Well, it's that time of year once more isn’t it? All of the games I’ve looked forward to have come out and been played with one or two missed in the running. Such things are bound to happen, and the time one has to invest in being an adult as well as saving money for graduate school can sometimes make getting all the games hard. However I did play a hearty platter of games, and here I will go into detail about them to try to give you an idea of how I found this particular year of games!
Time to eat up, swine.
Best game overall/Best Soundtrack-Nier Automata
After seeing many recommendations for this game, despite never playing a Nier game or a Yoko Taro game I found myself somewhat interested in giving it a go. What I expected was an interesting action game that was going to make me sad at some point or at least try to. What I got was an incredibly interesting action game full of flaws but also full of so much great writing, story twists and designs that I fell in love with this game even as it pummeled me in my emotional core and made me fucking hate it.
Nier Automata won’t win any awards for being the most graphically amazing game of the year, but with great character design it really does manage to surpass any weaker graphics and its aesthetics tend to override any other issues. The music is gorgeous, and some of the best video game music I’ve ever heard with the Amusement Park track being an obvious, but damn worthwhile pick for one most emblematic of the quality on display.
The gameplay is generally fun even if the second act of the game so to speak isn’t as fun due to the character you play as, even if I understand the story reasons. I overall also liked the characters for the most part, and the story was a beautiful and depressing but sometimes uplifting tale that only occasionally falters in the third act but mostly pulls itself off well. It's just such a damn fine game, and it really hit me emotionally-I still can’t quite believe it came out sometimes and I really think that if you haven’t played it….you should consider doing so.
Also 2B is better than A2. Fight me.
Best Metroidvania-Salt and Sanctuary
I’m sure this pick will be a bit surprising, but really this game was a better Metroidvania in some ways than the actual Metroid game that came out this year. While the graphics may not be the best in terms of design it does look appealing enough for the most part and its art style mostly gets the job done. It's dark, moody and intriguing as you explore an island full of monsters, locations, and traps that borrows heavily in some regards from Dark Souls in the design department. With multiple playstyles, a massive upgrade tree and a set of gameplay that makes this game feel like the dark souls games it apes despite being sidescrolling, this game is just a treat and because it came out on Vita this year I get to include it on this list. I see a lot of potential here, and I’m hopeful a sequel can iron out the bugs and make an even better game.
Best Horror game-RE7
A common theme for this year-and last year actually- was games I didn’t think much about or anticipating much turning out to be my favorites of the year. While a few games bucked that trend-the two metroidvanias I played being notable exceptions-much like Nier Automata, this game came out of nowhere to impress and win me over. RE7 isn’t a perfect game by any stretch-its second half leaves behind the horror that makes the first half work so well and descends into some pretty weak shooting sections as well as a disappointing final boss that really could have been pulled off in a more entertaining way.
But despite the second half being weaker, the first half is glorious-it translates REmake into an FPS and despite the switch of play style it manages to still feel like a resident evil game. The environments feel well put together and atmospheric, the titular Baker Family is an absolute riot and the areas are just fun to explore and unlock pathways in. Even with a lack of enemy variety and the second half issues I noted, it's just a fun and unsettling game that works for the most part. Hopefully Capcom can keep themselves from fucking it all up with the next one, though the ending of this one has me a bit concerned.
When it first came out, Undertale exploded onto the internet with full force and fury. The game was nearly inescapable, and for months several in-jokes, memes, and other things were all over the places that I frequented. This, of course, made me sick of the game without even having had played it and with a fanbase that was so vocal and constant I was turned off of getting the game for a while. Some may argue thats a bit unreasonable, and perhaps it is a bit-but at the same time it was where I was at and the year had other games to keep my attention so I decided to just wait on it a bit.
However time heals all wounds and lo, an announcement of the game coming to PS4 and Vita came along at a time when I was ready to check the game out. I was obviously contractually obligated to purchase it because of Vita-insert obvious “What's a vita?” joke here if you must you slackjawed, gout-ridden, corpulent, oafish swine-and found myself finally playing the game for myself. It was an enjoyable, visually interesting and fun romp through a well-made world that got me emotionally invested and left me satisfied at the end. While not all of the visuals it uses work super well, most of them are pretty appealing and the music is fantastic-as you’d expect given Toby Fox’s pedigree as a musician. The games self-deprecating comedy and comedy, in general, is right up my alley and I laughed out loud at certain points.
It's a game that made me care enough about the characters that thinking about taking the genocide route is unthinkable to me. It's a very good game, and ultimately I’m glad I eventually grabbed it.
Best Remake-Samus Returns
Hah! Of course I was going to give this an award. This is our first sidescrolling Metroid game in 13 years, and the first good one since…..well before Other M so probably 2007 with Metroid Prime 3 or so. Wew. Anyways, let's not bog ourselves down with the shitty iterations-Metroid is a series that I have a fondness in my heart for. I like the world, aesthetics, and design as well as Samus who is one of my better-liked characters in video games. So being without a new game in the franchise for so long-no, I don’t count Federation Force-and being without a good game for even longer was an unfortunate state to be in. But then, Nintendo randomly announced a remake of Samus Returns, which is a game I never played so obviously my interest was piqued.
There were red flags here-the game was being made by MercurySteam, a company with an infamous reputation and the art style was switching to a 3D art style instead of the still lovely looking pixel art of the last sidescrolling metroids we got years ago. Luckily, the game turned out to be good despite that and managed to really make me happy during the time I spent with it. The enemy variety isn’t good enough, and it's obvious that the switch to 3D limited what they could do artistically even if it looks better than I expected it to. That the melee system is a bit too heavily relied on is also a problem though you can just use weapons and use melee as a last resort...but damn it's still fun to play and after so long starving I’m willing to gorge myself here. Despite issues, it's a fun game with some good ideas and designs, and I really enjoyed my time with it.
Best Art design-Cuphead
Cuphead is just a lovely looking game, and its soundtrack of jazz is just lovely to listen to. The game is done entirely in a golden age animation style and it's a blast to play through its relatively tough bosses. It's such a charming game full of great animation and attention to detail, and despite one boss being a particular bugbear of mine (the second to last one if you're curious), as well as some random elements making certain fights more difficult than they perhaps should have been...it's just such a gorgeous game and I really enjoyed me time with. It’s a lovely game and I’d recommend it if difficult games don’t bother you.
Bass sits on a throne, with Quake Champions at his feet. A throne of liesssss!!! The next time bass tells me to buy an MP game I’m going to toss him onto a skillet with salt over a roaring fire, filthy swine of the sea.
But for real, it's Wolfenstein 2.
Wolfenstein 2 was a game I was rather excited for-it was a sequel to The New Order which had some great imagery, enemy design and fun gameplay that was somewhat marred by its pretensions towards stealth but managaed in my opinion to rise above that with excellent writing and acting. So obviously I was excited when The New Colossus was announced, and I was cautiously ready to see how this second installment would go.
Annnnd...yeah I'm not a huge fan of it. I don’t hate this game, not like I hated Dishonored 2, but it makes a lot of missteps and ultimately I’ve soured on it as time has gone on. The game doesn’t understand American culture as well as it did European culture, and so it doesn’t do a great job portraying the situation in America in my opinion, and it has huge plot points or points of interest that it doesn’t do anything about. I literally missed a small dialogue snippet during one level that revealed that slavery had been reinstituted-a huge thing that gets no lip service or time. There's no cathartic level where you fight the KKK, the main enemy is good but she's not in the game enough and there's not enough support backing her up in terms of other characters...and it repeats a lot of story beats from the first game while also removing boss fights. The opening hours aren’t fun to play, the split personality of the open gun fighting but need for stealth and a weak main character in terms of health is even worse and the game just loses steam in the second half. I really wanted to like this game, but despite some great moments it's just got too many problems and I’m pretty lukewarm on it especially in the light of how good its predecessor was. I'd reccomend this video, as I think it does a good job of tackling the issues with TNC and it opened my eyes to some issues I hadn't been able to put my finger on.
I should also take a moment to mention that the game was almost unusable at launch for me, and several people had technical issues with it. That was a very vile surprise for me to stumble upon when I bought it day one, and if I could have returned it I would have-I should have checked first of course, but at the same time releasing games in that kind of state is still something I cannot support.
Most Meh game-Horizon Zero Dawn
I went into this game with middling expectations and so far this games been about what I expected It's not really bad per say-but it's so nuts and bolts standard that I can’t really find anything to get excited about with it. Yeah, some of the robot designs are cool, but once you get past that it's such a standard open world game with very little to it that feels overly original. The story so far is passably written and performed, but Aloy is one of the more generic protagonists I’ve seen in a game in recent years and...aside from some of the art and design it's just not a game I find overly exciting or interesting (as well as the faces being weird). It is somewhat fun and there are some fun tools to hunt with, but the crafting requirements tend to make getting into hunts more sluggish if you want to use more unique gear. Not bad per say, but not really anything special either, and whether or not I'll finish it I can't say as of now.
And there you have it, the games wot I very much liked this year and two games I had issues with this year. Honarary mentions go to Warframe and the Monster Hunter World Beta, which won me over to the series and ensured I'll be buying this one pretty much immediately to play with dtoid friends. Its full of organic moments, it looks pretty good and as someone new to the series I'm full on board.
Warframe is a game I tried years ago and didn't get on with too much. Down the line though, its a far more enjoyable game and I've been having a good time with it. Its got some fun color customization, its free to play which excuses the nickel and diming that it employs by its nature and its fun to play as you slide through levels and hack enemies to death or shoot things. Can tell its going to be a good time going forward.
Overall...much like past years this year has been one of the best for gaming I’ve seen in awhile. In a sea of big publishers shitting out weaker games, games laden with microtransactions and loot boxes it is nice to actually step back and see how much good there is even with the bad. I played games that really blew me away this year, got a new entry in a franchise that I haven’t gotten to mess with for a while and got to enjoy all sorts of good music. Hopefully you’ve found the year similarly bountiful, and feel free to leave your own thoughts below! Thanks for reading as always.