It’s time for the last post of the year. As per tradition, time to go over the Top 5 games of the past year I’ve played, with additional five games that for multiple reasons didn’t get the spot, but I still played them more than I should’ve had.
Classic rules still apply; game can be from any year and I must have played the game for the first time this year in physical form, even if I had played the game previously otherwise. Digital-only games don’t need to apply, and I’m being strict on this rule this time around. Sadly, this also means Sonic Mania isn’t on this list, but it really should be. This year the amount of contenders were less than previously, so for once we have more mainstream titles from current year on the list. This also counts as the month’s review. The games aren’t in any specific order, but as usual, I’ve reserved the 4th and 5th spots for more special titles.
Nier: Automata PlayStation 4/Steam, 2017
Do I need to say anything to this? I mean, Nier Automata pretty much won the jackpot all around with solid gameplay, great damn music and a storyline that most people found great. I did too. What stands out in the game is the unrelenting and unapologetic gameplay, not really giving in at any point and telling the player to get a handle of the action if he wants to proceed. Unless you’re playing on the lower difficulties, because this is one of those games that only start to shine like a night sky in the wilderness with no artificial lights at harder difficulties.
If Platinum can’t do anything else, their best effort games kick things up and become one of the most satisfying experiences modern gaming has to offer. Nier: Automata, while not exactly as polished like Bayonetta, still ranks up with most memorable and sweat breaking moments I’ve had this year, despite being one of the games I sadly had to leave early on. Lot’s still left to play, so little time.
Nuff’ said, you prolly already played this game.
Yakuza 0 PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, 2015
Yakuza 0 wasn’t on this list, originally. These open-world games never sat well with me, with them requiring so much time to finish. However, objectivity won me over, and as a game.
How would I put this. I enjoy Yakuza games a lot, but I have so little time to put in them. There is a reason why I have a personal preference for arcade-like games, which isn’t exactly an uncommon things across the board. As for Yakuza 0, it’s a very competently done game, not the best in the series, but damn if I didn’t have fun with it. Especially with the AV videos.
There is so much to do in Yakuza 0, and the different styles between Kiryu and Majima, while ultimately rather small, stack up nicely and make both characters very much a different experience. Of course, having a late 1980’s Japan as the setting is a bonus, though this is just before the economy bubble was about to burst. If you look at the game’s setting from this angle, including all the design choices and the absurd money amounts, it really tells something how revered the era is.
However, the game does feel like a stop-gag before Yakuza 6 hits around. The PS4 version is an enhanced port of a PS3 game, and it does feel, look and play like one. Not that this detracts from the game itself, but as a port it does leave something to be desired. Despite this, the game is a damn good entry into the series overall, though long time fans will probably get the most out of it, with the constant references to upcoming characters down the canon line.
Macross Triangle Frontier PlayStation Portable, 2011
Macross is a franchise that really got shafted multiple times when it came to games. I won’t lie, a lot of them are outright shit. With a new Macross series in the horizon, I revisited some of the games I used to play, with proper media to go with this time. Man, Macross Triangle Frontier is a blast. Despite being on the PSP, and flight sim veterans going to hate its arcade-type controls, the game’s nothing short of a small marvel. But, if you insist on having more sim-like experience, you have that options too. Stages get heavily recycled at times, and you’ll be seeing some of the more than the others, but considering all series have at least two or three unique stages unto themselves, there’s a lot to see.
Collecting all Macross series entries up to Macross Frontier, this celebration game goes over all the animated features in mission format, including the non-canon Macross II. The game also includes units from Macross: Digital Mission VF-X and loads of other games, making it pretty much the definitive game for the franchise. I can’t overstate this. It adds to much to the game.
It was later followed by Macross 30, but it’s emphasize on creating a timetravel plot, missile management and other things that made more a chore to play than a fun time, makes it a lesser entry. Triangle Frontier doesn’t suffer from the same loading problems as Macross 30 does, as it tries to do open-world gameplay with terrible level balance. It’s weird how Macross 30 is a perfect example how a game fails miserably when it takes the focus away from the core gameplay and tries to be a modern Tripple A, Hollywood inspired event. However, this being a PSP game, do expect some loading times if you’re playing from the UMD itself.
Triangle Frontier allows you to upgrade your mechas, and there are a lot of character to play as and build relationships with. Collecting them all will take some time, and some side-mission are behind passwords (that you can find via Google,) including one where you fight respawning Kakizaki after respawning Kakizaki, making fun of him dying in progressively more powerful VFs. Upgrading also means you do need to replay mission to accumulate points to do so, but hitting that top ranking with customised VF feels damn satisfying. While you can adjust difficulty, throwing yourself into a stage with heavily gimped unit can serve as an additional challenge.
All in all, if there’s one Macross game you should play, it’s this one. The sheer amount of units and missions, combined with pretty damn smooth multiplayer (if you find people to play with) makes this a definitive addition to the list.
Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere PlayStation, 1999
Next to Metal Max, I finally gave two shots at getting into the Ace Combat series. Due to AC being much larger franchise, I only got myself into handful of the games, of which the third entry really captured things the most. While it’s canonically the last game in the series, Electrosphere is a game that stays with you, both because it’s framing narrative is interesting as hell and because is one of the better soft-flight sims on the PlayStation. Of course, you could pick up the fan translation and apply that to the ISO you ripped, but I kinda like playing games on a telly over PC screen (despite the two having no difference whatsoever.) Compared to the JP release of Electrosphere, the US and PAL releases are gutted in content.
The multiple pats and endings the game has is what kept me interested, and the semi-simulated flight controls took some serious time to get used to. However, after being properly acquainted with them, everything went far smoother. The graphics, while aged, look mostly better due to lack of any sort of human and organic models. The future fighter and bomber designs are very reminiscent of what you’d see in Yukikaze, which shares some of the staff. Good stuff.
Secondly, Electrosphere‘s story is what I love about Japanese cyber punk; less trashy cities with cyber samurais and über hackers, more discussion about the nature of man and machine in an ultra-futuristic setting. That said, the missions themselves are rather varied in nature and rarely include the whole Artificial Intelligence and brains-on-the-net to any larger degree, but that’s usual. I can’t really expect a PlayStation game trying to move away from having separate FMV sequences, considering that was de-facto standard at the time.
Despite this, Electrosphere is a game that you really don’t get back to after you’ve finished it few times, but it sticks with you. It didn’t sell all that well originally, but it’s been re-evaluated and has become a cult classic with rising price. Damn good soundtrack too.
Metal Max (Series) Shitloads of platforms from 1991 to 2018
This is a break and something different for the list; a whole damn series.
Metal Max is one of those Famicom era console RPGs the Western fronts never saw, until its soft-reboot/spin-off Metal Saga was released on the PS2. By all accounts, to this day, the core mechanics are very much in-line with Dragon Quest with little tweaks here and there to suit the setting and atmosphere. Should be self-evident, considering series creator Hiroshi Miyaoka is a friend of DQ fame Yuji Horii, who also joined the team for the first three games in the series. Tomoki Tauchi also needs to be mentioned, as he is the main driving key behind the series, and the coder of the original Famicom game.
Metal Max is a post-apocalypse game series with a setting that mixes Westerns, The Terminator with dash of everything good in pop-culture 80’s in there (despite being originally a 1991 game.) The setting is as follows; the world faced a world ending event, where a super computer called Noah found the humans to be the greatest threat to Earth, and enacted a nuclear holocaust. Because it’s aim was to save the environment, it began to recycle animals, humans, and everything else, resulting in wide variety of creature now inhabiting the world, including steel-plated hippos with cannons in their mouths, or insane buggies with missiles… or cowboy robots with machine-gun guitars. With remains of humanity huddled in villages and only few larger cities, an organised group finally put up a guild to safeguard the last of mankind, calling themselves Monster Hunters. Cross-over when? That said, due to Noah being developed to save the planet, the world is rather green, though later games do become far more desolate and deserted, partially due to lack of Noah’s involvement in saving the world.
What sets it apart from most of the games of its era is its open world nature. The game gives you few goals from the very start, and you can walk to the end almost directly, skipping most quests in the game. The game’s ending can be influenced by the player’s actions in the game in amount of quests they finish and how many Wanted enemies they hunt down, all of which share the defining theme of the whole franchise. If any Metal Max/Saga game lacks this song, it’s not worthy the series’ name.
Secondly, the franchise has put emphasize on your tank. Yes, you get your own set of vehicles you traverse the landscape, a tank from the very start, which you get to modify to an extent. Each vehicle has its own set of stats separate from the playable characters, with variety of loadouts. In some of the later games after the original, you get a dog companion you can arm with variety of bazookas and laser cannons, which already makes the franchise a step above most.
For a modern RPG fans, who want lots of bells and whistles and a story that lasts longer than the game itself, Metal Max has mostly gone to the different direction, emphasizing the gameplay and freedom the player has. Later entries, like Metal Max 4, do step towards the more modern, striking a rather lacklustre balance. However, this is to be expected from a legacy franchise that never found a larger audience.
The reason why Metal Saga exists and only four games in the main series (with a mobile game spin-off and upcoming game) is due to trademark troubles with Enterbrain. Metal Saga was essentially to replace the Max portion, while carrying everything else from previous entries and more. When Kadokawa bought the franchise, they began rolling new games, starting with Metal Max 3 and stumbled on the way rather badly, until they finally brought in the original staff, including the illustrator Atsuji Yamamoto, whose style I consider an integral part of the franchise as a whole, and he also is a Miyaoka’s old school buddy. Sadly, the 25th Anniversary celebration game, Metal Max Xeno, didn’t employ him. Further adding injury to the insult, the game looks like a cheap, budget-grade entry with PS Vita as its main development platform rather than trying to make justice to the series. It looks incredibly generic without Yamamoto’s style, but hey, maybe that sells more.
While the Metal Max is not well known in the West or as loved as some other niche RPGs, the series has always deserved better than what it got. It’s a bit too Western in many ways for Japanese, and a bit too Japanese for Western markets, but hell, not many games let you drive your own tank while blowing up robotic rhinoceros with your pet dog providing backup.
If this got you interested in the series, Metal Saga is probably the easiest to approach and obtain, with large amounts of content to go through and play.
Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut
Wild Guns: Reloaded PlayStation 4, Steam, 2016
Originally a Super Nintendo game, Wild Arms: Reloaded is an updated port of one of the best games on the system, adding new characters and new stages. This title contested with Gal☆Gun and you can freely swap these two around, but what made me drop this to this list in the end was the fact that it got played surprisingly little. I had a blast with a friend playing this, we both wanted to get further and see more of the game’s variety, but at some point it just got left on the shelf. It kinda bothers me, because this is a marvel of a game, a well designed game with almost perfect execution, but something about it didn’t sit right. Maybe it was that, in the end, it’s not exactly as fun as it should be. Something like G.I. Joe in the arcades does it better, as these games require some sort of visual gimmick to be more interesting, something Gal☆Gun does well enough, even if it is shooting girls’ hearts. The whole panty thing is overblown anyway, despite being an element for sure.
Gravity Rush 2 PlayStation 4, 2017
Gravity Rush 2‘s worst enemy is the same as the first game’s; pacing. It’s a lot worse this time around, despite everything else being better. While the first game run short and left plot dangling, the second game uses an OVA to fill in the events in-between (Sony should’ve just provided the animation on-disc in Western fronts as well) and pretty much ditches everything the first game set up in favour of changing everything for the whole damn game, except the last few missions, when the themes and plot of the first game gets picked up again. This is a total mess, which also forces blatant agenda to your face with the whole rich people VS poor people thing, and nothing really works together. This jumbled mess feeds into the progression, where you just suddenly kinda get new powers because magic tablets grant them to you after tests. The game has two or three end climaxes, with the last trying to hard to finish Kat’s amnesia storyline.
I wouldn’t harp on the story so much if it wasn’t so essential and drive the game’s pace. At one point I just gave up and stopped playing, until I heard the servers were going to go down next year, in which case I found I was two missions away from finishing the game. Losing the online this fast isn’t anything major, but online Challenges and points gained from them did add nifty side-content, which all will be inaccessable otherwise, because it won’t be patched. Another game that loses its functions because online dies. The same will happen to Nier: Automata as well at some point.
As said, gameplay-wise its better than the first game, but the new “world,” Jirga Pala Lhao, has worse design to enact gravity flying, opting for everything floating in the air rather than having multi-tiered levels like Hekseville, which makes a total return with no changes to it. At least this time you can fly to the central pillar and walk up and down and use it to fly to different areas faster, if you prefer.
Whether or not we get a third game is up in the air, but honestly, it needs far better stage designs that this one. 60fps would be preferable as well, and while I don’t mind the combat all that much, reworking it to be smoother and less loose would be great. The special powers got shafted a bit too, so expanding on them and making everything more satisfying (read: more powerful) would be a great thing. Less plot, more stages and missions with capabilities of obtaining everything offline.
Puyo Puyo Tetris Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, 2014
Both Tetris and Puyo Puyo are great. For whatever reason Puyo Puyo Tetris feels a bit hollow. Sure, it has a storymode, lots of party modes and both Tetris and Puyo Puyo side are well balanced, but yet something’s amiss. Maybe it’s because the characters and Puyo Puyo flavour is everywhere, overbearing even. Sure, Tetris rarely had its own theme or characters, though Soviet Russia can be argued to be one. Perhaps, in the end, it’s because this is a Best Of Puyo Puyo including Tetris rather than a competent new title. Tetris never really needed to be revised to any extent outside maybe more intuitive visuals, while Puyo Puyo has been renewing itself from time to time. All that said, it’s still a great title, just not something I could assess as one of the best games I’ve played this year.
Warhammer 40 000: Space Marine Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Steam, 2011
Space Marine is almost a damn enjoyable game. I don’t mind the WH40k setting, especially after gaining some proper appreciation for it thanks to lore videos I’ve been listening to while working. Despite this, the game’s pretty usual hack and slash variety with shooting in the mix. I almost could consider this a contender to Top 5 if it didn’t had Glory kills as healing mechanic and lack of variety in weapons, because moving down a horde of Orks does feel damn satisfying in this game. Well, as long as those walking bombs aren’t around, because the game’s roll mechanic isn’t exactly invincible and you still take damage during the glory kills, despite this being your only proper way of healing outside a Super Mode. I had this game on my shelf for a solid year or two now, and thanks to Toaru Majutsu no Virtual On‘s demo, I got myself booting up my 360 for some Virtual On Oratorio Tangram, which then reminded me to give this one a go. I really want to like this game, but damn, it falls short in every spot just enough for it to frustrate. The music’s completely forgettable too. A mediocre game at best, sadly.
OutRun 2 Arcade, Xbox 2003
The only reason this game doesn’t get into Top 5 by default is because OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast is an updated, superior version. Still, the first real sequel to the original OutRun, driving from point A to point B has never been this much fun. There is something neat in this game that just makes you smile while playing, and if necessary, you can always turn the difficulty up with right path selection for some serious challenge, or tackle the Mission modes. The soundtrack’s just perfect, in a good harmony of being a bit hammy and uplifting.
I hope you had a fun year of playing games.