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List of Games Beaten in 2019

I forgot I already did the "bummed about 2019" schtick for the Shame List, so instead here's a thoughtful summary of what I anticipate will flood this Games Beaten list in the months to come:

Hella old games y'all.

Seriously, is anything coming out in 2019? Maybe some fantastic Indie nobody had ever heard of prior to it suddenly appearing on our collective radars. I might be into Psychonauts 2 and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as well, I guess. Oooh, and that last Shovel Knight campaign with King Knight! I think that's all.

Post-Year Statistics Time!

  • Total Games Completed: 88
  • 2019 Games Completed: 13 (not great, but then I rarely buy anything new)
  • 2018 Games Completed: 10 (I'm surprised; I figured I played more year-old games than new ones)
  • 2017 Games Completed: 20 (says a lot about how good 2017 was that I'm still working my way through its releases)
  • 10+ Year Old Games Completed: 12 (thanks to the Bucketlog and May Maturity features)
  • Games Started But Not Finished: 6 (I bailed on Thimbleweed Park, Deponia 2, Subnautica, Holy Potatoes! We're in Space?!, Songbringer, and - of course - Warframe)
  • System Breakdown: PC/Steam (42), PS4 (27), Switch (8), 3DS (2), PS3 (1), X360 (1), Wii (1), N64 (1), GBA (1), PS1 (1), MD (1), GB (1), NES (1). (The Bucketlog took me down some uncommon roads)
  • First Completed Game of Year: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (though Mass Effect: Andromeda was the first I played)
  • Last Completed Game of Year: Clockwork Tales: Of Glass & Ink (though I actually left the year playing some Tokyo Mirage Sessions: #FE).

List items

  • 05/01. The one-hundred-and-first Indie Game of the Week. With all the hype around Life is Strange 2, it was due time to head back into Arcadia Bay one last time to see off Chloe Price, Rachel Amber, and a bunch of characters that won't soon be dead. Cheery enough, but even without the time-travelling powers the game is adept enough at its inter-personal (and gay determinant) relationships to carry this shorter adventure to its melancholic conclusion. Feelings games don't come much better. (4 Stars.)

  • 17/01. The one-hundred-and-second Indie Game of the Week. A surprisingly feature-rich Indie RPG that took me a while to get through, combining the partially randomized dungeons of Darkest Dungeon with the carefully balanced encounters of a Zeboyd game all wrapped inside a great cel-shaded comic book aesthetic. Even with no emotional ties to the original comic book series - which ended in, like, the 90s - I enjoyed my lengthy time with this one. (4 Stars.)

  • 18/01. The one-hundred-and-third Indie Game of the Week. The Gone Home team is at it again with another chill adventure game that has players piecing together a story told in a vaguely epistolary manner. If you like eavesdropping on potentially dead astronauts, Tacoma's got you covered. (4 Stars.)

  • 23/01. Started this one just before Christmas and was determined to see it through even if the Xmas season brought many better games into my orbit. Honestly not the disaster everyone was making it out to be - though I had the benefit of a year-plus of patches by the time I got there - it combines some of the highs of the Mass Effect series (a personable enough team of companions and all the planet exploration you could want) and the packed to the point of overbloated open-world structure of Dragon Age: Inquisition. As with the similarly bedevilled FFXV, there are ample hints of the great game this could've been with a little more time, polish, and focus. (3 Stars.)

  • 24/01. The one-hundred-and-fourth Indie Game of the Week. I ended up not caring a great deal for this fluorescent action game but it's relatively harmless. Switch the controls so your little space croissant follows the cursor instead of the sticky tank controls and it becomes tolerable enough. If you're looking for some EDM and abstract glowy shapes to come down after an eventful night at the cluuuurb, it should serve that role ably enough. (2 Stars.)

  • 27/01. Jumped from one of the longest RPGs on my backlog to one of the shortest. There's plenty about South Park's humor I still enjoy, even if it's been a little more scattershot of late, and Fractured Butthole still hits the same high notes that The Stick of Truth did a few years back. Smart RPG design couched in dumb scatological humor. (4 Stars.)

  • 29/01. My January pick for the Bucketlog: a feature that each month ticks off a playthrough that's been a very long time coming. No More Heroes 2 lacks some of the bite and originality of the first, which is typical enough for a sequel, but makes back some of that lost ground with some welcome mechanical gameplay updates. If the first one spoke to you on a transcendental level, and I know it did for some folk, then there's no reason you won't enjoy this one too. Personally, I've been done with the character action genre for a while now. (3 Stars.)

  • 31/01. The one-hundred-and-fifth Indie Game of the Week. For whatever reason this block-breaker throwback really resonated with me, finding the right combination of power-ups, difficulty, and game mechanics to blissfully carry me through its many levels. Maybe because it feels a lot more arcadey than most games of its type. Either way, I was sprung for these witch sisters. (5 Stars.)

  • 07/02. The one-hundred-and-sixth Indie Game of the Week. Love the Shantae series, but thought this one was a little underwhelming. Certainly nothing against the presentation - still has a banging soundtrack by Virt and it's evident a lot of KS money went on those fluid animations - but it felt like a slightly modified remake of Risky's Revenge. I think this series has a real capacity for growth, but it's kinda stuck in its comfort zone. Here's hoping the next one can break out of it. (3 Stars.)

  • 10/02. I got hoodwinked again. Each time a new "good" Assassin's Creed comes out, I'm assured by its press that they fixed the hoary old Anvil engine and buffed out the dents, and now that this one has numbers and shit flying off enemies it's a completely new shift in direction. Nope. This is still broken-ass Assassin's Creed with another beautiful land to explore, towers (or pyramids) to climb, and people to stab in an uh-uh-uh-uh-uh fashion. I was done with its free-running problems, uninspired combat, tedious tailing and walking missions, and all the other BS over a decade ago. That said, I did enjoy my time with it, but I did with Syndicate and Black Flag too: liked but not loved, and still steamed that Ubisoft's so reluctant for a substantial do-over beyond adding colored loot and a drone-spotter bird. (3 Stars.)

  • 14/02. Going to be incrementally working my way through the Spyro trilogy via its Spyro Reignited Trilogy remaster in 2019. I hadn't realized how much these games were open-ended collectathons - my favorite type of 3D platformer - so finding that out was a pleasant surprise. It has a few irritations due to its age, not least of which is the obtuse hitboxes and attack ranges of enemies or the finnicky nature of those supercharged jumps to secret areas, but I'm retroactively sad I missed out on this series in the first place and looking forward to Game #2. (4 Stars.)

  • 16/02. The one-hundred-and-seventh Indie Game of the Week. Even as someone who's never been a fan of westerns, I really appreciated the dumb humor and clever if simple mechanics of West of Loathing, a special adaptation of the developers' browser-based fantasy MMO. This was an open-world CRPG I wanted to explore because I wanted to see what the next dumb joke or skit was, and I don't think that's ever been a personal incentive in a game of this type. (5 Stars.)

  • 20/02. My mission so far this year is to play some games I installed long ago on the PS4's HD so I can free up the space for more recent acquisitions. Even so, I think I underestimated how much I was going to enjoy Mirror's Edge Catalyst - which I picked up for a song in some long-ago sale - given its reputation. The open city makes for a perfect environment for free-running in whichever direction you choose, and getting into the game's flow feels like a combination of Mario platforming and THPS's skating tricks and precision. It's a lot of fun just to parkour around sometimes, whether I'm in a mission or completing one of the game's strict time trials or just heading to a collectible somewhere. Not quite sure about the necessity of the story reboot though. (4 Stars.)

  • 22/02. The one-hundred-and-eighth Indie Game of the Week. Every so often I like to toss in a genteel, laid-back puzzle game whenever a hectic week rolls around, and Back to Bed seems purpose-built for those about to drop off themselves. It's never too challenging and is fairly brief, but the visuals and Twin Peaks dreamy silliness are appealing enough to lift you gently to its conclusion. Very slight, but entertaining nonetheless. (4 Stars.)

  • 27/02. My February pick for the Bucketlog. A long-winded tale about geeky animes and time travel that's ultimately worth it for the way the game lurches towards twisty thriller territory for its second half, well after you've grown attached to the cast and understood the rules of its particular take on time travel. I thought it was excellently written and localized, and for a game that's mostly about pushing the "next text window" button ad nauseum I found it riveting. I suspect I might secretly love visual novels after all; then again, it might just be that I like reading books when there's also pictures to look at. (4 Stars.)

  • 10/03. The one-hundred-and-tenth Indie Game of the Week. I was a little apprehensive about this one, given the company it keeps on Steam with a dozen NSFW yuri visual novels, but it turned out to be another solid spacewhipper from the home of same. Stylistically and structurally I'd put it well into the Cave Story camp, with plenty of exploration, challenging bullet-hell bosses, and an overwhelmingly sugary amount of moe sweetness. I mean, if you're into that. (4 Stars.)

  • 14/03. The one-hundred-and-eleventh Indie Game of the Week. Sometimes you want to play a game you're pretty sure you won't be into just to see what all the fuss is about. Into the Breach is a very clever game built for brief sessions of highly varied content, with a few simple rules and a procgen system that creates maps you can theoretically complete with a perfect result but will probably screw up a few times. I liked it, but it's not something I intend to play over and over. (3 Stars.)

  • 21/03. The one-hundred-and-twelfth Indie Game of the Week. A retro throwback of the Castlevania mold, Odallus balances a stage-based approach with the usual spacewhipper trappings, including alternate paths that open up if you come back to a stage with the right equipment. I particularly liked how grisly and alien the monster designs were; reminds me of how certain NES games like Contra or Ninja Gaiden just went full eldritch body horror towards the end. (4 Stars.)

  • 23/03. Eating most of March was this Sengoku-era Souls-like from Koei Tecmo (I happened to coincide its playthrough with the release of FromSoftware's own Sengoku-era game, Sekiro) which took the careful tactical real-time combat of that series, complicated it further with stances and weapon-specific technique trees, and then turned the whole thing into a loot RPG with color-coded rarity and such. It also had a mission structure which made it easier to play in short bursts. I enjoyed it immensely, and am looking forward to its imminent sequel. (5 Stars.)

  • 28/03. The one-hundred-and-thirteenth Indie Game of the Week. A horror adventure game told entirely through a smartphone and its apps, Simulacra's a smart idea hampered by a typo-laden script and some cheap jumpscares that only serve to undermine the subtle atmosphere of suspense it builds up as you solve its mysteries. (3 Stars.)

  • 31/03. My March pick for the Bucketlog. Okage was a PS2 game that skipped Europe initially, but was later made available to us via the PS4's range of digital PS2 ports. Sadly, it doesn't seem we'll be getting any more of those any time soon, but my time with Okage proved if nothing else that I would've loved this game back in the day. Even now, with so much roughness around the edges and some dated mechanics, I can understand its underground cultish appeal with its subversively cynical take on the classic fantasy JRPG and surreal character designs. (4 Stars.)

  • 05/04. The one-hundred-and-fourteenth Indie Game of the Week. An improvement over the first Ittle Dew, but switching from a pure Zelda puzzle game to one with more emphasis on combat caused more problems in the process. Specifically, there are some exceedingly tough boss fights in this one that kind of dragged the pace down. I still like these games for their Zelda gameplay, irreverent tone, and squiggly animations, but I'm hoping they nail the formula at least once. This franchise deserves it. (4 Stars.)

  • 07/04. The second game in the Spyro Remastered trilogy was superior to the first, as could reasonably be expected, with a little more emphasis on world variation and mission design (that is, you're actually given tasks to do instead of just waking up dragon statues). I could definitely see where Ratchet came from after playing this, and I'm looking forward to eventually playing the third and last game in this set - no rush though. (4 Stars.)

  • 11/04. The one-hundred-and-fifteenth Indie Game of the Week. Obra Dinn was every bit as fantastic as I was hoping; a true atmospheric period piece with a striking visual style and some really compelling investigative logic puzzle-solving gameplay. So many risks were taken with this one and they all paid off, and it's remarkable to get something this fresh and original from just one dude. I couldn't keep playing Papers, Please - Lucas Pope's previous game - because it was far too grim, but for some reason that didn't deter me here. Probably because I was enjoying the mystery too much. (5 Stars.)

  • 19/04. I occasionally drop a few britbucks on a 3DS game I can play in short sessions, and picross style games usually work best. I enjoyed the first Tappingo enough to take a chance on its sequel but I ultimately found it underwhelming; not much in the way of puzzle variety, unless you like circles of various colorations, and I don't think a single puzzle gave me a moment of difficulty. No instances where I wasn't just solving everything quickly and smoothly on auto-pilot. I think if you had your fill with this particular picross variation after the first Tappingo, you might be good skipping the second. (3 Stars.)

  • 24/04. The one-hundred-and-sixteenth Indie Game of the Week. In retrospect, playing this Indie CRPG so close to May - which will be full of CRPGs - may have been a slight tactical error. On the other hand, I quite liked the efficiency and user-friendliness of the first Eschalon when I played it last April and the second proved to be just as entertaining, if not a whole lot different. I'm glad I decided to switch it up with a magic-user this time, or else it might've felt way too similar. (4 Stars.)

  • 26/04. The one-hundred-and-seventeenth Indie Game of the Week. It felt like Dex came and went, but I found plenty to enjoy in this cyberpunk action-adventure RPG. It borrows elements for both its plot and gameplay from a number of sources - most strikingly Flashback and Deus Ex - but I liked its look, its storytelling (even if it felt familiar), and while I could just about tolerate the combat I appreciated that there were usually methods to get around it (stealth and hacking turrets were my favorites). (4 Stars.)

  • 27/04. I figured this would only take a week or so, as a smaller spin-off adventure in the greater Final Fantasy multiverse, but I got sucked in by its various systems and fan-service for most of the month. I'm not even a monster-raising kind of RPG player, but those cute little guys made it work for me. If anyone's wondering, the game's structurally similar to Final Fantasy XIII-2 - single female and male protagonists, monster companions, lots of bouncing from one themed region to the next - and I found it more entertaining than I expected, thanks in part to a funny and knowing localization. (4 Stars.)

  • 30/04. April's "Bucketlog" entry, and really an excuse to stick an AC adaptor into the back of my 3DS and relax with some impassioned courtroom yelling. A little scattershot and samey at times, I appreciated how much more modern this game felt next to Apollo Justice between the 3D graphics (which thankfully retain the cartoonish spirit of the 2D sprites) and the many quality-of-life tweaks to the adventure game aspects. Looking forward to playing Spirit of Justice soon, and hope the multi-platform release of the HD trilogy encourages more entries to come (or more localizations at least) from a currently-revitalized Capcom. (4 Stars.)

  • 08/05. The May Millennials feature covered a bunch of early '00s CRPGs, the first - and most anticipated - of these was the second KOTOR, which Obsidian made instead of BioWare. Smart, iconoclastic, well-balanced, and broken as hell, KOTOR 2 is every bit the typical Obsidian game. I loved it, especially its mature twist on a universe of black and white moral simplicity, though I am sad for how much more this game could've been if the developers had been allowed to complete it in time (the fan restoration patch, while excellent, can only do so much in this regard). A promising start to the month's festivities. (5 Stars.)

  • 15/05. The second May Millennial game. Blade of Darkness surprised me with how closely it hued to a certain deliberately-paced action RPG franchise from Japan, especially some eight years before that game's origin, and presented a taut, challenging dungeon-crawler where preservation of health and taking every opponent seriously were the keys to survival. It could be a bit slow and repetitive, but there's something about how well considered the mechanics are that have helped it age gracefully (though its early polygonal graphics didn't help much). (4 Stars.)

  • 16/05. The one-hundred-and-twentieth Indie Game of the Week. A relaxing, undemanding point-and-click adventure game that felt like a cross between one of Amanita's whimsical exploration games and something a bit more straightforward like all those HOPAs (hidden object puzzle adventure) I played last year. Just the stopgap I needed between all the big CRPGs this month. (4 Stars.)

  • 16/05. The one-hundred-and-nineteenth Indie Game of the Week. A cute if blackly comic puzzle game that had you saving/killing various animals in set amounts, using a set of small islands to jump groups of critters back and forth. It got devious quick, but never beyond the point where I was completely lost: the size of the levels are such that you could feasibly luck upon the right solution eventually. I only have a small list of preferences when it comes to these mobile-friendly puzzle games - never too difficult, never too complex, and frequently add new wrinkles to keep the puzzle-solving fresh - and Divide by Sheep met all of them, to its credit. (4 Stars.)

  • 22/05. The third May Millennial game. This was my first exposure to Gothic, but not to its developer Piranha Bytes as I'd played their more recent Risen and Risen 2 games. It's evident these developers have a formula they like to stick to: an RPG world where the odds are always stacked against you, and you have to fight for every scrap of XP and loot. Sometimes it's a case of avoiding everything until you've stolen or earned some decent gear before you even think about going exploring outside of the hub town. Challenging but also rewarding, though I'm not sure PB have yet made a game where the combat was anything to write home about. (4 Stars.)

  • 23/05. The one-hundred-and-twenty-first Indie Game of the Week. I think I unfairly railed against Dandara's brief runtime in its review, and on reflection it's not that I have a problem with short games - the reverse is usually true, especially with these weekly Indie games - but the way the game seemed to end abruptly, the final boss coming and going followed by an ambiguous postscript for the world and its titular heroine. I did love its visual style, its bonkers metaphysical narrative about the forces of creation, and that ingenious central surface-hopping mechanic that I felt like I only finally got to grips with when the game ended. I'd be interested in a sequel to Dandara, but then it's such a deliberately singular thing that perhaps it doesn't need one. (4 Stars.)

  • 29/05. The fourth and final May Millennial game for 2019. Arx Fatalis, which I briefly tried to get into what feels like a decade ago, proved to be every bit the unusual construct I remember: an Ultima Underworld-riffing first-person dungeon-crawler that took great pains establishing a bizarre setting - an interdimensional cop manifests on a subterranean world of permanent winter to prevent the coming of an apocalyptic deity - and building out this dungeon with environmental storytelling. It's no surprise in retrospect that Arkane would build on this first effort with the equally odd Dishonored and Prey franchises. I particularly liked this game's magic system: it often felt like a spacewhipper, with new runes leading to spells like levitation and telekinesis, which in turn allowed for much greater exploration possibilities. (4 Stars.)

  • 30/05. The one-hundred-and-twenty-second Indie Game of the Week. The Mooseman is, like similar projects Never Alone and Year Walk, an adventure game that combines simple puzzles with a whole lot of cultural history. As a Slavic demigod whose task it is to make the sun rise, the player is tasked with traversing three whole worlds - the mortal world, the underworld, and the world of the gods - full of monsters, deities, spirits, and other supernatural beings. At turns tense and picturesque, it's a slight game that nonetheless has a lot of depth when it comes to its depictions of its chosen subject matter. (4 Stars.)

  • 03/06. The Bucketlog game for May, representing the N64. It was possibly kismet but almost certainly a coincidence that I finally completed the slightly overstuffed Banjo-Tooie just before E3 and the bear and bird's surprise appearance in same. I spent about 20 hours more than I intended to with this game, as I had not expected the level of complexity that could be involved with a colorful 3D platformer. It may have lost some of the purity of the first's more simple and clean approach, but I can't fault its choice to evolve by engaging the player intellectually (to the extent that a mascot 3D platformer can) with its intricate and often multi-layered Jiggy solutions. (4 Stars.)

  • 06/06. The one-hundred-and-twenty-third Indie Game of the Week. Like Back to Bed, from the same developers, Figment trades in dreamlike logic and whimsy, as the player is once again trapped inside an unconscious mind. Figment is not just a puzzle game, however; it has a more in-depth narrative, perfunctory combat, and its varied worlds - based on logic, memory, imagination, and other mental faculties - each contain their own challenges and obstacles to overcome. Unfortunately, I found it a bit too buggy and the puzzles often went out of their way to be as time-consuming and annoying as possible. There's a charm to Figment's ambition that is undeniable, but that also brought with it no end of growing pains. (3 Stars.)

  • 12/06. If you were going to make a Spider-Man game, or really any superhero open-world game, this would be the way to do it. Anchor it with a mature plot with an older and more relatable version of the oft-teenaged Peter Parker, make sure the combat makes full use of the character's skillset - a combination of acrobatics, overwhelming strength, and a resourceful command of gadgets - and an appealing world to explore between the story-critical content. I feel Marvel's Spider-Man is probably going to be the Horizon: Zero Dawn of 2018: a solid open-world game with few complaints, but the open-world genre is so familiar by now that for any game to really rise above it they'd need to do something truly innovative. (5 Stars.)

  • 16/06. I started playing this lesser-known (except to N-Gage fanatics, I suppose) Falcom RPG when I highlighted it as part of a Falcom blog series I wrote while E3 was happening. Xanadu Next is a little more deliberately-paced than Ys, perhaps to its detriment, and has more of a Soulsian world design where areas would link back into each other in unexpected ways to create shortcuts. It was pleasingly old-school in the manner Falcom games often are, and just what I needed to keep my head down while the exhausting fallout of E3 spilled over to the following week. (4 Stars.)

  • 21/06. The one-hundred-and-twenty-fifth Indie Game of the Week. A ghost story that's not necessarily a rollercoaster of tense horror, Goetia is very much a quiet and contemplative adventure game in the guise of a thriller. Smart and flawed in equal measure, Goetia struggles to find its own tone but anticipates a patient enough player ready to plumb its depths and solve its mysteries at the languid pace the game sets. Definitely more Myst than Resident Evil. (4 Stars.)

  • 24/06. My collection of physical Switch games ballooned from 0 to 3 at the end of last year, and yet it took halfway into the next one before I found time for the oldest of the three: the riotous crossover between Nintendo's Mario and Ubisoft's Rabbids, in the incongruous format of a turn-based strategy game. Smartly adapted to play to both Mario's strengths (at least, the strengths of his often simplified RPG outings like Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario) and that of the self-referential chaotic antics of the Rabbids, I anticipated gruelling challenges but was met with a relatively stable difficulty curve instead. Really, only the final boss gave me any serious trouble, though the less said about the post-game "Ultimate" challenges the better. (5 Stars.)

  • 05/07. The one-hundred-and-twenty-seventh Indie Game of the Week. A graphically simple Indie take on Metroid Fusion that manages to be almost as substantial with a massive map and a bevvy of new abilities and upgrades to find. A simplified health system doesn't make the boss fights any easier, and the game can get downright Kaizo with some of its secret end-game areas. Worth bouncing into if explormers are your bag, as it feels like the developer understands them well. (4 Stars.)

  • 08/07. The Bucketlog entry for June, representing the Game Boy Advance. Mother 3 is still probably the most desired official Nintendo localization that has yet to occur, as the sequel to EarthBound - a SNES cult classic - with an even more subversive and downbeat personality. This game can be downright haunting, but is full of the silly surreal humor that made EarthBound such an enduring hit. Great worldbuilding, brilliant translated script by Tomato, tense turn-based combat, and an overall remarkable game that Nintendo really needs to respect more. (5 Stars.)

  • 12/07. The one-hundred-and-twenty-eighth Indie Game of the Week. This is the second and third episodes, as I covered the first for IGotW last year. From the very start, Bear With Me was clearly not just the cute noir parody with stuffed toys it presented itself as, and the third episode especially finally digs into the metaphysical weirdness happening at the periphery of the conventional detective story at the core. Great little adventure game that's waiting to pull the rug out from under you. (4 Stars.)

  • 12/07. The one-hundred-and-twenty-sixth Indie Game of the Week. Golf Story has a neat concept and some funny scriptwriting in its corner, but while the golfing aspect just about manages to carry the game there's a lot of times where it feels a little arbitrary or unnecessarily difficult, and the game has a serious dearth of quality-of-life features. Being unable to restart a challenge mid-way through, for instance, when you've already failed to meet the quota it sets, or how infrequently it checkpoints. A "close, but no birdie" case in most regards, it can at least be content knowing it is the best golf RPG out there. (3 Stars.)

  • 20/07. The one-hundred-and-twenty-ninth Indie Game of the Week. Though a delightful 2D Wind Waker pastiche on the surface, I turned on this game quick due to some unfortunate slowdown issues (a death knell for any tricky platformer) and some boneheaded level design around the mid-game dungeons. Though the overall world design is great, especially in the way you have to poke and prod your way around the game's many islands to make forward progress, certain sequences are just not fun, and doubly so when the framerate occasionally dips to single digits. The hacker boss was a particular low point. (2 Stars.)

  • 25/07. The one-hundred-and-thirtieth Indie Game of the Week. A fantastic, narrative-heavy game about an unfortunate family legacy where it feels every other member died young due to some bizarre fate. Told from the perspective of the only living Finch, Edith, the way she explores her ancestral home and digs into her past is like the ultimate episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?", with each vignette perfectly calibrated - visually and mechanically - to the doomed soul they pertain to. A fantastic return to form for the developers of The Unfinished Swan. (5 Stars.)

  • 29/07. If you're wondering why there's four Indie Games of the Week in a row up there, it's because the majority of this month was swallowed up by Larian's latest. DOS2 not only finds a way to improve on the mechanical complexity of one of the best strategic RPGs of the past decade, but manages to improve every other aspect too: the story, the characterization, the exploration, the treasure and item variety, the visuals, and the myriad quality-of-life additions. It's a seriously impressive package I feel a little sheepish for having slept on for so long. (5 Stars.)

  • 31/07. The July Bucketlog entry was spent on this Sega Mega Drive game; one of the venerable classics of the system that made its way to the big Mega Drive compilations of recent years (as well as the Sega Mega Drive Mini library). Though it resembles a Zelda clone with an Middle Eastern flair, it's far more like a brawler with a few Zelda dungeon puzzles to punch it up, most of which revolve around a pack of elemental spirits with unique abilities that you first have to figure out how to summon to your side before you can use their powers. A compelling enough action-adventure game with a strong combat engine and great 16-bit graphics, it's one of a few times where my recent digging into the Mega Drive's history has produced unexpected gold. (4 Stars.)

  • 09/08. The one-hundred-and-thirty-second Indie Game of the Week. Chuchel has me popping by my old friends Amanita Design to Czech off another of their games from my list. As with their other games, like Samorost and Botanicula, Chuchel is really more of a series of vignettes where trial-and-error clickery is the order of the day. Rather than being an irksome, arbitrary time, the amount of wonder and silliness produced by that clicking makes even dead ends entertaining, and the game has this wholesome energy throughout. It's almost like "playing" the weirdest Looney Tunes shorts you've ever seen. (4 Stars.)

  • 11/08. The one-hundred-and-thirty-first Indie Game of the Week. The first half of August was eaten by this quirky Indie SRPG, which just kept going and going as you continued to gain in levels and explored more of the map, until you were trying to figure out how to take down level 999 enemies. A dash of Disgaea DNA for sure, but progress-wise it was closer to an isometric open-world RPG like Divine Divinity (the original one). Compelling stuff, clearly, but I'm not sure I would've stuck with it so long were it not for my OCD. (4 Stars.)

  • 19/08. The third and final game in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. I made this trio last, it being my first playthrough of all three, and I continue to be aghast that I let some quality collectathoning pass me by way back when. I didn't care for 3 as much as the first two: the sections with new characters you can switch between were hit and miss, and I really did not enjoy the skateboarding or its controls or its loose command of physics. I can understand why a series would feel the need to expand its repertoire for its third outing, but the new additions were underwhelming here. Of course, Spyro will continue to go downhill for its non Insomniac-sequels, so I guess this will be where he and I will split. Farewell, little dragon. Don't accept collect calls from Drobot. (3 Stars.)

  • 23/08. The one-hundred-and-thirty-fourth Indie Game of the Week. I honestly didn't do right by this game; I figured I could push my old hardware hard enough to get me through to its end in one shaky form or another, like I did with this series' other Steam ports, but it was running so poorly it managed to summon game-breaking bugs into existence. It was definitely a compromised playthrough that I had no other recourse but to criticize harshly, but I'm sure most people playing it won't ever have those issues. Weird and unfortunate. (3 Stars.)

  • 29/08. The one-hundred-and-thirty-fifth Indie Game of the Week. I'd heard tell this was "Grimrock Jr." and it's not far off. A greatly reduced and streamlined take on one of those old first-person dungeon crawler RPGs, Monkey Tavern is also short in length and no-frills with its art direction. It does, however, retain the necessary elements for the core experience like the atmosphere and puzzles, suggesting its developers were attached to games of the genre but didn't quite have the resources or talent pool to create one as distinctive and clever as the Grimrock games or even older precursors like Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master. Not bad, and I appreciate the occasional micro-sized RPG, but nothing special. (3 Stars.)

  • 03/09. The eighth game for the Bucketlog feature, representing the Xbox 360 console. More competent than the first, but also less interesting because of it, it's an open-world RPG that has jank coming out of the ears, but no shortage of ambition, innovation, and heart following in its wake. I'm glad the developers got closer to what they had envisioned for this franchise this time around. (3 Stars.)

  • 06/09. Finally decided to start playing some 2019 games, albeit short and cheap ones. PictoQuest tries to combine RPGs and picross games with moderate success, but the two disparate genres don't quite hybridize fully. Forcing time limits and balancing that with limited use power-ups is taking picross in two directions I'm not interested in. (3 Stars.)

  • 15/09. The one-hundred-and-thirty-seventh Indie Game of the Week. A capable Diablo clone that does some clever things with its streamlining, reducing some aspects of the Diablo loot RPG archetype while emphasizing others, like completing challenges in the vein of "don't take damage" or "use specific weapons". A bit limited in its content variety, but smartly designed to compensate for its shortcomings at least. Plays well too. (4 Stars.)

  • 19/09. The one-hundred-and-thirty-eighth Indie Game of the Week. The result of my trolling Steam for new spacewhippers. Pocket Kingdom's a little more puzzle-focused and combat-deficient than others of the genre, but has some smart ideas and a compact world perfectly suited for portable gaming. That is, if it ever came out on a portable...? (4 Stars.)

  • 27/09. The one-hundred-and-thirty-ninth Indie Game of the Week. While I'm always down for more of these stained glass jigsaw puzzles, Illusions felt like a step back after the first. A bit more uniformity with its puzzle shapes and a new theme that the game sticks to throughout, rather than mixing it up with the different world cultures of Glass Masquerade 1. It certainly still delivered on the chill puzzle-solving front, but I couldn't help but walk away mildly disappointed. (4 Stars.)

  • 29/09. My annual (or one and a half annual?) Yakuza playthrough goes back to the start, or eight years before the start, with this '80s prequel game in which cycloptic wildcard Goro Majima is playable for the first time. Excellent spins on the older systems of the franchise, subverting some while remastering others, and retaining the game's urban living heart of goofy substories and a bevvy of side-activities to get lost in. The franchise continues to fire on all cylinders with each new entry. (5 Stars.)

  • 30/09. The ninth Bucketlog entry checks out another one of Nintendo's big "lost games": like neutron stars, these games are barely visible to us and yet carry a great amount of pull with how much they would go on to influence other major Nintendo products. In Kaeru's case, that would be Link's Awakening, with which it shares its engine. A lighthearted action-adventure platformer with irreverent, meta jokes and a very linear story progression, it's a slight game but one deserving of its beloved cult classic status. My hope is that they remake this one in the same engine as the new Switch Link's Awakening, thereby returning the favor. (4 Stars.)

  • 01/10. Dragon Quest Builders has four campaigns that I was picking away at throughout September. I appreciate why they had to build the game that way - each campaign had a different directive and resources with which to build a town from scratch - but I didn't like leaving my towns half-formed like that. Still, I really enjoyed this particular DQ spin on Minecraft, much like I enjoyed Dragon Quest Heroes and its approach to Musou games. Between the wholesome visuals, the silly puns, and the keen appreciation for whichever genre they're drawing from, games set in this universe just inspire joy. (4 Stars.)

  • 03/10. The one-hundred-and-fortieth Indie Game of the Week. I'm always on the lookout for Indie 3D platformers, especially those that explicitly claim to be following in Rare's footsteps. Unbox has some enormous levels to navigate and movement controls that take a while to adjust to, but it's an earnest effort to help resurrect the collectathon and I'm always happy to see those. (4 Stars.)

  • 10/10. The one-hundred-and-forty-first Indie Game of the Week. An unpretentious little adventure game about a Swedish mythical creature surrounded by others bigger and scarier than he, Oknytt complements the usual item inventory puzzles with an elemental system that allows you to summon rain or light to solve problems. The tone is that of a spooky but wholesome fairytale. (4 Stars.)

  • 12/10. Though the story was as occasionally impenetrable as I feared, KH3 is an overall solid action RPG that can be a bit hit-or-miss with its individual worlds based on Disney/Pixar properties. It has a preponderance of mini-games that I mostly enjoyed, and some welcome combat and traversal tweaks that were either added to this sequel or the dozen of interquels released since KH2. It's probably not my favorite 2019 game, but it's far from a disaster. (4 Stars.)

  • 17/10. The one-hundred-and-forty-second Indie Game of the Week. I've seen games like Hue a dozen times before - puzzle-platformers with melancholy voiceover and a visually striking art style - but it doesn't mean I'm tired of them, especially if they're adept with their difficulty curves and incremental feature rollout like Hue. A little verbose at times and some frustrating longer gauntlets here and there, but otherwise a solid entry in Indie gaming's most populous genre. (4 Stars.)

  • 21/10. I've been on a VN kick of late, trying to get a better sense of the nuances of the genre by trying out as many of the highly acclaimed ones as I can. 428 leans heavily into the "choose your own adventure" aspect of VNs, navigating a matrix of decisions that might not only spell an early end for the immediate protagonist but also dire consequences, butterfly effect style, for a different protagonist too. Between the sharp writing that bounces between surreal comedy and action thriller and the insidiously clever way everyone's routes are connected, I had a fantastic time navigating my way through an imperilled Shibuya. (5 Stars.)

  • 24/10. The one-hundred-and-forty-third Indie Game of the Week. One of the oldest Indie games I've dug up for this feature, Mr. Robot came out twelve years ago and still feels relatively fresh by combining two disparate genres together: the isometric platformer-adventure game once so beloved of Rare and other 8-bit British developers, and a turn-based RPG with hacking programs and viruses more akin to Final Fantasy. The challenge level was all over the place and there were a few rough patches - isometric platforming can be some really arbitrary business - but the change of pace that came from switching between the two modes made the game's moderate runtime just whizz past. (3 Stars.)

  • 24/10. Remedy's latest plays to their strengths as a studio who loves to spin a good yarn, crafting half a century's worth of mythos around a clandestine governmental body established to protect the USA from bizarre interdimensional phenomena, and then layers on top of that shooter combat that eschews the usual cover systems for all sorts of "parautility" (i.e. psychic abilities) trickery. As you learn more of these skills - from parakinesis to brief teleport bursts to actual flight - your approach to fights undergoes significant evolution, so the game feels fresh throughout. Like with Vanquish, the unique shooter mechanics introduced here makes it really hard to take seriously the franchises treading water with the same old tired wall-ducking shit. I'm so happy for Remedy that after all these ambitious swings for the fences they've finally rediscovered that Max Payne magic that comes from expertly combining an entertaining pulpy presentation with some smartly innovative and fun shooting. (5 Stars.)

  • 31/10. The one-hundred-and-forty-fourth Indie Game of the Week. A suitably spooky game for All Hallow's Eve, Reveal the Deep is a brief affair but one that gets its atmospheric hooks in early by dropping you on a sunken ship in a claustrophobic diving suit as you first piece together what happened to this doomed seacraft and then work towards fixing the problems that still - quite literally - haunt it. It's a tone piece with a few puzzle-platforming challenges but is otherwise about creeping yourself out by exploring this murky wreck, with puzzles that occasionally require that you turn off the only light source keeping your wits together. A lot with a little, as I say in my review. (4 Stars.)

  • 07/11. The one-hundred-and-forty-fifth Indie Game of the Week. A cute if brief and uneventful explormer featuring a cat in a power suit that must occasionally leave its safe confines, Zero Suit Samus style, to solve some puzzles. Unless you really love kitties or explormers, it's a bit too slight to fully recommend. (3 Stars.)

  • 08/11. I had an absolute ball playing through Ultimate's single-player content, acquiring spirits and fighting my way across the expansive World of Light adventure mode. I wish it had a little more reading material, but if this is the Smash to end all Smash games I'm content that we're getting the best of it here. It's not like I'm ever going to go pro at it. (5 Stars.)

  • 12/11. The Bucketlog entry for October, fashionably late. Arc the Lad is the first part of a planned series, so it feels lacking in a lot of departments. It's also not particularly sophisticated as SRPGs go, and would be outclassed severely by Final Fantasy Tactics in a couple of years. All the same, I enjoyed the story and the characters, enjoyed that there was no way to permanently lose someone unless the story demanded it, and I even found that ridiculous fifty-floor bonus dungeon somewhat compelling. (4 Stars.)

  • 18/11. The one-hundred-and-forty-sixth Indie Game of the Week. I think this was the IGAVania successor everyone was hoping it would be, barring a few growing pains close to launch and a graphical style that might need some further tweaking should a sequel emerge. It embraces what made SOTN and especially the Sorrow games great: the vast amount of experimentation you could make with your builds, from the weapons and armors to the spells and passives you acquired from monster drops. There's so much castle to explore and so much side-business to get embroiled in that it's hard to say you don't get your money's worth, especially if you were a backer. (4 Stars.)

  • 24/11. The one-hundred-and-forty-seventh Indie Game of the Week. Speaking of Kickstarter games, Indivisible is the Skullgirls team working on a Valkyrie Profile homage seeped in South Asian culture. VP's combat had something close to a fighter game sensibility with its emphasis on combos, so it didn't take much for Indivisible to push it even further in that direction with a huge team of playable characters to mix and match. My highlight, though, was the exceptional platforming enhanced by the typical series of acquired abilities. It falls off a bit towards the end, but it's two fine games in one. (4 Stars.)

  • 26/11. The Bucketlog entry for November. Aside from a crushing level of "Nintendo Hard" difficulty that prompted a number of start-overs, Zelda II isn't wholly the nightmare its reputation made it out to be. I think coming to the game late after so many Zelda games in the identical mold helped my appreciation for its changes, in much the same way Breath of the Wild was a breath of fresh air, so to speak. It won't be on my top five Zelda lists any time soon, but I think its stock has retroactively grown. (4 Stars.)

  • 28/11. The one-hundred-and-forty-eighth Indie Game of the Week. Gorogoa is a game that defies a simple explanation as to its mechanics, beyond "you can go into pictures and split scenes apart to solve puzzles". The methods through which it explores its multitude of spaces is nothing short of brilliant though, and I've likened it to the opening montage of the movie Paprika as the titular character hops from a billboard to a t-shirt to a moving truck's logo. The text- and dialogue-free narrative is something you piece together too, as a young boy fights a colorful (and possibly symbolic) dragon while bouncing forwards and backwards through time. (5 Stars.)

  • 01/12. First game for Go! Go! GOTY! this year. A puzzle game that challenges your perception of its "rules" every step of the way, using its cute squiggly characters to lure you into a false sense of normalcy. Though it broke my brain more than once, I can't stay mad at a game this inventive, unpredictable, and clever. (4 Stars.)

  • 04/12. Second game for Go! Go! GOTY! this year. Horace has its problems both technical and mechanical, but I couldn't help but be impressed by its ambition and heart. Video game narratives rarely get this twisty and left field, filled with silly references and less-silly tragedy, and it was impossible to know where it was going to go next. I'm a big fan of collectathons too, which helped me get through the game's trickier platforming sequences. I easily racked up more than a thousand deaths without trying too hard, which honestly says just as much about me as it does about the game. (4 Stars.)

  • 06/12. Third game for Go! Go! GOTY! this year. Cute, but way too slight. Pikuniku has an easygoing charm as it coasts through a number of simple platforming and puzzle challenges, but I can't say I didn't have a fine time with the game. If you have kids, this feels like a great game to introduce them to. (3 Stars.)

  • 08/12. Fourth game for Go! Go! GOTY! this year. I'd completed the first two episodes shortly after the game launched, but now all five episodes are out and the full story is available. The puzzle quality fell off sharply around Episodes 4 and 5, but I overall enjoyed this slow-burn spaceborne adventure game, especially its wit and resourceful inventory puzzles. (3 Stars.)

  • 12/12. Fifth game for Go! Go! GOTY! this year. The final bonus Shovel Knight campaign, King of Cards has some excellent platforming marred only slightly by a card game I had zero attachment to. With enough practice and high-level cards, I eventually managed to beat every player and take on the bonus boss, but it's easily the lesser half of this package. Still, I appreciate any 2D platformer throwback that looks to Wario Land for inspiration. (4 Stars.)

  • 15/12. Sixth game for Go! Go! GOTY! this year. I didn't anticipate much considering this game is currently being given away for free on Steam, but it proved to be a worthy successor to one of the gloriously sleazy masocore platformers of the decade, with even more ambitious interludes (Doom levels!) and ludicrous story objectives. One of the best licensed soundtracks of the year too. (4 Stars.)

  • 20/12. The one-hundred-and-forty-ninth Indie Game of the Week. The penultimate IGotW was on this nature-themed explormer, one absent combat of any kind, where the goal is to usher in a new season to accompany the four usual ones. An attractive and wholesome game but not one with a whole lot of substance gameplay-wise. (3 Stars.)

  • 28/12. The one-hundred-and-fiftieth Indie Game of the Week. Played during the Christmas break, GNOG feels like a set of interactive playsets with some very simple puzzles, making me wonder why I played so many games clearly made for children in December. It's not a bad game by any stretch: the joy of discovery and its idiosyncratic visual design are highlights. It's the very acme of casual gaming though; fine for most, but not really my tempo (ooh, listen to Mr. Badass Gamer over here). (3 Stars.)

  • 29/12. Speaking of hidden object games, I decided to let this year go out the same way 2018 did: by playing a nice, straightforward HOPA. This really only came about after watching the Grumps play a Christmas-themed HOPA, which got me bitten by the hidden object bug. I can't really say if this was better or worse than any of the ones I played last year; they all stick to such a rigid formula that they're more or less interchangeable. (3 Stars.)