Uni's 2018 Wrapup

Uni /

A Look Back At About 6 Games From 2018 And 47 That Weren't

Holy balls I played a lot of games in 2018. This list includes all the games I played until the credits. The table of contents is alphabetized so you can find the games you're interested in quickly, but the paragraphs are ordered by when I played them, so you can see my memory resolution increase over the course of the document. I'm not including games that were replays like F-Zero GX and REmake, and three I quit (Sonic Mania, Killer 7, Hitman 2) are solid enough to where I don't feel the need to rail on them or anything. Enjoy~

If you were to ask the average gamer about Factorio, they would probably say "What the hell are you talking about", but if you were to ask someone who HAD heard about the game, they would probably tell you that it's very addicting. With endless potential for improving your factory and a low-pressure environment to do it in, it's easy to get invested and keep incrementally optimizing for hours. However, if you're not the kind of person that typically likes those games, Factorio is difficult to recommend. It's the gold standard of its niche, but it doesn't spend much energy giving guidance or setting goals to entice the newcomers. Luckily, it has a low price point of $20, so it's worth a go.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm
The first Life is Strange lived and died on empathy. The writing was good enough to strike a chord with people who could directly relate to the struggles on screen, but not good enough to make everyone else care. Personally, it was a memorable experience, but even I think making a prequel was a mistake. The events portrayed in Before the Storm were presented as a mystery in the first game, and were slowly revealed as you grew closer to other characters. To go back and remove all the mystery, and do so in three quick episodes instead of a full five, made it an unsatisfying narrative in multiple ways. Unless you're the biggest fan ever of Life is Strange, I wouldn't bother with this one.

Dead Space
I think everything that needs to be said about it has been said already. It's atmospheric, polished, fun, and you should check it out if you haven't already. You may notice that "scary" was missing from that list, so you could think I'm damning it with fine praise, but Dead Space shoots more for tension than scariness. I think that might be part of its widespread appeal; even people who don't typically like horror games can enjoy it after getting in the groove.

Westerado: Double Barreled
I think it was Jon Blow who said that a game has to be either fun or interesting, but not necessarily both. Westerado is both, and yet I wouldn't call it a well designed game. The concept is that you're searching for an outlaw who burned down your family's farm and you have to gather clues about who it was, because he's just one of one-hundred randomly generated townsfolk. By doing side missions and favors for people, you learn hints like "he's wearing a tall hat" or "he's wearing a blue suit" and you can accuse anyone, at any time, of being the villain. The problem is, while the villain is random, the sidequests and map aren't. The game only provides enough content for one satisfying serious playthrough, and after that you'll either be repeating lots of sidequests or trashing the script and accusing everyone of being the killer or going on a bank-robbing rampage. That said, the amount of polish that went into letting you fly off the rails is admirable, and that first playthrough is still a good experience, but it doesn't live up to its own endless-Western-generator concept. It's a nice snacky pickup next time a sale's on.

Snake Pass
A platformer without jumping sounds like a concept with Zooey Deschanel levels of disingenuous quirkiness, but Snake Pass actually pulls it off. Skillfully navigating an environment with the limited skillset of a snake provides for compelling gameplay, and you'll find yourself strangling your controller as you try to maintain your grip on each ledge. That's about the only string to the game's bow though, for better and worse. It's a nicely focused game, but if it starts frustrating you, there aren't any other redeeming qualities. Worth a look if the uniqueness of it all catches your eye, but you're also not missing much if it doesn't.

There isn't much to say about this game. It's a top down, cyberpunky action game that's... ok? The style's alright, the gameplay is standard, it's pretty short with a three hour run-time, not much to really hate here, but I also don't see much reason to pick it up compared to anything else.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
This game is beautiful.
That's about the extent of it, sadly. Prague as a focused city hub has gotten a lot of praise, but with it broken up by so many loading screens and filled with so few interesting things to do, I was content to just blow through the main story, which was about as standard as a Deus Ex plot can be. The augmentations and abilities were also standard stuff, so the game overall feels bland. It's the bare template of the Deus Ex immersive sim subgenre.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Going back to play the Uncharted series was like cutting down the tree of cinematic gaming and looking at its growth rings. Compared to how thin the first game was, Uncharted 2 was a great evolution, but it's still pretty close to the center. If I go any further with this explanation the only center we'll reach is the trauma center for tortured metaphors, so to be direct, this game was probably pretty cool at the time but doesn't hold up. It leans too much on long gunfights, with one at the end throwing you more than 75 dudes in a row, and cover-based shooting isn't as fresh as it used to be. Luckily, the story's pretty alright and the characters are good, but the gameplay issues keep it from being a timeless classic.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
I said I would stop the tree metaphor, but it's actually perfect for describing this game. It's another ring in the tree, expanding past the old one, but the growth is much thinner this time. We're still shooting, we're still climbing, the story's alright, the set pieces are a little better, and the gunfights are a bit less tedious. It's exactly what you would expect with no surprises.

Hollow Knight
This might be the hardest game ever for me to critique. It's good, it's original, Metroid fans adore it, and it's packed with content for the price, but I didn't have much fun with it. I found exploration to be a chore with a bizarre and unhelpful map system, in a world full of enemies too simple to be interesting and too uninteresting to be fun. The atmosphere and a couple breathtaking moments were enough to keep me playing until the end, which is more than I can say for most games in the genre at least. I guess it must be pretty good for someone who doesn't care for these games to think it was basically ok, but that doesn't mean I can personally say anything other than "it was basically ok".

The Evil Within
Last year I wrote a little article about how Nioh should be appreciated outside of the expectations associated with its marketing, and that's exactly how I feel about The Evil Within. It was sold as the next game from Resident Evil 4's creator Shinji Mikami, so people were disappointed when it didn't stick to the Resident Evil 4 template. The same over-the-top sensiblities are here, but the action has been refined to smoothly unify a wide variety of setpieces. The breakneck pace of these moments creates an explosive love letter to the horror genre, starting in a mental hospital, evolving into a nightmarish butcher shop, which dumps you into a spooky town in the woods, all within the course of an hour. It rests in this sweet spot between an action game and a survival horror game, asking for you to be crafty with its mechanics to improvise in each scenario, as you're graded on your ability to keep your supplies high. It took me a while to understand just what the game wanted out of me, and my survival-horror mindset made my playthrough a bit of a slog at first, but once you understand what the game's really going for, it's a very special sort of experience.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Another ring on the tree. It has better tech than Uncharted 3, making it a visually stunning game, but it's mostly the same. I think it wrapped up the series pretty well though and it has the best story of all of them, so I guess I'm cool with it.

This game insulted my intelligence. When the combat tutorial included air juggles, I was excited for where the game was going, but it was all downhill from there. You can juggle, but the game doesn't trust you to do so and you have no incentive to use it. You get new abilities, but the game doesn't trust you to think, so every obstacle is a just a giant colored square. I guess that's also why it's so linear when it claims to be about exploration. Just don't bother with it, try Hollow Knight.

God of War
"Shameless" is how I would describe this game. It's such a blatant attempt at converting a popular series from the last console generation into something trendy that I can't even endorse the few good parts. The action mechanics were crippled to make room for a pretty mediocre story which is somehow so self-satisfied that it gives you multiple teasers for the obligatory second installment. And I don't mean they left a plot thread unresolved, I mean there's a dream scene when you finish the game that shows you how the next game is going to start. It almost loops back around to where it's self apologetic instead of self satisfied, saying "sorry you didn't fight the god we talked about for the whole game, but we promise he's in the design document". I can't endorse this kind of stupidity on any level.

Devil May Cry 3
The definitive action game. I'm not usually a fan of action games, but this one feels great, partly due to the style system and partly due to the super memorable boss lineup. Every action game should really have something like the gunslinger style, where you can stop and shoot in two directions to keep your current target locked down along with disrupting one who's sneaking up on you. It lets you maintain a smokin' sick stylish flow where you benefit from your situational awareness in a way other than dodging. I can also go through the bosses by heart, and while remembering a few bosses isn't a very big accomplishment, I finished like 50 games this year, and I played this one towards the beginning, so I think remembering all of them and their dialog speaks well of how much personality this game has. I think if other action games were like this, I would be much more willing to get into them.

Resident Evil 2
Everyone knows I love the 2002 Gamecube Resident Evil Remaster, but I never had much interest in the PlayStation games. I love REmake for its incredible polish, something the PlayStation games famously lacked without the advantage of hindsight. That said, I was pleasantly surprised at how good RE2 was. It's a huge step forward from the original, with more of pretty much everything. More monster types, more zombies, more replay value, more cool characters, and more borderline nonsensical story. That said, it's naturally going to feel a bit dated, but I heard a rumor that we might see a remade version of it soon, we'll see.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
I've been pretty hard on this game in the past, being a massive fan of the classic-style linear Castlevania games. I could still throw out the same complaints of being slightly aimless and extremely unchallenging, but the amount of polish and charm SotN has is absolutely insane. The visuals, unique weapon effects, optional content, and general attention to detail make for a game that's oozing with love. The biggest shame about it is that while it contributed the second half of the word "Metroidvania", not many games other than its direct followups seem to follow in its footsteps rather than Metroid's. I would like to see some games break out of the Metroid formula and try for Symphony of the Night's level of environmental interaction.

Devil May Cry
I liked Devil May Cry 3, but I can only say I appreciate Devil May Cry. It's a landmark game, but it had to put so much effort into breaking new ground that it didn't get to dig very deep. Even so, it's not the worst 3d action game I've ever played, and that's pretty incredible considering it essentially created the genre. If you're an action game fan and haven't tried it, you should probably play it to show some respect.

Alpha Protocol
This game is bad. It's ugly, the plot is dry, the protagonist is an absolute bellend no matter how you play him, the shooting feels awful, the interface is ugly, and I love it anyway. I was even planning on refunding it when I first played, but I had nothing better to do and people said your choices really start to matter later on, so I kept with it. And wow, they were actually right. It's one of the few RPG's where your treatment of other characters, your skills, and your performance in-game actually affect how the story will play out. I took advantage of this to be the biggest dick I possibly could, and it ended up being one of the most hilarious gaming experiences of my life. Characters will legitimately get tired of your shit, which is something more RPG's need to do, because it makes your failures hysterical while giving your successes a shine of smug superiority. If you have enough patience to wade through some bad gameplay, absolutely pick this game up.

Silent Hill 2
I tend to shy away from criticizing the specifics of game narratives, because I'm not that kind of a writer. That said, I was always somewhat disappointed with how games don't usually blend gameplay and narrative very gracefully. It's possible to represent the themes of a story in gameplay, and conversely possible to use the style of gameplay to inform players of the character they're controlling. The perspective of the narrative could change based on the player's playstyle, in addition to the more direct method of choice and consequence. Silent Hill 2 did all that in 2001 and I didn't even know it, and it's made me retroactively disappointed in pretty much every game touted as a storytelling masterpiece that I've ever played. The story presentation is nothing short of masterful, and the atmosphere is up there with the best I've ever seen. The simple gameplay and wandering might be enough to hurt people's enjoyment, so I won't lavish it with the best-game-ever title that it often receives, but it's damn good and in the running for my top 10.

Silent Hill
Wait, why did you play Silent Hill 2 first? Well, it's because I heard Silent Hill doesn't really hold up, 2 is better, and the stories aren't connected anyway. The real question you should be asking is why do people think Silent Hill doesn't hold up. I can understand distaste for 3d graphics as lifelike as origami, but this game accomplished a lot with its limited resources. Its atmosphere still works amazingly well, and the level design is even better than Silent Hill 2's. It's different from its successor, but not necessarily a lesser game. When you play it, you might start by thinking it looks a little rough, but by the end you'll wish more games had such an engrossing world to explore.

Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag
It's easy to forget that one of the biggest gaming franchises started out with an innovative title that actually worked to distance itself from its parent series, Prince of Persia. The obvious reason for that is because so many iterative Assassin's Creed games have come out since then, but the subtle reason might be because the game in the series most celebrated for its innovation is an absolute disaster. I played Black Flag because it had been called "the GOOD Assassin's Creed game" for years, only to find it's entirely half-baked. The missions on land are uniformly terrible with their clunky stalking sequences, the ship combat is only visually interesting, the mobile game style ship management is mind-numbing, and I found the story to be hilarious in how much it missed the mark. Imagine you're at a design meeting and asked to make a story about pirates. Chances are, you'll write the words "fighting over treasure" in the middle of a sheet of blank printer paper, hand it in, then go for drinks. For some reason, Black Flag opted for a slow story about politics in the piratical community, with the Assassin's Creed signature of standing next to historical figures as they do the thing they're famous for, as they give a wink to the camera and say you're a cool dude. Honestly I could go on for ages about all the things I don't like about this game but this has already gotten too long so whatever just don't play this absolute tripe.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
The first Danganronpa game was a big surprise to an anime skeptic like myself. Even though it was a visual novel steeped in anime tropes, it created an air of mystery with its unique premise and setting that got me hooked. It's kind of a shame that the sequel doesn't try to replicate that mystery. To give my best spoiler-free example, in the first game, when everyone's locked in a school and told to murder each other, they quickly appreciate the locks on their doors. The inability for students to get into each other's rooms was relevant to how the plot progressed, and something you had to remember as you conducted your investigation. In Goodbye Despair, someone accidentally breaks the lock on your room early on, and... it's just never brought up again. If anything, it's played for laughs. There's still some good investigating and debating to do here, but the mood that pulled the first one together is gone. The ending as also laughably bad, so even if you liked the first game, this might not be worth it. Maybe if you're really in the mood extremely specifically for more Danganronpa.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
It's more classic Castlevania, what can I say, I like it and you know how it plays. That said, I'm also a fan of Dracula X, which is considered a botched port of Rondo, and I wouldn't be as dismissive of it now that I've played both. Rondo has all the cool cutscenes, voiceover, extra bosses, and effects Dracula X doesn't, but the difficulty curve is comparatively ludicrous. At one point, you fight the bosses from Castlevania 1 back to back to back, then fight a new one you haven't seen before, who sends out an attack as you land your final blow just to make sure you didn't get by with one health remaining. This game just loves laughing in your face like that. It might be the coolest classic-vania, but definitely not the most fun.

I tend to stay away from these kinds of games, in every way you can interpret "these", namely early access, survival, and crafting. That said, I had a pretty good time with it. Evolving from your escape pod, to a tiny base, to a bigger base, to a multiple vehicle bay station felt great, with the non-randomized world providing a subtly guided experience. The story was intriguing, and I wasn't expecting a story at all, much less a good one. I would be able to easily recommend this game if it wasn't the most poorly optimized game I've ever played on my PC. Even after setting everything to low, I had to reduce the resolution from 1080p so it didn't give my graphics card hypertension. Then, there were a few bugs, which weren't enough to break the game but enough to be distracting. If you have a super PC, it's winter, you're ok with things running a bit warm, AND are interested in the game itself, then you're good to go.

Gravity Rush: Remastered
As an active member of the Gravity Rush fan community, I cannot ethically say I'm giving an impartial review. Luckily, I never claimed any of these reviews are impartial, and these games are the cat's pajamas. I love the picaresque narrative with the world's most plucky and lovable protagonist, I love using gravity shifting to stumble around like I'm a drunk who wandered onto the set of Doctor Strange, and I love the musical and architectural details that flesh out the world of Hekseville. Is the combat good? Nope. Do I care? Nope. Please play these games, they make me happy and need more love.

Final Fantasy
Playing this was meant as a history lesson, and that's about all I can recommend it as. It's cool to see where JRPG's as we understand them today began(yes I know about Dragon Quest, but it's different ok whatever), but the genre has moved on a long way since then. The balance is questionable and it's pretty grindy, so it was fun to see that's where modern JRPG's get it from, but the quality of life features and stability of modern titles improve the experience immensely. Maybe check it out, but don't feel bad if you stop halfway through.

Papers, Please
This game sits comfortably on the pantheon on indie darlings for a good reason. When most games interpret "interactive storytelling" as "we need to ensure players don't rip out the pages of our story", Papers Please embraces and tells its story through interaction. Putting that on top of a well stylized presentation and wholly unique premise, it's a game I think everyone should check out as an testament to the breadth of gaming's potential.

Speaking of indie darlings, Celeste is one of the top runners for top indie of the year. We must not have had many good indies in 2018 I guess. It's like you turned on the indie game machine, set the twee dial to 7, the quality dial to 6, clicked the child-in-an-uncaring-world button, and kept the lever on the pixel-platformer setting because it's been stuck there for a few years and no one wants to risk getting electrocuted. I can't complain about it much, because it's functional and looks pretty good, but... it's an indie platformer about overcoming challenge with a lot of spikes. Cool.

We Know the Devil
If you want to spend a few bucks to have a very gay hour and a half, this is the visual novel for you. I enjoyed it, because that's pretty much what I wanted, but I have to admit that it feels rushed. That hour and a half number is how long it took to go through it twice for two of three endings, and it's hard enough to cover three characters worth of development in a two hour long film. Luckily, the same people recently made another game (Heaven Will Be Mine) that's apparently a lot more fleshed out, and I'm looking forward to playing it.

Game Dev Tycoon
It's what it says on the box, a game development tycoon game. It does its job about as well as you could expect, with how vague the factors contributing to a game's success are compared to something like a theme park. Trying goofy game concepts is fun, and when you make your personal dream game into a big hit, it's extremely gratifying. That said, you're pretty much doing the same thing over and over when you make games, instead of expanding and evolving like you would with a park or a building. I still give it a recommendation, because it's a neat little distraction for the price.

I have mixed feelings about this game. It's all about the narrative, and while it succeeds in telling a good story, but it rests on top of mediocre character drama. You're meant to feel like you naturally fit in with your Scooby gang, when you can interject dialog and steer conversations naturally to react to the situation or bond with people. Or maybe you're not meant to feel that way because certain people aren't likable, or maybe you're supposed to follow the personality of the strongly characterised protagonist? I honestly don't know, especially when the endings seem to judge you for not role playing correctly, but even the best ending is pretty bleak. The plot and characters just don't quite gel, so even if it has some great writing, I feel unsatisfied by it. Luckily, it's pretty short and pretty cheap, so it barely walks away with a positive assessment.

Touhou 15: Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom
Well, another Touhou game, exactly what you would expect. Difficult, bright, anime girls and flashing light. The new point device mode is a pretty interesting idea, but it may have made the game a little too hard. Pierrot of the Star Spangled Banner is a great track.

Metroid Prime
Converting 2d to 3d is hard, Metroid Prime succeeded, everyone likes it, it's gotten all the praise it needs. I found the backtracking and wandering pretty tedious at times, especially when you have to do an end-game collectathon and revisit each area, but I have to admit that it's still pretty good overall. I'm not in love with it, but its status as a classic is deserved.

Space Channel 5
This game sits next to Gravity Rush on the bench of mediocre games I absolutely adore. The 60's retro-future aesthetic is a perfect fit for a rhythm game, with excessive grooviness blasting from every detail. It's kinda weird to compare this game to Symphony of the Night or The Evil Within, but the thread that draws me in to each of these games is the soul and passion you can feel when you play. Just be aware that it can get pretty difficult, but even with some trouble it won't take you more than three hours. Might as well give it a try, right?

What a weird little game. It doesn't even feel like this should be a Nintendo game, with the bizarre mix of cartoony visuals and terrifying implications having a Sega-like feel. The learning process is uncharacteristically hands-off, letting you make mistakes and be unable to finish without starting over. That's what I like about this game though, it treats you like a smart guy who can figure stuff out, take risks, and plan on his own. Nintendo's characteristic polish without Nintendo's characteristic patronizing design philosophy can be a beautiful thing.

Yes, the good one, not the new one. I was actually surprised at just how good this one actually is, when it came from that awkward time in PC gaming where the standard controls for an FPS were still up in the air and mouse-look was a relatively new concept. The level design is fantastic, and stealth games today could learn a lot by going back and looking at the approach options on display here. Its age might show in the graphics and the awkward balance of audio and visual stealth mechanics, but it's still a blast to play even all these years later.

Yakuza Kiwami 2
Yakuza rocks. Ever since Yakuza 0 came out in the west, it's been enjoying a little renaissance where people have had a second chance to jump into such an iconic series. Kiwami 2 maintains the legacy of quality, and provides another solid Yakuza experience. That experience is admittedly pretty formulaic by now, but the new engine makes the game beautiful, and enhancing the combat with ragdoll physics is exactly what Yakuza deserves. If you already liked Yakuza, you'll like this, if you haven't played any, go play 0, if you don't like Yakuza, what the FUCK.

I looked forward to this game for quite a while, so it's a little awkward I don't have much to say about it. It's good in the ways I wanted it to be good, it's bad in the ways I knew it would be bad. Fun swinging, great rendition of New York, adequate story, repetitive side stuff and comic-book level dialog. I enjoyed it, but nothing worth evangelizing or complaining about. Again, it's exactly what it says it is on the box.

Devil May Cry 4
I don't even consider myself a Devil May Cry fan and this game was kinda disappointing. There's good action for you to appreciate, but there's a lot less charm than Devil May Cry 3, and a lot less innovation compared to Devil May Cry. Having to repeat the game in reverse at the middle is a particularly sad way to wrap up the game, even if you get to play as a style-switching Dante again. It feels very unfinished, and it left fans feeling the series in general was unfinished until the DMC5 announcement finally came. I don't want to make this game sound terrible or anything, because it isn't, but I will also say I'm glad the mainline series didn't end like this.

Metro 2033 Redux
I don't know what this game wants to be. Its best strength is its potential for immersion, and I played in ranger mode to get that experience, but there was too much time working past bugs and poorly implemented AI companions to feel invested. There are one or two chapters that play to those strengths, and then the game stops trying and becomes an action movie. The quality keeps tanking with each terrible action set piece, and one particularly heinous stealth section broke my game multiple times. Don't put yourself through it, no matter how good people say it is.

Valkyria Chronicles
Ok, I have to admit something to y'all, I've only been putting games in this list if I've finished them, and that's technically true here, but after I made it 15% of the way in I skipped every single cutscene. With 3 or 4 per mission, and judging by the length of Youtube compilations, I skipped about 7 and a half hours of stuff. This checks out with the HowLongToBeat time of 31.5 hours, and I have 23 hours played. So I enjoyed the tactics aspect, and I would recommend it for the cool spin on the genre, but good lord do you have to be patient to enjoy this. Patient for cutscenes, patient with the controls, patient with the technical issues, patient with the interface, it's a bit of a mess. Enjoyable, but messy.

Katamari Damacy
Check it up, funk it up, minna damatte ore ni tsuite koi, yeah
Check it up, funk it up, minna hisshi de ore ni tsuite koi, come on
For real though this game is just... inspired. It's super fun and the soundtrack's great. If you haven't played this game yet, go do that. Anyone can appreciate it, genuinely. It's satisfying on such a basic level I think everyone can dig this game.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
This is the gaming equivalent of puberty. You look at Resident Evil 2, you look at Resident Evil 4, and you're like wow, Resident Evil 3 must have been awkward. And it was. This attempt at combining action and horror didn't end up feeling polished, like having a dodge function which isn't bound to a button of its own, but activates when you try to shoot an enemy. Riposting zombies like you're in Bloodborne sounds neat, but because the ability is also tied to your attack, its usage as an alternative to attacking is a confusing thing to wrap your head around. Nemesis chasing you around also sounds pretty neat, but he's easy to shake and not very scary after the second encounter. The splitting narrative paths were fun, but the binary selection is a far cry from how much RE2 accomplished with its multiple playthrough system. The strides it took are admirable, but it remains an awkward transition game instead of a great game in its own right.

Silent Hill 3
The debate about Silent Hill 3 is the eternal flame of the fandom. A lot of people love it, a lot of people think it's mediocre, and it's a stalemate that's hard to break even on a personal level. It's great in a lot of ways, and if you analyzed it in a vacuum, there wouldn't be much doubt regarding its quality. The problem I have with it is that Silent Hill 1 and 2 both introduced a brand new type of horror to gaming which I can still appreciate today for how fully realized they are. Silent Hill 3 doesn't carry the torch of innovation, instead just using the existing parts to make more. More can be fine, but just making more of the same doesn't feel like the Silent Hill ethos.

Luigi's Mansion
I have a lot of respect for this game, in how a horror-themed Mario spinoff was what Nintendo made to sell the Gamecube. When you play it though, you can kinda see why it was chosen to take point. The way you control Luigi with the two analog sticks and almost never use the face buttons feels suspiciously like they wanted to train kids how to use the new controller before they got into more complicated games. It's about the only thing the game expects of you, and while there are nice touches and some cute theming, it's not novel enough to hold up the entire experience anymore. Not a bad game, but things have moved on since then.

Space Channel 5: Part 2
The fact that this never made it to America until the special edition for PS2 is a crime. I love Space Channel 5, and this game improves on it in every way. The low resolution prerendered backgrounds are gone, the side characters and bosses got fleshed out, and there are fun bonuses like endless mode and unlockable costumes. It's my favorite rhythm game of all time, which isn't REALLY saying much because I haven't played many, so I guess I'll say it's my favorite game released for Dreamcast. It's really, really cute, and equally fun. It's also on Steam for some reason, so really, you should give this game a try.

The Evil Within 2
I had more fun in my initial playthrough of this game than the first, and it has all the same charm, but I'm reluctant to say it's better. Instead of blending horror and action into a thrillingly tight experience like the first game, it goes for a more relaxed style where you can take your time exploring in open world segments. It's a change that doesn't leverage the strengths The Evil Within has as a setting. The first game wanted to be a fast-paced trip through a variety of horror setpieces, so a dreamlike world was chosen to bind the pieces together. Turning that dream world into a relatively stable environment with lower variety is wasted potential, and the slowness associated with that change also removes the unique intensity of the first game. It does have some unique strengths of its own though, being smoother the whole way through and much more impressive on a technical level. The writing is also surprisingly strong for a game even tangentially associated with Shinji Mikami, and Sebastian Castellanos is one of my favorite game protagonists in recent memory. I had a ton of fun with The Evil Within 2, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it's one of my favorites of the year, it just didn't go in the most satisfying direction overall.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
In Japan, this game is simply titled "Ghost Trick" which is a way better title if only for how it isn't misleading. I went into this game hoping for some good paranormal investigation, but the gameplay's actually just possessing and wiggling objects in predetermined ways to prevent people's deaths. It's a charming premise for a game and a story, but when it comes to actually playing it, it's nothing more than adequate. Just as the gameplay wasn't as nuanced as I hoped, the story doesn't trust you to figure things out and rehashes information constantly to make sure you're on track. I would have appreciated this game more if it was 25-50% shorter and gave players a chance for deduction instead of outright telling you things, but I also have to admit that it was still an overall good experience. Check it out if you're into visual novels, but not if you want something puzzley.

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise
Everyone's seeing this set of reviews from my twitter, where I pretty much already said all I need to say about this game, so I'll just say that again. It's meant to be a fanservice mashup of Fist of the North Star and Yakuza, and sadly, that's ALL it is. I was hoping that Fist of the North Star would be the injection of originality Yakuza needs to break out of its formula, while Yakuza helped North Star's similar mix of gravitas and humor really shine. However, it ended up being just a celebration of the memes of both series, which can't be enjoyed as much when it doesn't have the serious moments to play off. Combining that disappointment with the outdated Yakuza 0 engine, playing this after Yakuza Kiwami 2 was a letdown. Not having fun while blowing up people with a hokuto hyakuretsu ken is pretty much impossible, so I can't write it off, but it's crazy how an idea with this much promise didn't end up as some of the most fun I've had in a game in general.

Mike Tyson's Punch Out
This game is on the pantheon of legendary NES games, but I'm not sure it's as good as people remember. The first half is great, boxers have a lot of personality and you can learn as you go, but the later ones are all just tough dudes you need to memorize. It changes from a wacky back and forth fight into high speed Simon Says. I took the time to beat Mike Tyson, but the fight's pretty much the same every time so I wasn't satisfied by my effort at all. The Wii one is easily the better experience.

Resident Evil 4
Just like Symphony of the Night, I've been hard on this game in the past for redefining a series I had previously enjoyed. Also just like Symphony of the Night, I've come around to appreciating just how much heart this game has. Not only did this game pretty much invent the concept of using a horror setting to push players to mastering action mechanics, it did so with style. It's almost tragic to look back on all the third person shooters this game lead to, which had you dryly sitting in cover, with enemies lacking a wide set of meaningful interactions. Even Resident Evil 5 moved more towards typical shooter gameplay compared to the risk and reward this game facilitates with its combat mechanics. This game along with Vanquish give me the sense that third person shooting still has a lot of room for improvement, so you should probably go play both of those. They were also both directed by Shinji Mikami, so you gotta admit, this guy knows how to make games lively.

Super Mario Bros. 3
This game is probably the most unassailable classic game on this list, but it's not the best. Unlike the aforementioned third person shooting, I think platforming is a genre that has been explored pretty thoroughly, and hundreds of games have evolved from this one to make some great stuff. It's good and fun, no problems, but Mario is the template for every platformer you've ever played, so it won't be very exciting. You should play it anyway though, because as I just said, it's the template for every platformer you've ever played. It's good to have perspective.

Return of the Obra Dinn
This game is an absolute treat. If you haven't heard of it, because not many people have, it's a game by the creator of Papers Please (which I also liked, see above) where you investigate the mystery of the Obra Dinn, an East India Company ship where all hands were lost at sea. You have a list of the crew, a few photos, and have to piece together who is who and how they died by traveling back to the moment of their death using a magical watch. Since people don't usually shout their names, what killed them, and who all observers are from left to right, you have to use everything from uniforms to marks on the wall to make your deductions. The amount of clues and the cleverness of their placement is jaw dropping, and even minor crew members usually a solid clue to go off. The problem is that word "usually" is in there instead of "always". While I didn't have to check a guide, I tallied up my solutions and only 3/4ths were done with direct deduction, and the rest were "I know your position or your race, and I'm sure of a few other people, so I'll just swap the information around until the game clicks into place". The game won't let you guess everyone, as you need to solve three at a time for the entries to lock into your solution notebook, but it's also loose enough to suggest the game is fully aware that some clues are way too hidden away and a couple characters are too ambiguous to be decisive until the end. The game's pacing certainly doesn't help, as you're forced to experience every memory before you're able to freely investigate the crew. The other black mark on the game is its interface, presented as a book you're writing notes in. It's such a clunky way to navigate information that it feels like you're solving a rubik's cube with your elbows, and it took me a couple hours before I really understood how to navigate it. Even with the issues though, I love this game so much. It trusts players to be smart to a very gratifying degree, and I felt genuinely accomplished when I sorted out the mystery of the ship and each individual crewman. Absolutely play this game if you're even a little interested. It took me 7 hours to finish and it was so gripping I did it in one day. Really. Play it.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
Even within a series of amazing games, Castlevania 3 stands out. It refines the thoughtful action of the first game while adding character swapping and branching paths to provide the most satisfying Castlevania experience yet. It's guaranteed to be one of your top NES games if you like a challenge, just be sure to play the Japanese version with the enhanced music.
Wait, I was supposed to write about Curse of the Moon, and ended up giving a shallow overview of Castlevania 3. Conveniently, if you would like to play a shallow overview of Castlevania 3, Curse of the Moon is right for you. When it copies screens from the original Castlevania games along with all their signature mechanics, I feel justified labeling it a clone. It's a $7 clone of a game I like at least, so I have to admit I left satisfied, but I don't have much respect for it.