Though some might disagree, I found 2015 to be an excellent year for gaming, as it managed to impress me upon every passing glance; you’d be hard pressed to find a better year that excellently adhered to tried and true formulas while occasionally implementing innovative risks with selective new IP’s. However every rose is not without its thorn, as each and every year will have its own fair share of disappointments and 2015 was no exception. Understand that disappointing doesn’t necessarily equate to mediocrity, in fact some of these games are great, but they were just unable to live up to expectations and/or bit off more than they could chew. I made a conscious effort to avoid certain titles as their reception was nothing short of abysmal, and I don’t know about you, but I personally don’t find enjoyment in playing mediocre titles. So with that being said, titles such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 and Devil’s Third will not be included in this list. These are simply five games that had the potential to be amazing, but to due obtuse design choices, ended up being a lowlight of 2015.
Building perfection, one question block at a time…
Legacy is a word that is seldom used nowadays; the word has never constructed itself into an oversaturated, pretentious connotation and the vast, vigorous world of gaming haven’t the shortage of premium, quality titles that embody the potential and sheer definition of a legacy. Legacy is a matter of quality and time. Very few series have the pristine ability to kickstart a brave new medium of entertainment, one that is not only presently relevant but also healthier than it has ever been, breathing new, imaginative life into this expansive world. The Super Mario series not only crafted the world of gaming that we know and love today, but it pioneered a beloved genre to perfection and also introduced iconic characters that’ve become synonymous with the entire gaming medium as a whole, with Mario himself becoming the public face of the Big N, which at one point was a renowned playing card and toy company. Thirty years later and Mario has undoubtedly seen his fair share of sequels, successors, spin-offs, and inspirations, arguably taking massive responsibility for the popularity and success of the 2D and 3D realm of gaming. With countless masterpieces under his belt such as Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario Bros 1 & 3, Super Mario 64, and Super Mario World to name a few, Mario has unquestionably become an icon and staple in the gaming community due his unparalleled relevance and punctual ability to deliver a quality gaming experience. For Mario’s thirtieth anniversary, Nintendo have cooked up something special that marks an innovative step towards the series’ evolution; Super Mario Maker gives fans the necessary tools to create a minute, yet idiosyncratic piece of Mario’s very own legacy. Super Mario Maker is essentially two games in one beautiful package: an exquisitely precise 2D platformer that accentuates that iconic responsiveness that is synonymous with the Super Mario series, and a brilliantly intuitive design tool that incomparably outshines all of its respective ilk in nearly every way imaginable. Super Mario Maker somehow managed to find a superlative equilibrium so that fans and newcomers alike can enjoy the experience to its fullest. Fans will undoubtedly bask in all of its nostalgic glory while newcomers, like myself, can perceive the structural template of Super Mario Maker as a small slice of Mario’s history.
2015 most certainly had its ups and downs and even though the year’s been relatively steady, I for one am looking forward to its more promising future. 2015 introduced us to some fantastic new IP’s that stand gloriously in a tiresome trend of sequel-itis; titles that come to mind are the masterful Ori and the Blind Forest and the hauntingly beautiful Bloodborne, even the nuanced shooter Splatoon made a significant imprint. Fall 2015 is honestly so jam packed with such high production value and will prove to be a substantial final quarter to an already great year. With titles that range from Super Mario Maker to Fallout 4 to Star Wars: Battlefront, this sheer amount of quality, up until this point, has been unprecedented. If you haven’t jumped onto the next-gen bandwagon, then now is the time as more promising titles are being released each month and if you’re an early adopter like myself, then these releases will further warrant your purchase on your beloved hardware. There’s one undeniable fact that arises when analyzing on what’s left to come: it’s a great time to be a gamer.
Since I never wrote a review for the first act of Broken Age, let me share my thoughts on act one before diving head first into act two. Broken Age: Act 1 is a phenomenal work of art that is endearing, clever, humorous, challenging, and absolutely gorgeous. Broken Age has one of the most vibrantly beautiful art styles I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, something ripped straight from a children’s storybook, catering to an underused pastel design. The writing and characters were done wonderfully thanks to director Tim Schafer’s immaculate work and the fantastic performances given by Elijah Wood and Masasa Moyo. The story is a well-rounded coming-of-age adventure, learning about independence, responsibility, and one’s ultimate place in the overarching world. It’s extremely well-written and its respectful, never forceful, approach to comedy is a welcomed touch. The puzzles are most definitely challenging at times, but never too unapproachable and/or unachievable. They require a delicate slice of patience and will incept a rewarding “ah ha” feeling of discovery. On top of the well written story, act one is wrapped up in one of the most tantalizing and brilliant cliffhangers that I have ever experienced regardless of its medium of entertainment. To sum it all up, I absolutely loved act one of Broken Age as it was clever, refreshing, and most importantly, it revitalized a dying genre. The cliffhanger was brilliantly written and inserted at such a riveting moment that I couldn’t help but want more. It was one of my favourite games of 2014 and its successor crawled its way onto my anticipated games of 2015 list. So does Act two live up to the insurmountable expectations that were gloriously left by its predecessor? Unfortunately, Act two can’t even hold a candle to its older brother.
Shovel Knight, for the most, has been widely acclaimed by both critics and fans alike, praising its nostalgic 8-Bit graphical approach and its heavy influence from NES games, specifically the Mega Man series and Super Mario Bros 3. Many have addressed their concerns on Shovel Knight’s clear grasp on nostalgia, and how it doesn’t necessarily provide anything new and primarily rides off of the nostalgia alone. As someone who grew up exclusively playing the original PlayStation and have never owned a NES or SNES, I can deliver a warranted slice of perspective. Shovel Knight is not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, and most definitely rides off of nostalgia, but none of these are necessarily a bad thing. I, for one, am not playing the game with tinted goggles as I never grew up in the 8 and 16 bit era of gaming, so no nostalgic flashbacks to Mega Man or Castlevania will ever resonate in my obscure mind. Despite all of this, I am happy to report that I absolutely adore Shovel Knight and if I had played it during its original release last year, it would’ve made its mark on my top 10 games of 2014. Shovel Knight is exceptionally charming, wholeheartedly addicting, and reasonably challenging; its 8-bit art style and sound direction are undoubtedly nostalgic, but that doesn’t detract from its overall presentational quality. Regardless of its nostalgic factor, Shovel Knight is a lovely bite-sized experience that shouldn’t be missed.
This gem in particular is extremely hard for me to critique; Bloodborne is so massive in scope and presence that it’s almost too daunting for me to analytically approach it, but its unrelenting challenge and downright punishing nature deserves to be praised. Bloodborne will be marked down as one of the most challenging and rewarding video games of all time; it’s an idiosyncratic experience that will either make or break you. Bloodborne brutally tests the player’s insight and reflexes; with a deliberate lack of guidance, plenty of mistakes will be made and plenty of gruesome deaths will undoubtedly ensue, but it’s this “no risk, no reward” mentality that makes Bloodborne such an unbelievable experience. Despite the alluring appeal of its demented but gorgeous world, and viscerally strategic combat, understand that Bloodborne is not an experience for the faint of heart. It will continuously beat you to the ground, and once you feel stable and things are manageable, it will revert to beating you, again and again. The path of Bloodborne is not an easy one, but I implore you to stick with it, for your time and effort will be rewarded and its uplifting feeling of satisfying relief is a sensation like no other. Yes you will die a lot, and yes you will get frustrated consistently, but this experience is a trial of your patience and skill. Truly overcoming the insurmountable obstacles that are bosses, in and of itself, is a gratifying accomplishment. This is a game about learning from player error, overcoming the unfeasible odds, and continuously striving to live for just another minute. This is Bloodborne, and it’s bloody fantastic.
A painting in motion
Ori and the Blind Forest is gorgeous inside and out and is the best game I’ve played since 2013’s The Last of Us. Portraying a vibrant colour pallet, some would say that Ori and the Blind Forest may be an unperturbed experience for younger audiences, but its innovative save system and unrelenting challenge would prove them otherwise. Ori and the Blind Forest is a successful homage to the traditional, Metroidvania-esque action platformer; encompassing brilliant level design, breathtaking escape sequences, a forgotten sense of challenge that’s never too punishing or unforgiving, a sublime orchestral composition, and a simple, yet endearing coming-of-age story that will undoubtedly pull on your heartstrings. Ori and the Blind Forest is a near masterpiece, easily joining the ranks of my favourite games of all time and is currently the best title on the Xbox One. Moon Studios have crafted such a tranquil, vivacious world that could rightfully fit into the established Disney Universe and Ori himself is an adorable mascot that mirrors the charm and innocence of Simba. Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautiful, endearing experience and does so much right that what little it does wrong is overlooked effortlessly.
As we come to the end of the first quarter of 2015, a moment of reflection is in order. I’ll primarily be focusing on Sony and their current lineup and affairs. After the recent announcement of Uncharted 4’s delay to Spring 2016, the first thought that came to mind was: “is Sony in trouble?”
The Order 1886 is probably one of the most disappointing games I have ever played. Understand that “disappointing” does not correlate to mediocrity per se, it just means it didn’t live up to its potential nor my expectations. The Order 1886 was one of my most anticipated games of 2015 and it’s a damn shame that it won’t see the light of my game of the year consideration. For every one thing The Order 1886 does right, it does another three wrong. Yes the game is a visual marvel, but pretty graphics and polished environments can only get you so far; especially when all other integral elements of immersion are poorly executed. With only a single player campaign to offer, The Order 1886 is a disjointed look on history that is only worth visiting once.
Your wish has been granted
As an on and off fan of the Dragon Ball series, I must say that Dragon Ball: Xenoverse was nowhere on my radar. I loved the anime series growing up as a kid, and I loved the original Budokai series on PlayStation 2; it’s safe to assume that I was an avid fan growing up, but as the years past, I grew out of my Dragon Ball obsession. The last Dragon Ball game I played was Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3, which is still in my opinion the best Dragon Ball game, I wasn’t a fan of the 3D combat that Budokai Tenkaichi implemented. A decade, and a dozen mediocre DBZ games later, Dimps (the original Budokai development team) have released Dragon Ball Xenoverse: the first entry on current-gen platforms and a step in the right direction. Xenoverse is a breath of fresh air and gives new life to this aging franchise. Xenoverse introduces a plethora of new implementations to spice up the formula. The online integration is clearly inspired by MMO’s, similar to the HUB world of Destiny as players can interact with one another and recruit others to tackle parallel quests (side missions). The character/skill customization and leveling system are very RPG-esque and cater to the addictive quality of level grinding and rare equipment/skill drops. Xenoverse is the best DBZ game I’ve played in a very long time, but it is by no means a perfect game. There is plenty of room for improvement. Continue reading “Dragon Ball: Xenoverse Review”