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We“ll be six months into next year before I fully come to terms with the fact that 2016 happened. But here“s a list of cool video games I played — one that slightly differs from my normal protocol, at that. For the first time, I“m going to include a PokÃ©mon game in a prominent spot... if only to make a point. And... instead of ten unique games, I“m really going to start at nine. I hate to say it, but I didn“t put forth my due diligence to play â€œcurrent gamesâ€ in this current year. I“d love to say I could speak highly enough about Miitomo and PokÃ©mon GO to put them on here. But despite spending a ton of time with them, and the latter reigniting a cultural phenomenon... I don“t consider either to be worthy of my personal praise. I mean, it was fun answering questions as part of my morning routine for several months. And I still find redeeming value from Miitomo when I get to... dress up my Mii character in Kirby clothes. But don“t even get me started on GO. I“m still a daily user, but... it“s gotten me outside less and less over time, especially considering the fact that it reduces background audio (like music & Podcasts) by 50% while the dang app is open. What“s up with that, anyway? There are also games I started but didn“t finish that would vie for my #10 spot. I know several people reading will give me flack for not seeing the credits of Tokyo Mirage Sessions â™¯FE. I“m genuinely surprised I didn“t complete Dragon Quest Builders either, despite a fondness for the series. I guess my distaste for Minecraft-style games as a genre was too strong, in the end. Maybe I“ll surprise myself and finish it before the year“s done. And then there“s Oxenfree, a game I grabbed around Thanksgiving. It definitely seems like it“ll impress me, but there“s no way I“d get to the end it in time to give it the consideration it probably deserves. So without further ado, here are the games I feel confident enough giving time to shine: 9) Pocket Card Jockey I have a wild grudge against card games. I just... don“t like them. No, really. So how is it that one ended up being an exception? â€œIt“s because you like Game Freak, and all that glitters from them is gold.â€ I“m not going to sit here and pretend I don“t have a little bias against the company. Honestly, my â€œGame of the Year listsâ€ have started to follow a bit of a pattern. TEMBO made the cut last year. If Giga Wrecker ends up being of a similar quality, it might make the cut in 2017. I might feel like I“m in a daze most of the time, but I“m not too asleep to notice that I truly enjoy Game Freak“s non-PokÃ©mon endeavors. Pocket Card Jockey... one part horse-racing, one part solitaire... makes its mark for its addictive qualities. It“s not a perfect game by any means — you“ve got to breed horses to even stand a chance at higher stakes races, making even perfect solitaire runs useless at times. But even if some races are an exercise in nihilism, I still felt the need to push forward. Maybe I“m motivated by the cute horsies? The models are very simple & easy to love... kind of similar to other things I like. If you don“t mind some minor timed elements tied to your solitaire gaming, you should give it a chance! There“s a demo to sink your teeth into, still, and the price has always been right. 8) BOXBOXBOY Official GP Review Speaking of my yearly lists following a pattern... HAL Laboratory knows how to create a fun, smaller project and keep it that way. There“s even a third game confirmed for next year in Japan! So it“ll be interesting to see if BOXBOXBOXBOY, or whatever they end up calling the third game when it ventures West, appeals to me as one of 2017“s greatest games. With the release of the Switch, Final Fantasy“s 30 Year Anniversary, and tons more coming... it“d have to endure against a lot of competition. The premise behind Qbby“s quests are simple, minimalist fun. Rather than revolutionize the mechanics of the first game, I think HAL just set out to convince everyone that â€œjust more BOXBOYâ€ is never a bad thing. I suppose they achieved their goal of convincing more people than just me, if Qbby“s coming back for one last hurrah! Hopefully they continue to embrace the sentiment behind carrying earned costumes and content from the first game to the second; that really was a nice touch. BOXBOXBOY is a game to remember because it“s consistent fun that“s easy to recommend for everyone. 7) Creepy Castle Official GP Review Not too long ago, I had this bizarre itch to play The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls. I even went so far as to try and track down a reproduction cart that had the fan translation installed on it! I ended up not going through with it; money“s a little tighter than I“d like right now. Sad times, but at least I still own the Japanese version on my Nintendo 3DS LL. And then came Creepy Castle... the closest possible match to... that game I really wanted to play. To fall on that word I overused in my review, again... goodness, it“s a quirky adventure. It won me over because it happened to scratch an itch I would have never thought possible. But it“s stuck with me because it challenged me without being overly frustrating, it made me giggle at times, and it even taught me something. I“m not sure if Creepy Castle manages to surpass The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls, if I“m being honest. But it certainly manages to capture the same sense of unique charm, while offering some more modern takes on that game“s philosophy. Definitely give it a try, if quir-- I mean â€œweirdâ€... is a thing that catches your eye. 6) Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus Official GP Review The first thing that caught my eye was its aesthetic. Far too many games inhibit their artistic style by aiming to stay consistent with a certain â€œeraâ€... be it 8- or 16-bit. Games like Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge are wonderful examples of design that can break free of these constraints, and Chronicles of Teddy joins them as far as I“m concerned. I contemplated if this game could even be qualified to make the cut, since â€œFinding Teddy 2â€ released on PC a ways back. But hey, I“m going to let Aksys Games have their moment in the sun for pushing it onto consoles with a bit of a rebranding; I“d have never known about it otherwise. Do you like Zelda II: The Adventures of Link? I can“t think of a better game for that crowd released this year. You“ll recognize the lady protagonist“s movements right away; the whole â€œcouch to slash under an enemy“s shieldâ€ is a concept I mentioned in my review verbatim. The developers“ efforts to modernize Zelda II honestly left me with more respect for the NES classic than when I started. For being attracted to the game at first due to purely aesthetic reasons, I came away from it with a deeper knowledge as to what â€œZelda II-likesâ€ were capable of, and what fans of the NES game found appealing about it. I“m even pushed to try other contemporaries like Eliot Quest, now. Considering the absence of Breath of the Wild this year, Chronicles of Teddy ought to scratch a Legend of Zelda itch for you, and then some. 5) Owlboy I miss Disney Interactive. So much of what made their older games for Genesis and SNES resonate with me when I was littler, and the same reason something like the appeals to me now, has to do with how alive their characters feel. â€œImmersionâ€ is a popular buzzword this year, especially with the rise of Virtual Reality. But those games proved to me a long time ago that I don“t need complex headwear, or even the world“s most realistic graphics, to truly connect with what I“m playing. Ori and the Blind Forest is a decent contemporary. Its cast of characters and world are definitely captivating and invoke similar sentiments. I“m even more attached to Otus, and felt more compelled to push forward, because of how out-of-their-way D-pad Studios went to put emphasis on small, otherwise unnoticed moments. When you“re walking past a graveyard for the first time... not only is Otus himself downtrodden, sullen... but your movement is very slow and restricted, to further the meaning behind this unique blend of sadness and respect. So much about what makes Owlboy worth experiencing isn“t in the mechanics, but in its cast and environments. You won“t feel triumphant in the end — it“ll be more like you just watched a really awesome Disney movie. The folks behind Owlboy put so much meticulous care into their work that it took nine years to make. The end result is absolutely worth your own time and attention. 4) PokÃ©mon Sun Official GP Review Honestly, no one“s more shocked than me that the new PokÃ©mon game, with my favorite region in the history of the series, didn“t make my â€œTop 3â€. But, rereading my review from a short while ago, plus thinking critically about how I“ll feel about this game when â€œthe next oneâ€ comes along... I just had too many personal qualms with the compromises made to make Sun what it is. Some encounter rates are ridiculously low, the PokÃ©dex is smaller than I“d like, most people consider the changes to EVs to be a step backwardsâ€¦ What it boils down to is: my remaining three games didn“t have as many parts that either annoyed me or stressed me out. But getting the negative stuff out of the way is easy. Alola is an absolutely, positively phenomenal place. Choosing to construct a brand new â€œIsland Trialâ€ over the conventional four-walled path to the PokÃ©mon League is, hands-down, my new favorite thing. I hope future games in the series abolish the â€œGym Challengeâ€ in favor of making each new region“s trials be... whatever they want to be. Alola“s challenges were versatile; I“ve never had as much fun with a main story in a mainline PokÃ©mon game. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal; â€œThe Battle At the Summit!â€ is probably Masuda and his team at their absolute best. Those who know my love of PokÃ©mon music... know I don't say that lightly. Narrative direction? Superior, bested only by Black & White. Music, sounds, and general ambiance? Also top-tier. I may have my personal problems with these games, but Sun & Moon are easy to recommend to first-timers, or lapsed fans. That“s why I“m including it this time, if not to prove I liked a handful of more games this year... better than PokÃ©mon. 3) Mutant Mudds Super Challenge Official GP Review Years after its initial release, I can still confidently say that Mutant Mudds is among my Top 5 favorite games on the Nintendo 3DS. And Max“s newest adventure picks up right where that one left off — in terms of design philosophy, more than anything. It really does feel like Renegade Kid“s take on â€œThe Lost Levelsâ€. Max doesn“t learn any new tricks, but anyone who plays it might have to adapt if they don“t want their death counter above 500. Every once and a while, I“ll pick it up and start a new file, trying for a No Death run. No such luck. Have y“all seen their for the game? Games six through nine on this list were pretty easy to write about and rank. But when you start getting up to the top five, or even top three... it“s been pretty difficult for me to determine what exactly it took for one game to rank above the previous one. What gives Super Challenge that â€œoomphâ€ to best other games here? Here“s the deal: I argued whether or not certain choices that Renegade Kid made were â€œfairâ€ or not in my review. But ultimately, it could go either way. I“ve thought critically about it; I really can“t recall any level in this newest venture where I thought, â€œWell, thank Heavens that“s over.â€ It“s quite the contrary. Even when I was cursing out loud at some cheap shot a Muddy or some friggin“ spikes would take at me... I knew I“d be back. I“m going to play over and over again, whether it“s on Nintendo systems or PlayStation, too. I know Renegade Kid is no more. But I“m genuinely happy that this turned out to be their finest hour as well as their final one. And I“m excited to see what Atooi does next with Mudds, sometime down the line. There is more than one allusion to Xeodrifter in the final levels of MMSC, after all. 2) Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past Official GP Review And here“s a game that“s definitely a â€œsuper challengeâ€ in a completely different way. This tale of quite literal world-building is like no other in the Dragon Quest series: a very long, involved endurance test. It“s not a game I can honestly recommend to everyone; you probably gleaned that from my review. But it“s absolutely a game that I feel is best suited for me, in many ways. It's my new second favorite Dragon Quest, bested only by V (and here“s your disclaimer that I haven“t played VIII before & won“t until January 20th; I“m keeping an open mind). The only real â€œfaultâ€ I“d give my 80+ hour journey was the new encounter system. Besides that, the feelings it elicited when I saved a piece of the world — and the elation that beamed from me when I finally saw the credits, were more rewarding than any Final Fantasy I“ve played through since IX. DQVII isn“t this high up â€œjust because it“s a Dragon Quest gameâ€, while my bias is undeniable. I“m not spoiling anything beyond the first ten or so hours here but... there“s a whole town where every person has been turned into an animal & every animal into a person. I have never bought a weapon from a chicken, who clucked at me just like it was any other written dialect in an RPG... and then moseyed onto my next adventure inside a painting clearly inspired by Salvador Dali with my friend Ruff — the wolf cub who was turned into a boy & spends the entire game on his caretaker wolf“s back, riding it like a horse. Giant run-on sentence or not, I just can“t deny that level of obnoxious charm. It“s not something I can â€œdemand that everyone playâ€, like last year“s runner-up Axiom Verge. I“m not going to be screaming from the rooftops about it for a long time to come. My â€œtop 2â€ are here for very personal reasons. When I saw those credits roll, I definitely felt a sense of personal triumph. The helped. 1) Kirby: Planet Robobot Official GP Review I have not shut up about Robobot for quite some time. So many people could have easily predicted it“d take my #1 spot, months ago. Just take a look. For those keeping score beyond Twitter: I bought the game in both Japanese and English. My Import Review is actually more of a companion piece to an impressions thread, as well. I didn“t just beat the English version, I 100%ed it... which involved toppling the first True Arena I“ve ever toppled in Kirby History. I spent over nine hours of a random Saturday absolutely determined to prove to that game mode I was better than it... and I won, in the end. I have so many freaking stories about this game! It will fuel my love for Kirby well beyond his 25th anniversary; that celebration is already underway. It“s so delightfully over the top. If you dig the modern mechanics of familiar entries like Return to Dream Land or Triple Deluxe, this newest game stacks Robobot Armor... think â€œmechsâ€... on top of it. It“s the natural evolution of the â€œanimal friendsâ€ from Dream Land 2 & 3, and it feels as essential to the evolution of Kirby“s movements and capabilities as the transition from Super Mario 3 to Super Mario World. It“s bigger, better, faster, stronger. And it“s filled with so many fan allusions that I could write a full-on spoiler post. There are so many surprise returns, or twists reminiscent of almost every game in the series. It“s goofy that we“re heading right into the 25th anniversary immediately after the release of a game that I think successfully celebrates everything Kirby is, in almost every way.
Developer: Dopterra Publisher: Nicalis Platform: PC Release Date: October 31, 2016 ESRB: Not rated (Everyone recommended) As I make my way through a game for review, my mind can“t help but draw comparisons. It“s folly, I admit; and I“ve spent most of my years in the industry trying to suppress these initial instincts. Every once and awhile, I run into something whose contemporaries are so few, that I find myself grasping at straws... using words like â€œquirkyâ€ and â€œobtuseâ€ to describe mechanics and premises therein. When a game“s Kickstarter used buzzwords like â€œone-of-a-kindâ€ to describe itself, I figured it“d make a conscious effort to be different. I never imagined the list of contemporaries I“d come up with to describe what something â€œfeels likeâ€ overall would be... a list of just one. And what“s more, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru — known as â€œThe Frog For Whom the Bell Tollsâ€ in English — isn“t exactly familiar to the masses. But, that“s the way it goes sometimes. I suppose Creepy Castle really is â€œquirkyâ€ if the only real contemporary it has is something only found on a Japanese Game Boy. I typically layer my writing, addressing presentation-related fodder first and foremost. But I think it“s important to follow calling a game â€œquirkyâ€ with describing precisely how. So it goes: Have you ever played a side-scrolling game that doesn“t have a jump button? The fundamental level design treats gaps or spaces elevated by just a single square as obstacles that must be conquered through further exploration. You“ll see a thing that“s just out of your reach, and have to go around and try to approach it from another side or angle. Getting to the end of most scenarios involves a fairly linear progression. But there“s some degree of puzzle-solving in the environments you traverse, even before we get to battling proper. See those hearts and the different battle styles in the screenshots above? In my mind, Creepy Castle lifts the concept of â€œduelingâ€ from The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls. If it were made twenty years ago, the player character would just approach his or her enemy, mash a button to swat at it and take away one of its hearts, then usually get a heart taken away on their side in retaliation. Use food to recover your health after a duel... then rinse and repeat until the game is won. The Game Boy game I“ve drawn comparison to focuses far more on its writing and level design than its combat. But Creepy Castle takes things a step further, in an effort to highlight battling just as much as its writing and levels. Indeed, you“ll have several instances where you“ll just mindlessly swat each other back and forth. But many passing turns feature reflex-based instances to spice up fighting a bit. There are numerous types of duels (and optional, readable tutorials describe each of them in detail, as you come across them). The player might gain the upper-hand in battle by pressing the action button at precisely the right time, when prompted. Some turns may have you press a specific sequence of buttons as shown. There are even duels against mechanized or robotic foes that make you solve brief, timed â€œpipe puzzlesâ€ during your turn, where you rotate bits of a path to make things connect. There“s a lot of variance to combat; that helps things feel a little less repetitive overall. As I use the word â€œquirkyâ€ for the last time: Creepy Castle“s fundamentals amount to somewhat linear, puzzle-focused side-scrolling exploration plus a myriad of reflex-dependent combat styles. Apply these two elements to a basic turn-based RPG structure where experience is found in dungeons instead of gained through fighting, and you have... a quirky thing that could keep the interest a good handful of you, but may turn away folks who prefer movement and exploration in general to feel less restricted. There are four main â€œscenariosâ€ that focus on specific characters. You'll start off with just â€œCreepy Castleâ€, the main story that teaches you — a wandering moth warrior — everything you need to know about the various types of duels and exploring you“ll be up to. Finish that, and you“ll get a sort of Part II in â€œGhostly Mysteryâ€. Apart from the main story are two side-bits that intertwine with the plot. â€œThe Depthsâ€ is a sort of Great Cave Offensive contrast to the first mode“s linear approach. It even warns that maps are so big, additional loading time may be required, and it definitely stretches your brain a whole lot more than the two scenarios before it! Lastly, there is â€œDue Exaltation,â€ where design philosophy borrows a page from Xeodrifter and has you piloting a spaceship to explore multiple planets. Each beaten scenario unlocks â€œFree Playâ€ where you can go through them as any character you like, without story or constraints — Special Guest Characters are numerous. And consistent with other Nicalis games like 1,001 Spikes, the roster borrows from their own library of published games, and well outside of it, too. On top of all that, there“s a Bestiary, a place to see every piece of gathered â€œLoreâ€ you“ve read throughout each journey, Achievements, and lots more. For its relatively simple aesthetic and execution, Creepy Castle is definitely packed full of content. Last but absolutely not least — if you lack the reflexes required for intense dueling... there is an â€œAccessibility Modeâ€ that you can toggle on and off at your leisure from the title screen. It“s not an Easy Mode or something hand-holdy, so much as it“s designed to make everything reflex-oriented about the whole package less physically demanding, for players who might lack (or not prefer) a quick reaction time. Your experience will not suffer as a result of turning this mode on or off. As refreshing as these multiple modes and additional content collectively feel, Creepy Castle is not without is flaws. I may be a dunce... but I saw no means to sort the items you collect throughout the game, so scrolling to the one I needed got kind of vexing a time or two. And while a map function exists, it felt more limiting than it should have been in my opinion — especially in â€œThe Depths.â€ A means to see where unopened chests, doors, and other relevant things on the map are would have made a decent romp even better, or less frustrating. The biggest gripe I have, though, involves â€œGhostly Mystery.â€ You play it from start to finish as one character, and then you unlock a second part of it... which forces you to retread the exact same dungeons and re-fight the exact same enemies and bosses as a different character, before ultimately seeing through to a new ending. In a game that otherwise doesn“t feel too repetitive, that was definitely jarring. My time with Creepy Castle was consistent with the overall tone it elicits: fun, humorous and adventurous, with occasional dark bits. Its cast of characters is charming, its music and sounds are excellent accents to the experience. Its environments are perplexing in (mostly) the best ways, and... there are heaps of content and customization options to make the experience feel more personalized to you, too. If its premise appeals to you, know that this is a good game made great by the level of care and attention put into it. You may have some gripes like I did, and maybe some bits of dialogue or stylistic choices might bounce right off you. But if you give it a chance, I“m confident you“ll have fun overall. Pros + You don't see this type of combat in an RPG every day. Rather than mindlessly mashing buttons, your reflexes will often be tested + Multiple modes most multiple types of level design. You can explore creepy castles at your leisure, or go to other planets, or explore wide open spaces. + There's an "Accessibility Mode" that accommodates players of all skill levels, allowing anyone to enjoy the full experience. Cons - A whole section of the game amounts to repeating entire levels, even fighting the same enemies and bosses..for additional content tacked onto the end. Definite misstep. - The map and inventory are arguably hard to manage, without minor annoyances. Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Creepy Castle features combat that's more reflex-based than mundane, and level design that's more puzzle-focused than action-oriented. Collectively, it may offer something unique to traditional RPG fans. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher