The Return

January 29, 2012

All right, so I am back from a video game bender that took me to all kinds of crazy places. And upon my return, I have concocted a dread year-end list...which I figure I should write about before it's February and all...

I do not claim this is some sort of definitive list of the years best games. This is just a list of the new games I played in the last year that I really liked - mostly for PC. Some notable exceptions: Skyrim, because the lackluster combat system of the previous Elder Scrolls titles couldn't justify a $40 expenditure; and Dragon Age 2, because of bad reviews with a consensus that it was more of the aspects of DA1 that I didn't like. Also Star Wars: The Old Republic - that shit looks way too addicting - and the Witcher 2...I bought the game, but I haven't cracked it open - more on that below.

So without further ado, my ranked list:
1. SpaceChem: The best puzzle game ever made or ever will be made. I worship this game, even though I still haven't worked my way through the final ridiculous mission. Seriously, when you come up so far ahead of anything else in the genre, how can you not deserve a number 1 spot?

2. Batman: Arkham City: I loved every minute of this game - the best iteration of a sandbox game combined with a highly enjoyable combat system. They took Arkham Asylum, a game I was also highly enamored with, and improved almost every aspect of it in leaps and bounds. Yes, maybe the combat was a little less challenging and the story not as concise (Clayface as the final boss? WTF?), but everything else was mind-blowingly entertaining.

3. The Binding of Isaac: I sometimes have a difficult time figuring out why I like this game so much - why I keep coming back to it even after I have done everything there is to do in the game. And I think it is because of the simple challenge of the damn thing. It is a fluid, endlessly iterating challenge. There was a long stretch of time many years ago where I would sit down and play the original Zelda front-to-back in a single sitting to see if I could do it without dying. And I don't mean the first playthrough. That shit was boring. No, the second quest was where it was at. I would just play it over and over because it was such a great challenge. Anyway, I think it's obvious where I'm going with this. The Binding of Isaac is the new Zelda master quest - always different, always challenging and in a more bite-sized format that still feels complete.

4. And speaking of Zelda: Okay, so I haven't actually finished Skyward Sword - I'm somewhere around the halfway point - but it has impressed me the same way other Zelda games have impressed me, and that's enough to get pretty high on the list. After reading the reviews, I was expecting this game to make it to number 1 or 2 on the list, but, honestly, it's a little underwhelming. Everybody keeps saying that it's better than Ocarina of Time, but I wouldn't even rate it higher than Windwaker. I mean, when I play a Zelda game, the main draw for me is the openness of the world - a sense of exploration where each new gadget allows you to discover more secrets and fill in more edges of the map. Obviously some of that is here, but Skyward Sword game feels suffocatingly modular. You've got an over-world up in the sky that you can kind of explore, and then you drop down into little pockets of the world that just feel limited and highly directional. Maybe it gets better? And the other thing is that I am totally unimpressed by Wii Motion Plus. Maybe it's because I've got some third-party attachment, but the movements are so imprecise that I often wish I could just use the normal Wiimote. Oh well. It's still a Zelda game and it's still really good.

5. Portal 2: Not as lovably awesome as the first, but still a great ride - once you get past the first 1/3 of the game where the roller coaster is slowly ratcheting up the incline. I loved the characters and the story (I only played the single-player game), but it kind of took too long to tell in my opinion, or maybe it just didn't fit within what I expected from the structure of the game. I was expecting to solve more difficult Portal puzzles, with maybe some new mechanics, and I got that - there was a wonderful amount of new mechanics to play around with - but there was also just a lot of fluff, namely, the first 1/3 of the game, an inordinate amount of "find the wall you can shoot with your gun in this giant room" puzzles, and a lot of official puzzle rooms that were very one-note.

6. Bastion: This game has a lot of heart and a really good combat system. The story was fantastic, and it accomplished what it set out to do very well.

Other great games I played:
Blocks That Matter: Some really clever puzzles in this game - highly enjoyable.
Jamestown: I've always been a sucker for top-down shooters, even though I'm not super good at them, and this is probably the best I've played, though it is a little on the short side (and if you want to get technical and include side-scrolling shooters in the category, then Einhander for PS1 is the clear heads-above-the-rest winner).
Greed Corp: I am a lover of board games, and even more than that, I am a lover of board games that do not employ randomness, allowing you to win on strategy prowess alone. That said, Greed Corp is a wonderful non-random board game in a digital format and I really dig it.
Sequence: Combining the RPG genre with other non-obvious genres is always a winning combination for me. The original Puzzle Quest was a truly great game in my opinion. So, a timed-beat RPG? Sign me up. I cranked up the difficult right away because the beginning is really easy, but now I'm on the third floor and things are getting hairy, but I don't want to turn the difficulty down because I'm stubborn like that, so instead I more-or-less stopped playing. I need to go back to it at some point...

Some disappointments:
Terreria: Simply put, I don't get it. Admittedly, I only played this game for about 15 minutes before I turned it off, but in that time, I came to the following conclusion: this game is Minecraft, only in two dimensions with crappy controls. Am I missing something? I mean, Minecraft is great. I love Minecraft, but how does making an inferior version of the same concept get this game on the top of everyone's year-end list? I mean, I could make a Minecraft clone, too, if you want, but I prefer to create new things. I don't know, as I said, I don't get it. I should probably look up a wiki and actually see what all the game is about.
The Witcher: So I heard a lot of great things, and when Witcher 1 and 2 went on sale, I picked them both up for about $20. Maybe I didn't have the proper amount of time to play around with it, but I tried on two separate occasions to play the first game and both times was bored within an hour. The combat system is so boring, I literally looked away from the screen and held a conversation with someone while I was fighting a monster. Maybe I should just start with the second one? I've read that combat system wasn't much improved.

And that's it. We're back now, so I'm hoping to get more posts down on the goings-on and start programming in earnest again. I've got a half-written post around here somewhere about my final D&D session. And I still have many previous encounters to go over, plus we're starting up D&D again with a new DM, so maybe I'll write about my experiences as a player if it interests me.

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