(Disclaimer: I’m re-posting some of my writing from previous blog entries in order to save time. My thoughts on certain games hasn’t changed much since writing about them earlier in the year).
Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda
If you haven’t already read My Top 10 Games of 2019 post, please give it a read! It goes without fail every year, but there are games I simply did not make time for in 2019. It’s not for the lack of interest, either. There are just too many cool/interesting games today competing for your attention and when you mix in ongoing/live service games and your own broad taste in gaming, it’s simply impossible to keep up with everything. My favorite games of 2019 could have been different if I managed to play a handful of the games listed below, but alas, it’s just not how the cards fell. With that said, here are a list of games I was either interested in playing, played for an hour or two or simply did not play at all. I just didn’t have the words equipped to share anything meaningful about them. I’ve also included a few late 2018 December releases. It’s a looong list (and I’m probably forgetting things still), so without further ado:
Games I Regret Most Having Not Played at All ( or enough of yet) in 2019:
- Outer Wilds
- SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses
- Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition
- Kingdom Hearts III
- Death Stranding
- Anodyne 2: Return to Dust
- Disco Elysium
- Collection of Mana (specifically, Seiken Densetsu 3)
- Romancing SaGa 3
- Daemon X Machina
- Ring Fit Adventure
- Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necromancer featuring The Legend of Zelda
- Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
- Knights and Bikes
- The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan
- Life is Strange 2
- Liar Princess and the Blind Prince
- Devil Engine
- Baba is You
- A Short Hike
- Kind Words
- Dandy Dungeon: Legend of Brave Yamada
- Xeno Crisis
- Ghost Giant
- Ape Out
- Return of the Obra Dinn
- 428: Shibuya Scramble
- Dragon Quest Builders 2
- Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers
- Alliance Alive HD Remastered
- Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel I, II and III
- Final Fantasy XIV Online (vanilla game + expansions)
Games I Would Have Enjoyed Playing in 2019, but Were Not Life Threatening:
- The Outer Worlds
- Gears 5
- Crackdown 3
- Void Bastards
- Days Gone
- Arise: A Simple Story
- Blood & Truth
- Jupiter & Mars
- AI: The Somnium Files
- Falcon Age
- The Surge 2
- Remnant: From the Ashes
- Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
- Catherine: Full Body
- RAGE 2
- Toe Jam & Earl: Back in the Groove
- Shenmue III
- River City Girls
- Heave Ho
- Mortal Kombat 11
- Samurai Shodown
- Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes
- Contra: Rogue Corps (lol)
- Pokémon Sword and Shield
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
- Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
Favorite Ongoing/Live Service Game of the Year +
1. Destiny 2: Shadowkeep – I’ve been playing Destiny 2 since its launch back in 2017. It’s probably my most-played game of 2019, if not decade, in terms of hours invested. Like most people who’ve been playing the game since launch, Destiny 2 has become a love/hate relationship that I don’t know how to quit. I wasn’t even the biggest Halo fan back in the day, but I can’t deny that Bungie simply makes first-person shooters (FPS) that just feel good to play. The movement is sublime, aiming down the sights with an arsenal of interesting weapons feels satisfying, and the simple joy of jumping from one destination to the other while blasting aliens with friends never gets old. Destiny 2 has provided so many fond memories I’ll simply never forget. Whether it’s been raiding the Leviathan and its many lairs, overcoming difficult missions (Zero Hour) with friends or just bullshitting on mic while we grind away into the void, Destiny has become a part of my weekly routine and I personally don’t see it stopping anytime soon.
Half the reason I keep playing Destiny 2, however, is because of the people I’ve met and the clan I’ve joined. The other reason is my incessant desire to complete the in-game achievements (otherwise known as Triumphs & Seals), which has become somewhat of an addiction (for better or worse). Destiny 2 has changed a lot since its vanilla release, though. Depending on who you ask, some aspects of the game have gotten better while other areas have gotten worse. The updates to gear and character progression have been mostly welcomed, but there’s almost too much to keep track of now. Back when the Forsaken expansion released, Destiny 2 seemed like a fairly manageable experience, especially for those who might want to, I don’t know, play something else during the year? With each new update, the game has become more and more demanding of your time and willingness to grind towards end-game goals/pursuits.
With their latest expansion, Shadowkeep, Bungie has changed how they will distribute new content moving forward as well. Taking a page from other live service games (such as Epic’s Fortnite and EA’s Apex Legends), traditional battle passes and seasonal content have been introduced, which has surprisingly made the grind more rewarding and enjoyable. With that said, with these new additions, Bungie’s outlook on the game has shifted towards a more MMO-like approach. What this means is that for each season, if you’re not actively playing the game, most of the “new” content will only be active/available to players who are logging in every day/week for a 3 month period. I’m not the biggest fan of this approach as it creates artificial fear of missing out (FOMO). It’s also very strange to me that Bungie would create new activities/content only to remove them permanently after its respective season has ended (but perhaps that’s to keep the total download/install size down?). A contributor over at Forbes has written a piece or two or this issue as well.
Furthermore, outside of the Menagerie, the Reckoning and the Forges are far less interesting than Vex Offensive and the Sundial, respectively (one of which has already been removed and the latter only lasting until sometime in March). Bungie’s reasoning for temporary content/activities is to make Destiny an ongoing/persistent world where there’s consequences for the actions we take, but from a player’s perspective, it’s kind of alarming and it creates nothing but anxiety and FOMO for those who haven’t dedicated most of their valuable free time towards a single game. At the end of the day, no one is forcing me to play Destiny 2. I don’t have to do all of the content available, but I feel compelled to, for whatever reason. I’ll keep playing if my friends stay mostly invested, but I’m not too hot on the current state of the game, if I’m being brutally honest.
HM. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne – Since the launch of Monster Hunter: World (MH:W) and leading up to the Iceborne expansion last September, I had invested around 170 hours into the vanilla game. For a long time, I was able to juggle both Destiny 2 and MH:W in tandem, but after Destiny 2’s Shadowkeep expansion launched, the Iceborne expansion was shelved and fell by the wayside. I’ve only completed a handful of quests since its release, so I don’t have a lot to say about the expansion, unfortunately. What I can say is that the latest expansion takes place in a brand new winter locale, the Hoarfrost Reach, with unique monsters to hunt, new quests, gear and other minor gameplay features & changes (such as the very cool and very handy Clutch Claw).
With that said, I just wanted to give proper respect to Capcom for releasing what is essentially their first, full-sized expansion. While they’ve released similarly-styled “G Rank” updates/re-releases in the past, Iceborne appears to be a half-step towards making Monster Hunter the live service game it’s probably meant to be. If Capcom were smart, they’d pivot towards a battle pass-like structure, traditional seasons and other modern-day MMO-like trappings. While I’m not sure if this is what fans would want (and I’m not even sure that’s what I want from the franchise), it just seems like the natural progression for what’s easily becoming one of Capcom’s flagship franchises, if it wasn’t already. Hopefully, I will make more time to hunt some wintry beasts in 2020 and beyond.
Favorite Battle Royale Nonsense of the Year +
1. Tetris 99 – One could argue that the rise in battle royale (a sub-genre of competitive shooters that has seemingly eclipsed any other versus mode to date) was due in part to both PlayerUnknown’s Battleground’s (PUBG) success and the rising, overwhelming popularity of Fortnite. We’re living in an industry now where even racing games, developed by well-known studios, are receiving battle royale updates (see Playground Game’s Forza Horizon’s new Eliminator mode, which involves 72 cars in an open-world arena), so what other intellectual property/franchise makes sense for such a worldwide phenomenon? Would you have guessed Tetris, because I sure didn’t! Developed by Akira, Tetris 99 is a free online multiplayer version of the classic video game Tetris, published by Nintendo for the Switch. Tetris 99 is exactly as it sounds; you play Tetris against 99 other players and the last remaining player is crowned victor.
While Tetris has had its numerous versions/updates over the years, Tetris 99 plays it relatively safe by providing a rather traditional t-block busting experience, with a few caveats, of course. I haven’t won a match since its release, but there’s a layer of nuance to the game with its targeting and badge mechanics (which I honestly don’t understand still). The game could have been better at giving the player a tutorial for some of the more advanced techniques, as you’re more or less left to your own devices. At the end of the day, it’s the definitive “just one more match” experience and whenever I do decide to play the game, it’s hard to turn off. I’ll likely return to Tetris 99 over the course of the new year as it’s also been updated frequently with free content and special events.
HM. Apex Legends – Respawn seems to have hit the bullseye in 2019. With Titanfall 2’s ever-present cult status lingering due to sales, their Modern Warfare legacy never forgotten and their surprisingly well received Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, they’re arguably the most notable studio under EA’s umbrella. From the little I got to play of Apex Legends, I’ve genuinely enjoyed my time spent dropping into the battlefield. Similar to how I feel about Bungie, Respawn knows how to make an FPS that just feels good to play. Taking a note out of Blizzard’s notebook too, each playable character falls into a particular play-style and if you’re good at playing one type of character, you’ll naturally feel at home when playing as someone else. The Overwatch-like abilities are easy to understand, fun to use and don’t overshadow the fact that the game is still a pretty hardcore shooter at its core. Unfortunately, I haven’t invested as much time into Apex Legends due to my ongoing commitment to Destiny 2, but unlike my time spent with Tetris 99, I did win a game or two and have been crowned a “Champion”!
Favorite Remake of 2019 That Wasn’t Resident Evil 2
1. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – Link’s Awakening was one of my favorite Zelda games growing-up. I have fond memories of letting a childhood friend borrow my Game Boy because I couldn’t figure out a puzzle from the Bottle Grotto dungeon in order to proceed (try to guess which one). Link’s Awakening was also one of the first Zelda games that felt particularly weird, with its strange island inhabitants and its unconventional story beats. It more or less cemented the fact that Zelda could be unusual, yet still familiar for fans to enjoy (see also Majora’s Mask). I replayed the Game Boy Color (GBC) version of Link’s Awakening DX this past summer leading up to the Nintendo Switch remake and the original game still holds up very well. Back in the day, it was more about having a console-sized Zelda experience/adventure in the palm of your hands. Today, Link’s Awakening still serves as a reminder that Zelda doesn’t have to be a big, sprawling open-world adventure to be enjoyable.
The game’s paced extremely well and with the help of some re-wording of text and old man Ulrira’s telephone hints, there’s really no excuse in not knowing generally where to go/what to do next. The remake on Switch by Grezzo received some nice quality-of-life improvements too (certain items have been permanently mapped to specific buttons and the world is now seamlessly connected). In addition to this, there are a handful of new item pick-ups (there’s more sea shells and heart-pieces to collect) and a not-so-interesting dungeon-making tool (which replaced the photo hunt from the GBC version, unfortunately). The only negative here are some performance issues in a few areas, but it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Link’s Awakening is the same great portable Zelda experience you know & love and I’m glad I got to revisit a staple from my childhood with a fresh coat of paint.
HM. MediEvil – I was 12 years old when I first played MediEvil back in 1998 on the original PlayStation. It’s been 20+ years, yet here we are again with the remake. I’d like to think MediEvil was from an era that predates today’s independent scene. This game sort of encapsulates a time when developers/publishers could take risks with new characters/IP and develop a game on a smaller budget with a limited scope. MediEvil sort of feels like a byproduct of the mascot-era, too. It’s not unlike Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, Jak & Daxter or Spyro the Dragon, in terms of Sony chasing that next, new face of PlayStation. In 2019, MediEvil feels like a nice nostalgic trip down into the PlayStation archives and it serves as a comforting palate cleanser between bigger releases. I completed the game (with the helmet equipped) and while the visual upgrades were nice, it still feels like that same game we all played back in 1998, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At the end of the day, MediEvil was a fun, brainless (no-pun intended) hack & slash adventure that perfectly book-ended the Halloween season for me.
Favorite “Old” Game Beaten in 2019
1. Detention – Every Halloween, I try to squeeze in as many horror games as I could before month’s end and among the many I had planned to play, there’s always an unplanned game or two that surfaces. One of which is an interesting Taiwanese 2D survival-horror game that I rediscovered called Detention. This game came out back in 2017 by an independent studio out of Taiwan called Red Candle Games. The game takes place in the 1960s when Taiwan was under martial law, during the White Terror period specifically. Game design-wise, it feels like someone studied all of my favorite survival-horror games from the PS1/PS2 era (like Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Fatal Frame) and distilled them into a satisfying, succinct and compact 2D horror experience with an interesting historical framework. I completed the game at/around the 3 to 4 hour mark, which has slowly become the types of experiences I prefer these days. I can’t say enough good things about the game without spoiling anything and despite the subject material being rather heavy/depressing, it’s one of the best horror games I’ve ever played.
HM. Astal – Yes, Astal, for the Sega Saturn. I’m not sure if I owned this game as a kid or if I simply rented it from Blockbuster, but finishing this game in 2019 has been 20+ years in the making. Released back in 1995 for the Sega Saturn, Astal was a 2D platformer from the mascot era; a spiky, red-haired hero with ‘tude and an annoying side-kick on a quest to save a damsel in distress. What else was there to do in the mid 90s besides trying to compete with Mario or Sonic? The game had a beautiful hand-drawn aesthetic with an impressive use of sprite-scaling, a killer CD-quality soundtrack and solid 2D gameplay. Looking back on Astal, the game always felt like a predecessor to Namco’s Klonoa, which would release two years later on the original PlayStation and become one of my favorite games of all time. In retrospect, perhaps it was how ethereal/dream-like the game felt that made me think of Namco’s cat with the Pac-Man hat.
Astal isn’t an easy game, either. It’s a rather short experience, but if you’re trying to play it legit, there’s only so many continues at your disposal and there’s no password system/battery back-up saves. Unless you’re finding the hidden extra lives scattered about the stages (which are uncovered through the strange mechanic where the bird can find secrets by utilizing your stored energy), good luck making some of those jumps in the later levels, let alone defeating some of the bosses towards the end of the game. Yet there was always something about Astal that allured me as a kid. Picking up a giant boulder in one of the stages while having the camera move backwards and then launching the rock onto a volcano in the background was such a powerful/memorable moment for me as a child. For me, Astal and many other games on the platform (such as Panzer Dragoon and NiGHTS into Dreams), made me realize how much of a beast the Sega Saturn was.
Shout-outs to & Thoughts On…
HM. Untitled Goose Game – When I first saw House House’s Untitled Goose Game, I figured it was going to be 2018’s Donut County (a game I absolutely adored playing last year). Having just recently completed it due to Game Pass (thanks Microsoft), I can say that while it’s certainty no Donut County, it’s a clever and sometimes chaotic puzzler that does not overstay its welcome. I don’t like being contrary to the general consensus, but I can’t lie and say that social media’s obsession with this game made me disinterested from playing it sooner than I did. Sure, geese are inherently funny and you can honk at law-abiding citizens and wreck havoc upon unsuspecting town-folk, but can we cool it on the twenty minute Muppet’s routine at The Game Awards?
With that said, I actually really did enjoy my brief trip through the pond and its surrounding areas. The puzzles and tasks seemed relatively intuitive and there were plenty of satisfying “aha” moments along the way (my personal favorite was causing trouble between the two neighbors). While the player can easily cause chaos by grabbing every little item nailed down to the ground and honking at anyone and everything they come across, the game’s “to-do” list is rather straightforward and provides the player enough of a hint while still allowing for experimentation. It’s a smart game with a lovely soundtrack and a simple yet clean art-style, but I didn’t walk away from the game with any sort of revelation, but perhaps that wasn’t the point. I’m curious to see what these developers do next.
HM. Blair Witch – I saw The Blair Witch Project at a relatively young age and like for many, it left quite the impression on my adolescent-self. In 1999, social media wasn’t the monster that it is today. When it came to any form of entertainment, at least from my experience, word of mouth from your family/friends took priority over any stranger’s opinion on the web. The first movie released during a time when I was still quite naïve and impressionable, so despite everyone trying to tell me that the movie was fiction, I didn’t want to believe it. Blair Witch had a certain mystique surrounding its initial theatrical release that’s difficult to describe for those who weren’t present in the late 90s. The movie felt raw, grounded and very real. The “found-footage” approach to its cinematography made it all the more believable for a teenager like myself, too. Although The Blair Witch Project wasn’t the first of its kind, it certainly popularized the sub-genre for years to come.
Films like Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and even two sequels to the original film (one of which many wish to forget) would follow suit, but nothing could quite capture the spirit of the first movie. Now, let’s fast forward to 2019 and journey on over to Microsoft’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) stage presentation… and surprise! Bloober Team (an independent studio mostly known for indie titles such as Layers of Fear and Observer) showcases a new horror game based on the now dormant franchise simply titled, Blair Witch. Your first and only question might be, “…why? Who asked for this?”. There’s no recent movie tie-in nor is the intellectual property (IP) particularly relevant at the moment. Finally, the game released in August which isn’t even close to the Halloween season, so why does this exist?
The armchair businessman in me wants to say that a) Microsoft wanted more 3rd-party support and a variety of games on their stage to diversify their portfolio, considering their main competitor, Sony, was not present this past E3 and b) perhaps the developer gained an opportunity to pivot themselves towards a more established horror franchise due to their previous titles being similar in nature.
Questioning its purpose aside, Blair Witch is a first-person survival game which apparently takes place two years after the events of the first movie. You play the role of a Gulf War veteran who joins a search party sent out to the Black Hills Forest in Burkittsville, Maryland in order to find a missing boy. Within the first hour or so, the game does not leave a good impression. Blair Witch is plagued with performance issues and although the game is running on Unreal Engine 4 on the Xbox One, it feels/looks like a PS3/Xbox 360 era title that’s running on an outdated engine (and I’m playing on the Xbox One X). Although the performance issues seem to stabilize the further you progress, the experience is still quite janky and not very consistent.
Blair Witch plays similarly to other first-person, PC-style adventure games in this mold. From what I’ve played, most of the game has you wandering the woods, searching for clues, collecting items and reading files in order to piece together a missing person’s case. The most interesting aspects about the game, however, is both your dog companion and how the game incorporates the iconic “found-footage” technique into the core gameplay mechanics. Your German Shepherd, named “Bullet” (who’s a very good boy that you can pet and even give treats to), can be ordered to do a variety of tasks. For the most part, Bullet will scour the woods for important items (such as tapes which are needed to progress the story), but he can also stand guard and alert you when the slender man-like monsters that inhabit the forest approach. Similar to Remedy’s Alan Wake, these creatures can be warded off by shining your flashlight towards them.
I’m not the biggest fan of the combat portions in Blair Witch as it seems counter to the psychological horror present in the films and instead opts for a more game-y approach. If there’s one thing Bloober Team did nail, however, it’s the design/layout of the woods, as it’s very easy to get turned around/lost in. I often found myself retracing my steps back through the same areas of the forest not knowing exactly where I needed to be (much like the unfortunate souls from the movies). In order to make progress, the player must solve puzzles/riddles by pausing footage at specific moments from the tapes your dog collects. A cam recorder you discover in the early portions of the game has the ability to manifest certain items from the past into the present, which suggests that time does not flow normally in the Black Hills Forest. It was an idea that was explored in the 2016 Blair Witch movie and it’s used here rather cleverly here.
If it wasn’t for Game Pass, I probably wouldn’t have checked the game out right away. I completed Blair Witch with what I assumed was a bad ending, so I’m not quite sure what I did/did not do to deserve such a cruel fate. As I approached the end of the game, however, I started to come around on the experience as a whole. I’m not quite sure I can say with confidence that I liked Blair Witch, but it was an interesting hike into a familiar forest (one of which that felt a bit too close to Silent Hill at times) that I would only recommend to the most hardcore of movie fans and horror aficionados alike. Enter the woods at your own risk and if you do and you find yourself staring at the corner of a dark room, don’t look at it…
HM. My Friend Pedro & Katana ZERO – My Friend Pedro and Katana ZERO, developed by DeadToast Entertainment and Askiisoft, respectively, are two sides of the same coin. I’ve played through both games this year and I couldn’t help myself from comparing the two. Both games are 2D side-scrollers with a Max Payne-like “bullet time” mechanic. As far as I know, they’re both set in near-future, dystopian worlds as well. My Friend Pedro relies more on quick, arcade-like action, with a heavy emphasis on replaying stages for better ranks and score-chasing. Katana ZERO, however, relishes in its great writing and narrative-driven pacing. Whether I was deflecting my bullets off the rim of a frying pan, mid-air, while riding a skateboard in My Friend Pedro or tossing a molotov cocktail at a group of enemies while slowing down time and assassinating a target from above in Katana ZERO, neither action ever grew stale, no matter how many times I saw the chaos unfold.
HM. Blazing Chrome – “Did you know? They made two new Contra games this year! Have you played the one from Konami? Yes, that Konami! I know, I haven’t played it yet, either… but I hear it’s kind of, I don’t know, horrible? Oh, but there’s this other one developed by JoyMasher, called Blazing Chrome, and it’s pretty rad! It’s got beautiful sprite-work/scaling, excellent parallax scrolling, a cool soundtrack, multiple playable characters, and a bunch of difficulty levels to challenge. You have to wonder why Konami just didn’t outsource the license to these guys… they did it before with Arc System Works, right? Shit’s wild.”
HM. Creature in the Well – Pinball-inspired action-adventure games seem to be a thing nowadays? With 2018’s Yoku’s Island Express, I’ve noticed a trend… or perhaps these two games are just completely unrelated? Creature in the Well, developed by Flight School Studio, was a short & sweet, hack & slash adventure game with pinball-like mechanics. It feels less like a pinball game than Yoku’s Island Express, to be quite honest. It’s more of an overhead dungeon crawler than anything else. A sandstorm has enveloped an old mining town and its citizens have locked themselves away from society, scattered to the winds. A creature torments the towns-folk from the shadows and allows no one to enter or leave the village. You play as a robot sent back into the ruins in order to reactivate an ancient device in hopes of stopping the sandstorm and to confront the creature… in the well!
Creature in the Well is more of a top-down Zelda-like than a Pinball game, however. The tower/ruins that you’re exploring are divided into a handful of floors, which act as traditional dungeons complete with hidden rooms, light puzzle elements and boss-like encounters. The robot can charge/swing its sword-like weapon in order to hit balls of light off of walls and other bumper-like objects, which generates energy so that you can unlock new rooms in order to proceed. The game does a decent job at presenting new layouts and challenges (such as mechanisms that will fire back at you), but there’s definitely a shortage of ideas here. The dungeons aren’t the most diverse thematically, either, which was rather disappointing. I enjoyed the game well enough to complete it at 100%, but I would like to see a more Pinball-driven experience (perhaps with actual flippers?) if the developers were ever to revisit this idea again in a sequel.
HM. Sea of Solitude – Sea of Solitude is a another narrative-driven adventure game developed by a German studio called Jo-Mei Games. There are a lot of indie games today that carry messages for those who may be lonely, depressed, dealing with feelings of hopelessness or even struggling with their own identity. Sea of Solitude covers a lot of these issues, but for whatever reason, unlike something like Swery’s The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories, this game just didn’t resonate with me. In Sea of Solitude, the player controls a young woman named Kay who’s traversing some sort of guilt-ridden hellscape where she must confront/escape the monsters that are chasing her. At its core, the game is a 3D platformer with some light puzzle-platforming elements. Most of the game you’ll find yourself jumping from building to building, navigating a sunken town while avoiding the water where your biggest threat lurks.
Although Sea of Solitude, from afar, might also seem like a semi-open world adventure game, perhaps even a Wind Waker-like affair (due to its heavy reliance on traveling by boat), the amount of freedom/exploration is often limited by invisible walls/barriers. There’s nothing inherently bad about the game, however, I just couldn’t find the emotional resonance I was hoping to gain from the experience. According to the director, the game is very personal story about an abusive relationship, so I can’t say it won’t have the same impact on others. The marriage between video games and life; or the act of making a fun game while still portraying heavy topics, it’s sometimes a difficult endeavor to achieve and I felt like Sea of Solitude failed in some respects. I did, however, feel compelled to complete the game at 100% by collecting all of the hidden bottles and seagulls, so there’s that.
HM. Super Mario Maker 2 – I love Nintendo, Mario and 2D platformers. I also love creating things and have attempted to make my own game(s) with RPG Maker before in the past, so I should have been all of Super Mario Maker, right? For whatever reason, my time spent with Super Mario Maker 2 mirrors the experience I had with the original game back on the Nintendo Wii U. At launch, I would spend a week or two obsessively playing other people’s stages, crafting my own levels and constantly thinking about what idea I would love to see/implement next. The creative itch would continue to linger for a month or two, but once I would put the game down for any amount of time, I would rarely find myself booting the game back up after that initial launch period.
Super Mario Maker 2 is a perfectly fine creative outlet for what it is. You can most certainly create some pretty creative/competent stages that feel like something Nintendo would have made, but you can also create absolute trash, designed for nobody but the most masochistic of folks. While there are some QOL improvements over the first game and stage visibility and other general search functions seem better, there’s still a degree where the game feels antiquated and it’s a complete bummer. I’ve also wanted nothing more than to be able to create my own sequence of stages or even a Super Mario World-styled world map, but alas, we can only create/submit standalone stages just like the first game. While they’ve drip-fed a few nice updates since launch, it’s not quite the Mario-making experience I think most fans, including myself, were hoping for it to be.
HM. Gato Roboto – I love cats and I rather enjoy a Metroid-like or two, so what’s not to adore about doinksoft’s Gato Roboto? In an age where we’re inundated with indies, 2D platformers and “Metroidvanias”, it’s hard to gravitate towards games like this because there’s just so many of them now. In Gato Roboto, Kiki (the cat) and her owner, Gary, are traveling through space on their way to investigate a distress signal. As any cat would, Kiki steps all over the ship’s controls which causes them to crash at an abandoned research facility. With your owner out of commission, it’s up to the cat to venture into the totally-not-Metroid underbelly of the station in order to save the day.
Gato Roboto is clearly a homage to the original Metroid and it wears that fact proudly on its sleeves. It’s got a nice monochromatic visual style and buttery-smooth 2D gameplay to boot. Everything you would expect there to be in a Metroid game is here, including a mini-map, missile & suit upgrades, backtracking and boss fights galore. Gato Roboto is a rather short romp, yet it doesn’t overstay its welcome (although there is a nasty point-of-no-return, so beware). While it’s not groundbreaking in any sense of the imagination, it’s a super well-made tribute to one of the classics. If you’re a fan of this sub-genre, it’s well worth your time. Plus, cats are adorable.
HM. Sayonara Wild Hearts – Simogo’s Sayonara Wild Hearts has been described as a coming-out story centered around a female-focused pop album. Having just completed a playthrough the other day, it was one of the most delightful gaming experiences I’ve had all year. It’s essentially a breakup story that’s played out through arcade-like rhythmic sequences, not unlike Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s REZ in a sense. If you dig indie-pop or EDM, you’ll probably vibe with the music here. It’s also beautifully narrated by Queen Latifah, can be completed in an hour or two and is highly replayable if you’re into score chasing. Knowing it was a game with queer themes, I was hoping it would have resonated with me a bit more than it did like 2018’s The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories. It’s most certainly a game that’s style over substance, but the soundtrack is killer and it’s got a lot of heart.
52 Games. 1 Year.
I have been partaking in an online forum challenge over the past few years where one must complete 52 games in a year. For those who have a broad taste in genres and a crippling backlog to boot (like myself), it gives those with such circumstances an opportunity to not only set a goal for themselves, but also a chance for like-minded individuals to share opinions, discuss thoughts and do what we do best; play video games (and subsequently write about them to our heart’s content). I met the challenge in 2019 and completed 58 games consisting of both old and new releases (some replays of old favorites included).
The conditions for this challenge are rather loose and one can decide when a game is “finished” on their own terms. I typically considered a game “completed” when I see the credits roll, but there are some exceptions to this rule. I also do my best to track (in excel) and take the games I started from the prior year (yet finished in the current year) into consideration. At the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of mental gymnastics, but it’s partially what keeps me moving and there’s an entire community surrounding the goal, which is cool. For 2019, if it weren’t for completing all six games from the Disney Afternoon Collection, I’m not quite sure I would have met my goal.
- Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories (KH HD 1.5+2.5 ReMIX) (PS4)
- Resident Evil 2 (PS4)
- Shadow of the Colossus (PS4)
- Crash Bandicoot: Warped (Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy) (PS4)
- Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon (Spyro Reignited Trilogy) (PS4)
- Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers (The Disney Afternoon Collection) (PS4)
- Disney’s TaleSpin (The Disney Afternoon Collection) (PS4)
- Disney’s DuckTales (The Disney Afternoon Collection) (PS4)
- Disney’s Darkwing Duck (The Disney Afternoon Collection) (PS4)
- Mega Man 2 (Mega Man Legacy Collection) (PS4)
- Disney’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2 (The Disney Afternoon Collection) (PS4)
- Disney’s DuckTales 2 (The Disney Afternoon Collection) (PS4)
- Devil May Cry V (PS4)
- Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4)
- Yakuza Kiwami (PS4)
- Castlevania (Castlevania Anniversary Collection) (PS4)
- DOOM (2016) (PS4)
- Timespinner (PS4)
- Sea of Solitude (PS4)
- Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PS4)
- A Plague Tale: Innocence (PS4)
- Detention (PS4)
- Concrete Genie (PS4)
- Yooka-Laylee and The Impossible Lair (PS4)
- Medievil (PS4)
- Control (PS4)
- Mega Man X2 (Mega Man X Legacy Collection) (PS4)
- Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (PS4)
- GRIS (Switch)
- Black Bird (Switch)
- Yoshi’s Crafted World (Switch)
- Katana ZERO (Switch)
- Blaster Master Zero (Switch)
- Gato Roboto (Switch)
- Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch)
- Astral Chain (Switch)
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)
- New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch)
- Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Switch)
- The Touryst (Switch)
- Sayanora Wild Hearts (Switch)
- The Stretchers (Switch)
- Sovel Knight: Treasure Trove – King of Cards (Switch)
- Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch)
- Creature in the Well (Xbox One)
- Blazing Chrome (Xbox One)
- Quantum Break (Xbox One)
- Blair Witch (Xbox One)
- Untitled Goose Game (Xbox One)
- My Friend Pedro (Xbox One)
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX (3DS GBC)
- Astal (Sega Saturn)
- Panzer Dragoon (Sega Saturn)
- Florence (Mobile/Android)
- Monument Valley 2 (Mobile/Android)
- The Room + Epilogue (Mobile/Android)
- Million Onion Hotel (Mobile/Android)
- Monument Valley + Forgotten Shores & IDA’s Dream DLC (Mobile/Android)
Here’s to the rest of 2020!