Rich Gallup’s Games of 2021

Rich Gallup’s Games of 2021


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Rich Gallup is Executive Producer at OtherSide Entertainment and the scruffy on the outside, soft on the inside Zamboni driver for his family’s backyard ice rink. Find him on the side of the road scanning cars for a Wyoming license plate, or on Twitter.

Hello everybody!

It’s true, another year has passed! What a weird time to try and track time. I’ve written and rewritten this preamble, trying to capture the emotions that emerge when reflecting on another year of bunkering down with my wonderful family, while feeling so much concern for people around the globe, and so much frustration with others. Just know that if you are reading this, I wish you well and will do my best to fill some of your day with lighthearted stories about how my family and I spent our isolated leisure time in 2021.

My year in video games was split between continuing to work on one that’s rad and (still) super secret, and playing a bunch of fun, family-friendly stuff with my kids. I still haven’t figured out how to get console games back into my rotation. I brought the PS4 down here into my wood paneled basement office, and tried playing Ghost of Tsushima during spare moments. But those huge games require dedicating big chunks of personal time to get through a satisfactory session (let alone the whole game!) and that just doesn’t fit my daily routine anymore. Related, I’ve yet to enter the current generation of consoles, but it doesn’t feel like I’m missing out on too much just yet?

Before we get started, I want to say thanks to so many of my coworkers (Christina, Gabe, Jamie, Lauren, Sahil, Zach, and many others), as well as Colin Spacetwinks for so many great recommendations. Thanks to you, my Steam and itch libraries are now stocked with so many rad-sounding games that I have yet to play. Though I do feel safe recommending co-open, Sewer Rave, and maybe Forklift Load(?) based on my short time playing them. Now, onwards to the awards!

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My Kids’ Switch Game of the Year: Luigi’s Mansion 3

The Saturday morning routine of family pancakes and video games that I mentioned last year is still going strong! Sometimes this involves plugging my laptop into the TV (more on that below) but most often it involves firing up the Switch and playing something co-op. And this year our favorite Switch game was Luigi’s Mansion 3. We got it just before Halloween and consumed nearly every ounce of it. I played as Luigi, our 8-year-old was Gooigi, and his younger brother provided commentary and direction throughout. It was great to see my son work through his confusion and frustration with the controls and camera to get to the point where he was doing most of the primary damage on the boss ghosts. We loved the humor, the way the ghosts were kinda scary but not really, the boss ghosts, and of course blinding each other with our flashlights in the elevator between floors. We didn’t want to stop playing, so we found every gem and caught every ghost – except for the ones locked away in ScareScraper mode, which is way too hard for the two of us to complete in the time allowed.

If you are looking for a cooperative family board game that feels a lot like Luigi’s Mansion, check out Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters, or as it’s known in its original German – Geister, Geister, Schatzsuchmeister! We just picked it up and love it.

Honorable Mentions: Mario Party Superstars, Super Mario 3D World/Bowser’s Fury

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Game that made me nostalgic for another game that I hold dear: WarioWare – Get It Together

The early WarioWares for the GameCube, DS and Wii are some of my favorite games of all time. WarioWare – Get It Together doesn’t quite hit the same note for me, it doesn’t feel as wacky or loose but it’s great to see the series back on my TV for the first time in 14 years. Plus my kids love it, and the narrative conceit that Wario runs a garbage game company with his friends is a nice touch. More please!

Honorable Mentions: Dodgeball Academia, Big Brain Academy

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The Outer Wilds Award for the Game that Everybody Said I Would Like and I Really Truly Believed Them But It Just Didn’t Work Out for Me, but it’s Totally Cool That You Like It: Inscryption

“Tell me when you get to the part.” That’s what a co-worker said to me about Inscryption. Every year or so a great game comes along with a unique or fun twist, and folks do their best to simultaneously express their enthusiasm while not spoiling the surprise. And with Inscryption you have all done a great job of both getting me excited to play it and keeping the twist hidden. Unfortunately the game has done too good a job of the latter, too. I’m over 5 hours in and calling it quits. This game is hard! The RNG can really smack you down in a bad moment, and I’m not getting better fast enough for my patience to keep up. And if one more person helpfully asks “Did you walk around the cabin?” I did all of the cabin stuff, no worries. It’s still too difficult for me. It’s also kind of oppressive, it drones with this foreboding vibe that I can’t handle anymore. So don’t worry about me ruining the surprise, because I have yet to see it! But you should probably play it, or Daniel Mullens’ previous games The Hex or Pony Island, they’re good too.

Honorable Mention: Unpacking (so stressful!)

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Closest I’m Going to Get to Participating in a Digital Market of Questionable Objects: Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator

Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator gets an award for allowing me to play a sentient Cone Head Sundae that has to rapidly track multiple data points while managing various goals, aka a metaphor for the alpha and omega of my career arc from my high school job as a Friendly’s dishwasher (home of the Cone Head sundae!) to my video game producer duties of today. What’s grosser, the food trap after a Sunday brunch rush at Friendly’s or cornering the intergalactic pancreas market? Who can say?

Game of the Year (non-video game division): The License Plate Game

One day in July, we had a long drive home from visiting family in Vermont and needed something to fill the time. The sun was out so we couldn’t look for padiddles, so I suggested to our 8-year-old that he count how many different license plates he saw over the next few hours. On that trip he spotted 20 states and 2 Canadian provinces, and we were off and running. An obsession was born and over the months since we have seen license plates for 48 states, 3 provinces, Washington DC, and Panama. We’ve taken road trips to rental car lots, long walks through grocery store parking lots and apartment complexes, we even have a spot at the end of the road where we just hang out and watch the cars go by. You should have seen the celebration when an SUV with an Alaska license plate drove down our street. Or the 6-day stretch after Thanksgiving when we first saw Arkansas, Nebraska, AND Louisiana. The only 2 plates we haven’t seen in the wild since July are Wyoming and North Dakota, though our vigilance has not wavered!

But oh we’ve gone deep. For Halloween, we had the idea of making a costume of the (at the time) 8 US license plates we hadn’t seen yet, aka the Ghosts of the Lost License Plates. For supplies I went on ebay and bought a random set of all 50 US plates which turned our 8-year-old into an official license plate collector. Every person who has come to our house since (granted, that’s like 5 people) has been asked to rank their favorite plates in order, 1-50, based on various criteria ranging from appearance to fonts. And we’ve been slowly replacing the duds (Goodbye, 2008 Michigan) with better variants (Hello, discontinued orange and blue Mackinac Bridge Michigan). And thanks to his spreadsheet scoring of all of our plates on a 10-point scale as well as possible replacements, holiday and birthday present shopping for our big guy has never been easier. If you’re curious, the highest scoring plates in the collection are the current North Dakota, a Pennsylvania variant with a big train on it, and the amazing polar bear-shaped Northwest Territories plate that was found under the tree on Christmas morning.

During the back half of 2021 I have likely spent more time checking license plates with my son than I have playing video games, so the License Plate Game is a shoe-in for my Game of the Year (non-video game division). And if you happen to have a car with a Wyoming or North Dakota plate and will be driving through the greater Boston area sometime soon, give me a shout!

Honorable Mentions: Darts, fancy rowing machine cult

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Game of the Year: Hollow Knight

There were some truly lovely games released this year. Psychonauts 2 was a worthy sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, telling an engaging story brimming with authentic emotions in a world stuffed with style and a unique environment asset budget that I am extremely jealous of. Chicory has brought such sweet joy to our family gaming sessions, and the more serious notes in the story have sparked some nice chats about resilience and friendship. Lena Raine’s soundtrack has replaced The Beatles as the music we listen to while making the aforementioned Saturday pancakes, complete with dance party interludes for every boss fight track.

And despite those great games, and so many others that were released this year, in our house the game of 2021 was 2017’s Hollow Knight. A co-worker, Gabe, recommended Hollow Knight, as one of their favorite games. So one Friday evening in June, as the work day wound down I gave it a shot. I’d barely jumped in when my kids came barreling down into the basement where my workspace is set up, hoping to catch a glimpse of me playing a game. I tried warning them off, Daddy was playing something a little on the spooky side, but they weren’t having it. And so began Hollow Knight Fridays. From roughly 6-7pm on Friday nights, I would play Hollow Knight and the boys would watch. “Are you sure you aren’t scared?” “No Daddy, keep going.” They loved the Knight, relatable with it’s kid-like body proportions, and seeing it bravely slash through the bugs of Hallownest.

Although I was the one at the controls for 99% of the time, the boys were deciding where we should go, what charms we should strive for. There was always something more to do, a new place to explore, and they wanted to see it all. They thought the Dung Defender was hilarious, and totally lost it when we combined the Defender’s Crest and Flukenest charms. They had their hearts broken when Bretta started favoring Zote over us. We never quite got a full handle on the overall story, but that didn’t matter when there were so many little tales being told.

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Soon Hollow Knight Fridays were joined by Hollow Knight Saturdays, where I would lug my laptop up to the living room, and plug it into the TV so we could play it post-pancakes instead of Mario Party or Bowser’s Fury. I bought the hardcover version of the Wanderer’s Journal and the boys memorized every page. My mom crocheted the Knight for them, then Hornet, then a grub. (I am way overdue on sharing all of the amazing things she has made for them, expect a Twitter thread in the near future.) The Hollow Knight soundtrack was played night and day, in the house, in the car, on phones to provide the backdrop for a marble race. When the school year approached we found a bootleg Hollow Knight backpack for our youngest. His love for the game was so deep he drew dozens of characters and creatures from the game, cut them out, and played with them. (This in turn has led to a mini-trend in his first grade class of kids drawing characters or objects they love, cutting them out and trading them with their classmates.)

None of us wanted our time with Hollow Knight to end, and we reached 107% completion before being stymied by the steep challenges of the extra last boss, the Godhome expansion, and the game’s most vile, stress-inducing enemy – the primal aspids found throughout the Trial of the Fool. As we have witnessed often in parenthood, our boys’ passion for Hollow Knight has dimmed, replaced by other games and characters. But those 5 months of Hollow Knight fervor were such a fun experience. I’ll forever remember it fondly and I hope our kids do too.

Honorable Mentions: Psychonauts 2, Chicory

Thanks for reading everybody, be safe out there, and get boosted!





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