Tag Archives: Video Games

Video Game Awards 2018: Best Content

These days, video games are packed with content. Whether it’s alternate modes, post-game content, or various side objectives, games due their damnedest to make sure there’s always something to do. 2017 was no exception to this, with game after game cramming in whatever they could to make sure gamers were never bored. Of course, there can only be one winner.

 

Winner: Super Mario Odyssey

With all due respect to the vastness of Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule, and the seemingly never-ending length of Persona 5, it was Super Mario Odyssey that had something fun to do around every nook and cranny. Odyssey is one maybe a handful of games where there’s simply never a dull second. Like the best Mario games (specifically, World and Galaxy 2), Odyssey liberally sprinkles in creative idea after creative idea, with none of them overstaying their welcome. And by combining that inventive mentality with the more “sandbox” style of 64 and Sunshine, it turns every Kingdom into a virtual playground.

Hundreds and hundreds of Power Moons are hidden away for Mario to find. And the reward for collecting them? More Super Mario Odyssey! It seems like no matter how much you accomplish in Odyssey, you’re always uncovering more to do.

Better still is that Nintendo seemed to have designed Odyssey with every audience in mind, intentionally implementing moves that allow speedrunners to “break” the game if they’re crafty enough, while other players have plenty of options to take their time. Then take into account all the different capture abilities and gameplay styles, and Super Mario Odyssey is like an endless well of fun. I mean, you can ride around the city in a motor scooter! You don’t have to, but it’s there, and you can!

To top it all off, Super Mario Odyssey has perhaps the best post-game content out there, expanding the adventure by quite a large margin, while also introducing all the more variations of gameplay. And now with updates making their way into the game, Super Mario Odyssey is simply a title that never lets up.

 

Runner-up: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Runner-up: Persona 5

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Video Game Awards 2018: Best Online Multiplayer

It seems like ever since playing games online through consoles became a thing in the mid-2000s, online gaming has taken priority for many gamers and developers. I suppose it’s not difficult to see why. Being able to test your skills against the world for a few quick rounds or lengthy play sessions makes provides a constantly changing experience.

With online multiplayer reaching new heights in the last few years, picking the most standout example of the genre in 2017 is no easy task. But in the end, I had to pick something.

 

Winner: PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround

Truth be told, this category was a toss up between PUBG and Splatoon 2. While there’s an easy argument to be made that Splatoon 2 is actually the better game in terms of polish and refinement, I tip the scale to PUBG here for the simple fact that Splatoon 2 – though great – stuck close to the playbook of Splatoon 1. And sure, PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround may not be the most original title, either, but it has become the definitive “battle royal” style of game.

I’m not about to pretend that PUBG isn’t without its problems, as a host of technical issues (ranging from textures taking a notably long time to load and even getting booted from matches far more frequently than you’d hope for a title this prominent), and it’s true that it only left it’s beta phase at the tail-end of 2017 (and it can really feel like it at times), the fact of the matter is PUBG captures a sense of survival and loneliness to an almost poetic level.

PUBG can be hectic and stressful as you scurry across the map looking for weapons and gear for your inevitable showdowns with other players doing the same (all while your available survival space keeps shrinking), and there may even be lengthy stretches where you don’t even see a hint of another player. But few games have you on the edge of your seat quite like it.

Staring at a door as you duck inside of the bathtub of an abandoned house, fingers on your trigger as you wait for a would-be killer to emerge can be truly intense. So much so that you may forget you’re just staring at a door for a while. It’s part action, part survival and part horror, which helps the experience thrive even in the midst of its many blemishes.

 

Runner-up: Splatoon 2

Runner-up: ARMS

Video Game Awards 2018: Biggest Surprise

Sometimes, you just know when a game is going to be good. You can just feel it in your gut. Other times, however, a game may leave you scratching your head at first appearance, only for it to turn into something truly wonderful once you pick up the controller (or place your hands on the keyboard, as it were).

As far as 2017 was concerned, there was one obvious game that took me by surprise in the best possible way.

 

Winner: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

When I first heard the leaked news of a Mario and Rabbids crossover I, like many others, was dumbfounded. It just sounded so absurd it had to be some kind of joke (or worse, fanfiction!). Not only are the two franchises quite different from each other, the difference in quality has been nothing short of a night and day affair (what with Mario starring in many of history’s most beloved games, and the Rabbids…well… not so much).

Who would have thought that such a bonkers crossover would not only end up to be true, but also be one of the best Mario offshoots out there? And of all genres, it’s a strategy RPG! And the characters use guns! It’s still hard to believe this is a real game.

But a real game Mario + Rabbids is, and a damn good one at that. By placing the Mario characters in an unfamiliar setting (taking obvious inspiration from XCOM), crafting a surprisingly deep battle system, and finally giving the Rabbids the quality title they were so desperately in need of, and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle proved to be a most pleasant surprise.

 

Runner-up: Sonic Mania

Video Game Awards 2018: Best Visuals

“Wow! Look at that graphic!”

Since the early days of gaming, people have always clamored for the visuals. This has proven to have its drawbacks – as is evidenced by the “Bit Wars” of the 1990s, or the “PC master race” crowd – but there is something to be said about a game that’s just pleasing to look at.

Now, that doesn’t mean “realistic graphics = good graphics” (yet another blinded mindset many gamers follow on the subject), there are plenty of games that we once thought looked realistic that now look laughable. But if a game’s visuals can go above and beyond what they set out to do – whether it’s realism or a fanciful art direction – it can help a game standout and (usually in the case of the latter category) help it hold up over time. It should be a surprise what 2017’s best game to look at was.

 

Winner: Cuphead

I was tempted to simply write “It’s Cuphead lol” and leave it at that, but I suppose I can’t always be the jokester. Some additional description can go a long way.

In all honesty, how much do I really need to say? Just look at any screenshot or (better still) watch some footage of Cuphead, and it’s an utter delight for the eyes. Cuphead sought to replicate the look of 1930s cartoons, and it got the look down pat. The hand-drawn characters and environments are stunning to behold, and watching it all in action showcases a fine attention to detail and visual polish that few games can compete with.

Amidst all of its chaos and mayhem, Cuphead proves to be something beautiful. A testament to the timeless quality of hand-drawn animation, and a reminder that even the most silly and surreal concept can be a work of art.

 

Runner-up: Super Mario Odyssey

Runner-up: Persona 5

Portal Review

In 2007, Valve released The Orange Box, a unique compilation of five different games: re-releases of Half-Life 2 and the subsequent Half-Life 2: Episode 1, as well as the then-new Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. It was the fifth game included in the bundle that perhaps stole the show. This title was called Portal, which was one of the most brilliantly realized pieces of creativity gaming saw in both that decade and console generation. Combining an innovative take on the puzzle and first-person shooter genres, Portal remains a highlight of its era due to its innovation, humor and all-around fun factor.

The premise of Portal is simple; Players take control of silent protagonist Chell, who awakens in one of the many chambers of Aperture Science, and soon realizes she is a test subject being held against her will by the diabolical-yet-hilarious AI named GLaDOS, who promises Chell a delicious cake if she can overcome the test chambers.

Chell is to test out Aperture Science’s greatest innovation: the Portal Gun! As its name implies, the Portal Gun fires portals (initially only a blue portal, which connects to orange portals found in the various test chambers. But soon enough the Portal Gun is upgraded to shoot orange portals of its own). It’s up to players to solve every test chamber’s puzzles by means of navigating through portals. Fire two portals. Go in one portal, come out the other.

It all sounds simple enough, but Portal’s execution really is something to behold. The game is constantly finding new ways to add twists to the puzzles, such as energy projectiles that need to be guided to their stations via portals, or walls that will erase your portals when you walk through them. The game even uses its portal setup to tamper with physics in some incredible ways (fall into a portal fast enough and you can fly through another if you’ve placed them properly).

Portal is played through a first-person perspective, like any of the countless shooters that ran rampant at the time (and still do so today), but here you’re not out to kill hordes of enemies by riddling them with bullets (Your only foes are a few bumbling, robotic turrets and a quasi-final boss against GLaDOS herself). Your goal is simply to survive by means of being creative. It’s as fresh of a twist on genres (and indeed, the video game medium itself) today as it was in 2007.

“It’s a pleasure to meet me!”

Visually speaking, Portal has held up pretty well. Its graphics may not wow players today like they did a decade ago, but the sheer splendor of seeing your environment (and Chell herself) in different perspectives through the portals remains one of gaming’s greatest visual delights. The music, though minimal, is similarly off-beat and charming.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Portal comes in the form of its writing. Though Chell never speaks, GLaDOS is one of gaming’s great sources of comedy. GLaDOS reveals her more psychotic behavior as the game goes on, but she frequently tries to cover it up with some lightheartedness and the aforementioned promises of cake, making for some delightfully dark humor.

If there’s any caveat to be had with Portal, it’s that the entire experience is done within a few short hours. While the content that is here is almost flawlessly realized, it all ends all too soon. This has only been magnified since its sequel was released in 2011, and turned the concept into a much heftier experience, while also improving on basically everything the original started and introducing some great tricks of its own. While Portal remains a stellar game in its own right, compared to Portal 2, it now feels like a demo for what was to come.

A short run time and being overshadowed by an exceptional sequel are hardly unforgivable sins, however, especially when considering just how creative and fun Portal still is. It’s objectives may be a simple case of getting from point A to point B, but such a simple premise has seldom been so innovative as it was – and is – here in Portal.

 

9.0

A Hat in Time Review

In recent years, the 3D platformer has been seeing something of a resurgence. This was especially true throughout 2017, which not only saw the release of possibly Mario’s greatest outing in Super Mario Odyssey, but many smaller releases looked to once again legitimize the 3D platformer’s place in the modern gaming world. Yooka-Laylee – a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie – was released by many of Banjo’s creators after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015. Though Yooka-Laylee’s reception was mixed, another Kickstarter success was to be released in 2017, A Hat in Time. Like Yooka-Laylee, A Hat in Time sought to be a spiritual successor to early 3D platformers like Super Mario 64, Sunshine and the aforementioned Banjo-Kazooie. Unlike Yooka-Laylee, however, A Hat in Time doesn’t come from industry veterans, but newcomers Gears for Breakfast. A Hat in Time is full of charm and boasts some impressive creativity, though like Yooka-Laylee before it, some technical limitations prevent it from reaching its full potential.

In A Hat in Time, players take control of Hat Kid, a little girl who lives in a spaceship and keeps watch over Time Pieces; magic hourglasses that have the power to alter time. One day, while her ship travels over a somewhat Earth-like planet, a Mafia goon (who’s floating in space, mind you) demands that Hat Kid pay a toll for flying past their planet, and breaks part of the ship, thus 40 Time Pieces get sucked from the ship and fall down to the planet. Thus Hat Kid sets off on an adventure to recover the Time Pieces before anyone can misuse their power.

It’s a silly plot that, appropriately, harkens back to the genre’s heyday, and more or less serves as an excuse as to why a kid with a hat is scouring the world for hourglasses. But it’s a good excuse to provide what is ultimately a fun adventure.

A Hat in Time boasts four proper stages which, as is genre tradition, are progressively unlocked as you gain more Time Pieces. Where A Hat in Time provides something new to the genre is that all four of its stages change up the structure of how Hat Kid collects the Time Pieces.

The first stage, Mafia Town, is the most traditional stage. Playing like a direct homage to Super Mario Sunshine, Mafia Town throws Hat Kid into a seaside town that’s played in traditional 3D Mario-style missions, with each mission ending with the collection of a Time Piece. The second stage, Battle of the Birds, sees Hat Kid siding with one of two bird movie directors. As players choose the stage’s missions to aide one of the directors, they’ll win that director’s favor, thus determining the level’s finale and boss fight. The third stage, Subcon Forest, has players signing contracts with a spectral being called Snatcher to unlock its subsequent missions. Finally, Alpine Skyline works like a Banjo-Kazooie-style sandbox, where players can scour the level for its time pieces without the mission-based format.

The different level gimmicks certainly keep things fresh and interesting, even if some of them don’t quite hit the mark (Battle of the Birds, despite being the most unique stage, features some of the game’s less fleshed-out missions). But for the most part, the creativity at play is commendable. There are even Time Rifts that can be found within the stages and hub world, which place Hat Kid into platforming gauntlets akin to Sunshine’s bonus stages.

Two other fun twists to the genre come in the form of badges and hats. The badges can be purchased from a bizarre salesman by trading in Pons (green orbs that are essentially the equivalent of Mario’s coins). The badges then grant Hat Kid with newfound abilities (some give her new moves with the press of a button, others are passive). Meanwhile, Hat Kid can also find yarn hidden throughout the stages. Once enough yarn has been collected, Hat Kid can make new hats, with each hat having its own special ability (the witch-like Brewing Hat allows Hat Kid to throw an exploding potion, while the Ice Cap allows her to turn into an ice sculpture for a stomping attack which also strangely is used to fast-travel between certain platforms). Both the badges and the hats bring some extra depth to the gameplay and exploration, and bring a fun little Paper Mario element to the equation.

On the downside of things, there are some features in the game that could have used a little extra polish. Though Hat Kid controls well for the most part, a homing dive attack that can be performed in midair feels a bit awkward to pull off, which is especially noticeable when you need to use the attack for platforming segments. Additionally, I encountered more than a few technical issues throughout my playthrough, including Hat Kid getting stuck in some walls and some graphical flubs (like Hat Kid sitting down in midair next to the chair she was supposed to be sitting on). Not to mention that the camera controls can get a little awkward, much like those in the early 3D platformers that inspired A Hat in Time.

Still, when one considers A Hat in Time’s humble origins, such blemishes seem more par for the course, and though they hinder the experience somewhat, the game’s creativity and love for the genre should ultimately win players over. And with Wind Waker-esque visuals and a whimsical musical score, it can be all too easy to be sucked into A Hat in Time’s charms.

A Hat in Time, like Yooka-Laylee before it, is far from perfect. And like its predecessor, it may even feel like its limitations make its vision only partly realized (something that sequels for both games can hopefully fix, if their sales numbers allow it). But its heart is in the right place, and its charm can be infectious. It may be a distant second for the title of “Best Hat-Based 3D Platformer of 2017,” but A Hat in Time is anything but, well, old hat…

 

7.5

The End is Nigh Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

The End is Nigh is the latest brainchild of Edmund McMillen, the creator of Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac, and serves as something of a spiritual successor to Meat Boy, using gameplay very reminiscent of its 2010 predecessor, albeit with some notable tweaks. Whereas Super Meat Boy’s primary hook was its titular slab of raw meat’s ability to slide and jump off walls, The End is Nigh stars a black, blob-like creature named Ash – one of the few survivors of an apocalyptic event – whose primary means of platforming is leaping from ledges.

That’s a simple enough gameplay setup, but one that works wonders with some creative level design. The stages of The End is Nigh are bite-sized, single-screen affairs. The game’s “chapters” are comprised of several of these single-screen stages, with a refreshing lack of loading screens between them. The chapters will usually introduce a twist or two to the ledge-leaping gameplay, with each of the chapters’ stages building on the gimmicks they introduce. Whether it’s swimming in chemicals that will kill poor Ash in seconds, or platforms that lower of raise when landed on, The End is Nigh does a decent job at keeping its simple premise fresh.

Like McMillen’s previous games, The End is Nigh has a notably steep difficulty curve. Thankfully, players have unlimited lives, and just like progressing to a new level, there’s no loading times in between death and respawning, so the frustration doesn’t get too out of hand. Still, you may get annoyed during certain stages that increase the challenge considerably from the other stages of their chapter. I don’t think The End is Nigh is as difficult as Super Meat Boy on the whole, but like its predecessor, there are some moments that arenotably more aggravating than the rest. When you reach such areas and begin redoing them over and over and over, you may wonder if it’s all worth it.

This is doubly true for the game’s bonus content. Hidden in every stage are “tumors” (yes, tumors), which can be traded to some NPCs in order to unlock additional levels, and each chapter hides a video game cartridge, which unlock different mini-games. Though the levels can be creative, their utter brevity makes the idea of going out of your way to find the collectibles just to play more of them feel like a lackluster payoff. The mini-games are a bit better of a reward, though again, I think only a very niche crowd would want to take the trouble to unlock them.

Aesthetically, The End is Nigh is pretty delightful. The visuals showcase a silhouette style, and although this isn’t the first indie title to utilize such a style, it’s one of the better looking ones. And the musical score is surprisingly lively and energetic.

The End is Nigh is another fine entry in McMillen and co.’s expanding resume of games. It may seem a bit like Super Meat Boy-Minus at times, but that’s not exactly a horrible complaint. Ash is fun to control, the level design is enjoyable, and the game is fun to look at and to listen to. The extra content may leave a lot to be desired, and you may wonder if seeing the game the whole way through is worth it. But The End is Nigh ultimately comes together nicely.

 

7.5