Welcome back to A Decade in Review; Shoggy-14! This is the second half of my look at 2014, and it's all positive. If you're interested in reading up on the games I didn't like, and felt ambivelent about, check out my previous entry. It's all positivity from here on, so here's the remainder of my 'Good' list!
Retro City Rampage DX is a top-down game that’s very similar to early Grand Theft Auto titles, as in, it’s like Grand Theft Auto 1, 2, or London. The obvious drawback of an open-world crime sandbox that encourages you to drive fast cars and not get shot by ninjas is that your field of view is very, very limited. It’s not uncommon to be blindsided by slow-moving traffic, or a building, or just a sheer drop while trying to escape a character who definitely isn’t The Shredder.
If I’ve been being too subtle, then let me be blunt and say Retro City Rampage DX is extremely referential; it’s such a big part of the game that I’m inclined to call it a major selling point of this game. One of the strongest guns in the game is a NES zapper, Doc Brown is a quest-giving NPC, there are Super Mario-style warp pipes, there’s a Super Meat Boy mini-game that’s presented like a Virtual Boy game, a winner is you, and so many more. Retro City Rampage throws a ton of references on screen, it’s even pivotal to the plot.
This is another game that I downloaded and played on the 3DS, and it feels like a perfect fit for the handheld. The missions were never too long, and failure never pushed you too far back either. The driving could get frustrating at first, but once I had a better feel for it and was more familiar with the map I experienced fewer and fewer accidents. There’s a nice variety of weapons to find, and getting into and out of fights was a lot of fun for me. Retro City Rampage DX was fantastic, and it’s another that I strongly recommend.
(Stop! Or this greaser will shoot!)
Shadowrun: Dragonfall is an entry in what I consider to be a criminally underused genre of fantasy: Sci-Fantasy. This CRPG allows you to play as a human or one of many fantasy races in late-21st Century Berlin. Dragonfall is a stand-alone expansion for Shadowrun Returns, and it absolutely feels big enough to be its own game. The plot of Dragonfall centers around a cult worshipping a seemingly dead Dragon, a virus that threatens cyberspace, and the possibility of something far worse lurking just out of sight.
The main draw for me is the novelty of building a character that just feels unique compared to any other RPG; playing as an elf who can hack computers, or a human who can summon spirits, or a dwarf that uses heavy weapons is great in itself but fleshing out your characters with speech skills, or sneaking skills, is also fantastic. Shadowrun is such a fantastically deep game, and the type of world you play in is so seldom used that it almost seems like this one was made specifically for me.
(Unrelated, but there's a Shadowrun book series. Guess what decade this is from.)
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was the first game from this series that I’ve played and played through. I played through the 3DS version, though I can’t recall any console specific features that might set it apart from console or PC versions. What I do recall is a fairly open 2D platform-based adventure game featuring an adorable cast of likable characters. Shantae herself is incredibly upbeat, bubbly even, and her idol animation is a cute little dance.
Appealing though she is, she’s not the most beloved member of her community. In fact, when she loses her powers as a half-genie, she’s told that she’s been fired from her job as the protector of her village. In a bid to regain her strength, Shantae teams up with her former rival Risky Boots, essentially joining her pirate crew. In just about every other game, Shantae’s powers are magical in nature, but in this one you unlock new moves and essentially gain power by finding and using pirate-themed items. Pirate’s Curse isn’t necessarily a Metroidvania type game since all of the levels are broken up by a menu, but you can revisit previously played levels and find new areas or items as you unlock new moves or techniques.
You can’t really re-fight bosses either if you revisit levels that you’ve previously beaten, which is unfortunate but not a deal breaker. The boss fights are fun so it’s a shame that I couldn’t find a way to go through them again without starting a new game. Not that I really cared about that, I’ve played this game enough times to fill out all 3 save slots and I’m tempted to overwrite one of them to play again. In short, this game is incredibly charming and great on the 3DS.
(Move those hips)
Shovel Knight kind of started a revolution, didn’t it? It looks like a NES game, and watching it in motion it’s possible to point out features from many NES games, to the point that one might call it a Frankenstein’s Monster of a game. Shovel Knight, the base game not counting any DLC, is absolutely fantastic. You play as the little blue shovel-wielder who is on a quest to save his missing partner Shield Knight from the Evil Enchantress. The levels are large and packed with hidden caches of loot. The world map is mostly linear, but offers a bit of openness and choice as you work through it.
The bosses, usually other knights, each have fun gimmicks or techniques that are easy enough to comprehend but still fun to overcome. The bosses were so memorable and packed with such great personalities that a few of them featured as characters in DLC campaigns which were released later on. I love the soundtrack, but I’m really not an audiophile by any means; all I can say about it is that I really liked the high-energy chip tunes. Shovel Knight was wildly successful before it launched thanks to its kickstarter campaign, but even after launch it’s seen a ton of success and been ported to just about every console that’s currently relevant.
I played through it on the Wii U a couple of times, but today you can find it and a lot of the DLC bundled together in the Treasure Trove pack. It’s a fantastic value, even when it’s not on sale, and it’s one of those indie games that I absolutely agree with the majority on: It’s an absolute must-play.
(Good News: Indies have surpassed the triple-A's)
Sniper Elite 3 features a couple of features that I strongly appreciate in games. One feature that I can’t get enough of are large, open, maps with a lot of places to hide and a lot of high places to climb to the top of. Another feature I enjoy, specifically in first person shooters, is the ability to give someone a high-velocity tonsillectomy from roughly 2 miles away. Sniper Elite 3 is a World War 2 shooter, but unlike roughly 90% this one takes place in areas of northern Africa. Finding places to hide in bright, dusty canyons can be difficult, but it’s a nice change of pace from the usual Pacific pleasure islands or burned out European hamlets.
It’s not enough to stay out of sight of enemy soldiers though; a little known fact about long-range, high powered rifles is that when they fire it’s very, very loud. Luckily, one of the key mechanics of Sniper Elite 3 is a sort of aural cover system. If you’re close to enemies who are firing off anti-air cannons, or if you’re doing a mission during a thunderstorm, you can hide your own gunfire by firing at the same time as a similarly loud sound. If you happen to be spotted enemies will congregate on the spot where they last saw you so if you thought you might be spotted you may have left a trap or two that they could easily stumble upon. If you’re not comfortable using tripwire traps (I haven’t had the best of luck with them myself), then shooting enemies with small arms is a viable option. You can’t take many rounds yourself, but if you get the drop on a small group it’s not too much of an issue to use a pistol or small machine gun to wipe out a camp.
Overall, the combat in Sniper Elite 3 seems very open-ended and that’s before you consider the boss encounters and special targets you’ll need to take out. An early boss is just a tank, but there are multiple ways of dealing with it: You can use mines to disable it, shoot out its fuel tank, or if you’re a real chad, sniping the driver directly is an option. Sniper Elite 3 doesn’t have the high speed thrill of certain other shooters that launched this year, but I really appreciated the more meticulous approach to each encounter. Setting up the perfect shot and watching it succeed is incredibly satisfying, even after the 8 hours I’ve spent with the game so far. At this point there’s a fourth entry to the series, but this one is absolutely worth looking at if you haven’t already.
(Protip: You don't want to stand around in broad daylight in this game)
South Park: The Stick of Truth is essentially a playable mini-series of the titular show that you might remember having watched in the past. It’s hard to say if this is an adaptation of the TV show since the creators of the show had a huge hand in the creation of The Stick of Truth. It’s so close to the source that a well-edited long play of Stick of Truth could work as a four or five episode arc of South Park, if not a couple of feature-length films. Bottom line: This is the most faithful translation of a property from its original format into a video game I’ve ever experienced.
South Park: The Stick of Truth IS South Park, but with a playable character you create and turn-based RPG combat. Your character can be one of several classes that cover the usual bases found in Lord of the Rings style fantasy. Each class has its own strengths and weaknesses, except maybe one that appears to be utterly overpowered and outside of the usual fantasy trope list. Stick of Truth is telling its own story, framed around the idea that the children of South Park are playing Fantasy after school and trying to obtain an artifact of ultimate power, the titular Stick of Truth. Along the way, you’ll encounter familiar South Park characters, locations, and situations but depending on how closely you’ve been following the series a lot of it could feel fresh. Crucially, you don’t really need to be very familiar with the show to understand what’s going on.
Mechanically, Stick of Truth is very simple: You engage in fights by attacking, or being attacked, in town. Exploring the town of South Park unlocks new quests, single-use items, clothes/armor, weapons, and what are essentially summon spells. The less you explore, the more difficult the combat becomes and depending on how you’re built combat can become trivial if you explore thoroughly enough. The mix of simple gameplay and writing that I really, really, liked make this one a very easy game to recommend and place somewhere on my top 10 of 2014.
(The class that Kyle is, is the OP one)
I strongly prefer Super Smash Bros for 3DS over Super Smash Bros for the Wii U. I’m going to try not to repeat too many points here, but I can’t make any promises. On a technical level, Smash for the 3DS blows me away: not only does it have all of the same fighters, DLC characters too if you buy them, it has a lot of the same stages and even some exclusive ones. Since the 3DS version of Smash is meant to be played on smaller screens, all of the characters can be outlined which makes following the action much easier for me, even with all of the particle and bloom effects.
Like the Wii U version, classic and All-Star modes are here but Smash Tour is absent which is absolutely fantastic. Instead of Smash Tour, the 3DS version features Smash Run. Smash Run is something of an adventure mode, where you choose a character and send them through a large dungeon. As you explore and defeat enemies, you earn powerups which you ultimately use in a special battle after the time limit expires. The Super Smash Bros series still isn’t one that I go out of my way to play, but this is a fully featured entry on a handheld with a quality of life feature that should seriously be in all of the games. Super Smash Bros for the 3DS is by far my favorite entry in the series, and it’s absolutely a good game.
(By far, this is my favorite in the series)
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is the sequel to the 3DS rhythm game of mostly the same name, sans Curtain Call. The first Theatrhythm was a game I spent over a hundred hours with and considered a serious game of the year contender for its launch year. Curtain Call makes that game feel like a demo by comparison. The amount of tracks in this version per game are greatly expanded on, the number of games represented are expanded upon, the number of characters you can play as are greatly expanded on, and even the DLC seemed worthwhile.
Gameplay in Curtain Call is virtually identical to the first game: You chose a track from a Final Fantasy and tap, drag, or swipe on-screen icons in time to the music. Some of the songs are presented as a journey, others are presented as a series of fights, and some event tracks show a full FMV from its respective game. By completing these songs, the characters you choose for your party level up and earn in-game currency that can be used to unlock more songs or characters. There are over 200 songs to play through here, with entries from Advent Children, Mystic Quest, Dissidia, and many other spin-off Final Fantasy properties.
This game is absolutely a love letter to the Final Fantasy franchise, and like with the previous entry I spent well over a hundred hours playing this one. A part of me wants to say this is my game of 2014, and as far as handheld games go, this is absolutely it.
(This is an absolutely must-own for all 3DS owners, no question)
I first played Wolfenstein: The New Order on the Playstation 3, and I recently played through it to story completion (well, one part of story completion) on PC. On the older console, the game featured lengthy load times, and slow texture pop-in. On PC I still had issues with pop-in and culling, but load times weren’t nearly as bad.
Now that I’ve picked those nits, I have nothing but positive things to say about Wolfenstein: The New Order (I used to be able to call it The New One but then it got sequels). The primary gameplay loop involves shooting the Stormtroopers of the Third Reich with as many guns as you can carry, crawling through tight, out of the way places to stock up on ammo, armor, and weapons, and even sneaking around to pick off officers who might set off an alarm if they notice you. Every weapon you find, except grenades, have two modes of fire. The pistol has a silencer, the assault rifle has a missile attachment, the sniper rifle can fire lasers, and every gun can be dual-wielded. If I have one criticism for the gameplay, it’s that I never fully got when gameplay would transition from stealth to flat out shooting. It’s easy to understand this transition if an officer sees you and raises the alarm, but there are instances where a stealth section suddenly goes full offensive without much warning.
There is a perks system in play; depending on how you play you can unlock things like more effective sneaking, higher ammo capacity, a higher chance of dismembering enemies, faster movement speed while carrying an extra-large weapon, but for the most part it doesn’t feel like it makes a massive difference to how you play. I wish the boss fights weren’t all crammed in the last few levels, and the sequel bait was pushed fairly hard, but overall this was the most fun I’ve had shooting in a long while. This might be my game of 2014 in general.
(Pfft...only one gun? Weaksauce.)
If you’ve noticed some glaring holes in my lists, that’s because I couldn’t think of any way to integrate Metro Redux, Domestic Dog Simulator, Halfway, The Last Federation, or Nidhogg. I’ve played those games, but the problems are that I just don’t remember Halfway or Dog Sim, I recall Nidhogg and Last Federation positively, and I’ve only played Metro 2033 so far so talking about Redux as a whole seems disingenuous to me. I loved Metro 2033, and I’m sure I’m going to love Last Light, but I don’t want to make that assumption.
The list of games I thought were bad was miniscule this year, but they’re going to be much larger in the coming entries. My ‘meh’ and ‘good’ lists were being mildly edited up until the end this time around too. Every time I played Alien: Isolation, I liked it a little bit more and every time I played Strider and Smash Bros for Wii U a little bit less. By the end of 2014 I had no desire to pick up a PS4 or Xbone, and by the end of 2015....well, we’ll get to that. I hope you enjoyed this entry in my decade project, and I hope you’re excited as I am to know that we’re almost halfway there!