Once you’re done experiencing the true, manic joy that is Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, your friends at the Esquire Gamer Zone have a secret for you. Listen up. There are many, many games out there this year that you’ll love just as much as (if not more than!) what’s admittedly our favorite game of the year (so far). There’s Resident Evil Village, of course, which we’re still recovering from. Knockout City had us reliving our grade school dodgeball highlights—and lowlights. And my god, Pokémon Snap? Phew. That had enough cute to last a lifetime. All of that doesn’t even mention what’s in store for the rest of this intrepid year. Whatever your beating gamer heart is looking for, you’ll find it on our list of the best—and most anticipated—video games of 2021.
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Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Release date: February 12
It’s not clear whether or not we’re going to get a new Mario game this year. Like a new, new Mario game, not a 3D World, which is a glorified port of a Wii U game from 2013. That being said, Super Mario 3D World is by no means a let-down. The title, because it originally premiered on the despised Wii U, did not get its due back in the early 2010s, but this time it reached a much wider audience on the Switch. And better yet, it came packaged with a completely new title, Bowser’s Fury. BF may just be the best follow-up to Super Mario Odyssey that we’re ever going to get (unless Nintendo ever steps up to the plate to deliver us the sequel we deserve!). (Read our full review here.) —D.N.
Bravely Default II
Release date: February 26
RPGs have come a long way since the tactical party gameplay of NES- and SNES-era Final Fantasy and Fire Emblem. Luckily, if you’re yearning for something new but nostalgic, you’ve got the Bravely Default series. A team-up between Square Enix and Nintendo, Bravely Default is easily one of the most polished, most engaging turn-based RPGs I’ve ever played. The game features all the fantasy classes and storytelling you could want. —C.S.
Monster Hunter Rise
Release date: March 26
Imagine a game that’s almost all epic boss battles. Great, right? Monster Hunter hit with more of a mainstream audience when it released the truly beautiful and next-level Monster Hunter World. As a longtime fan of the series, I thought World might have ruined classic Monster Hunter for me, and happily, I was wrong. So, when Nintendo released Monster Hunter Rise, implementing some of the mechanics from World along with new mechanics and moves, it proved to be the most invigorating series game yet. Even with a revert on graphics, the game feels like the next step forward. (Read our full review here.) —C.S.
Release date: April 30
I am a Pokémon master. My Pokémon Home National Dex is full. I love the thrill of kicking my friends’ asses with my perfect IV shiny Growlithe. Needless to say, I’m a massive nerd. And it’s always nice when Nintendo gives us nerds a way to enjoy Pokémon without the anxieties of battling. Pokémon Snap is little more than an on-rails photography game, and yet it couldn’t be more thrilling. No matter how many times you run through the levels in Pokémon Snap, you’ll notice something new. The game is so beautiful it’ll have David Attenborough proud of the shots you can get. (Read our full review here.) —C.S.
Release Date: April 30
Few games have enraged me as much as Returnal. The first-of-its-kind blockbuster roguelike game has you starting from scratch each time you die. For some people, this sort of humbling difficulty can be a source of zen. For me, it felt like torture! But that’s not to say the game is a wash. Easily establishing itself as one of the first defining titles of the PS5, Returnal takes full advantage of the console’s capabilities, with blistering fast-to-nonexistent load times, haptic feedback on the controller that pulls you into the strange and frightening world of the game, and audio that has bullets flying at you from every direction. It’s hard as nails. But if you’re into that, Returnal is the PS5 game for you. (Read our full review here.) —D.N.
Resident Evil Village
Release date: May 7
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
You’ve seen this game even if you think you haven’t, as it took the gaming world by storm with its “Big Vampire Lady.” I of course had no hand in those memes. But yea, there’s a 9-foot-tall Vampire Lady in Resident Evil Village, which seems to tie the previous return-to-scaresville Resident Evil Biohazard in with deeper RE lore. Chris Redfield is there and absolutely off his rocker, so this village isn’t a soothing place. Village also has witches, werewolves, vampires, and more—a fun new realm for the franchise. Listen, I don’t know how this game became horror porn on twitter.com, but I’m still amped about it. —C.S.
Release date: May 21
Miitopia is a game I picked up drunk at 2 a.m., and man am I glad I did. Besides being one of the funniest games out there, it’s the exact kind of mindless enjoyment that I wanted to accompany my Monster Hunter Rise addiction. The game is the RPG adventure spin-off of internet craze Tomodachi Life that sees players assigning Miis to every role in the story. The new version also includes a remarkably in-depth Mii editor, which allowed me and some other internet goons to design some of the most repulsive, hilarious creations, like a hyper-realistic Jerry Seinfeld, for example. The game’s writing is chaotic, and just a whole lot of fun. Hopefully Nintendo will give Tomodachi Life the Miitopia treatment next. —C.S.
Release date: May 21
Platforms: PS4, Switch, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC
It’s an online dodgeball death match. If that doesn’t get you going, maybe the fact that you can start (your first 25 levels) for free, or the beautiful and stylistically funky music and graphics, will. The gameplay feels great, and unlike most death matches, Knockout City is all about building a good defense to prepare a good offense. You’ve got to dodge, parry, and catch balls to gain the advantage, and it’s an absolute breath of fresh air for that reason. —C.S.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Release date: June 11
The classic duo is back. Ratchet and Clank got a reboot back in 2016, and while it may have lost a little of its crude humor, its gameplay stuck to the wacky weaponry and smooth platforming we love the series for. Rift Apart isn’t a remake or a remaster but a brand new story and adventure that sees Ratchet and Clank falling through time rifts with classic space-time-continuum hijinks ensuing, and it’s kickass. (Read our full review here.) —C.S.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
Release date: July 9
I’ve made it no secret that I am a massive Monster Hunter fan boy, so it’s a near guarantee that I’ll play any title if there’s a Rathian involved. When the first Monster Hunter Stories came out back in 2016, I really wasn’t expecting much but played it anyway to uphold my notoriety as a master monster hunter. To my significant surprise, the game was a blast. Monster Hunter Stories gave the world of Monster Hunter not only some in-depth plot but a newer, friendlier way to interact with the monsters. It works like Pokémon meets Fire Emblem meets Final Fantasy, where players capture and train monsters to fight alongside them in turn-based RPG content. Monster Hunter Stories 2 looks to expand on the first one, and after the demo dropped on June 25, it’s already proven itself a must-play for Monster Hunter fans, Pokémon fans, or general RPG fans. —C.S.
Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD
Release date: July 16
Zelda returns! Well, kind of. After all the hoopla about Mario’s 35th anniversary back in 2020, the Legend of Zelda series is now due for a celebration package, and fans think Skyward Sword may be the first remaster of that effort. Except, those who played the Wii game know, Skyward is by no means an easy game to carry over to a new console. For a while now the rumors have circulated that Wind Waker and Twilight Princess would be getting HD remakes on the Switch, which makes sense, because those games don’t really require any fancy motion controls. Skyward, though, is 100 percent Wii Motion Plus nonsense. Nintendo says it’s switched up the controls so that they can work on the Switch, even without the Joy-Con’s motion capabilities. We’ll see if it comes through. —D.N.
Neo: The World Ends With You
Release date: July 27
Platforms: Switch, PS4, PC
Nowadays, Square Enix might be best known to some gamers as the hive mind behind a ballooning amount of Marvel games. But there might even be more who know Square Enix as the makers of 2007’s beloved RPG, The World Ends With You. Now, nearly 15 years later, we’ll catch up with protagonist Rindo Kanade and, unfortunately (for him, at least), his biggest villains for another ride. —B.L.
Little Devil Inside
Release date: July 2021
I’m not even going to pretend to talk about this game competently. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know how to play. But I do know I want to. The art style is a mesmerizing mix of Flapjack/Foster Home-era Cartoon Network and subtle clay sculpture. Besides looking beautiful, I genuinely can’t tell the difference between cutscenes and action, so it promises to be a cinematic masterpiece. As you already know I like Monster Hunter, and Little Devil Inside definitely screams MH elements, in a really different, mysterious package. I love when games like this come out, where you’re excited but have no expectations. —C.S.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite
Release date: August 24
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
The Aliens are scary. We should kill them. This seems to be the mantra of this upcoming entry to the long-running 20th Century Fox (err…now Disney, I guess) Alien franchise. In it, instead of lurking around corners and finding cover from the dreaded Xenomorph (like in the fantastic Alien: Isolation game from 2014, which, by the way, still very much holds up) you’ll be mowing down troves of perfect organisms in three-person survival teams. By the looks of the recent trailer, you’ll frequent some of the most recognizable places from the franchise, including the site of the iconic Space Jockey. Considering the timeline here, that doesn’t make a lick of sense. But we’ll see what Fireteam has to offer when it drops later in August. —D.N.
WarioWare: Get It Together
Release date: September 10
The night before the Nintendo E3 Direct, I said, “All I want is a new WarioWare,” and I got it. You’re welcome everyone, I and I alone willed this into existence. WarioWare is just a great time, with goofy microgames reminiscent of the microgame craze of 2005 (looking at you, Work Time Fun)—but this time there’s co-op. The Switch is an absolutely perfect vessel for a vast variety of microgames, what with the beauty of the Joy-Con (when it’s not drifting, that is). And WarioWare is one of those games anyone, and I really mean anyone, can pick up, play, and laugh at. WarioWare comes out this September, so it’s a short wait for Wario madness. —C.S.
Release date: September 14
Platforms: PS5, PC
For the most TimeSplitters vibe I’ve gotten in years, I’d like to thank Deathloop. Deathloop sees you in a loop of death. I don’t know what’s happening, but it appears to be Groundhog Day without Bill Murray and with a bounty hunter. The player’s job is to use skill and puzzle-solving to try to take out as many targets in a single run as possible. It seems like a blast and a new take on shooters, and I’m always down for that. —C.S.
Release date: TBA (probably September 2021)
While gamers criticize (to put it mildly) sports games for copy-pasting their titles every year, the NBA2K franchise, somehow, keeps getting better. Whether it’s the MyCareer storyline (once a home for camp like you’ve never seen before), the marked gameplay improvements in the next-gen experience, or the endlessly entertaining MyTeam card-based mode, hoopers can expect 2K to deliver the goods every year. It should be no different when NBA 2K22 hits the market. —B.L.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania
Release date: October 5-8
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
You know the titular monkeys from Super Monkey Ball? It’s their 20th anniversary! Happy anniversary, Super Monkey Ball monkeys. To commemorate the occasion, they’re back with a brand-new entry: Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania. You know what to expect, namely a hell of a lot of rolling and spinning. We wouldn’t have it any other way. —B.L.
Far Cry 6
Release date: October 7
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Amazon Luna, Google Stadia, PC
Far Cry has a knack for creating stories solely off of its charming and deeply disturbed villains, so it seems obvious, and yet still thrilling, that professional Charming Villain Giancarlo Esposito is taking the helm as Antón Castillo. The cinematic trailer was enough to get me to want six seasons and a movie of this plot. Far Cry relies on storytelling and beautifully crafted settings to make its engaging open worlds, with those animalistic hunting elements and that landscape interaction. Featuring the truly maniacal Castillo, it’s sure to be a title you’re not going to want to miss. —C.S.
Release date: October 8
One of the, if not the biggest announcements at E3 this year was Metroid Dread. It’d been two decades since Return of Samus came out, and for 15 of those years the title Metroid Dread had been floating around. To out-of-left-field finally get Metroid 5, and to have it come out this October, is a whirlwind of nostalgic emotion and excitement. The announcement came with a plethora of gameplay, and it’s evident that after two decades, they wanted to do it right. —C.S
Back 4 Blood
Release date: October 12
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
At the Esquire Gamer Zone, we love our zombies. Now, Call of Duty has owned this sub-subgenre for over a decade now. You know why? Well, partially because the Left 4 Dead series has been stagnant for that long. Praise all that is rotten and dead, Back 4 Blood is supposedly a spiritual sequel to Left 4 Dead—and it’s even made by the same crew as the OGs. BACK. 4. BLOOD. Sorry. Too much coffee and brains. —B.L.
Mario Party Superstars
Release date: October 25
The fan service we’ve all been waiting for. While I love Super Mario Party, it’s undeniable we’ve needed a little bit of that N64 magic back in the game. Nintendo saw that, learned, and is giving us exactly what we want. Mario Party Superstars contains five classic N64 boards (and considering the quality of the N64 boards, that’s plenty) along with at least 100 minigames, as well as fully functioning online support at launch. To me, and many diehard Party fans, this is the quintessential Mario Party Experience. —C.S.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Release date: October 26
Platform: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Switch, PC
Sure, the Marvel video game adaptations have felt a little Invasion of the Body Snatchers lately. We’re so used to, say, Chris Evans being Captain America (and having America’s ass) that the discount, store-brand version we got in Marvel’s Avengers didn’t feel quite right. Now, Square Enix is back with Guardians of the Galaxy, which we’re hoping will at least dare to take a risk with the beloved group of antiheroes. —B.L.
Release date: October 2021
Platforms: PS4, PS5, PC
We know: You’re tired of puzzles. We are too. That’s why it’s time to stop trolling around with dumb cardboard cutouts and level up to a puzzle-based video game. You won’t get better than Stray. You know why? Because you play as a little kitty cat. In an open(ish) world. That world is a cyberpunk-looking city, already making Stray a better Cyberpunk 2077 than Cyberpunk 2077. —B.L.
Forza Horizon 5
Release date: November 9
Platform: Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC
Forza is life. I devoted the bulk of my pandemic free time to cruising around the gorgeous world of Forza 4, swerving past vintage cars in my super-powered Jeep painted with decals from Jurassic Park. You can do anything you want in Forza; if you don’t feel like racing, you can just drive around the countryside listening to music and trying to break the sound barrier. Even for those of us who aren’t big gear-heads, the series is really a blast. It’s coming back in November with Horizon 5, which brings the franchise to Mexico, and which will bring me to my couch, controller in hand, for what will likely be dozens of peaceful, peaceful hours behind the (virtual) wheel. —D.N.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl
Release date: November 19
There’s arguably never been a more exhausting time to be a Pokémon master like myself. From shiny hunting, to always needing to have my National Pokédex completed, to filling every photo entry in Pokémon Snap, there’s so much—almost too much—for Pokémon fans to do. Don’t get me wrong: I will gladly take every bit of Pokémon that they want to give me, but with these remakes of the 2006 games and Pokémon Legends: Arceus also coming out in January, it looks like it’s going to be a Pokémon-filled winter. —C.S.
Release date: Fall 2021
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, PC
Master Chief returns in the first main-series entry to Halo in a very long time. This game has been teased since back in 2019 and has been a major source of anticipation for Microsoft fans for three years now. With the lack of exclusives on the Series X/S, Infinite could represent a gigantic comeback for the studio that’s been trailing behind Sony for some time now. The game still hasn’t been announced with a premiere date yet, but when it does, I think a lot of Sony-only folks might begin to migrate to the dark side after all… —D.N.
Release date: TBA 2021
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Okay, this game looks a lot like Zelda. A lot. The main character is a furry fox in a green tunic, there are treasure chests, dungeons, items, an isometric camera, everything’s covered in greenery and ancient stone shit… It’s almost as if someone over at Microsoft was like, “Hey, instead of competing with Nintendo, why not just be Nintendo?” Perhaps that’s a bit reductive. But it really looks like this Xbox exclusive wants us to notice that it’s aping Zelda. And you know what? Maybe that’s fine! I like Zelda! If I could play Link to the Past on an Xbox, I probably would! —D.N.
TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge
Release date: TBD 2021
Platforms: Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Every once in a while, a game gets announced that’s a literal dream come true. As a longtime lover of TMNT, with Turtles in Time being one of my top 10 games of all time, to have a new turtles beat-’em-up title from Dotemu, who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers out there (if only due to its affinity for reviving long-dead franchises like Streets of Rage and Windjammers), feels like everything I could have ever wanted. The animation looks beautiful, as with all things Dotemu has touched, and if Streets of Rage 4 is anything to base it off of, Shredder’s Revenge isn’t going to be a mindless beat ’em up but an actually strategic, combo-driven, arcade classic. TMNT is on the short list for my game of the year, and it’s not even out yet. —C.S.
Horizon Forbidden West
Release date: TBD 2021
Platforms: PS4, PS5
ALOY. Legend. Who else can make it in the Horizon franchise’s dystopian-robotic-wild-west-dinosaur world? Maybe Toad, I don’t know. Anyway. After the success of Horizon Zero Dawn, Aloy will return to forage her way through sketchy, uncharted territory in Horizon Forbidden West. Spoiler: Wherever (or whatever) it is, it’ll be teeming with more robo-animals. —B.L.
EA Sports College Football
Release date: TBA
It’s unlikely we’ll see the recently announced EA Sports College Football in 2021. But considering the game’s existence is improbable in the first place, there’s a Hail Mary-esque shot at it. Regardless, we don’t totally know what to expect of the reborn NCAA Football franchise quite yet. No matter what, we’re going to build the Santa Clara Broncos into a force so unstoppable that Nick Saban will quiver in his Skechers. —B.L.
Release date: TBA
Speaking of 2K: The NFL finally rekindled its partnership with 2K. Though actual NFL teams and current players are off the table, we could get an arcade-like experience featuring retired GOATS. Don’t turn your nose up at it. If it’s even the smallest bit like the OG NFL 2K series, which was basically a playable MTV Cribs with a football minigame? We’d like to sign the hell up. —B.L.
Final Fantasy XVI
Release date: TBA
Like with all Final Fantasy games, this is a joke. I’m pranking you. The fact that I would be so brazen as to put this on a 2021 list is an assault on the false gods, who I can assure you will punish me for this blasphemous act. It’s not coming out this year; you know that, I know that, but the kid in me who kept riding the hype train and had his heart broken time and time again for Kingdom Hearts 2 is coming out. Final Fantasy has had a return to glory as of late with the truly amazing Final Fantasy XV and the Final Fantasy VII Remake part 1 (I’m not even going to attempt to put part 2 on this list), and FF16 has expectations set high, for better or for worse. The cinematic trailer appears to take us back to a more traditional FF world, as opposed to the pseudo-new-wave world of FFXV. Regardless, little is known save for that it’s a PS5 exclusive. I’ll see you again on our 2022 and 2023 lists. —C.S.
Release date: January 21, 2022
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Elden Ring exists. I repeat, Elden Ring exists. I’m so excited that I’m openly ignoring that this is a 2021 list; January gets an honorable mention. Elden Ring comes to us from FromSoftware, who brought us Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and George R.R. Martin, who obviously brought us Game of Thrones, so this should be a banger. Elden Ring looks like it combines the combat we’ve all come to love in Dark Souls with some twists, like a heavier emphasis on customizable combat. While not much is known, we did get a killer gameplay trailer, and that’s enough for this super fan. —C.S.
God of War 5: Ragnarok
Release date: 2022 (delayed)
How do you follow up the parenting seminar of a generation? After Santa Monica Studio and Sony gave us the fantasy adventure of a lifetime (boyyyyyyy) in God of War, they’ll look to go back-to-back with another successful sequel. With a name like Ragnarok? You can expect some truly apocalyptic stakes for our buddy Kratos. Or more kids. Same thing. —B.L.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
Release date: 2022
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Oh, how we long for a sequel to Breath of the Wild. Nintendo has indeed confirmed that we’ll be getting one–back in 2019 they put out a very cryptic trailer showing off a much-darker take on the spirited world of Hyrule, making some believe that Wild 2 would be more Majora’s Mask than Super Mario Sunshine, if you catch my drift. Since the trailer’s premiere in ‘19, we haven’t heard much about this hugely anticipated follow-up, except for another tiny little glimpse at E3 in 2021. Link has long hair now? You can reverse time and flow through water? One thing seems certain, though. Ganondorf is back, baby. —D.N.
Cameron Sherrill is a designer and writer for Esquire.com, where he covers technology and video games.
Dom Nero is a staff video editor at Esquire, where he also writes about film, comedy, and video games.
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