Favorite Games I Played in 2016

Year end wrap-up time, so lemme make a post like everyone else where I talk about my favorite games I played this year. As with every time I do this, I am ignoring multiplayer games and also ignoring release dates. I’m not a ‘zeitgeist’ gamer and I don’t put much importance on staying fresh with what just came out. I’m sure there are a lot of great games that came out this year that I will eventually play but I like bouncing around so for me, most of my favorite games in the years are games I discovered or just gotten around to. I also tend to play multiple entries in a series in a row, so to keep the list from being all King’s Field and Shadow Tower games I am going to block certain games up as one pick. Also no order outside that this a “Top 10”.

Devil Daggers

A game with just an absurd content to fun ratio to me. After 50 hours forcing myself to play Gungeon, playing Devil Daggers again was like reaching the surface after suffocating under water. The rush, the speed, THE AESTHETIC. Devil Daggers does not waste my time and hits all my buttons for iteration and improvement. The only problem with it is it is hard to play while doing other stuff. Back during spelunky I would pause the game constantly to do other things but Devil Daggers, like playing TGM tetris, is hard to go back to midway. The game needs your undivided attention. It also does get repetitious so its best as a ‘game between’ games but every time I load up Devil Daggers its like “Why don’t I play this more?”

Front Mission: Gunhazard

A lovely SNES gem that I would have adored as a child. Not as mechanically clever or with as good levels as Metal Warriors, Gunhazard still has an amazing feel to it, despite its repetitious nature and overstaying its welcome a bit. It feels a bit like a better EVO: Search for Eden. Even though I’d say Gunhazard is a good game while EVO isn’t (even if I still love it), it does have some of that samey grindiness. But the world and aesthetic and story and growth is awesome. Also its set piece moments are delightful. Really adored finding this game. Its high points were high even if its low points were low… but never so low as to push me away.

Infinifactory (As well as Shenzhen IO and TIS-100)

Usually I tell people I don’t like puzzle games that much. Especially hard puzzle games. A cute puzzle platformer can be fun and not overstay its welcome but stuff like the Witness where I’m trying to reverse solve an obtuse puzzle? I really could care less. But Zachtronics doesn’t make those kinds of puzzle games. His games remind me of The Incredible Machine, or bridge builders or, in a sense, Carnage Hearts. Puzzles where there is no ‘trick’ and no ‘the solution’. Puzzles which are about creativity and expression. I actually adore those kinds of Puzzle Games and in fact, that’s part of what I like about making games. So when I played Shenzhen IO I went back to play a bunch of Zachtronics offerings (no Spacechem yet, but I’ll get to it). Shenzhen and TIS-100 like like series of those rewarding “Ah-ha!” moments of fixing my games but without the same stress or stakes. Infinifactory appealed deeply to my love of spacial interactions. I wish I could do this in something like minecraft and have the things I make actually matter. I loved going back in all these games to just do better and beat my friends.

Infinifactory also had the most developed story and progression through the games I played. Its surprisingly interesting and fleshed out and the themes the games areas have match perfectly with whats going on in the story. Perfectly put together and wonderful to play.

Klonoa 2 (and also Klonoa)

What a wonderful pair of games! Klonoa 1 was delightful if a bit ages but Klonoa 2 was just… better in every possible level? The way the mechanics ramp up up, the way the level design was perfect, the art style, just… everything. There isn’t even much to even say. Klonoa isn’t one of those games that does something novelly or has something that makes it stand out. Klonoa and Klonoa 2 are just amazingly solid platformers and perhaps the only “Mascot Platformers” besides Mario that don’t suck. Why must I live in the Dark Timeline where people think Sonic games were ever good, but few people have played Klonoa?

Inside

Inside is on a lot of peoples lists! This is just a wonderful, solid, well put together game that shows a ton of craft while also being a much better execution of the gameplay found in Limbo. Inside builds up its world, it builds up its mechanics, it ramps up its puzzles in ALL the right ways. Appreciation of Inside is like the appreciation of pure craft in a game. It’s not the most interesting, its not the most that filled me with the most wonder or made me feel the most accomplished or anything, but it’s just GREAT.  Also as a fan of atmospheric story telling, especially in a platformer, this game shines. Also has one of the best surprises I ever had in a game — so maybe thats its best trait. Still, wonderful title.

Ori and The Blind Forest: Definitive Edition

A wonderful openworld platformer. I’d call it, more like Guacamelee, more of a ‘platforming Zelda’ than a Metroidvania, but I liked it a whole WHOLE lot more. Delightfully fast moving with awesome mobility options, great art and music and great setpieces. Amazing quality for what is technically an Indie game. My friend Matt tried to get me to play this FOREVER and it took forever but eventually it happened. Only complaint is I think in some of the setpiece moments were a little too Trial and Error-y for how the game felt like it should be? In fact, the game in general felt like it was a bit harder than necessary. Which was fine for me, only a few segments irked me, but I feel like my sister might get stuck on a number of parts even if she’d like every other part of this game.

Doom

I never thought there would be a time when there was a lack of good, dumb FPSs but here we are and here is Doom. Doom was exactly everything it needed to be, fun and actiony with ridiculous weapons and hordes of enemies. The aesthetic managed to be dark or hellish without being grimdark or lightless. One sad bit for me, though not THAT sad is the game has more of a… Serious Sam model than a classic Doom model.  In most cases, enemy positioning doesn’t matter because they’re all so mobile, so much fewer areas have interesting usage of enemy placement or just ‘hallway enemies’, which is apparently for a number of technical reasons. But that’s fine, because they still managed to make a great game and the times they did work out smaller encounters or interesting enemy placements, it felt great.

One minor complaint, even though it’s not terrible in this game… I’m sick of weapon upgrades and trees and stuff? Doom gives you enough stuff to max everything out but still, I hate making blind choices for skills and weapons when I’d rather just be given cool toys to play with when the designer thinks I should have them. Again, wasn’t a huge distraction since Doom was generous about it, but it just also felt completely unnecessary.

Shadow of the Colossus (And Ico)

Finally got around to playing these on the PS3 and both were just wonderful. They had their rough  points but I was engrossed in both. Ico in particular had some puzzles and timing things which were like… man… who let this happen? Who thought the water wheel was okay? Probably rushes with development or something. Ueda’s game just make you feel so.. intimate with everything in the world that despite all the rough edges, they’re delightful.

Shadow of the Colossus was my favorite of the two. The port had some rough edges — mostly making the overworld look like ass and ‘european’ shaky difficulty — but even when the game frustrated me or felt a little like a chore, I was still hungry to always go back to it. If a colossus wasn’t fun, perhaps the next one would be (and usually was). The weight of your actions in the game, both gamefeel wise and thematically just made it all have an impression on me. The fact you had to hit the button twice to stab something just screamed ARE YOU SURE? Even when the controls frustrated me I felt like they were how they were for a reason. Agro felt like my buddy, not a vehicle, and that feeling was more important than my ability to drive him around like a racecar.

I look forward to finishing BEP, getting a PS4 and catching up on a lot of modern games. One of those is definitely The Last Guardian.

Shadow Tower Abyss (and all of From’s older King’s Field-esque games)

I can’t believe I liked all these games as much as I did. You can read those earlier in my blog. But the game that surprised me the most was Shadow Tower. Shadow Tower had some weird magic to it and while it had its problems (desperately needed an Auto Map) it captivated me. Shadow Tower Abyss just went totally wild though. Running around with an AK-47 while wearing a roman legionary helmet and samurai armor withe a boardsword on your pack was just wild. The aesthetic of the game is strange and alien. The gamefeel for first person melee was INCREDIBLE. King’s Field 4 finally made FPS melee tolerable, Abyss made it WONDERFUL. The only problem with Abyss for me is it ends very weakly. The game felt a bit unfinished at the end. Also the translation is terrible… though on the other hand, maybe the terrible translation adds to the alien feel of the game?

Anyways these games surprised me in so many ways and Abyss surprised me the most.

 Nuclear Throne

If I had to say something was my Game of the Year, well… it has to be Nuclear Throne. Just by sheer playtime it has to be.  Nuclear Throne is a game that knows what its about. It’s a game that knows what an interesting character mechanic is and how interesting mechanics can chain together. It understands how to make content that new players will approach cautiously and experienced players can play through like a bat out of hell. After my Gungeon rants, it kills me that it was inspired by Nuclear Throne because Nuclear Throne GETS player engagement and it gets scaling difficulty and it gets game feel and it gets respecting the players time. It gets that there is more to enemy design than rings of bullet hell projectiles. It gets that the layout of an arena can lead to real strategic choices.

Nuclear Throne is like an F1 Racer where you can play so fast and so hard and so aggressively that you can blow yourself to bits if you don’t know how to control yourself. The only bad thing about Nuclear Throne is I DESPERATELY WANT TO GIVE YOU MORE MONEY FOR AN EXPANSION PACK WHY — WHY WON’T YOU DO THIS TO ME I LOVE THIS GAME SO MUCH

Games I Played in 2016 that I have like… a thought about?

Downwell: I wish this game had more to it because it was great until I beat hard with every style and then it was boring. :(

Super Mario Galaxy: This game was way less good than people lead me to believe though I guess it was alright.

Enter the Gungeon: I now know its not the worst games that make me the maddest but the games that brush so close with greatness

Battle Garegga: I don’t know why I’m still trying to learn this game

Battle Arena Toshinden on the Gameboy: This game is stupidly fun for no reason and has a great ringout mechanic

Pokemon Go: I haven’t played this in a month and I feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Actually maybe what makes me the maddest is successful games with REAAAAALLY talentless game designers?

Mario Run: Like… this was pretty good? More levels pls?

Besiege: I hooked my joystick and a mod to it and then I made an airplane with proper control surfaces and tried to beat every stage with it despite the awkwardness in trying to do so and mostly just ended up crashing over and over again. 10/10

Owlia: An actual NES game to play on my actual NES! Was a real sweet, cute game with just a few dumb puzzles that made me mad.

Pico-8: This is my new ‘happy wheels’ and I really should make something on it.

Big Sky Troopers: This game is also like EVO in that its complete horse shit only I still liked it in fact it’s more EVO than EVO because its EVEN MORE HORSEHIT but something was charming about it and I finished it because I’m dumb?

Glittermitten Grove: I like fairies okay

Enter the Gungeon

I really really really wanted to play as much of Gungeon as possible before writing this. I wanted to at least clear one Past… or maybe even hell. But 50 hours in is far too long to spend on a game I don’t like, so here we go.

The internet view of Gungeon is a strange thing. As a huge Nuclear Throne fan, Gungeon would get recommended to me regularly. It’s hard to find someone saying a bad word about Gungeon. But when I started complaining on twitter about all the things I hated about it, people tweeted me in droves to agree. That took me by surprise! Only one follower stood up for the game and in very polite, understanding terms. You see tons of people play almost nothing but Spelunky or Isaac but… Gungeon doesn’t seem to get that kind of attention from casters and “single game hobbyists” (people who play various games to death forever). Some people like the game, of course, but so many seem to be… silently disappointed with it.

I think this is because Enter the Gungeon is a game that makes you want to like it. Its charming, its beautiful, a lot of design thought clearly went into it, there are little details everywhere. Who wants to trash a game with so much love obviously put into it? I imagine most people silently stop playing it. “I’ll get back to this eventually”, remembering its good bits fondly without quite realizing that the repetitive grind that is the game got old really quick.

Despite all its charm and its whacky guns, Gungeon is a game that has most of its fun seemingly carefully designed out of it. Not because I think the devs don’t like fun, but because I think they had another concern. They were afraid of their game being too easy.

Being afraid of being too easy should not be confused with “wanting to be difficult”. In fact, the most difficult parts of the game — the end half — are by far the best parts of the game. By a lot! But its fear of being two easy damages the player’s ability to access this fun and taxes them deeply in time to get there.

Gungeon is SO SLOW.  I was going to say the game was “too long” but that wasn’t quite accurate. Still, Getting to the 5th chamber is a 40-50 minute affair. Getting through the first chamber is easily a 10 minute affair. While not a fair comparison (different game, different standards and different levels of skill), its interesting for me to think that in the time it takes for me to beat the first chamber, I can be fighting Little Hunter in Nuclear Throne. Is that bad? Certain games have certain paces and that’ s fine. But what am I doing in that first 10 minutes of gungeon? Just… circle strafing enemies. For ever. Nothing is that scary, but everything has a ton of health (we’ll get to that). Its like washing a floor. Its not hard, but it takes time and it can be so monotonous . And its like this for the first three chambers.  The second problem is, you can’t auto pilot it because resources are generally so tight that losing health will punish you later in the long run. The game is less generous than any version of Isaac. You also get health up for being bosses without getting hit. These are so essential that a slipup often can mean restarting if the game wasn’t generous to you elsewhere. Which is rarely is.

Usually to bust up monotony, you have awesome items and maybe classes to spice everything up. The characters in Gungeon are…. spartan. To hear the game was inspired by NT blows my mind because none of the classes or items are as interesting as anything in NT (maybe the two unlockables are, but come on). You have a Marine that…. is more accurate and has more armor… The “Convict” who has some crappy napalm and does more damage when she gets hurt (which is always a boring ability), The Hunter, who has a crossbow and a dog who finds items and… The pilot, who can pick locks and have a second active item. The Pilot is the only of the 3 who feels meaningfully different while the Hunter in my estimation is  the best of the other 3. In practice, they all mostly play the same. They even all start with similarish-but-not quite pistols. Just deeply and disappointingly similar. They all circle strafe shooting enemies the same, they all roll the same and besides some details here and there, provided with similar weapons, they approach rooms mostly the same.

And the guns themselves? Mostly the same. Few things are wild or exciting. A gun that shoots a spread of fish isn’t meaningly different from a shotgun outside of DPS. Its fun, but in a superficial way. Most of the weapons with funny gimmicks don’t seem that good. The game seems afraid of making any gun too good. Nothing like in Isaac where things go your way and you absolutely melt a boss.  Maybe a 2-3 minute bossfight will become a 1-2 minute bossfight.

The items are equally bad. Very few of them are at all interesting, most of them taking on things like “slightly more accurate” “More damage but more spread” and most of the good ones rely on ridiculous synergies to pay off. Some cool items, like the Gears of War style Active Reload should probably have been on the Marine or some other class. There is some cool stuff, but the game is so stingy you barely see it.

Yeah, the RNG in this game is terrible. Both in how auster it is, but how it applies to everything.  The game has color coded chests that tell you the quality of the loot inside, two per floor. Each takes a key. But why anyone would spend a key on a brown chest is beyond me. You can see any color chest on any floor but your odds for better loot improve as you get deeper in the game — as it should be… but you can easily get almost to the end getting nothing but crap chests. Unlike Isaac, the guns don’t stack — you’re only as strong as your strongest gun… and any early gun is ridiculous inaccurate considering the limited ammo and health of the enemies. Due to how samey the guns are, instead of each round being EXCITING AND DIFFERENT most of the time it is ‘different DPS and RoF’ the game unless you pick up an exception. “How about this gun! When you reload it does a Melee attack!” “AWESOME I LOVE MELEE” “but it has no range and doesn’t do a lot damage.” “Fuck you Gungeon. Fuck you.”

Other things are stingy too, leading to a fucked up economy. In Isaac, you have keys, health and bombs with tons of options to turn each in to the other. in Gungeon you have keys, health and guns… But almost nothing allows you to spend health as a resource, and your ability to capitalize on a stash of guns is random. You can sell them to the shop creep but the shop creep, FOR NO GOOD REASON only sometimes randomly appears in shops. You could feed guns to a mulcher to combine them into a fresh new gun with ammo but they’re uncommon too. There are rare shrines to convert guns to ammo or health but they’re rare and the shop…. usually is only good for buying keys, health and ammo (one and awhile it’ll have something good, but the chance of you having enough money at the same time is rare). At this point I question why the game even has keys. Keys are only interesting when you have to make hard or clever decisions, while most of the key decisions in Gungeon are pretty obvious. I guess you have the Lock NPC that can make them a little interesting sometimes? I guess?

So yeah, everything has way too much health. A basic enemy takes 3-4 shots to kill with your basic gun and the larger Shotgun Shell guys many times more than that. These are things that bumble around and shoot slowly. So you just kite around blasting them forever… That… isn’t very fun.  And you do room after room of this and as the game goes on, basic enemies get MORE health. If you don’t get better guns, the amount of tedium becomes outrageous. To quote my good friend Kicks. “That game just needed to double the damage on all the guns and cut the ammo by half”. I might actually enjoy that version of Gungeon!

Even the basic first level bosses are bullet hell nightmares with no real strategies to build up to face them. This might sound like a strange complaint but I’ve never “lamed out” Gungeon. The game seems really tightly designed to be almost… anti strategy. SHOOT AND DODGE AND SHOOT AND DODGE NO WAY TO LAME OUT THIS BOSS OR KILL IT REALLY FAST WE SPENT A LOT OF TIME MAKING IT AND YOU’RE GOING TO PLAY IT EVERY SINGLE TIME and if you get hit, sorry no health up get wrecked nerd. In theory I like that you can get rewarded for not getting hit by the boss but it has all sorts of repercussions, but lets focus on two. If I get hit by one of the first 2 bosses I feel like I should restart. After 10-20 minutes of playing. .. and secondly, they make me not want to use Blanks, the shmup style bullet clearing bombs the game gives you. Hey if I get hit during the stage, w/e, I’ll save the blanks for the boss because I can get GAINS. And then the game gives you items for buffing your blanks against enemies you’re probably never going to use them on until you’re like gdlk or something. Sweet.

The best way I can describe the early half of the game is some uncomfortable spot between boredom and engagement. Steaks are too high to be totally bored but nothing is engaging enough to move over to ‘fun’.

The enemy and boss design is stuffy. You fight them on their terms. THIS IS THE CONTENT WE DESIGNED YOU WILL NOT CHEAT IT unless you’re using the gimmicks we included, which mostly suck and don’t do a lot of damage (Okay, the rocks in the mine are at least okay for damage). The game is just player hostile. There is an enemy that buffs other enemies and gives them like five times more health or something unreasonable. And if you kill the spell casty dude after doing damage, none of that carries over to the enemy you shot. No fun moment where you kill the caster and the enemy it was buffing died. The cost for the shortcuts are ABSURD and often rely completely on luck. “Yeah get 120 shells and 2 keys :D” Yeah great I’ll get back to you when RNG likes me. Or building the bullet that kills time. I was down to just needing the primer and 20 minutes in I see I’m one shell short of buying it from the shop. GUESS I JUST NEED TO RESET THANKS GAME. These are all on their own minor points but they speak to the mentality of the game. “We don’t want to be too easy. This game is supposed to be hardcore.”

But tedious and RNG are not ‘hardcore’. Its difficulty but the most boring kind. This is why when you get to Chambers 4 and 5, the game sings! Interesting enemy interactions, big rooms with lots of features, tons of bullets everywhere, but a totally dodgeable amount. The game might be anti strategy or anti-ridiculous fun, but it can at least sing as some twin stick bullet hell. It can be stupid still and some of the enemies are unfun and unfair but EVERY game has shit like that and the thing that makes it suck in Gungeon is it too 40 minutes to get there and that 40 minutes is shallow, seeming hard only because the devs are either afraid of easing up or because they’re afraid of making areas they worked on for a long time appear for a short period of time. Maybe playing it with shortcuts would make it better but everyone says that’s a bad idea and unlocking the shortcuts is too much effort to be worthwhile anyways. Part of me is left wondering why the game is even a Roguelike. None of what is good about it stems from its procedural generation — in fact, they’re mostly its worst traits.

Gungeon is the most frustrating type of game for me. Its a game that isn’t good for a good reason. It has everything it needs to be AMAZING, but its some weird anti-gestalt, less than the sum of its parts. Part of me is tempted to try and mod it but I don’t know how well that would go…. and it would feel cheap. And I doubt the game could change much from how it is now. If the first half of the game was changed, the people who enjoy the game already would probably riot or something. So we get stuck with this — a roguelike a lot of people will speak fondly of, but one surprisingly few people love.