Top 5 games of 2016

It’s that time of the year to make possibly the most self-indulgent post in this blog and tell you what were my Top 5 games of the year. As per usual, the year the game was released doesn’t matter, just the fact that I played the game for the first time in 2016. There is no order to these either, thou to be honest with you here, I really should write the games I think could be good contenders down as soon as possible in order not to wonder what the hell did I play this year. However, one of the criteria for personal top games is that I still play them after an extended period of time and don’t just drop it. Let’s get on with the show and start with a Vita title.

Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours PlayStation Vita/ PlayStation 4/ Steam 2016

Darius is a long-time shooting game series that for a long time was overshadowed by better titles in the genre. It was never up to the task of challenging juggernauts like Gradius or R-Type, but it was a success enough for Taito to keep developing new titles. The main gimmick the franchise had originally was the super wide screens in the arcades, which posed a difficulty when porting to home consoles, something their The Ninja Warriors had to face too. Nevertheless, the aquatic theme the game series has going on for it alongside very solid base gameplay did made an impact. Let’s not forget Zuntata’s absolutely great and weird soundtracks either, that give each of the games their own, almost mystical atmosphere. Another major element in the franchise is the branching paths that the player can choose to pick, which also affects the difficulty level, ending and the final boss.

The first title in the series that could be considered rising above the mediocrity of shooting games with excellent core design was Darius Gaiden, a title so dear to me in few ways. G-Darius build on this base and added unique capture element to the game alongside loaning Beam Battles from Metal Black, a game that shares many of Darius‘ because it was developed originally as a Darius title, but was made its own thing during development as it deemed too dark for a Darius game. To be fair, it is, not to mention how brutal Metal Black can be.

After the franchise was on an extended hiatus, Taito dropped Dariusburst on the PSP in 2009 and has rehashed the title since then with updates and expansions. Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours is essentially the definitive version, recycling original’s stages to some extend while adding new ships to fly in-game and through DLC.

The game offers variety of modes, and it’s Arcade mode is essentially a port of Dariusburst Another Chronicle arcade game with more twists thrown in there. CS Mode is essentially story mode, where you travel through different stages that sprawl across the franchise’s history and explains the story to the best extent a shooting game can.

The game’s just fun, to be honest. It starts easy enough and can turn into a brutal as hell game towards the end, and there’s huge amount of content. Each of the ship that’s in the game is unique to some extent, either by their weapon loadout or Burst mode capabilities.

The version I have is the Limited Edition PS Vita version, because at the time of game’s release that was the only system I could play it on. I still refuse Steam and PS4 was not an option. Vita’s screen might seem slightly too small for the action at first, but the game’s more than completely playable because Vita’s screen is rather high resolution and large enough. Certainly playing the game on a larger screen might be preferable, but the game also works excellently in its portable form. Hell, it’s probably my second most played game on-the-go for the year, only trumped by the Tokyo 7th Sisters.

Overall, an excellent title that shows that franchises that may have a bit of weak start that shine with enough work. Now if Taito would just stop rehashing Dariuburst and make a new entry in the franchise and show this wasn’t just a one hit wonder from them.

Tokyo 7th Sisters Android/iOS 2014

There are games that have a flow, and then there’s are games that simply flow. Tokyo 7th Sisters has both. Are you serious, adding a mobile game on the list? Yes, dear reader. It doesn’t matter if the game is on a console, PC or smart phone, it just needs to be entertaining and well made to hit the right spot with yours truly. What Tokyo 7th Sisters essentially is a rhythm game, which has (or rather, had) a flow consisting of four parts; Live Stage, Scouting, Producing and Lesson, and Events.

Treat or Treat is probably the hardest song that’s currently in the game, and is just bullshit in its hardest difficulty

Live Stages are the main meat of the game, where you need to tap the screen according to incoming markers, sorta like DDR with just two pads. It’s nothing out of the ordinary in this regard, it’s just a variation of the common method of making a rhythm game. However, where the game shines is in the design of the timing. For someone who has absolutely no tune sense, most rhythm games feel off and random, but Tokyo 7th Sisters feels and sounds just right, following both the rhythm and beat of the songs. It doesn’t feel random, unlike in some other rhythm games. The songs are also fair in that on Easy they are easy to beat, Normal gives some challenge and Hard ranges from difficult to holy hell what sort of drugs are they on. Live Stages use Charisma Points that replenish with time.

The game’s completely playable with a smartie that recognises at least two presses on the screen at the same time. The software may even limit that to some extent, but it’s all about that timing.

Scouting used to work differently, where you tapped silhouettes and collected Idol Cards and Items to advance the story and stage. With the latest update they did away with this, making it a simple battle system, which I don’t really care for as it killed the flow. It used to use its own point system, Stamina Points, and was a decent way to make Idol Cards and in-game money. Now, it uses Charisma Points too, meaning you need to pick between Live Stages or Scouting with your points.

Producing and Lesson is where you use Idol Cards to power up other Idol Cards, which essentially represent whatever cards you have in your Unit decks. You can also combine two copies of the same card to get a doubly more powerful version of it, make Idols eat stuff in order to unlock new skills or kick them out for some money. Cards of course have their own set of skills, attack and HP values, which affect your Unit build-up, how much damage you can do during Events and how you’ll score in Live Stages.

Events change constantly. Raids consist of players competing against a boss character together through Battles. Not really fond of the system, but it works. Song Debuts add a new song to the game, which you can access in normal Live Stage, but you also have a mode where you can collect points to enter Heaven Mode and tackle the new song to gain more points in order to gain goodies and Idol Cards. Then there’s VS Battles, where you pit your best team against one another, in which Attack and HP as well as the Card element plays the major role.

Each song in the game has a type or element, whatever you want to call it. These are Vocalist, Variety Show Idol, Model, (music) Player, and Dancer. The types have the usual rock-paper-scissors thing going on in that order, where a Vocalist does better damage on Variety Show Idols while taking a beating from Dancers.

The flow of the game used to come from going from one of the four to the other and seeing either your Charisma or Stamina being restored to the point of being able to continue one or the other. With the latest update, the flow has stammered, but then again it doesn’t take so much time to get shit done.

Then there’s the fact that it is Japanese as all hell, meaning if you don’t like idols and the pastel colours that come with them, not to mention variety of J-Pop the game offers. I was a bit vary at first whether or not I would like the game, but in the end it was the gameplay and some of the neat as hell songs keep me with the game, despite things being at the point that I really should start throwing money at the game. Tokyo 7th Sisters uses the freemium model, but if we’re completely frank, there is enough meat that the game could be a sort of full-fledged release on other platforms as well. However, the current game design works the best on smart phones. It’ll be a sad day when the game’s servers go down and the game ends. This really needs some sort of home console, high budget release with animation and figure franchising to go with it. With slightly more work to the whole franchise, it could compete with other top dogs in the virtual idol game niche.

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR-  Arcade/PlayStation 3/4/Steam 2016

I intentionally skipped the first entry in Xrd series because A) I knew there would further versions of the game, just like previously and how ArcSys handeled BlazBlue and B) no Jam or Dizzy. It should be no surprise this title got unto the list, as I absolutely love the genre and the Guilty Gear series. A friend from Netherlands can testify that to some extent now, and for the fact I’m still in the middle of reviewing the design changes. Maybe I’ll try to do those monthly from January onwards.

I’ve been playing so much Street Fighter titles lately with the aforementioned friend, that this feels almost strange now

The changes Xrd made to the series is rather interesting, but rather than going any further deep into those, you’d better just hit Dustloop or some other wiki for full explanation for the systems and whatnot. To say that it looks like Guilty Gear, plays like Guilty Gear and sounds like Guilty Gear is completely correct and I love the game for it. However, the game does feel gimped compared to the XX (pronounced as Igzex/イグゼクス) in content, as its story mode is just a generic 3D CG animation rather than the excellent multiple paths selection based on player’s fights as seen in the aforementioned previous series. The emphasize has shifted to telling the story as-is and on eSports, where online multiplayer has taken the front seat. The basic modes are there, but they’re less exciting than the first time around.

Guilty Gear used to be a franchise that breathed new air to the fighting games in an era where Street Fighter was absent, even with its constant title rehashings, but Xrd overall drops most of this. Despite my bitching of lacking single-player content (and multiplayer, if just fighting isn’t enough) the core gameplay is still solid as hell. Combos come out naturally, the style is impeccable and it feels about par for the course.

While the title could be dropped into honourable mentions just like that, I do feel that the amount of fun I’ve had with the changes movelists and how Jam works, it really kicks the game up into personal Top 5 for the year.

Gekitou Stadium!! Famicom 1989

Also knowns as Bad News Baseball on the NES from 1990 (US only), Gekitou Stadium!! is one more bit of evidence how good the sports games on the system are.

Why the Japanese version if there’s an English language version available, you may ask. Because it was cheaper and I got the box with it. Here, have a scan. I’ve never been a fan of baseball games of any kind outside the real life one. Now that’s a fun as hell game to play with friends. Gekitou Stadium!! isn’t exactly the most realistic game out there, with rabbits serving on the field serving as umpires and players can be knocked out with a properly aimed ball throw.

The gameplay is surprisingly tight and make sense in may ways, with loads of teams to choose from. It’s not a licensed game, and there are a lot of freedoms taken here and there, but goddamn with a good friend next to you this game shines like no other. Gekitou Stadium!! is also a game that allows both newcomers and veterans to stand on the same ground because it is highly easy to pick and play, but where things get hard is when you need to start forming up mind games when you’re pitching. Hitting the ball overall works pretty much like with any other Famicom baseball game, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The twist in the whole thing is the Stamina the pitchers have. Each Pitcher has their own stamina that affects the pitch, and conserving it during the play is important.

Tecmo’s design on the game really is on the spot here, but these fantasy sport titles of theirs on the NES really were top of the class. Their Captain Tsubasa games are revered for a damn good reason. The single player mode is interesting in that it doesn’t have a traditional season system, but the goal is just to beat every other team in the game, which could mean the game has no end due to its round robin style. Wins or losses aren’t recorded, so it’s overall a friendly game in that sense. There is also a girl’s mode, which changes all the teams and members into girls, changing the whole roster. The weird thing about this is that it has to be accessed via code by pressing Down and Left on controller 1 while controller 2 holds Up and resetting the system. Thanks to that one particular friend who introduced this game, it’s great. We should play it sometime again.

Shantae ½ Genie Hero Pretty much all current platforms/ 2016

These end of the year games tend to get on my list for whatever reason, not because I end up playing them all year long, but because of the impression they leave me with. One of the few actually worthwhile Kickstarter games that are now around,WayForward’s Shantae ½ Genie Hero is probably also the best game in the series.

Using the launch trailer here as most videos seem to be about the backer pre-release build

However, much like most other of WayForward’s games, it aims to be smooth like CAPCOM’s best titles, but runs just short enough at places. One of these is with the transformations, where it’s non-interactive this time around, thus making the whole dance thing absolutely waste of time, space and coding and hampers the speed of the game. Second spot comes through some of the bosses, which aren’t just too easy, but also tedious and slow. They’re not exactly what you’d call memorable. This is a shame, considering the stages are pretty damn entertaining, even if gimmicky in their nature.

That’s the nature of game. For every highly positive step, it always takes one negative one in some way. Further examples come how visiting stages has its merits and is fun due to the new transformations, but then you have those transformations really feeling janky. The base characters are seemingly memorable and enjoyable, but the expanded cast is like a concrete sandwich, especially when it comes to the Barons. They seem to have interesting themes and all that, but again fall short like some of them were an aftertough developed too far without further consideration. To further contrast to this, the normal cannon fodder enemies have some heart in them and work well in each of the stages.

While I don’t often mention writing in games, because it’s like commenting on the typography and spacing in ending credits in movies or WinAmp viusalisations while listening to music, but WayForward’s scripting in ½ Genie Hero gets a special mention due to how self-conscious it is about, well, everything. From it being a Kickstarter game all the way to it having a weird fandom. This is both funny and jarring, because why disrupt two-one punch the game already has going on.

The reason why it gets to my Top 5 isn’t because I backed it and I need some form of justification, but because despite of its shortcomings Shantae ½ Genie Hero is an excellent action game in an era where quality 2D games aren’t all that common, and most of them go for action-adventure style alá Metroid. While this may seem like a stupid reason on the surface, do keep in mind that ½ Genie Hero is very easy to pick up and play, and continue whenever you want because of this. The game is just enough too easy to get more positive points across the board, but overall it’s an admirable game with excellent production values, level design and overall controls. It helps that the music’s catchy and the tunes work as intended.

Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut

Outside these titles, this year has been a bit dry on the games that had a lasting effect, but here are titles that didn’t make the list for a reason or another.

Senran Kagura Estival Versus PlayStation 4 /Vita 2015

Senran Kagura has become a mainstay in these yearly games I have. Estival Versus doesn’t make the cut because it’s essentially the exact same as Shinovi Versus, just with some new stages thrown in there and far, far shorter load times. Otherwise, the game plays out the exactly same. The music’s just not as memorable and the few new characters are nothing to write home about outside porn comics.

Honestly, it’s a game that does it’s thing well, but is exchangeable with its predecessor.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme VS Arcade 2010/ PlayStation 3 2011

The Gundam VS series has always been consistently good arcade VS action and slight replacement for the lack of Virtual-On. However, it is plagued by the fact that it’s not exactly ridden with variety. That’s not exactly bad with franchises like this, where this sort of consistency brings a fun product, but the titles become largely interchangeable to a point depending what sort of units you want to play. Series fans of course know the ins and outs of the franchise and will recommend you a title over the other, but to a general consumer it’s just same gray mass in the end. Same reason as with Senran Kagura above, really.

7th Dragon 2020 PlayStation Portable 2011

Sometimes you come across a game that hits you in the just right spots. 7th Dragon’s spin-off series 2020 did just that. Despite it never arrived to the Western shores, the core gameplay and story are self-explanatory to anyone who doesn’t understand Moonlanguage. Then again, you could pick up an English patch for the game. I started the game before this came out, and to be completely honest, I never got back to the game around the halfway point. Not because the game was boring or I didn’t get what was going on, but because the middle part gets jarring. It’s fun to make your own team and try out new shit and see how things roll, and the classically basic RPG mechanics are a joy to use in an era where RPGs either drive themselves or try to be stupidly complex. It’s simple lack of mid-point design is the reason it didn’t get into Top 5 over Shantae, thou if you’re a RPG aficionado you can make it your head canon. I do intend to finish the game at some point, perhaps even start it over, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon thanks to how little time I have to spare. I also need to pick 2020-II in the future.

Granblue Fantasy Android /iOS 2014

A juggernaut of a mobile game, Granblue Fantasy is essentially classical Final Fantasy with twists here and there. Names like Nobuo Uematsu and Hideo Minaba are one of the main attractions to SquarEnix fans. I can already hear the roars of some fans asking why the hell did Tokyo 7th Sisters get the spot over this. It’s because of gameplay. Granblue Fantasy is just too janky for me and less involved than what I hoped for. It really plays out the classical Final Fantasy formulae when it comes to its RPG elements, but the battles are a bit too uninvolved and optionless, if you will. Most of the gameplay comes from preparing your team, especially your main character’s Class and Skills, and battles are pretty much doing them in right order and waiting for them and Summons to replenish after some turns. Luck plays a role, as you really want SSR rarity rank characters in your team in order to have much success, as the difference between ranked characters is massive to say the least. To some the story is what keeps them with the game, I just skip those boring bits over most of the time to kill some monsters. It’s a game I still play regularly, especially during events, just not daily all that much. Tokyo 7th Sisters gets priority if I need to pick or the other when time is tight. This should is a good showcase how much I value hands-on and straight up gameplay over everything else.

Akai Katana Shin Arcade 2010,/X-bacawx 360 2011

Akai Katana Shin is your standard CAVE shooting game, which in itself is a good thing. However, it also means if you’re not absolutely hardcore into shooting games and try to one-coin everything under the Sun, Akai Katana Shin will soon turn into another piece of software you have on your shelf. CAVE’s bullet hells are fun and fast paced, and Akai Katana Shin doesn’t let you down in this perspective. Its own mechanics are as they should be; easy to get, hard to master. The soundtrack is hard hitting rock, which is a bit weird seeing the game takes place in an alternative universe where Japan still lives in a variation of Taisho period. Sadly the composer Ryu Umemoto, who had a long history with PC-98 games’ FM soundtracks like YU-NO‘s, passed away soon after the release of this game only at the age of 37. The reason why the game doesn’t get a spot in Top 5 is because CAVE’s horisontal shooting games don’t flow as fine as their vertical ones, and the design decisions are sometimes questionable. It’s definitely a solid title any shooting game fan should check out, but between this and Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours, Akai Katakana Shin just didn’t hold up long enough.

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