Jumping the Soapbox: Games of 2019 (Part 1)

I might be a little late here, but I always like to take a bit of time to showcase some of the games I managed to play in the preceding year; particularly those that didn’t actually come out at that time and just so happened to catch my interest for whatever reason.  Some were good, some were bad, all were hopefully worth talking about (otherwise I spent a lot of time writing for absolutely no reason), so let’s get started and I hope you enjoy it!!

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Apex Legends (PC)

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Developed by Respawn Entertainment

Pretty much the only online multiplayer games I’ve ever stuck with significantly were Team Fortress 2 and Rocket League, so while I haven’t played at match in this game for many MANY months, it’s not their fault; it’s just me.  Apex Legend was by far the best of these Battle Royale games and its astounding just how much better it is than Fortnite in every way that matters to me.  The cooperative gameplay make each match much easier to invest in as you have someone other than yourself depending on your performance, and the innovative team chat options made it effortless to coordinate tactics and efficiently convey new and prescient information.  So why did I stop playing it?  Well it’s not JUST that I’m terrible at it as I’m pretty bad at both Team Fortress and Rocket League which haven’t stopped me from playing them.  I think the matches might go on a bit too long to get into a really nice groove of match after match after match, and the closer we get to the end of one the less interesting the mechanics become.  I’m personally more of a sneaky player and I like to keep my distance from other teams, but it’ll inevitably come down to trading bullets with someone else (inevitably ten times more skilled then you are) and at that point I can only hope that my teammates can pick up the slack.  The game has the mechanics to do more than just shoot at each other, so I’d probably jump back in if they took advantage of that for some sort of racing or package delivery game modes, but as it stands it’s a really good example of the genre that managed to suck a good forty hours of my life away in its first few months, so I can only imagine what it’d be like for someone who’s actually GOOD at one of these!

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Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Switch)

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Developed by ArtPlay, Inti Creates, Monobit, WayForward, and DICO Co

I didn’t contribute to the Kickstarter and I wasn’t particularly clamoring for a new Castlevania game, but I got this game on the Switch the day it came out.  I don’t know, as the release date approached I just got the sudden urge to give it a shot and sure enough it was pretty good.  Nothing earth shattering as I only clocked in about six or so hours before other things got in the way and I wasn’t in the world’s biggest hurry to get back to it, but a fun little adventure that definitely reminded me of Symphony of the Night which was absolutely its intention. The Switch version got a lot of slack right away for being a poorly optimized mess, but honestly outside of one battle with some sort of desk thing where things started to chug along in slow motion, I didn’t really notice any performance dips or low quality graphics.  I’m sure they’re there, but playing it on THE BEST and most convenient console definitely made up for whatever those shortcoming are, though I should probably check if they ever did fix the issues in it.

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Enter the Gungeon (Switch) & Shovel Knight (Switch)

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Enter the Gungeon developed by Dodge Roll
Shovel Knight developed by Yacht Club Games

Both of these games are really good, but they come up on a conundrum I’ve been having with gaming recently which is that I tend to prefer playing games cooperatively with someone a lot more than playing them alone which is very different from how I’ve normally played games in the past.  Maybe I’m just getting older, or maybe my schedule is such that I can’t devote solo game time to myself as much, but despite one being an amazing platforming adventure and the other being one of the better and more exciting rouge like’s out there, I haven’t gotten too far into either.  Frankly I’m surprised I managed to play as many games as I did this year, but I guess most of these are more akin to IMPRESSIONS rather than in-depth critical analysis, and while I couldn’t tell you all the nuances of either game, their vibrant art style and tight gameplay made them a heck of a lot of fun for what I’ve been able to experience so far.

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Fire Pro Wrestling World (PC) & WWE All Stars (Xbox 360)

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Fire Pro Wrestling World developed by Spike Chunsoft and ZEX corporation
WWE All Stars developed by THQ San Diego

If my coverage of AEW didn’t make it clear enough I’ve gotten into wrestling recently, and with that I wanted to play a few wrestling games.  Fortunately I knew better than to play the new 2K20 since buying one of those games new is like buying a Dynasty Warriors game on release date (it’ll be the same as last year’s, so get that for half the price), but I did find two that piqued my interest.  First was Fire Pro Wrestling World which I knew by reputation as being one of the best wrestling games out there, and when I played it… well I’m sure it’s true for a lot of people.  Yeah, I just had trouble getting into the mechanics and even with a few YouTube videos explaining how the flow of a match is supposed to go, I just never got a real handle on it.  That said, the mod community for that game is top notch as I was able to import most of AEW’s roster from fan created content (INCLUDING the greatest ref in the world Aubrey Edwards), so even if I’m still terrible at it I can at least be terrible while playing as Luchasaurus.  WWE All Stars which is practically a retro game at this point ended up being much more up my alley and had a Create A Wrestler mode, so while I couldn’t import an entirely different company into the game, I got a great amount of joy playing as my really bad looking version of Kenny Omega doing over the top wrestling moves on some of WWE’s most famous wrestlers.  The cartoony aesthetic along with the very arcade inspired feel to the gameplay ended up being a barrel of laughs for me and I had a pretty good time playing it, though trying to effectively manage yourself in three or four way matches can be rather cumbersome and I found the difficulty tweaked just a BIT on the obnoxious end of things that sucked a bit of the fun out of the experience.  Still, it’s at least better than what 2K has been putting out which no doubt have a great degree of depth to them (I saw the move creator modes in one of the 2K games and was immediately terrified by it) but are leaning too hard into the simulation end of things when the whole point of wrestling, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the over the top and bombastic nature of it.  Hopefully the WWE can take a step back and perhaps learn a thing or two from one of their older titles, and with there supposedly being an AEW game on the horizon I wouldn’t cry foul if it was basically its own version of Fire Pro; albeit with more newbie friendly mechanics.

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SEGA Heroes (Android) & Bullet Master (Android)

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SEGA Heroes developed by Demiurge Studios
Bullet Master developed by GRAY2RGB

This is a tale of two mobile games; one that is not too dissimilar from that of The Tortoise and The Hare, or perhaps  The Guy With Reasonable Expectations For Their Golden Goose Vs. The Guy Who Fileted Their Meal Ticket.  I probably put upwards of thirty hours into SEGA Heroes which isn’t too surprising considering how quickly you can get into it, how well it drip-feeds its rewards, and how it always has something for you to do each day.  Basically it’s a disturbingly perfect example of the use of Skinner Box in gaming and with how much I invested time wise it was only a matter of time before I would drop some real money into it.  Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about Bullet Master which is a decent little puzzle game; nothing grand, nothing revolutionary, and you can find a million copies of other games with the exact same mechanics, but good for a minute or two here and there.  Now there are utterly pointless micro-transactions for cosmetic stuff that’s easily ignored, but the one I ended up buying was to remove the ads for a measly two bucks.  How much did I spend in SEGA Heroes?  Zero.  I haven’t spent a single dime in the game despite how much I played it, and I only invested maybe three hours into Bullet Master yet dropped two bucks for removing the ads.  Perhaps if the micro-transactions in SEGA Heroes weren’t so ludicrously overblown as it uses a Shard system to unlock and upgrade character (THIRTY FREAKING DOLLARS FOR ENOUGH SHARDS TO UNLOCK ONE CHARACTER!?) then I might have been inclined to show a bit of support behind it, but as with pretty much everything in the mobile space, they have to push it to utter ludicrousness so that they get the largest payouts from the smallest number of players.  I don’t mind spending reasonable amounts of money on tangible benefits like removing ads, but spending LARGE amounts of money on fake currency that won’t even mean a whole lot when there’s always ANOTHER level to strive for with even MORE stringent and time consuming requirements?  Yeah… how about no?

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Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch)

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Developed by Nintendo

I haven’t been keeping up with the more recent updates including the pseudo Zelda mode they released a month ago, but when this first came out I spent quite a bit of time making new stages and even recreating from scratch ones that I made for the first Mario Maker.  The building system is as good as ever even if I miss the touch screen controls from the Wii U version, and the story mode was plenty of fun for what it was; nothing too deep but still had a good variety of stages to mess around with.  However, this latest version just doesn’t seem to have the shelf life that the first one did as interest seems to have died off a lot more quickly despite the Switch having a much larger player base.  I guess that’s the problem with trying to catch lightening in a bottle twice, but even if it’s not the biggest game in the world, it’s by far the best version of the game we have and is worth checking out if you haven’t already.  The good levels are a lot of fun to play (especially MINE which you should all be playing right now!) and while the bad levels are utterly obnoxious there are a few of them that are worth learning from if nothing else as you try to design your own levels.  Maybe it’s not a stepping stone to proper game developing, but it’s a fun way to unwind and kill a free afternoon every once in a while; especially if getting those notifications that someone has played your level fill you with as much glee as I feel whenever I see that!

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Super Mega Baseball 2 (PC)

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Developed by Metalhead Software Inc

I love me a good baseball game, but as far as I’m concerned they peaked in the early 2000s just as the early days of full 3D gameplay was transitioning into something more refined and standardized.  Back then, baseball games had a very fast and arcade inspired feel to it (particularly the Triple Play series) that’s been mostly lost as sports games have moved more and more towards realism and simulation which is about as appealing to me as… well playing sports in real life.  Coincidnetly, my favorite Football game is Blitz and my favorite NBA game is Hang Time, so that should give you a solid barometer on what I’m looking for.  Thankfully the developers at Metalhead Software have done a great job in filling that niche with a vibrant and cartoony game that brings a lot of those elements back and updates them for modern players.  Okay, the graphics are far from the most advanced out there, but the aesthetic is pleasing enough and the gameplay itself allows for big moves, quick dives, and mid-air catches that go well with this particular look and all feel very fast and very satisfying to pull off successfully; compared to a modern baseball game which would make those moves feel much more languid and deliberate if they even bothered to put them in at all.  However, there is a dark side to this story of love at first sight, and it’s one that led to me having to uninstall the game.  First, there’s a desperate need for a batting cage mode as I found it exceedingly difficult to get a consistent handle on the batting; especially against human player in the online mode who pitch really erratically.  Then again it’s hard to argue that it’s to their benefit as there definitely seems to be some pretty easy exploits to the pitching mechanics against human players; get as close to the edges of the batter’s box as possible, aim low as often as possible, and only use fastballs because everything else is easier for the player to read.  This just made playing against human players into a really frustrating chore as I either mastered these exploits or got crushed mercilessly every single time!  One night I played for a two hour stretch losing game after game in SPECTACULAR fashion, and the fact that I wanted to sink even MORE time into it to pound my head against the wall was all the proof I needed to stop then and there and uninstall the game.  I may return to it at some point, but any game that gets me in that headspace is one I have to be pretty careful about even if it’s hardly the developers fault, though again a batting cage mode would REALLY be helpful in that regard!

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Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch)

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Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture

The No More Heroes games and me go a LONG ways back.  That first game is perhaps the most influential of my entire life as it came in at JUST the right time for me to be… well utterly obsessed with it.  The internet was definitely in full swing at the time of No More Heroes’s development, but this was also when Game Trailers was the primary source of gaming videos and the mass infrastructure of instant information wasn’t really THERE yet; at least as far as I could tell back when I was in my early to mid-teens.  I first found out about No More Heroes not from an IGN article or a trailer or anything like that, but from a Killer 7 fan page which had a link to a simple splash page that said Heroes (the original title of the game) as well as that AMAZING theme song that became a staple of the franchise.  I remember when Travis and Sylvia had MUCH different voices in that very first trailer they released back when it was still tentatively being called Heroes!  So yes, I was on the hype train for this game for YEARS and I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited for a game before or since.  On the day it finally released, I BELIEVE it was a snow day or something so I was able to stay at home and just have my mind blown at everything it did.  The fun gameplay, the ridiculous style, the childish gore, everything was just as I had wanted it to be and it swiftly became one of my favorite games; as is its sequel which doesn’t quite have the same POP but made some smart refinements to the gameplay.  So where does that leave this new one?  It’s just kind of meh.  For any other franchise that review wouldn’t sit so sourly with me, but this is THE gaming franchise for me, and just doing an okay job with it is a MASSIVE step down that left me utterly disappointed.  It’s not terrible as the mechanics work rather well, but it’s just not the same as the other games being a top down brawler now, and the thing is MERCILESSLY padded out with repetitive stages that just drone on and on with an endless stream of pointless punch ups and stage gimmicks that get run into the ground.  Supposedly there’s a PROPER No More Heroes 3 in the works so we’ll have to see if they can recapture the magic, but with what we got in this iteration I’m setting my expectations PRETTY low.

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Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist (PC)

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Developed by Other Ocean Interactive

For whatever reason I really started getting into card games and board games this year which may sound fun but turned out to be incredibly sad because now I’ve got decks of cards and various boxes of plastic with no one to play them with because I’m a lonely shut in and no one wants to play them with me!  Eventually that meant turning to electronic version of some games and I TRIED that Duel Links thing for Yu-Gi-Oh since it was free, but the fact that they limit you to three monsters and spell cards instead of five was completely baffling and I had to look elsewhere.  As far as I can tell, Legacy of the Duelist is the most accurate to the current version of the game, and the best part about playing a card game electronically is that a computer is WAY better at memorizing and enforcing the rules than a human is which makes this game the perfect place to relearn the original rules and find out what they heck all the new stuff is.  I still haven’t gotten to Pendulum Summoning in the game, but hopefully THIS will make it make sense because I can’t follow what the heck the rule books are talking about when it comes to those.  Anyway, the gameplay is solid and feels the most like actual Yu-Gi-Oh, though there are some issues inherent in the game that highlighted by the electronic version.  First, it’s REALLY annoying to have trap cards as the rules say they can be played at almost any time during a turn and therefore the game will ask you CONSTANTLY if you’re ready to play the card yet.  During the draw, after the draw, during standby, after standby, after every single card your opponent plays, it’s just obnoxious to have to click NO every five seconds.  The other thing I noticed, and I am by no means an expert at the game, is that most matches consists of five or so REALLY interesting turns and then ten or so kind meh ones.  The best turns are when you’ve got JUST the right cards ready and both you and your opponent stack magic attacks, creatively plan attacks, summon the right monster, all that good stuff.  Then, once everyone’s exhausted their best moves, whoever was left at the top of that exchange usually just has to spend a couple of turns destroying low level cards and whittling away the life points since it’s hard to recover after you’ve effectively cleared out their best cards while you still have your own on the field.  I’m sure better players have a dozen or so strategies all with branching paths based on specific contingencies and whatnot, but at my skill level  they almost all broke down into that which isn’t necessarily a BAD thing since those chaotic turns are so much fun, but the slowdown is noticeable.  If you’re looking for a way to get into Yu-Gi-Oh, this is probably your best bet considering how accurate it is to the real game; just be aware of the little annoyances and hopefully have a few friends nearby to play with in the REAL world once you fully understand the rules and basic strategies.

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And that will do it for the first part of our list!  I’ll be covering a bunch more Switch games in Part 2, and I even have a Part 3 planned for my VR experiences this year, so look forward to those coming soon!!

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