Jason Oestreicher is the Senior Video Producer on the West Coast and often does video things to the Giant Bomb site. You should not trust what he has to say because he likes those Monster Hunter games.
This awful, sucker-punch of a year is almost over and I'd like to keep it that way. So. Moving on...
10. Nintendo Switch
“Oh, I bet that’d be pretty awesome on the Switch” is a phrase I found myself saying a lot this year. While the concept of a handheld isn’t at all a unique experience, playing games on a Switch somehow feels like it is. Old games like Skyrim, new ones like Battle Chef Brigade, and potential bangers like, say, Animal Crossing, all have a place on this handy little guy.
My Switch and I became very close this year. Granted, it’s hard to not love a system that touted a return-to-form Mario and a bold new Zelda adventure. But what really kept the system and I together wasn’t necessarily the library (Oh, man. That launch was pretty light, huh?). Rather, it was the tender moments we shared playing Mario Kart 8. Again. And when the family TV was taken over by Puppy Dog Pals, the Switch was there for me.
I don’t care how catchy that cooking jingle was, the process was a pain in the ass--one of many pains in an otherwise fantastic game. A flawed masterpiece, to be sure, but BotW invoked such a profound sense of wonder in me as I played that I was able to forget about my minor quibbles.
For a while anyway. I’m looking forward to trying to play this again when I have more time and patience.
8. Tekken 7
Fighting games, in general, had a strong year. Guilty Gear continues to bring it with its visuals, Injustice came back with another good story mode and made loot boxes kind of work (also Swamp Thing!), and Ryu straight up dragon punched an elder dragon from Monster Hunter.
Equally wild was what went down in the volcano in Tekken 7. The Mishima Saga purportedly comes to a close after 7-ish games of family squabbles and is presented in epic fashion. Gameplay-wise, the new Rage Art mechanic is fun, flashy, and great for newcomers. But what really made Tekken stand out to me was the inclusion of a slow-down visual effect at the end of a close match. So simple. So smart. So HYPE.
I still think about Absolver on a daily basis. At the onset, its customizable combat system is near-impenetrable, but once that nut is cracked, you realize just how intricate and ambitious Absolver is. It’s genuinely impressive that the complicated system of building attack strings works as well as it does.
I’m equally in love with its aesthetic. The angular, minimalistic design of the character models, fluid animation, striking scenery, and… those masks. Beautiful.
Absolver is an odd game that works so well on so many levels, but completely lost me once PvP became the sole focus.
The hunting of monsters is something that I have a bit of history with. I’ve carved up and worn countless Rathalos in my time. But ridden one? Befriended one? One that looked so dang adorable?
Monster Hunter Stories is a cutesy, turn-based RPG in which you’re hanging out with these monsters and going on adventures with them instead of wearing them as hats. It’s… yeah, ok… It’s Pokemon Monster Hunter. But it’s more than just a simple mash-up. That is, to say, it has way more to offer than simple fan service. I had an astonishing amount of fun with the game and it wasn’t just because I could ride a Rathalos.
Remember the initial reveal of this game? The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in that sizzle reel where we all collectively lost our fool heads. That was a game? I can play something that looks like that?
Cuphead has absolutely incredible visual presentation. It’s downright uncanny how well the aesthetic was nailed. And I kind of hate playing it? The difficulty is brutal and completely flies in the face of its cartoonish style. But, I just can’t stay mad at it. Cuphead’s too damn pretty.
So, listen. GotY deliberations were upon us and I was doing some serious NieR cram sessions leading up to it. I probably put in a good 20-some hours in just a few days. I was motivated. I was hungry for those endings. I got ‘em. During one of our lunch breaks, actually. Room was packed. Janina Gavankar was there.
Now, I had made it this far without being spoiled. I mean, I knew how many endings I had to go through to get the true… whatever. But I didn’t know about The Thing. Even as The Thing was happening, I didn’t think that The Thing was gonna go ahead and do THAT thing. Like, REALLY do that thing. It did, and Janina patted me on my shoulder. I maintained a stiff upper lip, but I had to go take a walk and process what just happened.
I’m still trying to process what happened.
I initially thought Nioh was going to be this kind of off-brand Souls game that I could maybe have some fun with. Maybe it’d cleanse my palate and rekindle my love for Dark Souls. But, Nioh took off down a very different path than I expected and really won me over with just how different it is from other Souls-like games.
I found myself greatly appreciating the mission-based structure. It was easier to play in short bursts and having those short-term goals and rewards kept me satisfied and wanting to play “just one more”.
But how Nioh really got its hooks in me was with its intricate, stance-based weapon combat. It favored playing aggressively, but was punishing if you weren’t on your toes. Throw in some sneaky ninja skills, magic powers, and the ability to summon a spirit buddy, and you’ve got a ton of fun ways to cut down some demons.
Speaking of spirit buddies. Take a look at these guys!
1. Dead Cells
The game isn’t even out yet. Early Access they’re calling it. Should that disqualify the game from being on my list? Probably. But it’s my list and I’ve played it for over 100 hours and I’ve loved every minute so it’s going on the damn list.
Take a look at a screenshot, a gif, movie, whatever, and tell me Dead Cells isn’t beautiful. I. Dare. You. There is some fantastic sprite work and animation on display and that’s all well and good. But what kept me coming back, run after run, is how well the game played, even in its unfinished state.
Dead Cells doesn’t offer much in the form of character progression, rather, there is a staggering amount of weapons and skills to collect, unlock, and level up. For me, a successful run wasn’t about making it through to the final boss, finding a new blueprint or even leveling up a favored weapon was a win in my book. As such, nearly every run felt worthwhile.
And the good feelings just kept coming. There’s a great variety in weapon types and each have their own distinct feel. The platforming feels crisp, yet free and fluid. I always felt empowered and in full control of my movement. This is simply one of the best feeling action platformers I’ve ever played.
I’ve had such a great time with Dead Cells so far. Updates have been pretty steady. With each one there’s a substantial amount of content and improvements--the game keeps getting better. I can’t wait to see what the final version is going to be like.