Top 5 games of 2018

This year’s Top 5 list will a bit different, mostly because it doesn’t consist of many older games overall. Why? Because when you’re a full-time working man, there’s not much time for games. That, and I forgot to start listing the games I bought this year into this post. Whoops.

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. Means if a game only has a digital release, it automatically gets disqualified. There is no top slot either, because that’s stupid.

 

A Certain Magical Virtual-On PlayStation4, PlayStation Vita, 2018

If you haven’t read my Cyber Troopers Virtual-On retrospective series, you can either start with the original entry or click Robot related materials on the top bar. The last entry covers this game and has a review on it, so I’m not going to repeat it. However, what I have to question whether or not this game stands now, almost a year later.

The game stands at a respectable three and a half stars on Amazon Japan, it got a serialised comic and the overall reception throughout the year has mixed. I mentioned how fans of the game series didn’t exactly like A Certain Magical Index being mixed in there, while Index fans took the opposite stance. This game turned me into and Index fan though, and seeing this cross over was overall fun and works within the setting. Sure, it’s a standalone spin-off that has nothing to do with either franchises in the end, but that doesn’t keep us from enjoying what we have now.

Sega pushed this game rather hard initially, and had few Voosters Cups, tournaments for the game. Some hardcore fans are still playing it non-stop, but the lack of local two-player was the death knell of the game for someone who doesn’t have PSN+ account. VO as a series certainly could work in the modern eSports environment, but it would require further presence and more events to be held. A popular IP tagged to it won’t do much alone.

Despite the lack of local multiplayer, and the Vita version being crippled thanks to being on Vita, I do come back to this game whenever I want to play Virtual-On. It’s still Virtual-On, and there really isn’t anything like it. Well, maybe Last Legion UX on the N64, but I’ll review that next year.

 

Rockman World V Game Boy, 1994, 3DS Virtual Console, 2014

That’s a terrible PV, but couldn’t find the original CM for now.

The big question was; would Mega Man 11 get a spot this year? The answer is No because I also bought the a boxed copy of Rockman World V.

This game everything an evolution of Mega Man should be. From the changing Mega Buster into a rocket punch and taking advantages such weapon allows, changing the bosses from Robot Masters to Stardroids for an entry and making a bait n’ Switch with the final boss, this game has it all. You can’t do something like this in a series ending game, but as a spin-off title on the Game Boy it had more freedom to do whatever it wanted.

Minakuchi Engineering did all but one GB Mega Man game, and with the fourth and this fifth entries they managed to make the series better than its NES originals. Everything from visual design to music and controls are spot on. What makes the GB’s Mega Man series stand out in most cases is that despite the smaller screen, everything plays well. This is mostly due to camera not centering on the player character, something so many games get wrong nowadays, even the Zero-series got this wrong, and the sheer design of the stages and enemy placement has to spot on.

I’ve seen some call it a nice little game, but it’s a grand Game Boy game that should not be missed. Cheaply available on your 3DS’ Virtual Console too.

 

Sonic Mania Plus PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Steam, 2018

When original Sonic Mania was released, it was great. Sonic Mania Plus is pretty much the same, just with some tweaked stuff in there and two more characters that we haven’t seen in ages. For someone who loved to play the first Sonic the Hedgehog as a itty bitty kiddy, Sonic Mania hits that nostalgia spot right on. That alone isn’t enough for a game to get on the list, and any version of Sonic mania is worth playing for the absolute brilliancy it shows in sheer realisation of the game. From sound and music to controls and stage design the game gets all of these spot on. It sounds like a Mega Drive Sonic, it plays like a Mega Drive Sonic and looks just a slightly bit better thanks to increased frames of animations here and there. While the Special Stages where you collect the Chaos Emeralds are infuriating. The original game’s dream-like mazes are still the most unique way the series has implemented these, but it would also seem that these stages aren’t exactly popular.

2D Sonic games are much like 2D Super Mario Bros. games. They both represent the best the series has to offer and are the most popular among fans and overall audiences. Despite few revivals here and there, the companies behind these two mascot giants have never really been able to re-create what made these 2D titles so great. They’ve lost the sight what makes their 2D juggernauts tick, but I’m glad to see some fans got their chance to showcase this to Sega. Hopefully any upcoming revival Sega does, especially with Streets of Rage 4, follows this one up. Whatever comes after Sonic Mania Plus in regards of the franchise also has to take things forwards away from the 16-bit graphics, unless they want to replicate the belly splat Mega Man 10 did. These retro-revivals are always dancing on a fine edge.

 

The Game Paradise Crusin’ Mix Special PlayStation 4, 2018

Or Game Tengoku if you so will.

Whenever there is a new shooting game coming out, it has a lot sub-systems and scoring mechanics stacked upon it. That, and the shooting game genre has effectively become mostly bullet hells. Finding a shooting game that doesn’t just throw truckloads of bullets at you nowadays means we need to look back at some of the older titles.

This slot could’ve gone to the Psikyo Collection Vol 1 and 2, but the reason why The Game Paradise gets to this spot is two-fold; shooting game pureness and humour.

The whole set up for the game is that a mad scientist Yamada, who wants to take control over arcades and thus all of Japan. To prevent this,  an arcade worker Yuki Ito employs (forces) some of Jaleco’s classic characters to go in and fight Yamada’s plans in a different set of arcade machines. Well, the first level takes place in an arcade, before whiskering the player into a Wonder Hunting UFO catcher. The playable characters are a celebration of Jaleco’s past games like Exerion and Momko 120%. This new version of the game also adds few new characters into the mix, like Clarice from City Connection (who makes it very clear that the blonde Clarice from Gunbare! The Game Paradise  2 is a damn dirty fake.) With DLC you’re able to throw Honou from Pro Yakyuu series into the mix (playing a shooting game with a baseball player is surprisingly fun) and as a surprise collaboration Yuki can hop into the spaceship from Tatsujin., making her a playable character for the time.

The game’s core play is fantastic 90’s shooting, as mentioned. The core scoring system consists of collecting items, which ramp up in value in short burst as a score meter rises temporarily. All the items you collected from your last death are recounted at the end to the stage. Dying also drops your weapon level by one notch, but unlike some games, losing a weapon level doesn’t turn the game impossible. There is a good balance. Of course there are Options to pick up, which are the other characters and their weapons added to your own arsenal. Enemy patterns are usually relatively straightforward and the bullet patterns are thankfully far away from screen filling bullshit. The enemy variety is of course rather nice, considering each stage has its set of unique enemies and none of the are recycled from other stages.

This version of the game has an updated version of the original arcade game with options to choose an updated soundtrack and the like, but also the Saturn port of the original game, as it has a full story mode, to which I admit laughing far more than warranted. In addition, there is a history mode that explain history and characters from past Jaleco games that are in The Game Paradise Cruisin’ Mix Special, covering such things as the games’ launch dates, game play and their overall success by using flyers and posters. Of course there is fun to be had, as with Momoko 120% reminds the other characters (and the player) that the home release of the game had an anime license attached to it. Best part of this license mess is that the arcade game still uses Lum’s Love song as its BGM.

 

Note that despite this being Japanese version, all the text is in English, meaning everything’s baked in from get go

It’s such a joy to see a game like this being remastered after so long, and definitely gets a slot on the list.

 

Glove on Fight PC, 2002

Developed by Watanabe Seisakujo, a doujin circle that’s been doing games since the 90’s and got renamed as Soft Circle French-Bread when they went more or less professional, Glove on Fight is a shining example of core pureness in a game without any bells and whistles. Much like The Game Paradise above, this is a straight up otaku game with full of references. Well, it is a doujinshi game, they wouldn’t be able to use Kanon or Fate characters otherwise. Music’s diverse, ranging from rap, eurobeat and fusion jazz, and all of it is damn good.

The game is, however, extremely small and focused. You have five characters to choose from, and you’re able to unlock three more. While this does lack variety, it makes every character unique in their approach and play style, especially considering how every move has been fine tuned to perfection. In this game, there is no wasted space, with sprite and backgrounds representing the characters in this super deformed look nicely. The looks all intentional, as you couldn’t have this sort of boxing game based on timing without having clear motions or limbs. Even Capcom realised that the characters in Street Fighter II need to have slightly exaggerated hands and feet in order to show where punches and kicks are.

Controls follow the same focus, consisting of a Weak Attack, Strong Attack and Dodge. You can dash and weave with double tapping to a direction, and it is essential to time your movements not just to avoid hits, but to get some in. There are numerous special and Super moves, but they need to be land first. There is no jumping either, that’s a special move. Because things are this simple, the game’s extremely easy to get into, but once you realise how much skill it takes to time everything you do, the game’s balance becomes like an open book. It’ll take some time to get good at this game, but due to lack of content and characters, the game doesn’t have much staying power. Well, this is a small homebrew release after all, but still a game worth coming back again and again. There’s also the sequel, but we’re gonna get to that next year.

An absolute marvel of a game, which I hope French-Bread will come back to at some point in the future. Also, Power of Love is one of the best boxing game stage songs out there.

 

Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut

 

Monster Hunter World PS4, Xbox One, Steam, 2018

Despite dropping a hundred hours or so into the game, the Monster Hunter World feels a step backwards with each step is has taken forwards. Each time I play the game, I wish some elements from older games were present. These range from the progression being all over the place that doesn’t build up challenge, in which the game is lacking, to items that aren’t present for whatever reason. While some still bitch that there isn’t G-Rank, they seem to forget that no Monster Hunter has G-Rank in their initial release, it’s only reserved for the upgraded titles.

Then you have the maps. While it’s nice to see the maps as one whole, the only map that makes itself feel natural and like a living environment is the fist one, Ancient Forest. The rest feel like they should be split into ready parts, just like the previous titles. It’s sad to see that as the game progresses, the areas become more and more simple and are not taken advantage of. Little things also pop in here to drop the overall challenge, as previously desert areas required to have Chill Drink in order to keep the characters gaining damage from overheating, and in night setting the maps required the use of Hot Drink to fight cold. Despite wanting to make a more realistic and living worlds, all the small things like this that existed previously that the player had to account and prepare for are completely missing.

Whatever Iceborne expansion brings in, it should also change some of the core elements of the game simply to give the player more responsibility of themselves rather than pamper. Harder monsters and more content isn’t a fix to the game’s core issues, but these issues won’t be fixed as they’re designed as they now are. Still, far from being the worst entry in the series, and going back from the World to older games will feel cumbersome.

Bayonetta 2 Wii U 2014, Switch 2018

I loved the original Bayonetta. One of the best action games around, with Platinum showcasing that games should be at their best on the hardest difficulty setting. However, Bayonetta 2 is more of the same and while that’s all good, the game feels like it’s not reaching to the excellence as the first one. Then again, no sequel could have the effect and marvel the first game’s gameplay and stages could offer, despite everything been tuned further here. A game worth getting anyway, one of the best games on either Wii U or Switch.

Mega Man 11 Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, 2018

I’d recommend reading the review of the game instead having me to repeat everything here. If I had not got Rockman World 5 this year, it would have taken is spot. However, that Game Boy game is just so damn good, that MM11 doesn’t really hold candle to it. Let’s hope number twelve will be World 5 of the mainline classic series.

Senran Kagura BURST Re:Newal Playstation 4, 2018

Y’know, I really loved the series’ no-nonsense gameplay. You could get in fast, strike hard, and have a stage over in half a minute if you were good and knew what you were doing. Burst Re:Newal however screws with the core gameplay by introducing a counter system that makes the gameplay slower. Well, almost stops the action in order to simply counter.  It’s an easy system, but implementation is weak at best. You’re show an attack range the enemy is doing, and depending on the colour and animation on it, you’re able to parry and counter attack. The thin is, it’s only on ground. If your camera is anywhere else, you have to resort looking at the enemy movements, but unlike in most other action games, the enemies themselves don’t have proper signals. That isn’t really a problem in itself, but when you have to stop playing the game just to wait to parry, shit’s just stupid. The system also changed how you stagger enemies in order to encourage parrying, so whatever fun the system previously had is broken. Marvelous didn’t make it smoother, they didn’t fine tune the game play to any extent, they just slapped an unnecessary element in a very haphazard way that’s intrusive at best. The Western PlayStation 4 version is also censored, so get it on Steam or the Japanese PS4 box if you’re a fan. Removing a whole game mode is absolutely retarded.

Omega Boost PlayStation, 1999

A PlayStation classic for sure, Omega Boost is one of those games that managed to have stable 60fps with fast action when 30fps was bog standard with pretty much everything on the system. It’s a short game, filled with bursts of high-speed action with good music, but perhaps it suffers from being far too focused at times, but other times the better tactic is just to float and do homing attacks. For a mecha game aimed for action, that’s disappointing at best. A rail shooter like had a lot of contest back then, and if I had to pick up from my library to play on a whim, I’d pick either Panzer Dragoon Zwei or Orta over Omega Boost simply because they’re better titles within the genre.

Music of the Month: Rock the World

After spending good three days of building my new PC and troubleshooting things that have been popping up now and then, I completely forgot that I was supposed to write something for Sunday. That’s not the only thing I’ve forgotten lately, due to being so damn tired. Enough excuses, let’s get this on the roll.

So, whatever plans I might’ve had are more or less out of the window thanks to people ordering more and more stuff from the place I work, meaning the speed and production amounts have been upped ever so slightly but enough to push the proverbial breaking point of the manufacturing process. Rather, I’ll have to approach things by case-by-case basis and hope that I don’t put things out too late. Well, I’ll be doing Mega Man 11 at some point.

As such, I’ll use this opportunity to comment on the previous post about Capcom’s IR materials. It’s a long post in comparison to most and has quite a lot of hot air, but something that needed to be covered. Rather than spouting what Capcom says, here’s my personal take what Capcom wants to do in the future; high-end games.

Monster Hunter World and Resident Evil 7 have been big hits, and Capcom seems to think it is thanks to the games having high production values across the board, especially in the graphics department. While the term artisanal design was thrown in there, it ultimately means very little if not expanded. Effectively it means master craftsmanship and how something is worked by hand to perfection, but how well that applies to Capcom’s titles is up to interpretation. They are infamous for dishing out game sequels after sequels, though this has been on the slower end as of late. Game development has gotten more expensive with each generation and they feel it. Each title has to be bigger and more successful than the previous. The two aforementioned titles fit the bill perfectly, something Resident Evil 2‘s remake and Devil May Cry 5 do too. While the games will have something the consumers will have to scratch their heads over with, Capcom is putting a lot of money and time into them, hoping to get return in their investment. MHW is regarded a cornerstone within the company in terms of success, and they want to replicate that.

Furthermore, Capcom is surprised by the success of Mega Man 11. Without a doubt it has come as a surprise, and the Man of Action Mega Man cartoon basically exists to drive brand recognition, especially among younger consumers who have no previous experience with the franchise. The initial sales have been very positive and the reception of the game has more or less followed the same pattern. Above all, Mega Man 11 is a PR victory for Capcom and does go against their set idea of high-end games, something consumers should be somewhat happy about. MM11 was relatively cheap to develop, which probably served more to its favour than most think. It also shows that games don’t need to be at their highest ends in order to make a mark. Capcom probably took notice of this, as they’re also noticed the good sales the Mega Man X collection was having.

This has lead them to consider reviving some of their old IPs and the upcoming Capcom Belt-Action Collection is probably is part of the whole deal to see what sticks to the wall. Sadly, Capcom doesn’t have the licensing rights to some of their best beat-em-ups, but at least the collection has the first ever home port of Battle Circuit, something long-time Capcom and CPSII fans have been waiting for. When’s Wazrard getting a proper home release? Does this mean fan favourite IPs will be revived? Naturally, no. First three people who I saw commenting on the post said Breath of Fire, but I don’t see that being very likely. Firs being that BoF was never a great seller and that they have better options to fill the RPG quota if they want to. However, the one thing that is in BoF‘s favour is that Capcom recognizes themselves relying on limited genres, with fighting games, action and horror taking the top spot. Capcom has to diversify its selection at some point, but that may go toward mobile gaming.

According to the materials, Capcom has been making loads of money in the smartphone market, but still don’t have much success in there. What does this mean, exactly? They’re not the top dog and despite the few titles they manage to get money out, the competition is making bigger bank. This is largely an Asian thing, as the mobile game market is absolutely bonkers huge there, eclipsing both console and PC market without any margins of error. It’s no wonder companies like Blizzard want to release a game into the market like they were horny teenagers with free access to the corest of hardest porn. We’ll get to Blizzard’s PR disaster with Diablo Immortal on Wednesday, it’s a damn good example how not to do consumer service. But this is Capcom, they don’t give a damn about the mobile market in the West, as Asia’s the gold mine and they don’t have the tools or skill to mine money. Maybe Capcom wants to see if they can do something else in the market, or maybe they’ll put more effort into expanding genre selection on consoles and PC. That’s why testing waters with cheap releases and collections is important to them. I’m not saying you should go buy MM11 or any of the collections in hopes to gain BoF Collection, you should always buy only what you think is the best value for your money. More RPG related stuff Capcom has been putting out might sway them more, or showcase how something similar makes good sells. Like most Japanese companies, Capcom seems to be data driven. Showcase them data and examples to support your claim or suggestion, and it has geometrically highest chances of getting through.

Whatever Capcom puts into production and announces within the next year will be based on the success and methods MHW and Mega Man 11 have laid out when it comes to consoles and PC. Mobile, well, we’ll have to sit tight and see.

Monster Hunter’s streamlining

Quality of Life changes is pretty much just the latest buzzword that replaced streamlining when it comes to video games. Sometimes there are needs for it, as some games tend to have excess that that should be cut out to make the playing more enjoyable. Other times, streamlining or quality of life changes to a game series means cutting certain elements down that seemed too complex, or dumbing down, despite this not being the case. This has to be approached case by case, and with the latest entry in Monster Hunter series being released, looking at the changes to streamline the game might be in place.

I’m basing this post mostly to my own experiences with the series, and thus it is largely anecdotal. Starting with Monster Hunter Freedom, I’ve seen this series tweaking itself with each entry in some way, with Tri, 4 and Generations seeing the biggest changes to the overall systems. These included Tri’s swimming and underwater hunting, something that never made a return; 4’s emphasize on maps being more vertical, making ledge jumping, jump attacking and monster’s vertical movement an integral part; and with Generation introducing Hunter Arts, something that probably won’t be returning until another Best of All type of title comes out.

World is a large departure from previous entries with its single map approach rather than segmented areas per map, and almost a total overhaul to the pacing of the hunts. I’m using the term pacing here, as all the streamlining done seems to aim to make the hunts move all the time.

For example, when the player began gathering usable items from a plant previously, he had to pick up each individual item separately that could be obtained from said plant. If you got three items, you’d need to press a button three times. This was streamlined earlier already in the manner that you’d only need to keep pressing the button to complete said three item gathering. This would be a dedicated motion, which stops the flow of the hunt, as it the player stops. This seems completely natural thing to do, however, and was essential part of the game’s play overall. However, in World the player can now pass the same plant and gather those three items from it while running, without stopping.

The question I had with this, whether or not this sort of simple change impacts the game much. On one hand, it was more “real” in the sense that one had to stop to execute an action that in real life would cause you to stop for a moment. World‘s approach is very much what a video game would do, with gathering becoming very much similar to picking up a health item in Doom or the like; just walk over it.

This seems to be the approach in most places for the game, in that the sort of semi-realistic approach has been now replaced with seemingly more game-like approaches. The Scout flies are probably the best example of this, with them being completely bonkers when you think for it for a moment. They should’ve given the player a hunting hound or some other more natural option rather than blinking lights.

The game is about hunting, after all, and despite the Scout flies being partially optional in their use, their inclusion does tell that the developers want the player to “get to the good stuff” faster. Having a literal lighted up trail that shows the way after few foot prints and scratches on the walls have been identified doesn’t example mesh well, but it’s all easy to use. You can run by these tracks and pick their info up, making the tracking element very uninteresting. If there was a game element to them, something that would be tied to Skills for example, and asking the player to take an active role to do majority of the tracking themselves would not have introduced fat to the game, but meat to play.

On the other hand, in a lot of things World still sticks with the old mould all the while introducing some new problems. The item, armour and weapons management is about as tedious as always, the center hub area has been expanded to be a multi-level town, where you either need to traverse to your destination or use quick-travel via map, which necessitates a separate area load screen. With the game being in online all the time, the game treats single-player experience no different, with you “Posting” new quests online despite you going for the hunt alone. As a side note, single-player hunts seem to be balanced towards the easy side.

However, some of the changes are sensible, at least. For example, certain item that used to be consumables now exist in your inventory from the get-go and don’t vanish. A whetstone just doesn’t vanish when its being used. Pickaxes follow this same pattern, and don’t exist in your inventory anymore as a separate item entity. Despite this may look like some of the preparedness has been removed from the game, the rest of the item management is more or less the same. Then again, it does cut out some of collecting and gathering elements that existed in previous games, but perhaps this is to cut out some of the elements that did not surround the hunts directly. I would like to see a Gathering area like in Monster Hunter Freedom return at some point in the future, rather than just paying someone to increase your items.

That’s the crux of streamlining with Monster Hunter World. Lot of the changes has been made to make the hunting itself more about the forwards momentum, with everything around it being cut back. Except the plot. From the ten hours or so I managed to drop into the game, all the changes really are to make the huntings more about the scene rather than the game, perhaps hinting that the game indeed was streamlined and quality of life changes were made to make the game more accessible to the larger market. World has been the fastest selling title in the series thus far in the West, so maybe in the end they’re doing something right. We’ll have to see a year later or so to see how it has been doing and whether or not its userbase is still there.