I had a lot of free time in January, so I managed to clear a ton of games off of my backlog. Many of them were quite short or already half beaten, but it was still a whole lot of games. A few of them were all-time classics.
Metal Gear Solid 4: This is a hard game to judge. More so since I am so late to the party that I can’t imagine anyone else that cares about this game hasn’t already played it and had their say. There is a lot of truly excellent game here. There is also about 5 hours of barely interactive nonsense. Honestly, I loved it. All of it, even the nonsense. I can clearly recognize that there are parts of this game that are legitimately terrible and you can almost feel things falling apart the further you go along, but I don’t care. The gameplay in the first couple chapters is great. It is the perfect escalation of the usual Metal Gear Solid gameplay. Instead of sneaking into an enemy held stronghold or area, you are sneaking through a contested warzone. It adds layers to the already involved gameplay. There are just so many more options and strategies available to the player. Mixed in there are some good boss fights and cool set pieces. After the start, though, things break down. The control the player has had since the start is stripped away. There is less and less gameplay, fewer and fewer decisions to make. Those boss fights and set pieces become all there is. It is not so much that the last couple of chapters are bad, it is just that they are so disappointing compared to what came before.
Then there is the story. Kojima desperately tries to answer all the questions raised in the previous three games. That overwhelming desire to provide answers gets in the way of telling a story. The plot of this game is an incoherent mess, an inelegant synthesis of everything that has come before. What the story lacks in coherence and logic, it more than makes up for in spectacle. That is an area where this series has always towered above all others, and this game doesn’t disappoint. Whether it is the assault of the cow tanks or the motorcycle chase or the series encompassing boxing match on top of a Metal Gear, the player is never far from something awesome happening. It feels like a fitting end to this series, ambitious, enthralling and always a little messy. Video games being what they are, though, it really isn’t one.
Paper Mario Sticker Star: This game turned off many with its how thoroughly Nintendo tried to scrub the RPG out of it. Outside of the art style, it is very different from the first Paper Mario and The Thousand Year Door. While that is unfortunate, Sticker Star is still a very good game. It has some ingenious puzzle elements. The discrete stages help keep things from getting overwhelming and while battles play out like and RPG, the scarcity of resources force a big change from the usual grind your way through tactics of that genre. Its biggest flaw is how closely it sticks to the well know Mario characters. It is just Mario vs Bowser, with Mario’s sticker companion the only real new comer. Instead of memorable takes on existing character types, like Toadette or Cooper, all the side characters in Sticker Star are Toads. Frequently Toads that don’t have a name. It definitely hurts the adventure that that game couldn’t do more with the opportunities it had for memorable side characters. Still, it is a largely very good entry in the Paper Mario series. Hopefully next time Nintendo will finally give us more Thousand Year Door.
Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction: The Ratchet & Clank series made the jump to HD consoles with very little change. The title may say future, but this is the same game I loved on PS2. That is a good thing: the Ratchet and Clank games were some of the best on the system. With his wide variety of inventive weapons and combination of shooting and jumping gameplay, Ratchet is very much the modern day Mega Man. Hell, he’s even got the yearly sequels. Though Tools of Destruction is just another R&C adventure, that is in no way a bad thing. It means a terrific 10 hours of delightfully destructive action. I do like that Insomniac is stepping up the story. I think even at this point they were feeling the end coming with R&C and decided to get on with the character revelations. So the game is about Ratchet looking for where he came from, only for Clank to find out that answer about himself. It isn’t my favorite R&C game, but it is still very good.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: wrote about it here.
Galaga Legions DX: I got this free with my PS+ membership and as I’d heard generally good things about it, I thought I’d give it a spin. It is addictive fun; just complex enough to be interesting but simple enough that one can just pick up and play. This is kind of the perfect downloadable game as far as I’m concerned. It is not something that is going to take a significant commitment on my part to play. It is best played in short, intense bursts.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII: wrote about it here.
Broken Age Act 1: This is only the first part of the first project I packed on Kickstarter and I already feel like I got my money’s worth. I’ve written before about my troubles with adventure games, but this one so far manages to avoid the missteps that many of it’s brethren make. The puzzles are largely logical, with none of the mind breakingly obtuse junk that always annoys me. I suspect many adventure game fans will find this game too easy just because all the puzzles make sense. I can’t imagine that anyone will be let down with the writing. While Act 1 ends just as things really start moving, the opening adventures of Vella and Shay are wonderfully engrossing. Vella’s story is much more straightforward, with her going on a quest to stop a monster that is eating young girls. Shay’s story has him trying to escape a nanny ship that has not aged with him, leaving him a teenager stuck in the life of a toddler. After seeing the twist at the end, I can’t wait for Act 2.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Speaking of adventure games, I had such a good time with Broken Age that I went looking for a similar experience. On Steam I had the first Monkey Island, which a few months ago I played until I got my ship. There are some obtuse bullshit puzzles in this game; puzzles with solutions that don’t make any sense until after you solve them. There aren’t a lot of them, but there are a few. Luckily, the writing is more than strong enough to carry the game past its few rough spots. This game absolutely deserves its classic reputation. I’ll admit that I kept a guide open as I played this. I didn’t strictly follow it, but I don’t have the patience to spend a lot of time trying everything when I get stuck. Still, I am eager to take the sequel for a go.
Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara: My brothers came by and we got a four player game of Mystara going. We beat both games, but didn’t quite figure everything out until we were almost done with the second one. There are some surprisingly deep brawlers. I think I need to play this until I’ve seen everything.
Broken Sword: I’ve been on something of an Adventure game kick lately and this looked good after I finished Monkey Island. I’ve played through Cairo so far. Its good, but its attempts at humor fall completely flat. It is just painful at times.
Ratchet and Clank Future A Crack in Time: I’ve played the first quarter or so of this game. It feels like something is missing, maybe because Ratchet and Clank are split up. Still a ton of fun though.
Earthbound: I’ve now made it to Fourside. This is usually the point where someone erases my save or I just flat lose interest or I accidentally delete my emulator. It’s been so long since I’ve played past this point that I don’t quite remember what I am supposed to do. I may have to break down and take a glance at a guide. It is strange that I know the first third or so of this game so very well, but I can only remember the rest vaguely.
Xenoblade Chronicles: I am hacking away at this again. I made it to Alcamoth after nearly a month of trying to remember just how this game works. I’m not quite as in love with this as I was a couple years ago when I first got it; in fact, I am feeling more than a little overwhelmed. Still, I am having fun. And it looks amazing.
Binary Domain: Another PS+ game that I likely would not have played otherwise. It is a cover based shooter, like Gears of War. However, it is made by the people who make the Yakuza games. While it does play largely like the Western equivalents, there is something very Japanese about this game. It isn’t present in the art style so much, it has a kind of anime Blade Runner feel to it. It is hard to explain exactly what I mean. I played the first two chapters and enjoyed it. I’m not rushing to finish this up, but I’m not likely to abandon it completely.
Bravely Default: Near the start of February this will hit. The demo is scads of fun. Its predecessor, 4 Heroes of Light, was largely great. It looks to be the best Final Fantasy of the foreseeable future.
Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze: This hits at the end of the month and I couldn’t be more excited. I loved Donkey Kong Country Returns and everything else Retro Studios has touched.
Ys Origin: I played this just a little at the end of the month. It seems fun. I’ll probably put some serious time into it. The Ys series is one I’ve wanted to get into, but the first game on the VC did nothing for me. It was just too old.
Shin Megami Tensei: I’ve got a half dozen games from the various sub-series of this series and I intend to play them. I’m not sure which one, but I’ll play one.