Feature: Games in Review for 2014

My Top 10 Games of 2014

Game of the year awards are dumb, so here’s mine:

10. Persona Q

One part Etrian Odyssey, one part Persona, all parts amazing JRPG action on your 3DS. There’s nothing about Persona Q not to love. I don’t have a lot more to really say about it other than if you’re a fan of JRPG’s at all, you really need to check this game out.

9. Transistor

The creators of Bastion hit their second game out of the park with Transistor. The sci-fi noir setting is beautifully complimented by it’s synthetic soundtrack and gorgeous art style. Together, it’s easy to get lost in the world. One of the things that struck me about the gameplay was the way the damage penalty forced you to try different combinations with your abilities, which in turn opened me up to new ways to play. I never really had a one combo that I stuck with because I was always reinventing them. It was a truly unique experience.

8. Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight isn’t just relying on a nostalgia kick to lure you in and take your money. It’s using classic game design and melding it with modern gameplay conventions to make for a truly unique experience that will satisfy 8-bit game lovers and modern game lovers alike.

7. World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

I didn’t think Blizzard could top Mists of Pandaria in terms of the quality of their content, but it turns out I was wrong. Warlords brings with it a killer storyline, better dungeons, and the biggest reason ever to log into the game every day: garrisons. There’s so much to do, so many improvements to older systems (like professions), and so much to see that I think this is, without a doubt, the best expansion for Warcraft yet.

6. Smash Bros. for Wii U

Anybody who knows me probably won’t be surprised to find this on my list. I’m a huge fan of the Smash Bros. series. Not only is it a fantastic game, it’s a wonderful reflection over the past decade and beyond of Nintendo that reminds me why I love that company. Yeah, maybe it’s just Nostalgia Simulator 2014, but god damn if it isn’t one of the best looking games this year.

Everybody wants 60 frames per second and 1080p visuals on their new PS4 and XBOX One, but it’s sitting right here on last-gen level technology running without a hitch. It’s thanks to a solid artistic vision and technical know-how that this game looks better than almost anything I’ve played this year.

5. Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker

It may not have been the biggest game, but Captain Toad still filled a big hole in my gamer heart with color, laughter, and legitimately clever puzzles. I’ve spoken before about what this game means to me, so just suffice it to say that I have no qualms saying it’s one of the best games to have come out in 2014.

4. MarioKart 8

Until Smash Bros. came out, I hadn’t spent as much time with friends in any other games combined as I did with Mario Kart 8. And I still enjoy going back to it, especially thanks to the incredibly high-quality DLC they released in November. The absolutely gorgeous visuals, the gripping gameplay, and the amazing design of the tracks keeps you coming back. Battle-mode aside, which is the worst the series has ever seen, Mario Kart 8 stands well above it’s predecessors in a long line of pretty great games.

3. PT

I’m not sure whether putting this game on this list says something about me, the horror game wheelhouse at large, or the video game industry at general, but here it is. I’ve effectively nominated a movie trailer on YouTube for Best Picture at The Oscars in saying that PT, which literally stands for Playable Teaser, was one of the 10 best games last year.

PT was a great horror experience. You walk through the same hallway over and over again, slowly noticing subtle changes each time, and watching as things descend into madness. The atmosphere is top-notch compared to full-price horror games, relying more on mood and subtlety than jumps and loud noises. But most impressively, it got me excited for the first Silent Hill game in over 5 years, as it turns out this whole experiment was one big teaser for the upcoming Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro production, Silent Hills.

2. Bayonetta 2

Every bit as insane as the first game, and in most cases: more so. The smooth, yet chaotic combat returns with stunning visuals, a bonkers story, and even an interesting multi-player mode to check out. Character action game fans need to take note: this isn’t just one of the best games of the year, it is among the best in the entire genre.

1. Hearthstone

To clarify, this list isn’t me trying to rank the 10 best games, it’s just ten great games that came out this year that I played and that I want you to play. So while the previous nine weren’t ranked in any particular order, I did consciously put Hearthstone at number one for no other reason than because it’s the game that I really have loved the most and spent the most time with in 2014. Between the Naxxramus single-player content and the Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion, I’ve had a stellar time with Blizzard’s free-to-play card game, and will continue to do so well into 2015.

There you have it, the ten best games that came out last year. If you have any you’d like to throw in, please feel free to do so in the comments. This is all in the spirit of getting people to play better games, and unfortunately I couldn’t play everything out there. But I’d love to see what other recommendations of games I should play that you have.

Discussion: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

The impact of color in the darkest nights of winter.

Like many people, I have issues. Specifically, I suffer from regular depression, and it’s compounded during the winter by Seasonal Affective Disorder. I don’t say that for pity, or because this is about to be a rant about what a unique snowflake I am. I say it because I know I’m not the only person who does, and I hope that by reading why Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (and by relation, other Super Mario games) mean so much to me during these long nights.

There’s something that Nintendo’s EAD studio puts into their art design that I haven’t been able to fully articulate in words, which is why this article is inundated with pictures of the game Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. It looks infinitely better in motion, but I just want you to try and see what I see; color, simplicity, and a certain glamor that is unrivaled in the video game industry. This subtle, inviting visual style makes Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker a safe place to be, even when things are at their most hectic. It’s a trait shared with the game that spun off this series, Super Mario 3D World, also for the Wii U. Last year, that was that game that kept making my jaw drop with every level’s visual design bursting with color on the screen. This year, though, it’s all about Captain Toad.

There’s something nostalgic about the colors Nintendo uses, and the way they use them. And I’m not just referring to the “oh Nintendo just relies on nostalgia form their previous games to make money” mentality that a lot of people have fallen into, complete with untold amounts of cynicism and blindness to other developers who do the same thing. It’s a real nostalgia that brings back memories of Christmas and seeing all the houses decorated in an array of brilliant lights, shining atop a field of fresh snow. It reminds me of fireworks blasting in the warm June sky. Every scene is a rush of positive memories and emotions that come flooding back, and so each level fills me with fuzzy feelings. How am I supposed to not like a game that does that? It is literally giving me the feeling that this time a year does so well at suppressing, and makes it nigh impossible to feel sad.

At some point I should mention that Treasure Tracker is about playing the titular Captain Toad and running through small, floating dioramas in order to find gems and collect the star at the end of every stage. Most stages have a fairly simple point A to point B puzzle to get the star and move on, but the real challenge lies in hunting down every gem and completing each level’s secret mission. It’s fairly simple, but the puzzles ramp up to brilliant early on, and get genuinely difficult before too much longer.

The games aren’t perfect. Captain Toad has some issues with juggling the Game Pad and the main screen, especially when it comes to interactions with things like wheels that need to be turned. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m too busy gorging on warm fuzzies to identify the problems this game has. I just want you to know that I don’t think they matter in the face of the brilliant, pocket-sized spectacle Nintendo has created here.

If you’re facing some Winter doldrums, or are just in need of something a little less bloody (and a little more functional out of the box), I cannot recommend Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker enough. Though I would recommend you hold off if you haven’t played Super Mario 3D World first. Like any spin-off, it just makes the experience more meaningful if you’ve covered the source material first.

How about you? Have you had a chance to play Captain Toad? What do you think? Drop a comment and let me know!

NaNoWriMo Update

The first draft of Book 1 has been completed, and I am now moving over to Book 2 of my story. The site will continue to remain quiet while I work on my novels for NaNoWriMo. But feel free to stick around, because when I get back, we’re going to be talking a lot about Video Games!

-Randy Marr

NaNoWriMo Break.

The Midnight Roost will be on hiatus for the month of November as I participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My apologies for not regularly updating the site during this time.

To learn more about NaNoWriMo click here!

To watch my progress, click here!

To read the rough draft of my current novel, click here! Please keep in mind that it is super rough draft. We’re talking pre-alpha. I’m just stream-of-conscious putting stuff down into a halfway competent narrative to meet my 1600 words-a-day goal. So be kind!

Thanks!

-Randy

Video Games Live: Level 4 Now Up On Kickstarter

Quadruple Value Offered For Every Pledge Level.

It appears that Tommy Tallarico is trying to make lightning strike again as he’s using Kickstarter to fund the fourth full-length album featuring your favorite video game music performed by live orchestras from around the world.

The Video Games Live concert series has existed for over a decade, now, and has yet to show any signs of slowing down. It’s been all over the world, seen by millions live, and shown on PBS. Now, three full albums later, the great minds behind Video Games Live need your support to keep this train rolling.

“The music industry has changed a lot over the past 13 years since we started Video Games Live, and no record company was willing to take a chance on risking the money needed to create the project to the high quality and standards that it needed to be.  The traditional record companies didn’t believe in the concept and they thought we were crazy… but the outpouring of fan support from around the world was incredible and inspirational.  We proved to the world that people DO care about video game music and we believe that lightning can strike twice,” said creator Tommy Tallarico.

You can see rewards and details on the Kickstarter page yourself, so I’m not going to sweat the small stuff. But I do happen to know that some of the video games that will be featured on this album include Earthworm Jim, Donkey Kong Country, World of WarCraft: Warlords of Draenor, League of Legends, Cave Story, and more! This looks to be Video Games Live’s biggest and best album yet.

What do you think? Will you be supporting this new album? Have you ever been to a Video Games Live concert before? Leave your stories in the comments.

 

Review: Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

The P-1 Grand Prix comes to a very worthy climax.

I want to clarify one thing before we get into this review: I’m terrible at fighting games, but I’m great at Persona. Ergo, I’m coming at this beast as a person who isn’t capable of getting too heavy into the technical side of the fighting game. If that’s what you’re looking for in a review, I’m afraid I cannot help you. However, if you want to know how this package is for what I imagine is the average Persona fan, then I’m the guy you want to talk to.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the sequel to Persona 4 Arena, where the concept was to bring together cast members of Persona 4 and Persona 3 and bring them into a fighting game scenario. Like it’s predecessor, Ultimax manages to deliver in every way on that concept, and does so by running down a checklist of improvements and nailing every single one.

The core gameplay, developed by Arc System Works (BlazBlue, Guilty Gear) is as typical a fighting game as you can get. Each character has unique movesets, there are super bars that you build up by beating on your opponent, and the first person to lose all their stamina loses the match. It’s all fairly cut and dry, and anybody who’s picked up any fighting game should be able to get the basics. What makes the Persona 4 Arena series unique is that there’s a low barrier of entry. Moves are relatively easy to pull off without any super complex button and joystick maneuvering, and even the most novice of player can feel special just by hitting X a bunch of times and watching the auto-combo’s fly. This may seem cheap, and on a certain level, it kind of is, but any advanced player that really digs into the meat and potatoes of this game can easily overcome those auto-combos and lay down the law. I know this because I’ve played online and the X button did nothing to save me.

The big draw to this series for me is the story mode. If you haven’t played the original Persona 4 Arena, you’re going to feel quite lost as this is a direct sequel in every way. (Fortunately, you can buy the story mode to the original game as DLC to this game and play it first! It’s cheaper than buying the whole first game if you don’t need to.) Without getting into a whole lot of detail, it’s better in both presentation and quality. A strange red fog rolls into the real world, causing all technology to shut down like a mixture of the Midnight Channel and the Dark Hour, leaving our Persona-summoning protagonists befuddled. Their confusion doesn’t last long, however, as General Teddie shows up to inform them that they have one hour to reach the mysterious tower that has appeared over Yasogami High to save their captured comrades before the world ends.

Rather than picking every character from a select screen and replaying essentially the same scenarios again and again, you’re given a set of story threads that you can bounce between. It’s a large cast, so it makes sense that people are split up, but not having to see the same cutscenes and stories play themselves out like they did in the first Arena is a welcome change. There’s still the gratuitous amount of event recapping to keep you up-to-date on the scenarios, but even that isn’t as egregious a problem as it was in the first game. The events hanging over the giant “To Be Continued!” of the first Arena are neatly tied up in this one, but that isn’t to say there aren’t a bunch of new mysteries drummed up first. Overall it’s as engaging a plot as ever, and more well presented.

There are a few new modes this time around, and most of them are kind of throw-away fighting game modes like Score Attack and training challenges. However, one new feature might be interesting to some; it’s called Golden Arena Mode. In this, players pick a character and start going through “dungeons,” fighting CPU opponents and actually gaining experience. Experience grants levels, which in turn grant special abilities and stat boosts. Anybody who has played Persona 3 or 4 will immediately recognize the layout and concepts behind this, and it’s a pretty interesting way to spend some time playing the game. Ultimately, though, there’s no real hooks other than just maxing out your character’s stats, so I found that while this mode was interesting, it didn’t add a whole lot to the experience. It may have been better tied into the story mode, which itself lacked a great deal of fighting, but then that would have been dragged on for perhaps too long. It’s difficult to say, but it is a neat experiment regardless.

The DLC in this game is a bit harsh, especially considering how much of it was day one. On one good hand, anything you bought from the previous game carries over, so if you have the voice packs, alternate color packs, or glasses packs, those all carry over for the existing characters. However, you’ll still need to buy new packs to add colors and eyewear for all the new characters. You can also buy the story to the original Persona 4 Arena, as I mentioned earlier, which is kinda handy. But from there there’s also a ton of new voiceover DLC, music DLC, and character DLC. The characters are, in my opinion, the most terrible DLC in terms of game content for a number of reasons, namely setting up tournament play potential behind a secondary “paywall.” That said, the characters they offer are really good, so I’d have to advise getting them. Just know that’s going to be extra money you’re going to spend on an already full-priced game. It’s a bit much, and I can’t help feel like a lot of it is unnecessarily held out to make a few extra bucks. If DLC like this is something that turns you off, I have to think that you’ll be soured by the smattering of offers they have in this game. However, if you like DLC to extend your content, then perhaps you’ll be bellying up to this all-you-can-download buffet.

In the end, Arc System Works took a checklist of everything that makes a better sequel to a game, and made sure to hit every box. They cleaned up the visuals, they added more music, they added more stages, they added more characters, and they improved on their previous modes while adding new ones. In short, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is everything I loved about the original, and then some. The gratuitous amount of DLC for a full priced game can be a bit off-putting, especially when characters are involved, but everything else about this game is exactly what it needed to be to make a better sequel.

Unplugged: Pandánte

 Pandas plus poker equals party.

If you’re anything like me, you like the ideas of good ol’ fashioned Texas Hold’em, but wish it had more of a twist. Well, friend, have I got a game that puts more than a few twists on it: Pandánte.

In this game, the players each have a board with one of 10 possible hand combinations on it. They’re given a stack of chips, and then everybody is dealt two cards. Everybody ante’s one “gold” into the pot, then three more cards are dealt into what is normally known as the flop, but what Pandánte calls The Splash. After that comes a betting round, where players place two gold on their board corresponding to the hand they are claiming to have based on their cards and the splash. This is the crux of the game: you don’t actually have to have anything! You just have to convince other people you do. Of course they’ll be able to call you out later after more cards have been dealt, but at great financial risk to themselves if you happen to be telling the truth.

One of the other big differences between this and Texas Hold’em is that you can exchange cards during parts of the game known as “Snacks.” Here, you can pay a certain amount of gold to trade one of your cards for something in the hopes of getting a better hand, or at least telling a better lie. Mix in the Ability Round into each hand and you can create some really great chaos. One ability lets you add a sixth card to the community cards, while another allows you to fold and take back your last bet if things are getting too heated for you.

An aspect of this game that I really love is that it’s innately built to keep players playing the game and less about elimination. One way Sirlin Games does this is by adding a Magic Gold Fairy that will refill you back to 20 gold at the end of a hand where you’re below that amount. Not only does that keep players playing the game, but it helps feed more gold into the game to help other players reach the gold cap for victory. Of course, you can play more like classic poker and go for elimination, or even play for real money. It’s that kind of flexibility in a game that I really respect.

From a presentation standpoint, I’m absolutely in love with this game. I purchased the deluxe set, so I received the elegantly designed poker chips, the minimalist card set, and the sturdy player boards, all wrapped up in a very posh case. It’s a sturdy investment, retailing at $99, but if you have the cash I highly recommend it. Otherwise, Sirlin Games’ website offers cheaper versions of the games if you already have your own favorite poker chip set, and even a printer-friendly version of the game, if you really want to play on the cheap.

Pandánte is a game that should appeal to a wide audience. Most folks will appreciate the Texas Hold’em trappings, geeks will love the addition of powers and tricks, and everybody loves pandas.

Nintendo Treehouse Live 9/12 Breakdown

Nintendo shows off Smash Bros. and more.

The Nintendo Treehouse team has been doing a stellar job showing off games this year. They started at E3 with presentations that lasted all day showing off all sorts of new games for fans of Nintendo products. They also showed up at New York Comic-Con to run challenges using these new games and to host a Smash Bros. for 3DS tournament. Today they returned to show off a bunch of updates to those E3 titles, and to show off the final build of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS.

The first thing they showed this morning was Captain Toad. The adorable little title stars the titular Captain Toad and his adventures to find stars and diamonds in these miniature levels. Folks who played Super Mario 3D World on Wii U Will remember the occasional level featuring a similar premise. This game is those levels blown up into a full fledged title. Captain Toad is set to release later this year.

Next, they showed off NES Remix on the 3DS. NES Remix was a great title on the Wii U, and it looks just as fun on the 3DS. This time, the game features much needed online leaderboards. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend looking forward to the 3DS release.

Mega Man 7 was played for a little while, showing off some of the Virtual Console service. It’s Mega Man 7 so there’s not much to say, other than it’s a good game and it’s available now on the Wii U Virtual Console.

After spending too much time on that, the Treehouse gang showed off some Hyrule Warriors. That game still looks bonkers. Watching Ghirahim cut through entire chunks of armies with that cool looking magic is awesome. It’s that ability to play as my favorite Zelda villains that really is selling me on the game.

The game appears to be an enormous power fantasy, but I worry it gets more repetitive than power happy. I’ve never played one of these newfangled Dynasty Warriors titles, so I really have no idea what I’m in for. I will say that the couch co-op will allow me to play with my husband, which will help me get through any game. *cue sappy music*

There are a lot of modes, including Adventure Mode, and a new Challenge Mode, which will come to the US version of the game care of a day one patch. Adventure Mode has players using the original NES Zelda map to select various challenges that they must then complete in Hyrule Warriors. Challenge Mode is like that, but with the challenges amped up and without the NES Map.

Bayonetta 2 was next, and oh what a delight that game is going to be. It’s all the action of Bayonetta with a brand new adventure and set of weapons. I’m currently in love with the Nintendo costumes adding more variety to the gameplay and weapons. I’m not going to go into too much detail because we just had a Bayonetta Direct, so go watch that if you want to know more.

They showed off the Multi-player mode as well. The online-only feature has two players playing to defeat challenges and competing to get a better score than your other player. It’s all about co-op with a versus twist, and allows players to show off for each other and bet halos against each other.

Next, the Treehouse gang showed off Fantasy Life, which was made by Level 5 (the fine team behind Professor LaytonNi No Kuni, and more). This game looks to have that typical charm you would expect from them. It’s bright, cheerful, and looks to be simplistic while hiding a certain depth. I don’t know that I”ll have time to pick it up, but it looks cute enough to check it out for a co-op experience.

Then came the Smash Bros.

It looks like they’re not going to reveal anything here so I’m going to call this article here. It’s Smash Bros. footage that you’re welcome to watch on their stream for the rest of the day.

What do you think of the games Nintendo showed? Excited for anything in particular?

 

The 5 Best Music Tracks So Far in Smash Bros. for 3DS

Smashing your eardrums with awesome.

Smash Bros. for 3DS is out of the bag. Some folks in Japan got their hands on a copy of it early and have been streaming all sorts of features and reveals, and it’s nuts. I’m doing my very best to avoid it, but it’s all over the internet right now. I just want to hang out until tomorrow during the live stream Nintendo is holding to kind of get an “official” release on any last minute things. Then I think I’ll be satisfied without needing to dive into the rest. Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see.

In any case, I’m saving that stuff for a write-up tomorrow. Tonight, let’s bask in the glory of one more list. Let’s talk about the best music they’ve shown off so far for Smash Bros. on the 3DS.

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