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Guacamelee! Gold Edition: A wonderful lucha-inspired Metroidvania, with a visual style that is bright, cartoonish and yet totally fitting the feeling and story of the game. In keeping with that theme, the combat is more like a beat em up rather than using the shooting mechanics that these games typically use and it was an interesting design choice which I think enhanced the game. It recently received another edition with more content, so if you are thinking of getting this game, it would probably be better to get that version rather than the Gold Edition, which is roughly the same price of the new version.
The Walking Dead Season 1: A gut punch of an experience. I don’t read the comic and I don’t watch the show based on it either, so I was largely coming into the universe completely fresh. While the larger events are almost all set in stone, it is the smaller decisions and mistakes that haunt you and I respect that. And some people would complain that your interaction with it is minimal, so it isn’t really a game, but I don’t subscribe to that view. I legitimately cried while playing this game, and I’m glad that I played it with all the episodes available, since I don’t think I could have waited to see what happened between chapters. I had doubts that an episodic game could be this good, but I totally understand now why this made so many GOTY lists last year. Stunning, simply stunning.
Sword of the Stars: The Pit: A traditional rogue-like with turns and randomized layouts, multiple classes and races etc that takes place in the universe of Sword of The Stars. And like its fore-bearers, it is a very hard game, and after a few good runs, I had made it to the 15th floor a few times, which sounds good, but I’m led to believe that you have to get down to the 25th-30th floor and then fight your way back up the way you came. Yeah, I’m not good enough to do that, and I don’t know if I ever would be.
One Finger Death Punch: The genius of this game is it is literally designed with just two inputs, basically hit left and hit right and yet it works so well. It is basically a rhythm game, with an art style that is basically stick figures fighting in front of Asian-theme backdrops in short stages, but somehow it works brilliantly. And you’d think with only two inputs that it would be easy, but no, like a rhythm game, you have to hit those two inputs at exactly the right time for what you want to do… you can’t button mash… it is designed to be precise and tight, while allowing for some improvisation. It is very good at what it does, and when you get it right, you feel like such a badass
Pinball FX2: The post right before this is about this game, so I am not going to write a lot about it here. In short, I really liked it. The flipper action felt good, the tables are interesting, and I like the business model where they let you try tables before you buy them, and you only have to buy the ones you like in most cases, so you get the experience you want at a price you are willing to pay.
Mark of the Ninja: A magnificent 2D stealth game. Mechanically, it is solid as a rock, the difficulty is perfect, and the atmosphere and design choices are sublime. I don’t generally like stealth, but the way Klei did it in this game made it a joy to play. The game even felt like the perfect length as well. Everything worked. This is the second Klei Entertainment game I played, and as you can tell, I really liked it.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic: When I tell people that I started but did not finish the game, they seem very disappointed in me.And it turns out, it was the second Bioware game this year that I abandoned in the middle of a playthrough. There are a couple of reasons this happened. One was a technical issue where the cutscenes (and there are a lot of them) would change my monitor resolution to play, and there were times when it somewhat crashed my game… and that soured me on the experience. Another thing was, I didn’t like the combat…. it just rubbed me the wrong way and it felt weird. The story was good from what I played of it and as I’m playing this many years later, I have had a rough idea of where things were headed towards the end of it, but I wish those two major issues didn’t get in the way of my overall enjoyment of this title.
Risk of Rain: Another procedural generated rogue-like game (I played a lot of them this year it seemed). This one is a side scrolling, sci-fi shooter/platformer and it was quite appealing to me. I had quite a few runs that seemed poised to end in victory, but they were all dashed. One of the interesting mechanics in this game is the fact that you are punished with harder difficulty if you dawdle too much, so you have to balance looking around for loot and moving on in the game so you can face the bosses and higher level creatures when they are easier. I think of the four of these kinds of games that I played this year, this would be the one I recommend the most.
Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages: Simply delightful. This is a strange little ship-based RPG, with a quirky story, awesome soundtrack and a lot of customization. The controls are a little odd, as they don’t work the way you would think they would for a top down shooter type game, but you will pick them up quickly. Basically, you play as someone who wakes up from unauthorized surgery that has left you with amnesia and an AI talking to you in your brain, and you are looking for answers about what just happened to you in a picaresque kind of narrative. It really tickled my fancy. It was a labor of love by the crew at Triple.B.Titles, but they released a game I loved, so I was very much pleasantly surprised. I liked it so much, I helped fund their next game by preordering it on Kickstarter.
Hearts of Iron III: This one was more of a lark, since I have experience playing Paradox games and some experience with this particular franchise. I just wanted to see if I could do anything as Turkey as a member of the Allies. The short answer is no. Even after getting overrun by the Nazis, I continued to watch things play out and what ended up happening is Russia took over EVERYTHING in Europe and Asia by the end. Yeah… that was certainly an unintended consequence of me losing as Turkey. It was fun watching it happen though.
Graviteam Tactics: Operation Star: Also known as Achtung Panzer: Operation Star. I remember reading about this game in a PC Gamer editorial by Rob Zacny, and it got me really interested in it. However, it has a really steep learning curve, and I didn’t fully grasp how to play… I probably didn’t help that I didn’t read the manual, because it has been a long time since I’ve had to. I think I will eventually go back and give this game a second chance because I think the fault really was with me not understanding how to play it rather than it being a badly designed game.
Mount and Blade: Warband: I played the original Mount and Blade a few years ago, and I really enjoyed it. Warband is supposed to be an updated version of the original and all the things that I loved about the first game are still here. The combat is as satisfying as ever, and I enjoyed building my own personal army. The strategy aspects are fun too, as you really get to determine how you are going to engage the enemy when you are at war.