Top five video games of 2021 according to NPR staff Our picks for best new games run from the humorous to the horrific (sometimes, both at once!), from tight single-player stories to sprawling online sandboxes.

The top five video games of 2021 selected by the NPR staff

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


While the game industry was hobbled by an ongoing pandemic, video games themselves provided fun and sanity in a year when both were in short supply. NPR surveyed staff and contributors for their favorite games of 2021. And the results are diverse - ranging from the cozy to the scary. NPR's James Mastromarino oversaw the final list, which you can read right now at

James, let's talk about some of the highlights. NPR staffers focused in on about 20 games in particular. But we're going to talk about the most nominated. And it all starts with It Takes Two. What was so special about this one?

JAMES MASTROMARINO, BYLINE: Well, It Takes Two - just like the name would say, you can't play it alone. You have to have a real, human partner with you playing alongside - either online or right next to you. The story is just wild. You play a couple who wants to get a divorce. Their daughter is understandably distraught by this. She cries on some dolls, does some magic, accidentally transports you into the bodies of these dolls. And then you have to run through this crazy house full of fantastically imaginative levels to try to get back to normal. At one point, you're flying on fidget spinners over a sea of playpen balls, for example.


ANNABELLE DOWLER: (As May) Woo-hoo. Wow, this is cool.

JOSEPH BALDERRAMA: (As Cody) I told you they'd come in handy.

DOWLER: (As May) I love them.

BALDERRAMA: (As Cody) Spin, spin away, May.

MASTROMARINO: This happens to be our most nominated game this year. It was hugely popular. It also won game of the year at the Game Awards. And I think this all tells you that people really wanted games that bring us together. Games that let you do that and gave you a common purpose to work towards - they were really special.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. I also noticed there's a horror title from the long-running series on the top five - Resident Evil Village. Why do you think this is here?

MASTROMARINO: Well, you know, there's always some catharsis in horror. And this series has been long-running. It started as, like, a zombie survival game. But it's really mutated in the decades since. And Resident Evil Village puts you in a snowy town, isolated somewhere in Europe. And before too long, you're trapped in the mansion of a nine-foot-tall vampire, Lady Dimitrescu.


MAGGIE ROBERTSON: (As Lady Dimitrescu) You escaped my little brother's idiot games, did you? Let's see how special you are.

MASTROMARINO: Our reviewer, Louie Micheli, described Resident Evil Village as a perfect ease into this series. It's scary. It's goofy - an absolute thrill ride. And it's gorgeous to look at.

MARTÍNEZ: You know what they always say, James. It takes a Resident Evil Village to entertain a gamer. At least, that's what I've heard.

MASTROMARINO: (Laughter) That's right.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, finally, I see there is this other game - Life Is Strange: True Colors. It actually features some folks dressed just like everyday people. So what's going on with this one?

MASTROMARINO: So we're coming down now. We're no longer in a gothic village. We're in Colorado - a small town. You play as Alex Chen, a young woman who moves there to reunite with her brother. And just as she's settling in, her brother dies in an accident, and she begins to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding that. Oh, and I should mention, she's got these empathic superpowers that manifest as colorful auras around the people she sees.


ERIKA MORI: (As Alex Chen) I know what other people are feeling. And if they feel strongly enough - if they're angry or sad or afraid - I feel it too. And then I lose control.

MASTROMARINO: I'll let our contributor, Brittany Vincent, have the last word here. She said, from its gripping story to its realistic portrayals of trauma and human relationships, Life Is Strange: True Colors is a masterful exercise in storytelling that you'll not soon forget. And that can be said of a lot of games on this list. Many found playful ways to take difficult themes head-on. And I think we're only going to see more of this as games respond to the difficult years we've all been having, just as other media do.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's James Mastromarino. He surveyed NPR staff for their favorite video games of the year. And you can read more about them at

James, thanks.



Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.