Wednesday, January 02, 2019

My favorite games of 2018 that aren't Black Bird or Sushi Striker

In my last post, I declared Black Bird and Sushi Striker my absolute favorite games of 2018.

While wrapping up that write-up, though, I said I liked a handful of other 2018 titles nearly as much as that pair of headline-grabbers.

The seven games highlighted here represent the "handful" in question.

The Alliance Alive (3DS)--Earlier in the year, I was all but certain this Cattle Call-made RPG would be my game of the year. Then Sushi Striker came out. And Octopath Traveler. And Undertale And Black Bird.

In the end, The Alliance Alive didn't quite hold up as a "GOTY" contender. Still, playing through it was one of my most delightful gaming experiences of 2018, no question.

Why? For starters, I found its battles absolutely thrilling. That's mainly due to how its "awakening" and "guild" systems interact with and spice up these turn-based brawls, though I have a feeling they'd still be plenty riveting even without such embellishments.

The Alliance Alive wrapped me around its little finger for a few other reasons, too. Among them: its quirky cast of characters, its surprisingly varied--and oftentimes subtle--soundtrack, and its creepy "water devil dens" (optional dungeons, basically). (For more on these and a couple of other positive aspects of the game, read my post, "Five things that made it really easy for me to put more than 60 hours into The Alliance Alive.")

Given this title's association with and relationship to the much-maligned Legend of Legacy, I can't fault folks for passing on it. The fact is, though, The Alliance Alive is a far more accessible and straightforward RPG than that 2015 release.

As such, if you're up for embarking on a portable adventure and you're not opposed to whipping out your 3DS once more, I'd highly recommend picking up a copy of this Atlus-published (in North America) cart.

Dark Souls: Remastered (Switch)--If you had told me before I started playing it that this updated port of FromSoftware's tough-as-nails action game would be among my year-end favorites, I would've laughed in your face.

After all, it's not the kind of game that usually trips my trigger, as the saying goes. As a recent post of mine points out in its headline, I typically prefer cute games to gory or scary ones.

That may be true, but it's also true that it didn't take me long to become suitably impressed with Dark Souls' careful, stealthy gameplay. It helped, of course, that Remastered proved to be quite a bit less difficult than I assumed it would be.

Full disclosure: this is one of the few games included here that I've yet to finish. And not only that, but I have a sinking feeling I may never see its end credits. Even with my playthrough of it in an incomplete state, though, I consider Dark Souls: Remastered to be one of the true standouts of 2018.

Octopath Traveler (Switch)--As was the case with The Alliance Alive for a short while, I once assumed this highly anticipated Square Enix release would be my top pick for 2018.

You already know what happened after that.

I've got to say, though, if I'd made my "absolute favorite games of 2018" post about three rather than two titles, Octopath Traveler would have made the cut. (And if it'd been about four? The Alliance Alive would've been squeezed in, too.)

Although this SaGa-esque role-player has its share of issues (learn about them in this write-up on the "10 things I'd change about Octopath Traveler if given the chance"), it's still squarely a "my cup of tea" title.

What does that mean? For one thing, it means it brings to mind some of the classic JRPGs of my youth, like Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI. But it also means it's a bit weird--à la, say, SaGa Frontier. And it means it offers up some modern flourishes, too.

That hardly does justice to just how ambitious, affecting, and arresting Octopath Traveler is, however. It's filled with so many exquisite details that unpacking all of them here would be impossible. I tried to do so in another post earlier this year, though--"10 things I adore about Octopath Traveler."

Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! (Switch)--My interest in the Pokémon series has dropped so low in recent years that I barely even thought about pre-ordering Let's Go before it hit digital and retail store shelves in mid-November.

For whatever reason, though, I had a shocking change of heart right after it dropped. Boy, am I glad I did. Following a rough--or maybe I should say yawn-inducing--start, I fell deeply in love with this title's vibrant world, adorable creatures, and jubilant soundtrack.

I fell in love with its snappy battles, too--which may surprise those of you who are used to complaints being leveled at this area of the game.

You know what else impressed me about Let's Go? It never drags and doesn't overstay its welcome. That's something to crow about in an age when most role-playing games do whatever they can to keep you playing for 60, 80, even 100 hours or more.

Want to read more about my experience with this Switch title? Check out this recent post: "How Let's Go renewed my interest in Pokémon."

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (3DS)--A little something you might not know about me: I'm a real apocalypse buff.

Specifically, I love reading apocalypse novels. (Though I enjoy a good apocalypse film now and then, too.)

So why did I wait until Redux's release to hop aboard the Strange Journey train? Because I had no idea an apocalypse was at the heart of this Shin Megami Tensei spinoff. In fact, I only decided to check it out after a Twitter friend compared its story to that of Annihilation.

You know what? That person was right. Strange Journey Redux's vibe is very similar to the one that permeates Jeff VanderMeer’s blockbuster. In other words, it's bleak, unnerving, suffocating--and kind of awe-inspiring, too.

Combine that with the game's innovative battles (you can chat up enemies and entice them to join your party if you're a sweet-talker) and impressive soundtrack and you've got a dungeon-crawler that's well worth exploring in either its original or updated form.

Space Dave! (Switch)--This Space Invaders clone is right up there with The Alliance Alive, Black Bird, and Sushi Striker as candidates for the title "most painfully overlooked and underappreciated game of 2018."

In my humble opinion, of course.

Actually, comparing Space Dave! to Black Bird is especially apt, if you ask me. Both of these 2018 releases take inspiration from some bona-fide classics and then turn that source material into something spectacularly unique.

If you're waffling between the two titles, by the way, I might recommend you check out Space Dave! first. It's typically half the cost of Black Bird, and it's decidedly more approachable than Onion Games' offering.

It's also a meatier experience. I've yet to encounter its credit roll despite putting more than 10 hours into it, for instance. Which isn't to suggest that's the goal of this game (it's more of a high-score affair); rather, it's to suggest you'll see a whole lot more than four "boards" while playing Space Dave!

For more on this Jason Cirillo-made shmup, see this write-up of mine: "A few thoughts on Space Dave! now that I've put nearly 10 hours into it."

Undertale (Switch)--I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this now, but here goes anyway: one of the main reasons I never put more than about an hour into Toby Fox's much-ballyhooed RPG before I got my hands on its Switch port was its cult-classic status irritated me.

Thankfully, those irrational feelings of annoyance didn't get in the way of me playing this iteration of the game right through to its credit roll.

As those of you who've completed Undertale might expect, I've since slapped myself silly for passing on it for so long. If I were forced to use just one word to explain why I responded to the experience in that way, I'd go with touching. So many people have compared Undertale to EarthBound that I was prepared for it to be wacky. But I had no idea it'd be so poignant.

Between that aspect of this game and its brevity, you can bet your sweet bippy I'm going to play Undertale again and again in the coming years.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

My favorite games of 2018: Black Bird (Switch) and Sushi Striker (3DS)

I know what at least a few of you are thinking right now: you put more than 100 hours into Octopath Traveler and published numerous posts about it, but didn't pick it as your favorite game of 2018?

Nope, I didn't.

Which isn't to suggest I disliked Octopath Traveler. On the contrary, I loved it. Sure, a few aspects annoyed me here and there, but those flaws did little to keep me from thoroughly enjoying its sprawling adventure. (Read my write-up, "10 things I adore about Octopath Traveler," for more on that particular subject.)

As much as that SaGa-esque RPG delighted me, though, it wasn't one of my two favorite games of this year. That honor belongs to Black Bird for Switch and Sushi Striker for the 3DS.

What's so special about this pair of titles? Here are a few thoughts:

Fabulous Black Bird fan art by @croppar

Black Bird

This Onion Games release doesn't provide the most appealing of first impressions. Before you've actually played it, it looks like little more than a "dark" Fantasy Zone rip-off that costs $20. Thankfully, Black Bird is far more than a simple clone of Sega's classic looped-level shoot 'em up.

First, there are the bullet-hell elements. These are most obvious during the game's four boss fights, but they're woven into the stages that precede them, too.

Illustration counting down to Black Bird's release,
by @momenko774
Also, there's its score-attack focus. In other words, the point while playing Black Bird isn't to finish its small handful of levels. Rather, the point is to improve your high score and climb the worldwide leaderboard.

To accomplish that, you have to wrap your head around and come to grips the game's many systems--bombs, combos, collectible gems, and more.

Finally, there's Black Bird's soundtrack. It deserves all the praise that can be heaped upon it simply for being so sonically impressive and interesting. (One minute it's marvelously vaudevillian, the other it's otherworldly operatic à la "that scene" in The Fifth Element.) That's not all it brings to the table, though. In addition, it times the introduction of most enemies to the backing tunes in a way that's reminiscent of--if not as interactive as--ASCII's Otocky for the Famicom.

Curious to learn more about why I love Black Bird so much? Check out this post of mine. Also, if you need some help conquering this curious shmup, scroll through my "10 Black Bird tips, tricks, and tactics" write-up. And maybe this one, too: "How to beat Black Bird's final boss in 'True' mode"

Sushi Striker's protagonists, by @meshi3

Sushi Striker

I guess you could say it took me a while to warm up to this indieszero-developed title.

Actually, I was gaga over it after Nintendo unveiled it during E3 2017. After playing the demo the company made available via the Switch eShop early this year, though, my interest in Sushi Striker nearly fell off a cliff. It felt far too frantic for my liking. And it seemed to lack the kind of surprising depth and strategy I usually look for in puzzlers.

Still, I wanted to support its release, so I kept my pre-order for the physical 3DS version of the game.

After putting a couple of hours into the cartridge that made its way to my doorstep in mid-June, I was glad I did. For starters, the final product quickly proved to be a lot less superficial and straightforward than the demo suggested would be the case.

Celia, possibly my favorite Sushi Striker character,
y @carmeladansen
Also, a few of the components I wasn't sure about while playing the demo's three measly stages--the characters, the cutscenes, and the soundtrack being prime examples--displayed their true, eye-popping colors in Sushi Striker's full form.

To learn more about this game's many positive attributes, read my post, "Five reasons I've fallen head over heels in love with Nintendo's Sushi Striker."

Not in a reading mood? Maybe this'll sway you to at least consider picking up a copy of Sushi Striker sometime soon: I devoted more than 51 hours to the 3DS iteration before tearing myself away from it. (And after finishing its lengthy story mode.)

Oh, and I enjoyed the experience so much I bought it for my Switch, too.

So there you have it: my absolute favorite games of 2018. That's not to say I hated every other title I played this year. In fact, I liked a handful of them nearly as much as this pair. Which ones am I talking about here? I'll spill the beans in my next write-up.

In the meantime, what were your favorite games of 2018? Tell me all about them in the comments section below.