A top-down perspective view of a sparse, minimalist map comprising of winding paths made up of a squares. A witch character has been edited to stand over one of the squares, and they are holding a dagger in one of her hands.
May 9, 2022 | by Elvie
Elvie’s Top 5 Missed Games of 2021

Not only have I still not cut through my video games backlog to the extent I wanted to the past year, even more titles have been added on to what I may have to accept will be a never-ending to-do list that I will possibly take to my grave.

2021 had a number of pretty good hits that I am grateful to have relished my time in and even finished! But still many more games—even of surprising quality, that did not necessarily make it to my personal top five—were unexpectedly brought out into the world that year which I hope to dive right into at some point.

Some of them are still collecting dust in unopened packaging as we speak.

5. Dungeon Encounters

Screenshot of the combat screen from Dungeon Encounters. A portrait of a small, anthropomorphized mouse wearing a hood and carrying a sack sits on the left side of the frame, while a row of portraits of several humanoids and a black wildcat in profile line up on the right side of the frame. An arrow from the mouse's portrait points to one of the portraits on the left side. A text box on the top of the frame reads, "[Procure] The party lost 10,000 gold."
Dungeon Encounters is a strange one; when it was briefly published on itch.io, one would have not guessed it was a Square Enix work, specifically coming from the direction of Hiroyuki Ito who has not done any large development of since Final Fantasy IX and XII. Dungeon Encounters is a sparse take on dungeon crawling, using very limited visuals and leaving much to your own imagination. You navigate a character along a simply-designed, grid-based grid and much of what unfolds in the game is described and flavored through text description.

It is interesting to see a major publisher otherwise known for big budget RPGs take their signature concept in a completely stripped down direction, akin to many minimalist MMOs and similar back-to-basics grinding systems, like Progress Quest, one of the first idle clicker games. It definitely would have fallen under my radar had I not heard about it via word-of-mouth from a friend. Lately I’ve been researching and diving into unique approaches to game design, and Dungeon Encounters is certainly something that fits the bill in something I would love to not only try, but also study.

4. Minute of Islands

A young girl wearing an oversized, yellow tunic and yellow boots holds and looks upon a glowing staff. She is standing in a disheveled, cavernous-like dark room filled with giant pipes, exposed wiring, and assorted equipment.

I know it is reductive to say that Minute of Islands gives off Adventure Time-vibes at a glance, but there is a reason why the aesthetic of the latter continues to enthrall and inspire all these years later since the series’ conclusion.

As a side-scrolling story game, the sight of the game’s slick, weird designs and eye-catching animation alone has gotten me curious as to what more can be offered with it. I wonder if it will evoke similar things I felt positively about within my experience playing Gris, and there’s only one way to find out.

3. Eastward

An 8-bit, stylized depiction of an old-fashioned train station in a forest clearing. A man with short black hair and a beard and younger girl with long, fluffy white hair stand next to each other the platform, looking towards the left of the frame.
Eastward is a really (really!) pretty game, with an incredibly compelling story behind its long, ragtag development period. We are continuing to see this recurring trend of Earthbound-likes and arguably even Zelda-inspired titles coming out as of recent and although Eastward seems to be doing the same with its own pastiches and problems (Eastward pays explicit homage to Dragon Quest if anything), at the very least, I don’t think we will ever see something to the effect of what YIIK: A Postmodern RPG tried to do ever again. And also having already taken a chip at it, the gameplay is really long. Really, really long. And well, that’s mostly its problem. I’m curious as to what more projects may be in store for Pixpil, Eastward’s developer—and hopefully they’re shorter ones!

2. Kena: Bridge of Spirits

An over the shoulder view of a young woman fighting a tall, tree-like monster in a forest clearing. She has one hand pointed towards the creature, while she holds a glowing, blue wooden staff in her other hand.

I was supposed to try this game. I was even supposed to cover it. And… I just didn’t? There’s a literal physical copy of this thing sitting on my shelf among all my other games cases next to my workstation as I am typing this piece away. The plastic shrink wrap is still on it.

I remember Kena: Bridge of Spirits catching my eye at the various shows it was promoted in prior to its formal release. I was thinking how cute it was. I was thinking about how interesting it would be to unpack this new setting in a sea of previously established IPs. I was thinking about meditating on the methodology of its creation with a little controversy sprinkled in.

As you can see, I have a lot to potentially say about Kena: Bridge of Spirits, but that potential will have to wait and continue to rest unopened on my shelf until I actually play it.

1. Beast Breaker

A small, stylized depiction of a mouse holding a wooden sword dashes across an encirclement of sharp, abstract shapes over a solid, empty background.
Unions are freaking awesome! And with all the good they can bring, they can also inadvertently create good PR campaigns!

I was not aware of Beast Breaker until the reporting that its developer’s workers, Vodeo Games, mobilized the first legally recognized video games union in North America. Not only was I thinking, “Hey, that rules!”, I was also able to learn more about this said developer’s work. As it turns out, Beast Breaker seems pretty interesting! You play as a small, rodent-sized warrior who is trying to defend their community of other critter-sized friends from “mosaic” monsters. There is a tactical aspect to the game, and you have to strategize your approach to these paint-by-numbers designed monsters while you upgrade your own equipment and repertoire over time. On top of cute visuals and rather straightforward gameplay mechanics that I think I will enjoy on an adrenaline rush, the culmination of the events that accompanied this game’s development is a positive sign of things to come.

I also just love to play as a little guy.

Elvie was conjured out of recycled materials sourced from New Jersey. She curates the news and is the designated subtweeter of the socials.

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