2019 was not my busiest year of gaming. I spent more time playing re-releases of games and crossing things off my personal to-do list, that have been there too long for my liking, than playing the most recent of commercial products. That said, it’s probably still the best time to be playing video games, and, anyway, if there’s something the internet needs more of, it’s lists and sarcasm.
At some point this year, for the first time ever, I bought a Magic: The Gathering deck. I’m not entirely sure what possessed me, aside from, frankly, the fantasy inspired art; if you’ve got a hobgoblin, I’ve got at least a half hour of my time for you.
Magic: The Gathering Arena has been useful tool for helping me learn the card game as well as practice deck building. I’m still a complete novice, but I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve sunk into it so far. (I suspect that if I’d have spent half as many hours as my wife now has playing Arena, it would be higher up on my list.)
9. Baba Is You
I did not complete this game. Now that we’ve gotten this horrible fact out in the open, I hope you’ll forgive me, dear reader.
The emotional cycle of frustration leading to elation back to frustration, is well documented in puzzle games. In the later stages of the Baba Is You, my solving strategy would oscillate between two modes: a period of experimentation in which I’d try to distinguish what I might be able to use in my environment to help me reach my goal, and spending what felt like hours staring at a screen, feeling as though I’d not only made little progress, but I somehow knew less than I knew before.
There’s a lot of clever puzzles in this one, and I find myself not as clever as I’d like. I’m sure that, despite the taste of defeat, it’s quite good for me--like broccoli.
You sit atop a throne, your kingdom is divided into the church, the army, the bank, and the common folk. All must be kept in check, lest they become displeased with you and decide you told them to eat cake once too often. Of course, if any one group becomes too powerful, then they might just overthrow you anyway. It’s a constant balancing act, but a simple game to grasp.
Reigns is always presenting you with short-term and long-term goals to aim for. It tracks not only these successes, but the many unique types of death those in your line endure, meaning you can be rewarded, even in failing. This, and the potential for both time consuming as well as short runs, made Reigns my number one game to play whilst traveling this year.
The Lion’s Song is another in a long list of oh, I’m glad they released that on Switch, because I missed it the first time! games.
A four-part, point-and-click adventure game set in Austria in the early 20th century, you play as a different character in each chapter, though their stories are not unaffected by each other’s. Everything is toned sepia, giving the impression that an aged photograph has sprung to life, but it is the sound design that drags you through the glass and into the world that these characters inhabit. The cold winds that surround your mountain cabin, or the murmur of a café that never seems to die down, these sounds fill the moments between the words and score your actions. And though there’s a tendency to be overly melancholic in these types of story, The Lion’s Song, for me, was not overindulgent in its sadness nor its sentimentalism.
Thank goodness they released it on Switch.
Sometimes it’s nice to indulge in a low-stakes affair. Every now and then you want to learn how to take pleasure in the simple things in life: a walk buy a pond, a picnic with friends, stealing a local man’s hat whilst he’s bent over to tend to his garden in an attempt to make his head exposed thus forcing him to change hats and get that crossed off your to-do list at the same time.
Sometimes in life you just need to be a goose.
Our waddling avatar is like the childhood primer to Grand Theft Auto. Though this little village finds itself far away from the San Andreas riot cheat, a winged anarchist roams its streets. The difference being that no matter how terrible you act in the Untitled Goose Game you always feel as though it’s in good fun. The most you can expect is a shooing away, and probably some tutting once you’re out of earshot.
SUPER MEAT BOY!
This has been on the personal to-do list for quite some time.
I’m not sure what else needs to be said about this game.
It’s a really, really good platformer.
I was excited to play this game. Not because I believe Kojima is some sort of genius auteur, and I have finally been gifted a chance to see his vision unleashed, but because I knew it’d be different. Now let me be clear in stating that I don’t believe that by being different it automatically qualifies it as good. I was just interested in seeing how different it was to… well, I suppose everything else.
I don’t know if this is still a thing, but when I was growing up, we used to say that some things were “a bit like Marmite,” meaning that people either hated it or loved it and there was rarely an in between. Death Stranding is a bit like Marmite. You will either love the fact that you are a post-apocalyptic postman, quested with trudging across the once united states in an attempt to unite the few remaining cities, by delivering their Amazon Prime packages to them in a timely fashion; or you hate the slow walking, that requires you to constantly be mindful of the terrain, whilst your ever present and burdensome backpack attempts to use its own form of Judo to displace your footing. I haven’t even mentioned the inventory management or ghosts.
The experience of sitting down to play this, for me, is almost Zen-like. You have a clear goal. It’s only time and distance between you and achieving it. And for as often as I find myself rolling my eyes at Kojima--because no matter who’s speaking, I assume they’re speaking for him--and his attempts to philosophise, I find myself interested in a detail in the world he’s imagined. The mysteries of the Death Stranding, the BTs, the BBs, compelled me to move forward in the early hours of the game, when I was still asking myself if this walking and balancing was all the game was. Now walking and balancing is all I need!
Despite having very little skill in the mechanics of playing this game, myself and a good friend of mine took to the, somehow still alive, online scene of Fight Night Champion earlier this year. We alternated who played, the person not playing acting as cornerman, and set out into the world of virtual boxing to make a name for ourselves. It’s a classic pugilist’s tale.
The height of our online career came in the ninth round of a fairly, one-sided fight. I was on the wrong side of the fight. Smoking Joe Frazier was not in possession of his usual head-movement that night, and George Foreman had thrown everything, but the low-fat fryer at him. Coming into the ninth round, it was clear that I was going to have to knock my opponent, who heretofore never wobbled, down, if I was in with a chance on the scorecard. I cannot overstate the emotion in the room that followed my friend exclaiming “He’s tired! He’s used up all his stamina!” and the proceeding barrage that floored him to end the fight. It was everything that every boxing movie has ever promised us.
Can we have more good boxing games? Please and thank you.
I don’t play top-down shooters. It’s not a political stance, I’ve just never explored the genre. So it wasn’t a surprise when I found myself thinking in the early levels of Hotline Miami that I was surely soon to land upon a stage where I wasn’t going to be able to continue; I was so unfamiliar with the duel joystick setup that my thumbs felt cumbersome in their reactions compared to the ruthless efficiency of the AI enemies. I found myself persisting, however; the quick reset after death, the slightly random element of each area, the nature of puzzling out each room, made putting down the controller harder and gave strength to the idea that the next run might, in fact, be the one. This is a game I kept coming back to, to improve upon a previous score, or attempt to find a clue for the secret, hidden ending, long after I had the excuse to finally quit.
In the year 2019, I’d thought that we’d, perhaps, explored as much as we needed to of the Mortal Kombat Universe. Its Frankenstein-like makeup of classic Kung-Fu, inter-dimensional sci-fi, and imagery that could only be described as Metal was, perhaps, best left in the Nineties, where its aesthetic was born out of. (My personal fandom survived all the way to MK 4 and Mythologies: Sub-Zero before it finally gave up the ghost.)
I’d heard that the storytelling in these games had really hit its stride in the ninth installment of the main series, but the last game I remember playing was Deadly Alliance. So, although I was interested to see what had become of my old favourites amongst the MK cast, my standards for how much I’d enjoy the kombat were, somewhat low.
I can’t believe they did it, but somehow, they’ve got me invested in the wacky, wide, and ultra-violent outworlds of Mortal Kombat again. I immediately wanted to go back and play through numbers nine and ten for the first time, so that I could see the whole story from beginning to end. The earnestness of each character in every scene, despite the absolute ridiculousness of the situation, is pitch perfect.
In the same vein, the ludicrous amount of bloodshed a single match can produced, given the potential for crushing and fatal blows, as well as the thinly veiled joy taken in the creation of the fatalities, create a spectacle of Shaolin styled violence that makes you want to be better at the game, if for nothing else than to never have to lose to Johnny Cage again.
What I think this game does better than any other fighting game I’ve attempted to dip my toe into though, is the tutorial. I feel as though I have a much better grasp on how fighting games work now, as a whole, because of it. It was a very good introduction for me, and, if nothing else, helped me with a bit of the nomenclature of the genre.