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Halfway Point: Best Games of 2016 (So Far…)

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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!

Stellaris

18) Stellaris

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)

Darkest Dungeon

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)

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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)

enterthegungeonlogo

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)

Salt and Sanctuary

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)

X-Com2

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)

StarFoxZero

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)

HyperLightDrifter

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)

The Witness

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)

legend_of_zelda_twilight_princess_hd_review_wii_u

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)

FireEmblemFates

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)

RatchetAndClank

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)

pokken_tournament_wallpaper_by_nintato-d9odpp2

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)

doom

5) DOOM

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)

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4) Firewatch

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)

Best Games of 20163) Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

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)

overwatch

2) Overwatch

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)

Dark Souls III1) 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)

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‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.

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Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsSnake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collectiona compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

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