It’s the end of a decade and maybe it’s just me but 2019 just seemed to be really, really lackluster compared to the rest of the decade. That shouldn’t seem possible since this was the year Nintendo launched its first home Pokemon RPG, Kojima launched his first post-Konami project, and against all odds Call of Duty Modern Warfare launched. Despite all that 2019 was the first year in a long time that I just didn’t feel as passionate about gaming and what was new. The best thing that can be said about my anemic 2019 list is that the bad games list is going to be tiny, so here it is:
Before I really get into my 2019 tops, bottoms, and cardboard, I wanted to address the Donphan in the room, or rather the Donphan who’s absent from the room. Pokemon Red and Blue launched in the US when I was about 9, and since I was the target demographic I was easily enthralled by it. I played and replayed Pokemon Red multiple times, even after future generations launched. While other games, franchises, and companies burned me and I chose to stop pre-ordering games, there was always a blind spot where Pokemon was concerned. I wouldn’t just pre-order new Pokemon games, I would import them too (up until the 3DS introduced region locking). For decades I would play and re-play the Pokemon RPGs but things changed a bit when X and Y came out. I liked that generation overall, but by then I was definitely feeling burn-out. Pokemon Moon and Sun came and went, and while that introduced some new gimmicks, it still felt very similar to what came before, but without much in the way of innovation. Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee were launched on Switch but as I’ve always said, motion controls kill otherwise good games.
I was essentially playing these games knowing that I would be playing to see the new Pokemon, and when Shield/Sword were announced it seemed like that was all it had going for it. It looked pretty good at first: I only really liked Scorbunny, but I liked how animated the starters were in the early trailers. As more information came out though, I was curious by what wasn’t being said. The starters’ evolutions not being shown seemed strange to me, after all Pokemon Red and Blue were sold on Charizard and Blastoise’s character designs. Pokemon still sells itself on Charizard’s back, but I hope you didn’t care about Blastoise, because that’s one of the many, many Pokemon that didn’t make it into Shield or Sword out of the box. Yes, I’m one of those people: A major reason I don’t want to play Pokemon Shield/Sword is because my favorite Pokemon aren’t in it, even if you do shell out the additional $20 for the DLC. Having 400 Pokemon sounds alright, but in total there are nearly 900 now and previous Pokemon games have had over 400 since Diamond and Pearl (games which launched on the DS in 2006).
Here’s a short list of Pokemon I like who can’t be used in Shield/Sword at all: Dialga, Electabuzz, the Geodude line, Grimer/Muk, Palkia, Kanto Fossil Pokemon, the Dratini Line, the Totodile line, Murkrow, Gligar, Teddiursa/Ursaring, Phanpy/Donphan, Houndour, Houndoom, the Gen 3 Starters, the Gen 4 Starters, the Gen 5 starters, Shuppet/Banette, the Aron line, Blitzle/Zebstrika, Ducklett/Swanna, and the Fennekin line to name a few dozen. Even before it was known that the Pokedex was going to be torn in half, another piece of news that really confused me was how Mega Evolution was out and essentially replaced with Gigamax and Dynamax transformation. The first thing that came to my mind when we were shown giant Pokemon was how cool it would be to match up a giant Pokemon with one that’s Mega-Evolved.
The wild area seemed like a good idea at first, and potentially encountering a Pokemon that’s much stronger than yours seems exciting, but it’s impossible to catch them if they out-level you. I could have sworn Pokemon being unruly until you get the right number of badges was an established part of Pokemon lore, but I guess that was tossed out too. Even watching Pokemon Shield/Sword in motion, I’m kind of surprised it isn’t a 3DS game. Character animations seem to have been taken from previous games, the work-arounds for a lack of voice acting are laughable, Pokemon Battles haven’t been improved upon visually or mechanically etiher. Shield/Sword just don’t seem like console games to me. Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild felt like steps up from what came before; they seemed to push their franchises forward, but Pokemon Shield/Sword seems like a regression. It’s the first time I’ve chosen not to buy into a new generation of Pokemon, but since so many others did I’m worried that Gamefreak won’t try to do better next time. I haven’t played Pokemon Shield/Sword, because of how disappointed I am with what it turned out to be, and I don't see myself shelling out $90 for the complete version.
(If I wanted to play a game with a sword-dog I would just play Dark Souls again)
I don’t want to hate Death Stranding, but it seems like every time I play a Kojima game it’s just another reminder that Metal Gear Solid was an anomaly. I wasn’t completely sure what Death Stranding was until roughly the week of its release, when it became clear that this was a game largely about environmental management and cooperative infrastructure management. The plot was easy enough to understand, but delivered over the course of long-winded cutscenes: The world has essentially come to an end and the United States has been reduced to a handful of underground bunker-cities. You play as Sam Porter Bridges, who’s given the task of travelling west and reconnecting all of the cities via a sort of neo-internet. Sam also needs to deliver packages between cities. To do this, the very movement has been gamified; uneven terrain is more difficult to walk along, steep inclines need to be climbed up or down, deep water can sweep Sam away. Just navigating from one city to the nearest distribution center takes forethought, fortitude, and strategy, and I really enjoyed this part of the game.
It’s the little things that annoyed me at first: The pathos of exploring a quiet, empty wasteland is very engaging to me, but when I was forced to listen to Low Roar with no way of turning it off, I was very annoyed. Noticing that I was getting “likes” on things like ladders and ropes that I left around the map felt hollow to me, but it didn’t disrupt my play time. During one delivery mission an enemy faction was introduced who only attacked me while I was carrying shipments. They were annoying and I didn’t like dealing with them. Then there are the B.T.s who are introduced much earlier. When you get near a B.T. the game slows to a crawl and you enter a sneaking mode. If the B.T. finds you, it will try dragging you down into a puddle of mud. I was dragged into this mud more than once and taken into a land of darkness and giant, muddy, whale monsters. I assumed that this was a failure state, since this happened to me during a mission. What I wasn’t expecting was to be able to casually walk away from the flailing whales, slowly walk away from the mud-ghosts, lazily walk to my destination and get an S rank anyway. This happened during the second or third mission for me: it was the one where you need to leave a facility on the top of a mountain, and it was at this point where I knew my opinion on Death Stranding wasn’t going to improve.
What started out as a world I wanted to explore was now a world that I was annoyed with, and always worried that I would be forced to listen to more bad indie music. I didn’t want to go to new areas, because I hated dealing with B.T.s and the hobo-UPS. I didn’t feel like the deliveries I was making mattered because there weren’t any friendly NPCs in-game to accept them, just an automated system with a holographic person to thank me. I played long enough to unlock the first vehicle, hoping that I could just carelessly drive through danger zones. It didn’t quite work like that, and the vehicle really didn’t improve my opinion of Death Stranding. I didn’t care about the story, the acid rain only seems to matter in cutscenes, trying to make me care about the baby felt peculiar to me, and when I started to feel an action focus starting to come about I knew this wasn’t the game I was expecting it to be. Death Stranding is god awful.
(All of the cities have "Knot" in the name, but DS refuses to admit that it's a furry game. Be true to yourself dammit!)
The first thing I thought of when JUMP! Force was announced is how much I loved the Japan exclusive DS games JUMP! Super Stars, and JUMP! Ultimate Stars. Those two games are essentially Smash Bros, but populated with characters from Shonen JUMP Magazine. Then more information came out about JUMP! Force: It’s a team-based, 3D, arena-fighting game, which could have been fine. It has create-a-character, which could be interesting if it isn’t intrusive. It features online multiplayer, which should be perfectly fine. The very first thing I was asked to do after booting up JUMP! Force was to create a character. There’s a slim selection of body types, hair styles, faces, and moves that come directly from established characters. What I wanted to do first was jump into a quick-match to see which characters are available out of the box, and hopefully slap Naruto around with Kenshiro for a moment. Instead I was asked to create a character and that’s what I did: Mary Sue! The newest Shonen protagonist from my “imagination” who will progress the plot I don’t care about and currently feel sour about, who can use the Kamehameha and some Naruto technique.
I ran through a series of tutorial missions which I would have liked the option to do instead of being forced into right away, but they turned out to be useful. After the tutorials were over and done with I was let loose into a hub world populated by quest giving NPCs and other players running around in real-time. The hub world is how you select if you want to start a plot quest, get into an online match, get into a tutorial match, get into a quick match, or purchase new moves or gear for your personal Mary Sue. The more story quests you run through the more Mary Sue assets unlock so while you can’t necessarily make a unique character you can make a character who can mix and match fighting techniques that you may recognize from the characters you would possibly rather be playing as. The story of JUMP! Force involves alien invaders cloning Shonen characters and making an evil army out of them, which is the reason you’ll be asked to fight the same characters time and time again. The fighting in JUMP! Force is fairly accessible: there’s a button for quick, light attacks, a button for heavy attacks, a button for grabs, a button for quick-movement, a button to power-up, and a button to hold when you want to use one of four special attacks (based on which face button you press while holding the special-button).
The health of your characters determines whether or not they can transform or unlock a special buffed-up version of themselves. In theory, if you’re playing as Goku and you’re not doing well, you can go Super Saiyan once you hit 1/4th health and maybe make a come-back. An issue I had playing this game came from the very core of its design: since this is a 3D game, the computer can easily side-step projectile attacks at distance then close the distance and land an easy combo against me. I can usually do this against the PC too, but it seems to skew a bit more in favor of the PC than me, the player. A much greater issue I had was how similar everybody felt to play as compared to everybody else. If you want to use a Kamehame-Ha, you hold the right-trigger or R2 and tap X. If you want to use the Hundred Cracks Fist of the North Star, same input. Having Seto Kaiba use Blue Eyes White Dragon’s Burst Stream requires the same input.
In a way, I can almost see JUMP! Force as being, not so much a fighting game, but a party game like Super Smash Bros. It has a lot of spectacle and recognizable characters, but I think a lot of work has been put in the wrong areas. I gave up on the story when I was asked to fight and defeat Toguro several times in a row, without being healed up and with a stricter time limit each time while Toguro gets progressively stronger. I gave up 1v1 “for fun” fights after realizing that I wasn’t noticing much of a difference at all between playing as Kenshiro, Deku, Yugi, Ichigo, Yusuke, or Saeba Ryo mechanically. I was already fighting with myself to even make it this far because Namco-Bandai keeps using these horrible hub-worlds instead of menus like a normal game. JUMP! Force isn’t just a bad game, it’s the most disappointing fighting game I’ve played, and a slap in the face to fans of the JUMP! Stars DS games.
(Petty complaint: The character models are hideous)
I wasn’t sure if I disliked The Surge 2 or if I was just lukewarm on it. The opening was definitely much stronger than the opening of The Surge: Instead of waking up in a junkyard for no reason and being attacked by robots, you wake up in a prison hospital which is inexplicably being attacked by robots. The design of the Prison is pretty good, it seems to be a couple of looping paths that unlock easy access to a central medical facility...which for whatever reason is separate from the operating theatre you wake up in. The first time you go into the med bay, you’re equipped with a robotic exoskeleton which makes you a viable combatant.
For whatever reason you can’t dodge before getting the exoskeleton, so the very first boss-type enemy I was put up against was much harder to take out simply because I couldn’t dodge around its attacks. During the prison escape I kept catching glimpses of a large cat-like Robot that was murdering inmates but I didn’t play long enough to actually have a chance to fight it. Instead, the ultimate foe you need to face in the prison is either a warden or someone wearing the warden’s exoskeleton. What made fighting this person difficult was the gunner-drone who he kept deploying to attack me. It also seemed impossible to deal noticeable damage against the guy unless I parried his attacks.
On the one hand I like how there’s a tutorial for parrying but on the other, I don’t like how this was the only instance where attacks were telegraphed not only by the enemy’s movements but also by large on-screen arrows. Even after I got used to what was expected of me to defeat this boss my damage output was very low, especially compared to his. So I did some grinding: Killing foes gives you scrap metal, but by targeting specific body parts you can potentially cut off their limbs so as to steal whatever they have equipped on that limb or on their head. This is also how you gather upgrade material: If you and your enemy are using the same pneumatic hammer for example, you can cut off their weapon-arm to steal components to upgrade that weapon specifically.
Leveling up your character seems simple in the beginning: you’re given points that you can put into either your health, your stamina, or your battery power. I cleared out the prison a few times, leveled myself up, leveled my preferred weapon up once, then went to try fighting the warden again. He still killed me easily, but I managed to take him out, steal his drone, use the drone to drop a couple of out-of-the-way enemies, and ultimately escape the prison. By this point in the game I was feeling positive. I didn’t like The Surge at all, but this seemed to be alright. I was led into a back-alley which acts as a safe zone and as soon as I left I realized that the damage I was doing against the very first enemy in front of me was miniscule. Then I noticed that as I wandered through the alleyways I was getting ambushed by multiple foes at once.
I felt like I had fallen for a bait-and-switch: the interior of the prison felt challenging but it was clear how many enemies were in a room at a glance. Since the right-stick is used to select body parts while locked on to an enemy, changing my focus between enemies was difficult to come to grips with and I ultimately got overwhelmed more times than not. The setting is different, and I’m sure a futuristic take on the Souls formula can be done well; frankly this was a more entertaining experience for me than The Surge, but I went from hopeful optimism, to annoyance, to just plain dissatisfaction. I don’t have the patients for a game with cluttered, overcomplicated combat like this, especially if the game is willing to give me spambushes so early on in the game. At least with Dark Souls 2 a leveled player can wade through early mobs as like they’re in a Warriors game.
(The reality of this kind of situration would probably be an easy fix: Has anyone tried fiddling with the .ini files of the killer robots?)
I was really excited about Blasphemous after playing the Switch demo, and I was really getting into it once I bought the full game on Steam. The more I played though, the less I was feeling it. The combat is really engaging and it feels like a 2D version of what you get out of Dark Souls. I could just be projecting though: Blasphemous does a lot to make me think of Dark Souls. The art design is grotesque and I don’t mean that as a put-down either. It takes a lot of work to make rotting corpses from the cover of your favorite Satanic metal album come to life. The settings, animation, enemy designs, they’re really inspired and what kept me playing was seeing what new horrors were waiting for me. What stopped me from playing was how platform-dependent the difficulty of Blasphemous was. The combat could be harrowing from time to time, but what killed me more than anything else were failed long-jumps, pitfalls, and instant-kill hazards. I ended up burning out on Blasphemous after a while, and I don’t know when I’ll be ready to give it another chance.
(If nothing else, it's a very visually pleasing game)
Devolver Bootleg is a joke game released by Devolver Digital which essentially showcases demakes of a handful of their most popular games. It’s presented as a low-budget knock off, right down to having glitches programmed into it. The games present are basically knock-offs of games like Hotline Miami, Enter the Gungeon, Downwell, and many others. I thought it was a good enough joke that I bought into it, but the issue with referential humor is this: It either makes me want to engage in what was being referenced, or I don’t get the joke. Ape Out Jr. for example is essentially Donkey Kong Jr, and that’s what I ended up wanting to play after a few minutes of Ape Out Jr. Hotline Milwaukee is Hotline Miami, but slower; it made me want to play the original. I’ve never played Downwell before, but Shootyboots sold me on the concept. Then there was Luftrauser 3 which was fine, but it made me want to play the original game. Devolver Bootleg wasn’t something that I was ever going to play long-term, but I didn’t feel much of a drive to play it for much longer than an hour anyway.
(This seems legit)
Katana Zero was another Devolver game that I thought I would put more time into. You play as a samurai living in a modern apartment complex, and your psychiatrist may or may not be sending you out on contract killings. The prescription he gives you is definitely messing with your perception of time though. Each level is presented as a hypothetical scenario so fail states are contextualized as your character concluding that a certain approach wouldn’t work. Katana Zero is a side-scrolling action game with light stealth elements. Getting hit once is enough to fail a stage, and hitting an enemy once is enough to take them out. This makes the stages and combat fairly fast paced, and I thought it was pretty enjoyable too.
In between missions there were dialog options and the plot seems to have divergent paths, but I haven’t seen how the thing ends or how many possibilities there are. Even though the gameplay is solid, it was missing something. I’m not sure what it was, I just couldn’t keep motivated to play Katana Zero. The story didn’t really interest me very much for one thing, but I don’t usually play these kinds of games for the plot. The gameplay wasn’t frustrating, even when I got stuck on a stage there weren’t any instances of me taking more than about 5 minutes to progress. Katana Zero just couldn’t hold my attention when I had so many other games in my backlog and a couple of exemplars that launched in 2019 keeping me from wanting to see it through to the end.
(It's not bad...no, that probably won't work as a response...)
Molek-Syntez reminded me a lot of previous Zacktronics games like Opus Magnum and...well mostly just Opus Magnum, but with even more strict movement and spacing rules. This is probably why I have so much trouble wrapping my head around it and why I ultimately gave up on it. The most direct control you’re given is on the starting points of the nodes, after that you essentially need to code in the behaviors of those nodes. The goal of each level, or puzzle, in Molek-Syntez is to create specific molecules by spitting elements at each other. It’s not that Molek-Syntez is a difficult game, but it takes a lot more patients, forethought, and lateral thinking.
It’s a lot like the previous Zacktronic puzzler Opus Magnum in that way, but unlike that game Molek essentially uses a monochrome aesthetic. The lack of color definitely adds to the difficulty of Molek since all you have to go by is a small text shorthand to identify each element. In addition to the core gameplay of building up molecular strands and complex elements, there’s a solitaire mini-game that, while being solitaire, is still an effective way to cool down in between brain busting puzzles. I stuck with Molek-Syntez for a couple dozen hours but I eventually hit a wall. Zacktronic games have a reputation for being really challenging, and this one is no different.
(It's like programming and coding and spacial-awareness based puzzles all in one!)
Tetris 99 is certainly a neat idea: You take Tetris, have 99 people play at the same time, and every time someone makes progress, that progress is transferred, at random, to some other player. Tetris progresses as normal but the random number generator and the skill of the other 98 players could literally bury you and knock you out of the game early. Of course RNG could also play out in your favor too. Tetris 99 is essentially a battle royal type of game: You could be the best Tetris player on the planet and it just might not matter if you get unlucky because of the intense number of people you’re playing against. In general I really like Tetris, but I don’t care about multiplayer gameplay. In general I have to be in a specific mood to want to play Tetris, but I also have to be in a specific mood to want to play multiplayer games. Tetris 99 is a perfectly good game of Tetris, but the odds are against me wanting to play this long term when there are other versions of Tetris that I would rather be playing.
(I feel like there have been at least 99 Tetris games)
I wasn’t expecting Untitled Goose Game to be a puzzle game, but I guess there isn’t much else it could have been. You play as a goose and the levels center upon causing as much mischief as possible to the humans inhabiting a charming little village. There’s an appeal to playing as a goose and inconveniencing humans, but accomplishing each of the goals in each zone ended up being more demanding than what I was expecting. It’s not like the puzzles were challenging in hindsight, but the logic isn’t as straightforward as I was expecting. In an early level, one of the challenges is to pickpocket a gardener. It’s easy to understand what you need to do once you watch how the gardener interacts with the garden. You have a short amount of time once he kneels down to pick at his pocket and run off. To me, this was logically sound and grounded in a reality that I could understand. In a later level one of the tasks you need to perform is breaking a broom. I knew that I could make people trip and fall over things. My line of logic was to distract the shop owner, drag the broom behind her, then honk to make her trip over backwards and break the broom (and probably her tailbone). This isn’t the correct solution to the puzzle though: What I was supposed to do was drag the broom while the shop owner watches, she’s supposed to grab the other end, and after a moment of tug-of-war it breaks.
Maybe it’s because I don’t have to deal with geese in my day-to-day experience, but I would think that even an older person would be able to wrench a broom out of a goose’s beak (or bill, whichever you prefer) without breaking it. I had to look that up in a FAQ, and it seems to break with the logic of the puzzle I talked about previously. I don’t dislike point and click adventure games, but I wasn’t expecting borderline moon-logic in the game that lets you play as an asshole goose. I just feel like the game I bought wasn’t the game that was advertised, but what else could Untitled Goose Game have been other than an open-world Goat Simulator game but isometric? I lost interest around that part of the game. Looking up solutions in an FAQ is about the point when a puzzle game loses me in general and as much as I wanted to like this game I just couldn’t get back into it.
(Press Y to Honk)
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is almost exactly Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The scenario writer and programmer of Symphony of the Night, Koji Igarashi (who might actually be a vampire) kickstarted Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night in a time when Castlevania proper had essentially lost its identity. The Lord of Shadows games were a lot of things, but they didn’t play like any previous Castlevania games. Konami then shifted their focus onto Pachislot machines, and seeing a unfulfilled niche, Igarashi enthralled the masses and released this excellent, semi-linear, 2D action RPG.
In a world where Magic is very much a thing, you play as Miriam who’s been afflicted with a curse that’s slowly turning her into crystal. Her childhood friend Gebel, who’s been afflicted with the same curse but quite a bit further on, has summoned a Castle and retreated to the core of it. Miriam must breach the castle, face the demonic hordes within, and reunite with Gebel in the hopes of smacking some sense into him (or just kill him if that’s the ending you’re shooting for). Castle Anthrax is absolutely massive, but you start out on a ship and a small village at the foot of the castle. Even though those are tutorial areas and a mostly safe area respectively, you can come back to them later on with new abilities to find hidden rooms and treasures. Knowing that set a precedent in my head that I would probably have to really work at it to find all of the secrets hidden within Castle Greyskull, and that expectation was absolutely met. While exploring the rooms and halls of Hogwarts Castle you may notice an abundance of creatures trying to kill you. You may also notice that while you defend yourself against them, you may sometimes collect their souls and gain their power. This is a carryover from Castlevania, and for the most part this mechanic just grants Miriam a new magical attack, or shield, or sometimes a new technique like double jumping or water-breathing.
There’s a criticism here too: a significant part of Castle Aaaaarrrggh! Is submerged or only accessible via underground waterways. There is one type of enemy that drops water-breathing and water-walking souls but that information isn’t clear unless you’re specifically trying to collect all of the monster souls. There are a lot of different weapons, armor, and accessories you can find or purchase which can give MIriam special attributes so I’m a little surprised there wasn’t a diving suit or some alternative way of moving around under water. In addition to killing monsters for EXP and soul grinding, you’ll sometimes get a quest from a villager to either find a lost villager, kill a certain number of a certain monster, or find a specific item while you’re in Drangleic Castle. It helps incentivize exploring a bit, and some of the rewards make it worth the effort.
There’s a robust menu of healing food items for example that get expanded upon through side-questing for example. From the beginning of Ritual of the Night, I never felt like Miriam was underpowered, but I didn’t get a sense that she was too overpowered either. There are a lot of enemy encounters, and most of the bosses have massive attacks with a small space you need to get to if you want to avoid damage. There’s a very diverse array of weapons you can use, but I couldn’t point to a definitive best weapon or magical ability to use in general. I like that kind of flexibility in general, and it’s what I love about Castlevania games. Ritual of the Night is easily one of my favorite games of 2019, and well worth the wait.
(Playing this game from dusk till dawn is a Ritual of the Night)
Of course Collection of Mana is going to be good. Square Enix took Final Fantasy Adventure (No, not the Sword of Mana GBA remake), Secret of Mana, and Trials of Mana, mashed them together, and plastered it onto the eShop for all of the good little Nintendo Switch owners to pick up if they want to. A limited physical release was also available too, but it’s unremarkable: just a cartridge in a box without a manual, and reversible cover art. Final Fantasy Adventure was an original game boy game that I played a lot of before Pokemon happened. There’s mild RPG elements, but for the most part you’re just whacking enemies while trying not to get touched in a similar way to the Legend of Zelda games. Secret of Mana is a classic SNES action-RPG that I didn’t play before I got this collection. So far I’m seeing the appeal, but it just hasn’t gripped me like the previous game. Trials of Mana didn’t launch in the west at all until this collection launched and is very new to me since I haven’t played this one previously either.
I hate playing Trials of Mana. It’s really stylized, but the issue with that stylization is how it confuses me when it comes to level design. What, for example, is a hazardous space that I can’t walk over and what’s just a weird lighting effect? Where are the borders of each map? Is that a bush or an enemy? Why can’t I see where I am and why are so many elements of the setting blocking my view?! It’s a fine novelty to finally be able to play what’s considered a lost SNES game available to experience, but since Trials of Mana was remade it seems like a too-little-too-late kind of thing. I don’t recall having many issues with Secret of Mana, but I’m not feeling too absorbed by it either. I love Final Fantasy Adventure, but I kind of wish Sword of Mana was on here too somewhere. Aesthetic problems aside, I like the open-endedness of Trials of Mana. I probably wouldn’t play it again if I had the choice of playing the remake, but once I was able to wrap my head around where I am and what’s going on, I had fun playing it. Then again, I spent most of my time with the Collection of Mana playing Final Fantasy Adventure, and that’s what I would recommend most highly from the collection overall.
(It's worth it for Final Fantasy Adventure)
Demon’s Tilt is a digital pinball game I stumbled upon while browsing Steam. The first thing Demon’s Tilt did right was being a Pinball game, the second thing it did right was having really good looking art, and the third thing it did right was featuring an occult/demonic theme. In short, this game was made specifically for people like me. Demon’s Tilt features one large table broken up into three segments, each with a unique Ritual that can be started and bonus ramps to try aiming for. The bottom portion of the table features a list of monsters to aim at and defeat, as well as a blacksmith bonus ramp. The middle ramp features a Priestess with multiple forms and two bonus ramps, one on either side of her. The top-most ramp features a manticore: a snake head, a lion head that needs to be broken out of a mask, and a three-chambered ball lock. There are also 2 bonus ramps.
There are bumpers and springs throughout the table on all three levels, and the higher up on the table you are, the more difficult it is to stay there because of the spacing of the flippers. There are multiple bonuses available to multiply your overall score, and by collecting a certain bonus you can be transported to a small bonus table. So far, I’ve found 3, but I haven’t seen all of the secrets of Demon’s Tilt yet. What I have found is that interacting with certain elements of the main table dictates how often my ball gets saved if it falls below the bottom-most set of flippers, the number of ball warps I can find on the table, my score multiplier, and the table elements themself. I’ve always really appreciated pinball, but I’m nowhere near an expert player. My highest score in Demon’s TIlt so far is only about 83-million, but I’ve only played Demon’s Tilt for fewer than 5 hours at the time of writing. Aside from only featuring one table, the only other criticism I have against Demon’s Tilt is how there doesn’t seem to be rumble support if you’re using a gamepad to play.
(Pinball Wizardry was a part of the Satanic Panic of the 80's)
I really liked The Outer Worlds, but it could have been a whole lot better. The game starts with a character creation menu that may seem familiar to time travellers who last played Fallout or Fallout 2 before being frozen in time. In the context of The Outer World’s story, the character you create is one of potentially thousands of people frozen in The Hope: a sort of colony ship that was thought to have been lost and is full of other frozen colonists. After you create your character (name, skill points, perks, etc) you’re introduced to Phineas Welles. He’s the scientist who revived you and he’s the one who gives you the overarching goal you’ll need to complete by the end of the game.
The main goal is to get The Hope in range of Terra 2 for one of several reasons depending on who you choose to side with. That’s something of a major selling point for The Outer Worlds: there are a lot of little things you can do in one playthrough that you may not necessarily do in subsequent playthroughs. The choices you make, and the factions you help or hinder, factor into the end-game slideshow which isn’t always a major thing but it’s a detail that sold a lot of people on Fallout back in the day and was missing from the more recent Fallout games. I keep bringing up Fallout because The Outer Worlds was made by the creators of the original Fallout games and plays a lot like the original…if the original Fallout was a first-person shooter with an overpowered stealth stat.
Stat balancing in general is kind of whacked out in The Outer Worlds: I deliberately chose to play as a heavy weapons, tanky character but it wasn’t possible to make a character who wasn’t somewhat stealthy. Even with a small amount of points in stealth, it was pretty easy for me to sneak around all kinds of encounters. Then I realized that I was playing as a heavy weapons tank instead of my usual stealth-sniper build and I would easily paint the walls with gore. I’ve definitely played worse games; the shooting and stealth is more engaging in The Outer Worlds than other action RPG first person shooters that I could name-drop. It’s not all that great, but the writing and characters made me want to keep playing to see what happens next. I wouldn’t say The Outer Worlds is a bad game that’s worth playing because of the story like Ye Olden Fallouts were, but I was expecting to play The Outer Worlds multiple times.
I really liked that one playthrough I did, and the first third of The Outer Worlds is strong, but it just doesn’t maintain that momentum throughout. Once I realized that each new area offered the same setup (ie: 2 groups, 1 choice), that’s when my interest began to fade a bit. Despite its shortcomings The Outer Worlds is one of the games from 2019 that I really enjoyed playing, but I was expecting more out of it. I was planning on getting it once it launched on Steam, but now I’m waiting for it to be both on Steam and cheap before I pick it up. Those load times on a base PS4 and the texture pop-in are embarrassing.
(It's not the best game, it's a spacy-game)
Resident Evil 2 -Remake- would probably win my vote for game of the year if I had to ignore the indie games I enjoyed from this year. I have a tepid sort of relationship with Resident Evil as a whole: I really enjoyed the first two but I didn’t have much patience for the more action-oriented games in the series. I thought Resident Evil VII was alright, but it also did a lot of things that I didn’t really care for as well. My first concern when Resident Evil 2-R was announced was, “why does this look like Resident Evil 4”. My second concern was, “please don’t include crimson heads, they’re why I couldn't fully get into Resident Evil R”. I think the break with tradition (ie: no fixed cameras) worked really well for RE2: there were still a lot of instances where shocking imagery got to me, and the atmosphere that’s built between action scenes pulled me in very effectively. The zombies in RE2 don’t come back as crimson heads, but it takes a lot more effort to put them down than I was expecting.
Since it’s Leon’s first day and Claire doesn’t have any combat training that we know of, it’s not possible to stagger and suplex a zombie. Shooting a zombie in the head isn’t a guaranteed one-hit-kill unless you have a high powered weapon. I found it’s much more reliable to shoot a zombie in the knee until its leg breaks off and just run around the crawling undead. It’s also possible to knife a prone zombie to death, but since knives degrade over time it isn’t a viable long-term solution. Dealing with other enemies is different than in the original too: Dogs are rendered fairly useless since it’s easy to take them out with a few headshots. Lickers are easy to get around since they’re blind and as long as you’re moving slowly they’ll just leave you alone. There’s a plant-based version of zombies that can only be defeated using fire or by destroying small bulbs that are growing on their bodies. Then there’s the immortal Mr. X who can only be permanently destroyed in a handful of scenarios. At first Mr. X is really intimidating to deal with since he can follow you into most rooms, including the very important Library and RPD lobby. He can be stunned if you pump enough bullets into him, but he always gets back up and continues his pursuit, however there are some rooms you can escape to that he won’t follow you into. Once I got more familiar with the setting Mr. X became more of an obstacle to be worked around rather than a threat to be feared.
RE2 is broken up into 3 major settings: There’s Raccoon City and the Police Department, the sewers, and the Umbrella Lab. I feel like the Police Department is the most engaging portion of the game, but the Umbrella Lab was also really engaging for me. While Leon and Claire have their own campaigns, they both need to get through these three areas. One of the weaknesses of RE2 is how, even though Leon and Claire have 2 campaigns each, the B campaigns play very similarly to the A campaigns. The way the story is presented would imply that there would be more differences between each campaign, but in A and B Leon still meets Ada and Claire still needs to save and escape with Sherry. There aren’t as many boss fights as I remember there being in the original, and some enemies from the original were removed too. What was added though were some really grotesque creatures in the sewers, and I don’t recall Mr. X having as many form changes in the original. If you’re playing as Leon, you won’t have to deal with William very often, and if you’re playing as Claire Mr. X will be completely taken out of the picture after a certain point. It would have been great if Leon and Claire’s main antagonists had been inverted in their B plot, but aside from finding items and weapons in slightly different areas and having a different starting point the A and B playthroughs feel much too similar to one another.
A very subjective criticism I have against RE2 is how Claire seems to have worse weapons than Leon. Leon has a couple of pistols, a shotgun, a flamethrower, and a rocket launcher, whereas Claire gets a couple of pistols, a machine gun, the spark shot, the grenade launcher, and a mini-gun. It’s a personal preference of mine to use stronger, slower-to-fire weapons instead of rapid-fire guns and I don’t like how Claire gets the fast-firing guns but Leon gets the stronger, slower ones. Claire’s grenade launcher uses 2 ammunition types but neither the acid nor the flame rounds feel all that damaging to me. The Spark Shot also seems underpowered as a killing weapon, but it stuns enemies long enough to allow for Claire to run by. All of the weapons can be modified with parts found around the maps, but I always felt more capable as Leon than I did as Claire. The weapons loadouts are a fairly minor complaint though; both characters have interesting puzzles to solve and the atmosphere remained thick no matter who I played as. I’ve said before that my relationship with the Resident Evil franchise on the whole is a little bit tepid, but the remake of Resident Evil 2 drew me in and kept me invested for nearly 25 hours and multiple playthroughs. I think I can confidently say this is my favorite game in the series so far, and of the big-budget games that launched in 2019 this was probably my favorite.
(Claire looks exactly like Candace Cameron)
Tamashii really stood out to me, and when I started playing it I basically just ran through it in a handful of intense sessions. You play as a nameless soul who has been summoned to cleanse the palace of a mysterious Godlike entity. To do this, you’re essentially thrown into a number of platforming and timing-puzzle based stages. There are only a handful of levels, but they each focus on a specific theme like cloning and moving copies of yourself, avoiding instant death hazards, invisible platforms, or all of the above. There are bosses to face at the end of each stage, and as the story progresses another Godlike entity tells you that you may be on the wrong side of things. Another fun feature of Tamashii is how the game changes and acts strangely as you progress in the story. The fourth wall is fractured at multiple points in the game, but as interesting as that aspect of the game is I don’t think it’s as strong as other games that break the fourth wall.
What I appreciated most aside from the challenging platforming of Tamashii was the great pixel art. The settings, despite being inside of the same general palace, all have a distinct aesthetic. Aside from the settings the different character designs are really memorable while also being disturbing. Then there are the random images that pop up from time to time which range from being unsettling to downright grotesque. Everything about Tamashii seems designed to try to get under your skin and keep you feeling uneasy, from the Satanic imagery and iconography that’s all over the level design to the random croaks and moans that sometimes occur without warning. It wasn’t a very long experience, I think it took me less than 4 hours to find the true ending, but I would still strongly recommend Tamashii. Aside from the story there are really challenging variations on the main stages to try completing, and I really don’t see how Tamashii managed to miss so many people’s radar in general.
(It's spooky season, so give this one a try)
There were a couple of games that I played from this year that I straight up can’t remember and thus can’t form an opinion on: Godly Corp and Circuits. I remember hating the controls for Godly Corp, and I don’t remember anything at all about Circuits. I’m sure as they become more available and their prices drop I’ll end up playing other 2019 games, but the only one that I really want to play is Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Sekiro is another game I’ve missed out on from 2019, but I’m sure I’ll be playing it sooner or later. Since it’s a Switch exclusive though, it probably won’t see a price drop any time soon, if at all. Maybe in hindsight I won’t see 2019 as being such a weak year in gaming, but at the time of writing there were only a handful of excellent games that kept 2019 from seeming absolutely abysmal. Before I launch my Games of the Decade blog, I have one more lined up where I’ll talk about the games from previous years that I played recently, and where I would have ranked them in their respective blogs. My Decade in Review Runoffs blog will be posted by mid-November, so I hope you look forward to it while you anticipate the Best of the 2010’s blog I plan on releasing in mid-December.