2014 happened, and while it’s true that the Playstation 4 and Xbone have been out for a while it really doesn’t feel like the new console generation has kicked off yet. There were some pretty high-profile games launched on the new platforms, but that’s somewhat undermined when these brand new, shiny games are also launched on their previous generation counterparts. Considering the only console with backwards compatibility at all was Nintendo’s Wii U, it makes some sense that big game companies would want to launch their biggest games on as many consoles as possible, but it really made the new current gen feel superfluous. This is before reports started coming out that the new hardwear was already being pushed to its limits! Most of my 2014 was spent playing on Nintendo consoles, but as time went on and I caught up with games that launched this year, I found that there were some pretty great reasons to step up to the new consoles...well, one great reason. My lists follow;
I’m not sure if it would be better to say that Borderlands is outright bad, or if Borderlands just isn’t for me. I’ll just keep things simple and say that Borderlands is bad. Way back when the Xbox 360 was still new and I had a job at Blockbuster, I played the original for a few hours before I realized that I just wasn’t having fun. I didn’t want to call the game outright terrible though, and when I was able to play PC games at a decent level, I picked up Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel for less than the price of a Big Mac. When I talked about it a few entries ago, I admitted that I only played Borderlands 2 for less than an hour before I had had enough of it. I liked CL4P-Trap in the original, but in the second he’s forced on you from the beginning, and the joke had been run into the ground within the first few minutes. In the Pre-Sequel, something similar happens but this time he has the good grace to die after about five minutes (right after explaining that robots feel pain much more intensely than humans do, which I recognize as a joke).
The opening of the Pre-Sequel was actually pretty enjoyable (except for the unskippable cutscenes that is). I didn’t really like any of the characters who were presented and wound up picking the cowgirl. She didn’t seem to have a focus on melee at all, but the others mentioned it and that just seemed weird to me in this gun game. The Pre-Sequel opens up on a space station that’s being invaded by some militia or other. Shooting them felt pretty satisfying, but I quickly realized that they didn’t do any damage to me whatsoever. I also noticed fairly quickly that a majority of the containers I opened wouldn’t give me anything because I had already maxed out my inventory. I thought Borderlands was all about collection and challenging shooting. By this point a familiar fracture had formed in my opinion of The Pre-Sequel. I ran through the rest of the space station, saved Handsome Jack, and killed a boss.
(In space, no one can hear your crappy references)
The boss was a little bit weird to me: He was piloting a robotic exosuit that left him fully exposed, but shooting his face wasn’t as effective as shooting the fuel tank on his back. Once the exosuit exploded and he was ejected from it, I got into the first firefight that actually took some chunks out of my HP. It was still really easy and I still couldn’t collect a majority of what was in the chest littering the battle arena. I eventually found some new guns, but they all seemed to be worse than my starting equipment. There was another unskippable cutscene that showed me being shot onto the surface of an asteroid or moon or planet or something. The game begins properly with me running from oxygen bubble, to oxygen bubble, until I find an oxygen tank of my very own. Once I had that oxygen tank, I was given my very first quest.
I stepped boldly onto the surface of the asteroid and was attacked by a seemingly endless mob of magma-rock-dogs. They didn’t seem to react to my gunfire until their HP bar was fully depleted, when they would flop lifeless to the ground. After about 2 minutes of running backwards and shooting down about 2 dozen of the things, I quit out and uninstalled the game. I hate Borderlands: I’ve tried to meet it halfway, and I still maintain that I might like it if I played it with other people, but from the few hours that I’ve spent with 1, 2, and the pre-sequel, I just keep coming to the same conclusion. Saying that the character models are ugly and the number of weapons in-game is artificially inflated seems like low blows when the core gameplay is just so horribly weak. There aren’t many games from 2014 that I outright disliked, but Borderlands was terrible.
One of my favorite games when I was a kid was Super Double Dragon on the Super Nintendo. One of the games that really disappointed me recently was Double Dragon Neon. I only played the original NES trilogy within the last few years, but Super Double Dragon is a game that I grew up playing. The slower pace and somewhat stilted movement in the older games is something that I saw as a sign of the times, but Neon is just as stiff and awkward to play as any of the old games. It looks fine, but I think a lot of the charm of the series came from the lower fidelity and simple character models. The fighting is fine despite the slow speed, but the upgrade system doesn’t seem to do anything whatsoever. I was really excited to get my hands on this game when it first launched, but I ended up not picking it up until years later. I still wanted to like this game too, but the controls and bland combat just didn't engage me. This is all before the first boss fight against Skeletor too; it had a fantastic design, and the fight was also okay, but the voice was just terrible. It’s a petty critique, but sometimes it’s the smallest things that take me out of an experience and that was just another needle under another fingernail to me. I wanted to like Neon, but what's the point of a reboot if it's worse than a game that launched over 30 years earlier?
(I really wish this was...at least as good as those games from the late 80's)
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes isn’t just bad, it’s also insulting. I’ll try to maintain some originality while I beat this horse skeleton though. I’ve said before that Metal Gear Solid was a fluke considering the franchise as a whole. This is because, controversially, that was the only entry in the series that I liked. I liked the tanker bit in 2, but only as a tech demo. I hated 3, I hated 4, and I hate 5. Ground Zeroes is a lot like the Tanker section of MGS2 actually: it could have easily been the first chapter of Phantom Pain and if you buy it today, it’s usually bundled together and called The Complete Metal Gear Solid V. Ground Zeroes is made up of several missions that all take place within the same internment camp. The main mission is to find two prisoners and get them to safety. To do this, you need to get around patrolling guards by any means necessary. It’s just as valid to ghost by everybody as it is to shoot everybody dead with a truck-mounted machine gun (I think that’s an actual thing you can do, but I may be being hyperbolic).
What I don’t like about Metal Gear, especially from 3 onward, is that I know every last one of my actions are being judged. That can be annoying when there’s a score in the corner of the screen, but what really annoys me about Metal Gear is that I won’t know how well or how poorly I did until the end of the mission. Since I won’t know my score or rank until the very end, I won’t know where I might have screwed something up or to what degree I screwed a thing up. It’s a small thing, but I would enjoy Metal Gear so much more if there wasn’t a ranking system. Another thing that I really don’t like about Ground Zeroes is how inconsistent the guards seem to be. Sometimes they seem to be able to see everything, even in the dark or during heavy rain. Other times, I could be right next to a guard and it’ll be like I don’t even exist.
The combat in Ground Zeroes didn’t really satisfy me either, but since it’s a stealth game I wasn’t expecting great gunplay or any depth in the melee system. I was expecting to be torn apart by enemy gunfire, which happens frequently when I get spotted by unseen guards, and getting judged for it. What I did like about Ground Zeroes was the story and how it wasn’t pushed in my face for an hour before, during, and/or after I played through the one main story mission. All you have to do is break in, find two prisoners, and get them out. It’s really that simple, and it’s effective. I liked the ending too, which was subversive and a nice way to set up Phantom Pain. It would be disingenuous for me to complain about Ground Zeroes being a 2 hour experience that was sold at about $40 when it was new, because that’s not how I played it. I got it with Phantom Pain a few years after the fact, but that doesn’t absolve Konami. The way this was originally sold was absolutely terrible, and unlike other Metal Gear games, this one didn’t feel like it was pushing the PS4 at all. That’s probably because it was also sold on the PS3 and Xbox 360. As the first chapter of a larger game, Ground Zeroes is pretty good, but as a stand-alone product it’s insulting. It’s a lot better than Metal Gear Solid 4, but I still don’t see myself ever playing this again.
(Totally a full game, definitely not a 2 hour tech demo)
Bravely Default is a really frustrating game for me, I’ve been on the fence about whether I want to call it ‘good’ or ‘meh’ and it’s all because of how the game ends. Bravely Default plays like a lost Final Fantasy game: You have a party of four adventurers who must save the world by breathing new life into a series of crystals. Unfortunately, most of them are basically already inert and unable to facilitate magic any longer. The plot of the game centers around finding out what’s going on and trying to save the crystals, the magic, and the world in general. As you travel from town to city to dungeon and back again, you encounter special characters, bosses, and events that leave your party with asterisks, or jobs if you’re familiar with Final Fantasies 3 or 5. Every character has their personal level, but they also have a job level. By leveling up a characters job sufficiently they can take perks usually exclusive to those jobs and apply them directly. If you want to use 2 weapons at once or steal for example, you’ll have to spend time as a ninja or thief for a while to unlock those jobs for keeps.
Combat in Bravely Default is turn and stat-based. You manage the actions taken by your team while the computer controls enemies, so far so standard. The unique selling point here is the Brave and Default system; You can choose to default on a turn to build up Bravery points. Bravery points can be spent to use extra moves on a single turn. Even if you don’t have any bravery points, you can still spend turns to take up to 4 actions on a single turn, though this will leave you vulnerable. It’s a very engaging risk vs. reward system and I mean it when I say this is my favorite turn-based combat system out of any JRPG I’ve ever played. It all falls apart in the endgame though.
The game basically ends in a repeating time loop that I haven’t actually broken or completed. That’s why I’m ultimately going to call Bravely Default a ‘meh’; I love how the game plays, I had a great time during the early, mid, and even parts of the late game. I just don’t ever see myself finishing this game unless I get monumentally bored and choose to go back with a guide open.
(So good, but such a terrible ending)
I technically haven’t played Dark Souls II, I’ve played the director’s cut Scholar of the First Sin, but I still want to mention it here. I don’t know that there are any major differences between the base game and Scholar of the First Sin other than the addition of the DLC and a slight upgrade in the graphics, but going on my experience, Dark Souls II is definitely weaker than the original. Enemies are grouped close together, there are points of no return that lead directly into ambushes, the world design doesn’t make sense in places, but paradoxically it’s really easy to become overpowered quite quickly.
Dark Souls II has more bosses than any other entry in the series, but a lot of the bosses just seem to be a mob of creatures with more health than usual. It’s incredibly unclear what you’re supposed to do to progress throughout the world, and unclear how you’re supposed to get into late-game areas or even why you need to do what you do. Being invaded while hollow is an incredible inconvenience, but being able to become human again at any time is another factor that makes this game easier than the previous one. I kind of like Scholar of the First Sin, but it feels so much less refined than the original Dark Souls. More often than not, I’m asking myself why the developers chose to make certain design choices; why, for example, is movement locked to 8 directions when most players are going to use an analog stick to move and expect full 360 degrees of movement? Why do enemies stay dead after you kill and respawn them 10 times? Why is it so easy to circle around so many of the enemies and bosses to get in a backstab? Why is the boss-fight against Not-Ornstein so easy? I’ll expand on my thoughts in the 2015 round-up, so stay tuned.
Hyrule Warriors is Dynasty Warriors but it takes place in several versions of Hyrule and you play as familiar Legend of Zelda characters. The core gameplay loop in this game, like in most other Warriors games, is running around a large open level and killing hundreds of enemies. You represent the general of an army, and that’s the flimsy excuse that allows you to murder two dozen enemies with one well-placed attack. What separates this entry from other Warriors games (other than the theme) are boss encounters and a unique story mode. The story mode contextualizes the playable character roster (ie: why am I able to play as Darunia from Ocarina of Time and Midna from Twilight Princess?), and at the end of certain stages there are boss fights. Some are against familiar monsters like the legendary, smoke-hating Dodongo while others are unique like the very out-of-place looking Dark Sorceress Cia.
It’s a really visually interesting game, with a fun premise and story. The levels are large and the boss fights are interesting, but the problem with the Warriors games is just how mindless they are. I always end up slipping into a zenlike state of mind after a few minutes of slicing through mobs like a scythe cutting through tall grass, but that quickly shifts into a zombie-like torpor. I can’t say I’m necessarily bored by the experience, but the first five minutes of gameplay is virtually identical to gameplay after your hundredth hour. The spectacle of killing 4 dozen skeletons with a giant, dayglow beetle isn't as powerful after you've done it a dozen times in the same level.
(Sadly, Lubu couldn't make it)
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor isn’t a game that I want to describe as boring, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it. This game works as either a side-story or a what-if type story that takes place in the Lord of the Rings universe, but I lost interest very soon into the opening because I was much more interested in getting into combat. Unfortunately, the combat wasn’t very engaging for me either. There’s an issue with the combat in Shadow of Mordor that was a feature in another WB action game whereby your player character seems to leap and tumble towards the enemies he’s attacking, and lands attacks, no matter how far away they are. It kind of took me out of the experience to see, but I kind of got used to it. Then I realized that using the counter-attack was the most effective way to proceed in combat and while that was effective, it still wasn’t engaging.
My mind was wandering, I was ready to move on to a different game or maybe a book or possibly even something on TV when I remembered the unique selling point of this game. I checked the map, I turned on Detective Vision, I found someone who was a high rank and I murdered them. I was then shown a map of generals, Lieutenants, Officers, etc and was told that a lot of changes were happening. With that little bit of input, I felt compelled to play for a while longer and within the next five minutes I was killed out of nowhere by an ugly U’ruk who couldn’t speak. I was shown that he rose in the ranks and I had a reason to play for a while longer.
I quickly found my killer, was able to sneak up on them, successfully back-attacked it, and whacked the Hell out of it several times before I realized I was doing chip-damage to it...and there were 2 additional officers there to help him who I was able to hit much, much harder. I was even able to kill one of them before Mr. No-Tongue killed me for a second time and my motivation to keep playing died with my avatar. I can see, and for a moment I felt, why people liked this game. The issue at hand is that I didn’t feel any connection to the world, I wasn’t having fun with the floaty combat, and I just don’t like The Lord of the Rings as a property.
NES Remix 2 is a whole lot like NES Remix 1, in fact it’s exactly the same game mechanically. NES Remix 2 offers a handful of classic NES games and remixed challenges that spice up the original gameplay you may be familiar with. None of the games from NES Remix are present in NES Remix 2 and vice-versa, but I think I prefer what’s here rather than what’s on the first release. While the first one had classics like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros, NES Remix 2 has Metroid, Kirby’s Adventure, Punch-Out!!, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Kid Icarus among others. Like with the original, most of the challenges essentially take you through the main levels of each represented game or challenge you to achieve high scores. Again, like the original, the remix challenges don’t really mix game elements together but they can mash different games and challenges back-to-back with handicaps or caveats that make seemingly familiar challenges much more difficult.
This is essentially the same game as the previous years NES Remix, and while I like the selection of games here more than what was on the first game it’s still not something that stuck with for very long. I liked playing Metroid and Kirby’s Adventure, but I liked them as full games a lot more than what’s here. I never bought it, but there was a NES Remix/NES Remix 2 collection launched on the 3DS either in 2014 or 2015. It looked like the best way to play this game given how the challenges are so quick to get through. This isn’t a bad game at all, this just isn’t for me and I still hope to see a SNES Remix eventually happen.
I very recently started playing the 2014 Strider game, which I’m unsure is a revival or a reboot, but I’m sure it’s one or the other. While I played the game, I was impressed by how powerful Strider is from the beginning, how quickly he slashes through enemies, and how you can climb on walls and ceilings from the very beginning. There are some problems from the beginning though: Strider is a 2.5D game, meaning that you, the enemies, and the setting are presented in 3D, but the game is played in a 2D. I played Strider using a Dualshock 4 controller, the standard PS4 controller, and while playing this type of game, I strongly prefer to use the D-Pad to control my characters. Strider forces me to use the left analog stick instead, and there’s no clear way to do that without looking for a mod that I’m sure exists.
The levels are set up like Metroid or Castlevania levels, meaning they’re much larger than they appear but you won’t be able to see everything until you unlock more, if not all, of Strider’s special abilities. The first special ability, a charge-attack, is unlocked once you beat the first boss. I had an issue with that boss though, since it hit me much harder than I could hit it, and I was killed by it a few times before I realized that healing items were on the ceiling, out of sight.
That’s the only bit of level design that I didn’t really care for, and the boss fights that I came across later on were much more entertaining to me. The controls kept me from really getting into Strider though, and every time I logged out I felt less, and less incentive to want to get back into it. While playing, it was fine, but something about Strider is keeping me from wanting to stick with it. It’s not buggy, the setting is interesting, and I’m curious to see what the remaining bosses are like, but I just lost interest in the gameplay fairly quickly.
(Ninja...in the night)
Super Smash Bros for Wii U wasn’t nearly as fun for me as Super Smash Bros for the 3DS. First thing’s first: all of the characters in 3DS, DLC and all, are also on the Wii U version. You can even use your 3DS as a controller to play the Wii U version. Any amiibo fighters you’ve been training in the 3DS version can be further trained and used in the Wii U version of the game, and this is fantastic! If however, you want to fight someone on the 3DS while playing your Wii U copy, that’s a bridge too far.
Smash for Wii U is the first in the series to be presented in HD which, at face value, is fantastic. This is Smash though, so all of the particle and bloom effects also look better than they ever have. These effects quickly make it really difficult for me to follow the action going on, on-screen. This isn’t as bad in smaller fights, but one of the main selling features for this version of the game is the inclusion of 8-character brawls. Even 2 versus 2 and 3 versus 3 matches can devolve into a sea of impenetrable particle effects, but depending on the stage you're in, 8-person Smash's are nearly unplayable for me. When it comes to game modes, the classic and All-Stars mode returns along with Master and Crazy orders, which are essentially matches with handicaps, restrictions, or some other caveat. Smash Tour is another new mode in the Wii U version; it’s presented as a board game and as you roll dice and make your way around the board, you earn fighters and buffs which you’ll ultimately use up in a final battle after all of the turns are taken. When it was new, and while I was unlocking new fighters, I was having a relatively good time playing Smash for Wii U. I’m a primarily single-player gamster though, so my time with Smash is always going to be limited. I love what Smash represents, but actually playing this game just gets less and less fun for me over time.
Thief could have been so much better than it turned out, and it does a lot of things that I enjoyed too which is more than I can say for other games on my ‘meh’ lists. The Thief series prior to this entry has always taken place in a weird pseudo-fantasy world where electric lights and torches exist side-by-side, and this is the case in Thief 2014. Guards roam the streets and factories wielding swords and crossbows in a set path though which is a bit unfortunate since earlier entries featured guards who would roam a bit more freely and dynamically so long as their subroutines weren’t acting up. Difficulty settings can be micromanaged to minute detail, so if you want to take on a run without any weapons, without being spotted, without being able to eat food, but on the lowest difficulty then more power to you! Take a high score multiplier and good luck to you.
Garret has had a change of character; now instead of being a misanthropic cynic who robs people because he has bills to pay, you’re essentially robbing the wealthy because rich people suck and you need to fund your expedition to the bottom of a greater mystery involving a cult who somehow gave you supernatural powers. During my most recent play sessions with Thief I experienced a bug where none of the vocal tracks worked so I’m going to assume my PC was sparing me from all of the cringy brooding everybody was likely flapping their heads about. The gameplay is alright too for the most part: you sneak around guards with perception issues, pry open windows, and steal anything that’s glittering. I wish the game was more open though.
There is a sort of hub town that you can explore, but it feels really cramped, with few places to actually break into. The levels that you go to for plot-based theft border on downright linearity. There are segments of each level which are wide enough that you usually have more than one way to get from point A to point B (point B usually being a point of no return). What annoyed me to the point that I chose to stop playing was a set-piece at the end of an early level. Basically, you’re caught stealing and need to escape from a crematorium alive. My takeaway from that experience is that missions where I’m able to just sneak in, steal, and sneak out on my own terms are probably going to be the exception rather than the rule, because setpiece chases are cool bro! I was hoping for a more open-ended game, but what’s here isn’t all that compelling to me. I feel like everything I can do in Thief has been done better in other games, so just...meh.
("ThE NigHT sEtS mE FrEe.")
This War of Mine is bleak. I feel like I won’t be able to overstate just how bleak This War of Mine is. I remember this game as being black and white, but the way it’s presented does offer some color, it’s just muted and contrasted with darkness. You play as the barely surviving citizen of a burned-out, war torn city. Going by the background, it looks like there’s still a lot of fighting going on, but you never have to deal with trenches, IEDs, or military shenanigans in general, modern or otherwise. What you have to deal with is trying to stay alive. During the day, you’ll be fortifying your home, making sure the people living with you are fed, watered, and have cigarettes, coffee, or anything else they might need to ward off the ever-present feeling that a permanent solution would be better than their current situation.
You may also be visited during the day by people willing to trade resources, demand resources, or attack you outright. At night, you build an exploration party and send them off into the city to try scavenging supplies. At first, it’s easy enough to raid the abandoned houses in your neighborhood, but as time and resources pass, you’ll be forced to travel farther, into potentially dangerous areas. Moral choices are all over the place here, and they present themselves organically. Do you try to act diplomatically when people visit your shelter, or do you attack trespassers on sight? Will you sneak through an inhabited building, stealing only what you’re able to grab quickly, or do you attempt to subdue the occupants? I would never call This War of Mine a bad game, but I’m putting it in ‘meh’ because, despite its fantastic atmosphere and storytelling, I can only take so much bleakness and negativity before I just check out. I played the final cut edition for just over 2 hours, and I would even recommend it, but this isn’t a game I’ve thought about going back to since I stopped playing.
I am not a fighting game person at all, but I have a nostalgic link to the Street Fighter series and I picked up Ultra Street Fighter IV for cheap a few years ago more for nostalgia’s sake than anything. Outside of the novelty of playing around with the familiar Street Fighters, the familiar characters from Final Fight, and playing around with the then-new characters, there wasn’t a lot here that made me want to spend a lot of time playing this game. I usually play through single player with a familiar or interesting looking character, but I don’t usually touch the multiplayer since the results are always the same: I lose. I can appreciate that this is probably a great game, but I’m very much an outsider to this genre. The most substantive things I can say about Ultra Street Fighter 4 are that I miss the pixel-art style of previous games, and I’m going to miss the massive roster that’s missing in Street Fighter V.
Watch_Dogs was certainly dull, wasn’t it? It’s a Ubisoft sandbox set in Chicago during a time of unseasonably prominent overcast. You play as remorseless career-criminal Aiden Pearce, who dedicates his life of crime to a life of self-righteous crime after his niece is killed during a drive-by. Pearce spends the game looking for the people who set him up and ultimately cost his niece her life through grand theft auto, grand larceny, bank fraud, identity theft, and sometimes even murder.
Watch_Dogs is such a frustrating game to talk about, because it comes really close to being fantastic. The gameplay isn’t bad by any means, it’s just shallow and bland. If you want to be chased by police like in a certain other crime sandbox, you have to let pedestrians call the police on you. You can commit all kinds of fun vehicular crimes, but murder and violent meyhem isn’t enough to summon a squad car. Paradoxically, open-carrying anything as dangerous as a knife into a Starbucks is enough to freak out a crowd and have the police called on you. Once you have a chase started, ending them is as easy as leaving a ‘hot zone’ and waiting for the police to get bored. Another option at your disposal would be to hack into a traffic light or traffic barriers, cause a massive traffic accident, and...well, that’s about it. It’s effective, it’s fun, and it ultimately ends encounters incredibly quickly.
In short bursts, Watch_Dogs is fairly fun, but that fun factor is fleeting. The story isn’t terrible, but Aiden isn’t a sympathetic or compelling character. This was a game I spent a good chunk of time playing on the Wii U, and it ran fairly well. Since it was launched on just about everything with a CPU though, it wasn’t likely going to push any limits on any platform it launched on. Watch_Dogs had a lot of hype going into it, and while it wasn’t a complete failure, it definitely could have been a lot better.
(You can ALMOST see Aiden Pearce's iconic hat!)
Alien: Isolation is the best idea I’ve seen in the Alien franchise in years, but the execution really brings it down for me. The premise is simple: You play as Ellen Ripley’s daughter, exploring a space station for the black box that was taken from The Nostromo. Unfortunately, the space station you’re exploring has been overrun by murderous robots, murderous humans, and one very clever Xenomorph that can’t be killed. The core gameplay here is stealth, and that stealth is facilitated through distraction and subterfuge. You can craft noisemakers to distract enemies or use environmental objects to do the same then stroll right by them. Guns and a flamethrower eventually enter the mix, but direct combat is never encouraged since you are an unarmored person who takes a shot like any other unarmored person.
The humans and mechano-men are fairly easy to move around, but the Xenomorph is much more threatening. It has its own unique AI (I only just got the title, good job Sega) and is capable of detecting you based on all kinds of factors. Maybe you’re moving too fast, maybe you just shot an android, maybe you just closed a door too hard, the Xenomorph can hear you and running away is just going to help it find and kill you that much faster. Here’s my problem with Isolation though: you can only save the game manually. Since there aren’t autosaves, it’s likely that dying can cost you anywhere from a few minutes worth of lost time to nearly an hour. I read ahead before I played Isolation, and as I understood it the first Xeno encounter wasn’t one you’re really able to be killed during. Unfortunately, I was killed by it...then I tried again, and was killed again. I tried a third time, was killed a third time, and gave up on the game as a whole because it took me about 15 minutes to go from the save point, around a group of scavengers that I had to solve a puzzle to bypass, and into the room where the Xeno makes its grand entrance.
(In space, everyone hears you exit a locker)
I don’t dislike ‘run and hide from the monster’ games, but I absolutely hate having my time wasted. I’m not sure what I was doing wrong, I wasn’t sure where I was meant to go, and I wasn’t sure if there was an easy solution to the problem, all I knew is that I had had enough. Alien: Isolation is probably the best contribution to the franchise since the DS game Alien: Infestation, but on the PS3, this game frustrated me horribly! Then I started playing it on PC. My major criticism remains: death is such a huge inconvenience that everything else just doesn’t matter anymore. The atmosphere and graphics, even six years on, are fantastic. The human AI on normal is so keen that they nearly got me a few times. I loved the detailed settings, but death completely terminates my drive to play further. The first time I quit, I was on Chapter 2. The most recent time I quit, I was on Chapter 4. I made a stupid mistake because I wanted a couple of achievements, and when I got back into the game I managed to sneak into Chapter 5. I learned a little bit too late that dripping, black-fog spewing vents will murder me. I don’t know if I’ll make it all the way through this one or not, but every time I play it I feel slightly more positive about it. This started off on my ‘meh’ list but considering the presentation and the fact that I kept going back to it I’m just going to call it ‘good’.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker started out as a minigame that could be played for extra lives in Super Mario 3D World. It was incredibly popular, but even before 3D World launched it seems Nintendo was developing a more robust version of this mini-game. What we have here is a game where you play as Captain Toad: a Toad who is different from other Toads from other Mario games, on a quest to find treasure and also to save a girl Captain Toad from a giant bird. Unfortunately for her, Captain Toad can only move as quickly as a power-walk, he can’t jump, and he can’t take a single hit. Really, there’s no sense of urgency or danger with the presented plot; the name of the game is light puzzle solving and treasure collection in cube-shaped levels. That’s a vast majority of what you have here, toad needs to navigate the small levels, find hiddens spaces in them, and sometimes hit enemies with root vegetables.
A vast majority of the stages are simple puzzles that focus on finding and collecting treasure, but most of them also have hidden nooks and rooms that you'll find through careful observation, flipping levers, or tapping the screen. There are some enemies wandering around certain levels, and there are also boss fights to consider. None of the fights are direct conflicts, but puzzles which require Captain Toad to avoid attacks while navigating the stage and manipulating a...thing that would allow you to harm the boss. I played this one on the Wii U, and as enjoyable as it was a 3DS port launched about a year later. Given the casual gameplay, and how quickly most levels can be completed, I think the 3DS was a better fit than the Wii U for this game. I haven’t actually played the 3DS version, and I strongly enjoyed this game in general, hence why I have it on my good list.
(Here we see an invader stealing valuable resources from a native tribe)
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a direct sequel to the Wii classic, Donkey Kong Country Returns. Like the previous game, Tropical Freeze has you control DK and his little buddy Diddy Kong as they attempt to save their island from an invading horde and an encroaching ice age. Tropical Freeze expands the roster from Returns, allowing you to play as Dixie Kong for the first time in nearly 20 years, and Cranky Kong for the first time in ever. If Donkey Kong is considered to be the standard, Diddy Kong plays more quickly, Dixie can glide, and Cranky can use his cane as a pogo stick to attack enemies and safely travel across hazardous terrain.
Tropical Freeze is still a 2.5D platformer (as in, the assets are 3D but you only ever move along 2D space from left to right), there are bosses at the end of each world, and the overall platforming is fairly difficult. The difficulty really makes getting through each stage and world feel more worthwhile and satisfying. As much as I love Nintendo games, a lot of them are really, really easy to get through. Tropical Freeze is not easy...in fact I haven’t actually finished this game. The challenge isn’t insurmountable, and I plan to finish it up sooner rather than later. What’s keeping me from getting back in and finishing this game off is knowing that I won’t be meeting any Kremlings or King K. Rool in this entry. It’s shallow, I know, but between that and my backlog overflowing I haven’t had much of a chance to go back and finish this one up...yet.
Elite Dangerous isn’t a game I’ve experienced to its fullest, but I don’t know that I’m going to do that anyway. It’s still expanding after all; recently ship carriers were added into it and...actually, I may play with those if anybody needs ships shipped. My time with Elite Dangerous, over 60 hours, was primarily spent role playing as a trucker in space. I would play at night, maybe put on a podcast, and just allow the environment to envelop me as I jump to warp and then eventually fly from jump-point to outpost as I deliver my latest shipments to whomever requested it. It wasn’t the most exciting work, but I earned millions of credits doing it. I would also sell star maps if I wound up taking on long-haul jobs.
I know that elsewhere in the galaxy there are dozens of people engaging with dangerous pirates or alien creatures. There were times when I was nearly pulled out of warp by outlaws myself but quick thinking and allocating power to my engines has always kept me out of harm’s way. In a way, Elite Dangerous has been the greatest role playing game I’ve ever played. When I’m not shipping cargo from Sirius to Betelgeuse, my pilot presumably uses part of their massive shipping fortune on a great hotel room. Then when I log back into Elite Dangerous that’s just me getting back into my ship and going back on the job. I know that at any time I want, I could sell my cargo frieghter and dedicate myself to interstellar piracy or bounty hunting. I don’t know if I would call this my game of 2014, but it’s definitely the most calming and open game I’ve played from that year.
(In space, nobody seems to mind how long you take on delivery runs)
Five Nights at Freddy’s is a good horror game with a couple of logical inconsistencies. You play as a security guard at a Chuck E. Cheese style restaurant that features animatronic mascots who can freely roam about. At night, they mistake you for an animatronic skeleton so they jump at you and lethally stuff you into a mascot suit. You need to survive for Five nights (at first, a sixth can happen), and to do this you need to monitor the roaming fursuiters and literally shut the door on them before they can get to you. The power generator isn’t very strong, so every time you turn on a light, shut a door, or check a camera feed, it costs energy, and if you use all of that energy you’ll be stuck in the dark. It is possible to ‘win’ a shift if you run out of power, but it requires incredibly good timing to pull off.
Five Nights at Freddy’s is built around its jump scares: it doesn’t just do it for the sake of scaring you, it only does it if YOU mess up. If you misread a sound, if you aren’t quick enough on the door, if you look at a camera feed at the wrong time, you will get jumped. Knowing how the jump scares work takes the shock out of them, thus turning them into a very loud failure state, but the sense of anxiety persists even after I figured the game out. This game was extremely popular when it launched, and it’s still a very profitable franchise. This is one of those cases where the majority is absolutely correct though, play Five Nights at Freddy’s.
(It's a good game, dammit!)
Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 launched about 4 months after the original, and despite the incredibly fast development, it builds upon the first one fantastically. Unlike the first game there’s no door to shut but you can disguise yourself with a mask or attempt to ward off roaming animatronics with a flashlight. You’re still using surveillance cameras to track and monitor the comings and goings of the animatronics out to murder you, but the restaurant you’re in is much larger than the last one. The number of animatronics has also increased, but not all of them are out to kill you directly.
Balloon Boy for example sneaks around in vents, and if he gets to you, you won’t be able to use your flashlight anymore. This makes you vulnerable to Foxy, Mangle, and The Puppet. Like the first game, jumpscares are a major part of the game but they only occur if you mess up. This is why I consider this game and the previous installment to be good horror games: it’s all up to you if a jumpscare happens and the only way to keep that from happening is to remain acutely aware of everything happening around you. Five Nights 2 builds upon the first game fantastically, and I strongly recommend giving both of them a shot.
Jazzpunk reminds me a lot of AIRPLANE! Or the Naked Gun movies. The premise is simple: you’re a gumshoe sent to various locations to solve mysteries and stop evil spies. Luckily, you’re never in any danger because the world you inhabit runs on cartoon logic. You’re not even playing as a human, you’re playing as a bizarre automaton in a world of bizarre automatons. Nobody can really emote and that’s where my movie references from earlier come into things: watching something wacky happen to or around an emotionless character has the same appeal to me as when Leslie Neilson deadpanned his way through those screwball comedies.
The main appeal of this game to me comes from wandering around each of the levels and interacting with as many things and people as possible. Interacting with something that should seem straightforward could lead to something insane; sometimes just walking by an NPC causes them to be catapulted away with an accompanying Wilhelm scream. I don’t want to get too deep into all of the weird interactions and mini-games that Jazzpunk offers, I’m just going to say it’s an absolute must-play for PC players.
Kirby: Triple Deluxe continues a tradition I’ve always loved about how Nintendo names their games: Kirby: Triple Deluxe...Triple as in three, Deluxe as in, a word that starts with “D”, and this is a game on the 3DS. So one night, as Kirby sleeps, a beanstalk grows out of control and displaces the titular puff and all of his friends into the new land of Floralia. This will be the setting of this fantastic 2.5D Kirby adventure. That is, the game is made up of 3D assets but you play it in 2D as you would with older entries in the series. It could be me, or it could be 2014, but there were a lot of 2.5D games launched around this time!
As far as new features go, there’s a new power Kirby can use called Hypernova which essentially just allows him to suck up incredibly massive objects. The Kirby series are simple platformers but they’re always been satisfying for me, and Triple Deluxe is no exception. It looks fantastic on the 3DS, both the small and XL models. The overworld is the beanstalk, which you climb up to progress through the game. There aren’t many bosses, but despite how predictable a couple of them are, the fights are fairly fun to run through. The finale of the game is also spectacular, both in terms of gameplay and as far as the cinematics are concerned. This one is absolutely a nostalgic pick for me, which is admittedly weird considering how recent this game is. I mostly play 3DS games on breaks while I’m at work, and the presentation of this one really impressed me at the time. Fantastic game.
(Why are you so angry?)
Luftrausers is an incredibly arcadish shooter that lets you play with momentum and blow up armored zeppelins using a biplane. You launch from an aircraft carrier, you can start a new round seconds after you’re shot down, the pace is fantastically quick, the pixel-art is simple but it grants Lauftrausers a striking aesthetic. Just coming to grips with the movement in Luftrauser is rewarding: throttling up to build speed is easy enough to understand, but lay off the throttle and you’ll maintain that speed while gliding.
Aerial stunts are fairly easy to comprehend, and easy to execute, but there are usually so many enemies and projectiles on the screen that pulling off corkscrews, aileron rolls, and loops is really satisfying. The more enemies you shoot down, the more enemies and enemy types are sent after you, and the more currency you rack up. Money is used to buy new loadouts and planes, with each aircraft controlling slightly differently, some not being able to glide as far, some being more acrobatically inclined, etc. There’s really not too much to be said about Luftrauser: It’s a 2D, arcade-style shooter based entirely around aerial combat and it’s one of the most fun indie games I’ve played when I went through it. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already.
Mario Kart 8 is the first HD entry to the series, the first one to feature downloadable content, the first one to add characters and tracks from outside of the Super Mario series, and the online multiplayer servers for the Wii U version are still active in May of 2020. On launch Mario Kart 8 featured 32 tracks but with the DLC came an additional 16. There were originally 30 racers (14 of whom needed to be unlocked) with six additional racers and a bunch of variations on Yoshi’s and Shy Guys being added in later as DLC. What drove me to keep playing this game after I unlocked all of the racers was unlocking all of the other content.
Like with Mario Kart 7, this version features a lot of karts, bikes, wheels and gliders to unlock depending on how many coins you collect as you race. Another reason I didn’t immediately stop playing this one is because it feels a lot more balanced than Mario Kart Wii: In that game it seems downright common to get hit by a combo of shells, lightning, and more shells even on 100cc, or normal difficulty. It made racing feel a lot more frustrating, though I understand that aggressive item usage is a big part of what sells this series. In Mario Kart 8 I feel more in control, more often and it made for a really enjoyable experience.
It’s a shame the multiplayer feels so half-baked. The multiplayer racing is absolutely fine but there won’t be a compelling battle mode until the remastered version of this game launches in 2017. The multiplayer isn’t why I count this game as a ‘meh’ though, it’s how this isn’t a game that I ever really feel compelled to go back to. It’s always engaging in the moment, but actually feeling the urge to play Mario Kart just doesn’t hit me very often. I’m not a very big fan of racing games, but arcade racing games are the ones that I most enjoy. I’m having trouble deciding if I even want to call this a ‘meh’ game instead of a good one...Oh what the Hell, I’m going to say this is a good game. Overall, I think I like Mario Kart 7 more than 8, if nothing else I’m more impressed by it on a technical level, but Mario Kart 8 has never failed to entertain, even if I have to push myself to boot it up.
Mini Metro, much like Elite Dangerous, is a very calming game to me. Unlike Elite Dangerous though, Mini Metro is a minimalist puzzle game. You’re given a very simple, two-toned map that represents one of a few dozen cities and your task is to set up an efficient metro system. To do this, you click and drag points on the map, connecting them on one of several metro lines. The larger the metro system becomes, the more lines and trains you’ll be able to work with. The longer you play Mini-Metro, the more complicated your lines become, and thus the more difficulty you face trying to manage new stations and lines. No matter how chaotic your metro lines become, the process of managing each transit system always felt calming and satisfying. I strongly recommend this one.
Pokemon: Omega Ruby/ Alpha Sapphire are remakes to my then, least-favorite generation of Pokemon. I went with Omega Ruby, which has very few differences from Alpha Sapphire, and aside from the graphics, script, and post-game content the remakes are very similar to their source material. You play as the son or daughter of a gym leader and...whatever your mother does. You’ve just moved to the islands of Hoenn, a region that’s made up of equal parts land and sea routes though it’s going to feel much more wet than dry after a while. Stop me if this sounds familiar but the object of this iteration is to collect all 8 gym badges, stop team Aqua or Magma, sooth the rage of either Groudon or Kyogre, beat the Elite 4 and Champion, then go into space to save the multiverse or some such thing. If I sound dismissive, it’s just because a vast majority of the Pokemon series is essentially the same thing. What changes are team names, characters, and Pokemon.
What you’re actually doing, when you boil it all down, hasn’t really changed that much since 1996. It was a fun gameplay loop then, and it’s still fun now. What I don’t like about ORAS is just how many water type Pokemon and settings there happen to be. HMs are still a thing in this game: HMs being moves that you can teach your Pokemon that can’t be unlearned unless you speak to a specific NPC. There are 7 HMs and of those, 4 of them are water based. If you’ll pardon the pun, this entry just seems to be oversaturated. I still really like these games, they’re just not my favorite. I’m indifferent towards the starting Pokemon in the Hoenn region, but there are a lot of then-new Pokemon who I did like such as the Aron line, spoink, the ghosts, and the bagon line. I also like Flannery more than any other gym leader in the series. If you’ve played a Pokemon game, then you already likely have an opinion on this one.
(There's way too much water, but this is at least an 8/10)
It’s not really possible to play P.T. anymore, not by legal means anyway. When it launched, it was exclusive to the Playstation 4 which, if only for a while, made that platform the one to get. P.T. is essentially a horror-themes puzzle game that plays in the first person. You walk along a corridor, turn a corner to continue along that corridor, descend a flight of stairs, open a door, and find yourself back at the beginning of the first corridor. Progression is achieved by interacting with certain objects in the corridors, eventually gaining access into the bathroom, and avoiding a hostile entity which appears as you progress.
The first thing to note is the presentation of this small space: This game looks incredible, bordering on photo-realistic, while maintaining a steady framerate. As you progress through the game the corridor changes, at first in subtle ways, but eventually it transforms into an unrecognizably horrible mess. You’ll need to interact with things like photos, a radio, a phone, your menu, the microphone built into the Dualshock 4, and walk through the corridor time and time again before the overall puzzle is solved and you’re allowed to exit the house once and for all. P.T. isn’t available to download anymore because it was meant to reveal a Silent Hill project which was ultimately cancelled. It’s impossible to say whether or not it would have been a good game or indeed, what percentage of gameplay P.T. might have been a representative of. What P.T. is, is a beautiful looking, if somewhat obtuse, escape the room puzzle.
I've just about hit the word-wall, and will be posting part 2 of my look at 2014 tomorrow morning! It's nothing but the remainder of my Good Games list and a brief summary on 2014 in general. Thank you for reading so far, and thank you for sticking with me for this long.