Tagged with video games

Favorite Games of 2016

It was actually rather fun putting together a list of favorite games last year, so here we go again for 2016.

Just like last year, this isn’t necessarily a “Best Of” list. Some weren’t even released in 2016. They’re just the games that I enjoyed playing this year and can recommend without reservation. Further down I list some honorable mentions — still great games, but not quite good enough to include on the main list.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

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Favorite Games of 2015

The year is drawing to a close, and that usually means lots of year-end “Best Of” lists. I tend not to read these articles, let alone write them; but, I’m making somewhat of an exception this year due to how many noteworthy games were released.

I hesitate to call this “Best Of”, as there is no ranking or rating to the games I’m going to talk about. A few also weren’t actually released in 2015, so to claim a “best of 2015” list would be incorrect. Instead, these are simply games that I played this year, enjoyed thoroughly, and highly recommend.

One other note: these aren’t typical games. In fact, several of them seem to abandon traditional gameplay in favor of story or character development. If that’s not the type of game you enjoy, this list may disappoint.

Okay! Less talk more game!

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The Next Generation

With Microsoft unveiling the Xbox One yesterday, the next generation of game consoles has officially arrived. Now that we have entries on both sides, I thought I’d give some first impressions.

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Last weekend, January 5-8, @Ndoto, @FlatFootFox and I decided to check out MAGFest (Music and Gaming Festival). It was the first time any of us had attended this convention, so it was a bit overwhelming. Still, I think we all had fun! It was like a very small PAX, with an emphasis on music instead of upcoming games. In fact, in many ways, there was a strong focus on older games – chiptunes and 8-bit graphics were prevalent.

Since we didn’t stay at a hotel at the con, it was difficult to attend everything that sounded interesting. Instead of getting the full con experience, we only got a taste – but it was enough of a taste to know that, if we go again, we’ll be staying at a hotel nearby so that we can have better access to all the events.

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La Vita Loco

From The Verge:

According to a Sony representative speaking to Wired, "if a second person is using your Vita, it’s not just a case of switching out memory cards, it’s clearing out all of your saved data on the Vita itself when you do the factory reset."

Because letting a friend quickly borrow a Vita to play with, customize and experience wouldn’t be good advertising at all. No way.

Just Kevin Butler. Butler all the way. He knows how to make new hardware crazy popular.


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The Dismantling of Azeroth

When Blizzard announced their list of perks for committing to a year of World of Warcraft (exclusive mount, beta testing for the next expansion, free copy of Diablo 3), I really wanted to get back into the game. After all, I’ve always liked World of Warcraft. These perks seemed to make a deal that couldn’t be refused.

I’ve been away from World of Warcraft for a while, though. I played briefly after the last expansion pack was released, but I didn’t get very far – mostly due to other games and projects. So, before committing to a full year of the game, I wanted to see if it was something that I could once again play on a regular basis.

As I started playing, there were a lot of things I immediately enjoyed. The classic look and feel of the game was still intact, for example. While the graphics haven’t been updated in any significant way since its first release, it’s a very comforting environment. Sometimes a hyper-realistic environment can feel intimidating. Plus, for veterans of the game, the familiar feel is like slipping into your favorite pair of fuzzy slippers.

I had never completely played through the start of a Worgen character, so that was my test bed in my latest play session. I have to say that, overall, Blizzard did a truly fantastic job with the introductory environments and quest lines for Worgen. Up until about halfway through, I was certain that I would be continuing to play.

But then I started to notice big holes in my favorite slippers.

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Thoughts On Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

As you may or may not have seen, I completed AC: Brotherhood on Sunday. I thought I’d share some very brief thoughts on the game as I wrap up my time with this entry in the series, and prepare for the next.

Both Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood are incredible works of art. I won’t go into intricate details here, but suffice it to say that the music, presentation, and historical research that went into these games comes together to create an unforgettable experience.

My favorite part of Brotherhood, specifically, is how the plot unfolds. There are several factions, and each sequence essentially focuses on one of the factions. It was a smart way to layer the story, and it worked particularly well in the context of building a brotherhood of assassins.

It’s just disappointing that all of this falls apart so easily during the gameplay.

Alas, AC: Brotherhood inherits a lot of the bugs and glitches that its predecessor had, and somehow seems to make them worse, to boot. As both @ndoto and I played, cries of “Ezio! You idiot!” accompanied almost every task. Foremost in our frustration was controlling Ezio. He randomly grabs walls and items nearby to him and starts to climb them or scale them. Sometimes this is what you want, most times it is not. This is frustrating, but as you play the game you learn to adapt to it and go with Ezio’s spastic flow. What is absolutely unforgivable, though, is Ezio’s tendency to leap to his death. He could be lined up with a wooden beam right in front of him, but for some unknown reason, he will leap off to the left, away from the wooden beam, and plunge to his death. The first couple of times you think perhaps you aren’t controlling the character properly. But as this scenario repeats, you realize that, no, the game is just that glitchy.

To add insult to injury, Brotherhood added the concept of “full synchronization” – completing a sequence successfully with a certain restriction. With the controls the way they are, meeting the full synchronization requirement often requires a lot of time and patience. Needless to say, it was early on in the game that I gave up on the hope of achieving full synchronization for every sequence.

There is even one part of the game that completely glitches out, such that you can’t successfully experience it. It’s not game breaking, but it’s disappointing. And this is one year later. It should have been patched long before now.

Despite all this, I feel that the Assassin’s Creed series of games is something that should not be missed. That being said, though, the current story arc is on its way to being resolved. Ubisoft has stated its intent to keep the series going – but if these bugs don’t get fixed, no one is going to want to invest in the next chapter.

I don’t foresee AC: Revelations fixing any of these problems. But it would be encouraging to see at least some improvement – a promise from Ubisoft that they care about the future of the series as much as its fans.

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If I Only Knew Then

     Last week, Nintendo released Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening as one of the first purchasable titles in the 3DS Virtual Console. I haven’t played the game in years, and it has been really fun going back to the island of Koholint.
     But it seems that the game has also caused me a bit of unexpected attention. Not long after I started playing the game, and nostalgia started to creep up on me, I felt a gentle tap on my back.
     “Excuse me?” asked a quiet voice.
     Looking down, I saw a young boy clutching an original, chunky Game Boy system. “Yes?”
     “What are you playing?” I could see that he was eyeing the 3DS in my hands. Being such a new console, I wasn’t too surprised that it would be unrecognizable to some.
     “Oh! It’s like what you have,” I responded, glancing toward the classic handheld. “Just a slightly different model.”
     The boy nodded, taking this in. “Have you played Zelda?”

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Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7

I made a tweet this evening about how I’m surprised by the hype over the Xbox Live features in Windows Phone 7.  I wanted to touch on a few more details with that.

First, I want to make clear that I am actually very excited about the Xbox Live functionality – but I’m more excited about the unique, Xbox Live-specific features than what was announced earlier this week.

So lets start with what was announced.

As far as Xbox Live in general, we were told that there would be achievements, friends lists, chat and Avatar viewing/creation.  This is really great stuff, especially considering that you can’t do much of anything with Avatars on Xbox Live under Windows.

As far as the games that were announced – I get the impression that the people getting excited about this don’t play games very often.  Because, frankly, they’re pretty lackluster.  They have big franchise names attached to them (Crackdown, Assassin’s Creed, Halo), but they have no uniqueness to them.  For example: Halo isn’t a game. It’s just Halo Waypoint, which has been out on Xbox Live for months and is rather unimpressive. (Then again, I might be biased since I don’t play Halo.)  No details were provided about Assassin’s Creed, but based on what we’ve heard so far in other aspects of the franchise, this will probably be a port of the other mobile versions of Assassin’s Creed, which suck.  And then there’s Crackdown: this is probably the most unique in that it supposedly scans your current location and builds a game based on real maps.  But the screenshots look a little disappointing, and I get the impression that there is no depth to it – it’s Crackdown in name only.

There are a couple of winners on the list of launch titles, but let me be clear about this: consumers generally won’t care about the game list unless they’re a diehard fan of a particular franchise.  Why?  Because a lot of these games exist on other platforms – and yes, I’m implying that the iPhone has a large selection of games already, which consumers can easily point to and say, “why do I need that? I have lots of fun games here!”  The hope, of course, is that truly unique games will start to come out, like we’ve been able to enjoy on the Xbox console.  But first you have to attract an audience, and the launch titles alone won’t necessarily do that.

Instead, Microsoft needs to set themselves apart with the same sort of unique features that has helped make Xbox Live so successful in the console world.  Sadly, a lot of this stuff has elicited a “no comment” from Microsoft.  Stuff like: transporting your gamer profile from console, to phone, to a different console at a friend’s house.  Keeping save game data on your phone.  Being able to play a game both on the console and the phone – think Pokemon and Pokewalker.  Being able to play multiplayer with one person on a console, the other on the phone.  Video chat.  And so on.

That is the kind of stuff that gets people excited.  The kinds of things that make you sit up and say, “really?!”  I can already play Assassin’s Creed on three different platforms.  But Windows Phone could be the only platform that lets me put an assassin character on my phone, interact with others who also have the game on their phone, then link it back up with my Xbox to get various rewards.

Now THAT is worth getting excited over.

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Quick Review: Machinarium

I posted a tweet the other day about how you should check out Machinarium if you like atmospheric music, point-and-click adventures, or puzzle games. I thought I’d touch on a few more details in a quick blog post.

First thing is first though: if you have any interest in the game, check out the demo on the website. It covers the first few stages, and gives you a pretty good indication as to what the rest of the game is like. It’s the best way to decide if it’s a game you’d be interested in. For me, it was well worth $5 – if for no other reason than to get the soundtrack.

Which leads me to my favorite part of the game: the music. As I mentioned in my tweet, it’s very atmospheric. It sets the mood of the game more than providing actual background music – although there is some of that as well.  As you can imagine, it’s inspired by machines of old, which the game also seems inspired by. It works really well.

If you know what a point and click adventure is, you know what is involved with Machinarium. The game consists entirely of moving from one location to another, discovering secrets, and solving puzzles to open the path to the next location.  The puzzles, and the presentation of the puzzles, are very clever.  Sometimes what you need to do is obvious. Sometimes it requires a lot of trial and error until you discover the one little secret that you forgot. And other times, you hit a brick wall and really don’t know how the pieces fit together. (Sometimes, literally. You have an inventory of items you collect, which you can use to solve puzzles. Those items can be fastened together to create a new item, too.)  In cases where you are stumped, the game gives you two helping hands. The first is a simple pictorial hint, which you can use once per location. This gets progressively vague as the game goes on. The next helping hand is a complete walkthrough. To get to it, you play a simple, sometimes challenging mini-game. Once unlocked, it shows you the progression of what needs to be done in your current locale, in comic-book, pictorial form.  The interesting thing is that it ONLY shows you the current location – it doesn’t tell you how it relates to stuff you need to do in other locations.

The story so far has been the weakest part of the game.  You aren’t explicitly told what you’re trying to do, although pieces start to fill in as you progress.  There is no dialog in the game, just pictures in thought bubbles.  It’s a cute presentation, and it’s interesting to see how well the story is told within these limitations. But it has not been my driving force for continuing to play.

This is a flash-based game, so it runs on any platform that supports flash – Windows, Mac and Linux.  Saying that it’s “flash-based”  carries certain negative assumptions with it, but it’s actually very well implemented. This is how flash SHOULD be used. I’m impressed.

Later on in the game, the puzzles become a little bit trickier to figure out, but it never becomes impossible – and, of course, you have the walkthrough to nudge you in the right direction if you truly get stuck.

All in all, it is a very charming game, and worth your time to experience.  At least try out the demo.  I bought the game on sale for $5, and that was primarily for the soundtrack. But now I’m playing the game too, and I’m enjoying it.

Try Machinarium Now

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