The top video games of 2021: Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, NHL 22, Super Mario 3D World

·7 min read

Video games make for great stocking stuffers for kids and kids at heart. But with so many console and computer titles to choose from, shopping for a gamer can be an overwhelming endeavor. After all, no one wants to gift a dud that will quickly become a drink coaster or shiny Christmas ornament.

If you’re looking for some suggestions, the following are a handful of recommended gaming picks – a very subjective look at some of 2021’s best – divided into various age groups. Prices are $60 unless otherwise specified.

Because many games are available for multiple platforms, make sure you’re buying the right one for the machine they own (and include the gift receipt, just in case).

Two very swollen thumbs up for these picks:

Kids

Get your motor running with the latest racing game in the Forza series. In Horizon 5, it’s an open-world Mexico, spread out over several maps and game types.
Get your motor running with the latest racing game in the Forza series. In Horizon 5, it’s an open-world Mexico, spread out over several maps and game types.

Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Game Studios; for Xbox X/S/One, Windows 10): Driving fans, here’s your chance to virtually climb behind the wheel of hundreds of awesome (and customizable) cars and other vehicles and race through an open-world Mexico – from historic cities and vast deserts to sun-kissed beaches and ancient ruins.

Along with countless challenges across several missions, engage in white-knuckle races against others over the Internet (and with cross-platform support between PC and Xbox users).

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury (Nintendo; for Nintendo Switch): One of the best family games of the year, Super Mario 3D World is a fun refresh of the best-selling 2013 adventure, now with high-resolution courses to run through, local and online multiplayer support and tons of collectibles (including stamps to use in Snapshot mode).

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Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury: Fun for up to four players, this colorful cooperative game stars beloved Nintendo mascots.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury: Fun for up to four players, this colorful cooperative game stars beloved Nintendo mascots.

Each with their own abilities, choose from one of four characters – Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad (and Rosalina, later in the game) – as they set off to save the Sprixie Kingdom.

Also included is the open-world platform game, Bowser’s Fury, that challenges Mario to team up with Bowser Jr. and venture through a cat-themed world of Lake Lapcat (and its islands), use power-ups and collect items.

NHL 22 (EA Sports; for Xbox Series X/S/One, PS4/PS5): Lace up and hit the ice as or against your favorite pro hockey team – or create your own unique NHL team, if desired.

Powered by EA’s Frostbite engine (for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S), the game looks as good as it plays.

Indulge in several solo and multiplayer options (on the same TV or over the internet), along with updates to modes like World of Chel (adding custom player classes and “X-factor “abilities), Be a Pro (create a character, progress over time), Franchise (try to take your team all the way to the Stanley Cup) and Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT), which allows you to create a fantasy lineup and compete against others.

Other recommended games for kids include Enhance’s Tetris Effect: Connected (for multiple platforms), 2K's NBA 2K 22 (for multiple platforms) and Nintendo’s New Pokémon Snap (Nintendo Switch).

Teens

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a PS5 exclusive and a highly-polished single-player action game that also folds in a great story, and humor.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a PS5 exclusive and a highly-polished single-player action game that also folds in a great story, and humor.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (Sony Interactive Entertainment; for PS5): An evil robotic emperor is intent on conquering cross-dimensional worlds and it has its sights on your own dimension. This is the premise behind Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, a super-fun third-person action game that fuses combat with platforming challenges.

Along with Ratchet, a heroic alien accompanied by robotic companion Clank, you also get to control a female fighter named Rivet, in this interactive cartoon.

Taking advantage of the PS5’s power, the game looks incredible, loads fast and takes advantage of the improved DualSense wireless controller and its amped-up haptic feedback, including adaptive triggers that provide tension when you’re interacting with the environment.

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It Takes Two (EA; for PS4/5, Xbox Series S/X/One, Windows): Fans of cooperative (co-op) games should boot up It Takes Two (found as low as $20), an indie game that can only be played by two players, be they side by side or over the Internet (with the latter, only one person needs to own the game).

Combining platforming, action and puzzle-solving, It Takes Two tells of a divorcing couple, Cody and May, who are magically transported into the bodies of tiny dolls and must work together to navigate dangerous worlds inside and outside the house – including in a garden, in a tree and in a snow globe – in the hopes of returning to their human bodies.

The game’s theme is cooperation, but there are some competitive mini-games, such as a take on Tug of War and Whack-a-Mole.

Pyschonauts 2 (Xbox Game Studios; for Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, Windows): Better late than never?

This stellar sequel to its 2005 predecessor once again stars Razputin “Raz” Aquato, a powerful young psychic who ventures out to unravel a mystery, using his quick wits, nimble moves and mostly, customizable psychic powers like slowing down time, levitation and mind-reading.

This fun – and funny – cinematic (and often surreal) single-player story was created by legendary game designer Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango, Brütal Legend, Broken Age).

Other awesome games for teens include Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy from Square Enix (for all major platforms), Nintendo’s Metroid Dread and Capcom’s Monster Hunter Rise, both for Nintendo Switch.

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Adults

Returnal, a third-person sci-fi action game pits you against alien enemies and an unforgiving ‘time loop.’ Can you figure out the mystery and get off this planet alive?
Returnal, a third-person sci-fi action game pits you against alien enemies and an unforgiving ‘time loop.’ Can you figure out the mystery and get off this planet alive?

Returnal (Sony Interactive Entertainment; for PS5): While it may not have received the kudos it deserved, Returnal is a gripping sci-fi shooter that follows Selene, a space pilot who crash-lands on a dangerous planet to investigate a strange beacon – but finds herself caught in a time loop.

Whenever Selene succumbs to her injuries in this third-person action game, she’s resurrected at the same point, but the world is different each time, plus she battles strange visions with each loop.

Between its gorgeous visuals, tense action and strong narrative, Returnal is a “must play” for PS5 owners.

Deathloop (Bethesda; for PS5 and Windows). While the story may sound similar to Returnal, Deathloop is a first-person shooter starring Colt, an assassin, who is stuck in a time loop in an alternate 1960s and tasked to take out targets within a certain amount of time.

Including stealth and parkour elements, Deathloop gives you guns and gadgets to use (and some special abilities, too), while avoiding guards, tagging eight Visionaries and moving between the island’s four areas, during different times of the day.

Halo and Xbox both turned 20 in 2021.
Halo and Xbox both turned 20 in 2021.

The game includes innovative multiplayer modes, too.

Halo Infinite (Xbox Game Studios; for Xbox X/S/One, Windows): Yes, one of the biggest games of 2021 – available Dec. 8 but already playable as a multiplayer “beta” – is a real blast for fans of the famous franchise and newcomers alike.

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Featuring many of the same weapons and vehicles as previous Halo games (like the Warthog military vehicle), this new first-person shoot gives you several kinds of abilities for the protagonist, Master Chief, to use across the (mostly) open world planet with bases to capture.

Multiple online modes include fan favorites like Capture the Flag and Deathmatch (last one standing wins), as well a fun new 12 versus 12 mode, dubbed Big Team Battle.

Note: the multiplayer portion of Halo Infinite is free-to-play.

Other great games for players age 17 and older, include Capcom’s Resident Evil Village (multiple platforms), Ubisoft’s Far Cry 6 (multiple platforms), Activision’s Call of Duty Vanguard (multiple platforms) and IO Interactive’s Hitman 3 (multiple platforms).

Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at https://marcsaltzman.com/podcasts. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Year in review Halo Infinite and more of the best video games of 2021

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