With E3 now behind us, most of us are already thinking about what games we can’t wait to play in the upcoming months. Be it The Last Guardian or Final Fantasy XV, the world’s largest video game expo showed off some truly remarkable titles, many of which are set for release between now and Christmas time. While we impatiently await some of these releases, we thought it would be a great time to look back at the first half of 2016 and compile a list of our favorite games of the year, so far. If you haven’t tried any of the following eighteen titles, now might be a good time to catch up. Enjoy!
Since man first looked into the sky and discovered other celestial bodies, he has yearned to control the heavens. This has been reflected time and time again in gaming, and while Paradox’s Stellaris is far from the first space-born strategy game, it quickly positioned itself as one of the best. Taking ideas from classic 4-X games likes Galactic Civilizations and Masters of Orion as well as a healthy dose of Paradox’s own grand strategy titles like Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron, Stellaris is a game that tasks you with thinking big while operating small. What it lacks in originality it more than makes up for with depth, and it sets itself apart from other 4-X games with the sheer amount of options it gives the player and the ease with which the player can use the game’s tools. It’s not perfect, with lacking combat and a slog of a middle game, but with Paradox’s history of patches and DLC, there’s nowhere for this game to go but up. (Andrew Vandersteen)
17) Darkest Dungeon
Darkest Dungeon left early access in January and came out to rave reviews and the hardcore Rogue-like RPG is one of our favorite games of the year.
In Darkest Dungeon, you start out with a team of heroes in a rundown town that has once belonged to your family, and your goal is to redeem your legacy. Dungeon-crawling makes up the core of the gameplay loop, all while you’re managing your heroes, building up your town, and focusing on beating the many bosses and eventually making your way to the Darkest Dungeon, and retaking your family’s land. Brutal gameplay mechanics, punishing turn-based combat, managing stress, health, team composition, positioning, diseases, and other things all add a great amount of depth to every encounter and make every dungeon mean something. Whether it be sending in a suicide squad into a dungeon to make a few bucks, or putting your beloved Crusader in the insane asylum to help him de-stress, the game has a surprising amount of mechanics.
Darkest Dungeon, overall, is definitely one of the best games to come out this year and is one of the best Rogue-likes to come out in recent years. The combat and gameplay mechanics make the combat intense and fun, while the randomly generated dungeons keep the game varied enough to play for hours on end – if you’re me. Darkest Dungeon is out right now on Steam and is coming to PS4 this summer. (Devin Taylor)
16) Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley is an “open-ended country-life RPG” released on Steam in February this year and came out to rave reviews, earning universal praise.
After quitting your dead-end job working for a large corporation, you inherit your grandfather’s farm in Stardew Valley. The main structure involves buying and planting vegetables, fruits, and other things, raising animals, fishing and foraging. maintaining relationships with the townspeople, and even fighting bad guys in the mines. You can basically do whatever you want, whether it be focusing on building your farm or building your relationships. Seasons in this game last 28 days and you can only grow certain crops during certain seasons and when the season is done, all crops that are planted die, so that adds a certain depth to the farming rather than just mindlessly harvesting and planting, you have to plan what you’re planting and when.
Stardew Valley is a really fun game, the charming graphics, fun gameplay, and just pure tranquility make this game playable for hours on end. Though the story is barely there, it isn’t really something to be expected from this, considering it was developed by one guy. If you are remotely interested in Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon, though, this is a game for you. You can get Stardew Valley right now on Steam, and it is coming to consoles in Q4 of 2016. (Devin Taylor)
15) Enter the Gungeon
The profile of indie games is growing every month, and the first half of 2016 was amazing for these smaller-budget releases – not least of which was developer Dodge Roll’s fun, funny and adorably dumb Enter the Gungeon. In the game, players descend into a gun-themed fortress filled with bullet-themed enemies, shooting them with all manner of weird firearms.
To be frank: the 2D shooter, Rogue-lite, bullet-hell, dungeon-crawling genre isn’t new. Nuclear Throne has Vlambeer’s screen-shaking chaos and underground vibe going for it. The Zelda-styled, vulgar audacity of The Binding of Isaac also has its place in many gamers’ hearts. But Enter the Gungeon separates itself from the pack with high points of its own.
The gameplay is sharp and polished, from the carefully-timed dodge roll to the interactive cover; from the way that shell casings whoosh into your character when you clear the room, to the teleporters that cut down on backtracking. Enter the Gungeon respects the player’s time, limiting everything outside the actual shooting, and guiding the player through smoothly – though not too easily. The moment to moment combat can be nerve-wracking, forcing players to master the use of cover and dodge-rolling to survive.
As for presentation, the cute character designs, and terrible gun-puns are backed by a deep (and deeply silly) lore, collected in the Ammonomicon. Discovering new enemies, items and bosses reveal a mix of science fiction, magic, and absolute nonsense in the Gungeon. Finally, the retro-inspired sounds, and prolific indie composer Doseone’s score, combine into an atmosphere that feels both unsettling and compelling at the same time.
Enter the Gungeon is a great first game from Dodge Roll, another feather in publisher Devolver Digital’s cap, and stands tall as one of the best games of 2016. (Mitchell Akhurst)
14) Salt and Sanctuary
In an era where we haven’t seen a truly great Castlevania game in nearly 20 years, who would have thought that the best Castlevania game to arrive in two decades wouldn’t be a Castlevania game at all, but an entirely new IP.
Marrying the dense dungeon-crawling and 2D exploration of Castlevania with the intense challenge and pitch black lore of the Dark Souls series was certainly a gamble for Ska Studios. Luckily, this was one roll of the dice that paid off in spades. Salt and Sanctuary is not just a great game, but a marvel of game design in and of itself. Any studio that can so carefully merge the worlds of two disparate series like this into an entirely new entity, one that manages to mirror its source materials while still feeling like its own beast, is certainly worthy of commendation. (Mike Worby)
13) XCOM 2
Firaxis has once again shown why they’re the number one name in turn-based strategy. XCOM 2 is the perfect kind of sequel, taking the best ideas from the first game and mashing them together with insane amounts of new content. Flipping the script you take command of the destitute human resistance forces, battling the alien overlords for a free earth, and the gameplay wisely follows suit, requiring you to think more like an insurgency with hit-and-run actions and stealthy ambushes. Subtle tweaks and additions, like the ability to customize your soldiers and weapons, add new layers of depth to an already neck-deep pool of a game. Yes, the RNG nature of your soldier’s aim is frustrating, and the math on hit calculations can be confusing, but these are minor gripes to an otherwise fantastic experience. An absolute must for any fan of the original, or anyone looking for a challenging tactical experience. (Andrew Vandersteen)
12) Star Fox Zero
The Star Fox team’s return to home consoles after over a decade, Star Fox Zero is an action-packed, nostalgic thrill-ride that throws a lot of surprises into a familiar environment. Considered a re-imagining of the N64 classic Star Fox 64, players control Fox McCloud and battle their way through unrelenting waves of interstellar baddies using his trusty Arwing. Alongside Fox are his iconic teammates: Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare, and Slippy Toad. Flying through levels & hearing their banter exclusively through the GamePad audio with 3D sound makes you feel like you’re in the seat of the cockpit, making for quite an immersive effect.
While many have claimed that the controls can be wonky and hard to work with at times, it’s really just a matter of honing your skill. While a bit difficult to get used to right off the bat, with enough practice, anyone can become an ace Arwing pilot using the game’s gyro aim controls. With the view of the cockpit on the GamePad screen and the traditional view on the TV, more precise aiming can be pulled off with the right amount of dexterity. There are even more vehicles to pilot than just the Arwing; certain levels employ the Walker, the Gyrowing, and the Landmaster (along with its upgraded, flight-capable model). The bosses are just the right amount of challenge, some returning and some completely new; of course, Star Wolf returns as well to cause trouble for Star Fox. Dogfights with Star Wolf are some of the most intense battles you’ll experience during the game, making victory all the more sweet in the end.
While the control scheme may not be fit for some, Star Fox Zero stays true to its roots while still managing a decent amount of new features. If you think barreling through space and gunning down Venomian troops is your forte, then this is the game for you. (Matt Ninomiya)
11) Hyper Light Drifter
By making it clear from the get-go that your project is heavily inspired by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past you’re simultaneously opening the floodgates to endless criticism and setting the bar for success very high, but that didn’t stop indie developer Alex Preston from wearing his heart on his sleeve when launching the Kick Starter campaign for Hyper Light Drifter.
Beautifully animated and vividly colored, Hyper Light Drifter has a distinct visual identity that concurrently pays homage to the 16-Bit era while also having a new-age feel. The game’s opening cutscene is awe-inspiring yet confounding, perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the adventure. Outside of some text during the first few minutes of the game, Hyper Light Drifter is devoid of any comprehensible language, as the game tells its story through its imagery and leaves much up to the player’s own personal interpretation. The neon colors are heavily contrasted by the game’s brutal and unrelenting world, creating a grounded and heartfelt experience.
At the game’s core is its fluid yet unforgivingly difficult combat. Mixing melee and ranged attacks with fast-paced movement, forcing the player to be quick on their feet, constantly moving, weaving sword and gun attacks together in a symphony of blood and guts. The excellent enemy variety and large-scale boss fights will not only test your dexterity but also your resolve.
Hyper Light Drifter is a successful tribute to 16-Bit era and a mandatory experience for players who enjoy cryptic storytelling and challenging gameplay. (Matt De Azevedo)
10) The Witness
Back in 2008 rookie independent developer Jonathan Blow struck gold with his debut title Braid, but it didn’t come easy. In pursuit of his dream, Blow invested three years of his life and roughly $200,000 out of his own pocket funding Braid’s development. The mounting debt never dissuaded him, though, and in the end, his dedication paid off, as Braid’s eventual triumph made him a millionaire. Success and riches would change most men, but not Blow. Rather than buying a mansion and some cars, he turned around and invested all of his earnings on his next passion project. After years of radio silence, on January 26th of 2016 Blow released The Witness, and miraculously struck gold once again.
When describing The Witness it may come off as mundane. The game features no enemies or combat of any kind, there is no real story or characters, and the primary gameplay mechanic is guiding a line through hundreds of mazes. Sounds simple, right? The Witness is very much a one-dimensional game, as there is nothing to do aside from exploring and solving puzzles, but the breadth, complexity and constantly evolving challenges the game presents make it a must-play for any gamer who enjoys a test of their mental dexterity.
The Witness takes place on a secluded island; the player is free to explore at their own pace, brilliantly merging open world design with the puzzle solving experience. The polygonal art direction in conjunction with the vibrant color palate makes for a unique and appealing visual style, and the island itself is crafted with a meticulous attention to detail, as nearly everything you see and hear holds relevance to some nearby puzzle or hidden secret.
Many were quick to criticize the game due to its $40 price point, which exceeds what most people deem “appropriate” for an indie game, but The Witness held my attention for just as long as most Triple A titles, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming the game’s most difficult trials is well worth the price of admission. (Matt De Azevedo)
9) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
The best adventures don’t always have to be new ones. Often, it’s more enjoyable reliving a journey and rediscovering what made it so diverting in the first place. This is absolutely the case with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, one of the best games to come out so far this year. Building on its predecessors, in many ways, Twilight Princess represented the best of the Zelda franchise. With impeccable controls and gameplay, some of the best combat featured in a Zelda game yet, and its signature tone and design, Twilight Princess built on the familiar formula of Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker and escalated it. This is again the case with the HD version of the game, and Twilight Princess HD is the definitive way to experience the game. Every enhancement is notable, from the improved graphics to the ease and simplicity of aiming as a result of the Wii U’s gyroscope controllers. Twilight Princess HD also validates the Wii U Gamepad, as an easy access inventory and ever-present map couldn’t be more convenient. On top of all of that, the game supports amiibo, utilizing every Zelda-themed figure to either support the player or make the experience more challenging. The Wolf Link amiibo even brings additional content in the way of a small challenge course. Twilight Princess was always a brilliant game, with a gorgeous art style, some of the best dungeons in franchise history, and the well-designed gameplay Nintendo is renowned for. Twilight Princess HD builds on all of that brilliantly and is the single best way to experience one of the best journeys to Hyrule players have been permitted to embark on. (Tim Maison)
8) Fire Emblem Fates
If the first half of 2016 only gave us Fire Emblem Fates, we would be satisfied. The North America release in February gave fans of the tactical role-playing franchise two new games (Conquest and Birthright, later Revelations) with unique emotional gut-wrenching stories. The 30+ hour gameplay follows your personally customized prince or princess as he or she gathers an army going up against their own family. The conflicting battles conjure between Hoshido and Nohr, as the former tries to hold off the latter’s forces. The scenarios look better than ever in Fates, especially in the time since it’s predecessor, Awakening. The vibrant colors of luscious green fields and flowers seem to jump out from the screen while darker colors appropriately set gloomy and mysteries moods. The musical score adds another element to Fates. Sounds of joyfulness and hope background scenes where character relationships build, and on the other side, the music intensifies for battles. I’m not usually adept at listening to music in most cases on handhelds, but I always had my headphones plugged in for Fates. With all that said, the best part of the game is building your characters. Characters gaining experience is better than ever, and a new feature called the Support System uniquely creates interesting character conversations and relationships. As you travel through the game, you strongly feel for your characters and their fates, which of course are all in your hands. Fire Emblem Fates gives fans two different games designed for two different players. If you’ve played the game before, Conquest’s more difficult tactics could be for you. If you’re brand new or haven’t played in awhile, Birthright is an easier game to adapt to. Don’t miss out on one of the top games of the year (so far). (Steven Elliott)
7) Ratchet and Clank
When the first installment in the Ratchet & Clank-series was released in 2002, it shook up the entire industry and left a mark on all games that were yet to come. Through its extreme innovation, the game became a fan favorite and a household name altogether and received praise from a huge amount of critics. The controls were excellent, and the graphics were mind-blowing at the time. As a result of all this, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that the game was re-imagined and released under the same name for the PS4 in 2016.
Usually, when someone decides to remake such an impactful game, there’s a lot of turbulence along the way. There’s always gonna be some people who remain a little bit too attached to the original game, and don’t want to see a new version of it at all. Then there’re the people who are initially positive to the idea of a new installation in the series but end up disliking the game because they feel it differs too much from the previous installations. Then there’re the players who feel as if games themselves hold expiration dates, and therefore assume that a 14-year old game can’t possibly stand its ground amidst the sophisticated games of this era.
Luckily, Insomniac Games managed to deliver a game that seemingly suited us all. The graphics are amazing, the controls are smooth and fluid, and somehow it’s all so very faithful to the original installation from 2002. It’s the same old environments, the same old characters, the same mechanics, but now brandishing a new, overhauled exterior that does complete and utter justice to the original Ratchet & Clank game we all know and love. (Johnny Pederson)
6) Pokken Tournament
Much like the Super Smash Bros. series, Pokken Tournament takes a huge leap away from other, more traditional fighting games. While maybe not as easy to grasp as Smash, it is relatively accepting of young or inexperienced players. The quick and easy tutorials will help them grasp the intimidating — at least at first sight — mechanics, and while it seems complex and outlandish during the beginning play sessions, the battle system proved itself to be fluid, exciting, and rewarding once players have gotten the hang of it. Pokken Tournament is a 3D fighter meshed with a 2D fighter which, again, sounds extremely complicated. But, players need only perform a certain combo or deal a certain amount of damage to switch the perspective, which changes most of the mechanics. Certain buttons will now do different things, new combos will be added while others are dropped. It’s a system that keeps the battles moving at a brisk and satisfying pace.
The multiplayer is fantastic, and easily the most fun to be had in Pokken. Playing online is almost flawless; players can expect little to no frame drops or crashes. Playing with friends locally is less polished — as player one is forced to use the lower resolution gamepad as their screen — but it can still be played for hours on end. On the other hand, the single player is surprisingly lacking, especially when considering this game’s Pokemon relatives. It attempts to tie together generic battles with a mysterious antagonist in Shadow Mewtwo but ends up feeling more like fighting random CPUs until you reach an unimportant conclusion. Otherwise, Pokken is a truly addicting experience. It may not offer much past the multiplayer, but fighting games have always been more about beating the snot out of your friends and random strangers anyway. (Ricardo Rodriguez)
After its original announcement in 2008, DOOM survived the loss of key members of the development team and the scrapping of the entire project in 2011. After a disappointing response to the multiplayer beta and review copies being withheld from the media, the game’s future looked dim.
And yet DOOM rose victorious, becoming both a critical darling and fan favorite upon release. Simultaneously paying homage to and modernizing classic gameplay elements like frenetic gunplay and map exploration, DOOM provides a perfect balance of chaos, calm, and carnage. Fought at a blistering pace, battles play out in dizzying ballets of death as players weigh split-second tactical decisions using a huge arsenal in the face of a relentless host of enemies.
A pulse-pounding musical score backs up superlative visuals that run beautifully on both PCs and consoles. While the multiplayer may not be what everyone wanted, SnapMap is a fun, intuitive way for players to create their own content, and DOOM’s campaign elevates the game to far more than just a pleasant surprise. DOOM is without doubt one of the best shooters in the last 10 years. (Michael Riser)
The gaming community is often asked the loaded question, “are video games art”? In this case, absolutely. With one of the most intriguing, heart-wrenching, and thought-inducing relationships I’ve ever witnessed in a video game, it would be very difficult to argue that this experience is anything less than a beautiful piece of art. While the gameplay is rather simple, the connection between Henry and Delilah is incredibly complex. I thought hard about every dialogue choice I was given and catered their relationship with care. I looked forward to every conversation the two characters would have and strived to do whatever I could to improve on their relationship.
The plot and environment are often intertwined, leaving the player sorrowful and alone in a cave at one point, then feeling cheerful and inspired on top of a mountain at another. The storytelling and beautiful scenery coincide to create a world that truly feels alive. Topped off with wildlife and tons of Easter Eggs, players will love exploring the wilds of Wyoming. This rollercoaster of emotions is accompanied by tons of genuine humor. It is very rare that a video game actually makes me laugh out loud, but Firewatch did this consistently.
In the end, the most beautiful part of Firewatch is the realism in its world. With the shocking revelations of the mystery and the incredibly emotional finale, the developers were sure to create a memorable experience that seems very believable. Firewatch is like a fine book; although it does not take long to complete, it certainly leaves a lasting impression on you. I felt a massive amount of emotion throughout the 5-hour campaign and plan on revisiting that world again one day to experience this masterpiece of gaming history once more. (Chris Souza)
Naughty Dog has once again crafted a breathtaking adventure that can stand alone as the best game on PlayStation 4, yet. A Thief’s End may not have that big, iconic set piece moment found in previous Uncharted games but it succeeds as a collection of smaller sequences that help set a new benchmark for the way video games can communicate a narrative. A Thief’s End is a fitting send-off for Nathan Drake and one that perfectly balances the action-packed extravaganza we’ve come to expect with the slow and heavy emotional toll of Naughty Dog’s other hit title, The Last of Us. Uncharted 4 might just be the best title developed by Naughty Dog, and not just because of the stunning graphics, but because of how the sum of all it’s parts come together in a brilliantly cohesive whole. Everything from the dialogue, character actions, visual motifs, audio cues, art direction, sound effects, artistic presentation, tone and setting help create a breathtakingly efficient, immaculately constructed game that is a sheer joy to play. This is the ne plus ultra of triple-A blockbusters! (Ricky D)
Not only did id produce a reboot of a classic FPS franchise with Doom, we also got a second surprise FPS in the first half of 2016, with Overwatch. From veteran developer (but FPS newbie) Blizzard Entertainment, best known for its real-time strategy, MMO, and action-RPG offerings, Overwatch began life as a failed MMO only to become one of the world’s best-loved competitive multiplayer team-shooters. 7 million players can’t be wrong.
Overwatch has a massive following for a reason. Packed to the brim with 21 different characters while still maintaining the tactical, chaotic gameplay necessary for a good shooter, there’s no shortage of either action or personality. The small number of game types hasn’t proved an issue for most people, and the 12 colorful maps are beautifully designed and fun to play. It’s even good enough to overcome a host of aesthetic and gameplay concerns, reach people who don’t like Team Fortress 2, and appeal to people who normally don’t play competitive shooters.
With tightly-balanced gameplay, a heavy focus on unique characters (without excessive MOBA trappings), and an active community, Overwatch is likely to have both player and developer support for years to come. (Michael Riser)
1) Dark Souls III
Few series have made the kind of mark on gaming over the last decade that the Souls series has made, and Dark Souls III is the crowning jewel of that achievement. The cleanest, balanced, and precise game that From Software has yet to produce, even with the buckets of crowd service and nostalgia, one can’t help but be blown away by what a beautifully polished experience Dark Souls III offers.
In a series that has always been known for its atmosphere, the level of detail here is still staggering in its idiosyncrasy. Look at the way the wind catches your enemy’s clothes as they attack, the hundreds of tiny individual candles that are animated in a cavern, or the way the dust separates in the air when you smash an old table or bookcase. This is game design at its finest, carefully crafted and lovingly curated. Even if you might not have the patience to tackle a game like Dark Souls III, anyone can look at it and appreciate it for what it is, and that’s one of the most gorgeous, involving, and challenging games ever designed.
Dark Souls III is not only a wonderful love letter to the fans but a great send off for this series as well. (Mike Worby)
‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.
It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…
I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.
Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.
Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.
Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.
The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.
Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.
The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child
Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.
The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.
The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.
Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.
Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.
When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.
‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.
In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.
It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.
Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.
In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.
Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.
Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.
Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.
Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.
Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.
I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.
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