Games I've Made Sexy Eyes At In 2021
A continued, boring catalog of games I've graced with my attention in 2021. They're so lucky.
A continued, boring catalog of games I've graced with my attention in 2021. They're so lucky.
Starting the year with a banger. Sakuna would have easily taken my top spot last year if I'd played it just a week or two ago. Instead, the rest of 2021's games are going to have to fight to beat this one.
Sakuna is an odd mixture of action-centric platforming and farming sim, centering largely on growing rice. And here's the kicker - it really works. You spend a fair amount of your time getting your rice ready for harvest. Everything from tilling the ground to making a fertilizer mixture to adding just the right amount of water to your fields is represented here, and it's been my Zen.
Then there's the slightly less cooked action-platforming, which is fast-paced and generically fun for what it is. There are a limited number of enemy types, and they all pretty much lack any sort of tactics, but the levels are over with in just minutes, never overstaying their welcome. There's also a lot of replayability to them, as defeating enemies and exploring every nook nets you resources you can then take back to your farm for better food and gear.
The systems all play with that central focus on rice, though. Eating well boosts your stats. A good harvest increases your level. It's a really neat system and pretty unique. I'm still learning its ins and outs, a genuine pleasure considering the way the game patiently doles out its mechanics to you.
Also of particular note is the aesthetic. It's a gorgeous game, with super fluid animations and bold characters and environments. The world-building is top notch too, and within the first few hours, I felt right at home in this world of gods, demons, and humans. It's a well-realized game through and through and one of the best things I've played in a long time.
As it turns out, Mario Maker 2's pretty great!
Okay, so I'm not likely to work with the actual Maker part of this game very much, but I'm enjoying the hell out of the story mode and the user created levels. Seeing what people can do with the various eras of Mario is a kick. I'm always going to prefer classic feeling levels without a lot of difficulty to them, but some of the more difficult stuff people put out there makes me realize just how godawful I am at Mario - and that's a really neat thing.
Great games, and a great remake. The controls feel spot on, the most important part of these games. There's a certain sort of corporateness about it now that adds a skim of sleaze to the surface but I guess that's to be expected. It's like the pop punk version of itself. It's not bad at all, but you kinda wish you were back in its prime.
Tell Me Why does a lot of things right, namely its great brother/sister protagonists and the hurried way it introduces their innate mental abilities, a welcome change from the usual Dontnod formula of establishing someone's supernatural gifts in the first episode. But the overarching story's most interesting parts are largely played out in memory, leaving the player playing Batman's detective mode for scraps of (admittedly great) dialogue and character moments. It's a weird game, and I really like it, but it doesn't do itself any favors by setting itself in its present instead of its past.
Sludge Life looks and feels like it should be my thing. It's essentially a traversal-based collectathon across a brightly colored world that feels like something thirteen year old me would have appreciated. But thirty-eight year old me is more than a little confounded by this game. For one, most of the tag locations have you relying more on lucky breaks with the game's slipshod, loose controls. There's no natural flow to reach these points - you're crawling along a ledge hoping you get the pixel perfect jump to the next ledge with a jump that never feels the same twice. Some of the game's collectibles aren't marked in any obvious way, and the game's menus are insanely hard to read thanks to deliberate font choices that make my eyes hurt. This is not a bad game. It's just not a game for me, and that's all right.
Genuinely loving this. Blending the visual novel with court case drama, absurd devil-may-care legal rules and world-building (ghosts!), and a great objection system, I'm glad I finally gave these games a shot.
ToJam is neither funky or particularly fun. It's mechanically fine, but the "presents" are kind of a pain in the ass and the enemies are often generated in ways that make things frustrating on the normal difficulty. This game plays it way too safe, and the feeling that comes from it is that this is a game made by your dad as a fun thing for the other dads around the world to enjoy. It's Bon Jovi. It's Aerosmith and anything they made in the nineties.
Kingdom Battle is fine. I paid ten dollars for it and I think playing it under $20 is probably the sweet spot for what this game is. It's uncomplicated XCOM. There's a lack of depth here that kind of chaps my ass, but it's not a game really meant for a guy who got way into Jagged Alliance, XCOM Mermaid Edition, and even Corporate XCOM. So I'm trying to be fair here and say that this is a fine introduction to the genre, but once you get the idea if this is your thing, move on immediately to XCOM and then branch out from there.
Disgaea 6 is a fascinating misfire for the series. Don't get me wrong - it's immensely playable, and for a new player to the series, it's a fantastic jumping off point. They've streamlined a lot of things and it makes it a much more accessible game.
But that streamlining comes with a certain loss of identity. In the past, when NIS would streamline something, usually something equally wild and goofy would be thrown into the mix, like the awesome (if frustrating) Chara World. That's not really the case here. The big additions - a "juice bar" which allows you to boost all kinds of stats and things for your character with a certain new kind of currency, and the "super reincarnation," which tacks on more stat boosts to starting a character back from level 1 - are really smart and I greatly enjoy them. But there's a lack of personality to the hub world and these new additions. That kind of extends to the whole of the game. I like the main protagonist and his sidekick, a zombie pug mage (yeah, really). Melodia's pretty great too, a Disney princess knockoff whose sweetness is a skim on her frustration and impatience. But apart from that, the whole thing doesn't feel like anyone went crazy enough in the writer's room, and for this series, that's weird.
It's almost like Disgaea wants to be... normal. And that's a headscratcher. Will this very likely be near the top of my best games of 2021 list? Absolutely. Will that come with some caveats? Yes.
Nova Drift is an interesting little experiment in the space shooter. In a lot of ways, it's more an ARPG along the lines of Path of Exile (which the developer mentions as an influence, and it shows) in that you're basically rapidly filling a skill tree to help you murder incoming spaceships and debris. It's a very basic premise and done well, but the developer also made a decision to NOT make this a twin-stick shooter, and I take a certain degree of umbrage with that. Certain control schemes over the years have been honed and perfected to the point where older style controls don't make a lot of sense. Nova Drift is a prime example of a bad choice in control scheme for the sake of being different. I can appreciate what the dev is going for, but controls make or break a game like this, and the imprecise nature of Nova Drift have me leaning towards break. It's not a bad game, and as it's in early access, there's a chance to tighten up those controls. But it doesn't ever feel quite right, and that's a bummer, because this is a killer idea.
I'm using this as a catch-all for the Tasty series, which I blew through on the Kindle Fire. There's not much to these games but the treadmill's fun so a perfect timewaster.
Fun little rogue-lite along similar lines of Dead Cells or Rogue Legacy, but with more of a classic platform-shmup feel. The controls take some getting used to (you jump with the left trigger) but once you get a handle on them, it's buttery smooth. I wouldn't mind a little more freedom in how I aim the guns, but apart from that, everything responds the way it needs to for a game like this. It's creative, too. One gun, for example, has you pumping out pieces of a protective barrier so long as you hold the trigger, all to a beat. When you let it go, the bullets burst outward in a general direction. The music's awfully good too, definitely inspired by stuff like Daft Punk, which is pretty obvious considering you can dance to a pixelated Daft Punk-like duo before jumping into a mission. It's neat!
Fun puzzler that doesn't tax the brain too hard or get in the way of its own pacing. Some of the puzzles are irritating - any time you introduce color puzzles, it's a bad idea accessibility-wise - but overall a hell of a pleasant experience.
Garden Story, please and kindly tell your characters to shut their yaps. I mean... Jesus, every character is spewing eight or nine text bubbles of incomprehensibly small text at you in every conversation. EVERY. ONE.
Also, for the love of fuck, STOP PUTTING TINY BLACK FONTS ON WHITE BACKGROUNDS.
One of the great gaps in my NIS knowledge was Soul Nomad, an RPG that came out close to the end of the PS2 lifecycle in 2007. Fourteen years on and it's seen a bizarre but appreciated rerelease on Steam and Switch (and maybe other consoles too?). I'm dipping my toes in and so far, I really find the gameplay fascinating. It owes a lot to its brother Disgea, including a lot of similar visuals in its still scenes and art style. Like Disgaea, it's also a turn-based RPG. But instead of one-on-one battles, each character in the battle maps has a small party of characters that fight out battles. In execution, it plays out similarly to something like an early Final Fantasy game, where you have two sides - your heroes, and the mobs. You control the composition and placement of your teams, as well as hiring new recruits for them. It's a fascinating, complex system that is only really hampered by NIS's usual obtuse naming conventions. For example, opening up a new squad for the battle isn't called "form a new party" or anything sane like that - it's called buying a house. Don't ask me why because I have no idea.
There's an actual overworld you traverse much like Final Fantasy Tactics (meaning there are hard points you can visit and limited paths between them). There are NPCs to visit, a bizarre, kinda great plot about you being saddled with a sword that contains a demon-like character who once tried to take over the world, and then there are... well, some not great moments involving derogatory terms that aren't quite so PC these days. It's gross, but it's also a game of a different time (even if that was only fourteen years ago).
Hades is great, but it's hampered by two problems. First, holy shit, stop with the snark already. Not every line needs to be pithy. Second, there's just not enough that carries over each time to really feel like a good one of these. I guess I was looking more for a Dead Cells feel and it almost gets there, but isn't on the level of that game, either in the blessed silence of its protagonist or the gameplay.
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