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Here we are again. For this list I'll be (therapeutically) ranting what I felt about my favorite games of the year in a form of one paragraph each (a futile attempt to keep me focused). Warning: What follows will be extremely long, so if you don't care to read it I suggest you hit the "Page Down" key a few times. I'm sorry for the inconvenience
. If you manage to read all of it, congrats! Click on images for music
. These songs may come from late in the game (consider whatever that may entail), so click at your own discretion. (Also might want to stretch out your browser so both pictures are on the same plane.)
I won't be doing a "MMXI
" this year. Likely candidates would have been King of Fighters XIII
(played a little), Arcana Heart 3
(played a little, sad about that), and Pac-Man Battle Royale
(small nod to a memorable arcade experience, a rarity). I failed to play any Strania
and Frozen Synapse
despite promising myself to. Alright, enough depressing stuff...
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare
Torn Banner Studios
I like to think of Chivalry as taking the action half of Mount & Blade and refining it as a multiplayer game. (It is actually based on an old Source mod.) After being burned by War of the Roses, this cheered me up on first person medieval combat. I found it easy to pick up (aside from trying to use a bow, good god) and was immediately engaged by the combat. Smart attack and defense options (including feints, combos, ducking under or jumping over swings), each blow is brutal, carelessness is fatal, and ripostes are great (just like NeoGAF). This is best seen in duels (or deathmatch with very small teams), where you are mainly reading opponents, managing stamina, and choosing your attacks wisely. (Sounds like Dark Souls, eh?) My second favorite way to enjoy it is in huge rooms of “Team Objective” (UT Assault / Splash Damage-style long battles). It is a (friendly-fire assisted) gory meat-grinder and throws out a good chuck of the intelligence behind duels (I just switch to the 3rd person view), but it does a good job directing players so there is never a dull moment and it plays up the atmosphere. If you can stay alive under those circumstances, you’ve earned it. Weapon unlocks are a pain in the ass, but I guess they could be a lot worse. Classes all come off as different and the balance seems alright, but the Archer perplexes me. I’m garbage at it, but some players manage to make it look too good (likely in part due to how well one can use a dagger vs. a broadsword). I’m reluctant to call anything “OP” though. This is about as polished and pretty as you’d expect a kickstarter game to be. Most of the music is just… there. It probably has been said a hundred times by now, but a “battle cry” button to push while charging gives a lot to the game for what a little thing it is. Also the death gurgles make me laugh every time. In closing: AAAAGGGAAAATTHHHAAAAAA!!!
Super Mario Bros. U
Nintendo EAD, Nintendo
New Super Mario Bros. Wii was a “top 5” Mario game. NSMBU matches it and, for the most part, surpasses it. A big difference I noticed is while ‘Wii took 3-4 worlds before it became noteworthy, ‘U had my attention by the 2nd. I love the overall pacing, how each course is long and varied from each other, and the little things you can discover. There is a stronger return to World’s style of secret exits, for example. To cut a long story short: it has inspired level design. Just as in NSMBW, it reaches true greatness territory towards the end when the difficulty heats up considerably. With that in mind, I think NSMBU might have the weaker World 8 (at least if you ignore tricky star coins). What is assuredly an improvement is the limit on the number of power-ups you can carry. A small, but unexpected adjustment. The most unfortunate problems are (as usual since SMB3) some level design breaking power-ups (and more “health”) and (as the case with recent Mario games) it has a built-in win button for bad players and puts a little too much emphasis on collecting star coins for challenge. But I just can’t turn down some good 2D Mario; this was hardcoded into me when I was a toddler. (On the other hand I’ve been convinced by others NSMB2 isn’t good 2D Mario.) Challenges are a mix of crazy tough versions of full courses and gimmicky bite-sized dexterity tests. The former is excellent, while the latter is fine for a distraction I suppose. The co-op and coin battle modes are still both really funny and really frustrating (stick to 2 or 3 heads). Boost Rush is a cool modifier and adding it to the hardest courses may set this game as a new peak for the series, but I haven’t fully explored it yet. Using lighting and some actual art design, the visuals have really been kicked up a notch. The music on the other hand is frequently rehashed and I say that as someone who doesn’t feel the need to make a big deal about “bah bah” constantly. Props to this game for getting me into the “Miiverse”. It compels me to draw dumb a little picture about the course I just did.
Nihon Falcom, Nihon Falcom Corporation/XSEED Games
Not since Serious Sam 3 has a game made me erupt in laughter for its sheer audacity. These spectacular, well designed bosses are as tough as nails. It is a rare and great feeling to be totally unsure if you can actually clear a boss fight over two dozen tries and do it anyway. On the other hand, I openly accept the possibility that I suck. In addition to the nightmarish boss fights, Ys Origin manages to make areas between them nearly as engaging. The timed combo-meter granting an exp. bonus and the potent, stackable power-ups enemies drop requiring more drops to stay active do a good job at making you play at a brisk pace. This works out excellently with the game’s swift and precise combat. Despite taking place in one big-ass tower, there are a lot of neat enemy types and each floor can have a peculiar and interesting layout. That being said, the world still feels “small” when compared to its (goddess) sister, The Oath of Felghana. It has leveling mechanics and you can be annoyingly “underleveled”, but at least even after experimenting I never felt “overleveled”. Origin one ups the others by trading out Adol for multiple playable characters/campaigns with distinctive fighting styles. Funny enough, I like the axe-chick (the Adol stand-in) the best. The game looks like one from two gens ago that has been up-res’d to an absurd degree. There is a nostalgic aspect to me that actually likes that look, but I have to admit this isn’t very pretty. The music on the other hand is timelessly great. There is something to it that screams “PC engine” to me. Falcom Sound Team J.D.K. deserves their reputation. Though I foolishly kept my distance from the series for decades, I think it is safe to say Ys is some of the best overhead 2D (or pseudo-3D, w/e) action around. It is too early for me to determine which of the two I’ve played is best, but in any case the folks at XSEED are dignified gentlemen for bringing them to Steam.
Akai Katana Shin
CAVE Co., Ltd., CAVE Co., Ltd./Rising Star Games
Full disclosure: This is unfamiliar territory for me. I’ve played very few STGs since the Dreamcast (btw, Gunbird 2 rocks. I think). Despite having a huge amount of respect for devs like Cave from afar, I feel uncomfortable speaking in detail when I have so little relevant material to work from. Even so, I can safely say I enjoyed the hell out of playing Akai Katana Shin (thanks RSG). First off, let me state what you don’t need to know shit to realize: Akai Katana in motion is dazzling and mesmerizing in its chaotic beauty. The late Ryu Umemoto contributes with his hair-raising compositions, making the ride all the more engrossing. I’m not sure where this falls in the danmaku canon, but it’s hard enough for me to be unable to clear it yet (aiming for a pure 1-CC, if it makes me any less pathetic). AKS comes in three modes (well, two and a half plus “novice” versions) with their own distinct flavors of complexity. I’ve deemed “Slash” as my ruleset of choice. I won’t explain it, but this intricate process of gathering both steel and energy in a back and forth with enemies and then converting steel into swords by using the energy-draining “ninja mode” hooked me. After forging and storing all those swords, then comes the moment of catharsis. You let go of all that tension and release forth power incarnate. I can’t help but be gleeful as I see a wall of enemies (or a boss’s health bar) evaporate into materialized satisfaction. So in short, Cave has recreated the male orgasm in videogame form. Going ninja itself is multifaceted and requires both timing and calculating risk and reward (more so in the Origin and Climax modes I think). What they’ve created is a system of constant change and diligence with a reward linked closely to the action. As for mastering the scoring system…¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I like it when all the gold gets real big and then the numbers are real big too. Perhaps I can make a habit of this. Said I wasn't going to buy another STG as I'm working on this one, but I’ve caved.
Yakuza Studio/Devil's Details, Sega
I’ve always said that Japanese developers are underrated in the area of TPS. Binary Domain is no exception, even if this is much in the style of Gears of War. Whereas enemies in Gears put me to sleep, I loved killings robots again and again in Binary Domain. Yeah, they get torn up in a wildly satisfying way (those headshots <3), but there is something even more ingenious about the dismemberment mechanics. They allow you to control the enemy and force you to make small adjustments depending on what you just blew off. You can create decoys by blowing off heads or slow down charging enemies by taking out their legs. With this system, this is yet another “cover shooter” played best ignoring the cover. There is a moment towards the end where you become a charging storm of scrap metal and it feels damn good (best riot shield in vidya'). The flip side of this is that skills and weapons upgrades may be too decisive on the game’s difficulty. “Survivor” (hard) and “No Mercy” (unlockable hard) feel a lot alike aside from how much more you feel your aim being off in the beginning. The game was never too easy as to be boring though. Bosses are pretty good for the most part and they animate in amazing ways, but some of them just have way too much health. A certain boss fight on a highway lasts what feels like forever. The front and center team element isn’t really fleshed out. The voice commands only had small uses for me here and there (I do appreciate the ability to verbalize the word “fuck” anytime I want within a videogame world). The relationship meters don’t do much aside from adding to a slightly dynamic ending, but at least the game rewards my “rush hard and show the Rust Crew how it’s done” style of play and gives a small thumbs-up to my awesomeness. Nagoshi brings with him the cinematic flare and attention to detail you would expect out of a Yakuza game. The highly entertaining storyline has clever twists and successfully accomplishes giving us an excuse to see these mundane, yet memorable characters (with “swe-eet!” voice acting) do and say fun things as they tour a striking 80's-anime neo-Tokyo. And finally: french robot.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
Project Sora/Sora Ltd., Nintendo
I feel confident in saying this is the best 3DS game as of 2012. Kid Icarus: Uprising is top-to-bottom a “Sakurai” joint and it’s been awhile since that excited me. The dialogue (with impeccable performances), storyline, visuals, and music give you something which is hilarious, exciting, and awe-inspiring for a deceptively long time. The flying portions are elevated by 3D-enabled spectacles which blew away my expectations. Seriously, one of my all-time favorite game campaigns in terms of aesthetics. The controls are rather simple (once you get used to them, anyway), but they managed to squeeze a lot of out of them in classic Sakurai fashion. The flying parts are probably too basic for their own good (my opinion is in respect to a recent Sin & Punishment: SS replay), but the ground parts I liked way more. It intelligently uses a lot of contextual modifiers for both melee and range attacks. There are also equipable powers from a huge list to choose from (though the controls for using these are awkward) and a dodge system to play around with. None of this would matter if the game didn’t have very clever level design and boss fights. But… The difficulty system is convoluted, allows for a brain-dead easy setting, and the higher “intensities” have a minor “gear check”. On paper this sounds like the worst of its kind. However, there is something really interesting inside this messy system. Raising the difficulty to higher tiers requires betting the game’s central currency. If you die you lose your gambled “hearts” and the game drops the difficulty. This means if you are aiming for a full 9.0 intensity clear (or more arbitrarily, a set 7.0/8.0) every defeat forces you to restart the whole level and feel the loss of a shitload of hearts. I’m conflicted over this, but I guess what makes it easier to swallow is the fact I’m doing this compromise with most games anyway and the payoff is a good here. The loot system probably could be considered great and addictive, but honestly I would trade it away in a second for something more straightforward. I do love how there are so many distinct weapons. The multiplayer is mess because of it, but it is a fun mess to experiment in. Endless weird builds to try and the rules are pretty effective besides.
To be continued, lol