Gaming in 2021: In-Review
My last few words on gaming in 2021; shout-outs, lost levels, pick-ups and more thoughts on an underrated year in gaming.
Just a friendly bear who works in financial reporting that would rather be playing, writing or talking about video games. https://twitch.tv/unexpectedenemy
My last few words on gaming in 2021; shout-outs, lost levels, pick-ups and more thoughts on an underrated year in gaming.
Many have said 2021 wasn’t a great year for gaming and I’d have to say I disagree. While it arguably didn’t have the “AAA” blockbuster release you’d come to expect each year (although, doesn’t Halo Infinite count?), the year was carried by mid-tier releases from established franchises/developers, strong indie titles and all of the in-between. With that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention crunch culture and sexual harassment allegations that continue to plague the industry as a whole. I’ve previously concluded my Top 10 Games of 2021 (which you can read about here), but I wanted to share a few more thoughts on the games that didn’t quite make my list including shout-outs and thoughts on game-related topics that didn’t quite have a place to call home. Enjoy the read!
Every year I’m on the lookout for a game that feels so aggressively out-of-place and in 2021, that game was Balan Wonderworld. Balan Wonderworld isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination… but I sort of love it for all of the missteps it made along the way. Growing-up, like many kids born in the late 80s/early 90s, it was almost impossible to not have played Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis. There’s home videos of me sitting on the carpet, glued to the TV at my aunt’s & uncles house playing the original Sonic as a child during the holidays. Years later, my parents were cool (and fortunate enough) to gift my siblings and I a Sega Saturn for Christmas with a handful of games, including NiGHTS Into Dreams. I loved the game so much for all of its weirdness and eccentricities, but I especially loved the soundtrack, so I found myself recording the game’s music from our old TV’s terrible speakers with a blank tape and a boombox. Years later, I would graduate to Sonic Adventure and the rest of Sonic Team’s releases long after Dreamcast’s (short) lifespan, including Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg for the Gamecube. Needless to say, I approached the game with a degree of bias, so I knew I was going to enjoy Balan Wonderworld to an extent, but what about everyone else?
To no one’s surprise, Balan Wonderworld released to little fanfare and an almost universally heated reception. At its core, Balan Wonderworld is a 3D platformer with a heavy emphasis on collecting things. The gimmick? You have one button that does nearly everything in the game (including your jump), which has become one of the (many) focal points for the discourse surrounding its release. In each of the game’s numerous levels, you’ll also collect costumes which transform you into various characters. Each of these costumes typically grant you a new ability/power which lets you traverse the stage in unique ways or solve simple platforming puzzles/sequences. One costume might allow you to float short distances while another may grant you the ability to destroy specific blocks. The problem, however, is that some of these costumes don’t allow you to jump by default. Furthermore, you can only carry 3 costumes at any given time and once you get hit, you’ll lose that costume until you recollect it. The stages are mostly designed around a level’s costumes, but a lot of the time you’ll reach a platform or two that can’t be reached without something that allows you to perform the most simplest of actions. It’s certainly frustrating and a strange design decision no matter how you slice it, despite the levels mostly being designed around this philosophy.
Similar to NiGHTS, the game has no dialogue and the cut-scenes and environment tell the little story that’s actually there. The game, once again, is about exploring the sub-conscious (or dreams?) of individuals who have experienced some sort of life hardship. There’s a dolphin trainer, for example, who had a bad experience while performing underwater, so their level is water-themed, including the boss, which is a nightmare-ish amalgamation of a dolphin. There’s even a professional chess player, who just happens to get defeated by someone younger than them (perhaps some would say is a metaphor for the game’s creator, Yuji Naka?) and the entire stage is a warped chess board of sorts. You get the idea. The game also has beautifully rendered CGI from Square Enix’s Image Studio Division (formerly Visual Works), which are quite well done. I really enjoyed the game’s minimalist approach, although it does leave many questions as to what you’re doing half the time for the people that you’re “saving”. There’s also a novel called Balan Wonderworld: Maestro of Mystery, Theatre of Wonders, which apparently goes more in-depth with the game’s story and characters. Some may appreciate this multi-media approach, but I’m personally not a fan of sharing your game’s vision through multiple forms of media (*cough* Final Fantasy XV *cough*).
If there’s one area where I believe Balan Wonderworld does excel in is that the stages do not overstay their welcome. It’s something I feel very strongly about; when it comes to 2D/3D platformers, give me short & sweet levels with some cool ideas, interesting mechanics, great music and I’m (usually) all-in. Unfortunately, Balan Wonderworld shows its cards very early-on, for better or worse. Each themed world contains two traditional platforming levels and a boss encounter. I’d like to think you’re in and out before any of the costume/stage mechanics become too frustrating, but your mileage may vary depending on your level of patience (which I have a lot of apparently). The bosses are the highlight of the game as they almost feel Mario-esque in design with their bouncy animations, unique mechanics and the fact that they take three hits to defeat. Balan Wonderworld ultimately feels like a lost Dreamcast era 3D platformer that fits right at home with the sixth generation of consoles, which is certainly not for everyone in 2021 and perhaps not the greatest selling point for a full-priced game (which at the time of writing this, the game can be purchased with a fairly hefty discount).
There is one element to the game that’s fairly inexcusable, however. There are bonus rounds/mini-games where you control Balan in quick-time-events (QTEs) and while they’re mostly optional, they’re truly miserable (especially if you’re going for 100%). Perhaps due to budgetary reasons, I have no idea why the player couldn’t control this character and fly around the environments during these segments as that would have been the perfect tribute to NiGHTS, you know, the game that inspired Balan Wonderworld to begin with! I completed the game with a decent amount of the collectables earned, but there’s quite a bit of content here and some post-game challenges if you like the game well enough. Balan Wonderworld has problems and it’s a project that could have been so much more than what we ultimately received. But does it deserve all of the negativity and social media dragging it’s received from the gaming community at large? Not really. Perhaps we’ll never know why the game released the way it did, but there’s a lot of heart and care on display here that’s hard to dislike. The creator, Yuji Naka, has since left Square-Enix and has moved on to create his own new game for mobile devices, so I wish him well. Regardless of how you may feel about the game, we’re likely never going to see a “AAA” style 3D platformer like this ever again and it honestly breaks my heart.
Shoutouts… are my way of bringing attention to specific games, things certain games do, music tracks or any other miscellaneous thought that has no other place to call home.
Shoutout to… the anime introduction sequences from Scarlet Nexus, Tales of Arise and Lost Judgment (hey, it counts!). These games brought some much needed energy and hype levels to yet another depressing year of pandemic misery. Every time I boot these three games up, I go out of my way to not skip their opening sequences (although, you have to go into a menu to play the one from Lost Judgment). It’s something I’ve been doing since the PS1/PS2 era (especially for the Tales of… games), so it’s comforting/nostalgic every time a JPRG begins with opening sequences like this. You just have to respect it. I’ve only logged somewhere between 8-10 hours in Scarlet Nexus, Tales of Arise and Lost Judgment, but I wish I could have made more time for them.
These three games are beefy and long, so hopefully I’ll be able to finish them sometime next year so I can speak to them with more confidence. They’re the types of games that resonate with me on so many different levels, it was extremely difficult not to include them on my top 10 list despite not making much progress in any of them. A special Shoutout to… Bandai Namco for finally bringing Tales of… into the next generation properly. No more PS3/PS4 era Tales of… games that still feel like they came out of the PS2/GC generation. Last but not least, a special Shoutout too… Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio for making the tailing/chase sequences slightly less miserable in Lost Judgment than they were in the first game (although, they do still kind of suck).
Shoutout to… the Sparkle Part (I Wanna Love U) track from Toree 2. It’s one of my biggest guilty pleasures from this year. The lyrics are ridiculous and it sounds like some sort of basement Ariana Grande. There was a brief period of time where I’d play this track in my car while running errands or picking up food, I absolutely adore it. Shoutout to… Atlus and Shin Megami Tensei V for bringing the franchise forward in some modern sense. SMT V is the first, truly open-world SMT game and from what I’ve played, it’s got the most sprawling environments and verticality the series has seen yet. It’s a similar sentiment I had for Bandai Namco and Tales of Arise, so it’s cool to see a lot of these classic JRPG franchises take steps towards something new. Finally, Shoutout to… the Cruis’n Blast theme song for existing in 2021. Shoutout to… House Beneviento from Resident Evil Village (if you know, you know).
Shoutout to… The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD for implementing button controls (although I still prefer to use the motion controls) and NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… for getting a second chance in a post-NieR: Automata world. They’re two games I played to death and 100%’ed back on their original releases, but I barely made time for their remaster/remake, respectively. I want to play both of these games to their full extent again, but there were just too many new games this year that I wanted to play for the first time, so they unfortunately fell by the wayside. Although it’s not a 2021 game, Shoutout to… WarioWare Gold and how they retooled classic NES and Gamecube games into short, micro-based mini-games! It was my first WarioWare experience and I look forward to checking out Get it Together! sometime in 2022.
Shoutout to… Granzella Inc. and R-Type Final 2 for, well, existing. Granzella Inc. is comprised of former Irem staff and last year, they graced us with Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories (which actually made my top 10 list in 2020!), a game I never thought would see the light of day. Similarly, it’s been around 17 years since what was supposed to be the “final” R-Type game, yet here we are! Again, I didn’t get the opportunity to play much of it for a variety of reasons, but I’m looking forward to the day I can jump into the cockpit and give the game its dues. Shoutout to… the warning screen, tank controls, limited save points and fixed camera angles from Tormented Souls. I love old-school PS1/PS2 era survival horror games; Resident Evil, Fatal Frame and Silent Hill, for example, defined the genre decades ago, so it was a joy to see a genuine attempt at recapturing the spirit of that subgenre. Unfortunately, I only played it for a few hours so I can’t speak to the game with much confidence.
In early April of 2021, I was scheduled to receive my first Covid-19 vaccine shot during the week of my birthday. While I was In early April of 2021, I was scheduled to receive my first Covid-19 vaccine shot during the week of my birthday. While I was doom-scrolling on Twitter and Facebook, I saw people tweeting about FANTASIAN. It was a game I’ve been loosely following and keeping tabs on for awhile, but it seemed so distant and non-existent to me, especially considering the fact that it was only going to be available on Apple devices (I’m an Android guy). To calm my nerves and curb my anxiety, I decided that some retail therapy was in order, so I impulse purchased an Apple TV and subscribed to Apple Arcade just to play FANTASIAN. I grabbed my phone late a night, went to Apple’s website, ordered my Apple TV and a day later, someone from a local Apple store pulled up to my house, walked up to my doorstep and placed my newly purchased product on the welcome mat. It was the first time I truly felt excited about anything since the pandemic started. But more on FANTASIAN in the next post…
Platinum Game’s World of Demons also released the same day as FANTASIAN. I couldn’t resist the fact that two of my favorite developers released games exclusively on a device I didn’t own, so I had to be there for it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I go where the games are, no matter the platform/service. It’s taken me many years to overcome my issues with mobile gaming, but I’ve finally accepted it for what it is. World of Demons is a strange hybrid of sorts. Its art style is reminiscent of Okami (given some of the developer’s history, it makes sense), but it plays like a light character-action game. The main draw of the game’s combat system is the yōkai you can acquire and summon. There’s equipment to collect, weapons to upgrade, and multiple characters to unlock. I only managed to clear a few chapters, but I’m looking forward to making more time for it.
Super Leap Day, developed by Nitrome, is essentially an auto-runner masked as a game focused on dailies. While it’s a 2D platformer at its core, the premise of the game is that you’re a contestant on a game show and each real-life day gives the player a brand new level to play. It’s not quite what I was expecting it to be and although I loved one of their previous games, Bomb Chicken (which I wrote an entire piece on), I just wasn’t feeling Super Leap Day when I gave it a shot. Although the game appeared to be mechanically sound, the daily login structure might just not be for me. Finally, I did not get a chance to try Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls (insert Konami is making games again joke) or Clap Hanz Golf (from the creators of Hot Shots Golf), but they’re two games I’ve had a passing interest in that I’ve been meaning to try out. Overall, if it weren’t for the exclusives, I probably wouldn’t have subscribed to Apple Arcade nor would I have purchased an Apple TV. But when you put two games from prestige Japanese developers on your device and there’s no other way to play them? I’m there. Time will tell if I stay subscribed once I’ve had my fill of the exclusives that are available.
I’ve preferred buying physical copies of games for as long as I could remember. While I grew-up with physical media (cassette tapes, VHS, CDs and the like), I’ve never rejected the idea of embracing the digital-age. With that said, I’ve never gone fully digital with my game purchases, as convenient as it is. I’ve written about it before on this blog, but I went through a house fire back in 2009 and although I lost a good portion of my collection, you’d think something as horrific/tragic like that would have deterred me from buying anything physical ever again. Time heals things, as they say, and I felt compelled to rebuild my collection again after the fire. It’s been over 10 years now since nearly losing everything I ever owned, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have what I have at the moment. I have reached a point, however, where I own a bit too much and it’s starting to become a bit of a mess. Besides the convenience factor, space is becoming an issue as well and when/if I move, I’m going to have to figure out what to do with this physical burden of sorts.
The market for “once digital-only games to be picked-up by a distributor for physical release” has blown-up over these past few years. Niche/boutique physical game publishers like Limited Run Games (LRG), Special Reserve Games and Strictly Limited, for example, continue to corner the indie market, along with what feels like countless other mom & pop online stores. If you’re a physical games media collector, both your wallet and sanity have likely been in trouble for these past few years. LRG is the company I’ve mostly supported since their inception, but as time passed, they’ve grown beyond my budget. They’ve gone from releasing a game or two each month to numerous releases every week now. While I don’t have to own “everything”, their output was manageable for a few years and if you’re a collector, you sort of want it all. They’ve turned into a Spencers-like variety store; trading cards, skateboards, t-shirts, hats, pogs, you name it, they sell it now. I unfortunately have to pick and choose what I want from them and as someone who enjoys supporting their efforts and the developers they’re helping along the way, it’s just gotten too big. I can’t keep up, sadly.
“Lost Levels” are games I started during the year but dropped for one reason or the other. The games that make this list could be both new and old, just so long as I started them (and fell off) during the current year.
Sunhead Game’s Carto is a top-down adventure game where you twist, turn and connect map pieces to create new paths and solve puzzles. It’s a cute and cozy game from what I played and I believe I got to Chapter 4 before dropping it. Unfortunately, the game was on Game Pass but has since left the service, so I’d have to purchase the game to continue my playthrough. I was actually enjoying the game, but I stopped playing for one reason or the other and never went back. Carto leaving Game Pass did make me think when/if certain games will be re-added to the service once they leave. If Carto never comes back to Game Pass, I’ll likely pick it up down the road, however.
Tin & Kuna, developed by Black River Studios, is a 3D puzzle-platformer where you play as an armadillo-like creature (or a dung beetle, maybe?) who rolls around a handful of themed worlds, jumping across platforms, collecting things and pushing balls into sockets while avoiding pits and other hazards. Although the game released in 2020, I bought it at the beginning of the year and I completed the first world with everything collected. Like a lot of games this year, I dropped it at the start of the second world and never went back. I’d still like to revisit Tin & Kuna, but I’m not sure when that will be.
Douze Dixieme’s Shady Part of Me is basically Lost in Shadow for the Nintendo Wii, but somehow not as interesting? It’s another 2D/3D puzzle-platformer where you manipulate objects in the environment so that your shadow can traverse the areas where a shadow is cast (I could be misremembering the mechanics as I haven’t played it since January/February). There’s an interesting dual gameplay approach here, but the levels just felt too long and the narrative wasn’t captivating. I do want to come back to the game, but I have to be in a specific mood, I think. Tohu, by Fireart Games is another point-n-click adventure game I started, finished a screen or two and then dropped it. It was beautiful and quite clever from what I played, though.
Nintendo and Omega Force’s Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is probably my favorite musou game to date, but it’s not without its problems. Honestly, if it weren’t for being a Zelda game that took place before the events of Breath of the Wild (BotW), I probably wouldn’t have stuck with the game for as long as I did. The performance issues are downright inexcusable. If there was ever a reason for a Switch Pro, this game would have been one of the many reasons for Nintendo to have done one by now. Lastly, it feels weird for Link to be mowing down hoards of Gerudo woman and bird folk (even if there’s in-game reasoning/justification, it doesn’t feel right). I hate to say it, but regardless of whether or not this is a different timeline, Age of Calamity feels like a minor blight on the BotW story as a whole.
I started Skookum Arts LLC’s The Pedestrian early in the year and played through a handful of the levels, but dropped it. You play as a stick figure on what appears to be a collection of construction/street signs set to the backdrop of a bustling city of sorts. I liked it from what I played, but it became a bit more puzzle-heavy than I was expecting, so I quite and never came back. I LAO really wanted to play more of Witch Beam’s Unpacking, but I stopped after the second chapter/living space. Part of the game’s story was unintentionally spoiled on a podcast I listed to, but I definitely want to go back to the game and finish it regardless. There’s something super cathartic/relaxing about sorting someone’s belongings and unpacking their goods in new spaces. I also upgraded my PS4 version of the Final Fantasy VII Remake to the PS5 Intergrade update so that I could play the new Intermission DLC with Yuffie (what a mouthful). Unfortunately, I played the DLC for an hour or two, put it down and never went back.
I thought I was going to enjoy Neon Giant’s The Ascent more than I did, but I dropped it after one short session (shortly after the title card sequence, which was great). I was under the impression that it was going to be more arcade-like, but there’s way more character building, leveling-up and looting than I was hoping there to be. I might go back to it one day if it stays on Game Pass because I do love that cyberpunk aesthetic. Flynn: Son of Crimson, developed by Studio Thunderhorse, is another 2D action-platformer on Game Pass with some light RPG elements. It reminded me of another indie game I played a few years ago, but I can’t recall its name (although that doesn’t really help either of these two game’s cases for being memorable). Flynn ultimately felt like it lacked its own identity. There are multiple exits and secrets to discover in each stage, a dodge roll, weapon combos, and a skill tree to rounds things out, but it’s nothing remarkable. I didn’t dislike the game from the little that I played, but it just felt so derivative. I may/may not come back to the game at some point down the road.
Speaking of more Metroid-likes/Metroidvanias that released in 2021, Astalon: Tears of the Earth, developed by LABS Works, is probably one of the better ones I attempted to play during the year. It has beautiful sprite-work, a killer soundtrack, and challenging, yet fair gameplay. The game’s hook is that you can switch between three different characters who have different combative and traversal abilities. It felt like a more approachable La-Mulana, which I appreciated, as it didn’t feel too cryptic. I dropped it after a few hours for one reason of the other, but I definitely want to go back. UNSIGHTED, by Studio Pixel Punk, however, is one of my biggest 2021 gaming regrets. It’s a top-down Zelda-like that feels akin to Hyper Light Drifter, but what sets it apart from other games in the subgenre is its countdown timer mechanic. Every character/NPC in the game has a real-time life expectancy and it’s woven both into the gameplay and narrative. I only logged a few hours into the game and finished the first area, but I couldn’t make more time for it before the year was said and done. It’ll likely be in the running for my 2022 “Late to the Party” game.
Destiny 2 is a game I continue to begrudgingly play despite by better judgment. I’ve been playing since launch and I haven’t really taken any long breaks (although I have played less Destiny 2 in 2021 than I did in 2020 thanks to the ongoing pandemic). I’ve been part of a clan on PlayStation for years now, but I also play with another group on Xbox when I get the opportunity. Unfortunately, I’ve stopped reaching out to both groups to run end-game content and I’ve never been part of either of their primary “fireteam” groups, so I’ve mainly stuck to whatever solo content I could complete over the past year or so. With that said, I have done a lot in Destiny 2 post-Beyond Light. I’ve earned all of the seasonal seals since the launch of the last expansion, including XXX, XXX, and Deadeye. I still mostly focus on Seals (which are essentially character titles based on in-game achievement completion) as they typically ask the player to play most, if not all of the content the game has to offer. I use seals as a guidepost of sorts, as the game’s can be quite overwhelming, at least in terms of what content to engage with if you’re not sure what to focus on.
I will say, the FOMO (fear of missing out) hasn’t gotten any better as the game continues to exist. There are still quests, seals, destinations and other content that continues to be vaulted. While I understand their reasoning for vaulting content (keeping the file size down, taking away activities people are no longer playing, game stability, etc.) as someone who likes to take their time and enjoy their games at a leisurely pace, the mad rush to complete as much old content as you can before it goes away continues to fuel my anxiety (and it’s not a good thing). Will I ever stop playing Destiny 2? Probably not, or at least not until they shutdown the servers, release a new IP or make a Destiny 3. I’m looking forward to the new expansion releasing on February 22, 2022, so we’ll see what year 5 of Destiny 2 will bring.
While the criteria for these games isn’t too different from those found in my “Lost Levels” list, the games listed below actively made me put the game down due to a negative reaction/realization. I just wasn’t having fun.
Call of the Sea, developed by Out of the Blue, is a first-person, puzzle-adventure game about a woman with a disease who goes searching for their husband in hopes of discovering a cure. I was enjoying my time with the game until I got to Chapter 3 and hit a road block. Call of the Sea has one of the wildest difficulty spikes I’ve ever seen as of late. I was able to solve mostly everything the game was throwing at me and then a puzzle involving organ pipe-shaped rocks on a cliffside blindsided me and flew way over my head. For games that are purely puzzle-based, I feel that looking at a guide defeats the purpose of playing them to begin with. I refused to seek help, put the game down and never came back. I was really enjoying Zoink’s Lost in Random, until I realized the game didn’t allow you to revisit chapters/areas once you’ve progressed too far. One of my biggest pet peeves in gaming is when a developer doesn’t respect my time (and this is coming from someone who still plays Destiny 2). If your game is going to have a ton of missable items/quests, which will prevent you from 100%’ing it, my willingness to push forward begins to wane. I’m still a completionist at heart; I want to see/do everything most games have to offer, but when you’re going to ask me to potentially replay a 10-15 hour game because your game autosaves and locks you out of areas without warning, I’m instantly turned off. With that said, these hang-ups are not deal breakers, I do genuinely want to come back to Lost in Random.
Maquette, developed by Graceful Decay, was another first-person, puzzle-adventure. I love most games published by Annapurna Interactive, but unfortunately, Maquette felt like a huge miss for me. It’s a love story between a man and a woman, which felt aggressively straight and as a gay man, it just wasn’t resonating with me. The puzzle-solving mechanics, how certain items became small/large depending on where you placed them in spaces, just wasn’t making much sense to me either. I struggled to finish the first area/chapter, turned it off and never came back. Luís António’s Twelve Minutes was an interesting mess. Not only is it infuriating to play, I may have spoiled a narrative beat that truly sounds miserable. Twelve Minutes is a classic point and click adventure game, but it’s one drenched in repetition and trial & error. I’m still curious about the game’s story, but after a dozen or so failed attempts in order to make progress, I just couldn’t stay interested. It does make a somewhat decent streaming experience, however, as my Twitch chat was quite engaged while I attempted to play it for the first time.
Narita Boy, by Studio Koba, is a 2D action-platformer with an 80s arcade aesthetic. I played it for an hour, maybe, and it seemed… fine? I have no idea why I stopped playing it, but I did. That’s all I have to share about that game so far! Savage Halloween, developed by 2ndBoss, is a 2D run and gun, action-platformer that’s Halloween-themed. I played through the first level, but it suffers from what I like to call “long level syndrome”. I’ll give it another whirl when Halloween rolls around again, but I wasn’t feeling it as much as I thought I would have considering it’s a genre that I normally love. I tried playing Godfall, developed by Counterplay Games, and only made it through the introduction area before dropping it. I have a soft spot for launch/near-launch games regardless of their quality or my general interest. There’s something special/exciting about playing a game you probably wouldn’t have otherwise, but because of the new hardware allure, you’ll play anything (or at least I’ll typically play anything). Playground Game’s Forza Horizon 5, although beautiful and a true next generation showpiece, is still probably not for me. I’m someone who prefers arcade-like racers; games like Mario Kart, F-Zero or Wave Race, even. While Forza Horizon sort of strikes a balance somewhere between an arcade racer and a sim-like experience, I just can’t find myself feeling compelled to boot it back-up. I did a racing event or two, turned it off and never came back.
I still love PSVR and during 2021, I managed to finally play Ghost Giant and it is easily one of the best VR games I’ve played to date. When the controls cooperated and you stood/sat in the correct position, Ghost Giant can truly feel like a magical experience. I’ve said this a lot about VR games, but it truly feels like you’re poking around miniature diorama pieces; playing puppeteer (or the hand of god), if you will, as your ghostly presence can manipulate the real-world despite no one being able to see you (except for the young at heart). You see, in Ghost Giant, you play from the perspective of a ghost and your unspoken task is to help a little kid take care of his sick mother. It’s an extremely sweet story that handles topics like mental health awareness with a surprising amount of love and care. The game itself mostly contains simple environmental puzzles, but there are hidden objects to find scattered about the chapters which encourages the player to poke around the beautifully detailed environments. I discovered all of the trophies and collectables on my own, which felt super satisfying when all was said and done. If you have a PSVR (or an Oculus Quest), I can’t recommend this game enough if you have the means.
Remakes/remasters of games from previous generations continue to be a norm during any given calendar year. For whatever reason, in 2021, I played two remakes/remasters that I wouldn’t consider very good, one of which I found to be actively bad. We had remakes/remasters like Alan Wake Remastered, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl, NieR Replicant Ver.1.22474487139…, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania, The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword HD, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and many others, but I chose to play Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX and Wonder Boy – Asha in Monster World for whatever reason. Between the two of these games, which one would be my favorite, you might be asking? I’d have to go with my girl Asha over Alex.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, developed by Artdink, is a decent yet seemingly out-of-nowhere remake of the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive 1994 classic, Monster World IV (MW IV). If you’re not familiar with the franchise, Wonder Boy is essentially a 2D Zelda-like complete with towns, dungeons and light RPG elements. In 2012, MW IV released for the first time in English on the Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade and PSN (which is where I first experienced the game). MW IV is still arguably my favorite game from the Wonder Boy/Monster World series, too. Most of the games follow a similar formula/structure; you’ll start on the outskirts of a town, defeat baddies to earn gold to purchase new equipment, arrive at a village, discover a dungeon, beat a boss, gain a new ability (or transformation in some of the earlier games), rinse & repeat. Wonder Boy games are typically Metroid-like in nature with interconnected areas and gated progression, however, MW IV is far more linear than some of the previous entries.
Asha in Monster World, based on my memory of the original release, is a relatively faithful remake. There’s some bells & whistles added to this version (such as each area/dungeon telling you how many of the collectables you’ve found and even voice acting), but it’s mostly the same game with a fresh coat of paint. Asha and most of the cast look great and they’re all relatively expressive and well-animated, but the 3D background art isn’t exactly easy on the eyes compared to the beautiful hand-drawn sprite-work from the Mega Drive classic. As a side note, although unrelated, if you happen to be more familiar with WayForward’s Shantae titles, I wouldn’t be surprised if the purple-haired genie was inspired by this game specifically (so, if you’re a fan of Shantae, I’d suggest checking this game out!). I completed the game with mostly everything collected, but just like in the original version, it is plagued with missable items/equipment, so if you’re looking to 100% the game in one fell-swoop, you’re going to need a guide! Finally, as much as I love remakes/remasters lately, I wouldn’t mind a new, original entry in this long-running series.
“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” are games I either had a passing interest in but never picked them up or they’re games I may have purchased, but did not play whatsoever during the year. Many of these games could have made my honorable mentions/top 10 lists for the year, but alas, I can’t speak to them at the time of writing this.
See you next year!
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