Eat My Shorts, 2019

:( 2019 :(

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These games can eat it, straight up:

The Caligula Effect: Overdose [SWITCH]

Caligula Effect could be one of the best recent Persona-esque RPGs on the market, I don't know for sure. But I do know that time on this earth is finite, and my experience with Caligula Effect, which couldn't have exceeded two hours, was the most miserable time I had spent with any game in 2019, time so bad that it's possibly even responsible for my growing disinterest in, and subsequent cancellation of, my GameFly account. It was two hours of endless nonsense with so many characters and baffling tutorials, and I would give anything to have that time back. People may criticize the recent Persona games for taking their time introducing you to the world, but it turns out there's a reason they do that, maybe. Maybe they want to at least pretend like you aren't fully invested in their world from the word go. Maybe. Maybe they don't allow you to have mindless text conversations with random NPCs that are somehow still "social links" because suddenly you'd be drowning in meaningless babble that sounds borderline procedurally generated, maybe.

Void Bastards [PC]

If I were tasked with listing off the base qualities that roguelikes excel in, I would mention strong procedural generation [in whatever form it comes, maps or otherwise], an emphasis on learning as progression, and some form of death penalty to encourage that learning. That Void Bastards manages to fail at all three is genuinely depressing; the maps feel samey pretty quickly, learning can easily be derailed by random obnoxious character traits, and death has never felt so punishment-free, so why learn anything? It looks nice and sounds okay, but comparisons made to System Shock remind a little too much of BioShock's vitachambers that could ostensibly encourage the player to just ram their head against the proverbial wall until it finally gives. As far as roguelikes go, I made progress pretty rapidly, and yet I never finished it because I felt no pushback; that sounds like a pretty bad outcome for a roguelike.

What the Golf? [tvOS]

What the Golf? is a game caught between two hells. On the one hand you have the base game--essentially a toybox with the same goof over and over, its central "surprise" being that, hey, you may not shoot the ball! And I got over that goof within two worlds of my eight- or nine-world attempt at enjoying the game. On the other hand you have the optional challenges, ostensibly the place where the game will finally shine for not being braindead but now relying on unpredictable trial-and-error physics. At its "best" What the Golf? is quaint; at its worst it's uninteresting or frustrating. It's too often at its worst.

These games can also eat one but I don't feel like writing about them, which may or may not be worse? First, the Apple Arcade All-Stars, the games noteworthy enough on the service to be called bad instead of just everyday mobile trash (i.e. surprise, Word Laces is terrible):

  • Cricket Through the Ages
  • Inmost
  • Pinball Wizard
  • Stela
  • Various Daylife

And the bummers elsewhere:

  • Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown [PS4]
  • Man of Medan [PC]
  • RIOT: Civil Unrest [SWITCH]
  • SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech [SWITCH]

:\ 2019 :\

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I wish I got around to playing these games more:

  • Astral Chain [SWITCH]
  • Astroneer [PC]
  • Death Stranding [PS4]
  • Dicey Dungeons [PC]
  • The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa [SWITCH]
  • Outer Wilds [PC]

...and I wish I played these games I actually have access to, literally at all:

  • Ape Out [PC]
  • Children of Morta [PC]
  • Control [PC]
  • Disco Elysium [PC]
  • Indivisible [PC]
  • Lonely Mountains: Downhill [PC]
  • Mutazione [tvOS]
  • Operencia: The Stolen Sun [PC]
  • River City Girls [PC]
  • Sunless Skies [PC]
  • ...and countless others

And in the weird purgatory between disappointed and "hm, and yet", Judgment [PS4] - I mentally refuse to give up on it, but my time with it also kind of ate away at my soul.

? 2020 ?

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I hope these are cool and also, against all odds, happen to hit 1.0 in 2020:

  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • Carrion
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Griftlands
  • Hades
  • Kentucky Route Zero, Literally for the 7th Straight Year
  • Noita
  • Risk of Rain 2
  • Tactical Breach Wizards
  • UFO 50

:D 2019 :D

Games with the Best Bops

  1. Sayonara Wild Hearts [Dead of Night | Mine | Begin Again]
  2. Cadence of Hyrule [Gleeokenspiel | Wizzroboe | Lost Woods]
  3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses [Blue Skies and a Battle | Fodlan Winds | Shambhala]
  4. A Short Hike [Somewhere in the Woods | A Short Flight | Hello?]
  5. EarthNight [Astronaut High School | The Forever World | Level 3]

Some Quick Honorables

  • Cadence of Hyrule [SWITCH] - Loses a little something in the translation from Crypt of the NecroDancer, but Zelda beats have needed this juice, and speaking of Zelda, thanks for letting me play as her, not-Nintendo!
  • Roombo: First Blood [PC] - What a.... what an unspeakably weird thing
  • Sayonara Wild Hearts [tvOS] - A neat return to the rhythm roots of Simogo a la Beat Sneak Bandit, and with a good amount of heart in tow, but unfortunately relies a little too heavily on lane-based coin-collecting gameplay
  • Tetris 99 [SWITCH] - A novel approach to multiplayer Tetris, and hopefully the start of encouraging developers to take a look at "battle royale" in more creative ways than yet another shooter

And my actual faves:

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10] Luigi's Mansion 3 [SWITCH]

The most Nintendo game of the year, Luigi's Mansion 3 finally delivers on the series' exciting ghostbusting premise at the level of quality that Luigi has always deserved. Forgoing the repetition of the first two entries in the series--the original's bland traversal through the same corridors, Dark Moon's tedious "how will Luigi lose the key this time" gimmick--Luigi's Mansion 3, charm fully on display, drowns the player in countless creative puzzles and mechanics, knowing it has more up its sleeve on the next floor.

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09] Islanders [PC]

Islanders strikes an impossible balance between stress and chill, the former in its pressure on maximizing future point potential and not locking yourself out of moves, the latter in allowing players to design scenic islands and just take in the sights. If I had a portable version of this I likely would have played it more than most games this year.

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08] EarthNight [tvOS]

Finally, a runner with some actual momentum to it, and the actual future of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise if Sega would ever pay attention. I can't even imagine playing it on a mobile device, with its exciting and creative control almost demanding a proper pad. Its scale is epic and beautiful, and it's a crying shame it was dumped onto Apple Arcade alongside well over 50 other games as it's almost certainly been buried.

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07] Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night [PC]

I guess it makes sense that the first IGA-fronted pathfinder in over a decade is overstuffed with ideas as far as the genre is concerned. It probably doesn't need all its systems, but in having all those systems it achieves an irresistibly irresponsible vibe. I'm not sure it surpasses the intricate design of Aria of Sorrow or the balanced difficulty of Order of Ecclesia, but I hope this serves as a springboard for IGA and company to bring this aesthetic back to the fold.

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06] Baba Is You [SWITCH]

I is IDIOT, BABA is GREAT, WRITEUP is CLEVER and DONE, SHRUG is ME.

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05] A Short Hike [PC]

Sometimes games can just be nice, and this is just nice. It has some of the mouthfeel of a Night in the Woods but opts instead for an emotional connection untainted by exhausting irony, with a dash of Animal Crossing. It also feels good to play? Getting around the island is a genuine treat, and what comes off as annoying misdirection with the shifting camera early on instead becomes a sort of freeing challenge to just soak it all in and wander off the well-trodden path. The hike is only short if you decide to rush it, and what's the rush really? Beachstickball isn't going to play itself.

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04] Card of Darkness [tvOS]

Continuing the thread of Islanders, speaking of games that would take over my life if I had them with me at all times, Card of Darkness is close to perfect as far as dynamic gameplay choices. Pendleton Ward's art is intoxicating, but it's Zach Gage's design that shines in a way that resembles the elation of the best random or procedural generation in games. I like that I can let turns pass to overpower potions on the board, or create a chain of kills that can make my weapon exponentially stronger. Even outside of those absurd edge cases though, no decision in Card of Darkness is boring, and that's a very difficult balancing act.

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03] Super Mario Maker 2 [SWITCH]

Countless things make Mario Maker 2 better than its predecessor, and they largely sound childish when written out [You can do slopes now!!], but I'm being dishonest if I say anything other than "it's not on the Wii U" as its greatest quality. That doesn't mean it hasn't perfected what made the first Mario Maker such a strangely rebellious product out of a company that, at the time, didn't seem all that interested in perverting their own institutions. User content will always be its best and worst quality, though the four years that have lapsed since the first release have clearly improved the odds on that front. The Zelda update is unreal.

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02] Fire Emblem: Three Houses [SWITCH]

I thought I could hold off on picking up Fire Emblem: Three Houses until the Persona comparisons just wouldn't stop--an unbelievable act of cruelty, honestly. But it turned out to be a worthwhile PSA at the right time of year, when I had the most time to pass. Its story branching could be seen as "both sides"-ing at a time when that's the last thing the world needs, but it's handled maturely in that it speaks to the power of not only personal experience in general but also of who we surround ourselves with, who we confide in and believe in, and how we can lose our way when those we love abandon our side. It's also a story about the poisonous nature of social establishments, which feels weirdly relatable! They may not be the best characters in the series, but I've never been more invested in a Fire Emblem cast. Out-of-battle interactions have never been more interesting thanks to the Hogwarts segments, and they feed back into the drama of the battles themselves. That's some chef's kiss stuff.

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01] Slay the Spire [SWITCH]

I can say pretty comfortably that I've never gotten into a deck builder "for real," and I can also say definitively that it's because I didn't have the mind or patience for them. And it's not likely that Slay the Spire is going to make me a lifelong fan of Magic the Gathering or Hearthstone or countless other wildly popular, probably-very-well-designed probably-masterworks, but that's because I don't need them. Slay the Spire wouldn't survive without a caring team constantly and carefully balancing a wide array of possibilities across multiple playstyles. But the game's real trick, in its roguelike structure, is in managing to teach me skills I thought impossible to learn.

I've seen designer Tom Francis describe the concept of "lost choices" in games, the choices that players don't take and, due to their personal leanings, aren't ever going to take. I think Slay the Spire's greatest success in its "random" presentation is that it sidesteps lost choices for me. Early on I reluctantly took cards I "probably won't like" for the sake of building out my options; now I don't even know what cards occupy that space. Slay the Spire is unforgiving and restrictive, and yet the possibilities genuinely seem endless. It may not ultimately encourage me to play other deck building games, but better than any game before it's encouraged me to take a peek at the other side, to see what else I can learn and what else games have to offer if I would just stop being stubborn about it.

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