My 2021 Game Reviews
Over the last few years, I have been keeping track of the various media I finish; books, movies, TV shows, etc. By far the type of media I consume the most is video games, and in addition to simply keeping track of when I finish a title, this year I also wrote some short reviews about each game and also gave all of them a letter ranking. I will fully admit that this is a biased list. I like lots of things that are objectively not very good, and there are certain well-regarded and popular titles that I personally don't care for at all. If you happen to have the same tastes as I do (you poor soul), then perhaps these reviews will be of benefit to you.
All rankings are rather arbitrary, but I tried to keep a "C" ranking as what I would consider "average". A B-level game would be above average or good, A would be excellent, and down in D would be things I thought were below average or downright bad. You'll notice that I didn't have anything below a D, as I don't tend to finish things I don't like, especially things that take as long as games. I also didn't give anything an A+, as I consider an A+ to be something that I wouldn't change at all even if I were in the room, which is very far and few between. To that end, here are the rankings.
Emily is Away (PC)
Despite this being my lowest rated game of the year, I would actually recommend it, simply because it is short and free. It has a nice visual style with some good pixel art, and even some unlockables and customization options. However, where it loses points is that I have no idea what the point of this game is. It's a game about a guy who goes off to college and ends up ruining his friendship with some chick from high school. There are multiple paths to take, but they all end the same way. I was just left confused at what exactly they wanted to convey. It's directed towards a generation who was in high school during the AIM days, which is a very niche group as well. They also make you mash the keyboard in order to progress the dialog, which drove me nuts.
Beyond Good & Evil (GC)
God I wanted to like this game, and to be honest the first hour or so is really neat. The characters are likeable, the world is interesting, and it sets itself up nicely to be some sort of 3D Zelda-inspired game. However, after the first or second dungeon, the game grinds to a complete halt. The gameplay becomes a repetitive slog, the stealth sections are just tedious, and the game dives right into PS2-era grind at some points in the game. The ending picks up a bit, but overall I was very disappointed.
The Order: 1886 (PS4)
I kinda feel bad putting this one so low, because I don't think it's as bad as the reviews made it out to be, but I also didn't really like it. The plot is really stupid, but I kinda dug it; the Knights of the Round Table still exist, comprised of figures made immortal (but not invincible), including historical figures such as the Marquis de Lafayette. The game has an okay Steampunk aesthetic, but it's brought down by its poor writing and repetitive gunplay.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (PC)
Before you get mad I should say that I played Phantom Pain last year and quite liked it. The fact that this is a separate product and not part of Phantom Pain is crazy to me. They ripped out a fundamental prologue to what happens in MGSV, and just made you play a separate game to experience it. This 'game' is simply one okay mission, and they frankly don't let you play the interesting bit at the end, even though the camera teases that you'll take control any second. I'm okay having this be part of some sort of paid demo, but once Phantom Pain came out, this should've been part of it.
Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC)
I really hated this one. This game got really good reviews, people seemed to really like it, but I really hated playing it. To be clear, the plot was fine, the Man in High Castle aesthetic was neat enough, it was the gunplay and combat that really annoyed me. I don't know why people liked this, but not The Order, they were so similar to me.
Finding Nemo (GC)
I mean. Yeah. It's not horrible I guess. Lots of confusing level design and dumb puzzles. They also used scenes from the film at times, which really jars with the GameCube-era graphics. Do fish have lips? Nemo sure had polygonal fish lips.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (PC)
I really liked the Lego Star Wars games as a kid, but this one didn't do it for me, and I can't really put my finger on why. Neither the levels nor the Hogswarts overworld were really that fun to explore. Maybe I would've liked this better if I played it when it came out, but now I just found it kinda bland.
Framed Collection (PC)
I like the idea of this one quite a bit, basically you rearrange panels in a comic strip to allow your character to move through them safely. It was originally a mobile game, which I think would've worked better than sitting at my desk playing this. The main reason this is so low is that while the idea is cute, the gameplay boils down to guess and check by the end. The 'controls' of the game are also confusing, with it not being clear in what order the panels will play out, especially once they start becoming different shapes.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (GBA)
Oh look, another Harry Potter game. This one is weird; I played the turn-based RPG Harry Potter games for GBC, but thought they only did the first two in that style. Turns out, while Harry Potter 1, 2, and 4 on GBA are action adventure games, the 3rd one takes over the turn based style of the GBC games. The RPG combat here isn't half bad, they have this weird Golden Sun knockoff effect in the background which almost works, but doesn't stick the landing. Where this game fails is that the plot makes absolutely no sense. They picked the most random shit to turn into dungeons, such as going into Snape's back office or the basement of the bar in London. If you played the game before seeing the book/movie, you would have zero idea what was going on.
Alan Wake (PC)
I played Control last year and liked it, and I knew they had a tie-in DLC with Alan Wake, so I thought I'd try this out. I did not care for this very much at all. It just has lots of issues, such as the combat being very stiff and repetitive. The game is split into two sections, the night time, where Alan runs through the woods doing combat, and the day where you have to dump all the plot onto you while you barely look at the town before they push you back into the night bits. People seemed to like the atmosphere, but you barely get to see the town, they throw you into the repetitive woods at night every chance they get. The second half does get much better due to the variety, but honestly this one was a slog. One more thing, the very first building you enter is a complete recreation of the diner from Twin Peaks. They really wanted to rip off Twin Peaks and I think it vastly hurt them more than it helped.
Sonic Battle (GBA)
For the last 20 years, modders have been using the sprites from this game in all sorts of Sonic related media, and frankly the sprites are by far the best part of this game. This is an isometric 3D fighting game with 2D sprites, and it is a weird one where I liked the gameplay way more than it deserved. It is very jank and full of stunlocks and one hit kills. What really lets this game down is the campaign, which is both too short and yet incredibly repetitive at the same time. There's only 7 characters in the game, but they make you fight them dozens of times. Not only that, but after every single fight, they make you do the same fight again, but with twice as many lives. Every single fight. The story is also all over the place; I like the idea of Emerl and there are some interesting character dynamics with some characters like Shadow, but overall it's very poorly written and very confusing as to what, if anything, is actually going on. I'm also pretty sure the moral of Cream's story is "violence is necessary, don't be a pacifist".
Luigi's Mansion 3 (Switch)
I love the original Luigi's Mansion; it would probably be in my top 20 games. I loved the mansion and how each room was actually occupied by a ghost with their own personalities and quirks. It made the haunted house feel lived in. This game (and the second) remove that and instead have bland generic ghosts in a cartoon-esque hotel (this one does have unique bosses, but they're just cartoonish as well). I do think this one is better than 2, but it lost the things I really liked about the original. They also pad the game out way too much, several times you finish a floor and some ghost walks up, bitch slaps Luigi, and makes him turn around for another 20 minute section before you can leave.
The Eternal Castle [Remastered] (PC)
First off, this is not a remastered anything, they just put that in the title to make themselves sound retro, so let that start off this review. This is a 2-bit-graphics Another World-esque game where you make your way through this post-apocalyptic hellscape trying to escape. Problem with the 2-bit art style is you can't tell what on earth is going on. The puzzles aren't terribly interesting, although there is some interesting imagery, if you can make out what it's supposed to be.
True Fear: Forsaken Souls: Part 1 (PC)
This is a point-and-click escape-the-room type game. You play as girl-whose-family-is-dead and try and figure out what-is-happening. It's a fine game, actually better made than I assumed it would be, but doesn't really do anything too interesting. They also use this horrible, horrible tree-shaking-in-wind sound effect constantly.
Spark the Electric Jester (PC)
This is an indie game which is a mashup of Sonic, Mega Man X, and Kirby. I should really like this game. However I honestly didn't really feel any emotions at all playing this. I simply turned it on, played a few levels, turned it off for the night, and repeated until it was done. It was fine. The abilities are clever, the movement was okay. It's a firmly average game.
Dead Rising (PC)
This game has a neat premise, so much so that it's directly taken from a famous 1970s horror film. You are trapped in a zombie-infested shopping mall for three days until you can be rescued. And I mean three days, there is an in-game timer counting down the time. This timer, while a clever idea on paper, ends up being most of this game's problem. You do one or more of the main plot quests, but then are told you basically have to kill time until the next one can start. During that time you can go through the mall and save poor lost souls (which AFAIK doesn't do anything at the end), or fight optional psychopath bosses. Maybe the weirdest part is that (spoilers I guess) the main plotline actually ends like 12 hours before you're scheduled to be rescued. You can still go around the mall during this time, but the objectively best option is to just put the controller down and wait until the time elapses and the game completes. Very odd.
The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes (PS4)
The third (or fourth depending on how you count) game in this series, they continue to be somewhat entertaining in a bad horror movie sort of way, but not that good in a good video game sort of way. I actually think the previous game started out stronger, but the latter twists in both games gives this one the upper edge. This game is also the first to give me at least some characters I care about, with the eventual comradery between the Marine and the Iraqi the highlight of the game. I also accidentally killed off the really annoying characters really early. The main downside is the same as the other games, which is the writing and dialogue, even though I think it was somewhat improved. I will say I was not really that excited for this setting, so all in all I think it was better than I was expecting.
Mirror's Edge (PC)
"That parkour game" that I had heard about for years. This game has a really cool visual style and some fun gameplay. It's neat how you can string together moves to make your way throughout the levels. What isn't neat is the combat, which means that there are constantly annoying dudes trying to shoot you all the time. I do get the feeling they playtested this game and went "we need something to spice this up" and threw in a bunch of gunmen and the ability for you to pick up their guns. It would be a very different game if it didn't have this, but I wish it didn't.
Octopath Traveler (PC)
Oh god here we go. Aside from an MMO (see below) this is the longest I've spent finishing a campaign since I've started keeping track, and honestly maybe ever. This means I can spend more time ragging on this than most other games. Firstly I actually really like the turn-based combat. It doesn't do anything too revolutionary, but has a neat mechanic where characters are 'shielded' until you hit them enough with a weapon of their weakness. It really keeps you engaged rather than just going on autopilot for most of the game. The classes all have interesting skills (although there is a bit of overlap), and the dual-classing system and hidden advanced jobs makes this a very solid game combat wise. The visual style, aka the reason why anyone bought this game, is rather neat, although the novelty wears off pretty quickly. There's a rather aggressive blur effect in the foreground and background which prevents this game from being actually beautiful (this was rumored to be there due to this being a Switch game). Now this reason why this is so low is that the plot is pretty bad all around. The idea of this game is "RPGs are silly, it's one guy with agency and then a posse of randos who follow him to fight God". In this game, you play as eight different characters on their own individual quests who meet up... except their plots never overlap. Ever. The other party members don't even appear in each others cutscenes. By the very very end of the game they start to hint that maybe there's a big bad after all, but the credits had already rolled and I couldn't be bothered. I think on Steam like half of the people who get that far don't bother going on. Their individual plots also range from somewhat neat to a complete waste of time. Some of them even have plots about how they're a cool loner who would never join up with a crew, only to join the party without a word because we need them to for the gameplay. What else... oh the voice acting is very cheesy.
Grow Home (PC)
This game is more of a tech demo than a game. You are fun robo buddy who has to climb up floating islands to grow giant beanstalks so you can reach new floating islands. It's a neat enough short little game.
Pokemon Picross (GBC)
This was a completed but unreleased Pokemon-themed Picross game for Game Boy Color which finally saw the light of day due to a Nintendo hack. It's actually pretty cute, you solve Picross puzzles in the (vague) shape of Pokemon. Yes, all 151 of them. And most of the common inventory items from the game. The biggest downside to this game is that the time penalty is incredibly harsh. You need X number of par scores to move on, which range between 1 and 4 minutes or so. However, each mistake you make is a 1 minute, then 2 minute, then 4 minute, then 8 minute time penalty. Good luck doing Picross on a GBC D-pad and not fucking up. However, the biggest upside is that I am a big brained hackerman who made a romhack which lowers this time penalty down to 10 seconds. You're welcome Nintendo.
This is a really cute idea for a game where you physically morph and reshape letters to create others, in an assembly line sort of way. It's something I used to daydream about when not paying attention in school, and it's done pretty well here. The main downside is that the game is kinda short, as once you figure out how to make all the letters... that's about it.
Tetris Effect (PS4)
This is Tetris, but instead of the usual boring gray background there are neat images and cool trance music. Unfortunately, I didn't really get to enjoy any of that because I suck at Tetris, and all of my attention was focused on not losing the game. This is a weird one where I would have liked this game immensely more if I wasn't the one playing it.
Steel Assault (PC)
This is a short indie game somewhat similar to Gunstar Heroes where you run and gun enemies and fight a boss at the end. It plays well enough and has really great pixel art, but unfortunately is let down by limited weapon types and the fact that it's super short. I played horribly but was able to beat the whole thing in an hour.
Kirby Squeak Squad (DS)
The legend returns. This one actually didn't wow me. The levels are way more plain and linear than some of the earlier titles, there weren't very many new abilities, and the second screen mechanic was honestly barely used. I was expecting the option to mix many of Kirby's abilities, but I think you can only actually mix like 3 combos. Otherwise it's just a glorified inventory system.
Call of Cthulhu (PC)
A part investigation, part stealth, mostly walking simulator Lovecraftian game. You are private eye type man who shows up to town to solve some mysterious deaths only to find that the townsfolk are at like stage 9 of their 10 step Eldritch God plan. This game does a good job with setting up the typical Lovecraftian visuals and establishing a backstory for the town and its characters. If you're familiar with Lovecraft at all, you'll see the plot of this game coming from a mile away, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I would say this game reminds me most of Amnesia, if you removed 90% of the monster encounters. Some of the sections drag on for a bit too long, and the very end was a bit of a let down, but it was better than I was expecting.
L.A. Noire (PS4 (and also PC))
There's a lot to like about LA Noire. The recreation of 1940s Los Angeles is really cool, the cases are written well, and you really get to engage in the detective work of being a police officer. I really enjoyed the first half of the game, but the second half slowly deflated and I started to lose interest in the game in a number of places. (Spoilers ahead) The most interesting part of the game, not surprisingly, is the Homicide desk, which ends at the halfway point of the game. After this point, I didn't really find any of the actual crimes very interesting, and I think the developers knew it as the number of conspiracies and gunfights dramatically increase from here on out. I'm pretty sure you shoot more people in one case of Vice than you do in all of Homicide. Even Homicide isn't innocent though, it turns out that (again spoilers) all of the cases are connected and caused by the same serial killer. I get the appeal, but it ends up that all of these cases have exactly the same type of victim - middle aged washed up drunk women who hate their husbands and get killed coming home from a bar. This means you spend every case going to visit their shitty husbands and visiting the shitty bars and following the same steps. Even so, I very much liked Homicide the best, as it felt like it had the best cases and arc. Though your partners continue to tell you "no way man, you've been doing this for like 3 days, you know how crazy it would be if literally every case you ever did was connected?", it turns out no, he's right, every single case you do is in fact connected. The part that really lost me was your character's "fall from grace", which came out of nowhere. They really just needed something to make you look like a piece of shit, but it didn't fit with your character... at the time. Even though you're a goody two-shoes for the first 75% of the game, suddenly you're an adulterous, angry war criminal by the end. It didn't do anything for me at all. Also, my PS4 crashed and corrupted my save so I had to finish it on PC, so that'll bump it down a few grade levels.
Monument Valley (iOS)
This game is basically an interactive M.C. Escher painting. You move your little dude around non-Euclidean spaces while interacting with the environment to progress. It's okay, it has a really great art direction but I couldn't help feeling like it was an inferior Fez.
Star Wars Battlefront II (2005) (PC)
To be specific, this is just covering the campaign of the game, which I would guess most people haven't bothered to play. The plotline is actually rather well done, they string together a list of battlefields with the over-arcing story that these are the battles that the 501st fought in. I'm sure that's all non-canon now, but it was effective. I've always liked this game and find the combat fun, but the campaign really expects you to be a one man army. The levels are structured so that the enemies have unlimited troops while you have a dwindling number of brain dead AI at your side. There are also some frustrating sections like "don't let these 27 Jedi destroy all the bookshelves" but overall I liked it.
Sonic Robo Blast 2 (PC)
For a fan-game Sonic themed Doom mod, this game is actually really fun. The visual style is from some alternate late-1990s where Sega actually put out a 3D Sonic during the N64 days. The levels are neat and clever, the music is top tier, and best of all it's free! The one downside is that they have a lot more faith in Sonic's platforming handling than I think they should, some of those jumps are p sketch to pull off.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (GBC)
After Link's Awakening came out, they thought "hey, that worked out well, let's just do that again". This game plays exactly like Link's Awakening, even down to the exact same sprites. The difference here is it is set in a new realm with new dungeons and some new abilities. Some of the new items Link can get are rather clever, like the magnet glove, but this definitely feels like an inferior version of both Link's Awakening and it's twin game (see below).
Super Mario RPG (SNES)
Everyone and their mother loves this game, but I have never actually sat down and played it until now. This was Golden Age Squaresoft making a Mario-themed RPG and while it has some cool settings and characters... it didn't do it for me. The combat was just okay (although I like the UI a lot), and nothing really blew me away. I think it's unfair to compare this game against something that came later, but I couldn't help feeling that The Thousand Year Door did everything better than this game.
Blade Runner (PC)
This is a point-and-click Blade Runner game, and I gotta say, it is very faithful. The streets of 2019 LA (the distant future) are brought to life from the movie in a really effective way. I was expecting this game to look like dirt, but the pre-rendered backgrounds, as 480p and 4:3 as they are, still hold up pretty well. They have this weird effect where the actual characters are made up of voxels and then rendered to be purposefully low-res. It would've looked as weird then as it does now, but it grew on me. The biggest downside to this game is I constantly had no idea what I was supposed to do, as is point-and-click tradition. This game apparently has a bunch of alternate endings, and things like who are and aren't a replicant is randomized when the game starts, keeping you on your toes. I will say the ending I got was kinda bizarre, as I think I had just enough positive interactions with one character to justify her ending. It suddenly had both of us professing our undying love to each other despite me barely knowing her, simply because that's what my ending was about. Still, this game would be incredibly replayable.
Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered (PC)
This is a game that, on paper, I should really love. It has some really great environmental designs, it tries some really ambitious combat mechanics, and it is a much more heavily sci-fi JRPG, something that I've been looking for for a while. However, pretty much everything it tries I have mixed feelings on. The visuals for a PS1 game are superb. I don't think I've ever seen characters moving around inside of FMV scenes before, but this game does it several times. The designs of the world, particularly in the second half, are extremely strong. However, this PC remaster is really poorly done, and I'm not one to criticize graphics typically. You have newer character models running around on untouched PS1 backgrounds. While some people loathe the Junction system, I think has some interesting ideas and overall I would say I liked it, although I definitely didn't use it to it's potential, particularly when it came to magic drawing. The weakest part of this game is the writing. I like the concept of the villain, the concept of the setting, the concept of the main romance, but all of them are either poorly or confusingly explained and inconsistent. Some of the twists are just downright dumb, particularly the famous orphanage stuff. When this game has spawned a famous fan theory that does a better job of explaining what's happening, you know you have a problem. Of the five (!!) Final Fantasy games I played this year, this one was definitely the weakest, although still above average.
The Wolf Among Us (PS4)
I'm not always a huge fan of the Telltale-style games, but I really liked this one. It had lots of interesting characters and fun twists and really kept me engaged. The biggest downside to the game is that I felt that the final episode was a bit weaker than the others, and left the game on a bit of a lull.
Ori and the Blind Forest (PC)
The darling Metroidvania from a few years back. I really loved the art style of this game, it had both great visual and audio styles. As for the game itself... I hate to say it, but I wasn't as blown away as everyone else. It tells a very touching story, but the game, and in particular the combat, was always just 'okay' to be. Nonetheless, I would still recommend it.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm (PC)
The first game's biggest liability received her own game, and I actually really enjoyed it. I wasn't crazy about Chloe in the first game, as she mainly just served as a chaos agent to cause drama. Don't get me wrong, she does that here too, but we get to see things from her point of view and understand why she does some of the things she does. The biggest downside is that this is a prequel game, which takes the wind out of some of the choices, particularly the ones regarding her and her step-dad as things will just go back to stage 1 by the original game.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (GBC)
The other game of the pair of Oracle games, and the one that I found to be the better of the two. The games are mostly the same gameplay wise, with there being slightly different upgrades available. Where they really set themselves apart is the plot and the overworld. Here, Ages is vastly better, as Seasons didn't really feel like it had much of a plot at all. Ages starts right off the bat introducing the conflict and characters who reoccur throughout the game. The time-travel mechanic is also more interesting than the seasons one.
Cosmic Star Heroine (PC)
Another indie JRPG, influenced quite a bit by Chrono Trigger in visual style and gameplay. I'm always excited to see more sci-fi JRPG games, and this one has several interesting locales and set pieces. However, I get the impression that this game was designed by coming up with the cool set pieces first, then trying to fit it all together later. The overarching story is muddled at times, but as a whole I enjoyed this one.
The Room Two (iOS)
This is a puzzle box, escape the room type game. It's pretty basic, you are placed into a room with several overly complicated contraptions to unlock. There is a story in the form of letters left by some sort of previous adventurer, but honestly it isn't much to write home about. It does what it sets out to do well.
Doom (1993) (PC)
While I've played the first few levels several times, I've never actually played through the original Doom... until now. To be specific I played the Chocolate Doom source port, which keeps the game as close as it can to the original; no Y-axis for you, no sir. I really like this game, the weapon and enemy variety is great. You can get into lots of quick shootouts with enemies, this is the type of FPS that I really like. The biggest downside is the level design. There were many levels where I would kill a majority of the enemies off the bat, then spend the next 15 minutes trying to figure out where the hell they wanted me to go.
Final Fantasy X-2 (PC)
I honestly had not heard great things about this game, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The plot of many games focus on the most exciting period of time for the characters, and often the world they inhabit. That story was already told in FFX. This game shows the aftermath of the first game several years later. I like the more laid back tone, you get to see how the world has evolved due to the events of the previous game, and what your new place is in it. Another big highlight is the combat, which is some of the best in the series. In someways, it goes back to a more traditional system than what FFX used, but the addition of the 'dressphere' system is what really makes this game stand out. Basically, you can swap between jobs mid-battle for free, allowing you to optimize which class would be best suited for each situation. It works really seamlessly, and makes me wish that other games would adapt to it. There are some downsides though, I do feel that this game is not quite as good as its predecessor, particularly in the writing department. Any character who was not in FFX has zero character development, including one of the three main leads. They also pulled a main villain out of nowhere, as exploring the changed dynamics of the world doesn't lend itself to a good final battle.
This game is a mix between Breath of the Wild and Journey; when you come of age in this world, you are given the ability to glide from high places and are told to travel the world before picking your career path. You are Sable, one such teenager, and you leave your nomadic tribe to go and see the world for yourself with your kinda sentient hoverbike. The game is entirely exploration and puzzle based, there is no combat at all. It is meant to invoke similar feelings of wanting to travel to everything you can see over the horizon like in BotW. I thought it was a neat game, but since the whole world was a desert, it didn't really have much variety. The controls also aren't as good as BotW, both in walking and climbing. The bike riding especially was really flimsy, the bike would constantly flip over and was never really that much fun to ride. However, it was a solid enough game and has a nice narrative.
Jet Set Radio (PC)
This game just oozes style, and I am totally here for it. I love a lot about this game; the art style, the music, the early 2000s 'tude, it's all great. Funnily enough, I have exactly the same issues with this game as I do with Mirror's Edge. All I want is a fun roller blading game, but suddenly some dude with a revolver is shooting at me, or a goddamn Apache helicopter is trying to fuck me up. Can you imagine if in Tony Hawk, there were some guys constantly shooting at you? Fortunately, the worst of this is at the beginning of the game, after which they mostly leave you alone.
Resident Evil Village (PS4)
The latest and greatest in the Resident Evil series; there's a lot I like about this one, but I also feel like I should like it more than I do. This game is split up into 4-5 different sections, of varying quality. The first two (spoilers - Big Mommy Milker's mansion and the PT rip off) are the two that I vastly liked the most. Following those, the set pieces are simply... okay. I hear that many people disliked the last area, but I didn't mind it so much. They definitely wanted to invoke feelings of RE4, which I'm not sure they were completely successful with, but I appreciate the effort. The worst part was anything to do with Chris and the over-arcing RE storyline. He was a huge dick the whole game, especially when everything was his fault, and the inclusion of some RE6-esque stuff wasn't welcome IMO.
ChuChu Rocket! Universe (iOS)
I have a lot of positive things to say about this game. I like it when a puzzle game has simple, easy to understand rules, and then can run with that and create a fuckton of interesting levels. That is this game. You place arrows on the ground to lead the mice to the spaceship and avoid cats. That's it. They then create a bunch of really clever and neat puzzles. This one is an Apple Arcade exclusive, but I would really recommend it.
Sayonara Wild Hearts (iOS)
This game is pretty simple, it's an endless runner type game... except it's not endless, it's broken into discrete levels. The biggest appeal of this game is its visual and design style. Now, I have something to admit. As I played this, by the midway point I hated this game. It probably would've been one of the worst rated games of the year. It seemed cool, but I was constantly running into objects, it was very unresponsive, etc. On a whim, I decided to try using a bluetooth controller with my phone to play it, and the difference was like night and day. The game ended up doing some really clever ideas and twists on its formula, but due to the horrible, horrible iOS touch controls, I had to bump it down a few letter grades.
Final Fantasy X (PC)
I had seen some people play parts of this in the past, and frankly I wasn't expecting to like this game. The setting didn't really seem like something I'd like, the characters were goofy, I wasn't expecting much. To my surprise, I ended up really liking this game. I think out of all the Final Fantasy games I've played, this one has the best world building. I completely understood not only the struggle the characters were going through but how their society evolved to reach that point and what their motivations were on a macro scale, I really like it. I also really like the combat and leveling system of this game; anytime a game branches away from the plain old EXP yields levels yields a stat boost system, I'm a fan. You can switch out party members on the fly based on the enemies? Great! There's a leveling system where you can branch off to prioritize the ability and stat upgrades you want? Great! There are a few downsides. Some of the characters were a bit goofy, particularly Tidus and Yuna, and I think most of that is due to their poor voice direction. Also, while the 'main' villain of Jecht/Sin is really interesting, I found Seymour to be horribly bland and vastly overstayed his welcome.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (DS)
This is simply a Star Wars-themed beat-em-up game, and a rather good one at that. It doesn't do anything fancy, but has some good content such as differing story paths between Obi-Wan and Anakin, upgradable abilities, great pixel art, and rather smooth gameplay. It's not super long, but it covers the events of the film in an interesting way. I would definitely recommend for the Star Wars nerd in your life.
Ghost of Tsushima (PS4)
The hottest game of whatever year that was it came out. This game, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, is basically Assassin's Creed: Japan. You have an open world, upgradable abilities, a tech tree, all the fixins. This game is gorgeous and a marvel to behold, and actually does a good job incorporating the open world with the main story. Often the side quests in modern games are some of the most random shit ever, where the main character is distracted from saving the world to do useless nonsense. However, with this game everything has the framing device of "oh shit, the island is being invaded", lending purpose to all of the side missions. There are some faults though, this game falls into the trap several modern games have of the story telling you killing is bad and you're turning into a monster, while the gameplay tells you press square to do a flip while you impale a guy. They never resolve with each other and lend to a dissonance about the story.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC)
By far my most played game of the year, and my newest obsession. I haven't played an MMO since Runescape in like 2005, and I honestly didn't think the genre was for me. Turns out, when they offer hundreds of hours of gameplay for free, that's a good temptation. I really like this game, even though it's honestly rather cliched in a lot of ways. The main setting are three fantasy city-states - the forest one, the beach one, and the desert one, and you play as plucky young adventurer who gets recruited into a secret organization that murders demigods anytime someone has the audacity to summon one. There are a variety of different jobs you can play as, including more crafting focused routes, it's fun for the whole family. Now, this entry just covers the 'base' game, not any of the expansions, and ARR has a reputation of being a bit inferior to what comes later. I can see what they mean, and mainly the issues with this game come with the story, namely the pacing. The story has some interesting ideas, but boy does it have some tedious bullshit as well. The worst part was when a demigod had been summoned and you need to seek out someone with the knowledge to kill it, but instead you're sent on a pointless goose chase in order to set up a picnic. The main villains of the game are also not really introduced until the very end, by which point you're about ready to wipe them out. The game also suffers from some pretty bad voice acting; there's a lot of "Ye Olde Ren Faire" going on. Apparently Square Enix agreed, as the whole VA cast was replaced for the next expansion. Awkward. From what they were teasing (and what I've played so far) of the first expansion, a lot of these issues were fixed, so I look forward to the next chapter in this game.
Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force (PC)
I had always thought that all the Star Trek games were mediocre at best. When this game was added to GoG recently, there was lots of excitement about it, so I decided to pick it up, and I was pleasantly surprised. This game uses the Quake engine and features a specialized "Hazard Team" on the ship sent in for dangerous missions. It's a much more action-focused FPS than what you'd get from an episode of the show, but I think they manage to successfully weave the plot in. The main cast all appear in supporting roles, and even some minor characters are given more prominent roles in the game. The plot would be a believable episode of Voyager, if not a bit of a contrived excuse to bring in familiar enemies that wouldn't normally be able to appear on the show itself. The main downside is it's pretty dated visually, particularly with the facial graphics, but I didn't mind too much and ended up really enjoying myself. Tuvok is a huge dick throughout this whole game though.
A Metroidvania game which is heavily inspired by the *Vania part of the name, in particular Symphony of the Night and the DS games. I really liked the presentation of the game; it has a cool variety of weapons, some really great spritework, and solid (if not terribly original) upgrades. I'm a sucker for games that allow you to play through the same levels but in different time periods, ala Chrono Trigger, and this game has some neat ideas on that. This game honestly was on track to be an A during the first two thirds but then it just... ended. The pacing suddenly ramped up and everything veered towards the conclusion and I didn't feel like the plot or some of the implications were as fleshed out as they should've been. If they added a third time period, I think this game would've been spectacular. The writing also falls apart at this point, with the character trying to take on a more "badass" tone and it really didn't work. But the gameplay remains solid the whole time, and I would definitely recommend it.
Portal Reloaded (PC)
This is a standalone Portal 2 mod that incorporates a special time portal in addition to the spacial ones. This game is really incredible, especially for a mod. The temporal portal is a genius idea, and even something that would fit in great in a hypothetical Portal 3. The puzzles are rather challenging, but provide just enough context clues to be solvable. I was really impressed with this one, any criticisms I have are minor nitpicks.
Silent Hill 2 (PS2)
Everyone goes on and on about Silent Hill, and up until now I've only played part of that Shattered Memories game. I will say, its praise is well deserved. This game has probably the best horror atmosphere I've ever seen in a game. Despite not having jumpscares or any sophisticated combat at all, the game really sets the fear of dread throughout. The soundtrack is also maybe one of the best I've ever heard, I've been listening to it at work ever since I played this. The reason this got an A- rather than an A is due to its story, which is actually really interesting and engaging, but suffers from "why on earth are we doing this" syndrome. Yeah, I know you're having the mother of all mental breakdowns James, but you yourself said the goal is to get to the hotel. You have a car, just drive there. But no, he's off wandering into a strange apartment complex sticking his hand down the worst toilets you've ever seen for... reasons.
Stardew Valley (PC)
Hat Mouse brings this game up to an A.
Final Fantasy IX (PC)
I knew that people really liked this one, but this is another game I didn't know much about and wasn't expecting much. Turns out, this is maybe my new favorite Final Fantasy game. This game has very strong themes of finding your identity in the world and does a great job of presenting the characters and their struggles from the get go. The world is really interesting and vibrant, and the game does have at least one moment that made me go "wow", that very few games do. It's not a perfect game however, and oddly enough suffers from some issues that other FF games I played this year did vastly better. The combat system, for example, is really plain. It's about as bog standard of a system as you can get, and definitely pales compared to the later FFX and FFX-2 systems. I also had mixed feelings about the main villain, although I think he vastly improved as the game went on.
I'm going to be honest with you, I don't think I like this game quite as much as most people, but it's still great enough to receive an A from me. This game is just so stylish. The combat is fun and constantly engaging, the personification of the Gods is great, and while I'm not a fan of the Rogue-like genre, this game handles its randomization in such a way that you're still able to make process as you continue to play. It does suffer from quite a bit of RNG, which makes some runs clearly unviable by the midpoint of the game, but all in all I would still highly recommend.
This game sat in my Steam library for years, and little did I know it was one of the most creative platformers I would ever play. In a world where most platformers use a variation on the grass/desert/ice/water/lava-type design, this game shows up, kicks the door in, and comes up with some of the most inventive levels I've ever seen, and then proceeds to do it again like 5 more times. The plot is really clever and interesting, the gameplay is tight and fun, and the game is actually funny. Like, not in an occasional chuckle funny, but actually legitimately funny. And it very easily could have been cringy, but a combination of great writing and great voice acting makes it work. I can not sing this game's praises high enough. The one downside is it suffers from some PS2-era jank. The PC port is a little rough around the edges, and the game stops you dead about halfway through and makes you grind for money for an arbitrary reason before progressing, but I am willing to overlook these flaws.
Look at me. Now look back at this list. Now back to me. This is a list that has Wolfenstein as a D+. FPS's are not my style. And yet here we are with an honest to god FPS in my top games of the year. That's how good Dusk is. I really, really loved this game. It's quick, fun, and has great variety in weapons and enemies. Sure, there's some more bullshit parts than others, but as a whole I wasn't expecting much out of this and found myself loving every second of it.
Psychonauts 2 (PC)
Oh shit, Backstreets back. Finally, the continuation to a game I'd waited a whole few months to play. This game could have, and probably should have, been terrible. It's been like 15 years, it was in development hell for ages, no way this is good. Guess what fuckers, it's fantastic. The game picks up right where the previous left off with its wit and clever levels and again introduces new and interesting ideas that I had never seen done before. While I finished dozens of games this year, this was the only one I 100% completed. Is it as good as the first one? Yes and no. It's definitely less jank, but its levels only wowed and amazed me 3 times rather than the original's 4 or 5. Such a shame.
Metroid Dread (Switch)
This game was exactly what I wanted. I love Metroid Fusion, it is probably my favorite 2D Metroid game (yeah, you heard me Super Metroid), and to finally get a continuation is something I've been waiting to see. I wasn't sure what to make of this at first, Samus Returns was just okay, and the series has been on life support for a decade now. However, this game really knocked it out of the park. The movement was smooth and engaging, the level design was up to par with the original (even if I got lost many times), and the story actually was interesting, rare for a Metroid game. My one criticism is probably related to the EMMIs, which while they take what the SA-X introduced and improve upon it, they quickly overstay their welcome and become more of a pain than an actual threat.
Battle Mania Daiginjou (Genesis)
Also known as "Battle Mania 2" or "Trouble Shooter Vintage", this is a shoot-em-up Genesis game only ever released in Japan. However, this doesn't excuse the fact that I had never heard of this game until recently, as I found it completely spectacular. You play as blonde girl with jetpack and laser gun, complete with other blue haired girl with jetpack and gun. The gameplay is fun and has some customizable options, the graphics are inventive and colorful, and the game not only has some cutscenes but is actually funny and clever. I think this is the first and only shmup I've ever actually beaten in my life. It is a very easy game, especially by Genesis and shmup standards, but I still greatly enjoyed myself. It knows what it wanted to do and it did it incredibly well.
- PC - 38
- PS4 - 7
- iOS - 4
- GB/C - 3
- DS - 2
- GBA - 2
- GB - 2
- Switch - 2
- Genesis - 1
- PS2 - 1
- SNES - 1