Top 5 games of 2019

I have to admit that I’ve slowed down when it comes to games. I’ve begun to prefer more and more games that don’t waste my time and allow quickly to start the game and quit even faster. Things like like making sure if I want to save after confirming Save. For example, every time I want to quit Earth Defence Force 4.1, the game has to make certain that if I want to quit, and then opens a new message telling me that game is about to quit itself. This is a topic unto itself and I’ll have to get back to it later, as holy shit modern games are huge time wasters in this manner. It’s like with that one Senran Kagura on PSVita few years back, where half of the game was sitting in loading screens and menus. Except, y’know, this is the game telling me to confirm things I’ve already told it to do. Sometimes twice.

Furthermore, this year was rather dry in terms of games of interest. Not many titles peaked my interest even on the retro front, so the list below is rather predictable. This has made me to decide ditching following most new game release news outside limited release titles, and concentrate on picking up some more expensive old games I’ve always wanted to play, but for whatever reason never did. Emulation, of course, is not really an option if you want to have the real thing in your hands.

The usual rules apply; any game from any year is applicable as long I’ve played it for the first time this year in physical form. This means if a game only has a digital release, it automatically gets disqualified. There is no top slot either, because that’s stupid. There is no One Best Game.

Mobile Suit Gundam Seed DESTINY GameBoy Advance, 2004

I feel that this CM has been stretched out of its proportions, it looks like it should be in 4:3 because how fat the Gundams are

The GameBoy Advance doesn’t have many good fighting games. Some Street Fighters, one Tekken, a downgraded port of Guilty Gear XX and few others. Derivatives and sequels of sorts. Mobile Suit Gundam Seed was a new entry to the console, despite being part of the whole long-running Gundam fighting game attempts dating at least to the 1993 Mobile Suit Gundam and 1994 Mobile Fighter G Gundam, both of which are largely trash. New Mobile Report Gundam Wing: Endless Duel from 1996 on the SNES really hit the mark, marrying Gundam with entertaining fighting game. Seed and Seed DESTINY on the GBA follow the example set by Endless Duel while adapting some of its elements for the smaller screen. This shouldn’t be surprise, as Natsume worked as the developer on these three titles. The first Seed game got localised in the US with the subtitle Battle Assault tagged to it in order to tie it to the previous Gundam Battle Assault titles despite having nothing to do with them. The sequel, which is the topic today, stayed in Japan. As a side trivia, Endless Duel uses a modified game engine from a previous Natsume fighting game; Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition,

The game everything you’d want from a fighting game; tight controls, easy-to-learn but hard-to-master mechanics, mechanics that are simple and only handful, yet they do great service to the game. It’s one of the best handheld fighting game experiences you can have because of this, not being bogged down by unnecessary mechanics just to add complexity for the sake of complexity and is simply joy to play.

The game’s a joy to see and listen to. GBA’s sound hardware wasn’t the best, but that shouldn’t really matter when tunes are somewhat catchy and properly hypes the player for needed matches. The game uses pre-rendered sprites, which works pretty damn fine on the system. All the 3D models had simple geometry and lots of smooth surfaces, and anything more would be a waste; it’d make the sprites far too clumsily detailed and be wasted. There are usual sprite trickery here and there you see on the GBA, but the overall package is just so satisfying and well made. Lots of unlockable units, few different modes thrown in and Link Cable VS mode really makes this a must-have title for the system. An absolute joy, and the last good Gundam fighting game we ever got. After this, it would be mediocre 3D action title after another and strategy games.

The game is criminally underrated, and worth checking out if you have a passing interest in Gundam and fighting games.

There are three good things that came out of Gundam Seed Destiny; its soundtrack, this game and Lunamaria Hawke. The show itself is garbage

Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds Overdrive PlayStation 4, 2015, Switch, 2017

There has been loads of sidescrolling beat-em-ups, or belt-scrolling action games recently. Fight’n Rage is perfect example of modern take on this classic genre, which also hits just the right spots in both nostalgia and evolution of the genre with ton of playable characters and movelists. However, Fight’n Rage doesn’t have a physical release, so it can’t get on the list. Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds Overdrive however fills that slot just as well, with high production values.

For a belt-scroller, Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds Overdrive is surprisingly lengthy. Seven stages doesn’t sound a lot, yet these stages are long and split into multiple parts. There is also lots of story bits for people who want that, which is very much tongue on cheek. The game is also longer for completionists, as there is a  decent amount of characters, who also require to be played relatively extensively to unlock all of their Skill tree, not to mention unlockable characters. This goes down much faster after you’ve grabbed few friends and some extra controllers and have gay old time in multiplayer.

What else really needs to be said? It’s a great modern action game, though the pixelart style was already overused at the time of the game’s original release. Would’ve been nice to see smooth, high resolution SD sprites over what the game got, as used in the promotional materials and such, but can’t win always. It’s still a game nice to look at, with high amount of animation frames and stages having scenic changes often enough. Due to the SD-style, some of the attacks and moves feel rather limited in range at times, and there really isn’t much exaggeration to go around. Still, big colourful sprites makes most things clear, the different hit sparks and other effects sometimes obscure the action a bit too much. This has been a thing in multiple games I’ve played in these few years, where for whatever reason you can’t see the action and hits clearly and just have to trust that the enemy and player animations tell the tale that hit has been made. It would have been nice of all of the game was done in sprites, but some of the background elements use low-poly 3D assets that just don’t look too good.

Music’s nothing special per se, but fits the game just as well. Bit music as a throwback to the NES days, with more channels and such, the usual par for the course. Some of the tunes stand out far better than others, but that’s not said much. Optionally, you could get the FM sound pack, which harkens back to PC88 and X68k sound fonts. The two sound versions are like a night and day, and I can see some people outright disliking FM versions.

Advanced Busterhawk Gley Lancer Mega Drive, 1992, 2019, Nintendo Virtual Console, 2008

The fight for a spot to get a shooting game unto this list was harsh; it was either Darius Cozmic Collection or this. I didn’t manage to find time to play Battle Garegga.

Ultimately, despite being deeply flawed, Advanced Busterhawk Gley Lancer is just joy to play. Hard as balls, unforgiving at times, requires some very tight reflexes at times and learning some stage layouts, Gley Lancer is classic shooting gaming at its best. One of Masaya’s more neglected properties on their library of IPs, the re-release Columbus Circle put out this year should still be in circulation if you want to pick it up.

Console shooting games rarely emphasised scoring, though nowadays it feels like that’s all shooting games are for. Gley Lancer balanced things out much better, standing somewhere between R-Type‘s survivalist approach to Gradius‘ laxed pacing. If you’ve ever played Gradius V and are familiar how to lock support satellites in place, this is the game Konami picked it up. The satellites, or Options if you want to call them that, can shoot to different directions from your ship’s movements. With multiple weapon  options, including the usual Auto-Targeting option, it adds slightly different layer to the play, which then requires changing the approach just enough.

Music’s rather solid, if you’re fan of FM music and Mega Drive sound overall. The first stage’s theme is a damn classic by its own rights, and few of the later stages are still awaiting remixes to find them. Graphics overall are nice, especially on the story sequences. Big, clear sprites like this were Masaya’s forte and go-to gimmick. Nine stages makes the game about medium in length, but due to some of the stages being rather empty Gley Lancer ends up draggin itself a bit. Not a whole lot, but just enough you to notice.

In the end, the PV shows what you get; that’s what you get; a solid shooting game. Sure, there are better ones out there, both on PC-Engine and Mega Drive, yet something about Gley Lancer hits the spot in a way most other shooting games don’t. There’s that kind of atmosphere, that kind of sound to the music and an era-specific look to the colourscape and design. Something just clicks the right way in Gley Lancer, and that makes it stand out from the rest of the bunch in a way e.g. later Gradius games just can’t make themselves stand out anymore. Maybe it’s because franchise fatigue or something else, but Gley Lancer has character to it.

Sadly, the player’s ship sprite looks very little anything like the ship on the cover.

The Ninja Warriors Once Again Switch, PlayStation 4, 2019

The thing about these Natsume’s retro remakes is that they’re not exactly needed, but the way they’re done is example how to do them. Sure, the base game is the same as it was on the Super Nintendo, but that’s the starting point. Revamped sprites, wide-screen support, local two-player mode, new game play elements, more playable characters and an extra mode all are welcome additions. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel again, just make it better, faster, stronger. The Ninja Warriors Once Again sets the bar for remakes like this rather high as all the areas the game aims to improve is spot on.

Controls are strict as usual, but there’s some every so slight to make them tight. The only reason you get hit is because you didn’t make a move at a proper time, the game’s design and controls are that accurate. No bullshit hitboxes like in Fromsoftware’s games.

The two new characters are the main attraction to the series veterans. Raiden being a hulking beast is very much to an extreme end from the rest of the cast, especially when the second addition, Yaksha, is small but requires very peculiar approach to her play. It’s a small miracle how different the whole cast of playable characters ends up feeling, with none of them replicating strengths or weaknesses. Despite the core game play staying the same, each of the characters skill sets impact how you approach to pretty much everything in the game, from base mooks to bosses. Well, except the final boss, which has always been a letdown.

This game, despite being a remake, is a standout solid title that does everything it promises on the box. It’s one of those games I’ve been coming back again and again since its release simply to enjoy how a game with limited but purposeful controls like this also allows stupid amount of technical execution.

Funny that, the Asian English release I bought had to be renamed as The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, probably because Ninjas can’t be warriors in China or Korea. I don’t know, but it’s stupid and renaming the game now implies machines made to assassinate and then nuke themselves are somehow saviours, when the game’s plot clearly implies the new regime that takes over the nation afterward are no better. I guess it’s a cycle, where you always get new robot assassins to kill the new totalitarian regime after another.

 

Alien Crush PC-Engine, 1988, Nintendo Virtual Console, 2006, PSN, 2010

While Peach Ball Senran Kagura is a very entertaining and fun pinball game, the lack of fields really brings it down. There’s not much to do in the game as it is, but that’s mostly because there has been genre defining pinball games in the Crush series. Alien Crush is the first in the series, succeeded and surpassed by Devil’s Crush, but still stands very well in direct comparison to modern video pinball as its field design and music is top notch. Despite technically having only one man field, the setup and moving back and forth its low and upper parts. It takes a while to get the groove on, but the moment the game’s pace clicks, you can easily rack up points in no time to finish the game. The ball physics are not perfect, but for 1989, Alien Crush nailed it the best. While there’s just one main table to play on, there are numerous one-screen sized secret tables that pose specific challenges. All of them are a welcome break from the main table and shake up the play a bit. While the later games would have more secrets to access, Alien Crush arguably has better balance, not elongating the main table beyond two screens and allows more focused scoring.

The Gieger-esque design is bit on the nose, and the game overall wouldn’t be too far off from easily being made into an Alien licensed pinball game. The little details make it live, pulsating and looking organic. Alien Crush takes advantage of it being a video game and doesn’t lock itself into what shouldn’t be possible on a real table. While music is sparse, both main tracks sound for the part. Though you can’t change tracks mid-game, they do get a bit grating after a while.

That said, it is a niche title, well forgotten at this point, but still available via some online services like PSN and used to be Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Goddamn the Virtual Console was a great thing, and Ninty just killed it. The Crush series pinball games are still top notch, and a very high bar to beat in terms of sheer distilled video pinball quality.

 

Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut

 

Darius Cozmic Collection Nintendo Switch, 2019

The definitive way to get into Darius as a franchise, though it lacks G Darius. The collection didn’t get into the Top 5 because A) there’s a retarded amount of different variations of this collection for no real reason outside sheer stupidity and B) the games themselves aren’t in the end up there. Some standard editions have less games, some other editions have more games, it’s all stupid. That said, the games run pretty much perfectly, but Darius is a franchise that rode on multiple screens gimmick and didn’t actually get all the competent until Darius Gaiden. All the previous games, while nice and all, don’t have the same impact on the small screen as they did in the arcades, and without a similar multi-screen setup where you could replicate that experience, playing these games on a console or PC is a waste. It’s nice to have stupidly rare games like Darius Alpha on the collection, but that doesn’t add much to the game itself. The collection and packaging itself, in the end, are more impressive than majority of the games on the collection. The aforementioned lack of G Darius makes this collection very much incomplete in terms of classic Darius, before the Burst era begun. Maybe they’ve lost the source code or can’t make a proper PlayStation emulator, who knows.

Peach Ball Senran Kagura Switch, 2018, Steam, 2019

There’s exactly one reason why Peach Ball Senran Kagura didn’t take Alien Crush’s spot; lack of fields. I can understand and get why a pinball game from 1988 only have one main stage, but the lack of multiple stages in Peach Ball is a hard drop. Instead, you get three different daytime variations on two stages, which is really just an insult. Rather than basing the fields on something that would be familiar to the series’ fans, the two stages are a generic circus-carnival type of thing and Japanese themed field. While this makes both fields pretty solid, in their own terms, there’s surprisingly little to do, and despite the ball physics being pretty damn fine tuned, there’s just something little bit off that makes it all feel just tiny bit lacklustre. The emphasize of course is on unlockable clothes and balls, which all really amount to nothing. It would have been fun to see different balls having different physics, like a rubber ball being more bouncy compared to a metal ball. They don’t even make a different sound, it’s just a visual difference. I can appreciate the naughty bits just fine, with the whole flipping life and hometown up and down being a thing, but the lack of recognisable fields and cramming the two full of visual clutter ultimately made this a disappointment. I wish the game would’ve included a mode, where you could’ve turned the Switch on its side, but the stages are not even designed for that. There’s potential, so much of it, but it just can’t get there. The game lives and dies through short sessions, which in it serves perfectly.

Capcom Belt Action Collection Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, 2018

What should I say about this collection? It’s good, it has great titles, it has Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit, two games that two games that were never ported home before, but Capcom should’ve thrown just a bit more cash at this collection in order to include Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, The Punisher and the eponymous Alien VS Predator. Where’s titles like Mighty Final Fight or the SNES sequels to the original Final Fight? No Tenchi wo Kurau/Dynasty Wars or any of the Capcom Dungeons and Dragons games either. What’s on the disc is great, but Capcom’s beat-em-up history is so much more. This collection comes out as halfassed and janky, not even having any of the home console games they released in the past. Apparently, it sold decently well, but I hope Capcom will put far more effort and resources in future compilations.

Why the Japanese title? Because that’s the label on my copy.

Wonder Momo Arcade, 1987, PC-Engine 1989

Wonder Momo is a class example of pure core design of a game and never deviating from it. Almost every other official attempt to revive the franchise has failed, mostly because they were lacklustre and didn’t get that simplicity doesn’t mean simple in play and design. Wonder Momo straddles on the line of being just simple enough and being too simple with its stage setting and enemies, strict and limited controls. It’s very much like playing old Castelvania or that new The Ninja Warriors, where the game is fair but hard. It’s a damn classic, and it’s sad that official revivals never understood it enough to expand on it.  However, this is where Toushiryoku Kenkyujo’s Wonder Pink doujinshi games come in. Sumomo Theater is effectively an upgraded version of Wonder Momo in every way and manner, with the two other expanding the system to multi-level side scrollers. Sumomo Theatre is a perfect example how integral it is to understand and acknowledge the core of the game you’re remaking.

Rumble Roses PlayStation 2, 2004

For numerous years now I’ve been trying to look for a wrestling game that would not suck. The few pro wrestling games that I’ve played have been absolute trash, while some others are more like fighting games in a ring, like Capcom’s Ring of Destruction: Slam Masters 2. Nothing wrong in that, I’d be down for a new Slam Masters game if Capcom were ever to make one, but somehow almost all 3D wrestling games end up playing janky and feel as smooth as trying force spaghetti through a motor. I really wanted to love this game, I really did. Joshiprowres is something I’ve always loved on the side, but it’s never been my main interest. Blizzard Yuki’s a personal favourite, dunno why. Maybe it’s the comic. Playing Rumble Roses ultimately ended up feeling like so many other wrestling games; unfulfilling. The way these 3D wrestling games are designed and realised needs a total paradigm shift, something would move towards making the games play like silk rather than feeling like you’re scraping against the asphalt. Still, there’s a lot to like about the game, from somewhat nonsensical storylines to alternative versions of each character to nice designs overall. I’ll just have to keep looking for that one wrestling game that might sate this craving.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.