would include “disassociate for six months and become so disconnected and out of touch that you ruin the most important relationship of your life” or “sign a lease in the smallest state in the country, move to attend grad school in a city you already knew you didn’t like, withdraw after two days, forcing you to just kind of like, I dunno, figure it out for the following 12 months.” But what do I know? It might include those things. I am without the luxury of that playbook. So as I continued to break down, the barbs of the year finally reaching my gooey center, I couldn’t help but feel crushed. Crushed under the weight of my mistakes, my anxieties, my loneliness.

But I’m not “alone,” right? No one’s alone, except for Thomas from the hit indie game Thomas Was Alone, where I think you’re a cube that can jump? Unclear. Anyway, I have lots of folks in my life – my chosen family, my friends, my coworkers, Barley. They are there for me, yes, but I don’t know if I’m really here for myself. Not being there for yourself makes it harder for people to be there for you, especially when your response to “How are you?” is literally always “I’m fine… tired!” Three words that contain a lie, a peek, and simultaneously, nothing at all. 

When I racked my brain to come up with the games on this list (lmao got you it’s been a game of the year list this whole time) I thought a lot about how sad I am about the way I approached them. I wish I had played It Takes Two with the other person in my house. I wish we finished Operation: Tango. I should’ve done some multiplayer Wildermyth campaigns when multiple people suggested that I play some multiplayer Wildermyth campaigns with them. I wish I listened more. But I experienced the games on this list the way I experienced them, and I can’t change it. C’est la vie.

And that’s… well, time. I can’t go back. No amount of hoping, wishing, praying – to God, Todd, or Mods – will let me go back. So instead of focusing on those moments of fear and sadness that I know will just fester in my mind and send me right back to that West Elm rug… I’ll simply grow and do better.

There’s gotta be a playbook for that, right?

The games on my list are not numbered except for the #1 game, which is numbered because it was my favorite game of the year. If you have problems with the way we do game of the year here at Fanbyte, please email us at TKTKTKTKTK. Thanks!

Games I Wish I Played This Year but Didn’t Have Time To: Eastward, Inscryption, Life is Strange: True Colors, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, Chicory

Sable

I drove from Los Angeles to Providence, RI over the course of a week in early August. Barley in the passenger seat, behind the wheel of an overloaded Prius c, I passed through Las Vegas, Moab, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbus, and New York City.

It was a unique experience that taught me a few things:

  1. The United States is so fucking big, christ alive.
  2. The variance in geography in the contiguous US is unreal and it’s a shame that it’s actively being destroyed by the government’s inaction on the climate crisis.
  3. Anyway, you better get out of there.
  4. Driving across the country on a journey to find yourself is just as cliche as it sounds, but it’s also an incredible way to find yourself.

Sable is a game about change, discovery, and crossroads. It is a beautifully written and rendered exploration of growing up and finding your identity. It is the most visually striking game of the year and features one of the best soundtracks of the year. Sable is the answer to “What if Breath of the Wild had no combat and was just climbing?” — a question I didn’t know I had. Go grab it in Game Pass.

Wildermyth

Wildermyth told me the bedtime stories I didn’t get to hear when I was little. It held my hand, set the stakes, and asked me what happened next just as frequently as it told me. It ruled. Most games with tactical combat similar to XCOM lose me pretty quickly. I can only tolerate a guy missing a shot from point blank because for a “1%” chance so many times. However, I enjoyed its application in Wildermyth. Killer soundtrack, a visual style that grows on you, and writing that feels warm. It’s a real hug of a video game.

Solar Ash

Look at this.

Like, look at this.

Solar Ash has a bunch of things going for it, but it isn’t perfect. Style? Exquisite, yes, tasty, yumyumyum, scrumptious. Writing? Excellent, yes, pump those sad, dying audio logs right into my ears. Mechanics? Plenty of ’em, it’s got slide and jump and grapple and… slide, and well, that’s where it falls apart. Solar Ash’s gameplay loop doesn’t change almost at all over the course of the game’s 8-10 hours. You skate your way across, under, and over these mindboggling levels but every boss fight is “skate on this guy’s back but watch out, it’s gonna move and some parts of his body will not be skate-on-able.” That’s totally fine though because like, LOOK AT THIS.

ARE YOU KIDDING MEEEEEE?

Dishonored

I played Dishonored for the first time this year and folks? Good video game! Why aren’t more people talking about this one? It’s the best Arkane game I played this year. Every person Corvo’s out to get sucks ass so at no point did I feel any guilt when I yeeted them out of a building. I have nothing new to say about it. Good ass game, though.

Square Enix’s Eidos–Montreal’s Disney’s Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2021)

I want to apologize to Square Enix’s Eidos–Montreal studio. I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. When I saw the trailer for this game at E3 I let out a sigh/groan that could’ve powered the average American household for a month. Another third person character action game about a Marvel property that I’ve cooled on in the last few years in the wake of Marvel’s Avengers (2020)? No way, I said. No way that could be good.

I was wrong. It’s great. It’s better than both movies, I think. The gameplay is nothing to write home about – crank that shit down to easy – but this game’s story is off the damn chain and features some of the best performances of the year. The jokes are Actually Funny™! Shout out to whoever on Twitter was like “hey this game is good actually!” because this was a 20 hour rollercoaster that I didn’t want to get off of.

Bowser’s Fury

OOOOOOOOOOOOOO WEE BABY, A REAL OPEN WORLD MARIO BABY. Loading screens? Gone. Miyamoto and Reggie took ’em out and now you just got a big map, a bunch of shit to jump on, and a big surfing dinosaur. Mario gets real big and turns into a cat and you do a kaiju fight against Bowser, that’s cool. The music? *chef kiss*, just listen to this and then go play the game if you haven’t already. It’s better than Odyssey and I hope they make another game with this scope and scale but for Peach.

Far Cry 6

Listen, I’m just as surprised as you are.

Does Far Cry 6 do literally anything differently from the five games that precede it? No. Does it have a story that is literally any different from the five games that precede it? No.

But this did happen:

The game also has a magic cat companion (above) that literally sends the people he kills to the Shadow Realm so their bodies aren’t discoverable. There’s a gun that sends you to the Shadow Realm and then gives you the ability to shoot through walls at an unlimited distance. It’s silly. It’s the popcorn of video games. I just wish the tone of the story was… entirely different.

Fortnite

I’m gonna fuck you up right now, are you ready? “Chug Jug With You” was this year.

Yeah, it is wild.

Fortnite is the game that made me say “this is the game of the year” the most times of any game on my Game of the Year list. It’s always been fucking stupid, but now they’ve got Ariana Grande in there and she can fight a big ghost monster while Zendaya (from Dune) drives a sports car into a gas station, killing herself and Zendaya (from Spider-Man: No Way Home). You can have Marcus Gears of War on a team with LeBron James, light up a squad comprised of a banana with legs, Master Chief, and a fish with legs, and then dance to the Ghostbusters theme.

Fortnite is the toy box I had as a kid except there’s no one to say “no” when I tried to put more random garbage into it. I played nightly for most of this winter and spring, and had some of the most fulfilling group conversations I’ve had all year while cranking 90s. I also figured out that I was nonbinary while playing Fortnite, which is wild? They had the Mandalorian from The Mandalorian in this game for a while. Trying to remember all of the shit that happens in this game in a year is like me trying to remember anything I’ve ever said on an episode of Friends Reunion.

It Takes Two

It Takes Two is a masterpiece in co-op game design. It Takes Two also is a story about a couple that really isn’t in love anymore and should probably get the divorce they’re trying to get being forced back together by a magic book for the sake of their kid. I spent a lot of time looking at the TV like the straight line mouth emoji but was quickly rewarded for making it through the cutscene with a mechanically interesting puzzle or combat sequence. One day, hopefully soon, the story in a Hazelight game will resonate with me as much as the gameplay does. It Takes Two doesn’t hit all of the marks, but it hits the ones it does hard.

Niki’s Game of the Year: Halo Infinite

DUN-DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNNNN

I reviewed Halo Infinite for the site, you can go read it here. I don’t want to use my space here to relitigate the review I just wrote, but I want to acknowledge some things 

I’m gonna re-litigate some of the things I wrote in my review, but really quickly:

  • Having now played through the game again (at a leisurely, normal pace), I think there is not enough visual variety in the indoor spaces you fight in. Almost every indoor segment is a big room with ramps that looks the same as the one you just came through. You get on an elevator that looks like every elevator you’ve been on before and then you put The Weapon in a computer. Rinse and repeat. That could be better.
  • The game doesn’t do enough to justify one of its core story conceits, which is that Master Chief and The Weapon are trying to rebuild memories for a component of the war that they A) did not see and B) lost. However, the game does a pretty bad job of explaining who the Banished are, where they came from, and where the Covenant went. Remember the robots from Halo 4 and 5? They’re gone now. Why? *shrug* There is a new race of aliens though!

Counterpoint:

Counterpoint 2:

 

Game of the year.

RELATED ARTICLES