Historically, March is not exactly the busiest time for new video game releases (though we lucked out last year when "Animal Crossing" and "Doom Eternal" arrived just in time for the pandemic to lock us all in). But as 2021 trudges on, a lot of people are looking for things to do safely indoors. So what can you play?
If you’re looking for things to keep you busy, here are some worthwhile games that came out this year, as well as some you might have missed as 2020 wound down.
"Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury"
Whether you’re playing alone or with three friends, "Super Mario 3D World" is easily one of the better Mario games to be released in recent history. You’ll run and jump your way through dozens upon dozens of wonderful, colorful Super Mario stages, encountering new twists and surprises right up until the final level.
Unfortunately for some, the game originally came out exclusively for the Wii U console, which did not sell as well as Nintendo would have liked. Now it’s made its way to the Switch, which should open it up to a wider audience.
Perhaps a bigger draw for hardcore Mario fans, though, is the inclusion of Bowser’s Fury, a new-open world adventure that controls like 3D World but plays like nothing the series has ever seen before. It’s short (you can finish it in a handful of hours, though there’s more to do after the credits roll), but every minute is packed with enjoyable platforming action.
Available on the Nintendo Switch.
Assassination might not be the kind of uplifting subject matter that 2021 needs, but one of the greatest things about "Hitman 3" is that, frankly, it doesn’t always take itself too seriously.
I mean, sure, there is a quite serious plot involving global espionage and conspiracy that has the gravitas of a Jason Bourne story, but underneath that is a game in which you can murder your target with a unicorn horn while dressed as a hipster photographer. And that’s just good clean fun, right?
While its subject matter is dark and obviously not for the whole family, this conclusion to the Hitman trilogy is a wonderful sandbox full of genuinely interesting puzzles and interactions.
Available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and via cloud streaming on the Nintendo Switch.
"Bravely Default II"
If you’re an old-school gamer that misses the roleplaying games of the Super Nintendo era, "Bravely Default II" is likely up your alley. It’s as if the Final Fantasy series went back to its ’90s gameplay roots but with a storybook-esque graphical overhaul that takes advantage of the more modern Nintendo Switch hardware.
Fair warning: The game does have elements of an old-school RPG, so you’ll spend a lot of time walking back and forth in dungeons trying to get into fights with monsters just so you can level up before facing off against a boss. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, so there are plenty of people (myself included) for whom that game play is weirdly relaxing.
Don’t mind the “II” in the name, by the way. While it’s a sequel (technically the third in a series — Square Enix is bad at naming things), knowledge of the previous game(s) is not required.
Available on the Nintendo Switch.
This is the game all the cool kids on Twitch are playing right now. "Valheim" is like if someone took the survival elements of games like Rust and Ark and asked, “But what if there were vikings?” You must hunt, fight and build your way through a randomly generated world, either alone or with friends.
The game is only on PC and is unfinished (available in early access on Steam), but it’s found its way into a lot of people’s hearts. Also, it’s only $20 and can be played online with up to 10 people, so there’s a lot to love on your way to Ragnarok.
Available on PC.
"Control: Ultimate Edition"
One of my favorite games of 2019, "Control," is getting a new lease on life on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S with improved graphics and frame rates thanks to the power of the new consoles. This supernatural action game is intentionally (and amazingly) weird, drawing on all the intrigue of stories like "Twin Peaks" and "The X-Files" and pairing it with stellar shooting and some really fun paranormal powers.
Newly available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and via cloud streaming on the Nintendo Switch. Previously available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
"Immortals Fenyx Rising"
Do you like Greek mythology? Did you like "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild"? Do you want to play a colorful open world game in which you can fly and hang out with Hermes? Then have I got the game for you.
While it has some suggestive content and earns its T for Teen rating, you could look at "Immortals Fenyx Rising" as a somewhat more family friendly alternative to the most recent games in the Assassin’s Creed series. Sure, it’s got some off-color jokes, but at least it doesn’t have gory decapitations.
Available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch and PC.
"Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2"
As a teen, the "Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater" games almost got me into skateboarding. The problem, though (aside from my complete lack of balance and fear of injuring myself), is that unlike in a video game, I can’t grind my way through an abandoned mall or through a secret lab at Roswell.
"Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2" is, in many ways, an ideal remake. It doesn’t just mimic the original gameplay with a fresh coat of paint. It recreates these classic games in the way you remember them playing. Improvements made in later games have been retrofitted (including the revert from "THPS3"), and pulling off tricks across iconic levels feels fantastic. All of the levels from the first two games are present here, alongside a decent level creator and some fun online multiplayer modes. Much of the memorable pop music soundtrack has made the transition, too. Given the disappointing recent history of skateboarding video games, the fact that the developers stuck the landing on this one feels somewhat miraculous.
Available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. Coming soon to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch.
"Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity"
Speaking of "Zelda," it sounds like we might be waiting for a little while until we see the next great adventure in that series. The latest original game to grace the Nintendo Switch doesn’t even have the name “Zelda” in the title, and for good reason: It’s an action game in the vein of "Dynasty Warriors" in which you spend hours mowing down hundreds upon hundreds of enemies in a story that serves as a sort of prequel to "Breath of the Wild."
Still, it has enough of the right "Zelda" elements in it to tickle the right parts of my brain, and as I celebrate the series’ 35th anniversary this year, I’m willing to spend time with just about any "Hyrule"-based gameplay I can get my hands on.
Available on Nintendo Switch.
This game suggestion comes with a huge caveat: "Cyberpunk 2077" had such a disastrous launch in late 2020 that it has lead to lawsuits and resulted in the game being removed (albeit temporarily, in theory) from some digital storefronts. For many players it was buggy and performed horribly on older hardware, including the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. The game’s launch was so botched that Sony removed the digital version from sale on PlayStation platforms. As of this writing, it can’t be purchased that way.
Technical issues aside, some people have problems with the game’s story and its handling of controversial topics (including transgender representation and racism). At launch, the game even had seizure-inducing imagery that was presented to players without warning. It has not been smooth sailing for a studio that was previously lauded for The Witcher series of games.
However, the performance on the new consoles (the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5) has proven to be better, and a series of software patches across the board have improved the user experience (with more updates on the way throughout 2021), making the game a bit easier to recommend than it was last year.
For those with the appropriate hardware and the willingness to put up with some rough edges, "Cyberpunk 2077" offers a large, futuristic world that lends itself to many hours of roleplaying. Whether you opt to lean into the first-person gunplay, go more tactical with magic-like tech abilities or try to talk your way out of most problems, "Cyberpunk" allows for a fair amount of variety. Anecdotally, several friends of mine have played "Cyberpunk" to completion and enjoyed it a great deal.
A highlight, though, is a starring role played by lovable superstar Keanu Reeves. The guy’s got enough clout that he could have phoned in his performance, but instead he carries much of the story’s weight on his back as a futuristic rock star. Leave it to Keanu to take something flawed and elevate it.
Available on PC, Xbox Series X|S and at retail on PlayStation 5. It is also available (but harder to recommend) on Xbox One and at retail on PlayStation 4. The game is currently not available digitally on Sony platforms, but will likely return there someday.