In keeping with tradition, I’m going to forego writing a best-of list, just like I forgot to do in 2012. Scratch that, I mean I’m going to simply order these games alphabetically instead of ordering them. This list is very Wii U heavy, which makes sense as I purchased the system shortly after Mario Kart 8 released. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back in the sense that there were plenty of titles available and coming soon that I wanted to play. And of course, this list is diverse with older games as I usually don’t play many new titles. In that regard, this list is unlike any other I’ve constructed.
Bayonetta 2 – Now this is a video game. Platinum Games, Sega, and Nintendo expanded upon the formula of the original by blowing it out of the water. This was easily the most fun I had playing a game by myself this year.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence – I’ve been a big fan of the series since playing Aria of Sorrow but this was my first foray into a 3D entry. I did’t think the game was outstanding, but the focus Koji Igarashi and his team had was. An enjoyable action game.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem – The same can be said for this game – that I didn’t find it to be outstanding. It just hasn’t seemed to age super well. Still, this was a fun game to play through with a friend and I’m glad to finally check it off my backlog.
Gyruss– With this game, my friend and I had a great high-score competition going that stretched from late 2013 into early 2014. We had long breaks in between, but the rivalry was fierce. The game and our rivalry was a great example of the Golden Age of Arcade Games.
Mario Kart 8 – This was the game that pushed me over the edge on the Wii U and what a game! If it’s not my favorite in the series, it’s easily #2, right behind Double Dash. A great selection of courses, great DLC, and solid online wooed me in the early days with my new system.
New Super Luigi U – This was another early adoption title that wooed me. I played through the entirety of this in co-op, and it was such a pleasurable experience. A great blend of traditionally designed platforming stages, with super tough requirements, and fun implementation of the Wii U Gamepad.
Scribblenauts: Unlimited – My friend and I haven’t beaten this game. We’re maybe halfway through it. Still, the amount of fun we had brainstorming ridiculous creations was probably the most fun I had with a video game all year. Highly recommended.
Super Mario Bros. – I mean, come on. This game is legendary. I finally beat it this year after many attempts and the assistance of my friend. What a sense of accomplishment afterwards! Talk about checking something off of a backlog, this is more like a bucket list item!
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U – What a stupid name. Still, this is such a highly refined, balanced game with enough content to keep me content for years. Rest assured, I will play this game until its successor comes out and it will be in the mulitplayer lineup that long too.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was released on this day eleven years ago. It marked the franchise’s return to 3D, after a pair of reportedly underwhelming N64 titles. This title also marked Koji Igarashi’s first attempt at doing so, after helming many lauded 2D Castlevanias (Circle of the Moon not among them). It didn’t surprise me when I found this game to be very similar to the GBA and DS games that I adore. The formula of those games was transposed into the 3D action-adventure genre, although at least one key gameplay element was omitted, making for a less addicting game.
On top of that, the combat system implemented here lacked much depth. This didn’t bother me too much, although it also didn’t encourage me to explore the full repertoire of the game’s protagonist. But, that leads to one of the facets that drew me into this game and the franchise in the first place – the stories and settings. The Gothic settings and character designs are second to none in the video game realm. This game serves as the chronological origin for the franchise so it’s a key game in that regard, and even with a small cast of characters, I found it to be entertaining and worth my while. It only took me six hours to complete, after all.
As I mentioned, the formula that the 2D Castlevanias are known for was completely lifted and applied to the 3D action-adventure genre, with a few exceptions… That formula – the “Metroidvania” formula – is often noted for its extreme backtracking tied to character development. Neither of those elements was on display in this game, much. There was a fair dose of backtracking, but this was generally confined to each unique area. Character development also wasn’t a focus.
The castle that the protagonist was exploring served as a hub to about six other remote sections. There wasn’t much tying these stages together, besides a foreboding sense of trouble. Even the association puzzles that I infrequently came across didn’t cross boundaries. Character development of abilities wasn’t a hindrance to my exploration either, so this was somewhat unique among the more recent entries in the franchise. Exploration was limited, and very straightforward. Thankfully, the castle itself was basically a character; granted one with dissociative identity disorder.
Composed of about six distinct areas, the castle was diverse, but always atmospheric. The Ghostly Theatre, the Anti-Souls Mysteries Lab, the Garden Forgotten by Time, you might intuit their ominousness from their names. When they weren’t recycling the same hallway or large room that hosted a group of enemies, they were fun to examine. Especially when coupled with Michiru Yamane’s fantastic soundtrack. The Castlevania games are host to some of the best video game music, and this one didn’t disappoint. In fact, there were a handful of songs that I had to download to listen on their own.
The game’s combat lacked much ambition, especially in comparison to some of its contemporaries, namely Devil May Cry. The basic combat centered on light and heavy combos with the franchise’s traditional whip. Also at my disposal was a small amount of magical buffs and the classic sub-weapons from the original Castlevania. I was content to mash the heavy attack button through the entirety of my playthrough, and this was very effective. It didn’t have to charge up much and the increased damage dealt was always worth the effort.
I refrained from using magical buffs, as I only had access to one until I was near completion. Plus, I didn’t find the one I had too helpful. On the flip side, the sub-weapons were a highlight. Four of the five were directly from the original Castlevania, but they were more than a nostalgic throwback. They provided many opportunities to deal ranged damage, and each had many variations. These variations were fun to experiment with and allowed me the opportunity to explore that aspect of the combat system, unlike the lackluster whip combos that were gradually learned.
What made this game less addicting than its handheld brethren was the omission of any role-playing elements. I’m specifically thinking of Aria of Sorrow, where the player character could level up and equip a plethora of weapons. There was nothing like that in Lament of Innocence – and the infrequent health/heart boosts don’t count; nor do the three other whips. Instead, any sort of character development was done strictly though the combat system, which as I mentioned, lacked depth outside of the sub-weapons. RPG elements were commonplace in the franchise at this point, so I have to wonder if their omission had to do with the transition to 3D or a focus on simplicity for the origin story?
Lament of Innocence serves as the origins for the franchise, or it did before Lords of Shadow. I believe that’s another “universe” however. Taking place in 1094, the game sets up the eternal struggle between the Belmont family line and Dracula. The amount of exposition was minimal on the whole, with lots at the beginning and end, but little in the middle. The cast of characters was also small, but each is given much screen time as a result. I have nothing but praises for the narrative, definitely a highlight, and well worth experiencing for fans of the franchise.
Most of the narrative was told through dialogue between Leon Belmont and Rinaldo Gandalfi. The former was the protagonist, obviously, while the later aided those who sought to defeat Walter Barnhard, the vampire antagonist. Leon entered Walter’s immense castle in an attempt to rescue his betrothed, Sara Trantoul. It initially seems as though Walter captured Sara to draw a foe into his castle – to hunt Leon, more or less – but in a twist, it’s revealed that he was being used by a surprising character, forcing the Belmont family into a future of vampire hunting.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence proved to be a solid effort at transitioning the franchise into 3D, again. I was disappointed by some of the gameplay elements, but enjoyed others. The combat system on the whole was a little dull, although the sub-weapons were a nostalgic callback, and fun to experiment with. Exploration was also a little dull, despite the castle’s diverse composition. The lack of much RPG influence was perhaps my biggest knock against this game, but I still enjoyed my time with it. Perhaps due most of all to the well told story and mysterious cast of characters. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is a worthwhile adventure for fans of the franchise or genre, but it’s not the best of either.