By Redhotchilimist 5 Comments
2018 wasn't a big video game playing year for me(It was an unusually big anime watching year instead). I played some games from this year, but the only one that rates as a favorite game is Spider-Man, and I didn't spend a ton of time on much besides Street Fighter V's multiplayer. So rather than a top 10 games I played this year, I'm gonna go through everything I played this year chronologically. Afterwards, I'm for the first time gonna present some different awards.
Games I played in 2018
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Naughty Dog's games have been in my backlog since forever, so last January I decided to take the plunge and try out Giant Bomb's 2009 Game of the Year.
The game goes for this adventure movie vibe of an Indiana Jones, but with the added quipping of television shows like Buffy or Castle. That dedication to being like a movie runs through the whole game. There's a ton of scripted sequences and big setpiece moments, and you've always got an NPC around to show you where to run and to exchange quips with you. I think setpiece moments are fine now and then, but when you step out of line in this game it shuts you down immediately.
At several different points you get locked in a room for a big firefight or stealth 'em up. At one point, you're hiding inside a turned-over train car and have to fend of attackers. But if you pick the smart option of getting out and using the whole car as cover, snipers spawn behind you and finish you off in an instant. At first this looked like I could dodge them. But it doesn't work.
They're effectively a cutscene, instantly ripping you apart for going outside the script. Later on there was a boss fight with a dude who could soak up an indefinite amount of bullets but would go down in a few scripted melee hits. There was a sequence where you're trying to escape up an obvious spot, sneaking around enemies stalking for you in the snow - but if you actually sneak around successfully and climb up, you get shot in the back in a game over cutscene. You've got to kill them all first. No no, not just once - you thought you were done, but there was another wave coming in and now you're dead.
This all frustrated me terribly. I guess I didn't expect to like Uncharted much. I'm not a big moviegoer, and when a game tries its best to ape movies it often kinda tires me out. Playing through the story, I don't care about any of these characters the way I care about them in other video games. The heroes are just too much banter and action movie cliches with little to set them apart from National Treasure or whatever. Meanwhile, the bad guys are an angry bald Russian and a slightly uglier british clone of Nathan Drake. There isn't time for them to develop further than their archetypes. It just ends up feeling like I'm dealing with stock characters. I don't sit there listening to Nathan Drake talking about how much he dislikes clowns and feel like I'm getting something out of it. It's not so bad I can laugh at it, but also not so good I genuinely feel something, the worst kinda middle of the road I can imagine.
And then on top of that, I'm not very fond of most shooters(there are exceptions). I appreciate that you can run around and do some jumps while firing guns, and the melee takedowns look funny, but I was pretty bored during even the most dramatic black and white shootouts of this game. It's not that it was easy, I'm a pretty mediocre player at best and died a lot during the more dramatic shootouts, I just wasn't engaged by it.
It was worth giving Uncharted 2 a shot just in case I was surprised and it turned out I loved it. I've made the mistake of avoiding games before thinking they weren't for me and then discovered I liked them a lot, so I do try out different things now and then. But actually playing this game didn't change any of my preconceptions about it. It just frustrated me even more in practice how locked in I was. Aside from the instant game overs I described above and some non-entertaining gunplay, I was also annoyed by the climbing, which just locks you into a path and only rarely requires you to hit a button. It's like fake platforming or something. You're never asked to think.
The only time challenge enters into it is when I've been playing for 7 hours and my brain can no longer figure out where to find the ledge that starts the climbing. This only happened like twice, but I just had to give up and come back later. Most of this stuff is meticulously color coded as usual, but throw one white ledge on a red brick wall and apparently my eyes cease functioning, probably 'cause they're used to doing zero work at this point.
I'd be having more fun if Uncharted had either way more freedom so I could play it in my own way, or if this was all presented as one of those modern adventure games, Until Dawn style. The middle of the road approach just gets on my nerves, I guess.
If you're blown away enough by the performance capture and movie aspirations I can understand how it could be your game of the year, especially if you naturally play inside the confines of the game. But I promise you the visual shine has faded in the decade since then, especially running at 30 fps in the original game that I played. And then the gameplay is both not especially fun, and terribly locked in.
More diplomatically, this one wasn't for me, as one says. I can see how it does something unique that could appeal to you, but it's very much not my preferred taste.
Metal Gear Rising Revengeance
If I was doing a top 10 list of the favorite games I played this year, the winner would be 2013's excellent Metal Gear Rising Revengeance. After Uncharted 2 failed to entertain I went to replay something that makes me sit up in my chair, grinning from ear to ear, laughing with excitement as amazing tracks kick in and colossal robot monsters are cut into a million pieces. It's not that I can't enjoy some cinematics in my games, it's that they need to be fun cinematics rather than dull ones.
There is bald terrorist bad guy in this game too, like Uncharted. The difference is that Lazarevic says things like "Compassion is the enemy, mercy defeats us!" and then chases you around for a spell with a shotgun. Meanwhile, Sundowner is asking you to give war a chance and wants to bring the war economy back to the good old days after 9/11, and you fight his armored ass on top of a building as he smacks you with pillars he ripped out off the ground himself. I guess for some people this style is just a bit too dumb for them to get into it, but I'd rather go through this story than Uncharted's any day. Or even something with much more time to develop its characters, like Mass Effect or Horizon Zero Dawn.
There's an inherent joyful vibe to it that's sorely lacking in those other games. It's fun. And it's fun in its own way, not from trying to be Indiana Jones by way of Castle. Despite the Metal Gear franchise coming from Kojima's love of American movies, there's a distinct separate voice to it that Uncharted lacks.
Rising doesn't feel like it follows on from Metal Gear Solid 4, even though it does. At the end of that game, Raiden has a family again, gets a humanoid robot body rather than the war machine he was wearing for the entirety of the story, and seems ready to care for them. By the start of this game, he's back in the war business and we barely ever hear about his family at all. A few hours later, he's gone extra murder mad as his child soldier personality resurfaces, which is hard to not feel like a step back for the character. Revengeance is a story that stands on its own, and might be best experienced as that.
I'm mostly grateful it doesn't delve into his family stuff. Rose remains a complete nightmare, and her character always involved her lying to Raiden for the entire runtime of the games she's in. We interact with the one person from MGS4 worth interacting with for a few scenes, and that's good enough for me.
Which isn't to say that Rising doesn't benefit from being set in the Metal Gear universe. In some ways, it surpasses the storytelling of MGS, giving me proper codec calls and an enjoyable miniboss ensemble again in a way MGS stopped doing back in MGS3(so, 2004). The near future sci-fi of 2018 in this game is an utterly unique setting for a brawler. It's our world, but with significant advances in robotics and AI, and a military complex consisting almost entirely of PMCs.
Basing it in the real world grounds Rising in a way Bayonetta, God of War or Devil May Cry can't be. It gives the genre the opportunity to move outside of the endless angelic/demonic conflicts these games use 'cause it's an easy way to create visually distinct, unquestionably evil opponents to mow down. Fortitudo from Bayo, Ares from God of War, Belial from DMC4, the Succubus from DmC, these aren't characters you can talk to besides some brief taunting, and you don't learn much besides the fact that they're evil or mad at you.
The bosses from Rising only get a few scenes to introduce themselves, it's a pretty cutscene-light game in the context of the Metal Gear series. But they're endlessly more memorable and enjoyable because they're cyborgs, grounded in human history and conflicts rather than demonic ones. The final boss might be the best final boss in any action game ever, a charismatic jackass politician who goes outside his mecha to power up in a way I haven't seen since Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Platinum took the already fantastic cheese of Metal Gear and added their own sense of humor to it, resulting in a charming game with tons of funny moments even as some of the darker elements come to light. It's a bit more animated, winking at the camera during moments the other MGS' would be more straightfaced, especially during MGS4 and MGSV.
Rising is in many ways a lesser game than Platinum's Bayonetta. The chapter where Raiden regresses to his old persona has a walking section I would rather do without. The visual design is based on MGS4, the brownest and bloomiest game of the brown and bloomy 7th generation of gaming, so the color palette isn't exactly lively(but to be fair, Bayo also has the bad habit of dousing areas in yellow light). It's much shorter and much leaner than Bayonetta, lacking the variety you get from Bayo's endless weapons, dodges, double jumps and move list. But I think it surpasses it in setting, story and music, and the unique gameplay gimmicks of blade mode and the parrying defense keep it more than fresh enough for a runthrough of the modest campaign length. Metal Gear Rising Revengance is a trip, and if you have it in you to enjoy cyborg ninjas exchanging trash talk with robot dogs, it's a game you need to play ASAP.
Monster Hunter World
When the devs do their best to make on of the most inherently fun concepts in gaming more accessible, prettying it up and putting it out on a console, I felt like I owed it to both them and myself to try it out. Unfortunately, I think there are still enough trappings around the edges of it that makes it tough to get into. The online is hard to get working, the in-game terminology for quests is difficult to understand, the menu text is often small enough that I needed to move my couch closer to the TV and all the tiny subsystems are impossible to remember.
There has to be a way to do this better. It feels like getting thrown into Pokemon lategame. I don't really need the gameplay to be dumbed down, the actual, well, action, I think that's excellent. And there's a palpable charm to all of it, especially with the little cat buddies. Love to watch them make me dinner. I just need an easier learning curve up to the action, and for some of the usability to be improved. Maybe next time.
This got on my list last year. I like it a lot as a refreshing, more action-oriented sequel to the Dark Souls series. This year I revisited it for 2018's Return to Yharnam event, where fans get together to play it at the same time in order to reinvigorate the online elements. I made a character that looks a bit more like me, and made it through... I dunno, half the game this time? It hadn't been that long since last I played it, so I wasn't all that hungry for more, but I did have a good time co-operating more with people than last time. I hope Sekiro evolves this formula even further. I've tried to stay in the dark on trailers and such, but I have seen they added some new mobility options that look enticing. I also like that Sekiro looks a bit more colorful. Old Japan isn't my favorite setting, but I suppose it lends itself to some light and beautiful environments for once.
Burnout Paradise Remastered
The second attempt I made this year at playing one of Giant Bomb's favorite games was Burnout Paradise. I managed to go about an hour, but by then I was bored to tears. I thought this racing game was arcadey enough to still be fun to play, but I guess it's Mario Kart or nothing for me.
30 years of Street Fighter
Last year was Street Fighter's 30 year anniversary, so Capcom, with their usual sense of punctuality, took this year to celebrate. Street Fighter V got its first major overhaul with Arcade Edition, which changed a lot of menus and systems. They then added the regular six new characters throughout the year plus Kage just this December.
Most importantly, the new season added in arcade mode, which had been astoundingly missing from the game since launch. Going above and beyond, they made six different arcade ladders based on each of the main games in the franchise, playable for characters that were in the original games(with a few exceptions, like the Final Fight dudes getting their story added to the SF1 ladder, or Laura standing in for Sean in SF3's ladder).
I think Arcade mode is welcome, and ambitious, but not done exactly the way I wanted. Every character gets their own hand-drawn ending splash page, summarizing their endings from the game it's from. But a splash page presentation is definitely a step down from what used to be cutscenes, albeit still image or lightly animated cutscenes. It's also as impenetrable as ever for a newcomer, and only gives the tiniest text summary next to the ending.
I get what's going on, but I played these games before and got the extra text at the start, the full dialogue of the original ending, all that stuff. Most damningly, the load times and overall longer battles mean that this mode that used to take 15 minutes if you were decent now can take half an hour at least. Yeah, you can get through some of the shorter ladders in that time, but good luck with the longer ones. To be fair, some of these endings are quite good. Ed's especially is touching. I appreciate that in addition to the arcade endings, you also get both new and old illustrations for the new gallery.
I've run through pretty much everyone's story in every game throughout the year, and there is some entertaining stuff in there. Street Fighter V is big on costumes for the characters - "Even if we redesigned your favorite character for V, you can pay us to get his old design back" might be the cynical way of looking at that. For the arcade mode though, it means they have all these costumes based on the various redesigns of the characters throughout the years. They've also pulled in a bunch of old stages and remade them, including most of the ones from Street Fighter 2.
So as you go through the arcade modes for the various games, they attempt to place characters on a stage that most resemble theirs from that game(like sticking Rainbow Mika at the new beach stage during the Alpha ladder). And they'll be wearing the closest skin to their original look. G even does the same thing Q did in SF3, only for SFV's ladder, and appears to challenge you if you're doing well. It's the same thing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate did this year with World of Light, although to a much smaller extent. Those people even straight up recreated Ryu's SF2 ladder as close as they could.
This year's characters were mostly not my thing - Sakura, Falke, Cody and Sagat were all characters I'm "Meh" on, while Blanka's annoying voiceover in both languages annoyed me too much to use him. I do like what they're doing with the story, however. Street Fighter 4 might as well have been a Street Fighter reboot, it brought in all kinds of characters from all across the timeline with no regard for how they fit together or how old they were in relation to one another. Street Fighter V, for better and worse, tries to move each character along.
Blanka has been conned into buying a load of bad mascots to increase his popularity, which he can't get rid of, resulting in one of the best story costumes. Sakura, now apparently the voice of my generation, has graduated school and gotten herself a part-time job, but is at a complete loss about what to do with herself in the future. Her personal answer is to start a family (maybe with the dude she's been stalking since Alpha 2, who knows), which I can respect. She's very cute about it. Cody has not only served his time in prison, he's inherited the role of Mayor on recommendation from Haggar, somehow. It's nice to see Cody return to his more heroic days, even if he still acts a little like a bored bum sometimes in his fancy new suit.
I love all of this, their old arcs being done means I can finally appreciate them for a moment in time, and it's interesting to me to see where they go next. I'd have appreciated if they did more with Sagat, however. He's gotten himself an actual tiger and a big cape, but his story mode is him clutching his chest and fighting his former self, having somehow acquired his own satsui no hadou. Which is kind of a direction to go in, but then in Kage's story mode you see the scene again but this time it's Kage fighting Sagat, so I guess that was what's going on. That's not much of a story for ol' Sagat. I expected them to do his story from the Ryu Final manga, which they do allude to in his SFV arcade ladder ending, but I'd rather see that expanded upon in his story mode. As it is, his arcade mode ending for V is just a more regressive version of his Ryu Final story.
Kage himself seems like little more than an excuse to have an Evil Ryu exist in a setting where Ryu has purged himself of the satsui no hadou. It was his big moment during A Shadow Falls, and by SF3 he canonically has overcome it. Until Street Fighter 4 brought him back the way it brought everybody back, it was just a Street Fighter Alpha thing. But the kids love their shotos, so Evil Ryu is back and eviler than ever. I guess the very concept of a lust for murder and power has the ability to break away from a person and form his own body now, able to interact with other fighters. It's silly, but not as silly as his new design.
I appreciate moving away from the basic Ryu reskin look as much as anybody, but the same way they gave Ken banana hair and Akuma's new beard brings a sunflower to mind more than it does a lion, I think their new look for Evil Ryu looks very hokey. He's got shiny oni horns, like he's Rem from Re:Zero, and he wears Ryu's bandana around his neck like a scarf. At least there's some thinking going on behind that, what with the horns of a berserk Ryu tearing apart the bandana meant to keep him cool, a gift from his best friend. But it's still a shirtless man wearing his bandana like a scarf, and I don't think you can pull of that look if you're not a cute girl. The dumbass Evil Ryu fans don't get what they're looking for, they don't want none of this oni mythology crap in their evil version of protag character, and there isn't much to latch onto for people who didn't like him before, either. I would've liked them to go way harder on his demonic form now that he's supposed to be his own being separate from Ryu, but I suppose that would be missing the point of his appeal. Personally though, I prefer his battle costume design. That looks more like some kinda demon and less like Ryu doing a cheap bit of cosplay with fake teeth and horns.
G was this year's breakout character. Not only does he play like an improved Q, which is a ton of fun, but his mysterious backstory and charismatic showmanship are very charming. I definitely prefer his Q-like alternative costume over the president look, however.
Much of Q's charm is just how mysterious he is. Is he a robot? Is it Chun-Li's father under there? A cyborg? Just a man in an iron mask? Are there more than one? Is he connected to the illuminati? Like maybe a third brother to Gill and Urien who's identity must remain a secret, or a side project like the Twelves? Is he completely unrelated to the main plot and just is this creepy detective dude? He has been seen at the scene of disasters and murders all over the world, but is he the cause or is he investigating? Is he just an extended reference to the tokusatsu show Robodeka K? Yeah, probably that last one, especially considering certain other SF3 characters who look like tokusatsu characters, but again who knows. Capcom are very aware that his allure lies in the answers being uncertain, and make sure to never reveal too much about him. His iconic look and well-animated sprites are enough to stoke the imagination.
So I was skeptical about G, but they kept the right appeal by being very mysterious about him, too. G's story is simply him preaching on a street corner, only he's also livestreaming his speeches. All of his extravegant behavior and bizarre philosophy(he talks about embodying the Earth, and its people) could go either way. Is he just a bit dumb? Is he pulling an elaborate con? Again, is he related to the illuminati? His moves all look like less deformed versions of Q's moves, and he's quite similar in build and the few visible features Q has. Does that mean he's gonna turn into Q? Maybe after his death, in an illuminati experiment, same way Nash was resurrected? Is he a defect model in a line of detective robots? Is he their leader, and they are his puppets? Is he, bizarrely, some sort of demonic entity? His power is the real deal, but who knows how he got it.
Those mysteries build on the legacy of Q in a neat way, letting us see more pieces of the puzzle without having a clear picture still. I dunno how much they'll actually reveal about them and if they'll ruin that appeal with bad revelations. Street Fighter V has a proper cinematic story mode now, and if they do a second chapter G is gonna be in there. He might be a bummer the same way Necalli never lived up to his own hype in A Shadow Falls. But as of the time of writing, I love G.
I haven't picked up Kage yet - He's not part of a season pass, so I'll at least wait until Capcom have stated their plans for Season 4.
Capcom put out Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection this year too. It collects the arcade version of every version of Street Fighter from 1 to 3, which sounds like it shouldn't be too many but are a whopping actual 12 titles. Most of them are Street Fighter 2 versions, then there's 3 each for Alpha and 3, with a measly one for SF1. It's also got a couple of bonuses I appreciated, with galleries of concept art for the games. It's uneven, though.
Only Street Fighter 2 has dev commentary over the design documents, and I've seen enough official art over the years to know the devs didn't exactly put everything they had into this Museum mode. Similarly, there's a character page where you can look at some animations frame by frame for the different characters. But I gotta imagine it wouldn't be impossible for them to make something where it's easier to look at the sprites. It's probably just a matter of time and money, same as the game shipping without training modes and the devs then patching them in.
It was fun going back. Definitely in a load times sense. Street Fighter V spends two minutes getting from the ps4 icon to the menu, and loading into a fight is at least a 30 second-long deal. These old games load instantly, natch.
I'd tried some version of most of these games, but the vast majority of these entries were unfamiliar to me. Good to see some solid spritework again. 2, Alpha and 3 all have a separate, solid style, with their own strengths and weaknesses. SF2 has the most realistic shading work, but the most rudimentary animation with the fewest frames. It's got an unassuming groundedness compared to what came later.
The Alpha series is beautiful to look at, a lot of clean flat shading and strong colors that make it look slightly more 90s anime than the others. I think it has many of the best stages in the franchise, like Rolento's elevator, Ken's cruise ship, Sakura's home and her shopping arcade, and Mika's beach. Maybe they were making up with the later ones for Alpha 1, which has some of the more boring and Street Fighter 1-like stages out there. Probably intentional, since this is set between 1 and 2, but trying to ape 1 for anything is a terrible idea.
And then SF3 has the most beautiful sprite animation I've seen, even if some animations and backgrounds have a whiff of the tracing and rotoscoping about them. Especially that car minigame. Sean's minigame has a background dude who might as well be a Mortal Kombat character, which isn't something you want anywhere near beautiful sprites. Anyway, Q, Chun-Li, Makoto and Hugo in particular are just some of the best animated sprite characters in any game I've ever played. They hold up no problem. Sprite animation has had an elongated life thanks to handhelds and a renaissance thanks to the indie market, but nobody ever attempts to make games with this level of spritework. Instead you get a lot of stick figures or simplified shapes with gradients on top, silhouettes or chibis or games imitating something older, often with good animation for what they are, but there's just no comparison to the skill and detail put into SF3. People don't make sprites looking like this stuff anymore, and even at the time of release, SF3 stood out.
The only indie fighting game I know of that even approaches SF3 is Skullgirls, which smartly went with traditional 2D animation. And wishing not to offend, while Skullgirls looks stellar, SF3 looks spectacular. It matches amazing animation with an eye for anatomy that just hasn't been beaten, and the only way it will look outdated is in terms of aspect ratio and resolution. In many ways, it still looks better than Street Fighter V. There's no odd expressions, clipping or oddly behaving physics objects going on when every frame is touched by a human, and you can get the muscles moving just right.
This was the first time I'd tried Street Fighter 1, and I'm glad their first title was so objectively terrible that nobody argues over what the worst Street Fighter game really is. This one will always hold the crown, no matter how many shitty live action Street Fighter movies get shitty video game adaptations. I'd swear the music is tailor made for torturing prisoners. I could link it, but please just take my word for it, I don't want to inflict it on anyone. The sprites themselves are so basic it's a wonder any of these characters made it forward at all. Sagat looks like his thigh is twice the size of his lower leg.
Street Fighter 2 is a very nostalgic title for me. It's one of the first games I played at my neighbor's house when I was very young, and those multiplayer experiences have grown over the years into full-blown fanboy love. But the problem is, that was the Super Nintendo version. 30th Anniversary has arcade perfect emulation, but it's naturally just the arcade games.
Differences in music and graphics made it difficult to feel like I'd come home, and the old controls were incredibly difficult to get used to after more recent fighting games. In short, I didn't play it for long because the elephants on Dhalsim's stage wouldn't shut up. On Super Nintendo they were mercifully silent. Still, it's nice to see these sprites again. These characters have been around for such a long time you can forget what they used to look like. Difference in skill these artists would later acquire aside(there's some odd anatomy here that can't be attributed to stylization), this game is probably the closest Street Fighter ever was to being remotely grounded. Chun looks positively believeable compared to her SFV look, and Ryu hasn't yet gone all porcupine with his hair. I have a fondness for this game still because of that identity it has that none of the others have recaptured.
It's amazing how many tweaks were done between versions. Some stuff is questionable, it seems like they only fiddled with the background colors so it'd look different at a glance, so some of the later versions' stages just look wack compared to the earlier ones. It's pretty nuts to me that the character's default canon colors aren't even easily available in some of these versions. That was a bad idea.
But the characters' new moves look amazingly animated and expressive compared to their old ones, and there are these tiny improvements everywhere that definitely improve the look of the game. The portraits undergo a lot of change, so while there's a special place in my heart for say, dopey original Guile, it's clear that they improved.
I had only played Alpha before on the GBA as Alpha 3 Upper, and the most important thing this collection showed me is why a lot of people prefer Alpha 2. Gameplay aside, the stages are all beautiful and the music is impeccable. Alpha 3 has its moments as far as stages go, but most of the music tracks are crappy tunes that have never shown up again in recognizable form in the franchise. Alpha 3 seems, undeniably, a lot deeper. There are a lot more characters, and there's now three systems for each to choose from. I'm just not inspired to experiment when I can't stand the music and the controls don't feel as tight as the later games.
The controls are still closer to 2 than any of the later ones, which was a bother again. I didn't realize how much I had gotten used to dashing, EX attacks and throws on light punch+light kick until it got taken away from me. Alpha 3 is also one of the games that suffers the most from just being an arcade port. The home versions had unique modes and many characters that were added in specifically for those versions. You won't find any Eagle, Yun, Guile or Maki here. Picking Balrog is a huge pain - Alpha 3 Upper just added the secret characters to the character select screen, but no such luck here. You gotta input an annoying code each time you want to play as him. As much as the arcade experience was vital to North American and Japanese fans, over here, there were never any major arcades, and certainly not in my town. While I appreciate getting the best experience in terms of looks and playability, those extra bells and whistles from the GBA port are sorely missed here.
It's interesting to play Mika and Birdie again now, in their original appearances. I love playing both in Street Fighter V, but back here in Alpha they're terrible. Some of this is the controls. Modern fighting games tend to have some kinda input buffer, making it easier to do motions. I dunno if Alpha and 2 have this, but it sure doesn't feel like it. My thumbs have never hurt more than when I desperately try to pull off a super move or a 360 motion in Alpha.
While I liked Mika in Alpha 3 Upper just from her looks and personality, I really didn't like Birdie. It's impressive how much they improved both of them, losing very little of their appeal while giving them both worthwhile new stuff. It's hard to go back and play them without their banana peels or Nadeshiko assists, as well as new normals. Translating Alpha original characters can be difficult 'cause they're a tad more anime than the rest, with outrageous haircuts.
They did a good job here though. Sodom is the one remaining character who hasn't hopped from Alpha into either 4 or V(Alpha 3 Upper characters aside), so I expect him to show his face in SFV sooner or later. While I think he's pretty uncool in Alpha, I won't mind at all if they work their magic on him like they did with Mika and Birdie.
On the opposite end from Mika and Birdie, Rose both looks and feels better to play here than I thought she did in 4. She's actually pretty cool, but only in her in-game sprite. It's got a whole different color and look from her artwork, and definitely from her depiction in Street Fighter 4. It's the difference between red, magenta and yellow vs black, pink and yellow.
Street Fighter 3 Third Strike is the crown jewel of the collection. The gameplay is some of the best it's been, and the controls and systems set the standard that Street Fighter 4 and V still follow to this day, parries aside. Choosing which super to bring into a fight, EX moves, dashes, that all came from here, as did the position of the throw buttons. This means it's by far the easiest game to go back to if you've played SF4 or V. I played this a lot not long ago, in the form of Online Edition on Xbox 360, and that's definitely the superior port. It gave you proper online, a decent filter, a lot of extra unlockables and music and even a tutorial or two.
This port might be arcade perfect, but like all these games, you lose out on a lot of bonuses and conveniences from the home versions. Still, it's just as enjoyable to sit down and play Third Strike as ever. I even liked going back to the first two games. They're undeniably worse, but there are some cool stages and good music in there. Sean's Second Impact stage I particularly like. I might actually say the stages were largely better before Third Strike. It's cool how several of them change location after a round, as bridges break or buildings are broken into. That's a feature I'm happy returned for Street Fighter V.
Third Strike was one of my college fighting games of choice. Me and my flatmate would rotate between playing this, Skullgirls and Jojo's Bizarre Adventure(all on xbox 360), usually every night. Third Strike is a pretty technical game. The parry system means you can deflect any attack as long as you've got that timing right. But even at our pleb level, where we almost never landed one, it's a very fun game to play.
The game just moves. Between the good feel, the awesome sound effects that sell all the impacts, and the lavish animation, it's very enjoyable to play at any skill level. There's a good speed to all the movement, as characters dash across the stage with their specific smears and exaggerations. Then there's amazing impact, thanks to some appropriate impact frames, hit sparks, sound effects and screen shaking. If Q gets you with his second super, you feel like you've just been hit by a truck. Just look at that video, it could not have been presented better. And throughout all of this action, these characters just look beautiful. There's never been a better Spinning Bird Kick. In terms of both feeling great to play, looking amazing, having stellar sound effects and having a ton of technical depth, Third Strike is a masterpiece.
Street Fighter 3 used to have a bad rep and was a less popular Street Fighter compared to 2 and Alpha. I wasn't really aware of many details about it, personally, till they put it out on 360. I guess I can see why from a character perspective at least. The first iteration, New Generation, only featured new characters besides Ken and Ryu. And while Ibuki and Dudley are fairly popular, the rest sure aren't.
And on a personal level, I'm really only into Necro and Dudley in the game. It wasn't until Third Strike I'd gotten all my favorites, like Q, Makoto, Hugo and the best incarnation of Chun-Li to date. Characters aren't, as established, just functions. So I won't blame anyone who didn't pick it up at the time.
Even as Third Strike, it's a bit light on content compared to Alpha 3, with fewer characters and stages to pick from. Beautiful animation has its price, it takes a lot of time, and that means not being able to have as many characters. And even among those... While clones have been a part of SF ever since Ken and Ryu, the clone to original character ratio of SF3 is a bit out of whack, with Ken, Akuma and Sean all based on Ryu, Yang on Yun, and Urien on Gill. Sure, they play a bit differently, but you still get to see 4 different-colored Ryu sprites with different heads, and they make up a big portion of the characters this time around.
I'd also be lying if I said I liked every character. Twelve is a nonentity, a standard shapeshifter with no personality and no really fun transformations. Remy feels like he walked in from a different fighting game, and I can't stand the guy. While Oro is conceptually fun as a one-armed master martial artist, his double jumps make the camera follow his movements upwards while the other character stays behind off-screen, which never fails to be annoying and gives me a bit of motion sickness.
And while some people love the soundtracks for this series, which has more of a hip-hop and jazzy sound this time around, I don't give a crap about most hip-hop, and neither do a lot of people. I do like some of the music in it, but you're never gonna convince me that Elena's Third Strike theme isn't total garbage, for instance. And there are many "nothing" themes that I barely remember are even there, like Makoto's, Chun's, Urien's, and Ibuki's.
Coming to it after the fact though, this is one of my favorite Street Fighter games. The positives far outweigh the negatives as far as I'm concerned.
Preordering 30th Anniversary came with a code for Ultra Street Fighter 4 on PS4. I didn't bother with that, but ended up buying it on sale this year anyway. At the time SF4 released I didn't own a 360, and Capcom's early CG models looked astoundingly ugly. When I finally bought both the game and the console in 2011, it didn't hook me and I didn't get around to much Street Fighter before SF3 Online Edition came out and I loved that.
Trying to get into this game at last, it's pretty fun. I can see how it revitalized the entire fighting game scene. It feels good and snappy and tries its best to accurately capture the look of what came before, but at that point was a decade in the past. Their later models are also much better than their earlier ones, with the Street Fighter 3 characters in particular looking as awesome as they could manage. I actually prefer this game's Elena to Third Strike's, and SF3 has some of the grandest sprite animation in gaming. Elena is just ground zero for all the rotoscoping.
The online in the 30th anniversary Collection isn't great( it either works fine or completely does not), and USF4 has been pretty much abandoned at this point. So I've kept racking up hours in Street Fighter V instead still. My PS4 Life finally worked for me yesterday and told me I'd been playing for over 600 hours, which makes sense. I generally boot it up once a week minimum, and have done so for over three years. But I have played less this year than previous years, and that's because the game is now three years old and has started getting stale.
If they don't have something severely impressive planned for an update, even more than they did with Arcade Edition this year, it might be time for a break. Considering how barebones Street Fighter V was in its initial release, their time might be better spent working on Street Fighter 6 now. You don't wanna repeat that devastating launch, you want to come out of the gate with a fully-featured package. Street Fighter is beloved, but it's taken a lot of hits since Street Fighter 4 because Capcom can't seem to make any of their fighting games land on their feet out the door. Street Fighter V is one of my favorite fighting games, but I am not representative of the general attitude people have towards that game.
I wish 30th Anniversary came with a time travel device so I could go back to when I played each game originally and have those good local multiplayer experiences again. Or less ambitiously, maybe just a bus ticket here for some of my mates. Being able to play through these games any time I want to on my own isn't bad, but I would enjoy them a lot more if I had someone local to play them with regularly.
Still, props for just giving me the ability to play every mainline Street Fighter easily on a single console.
Majikoi!(Love Me, Seriously!!)
Earlier this year I made a thread asking for recommendations for dating sims/romantic visual novels. It had been years since I got through and loved Tsukihime, and I felt like I could go for another. I put up a long list of preferences(pidgeons need not apply, I'm not playing dating sims to have fun), and people gave me quite a lot of suggestions. I gathered up a few that looked promising and decided I'd play through them all this year.
What stopped me right in my tracks was trying to get through Majikoi.
It's been over half a year since I thought about it, so the memories have started to fade. But what I remember is reading for hours through a text version of a dull, uninspired, mid-2000s harem anime. It stars a self-absorbed, obviously more intelligent than everyone else nerd, and it's not like his supporting characters are any better, just a varied assortment of tsunderes and big/little sister type characters.
The tone of it all is this wacky action thing where it's a group of teens who all played together as kids and share a rough backstory, only they also go to a school for people who are really good at fighting and solve all their issues with competitions. It's a bit shokugeki no souma, only instead of cooking it's a competition of whatever. The introductory sequence before you start dating any individual girl took me around ten hours to get through, and after reading on my laptop for that long I felt like I was in hell.
Maybe there is a depth to Majikoi. It's not like Tsukihime presented itself up-front as a revelation either, with several characters appearing to be stereotypes and then revealing that there was more to them when you got to know them better. But in my opinion, a game has to be fun along the way to get to that depth. You can't get by on being a bad text version of a lame romcom anime, full of one-note characters that only know a single joke each. You can't lead with a bad guy who seems to rape some dude in his first scene and the pedo joke radio host. You can't make me sit through ten hours of unfunny school hijinks even if what's at the other end is pure gold, and I sincerely doubt that it is. I think y'all were pulling my leg. It's not the fact that it's anime that's the problem, I just think it's bad.
Maybe I'll make an attempt at a different VN next year. This one was a bummer.
I tried checking out the online, but it's completely dead, so I just replayed some of the story modes. Squigley's, Eliza's and Beowulf's remain pretty great. They hit it out of the park with the DLC. The others, maybe not so much. I hope Indivisible has better story chops next year, being an RPG and all.
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen
Dragon's Dogma is one of my favorite games ever, which I've spent hundreds of hours getting lost in. But I didn't really play it this year, only booted it up and looked at it, running through the first section's quests. This was because I finally caved and bought the Playstation 4 port. Looking at footage of the PC port after playing so much of the 360 version is honestly what made me see framerate for the first time, and care about it. The old Dragon's Dogma ran unevenly, 30 at best with tons of screen tearing, and that was with big black bars on the top and bottom of the screen to boot.
While DD on PC has gotten a much better framerate, the PS4 version is disappointingly similar to the old game. While the tehcnical hiccups are minimal and it's a cleaner image running at a more steady framerate, I wish I had gotten those 30 extra frames. It does make a big difference. I'm also not entirely a fan of the new look the game gets color wise. It looks a bit more desaturated, with a bit lighter shadows. Adjusting the brightness and contrast of both the game and my tv only got me odd results.
Incidentally, I bought this game again because the photo service on the 360 has shut down, and I was thinking I might want to do some sort of blog/let's play thing. No promises.
Just Cause 3
Just Cause 2 was an unexpected favorite of mine, one of Yahtzee's old GOTY winners that got such a glowing recommendation I had to try it out for myself. After a rough start, learning the not very intuitive controls, I ended up becoming a sort of rural, tropical Spider-Man, substituting an endless amount of parachutes for buildings. There's so much relieving freedom in Just Cause 2, freedom to do cool things, often completely by accident. Another game might fail a mission if you catch up to someone too soon, or have you escort someone painfully slowly, any deviation from the plan resulting in a game over. Just Cause 2 doesn't give a shit what you do. "Here's a dude who's escaping into a hangar, here's you on a hill overlooking it all. How are you gonna solve it?" They did put a sniper rifle next to me, but after he escaped from my shaky hands and bad aim the first time, on a second I leapt off the edge and hookshotted next to him and punched the guy. That's Just Cause 2 in a nutshell. A lot of fun, explosive mechanics, and a lot of missions where all you gotta do is use them on someone.
Just Cause 3 then, five years later, is more of the same. The story is nicer, with Rico being an active part of a rebellion in his fictional home country of Medici and some nice relatable locals as side characters, rather than Just Cause 2's "let's fuck up this country for the CIA" approach. And Rico has evolved from non-caring agent with a permanent scowl to Dad Beard Rico, like the entire rest of the gaming landscape, acting in a more caring and often jokey manner with his old pals from home. I like it. It's still a b-movie kinda plot, but the characters are in on the joke to a certain extent, and the devs certainly are. It knows when it's being silly, and it's happy to be so.
The direction of the cutscenes can get a bit annoying. Characters just kinda prattle on without stop, give Rico a smack on the bum and push him into gameplay, and that goes for most every scene. I just wanna tell them to chill, they've got something good going on here. There's even a great purely comedic scene or two. It's funny in its own way without going down the exhausted roads of meme humor, referential comedy, old timey dumbassery or having a completely wacky world( Except, that is, for the DLCs, which adds mech suits and jetpacks and lightning guns. I don't mind. They're good for gameplay). So I'd appreciate a slower scene now and then that isn't just about setting up missions. I loved the scene where Mario pretended to be a cow just to prank Rico.
But caring about the story in a Just Cause 2 game is kinda like caring about the story in porn. We're here for the action, with the story just setting the scene. And to the developers' credit, the action is in no way worse than in 2. We've got a new flight suit, which opens up the traversal delightfully, even if I crashed throughout the course of the game more than I did with my parachute. There are many quality of life improvements like a more accessible vendor and unlimited grenades.
The Mediterranean setting(Medici is meant to be an island located just outside of Italy) is a pretty unusual location in gaming, and looks gorgeous. You get teal blue skies contrasted with sparkling emerald water, golden fields, beautiful beaches and white buildings. There's a very vacationy feel to the coast cities. However, as you get further inland it all starts looking a bit more generic. Regular European-looking forests, the same brown hills and mining operations, the same snow-covered mountains. Nothing in those areas read as distinctive to me, and I gotta admit I prefer the South American nation of Panau from Just Cause 2, with its lush jungles and desert areas.
The side missions are kind of a bother. You're still required to destroy certain parts to liberate the towns. In Just Cause 2, this seemed like such a mind-boggingly long task I didn't bother, but JC3 gave me waypoint markers for all the bits so I felt compelled to do it. And I gotta say, it's a dull checklist-checking waste of time. Destruction is fun when it's chaos, not so much when you keep blowing up the same five speakers in copypasted villages. Just Cause 2 shared this problem, too. You were asked to go through a lot of forts with the exact same procedure. It gets boring.
The performance is almost game-breakingly bad on ps4 and might be too much to ask for some people. The blur alone is something else. But the game also failed to spawn propaganda cars I needed to blow up to liberate villages, several times. The loading times are unbearably long. The game crashed many times on me, which Just Cause 2 never did.
Just Cause are great games if you just wanna mess around and have a good time for a while, but I wouldn't recommend sticking with one for 100% completion. Only regret lies in that direction. Do the main story first, then see if you feel like liberating some districts.
I left JC3 feeling good on it as a whole, it's lighthearted and fun and you get the freedom to do whatever you'd like. It's got charm, you know. You can drive a car through a hundred trees and down a mountain without it exploding, but the moment you jump out of it you've pretty much created a bomb. It's the kinda game you can put a podcast on whenever a cutscene isn't going and just have something mindless but cool happening onscreen. It's worthwhile, as a chillout game. But I definitely don't need to jump into Just Cause 4 immediately.
Dragon Age Inquisition
Dragon Age Inquisition is not a good game. The controls are awful, the game is buggy, textures pop in every scene transition, the story is endlessly padded, the character designs are ugly, the open world design is a timesink that beats Just Cause 3 for how much of a repetitive waste it is, the gameplay is up there with all other wprgs for worst action RPG combat, the equipment and crafting menus are a mess, the game completely fails to give your party a feeling of actually knowing one another, Sera is the most annoying Bioware character I've experienced, everybody's skin is comically shiny and wet while everybody's hair is this awful barely hairlike mess, if you wanna engage with the dialogue and characters you gotta run around a castle hub for an hour each time you do a big mission which is a huge waste of your time, the combat feels bad and looks like a mess of colored lighting and special effects, the lore is both astoundingly generic and needlessly detailed in tons of books and notes, the tone manages to neither engage me on a mature or dark level or be entertainingly funny and adventurous, the music is either painful or forgettable, Iron bull's tits are about three sizes too big, the character animation is so bad it ruins any emotion a scene tries to convey, etc, etc, so on and so forth.
And yet it's the only Dragon Age game I've beaten, and I don't like what that says about me. It means I can get hooked into an experience just because I played the previous games, no matter how little or much I liked them. It says I'm a sucker for some actual color in my game, as the one thing they actually nail in this game are environments with beautiful use of color, especially compared to the drab and muddy earlier games in the franchise.
It says I'm so easily won over by some interesting character dialogue and a romance right down my particular kink that I'm able to forgive a game that can barely keep itself upright.
It means that even if it's broken and boring, I can still pout my way through it as long as I've got the carrot of a DLC ending that never came to the 360 version. This year I played on PS4, and it's got exactly as many technical issues, only now some of them are different. I still haven't even made it past the Winter Palace on this file even though I've played for over 20 hours, which says that for me, it's easier to beat side missions with a podcast on than trying to move the story forward and engage with the game. I wish I was less shallow and lazy.
Dragon Age 4 has been announced, and unless Bioware just about swaps out every single developer responsible for anything but the writing, I don't want to play it. But I feel like I might play it anyway. Despite all the things that get under my skin about Dragon Age Inquisition, there is something here that keeps pulling me back. Please send help.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit
Captain Spirit was a pleasant surprise. Dontnod put this out as a sort of a demo for Life is Strange 2, which had everyone wondering how it connected. It's not very important. Having not played LiS2, but knowing what's going on there, it just seems like the characters from that game run into this kid at some point. This is a self-contained little adventure game vignette about this imaginative, lonely kid named Chris playing around in the house where he lives with his dad. It soon becomes clear that his mother died in a mysterious traffic accident while his father has taken up drinking - occasionally yelling at and abusing his son. Walking around the house, looking for items that explored the backstory and these scenes of playing around where the kid decides between being vengeful or being kind, that's a good time. Occasionally Chris is pulled into fantastical landscapes - Calvin & Hobbes, but the indie game version with dead parent metaphors.
It's a touching game, and I found the character writing to be more relatable than Life is Strange. That was a game filled with college kids that all acted like high school kids, and antagonists that acted like Batman villains at best. I superficially related to the one-sided love of the nerdy best friend and the kid who sat at the lawn drawing portraits of people, but in terms of main characters I didn't really feel strongly about any of them.
In this game, both Chris and his dad are portrayed in ways I appreciated. On a superficial level again, as a man who used to be a lonely, imaginative kid and who's literally named Kristoffer, I could definitely relate to Chris and his earnest way of talking and thinking about his situation. The way he tries to keep it down around his dad and dives deep down into his playing and fantasies to escape felt very true to life.
If this was Life is Strange 1, the dad would be a mad monster always throwing bottles everywhere, punching his kid in the face with a belt at the slightest provocation. He'd be fat, ugly, unseemly, and mean, only revealing a good side of himself at the very tail end of his screentime in the story. Chris' dad looks like a regular guy, the ways he hurts Chris don't seem cartoonishly evil, and there's a clear sense that he was neither born harmful nor is harmful all the time(Although he's definitely more than harmful enough that this family needs severe help, possibly moving Chris away from him). You can tell why Chris still cares for him, and he cares about Chris, even if the relationship is awful. It's just a bit more subtle and down to earth than Life is Strange 1 was. It feels real.
It's a good little story, and a complete steal since it's entirely free. I dunno how LiS2 ends up, but hearing the first episode has a lot of caricatures of racists, only beliveable in the sense that some people out there are unbeliveably huge jerks, is a bit of a turnoff. Makes me feel like we haven't moved on from shitty step-dads, bitchy popular high school girls or drugged up rich boys.
We're just applying that one dimensional writing to something where people like to see the extremes portrayed and ridiculed. For adventure games that take themselves this seriously, the flat LiS 1 villains really don't do it for me. And I was frustrated by how the story ended up in the first season, with the dumb way the supernatural powers were used to contrive a dramatic last choice.
But even if I don't end up playing the proper game, I was glad I went through this freebie. There are three adventure games on this list, and I think this is the only one that takes itself completely seriously and works.
I'd been looking forward to this Castlevania/Dark Souls mix for years now, and it ended up... pretty much alright? It's decent. But it wears its influences on its sleeves so hard it's difficult for it to have an identity of its own, the writing not nailing the mystery of Souls nor the clear good vs evil of Castlevania. There's a hint of indie amateurishness to the production, from the dialogue down to the crashes. Once I'd move the camera up only to see a character who was gonna jump down be frozen in the air until I got close enough to trigger her dramatic landing. Which granted, I think this is their first project, and in that context death's Gambit an achievement. It's just not the revelation I was hoping it would be.
I like it, but I don't feel particularly strongly about it, and I think it has a hard time standing out next to games like Dead Cells, Salt & Sanctuary, and Hollow Knight, which all carved out their own distinct style besides the obvious Dark Souls/Castlevania robbery. Death's Gambit can't do that when it straight up has a few Shadow of the Colossus colossi and does the Flowey fight from Undertale, and uses the same storytelling as Dark Souls, but with worse NPCs and a less intriguing mystery.
The writing just isn't as compelling. At one point you meet a sorceror who's been stuck on top of a tower for ages and acts like he's gone mad since realizing the eventual heat death of the universe. But he's also Death's old pal and will quiet down considerably once beaten. That feels more like talking down a buddy who's gotten a bit angsty at 3 AM. It's difficult to get a grip on exactly what tone we're going for here.
The parent/son angle is pretty interesting. You regularly get flashbacks to Sorun and his mother, giving this guy a bit more personal stakes in the matter than a blank Souls character. Just having a defined protagonist makes for some more cool scenes here and there, where he interacts with the NPCs. But I dunno if I'd call it a new thing for Souls games when it's basically just Castlevania with stamina at that point.
The Origa boss was my favorite. She locks you up, Seathe style, if you die. And there's some good storytelling where you break out in creative ways. Besides, a power armor wearing lady with a sci-fi sniper rifle is always gonna stick out in an up to this point fantasy setting. Her fight is like 2D The End. Well worth checking out.
I wrote a 15 000 word review of Spider-Man back when it came out, so if you want my opinion in exhausting detail, there it is. Short version: It's a a wonderful video game version of a Spider-Man movie, which feels good to play, but is very shallow. I liked a lot of it and I had a ton of little problems(for instance the stealth sections are boring, and Screwball is a pain). However, at the end of the day, Insomniac managed to capture my dream of what a Spider-Man game could be. They had a vision and polished it well, and it ended up being my favorite new game from this year. I only hope they add some more depth and variety next time.
The DLC is perfectly fine, but it's more of the same. I already tired of the gameplay in the main game by the end and was pretty sick of the same mooks by the end of the three DLCs. The cutscenes steal the show here, that's where the meat of the good presentation is. It astounds me that they doubled down on Screwball for all the DLC challenges. I think most players that even bothered to do them this time around wanted to rip her head off by the end, and that's not very in character for Pete. She sounds like Abby's pretend youtuber voice and is a real pain.
I wonder if Into the Spider-Verse's success is gonna make Insomniac add some more stylized bells and whistles for the inevitable sequel. I wouldn't mind, that movie looked cool.
At the beginning of the game, Deltarune asks you to write your name. So naturally, as a Kristoffer, I wrote in "Kriss".
The game then told me my choices don't matter. And said my name was Kris. Like alright, Toby Fox. Obviously any name you pick is gonna be someone's actual name, but I feel like I got one over on you here.
I like Deltarune, but maybe more for the surprising way it was released(a "survey" on the Undertale twitter account that was the game's .exe, telling everyone to not talk about it for 24 hours) and less for the game itself. It's supposed to be the first chapter in an Undertale sequel - In theory, anyway. At first it seemed to me like a prequel, but nothing matches up that well with the original. Looks like Deltarune, as the name implies, is Majora's Mask to Ocarina of Time, an alternate world that reuses all the old NPCs. Any way this might fit with the old Undertale(a dream, reincarnations, an alternate dimension, some Homestuck crap, something meta about them being games) aren't really worth speculating about.
Kris goes to school, gets in a fight with a bully, and then they both walk into the wardrobe and end up in Narnia. What follows is a children's fantasy novel for childish twentysomethings that grew up on the internet, and increasingly approach 30. A children's fantasy novel shaped like Mario & Luigi RPGs anyway.
Structurally it's the same as Undertale, which is fine, but it's not as fresh anymore. You move along these linear rooms while the area's bad guy hounds you, blasting jokes at you while you solve simple puzzles and beat the local enemies. It's like the constant radio chatter games like Borderlands or Bioshock use, but applied to a humorous JRPG like Earthbound or Paper Mario. While the changes to the combat gameplay are welcome, it doesn't feel like it lends itself to the same antics as regular Undertale. I don't remember these enemies the way I remember the Tsunderplane or the dogs. Deltarune looks better than Undertale, and Toby Fox still makes excellent music. It feels like we moved from NES to SNES. But in terms of each battle being a conversation between you and the enemy, that doesn't happen as much anymore. Which is a shame, 'cause that was the main draw.
Ultimately it's a decent little story, with a good jokey tone and some heart underneath. But it's not gonna stick with me as is, since it's over so fast this time and you don't exactly contribute much to the story. I got to the end and was surprised, because while it's a lot for a free demo, it's not much for a full game. And for a game so fond of twists and turns as Undertale, the only trick in Deltarune's book is pulling out characters that look like old characters but have new places in the world, and a cliffhanger right at the end. Maybe there was something more if you beat the secret boss, I certainly gave up on that fight.
It might have been a mistake to release this on its own. I thought it was an exciting couple of days when we all played it and tried to keep a lid on it(with some game journalists immediately posting reviews and articles, thanks for ruining a fun thing), but there wasn't anything in the story that hit me very hard. It's still charming, but that's also all it is. There's a secret boss this time around who's a jester, and that's a bit too close to the Homestuck origins of all this stuff for my tastes.
Detroit: Become Human
Detroit: Become Human isn't a good game, it's a great game. David Cage is evidently a pretentious ass, but when given an enormous budget and years of dev time, what he produces is just about the most entertaining adventure games out there.
There's extraordinary polish in the graphics, epecially in attempting to replicate faces, and that grounds it in the real world in a stellar way - and only underscores how batshit out there the writing is. It's all such a chliché, so broad, so typical. You know when I praised Captain Spirit for writing the abusive father in a human, relatable way, and also ripped into Life is Strange for having such bad villains? You have to see Detroit, dude, every villain looks like this obese, ugly monster who sits there talking to themselves about how much they're gonna beat their children while getting high and drinking at the same time. It goes beyond unrealistic and one-dimensional straight into excellent camp. I'm sure some people have lived it, there's a lot of jackasses out there, but from my point of view it's plain comedy how unsubtle it is. You know how the politician in Metal Gear Rising at one point says "I have a dream!" and Raiden says "...?" In Detroit, you can straight up holo-spraypaint "I have a dream" on stuff! You know how Life is Strange 1 made sure to color code the lesbian blue because all French people watched that movie? Yeah, David Cage is just as dumb.
If it sounds like I'm taking the piss out of Detroit it's because obviously I am. The game aims high and falls short, often in hilarious ways. It tries to tackle the serious subject matter of race relations, no matter what Cage says it tries to tackle, and it's so on the nose and so ripped off from black people's struggles that it makes Mankind Divided's cyborg-racism look positively discreet. But David Cage doesn't just use cliched and predictable ideas, he presents them in this terrifically well-produced way, and uses them with enthusiasm. Occasionally, a scene straight up works. There's a scene where Markus, the robot rebel leader, is cast out into a pit of messed up robots that might as well be robot hell. It's affecting, and exciting, and difficult to watch, as he has to replace his broken body parts with those from the corpses of other robots. Then he climbs out of the ditch and puts on a trenchcoat that was hanging on what might as well have been a samurai sword, swaying in the wind. It's spectacular.
The mixture of the things that genuinely work(the adventure game mechanics and controls, the choices that do in fact matter, the beautiful graphics, the occasional strong scene, the detective robot and his human partner doing buddy cop stuff) mixed with everything that falls flat and becomes funny is so engaging I heartily recommend that you play this. It depends on how you react to this stuff, natch. But if you have it in you to laugh at something ludicrous, then you won't get a game doing it better this year. It's silly and entertaining and engaging the whole way through, and you should play it with likeminded friends and have a very good time.
Tales from the Borderlands
If Detroit is comedy by way of taking yourself too seriously, then Tales from the Borderlands is intentional comedy at its finest. Telltale shut down from brutal mismanagement this year, so out of a sense of sympathy I decided to play the game they made that people keep insisting is good. But it's Borderlands, the video game equivalent of an internet meme post, so how could it be any good at all?
Well, by just being a modern adventure game, for one thing. In Borderlands the comedy has to be contained in menus, item descriptions, UI and voiceover. I can barely remember any cutscenes, even. So the presentation just isn't there to get most of those jokes to land, and for me and many others it just became gratingly annoying.
Tales from the Borderlands is essentially a movie(or five movies, rather) broken up by QTEs, talking, or the occasional room where you walk around looking at stuff. You can have funny scene transitions now! A focus on your characters! Facial expressions! Good visual gags! Slapstick! Romance! Timing! Different writers aside, it all works so much better just by changing genres from first person shooter to adventure game.
The story and characters themselves are naturally more likeable than normal, too. We're not doing an FPS campaign here - we're doing a story with thieves and scoundrels and scammers and con artists. I dunno what would be the closest comparison here... Guardians of the Galaxy? The Road to El Dorado In Space? It does share the overall tone and DNA with Borderlands - the characters all being killers that quip without pause, people get murdered brutally and faces get ripped off but nobody ever mention sex etc. But the tone is helped by likeable characters who are in way over their head, and have to work together to make it out with their lives(and hopefully some of the money) intact. The robot companions especially contrast nicely with Claptrap from the main game. They're kind, naive and always glad to help. Rather than being deliberately annoying, they form the heart of this ragtag group of scoundrels.
The game often breaks in ways that are unfortunate. Sometimes, intentionally, even if you make the "good" choice, characters are mad at you for the sake of drama. It wouldn't be a fun story if everyone got along all the time. Other times, choices you made will be reversed in a later dialogue by what must be a glitch, lending an air of "why did I even bother?" to that aspect of it. It's evident they didn't have time time to properly check the game for bugs or glitches, especially in the final episode, where a scene would transition and characters popped in one by one, which is a bit of a bummer during a hype final battle.
The Telltale engine isn't the best in the first place, and it's asked to do a lot of exciting stuff here, big action scenes, robot fights, char chases and so on. The animators do their best, they go above and beyond and deliver som extremely funny slapstick scenes and exciting shootouts, but between the "my face was painted on this model" Borderlands(and also Walking Dead) art style and the Telltale animations, it doesn't even come close to something like Detroit in the visual department. It's not about face capture, even. It's about models properly transitioning between scenes without popping in, being in the right place at the right time, not stopping and starting erratically. Tales from the Borderlands takes me out of the scene all the time, giving the feeling that it's a rickety operation held together with chewing gum and hope.
And eventually, the writing could get on my nerves. The constant quipping and the one permanently raised eyebrow are definitely a sometimes food for me. But because the quips are so quick and there's always a new one, a bad joke doesn't have time to linger. And by the end, the game had made me care, and knew when to take the characters seriously. I ended up feeling quite sad that any shot at a continuation is over. The people that made this deserved way better than what they got.
Try the first episode out and see if you don't enjoy it. It's only two hours long, and at the end you'll want more. It's hard to do comedy, especially in gaming. Speaking as a guy who couldn't stand the writing in Borderlands 2: I think these people totally nailed it with Tales From the Borderlands.
it's fun to make the things fall into the holes lol
i could take or leave the messager chat lingo everyone talks in lol but i guess it's fine lol
two hours, i had a good time, probably won't think about again but it was nice lol
The Christmas Games
When my family came over for Christmas, it was time to bust out the Wii and play through some nostalgic games. It's been ages since I played any of these, and unsurprisingly, I'm bad at all of them. I dunno how much this is my lack of practice, my nervous 28 year old hands, the straight up difficulty of these old childrens' games, the awful wii classic controller, the delay on an HD tv, or the virtual console emulation - but I sucked harder than I've ever sucked before.
Couldn't make it through the first two stages of Super Mario Bros. 2. Couldn't make it through even a single stage of Super Mario Bros. 3, though in my defense, that's on the game. I think the constant flickering was present in the NES game, but to me it looks like the ROM is broken because I played all those classic Marios on a friend's Super Mario All-Stars copy. Which for some reason, the monsters at Nintendo only put out as some sort of physical bonus disc for an anniversary. So playing through these feel like playing bad demakes of the games I loved as a kid. I even beat the GBA versions of 2 and 3 back in 2007 or whatever. It wasn't as hard as this.
Kirby Super Star was much easier, although I still played worse than ever. It hasn't been that long since I beat Kirby Super Star Ultra on the DS no problem, and got through Kirby's Return to Dreamland on the Wii. This has to be the game's fault.
Super Mario World gave me no end of trouble. The controls I remember as being super airtight, with the ability to turn on a dime and switch direction mid-air, now felt slippery and loose. I wish I had a Super Nintendo and old TV on hand. I still can't believe this. It's such a great game, I feel like I'm failing it, even if this is the way Nintendo themselves gave me to play it. Super Mario World is where I completely broke down. Rather than getting nostalgia to when I was a 12 year old with a decent grasp on games, I felt like I was reliving being a five year old, constantly dying to simple jumps. I wanted to call my uncle over so he could try doing the stages for me again.
Super Mario 64 is a lot more merciful, with fewer pits and instant deaths than these old ones. I managed to gather 8 stars and get to Bowser's stage, but actually getting those eight red coins was such a trial I gave up and left the TV to my sister for a while.
Super Smash Bros. Melee is, controversially, as good as I remember. Unlike the others, I can clearly feel like what's deteriorated is my own skill. My brother won something like 90% of the matches, but to his credit, he still occasionally plays it with his friends while I play it with him once a year. I need a new gamecube controller. The one I've got is so well worn the stick looks straight up injured.
Tales of Symphonia was the RPG of choice for anyone who owns a Gamecube, since it's one of like four besides Baten Kaitos, Skies of Arcadia and Paper Mario 2. It's a good fit for sibling co-op, since you can put your brother on spellcasting duty while you play as Lloyd and run around slashing things. After I beat it, my little brother beat it several times, getting even deeper in than I had done. It's fascinating how much we still remember. Names of places are often lost to time, but all of the plot points, characters, puzzles and tactics are ingrained into our skulls in a different way than the fine motor skills these other platformers demand.
I mostly watched my brother play, enjoying stuff like the classic coffee scene. We made it more than halfway through Sylvarant. For the record, we played the Playstation 3 port, even though we still have the game lying around somewhere. Actually, I'm pretty sure he has it still.
Now that we're done with the year, the actual awards
Best Game I Haven't Played
Last year, I wished I owned a Switch so I could play Mario and Splatoon and everything else that looked like much more fun than what it felt like to play through Nier and Horizon Zero Dawn on my PS4. This year hasn't had a ton of other games that made me think that, but it sure had this one. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, aka Smash 4+++++, looks like the most enticing Smash game since Melee. It's fantastic that they managed to take with them every character from all the previous games, and I don't mind them reusing assets from Smash 4 to manage that. You kinda have to, if you want this big of a roster, as Tekken Tag 2 and Marvel VS Capcom 2 has shown us.
The new characters also look fantastic. There's a pretty good spread between heavily requested characters who were easily cloned from existing ones(Dark Samus, Ken, Chrom, Daisy), old classics that haven't shown up before(King K. Rool, Ridley, Piranha Plant, the Belmonts) and the more recent fare of Isabelle, Incineroar and the Inklings.
Besides the recent ARMS, which might have been too new for the planning of this game, I can't off the top of my head think of a Nintendo franchise not well represented. The crossover characters are getting outragous too. The DLC is getting Joker from Persona 5! That's amazing, and a great pull. I respect the Smash Bros. crossovers more than anyone else's because they always seem to have a vision for who they wanna get in - generally, big name Japanese characters, often of a retro or gamey tilt or who have had games co-developed by Nintendo. They aren't just pulling in Ezio, Negan, the Alien or whatever, they're curating who they wanna use pretty well and make them fit with the mood of the different Nintendo characters. It feels like a celebration of gaming's history, and specifically the Japanese part of it, which often gets overlooked by the western press. I guess maybe I'm just hanging around on the wrong parts of the internet, but the number of outlets and youtubers covering primarily JP titles are vastly outnumbered by the ones talking about Fallout 4 or whatever all the time. It's wonderful to have this series become more and more of a party for the parts of gaming that I love.
The only major misstep in my eyes is Pac-Man, and that's because while his game is a milestone, the character himself is this creepy smiley man that only brought with him the ugliest stage in the game. I guess you gotta give Namco a spot when they're co-developing the game, but couldn't you have gotten Solaire or Lloyd instead? I also think the Fire Emblem characters are an issue. They're very incestuous. There's Robin who's a wizard, there's Corrin who's a half-water dragon thing I suppose. Then there's Marth, and like four other swordsmen who are all derived from him to a bigger or lesser extent. That's pretty bad.
There's more to Fire Emblem than swordsmen lords, but you wouldn't think so from their selection. They could've gone with Tharja, Hector, Camilla, Joshua or all kindsa different dudes. All Fire Emblems have huge casts of wizards, wyvern riders, heavily armored knights, pirates and archers. But no, five straightsword dudes with counters and chargeable neutral B specials it is, and four of them are gonna have blue hair while all five of them wear blue. Fire Emblem is awesome and deserves a big presence in Smash Bros, but they're like the shotos of the game at this point. I can respect that people who are big fans of an individual entry in the series are happy just to see their guy there in some form, and it's much less effort than making a new character from scratch, but to me it's just adding more clutter.
It's difficult to judge how much I'm gonna play Smash without having put my hands on it. I have loved Melee in the past, but I was also disappointed by how Brawl felt to play, and I dunno which way Ultimate leans. All the content in the world doesn't matter if the actual game doesn't feel snappy and exciting to play. But for the matches I've watched, the ridicilous amount of playable characters, lovingly rendered, the stupid amount of stages and the outrageous number of amazing music tracks from all across gaming, Smash Ultimate is the game this year I wish I had the opportunity to play the most.
It puts every other fighting game out there to shame in terms of value especially, with games like Street Fighter V demanding 60 at launch bucks for 16 characters, something like 12 stages and a pittance of modes and extras. The trailers alone are some of the most fun I've had with video games all year, and it's good to see Nintendo taking better care of Konami's properties than Konami can manage themselves.
Incidentally, the new Gang Plank Galleon remix deserves Music Of The Year.
Worst Game I Haven't Played
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have a game that made me more pissed the more I saw of it, from trailer till I watched one of my favorite let's players go through the whole thing(for the record, it's his GOTY). I don't think it is a bad game. Lots of people loved it, and it's made with an apparent and incredible amount of polish and care, telling a personal character-based story amid stunning visuals and gameplay with some depth.
But it's absolute kryptonite to my own tastes. If Smash is a game that speaks to me on every level, then God of War is its twisted mirror image, and deserves the Grumpy Old Man Award for games that most make me mad. This maybe doesn't come as a surprise. Of course I don't like the God of War that tries the most to be like a movie when I disliked Uncharted's storytelling. But I did enjoy Spider-Man more than any other new game this year. And I do have it in me to enjoy experiences based entirely around a story, like Tales From the Borderlands. It is possible to make a cinematic adventure I enjoy.
This just isn't it, because it's slow and self-serious and clichéd and predictable, an unearned take on the main character and a rotten take on the source material for the new setting. And I feel like the cinematic approach is actively hindering the rest of the game from being as fun as it could, with a lot of walking sections and an annoying kid by your side the whole way through.
This mature God of War feels like the exact same thing as the old games, just more self-satisfied and chasing current action adventure trends. The slow walking and talking replacing the cutscenes, the simple puzzles, I'm amazed there wasn't a button you could hit to make Kratos enter stealth. The camera constantly creeps on Kratos' personal space. They've added in a very necessary gear and leveling systems, but made sure to reduce the weapon variety for my convenience. Don't worry, it matches up with their amount of bosses. Not boss fights, there'll be a lot of those, only most of them will be the giants with a reskin. I suppose that's in line with God of War 1 at least, I remember being surprised at how few boss fights that game had compared to the later ones in the series.
Speaking of which, what's with these enemy designs? You think werewolves are norse? And what's the deal with the flying witch zombie? That's just a regular stock video game enemy, I swear I saw them in Destiny. We definitely don't have gorillas, and if the elephant-skinned giants are supposed to be trolls we're making stuff just by slapping local names on generic fantasy enemy designs.
I know norse mythology doesn't exactly have the hottest monsters, that was Greek mythology. They've got a creature made out of a goat, a snake and a lion. They've got a snake lady who looks at you and you turn to stone, a dragon that keeps growing new heads when you chop them off and a man who's half bull. The ancient greeks were creative. We've got a big wolf and a big snake. But you gotta at least try to work with us here, or all we're left with are fantasy designs that could be any creature from any movie of the last ten years. The problem isn't that you aren't slavishly faithful to the source material. It's that your new take is poor. I prefer the Marvel Thor comics to this, and in that setting the norse gods are pretty much aliens.
On a story level, I think this take on norse mythology is just as childish and edgy as their take on the Greek myths. Oh, you've got a God of light, kind to everyone and beloved by all? Well in our game he's this tattooed, drugged-up looking hipster shitbag who hates his mom. I look forward to the reboot where Kratos moves to the US or whatever and beats up a version of Jesus Christ who's this total asshole that hates his dad for letting him die on the cross. Maybe we'll get to beat the shit outta God finally in that game's sequel.
You remember when Kratos decided to kill all the gods in the Greek Pantheon because he was pissed at his dad? Well, he's grown up now. He's still gonna do the exact same thing, starting ragnarok and all, he's just gonna do it to protect his son instead. Dude's literally climbing a mountain with his kid while carrying his wife's ashes in a bag, while his last wife and kid's ashes are clinging to his body. We start as we mean to go on.
It's still a heavy metal fan's take on mythology, only now the metal fan has gotten so old he has a kid of his own. It's the same thing, just with a full dad beard instead of a chin beard. Maybe this focus on the relationship between a father and a son worked for you. Good for you. For me, the themes focusing on all the patricide felt like it was missing the point. Kratos isn't an irredeemable dirtbag because he killed Zeus. He's an irredeemable dirtbag because he killed everyone. Kratos used to murder people just to open doors. Back in 3 he basically started the apocalypse. You can't just treat a guy like that as if the worst he did was beat his old man to death. You can't redeem mass murderers by giving them a kid, and the more self-serious the game was about this, the more it pissed me off. This take on the character felt completely unearned to me.
Back in God of War 1, that one door nonwithstanding, Kratos was essentially heroic. Kratos might've had a warring past already at that point, but I don't ever think I harmed any other humans in that game, and Kratos' quest had some worth when Ares was laying ruin to Greece and Kratos was the only dude trying to stop his rampage. He might just have been going at it out of revenge and self-loathing, but he did the right thing in trying to kill Ares. But ever since that second game, Kratos became more and more of a monster himself, and it was the director of this game who put him on that path with God of War 2. He can't just come back a decade later and pretend like this game in any way fits with the Kratos shown in those games. Turning the asshole knobs on the Norse gods to the maximum to try and justify Kratos being just a little aggressive again just falls completely flat for me too. I don't think you can make Kratos remotely sympathetic again. It's a lost cause. The outrageous murders he did in the past games flashes in front of my eyes whenever he has a quiet moment with Atreus.
When you combine that unearned take on Kratos and those older games with the slower modern approach, the dumbass adaptation of my local mythology, and the gameplay that at least wasn't fun to watch, GoW takes the cake for biggest game this year I absolutely don't wanna play.
It frustrates me, because in theory, I'm all about a well-made action game where you beat up the norse gods and go on adventures with some nicer characters than usual for God of War. I expect to like that in a way I don't expect to enjoy, say, Red Dead Redemption 2. But the God of War reboot really feels like it's tailor made for annoying me.
Mimir is cool though. I unofficially give him the award for Best Use of Lollipop Chainsaw.
Most Audaciously Bullshit Ending presented by Alex Navarro
I don't like the Assassin's Creed series. I've tried 2 and 4, rumored to be some of the best ones. While I managed to get through 2 at least, I just bounced right off 4. They're impressive as historic tourism sandboxes, but they're not really my thing, and I think they're overall pretty damn boring.
We're now on something like the eleventh main game in the series, and any attempt at grounded realism has evidently gone straight out the window. I hear they hired the Saints Row 3 director, and it seems his latent ability is to make the games he work on sillier over time. I did not bother playing Assasin's Creed Odyssey, but Alex Navarro sure did, and his retelling of one of the game's endings is so spectacularly dumb I needed to highlight it here so people daunted by 20 hours of podcasts don't miss out on one of the funniest bits of the year. Maybe it makes more sense in context. Alex made it sound hilarious.
Best Moment or Sequence In Spider-Man
Spider-Man has a ton of good story moments. I enjoyed the text message cutscene, the true challenge after Mr. Negative has been defeated. While not stimulating in a gameplay sense, the final boss fight has a terrific presentation. And watching Octavius juggle his balls was a wonderful scene too.
But nothing hammers home that friendly neighborhood Spider-Man feeling quite like getting home late at night, only to discover you've been evicted and then having to chase a garbage truck around the city just to get your USB drive back.
Best Stealth Takedown of 2014
Best Giant Bomb Feature
Giant Bomb turned ten this year. Personally I've been following the site for seven years, so I'm around the time where I started to get tired and looked elsewhere for different entertainment. But I couldn't leave. What Giant Bomb has got going here is unique, and there isn't another place I've found that has the same vibe, even if they've got their own things going for them.
However, I did take a break for several months. There was only one feature that I still had to have when I was tired of listening to the same people on the same site talk about the same things over and over again. And that feature was All Systems Goku.
Calling ASG a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. It reinvigorated not only my appreciation for Giant Bomb, but for Dragon Ball, too. Jeff and Dan approached Dragon Ball with joy and enthusiasm. Listening to them walking each other through this brand new world of anime with wrestling metaphors is one of the most enjoyable things I did total in 2018, and I could rarely get through an episode without laughing. It made me remember how fun it was when I discovered anime myself back when I was a kid, and how funny Giant Bomb can be as well. That's why ASG is my Giant Bomb feature of the year.
The Super Best Friends Memorial Award For Best Video Game Personalities Outside Of Giant Bomb
Rounding out this year's awards, this year's Most Likely To Make Staff Members Upset Award goes to Super Best Friends Play. I spend quite a lot of my free time watching various let's plays and coverage of video games. When I was getting tired of GB all the time and started looking for different outlets for my let's play and podcast needs this year, I stumbled upon the Super Best Friends playing through God Hand. "Hey, this is just like that dream let's play of mine they just started over at Giant Bomb", I thought. Only it was done within two weeks instead of starting in July and still not being done, and the commentary was more informed. "This is like Giant Bomb but better", I thought at the time.
And that's not entirely true(although it's definitely true with regards to that God Hand LP). I think The SBF are like Giant Bomb, but more like me. They're a lot more about Japanese games, fighting games, brawlers, RPGs and Souls games. They're slightly younger overall. They watch anime, quite often. One of them is literally a balding, bearded ginger. Of course it would appeal to me when it is me.
Unfortunately, nothing can stay the same forever. Many of the personalities I follow have gone through a catastrophe of some sort, usually a split. Giant Bomb had Ryan's death(which was an actual tragedy), and later the east/west site split. Spoiler Warning ended up splitting into several pieces, the members separating into different parts of the internet that aren't as good as they all were together. Marcus Sanders(aka ENB, aka Epicnamebro) ended up splitting with himself, somehow, misguidedly deleting most of his excellent old youtube videos and now existing primarily as a Twitch streamer. It was a bummer for everyone involved. Besides himself, I hope.
It's always rough when it happens. On the viewer end, you don't know what's going on in people's personal life until it results in a major shift for the #content. There's not much you can do after the fact other than see if you enjoy the new approach, or move on with your life, trying to make peace with what little information you're given on why things have changed. Personality-based content generally relies on making you feel like you're the creators' friend. And in one sense you are, only they aren't your friend back. It's an odd relationship
A week ago, Super Best Friends shut down because the two founding members themselves weren't friends anymore. I'll always have their side channels, and of course I have many years of archived videos to go through. But it's sad. I wish I discovered that I like them sooner. They were my Giant Bomb outside of Giant Bomb.
Most of the games I looked forward to this year are coming out in 2019. In particular, I'm excited for Devil May Cry V, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and the big Resident Evil 2 remake. I'm starved for a good character action game, Sekiro looks like another fresh take on the Souls formula in the vein of Bloodborne and Resi 2 is giving me good Resident Evil 4 flashbacks. Hopefully I'll be able to make a proper top 10 in 2019.
Thank you for reading. The anime blogs are returning in January. Have a happy new year!