I Played Some Games in 2018January 2nd, 2019
… And as usual, most of them aren’t from 2018.
Anyways, Brave Earth still isn’t out but instead of me being depressed about that, lets talk about games I played this year in no particular order!
I played this so early in the year I almost forgot about it. I remember looking at a map of this game and going “Eh. This doesn’t seem like the type of Metroidvania I like”. When I finally played it, my friend hour or so of playing “confirmed” this to me but I kept going. “This game is too much the original Metroid it’s too easy to get lost and lose all direction”.
… But that was the idea. And as getting lost led me to new and exciting places and as the game continued to feel really nonlinear the quality of the world design became more and more apparent. Things I thought were flaws were intentional and intentional things I thought weren’t to my taste I ended up falling in love with. It’s one of the few games that people compare to Dark Souls where I’m like… yes. Yes this is exactly it. A beautiful and lonely world with great NPCs and fun gameplay that might occasionally cross the line into ‘actually unfair’ but in ways that are forgivable. Absolutely loved this game and I wish it was fresher in my memory.
I was waiting for this game for years and years and years and years. Where I expected a fun puzzly metroidvania I really instead got more of a Cave Story-esque journey with punchy gameplay. The world is connected only enough to make it feel like one big cohesive space. Earlier screenshots of the game contained a mini map in the HUD that was removed because, well… the game just isn’t actually about that. Areas are “stages” that are just in or slightly off the path you want to go. It’s a big map not because you’re supposed to explore it but because it makes the world feel realer. And within this world is an amazing story with amazing characters, looking cutesy and light while being a depressing, cynical story about peoples inabilities to change, to heartbreaking consequences. All told by someone who can execute art, writing and doing his own music perfectly.
Sometimes you want your soul touching indie games to play like a Treasure game in between cutscenes and this game fits that bill.
Wonderboy in Monster World
As a side note to Iconoclasts, I played this as Konjak listed it as one of his influences of the game. Wonderboy is a strange game. I don’t think there is a single excellent thing the Wonderboy games do. Yet somehow they are oddly compelling. They feel like an action RPG demake back when the action RPG genre was in full swing. Simple grind and update mechanics, formulaic progression through cute, tropey environments, adorable art style… and yet it works. It’s like some kind of comfort food. You can feel it’s world structure in Iconoclasts too. Wonderboy gives you little reason to backtrack but the fact you walk everywhere makes the world feel whole.
EVO: The Theory of Evolution
If I were to pick a game of this year I would want to scream to the heavens about the most, it would be this. While not the best game — it is a very very flawed, old game — it was the most shocking and enjoyable find for me. This lovingly fan-translated PC-98 game is the turn based RPG prequel to the SNES’s EVO: Search for Eden. You can scroll down one post and read my whole review of this game but most importantly I was just SHOCKED at the sheer amount of quirkiness and charm this strange, surreal game had. It has that intangible ‘special’ factor that makes it important despite it’s flaws. So yeah go read that post and then download the game god dammit.
EVO: Search for Eden
Another side note game, I replayed The Search for Eden after The Theory of Evolution. What was once an amazingly quirky game felt simple and watered down compared to its PC-98 parent. The gameplay manages to feel slower than the turn based RPG it was based on and while more visually appealing, The Theory of Evolutions quadrant evolution system was more interesting and had more diverse choices. The only bad thing about The Theory of Evolution is it made me like Search for Eden a lot less. The Theory of Evolution has all of its strengths and more tolerable flaws.
I almost forgot about this because it hit so fast. As just a demo its hard to read into things too much, What is flaw, and what is intentional? The core chunk of the demo plays its story beats as an uncanny valley clone of Undertale in a way that we all know has to be intentional. It’s weirdly uncomfortable, offputting and curious. While the bits we’ve gotten to play have their great moments already (who doesn’t love Susie) the demo, by necessity is nothing but promises, building up to something that seems challenging to deliver upon. Looking back in the future I feel like this first release will either be completely vindicated or seen as warning sign for all the problems we’ll see in the finished game. Considering Toby said he built Undertale purposefully to make this game, I’m leaning toward the former.
Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999
This year I found some good NGPC games! Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 is probably one of my favorite game names I’ve ever seen. The game itself is interesting. A zelda-with-guns pokemon crossover thing where you capture enemy souls, eggs and seeds and combine them to make new guns to level up and evolve. The game is sadly a little scant and repetitive and doesn’t have the longevity the designers wished it did, but it’s still an exceptionally charming game that is still fun to play.
It feels like the type of game where in a better world there would be a Dark Arms 2 which would be a classic and there would be forum posts asking “Hey is Dark Arms 1 worth playing?” “Its worth checking out but feels really dated and shallow by comparison” and then Dark Arms 3 would come out and everyone would hate it because it changed a bunch of stuff and removed a bunch of features from Dark Arms 2 and — well… yeah that sadly didn’t happen. The publisher never went inn this direction ever again and mostly made fighting games afterward. This would be a good game for some indie dev to shamelessly lift from to make something new and more refined.
The second good NGPC game I played this year is a weird Turn Based Strategy/Mech Customization game that is anime as hell. It also hits that “Final Fantasy Tactics” tone. It’s much goofier and does less of a a good job of it, but it gets some of that Gundamy ‘War is Hell’ stuff going on and executes it well in a few areas. This is another game that seems like it was a sequel away from being really great. The weapon variety does a lot but also leaves a lot on the table (there is no splash weapons). The combat, which involves selecting up to 8 moves in advance and predicting movements doesn’t have the enemy AI to make it as rewarding as it could be. But the game scales up well, limiting access to the “command chips” and amount of actions you can make until you are ready to zip around the map and blast things to hell. I still haven’t finished it but it is more a testament to the game. I’m still grinding end game content because the basic grind in this game is actually fun. Sadly it lacks the diversity to truly shine but it’s SO CLOSE.
Kerbal Space Program
Kerbal Space Program was both a joy and a frustration. I now look at the janky car wreck that is modded minecraft and go “wow, this shit is rock solid”. Like Minecraft, KSP suffers from the problem that well… there actually isn’t a whole lot -to do-. You can do cool stuff just to do them, but like with modded minecraft, having an incentive to build is fun! But oh my god the physics of this game make things so rough. Any mod that does anything interesting is a disaster. Vehicles on loading the game abhor the ground. Space stations decide ‘yes now it is time to shake apart (modded or unmodded)’ and the whole thing is just frustrating for the wrong reasons. I wanna be frustrated by my landers tipping over on the moon because I designed them bad and I suck at landing, not because the physics engine decides it wants to do whatever it wants.
I put a lot of time into KSP this year and enjoyed a lot of it, but eventually I realized I was spending more time trying to ‘fix’ quirks of the game then actually play it. Losing should be fun but it just isn’t in this. Though that said I did enjoy building and flying planes in it quite a bit!
IL2 Strumovik: Great Battles series
So after KSP I did a short stint in SimplePlanes which made me go ‘lemme get my IR headtracker gear set up again’. When Simple Planes didn’t support it I was like ‘hm, maybe I should install IL2: 1946’ and a few days later I kept just eye-ing IL2: Battle of Stalingrad, the first game in the newer IL2 Great Battles series. Now I got a new joystick and throttle and rudder pedals (after building a set out of an old joystick and wood which worked pretty well) and I’m flying around with no hud and learning real flight principles. This is hardly my first deep dive into hardcore flight sims (I did own 1946 and had a headtracker already)
While simulations aren’t very gamey, air combat has a lot of gamifying factors. The nature of ‘energy advantage’ and balancing things like radiator drag vs coolant concerns and other mechanisms are very gamey. A lot of fighting game-esque management of information happens in air combat. When I made my post about “Cleaning up your mental stack” someone came in like “Hey do you know about the OODA Loop??” which is fighter pilot terminology for what is basically the same thing. Flying a plane in combat has almost the same APM process as playing Starcraft, deciding between macro and micro decisions and always having infinite ways to optimize is you have the spare knowledge and attention. While not being inherently gamey, it appeals to the gamey side of my brain.
I won’t go into too much other detail. it’s a WW2 airplane sim focused on the eastern front and which is noted for unflinching realism and attention to detail. It doesn’t really have a lot of competitors. But whats important is that flying is hard and as such is -rewarding-.
Factorio: Jumped to this a bit once I got off the Minecraft train. Factorio gets the process side of Minecraft even better than modded minecraft by like a lot and it’s a lot of fun. My only problem with it compared to Modded Minecraft is it’s really narrow. Like Modded Minecraft gives you the space for BIG COOL PROJECTS but factorio really doesn’t. Part of the “problem” (for me, it’s not a design flaw) is that when you grow in Factorio the design is… very integrated. Everything is already connected. Modded minecraft often develops as a bunch of separate systems and ends with more and more interconnectivity and automation. Modded Minecraft your adding functionality and in factorio your adding efficiency. High end late game in some play styles seems to get more into ‘interconnected microservices’ territory but I’ve yet to pull that off.
Dicey Dungeons: What a fun little game! A spiked shield where even dice do damage and odd dice shield me? Big swords benefiting for big dice and daggers benefiting from lots of little dice? A cute little dice based roguelike that gets a lot of gamefeel out of spending dice. One of the games that softened me on my dislike of turnbased games lately.
Super Metroid x LTTP Randomizer: What a perfect combination of madness, finding flippers in Super Metroid and the morphball on Death Mountain. A very confusing, brain bendy randomizer that fits right into my core skills.
Dahna: Megami Tanjō: This game owns hard. Like it’s not the best game in the world — it’s a little janky at times — but it’s also just awesome. Your some cool blonde warrior woman whose helped by mythical monsters to fight a sorceress. The game starts with you just riding on a giant ogre and stomping on shit before you just run around wheeling around this giant big ol’ sword like a badass, blood everywhere. It has such an awesome early 80s anime vibe. One of the things I like about it that I respect a lot in games is the game is constantly different. Things happen because the designers wanted to do them. Things are reused in ways that make sense in story. Bosses you injured earlier on reappear with those injuries still in place. It’s not just platformer beat’em up formula, which makes it feel oddly special.
Final Fantasy IV: Pushing my newfound tolerance for turn based games again, I went back to a classic. I don’t know why, I just had a growing urge to. Also it’s relatively short. It was interesting to play this and think about how much of the world interaction stuff and cutscenes and all that were cutting edge at the time. It’s the JRPG stuff we all took for granted at the time. I also played the japanese version (translated, obviously) so I got to experience slightly more complicated mechanics which made the game feel a lot less primitive than the US “Easy Type” would have led me to believe.
Robotrek: This was a mixed bag! Robotrek was a game I loved as a kid. Building robots is fun! Sadly the game is super shallow despite its attempts not to be. But… it’s also a strange, quirky game with a surreal sense of humor. It was tedious until I found the tricks to cheesing it. Parts of it that seemed good in my memory were worse and parts I didn’t care about as a kid held up better. It’s a weird, gaming game (I mean.. it’s a Quintet game so no surprise) that probably could have been great with a little bit more thought and time on the mechanics side of things.
E.V.O – The Theory of EvolutionMay 3rd, 2018
E.V.O: Search for Eden (Known in Japan as 46 Okunen Monogatari: Harukanaru Eden e) was a strange game. A lot of us have very fond memories of it, but it’s also kinda… bad. Just… shallow and really grindy. But by god was there some weird, quirky goodness to it. The game was charming in a way that made it easy (or… easier) to overcome its faults. I’d jokingly call it “One of my favorite games that isn’t actually any good”. But all the elements of Search for Eden came together to be greater than the sum of its parts. The Evolution (even though there wasn’t really any REAL decisions), the weird quirky writing, the strange alternative history aliens and bird men or whatever… the weird way it’d be sincerely sad or dark. It was one of those things where just… as an experience, it was really compelling. Even if grinding for EVO points was kinda boring…
For the last few years I’d been vaguely aware of 46 Okunen Monogatari: THE Shinka Ron, a PC98 game that was the predecessor to E.V.O: Search For Eden. But it was in Japanese and was a turned based RPG (which I have a hard time stomaching now) and was on a tricky to emulate platform. But as time went on, more and more weird screenshots would come out from it and I’d wonder “What is the deal with this game???”
Fortunately the fine folks at https://46okumen.com/ made a beautiful translation. Localized as E.V.O: The Theory of Evolution, the game is an expert translation that contains all the joy and weirdness of the SNES game. In fact, it’s… even more Search for Eden than Search for Eden. This is a strange game, taking the alternative history and weird tangents of Search for Eden to another level. it seems improbable to say, but I feel like we got the much more… normal game of the two.
The RPG nature works to this game’s favor. The writing and weird scenarios was a strength of Search for Eden. The RPG combat is… basic. Basic to both be a flaw and s strength. It’s pretty brain dead but, with text speed set to 0, grinding and fighting become… brisk. There aren’t really any boss fights either. There are no random encounters either. Enemies wander the world map and often disappear from areas after awhile. There isn’t a lot of friction to exploration and backtracking. All experience gained can be spent immediately on either Attack, Endurance, Vitality or wisdom.
The incredible part of the design is… it’s hard to do this wrong? In almost every game there seems to be ‘the suckers strategy’. “Oh never put points into wisdom!” or whatever. But everything is good, it’s just a matter of priority. Would the foes coming up be better with more strength or more health? Even wisdom which might be the least useful influences the power of your healing abilities which can be incredibly good. So while the game pushes you to be an all arounder, it allows you to influence yourself by which way you move on the evolution chart. When a stat is raised to its limit, you evolve and the limit goes up. So maybe you want to level up all your attributes, but you always max out attack, pushing you toward more damaging evolutions. Or more defensive or whatever. And they all seem viable. There are certainly better evolutions but the game is never so demanding that it matters. Instead it’s fine to mess around. Infact if you evolve off the chart (see the evolution chart picture) you can get odd “bad” endings.
The story is surreal. The translated manual includes timelines talking about Interplanetary wars with the Devil, the death of “The Fifth Planet”, Martian coups by Anti Devil Factions… all this while The Earth is still developing oxygen. Oh, also The Devil is hot and does the anime noble lady laugh. Seriously. The second sun, Nemesis, messes with evolution, Lunarians found and sink Atlantas. You can skip mammals and evolve into POWERFUL LIZARD MEN until becoming a gnome. It’s a weird, brisk experience that only gets tedious when you aren’t sure what the game wants from you… which almost always involves ‘talking to an NPC’. “But I wanna push this boulder” yeah okay you gotta talk to the NPC that will give you the idea.
It’s a wild game that goes farther and deeper than anything in Search for Eden, overlapping with sci-fi and fantasy elements as if they were just… normal. It’s funny when it needs to be funny, sad when it needs to be sad, creative in ways you won’t expect and… oddly affecting, emotionally, even when you barely have spent time with the characters in the game. Is it a shallow gameplay experience? Yes. But I hate jRPGs and I loved the hell out of this game so if you’re tempted… try it. I feel like you’ll know pretty quicky if it’s a game you’d like. For me though, this is the exactly the type of charming, obscure game I live to find, even if it’s a genre I don’t really care for. Just be sure to set Text Speed to 0.
List of… games I… feel… ways about in 2017?December 20th, 2017
This was a weird year in gaming for me. I played all of one game released in 2017. The bulk of the year was covered by weird hacks and modded minecraft, as well as the usual slurry of bad games. I don’t want to frame this as ‘best of list’ because while I like… most of these games, it’s honestly more ‘games I remember playing that I have some thoughts about. Anyways
What a lovely game. Due to a lot of Zachtronics stuff and modded Minecraft I got a little bit of a taste for a slower experiences again. The farming was alright, but the characters were super lovely. The game had very simple but effective writing that had me change my choice for Farmer Naomi’s wife multiple times. Even the characters on the bottom of my list were great. The only issue I had was… and honestly I didn’t notice it much because I wasn’t going for that content… that the guys were lame. Shane had a great arc that got me to befriend him, but the rest? eh. Also that super simple fishing game was so fun.
Biggest issue with the game was the lack of an end game. I feel like randomized goals in the style of the carepackages would have been lovely. But on well, you can’t play every game forever.
Momodora: Reverie Under The Moonlight
I played this on my flight to Japan since I was going to meat Rdein and the game was on my list for awhile. The level design of it had this lovely Demon’s Souls meets Knytt Story feel to it. The map they made for the game was lovely and the world felt tangible and sensible. It had a very Japanese-esque style without being generic anime. It had lovely but simple combat. Just one of those games that’s just… simply solid and good? Just a game with a lot of soul.
Getting Over it with Bennett Foddy
Foddy is a cool guy I’ve gotten to hang with a few times. Just… smart and funny and of course he makes real assholish games. But I found Getting Over It to be the least frustrating. It, more so than QWOP or GIRP became zen like to me. I just let go of any stress immediately. Progress didn’t mean anything until the job was done. I didn’t get mad or frustrated once. It was all zen. And Foddy talking philosophically about the nature of art and hard games was wonderful and a lot of it really resonated with me. A pleasant experience for a masochist.
Also this is the only game I played this year that game out in 2017. Yikes!
Metroid Rogue Dawn
What a flawed but lovely game. This is a game I wish I could get a physical copy of (it’s just a little too expensive). This romhack has a lot of rough edges but truly creates an alien planet. It also looks unlike any NES game. It’s gorgeous and just feels…. uncannily out of place, graphics from another time… Because, well, they are. I played this at the beginning of the year so a lot of details are lost on me but it was rad!
Super Metroid Rotated 90 Degrees
It’s what it says on the tin. Some parts of the game are tweaked to make it reasonable but for the most part it’s for crazy bomb jumping and walljumping nuts like me. It’s great to have something familiar yet different, where you can use your knowledge to help you, but it doesn’t ever quite help enough. Which also plays into…
A Link to the Past Randomizer
I played a Super Metroid Randomizer and some DS Vania randomizers bu the ATTP randomizer takes the cake. These are addictive. In Super Metroid, finding a stash of items meant either, depending on difficulty settings, finding a stack of nothing or find a ton of great stuff, ATTP has enough diversity in its chest drops to make every chest feel like the pull of a slot machine. Every little trick gets you a little bit further and nets you a few more pull of the slots.
I even did entrance randomizer once because I hate myself. It was… something to be making diagrams in photoshop to figure out what goes where.
A weird Game Gear Secret of Mana/Zelda clone thing? Certainly the only Game Gear game I have ever beat. Never released in America and oddly charming and good. If this was a GBC game released by Nintendo, it’d be one of those games people say is overrated. It hasn’t aged excellently but in its time it was surely wonderful. The game has a neat, curious world with a strange cosmology that, while nothing shocking, is just… nicely thoughtful. It has simple but memorable plot moments. It just plays -nicely-. Not excellently, but definitely nicely. Also you change forms and shit and its kinda annoying but it’s one of those weird gems that Sega fanboys would likely clutch close to their heart if it got a US release. But sadly, despite being a SEGA game, it did not.
I replayed Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Despair thinking Circle was the “okay one” and Boy was I wrong!
I didn’t remember either of these games being great. In fact, I remembered Harmony of Despair being downright awful and ugly and Circle of the Moon being… odd but playable…
Oh my god Circle of the Moon sucks. I know there was some article claiming it was secretly The Best Portable Castlevania, but it is just… awful. Bland in looks, bland in level design, tedious to transverse. The DSS system is garbage, saved only by the fact that you can use a glitch to use any card combination. Finding them in the wild? Fuck that. You move weird. You jump weird. You’re like a slug who can somehow jump 100 feet in the air. There are no items to pick up besides Health and MP ups so there is no real discovery — just tedious cleanup work to maximize your stats. The only things that don’t suck about this game: The monster choices are odd and there are a lot of them. A lot of classic enemies are replaced by oddbalsl like… archer wolves? Sure, okay, that’s better than just another skeleton. And some of the bosses are okay? Sometimes? Maybe? Even if Dracula sucks horridly.
Harmony of Despair by contrast was much better than I remember. And by much better it was “Okay”. I won’t be itching to replay it any time soon and it was a number of steps below Aria of Sorrow but it was.. fine? A little bloated and with a few advancement triggers that defy reasonable design but… it’s fine and… looked much better than I remember? Likely because GBA emulators are better about colors/backlight compensation so the game looked much less overblown than I remember. Hell at its best, it looks better than Aria, though Aria is just more consistent. Also it has a weirdass soundtrack. At first I hated it, but over time it oddly grew on me. The sample choices are weird but I guess kinda match the “Dissonance”? But the important is the soundtrack leverages these grainy, awful sounds in awesome ways. It reminds me of the horrible Demon’s Souls trumpets. They’re so bad. But so good. God I love them. Anyways here have my favorite HoD track.
There is something captivating about this stupid pinball game. Naxat has a skill for making games just… feel nice. And they never got to stretch that muscle much but this pinball game from the guys who made Rekka is awesome. It just feels cool, has a lot of energy, lots of little subboards to find. It’s impossible to really explain. Just try it. I don’t know if, as a kid, I’d be down with paying full price for a single board pinball game but hey it somehow works.
Also known as Dragon’s Fury in the US, where it is on the Genesis rather than the PC Engine. Both versions are good. I feel like I slightly prefer the PCE version, but the Genesis version looks and arguably sounds better (which goes against my usual Anti-FM Synth bias). Also the main song is awesome.
Golden Axe Warrior
I can’t believe there is a Golden Axe game that is a flat up clone of Zelda 1. Like almost nothing tried to clone Zelda 1. It’s like a weird look into an alternative history. It’s not particularly -good- but it’s educational. Never beat it because my save corrupted but w/e.
This Fucking Thing
My uncle got me this weird crappy handheld thing for Christmas loaded with old NES games that is various minor tweaks of Super Mario Bros, Adventure Island and Contra, a few other random old shitty games and a TON of AWFUL chinese games made in the 2000s. They’re awful and awesome. I just load it up sometimes and pick a random game and groan at how bad it is… but a good groan. An oddly… exciting groan.
I played a ton of modded minecraft this year. Too much, really. But the engineering you can do in modded minecraft is just wonderful. It’s weird because no other modded game I can think of regularly assembles mods under ‘mod packs’ (without it being a huge community drama thing). So you get these weird custom play experiences made up of multiple peoples work. The integration a lot of time doesn’t make sense but all things considered it works really well. Modded minecraft, with all its pipes and machines isn’t even the same game. It feels like a sandbox Zachtronics game or something.
https://www.youtube.com/user/kayinnasaki/videos I’ve been uploading base tours and stuff so if you wanna get an idea of what I like doing, that’d work. But yeah, it’s oddly infection. Sometimes I worry it’s slowed down BEP but then when I cut myself off I just refresh reddit for 4 hours, which honestly is a huge downgrade. JUST GOTTA WORK ON MOTIVATION, SEE YA ALL NEXT YEAR.
Favorite Games I Played in 2016December 30th, 2016
Year end wrap-up time, so lemme make a post like everyone else where I talk about my favorite games I played this year. As with every time I do this, I am ignoring multiplayer games and also ignoring release dates. I’m not a ‘zeitgeist’ gamer and I don’t put much importance on staying fresh with what just came out. I’m sure there are a lot of great games that came out this year that I will eventually play but I like bouncing around so for me, most of my favorite games in the years are games I discovered or just gotten around to. I also tend to play multiple entries in a series in a row, so to keep the list from being all King’s Field and Shadow Tower games I am going to block certain games up as one pick. Also no order outside that this a “Top 10”.
A game with just an absurd content to fun ratio to me. After 50 hours forcing myself to play Gungeon, playing Devil Daggers again was like reaching the surface after suffocating under water. The rush, the speed, THE AESTHETIC. Devil Daggers does not waste my time and hits all my buttons for iteration and improvement. The only problem with it is it is hard to play while doing other stuff. Back during spelunky I would pause the game constantly to do other things but Devil Daggers, like playing TGM tetris, is hard to go back to midway. The game needs your undivided attention. It also does get repetitious so its best as a ‘game between’ games but every time I load up Devil Daggers its like “Why don’t I play this more?”
Front Mission: Gunhazard
A lovely SNES gem that I would have adored as a child. Not as mechanically clever or with as good levels as Metal Warriors, Gunhazard still has an amazing feel to it, despite its repetitious nature and overstaying its welcome a bit. It feels a bit like a better EVO: Search for Eden. Even though I’d say Gunhazard is a good game while EVO isn’t (even if I still love it), it does have some of that samey grindiness. But the world and aesthetic and story and growth is awesome. Also its set piece moments are delightful. Really adored finding this game. Its high points were high even if its low points were low… but never so low as to push me away.
Infinifactory (As well as Shenzhen IO and TIS-100)
Usually I tell people I don’t like puzzle games that much. Especially hard puzzle games. A cute puzzle platformer can be fun and not overstay its welcome but stuff like the Witness where I’m trying to reverse solve an obtuse puzzle? I really could care less. But Zachtronics doesn’t make those kinds of puzzle games. His games remind me of The Incredible Machine, or bridge builders or, in a sense, Carnage Hearts. Puzzles where there is no ‘trick’ and no ‘the solution’. Puzzles which are about creativity and expression. I actually adore those kinds of Puzzle Games and in fact, that’s part of what I like about making games. So when I played Shenzhen IO I went back to play a bunch of Zachtronics offerings (no Spacechem yet, but I’ll get to it). Shenzhen and TIS-100 like like series of those rewarding “Ah-ha!” moments of fixing my games but without the same stress or stakes. Infinifactory appealed deeply to my love of spacial interactions. I wish I could do this in something like minecraft and have the things I make actually matter. I loved going back in all these games to just do better and beat my friends.
Infinifactory also had the most developed story and progression through the games I played. Its surprisingly interesting and fleshed out and the themes the games areas have match perfectly with whats going on in the story. Perfectly put together and wonderful to play.
Klonoa 2 (and also Klonoa)
What a wonderful pair of games! Klonoa 1 was delightful if a bit ages but Klonoa 2 was just… better in every possible level? The way the mechanics ramp up up, the way the level design was perfect, the art style, just… everything. There isn’t even much to even say. Klonoa isn’t one of those games that does something novelly or has something that makes it stand out. Klonoa and Klonoa 2 are just amazingly solid platformers and perhaps the only “Mascot Platformers” besides Mario that don’t suck. Why must I live in the Dark Timeline where people think Sonic games were ever good, but few people have played Klonoa?
Inside is on a lot of peoples lists! This is just a wonderful, solid, well put together game that shows a ton of craft while also being a much better execution of the gameplay found in Limbo. Inside builds up its world, it builds up its mechanics, it ramps up its puzzles in ALL the right ways. Appreciation of Inside is like the appreciation of pure craft in a game. It’s not the most interesting, its not the most that filled me with the most wonder or made me feel the most accomplished or anything, but it’s just GREAT. Also as a fan of atmospheric story telling, especially in a platformer, this game shines. Also has one of the best surprises I ever had in a game — so maybe thats its best trait. Still, wonderful title.
Ori and The Blind Forest: Definitive Edition
A wonderful openworld platformer. I’d call it, more like Guacamelee, more of a ‘platforming Zelda’ than a Metroidvania, but I liked it a whole WHOLE lot more. Delightfully fast moving with awesome mobility options, great art and music and great setpieces. Amazing quality for what is technically an Indie game. My friend Matt tried to get me to play this FOREVER and it took forever but eventually it happened. Only complaint is I think in some of the setpiece moments were a little too Trial and Error-y for how the game felt like it should be? In fact, the game in general felt like it was a bit harder than necessary. Which was fine for me, only a few segments irked me, but I feel like my sister might get stuck on a number of parts even if she’d like every other part of this game.
I never thought there would be a time when there was a lack of good, dumb FPSs but here we are and here is Doom. Doom was exactly everything it needed to be, fun and actiony with ridiculous weapons and hordes of enemies. The aesthetic managed to be dark or hellish without being grimdark or lightless. One sad bit for me, though not THAT sad is the game has more of a… Serious Sam model than a classic Doom model. In most cases, enemy positioning doesn’t matter because they’re all so mobile, so much fewer areas have interesting usage of enemy placement or just ‘hallway enemies’, which is apparently for a number of technical reasons. But that’s fine, because they still managed to make a great game and the times they did work out smaller encounters or interesting enemy placements, it felt great.
One minor complaint, even though it’s not terrible in this game… I’m sick of weapon upgrades and trees and stuff? Doom gives you enough stuff to max everything out but still, I hate making blind choices for skills and weapons when I’d rather just be given cool toys to play with when the designer thinks I should have them. Again, wasn’t a huge distraction since Doom was generous about it, but it just also felt completely unnecessary.
Shadow of the Colossus (And Ico)
Finally got around to playing these on the PS3 and both were just wonderful. They had their rough points but I was engrossed in both. Ico in particular had some puzzles and timing things which were like… man… who let this happen? Who thought the water wheel was okay? Probably rushes with development or something. Ueda’s game just make you feel so.. intimate with everything in the world that despite all the rough edges, they’re delightful.
Shadow of the Colossus was my favorite of the two. The port had some rough edges — mostly making the overworld look like ass and ‘european’ shaky difficulty — but even when the game frustrated me or felt a little like a chore, I was still hungry to always go back to it. If a colossus wasn’t fun, perhaps the next one would be (and usually was). The weight of your actions in the game, both gamefeel wise and thematically just made it all have an impression on me. The fact you had to hit the button twice to stab something just screamed ARE YOU SURE? Even when the controls frustrated me I felt like they were how they were for a reason. Agro felt like my buddy, not a vehicle, and that feeling was more important than my ability to drive him around like a racecar.
I look forward to finishing BEP, getting a PS4 and catching up on a lot of modern games. One of those is definitely The Last Guardian.
Shadow Tower Abyss (and all of From’s older King’s Field-esque games)
I can’t believe I liked all these games as much as I did. You can read those earlier in my blog. But the game that surprised me the most was Shadow Tower. Shadow Tower had some weird magic to it and while it had its problems (desperately needed an Auto Map) it captivated me. Shadow Tower Abyss just went totally wild though. Running around with an AK-47 while wearing a roman legionary helmet and samurai armor withe a boardsword on your pack was just wild. The aesthetic of the game is strange and alien. The gamefeel for first person melee was INCREDIBLE. King’s Field 4 finally made FPS melee tolerable, Abyss made it WONDERFUL. The only problem with Abyss for me is it ends very weakly. The game felt a bit unfinished at the end. Also the translation is terrible… though on the other hand, maybe the terrible translation adds to the alien feel of the game?
Anyways these games surprised me in so many ways and Abyss surprised me the most.
If I had to say something was my Game of the Year, well… it has to be Nuclear Throne. Just by sheer playtime it has to be. Nuclear Throne is a game that knows what its about. It’s a game that knows what an interesting character mechanic is and how interesting mechanics can chain together. It understands how to make content that new players will approach cautiously and experienced players can play through like a bat out of hell. After my Gungeon rants, it kills me that it was inspired by Nuclear Throne because Nuclear Throne GETS player engagement and it gets scaling difficulty and it gets game feel and it gets respecting the players time. It gets that there is more to enemy design than rings of bullet hell projectiles. It gets that the layout of an arena can lead to real strategic choices.
Nuclear Throne is like an F1 Racer where you can play so fast and so hard and so aggressively that you can blow yourself to bits if you don’t know how to control yourself. The only bad thing about Nuclear Throne is I DESPERATELY WANT TO GIVE YOU MORE MONEY FOR AN EXPANSION PACK WHY — WHY WON’T YOU DO THIS TO ME I LOVE THIS GAME SO MUCH
Games I Played in 2016 that I have like… a thought about?
Downwell: I wish this game had more to it because it was great until I beat hard with every style and then it was boring. :(
Super Mario Galaxy: This game was way less good than people lead me to believe though I guess it was alright.
Enter the Gungeon: I now know its not the worst games that make me the maddest but the games that brush so close with greatness
Battle Garegga: I don’t know why I’m still trying to learn this game
Battle Arena Toshinden on the Gameboy: This game is stupidly fun for no reason and has a great ringout mechanic
Pokemon Go: I haven’t played this in a month and I feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Actually maybe what makes me the maddest is successful games with REAAAAALLY talentless game designers?
Mario Run: Like… this was pretty good? More levels pls?
Besiege: I hooked my joystick and a mod to it and then I made an airplane with proper control surfaces and tried to beat every stage with it despite the awkwardness in trying to do so and mostly just ended up crashing over and over again. 10/10
Owlia: An actual NES game to play on my actual NES! Was a real sweet, cute game with just a few dumb puzzles that made me mad.
Pico-8: This is my new ‘happy wheels’ and I really should make something on it.
Big Sky Troopers: This game is also like EVO in that its complete horse shit only I still liked it in fact it’s more EVO than EVO because its EVEN MORE HORSEHIT but something was charming about it and I finished it because I’m dumb?
Glittermitten Grove: I like fairies okay
King’s Field: The Ancient City
This is probably the most fondly enjoyed and remembered of the old King’s Field games… and in a lot of ways it is probably the best one, but there was something lost in transition, going from the PS1 to the PS22. The PS1 King’s Field had a strong, weird aesthetic. Even if that aesthetic was driven by their sheer ugliness and and console quirks, they had a look. Shadow Tower had a great aesthetic, period. KF:TAC has no aesthetic. It’s honestly amazing to compare the visuals of this game to Demon’s Souls, just to see what a big difference a little bit of ‘aesthetic’ can make. The game, if not for it's internal consistency, would be almost ‘asset store’ levels of generic. I would say monster design was never From’s strength in the early days (even with the iconic Head Eaters), but Shadow Tower as filled to the brim with the type of unique and interesting enemies that’d you’d see in later From games. Instead KF:TAC are is loaded with ‘elemental xenomorphs’, probably a low point in design for these games. Something about those designs and starting in an area filled with lava felt like they were trying and be cool and aggressive and have more flavor, but it totally fell flat for me. Some enemies are kinda neat, some areas look alright, but nothing in the game wows me. Only one point in the game was I ever like THIS LOOKS SCARY I DON’T WANT TO GO THIS WAY. The game was a consistent, flat tone most of the way through and made it abundantly clear to me how important those ‘wow’ moments are.
So why do people like this game? Well, the consistent, flat tone is pretty good! The game looks generic, but the details are there. Care for the world is there. The map for the world is great. This is definitely a game where I did not need a map to get around most of the time, and when I did, the maps provided were… awfully flavorful and cool. You had what you needed to get around as required and basic navigation is simple. The “Central Tower” made for a great way to unify the map and the ways you slowly make your way down the tower felt less… contrived than Shadow Tower? Like all good Fromsoftware worlds, it felt like a place, not a level of a video game. Then you have all your interesting details. Zombie like enemies that release dark bugs as you kill them that scurry around the floor to hide… Heavily implied cannibalism… all sorts of warnings for traps with corpses and stuff. The type of stuff you’d expect out of a From game.
Combat is much better too. Enemies almost always flinch from attacks and the hitbox on your swings is huge. Larger weapons seem to have more range. Usually if you feel like you’re going to hit something, you actually do and the game gives you more than enough feedback to tell the difference. The old ‘circle and attack from behind’ strategy is not as braindead as it once was and not for any one reason. Enemies are designed with behaviors that let them move around quickly, or attack all around themselves. Sometimes you’re trying to find an in so you can do the old ‘circle and stab’ strategy, other times you’re moving in and out and actively dodging attacks (something that works far more reliably in this game than previous games), and other times you’re scrambling around. Having to do all this is probably part of the reason you’re walk speed and turn speed are a little weak compared to other games. Combat in KFTAC seemed the first step in Fromsoftware figuring out a combat system with actual game feel and it helps the game A LOT.
The game has some annoying bits. It has the KFTAC teleportation system, but now you can only teleport on certain spots and they’re often decoupled from save points or even warp ports and it’s like…. I GUESS this could be interesting but usually it’s just annoying? You have a blacksmith that repairs equipment for free but with a REAL TIME wait like come on wtf, game. Also upgrades! Lets wait 2 minutes and use a rare rock to raise an attack stat by -1-. This game might have the most irritating ‘start’ of a King’s Field game, and no i don’t mean MINOR-SPOILERS which no, I did not MINOR-SPOILERS. The mine cave and the poison and the limited healing that early in the game. It’s not hard, it’s just… not fun. Also I never got to play around with sword magic because it all required you to get to ‘level 3 experience’ with a weapon which… doesn’t seem like something that’d happen in regular gameplay? Seems like a bummer to me.
So would I recommend this game? It ranks somewhat over King’s Field 3 for me, but it’s probably one of the most accessible, tolerable King’s Field games. It’s a King’s Field game I could recommend to people who aren’t complete sickos. It’s a game that pulls back from the excess and high fantasy of King’s Field 3 and creates something more intimate like King’s Field 2, just without the same charm. And, let me be real, as much as I love King’s Field 2, KFTAC is going to be a more enjoyable game to far more people.
Shadow Tower: Abyss
The fact this game was never released in the US despite the localization almost being complete has to be one of the biggest crimes ever committed by SCOA. Man, the American side of Sony was such a pack of assholes during the PS2 era. When I started doing these playthroughs, the Shadow Tower games were the games I was least excited about. Now they’re my favorites. THIS GAME IS AWESOME and bless whoever made this horridly translated fan patch with weapons like “high swords” and “low swords”. It’s so awkward at times that it kinda rolls around into being cool, adding to the weird tone of the game.
I feel like there is a very visible story told by From’s first person RPGs about their development. KF2 tried to give KF1 a more tangible world. KF3, after the success of KF2 aimed for grandeur and lost some of it’s intangible ‘special’ quality. Shadow Tower was practically a ‘study’ game to do the opposite of King’s Field 3 — do a lot with a little. King’s Field: The Ancient City executed on all of these lessons but became aesthetically lost in this new PS2 era… Shadow Tower: Abyss is the game that both is From discovering how to execute an aesthetic on higher fidelity systems as well as being the game where they finally refine their combat past ‘acceptable’ to actively fun.
While maintaining the same survival-horror systems of the original, visually, Shadow Tower: Abyss is far different beast. Trading the bleak aesthetic of a proto-Demon’s Souls for a weird, alien… almost a primal, tribalist feel? The game has weird but awesome sound design — a strange blend of naturalistic and technological sounds put together in off-putting ways. A lot of enemies can be really easy to ID due to very distinctive sound design. The worst thing I can say about the aesthetic of Abyss is that it feels distinctly ‘early 2000s’. It’s the only one of the Fromsoft first person RPGs to have a "popular" aesthetic. But it is still awesome, weird, and constantly had me going “What the fuck is THIS place?!”. The monsters were strange and worrying — maybe not as strange as some of Shadow Tower’s weirdest, but Abyss is pretty weird. There is also the sheer anachronism of the game. The game takes place long after the original Shadow Tower, as you and a bunch of researchers go down it to explore and find the spear that grants wishes and turned the last protagonist into a king. Somehow you all end up at the bottom, but unlike the first game, have to work your way back up to escape. And you have GUNS. Guns with very limited ammo. By the midpoint of the game I am finding myself walking around in ancient magical armor, with a WW1 gasmask on my head, and when I see an enemy in the distance, I trade my double handed axe for a sniper rifle. It’s bizarre to open a treasure chest and see a revolver laying there as an object of reverence to whoever found it and put it there. You feel like Lord Humungus from Mad Max. An ancient demon wants to fight you, so you decide now is the time to spend some of your precious shotgun ammo, killing him in a way that, to him, would seem no different from being blasted by a magician. All the old Fromsoft games have this sense of nebulous time, but this one embraces it. You find an ancient tribal warrior who was killing bugs for probably thousands of years along with other researchers or my fav demon lady from the first game.
Combat is great. It is extremely rare for enemies to not flinch when hit, and when they don’t it’s a big deal. When you hit things hard, they don’t flinch, they REEL. Limbs fly off. Chopping and shooting off limbs becomes part of the strategy. “Hey if I chop off this guy’s weapon arm, his other attacks are easier to deal with”. It also just feels GREAT. In the middle of a battle with an ancient knight, things were going against me and my equipment was breaking so I pulled out my shotgun and shot him, blowing off both his arms in a Monty Python-esque fashion. I blew up another giant demon with a PANZERFAUST. The intense resource management makes these moments fun and satisfying in a way that never gets old. Also unlike KF:TAC you move and turn FAST, and can use the analog sticks, moving around like a traditional console FPS. Enemies are more deadly to compensate, leading the most varied and fun combat I’ve experienced in this group of games.
It’s hard for me to even think of things to say… It’s… Shadow Tower but weird and great? It’s hard to even think of how to sell this weird gem. This is the type of game where if it sounds VAGUELY interesting I’d say ‘just play it’.
But I guess I can at least talk about its problems and disappointments. Healing and repairing is a bit more of a pain early on. Topping off equipment is wasteful — everything has a base repair cost no matter how damaged it is (unless it’s broke, then it’s even more). You have encumbrance in the game for your whole inventory. You can store items at shop crystals to elevate this but I felt it did nothing but make the game less enjoyable. I never felt like I was making interesting decisions on what weapons to take with me and on the rare chance I wanted to use an odd weapon for a specific situation, it seems like it would have been better if I had it in my inventory rather than have it unused in a box somewhere. The shops/healing places are more boring — just glowing crystals connected to menus, lacking the weird personality of their Shadow Tower predecessors. No weird naga-witch selling you swords. There are also way more cunes which is… fine, I guess? But it felt weird to max out my cunes at one point. I guess it was necessary with the need to buy ammo, but there was a charm to a currency where there was only 100 in the whole world back in Shadow Tower. The game gets a little monotonous with it’s gimmick levels. By the late game I was praying for an area where I just kicked the shit out of a lot of tough stuff but it never quite came. In fact, the end part of the game is the biggest letdown. It reminds me of playing through Demon’s Souls and finishing my playthrough on Stormking before killing True Allant. It just felt like there was no release. Just ‘hey the game is over’. At least in DeS you can save the last Boletaria stage as ‘the end’ but Abyss has nothing like that. The ending felt disappointed both gameplay wise and thematically. If I were to guess, there probably was going to be more to the boss and maybe more to the last area. The last thing you fight is basically an armored copy of Rurufon and her AI and it’s… not much.
I also didn’t feel like I had a sense of the tower in Abyss as I did in Shadow Tower. The maps themselves are WAY better but Shadow Tower felt interconnected. Abyss has a hubworld that you travel up and down by way of elevator which is…. really lame? The hub area looks cool, it never changes in a way that made me feel like I was making any progress. It didn’t change in Shadow Tower either but at least in that, I was literally moving down it. Abyss is a game in dire need of a good final act, something all the King’s Field games and Shadow Tower managed to do better. Not GREAT, but much better. But none of these flaws really deeply effect the joy of the game while you’re in the middle of an area, playing it. But keep in mind, when it’s time to end the game, the game wraps up fast.
A good point is that New Game+, which Shadow Tower also had, seems to be improved. Unlike Shadow Tower which was more “go back to the top so you can finish killing and finding everything”, starts the game over, sans some of the stuff you already found, but giving you more potions and ammo and new weapons. I don’t know if it ever gets harder like a Souls NG+, but I guess I’ll see, as I’m curious if the game is different in other ways the second time through (and I feel like such a beast by the end of the game that a second pass through the game doesn’t seem very time consuming). Either way I highly recommend checking out this game. The translation works fine if you can run burnt or HDLoader games on your PS2 and it emulates pretty well (Some texture flickers with hardware acceleration but I found it to usually be tolerable). I know there will never be a Shadow Tower 3 by name, but I aware the soulslike (even if they claim they’re done) that captures a similarly weird, alien look.
In closing, my tierlist, worst the best:
KF3 -> KFTAC -> Shadow Tower =/-> KF2 -> Shadow Tower Abyss