Jumping the Soapbox: Games of 2016 (Part 2)

Here we are with the second and final part of my look at games I played in 2016 (part 1 can be found here) that were interesting enough to talk about!  Like before, any game that I didn’t play on PC will be note specifically which platform I did play them on because it was way easier for me this year to play on my computer than to do so from a console.  I mean, I’m ALREADY sitting in from the damn thing most of the time!  Anyway, let’s not waste any more time and just get started! This is gonna be fun, right?

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Mr. President!

games2016-9

Developed by Game Developer X

Sigh… You know, this game was a lot funnier when we weren’t months away from a tax payer funded Thunderdome or some asshole House Rep putting forth a Purge bill.  Still, the fact that Bossa Studios hasn’t jumped on this is kind of surprising as I was reminded of games like Surgeon Simulator and I Am Bread while playing it even though it’s clunky and as all hell and riddled with poor design decisions.  The game’s primary purpose is political satire, so naturally the timing of the game’s release was just as important as making a good game, but behind all the frustrating elements and damn near impossible stages, there’s a brilliant physics based puzzle game to be made here.  I don’t know who Game Developer X is or if they’re even interested in this concept outside of its use as a political lightening rod, but I do want to see what they end up making next; whether it’s a refinement of this formula or if they’ll continue to push buttons with even zanier games.  If it’s the latter though, PLEASE let someone else make a sequel to this so we can see its full potential!

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NORTH

games2016-10

Developed by Outlands

Sold atmosphere, a decent message, and the game play is just fine for the kind of story they wish to tell.  It’s essentially an interactive way to let the audience, to a certain extent, empathize with a community they aren’t a part of; namely refugees.  Now doing this too literal would make it too easy for most people to just disassociate with the experience (“I’m not a Syrian coming to America” or “why would I ever have to flee my own country?”) so the idea is to instill that sense of foreboding, confusion, and general anxiety involved with following these seemingly counter-intuitive steps, by making the environments and the situations fundamentally alien in a way that most, if not all, will find at the very least quite strange.  My only real issue with this is that the pacing doesn’t really allow for any build up and it never feels any more engaging that it does at the very beginning.  Solve about four or five puzzles and the game is over.  Good job!  While I also like the mechanic of having to read letters to get a sense of what to do and that these letters don’t show up until AFTER you try and fail (I don’t recall there being any game overs in here so you can just try again), that sort of backtracking combined with the rather static nature of the interest curve (I bet that TOTALLY makes sense) drags the experience down a bit.  Still, it’s not a LONG experience, so the hour or so isn’t that hard to get through and the tediousness in some areas is absolutely worth it just to get a glimpse of this wonderfully crafted and haunting world.

 

Pokémon Moon (3DS) / Pokken Tournament (WiiU) / Pokémon Go (Android)

games2016-11

Pokémon Moon developed by Game Freak

Pokkén Tournament developed by Bandai Namco Studios

Pokémon Go developed by Niantic

It’s been a pretty big year for Pokémon which HOPEFULLY means good things for Nintendo who haven’t been doing quite as well.  Then again, none of the Pokémon games I played this year really stuck with me for long even though all three of them were damn near obsessive for me when they first came out.  Pokémon GO probably lasted the longest at about a month there, but that fell off more than any of the other three games and I haven’t even looked at it for some time now.  I’ll go back to Pokkén Tournament and Pokémon Moon every once in a while, but I simply don’t have a lot of time to invest heavily in any of those, so while I had a whole lot of fun at first, I can’t really commit to them as easily as some of the other games on this list.  That said, at least it’s always good to know that whenever I need it, these games are always gonna be there for me, whether it’s the multitude of classic ones, or even the more recent ones that I can pick up whenever the mood strikes me.  However, if some super wealthy benefactor can pay off my student loans, THEN I’d have plenty of time for all this stuff!  Any takers?  Anyone?  Sigh…

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Rocket League

games2016-12

Developed by Psyonix

So someone took two things I don’t particularly care about, cars and sports, and turned it into one of the best pick up and play games in a REALLY long time.  The mechanics are simple enough for anyone who’s used to dual analog sticks to fully comprehend within minutes, the physics are spot on (at least as far as I could tell), and while I wish there WAS an option for bigger teams, bigger maps, and longer play times, the quick pace means that bad games don’t last long enough to fully discourage you.  If you’re on a losing streak though, it can be pretty disheartening, but that’s the nature of this kind of competitive multiplayer (and why I don’t play Team Fortress 2 if I’m already in a bad mood).  The only complains I have about it mechanics wise would be the camera and the boosting; both of which lead to a lot of times where people are just standing around waiting for the ball to stop bouncing before they can give it a solid hit.  Sure, there are plenty of people out there who have mastered aerial play and can make ridiculous shots (though I’m guessing at least half those montages you can find on YouTube are from luck rather than skill), yet for a game that for the most part is so easy to pick up, it’d be nice if the airborne maneuvers didn’t feel so difficult to pull off.  Also, since the DLC in this game consists primarily of famous car designs, is there any chance we can get the Bluesmobile?

 

Sniper Elite V2 / Zombie Army Trilogy

games2016-13

Developed by Rebellion Studios and Rebellion Developments

I… like these games way too much.  I’ve always been a fan of sniper characters in games (he’s my main class in Team Fortress 2), and this game (along with the zombie spin-off) is the perfect embodiment of that particular type of power fantasy.  It just kind of hit me exactly what that fantasy entailed, and… yeah.  I love video game violence and the idea that there is a causal link between it and real world violence has been debunked several times, but it’s also true that a CORRELATION link isn’t outside the realm of possibilities, and it’s an absolute fact that the media we consume does shape the ideas and values that we hold.  I’m not saying that people SHOULDN’T be playing games like the Sniper Elite series or even enjoy them in exactly the kind of messed up power fantasy that they expertly recreate, but it’s worth looking at why all this is so effective.  Sniping, at least as far as I see it in terms of doing so in a video game (I’ve never used a gun in real life nor would I ever want to), is about methodology and precision.  You can run into a room and shoot a bunch of bad guys to get a visceral sense of adrenaline, but there’s a different sense of accomplishment involved with locating an enemy, getting a good position, adjusting for factors like wind and drop off, and watching to see if your attention to deal bore the results you intended.  This is where we get into the Sniper Elite’s most brilliant conceit which is the Kill Cam.  The slow motion following of the bullet as it traces the path you intended it to and seeing the results of that effort.  It’s a celebration just for you for being so smart in that moment, and the coupling of that with the over the top violence involved, while a bit warped, only makes it that much more gratifying.  THANKFULLY they chose to use Nazis and Zombies in these two games which are targets that we, as a culture, have removed any sense of humanity or moral obligation too which is its own can of worms, but that’s  a discussion for another day and from someone than me.  You know what other games scratch the exact same itch for me?  Golfing games.  Seriously, the three click arcade style golf game is one of my favorite genres of all time and it’s for a lot of the same reasons.  Select your club, line up your shot, adjust for wind, and watch it all play out as your ball lands EXACTLY where you wanted it to.  Hell, in most of the games, they’ll even give you a message telling you how great of a shot you made just to add that little bit of extra satisfaction.  So yes, I do recommend both these games (Sniper Elite V2 is better mechanics wise, but Zombie Army has SO much more content), but try to at least be aware of exactly why these games are so good at what they do.

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Sonic Generations

games2016-14

Developed by Sonic Team

I know I took some cheap shots at the Sonic franchise in part one, but even with this game being pretty solid, I stand by my criticisms.  Much like the upcoming Sonic Mania, this one was an attempt to replicate the formula from the previous games they’ve released and essentially create a REMASTERED version of the games that they made before things had gone to hell.  However, I still feel this isn’t the right direction for the series, because it’s such an easy trap to fall in where any sort of advancements might now be immediately rejected because sticking with what works proves to be so successful.  And look, I’ve played those original sonic games too and the ones they released on handhelds (the Advanced and Rush series in particular) are absolute classics.  Sonic Generations however doesn’t do even as much as those games which may have continued the tradition of 2D side-scroller action, but added innovations like multiple playable characters with different skill sets, boost meters, and that buddy system thing from Advanced 3.  The boosting system in here works REALLY well, but we don’t really get multiple playable characters (switching between modern and classic Sonic doesn’t count as they aren’t the same stages) and the side missions where we DO get a partner of sorts are the worst parts of the whole game.  See, while Sonic was screwing the pooch royally at reinventing the wheel on consoles, they were doing just fine on handhelds with incremental, yet significant, improvements on the formula that built on what made the series work in the first place.  Sonic Generations is A LOT of fun to play and is easily the best example of using Sonic in a faux-3D environment (the modern Sonic levels are still on a one way path), but it’s not something that Sega shouldn’t be banking on being a successful formula going forward, though it seems we’re too late to stop them from doing that as the only two games we know coming down the pipeline are a sequel to this and Sonic Mania which is taking things all the way back to Sonic & Knuckles.  It just feels like they’re giving up rather than trying to be SMART in how they advance the series, and while it worked for Mega Man for a little bit, look where he is now.  Still, that Mario mod for this game?  SO COOL!!

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SUPERHOT

games2016-15

Developed by Superhot Team

I wanted to love this game, but it kept getting in its own way with its unoriginal and threadbare plot that the developers felt was SO important that we have to stop the game dead in its tracks every five minutes to go back to it.  IT’S THE MATRIX!  WE GET IT!  It’s big brother looking over our shoulder or how technology makes it easier to dehumanize others.  We’re all just cogs in society that is kept placated with our myriad of modern distractions.  What, do you want a cookie or something for thinking of this?  NEWS FLASH!  This is not new ground we’re covering, and the story doesn’t integrate itself well with the mechanics which means a lot of stopping and starting for no good reason.  You want a game that ACTUALLY manages to do what this game is trying to in a much more satisfying and interesting manner?  Go play Pony Island!  All I wanted from this game was a WHOLE bunch of levels that take advantage of the time mechanic at play which allows us to essentially recreate the choreographed fight scenes we love in action movies on the fly without having to plan it out ahead of time.  I DID get that, but it came bundled with an uninteresting story that kept trying to assert itself when all I wanted to do was go back to the punching.  It’s  certainly worth playing for that reason alone, but someone should have told Superhot Team that they aren’t as smart as they think they are and to either write a better story or to integrate it better into the game play mechanics.

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Toonstruck

games2016-16

Developed by Burst Studios

We’re going WAY back for the last one on this list!  Seriously, how have I never heard of this game until I stumbled upon it on GOG!?  Sure, I’m not the most well versed in classic PC adventure games, but this has an AMAZING cast in it including Christopher Lloyd, Dan Castellianeta, Tress MacNeille, Frank Welker, Jim Cummings, and TIM FREAKING CURRY as the bad guy!  The only thing that could have made this cast even better is if Christopher Walken made a cameo, but he was probably busy making Ripper which came out the same year.  As an adventure game it’s perfectly fine and mechanically sound, but what sells it is the humor which is heavily steeped in forties style animation (basically the cleaned up version of the Fleischer stuff from the twenties), and has a vibe similar to the Toon Town segments from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  You know, come to think of it… how is it that we never got a Roger Rabbit Adventure game?  Seems like a slam dunk to me, especially considering that this game proves that the mixing of live action and animation can work as an aesthetic in these kinds of games.  Well at least we’ve got this one to fill that unique niche, and now I have a solid example to point to whenever I complain about modern humor games being painfully unfunny.  You ever play Matt Hazard?  Yeah, you really shouldn’t play Matt Hazard.

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And that will do it for this list!  I might be writing more about video games in the future rather than saving it all up for one or two pieces as a year-end wrap up, but with my schedule the way it is, it’s not something I can promise to do with any regularity.  Still, if you liked what I had to say or even if you HATE my opinions, let me know in the comments below!

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One thought on “Jumping the Soapbox: Games of 2016 (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Jumping the Soapbox: Games of 2016 (Part 1) | The Reviewers Unite!

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