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Your 2021 Gaming Diary

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Started playing Children of Zodiarcs a while ago but stopped 'cause scaling issues ruined the game for me. Third game I've stopped playing this year.

I did, however, finish Cosmic Star Heroine this morning. Including:

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Great little JRPG. Highly recommended.

Next up: Death's Gambit and the CoD: Vanguard campaign :peace: 

I'll probably start the Halo series with a friend soon, too. He's very busy at the moment but things will calm down for him next weekend. We both got Gamepass PC for cheap and the Master Chief Collection seems like a nice way to give the campaigns a go in coop :D 

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You finished Paper Mario on NSO yet? Why not!?

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Because what do you do when Bowser socks you at the beginning of a game? Why, you halve your HP and go back, of course!

Much like the last time I played the sequel, I went with a Danger Mario setup. As soon as I beat Chapter 1, I went to Chet Rippo and got him to lower Mario's HP to 5, putting him in a permanent state of "Danger".

This has the weird side-effect of making Mario almost impossible to kill in the second half of the game!

As long as you keep your level below 18, you can take this setup to the end of the game, and depending on how good you are at timing blocks, completely breeze through it.

Spoiler

Close Call/Pretty Lucky/Lucky Day - It's a costly 11 BP total, but this gives you a 60% chance of dodging attacks. Super useful for this.

Last Stand - Halves damage taken when Mario's HP is 5 or less. Basically required, otherwise you'll get one-shotted by late game bosses. 1 BP.

2 Damage Dodges - Decreases damage taken when you block. With 2 of them, blocking subtracts 3 damage instead of 1. The best thing is, this gets applied after Last Stand! 6 BP.

Dodge Master - 2 BP. It makes the timing for blocks less strict. That's important for this. It also has the side-effect of making your attacks easier to nail the action command.

Power Rush - 1 BP. Raises Mario's attack by 2 if his HP is 5 or less. 1 BP for a permanent 2 attack boost? Easy choice.

All or Nothing - 4 BP. Raises Attack by 1, but you deal 0 damage if you miss an action command. You shouldn't be missing those. So it's a relatively cheap way to boost attack.

Power Bounce - 2 BP. It's a move that keeps going until you mess up an action command. With Mario's high attack, that damage adds up quick!

The last 3 BP was cycled between Chill Out/Speedy Spin for overworld traversal and Multibounce for certain mandatory battles.

Like I said before, this challenge gets a lot more manageable once you beat Chapter 4 and can have Peach send over Last Stand. Once you get that, you're golden. Although Bowser's Fire can one-shot you if you don't have Flame Shield and mess up the block. I didn't, but still.

It's funny how different it turns out compared to Danger Mario in Thousand-Year Door. TYD Danger Mario is all about killing everything in one turn before you get hit (Yes, even the final boss). 64 Danger Mario is all about tanking hits and dealing out way more damage in return.

EDIT: From booting up the game until the words "The End" appear, my time was 11 hours, 47 minutes.

Edited by Glen-i
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Where are you, RE8 DLC? :D 

Seriously. It's been about 6 months since E3, Capcom. We are all waiting patiently...

I haven't actually played any other games this year. But that has had me interested for a while, because it could be about Chris investigating why bioweapons were sent to RE8's titular village. And I'd like to know if Ethan survived that blast.

He is supposedly the guy in the epilogue, who you see walking by himself near a car, but he's not even clearly shown. Some people did something with the camera to identify him, and they noticed Capcom actually decided to give the guy a face! :p 

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1 hour ago, CrowingJoe79 said:

I haven't actually played any other games this year.

Really?

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Deeer Simulator

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Taking the “broken physics” style of video game comedy and combining it with more over the top randomness, Deeeer Simulator is a crazy utterly nonsense game. Games like Goat Simulator have pulled this off in an amusing way, while other games like Surgeon Simulator have purposefully bad controls being the source of humour.

Deeeer Simulator is just…random. It’s not particularly funny, and it’s not all that fun to play. You play as a human that has been transformed into a deer, and the main “aim” is to cause enough damage to attract waves of cops, then defeat them to unlock a boss. Most of this is done by collecting weapons, which all stack up (the first time this happens is one of the few moments which can cause a smirk, due to how they all just attach to parts of the deer). As you collect more of the same weapon, it increases in power, so you’ll get more and more powerful as you destroy stuff.

You’ll get attacked by police (which is the one part which has some actual creative designs), dispatching a few waves will unlock the boss.

Repeat this for the second level, and then defeat one final boss and…you’re done. Game completed.

You can mess around a bit in levels, play with some vehicles and the like, complete some terrible mini-games (which are so poorly coded that playing them resets the level), and kill some optional bosses, but none of it feels fun or compelling. The game itself is just slow and clunky, and most of the humour just seems like they got a kid to say some random words and threw it together.

 

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

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After not enjoying Ori and the Blind Forest due to issues seeing things in the game, I went into Will of the Wisps hoping that I wouldn’t have the same issues…and thankfully I did not. The graphical style in Will of the Wisps is stunning, with great usage of shadows and light, which made identifying enemies far easier to do.

With this issue sorted, I was able to appreciate the game itself. Will of the Wisps is a fantastic Metroidvania game – where you have a massive map looking for upgrades that let you reach new areas. I enjoyed hunting for collectibles and hidden secrets, and just exploring as much as possible before moving on.

The movement mechanics are also spectacular. Ori is quick and nimble, as you’ll unlock more moves which gives you more movement options. Stringing together multiple types is immensely fluid and feels extremely rewarding. Simply getting from point A to point B is incredibly good fun, and they fit a lot of options onto a controller in a way where you don’t have to constantly think what button does what.

Combat is also much improved. Instead of just tapping A to have a wisp attack for you, you now have a range of abilities that you can attach to three button slots. You can mix and march as you prefer, and changing them is easy through a quick selection menu, letting you find a layout you like, but letting you quickly change if you require a certain ability.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an absolutely wonderful game.

 

Townscaper

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This is sort of a simple toy. There’s no goal, you just create a city. The controls are incredibly simple: You press A to place a block, and press B to remove a block. The only customisation you have is colour.

As you place blocks, they will morph into buildings and other structures depending on the surrounding blocks. There are some cool hidden things to find based on specific shapes.

Unfortunately, this is also the biggest limitation of the game: the game has its own set of rules. If you want to create something specific, you will be constantly fighting the game and the game will win. You can’t decide when you want a road or a building, and things like ramps are impossible to make – there’s a lot of room you can build vertically, but you can only create layers of buildings with more roads on top (sometimes even when you don’t want one). The grid the game works on is also curved and random, so even getting the shape you want can be difficult.

Townscaper works well as a 10-20 minute idle distraction where you just place blocks and see what happens, but for actually making a town of your own, it’s just a pain.

 

Anthem

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I decided to check out Anthem to see how it functions as a singleplayer game. Unfortunately, it’s one of those games that still treats you as “online”, even if you’re playing on your own: this includes the removal of incredibly important gaming features such as the “pause” function, no suspend/resume features as well as sending you back to the menu if you are idle for too long (bringing in my grocery delivery during a safe spot during the final boss was a nightmare). Games like this really need to look at The Avengers – which manages to have these semi-MMO like features and co-op, but is still entirely functional offline, even letting you pause and suspend the game.

With that said, the core gameplay of Anthem is really good fun. Flying around with the jetpack is satisfying, and the combat is hugely enjoyable, especially stringing together different attacks and activating your jetpack to rush an enemy to smash it with a massive hammer. 

However, there really isn’t a lot of variety in the missions. For the vast majority of the time you fly to an area, kill or enemies, fly to an area, kill more. Occasionally there will be a simple puzzle in your path where you have to push buttons in the right order, but that’s really it. It’s fun, but there could have been more – there isn’t even a chase scene, making the flight itself feel underutilised. 

I found the characters in the game to be very likeable, and the background lore is surprisingly compelling. I want to know more about these people and the world they live in. They drop some hints towards the background of some of the factions you fight, but you never find out the full details.

Playing it as a single-player game, it works for the most part (annoyingly, you have to set your missions to private every time you boot the game). However, there’s one section of the game where this is impossible: to gain entrance to some tombs to discover challenges, you need to complete challenges in the open world.

The open world must be played in multiplayer. Luckily, you never actually have to interact with the other players, so it makes it an odd choice. You do have to find a creative solution to one challenge: reviving other players. Thankfully, there are some NPCs near the starting area and letting these get injured and reviving them count.

The most troublesome challenge was involving completing “world events” – sections of the map that spawn lots of enemies for you to kill. I had no issue completing these on my own, but they’re just so broken. Some failed to register me as taking part (so it wouldn’t count me taking part) and any that took place in the underground sections of the map flat out broke – my character would move around similar to if you were being laggy and my health constantly drained. This happened every time I attempted it, and only there, so it must be the game and not my connection.

Anthem really is a shame. There’s some incredibly fun mechanics and a very interesting lore hidden behind some dull multiplayer looter shooter mechanics. Even in its current state, I think with a few changes and some offline support, it could be a decent singleplayer game. If it had been planned that way from the start, it could have been something great.

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While playing Death's Gambit (pretty great Metroidvania-Souls-Like - YES, it's one of those games) I encountered one of the most intense and awesome boss fights ever (spoilers, of course):

Spoiler

I'm sorry, Frog Knight Thomas :( 

 

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And finally caught up with my write ups.

Mind Scanners

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This is one game I didn’t finish. I liked the idea of Mind Scanners: it’s a game with a similar style and premise as the great Papers, Please, set in a dystopian future where you have to scan minds and declare if they’re sane or insane.

Your daughter is currently being “treated” by the structure, so you have to work for them as a Mind Scanner in order to see her again. They ask you to fix anyone you declare insane, and to watch out for people who could disrupt the structure.

Treating someone comes in two stages: first the person you’re investigating will say statements about themselves, which you have to categorise to diagnose their problems. Get three of these correct in a row and you can decide if they’re sane or insane.

This part of the game is great, in its own horrible way. The extremely black and white options of simply “sane” or “insane” make you want to not classify some people as insane, but it’s behaviour that the “structure” doesn’t want, so sometimes you decide to mark someone as insane as you feel you have to. The extremely blatant nature of it makes you think more about each person’s issues – and there are really some interesting characters. Every now and then there will be someone broken, giving you a bit of relief that you’re actually helping someone.

The second part is treatment. It has some nice ideas: fixing them with your Mind Scanner drains their personality (the “structure” has no issue with you fully draining it – they may actually prefer it), there are ways to save their personality, but it costs valuable time. It’s an interesting choice.

Unfortunately, how you do this is where the game fails: each item you can use to treat someone requires you to play a basic minigame that doesn’t tell you what to do, so you have to try and learn it. Some are really obscure and require sticks and multiple buttons to use. With all the difficult decision making you have to do, it’s just a massive downer when your choices are rendered meaningless because of extremely vague minigames. On top of that, they’re extremely, extremely repetitive.

The game certainly has some nice ideas, but the frustrating minigames really sours it

 

Evil Genius 2: World Domination

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Evil Genius 2 is essentially Theme Hospital but for Bond villains instead of doctors. You build your own secret lair and launch a plan to take over the world.

You start out with a fairly small lair, building the necessities you need. One aspect that I haven’t seen much of before is the amount of storage you need for certain assets, most notably your money: you will need to create large vaults to store gold. It’s really satisfying to see a massive amount of gold bars, especially when you get into a position where you can spend a large amount, see it vanish, but then watch it quickly fill up.

On the other hand, though, the storage for gold, henchmen (you need lockers to increase your capacity), energy and other equipment is massive, and initially your space is very limited as you can only build in the areas of weak rock.

As you work through the game, you’ll be able to train your goons into specific specialities, such as advanced guards, spies who run your casino to provide a legitimate looking front and scientists who conduct research.

There’s a lot to research – probably too much – and your progress is gated by how far through the main campaign you are. You can get some fancy traps, as well as more efficient storage for vaults, henchmen equipment, and can drill through harder rocks, but by the time you can access this stuff, you are close to the end.

Trying to foil you are agents. They will try to gather evidence of your wrongdoings, or sometimes even attempt to kill the main villain. When you spot them, you can mark them as targets to distract (your goons will try to keep them occupied in the casino until they’re satisfied that nothing nefarious is happening), capture them (allowing you to tortutre them for intel) or just kill them. With some research upgrades, you can make these auto assign based on different rooms. However, all this depends on your goons spotting them, some spies may don costumes to fool your goons and wreak havoc by stealing stuff, gathering evidence, sabotaging equipment or even starting fires.

There’s a lot of other aspects of the game that are automated, such as training. You set a target amount for each minion type and they will train themselves until they reach that level. There are some moments where the lack of direct control is frustrating, but most of the time the automation works great. There’s still a lot of maintenance to do by making sure there are enough food/beds/relaxation for your goons, and they may even choose to desert you (thankfully, you can execute your minions whenever you want – even loyal wans if you want to).

The main form of completing objectives is by viewing the world map and sending goons of certain types (as well as spending money/intel) to complete the objective. You need to set up criminal networks here and your activity will attract more spies. The length of the campaign is something I found odd: it’s too short to unlock everything, but also really drags on by the end. You can also not continue after you’ve taken over the world, which to me was just a really depressing end, having to load a much earlier save (the fairly long end game locks you out of certain objectives) instead of carrying on to unlock more stuff.

It was a fun game, but I wasn’t compelled to play as any of the other three villains.

 

The Matrix Awakens Experiance

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A tech demo showcasing what next gen consoles can do, and it really does look spectacular, even on the Xbox Series S. It starts with a simple combat scene, an on-rail shooting section where you fend off agents from the back of a car, and then you get to explore the rather vast city.

There isn’t a lot to do other than drive around, or “fly” (which is essentially a free cam mode), but the demo itself is very impressive, it looks fantastic and you can toggle all sorts of modes to see how it works. One thing in particular I liked was the traffic: I blocked off the highway and let traffic back up, which it did to an extremely impressive degree, where you would usually expect things to just not spawn any more.

 

American McGee’s Alice

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I’ve been curious about Alice: Madness Returns so I figured that I would check the first game out before playing (which is actually included in its entirety in Madness Returns). The series is about a girl with mental issues, who retreats into Wonderland in her mind.

I’ll be blunt: just start with the sequel. The plot in this is very thin so you won’t be missing out on anything important. It was originally released on Xbox, but it’s so clunky that if someone had told me that it was an early PlayStation game, I wouldn’t have realised it wasn’t.

The biggest issue is jumping: there’s a big wind up animation which makes the jump actually happen on-screen a second after you press the button, and it doesn’t seem to take momentum into account at all. A jump at full speed feels the same as a stationary jump. It makes the platforming segments a nightmare to play – to the point where I was saving after every single jump, due to how unresponsive the game felt.

The other large part of the game is combat, which is also not good: take the parts of the original Doom that feel dated, then ignore the parts that make it fast, smooth and fun. That is the feeling I got from the combat in American McGee’s Alice. You’ll also resort to using only a handful of weapons, as some are a lot more powerful than others. Enemies are also purposefully designed to be annoying, with flying enemies that blow you around with gusts of air, enemies that freeze you, or ones that fly up really high and drop explosives on you.

The level design is also disorientating, not in a whimsical way, but in a “everything looks the same so I’m not sure if I’m going backwards” way. The graphics are just dark (not thematically dark, literally dark) and the different areas don’t feel like part of the same world.

There are some nice ideas in the game, but it’s just not nice to play.

 

 

Spoiler
  1. Donkey Kong 64 (Wii U)
  2. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order (PS4)
  3. Star Wars Squadrons (PS4)
  4. Bioshock Remastered (PS4) 
  5. Bioshock 2 Remastered (PS4)
  6. Bioshock: Minerva’s Den (PS4)
  7. Bioshock Infinite (PS4)
  8. Bioshock: Burial at Sea (PS4)
  9. Grim Fandango (PS4)
  10. The Secret of Monkey Island (PS4)
  11. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (PS4)
  12. Day of the Tentacle (PS4) 
  13. WET (PS4) 
  14. Star Wars Racer Revenge (PS4)
  15. GoldenEye (PC) 
  16. Concrete Genie (PS4)
  17. Little Nightmares (PS4) 
  18. Saints Row IV (PS4) 
  19. Saints Row: Gat out of Hell (PS4) 
  20. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (PS4)
  21. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PS4) 
  22. Transistor (PS4) 
  23. inFamous First Light (PS4)
  24. Bound (PS4)
  25. Bulletstorm (PS4)
  26. Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)
  27. Dark Void (PS4)
  28. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4)
  29. Superhot (PS4)
  30. Puppeteer (PS4)
  31. Jackbox Party Pack 7 (PC)
  32. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (PS4)
  33. Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse (Switch)
  34. It Takes Two (PS4)
  35. Good Job! (Switch)
  36. Red Faction Guerilla (PS4)
  37. Moving Out (PC)
  38. Marvel's Avengers (PS4)
  39. Tokyo Jungle (PS4)
  40. Untitled Geese Game (Switch)
  41. Knack (PS4)
  42. Rain (PS4)
  43. Sound Shapes (PS4)
  44. Flower (PS4)
  45. flOw (PS4)
  46. Gravity Rush (PS4)
  47. The Saboteur (360)
  48. The Witness (PS4) 
  49. ABZU (PS4)
  50. Gravity Rush 2 (PS4) 
  51. Sonic the Hedgehog (SMS)
  52. Sonic Labyrinth (GG)
  53. Sonic Jump (Android)
  54. Sonic Riders (NGC)
  55. Mass Effect (PS4)
  56. Mass Effect 2 (PS4)
  57. Mass Effect 3 (PS4)
  58. Outer Wilds (XSS)
  59. Rain On Your Parade (XSS)
  60. Maneater (XSS)
  61. Genesis Noir (XSS)
  62. Halo (XSS)
  63. What Remains of Edith Finch (XSS)
  64. Call to the Sea (XSS)
  65. Going Under (XSS)
  66. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (XSS)
  67. Sonic Mania (PS4)
  68. Flicky (Arcade)
  69. Sonic Rivals (PSP)
  70. Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing (Java)
  71. Jetpac (XSS)
  72. Lunar Jetman (XSS)
  73. Atic Atac (XSS)
  74. Sabre Wulf (XSS)
  75. Underwurlde (XSS)
  76. Knight Lore (XSS)
  77. Gunfright (XSS)
  78. Slalom (XSS)
  79. RC Pro-Am (XSS)
  80. Cobra Triangle (XSS)
  81. Snake Rattle and Roll (XSS)
  82. Solar Jetman (XSS)
  83. Digger T Rock (XSS)
  84. Battletoads (XSS)
  85. RC Pro-Am II (XSS)
  86. Battletoads Arcade (XSS)
  87. Killer Instinct Gold (XSS)
  88. Blast Corps (XSS)
  89. Jet Force Gemini (XSS)
  90. Conker's Bad Fur Day (XSS)
  91. Grabbed By The Ghoulies (XSS)
  92. Conker Live & Reloaded (XSS)
  93. Doodle Champion Island Games (Browser)
  94. Kameo: Elements of Power (XSS)
  95. Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge (GBA)
  96. Perfect Dark Zero (XSS)
  97. Sonic Adventure (XSS)
  98. Sonic Generations (3DS)
  99. Sonic Advance (GBA)
  100. Sonic the Fighters (XSS)
  101. Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis (GBA)
  102. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games (Wii)
  103. Sonic Rush (DS)
  104. Sonic Lost World (3DS)
  105. Sonic Rush Adventure (DS)
  106. Sonic X (Leapfrog)
  107. Sonic Generations (PC)
  108. Sonic Blast (GG)
  109. Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing (PC)
  110. SegaSonic the Hedgehog (Arcade)
  111. Sonic 4 Episode 1 (XSS)
  112. Sonic 4 Episode 2 (XSS)
  113. Sonic 2 (SMS)
  114. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (DS)
  115. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games (DS)
  116. Sonic Adventure 2 (XSS)
  117. Sonic Unleashed (XSS)
  118. Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed (PC)
  119. Sonic Jam (GameCom)
  120. Sonic the Hedgehog (MD)
  121. Twelve Minutes (XSS)
  122. Psychonauts (XSS)
  123. Psychonauts 2 (XSS)
  124. Sonic Heroes (NGC)
  125. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (WiiU)
  126. Sonic Pinball Party (GBA)
  127. Sonic Colours Ultimate (XSS)
  128. Halo 2 (XSS)
  129. Halo 3 (XSS)
  130. Hades (XSS)
  131. I Am Fish (XSS)
  132. SkateBIRD (XSS)
  133. Superliminal (XSS)
  134. Last Stop (XSS)
  135. Sable (XSS)
  136. The Procession to Cavalry (XSS)
  137. The Good Life (XSS)
  138. The Forgotten City (XSS)
  139. Unpacking (XSS)
  140. Kill it with Fire (XSS)
  141. Team Sonic Racing (PC)
  142. Sonic Chronicles (DS)
  143. Tails Adventure (GG)
  144. Sonic 06 (PC)
  145. Sonic and the Secret Rings (Wii)
  146. Sonic Triple Trouble (GG)
  147. Sonic Pocket Adventure (NGP)
  148. Sonic Advance 2 (GBA)
  149. Backbone (XSS)
  150. The Gardens Between (XSS)
  151. AI: The Somnium Files (XSS)
  152. Forza Horizon 5 (XSS)
  153. TimeSplitters 2 (XSS)
  154. TimeSplitters: Future Perfect (XSS)
  155. The Artful Escape (XSS)
  156. Exo One (XSS)
  157. Ori and the Blind Forest  (XSS)
  158. DEEEER Simulator (XSS)
  159. Townscaper (XSS)
  160. Anthem (XSS)
  161. Evil Genius 2: World Domination (XSS)
  162. The Matrix Awakens Experience (XSS)
  163. American McGee's Alice (XSS)

 

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It's been a long time since I posted here, so an update is due. Next to the games here I've also finished Metroid Dread, a Axiom Verge randomizer run and I've been dabbling with Control on Stadia but I posted about that in the respective threads. I've further gotten back to and again stopped playing Animal Crossing, made some progress in Xenoblade Chronicles HD (I'm back to the point where I stalled on the Wii), and I'm making progress in Bioshock: Remastered.

But let's get on to the games I've finished or played more recently:

Dark Souls Remastered (Nintendo Switch)

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After getting stuck in the sewers somewhere last year, I kind of left the game for what it is. But this year the urge came back to finish it once and for all, and that's what I'm doing now. The game was my 3rd played game this year according to the stats, so it looks like I'm getting somewhere. To be more precise, I've acquired the Lordvessel and I've taken down Nito, so I'm slowly moving towards the end.

This time I have used a guide for when I got stuck, and to be fair there were quite some times I needed it. But it also really helped me to understand the mechanisms. What stats to upgrade and which ones are useless for my build, how weapon upgrades work, what certain items do, how to get some optional sidequests et cetera et cetera. Without it I would have missed a lot, and would have progressed a lot slower I think.

While the game does feel unfair at times, and sometimes you die because of weird mechanisms, I do enjoy the feeling of finally getting on top of the game instead of just struggling. Some bosses (like Nito) I took down on first try, while others took some tries but I did overcome them. On the one hand I don't want this game to end, on the other hand I'm glad when it is over.

New Super Lucky's Tale (Nintendo Switch)

 

I finished New Super Lucky's Tale somewhere early October, and it was a really fun game! Some of the dialogue is just cringe, but Lucky is a pretty charming character, plus the game has a lot to offer. There are 3D levels, 2D levels, boss fights, puzzles, auto-runner levels, so quite a good variety which means it doesn't get boring. The game is pretty easy so having that variety is a must.

Lucky himself controls pretty good, something which can be tricky in 3D platformers. You have the standard moveset of jumping, a tail swipe and you can burrow, but I never felt I was losing control. The game does look decent on the Switch, although loading times are a tad long. If you're looking for a very easygoing, charming and varied 3D platformer, I'd definitely recommend it.

Panzer Paladin (Nintendo Switch)

 

A game I had my eye on since it launched, finally got a decent discount in the November sales. Panzer Paladin is a 2D platformer from a couple of old Ubisoft developers, with a couple of gimmicks. First, your weapons are breakable, meaning you have to micromanage them a bit, as you don't want to wind up at a boss with a weapon with short range for example. You can also choose to sacrifice your weapon, unleashing its magic. This can be a thunder attack, a healing spell, increasing the durability of the next weapon, and so on. The trick is to wear a weapon down to almost breaking, and then sacrificing it for its effect.

The other gimmick is that you can get out of your paladin and go on foot as the android that controls it. She has limited health, but is small so can fit through smaller gaps and has a whip that lets you swing on hooks. There are usually a couple of moments in a level where you have to leave the paladin behind, some necessary and some for optional collectibles.

For the rest, the game is pretty damn straight forward. Choose a level, go through it, and fight the boss. These boss fights are the highlight of the game. Some bosses are easy, some take a while to learn their patterns. They are based on mythological beings such as Medusa, Baba Yaga and Anubis and reward you with a good weapon drop at the end. The levels themselves are decent, not Mega Man quality but good enough, and ultimately are just a route to the boss encounter.

The game does look fresh with its pixel graphics, and has a nice pumping soundtrack. Playing as a paladin has a nice mix of good moveability and feeling weighty as you are a big robot at the same time. If you are looking for a straightforward 2D retro platformer, this is a good mix between Zelda II, some Ducktales, some Castlevania, and some Mega Man.

Mechstermination Force (Nintendo Switch)

 

Also got this one in the November sale, as @Londragon was pretty enthusiastic about it. Mechstermination Force is a 2D boss battle game. The presentation is pretty basic, and the dialogue is nothing to write home about. But the game is fun, and I can imagine this being a fun co-op game to blast through in a day or two. I did play solo though.

The game really is all boss battle. No levels to run through, you just go in and fight massive bosses. Usually this means breaking certain crucial parts to whittle it down. For example, you may need to blast off pieces of armour in order to cling onto it, so you can climb to the head. In between battles you can spend your earned cash to buy health upgrades or different weapons like a laser or spread gun.

Those weapons remind me of Contra/Probotector, and the game does play as such as well. You run and gun and jump and climb. The controls feel a little bit on the floaty side. Some bosses are more impressive than others, but there is a nice variety in them. All in all not a must-play, but a fun game to pick up in a sale and play with a friend. I do like the boss fight style though, and wouldn't mind seeing this concept worked out Shadow Of The Colossus style (either in 2D or 3D) on the Switch.

Edited by Vileplume2000
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Finished the Call of Duty: Vanguard campaign. And yeah...it's CoD :D 
Not one of the best campaigns but still enjoyable. 

Started Halo: Reach last night with a friend. I think we're 3/4 through the game.
Had a lot of fun so far. I've made it my mission to kill all AI controlled allies with melee attacks. I don't know why, but I find it hilarious. :laughing:  Maybe I'm sweet but a psycho and at night I'm screamin' I'm-ma-ma-ma out my mind. Ava Max, anyone?
*cough*
My mate and I were surprised to play a mission where you control a space fighter. That was pretty awesome. 

Gameplay is great in general, but that was expected, to be honest.
The story, however...I don't know if it's because I'm not really into Halo and I've only played one campaign before - 800 years ago and I forgot everything about it - but somehow nothing about that story clicks. It's basically just been a succession of missions in a war. "Secure this", "destroy this", "evacuate this". No overarching plot or anything other than "we are at war with the Covenant".
Maybe this is much more interesting when you're familiar with the Halo lore but as it is now it's quite boring ::shrug: 

Still: Lots of fun in co-op. :) 

On a side note: The Gamepass PC app is ass. 
It's slow, installs are confusing (Forza Horizon 5, says hello), it took 3 restarts for the app to understand that I actually have Halo: Reach installed, so just let me play it in the Master Chief Collection...also: No separate language selection for games. The language is based on your system's language. My mate wanted to play the game in English but couldn't because Windows is installed in German. :indeed:

Speaking of Gamepass: I started playing The Gunk after reading that it's supposed to be good. Well, can't wait to reach the point when it starts to be good :p 
It's pretty, got an interesting premise but gameplay and setting have become repetitive very quickly.

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On 12/22/2021 at 10:57 AM, drahkon said:

Started Halo: Reach last night with a friend. I think we're 3/4 through the game.

I was correct, there wasn't much left :D 

It was good fun, but the story was boring as hell. But I guess it served its purpose as a prologue to the other games? Anyways, we started Halo: Combat Evolved immediately afterwards and holy hell, the gameplay is much worse than in Halo: Reach :laughing: It just feels weird. It's to be expected, though, given that it was released back in 2001.

Oh and I just wanna reiterate: The PC Gamepass app (I think it's called Xbox App?) is ass. To quote AVGN: "To describe this game's app's assness, all I can say is, it's very ass."

It took us each 3 restarts of the Master Chief Collection and the app to be able to play together. We got the wonderful error messages "one party member is not entitled to play the game", which I think is very rude, and "the game is not installed", which I can assure you it was 'cause we obviously played it before. Same thing happened with Halo: Combat Evolved
We also tried Deep Rock Galactic and it was a mess, as well. We both had similar issues with the app telling us the game is not installed. :nono: 
For a software released two years ago, it sure is still garbage. ::shrug: 

Anyways, after my spending spree on the PSN store I decided to give all games aside from Blasphemous a quick go.

Demon's Tilt - very overwhelming but I enjoy the occasional pinball game so this will be a proper time sink, for sure. First impressions: Interesting/weird take on pinball but seems fun.
Descenders - a roguelike extreme downhill freeriding game. :D Played one "run" and reached a boss level. Yes, you read that right. A boss level in a downhill freeriding game. The objective: "survive the boss jump". I failed. :( First impressions: Great but probably quite difficult.
F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch - metroidvania from China. Played it for 30 minutes, obtained a few abilities and yes...it's a metroidvania game :D Combat is melee focused, it seems, but very satisfying. There's also been one challenging platforming section already. Hope there will be more. First impressions: Somewhere between good and great. 

Edited by drahkon

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TheGunk_Banner_Website.jpg

One of the most boring games I've ever played.

After the first 30 minutes you've seen everything
"Puzzles" are a matter of "find A and bring to B". It's labeled as "action adventure" but there's barely any action. Enemies are easy to defeat (wanna know how many types of enemies there are? Three. Four, if you count the final boss). Story is predictable and the mystery fades very quickly. The characters are annoying. Aesthetics and gameplay are repetitive (you have a glove that could've been used in a lot more ways...just add a grappling hook to it...it would've opened up the game's possibilities so much).

It's pretty and the music is atmospheric, but other than that it's garbage. Thankfully it's very short. Finished it in 2 1/2 hours. Wanted to see if it has something to offer in the end, but nah. 

Can't recommend :p 

Image & Form should go back to the SteamWorld series.

Edited by drahkon
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Alice: Madness Returns

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This one is very different in style to the first game, and I really enjoyed it. The biggest initial difference is that it’s dark in the “tragic” sense and not just hard to see: some of the levels are brightly coloured but with troubling imagery.

It also has an actual story to it, revolving around a doctor who is helping Alice forger the tragic incident that killed her parents and sister. Deep in Alice’s mind is the truth to what has happened, but also muddled in with defensive tactics (“you couldn’t do anything”) and survivor’s guilt (“you could have saved them, but selfishly saved yourself instead”).

The gameplay itself is much more fluid, with jumping feeling very precise. Alice has a triple jump and a float, meaning you can jump some quite long distances. You will get multiple items: the knife from the first game returns as the main melee, with a pepper grinder acting as a gun to shoot distance targets. It features Z-targeting from The Legend of Zelda to aid in combat, which is a ton of fun, especially when you unlock more abilities.

The biggest weakness is that some of the levels can go on a bit long: I would have preferred to have seen more locations and spending less time in them, the dollhouse level (which is wonderfully creepy and disturbing) seems to go on forever. There’s also no bosses, so the only change from platforming and combat are some utterly dreadful minigames such as sliding puzzles and a rhythm game which is difficult because the bar that moves across is wonky (although that might possibly be a flaw of FPS boost).

That said, the core gameplay is fun and the story is compelling and goes to far, far disturbing territory than I was expecting. It was a very interesting experience.

 

Banjo-Kazooie

 

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Banjo-Kazooie is possibly my favourite game, something I utterly love. I play it around Christmas every year and never get tired of it. But why is this? What makes Banjo-Kazooie such a lovable game to play?

For starters, Banjo-Kazooie has a lot of character, from Banjo-Kazooie themselves to the worlds, settings and music. Even characters like Colliwobble (a giant cauliflower with googly eyes) has a magical style and charm to it. I think it’s Rare’s love for googly eyes, so much stuff has it, including boulders, blocks of ice and boxes of TNT. The world of Banjo-Kazooie is just alive in a joyful way.

Then you have the heroes Banjo and Kazooie. Banjo is a fairly straight character. For the most part he’s kind and gentle and wants to do good. If he was completely on his own, he may be a bit bland, but luckily his trust friend Kazooie lives in his backpack. Kazooie is rude, sassy and will mock anything. Together, it makes for great banter between them and other characters. And all dialogue is text with grunts, which helps make their world remain unique. I really hope any (if there are any) future games keep this as I’m not sure how I’d feel about proper voice acting.

Banjo-Kazooie is a 3D collect-a-thon platformer, which doesn’t go overboard on its collectibles. Banjo and Kazooie have a lot of moves crammed onto a controller, but they all work really well. There are some slight niggles, like trying to change the camera while aiming an egg can activate your golden feathers, but the platforming itself feels extremely precise, with any missed jumps never feeling like the game’s fault. The camera also functions fine for the most part, but there’s a couple of areas with some forced angles that don’t work, such as the path to Mad Monster Mansion which is a narrow walkway that can be difficult to see.

There are 9 worlds in Banjo-Kazooie. These each have 10 jiggies to collect, 100 notes, two honeycomb pieces (which increase your health). One jiggy in every level will be finding all five Jinjos hidden in each level. The levels will be considered small by today’s standards, but I think that they are ideal. It’s a size where you can search for everything without tedium or growing tired of it. Each world has its own charm.

Mumbo’s Mountain is a great introductory world. It’s a great introduction to how jiggies are hidden. Some are out in the open, some given to you by characters, some by activating switches and some by smashing things or just trying to shoot eggs into any hole you find. It sets you up for handling the later levels. It also introduces the important Talon Trot move, which allows you to use Kazooie’s legs to traverse steep slopes, and the layout of the level encourages heavy use.

Also here is the first Mumbo Skull. Enter here and you’ll find the crazy shaman Mumbo Jumbo. If you’ve found enough Mumbo tokens, he’ll cast a spell on you and you’ll turn into a termite. These transformations are another wonderful thing about Banjo-Kazooie. They’re not in every level so aren’t overused, but they turn you into different animals (or objects), which is required for certain jiggies. They’re all wonderful to use and are simply a joyous thing to have in the game.

After Mumbo’s Mountain, we get Treasure Trove Cove, a beach level filled with crabs. Mambo’s Mountain also introduces you to a pound attack (using Kazooie’s beak), which is used here for enemies and tasks. Flying is also introduced, as Kazooie can use red feathers to fly around the map. Treasure Trove Cove is quite open, with a jiggy that encourages flying around it. There’s also a very scary shark in the water. It’s a really wonderful level.

Next up is the weakest part of Banjo-Kazooie: Clanker’s Cavern. It’s a murky underwater level, and looks fairly dull. I do like Clanker – a big whale that has been turned into a horrifying trash disposal monster, but is actually a nice but depressed individual, but there’s a lot of swimming in this level, including a very deep dive that terrified me as a kid.

Bubblegloop Swamp swiftly returns to form, especially because of adorable crocodile Banjo.This level is split up into segments, and then croco Banjo can traverse new areas, including a fairly difficult minigame with Mr Vile, sneaky crocodile (although a move from a later level can make this easier if you wish)

Then the wonderful wintery world of Freezeezy Peak, a level revolving around a giant snowman. One slight niggle for me with this is that you can’t finish the level initially, so I’d recommend a quick trip into the next level to grab the speed trainers, but it’s only a minor hassle. In Freezeezy Peak you get to climb the giant snowman’s scarf, have aerial fights with aggressive smaller snowmen, turn into a Walrus and take part in races – WAHEEEY!

From the snow straight to the sand of Gobi’s Valley. This is one of the more challenging levels, with pyramids, temples and sphinxes holding challenges you need to complete. One of these requires a perfect run with the speed boots, and still takes me multiple attempts each playthrough. That said, there is still a load of fun and charm.

Up next is for some halloween fun in Mad Monster Mansion, a haunted house and grounds. Initially, I found this level to be incredibly daunting, but traversal isn’t as difficult as initially seems, and getting around the level is quite fun. There’s lots of rooms to explore and even a toilet to explore. Brilliantly, the toilet itself is also a character called Loggo. Oh, one thing I forgot to mention is that Banjo-Kazooie loves puns. Some people may pretend to groan at puns, but everyone loves them.

Rusty Bucket Bay is the penultimate level, with some very tough challenges. The water in this level drains your air much faster than previous levels, so even though there’s a lot of water, you only spend small stints in it. There’s lots of hidden rooms to find, with some fun and cute details hidden in them. The transformation in this level is also super adorable.

And last is the seasonal Click Clock Wood. This is split into four “sections” that you open up over time, each is the whole world in a different season, and some jiggies require doing parts in each season, although if you fully explore each season before moving on, you don’t have to go back and forth. It’s lovely to see all the changes throughout the seasons.

Connecting these together is Grunty’s tower. Grunty is an evil witch who wants to make herself beautiful (by stealing the beauty from Banjo’s sister, Tooty, who became a staple of all future Banjo games…either that or she was relegated to a missing person’s poster and forgotten about). You explore the tower, finding jigsaws to fill in with the jiggy pieces you collect to open the main worlds. There are also 10 jiggies hidden here, which require you to hit a switch in each level to reveal (except for one, which is given to you at the start of the game).

And once you get past all the levels and go to defeat Gunty, it doesn’t go straight into a boss battle (that comes later), instead you have to complete Grunty’s Furnace Fun, a trivia board game where you have to answer questions about the game (or complete some mini games from previous levels). These questions could be about Grunty herself, pictures of places in levels to identify, trivia about characters or identifying sound and music.

Music. That’s a very important part of what makes Banjo-Kazooie work. Composer Grant Kirkhope did an absolutely phenomenal job of creating some tunes that you will be humming for the rest of your lives. They also work with the levels extremely well, adding to the magical experience. The music will also vary slightly based on different locations of each level or going underwater, all with perfectly smooth transitions between them. The music to Banjo-Kazooie is simply heaven for your ears, and will put a smile on your face for the entirety of your playthrough. Even other people in your house will start humming the tunes.

Replaying Banjo-Kazooie takes between 6 and 10 hours, although this will be a lot longer the first time. It’s a great length for annual revisits and is an extremely well-contained piece of media. You can follow it by its sequel, Banjo-Tooie (as I do every few years), but it works extremely well on its own. The entirety of the game is just full of joy, accompanied by very happy tunes and a sense that everyone working on the game was enjoying themselves.

There are two versions of this game, the original on N64 and a remaster version on Xbox. I highly recommend the Xbox version, as the better controller design helps a lot, and the widescreen HD image is much nicer to see. The main other difference between the two is that the Xbox version is easier, as it saves what notes you have collected. In the original, you need to collect all 100 in one go, which I believe was mainly due to memory limits on the N64 and not the original intention.

 

Lake

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Lake is a game set in the 80s and is about a woman who has gotten fed up with life at a programming firm in a big city and has the opportunity to take over her dad’s old job as a postal worker for two weeks. Throughout her stay, her interactions with people will help her decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

The gameplay is very simple: you deliver letters and parcels. You drive to a location, drop of a letter in a letterbox or take a parcel from the back. Sometimes there’s nobody there, but other times you strike up a conversation. There are some interesting individuals like a lumberjack who wants to save the countryside from apartments, your old childhood friend and a woman who is trying to run a video rental store but is struggling as not enough people have a VCR at home.

There’s no time limit, you just drive around at your own pace and return to the post office when finished. It probably sounds boring, but it actually comes across as really relaxing, there’s a certain charm to the whole game: just like the “holiday” as a postal worker is to the main character, the game is just a nice change of pace for the person playing.

 

The Gunk

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Exploring a strange energy spike on what seems to be a desolate rock, The Gunk has you encounter a strange substance that seems to be suppressing life on the planet.

The game is filled with a sense of wonder as you remove this gunk and restore the life it had “killed”, resulting in some beautiful looking areas. The gameplay is simple, but enjoyable: you hoover up gunk (and sometimes enemies) to restore plantlife, then throw plants around to make new platforms or remove obstructions.

The Gunk never gets difficult, and the development the characters go through is predictable, but with a short length and some enjoyable dialogue, The Gunk is a pleasant and charming ride. I’d love to see more of this, perhaps another adventure with these characters or just another short but sweet game.

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All very nice @Cube but I will never recommend people pick up BK on 360 over N64; thank God we’re getting the N64 original on Switch next month :D

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The year's almost over and I doubt I'm going to finish any more games before 2022 begins. Which means...WAKE THE FUCK UP, TIMMY! It's time for drahkon's gaming statistics.

"..."

To start with: How many games have I played and finished? Take a guess, everybody. HERE IT IS:

Spoiler

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50 games finished. 3 abandoned. 

Not bad, not bad. I sadly did not reach the average of one game per week.

Alright then. Next question: How many games have been from my backlog?

Spoiler

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Well...it's more than last year when I finished 4 games from my backlog.

Phew, next up: Which gaming devices provided most games this year for me?

Spoiler

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(all PS4 games have been played on PS5)

It's been quite the year for my PS5. Absolutely worth every cent. 

And now the big one: Scores!

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(red = worst game
yellow = abandoned
green = highest scores)

A few thoughts on my gaming year:

  • selling the Switch was my best gaming decision, closely followed by buying a PS5 (which happened in 2020, but still :p) - Nintendo lost me long ago; their new games don't bring me a lot of enjoyment, anymore, to the point where I don't want to spend money on them
  • Sony has crushed it this year with PS5 games - stellar experiences, further enhanced via 3D Audio and the DualSense
  • ohhhhh boy, the DualSense - I'll say it again: haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are the next-gen feature and a game changer
  • the XBox App on PC is ass - Gamepass is a nice service, but I would never pay full price for it; I will always prefer actual ownership of games
  • The Gunk is one of the worst games I've ever played
  • so is Remnant: From The Ashes, but it is slightly better - I also got the Platinum, for whatever reason
  • speaking of: I got 22 Platinum trophies - my favourite? Outer Wilds, which also gets my "favourite game I played this year" award!

And to end this post, here's my GOTY:

Spoiler

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No contest whatsoever. Returnal is a masterpiece that showcases what the PS5 brings to the table and cements Housemarque as one of the best developers out there. :bowdown: 

 

Edited by drahkon
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21 minutes ago, Cube said:

@drahkon is that all spreadsheet work or did you use a website for it?

Started with Google Sheets, but for the diagrams I've used Excel as the designs are nicer to look at.

I'll probably work out an Excel spreadsheet for 2022. Nothing professional, though, as my Excel skills are basically non-existent. I do wanna add a short "one-line review" section :D 

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Due to unforeseen circumstances, I ended up playing a few more short games than expected before the year's end.

The Shivah

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"Particularly those 'The Ihfrit' jokes I've been hearing. Stop it, they hurt."

After Four Travelers on a Winter's Night piqued my interest, the name "Dave Gilbert" popped up in related discussions. He's apparently one of the founders of Wadjet Eye Games, a company specializing in serious and mature Point&Click adventure games. I checked out their history, and found out I already had a Wadjet Eye game on my backlog (Gemini Rue)... but the first commercial game by Dave Gilbert was called The Shivah, and since GOG happened to put this game on sale at that moment, I decided to get it on the spot.

This game actually predates the existence of Wadjet Eye Games, since it was released back in 2006. It was later remade in 2013 because of mobile ports, and that remake was the version I played.

I must say, I was impressed. This is actually a Detective Noir story (and I'm fond of those), starring Russell Stone, a rabbi from Manhattan, investigating the murder of a former member of his congregation. There's no wacky puzzles or hijinx, only a hard-nosed man following leads. There is some humour, but it's mostly dialogue-based, realistic banter in conversation.

A lot of this game's themes are based around USA Jewish culture (since Dave Gilbert himself is Jewish), but despite both the culture and the faith being somewhat alien to me, I appreciated how accessible the game is about it, to those of us who know little or nothing (there's even a Yiddish dictionary in your inventory). I can at least understand the overall moral struggles that the rabbi faces.

Gameplay-wise, it's a traditional Point&Click that features a lot of modern QoL features (most notably, it avoids pixel-hunting), with a couple of other features, like an inventory for "clues", that is, names or knowledge of certain events. You can bring these up in conversation (some older games, like Final Fantasy II, feature something similar), or you can combine related clues to make something more cohesive and concrete than before (hello, Miles Edgeworth). Another uncommon quirk is how much computers feature into the puzzles in this game, with the player needing to use the search function to find out addresses and other relevant info for the investigation. As such, I appreciate that this game does not spell out solutions for you, and you do need to use your gray mass to figure out several things.

The dialogue is fully voiced, and it apparently features mostly the same voices as the 2006 version, but it's actually pretty good, aside from a few technical hiccups (like one of the characters speaks with a background echo that nobody else has, and another one peaked his mic with a scream at one point).

It's a very short game (about an hour or so with a steady pace), which means that a lot of what it does well feels underutilised... but certainly not badly utilised. Its short length felt fitting, and it made the replay with the dev's commentary all the quicker. There are also 4 distinct story paths depending on your decisions (technically 3 endings, because two of those paths lead to the "neutral" ending), so seeing them all is trivial.

As of right now, colour me impressed with Dave Gilbert. I'll be checking out some of his other works for sure.

 

Symphonia

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Beautiful is this game, hard-to-google is its name

Continuing the streak of short games from GOG, Symphonia is a free game that popped into my recommendations some day. It was released in 2020 by Sunny Peak, a young company based in France (and according to their site, this is still the "student version", so they must be working on a full game). It looked great, despite its middling reviews, so I gave it a shot.

And yeah, it's actually really good! It looks beautiful (like a more colourful Hollow Knight), it animates really fluidly, and its soundtrack is made up of classical-sounding music. Better so, as the entire game is about a fancy maestro using the power of magical music to kickstart the cogs of a deactivated mechanical concert house (that's a mouthful, but I promise the concept is simple). The whole thing feels like a wordless short from the Golden Age of Animation, down to the length (there's about 30 minutes to this game, tops).

Mechanically, it's simple platforming with a couple of quirks: you can use a conductor's baton to jump higher (think Shovel Knight) or stick it to a red surface, either to hold on to it, or sling yourself in a different direction. There's a also a dedicated "play violin" button, which you can use to activate devices, or to just entertain yourself (think Shantae's dances).

As for why the reviews were so middling... I played this with a gamepad, so I found no issue, but apparently, the developers treated the keyboard like an afterthought. Not only do they not say anywhere in-game what the keyboard controls are, they were actually mapped with the French keyboard in mind! Since there's no way to remap buttons, this led to several low user scores, which is a sad situation. I totally understand the issue (no, Super Meat Boy, I still haven't forgiven you), but it does feel bad to see a young project get review-bombed. Hopefully this game will make it onto consoles where this won't be an issue.

I managed to finish the game with all 200 music notes collected (the "coins" to this game), and I definitely liked what I saw. I recommend keeping an eye out for this game in the future, and also... they might change the game's name eventually, due to how easy it is to confuse this with Lloyd Irving & co :heh:

 

Samorost

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The first!

I... did not like this one. The first game in the Samorost series by Czech developer Amanita Design, Samorost started out as a humble Flash game in 2003. Its sequels would be released commercially, but the first one never made it out of Flash until recently. And it's now available for free on GOG (and probably Steam too).

It's a point&click game that's too bizarre for me. It only lasts around 10-15 mins, but I likely would've quit earlier if it weren't that short. Not that the game is bad, I just... don't gel with it. In the slightest. I don't like the aesthetics, the puzzles, or anything really.

Now that I know their style isn't for me, I'll remove other Amanita games from my wishlist. I already have Machinarium on my backlog, and that's the one other chance I'll give their games.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Cindered Shadows

The return!

Hah! You thought this would be all tiny indie games, yeah? Too bad, Fire Emblem time! I've had the Three Houses DLC for a while now, and considering 3H was the first game I finished (technically) in 2021, I wanted to bookend the year with the Ashen Wolves campaign.

At first, I thought the extra maps were all paralogues and extra content introduced into the main story, but as it turns out, there's a full-fledged, 7-chapter side campaign that's independent from anything else. You get handed 6 characters (Claude, Edelgard, Dimitri, Ashe, Hilda, and Linhardt) at level 20 with preset classes & certificates, the Ashen Wolves join you, and off you go to do 7 maps with this makeshift party. Byleth's chosen House for this mode is irrelevant.

I enjoyed it a lot. Since this campaign removes support levels, class exp, weapon exp, activity points, and other time-wasting micromanagements, the whole thing advanced at a brisk pace. The story itself was also compelling, doing a bit more worldbuilding for Fódlan (as well as some twists I only half saw coming). The new music is fantastic too.

The real star of the show are the maps themselves, though. After the main game had several "meh" maps, the developers decided to go all out when designing these new ones. There's a "Seize the bossless throne" scenario, a de facto defend chapter, the best dang Escape map I've seen in the series yet, and more. My only real complaint is that nobody except Yuri had any sort of movement assist skill.

I decided to pick Hard Mode from the get-go, thinking it would be the same as the main game's Hard Mode. Not so, as Cindered Shadows is considerably more difficult. On one hand, I really appreciated the legit difficulty, forcing me to better ponder my choices. On the other hand, Chapter 6 contained some of the biggest bullshit I've seen in this series. Felt like a fanhack at times. Regardless, I do think Three Houses was in need of truly challenging and compelling maps such as these. Just make sure to start in Normal Mode.

All in all, I'm satisfied with Cindered Shadows. Had great fun with it, it was a good way to revisit this world, and I think it was a creative use of DLC.

 

  My 2021 log (Hide contents)

 

Played/Beat/Completed:

-Fire Emblem: Three Houses (2019) Beat (January 9th)

-Fatal Fury Special (1993) No Goal (January 17th)

-Art of Fighting 2 (1994) No Goal (January 19th)

-Samurai Shodown II (1994) No Goal (January 20th)

-The Last Blade (1997) No Goal (January 22nd)

-Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 - The Newcomers (1998) No Goal (January 22nd)

-King of Fighters 2000 (2000) No Goal (January 23rd)

-King of Fighters 2002 (2002) No Goal (January 23rd)

-Samurai Shodown V Special (2004) No Goal (January 23rd)

-Harmo Knight (2012) Beat (January 25th)

-Furi (2016) Completed (January 31st)

-Life is Strange (Episode 1) (2015) Beat (February 13th)

-The Stanley Parable (2013) Completed (February 14th)

-1979 Revolution: Black Friday (2016) Beat (February 17th)

-Azure Striker Gunvolt (2014) Beat (March 6th)

-Hitman: Blood Money (2006) Completed (March 10th)

-A Short Hike (2019) Completed (March 16th)

-ABZÛ (2016) Beat (March 20th)

-Silence (2016) Completed (March 27th)

-Huniepop 2: Double Date (2021) Completed (April 13th)

-Horned Knight (2021) Completed (April 14th)

-Inspector Zé e Robot Palhaço em: Crime no Hotel Lisboa (2013) Completed (April 18th)

-Munin (2014) Completed (April 25th)

-As Aventuras Interactivas de Dog Mendonça e Pizzaboy (2016) Completed (April 27th)

-Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (1990) Completed (May 8th)

-Castlevania II Belmont's Revenge (1991) Completed (May 20th)

-Beautiful Desolation (2020) Beat (May 30th)

-Kid Dracula (1990) Completed (June 5th)

-Castlevania Bloodlines (1993) Beat (June 5th)

-Dr.Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (1993) Completed (June 6th)

-Ristar (1995) Beat (June 13th)

-Nights into Dreams (1996) Beat (June 20th)

-Shantae: Risky's Revenge (2010) Beat (July 4th)

-Double Dragon Neon (2012) Beat (July 18th)

-A Boy and His Blob (2009) Completed (August 19th)

-Steamworld Heist (2015) Completed (September 5th)

-Master Spy (2015) Beat (October 7th)

[-Metroid Dread (2021) Beat (October 17th)]

-INSIDE (2016) Completed (October 31st)

-Claire (2014) Beat (November 6th)

-Metroid Dread (2021) Completed (December 8th)

-If on a Winter's Night, Four Travelers (2021) Completed (December 12th)

-The Shivah (2006) Completed (December 29th)

-Symphonia (2020) Completed (December 30th)

-Samorost (2003) Completed (December 31st)

-Fire Emblem: Three Houses - Cindered Shadows (2020) Completed (December 31st)

 

Dropped:

-Perfect Angle (2015) (January 20th)

-Codename S.T.E.A.M. (2015) (May 16th)

-Castlevania - The Adventure (1989) (May 19th)

-Sonic 4: Episode I (2010) (June 7th)

-Sonic 4: Episode II (2012) (June 7th)

-Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition (2015) (June 10th)

-Adventure Bar Story (2012) (July 20th)

-Super Metroid Randomizer (???)  (September 18th)

That's 43 games that I finished (or otherwise satisfied with), plus 7 games that I dropped, 1 that I replayed, and 1 DLC campaign. And also, one dropped randomizer. All in all, that's 50 new games I played this year, which might be a personal record!

Can't say they're all from my backlog (there are plenty which I bought this year), which means I need to try harder to only buy games I'm planning to start, like, that week.

My earlier goal to "do a few short games per month" ended up being really tiring. For 2022... I'll try to come up with a different system.

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I managed to play a handful of games in December, rounding out the year with quite a mixed month. Things started on a high as I finished up my journey with Outer Wilds on PS5. Despite all the hype around the game in 2019, I didn't actually know too much about it apart from the fact it revolved around exploring a solar system that it stuck in a time loop so I very much felt like I was going in blind. At first it was definitely a bit of a slog, controlling the ship was a real challenge and the lack of a distinct goal meant that I felt like I had been thrown into the deep end somewhat. Thankfully I got the hang of using the ship (turns out the autopilot is the way to go, even if it is maliciously stupid at times) and I quickly realised that discovery was its own reward. I was constantly impressed by the depth of each little world, there were so many threads to follow that things soon felt like they were going to overwhelm me, I was grateful for the detailed log that lets you know if there are still details to uncover in each location. I won't spoil any of the details but it was such a joy to play through, even if the ending didn't quite hit the heights, the meat of the game was so enthralling that I can't really think of any criticisms. A must play for anyone that enjoys open ended exploration.

Next up I played through Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge on Switch, it was the last title from the Castlevania collection on my backlog and, after suffering through the original GB entry, my expectations were low for its 1991 sequel so I was understandably delighted to discover how much of an improvement it was. Much like 6 Golden Coins was a huge step up from Super Mario Land, Belmont's Revenge does away with the piddly sprite of the first game and offers up something more closely resembling proper Castlevania. The gameplay is also greatly improved, with sub weapons available to use alongside more fluid control (thanks to the noticeably higher framerate). Compared to the slog of the first game I had a blast making my way through the five castles, the boss fights felt more involved and offered up a much better representation of the series, even if the levels did feel a little repetitive. Despite its flaws though I feel like it has aged surprisingly well, it must have been very impressive back in the day and I can see why it is regarded as one of the best games on Nintendo's 8-bit handheld.

The Matrix Awakens doesn't really qualify as a game per se, there is very little in the way of playable content but I still feel its worth bringing up here. It's a sneak peak at the kinds of experiences we'll be getting in the next few years, clearly quite rough around the edges but impressive nonetheless. Visually the digital doubles of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss aren't the most realistic but the real star of the tech demo is the realtime city, sure there isn't much in the way of interactivity but it was fun driving around and smashing into traffic for a while, speeding through the dense city streets. The lack of a 'story' and connection to Resurrections was a bit of a disappointment but I never really expected much from the demo in the first place and despite the stiff NPC's I can see how the new technology on offer in Unreal 5 will enable more dynamic and detailed environments in future releases.

I picked up Last Stop on Switch after seeing it in one of Nintendo's indie presentations, I'm basically a sucker for anything Annapurna releases, but I wasn't aware that it was developed by Variable State (the team behind 2016's Virginia) until the credits rolled. It's very much in the mould of Telltale or Life is Strange, offering an episodic narrative adventure game but Last Stop adopts more of a literary structure - there are multiple concurrent stories, following the lives of three Londoners who each encounter a brush with a supernatural force. The game is separated into 6 chapters, made up of sub-chapters, snippets of each characters stories which you can play through in any order you like. The voice acting can be a bit hit and miss but for the most part the writing makes the characters come across as genuine, even while all sorts of outlandish things are happening around them there is a lot to relate to with each of the main cast. Performance wise it actually holds up quite well on Switch, it is a little low-res at times but the framerate seemed consistent enough, although it is available on other consoles if you're looking for greater detail. It's very much a swimming in 7's sort of game but I came out of it feeling quite fond of the game on the whole, despite its flaws Last Stop certainly offered something unique that I've never experienced in a game before, it's an ambitious game that doesn't quite hit the landing but Variable State should be applauded for striving to create something so weird.

I played through the N64 version of Mario Tennis next, at least the first few cups that were on offer. I don't think I ever played it when I was growing up, usually when I was playing N64 with my friends we would be playing Perfect Dark, WWF No Mercy, Mario Kart or F-Zero X so even if one of my friends had owned a copy I don't think we would have wanted to faff around playing tennis. Mechanically its about as simply as a tennis game could be, the two face buttons offer up different shots while the analogue stick moves your character around the court, the only variation comes when a rally lasts long enough and you (or your opponent) are given the chance to smash a winner. To begin with I was enjoying the gameplay but it quickly wore out its welcome, I can't imagine it being much fun to win every cup with every character in order to unlock the two final tournaments, so I just played through to credits with the one character - it was an okay distraction to play through while watching TV but not something I can ever see myself going back to.

Next I dusted off my Wii U to play through The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap on the Virtual Console. I'm not sure why but I don't remember being too aware of it when it first came out in 2004, I must have been too wrapped up in my teenage misery to pay attention to the latest game releases at the time. For those who are unaware it is another collaboration between Nintendo and Capcom, Hidemaru Fujibayashi's follow up to the GBC Ages titles and it feels in much the same vein as those earlier entries, giving a unique spin on the Zelda universe. I don't really have much to say about it, it was a joy to play through, following the usual tropes of top down 2D Zelda but it is executed superbly, helped by excellent presentation that makes it the most expressive 2D Zelda game that I've ever played through, I would have loved to have experienced it back in the day.

Finally I closed out the year with a very short one, They Breathe on the Switch. I spotted it on the eShop in a recent sale and liked the look of the visuals so thought I'd take a punt on it. It's a very simple set up, you control a frog as it descends deeper and deeper into a lake, avoiding the creatures that you encounter on the way dow. It's marketed as a horror title but I never felt like the atmosphere was particularly tense, it does become tricky to avoid the monsters but the generous checkpoints negate any hint of tension. I don't think I really took much from it, it only lasted half an hour or so but it didn't cost me very much. 

In the end I played through a decent number of games this year but barely made a dent into my backlog - I really should stop buying games until I've played the ones I already own but who has the will to be that reasonable? Here's to another productive year in 2022!

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Been a while since I've posted an update in here, so with 2021 over and me being in a reflective mood before looking ahead to 2022, I figured it's a good time to get caught up and close the book on my last 12 months of gaming. I've talked about a few of these games elsewhere, so I'm probably going to cheat with those and grab what I said elsewhere, what with there being quite a few games for me to go through and wanting to not take too long, so I might be really brief on some games, especially ones I've talked about recently. We'll see how that goes I guess :p 

JUNE

PORTAL | 2007

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Portal is a game I went into having heard a lot about -- not in terms of its content, but in terms of its critical acclaim down to its innovation in combining the mechanics of its famous portal gun with great level design. 

And it's absolutely deserved. I played the game from start to finish in one sitting, frequently getting goosebumps from the fun and genius of its physics-based gameplay with a number of puzzle elements, which naturally includes the use of the portal gun to entire in one portal and come out of the other elsewhere. Working my way through the Aperture Labs puzzles for the first time was an absolutely blast, and its light but efficient story quickly turns chilling as you get closer to the end. The most succinct way I can think to describe it as someone playing their first Valve game was that its level design and mechanics are exactly what you'd expect from Nintendo on some of their best days. 

I played the PS3 version, which obviously isn't the best way to play the game, and boy did it make sure I came away knowing it: a few frame rate drops throughout and terrible stick sensitivity meant I had to turn the horizontal and vertical sensitivity down substantially from their default settings, and these two elements combined with the fact that this is a first-person game meant quickly becoming nauseous early on. 

Only real big criticism I have is that the first 17 chambers (i.e. levels/puzzle rooms) slowly ramped up the difficulty, with it feeling fair and fun, meaning I breezed through the early part of the game, and the story kept pace. Problem is, once the game's story started to take over, I found that puzzles became increasingly obtuse, so you've got a story moving along to its climax at 100 mph but leaving you behind, which resulted in some really poor pacing in my playthrough for the latter parts of the game. A minor criticism would be that there were some objects in those latter stages where you could find yourself caught on objects on the floor, obstructing your movement. 

On the whole, though, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and cannot wait to start up Portal 2 once I get my hands on my Steam Deck later this year *touch wood* and potentially even return to this game too. 

Oh, and Still Alive is a banger of a credits song (beware if you haven't played the game, though, because the lyrics of the song are a bit spoilerish). 

 

STAR WARS: SQUADRONS | 2020

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Star Wars: Squadrons is a game I initially started back in 2020, but got ill shortly after starting only a few hours in, so I had to drop it. Going back to it, I started over. 

Honestly, I thought it was such a mixed bag of a game: the music isn't anything special by Star Wars standards; it being based on Motive's work on starfighter combat in Battlefront II is great, but the lack of an option to play in third-person and locking players into only a third-person perspective meant I felt like I wasn't getting as much fun as I could out of the game, due to the limited cone of vision you have from the cockpit and how quickly ships can whiz by; the increased complexity from Battlefront II in diverting power to different parts of your ship, as well as customisation options for your weapons loadout, was really cool; but, perhaps most importantly for a licensed game - besides capturing the look and feel of the IP they're adapting (which this game does just as well as EA's Battlefront games) - the story and characters were just so unbelievably dull and forgettable that, looking back, I struggle to see how I continued playing. 

Probably because it's Star Wars, I guess. Unfortunately, I came away feeling so much of this game was a missed opportunity. 

 

ICO | 2001

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Playing ICO for the first time after having played a From Software game before was almost trippy -- the atmosphere, the music, the ambiguous nature of the story, the way the castle is so expertly interconnected, it just all screams that it inspired Hidetaka Miyazaki greatly. 

Now, the camera has aged miserably, calling useless Yorda over and the Shadows grabbing her and having to beat them with a stick is a pain in the ass, but so much about this game - especially it being Fumito Ueda's directorial debut - is still of such great substance, even today. 

Could absolutely do with a remake, but well worth going back to check out if you've never played it before in my opinion. 

 

RATCHET & CLANK: RIFT APART | 2021

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Spoiler

One of my biggest issues with Ratchet & Clank (2016) when I played it in May was that it felt a bit "floaty", a bit like a PS2 game (I know it's a remake, but still, it just felt a bit off at times); that's not an issue here, as there's a real sense of weight that I've got from Ratchet and Rivet so far. I did toy around with all of the modes, and went in thinking I'd go with Performance Mode, but I ended up going with Fidelity Mode. The loading times are insane too, and there have been a couple of instances where I've been left in awe by how it's been used to transition to another scene (such as with a hard cut or a diagonal fade). 

Something that added to the game as soon as I was able to move around in the menu was the haptic feedback, it feels so damn good in this game! The adaptive triggers have been nothing short of wonderful too so far, whether it be pulling down halfway to shoot at a steady pace and then all the way to unload your ammo a bit faster, or pulling down halfway to show you the arc to aim your throwables before pulling down all the way to actually throw it. It takes a few minutes to get used to, but once it's clicked it clicks well, and it's tough to imagine playing this game any other way. The DualSense is front and centre in this game almost like it was in Astro's Playroom (I say almost because it's just shy of being there, which is crazy in its own right!) and has really elevated the experience so far. 

The screen is always packed with things going on, and that's not to say that the other game wasn't, but they've really turned it up a notch here. It's so vibrant too, serious eye candy all around. The direction of major setpieces has evolved massively since their last Ratchet & Clank game, no doubt learning a lot from their time on Spider-Man and Miles Morales, and it shows, as those moments are brilliantly paced and very engaging. The attention to detail (hair, fur, scales - pretty much every texture I've come across so far) has been insane. That this is Insomniac's second release in just over 6 months is mind-boggling! 

So the game looks incredible (hundreds more screenshots have been taken since my last post), the setpieces are fantastic (!), the DualSense is by far and away the star of the show, and the controls feel much, much tighter. The weapon variety and how you use each one adds so much, and while by the end of the game I certainly had a strategy like I did the first for huge encounters, I still found myself grinning the whole time. 

It's great how each planet is filled with so much to do besides the story, and how full of life each planet is: it's not just the enemies, and it never just felt like a level, but a place with so much to see and going on. The gadgets are so much fun and there were times where I frequently would just play around with them for the sake of it, pushing myself to see if I could reach parts of the map in ways the game wasn't necessarily designed for, and it was a lot of fun. Certain planets are much more open than others, and I kind of wish there were less invisible walls in the way and the game was more sandbox-like in structure, because it genuinely is that much fun to traverse these planets and fully utilise these gadgets. 

Also, though we saw some of the uses of the SSD in trailers and gameplay to do with the portals, there's a particular planet about halfway through the game which did something incredible. I don't want to go into why exactly it blew me away, but I think it's something many here would appreciate (but might go unrecognised by less avid players). It was also my favourite level first time through, though it's a bit of a pain to traverse through on return visits!

Something I didn't expect at all from this game was that it actually touches on mental health a few times throughout. Though it's not the deepest dive we've seen into mental health in video games, it doesn't feel at all phoned in -- it seems genuine, and I think even with that lack of depth to it, added a lot to these characters and will hopefully land well with younger players in particular. 

Music is solid too, feels like I'm tearing apart the first game now, but I thought the music was much better here, and overall I'm struggling to think of anything I preferred from that first game compared to this one. 

This is also the first game where I used some of the Activity Card hints for tracking a couple of down, namely Gold Bolts, and combined with the Map-o-Matic, it's a much better alternative to looking up a guide. Trophies tracking progress is also great (though it doesn't seem to track everything that you'd think it would?), but I did find it a bit weird that they make such great use of the Activity Card hints but then there are still items to collect which aren't in the Map-o-Matic or Activity Cards. I got most of them anyways, so I only had to look up one at the end when cleaning up, but it honestly felt like a step backwards having to look up a guide because of how Activity Cards are incorporated. Maybe for a rare item like that they could have the Activity Card hints unlock after you complete the story? Maybe they should have certain Activity Card hints unlock at certain points in the story too, and have them greyed out until then (for example, you revisit some planets later in the game with new areas unlocked, but it'll show hints for those newly accessible items on your first visit). 

Anyways, overall, felt like I took a risk playing this game after enjoying the 2016 game but not loving it as I know others here do, and I'm happy I took that risk. Loved this game!

 

SEPTEMBER

GHOST OF TSUSHIMA: IKI ISLAND | 2021

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I waxed lyrical about Ghost of Tsushima back in 2020, and so getting to return to it for the Iki Island DLC a bit over a year after the game's initial release pulled me back from the depths of a video game burnout and thrusted me back into one of my favourite open worlds. Lives up to the main game in every regard - music, characters, story, visuals - but fails to really innovate, serving more I feel as an epilogue for the game as the wait for its inevitable sequel begins. Getting to pick up the blade of Jin Sakai once again was wonderful, and I got to spend 10 hours more with a game and world I already enjoyed immensely. 

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OCTOBER

DARK SOULS | 2011

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So much has been said about Dark Souls that I honestly don't know where to begin, or if to. I originally started the game way back in June, but found that I didn't feel pulled back to it for a long time after reaching what I think is probably the game's climax - the room lying beyond the formidable pair of Ornstein & Smough - and perhaps also in part due to me talking about the game in too much detail and too frequently in its own thread (a lesson I think I can learn from). 

The opening half - really, it's more like two thirds - of Dark Souls is masterful: the atmosphere the game creates with its muddy hues, fog, and overwhelming ambience outside of boss encounters is almost flawless; the enemy compositions in different areas and rooms seems purposely calculated; the heft of my broadsword and knight's armour sees my avatar somewhat slowly - but purposefully - step forward, headstrong and ready for whatever comes his way, particularly in the form of some of the best boss fights I've faced this year. The opening two thirds of Dark Souls are so well paced that despite being pretty open, it still manages to feel linear, and this is thanks to its great design. 

But, as I mentioned before, unfortunately this veneer was chipped for me once I had conquered Anor Londo. Ornstein & Smough was like the experience was for most: challenging, and at times, very much not fun when they would pull off some moves which feel downright unfair (I'm talking about them hitting you through their counterpart, who is often obstructing your vision; they remind me a lot of my time with Adjudicator in Demon's Souls, though not quite as bad and with much better music). Everything in the game felt like it was leading up to this climactic boss fight in Anor Londo, and your reward? Finding out that you're going on a fetch quest for the final third or so of the game, which instantly stalled my sword-raising and want to carry on at the time; again, I think it's this combined with me talking about the game too much which basically made me burnout at this point. 

If anyone's seen what I'm like in the Demon's Souls and Dark Souls threads, it's that I'm stubborn to a fault. I pick the games I'm going to play carefully, playing games one at a time, and I can't remember the last time I actually outright dropped a game. And so, naturally, after Ghost of Tsushima's DLC helped pull me back in, I returned to the game with some resolve and saw my journey through to its end. 

Unfortunately, its the weakest part of the game in my eyes. The areas you visit for your fetch quest seem like they don't have as much to them as earlier areas in the game, as if they didn't get the time they deserved to be fully realised, and for me, some of the jankiest moments in the game happen in the final third. As a result, and especially with some areas being much more open, the pacing of the game somewhat plummets as you warp from bonfire to bonfire, taking on areas which sometimes feel taped onto other parts of the game. The music is still great, the atmosphere is still there, but the thing driving you on - at least for me - just seemed so hazy at this point in the game, and to be honest there are some of the weaker areas, enemy designs and compositions, and bosses in this final section. 

And speaking of which: Bed of Chaos sucks, but it did lead to some hilarious moments. As did the hydra. 

Spoiler

Bed of Chaos is by far the weakest boss in the game, in that it is only fun because it can be hilariously stupid and janky. Any sense of dread was instantly lost after my first encounter, to the point I didn't mind dying a few times, blaring out Escape From the City from Sonic Adventure 2 (I haven't played the game, so have no idea how I know the song - maybe Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing?) on runs back, sprinting past enemies and having a super jolly time. 

This clip epitomises the hilarity of Bed of Chaos for me:

And then, well this one's more my fault, but it's still absolutely hilarious:

And let's not forget the hydra who is a pro at treading water I guess:

 

It's such a shame that I feel like Dark Souls suffers in its final third, because its other two third are practically flawless as far as I'm concerned. Meaning, that for all of my criticisms, it was still one of the best games I played in 2021. 

I do still need to go back and play Artorias of the Abyss at some point, so I'm looking forward to that!

 

METROID: ZERO MISSION | 2004

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Spoiler

This being the first Metroid game that I've played through to the end, I've got to say...this has set the bar impossibly high for what I now expect from the other games.

I can earnestly say that this is an instant favourite. If it wasn't for the glut of other games I want to experience for the first time, and now having a serious desire to get to other Metroid games, I would have instantly started playing this again immediately...and heck, in a way, I kind of did, spending about an hour playing the copy of the original Metroid for NES that you unlock after the credits roll. It definitely felt slower and much more laboured in ways compared to Zero Mission, but it was still a good bit of fun to try it out. I do have some criticisms of the game, but I think they just become glaring in the face of everything else I enjoyed about the game.

I think my main criticism of the game remains the same, being that the bosses don't really come close to matching the depth of the rest of the game, and I say this realising that with this being a remake of an NES game, perhaps my criticisms are also in part aimed at the original. I think I feel this way because there were far fewer puzzles than I expected when facing them, with only one (the giant larva / centipede looking thing hanging from the ceiling) really matching what I wanted to see more of from the bosses, as you needed to freeze a turtle flying around before jumping on top of it, landing two missiles on the boss, before trying to freeze the turtle again, all the while doing your best to evade a spray of shots from above. It's challenging enough to feel rewarding, designed well enough to be engaging, but not anywhere near as silly as the bullet hell fights you see from most of the other bosses, especially the final two, which seriously boil down to brute forcing your way through and hoping your dodging is up to snuff. 

Spoiler

Okay, I don't know if I was missing a trick with Mother Brain's room, but I unloaded everything in my arsenal at the artillery in this room and nothing seemed to do any damage, which resulted in precariously platforming through the room while being shot at from every angle, landing in lava and being unable to scramble back up due to the other waves of shots coming my way, and it only gets more chaotic when facing Mother Brain and trying to jump over its wave attack, unleash a volley of your own, and pray you don't end up in the lava below. 

I don't think Mecha Ridley was as bad, but honestly, given the entire Space Pirates Ship sequence before this, not only was it also pretty chaotic, it was just really, really short, and a bit of a letdown as a final boss for me considering how much I loved the rest of the game. 

On the topic of criticisms, I do have some other minor ones, the first one being that while I really enjoyed the upgrades you got throughout, as far as I could tell there was no way to turn individual upgrades off? This resulted in me going from extremely confident with my platforming in the game, to a bit less confident when learning how long to hold and not hold A down to use Hi-Jump, and flat out "okay now there's only a 70% chance I jump the way I want to" once getting access to Screw Attack. Space Jump also just felt way too unreliable - though this probably down to getting access to it late on and not having time to get used to the timing for it - to the point that I genuinely resorted back to my Bomb-bouncing ways a couple of times. Less a criticism and more of an observation: I might be wrong, but it looked like there was some slowdown towards the end in that final area when things got a bit hectic? 

I do want to talk about exploration (mainly some of the my favourite moments of discovery!) and the rest of the game some more, but given how much I enjoyed it, I'm sticking those points in a spoiler tag.

Spoiler

Okay, so first off, the little bugs climbing on you I figured might have a purpose when I last played, but I had no idea what. Discovering that they eat away at the roots/veins/whatever those messes are that block you off in certain areas, and how you sometimes need to figure out a path to carry them over there, was just such a great thing to find out. 

Along similar lines, I came to a room where there were these bugs and some other little critters crawling through some pipes above me, which I found really odd, so I Bomb-bounced on up there to see if the tiles were destructible, and sure enough, they were! Clambering on up there after figuring that out, again, just felt like such a great moment of discovery. 

I do think I got really lucky in my playthrough, though I guess it also comes down to good game design clearly developed from intuition.

One example of this that I haven't mentioned is that hallway at the end of Brinstar that just felt way too long to not be a Speed Boost opportunity, so I ran from right to left, through the door, and sure enough, there was a breakable Speed Boost block...close to the floor, one tile tall. Took me a good 15 to 20 minutes of trial and error to figure out that I needed to Speed Boost out of the room, immediately "capture" it by pressing down (I tried going the other way a few times, but it just dissipated), go back to the room down a super small slope, shoot the door open again, jump up and Speed Boost to the left in Morph Ball form, end up in a hidden room, stop and continue to store the Speed Boost in Morph Ball form, jump up to a ledge on the left, Speed Boost in Morph Ball form to the right and through the wall to get more missiles...but then I realised that there were more Speed Boost blocks in the room at the bottom, pointing to the left. So, I go back, go through the cycle again, end up in the hidden room, stop and store the Speed Boost, drop down a bit to the right, jump up, Speed Boost to the left in Morph Ball form and crash through some rooms to find my first Super Missile. Damn, that felt good! 

On the other hand, whoever decided to put Speed Boost blocks to the left of the final room before the final boss can go to hell. Speed Boost from the right of the room to the left, jump slightly up - but not low enough you land and walk, but not high enough that you get caught on the ceiling - to break through the floor, to the find some lasers plastered over the bottom of a massive hallway leading to an Energy Tank, and touching them calls for the Space Pirates and the security barrier around the Energy Tank doesn't seem to go down until you exit the room, kill the Space Pirates, and reset the room. Sigh. This one probably took me upwards of half an hour, but once I found it, I couldn't not do it, so I had to persevere. First attempt was in Morph Ball with a Speed Boost to the right, aaaaaaand you hit one of the blocks producing a laser before falling down and triggering the alarm. You have to slightly drop to the right, down about a tile and a bit, before pressing A and Speed Boosting to the right outside of Morph Ball form. The number of times I hit that damn block...I can feel my blood boiling just thinking about it. 

Did I enjoy doing it? No. Will I never forget this? Probably. Did it feel good to get that Energy Tank? Absolutely! 

Finally, the last thing I really need to talk about: the final area of the game, crash landing and infiltrating the Space Pirate Ship. I'm often not a fan of games building you up with upgrades and gear before you're robbed of it and need to find your way without, and I think here it made the pacing here a bit off initially.

The Space Pirates kill you with a few shots when you can stun one of them with your pistol, the state of alarm is panic-inducing the first few times and figuring out you'll be here a while after seeing the map was not fun; Save Rooms are just as scarce as they've been the rest of the game meaning there will probably be some extended sequences of trial and error for first time players like myself (even after consulting the map and trying to figure out how to tackle a room and where to exit); and you're bombarded with blocks which you can't destroy without your suit. The journey through the Pirate Ship sans Power Suit was long and tough, and at times genuinely a bit frustrating, though it was fun to figure out certain things, like how you need to run along a path in the ruins before turning back and shooting it so the pursuing Space Pirates fell out of sight. You feel pretty powerless. 

And then in the ruins, you see this Space Pirate running around with an item but can never reach him, and you end up so far from the Space Pirate Ship, to the point I genuinely questioned if I'd somehow messed up. But I carried on, and made it to this room adorned with wall paintings, getting a very small hint of Samus's past (made abundantly transparent at the end of the credits), leading to a boss fight which I enjoyed a lot and was more along the lines of what I wanted, before one of the most badass moments and sequences I've seen in a game...

...that triumphant and heroic take on the Brinstar theme, being fully powered with the Gravity Suit and having Unknown Items unlocked before you can kick the hind quarters of these Space Pirates who have been an absolute pain in your backside since crash landing here? Absolutely cathartic. Loved it. Worth every second of the slog through this place that it took to make it to this point. 

And the final thing to touch on, I guess, without bringing Mecha Ridley back up, is the countdown which goes off after defeating him. There was another countdown earlier on in the game, and both of them are just long enough to be ample time to make it out safely, but short enough that it does make you panic a bit and make it feel like a close call. Compare this to other games where countdowns often feel far too generous, and other times are stupidly short, this felt like a really great middle ground. 

Masterclass in level design and discovery; great music which helped perfectly set the tone and atmosphere throughout, along with some amazing sound design; and some really great puzzles and platforming sections. I have my criticisms of certain aspects, absolutely, but they don't get in the way of this game being a tremendously lean but expansive experience. 

One heck of an introduction to Metroid, and I can certainly understand and agree with the excitement for Zero Mission...they need to hurry up and bring GBA games like this to the Switch! For now, though, I think I'll take my time before I get to the next one, partly as my expectations really are astronomically high for the next Metroid that I play now, and also because it will involve tracking down a copy of Samus Returns -- I don't want to miss whatever happens next!

 

LITTLE NIGHTMARES | 2017

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I sat down with my sister on Halloween to play Little Nightmares from beginning to end in one sitting -- funnily enough the last time we did this was with INSIDE when I played it way back in 2016, and this definitely riffs off the skeleton of that game. Part charming, part creepy, and with someone else on the couch a whole lot of fun, the grotesque inhabitants of Little Nightmares are sure to see me again in their sequel this Halloween. 

 

NOVEMBER

SUPER MARIO GALAXY | 2007

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Spoiler

Man, what a game. Best in class soundtrack; phenomenal level design; great level variety; awesome sense of movement (it was fun once again really having to get to grips with Mario's more advanced techniques); easily the most charming cast of characters I've encountered of the few Mario games I've played (Boos, Toads, penguin dudes); great and fun boss fights; a wonderful hub; and that goosebump-inducing hub theme. Favourite level off the top of my head was probably Matter Splatter Galaxy, I really hope the mechanics of that level turn back up in 2 somewhere. 

The only real wrinkle is what I said before about the camera, though I probably gave the impression before that it's a nonstop issue. It's not, it's an issue that only crops up sometimes, but when it does, I think can be a lot worse than some of the camera fighting you have to deal with in 64. 

That being said, it didn't actively take away from my enjoyment of the game in most cases, rather, I think it's the one thing I picked up on that could be improved to actively make the game a better overall experience. I still had an absolute blast! 

 

POKÉMON BRILLIANT DIAMOND | 2021

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Spoiler

Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are very rushed and unpolished remakes - I think there might be a very strong argument for them being the most unpolished main series Pokémon games to date, especially considering a sizeable patch is required to access one of the main post-game activities and the actual soundtrack - which in more ways than I can care to count fall short of what I believe are fair expectations for Pokémon remakes. These are not the definitive Sinnoh adventure; that honour still goes to Platinum, with it's well-rounded regional Dex, additional story content and characters, stronger all around level scaling for trainers, and rich post-game content, such as it's Battle Frontier. 

The game in its design is almost completely at odds with itself. We've mentioned it before, but it needs to be said again: the post-game in this game is accessed through completing the regional Sinnoh Dex, which means seeing 150 Pokémon (not counting Manaphy, which is kind of a New situation), compelling you - if you go in with this knowledge - to battle every trainer you come across to help you complete this objective and get access to the post-game. The problem is that the EXP Share in this game is based on its Gen VIII variant, meaning every Pokémon in your party gains EXP in a battle, but there's no way to turn this off. With the team composition of most trainers in the game being pulled directly from the original games, the number of trainers per location being much higher than in modern releases, and not being updated in any meaningful way to offset this, the game begins quickly unbalanced, and beyond the first gym you're very unlikely to face any real challenge for much of the game. My average team level for much of the game was 8 - 12 levels higher than whatever we were facing, meaning that I could steamroll my way through much of the game, even one-hit KO'ing Pokémon with moves that should be weak against them on several occasions. The Friendship Levels coming over too really don't help this either, as your Pokémon will frequently recover from status effects, dodge attacks, and land critical hits through the power of friendship.

The only real way to get around all of this? Stock up on bitter herbs in Eterna City and use those, as opposed to Potions and the like, throughout your playthrough so that your Pokémon hate you, and also to overhaul your team as soon as you get overleveled. It's a far from ideal solution, to put it kindly. 

I also want to briefly touch on HM's, because returning to Sinnoh for the first time in a while, I forgot just how vital HM's were to the overall experience of adventure in Pokémon games, which is helped massively with this being probably the last non-linear main series Pokémon adventure in many ways. Sinnoh had you running back and forth, flying around, missing little caves under cycling paths or off to the side of Victory Road, whereas almost every main series game since has had you following a straight path or going clockwise or anticlockwise around a map. It's honestly been a bit refreshing, though that's quickly taken away by being told exactly where to go in your menu, which is a massive shame. HM's play into this in a way that I don't really think we've come across since the transition to 3D with X & Y, which is teasing parts of caves or paths that you can't access due to not yet having a HM. I'm sure it's happened, but nowhere near as frequently or as obviously as it happens here. 

Which kind of segues into some of the more unpolished parts of the game. Look, I think ILCA didn't get the time they perhaps needed to really nail these remakes, and I don't want to go crazy talking about unpolished elements, but I actually have some helpful visual aids captured from the game to show what I mean.

The biggest one, as I mentioned last week, is the games being pretty much a tile-for-tile, tile-based remake of the originals. This isn't too much of a problem early on in the game, as there aren't too many narrow paths or puzzles, but this becomes a bit of an annoyance later in the game during some gym puzzles and when going up Mt. Coronet or making your way through Victory Road. This game is clearly built around the left stick rather than using the D-pad, at least from what I've experienced, because there isn't an option to walk diagonally using the D-pad, and I've experienced input lag with the D-pads of both my Pro Controller and Joy-Cons while playing. What happens is you end up sticking to the sides of narrow paths a lot of the time using the left stick, and with regards to the input lag/sticky button I experienced with the D-pad, here's my fourth attempt at trying to go right down this narrow path in Mt Coronet, pressing down once on the D-pad for each step:

This quickly brings me onto another unpolished element which can be seen in abundance in Mt. Coronet: the lack of a rolling animation for boulders using Strength. In the originals they gave the illusion of rolling with the boulders being round and the "shadow" moving across the top, but here...

And here's what happens when you exit the cave beneath Cycling Road...

And here's what happens pretty much every time you need to run down a narrow path with your Pokémon in front of you:

And here's some alarming frame rate:

And here's a clip showing that Pokémon evolution is a lie, they're actually just trading places with their friends by going really, really small while their friend gets much, much bigger! 

And finally, something that I imagine is tied only to Manaphy but I found funny nonetheless: here's a Manaphy Egg in my PC, and here's Manaphy in my Pokédex before the egg even hatched (I can't remember if this happened in the original - I don't believe it did - but either way, it's very funny). 

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There's also the awful Pokétch integration when not playing in handheld, and as far as I can tell the touchscreen doesn't work in battles? I've experienced and seen others experience a whole other variety of issues, but I'll leave it there for now. Point is: this is a very unpolished set of gems. 

I don't want to talk too much about the particulars of the soundtrack yet, like individual tracks and my favourites, but I think overall they've done an okay job with them. A very small pinch of the tracks might be better than the originals, but most of the tracks are very muted and understated when compared with the high energy of the originals. The jazzy feel and core is still there, it's just not capitalised on in the same way soundtracks for previous remakes managed to reimagine or revitalise tracks from their original counterparts. On the whole, there are fan compositions much more interesting and engaging than what we ended up with here. 

And I need to talk more to the feel and look of this game. It's just so...sterile. The overworld and character models look like they've been dragged out of a fan remake in Unity from 2010, which these days would be considered for a low effort mobile port. The depth of field changes from route to route, location to location, and it feels like it's trying to hide an uglier game. Dragging and dropping the look of in-battle models from Sword & Shield, perhaps with a new shader, just creates this jarring lack of cohesion between the overworld and battles. The overworld chibi models look hilariously hideous, helped all the while by their blank-faced appearances, which just contrasts so heavily against some of the better in-battle character animations I remember us seeing in Pokémon games since the move to 3D. Unfortunately, this just happens so infrequently that it's easy to miss, as it is very much concentrated in the home stretch of the main story, from Spear Pillar to the Elite Four and Champion. 

However, all of this being said, I had a fun time with Brilliant Diamond. The original game means a lot to me, and though the look, feel and sound is all a little off, getting to return to Diamond's version of Sinnoh - which I haven't experienced from beginning to end since I was 8 years old, some 14 years ago - has definitely put a smile on my face. After having a very poor experience with Sword (I've yet to go through the DLC, but it just didn't grab me AT ALL), returning to Sinnoh has reminded me of what I like about Pokémon, and got me in the mood to play more, albeit with certain conditions in place (turning battle animations off except for the big climactic battles, etc.). Being overleveled for so much of the game was a serious turn off, but realising that it actually is somewhat needed if there isn't really going to be any rebalancing going on in the long run, to just be around or below Cynthia's level when you reach the Champion's room, and have that final battle be just as lethal and as challenging as it was when I took her on 14 years ago? ILCA were faithful to a fault in other parts of the game, but giving me a seriously challenging Pokémon battle during the main story of a main series Pokémon game for the first time since the summer of 2007 made me feel like a little kid all over again, even if only for a fleeting moment. I still can't believe how gobsmacked I was by the challenge, and just how excited I was during that battle. For me, that made it well worth the price of admission. 

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are the definitive versions of the games they are faithfully remaking: Diamond & Pearl. Those games are just very tough to go back to these days. That being said, Platinum is still by far and away the definitive way to experience Sinnoh if you want a challenge and to feel like you're on an adventure, but if you want a low-stress nostalgic vacation in Sinnoh as someone who played any of those DS games, or for newcomers just a low-stress, entry-level Pokémon game, I think there's a fun time to be had here. It's totally in line with what the current crop of Pokémon games are, and have been since the transition to 3D. 

Regardless of ILCA's timeline for this (which I don't think was particularly long), it is another big step down in effort and polish compared to almost every other core series Pokémon game released in the franchise's 25 year history, and unfortunately continues the decline of the standards set for remakes in this series from definitive versions of stories we know with plenty of additional content - which in many ways make the originals and their enhanced versions obsolete - to faithful-to-a-fault, easy-to-a-fault, subjectively uglier, but on the whole inoffensive remakes. This game is the definition of manufactured, from it's soulless overworld character eyes to its world feeling like it has a layer of cling film wrapped over just about everything. 

It's hard not to be let down as someone who got to experience Gen IV on a primary school playground, and through the lens of HeartGold & SoulSilver has dreamed for a long time of what these remakes in the late 2010's or early 2020's could be: walking up to Spear Pillar in true 3D, with control of a left stick, and the pillars towering far above over you, seeing the towns and routes of Sinnoh from above. 

These games could have been so much more, and it's a shame that they weren't, but that I can take some enjoyment from them at all is much more than I was honestly expecting. 

 

DECEMBER

IT TAKES TWO | 2021

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I played It Takes Two with my younger brother across two sessions, and we had a blast playing this game together. The diverse range of mechanics throughout the game breed a variety of wildly unique areas and levels, and so the game constantly feels like it's throwing something fresh and exciting at you. Josef Fares gets a lot of flak for wearing his heart on his sleeve and being a bit loud-mouthed, but there's no denying for me that he is a talented director and his team at Hazelight are producing the best two player co-op games right now. It's not hard to see why this got the GOTY at the 2021 Game Awards, and why it's rated so highly by many who played it. 

However, personally? I preferred A Way Out, as I think the story it tells grabs you a bit more beat by beat, and most importantly for me and my brother, focuses on an almost brotherly bond between its two protagonists. With It Takes Two, I do think it's firmly targeting an audience with its story of people who are either in a relationship and perhaps even playing with their partner, if not people who are experienced with relationships -- both of which my brother and I are not, so while some beats definitely still hit, there were certainly a few misses in there too. 

Still, I think it's well worth checking out if you get the chance and have someone suitable to play it with! 

 

RETURNAL | 2021

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I've said a lot that I want to about Returnal in its own thread, but unfortunately for me I can't really cheat here as my thoughts are split across a number of posts and stitched together it doesn't flow that well. 

For me, the game does a lot well. It's combat and traversal is tight, it has some of the best boss fights I faced in 2021 (a Boss Rush mode would be perfect in my opinion), it makes excellent use of the DualSense's haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, and it looks simply breathtaking, which combined with oppressive and alien hues of blue, green, and red makes the game's atmosphere feel very unique. The enemy designs are great too, and while I don't think there's a standout track, it does have a solid soundtrack. It's a third person shmup which feels like it takes some concepts seen in games like NieR: Automata and dials them up to eleven. It's heavily skill-based, too, which I love. 

However, as someone who is new to roguelikes (disregarding Mystery Dungeon games here as they're very different besides a very basic similarity in skeleton), I feel like this game is a terrible first roguelike. I don't mind getting used to weapons and mechanics myself, but I honestly think anyone new to this genre might be best served looking up a guide to its mechanics before hopping in -- I'm not talking here about the roguelike nature of the game in its cycles, but rather the mechanics around that, such as augments, etc. The game almost assumes that you're well versed in roguelikes from my experience, which made it awkward when I was still figuring new things out half way through the game. 

I also don't think it had to be as much of a roguelike as it ended up being, with runs potentially lasting upwards of an hour and, besides a few abilities scattered throughout the game after overcoming a biome and its boss, there isn't much carried over that feels like true progression. While this suits the narrative - which is interesting - and helps show Selene's descent into madness, I feel like having a critical path which stays consistent but then having randomised rooms to the side could give the best of both worlds, in that in restarting a run you could then just look around for a decent weapon and augments knowing that you can sprint towards the end of the area after attaining these items. 

I think you'll probably know if Returnal is a game for you -- that's probably the most succinct way I can put it. 

 

RED DEAD REDEMPTION II | 2018

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The final game I played in 2021 I binged across 10 days (well, more like 8, as I didn't play on either my birthday or Christmas) to completion in around 73 hours. 

Red Dead Redemption II is a goddamn masterpiece.

I'm still digesting it to be honest with you, after finishing it a few days ago, so I'll probably lean towards keeping things on the brief side, especially when it comes to story, and my thoughts might dart around a lot.

It has the best looking realistic open world of any game I've ever played thanks to its gorgeous skies, outrageously realistic lighting, and phenomenal fog. Not only that, but there is a sense of heading from one plot point to the next and getting lost doing a million other things like in my other favourite open worlds, and there's so much detail to explore and stuff to do throughout the game that honestly, critical pathing the story to me almost seems like you're missing out. The characters are some of the most nuanced from a cinematic and story-based game that I've played, with wonderful performances across the board, but in particular I feel the need to highlight Roger Clark as Arthur Morgan, Alex McKenna as Sadie Adler, and Benjamin Byron Davis as Dutch van der Linde, as for me they were the standout performances of the game, with many of the key scenes and story moments hinging on their interactions. The score, the work on which was led by Woody Jackson, is a goldmine, and with tracks like Outlaws From The West is of the highest calibre when it comes to cinematic game scoring, to the point that I think it matches up some of the greatest soundtracks in the pantheon of spaghetti western greats. The story about Dutch van der Linde's gang in the dying days of the cowboy is, hands down, one of the best narratives for me in all of gaming that I've experienced so far, enhanced so much more by the decisions you make throughout your time in Arthur Morgan's boots, and also my decision earlier in the year to play through the first Red Dead Redemption, for which this game is a prequel. 

Now, this isn't to say that the game is without fault, because despite the reports of overwork and crunch amongst Rockstar staff throughout development of the game, there are so many moments which can only be best described as what you'd expect in terms of "open world jank". I saw a horse and its carriage striding up the side of a barn wall, I lost count of the times where - with no gun in hand - I would focus on someone by holding L2 only to find myself drawing a gun (who the heck thought the focus and aim trigger being the same was a good idea?), and because the game is similar in mechanics to Rockstar's golden goose in GTA V, an accidental bump against someone can escalate to a bloodbath in the space of 15 short seconds because the engine is designed to almost thrive on chaos. Beyond this, from a storytelling perspective there is one particular chapter which stands out as the weakest - and it is also the shortest and worst paced, almost feeling like a parody of another AAA game from another studio with a focus on storytelling - and there are often moments of a borderline lack of cohesiveness between the story of Dutch saying "we need more money" for the thousandth time and the fact that no-one ever questions just how much money you need, after a bank job in the first half of the game leaves you with flush with cash. The game is also so richly detailed that it's almost a fault of the game, because there are so many systems which you actually don't need to touch in the game. 

But these are, honestly, me trying to find minor nitpicks with the game which I could expand upon but honestly don't matter too much in the big picture, as I often try to do with my favourite stories and games. And yes, as you might have picked up by now: this is now my favourite traditional open world game, bar none; sorry Ghost of Tsushima. It's equal parts a feast for the eyes, a well-crafted story from beginning to end, expertly portrayed cast, a wonderful world with wonderful people to meet, and a musical masterpiece. 

So, to cut myself short, here are some stupidly good looking screenshots from the game. I've been careful to pick my favourite screenshots from only the first two chapters of the game, but to emphasise how good I think this game looks: I took well over 2000 screenshots of the game in my 73 hours with it. 

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And that's it for catching up on 2021 -- onto playing games in 2022! :peace:

 

Spoiler

January

Suikoden (1995)

February

What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)

Mega Man 2 (1988)

Papers, Please (2013)

Sound Shapes (2012)

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008)

March

Yakuza 5 (2012)

April

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (2016)

Red Dead Redemption (2010)

May

Suikoden II (1998)

Ratchet & Clank (2016)

June

Portal (2007)

Star Wars: Squadrons (2020)

ICO (2001)

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (2021)

 

September

Ghost of Tsushima: Iki Island [DLC] (2021)

October

Dark Souls (2011)

Metroid: Zero Mission (2004)

Little Nightmares (2017)

November

Super Mario Galaxy (2007)

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond (2021)

December

It Takes Two (2021)

Returnal (2021)

Red Dead Redemption II (2018)

 

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Posted (edited)

Right, time to finish up this year.

First of all, a note that I played through Kero Blaster and Sayonara Wild Hearts before the year ended. Both short fun games that absolutely justify their low price. I'd go on more about them, but I have a bigger fish to fry.

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A bigger and smellier fish

Final Fantasy XIII was released in 2009 for the PS3 and XBox 360. It's an RPG and is the latest in my "Play every mainline home console Final Fantasy Game in order" quest. For what it's worth, I played the XBox One version, which offers a higher resolution then the original.

The game follows Lightning up above there and 4 other schmos as they find themselves branded as "L'cie". L'cie are people who have been given a task by mysterious entities known as Fal'cie, if these L'cie don't accomplish said task, they get transformed into undead abominations. Which makes it a real pity that the Fal'cie always neglect to elaborate on what the actual task is. The Lightning gang decides that this sucks, so go off to either complete whatever their task is, or remove the L'cie branding somehow, all while being hunted down by normal people who are terrified of the L'cie (People get given magic powers when they become L'cie).

Now that paragraph sounds relatively straightforward, but don't be fooled. It's a lot more complex then that, and that meager understanding you see above only happened 20 hours in.
Which brings me to the first of many issues I have with Lightning's bogus journey, the plot is stupidly complex! The game immediately starts throwing made-up words around under the impression that you're supposed to know what they mean. I'm still not entirely certain what a "Fal'cie" even is! It then shoves all the other details it can't fit in its cutscenes into a datalog. A menu option that's there to explain what the actual eff is going on. Paragraphs of reading per subject quickly made me stop caring about what is going on, and subsequently stopped caring about the main cast. Lightning is a boring Cloud expy, Snow is meh, Hope won't stop being a whiny brat, and Vanille has a stupid run animation.

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Sazh though? Nah, he cool. Legit the only likable character here. Dad trying to find his son after they get seperated? Believable.

Sazh deserves to be in a better Final Fantasy. He's like a normal 30 year old man who accidentally wandered into an anime. He's great!

So the basic gameplay involves you running around and getting into fights with various things, but before I get into the fights, it's time to focus on the second thing I hate about this game, 90% of it involves running down corridors. I was going into this knowing about FFXIII's reputation for being much more linear then previous entries, but I wasn't sufficiently prepared for it. I mean, I know I'm not a fan of huge sprawling open worlds, but for an RPG, this is way too far in the other direction! You know how long it took me to find anything that can even be described as an open field? 30 hours! In chapter 10! Out of 13 chapters! And after you progress through said field? Back to corridors for the rest of the game! Barely anything warrants exploration, you're funneled from one fight to the next, unless there's a cutscene, then you're funneled towards that.

Now, I would ask what the hell happened, but I already know the answer to that. This is the first time Final Fantasy made the jump to HD. HD development is incredibly resource intensive, especially back in 2009. And credit where credit is due, this is a very pretty game. Even when upscaled to 4K, it manages to still look pretty, but that kind of graphical prowess meant that the actual environment had to be trimmed down, and it's not a trade-off that's worth it. Graphics are still the least important aspect of games. Anyway, let's talk about the battle system.

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Only 393 damage? Your terrible flan has failed!

Boy, how do I explain this? Remember how I said that in FFXII, the most efficient way to fight was to use the Gambit system and effectively let the game play itself? Well, FFXIII makes it even less complex, by removing the gambit system and devolving every character to 6 "Roles". The AI handles what abilities the character does depending on these roles for you when you select "Auto-Battle". You can select the moves yourself, but this is generally not the best idea, mostly because everything happens at a blistering pace! There's no defense stat (No, I don't know why), so you're constantly taking large amounts of damage. You just don't have the time to be faffing about in menus, so selecting Auto-Battle is the only way to be efficient.

You'd be better off focusing on when to use Paradigm Shift. It's a mechanic that allows you to quickly swap the roles of your current party around to better cope with a sudden change in the flow of battle. When you take too much damage, you can shift to a more defensive setup that includes a healer to mitigate further damage and heal up, etc. So it mostly devolves into mashing A, until something goes wrong, and you panickingly swap to a more appropriate Paradigm. It's OK enough, but when I got into it, stuff started to really get on my nerves. So here's a quick bullet pointed list of things I hate about the battle system in this game.

  • Every battle is either brain dead simple, or almost impossible nightmares, there's no way of telling, you could easily die at any moment. It feels like the developers were aware of this, because when you get a Game Over, you get plonked right back to where you were.
  • Speaking of Game Overs, you get one if the character you're controlling dies. No, it doesn't matter if the other two are still alive, you lose. (I hate it when RPG's do this!)
  • Everyone has hitboxes, in a turn-based RPG... So if you go in to whack an enemy and they decide to move somewhere else, you'll miss. You have no control over this.
  • Each time you do the first Paradigm Shift in a battle, you get a painfully long animation, like so.

dJbEQI.gif

Enemies still attack you during that.

It's all just so frustrating and unsatisfying. It focuses more on the spectacle of it all, while providing few strategy opportunities. Battles just devolve into a frantic panic, fine for action games, but this is a turn-based RPG. It's way too hectic!

Anyway, I'm not done with gameplay gripes. Let's look outside of battles. You don't level up in the way you'd expect in this game, because of course you don't. You get CP from fights, which can be used to improve those Paradigm Roles I mentioned earlier. You get stat boosts and new abilities as you go up those various trees, it's kinda similar to FF10's Sphere Grid, except way more restrictive. I actually have no problem with this, what I do have a problem with is the eighth thing I hate about this game. There's a hard limit to how much you can improve your party. And I don't mean reaching the end, I mean that the game will arbitrarily stop you from advancing those roles until you reach a certain point in the plot. There were more then a few moments when I was stuck on a challenging boss (Or in one case, a random group of stupidly difficult enemies) with no option to go and grind. Honestly, the only thing worse then that is level scaling!

Also, why are the majority of the weapons you find complete and utter crap? There's no sense of progression with the stuff you find along the way. The first weapon you find is probably better then the one you find in Chapter 11. It all got to a riculous plateau when I found a weapon that didn't offer much benefit in stats, but arbitraily halved Sazh's HP when equipped.

ffxiii_event01.jpg

My thoughts exactly.

Money is ridiculously hard to come by, as well, just for that extra stamp on the face.

And finally, there's the music. Each song is fine on it's own, but the soundtrack as a whole takes a Mario World approach, remixing a couple of songs multiple times. It works for a relatively short platform game, but for a 50 hour RPG? It starts to grate after a while. Oh, and my tenth and final thing I really hate about this game?

the-simpsons-krusty-the-clown.gif

Those three notes? That's your victory fanfare!? I mean, that kinda just perfectly sums up the decline in audio quality Final Fantasy has taken since Nobuo Uematsu stopped working on the series, doesn't it?

So that's Final Fantasy XIII, a game that sacrifices an awful lot in the pursuit of looking nice. Well, except the menus. Those are some proper slick menus!

But I feel I owe someone an apology. Back when I lambasted Final Fantasy VIII to hell and back, someone disagreed with me (I might be wrong, but I think it was @Sheikah). So I'm gonna set the record straight.

I was wrong, FFVIII isn't the worst Final Fantasy ever. I'm sorry.

It's still bad, but it was way more enjoyable then this tripe!

Spoiler

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX (100%)
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (100%)
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4
Tony Hawk's Underground
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury
Bravely Default II
Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention
Monster Hunter Rise (Credits seen)
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble (105%)
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
The Legend of Banjo-Kazooie: The Jiggies of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (Randomiser)
Pokémon FireRed
Final Fantasy I Pixel Remaster
Final Fantasy II Pixel Remaster
AI: The Somnium Files
Dicey Dungeons
Yakuza 0 (Abandoned)
Super Mario World
Tetris Effect: Connected
WarioWare: Get it Together!
Deltarune: Chapter 2
Super Mario 64 (16 Stars)
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

Pokémon Shining Pearl
Sin & Punishment (Easy)
Mario Tennis
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (100% again + DLC)
Metroid Dread (Abandoned)
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: World of Light (DLC only)
Paper Mario (Danger Mario Run)
Kero Blaster
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Final Corridor XIII

36 games total. Not bad. Averaging more than 1 every fortnight.

Edited by Glen-i
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19 hours ago, Glen-i said:

dJbEQI.gif

Enemies still attack you during that.

Is that a motherfucking Bulbasaur!?

19 hours ago, Glen-i said:

It's still bad, but it was way more enjoyable then this tripe!

I resent this comment. Tripe is great.

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Posted (edited)
22 minutes ago, Jonnas said:

Is that a motherfucking Bulbasaur!?

I wasn't gonna mention it, but seeing as you bought it up. The monster designs in this game are... Let's go with "out there".

maxresdefault.jpg

Behemoths (pictured above) stand upright and wield various weapons, Shiva is a motorcycle made up of women, and I am being completely accurate when I say that Goblins are best described as "unicycle donuts with boxing gloves"

Seriously, Google the Final Fantasy 13 Goblin, it's astonishes me that it looks like that.

At least Chocobos and Tonberries look correct.

Edited by Glen-i
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Paradigm Shift is an interesting mechanic, just a shame it was used in a terrible battle system.

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21 minutes ago, Ike said:

Paradigm Shift is an interesting mechanic, just a shame it was used in a terrible battle system.

It's the only redeeming feature of the battle system. The idea of having a "deck" of role setups has potential. But it all falls apart because of the frantic pace, necessitating auto-battle to keep up.

You can really tell that this is when Square wanted Final Fantasy to be more action packed.

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