Happy 2022. I’m finally back after a little Christmas break with the Rocky Golden Ham Awards. Rather than do them on New Year’s Day like last year, I wanted to take a short break and have them as the first proper blog post (after Rocky’s Reviews – December). For those a little unfamiliar with the Golden Ham Awards, I look back at the games I played the previous year and select my favourite game. It can be anything new or retro, the only condition is that I finished it in the year. This means that Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III isn’t eligible as although I started it in 2021, I still haven’t finished it. It’s not like I’m short of games to choose from anyway. Across the year I finished 32 games across different genres and platforms. The term “finished” coincides with the rules I outlined for myself in the My Gaming Challenge post. Of these 32 games, one I had finished in 2020 as well and since it got an honourable mention then, I’ll exclude it from here. That means we have 31 games to choose from.
2021 started off with a bang as I finished Mafia: Definitive Edition in January. It was the first game I completed in 2021, along with the first game to receive a Ham Award (it was rated 4.5/5). Across the year, another eight games would receive a Ham Award, with The TakeOver in December being the last game of 2021 to receive one. During the first part of the year, I went on a bit of a Formula 1 binge, playing through three PlayStation 2 games, two Xbox 360 games, two PlayStation 3 games and two Xbox One games. I also dipped my toe into some indie games, including Indivisible, The TakeOver and Fight’N Rage. As usual, there were plenty of JRPGs too. Persona 5 and Chrono Trigger made up my summer playthroughs while The Legend of Heroes: Cold Steel would close out the year. I also picked up a Game Boy Player in 2021 and this let me experience the glory of the GBA on my big screen. I took full advantage of this when playing through the Sonic Advance trilogy. They’re not long games but they’re incredibly fun. Unlike previous years there wasn’t a single Broccoli score. Instead, the lowest score awarded was a 2.5/5 to Lego Batman. A fun game but it does have some major flaws.
Outside of gaming, 2021 also saw some fun adventures for us all despite the restrictions. Rocky enjoyed not one but two summer holidays this year (both were visits to the beach), I somehow managed to get a new role at work and Sharon finally got to build some of her Lego sets. Of course, the year would end with us finally moving to a new home. The old games room is gone and the majority of my collection lies in boxes but it gives me a chance to completely design a brand-new games room. Hopefully I’ll be able to document it for you. 2021 also saw me attempt a video for the first time with Video: Xbox 20. It was strange but at least I tried. Maybe I’ll attempt a few more videos this year but try to make them better quality. Afterall, I don’t exactly have the equipment for capturing gameplay. Who knows what 2022 will bring.
Anyway, let’s get to the Awards. Who will join Mass Effect 2 and Yakuza Kiwami 2 in the Golden Ham club? Of course, as with almost all awards, there has to be some honourable mentions.
Mafia: Definitve Edition
As stated above, Mafia: Definitive Edition was the first game I played and finished in 2021. It’s a remake of the 2002 game developed by Illusion Software. This time, Hanger 13 took the reigns as they had experience through Mafia III. It keeps the same structure of the original, with the story broken into chapters. These chapters see you take on a variety of missions from stealing cars, acting as a getaway driver, breaking into buildings and winning a race. The graphics look beautiful, with the contrasting styles of Lost Heaven coming to life through its variety of districts. The 1930s are wonderfully captured from the costumes, music, cars and even growing city. I enjoyed Mafia: Definitive Edition so much, I had to play through the whole trilogy. While the other two games have their merits, I feel the remake of the first game is the best in the series.
Persona 5 Strikers
I managed to play through two Koei Tecmo hack and slash games in 2021, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and Persona 5 Strikers. While Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity had some issues, Persona 5 Strikers showcased the full potential of Koei Tecmo style. It combines the exhilarating gameplay of the likes of Dynasty Warriors with the superb narratives of the Persona series. The crew from Persona 5 are back, this time they have to investigate a mysterious tech company. Each character is playable in combat and brings their own skills to the arena. The gameplay relies more on advancing the narrative rather than capturing and holding basis, which is normally a stable of the Koei Tecmo games. It looks stunning, with each dungeon having their own theme, challenges and monsters to battle. The voice acting is fantastic as well, something which you expect from a Persona 5 sequel. Then there’s the music, just as epic as always. It’s a great package that gives us one more adventure with the loveable Phantom Thieves.
It took me a long, long time to get to the reboot of DOOM and I’m glad I did. Its gory, exciting, run-and-gun madness that lives up to its predecessors. There is a plot but its second nature to the fantastic gameplay. You will rip-and-tear your way through the hordes of Hell. DOOM’s atmosphere strikes a perfect balance between the horrors of a Hell-infested space station and the blood pumping skills of the DOOMGUY. The game encourages you to execute Glory Kills as these will reward you with health and ammo. The range of foes you’ll face are excellent, with different enemies requiring different tactics to defeat them. The game keeps you on your toes from beginning to end, only made possible by its responsive controls. Its probably one of the freshest first-person shooters in years and well worth having both DOOM and its sequel DOOM Eternal in your collection.
I managed to play through three beat’em ups in 2021. Fighting Force was a decent attempt at a 3D beat’em up that just missed the mark, Fight’N Rage was a great game that was a little too hectic in places but The TakeOver managed to strike the perfect balance. A wonderful game that takes inspiration from the likes of Streets of Rage and Final Fight, its so good, it manages to stand up on its own merits. The plot is simple, rescue a kidnapped child from a gang of thugs. The execution is something to be admired. The controls are fluid, with combos a joy to pull off. The variety of enemies means you’ll have to mix up your style a bit to make it through. It breaks up the side-scrolling levels with fun driving and flying stages that don’t overstay their welcome. Everything about this beat’em up is nearly perfect and its shows that the genre still has a place in modern gaming.
Runner-up: Persona 5
This year was a difficult one to pick a Golden Ham for. There were so many excellent games and Persona 5 just misses out. The tale of the Phantom Thieves is an excellent one that explores people’s deepest desires as well as balancing relationships with their friends and their school life. Persona 5’s greatest strength is its uniqueness. Its style is something else, creating both a colourful world to explore amid some dark tones. The combat is your standard turn-based JRPG affair, which I love. You can switch out characters, cast spells, unload your guns or just straight up knock enemies down in your van. Capturing persona can be a bit of a drag at times but its deep creation system will help you to create a persona that is suited to your needs. The other side of the game is its social aspects. Here, you’ll build bonds with your friends which can be turned into battle abilities, learn about their motivations and back stories, and attend classes, play video games or read books to increase your skills. Its one hell of a game.
Golden Ham Winner: Chrono Trigger
Some games can be described as perfection. They can revolutionise the genre, create a cult following of fans the world over, become synonymous with a console or genre, or just provide one of the most memorable gameplay experiences. Chrono Trigger is a game that comes very, very close. It takes everything about the turn-based JRPG genre and evolves it into a thrilling adventure. Its tale is simplistic, a young warrior travels through time to defeat an ancient evil, its execution masterful. Chrono Trigger’s combat may not be ground-breaking but it takes what came before it and adds its own spin. Combat isn’t random, instead you can see enemies on the screen. In combat, you can team up with your allies to unleash devastating attacks, unleash powerful spells or just give the enemies a good old-fashioned thumping. The music is catchy and complements each area well. The graphics are superb and even today they look stunning. The 16-bit sprites are beautiful and the different dungeons, towns and world map are filled with detail and vibrancy. Watching the world change as you travel through time is a wonderful experience. You can even affect future events depending on the actions you undertake in the past. The game features multiple endings to keep you coming back for more. It’s a pity we never got this originally as its probably one of the best games ever made and well worth anyone’s time, even if they aren’t big into JRPGs.