Well, 2021 has pretty much come and gone, and it is finally time to look back at this rebuilding year to see what games stand out for Nintendo Link’s Game of the Year 2021. Despite the fact that 2020 was a dumpster fire of a year, there were still some amazing games that came out and entertained us through hard times. In 2021, that trend continued, and we were overwhelmed with some top-tier games and sequels, some that were 20 years in the making.
There were many amazing games this year that it was brutally difficult to nail down which ones to focus on. Nintendo released some big first-party titles, Monster Hunter Rise was an exclusive phenomenon, and there were also excellent indie games that elevated 2021 to be a standout year.
The following will list our Honorable Mentions, and then we will go down our nominees before crowning our Game of the Year 2021.
DISCLAIMER: All Honorable Mentions, Runner-Ups, and the Winner are all games that released on a Nintendo console in the year of 2021. Some may have released in previous years elsewhere, but we still wanted to honor these games for still being amazing even as a port.
These are titles that deserve to be here but did not quite get the votes and attention from our team during the Game of the Year 2021 discussion.
New Pokemon Snap
Fans of the original 1999 Pokemon Snap have been clamoring for a new one or a remake for ages, many thinking it would grace the Wii U with its handy Gamepad and camera. Well, Nintendo finally pulled the trigger, and what we got was a beautifully updated game in the form of New Pokemon Snap that features lush environments, tons of Pokemon, and a nice little story to boot. Oh, and you get the opportunity to take amazing pictures of some of your favorite Pokemon! Sometimes even in combination with other Pokemon you would never imagine.
“Reaping souls of the dead and punching a clock might get monotonous but it’s honest work for a Crow.” Death’s Door is a stunning 3D isometric action-adventure game by Acid Nerve. This incredible achievement is considered by many to be the best indie game of 2021 (Although we considering one to be ranked slightly higher), and it is no wonder why. The combat is fluid and spectacular, the world is dark and gloomy yet full of life, and a story that is brimming with heaviness and intrigue. This is definitely not a title to miss out on!
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin rounded up a strong year for the Monster Hunter franchise. This followup to the 3DS title is a wonderful journey of growth, and it is all done while befriending and raising Monsties as your own, albeit at the expense of their mothers since you are technically stealing their eggs. This is an incredible experience from start to finish, and there are loads of things to do from battling, hatching eggs, and upgrading gear to online quests with friends. This is a perfect title to introduce to people interested in Monster Hunter but feel intimidated by the main series.
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny was the first new Disgaea title in over 6 years, and it was such a welcomed RPG in 2021. Zed, a zombie set on taking out a God of Destruction, is a hilarious protagonist that keeps the fun story entertaining from start to finish. The battles are incredible, and the adjustable gameplay settings make this a comfortable title for anyone, whether they be long-time fans of the series or newbies. This is also the first Disgaea title to use 3D visuals, and Nippon Ichi Software knocked it out of the park! If you are a fan of JRPGs, this is absolutely a title you should check out.
What can I say about Spelunky 2 that I did not praise in my review? Although this phenomenal indie game came out last year elsewhere, it finally released on the Nintendo Switch in September 2021 alongside its older sibling. This is, without question, my most played title of 2021, and that includes the hundreds of hours I pumped into Monster Hunter Rise. It may be a brutally difficult rogue-lite platformer, but there is so much to do and even more to explore that the game always feel exciting and fresh, whether it is your first time playing or your 1000th. Both Spelunky and Spelunky 2 are perfect games in my opinion, and it is nice to see one featured here thanks to our voting system.
Mario Party Superstars
Mario Party Superstars is arguably the best Mario Party title to date! It not only brings in most of the best mini-games and boards in the franchise’s history, but it also brings online play to the table right out of the box. Our own Chelly said that Mario Party Superstars is “the must-have party game for the Nintendo Switch” in her review, and it is no wonder. This is exactly what fans have been begging for, and Nintendo finally delivered after the slightly underwhelming Super Mario Party that released in 2018 and weirdly got online support earlier this year. If you are looking for the party experience on your Switch, then look no further. Mario Party Superstars is the one!
The next five are our nominees that just barely missed the cut. These are our runner-ups for Game of the Year 2021.
5th Runner-Up: What Comes After
When it comes to video games, commentaries are rarely praised when they are done perfectly, and What Comes After is no different. This is one of those experiences that needs to be done personally, because no matter how much I tell you about this game, it is the conversations within and the message to the heart that do the real magic.
I reviewed this title back in March, and it absolutely floored me. The parallels of life and death paint a picture that many of us tend to overlook, and the conversations that happen between Vivi, the main character, and the passengers of this spirit train are a grand reminder of some of the most important things in our lives.
There are so many moments in the game that you can carry with you afterward that it would be criminal to not pick this up and play through it at least once. Its asking price is beyond cheap, and it is a challenging experience unlike anything else on the Nintendo Switch.
Sure, What Comes After is not really a “game”. It is more of a motivator to love yourself and understand how other people function, and some times we do need to take a step away from the nonstop action and enjoy something that makes us better people. What Comes After does precisely that, and it is a diamond among a sea of forgotten titles released in 2021.
4th Runner-Up: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Super Mario 3D World initially released on the Wii U back in 2013, and it was highly praised for its incredibly sharp graphics, excellent platforming, and amazing original soundtrack, even winning Eurogamer’s Game of the Year.
Well, Nintendo surprised us with an enhanced port for the Switch called Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, and it got the attention of a whole lot more people, as the Switch is a much more popular console than the Wii U before it. This time around, instead of just the original campaign and gameplay, the port added an online multiplayer option, amiibo functionality to spawn power-ups, a Snapshot feature for taking in-game screenshots, and four-player co-op to the Captain Toad levels.
In addition to all of that, the new Bowser’s Fury campaign follows Mario as he winds up in a place known as Lake Lapcat and teams up with Bowser Jr. in order to stop Bowser, who has been transformed by an inky substance into Fury Bowser. This is basically a new, original campaign that is kind of an open-world, and it ends in one of the most entertaining ways a Super Mario title has ever ended.
As amazing as the title was back in 2013, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury fits right at home on the Nintendo Switch and got the much-deserved second chance. This was one of the most underappreciated Super Mario titles ever, and it has now finally gotten the credit it absolutely deserves, not just in accolades but also in sales, as the enhanced port has long surpassed its Wii U numbers since its launch back in February 2021.
3rd Runner-Up: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD
Another port that got a second chance on the Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was one of a few major surprises for the 35th anniversary of the franchise. Announced back in February during a Nintendo Direct, Nintendo revealed The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, new amiibo, Skyward Sword Joy-Cons, and a Zelda-themed Game & Watch to celebrate the anniversary. It was a nice surprise, but many fans were skeptical on how this Wii title with motion controls would transition to the Nintendo Switch.
Well, thankfully The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD transitioned quite well, and it was a nice reminder of one of the better told stories in the Zelda franchise. This is the origin story for the entire Zelda timeline, and it was done in such a way that it made sense of the convoluted mess that existed prior to its release. Sure, the Zelda timeline still has its problems, but Skyward Sword did an amazing job elevating the lore of a series that did not do a whole lot of explanation prior. The characters, particularly, are a major highlight, and it was so wonderful revisiting Skyloft once again and seeing Groose pull off his antics and grow as one of the more interesting characters in the series’ history.
Skyward Sword HD was not without its flaws, though, as the move from forced motion controls on the Wii to a choice between either “standard” controls and motion controls did not leave an optimal decision on the Switch. However, the combat and dungeons in Skyward Sword HD are terrific, and some of the items you get, like the Beetle and Digging Mitts, are incredible new additions among an awesome lineup of swords, shields, and other upgrades.
This is a bit of a polarizing Zelda title, but let it be clear, this is genuinely one of the best Zelda titles out there for a variety of reasons. It may have its flaws, but its strengths are unparalleled.
2nd Runner-Up: Shin Megami Tensei V
The post-apocalyptic role-playing title from Atlus, Shin Megami Tensei V, is a huge get for Nintendo and the Switch system. It was produced by Shin Megami Tensei IV director Kazuyuki Yamai and was designed as a hybrid between Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne and Shin Megami Tensei IV, featuring returning gameplay mechanics such as raising and fusing demons.
Fans lost their minds when Nintendo revealed that the new entry in the popular RPG series was indeed coming to the upcoming Switch console when the game was announced back in January 2017. It took over 4 years to finally see the game launch on the hybrid console, but it was absolutely worth the wait. Shin Megami Tensei V is quite possibly the best one yet, and it received a major 36/40 score on Famitsu.
Shin Megami Tensei V is a premiere JRPG that cannot be missed and is pretty much the sequel that fans have been waiting for. There are a few potentially controversial decisions, such as the emphasis on an open-world area instead of the franchise classic dungeons, but they ended up working out wonderfully in the end.
The game wants you to become a God, and it throws everything it has at you to test your might. This is hardcore role-playing at its most efficient, dressed up in a bleak, nihilistic story and given life by a compendium of demons that must be experienced first-hand to truly appreciate. A God such as yourself only knows how a follow-up could top this gem.
1st Runner-Up: Monster Hunter Rise
In our Nintendo Link polling for Game of the Year, Monster Hunter Rise was one point behind the actual winner, meaning it was a very tight race. Even Shin Megami Tensei V was only 2 points behind Monster Hunter Rise, but the votes have been counted, and they need to be respected, right?
Monster Hunter Rise took the gaming world by storm earlier this year, and CAPCOM has done a phenomenal job keeping it relevant all year long. Gamers around the world hunted together to take down some of the greatest monsters in franchise history, and it was so exciting to get a strong 3rd party exclusive on the Nintendo Switch. As I said in my review, “This is a game that requires a lot of its players, but the reward is grand and absolutely worthy of the hunt, over and over and over again.”
Many people thought that CAPCOM was downgrading the franchise after Monster Hunter World, but to everyone’s surprise and joy, Monster Hunter Rise is arguably the best Monster Hunter title to date! It will also be getting a huge DLC package in Summer 2022, so we can all look forward to some more top-tier monster hunting next year as well. And who knows? We could be getting a new Monster Hunter Rise in the form of Monster Hunter Rise G or something like that that includes all of the extra content, as CAPCOM normally does with the franchise.
Honestly, for 2021, it truly was a flip-of-the-coin for Game of the Year, because Monster Hunter Rise and the winner are two titles that deserve all the praise. However, the winner was truly a special surprise for so many reasons this year.
Game of the Year 2021
And the winner of our second annual Nintendo Link Game of the Year is…
2021 was chock-full of amazing titles, but one particular brand had an extra special year. The Metroid series had been struggling for a while, and I even wrote a pretty scathing piece earlier this year complaining about how Nintendo keeps wronging the best space bounty hunter in the business. However, at E3 2021 during Nintendo’s Direct Presentation, a bombshell was dropped, and the gaming world collectively cheered in unison as they witnessed the return of the Samus we all love and the continuation of a story that has been dormant for nearly 20 years. I then had to apologize for my previous article.
The only worry after E3 2021 was whether or not Metroid Dread would live up to the hype, and when it released October 8th, 2021, it did more than live up to the hype. It surpassed expectation! To many, this is considered the best Metroid in the entire franchise. For others, it is easily the 2nd or 3rd best. Either way, this is exactly what the franchise needed, a shot to the arm, and fans are excited about the future of the franchise for the first time in ages.
But what makes this entry so special? Well, it is not just the fact that Nintendo finally delivered on a rumor that spawned from Metroid Prime 3: Corruption where a message said:
Experiment status report update. Metroid project “Dread” is nearing the final stages of completion.
No. They and Mercury Steam listened to the fans and made a game that has it all. In terms of story, Metroid Dread answered a lot of lingering questions while also creating new questions to be answered. It re-introduced sequence-breaking which has not been used so well since Super Metroid on the SNES. It brought back a fan-favorite boss and introduced some new, fantastic ones, too. Metroid Dread elevated both exploration and storytelling in a way the franchise had never done before.
For these reasons and so much more, Metroid Dread is Nintendo Link’s Game of the Year 2021.
Thank you to all of the developers and publishers who helped to make 2021 a truly special year for gaming. Without you all and the insanely hard work you put into your games, we would not have been so overwhelmed with fantastic titles this year! It is with a sincere heart that I send my thanks, wish you luck moving forward, and hope for your safety as we continue to move past these new strains of the virus.
And thank you to our fans for supporting us as we continue to grow Nintendo Link. You all are awesome, and I promise you that 2022 is going to be another huge year for us! Look forward to that.
Thank you for stopping by Nintendo Link for our Game of the Year article! What did you think of the format? How about our choices? Do you agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below! And as always, happy gaming, everyone.
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.