Sean Davies’ Choices
The team at Odd Bug Studio are carving their own niche in the gaming industry. Similar to they way you can look at a game from Zoink games and immediately recognise the art style, Odd Bug Studio are doing the same. With the previous title The Lost Bear, they created a miraculous VR pop up book. Their follow-up, Tails of Iron, felt like a table top fantasy RPG come to life as you move through the pages of a visual novel. It’s gorgeous to look at and tells a tale of hope and revenge worth experiencing.
Where Tails of Iron really shines though is in its combat. Adopting a soulslike system on a 2D plane, the brawls in this game feel like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors where every enemy defence and attack has a weakness. With half a second of notice, you’ve got to react and respond as best you can. This all blends together into a ballet of mouse tails, frog guts and incredible satisfaction.
I’ll be honest, I had high expectations of Tails of Iron ever since I caught a glimpse of it outside EGX what feels like an eternity ago. Odd Bug Studio managed to smash those expectations with one of my favourite games on 2021 in Tails of Iron. A sprawling, deeply engaging and surprisingly emotive game, it’s one of my Games of the Year 2021.
Every so often, a game comes along that reminds you what gaming is really capable of. For me in 2021, Chicory was that game. Before getting to play it back in June, I was starting to feel jaded and tired of the same gaming tropes, characters, mechanics and systems over and over. Chicory was a welcome breath of fresh air, bringing with it a heart felt narrative that is deeply relatable and the creative tools to make a player feel like the journey they take is theirs.
In my review of Chicory on PS5 I stated that “It takes innovative, artistically driven mechanics and makes them accessible and intuitive. It combines them with a narrative which is emotionally charged and truly engrossing. This is all topped off with a fantastic world that houses oodles of charm, a top class soundtrack and puzzle design that challenges the player while rarely becoming frustrating.” I don’t think I can surmise this game any better than that. Even though it released 6 months ago, I still revisit Chicory when I get time and continue to find neat little moments and corners of interest that have cemented it as one of my Games of the Year, 2021.
In every action movie, there is a moment during a fight scene where the protagonist is taken off-guard and has to improvise to overcome an attacker. They look around, decide on a course of action, do something cool, then carry on with the fight. This is what Fights In Tight Spaces is, distilled down into a turn based roguelike that’s about as moreish as a tube of Pringles (go on, I dare you to just stop at one).
With a clean, minimalistic aesthetic that still manages to communicate everything the player needs without bombarding them with menu’s, it’s very easy to pick up and play. That’s not to say Fights In Tight Spaces is a cakewalk. It’s incredibly challenging. But that does mean that when you do finally manage to punch the snot out of a goon that has been causing you issues, it’s also incredibly rewarding. It’s very gratifying when you do something smart too, pulling off a move that makes you feel equal parts John Wick and Jackie Chan. Give this a go and there’s a real chance it’ll worm under your skin like it did mine.
It’s no secret how important audio is to a video game but with Blind Drive, it’s paramount. That’s because this game is purely based within an immersive soundscape that surrounds you. Featuring an outlandish B-movie comedy narrative, the game tells the story of a man blindfolded and locked within a speeding car. He (sic. the player) has to use the sounds around him to avoid on coming traffic and other dangers and react accordingly.
I was blown away with how well Blind Drive was put together. The audio design is world class, giving you a real feel of proximity through nothing but the sound in your headphones. When I reviewed the game, I said it’s “unlike anything else out there at the moment. It’s unique, innovative and hopefully the start of something new”. That’s something I’m still hoping for. If Blind Drive was any indication of what could become of audio-guided game play, I’m aboard that hype train and shovelling coal right into its engine. If this one passed you by, make sure to take the time to check it out.
While it’s a blessing and a privilege to be a video game critic, it can be tricky at times. One of those instances is when you play a game prior to release, write a review that mentions issues you encounter, then the game is released alongside a patch which removes those issues. Reviews are supposed to be able to inform potential customers on what a game is and whether the critic reveals it and sometimes, they can be out of date the very second they’re published. That’s what I felt like publishing my review of Before Your Eyes. I mentioned a glitch that, as far as I’m aware, had not been experienced once post releases.
Allow this to act as an addendum to that review then. I have Before Your Eyes an 8/10 when I reviewed it. Without the glitch, it’s much better than that. It’s close to a 10.
The primary hook for Before Your Eyes is that this game can be controlled by the blinking of your eyes. Let the game use your webcam and scenes will change and morph into something else when you blink. Even without this unique control mechanic though, Before Your Eyes stars an emotively charged, real and relatable narrative that’s one of my favourites from the entirety of 2021. I revisited this game while considering which 5 games I should choose for this list because it was a struggle. Even on a second playthrough, certain beats of this game hit me right in the feelings which earned it a place on this list.