Maybe the developers behind the game should change their name to Somewhat Ready At Dawn, am I right? Anyway, Deformers, from the minds behind The Order 1886 and those two PSP God of War games, seems like a step in a radically different direction for the studio and honestly, it shows. The game plays a lot like a concept that never evolved. It’s creative, cute, colorful and fun, but the fun certainly came last in the development of this $30-dollar game.
Gameplay is only one aspect of fun in a video game. The whole experience with the game can’t feel like it’s a chore. Unfortunately for Deformers, they didn’t seem to understand that concept because everything, and I mean everything, was a chore. The game consists of these little creatures who are all nice and squishy and they generally just go around ramming each other until one explodes and one is victorious. The idea behind that seems so stupidly simple and enjoyable that you think the rest of the game would be too.
Let’s start with problem number one, the game must be connected to the internet. I don’t hate always online games like Destiny or anything like that because it makes sense for those types of games, but when you can’t even edit your characters in the workshop or play locally because the game can’t connect to the internet, you have made some very poor design choices. And let’s talk about the customization for a second. With the price of all the accessories and various items and how much money you earn via their level up system, it’s clear that Ready At Dawn is pushing to have you buy their in game currency through the PlayStation store, Xbox Marketplace, etc. I ranked up quite a bit in the game before trading it into GameStop and all I could afford was a blue hat. A little blue hat to put on my squishy friend. What kind of reward system is that?
The second big problem that needs to be address are the servers. They are terrible. I found myself lucky not just be in a full game, but a game period. It didn’t matter what mode I was playing, it would always struggle to connect and then when it did, I never got booted, but I always seemed to see a bunch of players just leaving left and right. It was very unfortunate because I loved ramming into my enemies and making them go splat, but that fun started to diminish when there was only one chump running away from me and my posse.
The third and final problem are the modes. They are incredibly bland. While the character choices are different enough to make a real impact, you really only have two modes because team deathmatch and deathmatch don’t do much to change things up so you’re basically left with some type of deathmatch and what they call Form Ball. If you want to play a soccer based game where you can charge into people and have them explode, you might as well just play Rocket League. I was very disappointed that their soccer mode was unpolished and uneventful. They didn’t have cool extra powers to help you out or something. It was just boring and after about five games of it I was done.
Deformers is a good idea, but a missed opportunity. Maybe next time, Ready At Dawn. Maybe next time. (Isn’t that what everyone said after The Order 1886?)
I believe there’s a distinctive difference between what games you view to be the best and what games are the most influential to you. Sure, there might be some overlap like with my list here, but a lot of these games I put on here are on this list because of how they defined me not just as a gamer, a writer and as someone who works in the industry, but as a person as well.
These games are in no specific order.
Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars (SNES)
Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars was the first time I really felt connected to characters in a video game. It also happened to be my first time with an RPG. Growing up playing other games in the Mario franchise such as Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, I just couldn’t get enough. They were addicting and masterpieces in my eyes, so when I heard there was a new Mario game coming out, I ran right out to my local Toys “R” Us and nabbed it.
And then came the unsettling realization, this was not a Mario game. At least not in the traditional sense. It wasn’t a part of my comfort zone. What were with all these different button choices? Why was everything 3D and isometric? WHY WASN’T I JUMPING ON THINGS?! Naturally, I didn’t handle this change very well and begged to be brought back to the store so I could return it. Now this was way before video game trade-ins or proper return policies and so as I soon found out, I was stuck with it. This weird mutated Mario adventure. But I had nothing else to play for the system, so I gave it a second chance. I’m glad I did because I became enamored. It’s not an understatement to say that for the first time in my life I became emotionally invested in a video game and its characters. Everything in the game was designed to drag out some sort of emotional response.
My first time fighting Belome and watching one of my characters get licked and swallowed up by this strange bloated dog-like creature game me more than enough reason to be a little uncomfortable. The music in Booster’s castle, with its off-kilter and often uncomfortable nature, made for a perfect place to explore the depths of an insane man. Then there were the characters. To this day, I truly believe this is the most accurate depiction of Mario. A mute who pantomimes everything and comes off as heroic, dorky and sincere. Since then, I really just think that he’s become an ass. Geno, the fan favorite, was the cool character we all wanted to be. This mysterious force from the stars who could take over a doll’s body and turn it into a brutal fighting machine equipped with his own gun hidden in his arm that shoots stars at his enemies. He was, quite simply, the coolest video game character around.
But the game was so much more than just coolness. It was about depth and emotion, the destruction of people’s wishes and dreams. The realization that some people look up to you and want to be you even though you might not even realize it. The game excelled at creating a universe that felt both uniquely different from Mario and completely similar to early Mario entries and I think that’s no easy feat.
City Of Heroes (PC MMORPG)
Who hasn’t dreamed of being a super hero as a child? The notion of being able to run through a city taking down bad guys and saving the world. It’s a thrilling thought. And even though City Of Heroes gave me that outlet, it ended up giving me a lot more than I could have expected. The two things that always drew me back to the game were system’s the character creation mode feature and the fabulous social atmosphere the game had cultivated. Being able to create any sort of hero, such as an average Joe who used a sword and a shield to cut through the baddies to a flying werewolf who controlled plants and minds, and then forming your own Justice League-esque super group was enthralling.
City Of Heroes gave me my social life when I was uncomfortable and weird at school and reclusive at home. Being able to form bonds between strangers from all over the globe while destroying bases of crazy cyborg creatures together was just what I needed at the time. I remember signing in for the last day of the game, hours before the servers were shut down. Everyone was emotional. People were telling their favorite stories of old adventures and weeping on each other’s virtual shoulders. This game was a home and an escape for so many people. A haven that no one will ever get to experience again, but one I will never forget.
Black was a shooter that did storytelling and, most importantly, shooting right. It didn’t focus on any multiplayer, it didn’t unnecessarily put you through tutorials on how to use each gun; it just threw you right into the water and hoped you would sometime be able to make your way to the shoreline. One of the most memorable aspects of this game for me was the use of live action video in its cut scenes. It was the first time I’d ever seen it done and even since then it has been the only time I’ve even seen it done well. At the time, it added this sense of realism to the game. It let me believe that I was actually reliving a failed mission and uncovering the pieces to my character’s past, not just simply being told what had happened. When you take that kind of storytelling and then add the number of destructible environments they had included in the game, it was a shooter unlike any other at the time.
When I look back and think hard about what makes the game hold up by today’s standards, I’d have to say the level design. Each level felt special. They weren’t just reworked and reskinned levels that they knew had succeeded in similar games. They had personality to them. The opening level remains to be one of my favorite levels in any video game. The moment you find the RPG and take down some of the buildings, it’s magical. The shooting mechanics and AI were pretty solid as well. Unlike some shooters over the past five to ten years where they can’t decide how many bullets an enemy should be able to take or whether the player is smart enough to challenge an AI with a shotgun, everything in Black felt smooth and polished. I knew that I had to be careful sometimes and other times I knew I had the upper hand. Every few years I pull Black out just to remind me what really got me into shooters and for the hopes of a true sequel. Not some “spiritual successor” bullshit like Bodycount. But that’s a different story.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS)
Visual novels are a little sweet spot for me. They tend to give me just enough of a challenge and creativity in gameplay while producing a juicy enough story to keep me motivated and entertained all the way throughout the experience. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 was the first visual novel that I played that really changed this up for me. I had played a few before on PC or DS, but this one oozed with style and gripped my mind with its simplistic, yet deep and richly woven story. The first thing you might notice while playing the game is that you hold the DS or the 3DS as if you were holding a book. You don’t use the buttons at all. It’s simply you, the screens and the stylus. You solve all your puzzles and make all your movements by simple actions on the touch screen and watch the story’s protagonist and his reactions on the left.
In a story about an ex-cop who chases things that wish not to be found, you get the opportunity to uncover a plethora of selfish and malice filled secrets. It wasn’t the secrets themselves that grasped my attention, it was the execution. The little puzzles, the witty banter between the characters, the tension that rises when people suspect you’re more than just a regular hotel patron. It was just a game full of charm. And I games like that will always stay with me.
Persona 4: Golden (Vita)
If you’ve ever wanted to expertly experience the highs and of a high school youth in a world bound to the magical and mysterious, Persona 4: Golden is what you are looking for. Persona 4: Golden might just be the closest game to perfection in my eyes. I have a rule where I won’t ever call a game, anime or movie perfect because I don’t think anything can be perfect, but my God, does this game come close.
You get the chance to make friends that feel as deep and true as anyone you might run into in real life. You must balance your school life, your part time jobs, your romances, and your friendships all while trying to solve a case about a rash of murders in a small town in the countryside of Japan. And how do you go about solving those murders? By going into a mysterious world that can only be accessed by climbing through the TV exactly at midnight while it’s raining of course! And on top of that, in this TV world, you have these insanely powerful creatures called Personas that manifest themselves from accepting different aspects of yourself. Could anything be more Japanese? But more importantly, could anything be any cooler? Who wouldn’t want to go on dates during the day and slaughter shadow creatures at night?
When I first heard about Persona 4, I was skeptical. It sounded so bizarre. It sounded like something that could never appeal to someone like me. It seemed like it was too far-fetched and jumbled together. I’m glad that I was proven wrong. I don’t think I could imagine what my gaming life would be like without knowing there are characters like Chie, Naoto and Kanji.
In fact, I don’t think I would have played a lot of other JRPGs if I never gave this game a shot. I would have missed out on a whole genre filled with brilliant entries. I’m very grateful that Atlus decided to be weird, that they decided to be bold, but most importantly, decided to be dedicated to their vision because they gave me a once in a game so intrinsically beautiful, I don’t think I’ll ever experience something like it again.
I’ve amassed over 200 games for my PS4, over 40 for my 3DS and another 40 for my Vita. That’s not to mention all the games I own for my PS3 and steam account. Out of all of those games, I know I’ve only played about four or five dozen. That might sound like a lot, but when you put it against 300+ games, only playing fifty or sixty some odd games doesn’t really feel like much of a dent. It’s led me to question if I’ll ever get through my backlog of games.
What even qualifies as checking off a game on the list? Is it simply playing the game for a sufficient amount of time or do you actually have to beat the game? My personal belief is that it’s when you’ve played the game enough to where you want to stop playing it. Whether or not that means you enjoy it enough to conquer it or enjoy it so little you uninstall it from your console, having a full experience, whether positive or negative seems like a good determining factor in my eyes. For instance, there are games like Tetris, how many times are you going to play that before you consider it a game you’ve fully experienced or experienced enough of to check it off your list? Granted this formula must be changed depending on the type of game you’re playing.
There’s the sense of obligation as well. I’ve purchased these games, why wouldn’t I play them? I clearly had enough interested to buy them in the first place. What is keeping me from playing them now? Is it just because I can go and play something safe and familiar instead? Is the risk worth the reward? What if I find out that I just spent all that time and money on something that’s garbage? A Lot of the time that’s what holds me back. “Oh man, this game looks so good…oh look there’s Destiny, a familiar shooter? Sounds good to me,” that kind of thing.
What I really want to know is: are there other ways to take down your backlog? What’s your preferred method? How many games have you gotten through and how many do you have left?
The short answer is: yes, but it’s one that is most promising. The Xbox One is well into its third year on the market and even though the console has a strong and dedicated following, the console is lagging behind its major competitor the PlayStation 4. The console itself boasts a hefty number of bells and whistles and a great backwards compatibility system, but is lacking in quality exclusive titles. With cancellations of highly anticipated games like Scalebound and Fable Legends, it’s no surprise that Xbox One consumers are a little worried at this point at the state of their exclusive gaming experience. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Xbox One S was just released in August of last year with mediocre sales.
This is where Microsoft’s new console, code-named Scorpio, comes in. Microsoft recently announced the specs of the Scorpio and it’s nothing to be laughed at boasting an impressive 12GB of GDDR5 RAM and a custom CPU and GPU. But why does this matter? According to Microsoft, it’s to win over developers. After seeing the initial stumble of the system and then the quick take off of the PS4, developers have found creating games for the PS4 to be easier and more beneficial. Microsoft hopes to change that with the Scorpio and honestly, I think they might be able to do it. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never been an Xbox fan and after briefly owning an Xbox One, I can’t imagine why I would purchase another Microsoft console with their wonky and clunky UI, unnecessary features and sparse library, but the Scorpio has me intrigued. They’re ditching the traditions we’ve expected of console generations. Instead of just releasing newer, slimmer and faster versions of the same product, they’re giving players a second a true and unique second option.
Unfortunately, the announcement and the expected late 2017 release of the Scorpio does mean something else, Microsoft is desperate. It’s a little too familiar to something else that happened in the gaming world recently, namely the Nintendo Switch. The Wii U had a lot of similar problems to the Xbox One. I’m not going to say that the Xbox One is as bad off as the Wii U was because that certainly isn’t the case, but the correlations between the two are undeniable. The Wii U suffered for a couple years until its final breath this year with the release of the Switch and it looks like Microsoft is taking a page from Nintendo’s book. Instead of trying to salvage the current system which would take a huge amount of time and money, they’re betting all they have on one major attempt. The biggest things the Scorpio has going for it is that, unlike the Switch, it has a whole library of games from two previous generations to work with. Microsoft has announced the console will be able to play Xbox One and Xbox 360 games proving that their wonderful implementation of backwards compatibility won’t be leaving any time soon. But even with that and the new powerful specs of the Scorpio is that enough to pull in consumers and developers? I don’t know, but I’m optimistic.
Recently I’ve been playing through the first Dark Cloud for the first time in over a decade. I don’t remember much beyond the first couple worlds of the game, but the second game is engraved into my brain. It made me think about potential sequels to some of my beloved gaming franchises. Where’s Dark Cloud 3? Where’s Black 2? Rune Factory 5? City Of Heroes 2? Condemned 3? TimeSplitters 4? Dear lord, just give me a TimeSplitters 4.
Now some of these have valid reasons for not existing such as Rune Factory 5 whose developer has gone out of business. But for games like TimeSplitters which is an IP that was purchased from Free Radical by Crytek, the makers of Crysis, you’d expect there would be a little more pressure put upon them for a true sequel. Sure, we’re supposedly getting a fan made remake of TimeSplitters called TimeSplitters Rewind sometime this year, but that’s not really the same thing, now is it? What makes things worse is when you check back on the history of Crytek’s comments regarding the TimeSplitters IP. It’s a wishy-washy mess of “there’s no interest” to “we’re definitely considering pursuing this, the fans want it” which just seems to make no sense.
It makes me think of games like Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor (a term I hate) to the incredible Banjo-Kazooie series. It’s a game born out of its fans and crowdsourcing. Doesn’t that show these big AAA companies potential ways of inquiring about interest? Doesn’t it show someone like Microsoft how stupid they are to have pinned Rare to Kinect games for so long?
In reality the problems are much larger than they seem at surface level. From a business standpoint it almost seems like a giant missed opportunity, but it’s also a case of following trends, looking toward the future and realizing that while some games were great and/or revolutionary in the past, their formulas might not work in today’s gaming world. How much money do you want to spend in practically re-developing an entire IP? The rebirth of a franchise is a lot riskier than it seems. It’s an all or nothing attempt, so if you get it wrong, like Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, it could prove fatal to a whole brand. Who’s going to trust them to get it right the second time? Don’t you think we’ve experienced enough pain with Nuts and Bolts? Why would we let ourselves get hurt like that again? It leaves me torn between wanting a sequel to something I cherish and wanting to preserve the franchises’ legacy. Ultimately, is it worth the risk?
Tutorials in most games bother me, but none of them bother me as much as tutorials in JRPGs. Unfortunately, Persona 5 is no exception. Like everyone else, I’ve been waiting for Persona 5 for what feels like an eternity, so practically shoving the disc into my system was a no-brainer for me when I finally got my grubby little hands on it. I was met with hours long of hand holding. I suppose one could argue that considering a main entry in the Persona series hasn’t been released since Persona 4 in 2008 and Persona 4: Golden for the Vita in 2012 that Atlus wanted to give both old and new players of the franchise an easy way to settle in. The only problem with a process like that is it makes the story and the game feel like they’re dragging. It made me realize how often I’m hit with a problem like this: a sense of struggle to get to the good parts of a game.
Coincidentally, on the same day Persona 5 was released, Drawn To Death was put online as one of PlayStation’s free games with PS Plus and I ran into the same exact problem. For a game that’s all about being fast, hectic and crazy, the idea of a mind-numbingly boring tutorial seems counter intuitive. The real problem with Drawn To Death’s tutorial system is that it doesn’t stop after the section they labeled as a tutorial, it continues on for a few online matches as well. The developers had this uncontrollable urge to explain every single detail to their audience. It makes the experience stutter.
Amidst all this tutorial hell another game seemed to pull away from this pattern and was met with a lot of critical praise. I am of course talking about The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. The game abandons almost all ideas of a tutorial. It gives you a few tips for how to use a power here and there, but everything else from the story to the gameplay is completely up to you to figure out and experience on your own. It’s made me wonder. Is this the right way to do a tutorial or is it simply situational? Do developers really think players are too stupid to figure out what the X button does on their own or are they just afraid they’ve made a game that’s so complex in its mechanics that everything needs to be explained? What exactly should we be doing with tutorials?