Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year of Gaming (2014)

At the end of every year since the start of What They Call Games, I take a look back at all of the games I played during the year and give brief reviews of them. They aren't always the newest or most popular games; they're just whatever I happened to play during the year. And... here... they... are!!

Sonic Generations (PS3)
Maybe it was the nostalgia of playing 3D versions of classic Sonic levels, but Generations was the most fun I've had with a Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 2. The levels were consistently cool, fast, and fun. It still wasn't perfect - the story was lamer than ever and there were a lot of points where simply running and boosting got you through - but I still had a great time with it and fully intend to go back for 100% completion one of these days.

Spelunky (PC)
I freaking love Spelunky. It's tough as a raw steak, but oh-so-satisfying once you get good at it. This new remake adds tons of new content, easily making it worth the purchase. Basically, the gist is that you go down randomly generated 2D caves, collect treasure, and avoid traps. It's all about learning how to avoid the obstacles and adapting to the situations so that you can survive with whatever you have. I highly recommend it for gamers who like a challenge or who like roguelikes.
Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) (Related post)
Whoa. This game really is as good as the hype says (for the most part, if you like this sort of game). The story is awesome, the environments are huge and beautiful, and there's an insane amount of side quests. Here's hoping that Xenoblade Chronicles X will be even better.

Antichamber (PC)
This is a really unique first person puzzle game with weird puzzles that turn physics and spacial logic on their heads. It's a bit disappointing that the puzzles turn from that craziness to block moving puzzles during the second half of the game, but it's still really cool and worth checking out. Just don't spoil it for yourself by watching videos of it for too long.

Guacamelee! (PC) (Review)
I loved Guacamelee! so much that I played it twice in a row. It's a Metroidvania style game with controls and combat similar to Super Smash Bros.. The music rocks, the story is amusing, and there's lots of optional challenges that'll challenge even the most hardcore gamer. I can't recommend it enough.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC)
As a critic and gamer, I can tell this is a great game with lots to do and many ways to do it, especially with the insane amount of mods out there. But at the same time, I wasn't able to get into it personally. The story wasn't interesting enough to hold my attention, the world was filled with the same drab colors and unexciting locations, and I just couldn't find a reason to motivate myself to explore another cave.
Depths of Boatmurdered (PC) (Review) (Free download)
I may be slightly biased on this one considering it was made by my old college roommate and beta tested by yours truly, but seriously, it's surprisingly great. It's a horror game from a top-down perspective inspired by the "Boatmurdered" LP of Dwarf Fortress. You don't need to know anything about that to enjoy it though. It plays like a linear Zelda game and while it isn't really that scary, it has a few creepy bits and several epic bits. And it's free, so check it out!

Outland (PS3)

I bought Outland expecting a Metroidvania game, but it didn't turn out to have that much exploration and was more of just a series of levels that were incidentally connected to a central hub. But that doesn't mean it was bad; it's a very enjoyable and visually appealing platforming game with a tricky light/dark switching mechanic. Depending on whether you're switched to light or dark, you can dodge light or dark bullets, interact with light or dark platforms, and attack light or dark enemies. It's not a perfect game - I would've liked it to have some more background music, for example - but it's definitely worth checking out.

Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC)

I heard that this game was made by one guy, which makes it even more incredible. Dust looks great and plays great. I felt like the story was a bit of a letdown after its promising build up, but basically everything else about the game is fantastic. Once again, fans of Metroidvania games [and furries] should check this one out.

Dustforce (PC)

If you enjoyed Super Meat Boy, Dustforce will probably be right up your alley. It's a tough as butts technical platforming game that has you racing through stages to clean stuff up. It's simple to play, but insanely difficult to master. And there are plenty of levels that demonstrate just how high the skill ceiling can be. Also, the soundtrack is wonderful.
Puppeteer (PS3) (Review) (Video playlist)
As as platforming game, Puppeteer has some puzzling design choices/flaws: collectible heads that offer little benefit, somewhat awkward marionette inspired physics, longer than necessary tutorials, and secrets found by examining every background object. However, it's still a joy to play and is worth checking out for its brilliant art direction and charming fairy tale story. If you're one of the few with a Playstation Move and a 3D TV, Puppeteer was made to demonstrate the potential of those options as well.

Tokyo Jungle
(PS3) (Review)
Now this is an odd one. In Tokyo Jungle, you play as an animal in post-apocalyptic Tokyo and have to find food, avoid predators, and mate in order to survive as long as you can. The graphics may look like a PS2 game and there may be annoying invisible walls all over the place, but once you get the hang of it, it's surprisingly fun. It's a bit boring starting from the beginning every time (if you're not doing story mode) since you pretty much do the same things every time to start, but there are randomized challenges and events so each playthrough isn't exactly the same. It's not quite a roguelike, but it's close. If you like that sort of thing, check it out.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Well, it's probably the best Mario Kart game yet, but it doesn't really do much different. It's got a bunch of new tracks and characters in glorious HD and antigravity bits that let you bump into other racers for a boost. The gameplay is as great as always, but comparing it to other kart racing games, it has next to no single player content. It would've been nice if it had additional single player missions and variations on the standard racing. Also, no battle mode arenas? What gives!?

Risk of Rain (PC)
It's a randomized actiony platformy multiplayery game! It's quite fun since you never know what kind of items you're going to get and because each character has a very unique play style. I just wish the areas were more randomized. As it is, they pretty much just move some ladders around.

Knytt Underground (PC) (Review)
I've been a fan of Nifflas's Within a Deep Forest and Knytt Stories for a while now, so I was hyped to finally try Knytt Underground, which combines gameplay elements from both of the aforementioned games. The world to explore is huge and there are a lot of secrets, but overall I was a bit disappointed. Even though the world is so big, you get all of your abilities early on so there isn't really much progression, causing it to get old before the end. It would've been nice if there were new abilities to find rather than just arbitrary quest items.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (3DS)
Donkey Kong Country Returns was a fantastic and challenging platforming game on Wii and that transfers pretty well to 3DS. This version has a bonus world of new levels, though they aren't really all that spectacular. Thankfully, the waggle controls from the Wii version are now mapped to a button. Un-thankfully, there are points where the small 3DS screen makes it somewhat hard to see during parts when you're in the background. It doesn't really matter much which version you play, but I highly recommend DKCR in one form or another.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+ (PC)

It's Pac-Man for the modern gamer! Actually, even though it looks similar to ye olde Pac-Man, it plays pretty differently. It's fast paced and makes getting a high score super satisfying with huge trails of ghosts that chase you and then consequently turn to blue. Unfortunately, after a bit of playing, you'll probably notice that the gameplay is a bit too simple and repetitive. You could say the same thing about the original Pac-Man, but since getting a high score in Championship Edition just amounts to making the same obviously correct turns without messing up rather than reacting to unexpected situations like in the original, I don't see it having the staying power of the classic arcade game.

Kirby Triple Deluxe (3DS) (Review)
After the masterpiece that was Kirby's Return to Dreamland, I had high hopes for the similarly styled Kirby Triple Deluxe. And, well, it ain't bad. It just ain't spectacular either. It has the spiffy 3D gimmicks you'd expect from a 3DS game - better than most 3DS games even - and it has the fantastic Kirby gameplay from Return to Dreamland. However, it lacks the amount of content that Return to Dreamland had and its level design rarely grows beyond simplistic proofs of concept. It's a fun game, but it's disappointing to see it so close to being amazing and fall short due to merely average level design.
Pikmin 3 (Wii U)
I hadn't played Pikmin since the stressful experience of renting the original soon after getting a GameCube, but I'm sure glad that I gave Pikmin 3 a chance. The stress is gone, thanks to a generous time limit that encourages efficiency without being prohibitive. It's beautiful and unique. The satisfaction of exploring new areas and finding new fruit and enemies brought me back to my first experiences with 3D gaming in Nintendo 64 collect-a-thon games. The single-player campaign is a tad short and annoyingly doesn't tie up many loose ends in the plot, but the additional challenge modes and multiplayer modes help to add a good bit of extra content. If you asked my sister, she'd probably say this was the game of the year for her (even though it came out in 2013).

Odama (GCN) (Video playlist)
I'm a sucker for bizarre experimental games, so when I heard there was a voice-controlled strategy-pinball hybrid game, I knew I had to try it. Odama certainly brings something new to the pinball genre, but even though the voice controlled commands work pretty well for ordering your troops around, hitting your target with the flippers and pinball is as awkward and unpredictable as ever. Maybe I'm just not a pinball wizard, but the struggle of trying to hit a pinball with precision was too much frustration for me to handle.

Rayman Legends (Wii U)
Rayman Origins was one of the best platforming games in years and Legends is more of the same in all the right ways. It feels a tad easier than Origins, but maybe that's just because I got better. Easier or not, every level is a blast to play and feels even better designed than the previous game's levels. If you like platforming games at all, Rayman Legends is a must-play.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch 

Ni no Kuni is almost fantastic, but then a bunch of minor flaws make it just a little above average. The story starts strong, but then stagnates for hours. Core gameplay elements are inexplicably withheld from you until certain points in the game. Voice acting is disappointingly sparse. And most quests are mind-numbingly simple and repetitive. It's too bad, because the game otherwise looks great and has a pretty unique and fun battle system. The characters are likable and the voice acting and translation/writing are great whenever there actually is voice acting. I just wish more time could have been spent during development to iron out the obvious flaws.

The entire Virtual Boy library (Related post)
This year I played and beat all 22 games on Nintendo's failure of a console, the Virtual Boy. Contrary to popular belief, there are games worth playing on the console. In fact, most of the games are good or great with their only flaw being the short length which plagues every system's launch games. If you haven't already, give Virtual Boy games a second look and a second chance.

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS / Wii U (3DS/Wii U)
Not much has changed in the transition to this latest version of Smash Bros., but all of the minor tweaks have brought welcome improvements to the already fantastic gameplay. It's incredible that, like Pokemon, the Super Smash Bros. series has been able to cater so well to both casual players and competitive players. Everything about the series is like a masterful love song to the history of Nintendo. Personally, I would've preferred that the content of the 3DS version had been merged into one game on Wii U, but it's cool to have a portable version I guess. Smash 4 is a masterpiece of gaming.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (PC) (Related post)

This game is super fun and even better than Mario Kart in many ways (which I wrote about in the related post). I loved how many single player challenges there were and that the difficulty could really be cranked up high. I didn't love that the plane and boat controlled a bit awkwardly and simply weren't as fun as driving the kart. With just a bit more polish, the next Sonic kart racing game really could surpass Mario Kart in greatness.

.hack//Versus (PS3)
It's a fighting game with .hack characters and it also includes a full-length .hack movie on the disc as well (exclusively in Japanese with no English subtitles). The character and stage selection is disappointingly small, but what characters are available all have very unique play styles. Also, the story mode has optional missions on each fight which unlock stuff. Most importantly, (as far as I'm concerned anyway) the controls are intuitive and easy to learn unlike the awkward button combinations of most arcade-style fighting games. Even though the controls are simple, there's a surprising amount of depth as well. I like it and wish there was more of it.

That's it for this year! Coming next year: a huge backlog! See you then!
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