Category Archives: Review

Review: ARMS – A Powerful First Punch For Nintendo

arms wallpaper

Hey folks, Matt here with a new review. As you could probably tell from the title, I’ll be writing my thoughts on the recently-released ARMS for Nintendo Switch, Nintendo’s latest attempt at capitalizing on the eSports craze. Does it provide a fun and much-needed addition to the Switch’s growing catalogue of games, or will it be forgotten upon Splatoon 2’s release next month? Well, I am hoping to answer these questions in the following paragraph. Enjoy.

 

Yeah, it’s a fun game. You should play it if you enjoy fighting games. Thanks for reading!

arms twintelle

Anyway, on to the real review.

 

ARMS was an unexpected reveal back in January during the very first live presentation for the Nintendo Switch. The game was revealed alongside a short snippet of gameplay that showed off its premise, and at first, I was not sold. Fighting games are fun, sure, but Nintendo’s history in the genre is not so diverse. The most prolific, exclusive fighting game series that has come from Nintendo is Super Smash Brothers, and… What else? I suppose you can include Pokken Tournament and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom in that list, but these still amount to a rather small catalogue for the genre on Nintendo platforms. These games are mostly well-regarded by fans as great titles. Back in January, seeing a first-party developed fighting game made exclusively for a Nintendo console was exciting, and I was keen to see more on the company’s latest effort. After completing the game’s main single-player mode on multiple difficulties with the ten available fighters, and engaging in at least 10+ hours of the online multiplayer madness, I believe I can provide a fleshed-out piece on my opinion of the game.

arms byte and barq

The level of polish on display in ARMS is simply wonderful. Combat has been a smooth journey, with only a few hiccups along the way. These issues were found entirely in the online multiplayer department; I’ve only had one disconnected game during my time with ARMS, and only one online game with a noticeable level of lag present. Besides these two instances, I have found every match I played online and offline to be a silky-smooth and precise battle between up to four combatants on-screen at a given time. My worries about the game’s motion controls have been mostly alleviated, as I’ve only had a couple of instances where I threw out a punch when I meant to block, but these mistakes were made only a small handful of times. Coming to grips with the game’s unique control scheme takes some getting used to, but I found the game to be an enjoyable experience using either the motion controls or standard controls. Both options offer a similar level of precision when fighting opponents, and I can now say I’m comfortable playing with either control scheme. Despite this, Nintendo’s heavy marketing toward using the game’s motion controls swayed me to attempt playing ARMS using the ‘thumbs-up grip’ as described by the big N, and I’m glad I gave it a shot, as this method of playing offers a precise level of play on-par with the traditional method of using a Switch pro controller.

thumbs up grip

Well, perhaps the word ‘precise’ may be a bit generous when talking about ARMS’ 2v2 game modes. As has been documented by other players, the 2v2 battles can be rather hectic due to the great number of arms flying across the screen at any given time. When a player is thrown by a grab, their teammate is also thrown by that same grab, causing some confusing scenarios where you aren’t aware your teammate is being thrown across the screen, only for yourself to be punished by that attack as well. I find the 2v2 game modes to be the least enjoyable among the game’s ‘party mode’, where players can engage in a solid variety of game types mostly revolving around punching one another.

 

Speaking of punching fighters, did you know that there’s a *spoiler* boss character who uses six arms to fight you? Yep, that’s right, the boss character known as Hedlok makes an appearance in the game’s Grand Prix mode as the player’s final combatant. Utilizing six arms, this hulking metal monstrosity is, to put it bluntly, broken. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s break down the classic fighting game logic of rock, paper, and scissors.

hedlok

A traditional fighting game often features three main ways of attacking. In very simplified terms, there is on-foot combat, mid-air combat, and grabs. The on-foot attacks are often a player’s primary method of attack, but can be negated by a guard block from their opposition. A guard block can be interrupted by a player’s grab, causing damage from the opponent’s throw. Finally, mid-air attacks can be a good way to surprise the enemy, but can be interrupted by an opponent’s anti-air attack if the mid-air attack is too often relied upon.

 

ARMS takes advantage of this traditional rock, paper, and scissors formula, incorporating on-foot punches, mid-air punches, and grabs into the mix. Unlike other fighting games, ARMS allows grabs to be thrown from a large distance, as well as in mid-air, a feature that I’m surprisingly okay with, as it feels well-balanced in most fighter match-ups (barring Ninjara, of course. I think he’s a little too fast for my liking). These punches and grabs are all able to be deflected by a player’s own punches, as long as the appropriate arms are selected for the deflection.

Arms mechanica

This is where the fault in Hedlok’s design comes into play. When Hedlok attacks, he throws out a series of three punches from each side, as opposed to a normal attack from other fighters consisting of one punch. These punches come in fast succession of one another, and are often difficult to deflect by the player’s own punches, and so dodging is always preferred over deflecting these attacks. This would be okay in its own right, however, the cooldown time for Hedlok to throw out another set of punches from that same set of arms is way too short. He is able to dish out a second series of punches right upon the first of the three arms being pulled back in (I know this is difficult to visualize, and perhaps I’m doing a terrible job of explaining this event, but bear with me!) In this regard, I find the fight to feel rather one-sided in favor of Hedlok. Maybe he is not quite as broken in difficulty as Shao-Khan was in Mortal Kombat for the PS3 and Xbox 360, but the battle still feels unfair in more ways than one. Inputs from my punches felt like they were instantly being read by the enemy AI, and super attacks that appeared to have connected with the enemy were dodged and countered with the enemy’s own super-charged attack.

 

Despite these balancing issues, I find the game to be enjoyable, as I stated earlier. On the surface, the game appears to have little content, and I think this claim is justified when you compare it to the likes of juggernauts of in-game content such as Tekken 7 and Super Smash Bros. For Wii U. However, the accessibility of each of the ten fighters and different pairings of arms for each one of them offers hundreds of possibilities for battle, and I think it works in the game’s favor. Would ARMS be an even better game with some more fighters and stages to battle on? Sure, that would be a great addition. Thankfully, Nintendo will be doing just that in the coming months, all of it as free game updates, similar to the way Splatoon was handled on the Wii U.

Arms party

 

I’m sure I missed some other points I wanted to bring up, but overall I’m finding my time with ARMS to be fun and engaging. The motion controls work well, the fighter designs are fantastic offering great variety, and despite an arguably broken final boss fight, the single player and multiplayer game modes are a satisfying venture into Nintendo’s newest IP. If this is the start of Nintendo entering the fighting game space outside of Smash Bros., I’m excited to see where they take the game next.

Thank you for reading! Take care, all.

  • Matt

Review: Enter the Gungeon

gungeon title card

I’ve spent a countless number of hours playing Enter the Gungeon. It’s up there among my favorite rogue-lite games, right next to the Binding of Isaac games and Spelunky. For this reason, I thought it’d be fitting to write my thoughts on one of my favorite games for the PS4. There are still some faults found in the game, but let’s get on with the review!

 

Enter the Gungeon is a downloadable game packed with charm, intelligent design, and satisfying gameplay wrapped up in one (mostly) tight package. As the title implies, players enter a randomly generated dungeon (or as it is known here, a gungeon) utilizing a vast array of guns to overcome enemies and obstacles. Assuming the role of an adventurer with a past they regret, you enter the gungeon hoping to attain a legendary gun that can kill the past. Yes, you read that right, your goal is to kill the past. Specifically, your character’s past. The game’s trailer emphasizes this point, if you’d like to hear it for yourself. I’ll link the gameplay trailer right here.

gungeon entrance

Based on this trailer alone, I was sold on Gungeon’s premise. All that remained to win me over was a solid gameplay loop, and I’m happy to report that the game succeeds on that front. There is a massive variety of guns that can be collected across many hours of gameplay, with a solid number of passive and active items available to spice up each run. The number of weaponry available to players is staggering, and with the game’s free supply drop update that went live a few months ago, there are even more choices available. Collecting these different guns is a joy of its own, thanks to their creative utility and fun design choices. Chests filled with loot are peppered on each floor of the gungeon, ensuring you access to a wide variety of fun weaponry.

 

The game features the expected ensemble of base weaponry, including handguns, shotguns, rifles, machine guns, and other traditional guns that we have come to expect. However, the game’s wacky and inventive munitions is where it truly shines. For example, one of my favorite guns in the game is called the Shell. This is a gun that resembles a shotgun shell, and when fired, it pops out three shotguns, which proceed to fire two bullets from those shotguns. The in-game description of this weapon reads: “This strange gun, shaped like a shotgun shell, fires bullets that are shaped like shotguns. Those shotgun-shaped bullets will fire a spray of rounds upon impact, much like a shotgun would.” Another example of the unique weaponry involves the Witch Pistol, which fires bullets that have a 10% chance of turning the hit enemy into a chicken. Or how about the Magic Lamp, a gun that is a literal lamp which causes a genie to emerge and sucker-punch any enemies that are unfortunate enough to cross his path. This is just a few examples from the list of over 130 guns that are available to collect and use against enemies. The creative ideas at play here are a riot, and I loved discovering new weaponry and items every time I played the game.

gungeon supply drop update card

Similar in fashion to other rogue-lites, killing all of the enemies in a room will unlock the doors stopping the player’s progression, and award them currency that can be used at the in-game shop. Every character and enemy you run across during the journey through the Gungeon has a unique personality that gives a sense of depth to the game’s world, even if the randomly-generated levels have layouts that are recognizable after a dozen or so runs through.

 

Unlocking certain features outside of the Gungeon is accomplished by helping NPC’s during a run, similarly accomplished like in Crypt of the Necrodancer, and gives the game a path of upgradability to the player’s hub world that is satisfying and rewarding. However, I still felt like I was given enough utility to overcome most obstacles, even in the early game or if my gun loadout was lacking compared to previous runs. This is another thing that I think Enter the Gungeon does very well; it balances a level of progression with player skill, avoiding the ever-popular “RNG issue” (RNG stands for random number generator) that affects other rogue-lite games such as The Binding of Isaac. In Isaac, if you play a run of the game that gives you crappy upgrades at the beginning, you feel at a severe disadvantage against the game’s obstacles, and are thus tempted to restart that run from the beginning. In Gungeon, this feeling is nearly absent, because the starting weaponry given to you is quite good, at least for the game’s first two floors. During your time after those two floors, you are pretty much guaranteed to find even better weaponry than your starting guns, helping balance the game’s difficulty without feeling too easy or difficult.

gungeon gatling gull

On the subject of comparisons to other rogue-lite games, I think the boss fights in Gungeon and Isaac should be compared. In Isaac, most of the boss fights can be beaten relatively quickly, even without any damage upgrades. In Enter the Gungeon, this is simply not the case. Even with a better arsenal at your disposal, boss fights are still the most lengthy and difficult challenge you will come across. This should be expected. However, I think the boss fights could stand to be a bit shorter, especially in the early game when your weapons are usually not as strong as during the late game. When fighting bosses with your default guns, which can be normal during the first or second floors, the fights feel like they can take ages to beat. This makes the battle feel like a drag instead of the exciting conclusion to a floor that it should be. Despite this, I found most of the boss fights to feel fair and fun, especially when you learn the boss patterns and effectively dodge their attacks. There’s a couple of bosses that I think are unfairly difficult, namely the Ammoconda (oh yeah, all of the bosses have fun gun-centric names to accompany their unique designs!), but most of the boss fights feel fair, if on the long side.

gungeon bullet king battle

With a cast of memorable characters, a bevy of awesome weaponry to collect, and an engaging gameplay loop that makes you want to play just one more round, Enter the Gungeon is one of my favorite rogue-lite games. The art style is pleasing and the enemy designs all fit within the game’s world. Although the boss fights could stand to be a bit shorter, the entire package provides a wonderful experience that I think is among publisher Devolver Digital’s best games yet. Once Enter the Gungeon releases on Nintendo Switch, I’ll be there day one to play through all of it again!

gungeon switch

Thank you for reading, and have a great weekend.

  • Matt

Nier: Automata – A Leg Up On Its Predecessor (Review)

nier automata carnival

Note: Spoilers ARE present. I played a total of 40 hours, finishing the game three times and experiencing the three main endings of the game (including the two big choices that are made at the very end of the third playthrough). I also completed about 90% of the game’s sidequests, and plan to finish the rest of them soon.

 

Before I start this review, I should note that I have not played the entirety of the first Nier game. I own the PlayStation 3 copy of the game, and have booted it up once, but decided to watch my favorite group of people on YouTube play through the game instead. Why did I do this? I believe it was during a deluge of other game releases that had me preoccupied, and it saddens me that I didn’t play through the first Nier myself. However, after watching the entirety of the first game (yes, multiple endings and all!) I believe I have a good grasp of the story and gameplay. Because of this, I felt prepared to give game director Yoko Taro’s latest installment in the Nier franchise Nier: Automata a shot, especially after hearing the positive press that the game has received.

Nier Automata enemy and 2b

From my understanding, the gameplay systems present in Drakengard and Nier are not usually the reason people are so fond of these niche titles. Instead, it is the beautiful and unique stories told that capture fans’ hearts and keep them wanting to play.

 

When it was announced that the world-renowned Japanese game developers at Platinum Games would be creating a new Nier title with Yoko Taro at the helm, many fans of the first game, myself included, were enthralled. The brilliant storytelling from Yoko Taro’s pen and paper, brought to life with the advanced game systems that Platinum is known for, could combine to create a truly remarkable new entry. Thankfully, these expectations have been met, and dare I say it, surpassed. Nier: Automata is a beautiful game with likeable characters, an unforgettable story, and an engrossing gameplay hook that fans of the action genre have come to expect.

 

The plug-in chip system used to tailor the player’s gameplay style, both in combat and out of combat, is satisfying and flexible. Players collect a variety of skills, called electronic chips, that can be applied to their character to enhance a multitude of abilities. A custom chip set can be crafted, or the game can be told to create a balanced chip set – regardless, the system is well thought out and a fun place to craft your own unique playstyle. Whether you specialize in mid-air combos, ranged attacks, or hacking your opponents, there are a decent variety of choices for the player to take down enemies that keep things from getting stale.

nier automata reverse cover

Do I need to say anything about the game’s soundtrack? It’s phenomenal. I’m listening to it as I write this review, and will probably be listening to it six months from now, as I did with the first Nier game. If nothing else, the soundtrack needs to be heard and appreciated even by those who do not plan to play Nier: Automata. There are a few remixed tracks that crop up in the sequel from the first game, and they are interwoven in a smooth way that I appreciated.

nier automata trees

Actually, I do have one more thing to say about the soundtrack. There is a fair amount of the hacking minigame present in Nier: Automata, and it is almost exclusively present in the game’s second playthrough. Players will probably notice that any background music perfectly transitions into a chip-tune sound when the change from combat to hacking minigame occurs. Every time this musical transition happened, I was impressed. The way this is implemented at any point of gameplay is satisfying, but the way this transition occurs within the game’s final moments during the credits sequence is absolutely amazing. Some of Nier: Automata’s vocal tracks are sung in both English and Japanese, and feature a bit-tune version of these songs as well. The end credits sequence had my jaw hung open when there were transitions between not just the bit-tune and vocal versions of the same song, but also the multiple languages being sung. For example, a few lines of a track were sung in English, and then a few lines would be sung in the Japanese track, all in a seamless transition. To say it is breathtaking would be an understatement. This game has one of my favorite soundtracks not just for games, but to anything. The game features truly marvelous music that should not be missed.

nier automata 2b and 9s

 

Oh, and on that credits sequence – it’s one of my favorites in any game. Wonderful way to wrap up the story and feature an intense battle before the final cutscene.

 

To be completely honest, I’m rather intimidated to write about the story that is present in Nier: Automata. Similar to its predecessor, the story is engaging, complex, and features multiple likeable characters that have plenty of screentime. I am afraid that I cannot give the multiple narratives at play enough credit where the credit is due. With this in mind, I will do my best to provide a short write-up of my favorite bits of the story. Perhaps my favorite moments in the game’s story are the real-world questions that the game asks. What is the meaning of our existence? Do we have desires worth fighting for, and are those goals ultimately worth the sacrifices we make? These questions are addressed by the main characters as well as side quest characters that bring the world in Nier: Automata to life. Both friendly and hostile machines show a startling level of humanity that I did not at first expect from the game’s characters, and the fact that this is accomplished with zero humans present in the story is a remarkable feat in my eyes. For a better look at the themes that I most appreciated in this game’s story, I think George from SuperBunnyHop can provide a more detailed explanation. I’ll link his Nier: Automata video right here.

Nier automata cavalry

Now, I’ve done enough gushing about all of the game’s good. Although I think Nier: Automata is a simply astounding game that should not be missed, I think a lack of intricate combos like those present in other Platinum games like Bayonetta is a missed opportunity. The combat is more than serviceable, but I found it to be on the more simple side. As a big fan of seeing vast button combinations that can be executed in battle, I could see a list of unique combo attacks being a positive addition to the game. Something akin to Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s combo system would add a great deal to the game’s already satisfactory battle system.

Another criticism I can provide is the over-reliance on fetch quests in the game’s side quests. Although most of the side quests provide an interesting narrative to accompany them, some of the quests feel to rest a bit too much on collecting a certain resource for an NPC, or going off to slay the machines they ask you to kill. These issues are not as big a problem as they would be in other games, thanks to Nier: Automata’s satisfying movement, but they are still worth noting.

nier automata emil

To wrap this review up, I think that if you own a PS4, and have either played Nier or are okay with doing research in that game’s story to better understand Nier: Automata’s universe, you owe it to yourself to play this game. Yoko Taro and the wonderful folks at Platinum have crafted an experience that I will not forget anytime soon, featuring extremely engaging characters, a gripping storyline, and some of the best music in today’s modern world. Yes, I just said that. True, it is a bold claim, but I believe that Nier and Nier: Automata’s soundtracks offer music that rivals the best of the best, both within and outside of video games.

 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you greatly for reading my review of Nier: Automata. I had a good deal of fun writing this review, with the game’s soundtrack accompanying my writing. If you’re interested in seeing my other work, feel free to follow me on Twitter or here on WordPress. Have a great Memorial Day, all.

 

  • Matt

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Review

Note: Played on Nintendo Switch.

*No spoilers, besides the mention of enemy types!*

As of April 2nd, I have invested over 105 hours into the latest Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. To say that I simply enjoyed my time exploring Hyrule would be an understatement; I found myself immersed in the game world, unable to stop playing for hours at a time. I’ll do my best in this review to describe what I most enjoyed about the game, and also which elements I found to be disappointing during my journey.

playtime

Breath of the Wild encourages exploration and creativity like no other open-world game has before. All of your essential tools and tricks are unlocked near the beginning of the game, after completing just a few short puzzles, and I found this to be a refreshing change of pace from the usual Zelda formula. Keep in mind, I have played a good majority of the games in the Zelda series, so the tried-and-true formula of past adventures has begun to wear thin on me. The changes to the formula that Breath of the Wild provides are much welcome, and while the same sense of progression from collecting unique tools is gone, the feeling of growth from upgrading your life capacity or stamina gauge replaces it in a satisfactory way.

dog

Every player going through the new Zelda is sure to have an opinion on whether they are in favor of the weapon durability system. For me, I think the weapon durability system falls a bit short, and the reasons for its inclusion are lackluster. Many people cite its presence as a way for players to use all of the different weapon types given to them, and while it is a fact that players will constantly need to be utilizing different weapons because of their low durability, I do not think this is a fun method of encouraging variety. I should want to utilize different weapons because of the situation at hand, and the unique properties of that weapon; not because the game has told me that my time with a particular weapon has run out. This becomes less of a problem as the player’s inventory slots for holding weaponry grow larger, because running into a shortage of swords and axes is not as likely, but reaching that point is a slow burn. I believe the durability of weapons should have been tweaked to allow for more hits per weapon before breaking, because as it stands, before battles begin I am often forced to wonder which weapon to use that I least care for so that my better arsenal stays intact.

breath-of-the-wild-weapons1

Enemy variety is also something that I felt lacking in Breath of the Wild. Nearly every enemy type you fight is a bipedal creature wielding a weapon that can be utilized by the player. This is a purposeful design choice, so that the player is given a wide variety of weapons to choose from when they defeat foes standing in their way, and don’t run out of something to use as a weapon. However, I found the lack of previous games’ enemies such as poes, re-deads, tektites, and wallmasters to be disappointing. This is only an issue that sprung up deep in the game, when I had already completed the main story and finished a good majority of the shrine and side quests, so I had seen every enemy type. The inclusion of mini-bosses in the form of Hinox, stone Talus, or Molduga is a very welcome addition, and I wish there were even more types of these mini-bosses peppered around the game world. Perhaps being able to actually defeat the three dragons that fly around Hyrule would remedy this, but I digress.

yep

Speaking of fighting enemies, the combat in Breath of the Wild is the best among the entire series. Performing last-second dodges to trigger bullet time slashing is extremely satisfying, as is parrying a monster’s attack to open them up for more attacks. Fighting guardians is among the most exciting aspects of combat in this game, especially while on horseback, thanks to the game’s very smart inclusion of slow-motion arrow firing while mid-air. This allows players to line up precise shots when falling, while still feeling like a master archer. Whether you’re figuring out the weakness of each enemy and exploiting it to overcome large groups, taking out enemies stealthily one by one, or sneaking past an enemy encampment altogether, every combat engagement is satisfying and feels natural (besides my complaints with the weapon durability). Speaking of natural, I won’t touch on this for long, but interactions with NPC’s in the game world are done extremely well. There are many likable characters that provide interesting dialogue and side quests for the player to explore, and the inclusion of animals roaming the open world make Hyrule feel like a lived-in place. Major props on that front.

C6LOeuNU0AAySds

To wrap this up, I’d like to mention the story that Zelda presents. The decision to tell the game’s story largely via flashbacks is an exciting venture that I think pays off. Each of the cutscenes is interesting and well-paced, and while I do think the voice acting is hit-or-miss in some places, it gets the job done well enough. The final encounter fills a satisfying conclusion to the adventure, even if it did not provide much surprise. Overall, I am extremely satisfied with Nintendo’s newest Zelda release, and eagerly await to hear more about the franchise’s future. I know I’ll be waiting day one to replay this entire game on the upcoming hard difficulty.

Zelda BOTW wallpaper 8

 

Thanks for reading!

  • Matt 

    Oh, I almost forgot. I’m finishing up Horizon: Zero Dawn this week, and will probably be writing my impressions of that game in the near future, when I’m not busy with Persona 5 (releasing tomorrow)! Man, it’s an exciting time to be playing video games. Have a great week, everyone.

Favorite Games of 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR
Happy New Year! 2014 is officially behind us. It feels odd to say this, but we are past the one year mark of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One’s release in the United States. Although there are some game titles that did not quite hit the mark of my expectations, 2014 turned out to be a solid year in gaming. In my eyes, all three console manufacturers enjoyed a great deal of success, with great titles that released on each platform. Here I will list my top seven favorite games of the past year, and why I enjoyed them with a quick summarization of my thoughts about each title, free of spoilers. Honorable mentions for games that did not reach the top seven will be posted at the end. Enjoy!

Transistor

Transistor

Transistor comes to us from Supergiant games, the creators behind Bastion, a critically acclaimed title that first released in 2011. The developer’s second title proves that their first game was no fluke; Transistor manages to take the isometric tactical gameplay that Bastion offered and expand upon it with a large breadth of combat choices, each one drastically altering the way you play and experience the game’s story. The powerful music, gorgeous visuals, smooth controls, and unique premise all come together in a way that captured me the moment I heard the first voice of dialogue speak to me from my controller. I should mention I played this game on the PlayStation 4, where the game makes great use of the speaker and light bar on the Dual Shock 4 controller. Character voices and sounds, even those that come through the controller speaker, sound crystal clear and feature fantastic dialogue. Although Transistor offers a rather short journey, it is one that is begging to be played through twice, if not more times afterward. Unlocking each of the combat playstyles and experimenting with each one’s unique effects has to be one of my favorite experiences in gaming in 2014.

Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta 2

Developed by the wonderful folk at Platinum Games, Bayonetta 2 is an awesome title that manages to outdo its predecessor in almost all fronts, providing us with intense battles, entertaining locales, and a cast that for the most part I absolutely adore. All of your favorite air combos, torture attacks, angelic weapons, and dodge offsets are here and better than ever! Be warned: Bayonetta 2 is not your average character-action title. Platinum knows character-action better than most, and boy, do they deliver with this entry. Bayonetta as a character is further fleshed out, uncovering more about her personality while sporting a new look and killer unique moves. Combos in Bayonetta 2 still require precision and patience to effectively pull off, but the rewards are well worth learning each unique attack. Umbran Climax is a new battle mechanic that causes Bayonetta to temporarily deal greater amounts of damage in its duration, being extremely satisfying and a treat to activate each time. Score counters and higher difficulties keep me coming back for more, even months after the game’s release. It offers a ride like no other from beginning to end. Oh, also: the alternate costumes in this game are the best that I’ve seen yet. Want to dress up Bayonetta as Link, Samus, Fox, and other Nintendo favorites? This is your chance.

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8

I have easily logged in over a hundred hours of Mario Kart 8, each moment filled with pure delight experiencing the brand new courses and anti-gravity tricks in the game. This game is a treat to have for when friends come by and want to do a few (or many) races in the thirty-two race tracks the base game includes. Each kart is very responsive, the graphics are crisp and colorful, and nearly every race track offers an engaging and fun experience. Online multiplayer is handled similarly to Mario Kart Wii’s online multiplayer races, with players accruing points that stack up as they win races against up to eleven other opponents. If I had to pinpoint a single missed opportunity with Mario Kart 8, it would have to be within the game’s battle mode feature. It has been said a million times before, but the game’s battle mode is simply lazily put together, not featuring any of the iconic arenas included in previous Mario Kart games, instead opting to throw players into one of the already included race tracks. Despite the lost opportunity in battle mode, the game delivers on all other fronts. I can see myself and friends playing this well into the future. Also, if owners of this game have their Wii U connected to the internet, they can download extra race tracks and characters. Playing as Link from The Legend of Zelda series in Mario Kart as a racer? Sign me up!

Smash Bros

Super Smash Bros. For 3DS and Wii U

By this point, Super Smash Bros. needs no introduction. This is Nintendo’s premiere (and perhaps only) fighting game, and they deliver on all fronts with this entry. Gone is the universally-hated tripping nuisance from Brawl, as this game brings us more characters, stages, music, trophies, and game modes to keep us playing for years to come. Although I have owned this game for a little over a month, I have only just scratched the surface of what this title has to offer. The new fighters are an absolute treat to fight as, and are probably what I enjoy most about this game. The roster of fighters in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U is my favorite among all of the games in the series. Aside from a few blemishes like Dark Pit and Lucina, the newcomers all offer a unique and fun playstyle. One thing I think that is important to mention is the time spent leading up to the game’s release; game director Masahiro Sakurai brought fans what he called a ‘daily picture’ via Nintendo’s Miiverse channel, which teased a particular feature of the game, exciting fans and reminding them each day why they should look forward to playing the newest Smash game. These daily pictures included character reveals, stage reveals, trophies, and other tidbits about the game before launch. I absolutely adored this non-stop hype train that lasted many months leading up to the game’s release, culminating in the release day of a fighting game I will play countless hours of over the course of years.

Wolfenstein The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order

I think this one surprised a lot of people, myself included. Wolfenstein: The New Order delivers satisfying action and shooter elements along with a surprisingly engaging storyline to create an experience I had to play through twice. The game moves at a fluid 60 frames per second, offering smooth controls and a solid choice of weaponry to play around with, if a bit limited in scope. Each weapon is loud and kicks, cementing the fact that the game’s protagonist, B.J. Blazkowicz, is a force to be reckoned with. The decision to focus entirely on an enthralling single-player experience, opting out of including a possibly shoehorned multiplayer mode is one that I greatly respect. We live in a generation of gaming where nearly every game with a gun is expected to feature some form of online multiplayer game mode, and I firmly believe Wolfenstein went the intelligent route by focusing on its strengths in single player, instead of spreading resources thin and causing its overall quality to potentially drop. The game does not do anything out of the ordinary for a first person shooter title, but what it does manage to do is deliver an extremely solid experience that does not tire from beginning to end.

Shovel Knight The Baz

Shovel Knight

The list of top-notch Nintendo games of 2014 continues on, eh? Well, joke’s on you! I played this one on Steam, and no matter where this title is played, it is an absolute blast. The retro graphics, solid platforming, and killer soundtrack are all reminders as to why I love platforming games to this day. Shovel Knight has many boss battles and stages that I continue to visit, humming each level’s tune along the way. If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on Shovel Knight, check out this previous post I made about the game.

D4

D4 (Dark Dreams Don’t Die)

All right, let’s get this bit of truth out of the way: I do not own an Xbox One. None of my friends that own an Xbox One have yet played this game. So how is this on my game of the year list, you ask? I watched a play-through of the title courtesy of the fine gentlemen over at Super Best Friends Play, and it impressed the hell out of me, enough so that it deserves a spot on this list. At first, I was not a fan of the game’s visual style. The hair on character’s heads appears dirty and a bit too messy all around. David Young, the game’s protagonist, has a thick Boston accent which I could not stand the first time I heard it. However, as the game’s plot moved forward I began to appreciate the quirky nature of each character and their exaggerated reactions to events. I think that is part of what makes this game so enjoyable. Each scene is never what you expect to see coming, with hilarious dialogue and bizarre situations to lighten up the serious crime-thriller investigation the game’s narrative portrays. While it is only past its second episode, I hope this game receives the funding and love it deserves, because it manages to create an atmosphere unlike other titles before it.

Honorable Mention: InFamous: Second Son, OctoDad: Dadliest Catch, Dark Souls II, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Shadow Warrior, Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Far Cry 4, Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax

Thank you for reading!

– Matt

Review: Shovel Knight

Bringing us back to the mid-80’s of gaming, Shovel Knight features an emphasis on retro 8-bit graphics as you control a knight who wields a shovel for a weapon. Retro hallmarks such as Mega Man and Super Mario Bros. are obvious inspirations for this solid platformer, which has our hero overcoming enemies as well as boss characters at the end of each level. Dialogue between the hero and his or her opponent is something that I greatly enjoy in video games, and before each boss battle, Shovel Knight and that level’s boss engage in conversation before their grand battle.

Shovel Knight! The game's hero.

Shovel Knight! The game’s hero.

The inclusion of a hub world where Shovel Knight goes to upgrade his life bar and magic meter is a good one, as it gives the player even more exploration to do outside of boss levels. Conversing with NPC’s and collecting music notes for the local bard offers rewards that may not seem immediately apparent but are extremely satisfying and useful for future battles.

As evidenced by his official title, Shovel Knight’s weapon of choice is a shovel. Along the journey, he will find more weapons to accompany his shovel, such as a flame torch or power gloves. Many of these weapons offer various uses in combat, but their implementation in platforming is a bit unexplored. This is what I call the ‘Zelda Effect.’ In many Legend of Zelda titles, there are a bevy of weapons and items to collect, almost to a fault due to each one’s limited usage. This causes an overabundance of items that the player may only use for limited periods of time, making these items have a lesser value than the rest. Shovel Knight suffers from a similar problem, causing a few of the items to be useful only in specially designed stages for that particular item. This may also be due to the clunky nature of equipping the items. Because the only attacks Shovel Knight has are mapped to two buttons, whenever you want to switch his special attack to a different weapon, a pop-up menu has to be opened up, where you select the item you next would like to use. From there, it is available in-game, rather similar to the way classic Mega Man titles handle weapon usage. While this system works fine in terms of combat, it does not allow for item variety within the platforming of each level. Oftentimes I found that particular areas cater to a single item, causing all others to be useless for the duration of that level. I feel that this could have been remedied by mapping the platforming-centric items to shoulder buttons or other unused keys, and keeping potions and other combat-centric items within the pop-up menu. This would create a smooth feeling and one that did not interrupt combat and exploration nearly as often.
[NOTE: I’ve been informed by Yacht Club Games (creators of Shovel Knight) that they HAVE put out a patch which maps abilities to the shoulder buttons or extra keys for quick use. I must have not played the game since that patch, or somehow missed its implementation. Regardless, I’m glad to see this change added! Rather than retype this entire paragraph, I’ll leave this notice.]

Basic combat in Shovel Knight is very well executed. The downward thrust of Shovel Knight’s weapon as he plunges down upon foes from above offers exciting combat and platforming opportunities, I think most notably featured in the propeller knight stage. This trick is used to bounce atop enemies, destroying them as well as providing our hero with a path to proceed onward.

Down - Air Attack

Down – Air Attack

At the end of the day, Shovel Knight is a blast to play, with solid platforming and exciting ways to take down foes. Enemies that are encountered along the way include the Black Knight, Tinker Knight, Plague Knight, and many more, my personal favorite being King Knight. If you are a fan of retro platformers such as Mega Man, Castlevania, or Mario Bros, you owe it to yourself to lend some time to Shovel Knight. The chip tune soundtrack by Jake Kaufman deserves a mention, as it is absolutely AWESOME. Seriously, I bought the whole soundtrack and put it on my phone. When you begin listening to a game’s soundtrack outside of playing that game, you know it deserves praise. With satisfying game play to boot, Shovel Knight is worth every second spent with it.

Worth Playing? = YES