A lot of fun was to be had in the 2014 game scene. For me the year was off to a good start as I accomplished one of my greatest gaming feats by obtaining a platinum trophy in Soul Caliber 5. While that one in particular was a while in the works, it something I’m proud of and stands as a symbol of my dedication to these magical things we call video games. Many more hours were spent on games since then, some were a blast, others not as much. Here, though, are my top three pics which I based on the overall “experience” I had with each.
This was the most fun I’ve had with an RPG in a long, long time. I don’t dislike modern Final Fantasy games, but there is something about what can only be described as the “classic formula” of the early FF games that Bravely Default nailed with a golden hammer. Improved upon, as well, somehow magically transforming tedious tasks like grinding and item collecting into exciting sequences I could play for hours.
It’s an interesting enough story as far as the genre goes, but it kept its hooks in me with different things. The graphics blew me away on the 3Ds, and it’s one of the so-few games whose 3D effect is something I want to show off to other people. They just got it right, and it’s amazing to see and -want- to see after so many games where the 3D effect is unnecessary. Still it’s the overall art direction that kept drawing me in. Great looking, stylized characters, wonderful costume designs, fantastic backgrounds, and super cool enemies and bosses. Those are some damn fine RPG bosses in look and in play.
All I can say about the gameplay is its dastardly addictive quality. Setting the game speed to whiz through battles? Genius, and I wish all games had it. And it looks awesome to boot! Yet being able to crank it back down for a more strategic play is exactly what it needs to be. I found larger battles, especially bosses, just the right amount of tricky, needing to adjust to certain strategies that made sense. There were only a few times where I had to hit the web for a better strategy when mine wasn’t cutting it. Between grinding, bosses, filling out the job classes (maxed them all, thank you), town growing, and side quests… to these squinty RPG eyes Bravely Default is damn near perfect.
Oh how I waited and waited with anticipation from the Kickstarter to release, and I was not disappointed. Coming off as some crazy Contra/Megaman/Metal Slug hybrid, my love for the game was instant. Even in the early stages when frustration was high due to the difficulty, I could just feeeel there was so much more waiting. Yes, that hump is there, but getting over that hump is totally worth it. I read many were turned off because they didn’t bother to stick with it just enough to make their first "good gun” (or even bothered to investigate weapon customization), but man does it get ten times as fun. It’s barely even a couple hours play to get to that point, too, but i guess patience is a virtue.
Gun building was a little tedious at times but the mechanic played right into my obsessive-compulsive stat-reading ways, and once finding “my build” I was even more free to enjoy the game as it played out mission by mission. This game is no slouch, either, it favors the dedicated and some of those missions can be damn tough. Some required (me) skipping and a revisit down the road when my weapon had jacked up a notch or two. Ultimately I feel like completing the game upped my personal gamer cred and remind me what a load of noodletown bullshit a lot of “modern" gaming is.
Graphically the game is right in my pixel-loving wheelhouse, lovingly rendered and animated by top-notch artists in the field. The story is funny and with purpose, the crew at Tribute games created a solid world and attitude around it. Level design is brutal, even relentless at times, but infinitely playable. Even after finishing the game I went back to play levels for speed runs and to try out new weapon loads. All of this and more sets Mercenary Kings as my most rewarding Kickstarter contribution to date, by far.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
My love for this game is still soaring high, having been my most recent playthrough. It’s the best of the Shantae series, and one of the best platformers I’ve ever played, period. The WayForward team on this Shantae upped their game in every aspect. There is no love lost for what I think is its spiritual competitor this year, Shovel Knight, but Shantae just seemed to ring every bell there was and I can’t say enough good things about it.
The art is glorious, perfectly suited to the 3DS platform, and full of surprises. Like Bravely Default, it’s one of the precious few where the 3D effect is an advantage and impressive to look at, even on the (outstanding) character art. The sprites are just sooooo damn great in every way, and the backgrounds lovingly crafted and layered as to be a paragon of the genre. What I’m trying to say is I really like the art.
As much as I rave over the art, the standout here is the platformer gameplay. It takes everything you love about platformers and metroidvanias and pulls it of with finesse and precision. You know the kind: when you mess up, it’s your fault, not the game’s. It has its aggravations to be sure, and more than its share of devilishly cruel level design (Mud Bog Island WTF evil), but that is outweighed by the get-in-and-play fun that permeates the entire game. Near the end when you have all the powers and start blazing through past areas, it really shines how streamlined the whole design is. Lastly I have to note the story for it’s wackiness and humor, and unashamed self-reference/fanservice/absurdity. The game is so overflowing with personality there are even NPCs I want to see have their own game. If the upcoming Kickstarter-backed Shantae 1/2 Genie Hero is even half as fun as Pirate’s Curse, it will be worth it.