Monday, December 26, 2016

Game of the Year 2016

This year may be a record year for me when it comes to finishing games (about 30 in total for 2016). As this is a blog devoted to tackling backlogs and exploring everything gaming has to offer, my Game of the Year consideration is based on the dates that I beat games rather than the date of release. This year's candidates had release dates ranging from 2006 - 2016. So without further adieu, on to my Top 10 Games of 2016:

 #10: Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)
This handheld strategy epic was my constant companion throughout the entire year. While at times the content of this three-game-spanning behemoth felt like it was being stretched a little thin, this title ultimately coalesced into a satisfying package.

#9: Just Cause 2 (PC)
In a year like 2016, sometimes one just feels the need to blow up some stuff, and boy, did Just Cause 2 deliver on that front. Being the star of a cheesy action movie by soaring through the air, commandeering all manner of vehicle, and causing massive collateral damage was exhilarating from start to finish.

#8: Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
Standing as the beginning of a bold new direction for the classic franchise as well as a showcase of what the PlayStation 2 can do, I'm really glad that I went back to finish Final Fantasy XII this year. Though it had a few issues that I'm hoping get ironed out in the upcoming remaster, I still had a great time playing it and would recommend that anyone who considers themselves a JRPG fan give this charming adventure a try.

#7: Freedom Planet (Wii U)
Inspired by classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Gunstar Heroes, Freedom Planet shows that the student can surpass the master. This was a thrilling 2D action platformer with a surprisingly in-depth story.  A must-play for any fan of the 16-bit age.

#6: Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)
While not quite the focused RPG masterpiece that was the original Xenoblade Chronicles, Xenoblade Chronicles X provided an astonishingly massive world to explore; a world that completely absorbed me for more hours than I care to admit among polite company. Even though this was the first game I finished this year, I often found myself thinking back on the time I spent on the alien world of Mira.

 #5: The Witcher 1 & 2 (PC)
For the purpose of this list I'm counting both games as two parts of a whole. These games were my first foray into Western RPGs since the original Diablo, and I was definitely impressed. While some of the gameplay elements could occasionally be a little shaky, the world of The Witcher is a fully realized place full of interesting characters, complex societal issues, and hard decisions; it's a grim place, but a joy to inhabit none the less.

 #4: Undertale (PC)
Many indie games  are content to either feature a novel gameplay concept, or deliver a heartfelt story: Undertale does both. I know for many people the plot and characters were what resonated the most, but for me, it was the combination of the innovative gameplay and superb music that set this game apart. It's a solid turn-based RPG with loads of creativity and personality packed into its short run time.

#3: Doom (PC)
This was easily the biggest surprise of 2016 for me (at least as far as gaming is concerned). Doom was fast and frantic in a way that was as stressful as it was thrilling, and I loved pretty much every minute of it. The mixture of the non-stop action of the combat sequences combined with intricate levels to explore cemented Doom as one of my favorite single-player FPSs of all time.

#2: Life is Strange (PC)
Of all the games I played this year, Life is Strange is the one whose story and characters stuck with me the longest. While the narrative certainly leans heavily on the melodrama, it contained some plot twists and emotional gut punches that I won't soon forget. This game is probably the best example of story-telling in a point and click adventure game I've ever seen.

#1: Tomb Raider (PC)
This game has it all: a combination of exploration, platforming, RPG mechanics, and tight 3rd person shooting that was like pure crack to me. It's rare that a game manages to pull off all these different elements well, but Tomb Raider absolutely nails it.

Honorable Mention
It pained me that there were a couple of great games that didn't quite make the cut for the Top 10 this year, so here's some quick acknowledgement for those titles:
  •  Ib & Eternal Senia: These little indie games really opened my eyes to what can be accomplished with RPG Maker.
  • Shantae & the Pirate's Curse: A beautifully crafted 2D platformer. Another gem from WayForward.
  • Runbow: A challenging platformer with great music that supports up to nine players.
  • Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE: A charming and stylish JRPG that would have benefited from some streamlining. 

2016 has been a great year for gaming, and I wanted to thank everyone who's joined me on this backlog journey! I'm curious to hear what everyone else has been playing this year, so please feel free to leave your own top 10 in the comments below. Happy Holidays and have a great New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Demo Hotness: Mercenaries Saga 2

Mercenaries Saga 2 is a tactical RPG that plays somewhat like a stripped-down budget version of Fire Emblem. The game alternates between brief story scenes and turn-based tactical battles on an isometric grid battle field. While compared to Fire Emblem, the story, graphics, and music are all a pretty significant downgrade, the core game play is fun and engaging. The menus and interfaces are a little clunky, but not to the point where they significantly hamper enjoyment of the game.

The demo includes the first 5 missions of the main game, and I found myself quickly hooked by the game's quick small-scale battles. Since the full game is $5 (USD) on the eShop, I can pretty much forgive the game's shortcomings in terms of presentation and UI. With solid tactical RPG game play and such an incredibly low price, I'll probably be picking up Mercenaries Saga 2 next time I get a craving for some turn-based strategy on my 3DS.

Acknowledgement: I became aware of this game after seeing Michael Cunningham (@FinalMacstorm) singing its praises on Twitter. The man definitely knows his handheld RPGs, so when I saw him get this excited about a budget game, I knew I had to give it it a shot. You can find articles by him at RPGamer and Pocket-Console.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Demo Hotness: Kirby Planet Robobot

As a fan of the Kirby games from back in the Super NES days, I was pretty intrigued when I heard all the praise heaped on Kirby Planet Robobot earlier this year. Considering that Kirby Super Star for SNES would easily be one of my desert island games, this new Kirby would have a high bar to reach, but I decided to give the demo a spin.

The demo offered two stages a "Normal Stage" and a "Robobot Stage", and the first of the two was certainly true to its name: the most bog-standard basic Kirby stage one could imagine.  The very basic layout of the stage did give me the opportunity to admire how far Kirby games have come in terms of graphics, however. While the music was a pleasant arrangement of a classic Kirby tune, I was somewhat disappointed that I wasn't greeted with an original composition. It was pretty clear from this stage that any gameplay innovation that could be present would be entirely concentrated in the Robobot stage.

The Robobot stage definitely delivered. Once Kirby acquires his mech, the whole game really comes alive. Controlling the mech and destroying enemies and obstacles was very satisfying. In addition to the upping the intensity of the action, the mech gameplay also incorporated some light puzzle-solving elements, which was a nice touch. By selectively destroying objects and powering up the mech appropriately for the environment, Kirby is able to find secret areas and gather some extra collectables. I was also pleased to find that boarding the mech causes the background music to change from a classic Kirby piece to a catchy new jam.

After playing through both stages, I was definitely impressed with the gameplay enhancements the titular Robobot provides, but was left wondering what the ratio of normal stages to Robobot stages would be in the full game. As much as I enjoyed the cute presentation of the whole package, if the mech gameplay doesn't make up the bulk of the game, there might not be enough new stuff here to draw in a long-time Kirby player like me, especially without the co-op mode that was a key feature of the classic games.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Witcher 2 Impressions

Despite recommendations from friends that I skip it, I played The Witcher 1 earlier this year and really enjoyed it. At this point I've sunk about 15 hours into The Witcher 2 and have found that while the same great characters and world from the first game are back, there have been some significant changes that have taken me some time to get used to:
  • Compared to part 1, The Witcher 2 has a much more fast-paced combat system that heavily relies on rolling, dodging, and blocking. In the first game, the combat system was one of the weaker parts of the experience, so I'm hoping this more action-oriented style with stay fresh throughout the whole adventure. So far I've had a couple of dramatic boss battles that far surpass anything from Witcher 1, but I have been finding myself fumbling with the controls a bit during the more intense moments. I might try switching from keyboard and mouse to Xbox 360 controller to see if that helps.
  • The interface and menus have also changed dramatically, in this case for the worse. In an effort to make the second game more console-friendly (part 1 was PC exclusive), the amount of information visible on screen in any given menu has been greatly reduced. This makes for some cumbersome switching back and forth between pages.
  • I really liked Jules de Jongh's performance as Triss Merigold in The Witcher 1, so I'm disappointed that she didn't return for the sequel. The new voice actress's delivery feels flat in comparison.
In spite of some difficulties adapting to the changes, I'm finding myself just as hooked on The Witcher 2 as I was with its predecessor, so I'm looking forward to playing more.