The Fanbyte community moderators decided to share some of their favorite games (and their favorite stories about them) from the year! Take a look below for their choices.
Plants vs Zombies (2009)
Taylor: Yeah, you’re reading that right. The one from 2009. This year I got an Xbox Series X and Game Pass Ultimate, so I was able to play the entire co-op campaign of Plants Vs. Zombies with my partner. I’m so sad that PopCap only got the mobile sequel before they pivoted to other, shootier directions under EA. Despite the 2000’s-era UI and gameplay quirks, this is still one of the best traditional tower defense games out there. Plants vs. Zombies still ranks high in its category on the Microsoft store- it’s almost like people want another one.
Taylor: Devil Dice asks, “What if dice vanished when you matched them?” Bombastic, its PS2 sequel, poses a better question: “What if dice exploded when they matched? And then more dice exploded?” It’s more complicated than that, but at its core, Bombastic is a game about little guys running around, blowing shit up, and possibly overthrowing Heaven in the process. Don’t let the cute graphics and interface fool you. The single player mode is uncompromising in difficulty, and the multiplayer is unmatched in pure chaos. One of the true action-puzzle greats. I would do almost anything for a current-gen revival.
Next Space Rebels (2021)
Taylor: I didn’t think I would spend two hours daintily rearranging a virtual paper towel roll, but that’s Next Space Rebels for you. It’s part freeform rocket builder and part YouT StarTube management sim. Neither part is cosmetic: Your StarTube successes unlock new challenges and rocket parts, and a successful launch will give you rare tags to apply to your StarTube uploads.
Even more remarkably, Next Space Rebels does a great job of recreating online videos, from slickly produced mega channels to amateur shaky-cam in all its fuzzy, jittery glory. The story seems, well, incidental, but the ideas it brings up are interesting. I’m charmed enough by the execution to keep going. And I really need those rare tags to boost my StarTube page.
Eli’s Top 3
Eli: I first played RYB when it came out in 2016 on iOS. I believe that at the time I actually played it all the way through multiple times on my phone, though it has since vanished from the app store. However, earlier this year I realized it was among the games in last year’s itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and playing through it again was just as delightful as the first time five years ago. It even had a few extra levels that were never on the iOS version!
RYB is an almost wordless color-based puzzle game, with a variety of mechanics introduced one by one. There’s never any guessing needed, and the puzzles are the sort where, unless you have a truly amazing visual memory, you can replay it at any point and get a similar experience to the first time. My one complaint is that it doesn’t feel as good on the computer as it does on my phone. Sadly that’s not an option anymore for someone wanting to try it out. Regardless, the mouse and keyboard controls are still fairly straightforward, and I’d encourage anyone who likes puzzle games to try it out, especially since you already own it if you got the racial justice bundle last year.
Psychonauts 2 (2021)
Eli: I first played Psychonauts about a decade ago, and something about it really clicked with me. I normally think of myself as someone who doesn’t like platformers, either 2D or 3D, but I enjoyed Psychonauts enough to push through that, even when I was originally playing with mouse and keyboard controls. I “100-percented” Psychonauts multiple times — something I’ve done with very few games in my life. Psychonauts 2 was one of my most anticipated games of the year, and I’m really impressed at how it managed to capture what I enjoyed about the first game while also improving on both narrative and gameplay elements.
As of writing this, I finished getting all the collectibles a few days ago, though I’m still missing one hidden achievement. I’m planning to start up a brand new playthrough over the holidays, and I’m hopeful that this will become a game I replay as regularly as the first one.
NERTS! Online (2021)
Eli: This is an online version of the card game of the same name, released for free on Steam by Zachtronics (better known for their programming games). We played it once at a community game night and, while it wasn’t a card game I was familiar with, it felt simple to pick up. I had a lot of fun with it but hadn’t really planned on including it anywhere near one of my top games. Not until this Thanksgiving.
For the holiday this year, my mom decided that we should play some old card games that we used to play with my grandma when I was a lot younger. Neither of us remembered the rules to those games, and in looking them up, I realized that Nerts was the same game as Scrooge, which I learned to play when I was seven or eight and would play every time I visited my grandma. I hadn’t played Scrooge for over a decade. Even before my grandmother passed away, she’d stopped being able to play Scrooge due to its fast-paced nature. Playing Scrooge again with my mom brought back some good memories of my childhood, and I hope to use this version of it to play it with my mom remotely some time. If anyone else wants to play a round, hit me up on the Fanbyte Discord!
Grace’s Top 3
Outer Wilds (2019)
Grace: One of the benefits of being on the mod team and not having to play games for coverage is that I never have to play something solely for the sake of reviewing it. It does mean, however, that I am rarely on the cutting edge of new releases. Such is the case for 2021, a year in which I got myself caught up on the indie darlings of days past. I picked up Outer Wilds because it came highly recommended by pretty much everyone (especially the Fanbyte staff!), and for good reason. This game was genuinely fun in addition to being one of the most touching gaming experiences I’ve ever had. I won’t pretend I didn’t cry like a baby in a few places, and there’s a certain music cue that is guaranteed to get me weeping instantly, but it was absolutely worth every minute spent playing.
Paradise Killer (2020)
Grace: I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked Paradise Killer up despite listening to more video game podcasts than is reasonable. It totally absorbed me into its eccentric world and enticing mysteries, helped along by a soundtrack that made it into my Spotify Wrapped this year. I wish almost daily I could play this game again for the first time- It makes a big impact, throwing you into a bizarre neon world with no explanation for anything and absolutely no apologies for being weird, an example that perhaps I should live by too.
Disco Elysium (2019)
Grace: The Final Cut, which is the version I played, did actually come out in 2021 so technically it is a pick from this year. Though I didn’t always love trudging from one end of the map to the other due to a temperamental fast travel system, this game got under my skin in a way few have. It was a challenging gaming experience for me because the subject matter touched so many places in my heart that are bruised and raw, but I am glad to have played it.
The One We All Agreed On
Rewatching the Twilight Saga (2008-2012)
Taylor: I have changed this section heading at least three times because it included the words “fun” or “enjoyable.” I loved seeing these terrible, terrible movies with you and the Discord, but it was definitely not the dopamine rush of CATS or Spice World.
That said, this was still a highlight of 2021 for me. Watching Twilight films with a bunch of LGBTQ+ folks was deeply, deeply cathartic. I got to revisit a media property from when I was in the closet and deeply depressed, but on my own terms this time. And with more brain cells. It was basically immersion therapy for heteronormative fanfiction. Also, if that reboot happens, I will completely lose my shit.
Grace: Rewatching the Twilight Saga with our lovely and hilarious discord community was a decadent indulgence. It’s rare that a trite, overly serious piece of media sparks as much joy as this rewatch did for me and I think that should be celebrated.
Eli: My sole prior experience with Twilight (beyond cultural osmosis) was watching Breaking Dawn Pt. 2 in theaters in 2012. When we watched the movies earlier this year, pretty much all I remembered was vampire heads and limbs breaking off like styrofoam, and not really anything about the plot, which I didn’t really follow back in 2012 anyway. Watching these movies with the Fanbyte community was a delight, and absolutely the highlight of each week for the month or so that we took to watch them.