The Top 10 Games I Played in 2015

TopGames2015

It seems like every year I begin my best-of list by stating I didn’t play many new releases. This year is no different, and the rate of current releases to “older” games is very close to last year’s. Nonetheless, I do feel like I played more new releases this year, they just didn’t make the cut. Again, like last year I’ll order these alphabetically and provide links to any of the title’s that I actually wrote about.

Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut – This game was such a bore for the first handful of hours. I couldn’t quite figure out where the love for this game originated. Granted, it’s mostly ironic love, but it was still lost on me. Then everything clicked. One weekend in particular I had ample free time to devote to the game and I figured out the side missions and realized that’s where the addictive qualities lay. After forty hours, I had a platinum trophy in my possession and a new found appreciation for Swery65.

Her Story – This is one of the few games this year that I was able join in on the zeitgeist. The weekend it came out (or maybe one or two later), my friend and I devoted an entire gaming session to solving the mystery within the game. Interacting with the emulated vintage computer system and watching the four second to three minute clips of interviews was a gaming experience unlike any other I’ve had. We took notes and had fun speculating about the mystery every step of the way. Heck, after all was said and done we went back and watched the entire interviews spliced in chronological order on YouTube. Unforgettable. Unlike my intentions to come back and write more about the game as mentioned in my review…

Lost Odyssey – There’s always a few games that I fail to write reviews for but luckily, I did at least write something about this game (two articles in fact!). I’m bad about doing that, especially with the games I enjoy the most. That’s the case with this gem. This is by most measures, a very traditional JRPG; it is, though, an exemplary traditional JRPG. Like Deadly Premonition, it took a while for this game to click with me but once it did, I was irrevocably sucked in. I could lavish praise on the mature story, or the addictive character growth mechanics but I failed to do so after originally beating the game so why start now? Nonetheless, easily one of the best games I played this year.

Metal Gear Solid – With the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I felt the urge to play through the entire MGS series (I tend to get these urges, especially with long-running series’ damn it!). Since that urge, my friend and I have played through this title and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and we’re currently working on Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (and I played VR Missions, solo). The second game had much more to analyze and is likely the more important video game to the industry (perhaps of all time?) but my friend and I had more fun playing the first one.

South Park: The Stick of Truth – Here’s one of those games that I didn’t write anything about. Without a doubt, it’s got the funniest writing in a game I’ve ever played. The vulgarity may offend some, but hey, it’s a South Park video game! It’s a brief riot that invoked the sensibilities of the Mario RPG games, ergo, turn-based combat with quick-time events.  It was a well-crafted romp through the South Park universe and Jeff, if you’re reading this, play it already!

Super Mario Maker – I haven’t written about this game, yet. I’m still playing it all the time and it’s been a hub for the gaming sessions my friend and I have. I’m not usually attracted to games that have a user-designed focus but I’ve had a lot of fun designing stages in this game. It definitely helps that I’m designing Mario stages and can immediately understand how everything will work and how to design a stage. That being said, I’m learning so many new techniques and playing so many awesomely difficult stages that you’d never find in a Nintendo published 2D Mario game.

The Walking Dead: A Telltale Game Series – I missed out on this originally, despite the pleas of a friend and the acclaim that was thrown this game’s way, but I was looking for just such an experience after getting my PS4 after Christmas last year. This game told an enthralling story that packed a punch and left me wanting to find two hours to devote to the next episode after completing the previous one. So glad I played this.

Wolfenstein: The New Order – Okay, apparently this is just the section of the list where I talk about games I never wrote about. Like many of the games I’ve included, I’ve selected this game based in part on its story. That’s something that is rarely said about an FPS, but it’s true. This was a narrative-driven shooter that had me interested in what was going to happen to the characters it revolved around. It didn’t hurt that the gameplay was fun as heck, too.

Xenoblade Chronicles X – Like Super Mario Maker, I haven’t written about this game as I’m still playing it. I’m about thirty hours in at the moment and can’t spend enough time in the world. I’ve been doing way too many monotonous side missions instead of the affinity and story missions, but I’ve been doing this to spend more time roaming the large environments and exploring every nook and cranny. The story is rubbish but who cares with a world like this one’s!

You Must Build a Boat – Mobile games for me serve mostly as time wasters, so it’s impressive when I play one when my time should be devoted elsewhere. The dungeon-crawling, character growth elements put a spin on the tile-matching gameplay. For a couple of bucks, don’t think about it, just buy this game.

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Namco Museum Vol. 3 [PlayStation] – Review

Namo Museum Volume 3

For all intents and purposes, this is a review of Namco Museum Vol. 3 for the PlayStation, bearing in mind I’ve played it twice for about an hour total. That being said, I’m confident in knowing what it has to offer based on prior experiences with most of the compiled games. After a fruitful evening of game hunting with a friend, this is the title I subjected us to. Well, that’s what he may describe the experience as but for me, someone who relishes the opportunity to play just about any game, it was an entertaining romp through the past. Considering this is a compilation that only contains six games, it proved to highlight a strong selection of Namco’s arcade lineage.

This, the third installment of the Namco Museum series on the PlayStation, was originally released stateside in early 1997. Most sources point to Now Production handling the development/porting with Namco publishing it here. As mentioned, six arcade games are included: Galaxian, Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position II, Dig Dug, Phozon, and The Tower of Druaga. Most readers are likely familiar with all but the last two, but the weight is definitely carried by the headliners. Regardless, these are all arcade-faithful ports and the package is buoyed by a virtual museum to walk through, highlighting low resolution scans of the games’ original Japanese marketing materials (plus an entertaining introduction video!).

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Dig Dug
Dig Dug is a cute game with cute names such as Pooka and Fygar.

Of the games included, I’m most familiar with Ms. Pac-Man. That was one of the go-to Super Nintendo games in my household growing up. Heck, even my mom played it with us! She’s actually the reason we had it since she was familiar with the arcade release and knew it’d be more family friendly than say the copy of Killer Instinct that came bundled with our console. The version on display in this compilation is the arcade version, so it’s limited on features compared to the Super Nintendo port I’m used to. Nonetheless, Ms. Pac-Man is a riveting game with or without any bells or whistles. In fact, when my friend and I played, this game in particular sparked a bit of a high score competition.

I was first introduced to Dig Dug through its Xbox Live Arcade release, although I’ve played much more of the Mr. Driller series. A single-screen action game like most of the other games on this compilation, Dig Dug sees players assuming the role of the eponymous Dig Dug (also known as Taizo Hori) as he digs underground in order to defeat the wandering Pookas and Fygars. This can be easily done by exploding them with an air pump, although strategically dropping rocks on them can result in chained kills and extra points. Defeating them further down also yields more points. It’s a straight-forward action game but as described, there’s ways to wring strategic elements from the game to promote score-chasing.

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Galaxian
Galaxian was little more than a Space Invaders copy, although it laid the groundwork for the superb Galaga.

Galaxian is perhaps most succinctly described as a combination of Space Invaders and Galaga. It was, after all, Namco’s heavily inspired attempt at a Space Invaders game and the predecessor to the much improved Galaga. That’s not to say that this isn’t a worthy game in its own right. Namco took the Space Invaders formula and expanded upon it incrementally by designing more aggressive enemies… and adding color. Damn, Galaga is so much better… Destroying the waves of enemies still remains challenging but after the first wave, players will have seen pretty much everything they’re going to see.

Like Galaxian, there’s little to say about Pole Position II. It’s a solid racing game and it runs beautifully although nothing differentiates it from the hundreds of racing games available throughout the 1980s; it’s still a precedent setter. That leaves me with Phozon and The Tower of Druaga. This compilation represented the North American debut of Phozon as it never left Japan when it was released in 1983. I didn’t particularly care for it, although the pseudo-3D rendering of the antagonist looked good. Forgoing the game’s unique verbiage, players control an atom and collect drifting molecules aiming to recreate the shape displayed before each stage. A sole enemy is almost always present and a life is lost if it connects with the player’s atom. Essentially, recreate shapes while playing cat and mouse.

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Phozon
Phozon was a weird one, regardless of the two in the upper-left corner.

Finally, there’s The Tower of Druaga. From the title alone this one sounds epic and it was understandably inspired by Middle Eastern mythology. Controlling the hero Gilgamesh, players are tasked with rescuing Ki from said tower. This plays out across 60 floors of mazes with each floor hosting a locked exit, a key, as well as enemies and treasure. Again, this is a pretty straight-forward game whose difficulty continually increases. I wasn’t able to get too far into the tower but one tip I can share is to hold the attack button. With it held, Gilgamesh keeps his sword drawn and can walk into enemies to defeat them. A marked improvement on simply swinging the sword, trust me.

With there being so many Namco Museum titles nowadays, it’s hard to recommend this one over the more comprehensive collections for newer consoles. Still, at the right price, this is worth snatching up. I have multiple Namco compilations but $0.99 for a loose copy was too good to pass up. I will say I was surprised by the museum content, I wasn’t expecting that and don’t recall similar information in the newer compilations. And that darn introduction video really got me jazzed up too! If anything, I’ll keep my eyes peeled on the other PlayStation Namco Museum releases in the hopes of getting more of that content, if the price is right.

Lastly, here is a video that my friend and I recorded while playing this game. The best part by far is the Ms. Pac-Man competition which commences about halfway through and runs to the end of the video. It’s not very serious, but I still won, and that’s what counts.

Pokemon Picross [3DS eShop] – Review

Pokemon Picross

I’m disappointed with Pokémon Picross. Or rather, I’m disappointed in my expectations for the game. When it was announced in a recent Nintendo Direct, it was fully detailed as a “free-to-start” title: a game I’d be able to download and play for free. Presumably, there’d be some reason to coerce me to input money, but I didn’t ruminate on that or the potential pitfalls associated with the game’s payment model further. My lust for a new Picross game caused blinders to go up, especially considering this was a new one thematically designed around Pokémon. A peanut butter and jelly combination if I’d ever heard one! Having spent some time with the game, I’ve come back down and am firmly grounded in reality.

Nintendo’s Picross games are logic-based puzzlers that task players with filling in a gridded square using numerical hints on each row and column, ultimately revealing a picture. The numbers bordering each row and column indicate how many squares are to be filled in and if they’re connected or contain an unknown space of unmarked squares between them. Using deductive reasoning, one can determine that if a row of 10 squares has a hint of 8, a certain number of squares must be filled in, regardless of where the filled in section begins and ends. Extrapolating this thinking across the entire grid and utilizing squares that have already been filled in is an addictive process with a satisfying sense of completion when complete, especially on the larger puzzles.

Pokémon Picross takes that standard concept and applies some of the mechanics from the Pokémon series. The puzzles themselves are representative of individual Pokémon that when complete, result in catching said creature. They each have an ability that aids in the completion of puzzles by filling in squares, slowing time, etc. This mechanic ties into another new addition, rewards for completing specific objectives for each puzzle. Each puzzle has a set of unique objectives, such as set Pokémon X or use ability Y. Rewards for completing these were generally Picrites, the in-game currency.

Pokemon Picross - Pikachu
A Pikachu puzzle in progress, nearly there!

Mega Puzzles make a return after their debut in the digital only Picross e titles, although they’re completely foreign to me. I skipped out on those digital titles not thinking they contained much content (I was wrong, rectifying that mistake… now) but they make total sense in a Pokémon themed game, considering Mega Evolutions are the new “thing” for that series. Basically, they screw with the hints given and instead combine two rows/columns. Even after going through the tutorial a time or two, I had to wrack my brain to comprehend them. They add a nice change of pace, but are nowhere near as progressive as Picross 3D.

Progression is also portrayed differently, although is structurally similar to previous Picross games. Players navigate the game from puzzle to puzzle as if navigating the varying routes in a Pokémon game, complete with branching paths and different creatures. The difficulty pacing is all over the place, which for a veteran like me is appreciated. While it could be a hindrance for someone unfamiliar with the series (and I could see many newcomers coming for the Pokémon side of the equation), it also further replicates the progression of a standard Pokémon game, e.g. having to return to some cave with stronger Pokémon. Reaching new areas is no small feat and the barriers are twofold: energy and Picrites.

Pokemon Picross - Pikachu Capture
And the completed puzzle results in a new Pokemon added to the collection.

I originally wanted to start this section off discussing one of these mechanics as the lesser of two evils, but they’re both pretty mischievous, but ultimately boil down to one annoyance. Like many free-to-play games, this one utilizes an energy meter. As squares of puzzles are filled in, that meter depletes until it’s empty, halting progress until it’s refilled. The easiest way is to wait for it to refill; this can take a couple of hours and for the player in need of a fix, the quickest way is to refill it (or extend it altogether) with Picrites. As mentioned, Picrites are the in-game currency and are awarded for the completion of puzzles and the completion of objectives. They are doled out in laughable quantities in relation to the amount needed to unlock additional areas and upgrades, heck even an alternate set of puzzles are gated behind a hefty sum of Picrites. The only logical solution is to pony up real money.

This is a free-to-play game (and the core game is damn fine!) but convincing myself to plug in more than a couple of bucks is a tough sell. Admittedly, I’m still one of those luddites who prefer physical media and getting something I can hold in my hands in return. And I understand that many individuals worked on this game and there are plenty of stakeholders who deserve a cut. But, the portrayal of this game as free-to-play is somewhat devious. The amount of Picrites awarded in relation to the tally needed to unlock additional stages is prohibitively high and at some point, progression is gated behind a measly few puzzles that can be farmed each day.

Labels and payment models shouldn’t conjure this much ill will, and I’m perhaps going overboard here, but I would’ve rather seen Nintendo strip away the free-to-play elements and just market a full-price digital title. Obviously they didn’t go that route and I’m sure there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they’d reach more players, and ultimately yield more revenue by adopting the model they went with. And with that “realization” this article has devolved into a codgerly rant about the evolving sales pitch of video games. The kicker is that if you pump in about thirty bucks, all of these elements I’ve whined about go away. I don’t think I’m going to though because I’ve still got a chip on my shoulder on how they marketed this game! The more I write, the more I’m coming off as an entitled asshole, even to myself. So while I’d fit in great in an internet comments section, I’m going to wrap things up here! This is a great game, just go into it with better expectations than me.