The best games of 2021 chosen by NPR


Our survey of NPR staff and contributors has produced dozens and dozens of favorite games – but twenty received more nominations than the rest. Each of those – the cozy, the competitive, the scary, and the weird – are highlighted below. We have also identified games suitable for children and those new to the hobby.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons 2.0

Happy home paradise and update 2.0 for Animal Crossing: New Horizons it’s like adding a layer of ice cream to an already wonderful birthday cake. It’s different, but it’s still as welcoming and comfortable as we expect (and honestly, we need!) ACNH.

– Rakiesha Chase-Jackson, project manager: Member Partnership

* Child friendly, for new players

Cozy grove

A balm for the senses tired by the pandemic, you play as a “soul scout” stranded on an island full of mercurial ghosts, seeking to help them rediscover their memories in exchange for badges. In the name of sanity, there’s a limit to what you can accomplish in a single real-life day (although a quick Google search could reveal how to get around that cap and maintain comfort).

Emily alfin johnson, Head of Content Partnerships, Digital News

* Child friendly, for new players

Death loop

Colt had a bad day. He keeps waking up on the shore of an arctic island, and everyone wants to kill him, from pop art henchmen to the game’s other playable character, Julianna. Rightly praised for her brilliant voice acting and diverse cast (Colt and Julianna are both black) –The Death Loop chaos and mysteries kept pulling me back, over and over again.

James Perkins Mastromarino, producer, Here Now

Disco Elysium: the final cut

Disco Elysium: the final cut is a masterpiece in the role-playing genre. Set in the fictional town of Revachol, you play as an amnesiac and hangover cop tasked with solving the mystery of the corpse hanging behind an inn. The original Disco Elysee released in 2019, but Final Cut adds a full voice cast that breathes new life into an already amazing script.

Keller gordon, contributor, NPR Join the game

Forza Horizon 5

I like Horizon 5, warts and all. Even though it suffers from disconnections, interrupted missions, and even worse bugs, the core gameplay is an absolute blast. The physics of the car are fun from the start and satisfying to master. Drifting is especially fun. Horizon Mexico is also beautiful. Colorful towns give way to mangrove forests, dune-filled deserts and even an active volcano. The game is improving week by week with new cars and lots of fixes.

– River Williamson, Software Engineer, Digital Media

* For new players

Infinite halo

A description of Infinite halo is a description of why I have enjoyed playing these games for over 20 years. Halo Infinite just does all of those things I love better and with greater focus. Weapons, equipment, and movement mechanics are balanced and give the player the power to win (and lose) in such a way that the outcome is fair and always fun. Sure, the campaign can have the playful tone of a Saturday morning cartoon, but it can also punch you in the throat with “the thrills.” This game has heart.

Alexandre diaz, technical program manager, Digital Media


Encryption is an ode to the mastery of genres: part roguelike deckbuilder, part escape room, part psychological horror. In this metafictional game-in-a-game, you and your pack of rambling woodland creatures are trapped in a cabin and forced to play a series of card games in exchange for your freedom. I easily became obsessed with the atmosphere, gameplay, and velvety black narrative of Daniel Mullins’ creation. This game is best entered cold – your character doesn’t know anything at first, and neither do you.

Marguerite Cirino, internal, Shortwave, TED Radio Hour, how I built this

It takes two

It takes two is the perfect cooperative game. As the title suggests, you can only play it with another person. As the main characters, Cody and May. you work together to reverse the magic that turned you into insect-sized dolls. You explore places with your now gigantic house to acquire new powers that will allow you to solve puzzles (like flying with a fidget spinner). With each gorgeous card filled with creative details, fun bites, mini-games, and delightful detours, there’s never a moment that isn’t fun.

Kaity kline, contributor, NPR Join the game

* For new players

Life is Strange: True Colors

Life is Strange: True Colors is an appropriate name. It’s the culmination of everything the emotionally charged series has worked to accomplish in the past, but it’s also a beautiful, heart-wrenching adventure that wears its heart on its sleeve. From its captivating history to its realistic representations of trauma and human relationships, True colors is a masterful storytelling exercise that you won’t soon forget.

Brittany Vincent, contributor, NPR Join the game

Mass Effect Legendary Edition

Mass Effect Legendary Edition allows novice and veteran players to experience the original trilogy. The narrative is still compelling and doesn’t need to be played out on its own! The best part of this game is sitting next to my brother as Commander Shepard. We will cherish this time for years to come.

Aja drain, intern, It’s Been A Minute & Code Switch

Terror Metroid

Samus returns. Our favorite cool girl with a hot arm and roly-poly powers is back in Metroid Dread, the sequel to a story that had its last installment in 2002. It will excite fans of the original but is also accessible enough. to interest players who might only know Samus as a stylish Super Smash Bros. personage. Also involved: armored birds, killer robots, “physical amnesia” and nonstop sprinting Samus. It’s a fun experience worth the wait.

Nell clark, editorial assistant, Morning Edition

Shiny Diamond and Shiny Pearl Pokémon

Nintendo’s remake of its 2006 classics has better mechanics and better graphics, but anyone who buys these games knows that’s not really what it is. These games are basically about reliving childhood, old friendships, when your biggest worry in life was Cynthia’s Garchomp. Shiny diamond and shiny pearl are not perfect, but neither is the past.

Sean saldana, production assistant, morning edit

* Child friendly, for new players

Psychonauts 2

I played the first PS1 Psychonauts game when it was released in 2005, 16 years ago! I was charmed by his characters, his story, his creative level and especially his humor. Psychonauts 2 matches and surpasses all of the best parts of the first game, while also beefing up gameplay and adding fun new mechanics.

Jason grosman, software engineering manager, Digital Media

* Child friendly, for new players

Resident Evil 8

Where past games were too scary for me, Resident Evil Village was my perfect facility in the series! Sneaking around Dimitrescu Castle, hunting down Angie in the horrific Beneviento house, and the final fight with Mother Miranda herself were highlights of the game for me and really fueled some nightmares for a while. I am happy to report that I am a stupid man-thing which is completely sold on the franchise and is eagerly awaiting the next DLC.

– Louie Micheli, Accounts Receivable Manager, NPM Finance


If the “Edge of Tomorrow”, “Alien”, “Annihilation” and “Moon” movies had a video game baby, it would be Returnal. It’s very hard and scary but also addicting like any good rogue-lite. You will die a lot. You will curse. But its captivating and strange story will have you in suspense.

James delahousaye, producer, TED Radio Time

Shin Megami Tensei V Shin Megami Tensei V is a fun, challenging and beautiful game. 2021 has been a big year for RPGs, especially the Japanese, and this game is right at the top of the list. The series is known for its brutal difficulty, but this entry’s new modern mechanics make it more accessible than ever.

Georges yang, contributor, NPR Join the game

Super Auto Animals

In Super Auto Animals, players form a team by purchasing adorable animals, then compete against each other to see which set of animals reign supreme. The premise is easy to learn, but hidden beneath those smiley emoji faces is an ever-evolving meta-strategy as players discover how each animal’s unique abilities work together. There is something captivating about testing and rearranging a variety of pets that makes hours seem like minutes.

– Alexandria Lee, Head of Communication Platform, Public Relations

* Child friendly, for new players

The forgotten city This time loop adventure is Caligula meets Groundhog Day. If one person sins, the whole town is punished and the day is reset. The trial and error in decoding the gods’ wayward morality never seems repetitive, and the game’s mind-blasting final act – as the devs warn, avoid spoilers – will last much longer than that. his 10 hours of play.

– Joseph Price, Senior Product Manager, Voice Platforms

* For new players


Valheim blends the tropes of the survival sandbox with unique innovations. As a deceased Viking warrior brought to the realm of purgatory Valheim, you will be tasked with killing Odin’s enemies, improving your skills in combat and around your base, and sailing to explore a vast world. Play with up to 10 friends at a time on a single server, go it alone or import your character (with or without their items) and take them to your friend’s world.

– Nina Fill, Executive Assistant, Digital Media

Wild myth

Wildermyth’s style and tone didn’t appeal to me at first, but once I gave it a chance I found a richly written and cleverly constructed role-playing game. It performs a beautiful design magic trick that transforms randomly generated party members into fully formed characters, who bear scars, relationships, and memories across entire lifetimes.

Jess kung, production assistant, Code Switch * For new players

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