Post-console-launch years are typically quiet. Developers operate heads-down, hard at work, with the promise of forthcoming next-generation experiences. Delays are common. Patience is expected. That’s what we assumed when the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S launched in late 2020. But one year later, perhaps the biggest surprise is how gaming in 2021 has totally refused silence.

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Capcom delivered some of the most impressive Monster Hunter and Resident Evil entries to date. Arkane’s Deathloop established a new bar for level design. Indie developers like Daniel Mullins Games and Toby Fox defied genre expectations with Inscryption and Deltarune, respectively. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a total about-face for Square Enix, not to mention Eidos Montreal’s stellar accessibility options. And who can forget the Metaverse, as massively pushed forward by Roblox?

From month to month, game developers delivered consistent delights across all facets of the industry. You’d be hard-pressed to pin down one title that truly encapsulated the year. We at Pro Game Guides certainly struggled. What might surprise you, however, are our preferences toward couch co-op titles, a genre that feels like a relic in the age of online multiplayer. Here, in alphabetical order, are the Pro Game Guides staff’s picks for 2021 Game of the Year.

Alchemy Stars

Image via TourDogStudio

While there were many console and PC titles that caught my eye, it was Alchemy Stars on Android that kept my attention throughout 2021. Turn-based games usually have a dedicated fanbase that can have trouble expanding beyond a certain size due to niche aspects of the genre. Alchemy Stars is different, giving a refreshing take on the genre with punchy gameplay and endless customization options—all of which culminate into a highly rewarding gaming experience. Whether it was just managing to snag Charon and Paloma from recruitment or finally besting my high score in Secret Territory, Alchemy Stars held some of my best gaming highlights of the year. —Bethany Barber

Animal Crossing New Horizons: Happy Home Paradise DLC

Image via Nintendo

I’ve never been huge on interior design games, but Happy Home Paradise changed that. I really enjoyed designing and building different styles of vacation homes, and pushing the limits on what is possible in the game. The main story is made vibrant by fun and distinct personalities: Lottie, Niko, and especially Wardell, won me over. Also, unlike in the main game, you can collect as many villagers as you want to build your ideal bustling archipelago community. I originally only bought the DLC for work, so it was definitely unexpected, but Happy Home Paradise is my game of the year. —Radiant G


Image via 10tons Ltd

This game ruined me out of nowhere for a solid week after it came out. I had plans that week. Great plans. Wonderful plans. Then I spent 40 hours killing mutants, collecting 12,000,000 materials, and upgrading myself into the ultimate dismantling machine—and I’m still not done! But in all seriousness, Dysmantle is an absolute delight for anyone who’s a fan of collecting all the things and sinking too much time into collecting even more things. Oh yeah, and you can also destroy everything except the Earth itself. It’s phenomenal stress relief. —Zach Mckinnis

Escape Simulator

Image via Pine Studio

I’ve been looking for a good escape room game for a long time. I’ve seen some amazing titles, but I wanted one that allowed for players to easily design their own rooms, since that essentially means an infinite supply of content. I found that with Escape Room Simulator. It’s simple to understand, but that doesn’t take away from how complex the puzzles can be. It doesn’t have any scary content (usually escape room games do), so it’s perfect to play on my own, with my nine-year-old, or with other adults. This game can keep my son’s attention and allows us to think critically and work together. I was sold instantly. —Nicholas Fries

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

Image via Square Enix

Endwalker may have released in the final month of the year, but if you’re an FFXIV player, it’s been the pinnacle of a fantastic year in the game’s history. Of course, it’s bittersweet to watch a story that’s captivated for eight years come to a close, but it’s so rare to see any form of media stick the landing on a finale. But what’s so impressive is how Endwalker used all the tools of a video game to tell its story. It took away your god-like powers to make you feel frustrated and weak, it rewarded your familiarity and attention to the game, and it all mattered when you cared about the characters. Queues be damned, 2021 will be remembered as the best year to have played Final Fantasy XIV, and Endwalker had a lot to do with that. —Michael Hassall

Genshin Impact

Image via miHoYo

Genshin Impact is a multifaceted wonder, captivating players from its character-driven lore to immersive gameplay, customized sense of progression, and mind-blowing visuals. More than anything, developer miHoYo understands what the fandom wants, intentionally leaving crumbs of lore and character interactions to prompt the community’s creative gears to create extensions of Teyvat’s story. With each update, Teyvat becomes increasingly more complex, but its foundations—from music to artwork and attention to detail—remain the same. —Nicki Si

Genshin Impact took me by total surprise when it launched in 2020. At the time, however, I was unable to explore Teyvat due to various life changes (thanks to you, pandemic!). I didn’t truly sink my teeth into the experience until summer 2021 and since then, I have invested dozens of hours grinding for new characters/materials, completing questlines—and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. With so many frequent updates, I’ve found my main gaming comfort food for years to come. And to make my take nice and spicy: Genshin Impact is the definitive, better Breath of the Wild ;). —Rob Sperduto

Halo Infinite

Image via 343 Industries

Playing online FPS shooters can rarely be rewarding if a game fails to captivate you with its bewitching beauty. It doesn’t matter if you get spawn-trapped or shot down every round—one constantly learns a new way to improve that they usually wouldn’t in other games, or genres. There are several worthy candidates, but a sandbox game like Halo Infinite brings something new to the FPS genre. As a Halo fanboy, I am hopeful that the developers maintain a consistent level of communication with the community to see the game thrive in the future! —Dipanjan Dey

Hot Wheels Unleashed

Image via Milestone

In a world where racing games are getting more realistic and simulation-based, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a breath of fresh air. After just playing a single match, the game took me down a nostalgic trip, one that reminded me of the old arcade-style Need for Speed and Burnout series, respectively, from EA during the mid-2000s. The gameplay is pure fun with all the fancy Hotwheels cars and the cool powerups between the starting and finishing line. The AI is great and scales perfectly for the intended difficulty, and if you feel bored of them, you can always hop inside a multiplayer mode to show your mastery of air control to the world. The game also features an in-depth track creator and editor, bringing all your childish imagination to a playable reality. Moreover, the game has a split-screen mode! These days, you can literally count the number of games that include a split-screen feature on your fingers, so Hot Wheels Unleashed deserves a crown just for that. —Vignesh Raja


Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

Inscryption is, without a doubt, my game of the year. It is equal parts horror, mystery, puzzle, and card-game. On paper, what sounds like an indie dev dumping a bunch of genres into a blender turns out to be a masterpiece. Inscryption simultaneously answers questions while creating new mysteries at every turn. This may sound a bit vague, but it is a game best experienced blind and with as little information as possible. Indie games have always had a special place in my heart, and Inscryption stands as a pinnacle to which all games should strive. So I’ll leave you with this final word of advice—explore the world of Inscryption with a healthy dose of doubt, because nothing is as it seems. —Justin Joy

It Takes Two

Image via Electronic Arts

Hazelight has crafted this year’s definitive co-op gaming experience with its latest title, It Takes Two. Director Josef Fares and company tackle the complex subject of divorce and its effects on children in an inspired, light-hearted, and oftentimes hilarious action-adventure platformer where you and a friend embody the lives of Cody and May, an estranged couple turned into toys who must fix their relationship to return to normal. It’s almost inconceivable how the game seamlessly melds so many unique level designs, mechanics, and genres while keeping the experience cohesive and engaging. This is co-op gaming at its peak. —Caleb Greer

In the near-extinct genre of couch co-op games, It Takes Two stands out as one of the greatest of all time. Hazelight delivers a perfectly polished and fully realized idea that hits on every note. This game takes the often tired, heavily traveled platformer game and makes it feel completely new by introducing new gameplay mechanics—throwing out the old ones before they can overstay their welcome. In a game with fantastic set pieces and a compelling narrative, Hazelight still finds ways to not take itself too seriously. It Takes Two is a creative and inspired game that is absolutely fabulous in every way. —Mason Moses

Life is Strange: True Colors

Image via Square Enix

As someone who stayed inside and played way too many games this year, I thought it would be hard to narrow down to just one. However as I considered everything that happened throughout 2021, I realized that, for me, there was no better choice than Life is Strange: True Colors. This game tells a story that feels all too real considering this year’s circumstances—one that highlights heartbreaking loss, unusual friendships, the duality of love, and the patience required for true self-discovery. Not only is this game beautiful in its narrative, it also brought a refreshing new look to the Life is Strange series visually that I hope is able to carry on into the future. —Grace Doyle

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Image via Eidos-Montréal

Marvel’s Guardians of The Galaxy is the very best game of 2021. Although it came in as an unknown with low expectations, Eidos-Montréal captured the charm of the Guardians while offering an action-adventure experience that was both exciting and thoughtful. The action is incredibly fast-paced and the breaks between stories are also well placed. Also, it has an excellent choice system and a thrilling soundtrack to pair with the scenes. Players build a true bond with their team and feel like heroes by the end. It is a game for gamers of all stripes—not just Marvel fans. —Jorge A. Aguilar

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy serves as a redemption for Square Enix in the superhero genre. After the poor reception of Marvel’s Avengers, players didn’t expect much from this title. Thankfully, the team at Eidos Montreal created one of the best superhero games of the past decade despite the widespread skepticism. With a laugh-out-loud funny cast, excellently written dialogue, and a touching story centered around grief, it’s hard to deny that this is one of the best narrative experiences of the year. Guardians of the Galaxy is a testament to why linear story games work so well. —Tai Hofmann

Monster Hunter Rise

Image via Capcom

Monster Hunter Rise really spoke to me this year, and the game didn’t leave my Switch for months after release. After the release of Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, I was skeptical whether or not Rise would compete both in content and quality, but it delivers. The gameplay is streamlined, the new features are a blast, and the online implementation makes venturing forth with other hunters easier than ever before. It has become both my go-to recommendation for people wanting to get into the series as well as my personal favorite since Monster Hunter Tri on Wii. —Justin Baker

Metroid Dread

Image via Mercury Steam

Metroid Dread is easily one of the best Nintendo Switch games that appeared in 2021. The sense of anxiety attempting to outmaneuver the EMMI’s is almost palpable, yet the feeling of hitting that lucky counter exhilarates every fiber of your being. The warmth doesn’t last long, as realization kicks in, knowing you have seconds to flee before that machine of dread starts the chase once more. It truly is the pinnacle of the 2D platforming genre. Furthermore, there are no words that exist that can reiterate my hatred towards turquoise EMMI. —Mark Carpenter

NEO: The World Ends With You

Image via Square Enix

NEO: The World Ends With You is an unapologetic sequel and I love it. It tied up storylines from the first game, brought back well-loved characters, and revamped a lot of soundtracks. Of course, NEO introduced new elements too, such as team fights, unexplored Shibuya districts, and new music. Combine all this with great dialogue as well as a stylistic artstyle, and you’ve got a game with a ton of personality. As a long-time fan of TWEWY, NEO: The World Ends With You was a pleasant surprise, easily making it my game of the year. —Bianca Versoza

NEO: The World Ends With You is my game of the year due to its rich soundtrack, dark story, and fun battles. Having a sequel to the cult classic, The World End’s With You DS game, seemed unattainable, but Square Enix did it and made it better than the first. The normal battles are stylish, smooth, and fun, while each of the bosses will keep you on your toes. The soundtrack is so good that I regularly listen to it in my free time, and the story built on everything that made the first game successful, but still managed to wow fans. NEO was everything fans could have dreamed of and that’s something that we don’t get to say often about sequels, especially in the JRPG genre. —Jessica Thomas

Shin Megami Tensei V

Image via Atlus

Shin Megami Tensei V carries the legacy of the original Megami Tensei games into a new decade, all while showing a new generation of the series’s roots. From the first footstep into the game, players are treated with one of the most excellent RPG experiences to arrive in recent years. The story and the world are captivating while tangling with the concept of divinity and warring demons in the ruins of a dead world. All while providing a satisfying monster collecting experience and plenty of fun interactions to be had with the plethora of demons spread across the game. Shin Megami Tensei V has no shortage of heart and soul, and for that, it has become my game of the year. —Andrew Vaughan

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