Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2011: A Retrospective, Part 5

And here it is, the end of the end. The last 10 things about 2011 that were awesome.
One of Kirby's many Super Powers that are just gloriously destructive sequences in the game.

Kirby: Return to Dreamland - I love a good 2D Platformer, and Kirby never fails to deliver. Kirby: Return to Dreamland on Wii feels kind of like it would have been better turned into a 3DS game, especially given some of the camera work, but regardless, it's a joyful experience. It might not be as revolutionary as Mass Attack or even Epic Yarn, but it still makes for a relaxing multi-player romp through colorful, exciting locals, just the way Kirby used to always be.

Toki Tori 2 support - As a huge fan of the first Toki Tori, and everything else Two Tribes does, I was excited to see a sequel to puzzle platformer being announced. I was furthermore excited to see the sort of support during Alpha and Beta they were giving the community. They appear to be taking the Minecraft approach, and I'm excited to see what kind of results that has.
The table-top miniature gaming aesthetic isn't really important, it's just awesome.

Hoard - Yet another previously unknown gem to come out of the Steam Sale, Hoard is an interesting little game where you play a dragon that flies around setting the countryside and villages aflame for the sake of gathering gold. It's easy to pick up, but varied strategies makes for some great play, especially in multi-player.
Climb and climb!

Tobe’s Vertical Adventure - So hey, about 2D platformers. If you weren't aware, I realllly like them. Like a lot. This interesting little Indie platformer came out on Steam, and the soundtrack alone was reason enough to purchase it. If you haven't, go out and give it a shot. It has kind of a Donkey Kong '94/tobes-vertical-adventure/61-30780/ vibe to it.
I don't know about you, but I'm already excited.

Sonic CD - Alright, you are correct. This game did not come out last year. But it did come out on downloadable services, and it was the first time I had ever been able to play it, and you can (Sonic) color(s) me impressed. Not only is it just a great sonic game, this version also includes some great features, like swapping the soundtrack between the two different regions. Maybe it's just the weird Sonic fever I caught thanks to Generations, but I can't seem to get enough of these classic games. 
Not a looker, but definitely a player. That doesn't sound right...

99 bullets - DSiWare gets a lot of flack for being chock full of shovelware, and probably for good reason; There's a mountain of crap on there. But a few games are unfortunately being lost in that generalization, and 99 Bullets is one of them. Having no correlation to the comic 100 Bullets, 99 is a unique take on the scrolling shooter. The goal is to manuever your little Geometry Wars shapely dude through a course, avoiding and blasting your way through enemies, as one would expect. But as the name implies, your limited. Each hit you take drops one of your bullets, and you only have 99 of them to fire. So the goal isn't just firing madly, but controlled bursts for maximum combos. It's a great gameplay mechanic that really changes up an otherwise run-of-the-mill genre.
Finger's crossed for a 3DS remake.

Pokemon Black/White - There seems to be this common notion that your first Pokemon is your favorite, and that most people believe anything past Mew is a travesty against God, America, and Sanity everywhere. I don't adhere to either of these. I can definitely understand the whole Nostalgia thing, and losing track of the truckloads of portable monsters, but the simple fact is that this series has improved with every iteration, and while the jump to Black and White might not have been the biggest improvement, it still is, in every way, the best Pokemon game to date. The music is better, the story is more interesting, they mix up a lot of tired out plot elements, the battles are way more dynamic, the camera work is better, and the multi-player interaction is vastly improved. Yes, you still collect and battle critters, you still get 8 badges, and then you beat an Elite 4. It's better, but it's not entirely different. So take your pick on whether or not you are still up with the series, or which one resonates more with you, but remember that these games are getting better every time.
Music Usage - It seems to be that games are getting a lot smarter about how they use Music to interact with the action. It's nothing new; games like Shadow of the Colossus and Twilight Princess have used shifting scores before, but it's trending much more this year. Pokemon Black and White, for example, has shifted from the "annoying beeping to tell you your health is low, in case you can't read and/or are color blind" and turned it into part of the music. The beep is still there, but now it's the baseline for a "you're in trouble" song that takes over when, well, you're in trouble. There's also a triumphant spin on the music when you're in your most important battles (like Gym Leaders, etc.). Skyrim's sudden cut to it's triumphant theme when dueling with Dragons invigorates any player and makes them feel like a damned god while they're winning. In other great uses of music, Sonic Generations allows the player to swap out songs when starting a stage, which helps keeps the audio fresh while allowing you to relive classic tunes like Super Sonic Racing.
Dinosaur Office - While not technically a game, Dinosaur Office has been piped through the Nintendo Video channel on everybody's 3DS and has been the best thing about that service. College Humor's stop-motion story about Dinosaurs who work in an everyday office environment is both a hilarious satire on the workplace, but also a nonsensical world where dinosaurs get stuck in traffic. It's the perfect show. Even if you don't have a 3DS you can check out most episodes on Youtube or on College Humor's website.

Kairosoft - The developers of Game Dev Story have been pumping out game after game of simulation goodness, and while you would expect them to be worst at the rate we're seeing them, they're actually not. Granted, they're not all winners. I wasn't a huge fan of Pocket League Story (the soccer team sim), but that's just me. I'm currently knee-deep in Mega Mall Story; an addiction that may partially be fed by my love of Board Game Top Shop. In any case, the fact that a small developer can keep pumping out these quality titles like this makes me hopeful, and gleeful, that the mobile environment isn't all shitty rip-offs and sub-par experiences.
Man. Last year was pretty awesome, wasn't it? Here's to 2012!
-Make it a Good One.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2011: A Retrospective, Part 4

How have I not finished this yet? I swear that I did... Oh well. Here's 10 more, with the next 10 following soon, so stay tuned.
I love these weapon designs.
I love these weapon designs.

Shadows of the Damned - If there's one thing Western games still don't know how to do, it's be absolutely god-be-damned crazy. Thankfully, Suda 51 provides that in spades on his own. Mix in some decent gameplay (arguably, for once) with the help of Resident Evil 4 alum Shinji Mikami, and the unsoothing tones of Akira Yamaoka, and you have one of the strongest trinity's in gaming history. Now, Shadows of the Damned was by no means perfect. While they world which it takes place in is initially interesting, it ends up being kind of repetitive all the way through. There aren't a lot of varied gameplay mechanics, and what's there isn't always 100% solid. It's a 3rd person survival-shooter that doesn't have any sort of New Game + or bonus unlockables. Honestly, I don't felt that it lived up to a full price title. But what this game did right was be it's own game. It was beholden to nobody but the people who created, and I got the sense that if I didn't care for it, I could go fuck myself with a rusty knife. It's this kind of punk aesthetic, and creative overload that made for a fiercely unique experience that I look forward to encountering again later this year with Lollipop Chainsaw.
This game has a very "If Mega Man were a Puzzle Platformer with Sexy Ladies" vibe going on.
This game has a very "If Mega Man were a Puzzle Platformer with Sexy Ladies" vibe going on.

Mighty Switch Force - You've probably never heard of this 3DSWare exclusive, but if you're a fan of 2D games, you need to know everything you can about it. WayForward have been cementing themselves as the captains of the old-school genre in today's gaming ecosystem quite firmly. Between Shantae, Contra 4, and a handful of smaller titles, it's hard not to see it. They get it. The sprite art is second to none, the music is as catchy as it gets, and the gameplay mechanics are always intriguing. If you haven't sat down with this, go endure the 3DS Shop experience to find it and make it a part of your collection. You'll find it hard to regret your decision.
The original is great if you like nostalgic visuals, but this version looks slick.
The original is great if you like nostalgic visuals, but this version looks slick.

Cave Story 3DS - So, I heard you like Metroid-style 2D exploration games. I also heard you like mysterious and heaft-felt stories. It's also been said, about you specifically (Yes, you), that you enjoy supporting 'indy' games. Well, buh-ruh-ther, do I have a deal for you. It's called Cave Story, and it's exactly all of those things. It's available kind of everywhere at this point: WiiWare, DSiWare, Steam. But Cave Story 3DS is a remake with a budget, and it shows. The improvements make this a super-slick package, while keeping the classic platform exploration and baddie-blasting in tact. It's a bit costly, so maybe you're fine checking out the original, but just please make sure that at some point in your life you play this game.
If you don't love her in the first 5 minutes of seeing her, then you're hollow inside.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - It's not (just) that I'm lazy, but I don't really feel like I need to explain this one. It's a console Zelda, and it's arguably the best one yet. From the puzzle/combat hybrid to the remarkable visuals, to the brilliantly realized characters, this game is just a class act from top to bottom. It has it's issues, like any game, but this is definitely a great direction for Zelda. The relationship between Link and Zelda is immediately realized, and one of (if not THE) most believable budding romance I have ever seen in a game.

Jamestown - The gameplay might not be the most unique aspect of this scrolling shoot-all-the-things game. The Western story set on Mars has a style in the music and the visuals that harks back to the 'good ol' days' of gaming. It doesn't have a whole lot of content, but it's still a great little gem on Steam. 
Team Meat's Continued Support - It's easy to release a game, maybe a couple post-release patches, and then sit back and let the money roll in. What's not easy is spending a year and a half after your game came out consistently updating it. From a Mac version, constant bug fixes, and streams of cycling content; it's hard not to see the value in Super Meat Boy. Factor in The Binding of Isaac's constant additions and low barrier of cost, and you really know you're getting your money's worth. Granted, these games take out their true cost in your blood, sweat, and tears, but isn't that why we love them? If more developers could promise this kind of post-release content, without tacky DLC charges, I think the value proposition of a $60 dollar title would be a much easier argument to make.
Just some Kirby's working together.

Kirby: Mass Attack - I'm not sure if Nintendo just likes to use Kirby to help sell their quirky gameplay mechanics that they don't think would otherwise catch with a new IP, or if they just think Kirby really fits these types of mechanics, but whatever they're doing, it's working. Kirby: Mass Attack (not to be confused with Kirby: Mass Effect, where you get a renegade interrupt to eat everybody) isn't your typical platformer, it's almost an RTS platformer. You guide a growing army of up to 10 tiny Kirby's across various levels to try and get himself put back together. The variety in the puzzles and scenarios keeps this game fresh, even against the limited number over environments and music. It feels like they could have mixed things up a little more there, b ut in the end it's Gameplay that matters and it's gameplay that makes this an important title for all DS holders.
You may find this hard to believe: you're guiding the tanks.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth - This was another little surprise I picked out of the Steam Holiday Sale. A reverse Tower Defense game, you lead an army of tanks through a twisting series of streets in a city overrun by aliens. As I said, this is a reverse Tower Defense, so those aliens have become giant buildings with which to assault you. It's a bit contrived, but it's actually quite a blast to play. Plus, the interface is clean and the graphics are gorgeous, giving this little title a big 'pop.'
Free to Play all the things - It's a trend that doesn't show signs of stopping, and while there are certainly devious undertones in some cases, the fact is that Free to Play is the right price. Even if you're limited to a number of classes, or you don't have any sweet hats, it's still a great way to try new games. Maybe you'll find a special one or two that you want to invest more in, otherwise move on. These games are really opening up a lot of people to genres that they would never normally play. It also makes for cheap ways to play games with friends and loves ones, which is something I appreciate more with age.
Dungeon Defenders - Even more tower defense! This one is way more heavy on the RPG aspects than the other ones. Complete with loot drops, character stats and ability trees. It felt like kind of a lot to get through upfront, but once you climb that hill, there's a lot to be excited for. It's a grand co-op experience, and for cheap.
And with that, we're almost done. Only 10 more things that made last year amazing. Everything else, clearly, was garbage. But feel free to debate me right in the comments below!
-Make it a good one.