2022 is looking like it’s going to be a banger year for gaming (barring mass delays, of course), but even though 2021 didn’t have as many massive potentially all-time great releases as it looks like the coming year is going to have, there was still no shortage of excellent games to play throughout the year. Here, we’re going to take a look at some of our favourite action-adventure games of the last 12-month period, before picking one of them as the best of the lot.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
NO MORE HEROES 3
No More Heroes was big during the Wii years, and after a long hiatus, the series finally came back in 2020 with a brand new mainline entry in No More Heroes 3- and it was well worth the wait. All the eccentricity and unhinged genius that you expect to find in a game directed by Suda51- No More Heroes 3 has all of that and more in spades. This ambitious romp sees Travis Touchdown at his most ridiculous best, as he slashes and burns his way through an excellent cast of villains. Though the game is lacking in technical polish, it more than makes up for those deficiencies with constant excellence and variety in gameplay.
Death’s Door is, in a way, living proof that homage does not have to mean outright imitation. The excellent indie action-adventure game – which follows a crow who reaps the souls of the living, and a job that goes wrong – is like a new age spiritual successor to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It channels a lot of the same qualities and sense of adventure and of discovery that that seminal game did. But it goes about it in its own way, from an entirely different set of aesthetics and setting, to a totally different set of mechanics, including several inventive ones it can claim as its own, and an emphasis on challenging combat. It has its struggles, but it still stands out as one of the best games of the year.
IT TAKES TWO
Anytime a game tries to set itself apart from what’s become an increasingly saturated industry that, honestly, often lacks in freshness and creativity, you’ve gotta sit up and take notice. It Takes Two deserves credit not only for trying that, but for going all-in on it- but most importantly, it deserves credit for doing it as well as it does. It’s story has received countless plaudits, all of which are, to say the least, well-deserved, but what we want to highlight here is the excellent creativity the game exhibits in its mechanics throughout its runtime, with every new level bringing with it a completely new, excellently realized set of mechanics. It’s not often that you see a game that would even attempt the kind of things that It Takes Two attempts, and for that, it deserves a ton of recognition- which, thankfully, it’s getting.
After a studio has made one sort of game set within the same universe over a dozen times across 15 years, you would expect a sense of burnout and staleness to have begun to set in. You would expect players, if nothing else, now intimately familiar with said kinds of games, would no longer find them as delightful. And yet, RGG Studio manages to continually impress, originally with the Yakuza series, and now with the Judgment spinoffs set in the same universe, which carry on the original franchise’s brawler roots. Lost Judgment is delightful, with an incredible story, great characterization, a compelling and addicting wealth of content (from the minigames to the side stories), to the amazing overdramatic but richly compelling storytelling that never quite gets old. Almost fifteen years after the original Yakuza, RGG Studio has delivered one of the best entries in its lineage.
KENA: BRIDGE OF SPIRITS
In an era of gaming where games are getting bigger and bigger by the day, to the extent that most of them these days tend to be too big for their own good, we can’t help but be glad that games like Kena: Bridge of Spirits exist- focused, linear, and significantly smaller even than most games on this very list. From its 10-15 hour runtime to its wide-linear level design that never goes open world but always encourages exploration, this is a game that understands that sometimes, there’s immense value in restraint. None of the things Kena does in its gameplay department stand out as unique or fresh, but thanks to that zoomed in focus, it’s able to deliver solid mechanics that consistently work well with each other to deliver a solid action-adventure experience.
RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE
Resident Evil Village is a carnival- that might sound like a weird description for this kind of game, but that’s what it is. It’s a carnival of different styles of horror, a carnival that celebrates the history of Resident Evil. From Lady D’s castle, which is a classic RE-style area, to the horrific psychological horror-focused House Beneviento, from the focus on backtracking and exploration that the series has always been known for to the intense action sequences, Resident Evil Village exhibits a surprising amount of variety throughout its runtime. What’s surprising, and what makes this game really tick, is that it sticks the landing with pretty much everything it attempts. The end result is a spectacular survival horror game that stands as one of 2021’s best offerings.
As a long-awaited sequel to a nearly two decade-old cult classic, the burden of expectation on Psychonauts 2 was immense. Most developers would have crumbled under that sort of pressure- but Double Fine isn’t most developers. The confidence Psychonauts 2 exhibits in its skin is equal to none, and it does that not just in its incredible, ingeniously told story and with its endearing cast of bizarre, eccentric characters, but also with its gameplay. In improving everything from its platforming and its combat and its level design by significant margins, it serves as the perfect sequel, but once again, it shows restraint in doing so- only ever going far enough with those improvements so that they make sense within what the game is supposed to be. We had to wait quite a long time for Raz’s second adventure, but thankfully, it paid off in the end.
Speaking of immense burden of expectation- Metroid Dread had impossibly high expectations to live up to. It arrived 11 years after the last new mainline Metroid game (which wasn’t very good), it was following up on a number of disappointing spinoff entries in the series. Success would have been pretty much impossible for any other game releasing under those circumstances, so the fact that Dread has been as critically and commercially successful as it has been should tell you everything you need to know about how unbelievably spectacular it is. Nintendo’s first party franchises have been on fire in the Switch era, and Metroid, at long last, has finally had its time in the sun as well.
FAR CRY 6
Unlike some gaming franchises (like a couple that we’ve spoken about here), with Far Cry, you always know exactly what you’re going to get. If all you’re looking for is more Far Cry, look no further than Far Cry 6. From its massive and diverse open world to its chaotic, systemic combat and exploration, this is the epitome of open world gameplay, which, thanks to smart new tweaks to the customization and progression mechanics, have their own taste here that suits the game’s setting and narrative premise perfectly. Too big for its own good? Maybe- but at least it’s brimming with all the qualities that you expect to find in an open world game.
MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
As we’ve seen more than a few times over the last few years, making an original game based on a popular licensed property can be quite tricky. With Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy though, Eidos Montreal proved that it was completely up to the task. Rather than being smothered by the shadow of the MCU’s adaptation of the source material, the game successfully carves out its own identity. Excellent animations, performances, and writing bring these beloved characters to life in convincing fashion, and watching them grow and change and interact with each other remains a joy throughout the entirety of the experience. It also helps that this, too, is a game that is unconcerned with being unnecessarily massive, or being an ongoing experience, because that focused approach helps it focus on what it’s good at.
RATCHET AND CLANK: RIFT APART
Insomniac’s stock has risen meteorically in the last few years, mostly thanks to the Spider-Man games, but Ratchet and Clank was the series that introduced the developer’s talents to an entire generation of players back in the day- and Rift Apart is an incredibly love letter to that fanbase. Blasting through hordes of enemies with increasingly ridiculous gadgets and weaponry has always been core to the series’ identity, and Rift Apart leaves no stone unturned in that area. The tightness of design it exhibits not only in combat, but also in level design and platforming across its many levels also helps it stand tall as an accomplished action platformer, while the story, driven by an endearing cast of new and returning characters, pulls the entire experience together excellently as well.
Action-adventure games is always a contested and competitive category, and very honestly, this year saw some great games in the genre. For Metroid Dread to win it in such a year is ultimately testament to just how great it is. In spite of the two decades separating it from the last new game in the series’ 2D saga, it feels as if no time passed at all. Supremely confident, and pulling together the strengths and triumphs of the Metroid series from each previous entry, Metroid Dread succeeds on just about every level as a Metroidvania, and an action-adventure game- from the movement to the traversal, from the combat and bosses to the world design. It’s supremely addictive, incredibly well paced, and is a game that taunts its players to do better every bit as much as it encourages them to master its mechanics and break its own boundaries. Constantly inventive, delightfully compelling, and masterfully crafted, Metroid Dread is one of the best games in the series, one of Nintendo’s best games in the Switch era, and GamingBolt’s action-adventure game for the year 2021.