The most challenging year of our lifetime has come to a close. 2021 is upon us, and with it comes a fresh batch of video games to play!
Even more exciting is the fact that 2021 kicks off the first proper year with the recently-released next-gen consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. Several high-profile exclusives are in the works for both, but even if you’re still rocking a last-gen PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you have plenty of new releases to look forward to throughout the year. The same is true of PC gamers and Nintendo Switch owners, who have their own healthy selection of options, exclusive and otherwise, across many high-profile genres and franchises. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is (hopefully!) approaching its conclusion as well, the clip of game releases should hopefully pick up later in 2021, giving us more options than we were ultimately able to enjoy in 2020.
There’s plenty of reason for optimism for gamers of all stripes, and with that, I decided to count down my personal picks for the video games I’m most looking forward to in the new year. I must stress that this list is my PERSONAL opinion, and obviously not a definitive indication that all of these games will deliver on their promise. I also obviously can’t account for games being delayed out of the year, nor the surely many games that are set to release in 2021 that haven’t currently been announced to the public. Finally, in order to be eligible for this list, a game has to be officially confirmed (not rumoured!) to be planned for release at some point in 2021.
With that out of the way then, let’s get started:
#10 – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition (January 14th, 2021)
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia
Genre: Co-operative Beat ‘Em Up
Developer: Ubisoft Chengdu, Ubisoft Montreal
WHY: One of my personal favourite games of the Xbox 360/PS3 console generation has been delisted for years, but finally, it’s set to make a comeback! While it’s just barely missing a release within the tenth anniversary of the cult movie that inspired it (despite more closely following the style and progression of said movie’s source comics), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition will finally bring this superb co-op brawler back to the masses, complete with its small handful of DLC included for free!
Whether playing alone or with some buddies (the latter is ideal), taking on Ramona Flowers’ evil exes is a ton of fun, not to mention deceptively challenging. Combining the flair of an arcade classic with surprisingly enjoyable modern polish, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is another early example of licensed video games starting to become genuinely good towards the turn of the 2010’s. The prospect of taking this game on the go via Nintendo Switch is especially tantalizing to me, personally, but regardless of which platform you may choose to play it on, I’m just thrilled that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game has finally become available to buy again, for anyone that missed it when it first released. The fact that it’s getting the remaster treatment for current platforms is icing on the cake!
#9 – Balan Wonderworld (March 26th, 2021)
Platform(s): PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Genre: 3D Platformer
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Balan Company, Arzest
WHY: When I first heard the pitch for Square Enix’s Balan Wonderworld, I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. As I’ve continued to follow the game’s development however, I’ve become gradually more taken with its colourful, costume-driven world, and its ambitious, highly flexible 3D platform design. The fact that it’s the latest project to come from former Sonic Team head, Yuji Naka is also intriguing, especially now that Naka is making his way back to more mainstream game design, following many years of mobile and motion controller experimentation.
Balan Wonderworld features two protagonists, Leo and Emma, as they follow the so-called ‘Maestro’ through the imaginative ‘Wonderworld’. The game promises costumes that fundamentally alter the player’s abilities as well as their appearance, and is packing in over 80 of them, in fact! Both exploration and combat rely on different costume designs, blurring the line between reality and fantasy, all set amid a colourful, child-like presentation. Honestly, after the grueling ordeal of 2020, that sounds like the exact kind of video game I’m in the mood for– Something straightforward, but lively, calling back to a simpler era, while at the same time exploiting the modern 3D platformer renaissance with a clever, distinct hook. This highly experimental project does have potential to disappoint (as with any high-profile new IP), but so far, I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen, and I’m really looking forward to the final release, so I can see if it lives up to its charming concept.
#8 – Kena: Bridge of Spirits (Q1 2021)
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4
Publisher: Ember Lab
Developer: Ember Lab
WHY: Speaking of adorable games set in colourful, charming worlds, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is another one I’m especially excited for! It was a bit of a toss-up between this and Cyber Shadow (consider this an honourable mention for Cyber Shadow), a very cool-looking, ninja-themed retro-style action game set to be published by Shovel Knight’s Yacht Club Games, but ultimately, Kena: Bridge of Spirits won out as the indie game that I’m most excited to play going into 2021.
This game is a console exclusive on PlayStation platforms, and that’s peachy in this case, because I’m definitely game to add a few more indies to my PS5 library. Better still is that the PS5 version of Kena: Bridge of Spirits will utilize the DualSense controller’s unique haptic capabilities to add more immersion to the player’s attacks, which primarily include a staff and a bow. Players will also explore and solve puzzles by collecting adorable little critters that are ironically called ‘The Rot’, who can join you in battle if their numbers and morale are high enough.
This is another simple, charming-looking game that has my attention largely because 2020 has given us too many reasons to be miserable. The perfect remedy for me at least is no doubt a friendly, polished game (or several!) with a simple, but effective concept. There are other indie games that could certainly scratch this itch for me throughout 2021 (I’m also pretty excited for Stray, Metal: Hellsinger and OddWorld: SoulStorm, which didn’t quite make this list, but still deserve honourable mentions alongside Cyber Shadow!), but something tells me that Kena: Bridge of Spirits will likely be a favourite of mine in the coming year!
#7 – NEO: The World Ends With You (Summer 2021)
Platform(s): PS4, Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
WHY: Alright, who had a sequel to cult favourite action-RPG, The World Ends With You being announced on your 2020 bingo card? Are we still doing that meme? Oh well, whatever. The fact remains that Square Enix stunned the world last year by finally announcing an all-new sequel to The World Ends With You, one of the company’s most unique, bizarre and memorable RPG’s. Better still is that this planned sequel is getting a PS4 version on top of its expected Nintendo Switch version, meaning that PlayStation gamers can finally see what this oddball concept is about!
Granted, we don’t currently know much about NEO: The World Ends With You, beyond the fact that it will return to the original game’s setting of Japan’s real-world Shibuya District, set within the backdrop of the Reaper’s Game, and is planned for release at some point during this Summer. The style will also shift into a full 3D presentation within this follow-up, and will star an all-new cast of characters. I don’t really mind this, since original protagonist, Neku was a bit of a sad sack. I’ll definitely miss the highly unique, two-screened battle system from my time playing the first game on Nintendo DS (boy, that was a while ago, wasn’t it?), but I’m definitely interested to see how Square Enix plans to evolve a weird, but surprisingly wonderful concept that I really grew to love over a decade ago.
#6 – No More Heroes III (TBA 2021)
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Grasshopper Manufacture
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
WHY: Speaking of bizarre Japanese game concepts that I really grew to love during the Nintendo DS/Wii generation, No More Heroes is set to get a proper sequel in 2021 as well! This third mainline entry in the fan-favourite, highly M-rated action-adventure series was originally planned to release in 2020, but like so many other games (especially Nintendo Switch exclusives, it seems!), it was ultimately delayed into 2021. That’s a shame, but hopefully the extra development time has gone towards making No More Heroes III an even more polished, amusing and delightfully violent gameplay experience.
No More Heroes III is another 2021 game that’s rather mysterious at this point, with only a handful of head-scratching details released by publisher/developer, Grasshopper Manufacture. The premise of the game supposedly involves series protagonist, Travis Touchdown returning to his former stomping grounds of Santa Destroy after a decade’s absence (pretty much mimicking his real-world absence between No More Heroes 2, which originally released for Wii in 2010, and No More Heroes III in 2021), just in time for what appears to be an alien invasion. Don’t worry though, because a whole new league of super-powered assassins are still promised to get in Travis’ way throughout this upcoming sequel, leaving the series’ key gameplay hook intact.
Sure, the previous offshoot entry, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes was a bit of a disappointment, but it did at least prove that demand for more No More Heroes games is alive and well, even a decade later. Hopefully this full-fledged sequel brings Grasshopper’s flagship IP back to its glory days from the Wii era. If you’re curious in the meantime, don’t forget that the first two No More Heroes games were recently ported to Nintendo Switch as well!
#5 – Gotham Knights (TBA 2021)
Platform(s): PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One
Genre: Co-operative Action-RPG
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal
WHY: As an avid superhero enthusiast, I frequently get frustrated that, while Batman and Spider-Man are still flourishing with their own franchises in the modern gaming market, the myriad other superheroes across the Marvel and DC pantheon haven’t even gotten a look-in, despite their obvious potential for great games. In an interesting experiment however, Warner Bros. Games is attempting to address this to an extent, by making a Batman game without Batman. This will thrust four key Batman franchise supporting characters into the spotlight, those being Nightwing, Robin III, Red Hood and Batgirl, as they struggle to defend their Earth’s Gotham City, following the untimely death of Batman himself.
Gotham Knights may take place in a different universe than Warner Bros. Games’ mostly superb Batman: Arkham series (which is set to receive its own loose follow-up in 2022, via the equally promising Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League), but this shift to a different interactive Gotham invites a surprising, yet intriguing change in genre. Rather than just be another stealth-flavoured action-adventure title like the Batman: Arkham games, Gotham Knights is instead an action-RPG, one that appears to largely ditch stealth in favour of more direct, stat and skill-based combat. Each of the four playable characters has a very distinct set of techniques and combat capabilities, and players can freely swap between them, developing them and their skills as they play.
Perhaps the most ambitious element behind Gotham Knights as well is the fact that it will support optional online co-op, albeit only with one other player. This is no doubt a concession due to Gotham Knights being a cross-gen game that’s releasing for both the new and old PlayStation and Xbox consoles, but it could provide an interesting way to take the game on with a friend. Even if you play solo though, Gotham Knights provides some very welcome focus on Batman’s supporting cast, finding a clever way to leverage them in a very exciting new open-world sandbox. Pair that with some of my favourite Batman villains, the Court of Owls, being major antagonists in Gotham Knights, and you have an easy recipe for a new DC video game IP that I’m very eager to dig into this year!
#4 – Bravely Default II (February 26th, 2021)
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Publisher; Square Enix (Japan), Nintendo (International)
WHY: This is likely going to come down to my subjective love of turn-based RPG’s, particularly those made under the purview of Square Enix. Ever since the original Bravely Default first released for Nintendo 3DS however, I’ve been head-over-heels in love with this concept. Despite a shakier, but still pretty good Nintendo 3DS follow-up in Bravely Second: End Layer as well, the series’ proper sequel, Bravely Default II, is shifting focus to a brand new setting, and cast of characters.
Bravely Default II is yet another Nintendo Switch exclusive that was apparently supposed to come out in 2020, only to be bumped into 2021 due to complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, a demo of the game has already been made available on the Nintendo Switch eShop, so you might as well check that out if you’re interested in this kind of game. What we can no doubt expect though is another high-quality original RPG for the Switch, one that takes the many good ideas from this series’ Nintendo 3DS entries (particularly its ‘Brave Point’ battle system!), and continues to expand on them with new job classes, new settings, and of course, no shortage of new monsters to take down.
When it comes down to it, I’m just a sucker for these old school-style RPG’s, and I’m so happy that they’ve made such a big comeback lately, especially on the Switch! Here’s hoping that Bravely Default II can keep the JRPG renaissance going strong!
#3 – Resident Evil: Village (TBA 2021)
Platform(s): PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S
Genre: First-Person Survival-Horror
WHY: Resident Evil: Village aims to build upon the inspired first-person revamp from 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, this time taking the series to a Gothic European setting. This isn’t the Resident Evil series’ first traipse through Europe, considering that Resident Evil 4 took place in a plague-infested Spanish community, but Resident Evil: Village almost looks like it has more in common with Castlevania than a typical Resident Evil game, and that immediately has me intrigued!
One thing that will bring the series back to more recognizable territory however is the re-introduction of veteran Resident Evil protagonist, Chris Redfield. This time, Chris is an antagonist to returning player character, Ethan Winters, who finds himself in this game’s mysterious village setting under unknown circumstances. That’s about all the information we have to go on so far, but that’s really all the information I need to start getting really excited for this latest Resident Evil sequel! The game looks spooky, atmospheric and very unique among the series’ entries, even considering how it aims to build on the foundation of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. It will also be one of the first high-profile third-party games to ditch the now-last-gen PS4 and Xbox One in its current form (despite rumours indicating that Capcom is still interested in porting Resident Evil: Village to last-gen consoles, if it’s possible), suggesting a very ambitious experience that will bring survival-horror expertly into the 2020’s.
I can’t wait!
#2 – Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (Spring 2021)
Genre: 3D Platformer, Third-Person Shooter
Publisher: PlayStation Studios
Developer: Insomniac Games
WHY: Sony’s most destructive platforming duo wasted no time planning a debut on the newly-released PS5. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart looks to be an especially crazy new evolution for this series’ appealing mix of destructive gunplay and fast-paced 3D platforming as well! Utilizing the lightning-fast processing capabilities of the PS5, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart aspires to make transitions between multiple environments seamless and immediate, creating stages that are comprised of numerous simultaneous planets, rather than just one cohesive setting.
This highly ambitious gameplay hook no doubt explains why Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is completely PS5-exclusive, and is apparently not receiving a last-gen PS4 port, unlike many of PlayStation Studios’ early PS5 offerings. Once again, we currently know little about this game’s storyline as well, beyond the fact that some alien emperor is trying to eradicate all organic life by exploiting a dimensional collapse. Despite that however, this game pretty much had me at hello. I’ve always been a huge fan of Ratchet & Clank, from its over-the-top weapon selection to its irreverent sense of humour, and the idea of being able to instantly leap between multiple worlds, Doctor Strange-style, sounds like an excellent gameplay mechanic!
Since Demon’s Souls is technically a remake of a PS3 game from 2009, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart will likely be the first true showcase of the PS5’s incredible new processing speeds and visual fidelity, with Housemarque’s impressive-looking PS5 exclusive, Returnal possibly being the only other contender for that milestone. Even beyond that though, I’m really looking forward to reuniting with my favourite lombax-and-robot team, hopefully with another ridiculous arsenal of unnecessarily huge firepower in tow!
#1 – Horizon: Forbidden West (Fall 2021)
Platform(s): PS5, PS4
Publisher: PlayStation Studios
Developer: Guerilla Games
WHY: The PS5 definitely appears poised to dominate 2021 at this point, especially considering that Nintendo’s and Microsoft’s 2021 slates mostly consist of question marks for now. Of course, it also helps that Sony’s packing a ton of red-hot PlayStation exclusives for the new year, and I can scarcely think of a hotter exclusive to salivate over than Horizon: Forbidden West.
The original Horizon: Zero Dawn is already a masterpiece, easily standing as one of the best console exclusives, and games period, in the entire PS4 library. Horizon: Forbidden West will pick up where that game left off, continuing the story of Aloy, the Nora tribe huntress living in a world of gigantic, animal-esque machines, as she explores the eponymous ‘Forbidden West’. This sequel aspires to bring back the highly-refined action-RPG gameplay from the original, on top of adding some really exciting all-new mechanics, most notably underwater traversal.
The world of the Horizon franchise is already sublime, and it looks to only be getting better in Horizon: Forbidden West. This series represents the best elements of PlayStation Studios’ huge commitment to creativity, even across their triple-A studios, turning the former Killzone outfit at Guerilla Games into the masterminds behind one of the best action-RPG’s of the modern age. The footage glimpsed of Horizon: Forbidden West so far looks to capture an experience that’s just as superb as the original, and that makes it a shoo-in for my most anticipated video game of 2021!
Of course, this is hardly a definitive list of every promising video game that’s on the way this year. I could make plenty more honourable mentions of upcoming 2021 games that I’m excited for: The creepy, yet lovable Little Nightmares 2, Bethesda’s and Arkane Studios’ highly creative-looking Deathloop, Left 4 Dead’s gameplay making a spiritual comeback in Back 4 Blood, the stylish, fast-paced anime action of Scarlet Nexus, the no-doubt excellent new story set to be told in this year’s highly mysterious God of War sequel, whatever Stray and its adorable cat protagonist is about, and the potential for the Wizarding World to get some creative redemption in Hogwarts Legacy. Even listing those, there are yet more promising games on the way in 2021, seemingly indicating that we’re in for a very exciting year for video games!
Which games are you most looking forward to in 2021? Remember, we likely don’t yet know about several of the games that will ultimately go on to be this year’s best, so here’s to another year of standout games, regardless of your preferences in genre or platform!