A Year in Gaming: 50-41

More than halfway through now, I think I might get this done by Christmas! We’re getting into the really great games now, from my point of view. Games that I either adored, or spent a ton of time playing. Usually both.

Image result for the binding of isaac

#50 The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (Nintendo Switch, 2017)

Full of Biblical and popular culture references, the Binding of Isaac is a very perplexing, highly complicated roguelike that plays wonderfully on the Switch. It’s grim, pretty gory, puerile at times and when you get down to it, gross and depressing. It’s also fun, hilarious and really bloody addictive.

You play as Isaac, a little boy who is running away from his mother. His mother, you see, has heard the voice of God, who told her to murder her son. Isaac finds a trap door to the basement, and as he traverses down more trapdoors that he finds within, he comes across hordes of enemies that take the form of spiders, flies, hunks of flesh, unholy abominations and much more.

Functionally, the game is a twinstick shooter (meaning you use one analog stick to move and another stick to fire projectiles) with randomly generated dungeons and item pickups. Items are what make this game fun, as they can affect your stats, your projectiles, what items you might pick up and more. For example you may end up replacing your bullets (which are tears) with a knife, or with exploding vomit, or fountains of bloody brimstone. It makes little sense, even with context, but it’s what makes the game fun. The game rewards you when you do well, giving you access to more chances to pick up these items that buff you up, and the better you play, the more chance you’ll have to reach one of the many final bosses of the game. You’re not meant to beat the game on your first try, and you’re not meant to beat the game only once. There are a ton of unlockable items, characters to collect, and bosses to slay.

It’s compelling.

#49 Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney (Nintendo 3DS, 2017)

The long-awaited sequel to the original trilogy of Ace Attorney games featuring Phoenix Wright, this game introduces a new defence attorney by the name of Apollo Justice. Playing rather like a visual novel mashed up with a point-and-click adventure, this game has you both investigating various murders as well as defending the accused suspects of those murders in court.

The series is well-known for its robust story and character development, but this title did represent a slight decline in gameplay quality. With the third case featuring multiple esoteric puzzles that rely on your hearing being top-notch, not to mention your patience, and some other quite bamboozling conundrums to solve, it can be a chore. Despite this, the game stands up to scrutiny with its incredibly likeable cast of characters, fun villains and satisfying story arc. If anyone is interested in this game, I’d recommend it be played after the original Phoenix Wright games, as you’ll want to know his character well before experiencing this game’s story. Plus, they’re generally more enjoyable.

SteamWorld Heist screenshot 1

#48 SteamWorld: Heist (Nintendo Switch, 2017)

Playing like a squad-based, turn-based strategy game with shooter elements, SteamWorld: Heist is a pretty unique game in that I can’t think of many to compare it to. If you’ve played Valkyria Chronicles, it could be quite comparable to that in that you take turns to move your units and then you must aim their guns yourself instead of relying on just selecting an enemy to shoot. Levels play out almost like a puzzle game, as you figure out the most efficient way to tackle the foes you uncover as you make your way through enemy bases.

SteamWorld takes place in an interesting universe where robots are powered by steam, making water a valuable currency. I’ll give it credit, for a world that could have easily used the flimsiest of excuse-plots, the story you play through here is a compelling one, with distinct, funny characters. Speaking of, you’ll amass quite the crew during your travels, unique individuals who often have little tidbits of dialogue after each mission that serve to develop them as personalities. They also have unique abilities that give them their own niches in battle, which makes it fun to experiment, finding the right squad for the task at hand.

Difficulty-wise, the game is well-balanced. You’ll plow through the early levels quickly, with them serving mostly as effective tutorials on how to progress through the game. Later levels are far more difficult, and are satisfying to clear.

Warframe Xbox One Shooting infested lifeforms with my Gorgon Wraith heavy machine gun.

#47 Warframe (PC, 2013)

Warframe is a free, online third-person shooter with fast-paced, mission-based, squad-based gameplay. Warframes refer to the sort of, super suits, that you equip, and they function really as your classes. You’ve got a tanky warframe, a warframe specialising in poison, in frost, in electric attacks etc. This variety makes the game really fun to explore to begin with. Combat is fluid and quick, and balanced for both solo adventures and 4-player squads, so it’s always a positive experience as long as you enjoy the game. With a large variety of mission type ranging from simple exterminations, defence battles and boss encounters, you’ll always have something to do, and the game now even has a huge open-world style area, and always has various events running to complete. It’s really quite overwhelming.

The only downside is the nature of the game as a free game. Anything that can be monetised, is. And the free alternatives take a long time to acquire. Your inventory slots are limited, requiring premium currency to expand (this includes warframe slots, weapon slots, even pet slots). The crafting system is often a case of luck, requiring much time and effort to even create parts of different warframe blueprints. If you don’t mind a ton of time and effort sunk to get your rewards, it’s a good game. Similarly, if you don’t mind shelling out a few quid to get things a bit quicker, all power to you. It wouldn’t be such an awful thing to spend money to support a developer who does free games correctly, I think.

#46 Disgaea (PC, 2016)

An absolute classic in the strategy RPG market, Disgaea is the first game in a franchise of greats. Following the story of Laharl, a demon, Disgaea shows off its fantastic humour well with one of the strongest ‘villains as protagonist’ scripts to date. It’s hilarious, charming and compelling.

Gameplay-wise, Disgaea is something special. The game itself stresses that you don’t need to be a fanatic to complete the game, but when it comes to some of the postgame content, and the silly things you can do the alter the rules of the game, you’re going to need a lot of experience. The skill floor is low, the skill ceiling is miles high. When you can level up your squad over the level of 1000, you know there are going to be some high-level enemies to take down.

On the face of it, it may seem quite simple. You’ve got different classes of soldier, from Laharl and Etna’s unique, powerful classes to generic wizards, fighters, archers etc. along with numerous monsters to recruit to your cause (you are a demon after all). The sheer variety of possibilities makes it an interesting game to play through a few times, with many avenues of development for each character. Do you make your healer just utterly fantastic at casting his healing spells, or do you let him dabble in archery for a while and net him some monster kills along the way? Do you keep Etna the spear-whirling demoness that she is, or do you give her some magic students, letting her borrow some elemental magic to give her an edge? It’s very cool. The game is definitely one to experience for even newbies to the genre for its unique and varied gameplay and stellar writing.

#45 Cities: Skylines (PC, 2015)

Cities: Skylines is what I would consider the premier city-building simulator on the market at the moment, far surpassing whatever the SimCity franchise has attempted to be. While it is a robust game on its own, I can’t help but stress that the thriving modding community and what they offer the game is required to make it the best experience possible, with them adding tons of new assets and tools, and fixing bugs that make the game downright unplayable at times. I’ve not played more than an hour without heavy modding.

That said, it’s a very satisfying experience to create a city. You start small, getting all the necessities sorted. Power, water, some residential communities, plenty of commercial opportunities. Then you can expand, with leisure, industry, education, healthcare, agriculture. Everything matters. With expansions you can make parks, take advantage of a day/night system, introduce complex and efficient mass transit systems.

But overall, it’s just a warm feeling when you can let go and just watch your city work on its own. Following a resident as they go about their day, tracking your trains as they wind their way through your streets, assessing your ferries and trams and pollution and such. There’s so much to do, yet it never really feels urgent. With specific mods you can tailor your city exactly how you want it: moving a tree a few feet to the left, making a building fit better in its place in the street, adding more trees than you can count. It all makes for a fantastic simulator.

Or you can say fuck it and drop an entire meteor on your city and watch the death toll rack up. There’s that too.

Image 1

#44 Darkestville Castle (PC, 2017)

A point-and-click adventure in the style of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Thimbleweed Park, Darkestville Castle has you taking control of Cid, who is a demon. Cid enjoys playing pranks on the residents of Darkestville, such as stealing one of every pair of socks or setting the town on fire. Needless to say, the game’s main strength is in its writing. It’s a very funny game, with well-executed fourth wall breaks and strong jokes. Secondly, it’s a very pretty game. The art puts me in mind of The Curse of Monkey Island, one of my favourite games. The characters have that same wonderful contrast with the gorgeous muted backgrounds that sends me into waves of nostalgia. Similarly, the music is very obviously heavily inspired by that very game’s soundtrack. I won’t say steals, but I’ll admit I would believe you if you told me the soundtracks were written by the same person.

Apart from some less-than-stellar voice acting at times the game is an amazing example on how to do a point-and-click correctly. The puzzles are logical and fun, the environments are vibrant without being too repetitive, the characters all feel pretty distinct and unique. It follows the golden ‘rule of three’ that many of these games follow (three pirate trials, three crew members to recruit, three time periods to solve, three pieces of evidence to collect) which works well as an introduction to the game’s take on logic. It’s a pleasure to play through.

#43 Pokémon Ultra Sun (Nintendo 3DS, 2017)

Gasp, a Pokémon game so high up. Yup. I’ll simply say, to begin with, that I didn’t think the Ultra games were enough of a step up from its predecessors. The added content is great, but there’s still a lot you have to play through again to get to it. It bored me. And being boring is the worst crime for a Pokémon game not played on an emulator with a fast-forward function.

This year I finally completed my Living Dex, and most of that was carried out on my Ultra Sun cartridge, so I have put an ungodly amount of time and effort into it. They’re all in my bank now, hoping to be transferred over to the new region in 2019. Fingers crossed for that compatibility.

All in all, Pokémon doesn’t do much wrong even when they’re off their game. The game is visually gorgeous, and fun enough to play through more than once. Some of the foes are quite challenging (for Pokémon’s standards) and the postgame is a highlight. The story is, as ever, not even worth remembering, but eh. Until the main series starts maturing up a bit and hitting the quality levels of the Mystery Dungeon games, I’m disinterested.

#42 Project Hospital (PC, 2018)

Like many people, I was a huge fan of Theme Hospital as a young’un. Between the humour and the gameplay, I was hooked. As I’ve grown older, becoming more interested in the actual medical side of healthcare and getting invested in learning about biology, when Project Hospital caught my eye it was very exciting.

And then it turned out to be even more complex than I was expecting.

Project Hospital is a game which attempts to simulate running a hospital, but completely seriously. You tackle real-life issues and illnesses, and need to fund real-life cures and treatments. Hiring the best doctors and choosing your own diagnoses is something that has real consequences, and the game is deep as a result. The problem is that the game is very bad at explaining a lot of what you need to do to you. There are multiple tutorial levels, but when it came to playing the game I was still in the dark about certain features. Such as the mechanical difference between ‘clinic’ and ’emergency’ and the reasons behind their vastly varying room requirements.

I’ll say this much though, it’s visually pleasing, and very fun to take over the treatment of a few patients, making every choice and having their life in your hands.

#41 I am Setsuna (Nintendo Switch, 2017)

If I had to describe I am Setsuna in one word it would be ‘beautiful‘. Visually, it’s a stark palette cleanser compared to many other games. The game entirely takes place in a snow-covered world so there’s a lot of cold, bright, white expanses to take in and explore. Towns are full of little log cabins with warm firelit windows and smoky chimneys, the world map feels cold and quiet, like going outside in the morning after a heavy snowfall to a world without engines. Snowflakes drift gently across the screen. It’s really calming.

Musically, the game is also absolutely stellar. It features a completely piano-based soundtrack which feels delicate and airy, but still manages to evoke the right emotions in the right situation. It’s a surprisingly, impressively flexible instrument used to its full potential throughout the entire game and its an artistic choice that I adore.

When it comes to the story, you’re going to find it quite a throwback. The general arc of the story seems lifted from Final Fantasy X in its entirety – girl with healing magic goes on pilgrimage with guardians in order to stop monsters from doing killing, end of journey is going to kill her, she will go anyway, it is tradition. And all that. It’s eerily similar. I just rationalised that it’s a love letter to the story, anyway.

Battles are a direct throwback to Chrono Trigger, with three character-parties fighting with the help of combo skills to take down enemies. It’s a fun system, with little timed button pressing events to give your attacks some extra hits or special qualities, making you more involved in the flow of battle. It’s fun. And that’s what you want from a game.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading me prattle on about some games I played. Next time will be some bigger titles, including a game on more consoles than Doom, and the Best Game of All Time.

Next: 40-31.

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