As I sit and reflect upon my gaming experiences over the past year, I marvel at the fact that I played a number of great games. I feel a bit of shame, in not having played more games, and I look through my Game Boy blog and shudder at the ratio of games I played that were just not good, as compared to the 2 or 3 were. It's a strange feeling, coming up upon the end of the year, realizing that, as I write this, in just a few days' time, I'll be starting from scratch in a sense. I begin the new year as I have the last several, with a renewed vigor, a sense of hopefulness, and a commitment to play even more games than I did the previous year. Sadly, it rarely seems to work out that way. Still, what's wrong with at least striving toward that goal?
I've never been much of a "top ten" kind of guy, but as I look through the list of games I played, I realized that there were only a handful of games I played this year that would even qualify to be in a "best of" list. I played a lot of mediocre, or downright awful Game Boy games, and I also revisited some games I hadn't played in a long time. Aside from that, there were only just over 10 "unique" gaming experiences I had this year. In spite of that, each of those experiences was special, and something I should revisit mentally, as I'm doing here. Rather than ranking them in order of importance, or how much I liked each game, I'm just going to list them, and give a brief description as to why they deserve to be on the list.
Freedom Planet, Wii U digital download
Screenshot taken from Destructoid
I remember hearing about Freedom Planet
on Twitter, watching the Kickstarter video, and being excited about the prospect of the game. Unfortunately, I was broke when the campaign was going on, plus a couple less than successful campaigns had soured my taste for backing fledgling games. Still, when the demo was available for PC, I downloaded and played through it several times, reveling in the experience. While the game's story may be a tad overblown, this action platformer was a breath of fresh air for me, and the sublime "Sonic meets Mega Man" gameplay won me over quickly. When you add an impressive soundtrack, beautiful 16-bit style graphics, and tight controls, it all adds up to a recipe for success. Incidentally, Freedom Planet
became the 2nd time I bought and downloaded an indie game on New Year's Day, and attempted to play through it. My first experience was New Year's Day 2015 when I bought, downloaded, and played through Shovel Knight
in its entirety. This game was a bit too long and challenging to do that, but the next few days I spent with the game were well worth the time, and it's a game I would recommend wholeheartedly to any retro game enthusiast looking for a modern experience that hearkens back to that time, without sacrificing what made those games great. It's as much a love letter to its inspiration source material as Shovel Knight
was to Mega Man
, and Duck Tales
. I'm glad to see Galaxy Trail is already developing a sequel, and I hope it comes to the Nintendo Switch.
Star Fox Zero, Wii U physical disc
Screenshot taken from Shacknews
I've never counted myself as much of a Star Fox
fan, but I have always enjoyed the series, but somewhat at a distance. However, because I'm an ardent Wii U supporter, I decided to go all-in and purchase the boxed physical release of Star Fox Zero
, complete with companion game Star Fox Guard
. While I haven't put any time into the latter yet, the former game spent a fair bit of time in my console...enough for me to play through it completely. I don't totally agree with the reviews of the game, but I understand that it is a flawed experience, and can see why some people don't care for it. Still, it tried to utilize the Wii U Game Pad in a unique way, something that people complained wasn't done enough for Wii U games. Also, it was a relatively well designed game, despite a few control quirks, courtesy of the integration with said Game Pad. Had the game offered the option of traditional control, rather than locking you into using the Game Pad functionality, I suspect opinions of this title might be more favorable. That said, it's still a beautiful game, as Platinum really knows how to get the best out of the Wii U, and I still had quite a bit of fun with it. Sadly, with the rather lukewarm reception, it's hard to say whether or not we'll see another adventure with Fox McCloud and friends any time soon.
Raiden IV, Xbox 360 physical disc
Screenshot taken from Hardcore Gaming 101
Those of you who follow me on Twitter, or have followed me on the RF Generation forums for a while, know that I'm into shmups. That is, shoot-em-ups, shooting games, STG's, or "space ship shooters" as Mark from Classic Game Room likes to call them. Any of a variety of 2D, scrolling shooting games where you control a plane, spaceship, or flying person/object of some kind to shoot down baddies and generally wreak havoc or save the planet. In RFG's December 2014 shmups competition, I took the top spot, even though I consider myself to be only average at this type of game. Still, I've been a long time fan of the genre. The Raiden
series has always been a favorite, and while the PS2's Raiden III
was okay, it was sorely lacking. Thankfully, Raiden IV
restores the series to its former glory, courtesy of tight gameplay, added mechanics, a killer soundtrack that recalls earlier themes while adding new classics, and an overall presentation that really kicks it up a notch. I've probably only made it 1/3 of the way through this game on a single credit, and can credit-feed my way to about half, but I kept going back for more, because it was a good time, and this game definitely has that "just one more try" quality about it that old-school shooters tended to have when I was a kid. Rest assured, while I may never reach the coveted 1CC, that won't stop me from continuing to try. The Xbox 360 has a lot of shmups on it, but this is an easy recommendation because of the fun factor, but also because it can be had inexpensively, even with the soundtrack CD, which is an amazing addition.
Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, PS4 physical disc
Screenshot taken from Push Square
There have been a scant few video game experiences over the years that have affected me in a real, gut-level emotional way. This was one of them. Like watching Aeris die in Final Fantasy VII
or Luna get kidnapped in Lunar: The Silver Star
, the narrative in Brothers
is that kind of heart-felt, emotionally affecting experience that really tugs at the heart strings, and lends credence to the whole "games are art" line of thought. Brothers
has a story that, while told without any real dialog, is universally understood due to the way the game depicts the story, and the sense of tension achieved through the design, the puzzles, and the cut scenes as the plot unfolds. It's such a subtle design, and really short game, but I was captivated the entire time, and it was worth experiencing. By the end, I realized that I had played one of the most emotionally driven games in the modern era, and felt a sense of wonder at how games as a medium continue to amaze and surprise me.
Spyro the Dragon, PlayStation physical disc
Screenshot taken from Push Square
I entered the original PlayStation era sometime in 1998 or 1999, after getting back into gaming, having not played as much in the previous 2 or 3 years. Among the first 10-12 games I bought was Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage
, at my wife's insistence, and we spent a fair amount of time playing it. Sadly, I never owned the original, though my wife played it elsewhere, and was quite hard on the game, saying it didn't compare to the sequel. Many years later, I found a copy of the game cheap, so I picked it up. I finally gave it a try, and while I agree with my wife that it's not as good as its successor, the original game is still a fun romp. I tried to play it looking through the lens of 1998, and in doing so, some of the game's flaws seem less annoying and troublesome, considering that 3D platform games were still relatively in their infancy. Still, the colorful graphics, whimsical musical score by none other than Stewart Copeland (of The Police), and interesting art design made for an interesting little adventure. The use of spoken dialogue was also impressive, even if you knew by the end of the game that it was the same 3 or 4 people speaking all the lines. Insomniac's first foray into 3D platforming was impressive, and still (mostly) holds up, if you consider that nearly 20 years later, it's still pretty playable.
Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, Wii U digital download
Screenshot taken from WayForward
As much of a physical game collector as I am, I understand that not all games in modern times can be available on physical media, and when a game I'm interested in comes to a system I want to support, I have to choose whether or not I want to spend the money on the download version. With this title, it was a no-brainer. Based on the screenshots, gameplay footage, and all the good things I'd read about previous Shantae
games, it made sense to go for it. I was not disappointed. This is another retro-styled platformer that shows what you can do with the tried and true 2D platformer formula, but still keep things fresh, fun, and light. WayForward has made a great game here, with excellent graphics that tread that line between 16 and 32-bit, a fantastic soundtrack that keeps you playing, a fun, silly story that doesn't take itself too seriously, and some interesting mechanics that give the game a little bit of that "Metroidvania" feel to it. The puzzles are interesting, the control is spot-on, and the sprite animation is excellent. I can't say enough good things about this game, and if you own a Wii U and haven't downloaded it yet, I would highly recommend checking it out.
TimeShift, Xbox 360 physical disc
Screenshot taken from YouTube
I was extremely late jumping onto the Xbox 360 bandwagon. As mentioned above, despite the big shmup fan I am, I neglected to get a 360 until about a year ago. As I've ramped up my collecting efforts, I've snagged a number of inexpensive games in the process. One that I picked up a few months back was Sierra's TimeShift
, a unique first-person shooter. What sets this game apart from the rest of the pack is the interesting time manipulation mechanic. The "Alpha Suit" you wear allows you to manipulate time in short bursts, with those changes in time not affecting you. As such, you can pause time, drastically slow time, or even reverse time by a few seconds. This allows you to not only take out enemies more effectively, but also comes into play with a fair amount of puzzle solving throughout each area. The plot is hackneyed and kind of rote, but it serves as enough of a device to propel you forward, and as new weapons and mechanics are introduced, the game maintains a relatively high level of fun. It's main campaign is too short, and the final boss encounter is brutally hard, but overall, I had a good time with it, and would recommend it as a good, cheap used game purchase for someone looking for a change from the usual FPS formula.
Heavy Rain, PlayStation 3 physical disc
Screenshot taken from MobyGames
This was one of the RF Generation Community Playthrough games for 2016, specifically for November. I had picked up the game a couple months prior at a pawn shop, though I had heard of the game from a couple years prior, when it had made a fair bit of noise on the Internet because of the story-driven nature of it, and it being a more adult-focused title. Heavy Rain
plays out more like a visual novel or "choose your own adventure" story, versus a traditional game, as it's really just a series of short action sequences, branching dialogue trees, and quick-time events, but the game uses an engaging story that draws you in within the first few minutes to really get you invested in the characters, and then, depending on your choices throughout the game, often breaks your heart and takes you on an emotional ride throughout. It plays out much like an interactive movie. Unlike the failed FMV games of the mid-late 90's, however, the modern graphics technology allows for a much more smooth, seamless experience, and combined with the mostly well-acted and well-voiced script, makes for a far more engaging experience than any of the early CD-based games could have hoped to be. Like Brothers
, Heavy Rain
is a game that I got emotionally invested in, and could see myself going back to, because I want to make different choices and see how those play out throughout the story.
The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge
Screenshot taken from NintendoLegend.com
I've mentioned before on Twitter, Facebook, and in other media that I've never been a fan of the Zelda game series. I bought Link's Awakening DX
as a new release for the Game Boy Color, but didn't get very far, played and enjoyed Ocarina of Time
courtesy of my brother-in-law, but never finished any of the main quests, and only played A Link To The Past
in 2015, thanks to another RF Generation Playthrough. But with the RFG Playthrough of Link's original adventure, I decided to jump in and really give it my best shot. For the month of August, I did just that, and I'm very glad I did. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy myself, but after years of not having that experience and only guessing at why the series was so popular, I finally understand why The Legend of Zelda
is so highly lauded. It's a challenging, and rewarding, adventure experience that has interesting design, good music (sparse, though it can be), fun items and power-ups, and a very non-linear feel to it that really lends itself to allowing the player to mostly dictate the order in which they will complete many areas in the game. Indeed, before I started using a map and a guide, I had already completed the 2nd and either 3rd or 4th dungeons before going back to do the first. Sure, some dungeons can't be completed unless you have a specific item, but as long as you can reach a dungeon, you can enter it and determine how far you'll be able to make it through. Much of this game is playable without taking the dungeons in order, and while the difficulty spikes in certain places without the additional power-up items, the game teaches you very organically about where you might need to go and what areas might be too hard to venture through until you have improved Link's health, items, or arsenal. It's a testament of good design, and something I'm glad I can finally say I've played and completed (at least the first quest). I now endeavor to go back and play Wind Waker HD
on Wii U, and look very forward to the impending release of Breath of the Wild
Xenoblade Chronicles X, Wii U physical disc
Screenshot taken from Shacknews
The Wii U hasn't exactly been a console for Role Playing Games. As a matter of fact, I can only think of 2 or 3 that aren't virtual console releases. As such, when a good RPG hit the system, people paid attention. I was anticipating Xenoblade Chronicles X
because I had enjoyed my time with the original game, despite having not finished it, but with the promise of a large open world, a futuristic space theme, and HD graphics really made the prospect of the Wii U exclusive very tempting. Indeed, I was right to be tempted. While the game's silent protagonist means the plot isn't quite as deep as that of its predecessor, the interesting battle system, huge world to explore, and myriad of missions, side quests, and story content means that it's not a game you'll become bored with very quickly. Add to that the promise of getting to earn and command your own mech suit, and the game becomes that much more appealing. The soundtrack, while not up to the standard of the first, is still a draw, with its much more modern mixture of epic, sweeping arrangements, and blend of pop, rock, hip-hop, and electronic music when in town, or during battle sequences, still adds plenty of unique charm to the game. Although the Wii U wasn't really built to handle this kind of epic action RPG, Monolith Soft really pushed the capabilities of the console, and have crafted a beautiful experience that every Wii U owner even remotely interested in RPG's should experience. This is probably the gaming experience I've been affected by the most during 2016, and will continue to be in 2017, since I'm not done with the main storyline or other important missions yet.
Next year, I suspect a similar list will be peppered with Game Boy games, a couple Wii U titles I didn't get to this year, and some new stuff on the Nintendo Switch, as well as some other stuff sprinkled in here and there. We shall see how 2017 stacks up, but for now, I'm glad that 2016 is coming to a close with having played this many quality titles, and feeling as good about them as I do. I hope next year I can reflect on a similar set of gaming experiences with as much fondness as I have about this past year.
- This is slightly cheating, since I got the game when I first got my Wii U, but I've put more time into it during 2016 than I did initially. Dripping with atmosphere, and a must for the zombie apocalypse fan.Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
- a late entry, I played it at a friend's house and loved it. Now, courtesy of my wife, I have a copy of my own to play through.Ys Book 1
- another RFG playthrough, this remake on the PSP was an interesting adventure that really shows how far RPG's have come over the years, while still being playable and enjoyable.Affordable Space Adventures
- a fun little Wii U indie download title, I had the pleasure of playing through part of this as intended, as a 3 player cooperative experience. Not to be missed if you like unique experiences!Flipull
- Probably the only truly good, unique Game Boy experience I've had this year. A unique puzzle game that probably never got its due.Gargoyle's Quest
- again, cheating, because I owned it as a kid, but having not played the game much in over 20 years, I was amazed at how well it held up, and how much fun it still was.Toki: Going Ape Spit
- cheating again, also because I owned it as a kid, but this time, it's far more enjoyable and fun than I remember it being. A fine action platformer for the Sega Genesis.UN Squadron
- many thanks to singlebanana, who hooked me up with a copy of this venerable SNES shmup. Unfortunately, I'm quite terrible at it, but it's a great game, and one I'm glad I finally have in my collection.