Sunday, December 18, 2022

My favorite games of 2022 that weren't released in 2022

I wasn't planning on publishing a post about my favorite games of 2022 that weren't actually released in 2022 (hence the little bonus note at the end of my last write-up), but then I got to thinking about it and decided I had a few things to say about these not-quite-current games after all. So, here we are again.

Chack'n Pop (Arcade, PS4, Switch)

OK, so I'm starting things off on a rather questionable note. I say that because technically the version of Chack'n Pop I played and enjoyed this year (Hamster's Arcade Archives port for the Nintendo Switch) was released during 2022. Calling it a 2022 release seems disingenuous at best, though, considering it was introduced to the world as an arcade game all the way back in 1983.

At any rate, Chack'n Pop is a wonder. It's often called a precursor to Bubble Bubble, and while that's true (Bubble Bobble didn't come out until 1986), it's only true in terms of release dates and a small amount of character overlap. In terms of gameplay, the two titles couldn't be more dissimilar. Chack'n Pop is slow and methodical, to the point it often feels like a puzzle game. Also, whereas even people who are terrible at Bubble Bobble can make it through a multitude of stages, especially if they use continues, those who find Chack'n Pop challenging will struggle to make it through more than a couple. I could be said to be included in this bunch, by the way, but that hasn't kept me from continuing to plug away at and thoroughly enjoy the game.

The Fairyland Story (Arcade, PS4, Switch)

Oh, look, another game often described as a Bubble Bobble precursor. This one more strongly resembles that 1986 classic, though, especially as far as its gameplay is concerned. That said, only those who don't quite know what they're doing will play The Fairyland Story in a similar fashion to how they play Bubble Bobble -- as in, spamming the attack button (which here causes protagonist Ptolemy to shoot magic from her wand) to turn each level's enemy creatures into mouth-watering hunks of cake. Clued-in players tackle The Fairyland Story in a far more deliberate manner.

If this is news to you, the gist is that dropping a piece of cake onto two or more enemies at once nets you a medal that, once grabbed, adds a multiplier to your score as long as you stay alive. Along with this, The Fairyland Story's enemies are highly manipulatable, and combining this aspect of the game with the aforementioned one can result in scores that make your eyes roll back and your head spin.

As is true of most such things, pulling off the above at all, let alone consistently, is easier to suggest than it is to accomplish. I myself am still a rough work in progress here. Knowing what is possible is a hell of a motivator, though, as are the rest of this game's components, like its adorable sprite art and charming backing tunes.

The House in Fata Morgana (PC, PS4, Switch, Vita)

This is one of those "games" (in quotes because it's not really a game, but rather a Visual Novel) that various people whose opinions I respect told me I needed to play (experience?) for years before I finally dove into it earlier this year. Did I share their high praise of The House in Fata Morgana in the end? Yes... and no. Don't get me wrong, this VN does many things well. The story is entrancing, haunting, and surprising. The art is gorgeous, as is the exotic, ethereal soundtrack.

I struggled with some other aspects of The House in Fata Morgana, though. At times, its story is too haunting, verging on tortuous. I also thought it overstayed its welcome by a good bit.

In the end, I appreciated The House in Fata Morgana's positive attributes more than I abhorred its negative ones. Its story went places I didn't expect -- at all -- and for that alone it earns the exalted position it has among VN fans. I'm not sure I ever see myself going through it again, mind you, but I'm glad I reached its credit roll at least once.

Pocket Card Jockey (3DS)

I could probably include Pocket Card Jockey in every post like this I ever publish, or at least I could over a period of 10 or so years. Which is a long way of saying this digital 3DS offering, made by the folks at Game Freak (you might know them from a little series called Pokémon), worms its way back into my heart on a regular basis. A case in point: 2022 was the sixth year I put more than 20 hours into Pocket Card Jockey since its Japanese release in 2013. (I put just under 35 hours into it this year, for the record.)

Pocket Card Jockey is one of those Nintendo games like Endless Ocean that I just don't understand how they didn't blow up with the masses. I'm guessing the fact that it's a 3DS game and not a DS one, and that the only way to buy it is to venture onto the eShop (as opposed to walking into a retail store or logging onto Amazon), is chiefly responsible for holding it back. The horse-racing theme probably didn't do it any favors either. Regardless, it's a crying shame, as Pocket Card Jockey is a blast. How the wizards at Game Freak turned the typically sedate game of solitaire into such a nail-biting, just-one-more-try electronic experience is beyond me. Thankfully, I don't need to understand how they conceived of Pocket Card Jockey or brought to life; I only need to sit down and enjoy the spoils of their hard work.

(Related aside: if you're struggling with this game, read my guide on how to play and succeed at Pocket Card Jockey.)

Rainbow Islands (PC Engine)

I swear I didn't intend to make this write-up so Bubble Bobble-centric. I guess that's just what happens when you start playing a game that's related to Bubble Bobble, and that leads to you playing another and then another. At any rate, Rainbow Islands is my favorite of the bunch. And by that I don't simply mean my favorite of the Bubble Bobble-adjacent games I played in 2022, or even of all the Bubble Bobble-adjacent games in existence. Honestly, I think I like Rainbow Islands even more than the great Bubble Bobble itself at this point.

Now you're going to want to know why. I'm not sure I know myself. I guess the main thing I prefer about Rainbow Islands to its brethren (sistren?) is that it is, or it can be, a more exhilarating experience. Once you're powered up to a certain degree, you can practically (and sometimes literally) fly through its vertical-oriented stages, quickly hopping here and there and wiping out the game's adorable, big-eyed baddies with rapidly slung rainbows along the way. If you're anything like me, such runs will inevitably come to a crashing halt because of one dumb decision or another. I always dust myself off and get back up again, though, ready to give it another shot while bopping my head to its main "Not Somewhere Over the Rainbow (No, Really)" backing tune. 

Rusty's Real Deal Baseball (3DS)

Rusty's Real Deal Baseball is another victim of the 3DS eShop curse. As in, it's a great -- brilliant, really -- game that was mostly and sadly overlooked by millions upon millions of Nintendo 3DS owners because it wasn't a DS game and/or wasn't given a physical (boxed) release. Also, much like Pocket Card Jockey may have been hurt by its horse-racing and -breeding theme, Rusty's may have been hurt by its focus on baseball.

All you and anyone else need to know is that I love Rusty's to death -- and I hate baseball. OK, so hate may be too strong of a word here, but I'm certainly no fan of the sport. The reason I adore Rusty's Real Deal Baseball despite its unfortunate theme: it often feels like an offshoot of Nintendo's just-as-bonkers Rhythm Tengoku series. That's right, it feels like a rhythm game. Add to that the game's ugly-cute anthropomorphic dog characters and its head-scratchingly dark story, and you've got yourself a must-play 3DS game -- even for folks who have no love for the so-called American pastime.

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