I played some games this year!
(I published this on my Facebook, but I figured I'd share it here for folks who aren't buddies with me there.)
I play video games sometimes, when I have time. Here are some of the ones I played this year.
Hatoful Boyfriend (PC): A parody of dating simulation visual novels that grows into an entirely different (but no less funny) parody on the path to the true ending. Also, everyone you’re wooing (cooing?) is a pigeon. They’re cute pigeons, to be fair. Sometimes it’s tough to know what your choices are affecting (part of the point, but still); however, the game is short, so a bit of patience is all that’s necessary.
Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney (3DS): My feelings on this game are the same as my feelings on both series right now: I enjoyed the Ace Attorney portion, but not so much the Professor Layton portion.
Bayonetta (PS3): Exactly what I want from this sort of action game. The battles are tough, but not so crushing that I want to quit forever. The individual levels are absurd sequences that continually top themselves in ridiculousness. Bayonetta is plain fun to control; the central mechanic of dodging to slow time and get more hits on your opponents is genius. Great game.
Bayonetta 2 (Wii U): Slightly lesser than its predecessor, if only because it’s a touch easier than I’d like. It still rules.
Shovel Knight (PC): Evokes hard-ass NES-era platformers while being difficult enough to be challenging, but not so much that I want to quit forever and never leave my bed. That said, I still got mad every time I died and all the money I collected exploded from my body. I barely used that money for anything, but it was mine. Not fair!
Ace Attorney Investigations 2 (DS): Prosecutor’s Path: Sad this is unlikely to appear in America in any official capacity.
Shadow of the Colossus (PS3): If you stripped out the dungeons from a particularly good Zelda game, this is the ideal result. I love that each hunt for a new colossus sends you to a new part of the world where you’re left to wonder to yourself about the state of this land that existed long before you. I also love how fragile and powerless your character feels. Each encounter comes off like you’re escaping by the skin of your teeth. There’s something to be said about that sort of struggle in a game.
Catherine (PS3): A frustrating game, but not for the reasons I expected. I actually greatly enjoyed the weird tower climb puzzle portion of the game; it’s stressful and challenging, but worth it for the moment when you escape. It’s the story that disappointed me, with its half-hearted look at a man in the midst of turmoil and dissatisfaction in his personal life.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PS3): I loved 90 percent of this game. Like Bayonetta, it’s over-the-top in grandiose, stupidly fun ways, and its central mechanic (parrying and slicing opponents) is satisfying to master. The final boss left a bad taste in my mouth, though -- the circumstances are amazing, but the execution of the fight made it frustratingly difficult for me.
Life Is Strange (PC): The time travel narrative didn’t turn out so great, but I so enjoyed the human stories around that (reconnecting with a friend whose life has changed drastically, the weird implications of helping people through gross violations of personal privacy and erasing the evidence, the simple fact of growing up and finding yourself, etc.) that it didn’t hit me hard when the sci-fi plot fizzled out.
Hate Plus (PC): I love Analogue: A Hate Story, which presents a historical look at a regressive society that disappeared long ago in this world. Hate Plus is an exploration of how that society got there in the first place, through the eyes of important figures and those on the periphery. It also teaches you how to bake cakes. I baked a pretty crappy coffee cup cake.
Jazzpunk (PC): A hilarious series of absurdist sketches presented through the lens of international espionage. Every time I hoped something would be interactive and offer new, weird joke, it did.
Cave Story+ (PC): One of those games I put off playing for the longest time, because I heard about it endlessly before I played it. What I missed for so long is a tight, fun platformer with lots of neat weapons and surprises. My favorite moment in the game is when I accidentally discovered a particular weapon could be used as a jetpack of sorts. The possibilities seemed so endless after that.
Gone Home (PC): Aside from being a good coming-of-age story, I have Gone Home to thank for getting me to stop being a dope and listen to more music again. The punk rock/riot grrrl soundtrack reminded me that music is pretty darn cool.
Her Story (PC) : I have complicated feelings about this game. I don’t think the actual story is all that great; in fact, it’s pretty ridiculous. The process of searching for that story, though, of piecing together all the little pieces through verbal hints ... man, that scratched an itch I haven’t felt for a while. Maybe the destination didn’t satisfy me, but the journey sure as heck did.
Contradiction: Spot the Liar! (PC): A very flawed FMV game that I love a whole lot. The experience is like playing through an episode of a particularly silly BBC detective series. Its cast is so odd and lovable; I really appreciate that this game lets you thrust all manner of evidence in their faces to see their reactions, even irrelevant evidence that has no chance of turning up a proper lead. The ending fizzles out, but I had so much fun interacting with these goofballs that I don’t care.
The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo (PC): A web browser game that seems like it’s about one thing on the surface, but is really about something else entirely. It’s spooky and unnerving in ways I didn’t expect.
Ib (PC): This game about a young girl who becomes trapped in an alternate world version of an art museum is totally my type of horror. I have a bias toward the weird and surreal; this game provides plenty of that in sprite form.
Undertale (PC): What a delightful treasure this game is. It’s an RPG about being an empathetic person, where you can certainly kill monsters, but it’s way more fun to learn what makes them tick. Every encounter is a little story. One fight you’re playing with a dog; the next, you’re picking presents dastardly teens have left on the antlers of a deer. Undertale constantly springs surprises on the player, whether it’s jokes, story twists, or a new, unexpected approach to the battle system. This game showed me that video games can still delight and surprise me as much as they did as a kid.
Super Mario Maker (Wii U): My biggest gaming regret of 2015 is that I didn’t make more time for this. 7-year-old me would be ALL ABOUT this game. Even if I haven’t played as much as I’d like, it’s been a ton of fun seeing the endless well of creative levels and videos of people stepping up to the challenging of vanquishing the hellish death traps the most evil designers have concocted. My favorites are the weird narrative levels people make.
Black Closet (PC): I liked Long Live the Queen from the same developer. My main issue is that too much of it is about memorizing optimal routes to make your way through the story. Black Closet dispenses with that: it’s more about properly managing your student council (which conducts itself more like your FBI/CIA) to solve problems throughout a prep school with subterfuge, intimidation, and sweet talk. A tad repetitive, but a fun experience. The final battle had me clapping.
Until Dawn (PS4): The ideal manifestation of the “choose your own adventure” video game experience. Have you ever yelled at shitty teenagers in a slasher flick? You control those shitty teenagers in Until Dawn. Do with them what you will. The choice system is shockingly flexible (I’ve seen a lot of variation between my playthrough and others I’ve watched), and the way the game picks at traditional horror tropes is a lot of fun.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin (Vita): Fun, but some interesting things that haven’t aged all that well, particularly the system where you can speak with monsters to get all manner of random things. Amazing back in 1999, but kind of simplistic and annoying now. The storytelling is also weirder and jumpier than I’d like.
Trace Memory (DS): A solid adventure game from the developers of the Hotel Dusk games. Simple puzzles, but the story is engaging, and the sketchy art style is still real cool.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy (3DS): My enthusiasm for Layton games eroded long ago, but I enjoyed this one a surprising amount most of the time. It seemed to be going for a simple, basic story. Unfortunately, it goes way bonkers in a bad way in the final act, throwing out many laughable twists one after another. Never again, Layton. Never again.