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.

Two steps forwards, one step back with video game censorship

This isn’t exactly a topic I intended to cover this soon after the whole Dead or Alive 6 PR fiasco. Tecmo sure has tried to rebuild their trust with the disassociated core audience with their latest update, but the damage from the initial barrage of news and statements is hard to recover from. Now, Sony’s stepped in for the third time to practice censorship on their platform. The brand that has been selling with the image of being the choice for an adult and mature electronics entertainment user is now a platform more prone to see your title being affected if the content has a sex-positive stance than Nintendo.

So, what’s it this time then? The Western release of Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal will have its skinship mode removed in the PlayStation 4 version, as stated by XSDEED. This is not their decisions, but Sony has wished this to be removed, i.e. they have issued a demand that if this mode exists in the game, it won’t be allowed to be on the platform. Someone at Sony hasn’t played much attention, as this kind mode has already existed on previous Senran Kagura titles without any word from them. It would seem that someone in power has a level of dislike towards Japanese video games with certain kind of fan service elements to them. Furthermore, thanks to GTA’s Hot Coffee controversy, no game can have material that’s not approved remain in the game code. If Sony demands complete removal of Skinship mode, it means XSEED has to spend extra cash to remove all vestiges from the code, which may affect some other parts of the game if not done properly. Hopefully, all they need to do is to dummy out the directory files in order to impact the game’s code least possible amount.

Before this, Sony had banned Omega Labyrinth Z from getting a Western release. They disapproved the title, despite it had successfully gained ESBR and PEGI classifications. PQcube, the title’s publisher, had already had most, if not all, of their translation work done for the title and were ready to release it. Because of the ban, PQube lost time and money, probably necessitating them to choose titles with less risque nature to them and avoid niche titles at least for a time. In order to port the game to e.g. Steam, it would probably take an extra $10 000 to happen, something the company may not want to throw in.

Around a week after screwing PQube, Sony delayed Nekopara Vol1, a visual novel about catgirls, got delayed worldwide. The title was slated for Summer 2018, but searching for the title on PSN gives no results for it. However, going into Nintendo’s Game Store and looking up Nekopara there gives a definitive result. At face value, it seems Nekopara never came to Sony’s platform while Nintendo had seemingly no problems with it. Delayed until further notice, but fans of the series probably have picked this one up elsewhere already, like Steam where they can patch it.

We understand the logic just fine; these titles’ fan service is in nature that does not conform to overall Western values. These three titles are inherently Japanese and do seem over-the-top in their nature of handling the characters every which way. Nevertheless, this exact aspect is part of their charm and have their audience. Omega Labyrinth Z does not have the luxury of having a Steam port like Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal. If fans want the game as intended and on console, they are required to import the Japanese version.

The issue of these characters being too young or the like has been discussed to death, even on this blog. I’ll always point out that this is digital and no human being is present, there is no exploitation or damage to done to anyone or anything. Dead or Alive Xtrme 3 is probably the best point to start with, and all these really raises the question if Sony themselves something to do with it not being published in the West and not just Tecmo wanting to showcase their sensibility towards loud fringe factions. If someone takes offense in how things looks, they can vote with their wallets and not buy the title.

Of course, the discussion that’s always sidestepped in the official circles is that this is taking away the intended artistry from these games, especially in case of Senran Kagura‘s, when an intended function and mode is removed. Sony and other corporations easily fling claims about games being art and such to gain image victories and promote the idea of games being larger than life entertainment like movies and music, which in reality all are rather mundane and at equal footing. When it comes to business and trying to stick to certain kind of ideologies, these words are flung out of the windows. They are pretty words, but that’s what they all are in the end. The industry, and the Red Ocean consumers, have been trying to sell the idea of games as art for so long that some of them take it as face value, but whenever a game is cancelled due to its content, censored because it might offense somebody or because the platform owner simply doesn’t want it for some reason, we are reminded that we are discussing an industry that is business and first and foremost.

Then again, perhaps we should consider games as art in its very classical form, where art is is just extension of craftsmanship and artisanal skills. Someonebody orders something to be made, a painting for example, giving the person money to pain what’s demanded of them and the artist fulfills the request. Art historically hasn’t been trying to express some deep emotions or find oneself, but to fulfill the customers demands and requests the best they can. No, it’s not commercial art, its art as it has been historically. Here we can argue whether or not the consumer should have the veto whether or not the artists, i.e. the developers and publishers, can put in their games as consumers are the one purchasing the end-product, but that would never succeed. The platform owners are just middle-hands, but they clearly have some sort of word what’s in and what’s no already, so the onus originally seems to be on whoever pays the biggest bill, often the publisher.

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo directly in their wake, should take after Valve and allow free market to reign on their system with consumers being the end decider what’s successful and what isn’t. I’m as surprised as you are, didn’t see that coming. It’s almost crazy to think that Nintendo has been trying to make their platforms appear more mature with titles like Bayonetta, while Sony’s taking steps backwards.

28/10/2018 Addition

As it turns out, it would seem Japanese developers are also required to censor their games from the get go on the table if they want to have their titles on PS4. A Twitter user uitachibana has some comparative examples between platforms, where PS4 versions have more risque scenes effectively blocked by a bright light. Visual Novel developer Light has come forth about Sony’s new policy, forcing the developer to censor their title in order to be released on the platform. Sony’s strict and aggressive approach on anything risque or sexually adult oriented content has prevented their latest title, Silverio Trinity, being published right after new year because Sony is not willing to approve the title.

The worst part of all, the developers have been instructed to plead their approvals in English, meaning that Sony of Japan has relegated this to another party, probably inside of Sony of America. This would effectively mean whatever agenda and politics this party wants to enforce across the platform, they can. The language barrier alone is large to both directions, and it is very clear that whatever party is in charge of the censorship doesn’t care about cultural differences or consumer wants.