Another year goes by, and another review in games. If I’m completely honest, it feels like there are fewer games that I want to buy nowadays. The games I’d like to pick up have gone up in price. That’s the collectors’ and speculators’ market for you. I’m not fond of that, as it is an open secret how a small group of people effectively run them for profit. Thank God some companies are putting up re-releases of games.
The usual rules apply; the game must have been on a physical media to count, 2022 must have been the year I’ve first time have had a copy of the said game, and the year of production doesn’t matter. As usual, these are not in any sorted order; the first listed game doesn’t mean it is better than the four after it. If it ain’t physical, it won’t get on the Top 5.
Makai Toshi SaGa 1989, Game Boy, 2002, Wonderswan Color, 2007, i-Mode, EZweb, 2008 SoftBank 3G, 2020 Nintendo Switch, 2021, Andoid, iOS, Steam
For a good, long while now I’ve been looking for a classical console RPG that would have an interesting mechanic to it, something that would make it more interesting than your standard Dragon Quest vibe without going too far to the other end like we usually have with the modern RPGs. Not much has come from the big houses in this regard, just rereleases and such. Picking up Makai Toshi SaGa, specifically, its Wonderswan remake was a shot into the deep end for me. I don’t have many good memories of trying to play its localization, The Final Fantasy Legend, at a friend’s house way back when. Spending some money just to see if I could get into the game as an elderly person is never a good idea. Secondly, it would give me a reason to practice moonrunes a bit more. I’ve neglected that skill long enough.
SaGa hits the right spot though. On the surface, it looks just like any other RPG Square put out at the time, but its mechanics and the more open world make it refreshing. It’s not as free as something like Fallout mind you, but you’re given much more freedom to roam around without being instantly killed by fifteen levels higher monsters if you move a block too far on the map. Much like how in Metal Max you can move freely and hunt down Wanted characters at your pace, SaGa allows you to puzzle the world together piece by piece rather than stringing you along. The first game is the most linear for sure, but this is the starting point for the series. It’s rather refreshing after all these open-world RPGs that I’ve lately given a small go.
The game mechanics, however, aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Generally speaking, all races have their own preferences and ways to properly level up. Humans can carry lots of equipment, but don’t learn any Skills as a result. They don’t get any experience points in battles either, which means you have to use Stat-raising potions to buff them up. Espers increase their stats randomly after battles and have four Skill slots. Saving often with Espers is a must, as these Skills are gained at random as well, sometimes giving you massively overpowered Skills and sometimes replacing that powerful Skill with a lousy one. Both Humans and Espers have two genders to choose from, which affects the stats to a minor extent. Monsters gain new forms as you eat Meat found after battles. This isn’t a random thing though, as there’s some kind of underlying system that you have no idea of which determines what a monster evolves, or devolves, into as you consume the enemy Monster’s meat. You can always resort to using a chart, but that’s no fun.
Experimentation might not be the game’s strength, but you can still find interesting team compositions. Death is more or less a permanent fixture, and you can replace dead team members with some cash. This can lead to a playthrough, where you’ve replaced your starting characters a few times over. It adds something special, as you’re not locked to the starting roster nor are you required to grind dozens of hours for Job Points. Rudimentary for sure, but it is something that works the best on a handheld.
The Wonderswan remake fixes tons of bugs, makes the game look much prettier and you’re not blocked from advancing the game if you don’t have a full roster. Key items are put into a separate bag from consumables, preventing you from fucking yourself over after discarding an item you thought you didn’t need. Some IP infringing names have been changed, like Beholder becoming Death Eye and Mobile Suits becoming Mobile Machines. There’s also a bestiary for all the Monsters you’ve managed to open via Meat consumption, making it much easier to figure you in-game what Meat does what. The sound got an upgrade too, though the Wonderswan has probably the tinniest and simplest sound of all handhelds. That said, it does sound marginally better than the GameBoy original and should be your to-go version. It also served as the basis for all the mobile phone ports. The recent SaGa collections have the Game Boy originals, and outside a new translation, there’s no reason to play the Wonderswan remake over them. There’s an unofficial translation you can boot up and enjoy instead.
It’s just an enjoyable game, something that has the best combination of being simple and yet has just enough complexity to have some depth with no time wasted on extraneous bullshit. A game at its finest really.
Not exactly what I’d like to have here, but can’t find if commercial or trailer for the Wonderswan release, so have a trailer for the game collection that I recommended skipping
Mushihimesama 2004, Arcade, 2005, PlayStation 2, 2011, iOS, 2012, Xbox 360, 2015, Steam, 2021, Nintendo Switch
Mushihimesama is great. If the words Cave, shooting and vertical make any familiar sense to you, you should already know what to expect. A tiny princess riding on a giant bug while shooting other big bugs is an interesting setting, but Cave did a small miracle by making this one of their better games. The game got tons of attention some fifteen years ago when a video showcasing its boss went viral, and the modern mindset towards danmaku shooting games was born. The game is about as stupidly insane as it looks on the harder difficulties, but of course, the latest versions offer different versions of the game with infinite credits and all that, so beating the boss even if you’re trash at these games like me won’t be an issue. All that is mostly bullshit thought. Mushihimesama is Cave going back to its roots in terms of bullet patterns and density. While it certainly is more about avoiding the bullets, it has specific Toaplan genes in it, where the player is encouraged to be more aggressive. This doesn’t make it exactly any easier per se, but the taste in approach is mildly different. Reaching the True Last Boss takes a bit trying unless you’re enabling modes that enable you to get there anyway.
The game is just pure joy, there’s not else that I can say about a vertical shooting game. Mushihime is a bright and colorful game with a happy-sounding soundtrack that has some seriously great beats going on. Sure, the standard shooting game scoring of dodging, killing enemies in a chain, not using your bombs, and collecting gems and medals are all here. The Standard game mode is pretty much this, and it balances itself out pretty well. A good half an hour or so in this mode just brings a smile. The alternative mode, Maniac or Ultra depending on the release, has Counter banking. This scoring is dependent on the player shooting or not shooting, and on counters that are on enemies. By tapping Shoot, you increase the parent counter but decrease its child counter. This means you gotta have enemies on the screen to balance the two counters, but also defeat the enemies strategically early to net the most points out of ’em. This risk and reward system requires tons of practice and finding points where you can farm enemies, but also balancing Auto shot and Manual shot buttons.
Is Mushihimesama the best Cave has to offer? Probably not, but it is one of the more unique titles in their library. It’s a good change of pace from all the spaceships the genre has to offer. Just make sure you don’t go looking for the PS2 port, as that’s rather terrible. The iOS port was a really good one for the time, but the modern ports have both beaten ’em by tons.
If you’re a fan of Japanese shooting games, the 360 was your platform. So many rare and obscure titles that never left Japan are on it. The Switch sorta has taken its place as the to-go console though
Windjammers 2 2022, Nintendo Switch, Amazon Luna, Steam, PlayStation 4, Stadia, Xbox One
The original Windjammers wouldn’t have been in the Top 5 for me. While the game is a masterclass in how to upgrade Pong to something completely different and unique, it is nevertheless every so slightly clunky, and actions can’t be canceled for mad-dash speed action. Windjammers 2 is effectively a perfect sequel in this sense. It doesn’t touch the core mechanics but makes everything smoother and faster.
Pong with flying discs, or frisbees, is a nice concept, but adding character stat differences, different skills, and field hazards elevate the concept. Rather than PV or trailer, I’ll just throw a full Arcade playthrough at the bottom. Some games are easy to grasp from the description, and some seem like a madman’s rambling.
There’s really nothing else to say. It’s a perfect upgrade to the original arcade game. Well, almost. The addition of a Super Meter has been splitting opinions. Its existence removes instant and equal skills and reactions from the players. Now it’s almost always better to wait for the opponent to use their Super first and then counter with your own. Understandably it’s there to add hype, but the game would have a much better flow without it. DotEMU also has effectively dropped support for the game already, so the issues with online play will always be there in the future. The game could still become massively successful if dropped in price and online would be polished, but there’s no chance in hell that’ll happen. The game also lacks a variety of modes, so online play seems to be where you were intended to spend your time on.
Nevertheless, the improved play can’t be denied. The best sports game of the year bar none. Get some friends over and have a good ol’ gaming party and you’re golden. Just remember to share the beer properly.
The player isn’t exactly the best in the world, but you get the gist. Better players make things go swoosh faster
Star Wars: X-Wing Collector Series 1998, Windows
Star Wars: X-Wing and TIE Fighter are classics for good damn many reasons, some of which I don’t share sentiments about. For their time, both of the games are rare complex simulations of flying both Rebel and Imperial fighters in their setting. TIE Fighter is often cited as the best game in the series, though many would give that to the third main entry in the series, X-Wing Alliance. I can’t really give an exhaustive view of the games, but the Internet has tons of retrospectives and people talking about these games still.
The pack here is specifically for this release, as it was something I remember looking at a bookstore back in 98′ and wishing I had a PC that could run the games. I was still playing on an Atari 780ST, so most then-modern PC games were out of my league. While the modern GOG releases are your way to go, this particular edition can be made to run on modern systems with some stupid amount of fiddlenacking.
The two games still stand largely as unique entries in Star Wars games library. Simulation died down pretty fast when Rogue Squadron hit the scene with the N64, though I’d argue both would’ve had place. The Starfighter series didn’t really get much wind under their wings, and perhaps there’s a reason why they are largely discussed in the smallest of niches. The Star Wars flight simulators just nailed the controls and the atmosphere required for both titles. For the Rebels, there’s always this small feeling of being overpowered against a larger enemy force. For the Empire, TIE Fighters break when you throw a rock at them. Both of the games’ campaigns get that atmosphere right, with Imperials having vastly more militaristic views on things and the player is expected to work properly, in-universe. TIE Fighter was more ambitious with its setting as well, telling an original story in a medium that had not yet seen Star Wars expanded all that much. X-Wing is great but doesn’t veer too much off from the pre-established beaten path.
Is there a learning curve? Yes, and even if you pick up the 1995 updated versions (which this pack has) you’ll have some fiddling to do to get the controls to your liking. Both games are largely moddable, with XWVM aiming to rebuild the game for the modern PC. However, if you’re familiar with the X-Wing Alliance, there is a total conversion mod to turn XWA into TIE Fighter. That might be the easiest path to get the most modern experience.
Just remember to bring your joystick with you. Both the keyboard and gamepad controls won’t cut it. Purists also want the ’95 version over this ’98 Windows release.
I know I was concentrating a bit too much on TIE Fighter, but it is the better game out of the two
Avenging Spirit 1991, Arcade, 1992 Game Boy, 2010, iOS, 2011, Nintendo 3DS, 2022, GameBoy, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Evercade
Jaleco went to town with this cult classic. Retro-Bit made sure to re-release the game on GameBoy with an glow-in-the-dark cartridge when all the other versions hit the street. The game’s concept is simple; you’re dead. To save your girlfriend, her father has given you a mission to possess evildoers to save her from the mysterious crime syndicate, which employs mobsters, dragons, monks, vampires, and other strange things.
The story is just there to set up the play mechanic, which is the aforementioned possession. The player ghost has an Energy meter, which constantly drains if you’re not inside anyone. When possessing someone, there’s a Life that functions as that body’s Life. Spend too much time outside a body, and to Heaven, you go. The enemy variety is large because of this, as you are able to use every character’s specialty when possessing them. Some shoot, some kick. Some launch missiles and some send bats to attack. The same goes for things like jumping height and movement. While the initial roster seems small, this gets expanded as new enemies show up in later stages.
The game’s not long, just some thirty minutes with some try put into it. A six-stage game for the GameBoy sounds about right and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The pace is intentionally slow, which makes the game feel easy early on, but the stages and enemy patterns do show their claws later on. Much like with tons of other GameBoy games, it seems easy at first but offers a nice challenge down the line. I haven’t yet confirmed if the new games offer the Japanese-exclusive Expert Ending, which means as of now, only the Japanese GameBoy version titled Phantasm offers you the third ending.
The game is overhyped on the Internet quite a bit, but much like with SaGa, it hits that right sweet spot if simplicity with some depth. It’s a perfect little game for the GameBoy, and that’s something we just don’t get anymore.
This playthrough has the Best ending the Western versions have. No Expert ending in sight here
Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut
Bakugeki Wondehoー★ 2022, DLSite
You can replace any game up there with this one. The only reason it isn’t counted in the Top 5 is that it doesn’t have a physical release. You can get it on DLSite, and you should. Best game of the year, hands down. Also, note that the game contains smut, so be sure to be at least 18 years old. It’s just a goddamn fine 2D game that doesn’t mess around too much. Sure, there are a few spots that feel like bullshit, but much like the rest of the creator’s games, there’s a definitive fast flow with the game.
The game plays similarly to Super Metroid, except the game’s split into linear levels that challenge you to blaze through them. Controls are tight and easy to learn, something that’s a must in a game that just wants to challenge you for a fair and tough fight down the line. If you’ve ever played Tifa-Tan X2 from the maker (I assume some of you have, it was a viral game at some point), then you can expect a similar level of polish in gameplay terms. The game is definitely far from bloated and doesn’t waste your time. A personal favourite game of the year.
Star Wars: Dark Forces 1995, DOS, MAC, PlayStation, 2009, Steam, 2015, GOG
Now one Star Wars game going to hit the top list, and one would this lower list. Both titles are absolute marvels, and the Jedi engine Dark Forces runs on is a small miracle among Doom clones. The game is fast, furious and one of the few First Person Shooting games that I don’t avoid, but instead look for. It’s a damn nice game that is easy to get into and get out of. However, there’s one stage that drops the game’s quality wholesale, and it’s the goddamn sewers. Out of fourteen well-paced and carefully planned stages that are a joy move around and explore, the third stage takes place in a goddamn sewer and grinds the game to a halt.
This is a massive deal-breaking fault with the game. Civvie did the game much better justice, so might as well link you there. A few years back there was a fan that wanted to recreate Dark Forces in Unreal Engine 4, but it would be a completely different game. However, we can always rely on The Force Engine, a source port that makes the game run natively on modern systems. Highly recommended. Makes the sewers suck a little less.
Sega Marine Fishing 1999, Sega Naomi, Sega Dreamcast, Windows
There is certain calmness with fishing games. That lax feeling when you just wait for the fish to nab the bait, and the momentary shock and panic when you try to reel the bastard in. Sega Marine Fishing is almost all that hype the best way an arcade game can be.
This is Sega at its arcade finest, again. You’ve got different ocean environments to choose from, with different fish of varying values to catch. Choosing the right lure for the right fish in the right environment and casting it into the water is where the calm ends. The game is constant beat after beat from that moment on. Moving the lure under the water should be calm, but the way the fish move fast and furious makes your heart that bit more. Hell, you can even customise your character to a small extent.
The biggest issue with the PC version is that you don’t have that proper Sega fishing rod controller the Dreamcast version had. Without that, there’s just something lacking despite all the hype the game’s visuals and soundtrack create. Still, a superb game.
Halo: Combat Evolved 2001, Xbox, 2003, Windows, Mac OS X, 2007, Xbox 360
I’ve avoided Halo for good two decades now, and surprisingly, is the second FPS on this list. After finally making the decision to take a deep dive into the franchise and get myself the Bungie-developed games, I started with the first game on the original Xbox.
I’m not sure how much I should, or have need, to explain anything about the game. Most people are far more knowledgeable about it. Everything from its gameplay meta to best-speedrunning routes, the game’s more or less blown wide open. I came into the series with a fresh and open mind, looking for something to wash Marathon out of my mouth. Finished that trilogy early this year, and can’t say I really liked it. Extremely janky in so many places. I like the game, but even back when it was new I wouldn’t have been blown by it. Halo feels like a game that came from a hard development cycle from a different platform. A lot of things just seem to lack polish. However, as someone who dislikes twin-stick controls modern console FPS games utilise as a standard, I appreciate the semi-locking on aiming the game offers. The two-weapons-only mechanic doesn’t feel limiting here, as the game has been designed around it. It’s rather a small marvel how often I find myself ditching a gun just so I could get one with more ammo. It also encourages to get better with each weapon faster and builds the world better. There’s a definitive delicate balance in this, something most games that copied it just don’t get this right. I’d say the first Halo didn’t get it right either, but it is damn close.
The whole large field aspect of the game seems to be somewhat constricted though. When I first got to the Halo structure, I was rather marveled at how well the old Xbox managed to run things without too many hitches. You have a point and few missions, and it is your thing to find out how to deal with the map. I was rather sorely disappointed how the first big field ended up with a driving sequence in black-as-hell tunnels, which killed the mood fast. The pacing is kinda all over the place, but it is helped that the game is split into distinct chapters. Perhaps Halo 2 will get to be a top dog next year, I’ve heard people calling it the best in the series.
New Pokémon Snap 2021, Nintendo Switch
The idea is simple; you’re on a track that never stops moving, but you can 360 degrees around to snap photos of pocket monsters. Your photos are graded and they bring in points (money really) to improve the campaign and open new maps and such.
This game is so late for the party. Everyone and their mothers already wanted this for the 3DS early on. People had made the game’s mechanics work on the Wii on a conceptual level to a great degree as well. The good thing about the game is that it is more of the same as the original 1999 Pokémon Snap, except this time you’re forced to go through a tutorial rather than the game dropping you onto a rail and test things out yourself. You’re also constantly held by your hand, with the game commenting something every time you take a decent snap. The rating has tons of animations across the screen, leaving the main thing, the photo rating, to feel like it’s the secondary thing in the game. Too much flourishing in places where there were none needed. It’s nice that you can now edit photos after stages with Re-Snap feature, but this feels more like a built-in soft-cheating method. The game overall feels like it tries too hard. Yes, we interact with photography in a different way than we did in 1999, but considering we are nature photographers in the game and not TikTok sluts, the game’s themes collide negatively with each other. Ultimately, whenever I just wanted to go and take those photos, I felt I had to go through a long-winded routine. Remember to turn those voices off, because there’s exactly one recorded line for everything, and it gets grating the third time you hear them. The game sure is expansive and takes more time to 100% than the original, but at the same time a lot of it just overstays its welcome. Played in short bursts, stage or two at a time, is the way to go.