It's game time! While most of my time is spent playing old-school games from the 90s, I do play a fair amount of new-school ones. My Steam account is rife with many cool titles and my GOG library isn't just made up of good old games. Read on after the jump to discover my favourites over the last year.
At the beginning of the year, I had saved up enough money for a new piece of hardware. I had a choice between a PlayStation 5 or a RTX graphic card. Both were like gold dust on the store shelves, but I eventually chose the way of the PC master race. Also, apart from Ratchet & Clank, there aren't any PS5 exclusives I'm particularly excited about. As fate would have it. Nvidia were about to bring out a budget RTX 3050 with a reasonable-ish price tag. I had 4 stores on standby waiting to buy one but as soon as they went live all four crashed and seconds later had all sold out. Boo. As luck would have it, one of those shops was also selling a 3060. It's an older and more expensive card, but the specs were higher and the price wasn't massively inflated being about the same price as a PlayStation 5. I jumped on it and I'm glad I did.
Raytracing does bring a lot to the graphical fidelity of a game. Real-time reflections are stunning when seen in person, even in re-vamped old games like Quake II. I even purchased the PC versions of all of the Resident Evil games just to play them again with this mode turned on. Control, Call of the Sea, Hellblade, The Medium - even Myst are all stunning. More than this, it also opened up a lot of other games on my system. Before hand, I would slog through slower-paced games like The Medium with a stuttering frame rate but now the likes of Elden Ring, Forza Horizon 5 (I can play it now!!) and God of War run like a dream. With the upcoming PC release of Returnal, the new generation of console gaming is becoming less and less desirable. They've come way down in price since then after crypto crashed but I'm still pleased with my purchase.
Industry-wise, 2022 was a year of shakeups and acquisitions. Microsoft bought Activision (monopoly laws depending), Sony bought Bungie and Epic bought Bandcamp. That last one is a surprise, but when you consider the fact that they acquired Guitar Hero, Amplitude and Rock Band creators Harmonix the year before and it makes a lot of sense. I'm actually looking forward to what it might bring as long as large plastic peripherals are optional. NFTs went as quickly as they came with many being clued into the scam that they are. As is Crypto if you really think about it. I was always wary of the nebulous nature of their worth but when the bubble began to burst this past year the idea it rang ever more true. All that's left to pop is the retro-grading business artificially inflating a common Nintendo 64 game to over a million dollars ($1,560,000 to be exact)!?! Ludicrous, even if it is sealed and pristine. To me, all of these are just high-end con jobs for those looking for a quick and easy buck.
On a more positive note, this has meant hardware and chip shortages have seemingly come to an end. In the past couple of months, PlayStation 5s are more readily seen in stores (with an unwelcome price increase - the only time in a console's lifecycle where it went up in price without a console revision), while that RTX 3060 I bought in January is now about £150 cheaper than what I paid. The recent release of the 40 series - starting in October with RTX 4090 - may have played a factor too. Other new hardware included the Steam Deck. The portable gaming PC is a little defunct for me, but I have some friends who are in love with it. There's no denying it's a neat piece of kit. As is the SEGA MegaDrive Mini 2. In the UK it was an Amazon exclusive so I didn't get it - I've played or emulated most of the games on offer anyway - but if SEGA or Nintendo ever jump to the 5th or 6th console generation, I'll be there for it.
But let's return to what you're all here for; my ever-so-subjective personal and highly biased Top 10 Games of 2022...
I have featured the original SNES release of SquareSoft's Live-A-Live on this very site. Other than Final Fantasy V, it was the among first Super Famicom game I played with an English translation patch so it has a very special place in my heart. It is also a very special JRPG. Mechanically, not much has changed with this "HD-2D" remaster. All of the eight protagonists are here with their own side-story, each playing slightly differently though all have one foot in the RPG genre. The boss-rush martial arts tournament, the caveman comedy, the battle-less sci-fi outing; they're all here in top form.
I haven't compared the scripts, which I imagine are very different to the unofficial Aeon Genesis patch, but it retains the same charm and character. Graphically, the HD-2D style is perfect. It is beautiful to look at, retro in style yet modern in looks. Remakes can fall into trouble when it looks drastically different to how it was before, filling in the imagination gaps that may not fall in line with what you were imagining. By utilising their own technique within the Unreal engine, Square-Enix have created something remarkable. With the many other quality-of-life improvements such as lessening random battles and improving the save system, Live-A-Live is a must play. Bring on Dragon Quest III and I await with baited breath for the announcement of more!
In many ways during the early 2000s, Benoît Sokal kept adventure gamers afloat during its dark days. Syberia was a beacon of light in an otherwise barren landscape, getting just enough attention in the mainstream gaming press to warrant a place on the shelf of Electronics Boutique alongside the likes of Morrowind and Jedi Outcast in the month of May of 2002. Twenty years later, Sokal's final game was released posthumously after his death in 2021. The stories of Syberia have always had one foot in the melancholic as it all began with a funeral.
With all that has gone on, that sense of loss is compounded when playing Syberia: The World Before. It is set in 2004, directly after the events for the games that came before, and Kate Walker has been imprisoned in an Eastern-European salt mine, but the revelations of the Voralberg family and their automatons stick with her. They may even link to her own family history, and we see her retrace the steps of Dana Roze in the years leading up to the Second World War. We play as both of these women in their own timelines in an adventure game that returned more to its puzzle-solving roots than with the consequence driven exploits of the third game. A wonderful time.
I was sure Return to Monkey Island was going to be top of my list before I got around to playing it. I have a huge fondness for the series ever since I snuck in the first disk of the first game on my cousins PC over Christmas because I didn't want another game of Trivial Pursuit. I reached the Swordmaster that night, much to my cousin's surprise. It would be years later until I could play the full game at home, but I was hooked. Even with the controversy over its art style, I was confident this return to Monkey Island was going to be a very good game. That it is, but despite wishing otherwise, it is not the best game. I'm about to spew out some gripes over the next couple of paragraphs, but don't let it convince you into thinking it is anything other than a good game. It is in my Top 10 after all.
First, let's talk about those graphics. Personally, I don't like it but it's not a deal breaker for me. I feel like the style is too much like a kids picture book, similar to how Broken Age looked. It fit there, with its story being very much like a subversion of their saccharine sweetness. With pirate booty and zombies, it doesn't quite fit here. You could argue it is seen through the eyes of Guybrush's son, but that's a stretch. Some scenes do look nice (Rex Crowle is an accomplished artist after all), but in others it looks incredibly ugly - the incomprehensible island maps in particular. What's worse is the animation, utilising digital tweening to create movement between poses. This makes it move like a shadow puppet show or a cheap Flash animation. Not something you'd expect from a series that includes The Curse of Monkey Island which still looks amazing after 25 years.
The overly simple user interface removes any possibility of difficulty. It's almost as if the game was designed for smart phones, which as any discerning gamer know is the absolute worst. Objects have between one or two outcomes, each mapped to either mouse button. These context sensitive actions remove player agency and thoughtful logic becomes a "click on everything" experience. In many ways, The Return to Monkey Island is a disappointment, but its saving grace is its writing. Anyone afraid that the graphics will render it nothing like the other games can rest easy. It is just as funny, confounding and adventitious as the others. Is it my favourite in the series? No, it's not even in my Top 3, but I rate it just above Tales and Escape if that gives you a better idea.
I do have a soft spot for Supermassive's interactive scare-fests. They work perfectly with horror tropes that grip me, even if you find yourself on a path to the 'bad' ending. Funnily enough, in contradiction to their previous releases, neither The Quarry nor The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me came out in time for Halloween. The Quarry saw a summer release which buried it among other high-profile releases, but I loved it. A group of teenagers overstay their welcome at a summer camp only to become embroiled in an ancient werewolf curse. The Devil in Me's November release almost got there, but I really wanted to sit down with it on Halloween night.
Of the two, I feel like the shorter narrative of The Dark Pictures quadrilogy fits this style better. By being able to complete it in an evening or two, it allows for replayability in much the same way as a movie (as opposed to the three-night minimum binge of The Quarry). Story-wise, it focusses on a group of documentary filmmakers spending the night at a famous murderer's dilapidated hotel. This is, in fact, site B of America's first serial killer Dr. Henry Howard Holmes (who we see in full force during the 1890s-set prologue). The building has been rigged with traps and moving walls designed to play with and ultimately kill anyone caught within . The team of documentarists, including Men and Women Talking's Jessie Buckley and Dennis Pennis himself Paul Kaye, are likely to be the next victims.
Both games - and the entire Supermassive roster - offer the same thrills that horror buffs like me will eat up. Adventure gamers too if they don't mind a focus on story over puzzle solving. They've consistently featured among my favourites of the year, even though you can't call them ground-breaking. I love them. Call of Duty fans look elsewhere.
I was late to playing A Plague's Tale: Innocence when it came out in 2019. A lot of good stuff came out that year so I held off. When I did play it (during the opening months of our own real-world plague no less), I found a beautifully freaky action adventure with a fantastical take on the rat-spreading Black Plague. It was a mid-budget title that looked triple-A, with my only gripe being that it was a very-linear almost corridor-like experience.
When its sequel came out this year, I jumped on it. Everything about the game have been embiggened - including its doubled price point. It is larger with a more impactful story as Amicia desperately struggles to protect her younger brother Hugo who has been cursed with being the carrier of the magical plague Prima Macula. This gives him great powers, but also attracts tidal waves of rats and disease. At its heart, though, A Plague's Tale is about familial bonds and the fear of losing those you love. A wonderful game from a developer that's long been teetering on the edge of greatness (and Monopoly).
Horzion: Zero Dawn was a fun time. The refined and polished open-world in the first game wasn't overly special from a visual standpoint with the mechanical beasts that populate it being the best thing about it. It's not like overgrown post-apocolytia hasn't been seen before. It's still a good time, particularly if you haven't played many open-world RPGs before, but Horizon II: Forbidden West threatens to continue this trajectory but for one point; water.
On land, there is little to distinguish between the two games. Combat is still decent, the story is still convoluted and the world still populated by inventive machines and moss-covered ruins. Both games look good too, despite moments of unoriginality. Everything about the production is done with a high level of polish that's enough to overcome any of its shortfalls. That would likely be enough to earn it my interest and possibly a place on my Top 10 but when you get to the sea, however, it becomes a whole different ball game.
It may only take up a small fraction of the game, but it marks this sequel out as a something memorable. Graphically, it's a visual feast even on my aging standard PlayStation 4 slim model. Under the surface are new areas to explore, fresh puzzle ideas and a variety of lush flora and mechanical fauna to encounter. The massive Tideripper being a new and opposing waterborne foe that creates crashing waves as it passes. There is no underwater combat to speak of, so any means to defeat it has to come from dry land. Thankfully, other new machines can be mounted to allow you to sail on water or fly through the air. All of this adds to my opinion on a game series that I once thought of as decent, I now think is borderline great.
Wadget Eye lends their publishing Midas touch to the small UK-based point-and-click adventure developers Cloak and Dagger Games. They got their start on the free development tool AGS (or Adventure Game Studio), which every adventure game fan should've heard of. It's been key in the genre's indie revival scene including those from the ever dependable Wadget Eye Games themselves.
With their might behind it, The Excavation of Hob's Barrow is a massive step up from the relatively simple production design of Cloak and Dagger's previous adventures (the most notable of which are Sumatra: Fate of Yandi and Football Game). It shares the same high-quality pixel art found in the likes of Unavowed or Primordia and includes full speech from a cast of talented voice actors.
Set in a small village in the British countryside during the 1800s, you play as Thomasina Bateman, an antiquarian visiting the town to study a local ancient burial mound known as a barrow. What follows is a Lovecraftian nightmare that escalates with a slow burn that could put impatient players off. To me, the writing, the character, the setting - all of it kept me gripped from beginning to end.
Every single Wadget Eye game is worth it, and if you haven't played any on them, there's still a few days left on the Humble Bundle. I have all of them already, but it's a bargain if you haven't.
Kirby's first step into 3D became one of his best games in a long and storied career. Playing as if the pink puff ball was always meant to exist in these dimensions, it is a wonder why he hasn't taken the leap earlier. Everything that defines the character is here. He can still suck up enemies and take on their abilities to perform a huge array of attacks. He can still bob along in the air with some frantic taps of the jump button. He is still adorable.
What's new is inanimate object. He can now stretch his body and mouth to partially ingest cars, traffic cones and lightbulbs all of which are used for a variety of situations. Most of them are environmental puzzles that require you to search for the correct ability, but it's not a chore to do so. The levels are so well designed and visually inventive that backtracking or replaying a stage is no major annoyance. Even the inferred devastation brought to the stages that consist of abandoned shopping malls, crumbling theme parks and empty cities evoke a depth none of the previous games had. Another exceptional 3D platformer from the halls of Nintendo.
I bought this on a whim despite not being a fan of the super difficult Soulsborne formula. The entire gaming community was going gaga over it and it was the first major PC release that somewhat interested me after I installed my new graphics card. It's still insanely tough but where the previous games bottle-necked your progression, here you could just move on to somewhere else. This was a revelation. The Elden Ring map is a delight to explore, and I didn't feel bogged down with too much to do in other similar games like Assassin's Creed. The lack of any icons on the map allows for some impressive emergent gameplay that lets you take in your surroundings and not just travel from point A to point B.
As for the fights, well, they're all difficult. I managed to carve a path to the right of the Tree Sentinel (which kicked my ass too many times) where I could level up killing bat creatures and stealthily taking out the undead among some swamp ruins. Then, as you play, the game gets easier. I've always hated the "get good" philosophy of those who love the difficulty, but for me the only way I could progress and begin to actually enjoy it was with some upgrades. Unlike the previous From Soft games, Elden Ring gave me that opportunity.
On the back of this, I sought out a cheap copy of Bloodborne for PS4. It's a game with a setting I absolutely love but shied away from die to the difficulty. I'd thought I had finally got a grasp on the mechanics of such games so I might as well give it a go. No Bueno. Even after almost an hour of playing, I couldn't get past the first enemy werewolf. Gamer cred revoked. Still love Elden Ring though.
The first God of War topped my list back in 2018, and I was sure the sequel would come high too. For the sake of variety I toyed with placing Elden Ring above it, but I can't honestly say I preferred that game over this one. Quite frankly, God of War: Ragnarok is, like its predecessor, a masterpiece.
Gameplay-wise, not much has changed. The Leviathan Axe is a perfect weapon for both close combat and considered ranged attacks. The Blades of Chaos are still flashy but allow for some explosive moves. Both also have uses in puzzle solving and pathfinding. The axe can knock switches from a distance while the blades allow Kratos to reach higher ledges. I find everything they're used for highly entertaining, and that includes collecting the multiple trinkets and collectables hidden throughout the (mostly) frozen tundra. In fact, what I don't particularly like is finding a location or area that's interesting only to find that you don't have the right upgrade to get there. A small niggle that's more about my OCD than game design.
Without having a PS5, I played in my regular old PS4. It runs surprisingly well, with well-hidden loading times that only appear at the beginning of a game session or when you respawn after death. The only thing that shows its age is the occasional slow pop-in of the more complex geometry and textures but I doubt many will regularly notice it let alone have it affect their game. The envy of XBox stans everywhere, though the PC master race have recently had the pleasure of playing the first. Along with Horizon: Zero Dawn and Marvel's Spiderman, I've convinced many a friend to pick up these classics. And classics they are!
As Dusk Falls is a consequence-driven adventure with an art style I both love and hate. I held off on it because of those still photos with a paint filter that makes up the characters. As I got to play it, however, the cinematic direction and an incredibly talented voice cast invest you into the incredibly emotional story beats. When the story takes on darker moments, I suspect anything more than this will be truly tormenting for some players.
The inciting incident is a minor car accident. An American family lose the use of their car while on a road trip to their new house on the other side of the country. The three generations have some interesting yet relatable tensions, shift and alter depending on your choices, but when they begin their stay at a nearby motel, it proves to be dangerously consequential. Nearby, three brothers plot to break in the Sheriff's house to steal money and choose to hide out at this motel. You choose the actions of the youngest, but the elder two play like stereotypical hicks. It is at the motel where the A-plot and the B-plot converge marking a night that ripples throughout their lives for a decade.
Gameplay-wise it's nothing we haven't seen before; it may even be a little simple. Beyond choices, the only other interactions are quick-time events. Up to 8 friends can join in with the decision making via their own mobile devices, which I can imagine would make for a fun evening were it not for the traumatising plot that unfolds. It is this plot, how it is told and how it is written, that is the true star of the show.
The Switch has always been underpowered, but in no other game has it become so apparent. The Bayonetta series is known for being a visual treat, with a chaotic kaleidoscope of colour whooshing past the screen as you fight some of the most inventive and insane demons ever encountered. With Bayonetta 3, the underpowered Switch does this a disservice. Character models and environments look noticeably low-poly, even if their creative designs still shine through. What's worse is the frequent and noticeable slow down which doesn't help when you're trying to keep track of the pandemonium on screen. The core of the game is as good as it ever was, and little has changed in regards to its mechanics and very Japanese whimsy, but I wish it was on better hardware. No other game has made a Switch 2 seem ever more necessary.
I love Westwood's Blade Runner. Before ScummVM reverse engineered it allowing GOG to host it on their game store, I even attempted to get it running well on this very site. You can still read my thoughts on the game, but the GOG release using ScummVM is inarguably the best way to play it now. I was hoping Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition would be even better, but by god did they bungle it. The backgrounds have been machine-upscaled that removes a lot of detail turning them into a smudgy mess. It's so bad, the still pixelated characters stand out like a sore thumb. Basically, all they did was take the old game, up-res it and fumbled in controller support. No one even bothered to source the original uncompressed assets. The underlying core of the game is still amazing, but it is by far the worst way to play it. At least it's cheap and comes bundled with that better version too.
I bought Chocobo GP a few months after it came out with the intention to try something other than Mario Kart when my family come over. Not being up on all of the Final Fantasy references, the cute birds, mages and moogles aren't as recognisable to the little ones. For me, my thoughts on it were the same as the original - it was all right. It has some nice track design and many of the same modes you'd find in the racing section of Mario Kart, but it is encumbered by an intrusive micro-transaction system that ruins any good will many would have had. It is obscenely time consuming to unlock anything consequential within the game unless you pay more for a game you've already paid for. I long for the days when a simple cheat code could do the same thing. Even if all this was removed, it could never beat that other kart racer on the Switch.
I was looking forward to the successor of the Batman: Arkham series. Then, when Gotham Knights' reviews came in I decided I wasn't going to give it a pass. I randomly saw it super cheap on a CD Key site on Black Friday and I bought it on a whim - surely there could be something of worth in there. For less than £20 for its Steam release, I thought it was worth a punt.
Spoiler alert; it wasn't. Created by the folks who made Batman: Arkham Origins, I expecting something similar - a competently fun side-game that doesn't hold a candle to Rocksteady's main series. Instead I got a game so inexplicably bland I wondered if the designers fell asleep during production. An interesting premise butchered by tepidness, not to mention bugs galore. I do wonder whether it was conceived as a games-as-service before backtracking after the failure of Marvel's Avengers. Either way, I wish I waited for Rocksteady's upcoming Suicide Squad and saved my money.
Hailing from MegaPixel Studios, the remake of SEGA's famed light-gun game bears the same hallmarks as their previous remake of Panzer Dragoon. It is entirely featureless with all of its charm coming from the original game it is based on. There are no additions. No bells and whistles, nothing that really celebrates the classic game its based on. That being said, I do think there's a place for old games getting remade with updated graphics only at a budget price-point. I very much enjoyed their Panzer Dragoon but the difference with The House of the Dead Remake is that it isn't the same as the original but less than. With light-gun technology resurging thanks to the Linden Light Gun and its alternatives, I would've expected support for such a peripheral (all it needs is a small white border). No such luck. I would've expected the Joy-Con controls on the Switch port to be effective. Alas, they are not. Maybe they should've chosen SEGA's Wing Arms, Daytona USA or returned with Panzer Dragoon: Zwei. Hell, even Clockwork Knight might've fared better with this minimalist approach. There is room to patch it going forward, but I doubt such a small company would do such a thing for a budget release. A missed opportunity.
Klonoa, the proof that cute and simplistic doesn't mean bad and uninventive, has been begging to go mainstream for a while now. The first game on the PS1 is still excellent, as is its PS2 sequel. Namco have tried to get interest up before with the first game being remade on Nintendo's Wii. I have all three and often get the urge to boot them up from time to time. Now, all I need is Klonoa: Phantasy Reverie Series which I got for my trusty Switch. The Wii remake and the PS2 game have been slightly remastered for this compilation making it a timeless package of 2.5D platforming greatness.
Before I played it, I assumed LEGO Bricktales was a continuation of LEGO Buider's Journey. Both are puzzle games played from an isometric perspective, but the more I found out about it, the more I knew it was a very different beast. While Builder's Journey is more of a direct puzzler, having you complete pathways for an abstract computer-controlled figure in a series of single-screen stumpers, Bricktales actually uses the LEGO minifigures giving you direct control over him. It plays like a Zelda dungeon, where the focus is much more about exploration, experimentation and adventure with zero combat. Low-key, but top-tier.
The newest entry in Traveller's Tales long-running toy-based licenced games, LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga doesn't innovate the formula as much as you might think. That's probably a good thing too as the formula is very much a winning one. It props up every single entry into something I was sure to enjoy - even LEGO The Incredibles. The switch of camera angle does open up the scope of some of the locations, but it's still about collecting LEGO pieces, smashing objects to build others and punching themed minifigures with abandon. A good time, but I wish I'd have waited for the inevitable price drop.
Mario Kart 8 gets rotated into my Switch quite a bit, but the extra tracks of the Booster Course Pass adds the variety. I did find the quality of some of them to be lacking, as if they haven't spent much time on their visuals. Some of the returning tracks, including the iconic Choco Mountain from the N64, seem strangely smaller than they once did but despite the flaws, they are still a ton of fun. The tracks from the mobile exclusive Mario Kart Tour prove to be the most worthy additions. There are 3 waves currently out, each with 7 updated tracks and 1 new one. I wonder if by the end of Wave 6 they'll be any classic tracks not ported to the game.
MultiVersus is perhaps the only Free-to-Play games I have on regular rotation on my Steam account thanks to a nephew who's really into it. And you know what? It aint that bad. It's an obvious clone of Super Smash Bros but unlike many others it understands what that means. The micro transaction element, while still obvious, isn't as obtrusive as you might expect but unlike, say, Chocobo GP, I was expecting this going in. The characters are well-chosen out and varied while the graphics do a decent enough job redesigning them into a cohesive whole. Even the online infrastructure works quite well which is very important given its focus on multiplayer. I would've preferred a full release like Nintendo's offering that unlocks all characters or drastically reduces the time sink required to earn them, but it's not completely unachievable without it. A surprise for sure, but I still have a hard time seeing micro transactions in games aimed at children.
Norco is one of the best reviewed games of the year, and for good reason. It features a neo-noir cyberpunk story that is deeply satisfying with an artistry to the pixel-art that is to die for. You return home to South Louisiana after your mother's death, only to find your brother missing. All that's left of him is held within a robot hanging out in the back yard.
You take it upon yourself to investigate, re-treading your mother's last days uncovering truths about her life and death that becomes increasingly suspicious as ties to the seedy criminal underworld come into play. Outside of a couple of mini-games, like a QTE boss fight or top-down swamp exploration, progression is almost entirely linked to the plot. As you gather evidence, they can be pieced together by linking them in your Mindmap which will open up new lines of enquiry. I would've like some more traditional inventory puzzling in there and actual voice acting instead of Banjo-Kazooie style chirrups, but it's not a deal-breaker considering the independent tram behind it. Overall, though, it's one heck of an indie adventure.
The announcement of Pentiment was a bit of surprise coming from Outer Worlds and Fallout: New Vegas developers Obsidian Entertainment. They're known for sprawling RPGs in the triple-A space, so what are they doing making an niche indie-style point-and-click adventure? Regardless of the reason, I say bring it on!
In the middle of the middle ages, Andeas Maler travel to the town of Tassing to further his career as an artist in the nearby abbey. With this is mind, it's rather apt the visual style of this point-and-click adventure could have come straight from the pages of a medieval manuscript. It's not long before Andreas becomes embroiled in a murder mystery that kicks off an entire adventure. Coming from the likes of Obsidian, I would've expected a tad higher production quality with perhaps some voice-acting and more detailed art design but as it stands, it's still a worthwhile adventure that fans of the genre - like me - will eat up.
Being an expanded remake of the first Super Nintendo game, Pocky and Rocky: Reshrined is one heck of a surprise when it was announced some time ago. I own the second game on the Super Nintendo - it being the rarest game I own for the system - and I do love the frenetic action that got a young me into the traditional Japanese demons known as Yokai. I've reviewed those old games on this very site so I won't go too much into it. Just know that Reshrined is an excellent game with enough new content that it may as well be called a sequel. It retains the tough-as-nails charm of the originals, but I wouldn't expect anything less.
I'm not entirely sure who Scorn is for. My first instinct is for horror enthusiasts, but the initial shock of the H.R. Giger inspired locations quickly loses its impact. Maybe it's for FPS aficionados, but it takes half a game before any action takes place and what little there is isn't the focus. Without the shootouts, I would've said it's for adventure gamers, and it sure seems that way. The puzzles are obtuse and often just as alien as the surroundings, but it's something a true disciple of Myst could get behind. I did, but by the time the action kicked in I got sick of the world where very little changes. It's not a bad game by any means, but it is too slow, obtuse and cumbersome for me.
The Spirit and the Mouse is a short, cute 3D platformer where you control an adorable little mouse named Lila looking to help out the people of a quaint French village. The rodent is given electrical powers as a mishap with a scarp leads it to get zapped by a spirit. Called Kibblins, these spirits' sole existence is to help humanity and that is what Lila does. Turn on power after an electrical storm so the owner of a Pizzaria can watch his favourite TV show, turn on the lights to inspire the local artist, turn them off again so an astronomy enthusiast can see a meteor shower; they all showcase quaint little pleasures. It is a very short game, taking about 4 hours to complete, but should the developers decide on a sequel, there's more than enough room to expand and improve. Perhaps the addition of enemies wouldn't go amiss.
I don't know what I was expecting with Stray, but it sure wasn't an epic post-apocalyptic journey filled with genuine emotional beats. Our feline protagonist is thrust into the world of robots after being fitted with an electrical coat that allows him to interact with the environment in new ways. It's little more than a holographic smart phone and robot companion that smartly doesn't turn the cat into anything more than that. Most of your time is spent doing one of two things; platforming or adventuring. It's remarkable that the former hasn't really been done before outside of a Mario suit or an anthropomorphised wise-talking tabby with "attitude". The adventuring side is where the real depth of the production shines through. In a similar way to The Spirit and the Mouse, he will take on tasks to aid the robots, whether it be finding the code to a safe or hunting sheet music for a nearby busker. It's a wonderful, if brief play-through that was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
A real hark back to the strategy-RPGs of the PlayStation era that rarely seemed to come out in the UK. None of the Ogre Battle games made it here in their original form. We didn't even get the SNES original back in 1995, and good luck finding its PSP remake even when it was first released. Tactics Ogre: Reborn is a remake of that remake and while it visually looks archaic for a full-priced game, you're more likely to find this for a decent price.
The current spate of Japanese-made games from Square-Enix heavily remind me of their glory days, both in their design ethic, their choice of IP and the sheer amount of titles coming out. Any discerning JRPG-fan is spoiled for choice. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre brings a deep, impactful story to a satisfying old-school game design that includes a mass of characters each with impeccable voice acting. It does have a heavy focus on combat tactics over anything else, but if you're expecting otherwise I urge you to re-read that title. I do wish they'd included towns to explore to break up the battle maps, but regardless this game is a fun nostalgic trip if you're willing to sink the time into it.
If Tactics Ogre: Reborn was the old guard of strategy JRPGs, Triangle Strategy is the new. Al lot of the same grid-based mechanics are in play and would be very familiar for anyone who've played this type of game before. Graphically, however, it is on a whole other level. It utilises the same versatile HD-2D style adopted by Live-A-Live that began with Octopath Traveller back in 2018 making it far more pleasing to the eye than the up-resed assets of Tactics Ogre. If features just as strong a story that's full of political intrigue that wouldn't be out of place in Game of Thrones' Westeros as three powerful houses mitigate peace thirty years after a bloody war. If you had to choose one, this is the one to go for but both are high quality revivals of a once stagnating genre.
Another long-running series Square-Enix returned to this year was Valkyrie. Each game in the series, or at least the ones that came out over here, pushed the hardware to its limits from a graphical standpoint. I played through Silmeria on the PS2 and Lenneth on PSP, but I skipped the tactics-heavy DS game, the series' last entry way back in 2008. The series has been known to shift formula with each release and Valkyrie Elysium is no different. This time, it's an action-RPG with a decent move-set comprising of a wealth of customisable choices. Combined with an explorative level design, it becomes quite addictive. I do have a slight issue with the graphics. The art design they've gone with does look off at times, as if they've added a filter to make it look like a canvas painting. I don't know whether this is the case but I suspect it is as the game frequently drops its framerate on visuals that the PS4 should otherwise be more than capabley of handling. I also encounter a few non game-breaking bugs where Valkyrie enters battle without an enemy in sight. Not bad by any means - I highly recommend it in fact - but it needed a few months of extra polish.
Apart from being a point-and-click adventure, it was the cel-shaded animation that ultimately convinced me to take a punt on this point-and-click adventure. Many titles in the genre of late have side-lined that aspect of its presentation, but I feel it is ultimately as important as art design. In Voodoo Detective, they didn't skimp on this at all. Character sprites move smoothly and their close-up portraits animate in time to the professional voice acting when they speak. It's the best thing about this rather short yet entertaining comedic adventure. If you like the classic LucasArts style, you'll love this.
If Bayonetta 3 disappointed me in the looks department, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 surprised me greatly. It was always a graphically impressive series since its first entry was dubbed on of the best looking games on the Wii. Maybe due to the slower nature of an RPG is easier to manage on aging hardware it's harder to notice. The game itself is pretty nifty too. You don't need to play the previous games, but if you have you'll gain a deeper understanding of the world and the perpetual war being waged within. I'm still a little unsure of the passive nature of combat - you standard attack plays out automatically when near an opponent - but it's a testament to the series as a whole that I've played most of them and enjoyed every one. The only one I haven't played is Xenoblade Chronicles X that remains locked on the Wii-U. I've played about 5 hours, but the technical issues some reviews have mentioned have not cropped up to any great degree. Even so, I'm dying to see what at developers at Monolith Soft can do on a machine with up-to-date hardware.
That's my rundown of the past year in gaming. Normal schedule commencing soon!