We tend to make a habit of looking back at the best new gaming releases at the end of each year. And we may well do the same at the end of 2021. This time around, however, we’re also going to take a stab at some predictions. Based on some of the games that have already emerged this year, and the releases scheduled for the months ahead, the following are some of what we expect to be the most influential titles of the year.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
This new release from Nintendo is a bizarre one in numerous ways. For starters, its name is a little bit of a mouthful. Additionally, it’s basically a straight reboot of a 2013 game that didn’t do particularly well by Nintendo standards. And yet, the early word is that this is a triumph — a game that succeeds on the Switch console where it failed on the Wii U years ago. If gamers feel the same way, this could well become the biggest Mario game yet on the Switch, and another major incentive for people to adopt the console.
Nothing is bigger than Super Mario, but in the world of modern console gaming, Halo may come close. The series is often credited with helping to popularize the first-person shooter genre and has been beloved since its introduction. We’ve seen various spinoffs and experiments based on the Halo games over the years, but Halo Infinite marks the first addition to the core series since 2015’s Halo 5: Guardians. It’s bound to be a major hit.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild 2
The original Breath Of The Wild generated as much buzz as any game in the 21st century. It now ranks consistently at the top of “best of” Zelda lists, is referred to as one of the best games of the decade, and is sometimes even mentioned in conversations about the best games ever. If we’re being honest, it’s going to be hard for the sequel to live up to the hype. But if it’s even close it will be one of 2021’s best releases and either way it will influence the conversation this year in a big way.
Hitman 3 (VR)
Hitman releases are always popular. But the fact that Hitman 3 will be playable via PlayStation VR (and will even make Hitman 1 and Hitman 2 available in the same format) is significant. This is about as big an example as we have to date of a major console franchise releasing a title in its core series that is built for VR. Beyond this, there are actually several exciting VR games set to come out this year. But if Hitman 3 works out well, it will be one of the bigger triumphs of the medium yet.
Thor’s Vengeance is an internet slot machine arcade that is provided by Red Tiger and is now among the headlining titles on Foxy Games. At a glance, it might look like one more in a never-ending stream of action-themed slots. But the titular hero may in fact help it to be an enormously influential game in the casino genre. A few years ago, Disney caused an entire collection of Marvel-based games to be pulled from casino platforms. But in Thor’s Vengeance, the platforms have found something of a workaround, basing a game on the mythical god rather than (explicitly) the Marvel character. Foxy’s decision to showcase the game speaks to its potential, and if it attracts Marvel fans back to casinos, it will have been one of the more brilliant moves in casino gaming in some time.
Pokémon Unite (mobile)
It’s almost automatic that if there’s a new Pokémon game coming out, it has a chance to be among the most influential of its time. There’s no reason to treat Pokémon Unite any differently. This Nintendo Switch/mobile crossover is being billed as a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), which essentially slots it right into arguably the trendiest genre in modern gaming. However, the word is that it will be less about the pure battle and more about catching Pokémon — which gets to the heart of what has always drawn players to this franchise. “Gotta catch ‘em all” will take on new meaning in a competitive arena setting, and that’s likely to make this a mobile gaming sensation.
We wrote about Fortnite dominating U.S. gaming back in 2019, so by no means is it a new or upcoming release. What this game does have however is a unique capacity to update and alter itself in order to stay fresh. Fortnite is constantly adapting to trends, introducing new characters and features, and so on, and it remains enormously popular. So whatever it has in store for the year ahead, we’re confident its influence isn’t going anywhere.