2015 Game of the Year Picks

750px-Elongated_circle_2015.svgDon’t have time for a 3+ hour podcast. We get that. Here’s a list of the Top 5 lists from the show:

Tom Sheppard

  1.  Undertale
  2.  Life is Strange
  3.  Crypt of the Necrodancer
  4.  Axiom Verge
  5.  Super Mario Maker

Tony Divito

  1. Halo 5: Guardians
  2. Rocket League
  3. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
  4. Ori and the Blind Forest
  5. Fallout 4

Neil Waggoner

  1. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
  2. Life is Strange
  3. Fallout 4
  4. Tales From the Borderlands
  5. Rise of the Tomb Raider

Mike McFadden

  1. Rocket League
  2. Crypt of the Necrodancer
  3. Ori and the Blind Forest
  4. Affordable Space Adventure
  5. Yoshi’s Wooly World

Nick “Kaz” Kosareo

  1. Kerbal Space Program
  2. Ori and the Blind Forest
  3. Rocket League
  4. Rise of the Tomb Raider
  5. DiRT: Rally

Justin Hemenway

  1.  Super Mario Maker
  2.  Undertale
  3.  Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
  4.  Splatoon
  5.  Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

“Nickydino”

  1.  Tales From the Borderlands
  2.  The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
  3.  Undertale
  4.  Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
  5.  Splatoon

The Double Dash!! Defense

Does Mario Kart: Double Dash!! deserve its black sheep status? Consider DK Mountain, one of its standout tracks…

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From the moment Lakitu waves the starting flag, your two-man kart launches off the starting line, hurtling towards a barrel-shaped cannon at the summit. The track is tighter than anything you’ve seen in MK Wii or 7, and you trade paint with your opponents all the way up. From there, you’re fired to the mountain’s frowning peak. The rest of the race is a mad dash back down, with falling boulders and some of the tightest turns in the Mario Kart series. And if you’ve played your fair share of Double Dash!!, you undoubtedly know that last bridge before the finish line all too well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been bumped off on the third lap.

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Do the New Mii Plaza Games Make Sense for StreetPass?

The short answer: probably not, but they’re still pretty cool.

The longer answer…

I have a pretty set routine when I get up for work in the morning. A quick shower, a shave and a hastily-made lunch before I finally depart. About two years ago, I added checking my StreetPass Mii Plaza  to the list. With the exception of that one time when I accidentally obliterated my SD card, I’ve had my 3DS in my pocket every day since.

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Why? Because even in those early days, when naïve early adopters were desperate for software that wasn’t Steel Diver, Mii Plaza was a rewarding, accessible, cooperative time waster. Like Animal Crossing, it has a finite number of gaming bits per day, and it doesn’t tease you in the same way so many free-to-play games do. But best of all was that it’s simple. I’ve sung the praises of StreetPass tech many times on this site, but I think the single greatest reason it works is because you can boot up  your 3DS and check your shared data in a matter of seconds. No friends required. Read more

Battle of the $15 Platformers

The various download services have always been a bastion of 2D gaming, but I can’t recall a month this packed with sidescrollers since the SNES and Genesis were in play. And perhaps most surprising of all is that there’s not a lot of overlap; though some of these April games feature nonlinear, Metroid-style exploration, all of them have a distinct voice and style.

Let’s start with the clear favorite, and surely one of the best of 2013…

Guacamelee! ($15, PlayStation 3/Vita)

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Ever since DrinkBox Studios hit the scene with Mutant Blobs Attack, I knew that team was going places like playstation 4 argentina, but Guacamelee! exceeded every expectation. As much as I love the Metroid formula – and yes, I’m itching to tack on the always-awkward -vania suffix – I’ve seen so many variations over the years that have amounted to little more than fetch quests. Sure, your fancy new missile or double jump may get you past a certain roadblock, but that often ends up requiring less skill and more map reading. What makes Guacamelee! such a success is that it actually offers a stiff challenge. You need a certain level of dexterity to play this game, especially when it comes to the hidden rooms and power-ups. It’s not brutally difficult, but it’s nice to see an entry in the sub-genre with actual level design.

And while we (and so many others) have talked about this to death, the game’s gorgeous, luchador-inspired artwork is a reminder of how silky hand-drawn animation can still turn heads. While there are still some talented studios putting out sprite-based games (like WayForward), few are able to match Guacamelee!‘s fluidity. It’s both stunning AND functional! Read more

The JRPGs Justin’s Playing That Aren’t Ni no Kuni

If you’ve listened to the podcast in recent months, you know that I’ve fallen back in love with Japanese RPGs. I could do without the grinding and 40+ hour running times, but the sub-genre has taken some major steps forward in the past 12 months or so. It’s a shame that financial realities have kept many of these games out of the limelight, but if you gave up on JRPGs after Final Fantasy XIII crapped the bed, it’s time to come back into the fold.

However, as the title of the post clearly states, I’m leaving out Ni no Kuni for now. I’ve been having a mostly great time playing through its opening hours, but so many insist that this is the old-school role-playing savior, and I just can’t get behind that notion. Underneath the gorgeous Ghibli-fueled animation and the charming world, there’s a really clunky battle system and more dull fetch quests than I care to see in a modern “classic.”

No beefs with the following games though…

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Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

My runner-up for 2012 Game of the Year, Xenoblade Chronicles rethinks almost every JRPG convention that has driven so many frustrated fans to Skyrim and the like. The scenario is novel enough – a group of adventurers trek across the backs of two suspended titans – but it’s the wonder and ease of exploration that makes Xenoblade so memorable. Huge, verdant fields rival the scope of maps in your favorite MMOs, and you can instantly travel to any major landmark – no need to wait for a mid-game ostrich or airship. Real-time battles with smart A.I. teammates finally realize the potential Final Fantasy XII showed years ago. Every character is highly malleable and quests are streamlined to minimize return visits. If you can get past the time demands – at 60+ hours, an admittedly tall order – Xenoblade Chronicles is an absolute joy.

Sorry that it’s selling for ridiculous prices on eBay! Read more

Fluidity: Spin Cycle Review

Let’s get the gripe out of the way: Fluidity: Spin Cycle, a puzzle-platformer focused on moving water in all of its states, should be a mess for so many different reasons. First and foremost, any game that asks you to rely solely on the 3DS’s internal gyroscope to move around is just asking for trouble, and Spin Cycle often has you turning the system completely upside down, forcing you to contort your hands that would make Kid Icarus: Uprising fans shudder. This also puts Spin Cycle in the rare category of “portable games that aren’t really portable,” alongside Kirby’s Tilt ‘n’ Tumble and WarioWare Twisted, so don’t plan on playing it on the subway.

The good news is that like those games, Fluidity: Spin Cycle is a game that’s well-worth wrestling with, and may in fact be my favorite eShop-exclusive game of 2012. (It was released on December 27th, cutting it pretty close!) For every minor hiccup when I accidentally hit the “Home” button or finicky controls made moving the ice block a temporary hassle, there were many more where I was just floored by the intricate level design and versatile mechanics. Spin Cycle is a massive game, and yet it almost always feels inventive.*

*Small boo to a recurring boss. Read more

LittleBigPlanet Cross-Controller: The Future is Now?

You want the most effective demonstration of the Wii U’s potential? Boot up your PS3, sync up your Vita and go download the LittleBigPlanet 2 Cross-Controller Pack.

Not exactly what you were expecting to hear, right? But if you’ve been clamoring for something more involved than dropping blocks in New Super Mario Bros. U, or you want something that expands upon the ideas found in that promising Rayman Legends demo, look no further. In the six levels included in the pack, you’ll see touch-centric rhythm games, platforms that turn along with the Vita’s tilt and sections that play out across two separate screens simultaneously. There have been other meaningful DLC updates to LittleBigPlanet over the years, but this is the most significant new feature set since the sequel introduced multiple game genres.

And with the tools offered here, in theory, the LittleBigPlanet community can go way beyond what Ubisoft is doing with Rayman Legends co-op. In Rayman, the player with the Wii U GamePad can move around Murphy, a fly (I think) who can pluck items out of the ground and tickle enemies to lower their defenses. It’s certainly much more fun than the typical sidekick modes we saw on the Wii, but all players are always playing in the same virtual space. But with LBP‘s “wormholes,” you can send a player to another world entirely. In one mini-game included in the pack, the Vita player can see the outside of a rocket ship and steer it away from enemies and debris. Players on the television might not be able to see what’s going on outside the ship, but they’ll certainly get rocked back-and-forth as they scurry towards the goal. Read more

Farewell, Nintendo Power

Gaming magazines have come and gone – mostly gone, actually – but the impending shut down of Nintendo Power hurts more than most. It’s not just that it’s been a gaming journalism pillar for 24 years, or that I’m feeling a rush of nostalgia every time we see those iconic, colorful covers in the many Nintendo Power eulogies posted this week. If all I had from NP was fuzzy memories and ratty players’ guides, I’d simply shrug and move on. But for whatever faults the magazine had throughout the years, it was hugely influential in shaping my gaming taste and my appreciation of the medium.

Before Nintendo Power, my gaming diet consisted as much of licensed crap like Ghostbusters II as it did of Super Mario Bros. Chalk it up to youthful ignorance, but I had no idea how many classics I was passing up. All of that changed when my parents bought me a subscription to Nintendo Power. Suddenly, I was introduced to an entirely new genre, the RPG, right around the golden era of Earthbound and Chrono Trigger. Annual reports from Space World opened my eyes to games from Japan, some of which would never reach our shores. I quickly latched on to favorite developers like Capcom and Konami. Regardless of the magazine’s function as corporate propaganda, I feel as though each issue opened more doors than it closed. Read more

Why We Shouldn’t Give Up on Games in Development Hell

BioShock Infinite‘s falling apart! The Last Guardian will never see the light of day! Final Fantasy Versus XIII is dead! Sounds like it’s time to panic…or is it? Over the past couple weeks, there have been lots of headlines about long-delayed games suffering turbulent development cycles, causing many to wonder if the turnover and copyright issues meant cancelled games. But all I keep asking myself is how any of this is news. Hugely expensive creative projects with staffs of hundreds? How could that not be turbulent?

The reaction was the loudest in regards to BioShock Infinite, probably we know plenty about it already. A cut multiplayer mode and a handful of producers are moving on to other projects, which suggests that Infinite might look radically different from when we last saw it (or not). But would that be such a big deal? Irrational’s vision for the original BioShock changed dramatically over time, and the final results were mostly incredible, ending aside. Those folks have earned a little faith! There are countless beloved games that bear little resemblance to their original concepts, as well. Halo started out as a real-time strategy game before Bungie reconfigured it into a FPS powerhouse. Mother 3 began as an N64DD game before the scenario ended up on the Game Boy Advance roughly a decade later. Even Shadow of the Colossus, from Team Ico, ditched the multiplayer and Ico’s horned heroes from “Nico.”

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Key to Success: 10 Disney Properties That Can Save Kingdom Hearts

Before Organization XIII, before 385/2 Days…heck, before Sora and Riku, the heart and soul of the Kingdom Hearts series used to be the Disney franchises that were woven together to form a bizarre, yet wonderful, RPG. Though there obviously needs to be a framework to tie everything together, what mattered most was interacting with Pinocchio, Cinderella, Aladdin and dozens of other beloved characters in new and exciting ways.

While I’m currently really enjoying Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, I can’t shake the feeling that the Disney ties have become almost an afterthought. I love “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” more than most, but why are we revisiting Monstro the whale again? Why am I playing through a direct-to-DVD musketeers movie to which I have no emotional connection? It’s a major issue the series will face when it gets to that inevitable third installment. The good news is that there are still plenty of awesome Disney films and television that are presumably viable… Read more

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