I Played Some Games in 2018

… And as usual, most of them aren’t from 2018.

Anyways, Brave Earth still isn’t out but instead of me being depressed about that, lets talk about games I played this year in no particular order!

Hollow Knight

I played this so early in the year I almost forgot about it. I remember looking at a map of this game and going “Eh. This doesn’t seem like the type of Metroidvania I like”. When I finally played it, my friend hour or so of playing “confirmed” this to me but I kept going. “This game is too much the original Metroid it’s too easy to get lost and lose all direction”.

… But that was the idea. And as getting lost led me to new and exciting places and as the game continued to feel really nonlinear the quality of the world design became more and more apparent. Things I thought were flaws were intentional and intentional things I thought weren’t to my taste I ended up falling in love with. It’s one of the few games that people compare to Dark Souls where I’m like… yes. Yes this is exactly it. A beautiful and lonely world with great NPCs and fun gameplay that might occasionally cross the line into ‘actually unfair’ but in ways that are forgivable. Absolutely loved this game and I wish it was fresher in my memory.

Iconoclasts

I was waiting for this game for years and years and years and years. Where I expected a fun puzzly metroidvania I really instead got more of a Cave Story-esque journey with punchy gameplay. The world is connected only enough to make it feel like one big cohesive space. Earlier screenshots of the game contained a mini map in the HUD that was removed because, well… the game just isn’t actually about that. Areas are “stages” that are just in or slightly off the path you want to go. It’s a big map not because you’re supposed to explore it but because it makes the world feel realer. And within this world is an amazing story with amazing characters, looking cutesy and light while being a depressing, cynical story about peoples inabilities to change, to heartbreaking consequences. All told by someone who can execute art, writing and doing his own music perfectly.

Sometimes you want your soul touching indie games to play like a Treasure game in between cutscenes and this game fits that bill.

Wonderboy in Monster World

As a side note to Iconoclasts, I played this as Konjak listed it as one of his influences of the game. Wonderboy is a strange game. I don’t think there is a single excellent thing the Wonderboy games do. Yet somehow they are oddly compelling. They feel like an action RPG demake back when the action RPG genre was in full swing. Simple grind and update mechanics, formulaic progression through cute, tropey environments, adorable art style… and yet it works. It’s like some kind of comfort food. You can feel it’s world structure in Iconoclasts too. Wonderboy gives you little reason to backtrack but the fact you walk everywhere makes the world feel whole.

EVO: The Theory of Evolution

If I were to pick a game of this year I would want to scream to the heavens about the most, it would be this. While not the best game — it is a very very flawed, old game — it was the most shocking and enjoyable find for me. This lovingly fan-translated PC-98 game is the turn based RPG prequel to the SNES’s EVO: Search for Eden. You can scroll down one post and read my whole review of this game but most importantly I was just SHOCKED at the sheer amount of quirkiness and charm this strange, surreal game had. It has that intangible ‘special’ factor that makes it important despite it’s flaws. So yeah go read that post and then download the game god dammit.

EVO: Search for Eden

Another side note game, I replayed The Search for Eden after The Theory of Evolution. What was once an amazingly quirky game felt simple and watered down compared to its PC-98 parent. The gameplay manages to feel slower than the turn based RPG it was based on and while more visually appealing, The Theory of Evolutions quadrant evolution system was more interesting and had more diverse choices. The only bad thing about The Theory of Evolution is it made me like Search for Eden a lot less. The Theory of Evolution has all of its strengths and more tolerable flaws.

Deltarune

I almost forgot about this because it hit so fast. As just a demo its hard to read into things too much, What is flaw, and what is intentional? The core chunk of the demo plays its story beats as an uncanny valley clone of Undertale in a way that we all know has to be intentional. It’s weirdly uncomfortable, offputting and curious. While the bits we’ve gotten to play have their great moments already (who doesn’t love Susie) the demo, by necessity is nothing but promises, building up to something that seems challenging to deliver upon. Looking back in the future I feel like this first release will either be completely vindicated or seen as warning sign for all the problems we’ll see in the finished game. Considering Toby said he built Undertale purposefully to make this game, I’m leaning toward the former.

Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999

This year I found some good NGPC games! Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 is probably one of my favorite game names I’ve ever seen. The game itself is interesting. A zelda-with-guns pokemon crossover thing where you capture enemy souls, eggs and seeds and combine them to make new guns to level up and evolve. The game is sadly a little scant and repetitive and doesn’t have the longevity the designers wished it did, but it’s still an exceptionally charming game that is still fun to play.

It feels like the type of game where in a better world there would be a Dark Arms 2 which would be a classic and there would be forum posts asking “Hey is Dark Arms 1 worth playing?” “Its worth checking out but feels really dated and shallow by comparison” and then Dark Arms 3 would come out and everyone would hate it because it changed a bunch of stuff and removed a bunch of features from Dark Arms 2 and — well… yeah that sadly didn’t happen. The publisher never went inn this direction ever again and mostly made fighting games afterward. This would be a good game for some indie dev to shamelessly lift from to make something new and more refined.

Faselei!

The second good NGPC game I played this year is a weird Turn Based Strategy/Mech Customization game that is anime as hell. It also hits that “Final Fantasy Tactics” tone. It’s much goofier and does less of a a good job of it, but it gets some of that Gundamy ‘War is Hell’ stuff going on and executes it well in a few areas. This is another game that seems like it was a sequel away from being really great. The weapon variety does a lot but also leaves a lot on the table (there is no splash weapons). The combat, which involves selecting up to 8 moves in advance and predicting movements doesn’t have the enemy AI to make it as rewarding as it could be. But the game scales up well, limiting access to the “command chips” and amount of actions you can make until you are ready to zip around the map and blast things to hell. I still haven’t finished it but it is more a testament to the game. I’m still grinding end game content because the basic grind in this game is actually fun. Sadly it lacks the diversity to truly shine but it’s SO CLOSE.

Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal Space Program was both a joy and a frustration. I now look at the janky car wreck that is modded minecraft and go “wow, this shit is rock solid”. Like Minecraft, KSP suffers from the problem that well… there actually isn’t a whole lot -to do-. You can do cool stuff just to do them, but like with modded minecraft, having an incentive to build is fun! But oh my god the physics of this game make things so rough. Any mod that does anything interesting is a disaster. Vehicles on loading the game abhor the ground. Space stations decide ‘yes now it is time to shake apart (modded or unmodded)’ and the whole thing is just frustrating for the wrong reasons. I wanna be frustrated by my landers tipping over on the moon because I designed them bad and I suck at landing, not because the physics engine decides it wants to do whatever it wants.

I put a lot of time into KSP this year and enjoyed a lot of it, but eventually I realized I was spending more time trying to ‘fix’ quirks of the game then actually play it. Losing should be fun but it just isn’t in this. Though that said I did enjoy building and flying planes in it quite a bit!

IL2 Strumovik: Great Battles series

So after KSP I did a short stint in SimplePlanes which made me go ‘lemme get my IR headtracker gear set up again’. When Simple Planes didn’t support it I was like ‘hm, maybe I should install IL2: 1946’ and a few days later I kept just eye-ing IL2: Battle of Stalingrad, the first game in the newer IL2 Great Battles series. Now I got a new joystick and throttle and rudder pedals (after building a set out of an old joystick and wood which worked pretty well) and I’m flying around with no hud and learning real flight principles. This is hardly my first deep dive into hardcore flight sims (I did own 1946 and had a headtracker already)

While simulations aren’t very gamey, air combat has a lot of gamifying factors. The nature of ‘energy advantage’ and balancing things like radiator drag vs coolant concerns and other mechanisms are very gamey. A lot of fighting game-esque management of information happens in air combat. When I made my post about “Cleaning up your mental stack” someone came in like “Hey do you know about the OODA Loop??” which is fighter pilot terminology for what is basically the same thing. Flying a plane in combat has almost the same APM process as playing Starcraft, deciding between macro and micro decisions and always having infinite ways to optimize is you have the spare knowledge and attention. While not being inherently gamey, it appeals to the gamey side of my brain.

I won’t go into too much other detail. it’s a WW2 airplane sim focused on the eastern front and which is noted for unflinching realism and attention to detail. It doesn’t really have a lot of competitors. But whats important is that flying is hard and as such is -rewarding-.

LIGHTNING ROUND

Factorio: Jumped to this a bit once I got off the Minecraft train. Factorio gets the process side of Minecraft even better than modded minecraft by like a lot and it’s a lot of fun. My only problem with it compared to Modded Minecraft is it’s really narrow. Like Modded Minecraft gives you the space for BIG COOL PROJECTS but factorio really doesn’t. Part of the “problem” (for me, it’s not a design flaw) is that when you grow in Factorio the design is… very integrated. Everything is already connected. Modded minecraft often develops as a bunch of separate systems and ends with more and more interconnectivity and automation. Modded Minecraft your adding functionality and in factorio your adding efficiency. High end late game in some play styles seems to get more into ‘interconnected microservices’ territory but I’ve yet to pull that off.

Dicey Dungeons: What a fun little game! A spiked shield where even dice do damage and odd dice shield me? Big swords benefiting for big dice and daggers benefiting from lots of little dice? A cute little dice based roguelike that gets a lot of gamefeel out of spending dice. One of the games that softened me on my dislike of turnbased games lately.

Super Metroid x LTTP Randomizer: What a perfect combination of madness, finding flippers in Super Metroid and the morphball on Death Mountain. A very confusing, brain bendy randomizer that fits right into my core skills.

Dahna: Megami Tanjō: This game owns hard. Like it’s not the best game in the world — it’s a little janky at times — but it’s also just awesome. Your some cool blonde warrior woman whose helped by mythical monsters to fight a sorceress. The game starts with you just riding on a giant ogre and stomping on shit before you just run around wheeling around this giant big ol’ sword like a badass, blood everywhere. It has such an awesome early 80s anime vibe. One of the things I like about it that I respect a lot in games is the game is constantly different. Things happen because the designers wanted to do them. Things are reused in ways that make sense in story. Bosses you injured earlier on reappear with those injuries still in place. It’s not just platformer beat’em up formula, which makes it feel oddly special.

Final Fantasy IV: Pushing my newfound tolerance for turn based games again, I went back to a classic. I don’t know why, I just had a growing urge to. Also it’s relatively short. It was interesting to play this and think about how much of the world interaction stuff and cutscenes and all that were cutting edge at the time. It’s the JRPG stuff we all took for granted at the time. I also played the japanese version (translated, obviously) so I got to experience slightly more complicated mechanics which made the game feel a lot less primitive than the US “Easy Type” would have led me to believe.

Robotrek: This was a mixed bag! Robotrek was a game I loved as a kid. Building robots is fun! Sadly the game is super shallow despite its attempts not to be. But… it’s also a strange, quirky game with a surreal sense of humor. It was tedious until I found the tricks to cheesing it. Parts of it that seemed good in my memory were worse and parts I didn’t care about as a kid held up better. It’s a weird, gaming game (I mean.. it’s a Quintet game so no surprise) that probably could have been great with a little bit more thought and time on the mechanics side of things.

11 thoughts on “I Played Some Games in 2018

  1. Dahna: Megami Tanjō sounds cool. Little worried about the production value, but I will check it out.

  2. (I still don’t have Twitter)

    If you think DMC 3’s camera is bad, do yourself a favor and never play any other game in the series other than 4. 3’s camera is significantly better than the majority of the series, including 5.

  3. Re: DMC 4’s atmosphere being “a bad version of Bayonetta”, I can’t say I agree at all (full disclosure: I absolutely HATE Bayonetta for a host of other reasons related to its systems and level design, while I love DMC 4’s systems and level design and think it’s pretty much the pinnacle of the genre once you’re past the initial “tutorial” run, so I’m naturally biased).

    Most of Bayonetta has a fairly strong fantasy bent to it, getting stronger and stronger the more you get away from the “town square” area in Chapter 2. The lines of the masonry are all “wavy” and impractical, and then there’s all of the “light platforms”, rocks floating in space, and other assorted wackiness. DMC 4, on the other hand, is still playing everything fairly straight to its Resident Evil roots; a gothic influence in the architecture, walls are very right-angled and practical, and while “realism” may be too strong of a word, it’s… closer to believable? Not as overtly fairy-tale-ish?

    Also, DMC 4’s palette is MUCH more saturated than the endless drab grays of Bayonetta.

  4. (More DMC twitter responses that you probably won’t read):

    I prefer Proud Souls over the red orb system for a few key reasons:
    1. It more directly rewards playing the game “the right way”. You only get red orb bonuses on level completion, but you get Proud Souls if you die and opt not to continue based on your average style rating. With Itsuno adding mid-mission continues as an option in DMC 4, he needed everything he could do to encourage players to not use them, and this was a good way to encourage people who don’t necessarily care about score to not continue (you’ll get your moves much faster if you don’t).

    2. As far as “what’s useful” for getting through the game, blue orbs almost always beat out new moves, which isn’t ideal in terms of getting players into using more of their potential moveset. Proud Souls fixes this, forcing you to spend a bunch of your currency on new moves.

    3. Proud souls lets you “refund” moves you end up not liking (and it reduces the prices to what they would have been before buying the move you refunded). More freedom to experiment as a beginner.

    4. When you get to the Dante missions, you get all of your Proud Souls that you spent on Nero moves back to spend on Dante moves. This means you can spend like crazy on Nero, without worrying about gimping yourself with Dante. DMC 5 (which goes back to the red orb system) really suffers for lack of this, where one move bought for a character means one less for another character, and leads to lots of “meh, do I really want to buy new moves for V instead of saving them for Nero or Dante?”, which isn’t really a way you probably want your players thinking in a DMC game.

  5. The problem I feel about proud souls vs red orbs is mostly that I just…. couldn’t care less about red orbs. I MEAN I COULD because DT and life gauge but it felt like those should be only collectibles or something? I know DMC5 gets rid of usable items so it seems like you could have a similar refundable system too? But of course they don’t sooo… Also I had no idea continuing didn’t give you proud souls. I always assumed it was from checking the item statues or something — like I assumed they got talled their so at the end I had 0. DMC games are not the best at communicating mechanics. :| THAT MAKES A LOT MORE SENSE. Also I think the proud soul scaling gets -silly- by the end.

    Level design wise the game IS really night. I still find its aesthetic kinda bland in most parts. Like nothing in that world interests me or sticks out to me but everything that is there is done very very nicely. While I’d find a lot of Bayonetta stuff visually interesting but not always the best executed? Especially right in the color department though. And the actual progression through those levels is better than Bayonetta which is fairly on rails and suffers when it isn’t. “Bad version of bayonetta” was definitely harsh. It’s more… blander yet more polished. Like as much as I enjoy Bayonetta there are sections of that game I hate while DMC4 was solid all the way through. Only gripe is a few enemies that seem too obnoxious but at least they’re attempts to make you do different things.

  6. Like I could ever learn to be brief enough to say anything in 120 characters.

    Anyways, I’m not sure where you heard that DMC 5 gets rid of purchasable consumables, but you heard wrong. In fact, Capcom made the staggeringly bad decision of tying about half of Nero’s moveset to purchasable consumables. Also, yellow orbs can be purchased endlessly in 5, although that falls under the “you’re doing it wrong” umbrella.

    As far as “teaching the player how to play right”, I actually think DMC does a pretty great job at it, much better than Platinum’s games. The score system is a huge point of leverage for this — since you have to do a variety of moves, whenever you buy a new move, you have built-in incentive to try it out a lot, because you score by just doing new things, which naturally makes you learn what everything is good for and how you should be putting it together. Also, getting a big message saying “you continued more than twice so we made it babby mode for you, enjoy your D rating” made me stop continuing for long enough to find out how Proud Souls worked (a similar message got me to stop continuing in Bayo, but that was the reason I never finished the game on my first save file, repeated motorcycle minigames in the Epilogue finally broke me; the game shames you for continuing, but about a third of its missions aren’t built for non-continue play to work at all, WTF). DMC 3 not giving you any clues about air cancelling is a big fail, but they rectified that by making you buy enemy step in 4; no way to miss it when it stares you in the face at the upgrade screen. By contrast, Bayo’s score system let’s you PKP dodge offset your way through the game and still get high marks, giving you no reason to ever leave your comfort zone and learn the rest of the system. Also, DMC’s secret missions do a better job acting as tutorials than most of Bayo’s Alfheims (although the latter’s “limited punches and kicks” and “use wicked weaves” Alfheims are spectacular for teaching dodge offset, credit where it’s due). Also, Bayo calculates Alfheims into your end of mission score because someone at Platinum absolutely hates the idea of anyone having fun while trying to score decently.

    As far as obnoxious enemies go… I actually think DMC 4 does well on that front. Based on the complaints I’ve seen over the years, I’m guessing you mean either Chimera Assaults, Fausts/Mephistos, or Blitzes; Blitzes are fun enough to dodge IMO, Chimera Assaults are only fought by Dante and melt to his Gunslinger style moves (especially shotgun stinger), and Mephistos/Faust can also have their cloaks damaged by Nero’s buster, giving you a melee method against them. Every game in the genre I’ve ever played is guilty here somehow; DMC 3 has the flying shield face things and the blood bats, Bayo has flaming enemies and wheels, DMC 5 has the giant worm-face dogs, budget Blitz, and teleporting double sickle guy.

  7. Hey you got 280 now!

    Teaching how to play, yes, but 4 definitely felt lacking in teaching you mechanics. I don’t think any character action game is particularly good at this though they almost all end up with me googling shit so w/e. The score system is DEFINITELY much better than Bayo — and much better than DMC3 really. I appreciate that it stopped weighing ‘not taking damage’ and let losing combos be the real punishment. When I finish a stage I feel like I’m scored about how I felt I did. Bayonetta was brutal in that regard.

    Figuring out that buster worked on the cloaked guys was great. Also found that just going point blank with charged shotgun with Dante is murder for them too. Before that my goto was bullet raining which…. was finnicky. I still don’t like Blitz as Nero because the first phase feels like a whole lot of waiting around and charging. It’s fine with Dante though, especially since my go two phase 1 strategy with him is Full House Royal Guard. Chimeras are fun! They give me a little problem with Dante (I’m going to literally try more gunslinger stuff on them right now) but with Nero I feel like I’m flying around popping confetti balloons. But yeah I’d say the DMC3 ones were more annoying for sure. I’d have to go back to Bayonetta to truly remember how I feel about all the enemies there.

    Interesting to see how I feel about Devil Busters in 5 because I keep hearing that a lot of people really like them and a lot of people really really hate them. I feel like I’ll lean more toward ‘hate’ though since I’m pretty miserly in games.

  8. DMC 4 does secretly punish you for taking damage; if you no-damage an entire mission, you get a 1.5x style points multiplier. It’s not terribly relevant in 4, given that game has the easiest S ranks in the main series and dropped DMC 3’s “SS” mission rank, but in 5, there’s a few missions where they’ve set the target stylish points scores too high (IMO) and you 100% have to get the no-damage bonus to get an S rank, which is doubly brutal in 5 given that it has the longest missions of the series (on the flip side, it also has Bayo’s stupid checkpoint exploit, if you’re feeling cheesy). TBH, I’ve almost never googled anything to learn a DMC game that wasn’t an unintended exploit (Distorted Real Impact for instance), I’m kind of curious about what you felt you needed to look up? Bayo, on the other hand, even googling wasn’t enough; trying to google info on that game beyond “WTF is dodge offset” just brought up a bunch combo videos where I couldn’t understand what was going on, and I had to go on Reddit to find out how central Umbran Spear + Afterburner Kick is to the entire game, how you should be using Kulshedra in slot B whenever you’re fighting low-tier enemies (and I had to also google how to even find the stupid whip since Bayo hides the weapons from you because someone at Platinum hates players having fun [ever done one of those “stay in the air with the whip + enemy step” Alfheims without the whip, by just carefully enemy stepping on flying enemies? I have! Multiple times! It sucked!]), and that you should almost never do button-holds on your launchers for the auto-jump followup but rather should tap your launchers and manually go into the sky with what you want.

    I have a weird relationship with Devil Busters. On one hand, I like that Nero finally has something like Dante’s styles, and Punchline, Rawhide, and Gerbera are really fun to play with. I also like that switching is limited in some way, rather than the constant stance-dancing Dante does, since it gives Nero a different identity in terms of playstyle (not as Swiss Army Knife as Dante, but more overwhelmingly powerful in direct terms). On the other hand, I hate hate hate hate hate that it’s tied to buying items in the store. That’s the worst possible way to handle it, and what’s crazier is they didn’t even need to handle it that way because you can find them in the environment… on lower skill levels. They got rid of them all and made you buy them on DMD because… spending red orbs in the shop takes skill or something?!?! Because having to sit through a bunch of extra loading screens (DMC 5 has mulitple awful loading screens to use the store because they made it an elaborate, very animated, 3D thing instead of a simple 2D menu like DMC 4) every time you want to stock up is just such a great feature?!?! I have absolutely no idea.

  9. Oh hey now I know about distortion! But yeah punishing to some degree is fine. It feels reasonable. But a lot of basic stuff like how Exceed and EX-ACT worked. I remember a lot of game description stuff being super vague and for awhile I was trying to rev up and attack not realizing you have to fill the gauge with multiple revs. Like Exceed isn’t really complicated at all but I felt it wasn’t communicated to me well at all either. Stuff like Table Hoppers description is confusing too as its not clear how its different from a roll. Like no hardcore guides or anything, just like “Lemme read the DMC wikia on this oh okay thats simple”. Actually learning how to string those things? That works out nicely.

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