When I made it to April without touching a single 2018 game I wasn't sure if I'd make it to 10 new games year to get a complete list, but I managed to just under the wire. There was a chunk of time when I was considering including Switch Online's NES collection in this list, but I came to my senses and realized Super Mario Bros 3 doesn't belong in this list.
My habits the past couple years have meant I've been buying most new games after release and I decided to start a journal chronicling each game I played throughout the year. The process of keeping this list changes the way I think about games while I'm playing them as I anticipate what I'll have to say about them.
It's also interesting to see how my writing has changed over the year, I never thought of myself much as a writer, my preferred form of expression has always been drawing. I've included Miiverse drawings the past few years, and the loss of that beautiful community was bad enough, so I thought I'd continue the tradition by including new (mostly) colour drawings this year.
Pinball Metroidvania. You wouldn't think this would work, but it does. I like Metroidvania games and I heard this was a good one, so I thought I'd check it out. It's a dense world full of secrets and wacky characters. I'm down with everything it does presentation wise. It's got catchy music and a colourful painterly art style.
Where my frustrations come in comes from its devotion to pin ball, but it's hard to knock it for that. I don't have a lot of experience with pinball. Maybe very brief encounters with digital pinball, and I'm not sure if I've ever played on a real machine. What I came to realize about pinball while playing Yoku was how randomness is just part of the experience. Sometimes the ball is going to fall between the paddles or it will take time to knock it just right to get it where I need it. I got used to it, to a degree, but it hampered my enthusiasm to fully explore the world and find all of the collectibles.
Celeste is hard. Wasn't sure if I wanted to play another punishing game so soon after Hollow Knight. I got to the third (of eight) level and reached a spot I agonized over for a while. That place I find myself in hard games where I get to my breaking point.... then try again, and again. With a heavy heart I started over in assist mode. Although, in hindsight, I may have forgotten I could grip to walls and that was why I struggled so much at this particular part.
It's a neat idea to have a mode that allows the player to finely tune multiple metrics to personalize the difficulty. Early on I fell to the temptation a couple times to completely nerf the game. Yet, all I used was wall grip for the last two levels.
It's really cool that each level has new gameplay hooks. This game is full of hidden areas and clever platforming, but I can't say I enjoyed playing it very much. I spent much of my time being mad at what it was making me do and praying the end would come soon. You are encouraged to return to the levels to find secrets, strawberries and finish with better times. But they are long nightmares I don't care to relive.
Where Celeste shines brightest is the story, it's what motivated me to get through. It tackles the struggle of depression and anxiety that I can relate to. How self doubt can hold you back. Hopefully people who play this game can begin to understand mental illness learn to hold back their judgement.
I've never completed a Rockstar game, besides LA Noire (if that counts), yet I usually end up playing them. Something about their ambition and influence hooks me every time. Rarely at launch, though. RDR2's hype drew me in harder than usual. I may have felt a bit guilty for not completing the last Red Dead. It has a particularly high critical regard in retrospect and was immune to the immature brand of humor of the GTA series. I was better prepared to accept RDR2 as a game I could be into.
Then I played it.
The snowy mountain tutorial was a compelling introduction to the characters and the story. Once I reached the open world I was smitten with the feature to study animals. I wanted to find every creature in the game and draw them in my sketchbook.
Another early goal I found was to craft upgrades for my inventory. But I couldn't until I:
-Bought crafting tools from the camp upgrade menu that I didn't discover till hours later. After I searched the shop in town because the game tells you nothing.
-Collected an assortment of "perfect hides" that require specific ammo types, weapon types, and it's not enough that you need a specific animal, but a high quality one
-Unlocked weapons that are visible, but inexplicably not purchasable in the gun shop in town
-Crafted ammo, that I couldn't figure out how until long after I had completely given up on the whole thing
-Actually track down the beasts, a whole other can of worms
Playing this game has been an experience that is full of nagging little things that add up to a whole lot. It is a maddening experience. Yet I still found myself wanting to find out why people are enjoying this game. My will was so shook I went for long periods without touching it, sometimes as long as a week. Yet my intent was always to return.
I eventually found a way to enjoy it by ignoring essentially everything but the story missions. I made sure to do any stranger missions I ran across too. Maybe late game would be the time to delve into crafting. The story of a family of bandits on the run is pretty great. There are a few too many characters in the group for me to keep track of, but a handful of them really stood out.
The detail in the world provides a spectacular sense of immersion, until I'm ripped out of it by something dumb. Like rapidly looping dialogue of NPCs telling me to hurry up when I take a direct, brief route to my horse. This is a constant for story missions and infuriating to no end. It's not so much the a slow pace that bothers me, but the game wants you to operate and its own pace. Sometimes you're thrust into surprise story missions. You'll die if you don't time your semi scripted stealth kill just when the game wants you to execute it. Looting and exploring an area after a mission will get you hunted by the authorities.
There is far more attention paid to adding detail into the world than designing a good game play experience. Hides fall off your horse, and hats off your head. It may be realistic, but it just means I don't get to wear a hat or have hides. I rely on auto aim to hit anything, but even then it may take multiple dead on shots to do damage. A few times I was ambushed by groups of guys on the road I had no hope of defeating or running from. I lost my first horse from one of these ambushes deep into the game. I unexpectedly get marked for crimes, loose honor, or blow away innocent NPCs.
I often am reminded of Breath of the Wild when I play RDR2. They both draw on the real world to attempt to push the open world genre ahead. Everything Zelda does is to support a tight gameplay experience, but RDR2 doesn't care. I imagine longtime Rockstar fans are more accustom to how these games play and can operate at the same wavelength without all the friction I've run into. This may have always been the case for me. My DNA is Nintendo, not Rockstar.
My latest unintended break from the game comes from being too busy to play games, I won't place the blame entirely at RDR2's feet. Maybe I'll return or maybe this review is my way of closing the book on this game.
7. Donut County
Donut County is a rad little thing I finished in a sitting and completed the platinum trophy later the same day. It's a very laid back gameplay experience where the appeal is watching what clever, funny events unfold. In this sense I got a softer, simpler Jazz Punk vibe. It was always fun gobbling up everything in sight with an ever growing remote controlled hole.
BK is a likable fun loving Raccoon who's actions cause pain to the people around him. His best friend Mira shows him what it's like to loose something to try and help him understand the destruction he has caused. In a culture full of toxic discourse it's great to see a, mostly, positive story about compassion.
The latest expansion for WoW started off great. Last expansion had a focus on class exclusive content, but this one is going all out on faction content. This time there are two completely different continents, one Horde and one Alliance. This echoes back to vanilla WoW, when each faction's identity was defined early on in their home zones and then lead to conflict in the "contested" zones shared by each side.
I enjoyed playing through Kul Tiras on my Alliance rogue. Discovering more about this human faction that played a key role in the Warcraft RTS games, but haven't been seen in WoW. Their massive capital city, Boralus, is a beautiful representation of Imperialist England. I spend most of my time in a small section of town with the inn, portals and crafting trainers. Unlike other hub cities Boralus expands to include a palace, slums, harbor and other districts to interact with through questing.
The rest of Kul Tiras does a great job of fleshing out the history and culture of this land. Motivated, partially, on his influence on WoW's Old Gods I recently read a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories. I especially felt their influence this time as ancient cults lead by a hidden, evil presence from the sea is a large part of the story. Witches, pirates, giant bees, lovable aristocrats, and peaceful turtle sages flesh out the world.
While questing in Kul Tiras I would occasionally participate in a short quest on the Horde allied troll continent, Zandalar. This place remains a mystery to me because I've yet to level a Horde character. I detect a hint of satire in the alliance campaign against the trolls. I could be mistaken, but our ignorance of the culture of this land and hatred for the horde leads us to ally with the wrong people. Finishing the campaign and unlocking world quests has shed some light on this new world, but now that I'm feeling the reputation grind, I need a break. Hopefully I'll finish the Horde story before my time is up in November.
The new content of this expansion hasn't been popular among the player base. Azerite armor gives players a choice of picking a handful of buffs for each head, helm, or shoulder armor collected. The difference they make to minute to minute game play is negligible. I haven't felt the need to go out of my way to upgrade them. This means I stopped at the minimum 5 Island Expeditions, another new BFA feature.
The new Warfront is a big, confusing mess I barely engaged with. It's on a strange timer I don't understand. I got some decent gear there and they upgraded a long unused zone for this ambitious feature. It looks to bring RTS elements into big PVE Horde vs Alliance battles. I truly hope they are able to make something out of this feature that the player base can love. I doubt I would spend much time there if it was better.
I'm happy to say I participated in the first current guild raid run since Wrath of the Lich King on my Alliance rogue. Unfortunately I ended up playing my horde character almost exclusively after that. The gear grind does not motivate me to repeatedly play the same content over and over.
I really only play WoW for the story. Aside from a bit of crafting on my Warlock, I've stuck with one alt per faction this expansion. In the past it was professions that made me alt reliant. This time I vowed only one of my alts would do crafting, even then I didn't do much. This decision was a massive weight lifted from my shoulders.
Fleshing out the troll kingdom of Zandalar was just as fun as discovering Kul Tiras for the first time. I earned the gratitude of many unique loa gods worshiped by the Trolls. My favorites included the tortollan people's pilgrimage to listen the story telling turtle god, Torga. The playfully sinister Troll loa of death,
Bwonsamdi, who greets you at every graveyard when you die. Or the thieving trickster saurid dinosaur loa, Jani (god of garbage), who enjoys humbling those who would harm the forgotten poor or helpless.
In the desert zone of Vol'Dun live the banished criminals of Zandalar empire and a new scrappy scavenger race of fox people Vulpera. Also the Sethrak snake people civil war.
The Horde's role in this story is quite different. All of your heroic acts ultimately benefit the dark agenda of War Chief Sylvanas. This is most apparent in the Horde campaign on Kul Tiras. Where you'll be resurrecting key Kul Tirans as forsaken. This provides an excellent opportunity to explore what it means to be undead. This is a race of humans, formerly of the alliance, who are now at war with those they once called family because they are viewed as monsters.
Lately I've only been playing in the mornings, rep grinding on my Horde character. I only have a couple days left. I canceled my subscription, not because I'm not happy with the new features, but because it's time for a long break from WoW. I really enjoyed coming back after 15 months off for the late stages of Legion. It's time to play some different games. I look forward to returning before the next expansion's launch.
I managed to squeeze one last game into the year to make it an even 10 in 2018.
My first impression of Moss was the sense of scale enhanced by by the immersion of a VR headset. Seated in a grand cathedral with a tome positioned in front of me I began my adventure by manually turning the page. I found myself constantly looking around, admiring each environment throughout my time with Moss. From the intimate dioramas of a village home or a stone temple's halls. To the grand vistas of a forest swamp or a castle's towers.
Moss contrasts deeply with my first VR game in its subtly. Astro Bot is a bombastic experience, but Moss takes its time, allowing you to take the deliberately told story. The adorable mouse Quill's animations are a treat. The way her tail moves or her interactions with you, "The Reader". She'll acknowledge you to point and give you hints, or offer a high five.
I had trouble with the tracking on the motion controlled portions of the game. It recommends the PS camera be placed underneath my TV, but that doesn't really work for my set up. The light environmental puzzle solving is satisfying, but combat could be a bit cumbersome when attempting to get The Reader's glowing orb to cooperate. I appreciate the ability to recalibrate from the pause menu, a feature I wish Astro Bot had.
Even without the motion control issues animation priority required a bit of a learning curve when it came to combat and platforming that requires precise timing. In one instance even one of Quill's uninterruptible pointing hint animations prevented me from making the jump I wanted to make. Requiring me to reset an elaborate timing puzzle.
Still it wasn't enough to hamper the overall experience. I loved guiding Quill through the beautifully crafted world of Moss. Smashing pots and finding hidden scrolls is as fun as it has always been, but this new headset lets me see it in a new perspective.
Got a PSVR this Christmas! Previously my time with VR amounted to a handful of Gear and Cardboard experiences on phones. Astro Bot is my first real game on a proper headset.
This was a great little platformer to introduce me to the new tech. The concept of controlling the camera with my own head immediately opened up new possibilities to find secrets hidden behind me or around a corner. Astro Bot is full of ideas that capitalize on VR immersion, at one point I'm knocking soccer balls with my head while seaweed dangles from it.
This is a game that owes a lot to Mario, and isn't shy about it, but what platformer doesn't? The short, themed, Galaxy like, levels don't ware out their welcome. They take the right lessons from Nintendo by focusing on what's fun and trimming the fat.
It has enough original ideas that it has its own identity. Boss characters bring personality and a sense of scale that plays well in VR. The The Astro Bots themselves are goofy little characters that will salute at you as you playfully smack them around, much like your troops in MGS5. As you rescue them they'll rocket into your controller and you can see them all pop out of the touch pad and adorably wave their arms.
Watching a virtual controller track your real life movement is another fun novelty of VR. There are a handful of abilities that utilize the touch screen and motion control to add variety to the game play. For the most part they worked okay, but I did have to restart the level once because my tracking was way off.
The music is fantastic and the Bots dance at the end of each level as you slingshot into the sun. This game is one joyful good time disco party.
I heard about this game on the Idle Thumbs podcast when I resubbed and listened to some old episodes. It just so happened it was to be released on the Switch was that week.
I wasn't sure how much legs the concept of a zelda-like with a 60 second lifespan had. I imagined an incredibly dense world iminating from a single point. It was when I discovered a second spawn point that the concept really opened up. Though, ultimately a brief experience it satisfied my exploration itch while doing away with pesky things like combat.
A much more difficult second quest extends the value. It turns the fairly harmless enemies into vicious terrors that will kill in a single hit by restricting you to one heart. Also, the time limit is reduced to 40 seconds. Forcing you to use speedrun level precision to complete a handful of objectives.
Well worth my $11. I'd like to see what someone could do with this concept on a bigger scale.
I hadn't played a Spider-Man game since the much talked about Spider-Man 2 on the GameCube. As great as the swinging was I wasn't yet sold on the GTA influenced barren open worlds and repetitive mission designs of the time. So I was excited to play a new Spider-Man game that would be a worthy successor of the N64 game.
I thought it was already out, so by chance, I ended up buying Spider-Man 2018 two minutes before the preorder window closed. I'm glad I did, it was a much needed break from WoW.
I've never been to New York City, but it's a place I've always wanted to go. I bought GTA IV twice because I really wanted to play an open world game set there, but I never got far (I know it's technically "Liberty City"). Spider-Man finally scratches that itch. Swinging around this beautifully rendered Manhattan is a blast. A few additions to the swinging do a great job to maintain momentum and keep Spider-Man in the air.
Combat is a bit of a mixed bag. When it works well Spider-Man leaps around the battlefield, from target to target, juggling enemies in the air while dodging and tossing explosives back. Problem is far too often Spider-Man's attacks hit the wrong target and dodging doesn't necessarily mean you won't get hit. The latter is especially annoying when when the big Brute enemy rapidly attacks. It's not enough to spoil the game for me. You could even make a case that Spider-Man, barely holding on, not quite in control echoes Peter Parker's life.
Also, the story is better than any Spider-Man movie (edit: at the time I played this statement was true, but this is a good year for Spider-Man).
1. God of War
Sunday, April 22
At the point of writing this I've been playing for two days. Since I started playing Friday afternoon I've only stopped playing for long enough to eat, sleep, and leave the house for an hour yesterday.
In most games within an hour or two you discover the structure reveals itself and it becomes fairly predictable what you'll be doing for the rest of the game. Not since Paper Mario 2 has a game mixed things up this much and kept me guessing. It continues to keep surprising me.
The combat is exhilarating, I'm flying of the seat of my pants. Barely scraping through encounters as I learn the new abilities. The last thing I did before heading to bed last night was a boss encounter (the one in the dark) that I completed on my second attempt one hit away from death using every advantage I could take. The move-set isn't complex, but I'm great at hitting the wrong buttons. Right now it's a tight rope. I hope I can master it rather than get overtaken.
The relationship between Kratos and Atreus is just starting to unravel. But it touches on masculine troubles with intimacy that I personally deeply identify with. My Father and Step-Father were in an accident years ago. My father was killed. Atreus, at one point, expresses identical sentiments I have had about my Step-Father. He says the wrong person died, only he was speaking of his dead mother. At this point in our game I identify with his non-relationship with Kratos. We both don't hate our step father figures, and we each make attempts at shallow connections, but we will never be close. I expect that to change for Kratos and Atreus as the game progresses, but it's probably too late for us.
I'm sure I'll be thinking about this game all day at work today.
Now that I've cooled from my initial impression I will say what I especially love about GoW is the exploration. The hub world changes as you play through and finding new areas in environment you've previously explored is a blast. I've been hearing some people complain about finding all of the Ravens.
Ravens are my jam, but some of the tougher combat encounters I want nothing to do with. I found when finishing a hard fight, I was just pissed off at the game. Not exuberant and self satisfied like when completing a Cuphead boss. Attacks can be faster than Kratos's animations. Some of these Valkyrie fights require constant dodging, with little no no window for attacks. I was nearing a platinum trophy, but ended up not even bothering with most of the Valkyries.
I also loved how the story draws from the myths. After completing the game I read Neil Gaiman's "Norse Mythology". It shed a lot of light on how the game drew inspiration and where the story is going.