T3 Game of the Year – the best games we've played in 2021

From Mario to Marvel, here's what games you should check out

Guardians Mario Deathloop
(Image credit: Square Enix / Nintendo / Arkane Studios)

2021 has been another stellar year for video games. Whatever platform you're playing on, whether that be PlayStation, Nintendo, Xbox, PC, mobile or otherwise, there has been an abundance of amazing experiences that have lit up the past 12 months.

Now while you can always go out there and find lots of great recommendations from numerous critics and see what game walked away with the top prize at The Game Awards, T3 wanted to pull from our own personal experiences. Any title that earns itself a spot on any game of the year list likely has some degree of quality to it – what made it stand out to us, though?. Was it one glorious moment, a big update that pulled us back in, a killer soundtrack, or just something totally unexpected altogether?

With that in mind, let's dive straight into what the T3 team has been playing this year and why these games have climbed their way up to our number one pick for 2021. 

Matt Kollat – Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury  

Bowser's Fury Fire Mario

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is a game I thoroughly enjoyed this year. It was great to revisit 3D World on the Nintendo Switch and the new addition of Bowser's Fury. Though short, it provided a brilliant new way to play one of the most established video game franchises ever to exist. Based on my experience with Bowser’s Fury, I can't wait to see what the next Mario instalment will look like.

As well as putting many hours into 3D World, I played lots of games that were released outside of 2021, including Heave Ho (a brilliant couch co-op fun), Cuphead (classic run and gun action game inspired by 1930's cartoons), What The Golf (not even sure how to describe it), Ape Out (the way this game blends percussive music and visuals is truly one of a kind) and Donut Country. I also managed to finish Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time (was cursing quite a lot in the process) and loved the story element in Paper Mario: the Origami King. Would recommend!

Robert Jones – Deathloop 

Deathloop action shot

(Image credit: Arkane Studios / Bethesda)

I've played very few games this year and even less I've managed to actually finish, so the fact I watched the credits roll on Deathloop tells you all you need to know about how it hooked me and demanded my time.

The premise. You're stuck on an island that at the end of each day resets itself in time for reasons unknown. The result. There are no consequences to anything you or the island's inhabitants do. Kill a guy on one day and the next day he's back. Get killed and, like at the end of each day, you wake back up on the morning of the same day once again. Everyone on the island relives the same day over and over again. Think Groundhog day meets James Bond. 

The lack of consequences is intoxicating and empowering in terms of gameplay. It's great as unlike Arkane Studio's previous Dishonored series of games, one-time events don't lead to irreversible, negative consequences. I mean, not only will you reset on the same day to try again, for example, but there's even a mechanic in the game where you can actually resurrect a few, limited times, within the same day's loop. As such, the game rewards you for experimentation and boldness in terms of player action, and that leads to some epic, adrenaline-fuelled fun.

Throw in a huge dollop of typical Arkane style in terms of art and music direction, as well as copious amounts of mystery and edge-of-understanding sci-fi, and the result is one incredibly addictive game that, just like the day you relive in Deathloop, you'll want to experience time and time again.

Yasmine Crossland – Animal Crossing: New Horizons 

Animal Crossing snowman wolf

(Image credit: Nintendo)

My favourite game this year was Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch. Launched back in 2020 it might now be about a year and a half old, but a huge update (rolled out in November) has added tonnes of new features, expanding and improving the game. I’ve been glued to it for the past few weeks, it’s had me hooked like no other game this year! 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons lets you run away to a deserted island where you can explore, build and customise your very own community. You can construct a home, discover new creatures and craft furniture using the materials that you find. The update also features a museum cafe, boat tours and you’ll be able to unearth Gyroids which are part-furniture, part-creature objects that you can pair together to make music. It’s all really good, clean fun that can get a little addictive.

Spencer Hart – New Pokémon Snap 

New Pokémon Snap Meganium

(Image credit: Nintendo)

New Pokémon Snap stood out as a favourite for me this year. I loved the original Nintendo 64 version that was originally released way back in 1999, it was a part of my childhood, so when the new version arrived 22 years later I had to play it.

It gives me warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia every time I play, and I love the simplicity of the on-rails mechanics. New Pokémon Snap brings new Pokémon, a new storyline, new locations, and the ability to edit and share any images you snap, which gives it more replayability than the fleeting original.

 Matt Bolton – Fez

Fez screenshot

(Image credit: Polytron Corporation)

"Hang on," you, someone who is very intelligent and knowledgable about video games, might say, "wasn't Fez released nearly 10 years ago?" Yes it was! But in 2021, it came out on Nintendo Switch for the first time, which makes it a game released this year – and I think it remains a better game than anything else from the last 12 months, so I’m picking it. 

Fez is a 2D platformer… except it isn't. The world exists in 3D, but you can only see and navigate it in two dimensions at a time. At any moment, you can hit a button and rotate the whole world 90 degrees around the Z-axis, revealing new platforms and paths. Each level in Fez is a little diorama you'll twist in your hands to find your way through, and ultimately, reveal every secret. 

Backed by one of the best soundtracks of any game (and fantastic sound design overall), the first time this happens is up in the pantheon of the most memorable and evocative gaming moments, alongside Link entering Hyrule Field for the first time in Ocarina of Time. 

Additionally, it looks like it might've been made yesterday, thanks to its pixel-art style. It's filled with bright colours and depth, making it a real treat on the Nintendo Switch OLED. There are things in Fez I’ve never solved, and it’s never harmed my enjoyment… but it does mean I’m always happy to go back, and see if maybe this time will be different. 

Matt Poskitt – Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy 

Guardians of the Galaxy team

(Image credit: Square Enix)

For a long time this year I've been torn between Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Resident Evil Village as my personal game of the year. Two polar opposites, two titans of video game design. So it was a huge and unexpected shock when Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy boosted its way last minute to my number one spot. 

In many ways, I should have seen it coming. I'm a superhero aficionado who has played everything from Batman: Arkham Asylum to Marvel's Avengers – and have enjoyed each in their own way. Still, with early footage seeming lacklustre and previews doing nothing to spark my interest, I went in with low expectations. 

Acting as Peter Quill / Star-Lord, it's up to you to lead the Guardians to save the universe... you know the spiel. It's what happens on that adventure that solidifies it as something special. The genuinely heartwarming narrative really makes you give a damn about Quill, Rocket, Gamora, Drax and Groot, with its writing having me flip between laughing audibly to nearly tearing up at any given moment's notice. 

It's also just plain weird at points. The creatures, the rich planets, Star-Lord himself, everything! And I love it for that. I never once got bored, spending more time than I should have just hanging about the Milano while listening to Blondie on the jukebox. Honestly, if you like the MCU Guardians of the Galaxy film, you'll adore this. It might actually be better. 

Matt Poskitt
Freelance Writer

Matt is a freelance writer for T3, covering news and keeping up with everything games, entertainment, and all manner of tech. You can find his work across numerous sites across the web, including TechRadar, IGN, GamesRadar, Tom's Guide, Fandom, NME, and more. In his spare time, Matt is an avid cinema-goer, keen runner and average golfer (at best). You can follow him @MattPoskitt64