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Top 10 Games with Staff Writer, Carston Carasella

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Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors, and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree.

Video games have been apart of my life for as long as I can remember.  I grew up watching my father play them constantly, and that instilled a love for the hobby within me.  Since I could pick up a controller and comprehend colors on a screen I’ve been feeding this habit, and whether I’m a better man for it is yet to be seen.  While my top 10 list isn’t filled with classics like Final Fantasy VII or Symphony of the Night, it is a love letter to the games that not only defined who I am as a gamer, but also how I enjoy entertainment content and writing for the site.


10) Red Dead Redemption

It’s a well-known fact that the developers at Rockstar pride themselves on fantastic storytelling. The Grand Theft Auto series has some of the most memorable characters and story arcs in video game history, but somehow, they never really appealed to me.  With Red Dead Redemption, I got a douse of those fantastic qualities in a genre I adore.  No game prior or since has nailed the look and feel of a Western like Red Dead, and this is the cornerstone of what makes the game great.

Everything from the gritty and mature depiction of the frontier to the adored anti-hero John Marston tugged at my heartstrings and gave me a world that I constantly want to revisit.  What’s more, the online multiplayer in Red Dead was revolutionary and addictive, acting as an ever-present part of my daily routine for a solid year.  Red Dead was my first foray into a Rockstar game, and I couldn’t have been more in love with my experience.

9) Destiny

Bungie’s next big title after Halo had no reason to be as successful as it is.  The vanilla launch of Destiny offered players a lackluster story with little reason to play endgame content.  I remember being tired of replaying the same missions and strikes over and over, even with the first two pieces of DLC content.  Then, just when I was about to give up on the game entirely, my best friend got me into his clan.  Once I found that sense of community, I never looked back.  My weekends were filled with hours or raiding, PvP matches, and general fun and excitement as I found everything I’d been missing in Destiny.

Add to that a stellar new story with the Taken King DLC, and a revised loot system, and Destiny quickly became my go-to game.  Above all else, I value the friendships I’ve made and truly breathtaking moments I experienced like beating the Vault of Glass for the first time, or getting a new exotic weapon or long sought-after armor piece.  Destiny did what any great game should do, it gave me a reason to keep coming back.

8) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I’ve always been a fan of big dumb adventure movies.  I grew up on films like Big Trouble in Little China, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Romancing the Stone.  It was a combination of the daring protagonist, exotic locations, dangerous threats, and fun tone that endeared them to my heart.  With Uncharted 2, I found all of this and more, as Naughty Dog delivered a globe-trotting, tomb-raiding shooter with genuine characters and a strong story.

I was already a fan of the first Uncharted, so revisiting Nathan Drake’s adventures and his ever-developing story was something I looked forward to.  Add to this better graphics, more gameplay options, and even bigger set pieces, and Uncharted 2 captivated me wholeheartedly.  I’d never been so eager to finish a game only to want to play it again just for the same experience.

7) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

It goes without saying that I’m a massive fantasy nerd.  I’ve played D&D for as long as I can remember, and gorged myself on the works of Tolkien and Robert Jordan since I was 12.  Naturally, a game like Oblivion would appeal to me on multiple levels.  Its high fantasy setting, coupled with its grand plot and myriad of diverse characters made it a breeding ground for my imagination.  Exploring the vast landscape of Cyridil and taking on quests for valiant knights, shady assassins, and politically ambitious rulers gave me the same sense of joy and wonder that I felt when reading fantasy classics.

I found myself more attached to the side quests rather than the main story of Oblivion, as I felt that my character’s trait and motives got to shine more fully in the scenarios without predetermined endings.  While a clear majority of gamers will cite Skyrim as the definitive Elder Scrolls experience, I found the world of Oblivion much more intriguing and fantastical than the icy bleakness of its northern counterpart.  Plus, any game that puts Sean Bean in a major role will always win out for me.

6) Persona 3

Nothing quite captivates me the way a fantastic RPG does (as evidenced by the latter half of this list).  Persona 3, while not the strongest in the Persona series, remains my favorite.  It was my first foray into JRPGs and helped define my gaming life for years to come.  I relished the insane amount of detail that went into managing your high school social life, studying for classes, and fighting demons in an increasingly challenging dungeon system.  Every character in Persona feels believable and genuine, which adds to the already rock-solid plot.

I found myself captivated by the quieter aspects of Persona 3, like going to the mall with friends or helping an elderly couple at a bookstore.  While the main plot was entertaining, it was the small side objectives that defined who your character was in regard to your friends that really stuck with me.  I found myself wishing that my high school experience had been as exciting as what I was playing in Persona, and that to me is a sign of a fantastic game.

5) Dark Souls III

To say that I’m a fan of the Souls franchise is a bit of an understatement.  I was practically glued to my PS3 and PS4 whenever a new Souls game came out, and I poured countless hours into perfecting my characters stats, finding most of the weapons and armor, and beating every boss.  While I was originally going to slot the first Dark Souls into this list, I found myself having more of an attachment to the final entry in the series.  Everything about Dark Souls III just feels right, from the updated combat mechanics to the level design and boss fights.  I never felt like I had the upper hand in any situation, and the difficulty, while brutal, was never unfair.

Above all else Dark Souls III gave me a fitting challenge and a surprisingly varied narrative with four different endings, each with their own questlines to complete beforehand.  Standout characters like Anri and the Fire Keeper offer faint glimmers of hope in such a dark world, while returning faces like Andre the blacksmith and the Crestfallen Warrior bring back some of the same emotions I have tied to the first Dark Souls.  Furthermore, areas from Dark Souls like Anor Londo and the Kiln of the First Flame are brought back for III, but in new and vastly different forms to offer players a new experience.

Every boss in Dark Souls III is beautifully designed, and while some were much easier than others, they all left me in awe with their stunning move sets, armor, and weapons.  Dark Souls III was the perfect way to end a series that’s near and dear to my heart, and captivated me enough to keep me coming back over a year later.

4) Mass Effect 2

Along with my near obsession with the realm of fantasy is a boundless love for science fiction.  Exploring distant planets, grand space battles, and exotic alien creatures always excited me both on the screen and on paper.  This is what initially drew me to the Mass Effect series.  Its space opera story took me across the galaxy as Commander Shepard, assembling a crew of multi-species badasses to combat the many threats poised against the Alliance.  Developer Bioware is known for crafting marvelous stories, and this series is no exception.

What sets Mass Effect 2 apart from the other three games in the series is its plot and character development.  The threat faced in this second installment feels more grounded and personal to Shepard and his crew, and the 11+ crew members you must recruit each have deep, emotional back stories.  I’ve never been more attached to a group of characters more so than to the crew of the Normandy, and I felt a genuine sense of loss if one of them died at a certain point in the story.

From a technical standpoint, Mass Effect 2 feels like the happy medium of the original trilogy.  It fixed many of the uncomfortable controls from the first game, but wasn’t so bogged down with extra features and multiplayer like the third game.  Three fantastic expansions as well as star-studded voice acting from both the original cast and superstar Martin Sheen also helped to elevate Mass Effect 2 above both its predecessor and sequel.   It’s the quintessential Mass Effect experience, and I found myself grinning the entire way through.

3) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

In tandem with my love for sci-fi comes a love for Star Wars.  I grew up watching the original trilogy with my father, and embraced the main characters and the philosophy attached to understanding the Force.  I’d always desperately wished to explore that world in a grander sense, and create my own epic adventures among the stars.  I got that exact opportunity with KOTOR, another staple Bioware title.  Set thousands of years before the original trilogy, Bioware was free to tell whatever Star Wars story they wanted without being shackled to the Skywalker saga.

What I got was a highly detailed story about the rise of a new Sith empire, the origins of the Jedi code, and more light sabers than you can throw a blaster at.  I felt like my character and his companions were having a meaningful impact on the galaxy, as we planet-hopped between systems and solved problems both big and small.  Revisiting planets from the movies like Tatooine was spectacular, especially when I got to see how they existed generations before I first saw them.  As with most Bioware games, the writing and world-building are fantastic in KOTOR, and the major twist of the game has gone down in video game history as one of the best out there.

2) Bioshock

Deciding between this masterpiece of a game and my #1 pick was harder than I thought it would be.  Bioshock means too much to me not only from a gaming perspective, but also as a facet of my life.  Exploring the fractured underwater ruins of Rapture showed me what phenomenal storytelling can look like in video games as well as any other form of entertainment.  Inspired by the works of Ayn Rand and her Atlas Shrugged novels, the twisted version of a 1940’s underwater society gone horribly wrong is still prevalent today, and stands as a benchmark for modern storytelling.

I was amazed that a first-person shooter could have as much depth and emotional weight as Bioshock did, and the choices my character had to make throughout the story, as well as his major revelations at the hands of the game’s most interesting character Andrew Ryan, inspired me for years.  Once a year I revisit the world of Rapture and wrap myself in the mystery and wonder it brings with it.  Every playthough feels new and exciting, and I look forward to my time with Bioshock in eager anticipation.

1) Bloodborne

Let’s get one thing clear, I’m in love with Bloodborne.  No other game has stuck with me as much as From Software’s PS4 exclusive Souls game.  Let’s start with the basics: I love anything inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and this game is practically one of his novels.  Combat is fresh and addicting, but still feels on par with the mechanics in other Souls games.

The story is more evident than in other Souls games, but still requires the player to delve deep into item descriptions and character dialogue.  Speaking of characters, every optional quest line feels as if it could be the main plot, with multiple phases and character arcs that genuinely shocked me.  Including the DLC, Bloodborne boasts four optional areas chock full of new and terrifyingly dangerous enemies, as well as some of the most memorable bosses in the series.

Like most players, I’m playing a Souls game for the boss fights, and Bloodborne does not disappoint.  Including the optional and dungeon bosses, there are forty-three monstrosities the player can fight through, and you can bet that I tackled every one.  I devoted so much of my time to this game that I missed several big releases over the past two years, and I’m not even that upset about it.  Bloodborne is essentially my perfect game, it has everything I could want and need from a video game, and stands as the benchmark upon which I judge all other gaming experiences I’ve had.

Honorable mentions: Jade Empire, Divinity: Original Sin 2, God of War 2, Age of Empires 2 (noticing a trend here?), The Last of Us, Journey, Hyper Light Drifter, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Mech Assault, Full Auto (look it up its fantastic), Resident Evil VII, Wii Sports, Mario Kart 64, and Metroid Fusion.

Carston is a freelance writer hailing from the always humid Sunshine State. He enjoys RPGs, grand strategy games, 80's New Wave and post-punk, and anything PlayStation related. If Game of Thrones, Mass Effect, or Chinese food are your thing, find him on Twitter @RolandDucant.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Death Stranding’

What makes Death Stranding the most important game of the year is how it has managed to divide gamers and critics alike.

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Death Stranding

2019 has been a banner year for gaming. With some excellent original properties making their debuts and a ton of great sequels, there’s been something for everyone and a lot of it. Still, with all of these amazing games to play, only one of them stands out as the most important game of 2019, and that’s Death Stranding.

Now, please note, I said “most important” and not “best”. Death Stranding is far from a perfect game. As my own review pointed out, Death Stranding has a lot of problems, and some of them are so egregious that they could be described as anti-fun. However, what makes the game stand out from its peers is the sheer scale and awe-inspiring hubris of its creation.

For the first (and possibly last) time, Hideo Kojima has been given a total carte blanche of creative freedom and financial resources to make whatever game he wanted. With Sony footing the bill, Death Stranding is maybe the most Kojima game ever made. Unfortunately, like some prog rockers and experimental filmmakers, Kojima could have well done with some reigning in this time around.

Death Stranding

Still, what makes Death Stranding stand out so much from the competition is that it really is almost nothing like anything you’ve ever played. The game is basically a delivery sim where you must cross an apocalyptic wasteland of America and battle a bunch of ghosts along the way. What caused America to fall, and where these ghosts came from, is still relatively unclear even after all of the overwrought explanations that punctuate the end of the game.

Of course, Death Stranding isn’t so much concerned with why and how these events came to be as it is with the experience of living in, and dealing with, them. This is the one game you’ll play this year that will balance out self-serious moral and religious philosophy with chucking literal piss bombs at ghosts and chugging Monster energy drinks.

Yes, Death Stranding has all of the classic Kojima staples. From egregious product placement to a never-ending stream of increasingly tragic backstories, all the hits are here.

Death Stranding

However, what makes Death Stranding the most important game of the year isn’t so much its utter weirdness as a AAA title but how it has divided gamers and critics alike. While some have slathered it with never-ending praise and perfect scores, others have labeled it “a very lumpy game” or “damaged goods“.

Few games, especially in the AAA space, are able to elicit such divergent responses from their audience. Fewer still are peppered with major actors like Norman Reedus and Lea Seydoux in painstakingly rendered motion capture. For these reasons and more, Death Stranding will be debated in critical circles for years to come, and if that’s not the mark of a game that stands out, then nothing is.

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Let’s Drink to the Best Indie Games of 2019

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The Best Indie Games of 2019
The Best Indie Games of 2019

The Best Indie Games of the Year

Unlike triple-A studios, independent developers generally have more freedom to experiment and are less likely to sacrifice their pure artistic vision in order to please some corporate wig who has little to no understanding of the medium and only cares about dollars and cents. Indie game developers often take big risks, sometimes inventing new genres and/or innovating in ways that bigger studios could never dream. And despite not having the resources, money and manpower of larger companies, indie developers have proved time and time again that they can rival mainstream games in scope and ambition. Take 2019 for instance; it was arguably a weak year for AAA titles but there were plenty of great indie games released over the past twelve months that kept us busy, and in some cases, these games are far better products than their AAA counterparts.

The list is in alphabetical order since we love them all equally.

****

Afterparty

1: Afterparty

Afterparty, the new game from Night School Studio boasts a clever premise: You play as bashful and skittish Milo and the more assertive and sarcastic Lola who are armed with cynical but funny one-liners and ambidextrous wit. They are best friends and recent college graduates ready to enter the next chapter of their lives, only to their surprise, Milo and Lola have found themselves dead and dispatched to hell. With no recollection of how they got there, they are convinced it was a huge mistake and venture off looking for a way out. As they make their way through the underworld meeting demons and other humans sentenced to live their afterlife in Satan’s backyard, they discover a loophole that can send them back home. As it turns out, the devil is a raging alcoholic, and if they can outdrink the Prince of Darkness, they will get a first-class ticket back to Earth. It might seem easy, but as Milo and Lola quickly learn, nothing comes easy in Hell.

Created in the same vein as Oxenfree, fans of Night School Studio will be happy to find their signature brand of comedy, colorful characters and witty dialogue return in Afterparty. As with OxenfreeAfterparty is a single-player, point and click, dialog-driven experience in which you alternate between Milo and Lola, shifting between their perspectives as they react to various situations that unfold around them. What begins as a frequently funny story about two best friends making it through a night of extensive drinking and awkward conversations with numerous strangers slowly shifts gears to darker territory.

Afterparty serves up a wild plot, a boisterously engaging ensemble, and a sincere exploration of what friendship is.  Night School’s neon-colored vision of Hell is especially great; the game has five main environments, each bursting with imagination and an impressive score by scntfc, the same artist who composed Oxenfree’s soundtrack. All in all, Afterparty is a good time, boasting a terrific plot twist, laugh-out-loud gags, and clever set-pieces. With its punchy dialog and sharp writing, Afterparty comes highly recommended (Ricky D)

Ape Out

2: Ape Out

In Ape Out, Gabe Cuzzillo and his small team have crafted something unique that comes highly recommended. This game is equal parts beautiful, thoughtful, exhilarating, and fun. The sum of its parts is a creation that is all-too-rare in games — something fresh and unlike anything else. I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t playing it, and unable to put the controller down in order to give each board ‘just one more try.’ To have that gameplay experience put together with so much artistic flair makes for the kind of experience that is worth killing for. Again and again and again.

Ape Out is a rhythmic pulse of thrust-push-kill fun. Ape Out is the kick drum rolling right into to the snare and a crash just as you crush that guard a hair before he pulls the trigger. Ape Out is blood trailing behind you when you can’t take another shot, then crossing through the green door of freedom and into the jungle beyond at the last moment. (Marty Allen)

Baba Is You

3: Baba Is You

Baba Is You, is a wonderful little puzzle game where the physical rules of the game are the puzzle pieces themselves. In a graphically-simple little world, you push and pull words into phrases, like a miniature programming language, but you’re a weird bunny creature doing the heavy lifting. It’s sort of like The Adventures of Lolo meets Scribblenauts, if you’ll mind the deep-nerd references. The conceit and gameplay are novel, well-executed, and well worth a look for any fan of puzzle games. The mechanic gets a bit less satisfying when the puzzles become more unforgiving about 3/4 into the game, but Baba remains fun and interesting for long enough to be one of the highlights of 2019 thus far. (Marty Allen)

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

4: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Former Castlevania veteran Koji Igarashi returned to his gothic roots this year in order to put the ‘vania’ back into Metroidvania with round two of his phantasmagoric spiritual successor Kickstarter franchise developed by ArtPlay and published by 505 Games, Bloodstained. Rather than following in the vein of classic linear Castlevania like the retro throwback prequel Curse of the Moon had last year, the focus of Ritual of the Night spotlights the exploration and backtracking aspects that the legendary Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had revolutionized during the era of the original PlayStation- only this time in a two and a half dimensional art style reminiscent of the two Castlevania handheld games developed by Igarashi, The Dracula X Chronicles and Mirror of Fate.

Ritual of the Night takes everything audiences loved about the most critically acclaimed Castlevania games and unearths them in a haunting fantasy interpretation of Victorian England during the Industrial Revolution. From a story packed to the brim with vampires, alchemy, and horror to gameplay focused on short-range defensive and offensive positions mixed into room hopping around a massive labyrinth, there is no denying that Ritual of the Night is undebatably the definitive successor to both Symphony of the Night and Order of Ecclesia.

With the slew of fantastic modern-day Metroidvania type games available on the market that seemingly has no production end in sight, Ritual of the Night is a needed addition to a lineup that never seems to give up on originality and is easily one of the most worthwhile games to play right now in the genre on current hardware. The Shardbinder Miriam may not be a member of the Belmont clan or a descendant of Vlad Dracula Ţepeş, but she is without a doubt a hunter worthy of the namesakes. It is definitely the closest thing we will get to Castlevania at this point in time. (Marc Kaliroff)

Cadence of Hyrule

5: Cadence of Hyrule

Cadence of Hyrule feels like it shouldn’t exist. It’s an all-new Zelda game, yet it is fully developed by an indie studio. On top of that, it also serves as a sequel to the 2015 indie hit Crypt of the Necrodancer, featuring all of that game’s signature rhythmic roguelike gameplay combined with elements of a traditional Zelda game like overworld exploration, puzzle-solving, and plenty of items and treasure to discover. Such a combination sounds strange, if not completely bizarre on paper – yet in practice, it’s a toe-tappingly intoxicating mix that can be impossible to put down.

Just like Crypt of the Necrodancer before it, Cadence of Hyrule’s gameplay is fully choreographed according to the beat of its pulsating EDM soundtrack. Yet at the same time, its lush pixelated graphics and traditional world design call back to the most classic entries in the Zelda franchise like A Link to the Past. That’s what makes Cadence remarkable – it takes the unmistakable rhythmic gameplay that made Crypt of the Necrodancer so memorable in the first place and marries it to the very best aspects of classic Zelda. Perhaps nothing exemplifies this better than its soundtrack, which consists entirely of high-octane remixes of iconic Zelda tunes, breathing new life into these legendary melodies through Crypt of the Necrodancer’s signature high-energy electronic style. Cadence of Hyrule is a duet that nobody unexpected, but one that is absolutely worthy of applause. (Campbell Gill)

Creature in the Well

6: Creature in the Well

Creature in the Well is like if a bunch of programmers got together to attempt to mash both Hyper Light Drifter and Breakout together inside a sporadic pinball cabinet. The result is a ridiculously satisfying game that is not only engaging to play by yourself but amusing to just simply watch as every player discovers their own rhythmic beat that can be adapted to their own unique playstyles that will inevitably reach the same end goal. 

Flight School Studio’s newest attempt at mixing two different genres contains constant back and forth action that can either play out as a slow-paced grind or a fast on your feet game filled with bright ricocheting projectiles that are so shiny you will never be able to resist the urge to send them flying. It takes everything you love about the free casual feel-good emotions of playing a standard pinball cabinet and combines it with the satisfaction of completing a full-on adventure game slightly decorated with a coat of role-playing game mechanics.

Creature in the Well oversees the tale of a future distant dystopia where a sandstorm caused by an underground blackout has trapped the City of Mirage. As the final remaining BOT-C Unit, you are tasked with journeying into the depths of the planet to repower the machines that can save the city from its demise. A colossal creature, however, lies in your path and stands as a major threat to your mission. Back in November, I reviewed Creature in the Well calling it “a captivating case of a fresh experiment gone right” and an “absolute must-try for audiences of both the pinball and puzzle game genres.” It is seven sweet hours of pinball with swords masqueraded in a gorgeous dark toon shaded art-style that is incomparable to any other independent title released this year. You could not ask for more than that. (Marc Kaliroff)

Degrees of Separation

7: Degrees of Separation

Co-op puzzle games often leave the lone gamer spending more time swapping than solving, but that’s not the case with Degrees of Separation, a fantastic series of puzzle challenges so skillfully crafted and balanced that whether you opt for playing with a partner or flying solo, this journey through the beautiful lands of a fallen kingdom manages to mix equal parts fire and ice into a wonderfully satisfying experience.

Players take control of Rime and Ember, two star-crossed royals bound to dimensions cloaked in summer and winter; due to mysterious events, they can now see each other, but each occupies the opposing sides of a line that cannot be crossed — a line which separates their elementally different worlds, keeping them just out of arms’ reach. However, manipulating the location of this line allows players to change the environment in order to navigate it. For instance, Rime’s frigid setting allows him to walk atop frozen lakes, while the heat of Ember’s world means that ice turns to water as she approaches, letting her swim below the surface. The nature of the characters gives them access to different parts of each stage, and is crucial in solving puzzles and collecting scarves.

The developers keep things fresh by consistently introducing new wrinkles to this mechanic, and swapping between characters is surprisingly smooth, giving off a satisfying sense of orchestration and flow that rarely gets bogged down in repetition. Add to that some gorgeously colorful visuals, a serene soundtrack, and ongoing narration of the sweet tale by a soft-voiced (and highly perceptive) storyteller, and Degrees of Separation is one of the most addictive puzzle-platformers I’ve played in a while. (Patrick Murphy)

Disco Elysium

8: Disco Elysium

RPGs are a tried and true genre, one that appeals to almost every type of gamer you can imagine and covers a myriad of formats from old school top-down isometric games to full-on 3D action-adventure titles. It’s a genre that runs the gamut, and has become so entrenched that everyone knows exactly what to expect from an RPG these days. Using an absolutely uncanny combination of classical continental existential ennui and horrific Lovecraftian absurdity, Disco Elysium is a game that takes those expectations and dashes them quite expertly.

It features the kind of game world that rarely, if ever, comes to the fore in the modern market. Thanks to a narrative crafted by Estonian novelist, Robert Kurvitz, this is a title that presents players with a world that is simultaneously utterly fantastical and immediately recognizable. There’s a brutalist realism to its total aesthetic that is both off-putting and alluring. Players can never be certain whether they’re supposed to be charmed or offended by the game’s unflinchingly honest presentation of the human experience. The spectacularly grim art courtesy of Aleksander Rostov and the down-tempo score from British Sea Power results in a deft combination of savage nihilism and playful romanticism that exudes from every aspect of the game.

More than likely this is not a game that one plays for fun. Rather it’s a game you play for the sheer experience of having engaged with it. I wouldn’t suggest you play it if you’re looking for simple casual distraction, but if you’re looking for something to leave you changed as a gamer and perhaps as a person then I can recommend nothing over than Disco Elysium. (Christopher Underwood)

Far: Lone Sails

9: Far: Lone Sails

FAR: Lone Sails is a 2D side-scrolling adventure about an unnamed, ambiguous child who sets out on an unclear journey through a barren wasteland. It’s a slow, contemplative, and mysterious trek in which you are left to piece together subtle clues as to what has happened. After opening on a somber note with our unnamed avatar paying their respects at a grave, you set out on your adventure, traversing across a world that one can only assume was demolished by war.

The opening few minutes of FAR: Lone Sails feels all too familiar, but it doesn’t take long before the game sets itself apart when introducing your main mode of transport: a giant, jerry-built land yacht that’s driven by a massive engine and a collapsible sail. Climbing on board, you’re presented with the challenge of piloting the large contraption while also finding ways to fuel the machine in order to keep the engine running. What makes FAR: Lone Sails so unique is in how developer Okomotive centers the entire game on the method of travel itself. Said vehicle becomes your companion — a character of sorts — which is ever-growing, ever-changing and always in danger. In order to succeed, you’ll need to protect your vessel while controlling both your protagonist and the land yacht in order to get from point A to point B. Neither you nor the ship could make this journey alone. The journey itself is relentless but beautiful, harrowing but tender. It’s slow to unravel and just as slow to maneuver, but FAR: Lone Sails is also a game full of intrigue since you never know what lies ahead as you travel across the desolate wasteland. The destination remains a mystery, and while it isn’t really important where you’re going, an overwhelming sense of curiosity fuels your desire to keep pushing forward.

FAR: Lone Sails is a masterwork of quiet poetry. It culminates with one of the best endings in all indie games and features stunning landscapes, a brilliant orchestral soundtrack, and just enough downtime to allow players to appreciate the beauty. What at first appeared to be just another indie game riding on the heels of the success of Playdead Studios soon emerged with its own unique voice and identity. (Ricky D)

Horace

10: Horace

Indie games often struggle to straddle the line between homage and rip-off. It’s only natural to want to pay tribute to the greats– those, one-of-a-kind titles that inspire us– but too often games fail to develop an identity as a result. Great games aren’t made in the shadows of what came before. They may look back, either out of respect or seeking guidance, but a great game always goes beyond showing where its inspiration comes from. Horace is a love letter to all things video games, but it never gets lost in homage.

Horace never allows itself to spiral in a sea of references devoid of substance. It tastefully acknowledges that other games exist, all while marching on at its own pace. Horace’s personal center of gravity allows him to platform by walking up or down walls, adding a creative spin on a genre that’s covered quite a bit of ground.

More than just a platformer, however, Horace is an examination of how we connect with video games, laced through one of the most emotionally mature plots in a game this year. Horace plays to its medium, telling a story that could only be told in a video game. One that grabs players by the hands and beckons them to connect with the titular Horace. Horace is a must-play. (Renan Fontes)

Katana Zero

11: Katana Zero

Equally drenched in blood and neon, Katana Zero is a striking action game that thrives on pushing boundaries. Its breathless combat offers intense high-speed action that tests players’ endurance and reflexes without ever feeling unfair. Its pixelated graphics and throwback 80’s aesthetics are crafted with such lush detail that nearly every moment of the game is a stylish treat to behold. But perhaps most importantly, it challenges the idea of what a videogame story can be by offering a level of emotion and interaction that not many other titles have achieved.

Katana Zero puts players in control of a drug-addicted, amnesiac mercenary who attempts to piece together his past while executing assassination missions in a broken post-war world. Told from the mercenary’s distorted, drug-induced point of view, the story straddles the line between hallucination and reality. This gives its story of self-discovery a constant twinge of uncertainty – it forces the player to ask whether each moment is really happening, or whether it’s only the drugs. On top of that, its innovative dialogue system allows for impressive control over the direction of each story beat, letting players choose what to say and when to say it in each interaction. This level of agency and atmosphere unite to create a beguilingly immersive narrative experience, offering possibilities that other games have yet to achieve.

Of course, an action game is nothing without a solid gameplay loop, and Katana Zero fully delivers in this regard with its hectic and hardcore combat. Its one-hit-kill system may feel unnecessarily cruel at first, but instead, it promotes a degree of speed and intensity that makes each room of enemies a thrill to clear out. The combat is extremely polished, with a constantly escalating difficulty curve that maintains the perfect degree of challenge. Take this thrilling gameplay and unforgettable storytelling together, and Katana Zero is easily among the year’s most remarkable independent releases. (Campbell Gill)

Killer Queen Black

12: Killer Queen Black

There is nothing that can truly compare to the bar-room-rattling fun of ten people playing Killer Queen Black in the back of a weird arcade. But short of the real thing, the slightly watered-down version on the Nintendo Switch still does the trick extremely well. In Killer Queen, you are one member of a team of four who is trying to take down the oppositions hive, you play as either a worker, a warrior, or a queen. There are three ways to win at Killer Queen – you can score a military victory and kill the opposing queen three times, an economic victory and fill your hive with berries, or a snail victory by riding the snail into the goal. It’s the latter of the three that somehow sums up Killer Queen’s weird charm. Any path to victory is viable, and you must be on the lookout for all of it, hopefully by yelling at one another and stomping.

Killer Queen’s presentation is excellent and exactly what it needs to be, and the gameplay is perfectly tuned to get a room full of folks on their feet and screaming. Killer Queen is still best played as couch co-op, ideally with the unlikely scenario of seven friends, but the online multiplayer works admirably well. Killer Queen Black is a true gem, and well worth putting together a crew to play it, marking it as one of the best co-op games on a platform that has many wonderful options in that department. Plus, you get to ride a giant snail. (Marty Allen)

Kind Words

13: Kind Words

Kind Words is one of the more unique experiences of 2019. The entirety of it consists of sitting in a small bedroom and either encouraging or venting to strangers on the internet. People write letters detailing their issues, struggles, worries and fears, and these short letters are then shipped out by a quirky deer acting as Kind Words’ postman. Players can then show appreciation for the advice by sending back stickers that can be turned into physical decorations for the room.

On paper this sounds like a disaster waiting to happen; sharing personal and damaging thoughts in a public online forum would typically never be advisable. In execution, however, Popcannibal has been incredibly diligent in moderating hateful/harmful messages and implementing simple user reporting features across the board. What results is a remarkable online space where it actually feels comfortable sharing one’s thoughts. Every problem you can imagine is represented by those seeking, appropriately enough, kind words.

What pushed Kind Words over the edge, though, was when I finally started writing letters myself. Within minutes I received responses offering a wide range of encouragement, descriptions of similar situations others were going through, and unique perspectives I hadn’t considered before. In a strange parallel to Death StrandingKind Words subtly reinforced the notion that we’re not all alone in this crazy, tumultuous world. If you need to vent or just need a spot of kindness in your life, I can’t recommend this game enough. (Brent Middleton)

Muse Dash

14: Muse Dash

Muse Dash doesn’t rely on gameplay innovation like 2018’s Just Shapes & Beats, nor does it attempt to violently shake up the rhythm genre like 2016’s Thumper. This is a comparatively simple two-button rhythm game that perfectly encapsulates the “easy to learn, hard to master” design philosophy. Players choose one of three girls and embark on mini side-scrolling adventures to fend off hordes of minions to the beat. The base game features an absolutely stellar medley of electropop, kawaii bass, drum and bass, and even a few Vocaloid tracks. Though some tunes are inherently more challenging, each song features difficulty options so those who aren’t particularly great at rhythm games can still play through every track and adjust the challenge as needed.

What made Muse Dash really stand out this year, however, was how perfectly it nailed its laser-focused “moe” aesthetic in every facet of its presentation. Its main draw is apparent from the moment it boots up: vibrant art, bursts of color, and oh-so-much anime. This anime aesthetic is everywhere from the animated character selection screen to the beautiful artwork for each song; every stage, enemy, and boss boasts a distinct visual flair. Leaning further into this strength, players can even unlock a wide variety of skins complete with unique animations and skill bonuses.

Muse Dash is what happens when a developer knows exactly what its target demographic is looking for and has the skill to deliver it to them. PeroPeroGames’ deep dedication to aesthetic design paid off in spades, and the result is one the best rhythm games of the year and the best value in games this year. (Brent Middleton)

My Friend Pedro

15: My Friend Pedro

My Friend Pedro is brutal, stylish, and beautifully basic. Beginning life as a flash game back in 2014, it has developed into a full-fledged experience that hearkens back to a simpler time for gaming with its ridiculous premise and ludicrous action. Putting players in control of a silent protagonist who goes on a murder spree at the behest of a sentient, levitating, talking banana named Pedro, it stands out for its outlandish setting and spectacularly over the top gameplay. It’s just as wacky as it’s always been, and best of all, its gameplay has been ripened just enough for it to feel fresher than ever before.

The core concept that made My Friend Pedro so bizarrely wonderful as a flash game is present in full force in this reimagining. Pedro is still the wisecracking potassium-packed partner he was in the first place, although the brutality has been dialed up to eleven thanks to the jump to full 2.5D graphics. Pedro equips you with incredible acrobatic grace, allowing you to pirouette through the air and spin across the floor, all while dishing out balletic death to your opponents. If things get too hectic between the constant lasers, bullets, and disembodied limbs flying across the screen at any moment, then thankfully you have the ability to slow down time to make sense of all this gory debris. Like any good action game or platformer, it constantly doles out new ways to wreak banana-based havoc on the world around you, ensuring that it never lets up on the chaos. There’s not much more to the game than the silliness of its premise and the insanity of its action, but these two facets unite to make My Friend Pedro one of the most notable indies of the year. It’s a refreshing break from the overwhelming complexity that can characterize many modern games – sometimes you just need to blow up some baddies while obeying a talking banana. (Campbell Gill)

New Super Lucky’s Tale

16: New Super Lucky’s Tale

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 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.

Lucky may not be the second coming of Mario, but he feels 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 underground. 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 collect each of the four pages secreted about every level.

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. 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 playtime. The result is a polished, concise, joyful experience that lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero. (Patrick Murphy)

The Outer Wilds

17: The Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds is a very special game. It’s the sort of game or thing to do that you want to tell all of your friends to go and play, but you don’t want to tell them anything about it, because figuring it out is half the fun. Let’s start here: you are a rookie pilot of a rickety spaceship trying to solve a grand mystery. There is no combat, only survival, and survival is not exactly easy. The story unfolds organically, as you discover its pieces – the game is, in essence, an open-world 3-d adventure with platforming elements. It is also witty, strange, and if you can sort of lean into the awkwardness that feels intentionally cooked into piloting and planet traversal, it’s fun. And as you dig in, it is also deeply intriguing and emotionally rewarding. And all of that is vague on purpose.

If that is enough to pique your interest, stop reading and go launch yourself into space. The key spoiler that is revealed pretty quickly into the experience is that Outer Wilds is essentially Groundhog Day in space. The universe you are investigating is about to explode, and you pilot through a smattering of odd and charming locations trying to uncover evidence as to how and why. Every time you die (often not even making it until the final bell of the universe tolls), you come back moments before your first launch and try to discover just a little more. Your ship is rickety, and so are your chances, but you get better at piloting, surviving, and discovery, and the gameplay loop that reveals itself feels like one of the freshest games to be made in years. I implore you: go to space. (Marty Allen)

Pikuniku

18: Pikuniku

Pikuniku is joy. A strange joy, to be fair, but it is a joy, through and through. In Pikuniku, you are gangly little red blob-creature who must make its way through an aggressively colorful world to save the proverbial day. Loosely-speaking, it is a puzzle-platformer, but really it leans more heavily into simply being an adventure game with some light platforming, a few relatively nominal boss battles, and a sprinkling of puzzles. And every minute of it is fun.

What Pikuniku really cashes in on is its boundless charm – the world is colorful and cute-as-heck, but also subtly subversive. A sly conspiracy underpins a lot of shininess, and your little blob-friend is just the beast to rescue this bouncy dystopia from itself. Your journey through forests and mines and valleys, wear an array of silly magic hats, and kick everything that you can find along the way, and, unless you are a hollowed-out husk of sorrow, the unabashed silliness brings a smile to your face. There’s a fun bit of co-op on top that rounds out an altogether delightful adventure that is unlike anything else. (Marty Allen)

Sayonara Wild Hearts

19: Sayonara Wild Hearts

Sayonara Wild Hearts, the latest from the visionaries behind Year Walk, is easily a contender for the best indie game of 2019. What the small development team from Sweden achieved with Sayonara Wild Hearts is honestly, quite remarkable. Advertised as an interactive pop album, Sayonara Wild Hearts sure looks and sounds great but beyond the breathtaking visuals and catchy music, the game is wildly addictive thanks to its everchanging landscapes and simple controls.

I went in expecting a simple rhythm action game but what I didn’t expect is how Sayonara Wild Hearts effortlessly shifts between various genres. To play it feels like the developers took aspects of their favourite arcade games from the 80s and 90s and crammed in as many ideas as they possibly could without ever making the experience seem drawn-out or overwhelming. The end result is a simple sci-fi thrill ride, in terms of action, visuals, and unpretentious fun. It’s a musical arcade experience that combines music and aesthetic to such dizzying effect – and I just can’t get enough! (Ricky D)

Slay the Spire

20: Slay the Spire

Slay the Spire is not only one of the best Indies of the year, but it is also one of the best games of this generation. Don’t let the seemingly run-of-the-mill visuals turn you off, Slay the Spire is as addictive as it is satisfying, and belongs on every self-respecting Switch in the realm.

Slay the Spire is, at its core, a deck-building dungeon crawler with some rogue-like tendencies. You choose from one of three character classes, all of whom boast unique card sets and techniques to accumulate (and obsess over). You do your best to climb up three floors of a merciless tower, and you often die trying. The floors are essentially an assemblage of enemies and other small status-changing rooms, and while no two runs are the same, each floor contains similar monsters and bosses with each run. Within the battles, every move of every enemy is telegraphed completely – from the type of attack and how many hit points it will remove to the type of buff it has on deck. But rather than yielding boredom, this mechanic brings joy at the potential calculations and strategies that unfold. Like any rogue-like worth it’s salt, you do need a bit of luck to reach the top of the titular spire, but as you play more, you get better. Each battle yields the potential to add one of three new cards to your arsenal, all of which unfurl endless and deeper strategies. You will occasionally agonize over these decisions, you will sometimes be filled with regrets, and you will start again immediately, greeted by a sassy giant whale. Add on the accumulation of a litany of stat-altering artifacts, and what rises up is a game that is perfectly tuned for addictive fun. As that addiction sets in, even the seemingly humdrum visuals start to feel more and more charming.

Slay the Spire is clearly a game that was crafted by people who love games, for people who love games, and they nailed it. You will get better, you will make it to the top, and you will want to play again. (Marty Allen)

Untitled Goose Game

21: Untitled Goose Game

An iconic titled game that stemmed from a few inevitable delays- and of course a lack of a proper internal codename. When the goose was finally let loose in September, the internet quickly went quackers for all the right reasons. Untitled Goose Game is one of the most surprising independent successes of the year for all the right reasons. Developer House House’s newest animal craze shows audiences how even a domestic goose can rise up and become one of the most notoriously infamous gaming characters of the year. Playing as an adorable yet irritatingly stubborn bird has never been so questionable yet mesmerizing before then in this minimalistic simulation-type puzzle game.

Untitled Goose Game is a slapstick-stealth-sandbox game that will have you attempt to make the civilians of a local town miserable by carrying out various irritatingly humorous tasks- the only reason why being that it is the goose’s daily routine to retrieve one object being replaced by the townspeople. Whether it is collecting a bell, scaring children into phone booths, or even dropping a rake in the lake, the goose’s agenda is guaranteed to wreak havoc upon his habitat. As you make your way around a local town, you will flop feathers, trot, grab dozens of objects, retreat, and honk your way to victory. Trial and error quickly become a normal playstyle within the English village you reside in. Due to a lack of direction, puzzles require experimentation and creative thought processes in order to find solutions to a list of descriptively named tasks and bonus hidden activities. Messing around with the environment and its structures is heavily advised as there are tons of secrets to discover on your checklist. If you ever wanted to know what the true intentions and feelings of a rabid goose were through a boatload of comedic scenarios, Untitled Goose Game is the perfect dopamine that your brain is looking for. (Marc Kaliroff)

Wargroove

22: Wargroove

Developer Chucklefish Games’ WarGroove is a one to four-player online and local turn-based strategy game inspired by the stream of handheld entries in the genre that helped popularize itself in North America. Game Boy Advance cult classics such as the original Fire Emblem served as a basis to the core inspiration of WarGroove, but most notably the game attempts to live up to the subgenre that the Advance Wars series had created know as “Nintendo Wars”- a series of turn-based strategy games across multiple Nintendo systems that had never truly been replicated by any developer in years despite a strong demand by fans of the series still being present. WarGroove makes an attempt to further modernize the genre in a more streamlined welcoming form that is not only accessible to newcomers but profoundly customizable to longtime veterans.

Objectives and intense skirmishes take priority on the battlefield as you attempt to typically execute two different goals; eliminate all enemies on the horizon or obliterate some type of stronghold. Slowly new mechanics and niches are introduced to each level that will have your strategic moves in the midst of nerve-racking stakes. WarGroove never focuses on a complex or deeply compelling story as gameplay always remains in the spotlight, but that does not mean it can not still introduce notable characters and settings. On top of its gorgeous pixel art that oozes with inspiration from the titles it attempts to revitalize, the game still manages to craft an enthralling world that culturally mixes various different mythologies and historical time periods in its fifteen-hour campaign. To top it off, the ability for players to create their own maps and scenarios will leave you playing hours after the credits roll. It may not be a direct beat for beat adaptation, but WarGroove will easily spark your desire for an Advance Wars series binge after one playthrough. (Marc Kaliroff)

What the Golf?

23: What the Golf?

If you’re not interested in golf, you’ll be happy to learn that What the Golf? isn’t really a golf game. In fact, its Danish creators Triband have gone on record to claim they “know nothing about golf,” and set out to make a golf game “for people who hate golf.”

What at first seems to be a silly interpretation of an old-school videogame about the sport soon unveils itself to be one of the biggest indie surprises of 2019 and one of the most entertaining games of the year. Much like Untitled Goose Game, What the Golf? is all-out silly and it doesn’t take long before players will find themselves completely hooked thanks to the simple mechanics and strange world that often feels like a fever dream. What the Golf? is easily one of the best indie titles of 2019— a polished, enjoyable and hilarious game that was clearly made with a lot of love. (Ricky D)

Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair

24: Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is the redemption story of 2019. The original Yooka-Laylee wasn’t exactly the glorious return of Banjo-Kazooie-style gameplay that it had promised to be, so with this new entry in the fledgling series, the developers made the wise decision to cut back on ambition. Instead of touting fully 3D gameplay like Banjo-Kazooie, The Impossible Lair hearkens back to Rare’s other magnum opus: Donkey Kong Country. This change in direction truly paid off, resulting in a distinctly refined and unique platformer that Zack Rezac’s review for Goomba Stomp called “one of the year’s coolest surprises.”

True to the Donkey Kong Country tradition, Yooka-Laylee offers simple, linear 2D level design that perfectly introduces just enough new ideas to keep things interesting while consistently building upon existing ideas to create a constantly evolving and engaging experience. That doesn’t mean that it’s wholly derivative, however – strikingly enough for a linear 2D platformer, it sets itself apart with its nonlinearity. As the title suggests, the primary task is to infiltrate and overcome the Impossible Lair, and there’s nothing stopping you from infiltrating this lair at any moment in the game after the introduction. However, if you hope to survive, you’ll need to play through its 20 main levels and their alternate forms to gain strength and make the lair possible to complete after all. This dichotomy between linearity and nonlinearity represents the balance between traditional gameplay and subtle innovations that makes Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair such a charming title. Its ambitions aren’t quite as lofty as its predecessor, but its more focused approach allowed it to become one of the standout indie titles of the year. (Campbell Gill)

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Pokémon Go’

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Most important Games of the Decade Pokemon Go

Join us all month as our staff looks back at the most influential games of the past decade. This is not a list of our favourite games but rather a look back at the games that left the biggest impact in the last ten years on an artistic and cultural level. After careful consideration, we narrowed it down to ten games that have most defined, influenced and shaped the industry as we know it.

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Three years and over $3 billion on from its 2016 debut, Pokémon Go is still reigning champion for mobile games downloads and revenue. The world’s highest-grossing media franchise grafted onto a micro-transaction model cascades money? Shocking.

Becoming a behemoth wasn’t always guaranteed, however. Preceding attempts to break into the mobile market like Pokémon: Magikarp Jump or Shuffle had limited success. It was the 2014 April Fools’ Day collaboration between Google, The Pokémon Company, and primary developers Niantic, that proved there was a market for such a game.

Pokémon Go immediately struck a chord with players, and was the biggest boon to the franchise during its twentieth anniversary; Pokémon was popular again in a way it had not been since the late 90s. It was as close a manifestation of childhood dreams of capturing Pokémon in the real world as possible. Arriving a full generation on from those initial Pokémon fans, this was a pocket-sized experience perfect for reliving memories and sharing them with younger generations, even their own children.

But Pokémon Go consumed everyone. Famously, a Taiwanese grandfather had twenty-odd mobile phones simultaneously running the game he cycled around. There’s an argument to be made that Pokémon Go is one of the most constructive games to be released this decade, on the simple strength of how many people were and are encouraged to exercise and interact because of it.

Pokemon Go Grandpa Bike

In terms of game design, Pokémon Go actually has a mechanics that would make the franchise frankly better overall. For example, reducing the number of infernal hidden Individual Values that determine the genetic strength is simple but significant change to make the games more approachable, and people more likely to appreciate their imperfect partners. Go has also iterated from the limited state of its initial release, progressively adding more elements. Moreover, the genuine mystery surrounding the Meltan reveal via the application led to the sort of vague playground rumours that internet leaks and accessibility of information previously killed. In events like these, Pokémon Go brought back the social excitement that had long diminished for many people.

Every colossus casts a shadow, however, and Pokémon Go is no exception. In making a fortune, it has significantly redirected The Pokémon Company’s focus towards capitalising on the mobile market audience. Not so much Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee and Pikachu, which despite the initial uproar, are light nostalgic trips through Kanto made with care. Rather, Pokémon Go’s birth led to the death of interesting console spinoff games, which made a fraction of the income. Since Pokémon Go’s domination, the only significant spinoff game has been Pokémon Masters, another mobile game.

This doesn’t tarnish the overall positive impact of Pokémon Go, however, especially as a reflection of ethos of Satoru Iwata, former Nintendo president and chief executive officer, who helped lay the groundwork before he passed away. Satoru’s contributions to gaming in his rise to prominence are legendary, but especially his role in Pokémon: he was personally responsible for compressing Pokémon Gold and Silver’s data by half so that the Kanto region could be added in and singlehandedly implemented the battle system for the 3D Pokémon Stadium in a single week by studying the 2D games’ code.

Pokémon Go continues Iwata’s approach not dividing the gaming market into sects; his belief was that anyone could be a gamer. It’s a fitting sentiment for Pokémon—after all, anyone can become a trainer. With Pokémon Go, every trainer, young or all small, could share in a truly communal experience. They rediscovered the joy of training together.

– Declan Biswas-Hughes

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