What I’ve Been Playing (Q4) 2022
Thoughts and impressions on the games I played/finished during Q4 of 2022.
Just a friendly bear who works in financial reporting that would rather be playing, writing or talking about video games. https://twitch.tv/unexpectedenemy
Thoughts and impressions on the games I played/finished during Q4 of 2022.
With each passing year, it’s become increasingly difficult to stay on top of every new game release. Between mainstream, “AAA” blockbusters, indies and all of the in-between, gaming continues to be an embarrassment of riches. While you don’t have to (and realistically can’t) play everything, for someone like myself who has a fairly broad range of interests, it’s nearly impossible to just pick one game and stick to it. Choice paralysis is definitely a thing and the final few months of 2022 continued to leave me paralyzed (mostly in a good way). With that said, despite a busy holiday season filled with travel and festivities (while also dealing with a pinched nerve in my left elbow since March, which I’m due for surgery soon…), here are the games I managed to roll credits on during the fourth quarter of 2022. If you missed what I played/finished during Q1, Q2 and Q3 of 2022, you can read about it here, here and here!
Roar of Revenge, developed by Seep, is a 2D action-platformer that’s clearly inspired by the NES era. It looks and feels like Castlevania, Rygar and the arcade game Rastan (which I’ve never played). It’s also reminiscent of Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II, another 2D action-platformer on the NES that few people seem to recall. Roar of Revenge is a simple game; you have an attack and jump button and you can cast spells once you acquire particular items. The game’s comprised of a handful of stages that are tackled in a linear fashion. Over the course of the game, your character gains new gear which allows the player to solve simple traversal puzzles such as breaking special walls (the equipment even changes the appearance of your character sprite!).
Roar of Revenge can be completed in a single sitting and depending on how many deaths you wrack up, you get to see more of the ending. If you die less than 10 times, you’re rewarded with the full ending sequence, however. I only managed to complete the game with 12 deaths, so I saw the second best ending. There are countless retro-inspired “Castlevania-likes” today and while the saying “the more the merrier” rings true here, sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. Roar of Revenge doesn’t overstay its welcome, so if you’re not fatigued yet by the onslaught of indie games in the same vein, you could do worse than this game. The Platinum trophy is also earned halfway through the game too, so if you’re a trophy hunter, Roar of Revenge is an easy fix.
Dandy & Randy DX, developed by Asteristic Game Studio, is a top-down, 2D action-adventure game by a Brazilian-based independent studio. It’s apparently similar to the NES cult-classic, Goof Troop (which I also haven’t played). Just like Roar of Revenge (who also happened to have the same publisher), Dandy & Randy is a short and sweet, retro-inspired romp. The game has a colorful look, a nice chiptune soundtrack and some well designed bosses. There are six themed worlds and each level is filled with enemies, environmental hazards and simple puzzles (which usually consist of pushing boxes or flipping switches). You do obtain tools which allows you to traverse and interact with stages in particular ways (such as a hookshot to cross gaps or a shovel to dig up items), but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before in other games of the sort.
The most interesting thing about Dandy & Randy is probably its room by room approach à la The Legend of Zelda. Each island is comprised of interconnecting single/fixed screens with shortcuts and a Zelda-like map to assist you with navigation. There’s also a shop on each island where you can purchase items and max health upgrades, although the game’s currency is plentiful and nothing is too costly, so you won’t spend a lot of time here. I completed the game at 100% and earned the Platinum trophy after just an hour or two. Asteristic Game Studio seems like a competent developer and it’s always great to see what independent groups are creating from parts of the world that aren’t always in the spotlight, so I’m looking forward to see what they can do next.
Splatoon 3, developed by Nintendo, is arguably Nintendo’s most important IP to date. The series has sold extremely well worldwide and in Japan, it’s become a cultural phenomenon. Despite originally debuting on the Nintendo Wii U, Splatoon, like other games previously shipwrecked on Nintendo’s failed platform, was given a second chance on the Nintendo Switch. While it’s mostly known for its competitive multiplayer modes, the developers continue to provide single-player experiences in an attempt to build the world around the competitive modes while simultaneously teaching players how to play the game. Splatoon’s single-player campaign has more or less been a glorified training tutorial for the multiplayer modes, but it could be so much more. I wrote more about the game here.
Since Splatoon 2, each level can be tackled with different weapon choices. Splatoon 3 carries this idea forward and after clearing every stage with every available weapon, I did learn which weapons I liked/disliked using for when I return to the multiplayer, so perhaps that was the developers intentions all along? For the completionists out there, if you do complete every stage in the game at least once and roll the credits, you unlock a secret bonus stage that’s essentially Splatoon 3’s “Champion’s Road” equivalent from Super Mario 3D World. This level, titled “After Alterna”, is a series of platforming and shooting sequences that tests the player’s complete understanding of the game’s core mechanics. It took me nearly 3 hours to complete and the reward is a new badge/title for your profile and an additional lore entry for your log. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve accomplished all year and it clearly showcases the potential of Splatoon’s single-player gameplay.
For the few people on this planet who care more about Splatoon’s single-player experience than the multiplayer, I can confirm that there is no reward for completing every stage with every available weapon option. Splatoon 3 takes some conceptual/structural ideas from Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion as well. Instead of using Power Eggs to upgrade your character’s equipment like in Splatoon 2’s single-player, they’re used here to either clear the islands of the fuzzy goop that’s impeding your progress or for a small fee, they can be used to access particular stages. I think Splatoon 3’s single-player is a step in the right direction and when (and not if) a Splatoon 4 releases, similar to how the inklings evolved from the ocean squid, perhaps they will be ready for their next step in evolution.
Neon White, developed by Angel Matrix/Ben Esposito, is a frenetic, first-person, genre-blending shooter of sorts. As Giant Bomb unofficially coined, Neon White is a “videogame ass videogame”. You play as White, a former assassin who, along with his cohorts, blew a mission big time during their final hours and found themselves dead. Chosen in purgatory to hunt demons in heaven, they’re given a second chance at redemption. That’s the gist of the game and the story is the least interesting thing about it. While the performances are mostly good, the dialogue comes off as extremely juvenile, almost like something you would see on Adult Swim. If I was a late teen or in my early twenties, some of the character interactions would have amused me. Today, as a 30-something, I couldn’t care less about the relationships here (although I am a sucker for nostalgic group photos that are in black & white).
Neon White is an extremely fast-paced first-person shooter. The goal of the game is to make your way through a series of levels, all of which have a clear starting and end point. You’re equipped with a sword that can be used to strike obstacles and enemies, but the real hook of the game are cards that you collect, which are essentially your weapons. What’s interesting about these weapons/cards is that you can either use them to fire bullets or make use of their secondary traversal ability to navigate the stages. One weapon, a pistol, can be used to double jump, for example. A rocket launcher acts as both a powerful weapon and a hookshot. Levels can sometimes last a minute or less and the game emphasizes replaying stages for better scores/ranks. There’s even global leaderboards if you want to get carried away with some competitive play.
I completed the game at Rank 1 (which meant getting at least Aces/Golds in every level) and collected all of the Gifts. When you collect gifts, they can be exchanged for additional lore and optional missions with your friends. The optional challenge stages are some of the best levels in the game, too. Each character’s side missions throw a wrench in the game’s core mechanics. For example, one set of levels doesn’t allow the player to use the secondary traversal option on the weapons/cards. The soundtrack is exceptional, too. Neon White feels like if Killer7 collided with the Sega Dreamcast and I mean that in the best way possible. It was one of my favorite games of the year and I can’t wait to see what Ben Esposito and the gang do next.
Infernax, developed by Berzerk Studio, is a 2D action-platformer that wears its Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest inspiration very closely on its sleeve. You’ll travel from one town to the next, solving simple quests for townsfolk while upgrading your character along the way. Each of the game’s main dungeons rewards players with new traversal abilities (such as the ability to dash or jump higher) that culminate in challenging boss encounters. One of the most interesting aspects of Infernax, however, is its morality system. Over the course of the game, you’re presented with choices that will test your morale compass (which essentially boils down to either being “good” or “evil”). These decisions ultimately impact the game’s ending, but depending on the choices you make, you’ll encounter different characters, enemies and scenarios (such as flooding a town by destroying a dam). There’s also a day/night cycle where enemies become stronger/more frequent at night.
Infernax is a gory, gruesome game. Enemies explode into guts when they’re vanquished and when you face off with boss characters, you’re treated with exceptionally detailed portraits of the characters, some of which have their entrails/innards wrapped around their bodies. I completed the game on Classic mode (which just means reloading at a save-point when you die) and saw two of the endings, both of which were aligned with being “good”. There are multiple endings and incentives for replaying the game, but I had my fill of after my initial playthrough. I will revisit the game down the road for an “evil” playthrough, but for now, I can’t wait to see what these developers do next.
Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion, developed by Snoozy Kazoo, is a top-down, 2D Zelda-like where you play as an onion who commits tax evasion (as the title suggests). It’s a simple game with a few inputs; you can dash, attack and interact with NPCs and objects. Most of the game has the player going on fetch quests, which usually results in the onion ripping-up documents and being a nuisance. The game has a sense of humor, but it feels like it’s one step away from using internet/meme humor. The game is comprised of mini-dungeons with simple puzzles that culminate in boss encounters.
There are heart containers to collect which increase your maximum health, hats to find which change your appearance and there’s even a Lost Woods-like area straight out of a Zelda game. I completed the game at 100% with all of the achievements, but there’s an endless, rogue-like dungeon found in the post-game where you can unlock even more hats. Turnip Boy is a simple, breezy experience that takes 3-5 hours to finish if you’re going for 100% completion. I’m looking forward to the developer’s next game, Turnip Boy Robs a Bank.
Demon Throttle, developed by Doinksoft, is a 2D, top-down, auto-scrolling arcade shooter. Interestingly enough, Demon Throttle can only be purchased physically. The initial pre-order window has since passed, but apparently only 10,000 copies were made. I was fortunate enough to secure a copy at release and the game comes in a special package from Special Reserve Games, which even includes a manual! Demon Throttle is a classic arcade shooter through and through. You play as two characters that you can switch between on the fly; a gunslinger who’s lost his wife and a vampire lady who’s had her chalices stolen from an evil lord. The chalices are actually a big part of accessing the game’s best ending. On each of the four levels, a secret staircase can be found which leads the player to an underground area where the chalice can be collected. These hidden staircases are randomly placed during each playthrough (although there’s only a few spots where they can appear in each stage, so it’s not exactly rogue-like).
Like any other traditional arcade shooter, there are powerups to increase your movement speed and attack power, including screen-clearing bombs to wipe out enemies in one fell swoop. My GamePro tip? Max out the vampire lady first as her weapon is far more useful than the gunslinger. I completed the game multiple times; one playthrough on Hard difficulty and another run on Normal with the true ending (which requires all of the chalices collected). Demon Throttle has a deceiving amount of content/replay value. The more you play the game, the more things you unlock; including a Sound Test, a Bestiary, screen boarders and even new stage variants. Demon Throttle is one of the best games I’ve played all year. It’s got a killer soundtrack, solid gameplay and an addicting hook with its unlocks and secrets. It’s the ultimate “just one more run” game and I couldn’t put it down once it clicked. If you can still find a reasonably priced copy on eBay (or if Special Reserve Games puts it back up for sale), I can’t recommend it enough.
PAC-MAN WORLD Re-Pac, developed by Now Production/Namco Hometek Inc., is a remake of a 3D platformer starring Pac-Man that originally released on the PlayStation 1 (PS1). PAC-MAN WORLD isn’t the first time Pac has set out on adventure outside of the arcade machine, but it’s certainly a product of its time. PAC-MAN World is a collect-a-thon through and through. The game takes all of the basic ideas and elements from the arcade game and places them in a 3D platformer that was very by-the-books. Although the game is 3D, the camera is fixed and follows the player as they move left to right, which makes it feel like a 2D game at times. I don’t recall if the original version was like this, but the camera is also far too close. The player’s POV can make precision platforming troublesome, especially due to the depth perception at play.
Each level is filled with fruit, power pellets, and other items to collect. Fruit, once collected, can be used to open doors which can hold keys (which are used to rescue your family members in particular stages), letters that spell out “PACMAN” and other goodies. The game is at its best when it turns parts of the level into what feels like a traditional PAC-MAN arcade screen, however. I completed the game at 100%, but I’m still missing two trophies, one of which requires “beating” the original arcade version of Pac-Man. I had more fond memories of PAC-MAN WORLD on the PS1, but unlike Klonoa, the game hasn’t aged well. I recall PAC-MAN World 2 being a better game, so hopefully the game has done well enough to warrant a remake of the sequel.
Costume Quest + Grubbins on Ice DLC, developed by Double Fine, is a turn-based RPG with splashes of Paper Mario and Earthbound. Costume Quest is a cozy adventure about kids going trick-or-treating on Halloween night. Almost immediately, the protagonist’s sister gets captured while you’re going door to door for candy and from there, the story begins. The game has the clever and witty writing you’d come to expect from Double Fine, but it also feels like it pays homage to classic RPGs from the past. There core of the game has you constructing costumes, which allows the player to don them during combat or use them for traversal/puzzle-solving in the environment. One costume, for example, provides a shield over the player’s head so they can pass through certain hazards while another comes equipped with roller skates so that you can jump off of ramps to reach new areas.
The battles are fairly easy, especially if you’re collecting and doing every side quest along the way. There are stamps you can collect and equip which grant the player with passive/active abilities in combat too (similar to Badges from Paper Mario). I completed the base game and the DLC, Grubbins on Ice, at 100%; completed all of the quests, maxed out my characters, collected everything there was to collect and unlocked all of the achievements on Xbox 360. The Grubbins on Ice DLC was essentially more of the same, but from a different perspective. It takes place in a monster town of sorts and there are new costumes and badges to collect. It’s as long as one of the main locations from the base game and it’s worth playing if you want more candy in your pillow case. Costume Quest is the perfect Halloween game, so I’m looking forward to playing the sequel next year in October.
Scorn, developed by ebb Software, is a first-person survival horror game that’s clearly inspired by H.R. Giger art. It’s a disgusting, gross experience that takes the minimalistic approach in every aspect of its design and presentation. There’s no dialogue or menus outside of the title screen and the various options/configurations you can toggle. The game is dripping with atmosphere and it’s a hard sell for non-horror enthusiasts. Some have compared it to MYST, but considering the game has combat and guns, it actually reminded me a bit of From Software’s Shadow Tower Abyss for the PS2. Scorn is cryptic, but it’s fairly linear and the puzzles are mostly simple. The guns are weird and fighting the monsters feels messy and janky, which makes sense considering you’re playing as a skinned corpse of sorts. The biggest hurdle is right at the start of the game, however, and it’s arguably the most confusing part of the (short) campaign.
I also believe Scorn commits to the “single shot” approach more so than what God of War 2018 originally promised. In Scorn, there is no inventory and the heads-up display (HUD) is bare bones (pun intended). When you pull up your weapons and items, it’s all in real-time, which makes the game feel even more immersive. If anything, the game’s screen goes black or becomes consumed by light during particular sequences, but for the most part, I believe the game commits to this stylistic “single shot” approach. Scorn is a one and done experience, unfortunately. All but one achievement is earned by just playing the game normally. It’s also about 4-5 hours long, so once you’ve seen the credits roll, there’s really no reason to play the game again (unless you really like looking at grotesque art). I can’t say I loved Scorn, but I’m glad it exists and was happy to experience whatever it was trying to accomplish.
Devotion, developed by Red Candle Games, is arguably my favorite game of the year that I played for the first time that didn’t technically release in 2022 (next to Ys IX: Monstrum Nox). Devotion has a really interesting development history. It was previously removed from Steam in China and today, it can only be purchased from the developer’s website (you can find the game here). Devotion is a first-person horror game that’s beautifully paced with an amazing, yet tragic story. The game takes place in one family’s apartment during particular periods of time. To unravel the mystery, the player must venture back and forth between various apartment rooms, solving puzzles and finding clues. There’s a wonderful sense of place in Devotion considering it takes place in one location. When you solve puzzles and venture between the rooms, newspaper clippings appear on the walls of the apartment complex which reveal more of the events that took place.
Devotion is a dark and depressing game that follows one family’s downfall into despair. Despite taking place in Taiwan in the 1980s, the game feels extremely relatable, especially to someone like myself who also grew-up in a somewhat broken family. While the game has its fair share of jump scares and classic horror tropes, there’s so much more here under the surface that feels meaningful and inspired. There’s so many memorable sequences too (like the storybook segment where the game turns into a 2D puzzle-platformer) that simply left me speechless. I streamed Devotion on my Twitch channel on Halloween night and finished the game in one sitting. It’s only about 3-4 hours and while there are notes you can collect over the course of the game, there’s no additional unlockables (outside of a chapter select, which is always appreciated). If Devotion released in 2022, it easily would have made my top 10 list for the year. I can’t wait to see what this developer does next.
Horizon Forbidden West, developed by Guerilla Games, is the follow-up to Zero Dawn, a post-apocalyptic, action-adventure epic seeped in science fiction. Horizon Forbidden West starts in familiar territory, finds its stride halfway through but ends on a somewhat disappointing note. The beginning area, The Daunt, which also acts as a “tutorial” of sorts, feels like an extremely condensed version of Zero Dawn. The majority of the game takes place in the “west”, however, and has the player trekking across wastelands, deserts and jungles in search of subordinate functions. The goal of the game is to collect parts of a fragmented AI in hopes of restoring the Earth to its former glory. Various clans with their own cultures and beliefs have settled in the areas where these subordinate functions are housed and that’s where the majority of the game takes place.
Forbidden West is a text-heavy game with a ton of characters, world-building and dialogue. Over the course of the game, you establish a base of sorts where people you recruit join your cause (similar to Mass Effect 2). Each main character is fully-voiced and fleshed-out, almost to an overwhelming degree. After every major story point, you can spend almost 30 minutes speaking with the inhabitants of your base, learning more about their past and how their stories relate to the bigger threat at hand. It’s all very interesting but a part of me just wanted to “get on with the game” after a certain point, despite how well-written everything was.
The game feels/plays mostly similar to Zero Dawn, for better or worse. I don’t find the combat particularly engaging in Horizon games, though. It lands somewhere between a Monster Hunter game and a strict character-action game, but doesn’t quite hit the mark in either approach. Forbidden West is also much more of an RPG this time around too; it has an even stronger emphasis on gear and loot, including elemental attacks, status ailments and exploiting enemy weaknesses. I played through the game on Hard difficulty and rarely strayed away from the Hunter’s Bow and its corresponding skill tree, however. There’s A LOT of tools/weapons in Forbidden West, including brand new additions like the Spear Thrower and Shredder Gauntlet, and while all of the combat options are welcomed, you’re never really asked to make use of it all to take down the mechanical beasts. Perhaps any approach is viable, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.
My favorite part of Horizon Forbidden West was the second half of the game where Aloy tracks down the subordinate functions. It reminded me of a classic JRPG quest where your goal was to journey to a variety of exotic locales in search of elemental stones. It’s a shame the game sort of nosedives into nonsensical SCI-FI territory in the latter half, but at least the performances and spectacle of it all remains strong in the final act. After 50+ hours, I did enjoy my time spent with the game and I’m looking forward to playing new game+ and the upcoming expansion, Burning Shores, soon. Horizon 3 seems inevitable and I’m not exactly sure what I want out of the series at this point, so hopefully we’re in for a surprise.
A Plague Tale: Requiem, developed by Asobo Studio, is the sequel to A Plague Tale: Innocence. Similar to games like Uncharted and The Last of Us, A Plague Tale is a 3rd-person, action-adventure game with a strong emphasis on story and characters. Requiem, similar to the first game, takes place during the French Inquisition and the black plague. With each new generation, it’s always been about more pixels, polygons, higher framerates and better visuals. At the launch of the PS4, for example, Knack and Resogun were conversation pieces for the simple fact that they had a TON of polygons and pixel-like voxels on display, respectively. I never thought a generation later that the amount of rats on screen would be the next milestone in showcasing new hardware, yet here we are. The rats are back in A Plague Tale: Requiem and they’re everywhere, but this time you have more tools to deal with them. When the game is not funneling the player from one rat-infested encounter to the next, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the environment, find hidden items, discover side quests and listen to additional dialogue that helps flesh out the world and its characters.
If you’ve played Innocence, Requiem plays more or less the same. While A Plague Tale is arguably a stealth game at its core, you do have a variety of weapons at your disposal including a crossbow, slingshot and alchemy-related items. The biggest addition to the combat system is that you can now possess the rats to do your bidding. You can also kick enemies into piles of rats, if you’ve unlocked the appropriate ability. A Plague Tale: Requiem does something smart with its character progression. Although they’ve introduced a variety of skill trees for Amicia, how you unlock new skills feels extremely organic compared to its contemporaries. Instead of pumping experience/skill points into your character’s skill trees like in other games, you’ll naturally gain experience during combat encounters based on how you approach each scenario. If you stealth your way through a combat section, for example, you’ll gain more abilities that make sneaking more efficient. Although there is a menu that shows your progress, there’s no experience bars or visual indicator filling-up the screen while you play, so the immersion is rarely broken.
Requiem looks like a true “next-gen” game and while it has incredible art direction, the game still feels like it’s structured like a game from the last generation or two. Just like the first game, the sequel is still chapter-based complete with a chapter select so that you can return to previous levels for missed collectables. Some chapters are longer than others, but the game is quite lengthy and paced fairly well. During most chapters, big metal doors separate one major encounter from the next and the sequence becomes a bit repetitive and predictable the further you progress. There is also a lot of sequences where you’re shimmying through small crevices which, from an arm-chair perspective, feels like they’re used to mask loading times. From an environmental artist’s point-of-view, however, these sequences funnel the player into some beautifully shot vistas and the game is simply gorgeous.
A Plague Tale: Requiem is one of my favorite games of the year. It’s one of the few games in 2022 that made me put the controller down just to soak in the atmosphere. The game is gorgeous, the cast and performances are stellar, the set-pieces are impressive and the combat is more refined than its predecessor. It also helps that Olivier Deriviere once again did an amazing job with the soundtrack. I completed the game on Hard difficulty, but didn’t collect/upgrade everything there was to do. The ending was quite depressing, however, and they clearly leave the story open for future games. There’s a New Game+ mode to tackle down the road, so I’ll definitely be taking another trip with Amicia and Hugo sometime soon.
Bayonetta 3, developed by Platinum Games, is the long-awaited, highly anticipated sequel fans have been waiting for. Right out of the gate, it’s clear that Platinum Games had a lot of confidence and passion for what they were creating with Bayonetta 3. Each game in the series has always had an over-the-top, big set-piece style introduction sequence and Bayonetta 3 is no different. The game starts strong and it rarely pumps the breaks; the music is incredible, the combat is arguably better than its ever been, the set-pieces are super ambitious, and the enemies are still introduced and encapsulated in a classy-looking book. With that said, after a very long development cycle and some PR drama leading up to the release of the game, Bayonetta 3 delivers and provides a satisfying conclusion, but not without a few missteps along the way.
One of Bayonetta 3’s biggest problems is that it feels like it’s trying to do too much and by no fault to the developer, it also feels like it’s limited by the hardware of choice. Bayonetta 3 is both a multiverse and globetrotting game. Similar to the previous games, Bayonetta 3 reaches its climax four to five times over the course of its twenty-some chapters. Every four chapters has the player visiting new locations around the world, meeting new Bayonetta’s with their own personalities and weapons culminating in epic boss fights that each feel like final bosses from any other game. The combat is still at its best when you’re playing as Bayonetta, but this time you can call kaiju-like demons to fight alongside you. While the screen can feel busy and cluttered at times, incorporating giant beasts into Bayonetta’s traditional character-action game combat was so eloquently implemented and no one but Platinum Games could have pulled it off.
Bayonetta 3 is incredibly ambitious and I feel that it deserves to be praised for the risks it took. It’s clear that Platinum Games had to make some concessions when bringing Bayonetta back to the Switch, unfortunately. The environments can look a little drab/colorless, but it’s not without some great art/cinematic direction. Yuji Shimomura and company did an amazing job with the cutscenes and cinematic choreography in Bayonetta 3. Despite some of the bland environments, the artists did a decent job highlighting certain areas to cover the blemishes. The smoke coming out of destroyed buildings in the Tokyo chapters, for example, have streaks of neon green running through them, which gives the destruction some extra flair. Can we also talk about the amazing soundtrack, specifically the battle theme? Every time it starts, it sends chills down my body and fills me with adrenaline. I can’t not play this game unless my speakers are blasting.
Bayonetta 3 introduces a new playable character, Viola, who is simply a not-as-fun to play Nero from the more recent Devil May Cry games. She’s sort of a wannabe Travis Touchdown from No More Heroes who doesn’t feel as snappy as Bayonetta. Her Witch Time also requires an almost perfect parry to initiate which can lead to some extremely frustrating moments during combat (especially if you’re trying to complete all of the optional challenge verses). In pure Platinum Games fashion, there are also a ton of alternative gameplay modes/mini-games spread throughout the campaign, including a scenario where you play as Jeanne in a sort of 2D, espionage-like series of missions. None of these side diversions are necessarily bad and none of it compares to the horribly dated QTEs from the first game (that could ruin an entire Pure Platinum run of a mission), but most fans just wanted more Bayonetta and she’s surprisingly not as present here.
Platinum Games has been carrying a particular torch from their PS2 Capcom/Clover Studios era and it’s a flame that I can’t quite put out. Even with all of its missteps and questionable decisions, Bayonetta 3 kept me up passed my bed time, and as a mid-30s something, I can’t say that for a lot of games today. The final sequence and ending left me a bit choked-up and teary-eyed for reasons I won’t spoil here, but the future looks bright for Bayonetta & friends and I can’t wait to see where they go next with the franchise.
SOMERVILLE, developed by Jumpship, is the debut indie game from a new studio lead by one of the cofounders of Playdead (of Limbo/INSIDE fame). While not as polished as the aforementioned titles, SOMERVILLE is the type of game I wish we would get more often (although I’d imagine these types of games aren’t easy to make). It’s a minimalistic adventure game set in a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic world. There’s no dialogue or written text, everything is told through environmental storytelling and audio/visual cues. If you’re not familiar with the subgenre, SOMERVILLE is rooted in cinematic platformers like Out of this World/Another World, Heart of Darkness or even Flashback, otherwise known as the book of Éric Chahi.
Each year, I’m always waiting for a game to make me put the controller down so that I can soak in the atmosphere. When I arrive at these moments in a game, it’s typically accompanied by a piece of music, atmospheric ambiance, or a beautiful visual that makes me go “Whoa… wait a minute…”. SOMERVILLE eases players into these types of moments frequently (and the game even rewards you with different endings/achievements for quite literally sitting down in certain places and doing nothing).
MILD SPOILERS START: The sound design in SOMERVILLE is out of this world. One sequence that left a lasting impression on me (outside of the introduction) was relatively early in the game. The player makes their way through what appears to be a county fair parking lot. As you approach a stage, tables with closed beach umbrellas sit off to the side of a tent. As you make your way towards them, a giant purple light bathes the area. The sheer force of the light causes everything within its field to violently react, as if you were in the middle of a hurricane. The wind from the light causes the umbrellas to open and close on set intervals, providing cover for the player to progress. I couldn’t stop thinking about NOPE during this sequence (if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand). Eventually, you’ll find yourself at a set of trailers with their shutters open. After solving a simple puzzle to close the shutters, you hop into them to cover yourself from the bad light. The sound within closed spaces is properly dampened and as the light hits the trailers, the shutters begin to shake with intensity. If you’re wearing headphones or have a speaker system/sound bar, you’re in for an eargasm. MILD SPOILERS END.
SOMERVILLE is an audio/visual tour de force, but it’s clear the game could have used a bit more time in the oven. Unlike Limbo/INSIDE, SOMERVILLE is a 3D game and although it still uses fixed/dynamic camera angles, the game’s pathing could have been a bit better. I often found myself unsure how to proceed because of the camera perspective and at times, I found myself getting stuck in the geometry which resulted in restarting a checkpoint. Objects that can be interacted with are painted/highlighted in orange, but it’s a subtle shade that doesn’t feel overtly obvious. The game is fairly linear despite taking place in bigger spaces, but there are some hidden areas that lead to even more confusing “secrets” that tie into a much bigger “puzzle” for one of the game’s endings. While the pathfinding could have been better, the environmental puzzles are mostly simple and satisfying to complete. Without spoiling too much, the game makes use of lighting in interesting ways and unlike a lot of games in this subgenre, your character does gain “powers” over the course of the game (although they’re never used to their fullest potential).
Despite some rough edges, I really, really liked SOMERVILLE. It is my “Little Nightmares II” of 2022. It’s also the perfect Game Pass game as you can finish it in about 3-4 hours. I can’t imagine these games are easy to make, but when they come around, especially if they’re done right (or are from a studio with a pedigree for it), there’s really nothing else like it.
Babylon’s Fall, developed by Platinum Games, is the developer’s failed endeavor into the MMO “live-service game” space. I wrote more about it here, but at the end of February 2023, the servers will go offline and players will no longer be able to play the game. I did manage to finish all three story campaigns in addition to obtaining the Platinum trophy, however.
Sonic Frontiers, developed by Sonic Team, is sort of a mess, but I felt compelled to see it to the end. I guess I liked it well enough to obtain the Platinum trophy, but it’s also not a very difficult game to complete? Although the game justifies its aesthetic/look narratively, I still don’t generally like the game’s presentation. While the “open-zone” approach grew on me the further I progressed, the layout of each island just felt sloppy. When the map is fully uncovered, I think the designers did a good job at funneling the player from one platform sequence to the next. With that said, there are some instances where a platform sequence in the “open-zone” will lock the player into a 2D lane and it’s extremely disorienting. There’s no visual indicator for when this occurs, so it all just feels really jarring when you stumble into one of these instances.
Sonic has a robust move-set this time around (with dodges and a parry mechanic), but I don’t think character-action game mechanics fit the Blue Blur, either. There are some interesting enemy/boss designs, which do make use of your abilities, but it feels like someone did an initial pass on the mechanics and they never went back to polish/iterate on anything (and that’s honestly a sentiment I feel carries throughout the entirety of the game). The Shadow of the Colossus-like titans aren’t particularly satisfying to scale, as you’ll find yourself boosting/falling off of these monstrosities more often than not due to the controls.
The traditional “cyber space” 3D Sonic levels were mostly disappointing, too. These stages vary in length and difficulty but it all just feels wildly inconsistent. Thematically, they look like stages from Sonic’s previous games (Green Hill Zone, Chemical Plant Zone, etc.) and again, there’s some silly story reason for why that is. The collectable Red Rings are easy to collect and they are almost always on the critical path. The S-Ranks, outside of a few, are also incredibly easy to earn. I still think the controls don’t feel right in “cyber space”, but after sinking 30+ hours into the game, I’m still not sure why. The soundtrack, at least, is decent and each level has its own unique theme, which is appreciated. There are also quite a few vocal tracks and I’m always down for the melodrama that comes with them.
Finally, let’s talk about the fishing mini-game with Big the Cat. Although it was sort of a janky/confusing mess in Sonic Adventure, there was a degree of nuance to catch the fish. The fishing in Frontiers, however, is just a glorified QTE. You cast your lure, wait for a bite, hit a button and then time another button press as a smaller ring overlaps a larger ring. You don’t even have to reel the fish in! This fishing mini-game also destroys any attempt at making an in-game economy that feels rewarding. You can trade tokens you earn from fishing for a variety of items, many of which can be used to upgrade Sonic’s stats. The problem is, these items can also be found in the “open-zone” but they’re not easy to come by. At Big’s pond, however, they’re in an abundance. If you collect enough purple coins in the “open-zone”, which are needed to go fishing (and are also easy to collect), you can max out Sonic’s capabilities relatively fast by simply fishing for an hour or two.
Sonic Frontiers is a decent attempt at redirecting the course of the franchise, but I’m not sure if this is the path it should stay on. The game’s filled with callbacks and references to previous games and it’s nice to see Sonic Team attempt to bridge all of the stories together, but the game itself is a mess. Most of the new ideas felt half-baked and the things I liked about modern 3D Sonic titles that are present here just don’t hold-up to games like Sonic Generations, Colors or Unleashed.
God of War Ragnarök, developed by Santa Monica Studio, is the follow-up to the 2018 reboot of sorts, God of War. Taking place shortly after the events of the first game, Kratos and Atreus must continue their journey in hopes of preventing Ragnarök, as the name applies. Ragnarök feels like an impossible game to compete with in terms of budget and production values. The game is simply gorgeous, the performances are compelling, the side quests are meaningful, the soundtrack by Bear McCreary is epic, and the game just feels like a premium experience that you can’t find anywhere else. I love character-action games and as someone who grew-up playing the original God of War games on the PS2 (along with games like Devil May Cry), God of War has always occupied a space in my mind that I liked and appreciated, but did not love. These recent God of War games are becoming much more RPG-ish than what’s typically expected from the character-action genre. There’s just too much focus on gear/loot and color-coded enemies, which isn’t a direction I particularly resonate with.
Ragnarök is also guilty of what seems to be the latest trend in Sony’s first-party, “AAA” titles and that’s the desire to record copious amounts of flavor dialogue which inadvertently ruins parts of the gameplay experience. Similar to the issues found in Horizon Forbidden West at launch, characters just do not shut-up in Ragnarök. You’ll often run into a new area where an environmental puzzle exists and before the player can even scope out the environment for themselves, the NPCs who are accompanying you at the time will simply tell you what you need to do. I understand why the developers chose to do this, but if there were options to turn it off or lessen the occurrences it would have been appreciated (and I’m not talking about all of the accessibility options, which are great). With that said, it’s impressive how much conditional dialogue there is in Ragnarök. The first game incorporated a lot of conversations during travel based on what was happening during the story or the quests you completed, but it seems much more abundant here.
The thing I’m most disappointed with in Ragnarök is how it doesn’t feel like it utilizes the power of the PS5, perhaps due to the fact that it had to be developed for the PS4 as well. The promise of no load times, seamless environments and other “next-gen” features feels lacking here (although the loading is very fast on the PS5 and the haptics feels good). There are traces of “what could have been” in the Vanaheim realm which gives the player the ability to change the time of day (and it’s arguably the most interesting area in the game). The sequence is visually incredible and while it happens in real-time without any cuts, you have to be stationary at pre-determined altars to activate it. Certain areas become accessible/inaccessible depending on the time of day, too. It made me wonder if this mechanic could have been implemented in the other realms, perhaps at any moment instead how its currently implemented due to the previous generation’s hardware limits? I obviously didn’t work on the game, but perhaps this wasn’t their vision for the entire game and it just suited the Vanaheim realm instead?
Although the game had to release on the PS4, it’s still impressive what they pulled off here, considering it’s a multi-platform game. I completed the game on No Mercy difficulty (which is the second highest available) and it felt like a perfectly balanced challenge. Ragnarök is ridiculously polished, almost to a fault. From my experience, as you’re making your way through the story, if you do as much of the side content that’s available, you’re almost always prepared for anything the game throws at you. Ragnarök also has a ton of great boss encounters, but they’ve far more forgiving here, considering the game lets you checkpoint during multiple phases of particular encounters (instead of always starting over at the beginning of the fight if you die). It felt like the developers really wanted people to see the end of their game, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a decision I felt somewhat conflicted on. Ragnarök, at times, feels too linear, even when the game allows you to explore. I felt like there was always a guiding force at play and I’m not just talking about the quest markers that dot the somewhat confusing map. I liked Ragnarök well enough and I’m glad I got to play it before the year’s end. It still feels good to toss and retrieve the Leviathan Axe, swing the Blades of Chaos around and smash treasure chests with your bare fists and isn’t that all that matters at the end of the day?
See you at GOTY discussion…
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