2019 -- Finished

Games (from any year) which I finished playing in 2019.

List items

  • 01/06

  • 01/12 -- Thronebreaker is a mix of a Heroes of Might and Magic-style campaign, storytelling from The Witcher and the GWENT card game. It drags at parts and the campaign style doesn't always mesh with the card game battles, but the battles and puzzles are generally fun and the writing and voice acting are surprisingly good.

  • 01/12 (Spirit Board, World of Light) -- World of Light started out as intriguing and fun, whether I was unlocking fighters, collecting and upgrading spirits or working in Spirit Board challenges. The encounters aren't balanced, but having access to the right equipped traits and power level easily makes a big difference. Encounters and spirits are various video game references, too. Pretty cool.

    The adventure shifted from being fun to tedious, and from being tedious to a slog. There are more than 600 spaces in World of Light yet progression levels off as you unlock your favorite fighter and a solid set of spirits. There's little gameplay incentive to switch your fighter (much more the opposite). There is often a need to change spirits, though -- this leads to a lot of inventory management, whether equipping spirits (or ignoring handicaps) every encounter or simply sifting through a constant stream of new ones. Many World of Light encounters also overlap with the Spirit Board so the more time you spend on one, the more likely you are to see repeats on the other.

    It's a little unfair to judge any fighting game purely by its single-player mode, and it's great to see Nintendo experimenting with new ideas. A much shorter adventure of this style would probably work better, one with a more varied, manageable subset of content.

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    01/14 -- Hm. Detroit is a technical show-piece with some cool moments when the story or gameplay elements click -- like reacting quickly during a chase sequence, or finding evidence with a real time limit. The constant drive forward can occasionally be frustrating (especially when a scenario is confusing), but it keeps consequences meaningful and sometimes unexpected.

    Detroit often doesn't fit together quite so well, though. The gameplay can be slow and the interactions sometimes seem a bit pointless. The "I, Robot" themes really need careful development, but character stories sometimes jump ahead quickly or bounce around -- probably in service to the bigger story of liberated technology, which I didn't find that relatable.

  • 01/25 (Campaign, excluding The Nest) -- Trying to keep the Advance Wars franchise fresh was a good idea, although Days of Ruin is sort of a reskin. It's been years since I played the early Advance Wars titles on GBA, but Days of Ruin still felt like an incremental sequel.

    The final mission's artillery and spawning mechanics seemed lame, so I decided not to slog it out.

  • 02/03 -- Comet Crash 2's harvestable meteors, tower-versus-tower battles and offensive unit variety are all pretty cool concepts for active tower defense. Several missions require figuring out a trick or approved strategy (which was sometimes annoying or tedious), but it's generally fun co-op tower defense overall.

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    02/05 -- Back when I played Minecraft, I kind of wished it had something like a story mode. Endless sandbox games eventually tend to trail into "what now?" moments for me. Dragon Quest Builders isn't exactly that, but it's close.

    Like Minecraft, DQ Builders' core gameplay involves 3D blocks, crafting, combat and survival. Builders' main focus, though, is on building bases, with story scenarios generally guiding you through various goals. The base and room building systems are actually some of my favorite elements of the game. Enclose an area in your base with dirt walls, a light and a door and you have a basic room. Add a cookfire and it might become a kitchen, where townsfolk will leave you food. The game also scores your base based on the materials, items and decorations you use in your rooms -- a well-decorated wood, brick or stone-walled room adds a lot more value to your base than a bare dirt room. It's a cool way to reward sandbox-style play with a form of gameplay feedback. The story appropriately revolves around rebuilding a ruined world. It's light but fitting, with funny, silly dialogue and several well-placed core references to Dragon Quest.

    I don't want to oversell DQ Builders. The combat is still pretty basic, and the scenario loop probably repeats itself one too many times. The room building and base defense systems also aren't exactly deep. Overall, though, it's a fun game with some well-placed references and a good mix of sandbox-style play and direction.

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    02/11 (30 stars) -- Arrrggh... Two Point Hospital is a fun sim game which could be shorter, or at least better paced. I'll probably finish the last five or so hospitals, but at ten hospitals I'm already nearly 50 hours in.

    I've definitely enjoyed my time with TPH so far. In some ways, it reminds me of RollerCoaster Tycoon. You build hospitals across various scenarios, managing everything from building and layout to hiring and training. TPH usually wasn't difficult, but it maintained a satisfying pace of decisions while building a better hospital. The colorful humor and jazzy, elevator-music soundtrack also work well here. It tends to blend into the background, but I chuckled plenty of times at a quip from Sir Nigel Bigglesworth, an ad for Cheesy Gubbins, or reading an application of a doctor who "criminally underseasons everything".

    Nearly all of the hospitals so far have followed a similar pattern -- start a hospital from scratch, become profitable, (maybe) research a cure, meet objectives (which tend to be lengthy for three stars). The gameplay loop is fun, but there's a missed opportunity for pacing and variety -- for example, occasionally take over a running hospital instead of starting every one from scratch.

    03/24 (45 stars) -- Not much new to say here. Still a fun, if repetitive, gameplay loop.

  • 02/12 -- Don't expect anything AAA (and I have additional nitpicks around tutorialization and wonky hit boxes), but Zamb! delivers fun co-op tower defense for $3. The separate roles play pretty well with shared resources -- one "bro" has cheap, single-use powers (like bombs and traps) while the other invests larger chunks in building and upgrading static turrets.

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    02/24 (Floor 51, three classes) -- Hmm. Slay the Spire is probably too random. There's a balance with randomness in games -- the right amount creates interesting and unexpected experiences, while still rewarding strategic decisions and learning systems. Too much leaves a player basically rolling dice until things work out. STS's Act 4 boss may just be an intentional difficulty spike.

    Despite my complaints, individual runs of STS are actually fun. It's a deck-builder not unlike Meteorfall, but the relic mechanics create an added layer of complexity. (Some of them are narrow or boring to track, though. I'm looking at you Pen Nib.) The first runs through Act 3 with each class seemed a little closer to the right difficulty/learning balance.

    02/25 (Ruby+) -- Ironically, after deciding to finish up one last run I finally slew the spire. This run sort of represents both what I liked and what I complained about. I tried a few new things: a starting trade-off for a rare relic (Torii), more energy boss relics with drawbacks... and choosing to become a vampire. My final build surprisingly finished only having 50 max HP. At the same time, the final boss fight was literally down to the last turn or two. Any step along the way could have swung significantly, starting from the first random relic to a bad hand on the final boss fight.

    03/05 (Sapphire+, Emerald+) -- (It didn't take me too long to come back for a few more runs. STS definitely scratches a roguelike itch for me.) Like many good roguelikes, I did find a few strategies to help reach STS's final boss more consistently. The Act 4 difficulty spike is a bit too subtle, and the final boss can end runs too suddenly, but it probably isn't quite as RNG as my first impression.

  • 03/09 -- Avoid this game, for the technical issues if nothing else.

  • 03/10 -- I have gazed into the Valley...

    Stardew Valley's reputation probably already speaks for itself. It takes Harvest Moon's core gameplay and updates it enough to avoid feeling formulaic. I played SV co-op, which is a really cool way to play a relaxing, builder game like this. The villager cutscenes were also charming -- gift-giving gameplay can be a bit trite, but the cutscenes were often rewarding (and entertaining) character moments.

  • 03/10 (Chapter 1) -- Deltarune definitely feels like a continuation of Undertale, in style, tone and mechanics. The setting seems familiar, although Deltarune has its own story to tell.

    For now, I'm curious about the next chapter.

  • 03/15 -- This may be the first match-3 game I've played seriously. It's catchy and surprisingly challenging.

  • 04/10 -- A great game, especially in its writing, voice acting and expressive dialogue system. Aside from its (generally good) core combat and quests, The Witcher 3 also includes a range of thematic gameplay elements: investigations, treasure hunts, combat preparation (via research, potions and oils) and the now-infamous Gwent.

    The Witcher 3 doesn't escape the occasional pacing issue common to many open-world games (like difficulty swings, irrelevant loot and repetitive side-quests). I also have a few personal nitpicks about some of the story elements and the inflexible skill trees, but I still enjoyed it overall.

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    05/01 -- I'm not familiar with the Tenchu games, but Sekiro definitely inherits design elements from the Souls series. The world is open and complex, with lore and stories sprinkled in. The tone is dark and the combat is certainly challenging. Sekiro is arguably faster-paced, more cinematic and much more vertical than its predecessors.

    Sekiro's combat is particularly great, capturing the feel of a shinobi duel. Timing your own blocks and attacking into an opponent's block are both strategies to drive your opponent off-balance, creating an opening for a deathblow. (You also have access to various shinobi tools, including the traditional shuriken.) Open sections and vertical mobility in many areas help keep the stealth gameplay fast-paced. The stealth also plays well with the challenging combat -- it's well worth picking apart a fortified position or ambushing a champion with a sneak attack.

    Sekiro inherits some of the frustrations of the Souls games. The challenge can get tedious (especially when the nearest checkpoint is a trek away) and more than once I wondered if the challenge was just from missing progression or the relevant trick. (Sometimes the answer was "yes".) Otherwise, I have a few nits about occasional camera issues, awkward platforming and restricted platforming -- and Sekiro's snake sections manage to feature all of these at once.

  • 05/06 -- A game I played way too much of. Tangledeep isn't mind-blowing, but it scratches a certain itch. It's a classic roguelike in many ways, with a less steep difficulty curve and various modern gameplay ideas mixed in. I particularly liked the job system -- every job rewards a distinct build or playstyle, but you can switch to other classes to pick up relevant skills or passive abilities. The 16-bit aesthetic is a nice touch, and the OST has some great tracks. The DLC also explores various rule tweaks to the basic runs.

    Tangledeep is light on systemic gameplay and hidden lore, so it rarely presents surprising interactions or subtle storytelling across multiple runs. Runs tend to end abruptly, usually running into a high-diffculty boss/champion with a mechanic like summoning or damage reflection. Not all of the newer gameplay ideas worked for me: I mostly avoided monster ranching, which seemed like a time sink. Item dungeons are also a really grindy mechanic for equipment upgrades.

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    05/20 (Trigger Happy Havoc) -- I almost bounced off of Danganronpa at the end of Chapter 1, but I'm glad I stuck with it. The characters are genuinely interesting and I found some of the subplots funny, others sad or bittersweet. There were plenty of twists and surprises (often foreshadowed by subtle clues) and I constantly wondered who to trust. Danganronpa's setting is very contrived, though, which especially affects the beginning and end.

    Danganronpa rewards (if not outright requires) attention to detail, like the subtle elements of a conversation or the specifics of a clue. Its trial gameplay (sort of) represents connecting facts and navigating conversations in real time. The game turned out to be a little more linear than my first impression -- but that isn't something which really hurts the experience.

  • 05/22 (A Realm Reborn) -- At this point, I've finished the Dragoon job quest line and probably over half of the main story. It's about a month until Shadowbringers now, so I wanted to pause and jot down a few thoughts.

    Final Fantasy XIV is a modern MMO with a focus towards storytelling and character customization. The main story is extensive, often told through cinematic sequences as well as quest dialog. FFXIV also has the great music and visual polish you'd expect in a Final Fantasy game, both of which play to its strengths -- story sequences are often supported by music tracks and rich character emotes to match the dialogue. The story sequences often feature your character, and you can freely switch between all available jobs.

    Moment-to-moment combat seems slow paced, at least so far. Combined with the story focus, it's a relatively laid-back MMO gameplay experience.

  • 05/24 -- Not bad, but not amazing either. Wargroove follows the Advance Wars formula fairly closely. It brings enough of its own design and personality to feel like a fresh game; highlights include a light-hearted fantasy story campaign, commander units, a puzzle mode and new critical hit mechanics. (Also like Advance Wars, playing handheld on the Switch is a convenient way to enjoy the turn-based gameplay.)

    Wargroove's core formula feels a little bland. Part of may be the symmetric, turn-based gameplay -- it's a little like playing a series of chess matches against an AI opponent. That said, Wargroove doesn't shake up the formula much either. Other modern strategy games have experimented with their gameplay at both the campaign and battle levels. Starcraft II introduced campaign-level upgrades and unit enhancements. Into the Breach added up-front information, and short, semi-random campaigns. Recent XCOMs and Fire Emblems both featured a lot of meaningful decisions in character selection, team building and resource management. One of my favorite missions in Wargroove leaned into its unique mechanic, involving only hero units.

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    06/04 -- The Messenger had a few ups and downs, but I enjoyed it overall. It starts out a little... too retro for my tastes? That said, the slow start might be the right warm-up for The Messenger to hit its stride. Once things pivot, the gameplay opens up and the story adds a bit more context. (This probably helped the humor for me, too, making the game feel a little less quippy and more genuinely interesting.) It's also pretty cool to blow through an earlier area after a lot of practice (and a few new upgrades).

    Aside from the beginning and a few other nit-picks (including controller issues), The Messenger's other "down" for me was the ending. There was enough story build-up around the finale to expect a bit more resolution.

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    07/01 (PS4) -- I enjoyed Symphony of the Night, but it was Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon that really sold me on the potential of a modern Castlevania successor. CotM took some of the early games' best ideas, while smoothing out a lot of the rough edges. And I enjoyed Ritual of the Night overall, but...

    Unfortunately, it's worth calling out a laundry list of technical and polish issues with RotN: load times, lag spikes, items stuck in walls, weird hit boxes, missing dialog text, a game crash (more than an hour from a save) and still more. It was almost a constant of the experience.

    RotN's inspiration is also a little too "otN" -- on the nose. SotN was novel and ambitious, mysterious and artistic, but at times it was also sprawling and obtuse with progression issues and a glut of interchangeable items. RotN's close parallels also hurt its sense of novelty, mystery, and its ability to build a more distinct lore.

    All that said, RotN does succeed at capturing the fun of SotN in more ways than one. The action has a similar feel, with a variety of weapon types and some fun traversal options. RotN's castle is also filled with themed areas and monsters. The developers weren't afraid to leave in a few wacky ideas -- some of the cosmetics, spells and enemy designs are just fun. A couple of the newer mechanics, like the shard and alchemy systems, also worked pretty well.

  • 07/19 -- Pretty fun, but I think Cadence of Hyrule's rhythm gameplay works better for Crypt of the Necrodancer. Staying on beat while exploring, solving puzzles or traveling across Hyrule can feel a little clunky. Cadence also feels pretty similar to Crypt in terms of basic gameplay, including a lot of the weapon and enemy design.

    A few of Cadence's Zelda-inspired ideas actually work pretty well. New items like the shield allow for different combat styles and enemy designs. Swapping between Link and Zelda for different obstacles was also pretty cool, and the final battle kind of extended this idea further.

  • 07/19 -- Like other open-ended games, I'm probably not "done" with Super Mario Maker 2 just yet. So far I've finished the new story mode, played 20 or so stages in endless mode, tried several of my friends' levels and made one of my own. It's a good point for a few notes -- I think I forgot to write-up the first Super Mario Maker at all!

    I liked the first SMM, although I wouldn't say that I loved it. So far, SMM2 lands pretty close as an iterative sequel. The "maker" part of the game (which the game is titled after) doesn't appeal to me that much. The rest of the game is a huge grab bag of individual Mario stages. There's a lot of variety and quality (and classic Mario is still fun), but I'm not an endlessly hardcore fan.

    The community content is still a good reason to like SMM2. There are a lot of level ideas out there, ranging from slow-paced puzzles to intense Kaizo challenges. Of course, SMM2 has added new creator tools to play around with. I also liked the new "story mode", which adds a little incentive for collecting coins -- I wonder if Nintendo could somehow extend this idea to the fan-created worlds?

  • 07/21 (Switch) -- Gato Roboto is fun and silly, but also super-short. I finished in under 3 hours at almost 90% completion.

  • 07/21 -- Sorcery! 2 is a solid continuation from Sorcery!, a "choose your own adventure" book turned mobile game. Your adventure (including any collected gold and items) continues into a new area, the "cityport of thieves".

    My favorite part of both Sorcery! games has been using magic. There are, of course, plenty of practical reasons to cast spells. Then there are... less orthodox choices. Like conjuring a fireball, to help escape an overcrowded market. Or becoming gigantic, when hiding is almost certainly the smartest choice. The options often crack me up. (Luckily, both games also have a convenient rewind feature.)

  • 08/03 -- Going into Heavensward, I was a little uncertain that I'd be interested in the the snowy lands of Coerthas or the notoriously unfriendly nation of Ishgard. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it quite a bit, including the characters, plot twists and several of the story moments.

  • 08/05 -- Not one I'd recommend. I really dislike the aesthetic, which comes across like a bad horror movie. Gameplay-wise the combat is repetitive and exploration felt tedious more often than not.

  • 08/10 -- Let's Go, Eevee! is a fun entry between the main Pokémon games. It's a little faster and lighter -- wild encounters are about catching, the roster is mostly limited to Gen I and there are no HMs to juggle -- but there are still plenty of Pokémon with natures and IVs and still plenty of trainer battles. (Probably a few too many trainer battles.) Let's Go, Eevee! is also incredibly charming. Of course Eevee (the superior starter) is, but there are other neat touches like traveling with one of your party Pokémon. And revisiting Pallet Town, and the Kanto region, is just a bit nostalgic.

    Let's Go!'s catching mini-game is pretty fun... most of the time. It is pretty satisfying when a well-timed controller flick leads to a perfect catch, and the game rewards you with experience bonuses to boot. On the other hand, it can feel like a frustrating waste of Ultra Ball after Ultra Ball. Hunting for the right Pokémon, fiddling with the motion controls, guessing movement patterns, waiting patiently, then timing an "excellent" shot... only to have the Pokémon break out due to its low catch rate. These are usually annoyances, outside of playing more seriously.

  • 08/11 -- Not too much to add here. Both Sorcery! 2 and Sorcery! 3 allow for some backtracking, and the repetition can get tedious, but I still enjoyed Sorcery! 3 quite a bit.

  • 09/02

  • 09/06 -- You could certainly do a lot worse than echoing Magicka. Nine Parchments isn't nearly as off-the-wall, but it still has fun twin-stick gameplay with unlocks and light progression elements that scratch the co-op itch.

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    09/07 -- It's a little funny that I enjoyed Heavensward a little more than expected, and Stormblood a little less. (That's the problem with expectations, I suppose.) Don't get me wrong -- Stormblood is a great adventure, with a colorful cast of heroes in new and exotic lands. Zenos also has some particularly good villain moments.

    My complaints are mostly nit-picks. The new areas seemed a little more open and sprawling than previous entries. Your Scion allies also seem a little eager to engage in freedom fighting -- not that there aren't any number of reasons to fight the Empire, but earlier quests emphasized how risky political and military activity can be for such an organization.

  • 09/26 -- It's been a little while! Three Houses is another solid entry in the franchise, with a great OST, a fresh set of battle tweaks and a handful of brand new mechanics. Like Fire Emblem: Fates, Three Houses features a major faction choice which affects both the campaign and story. It's been a good approach for both games -- character storytelling is one of the series' strengths, and facing a friend or classmate often carries more weight than facing a villain.

    Three Houses' biggest gameplay change is almost certainly the addition of the school. It allows for even more character development, and sort of extends Fire Emblem's support-building and skill training mechanics with social and classroom activities. Three Houses does lose a little by adding a new gameplay layer. You won't find the carefully designed maps and tight campaign of a Conquest. This is a much more flexible campaign. I found the pacing a bit difficult to suss out, too, and proactively grinded skill experience and support levels more than I needed.

  • 09/28 -- Starting They Are Billions with its campaign was almost enough to make me quit. The first campaign mission felt slow and stripped down… like a tutorial, except without any teaching. Jumping straight into the default survival map was a much better way to go.

    My first few attempts didn't go well. A single infected slipped past my guards before I could afford walls. Then a horde spawn hit the side of my base where my defenses were weakest. Then I sent my starting scouts through an avoidable mob. They Are Billions is unusually all-or-nothing for an RTS. The game auto-saves, and a small mistake can easily cascade into a game over. It's both memorable and frustrating. (It's also expensive: a standard 100-day survival map takes hours to complete.)

    They Are Billions' core gameplay is relatively simple but satisfying for an RTS. The base/tower defense element is where the game's unique strategy layer lies. Expansion is rewarding and necessary, but also risky. The terrain itself dictates not only available resources, but forms part of your defenses (or lack thereof). The two survival maps I played leaned into this concept. One was open, with plenty of building space balanced by wide, open borders to defend. The second was cramped and resource-constrained, but had many natural chokepoints for defense.

  • 10/09 -- Katana Zero is pretty fun to pick up and play, although I never had a strong itch to jump back in. I found the story unsatisfying -- maybe a little too grungy, and the ending felt unfinished.

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    10/13 -- Wow, color me impressed. Shadowbringers' new environments, musical scores and story moments easily equal its predecessors'. Heavensward set a high bar for FFXIV, but Shadowbringers probably exceeds it. (The trailer also does a great job of selling the fantasy.)

    FFXIV is no stanger to cleverly referencing the other Final Fantasy games, and I love the inspiration Shadowbringers draws from FFIII -- from the Crystal Tower, to the Warriors of Light and Darkness, to the gentle rendition of Eternal Wind played as the credits appear.

    Norvrandt is a land where people fear the Light. The land is covered in an unsettling perpetual daylight and a bleached, lifeless landscape is the aftermath of a cataclysmic "Flood" of raw elemental Light. It's an interesting contrast to some of the established themes -- you are the Warrior of Light, after all.

  • 11/10 -- A really cool concept that leads to some wacky interactions. Baba Is You has a lot of really clever puzzles, but the level design actually hurt the overall experience for me.

    A few specific things come to mind:

    -A mechanic for solving one puzzle often becomes the "catch" of the very next. Baba Is You prioritizes subverting expectations over a learning curve.

    -Many solutions require careful execution. Even the correct solution often requires fiddling, and it's frustrating when a wrong approach isn't obvious.

    -For a game with such a flexible rule set, very few levels seem to have alternate solutions. Anything other than the intended approach usually is deliberately blocked.

  • 12/01 (Iceborne) -- Monster Hunter is a game built on its core gameplay loop, and Iceborne does a pretty good job of helping it feel fresh. There are, of course, the expected content updates: a new area, quite a few new monsters and new gear. There are also quality-of-life improvements -- I especially appreciate the new two-player balance, since I played Iceborne entirely with my brother. (Raider rides are also nice.) The new combat mechanic, the "clutch claw", also adds a fun layer to the hunts. I still hunted with a lot of my old tricks, but looked for opportunities to grapple and create a weak point or try driving a monster into a wall.

    All that said, Iceborne hasn't stuck the end-game quite as well. It's... bigger and grindier? There's the new area for continuous hunting (the "Guiding Lands"), with a separate set of materials. Top-tier hunts are now gated as high as rank 89 (vs. 50 for the base game). And the gear list has grown to a point where I barely even bother exploring and comparing for myself. I tend to enjoy hunting for new gear and taking on tougher monsters, but less so grinding levels or farming augments/decorations.

  • 12/11 -- I had fun playing God Eater 3, which is sort of a lightweight, anime-inspired take on the Monster Hunter genre. GE3 doesn't have nearly the attention to detail of a Monster Hunter but, in some ways, that's a strength. Hunts tend to be in small maps and combat mechanics like powering up, double-jumping and air dashing lead to a faster pace of play. (The monster designs are also very anime.)

    A majority of God Eater 3 is played through "Standard Missions", most of which follow a few patterns. Some of the side content (like the Certification and Assault Missions) play around with objectives, but that variety is rarely found in the "main" game. GE3 could also lean more into its strengths. Your AI companions are pretty good, for example, and a few offer different types of support. The customization options, however, are pretty limited and involve picking a handful of standard upgrades like "Health". There's a little team building in which companions you choose to bring, but not a lot in developing or customizing them.

  • 12/13