Darksiders 3

When I beat Darksiders, I thought it was the best Zelda game I’d ever played. It’s not Zelda. It’s really a mash up of a lot of good games, but its most obvious influence is the 3D Zelda games. Darksiders 3 most obvious influence is Dark Souls, but it’s not the best Dark Souls. It’s not even the best Darksiders.

The story of Darksiders 3 is convoluted, and it doesn’t help that there’s not much “in the previous games” lead up. The short of it is that you are one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, Fury (not an actual historic horseman, but whatevs), and you have to hunt down and kill the seven deadly sins. They’ve been set free on Earth in the middle of the apocalypse. Now there are demons, angels, and sins to kill.

After release, Darksiders 3 got a couple significant updates to address some of the major complaints reviewers had. One of those was “classic” mode, which was intended to make the game more like the previous two installments. I played the whole game in “classic” mode, and I still felt the Dark Souls influences in nearly every aspect.

In a game where you play as Fury, there’s a dearth of fury shown. Enemies rarely come in groups larger than three, and they’re mostly durable. It has a somewhat slow pace, especially compared to the rest of the series, with a focus on watching attacks and dodging them to counter attack and punish the enemy. I was slightly surprised at how few huge monsters there were, especially considering that huge bosses are staple of the series. The sins themselves are rarely bigger than Fury and follow the same approach as the basic enemies: watch the pattern, dodge, and punish.

There’s nothing really spectacular here. It’s an okay action game that obviously apes a lot of mechanics from Dark Souls. The problem is that Dark Souls‘ mechanics match its world and Darksiders 3 does not. Darksiders is a world of comic book action, heaven versus hell, four horsemen riding, deadly sins running amok. The sins are just bosses at the end of uninteresting dungeons. It mashes in some Metroidvania qualities by adding movement options when you get new weapons, and there’s some degree of non-linearity to the middle game. It doesn’t use the Dark Souls influence to elevate the world, and it never turns down the comic book influence to match the more methodical gameplay.

Darksiders 3 is confused about what it wants to be, and I hope Gunfire Games can sort it out by the fourth game and possibly the conclusion of the series. I’d hate for them to get to the end of it and never overcome the greatness of the first game. Darksiders 3 is not going to do it.


Reference: Gunfire Games. Darksiders 3 (THQ Nordic, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Green Man Gaming

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – Mars

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – MARS (ZOE2) is not a new game. It originally came out on Playstation 2 almost 16 years ago. But in the year 2018, Konami saw fit to brush it up again and release it on PC, and that was a great idea. ZOE2 hasn’t lost a single bit of luster.

You are Dingo Egret and you’re on the Jovian moon of Callisto, mining something in a rickety old mech. After some slow walking and clumsy movement, you stumble upon a hidden mech called Jehuty. From there, the rest of the story is anime nonsense, but you can ignore it. The game itself is super fun.

That introduction in the mining mech serves to demonstrate the contrast between the mechs of this game and the Orbital Frames, particularly Jehuty. Those few minutes in the mining mech are painful. It’s slow, unresponsive, and clumsy. Jehuty is like a surgical knife with jet engine. It moves like liquid and it’s armed with a half dozen types of attacks before you even get to the subweapons.

ZOE2 is the anime mech game you dream of. Instead of plodding and counting ammo, you soar through the air, slice up enemies with your sword, light up the air with homing lasers, and augment your attacks with a dozen different subweapons, from a gatling gun to giant laser that takes 10 seconds to charge. The missions span from arena fights against handfuls of enemies, to traditional boss battles, to battlefields full of enemies and allies.

It’s not perfect though. By the time you’ve acquired all of the subweapons, which don’t really build upon each other in power but give you different options, you’re near the end of the game. It’s short, almost to the point of being too short. I had so much fun with it that they could’ve doubled the length and I still wouldn’t have gotten tired of it. Unfortunately, it does pad the time a bit with the last two boss fights, which are significantly more difficult than any boss leading up to them. Out of the six hours I logged in the game, I must’ve spent two of those hours on those last two bosses alone. I died over and over and over again. And they weren’t fun either.

In 2019, I can still recommend a game that was released in 2003. It’s not the looker that it once was, but it’s still sharp and the gameplay itself absolutely holds up. I would’ve preferred if the last two boss fights were more fun, but the rest is so great that I don’t mind. At 16 years, it might be time to call Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner a classic.


Reference: Konami Digital Entertainment. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – MARS (Konami Digital Entertainment, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Humble Store

The Hex

The Hex is made by the same developer as Pony Island. In that game, nothing is what it seems, it’s super clever, and there are secrets everywhere. The Hex is a bit more ambitious and it still keeps those same qualities.

There’s going to be a murder in the Six Pints Inn. There are six potential murderers at the inn, and they’re all displaced video game characters. Throughout the game, you control each character to explore their backstory, their interactions with other characters, and resolve the mystery.

The hook to The Hex is that each of these characters are from different video games, and visiting their past means playing those games. The games themselves simple but enjoyable for as long as they stick around. The controls are simple (just WASD, mouse, and left mouse button) so they’re pretty accessible. The best part about the game is the writing. All of these games and characters are interwoven and seeing how they all unravel is a real treat.

However, this intricate weaving combined with the plethora of secrets means you could miss or gloss over some of the little details that result in a somewhat unsatisfying ending. When I got to the end of The Hex, I knew and understood the main plot, but there were a small number of side stories that I was left feeling unresolved on because I hadn’t plundered the full depths of the secrets. Even with a guide, some of these secrets are pretty intricate. Absolutely not a deal breaker, but it may leave you wishing it were a little more transparent. Pony Island kind of suffered from the same issue.

The end result is a fascinating game that is intricate yet accessible, with some side plots that may vex you unless you follow some achievement guide. The Hex certainly has a target audience that grew up around 16 bit consoles and 90’s PC gaming, but it’s fun and weird enough to appeal to many more people.


Reference: Daniel Mullins Games. The Hex (Daniel Mullins Games, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Steam

Timespinner

Everyone slept on Timespinner. I know I did. I saw a Giant Bomb quicklook for it once, and then got a reminder of it during their game of the year articles, and that was it. This is the kind of game that Steam and other storefronts are doing a disservice to. It definitely would’ve landed on my best games list, and I barely heard about it.

In Timespinner, you play as Lunais, a time messenger. Lunais’ people have built a time machine, a timespinner, and they have to routinely send time messengers back in time to prevent the timespinner from falling into enemy hands. But after Lunais jumps into the past, the timespinner breaks and she has to sort out a conflict between two worlds.

I’m not going to dance around it. Timespinner is heavily influenced by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s a 2D action platformer with character upgrades, multiple weapon types, usable and wearable items, experience and leveling, familiars, and a huge variety of enemies. In many ways, it improves upon Symphony of the Night. There aren’t as many weapons, but they level with use and that means there are fewer/no junk weapons. They nearly all have unique functions so it’s a matter of your taste or enemy weaknesses to choose what weapons you like. There are no subweapons, but you can equip two weapons per set, and switch rapidly between three sets. You also get powerful spells that use a mana-ish bar that are trivial to use. Instead of Symphony‘s fighting game inputs for spells, you just hold down a button.

The levels are good looking and the music is the best imitation of the excellent Symphony soundtrack I’ve heard. I got a bit overleveled by the end, which took away a lot of the challenge, but I was ready for it by that point. I had upgrades that made movement fast and easy, so when I wanted to blast through an area just to get to the other end, it was as simple as it should be considering I’d manually traversed the area before.

Timespinner is an excellent game that I should’ve been playing since release. But Steam is a hellhole and it’s just flooded with trash. A game like Timespinner not only has to compete against this endless chute of garbage, but also the super high budget, AAA game releases. Steam has all kinds of algorithms to show you things it thinks you will like, but it never put Timespinner on my front page. I’m looking at games cycling through it right now and half of it is stuff I have zero interest in. I get that no recommendation engine is going to be perfect, and Symphony is a console game, but it hasn’t learned that I love Metroidvania style games so it’s not showing me those. It’s showing me NBA 2K19 because Humble Bundle gave me that game once. It’s showing me stuff I own on other platforms. GOG is a more curated storefront, but it’s also not putting Timespinner in front of me. I had to search this game out.

Here’s my attempt to correct these wrongs. I’m singing Timespinner‘s praises. If you enjoy Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or Super Metroid, or any modern Metroidvania, you should play Timespinner. After bashing my head against Hollow Knight for so long, I think Timespinner deserves as much praise as that game got. Timespinner is a better game. It improves on Symphony in many ways, and it has an actual story worth investing time into. It shouldn’t have been so hard for me to find and it deserves more attention.


Reference: Lunar Ray Games. Timespinner (Chucklefish, 2018)

Source: Purchased from GOG

2019 Goals

2018 is over and mostly successful, goals-wise. It’s time to write up some goals for 2019.

Exercise

I realized recently that I was in better shape and probably happier when I ran more. I’ve been avoiding running since I trained for and ran a marathon in 2016, which I blame for my 2016 kidney stone. While I have no intentions of ever running another marathon, in 2019, I will run more. In 2016, I ran 367 miles (counted on my Garmin). I’m not training for another marathon, but I need to log more miles than I did last year (~100).

Goal: Run 200 miles

Being a Person

I’m still looking to improve myself in non-video game things, and I’ve been watching too much Great British Bake Off. In 2019, I’m going to do better at making food.

Goal: Make a food item (not frozen or pre-made) at least once a month. (need to somehow document each thing)

Shhhh

Some goals I can’t talk about in public. It’ll either screw something up or cause drama or otherwise impact my ability to achieve the goal. This is one of them. I guess if I succeed, I can reveal it at the end of 2019, and if I fail, I won’t.

Secret Goal

2018 Goals Review

2018 is over, so maybe I should go back and look at those goals I wrote at the beginning of the year and see how they went! Introspection!

Writing/Production

Goal: One video per month

Hmm nope. But I did stream a lot of games, much more than 12. Most of that was my ongoing Stardew Valley playthrough, which is still in progress. Partial success.

Goal: One non-review per month

Not even close. Excluding video game reviews, WWE PPV reviews, and posts about streaming, I wrote four non-reviews. That’s too far from 12 to call even a partial success. Failed.

Exercise

Goal: Keep my body weight under 200 lbs.

I’ve hovered around 190lbs all year, so that’s an unqualified success. Success.

Goal: Increase max 5 rep weights

Completely abandoned after I hurt my back. I’m not even going to go back and check. I had some success here, but I’m not counting it. Failed.

Goal: Maintain the ability to run a 33:00 5K

I didn’t test this as often as I would have liked throughout the year, but I kept up this pace for every race and only dipped below on purpose (like doing a negative splits run). I ran 5+ miles today at a sub 10:30 pace. Success.

Being a person

Goal: Play each of these games once

I played half of those games. Partial success.

Goal: Go to a con

I went to two cons. Success.

Wrap Up

I’m genuinely a little surprised at how well I’ve done. I’ve been avoiding looking at my goals since March-ish because I thought I had blown all of them and I was wrong. I only completely failed one, and abandoned a second. The rest were either complete or partial success, and I’m quite pleased by that. In 2019, I will set fewer goals, but no less ambitious.

Donut County

Cute. Quirky. Colorful. Friendly. Light puzzle solving. Consuming small things to make a bigger thing. This describes Katamari Damacy, but it also describes Donut County. But also Donut County is a story about gentrification.

In Donut County, you make holes. And then you move the hole around to collect things. The more things that fall into your hole, the larger your hole gets. The goal of each level is to put everything into your hole. Also, you play as a raccoon (named BK) and you’re putting all these things into holes because you think they’re trash and you love trash.

While the gameplay is rather simple, the writing is rather good. It’s one of those stories that starts near the end as all of your neighbors and friends are mad at you for dropping all of their stuff into your hole. They’re mad but really kind of chill about it, and BK is kind of a dick about it but not really. He really wants a quadcopter and he has to drop all this stuff down the hole to get it, even if it means wrecking things. By the end, there is character growth.

It is a short game, but I would say that’s not a bad thing. Like many other shorter, more readily accessible games, it’s less of being too short and more of not overstaying its welcome. It’s over before the cuteness of it becomes annoying. Donut County is one of those games you can give to just about anyone and they will have a good time. It’s not a huge mind-blowing experience, but it’s fun and has a point.


Reference: Ben Esposito. Donut County (Annapurna Interactive, 2018)

Source: Purchased from GOG

Dusk

I was skeptical of DUSK. I’d seen it being played by others when it was in early access and I wasn’t particularly drawn in by it. It emulates older games, but I thought the enemies looked goofy in a way that would take me out of the game. As it got near non-early access release, it’d acquired some buzz behind it. Since I loved the games it purports to be inspired by (Blood, Quake, Redneck Rampage, Heretic, etc.), I gave it a shot. That was a good decision. DUSK was my favorite game to come out in 2018.

DUSK has a story in the same way all of those games had stories. It’s loosely told, doesn’t really mean anything, and it’s totally optional. This is a classic first-person shooter. Collect weaponry, find colored key cards, kill enemies. It’s got episodes that each have a theme, going from rusty farms to industrial plants to hell.

I am a product of the generation that made those classic FPS games and DUSK really takes me back to those days. It feels like a sequel to Quake. From the movement to the survivability to the weapons and the hordes of enemies, DUSK perfectly emulates those games. It just feels right. There’s no modern “niceties” to it. Health doesn’t regenerate. There’s no recharging shield. You can carry as many weapons as you can find. No objective marker. No one yelling at you to shoot the something or other. It really is “find the key, kill the enemies”.

Beyond the sometimes goofy-looking (but always lethal) enemies and some levels that weren’t quite as easy to navigate as others, I don’t have much to complain about. It’s a fast moving, fast action, classic FPS. The music rips, the levels are really atmospheric, the action is excellent. If this came out 20 years ago (okay, maybe 22 or 23 years ago), it’d be hailed today as a classic. Who knows what the future holds, so today DUSK is the best example of neo-retro done right.


Reference: David Szymanski. DUSK (New Blood Interactive, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Steam.

2018 Dream of waking video game awards

2018 wasn’t exactly a great year for me and video games. I played a lot of games and very few of them stuck with me. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the games, but I wasn’t really feeling much of anything. Even the two games I spent the most time playing this year, Final Fantasy XV and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, didn’t make the top of my awards. They merely consumed the most time. As I look around at other GOTY lists, I’m seeing a lot of stuff I’m either not interested in, not on a platform I own (or even compelling enough to buy that platform to play it), or some combination of the two. But that doesn’t mean that there were no good games! I absolutely loved my GOTY, and many of the others on this list! It just means that most of these are only going to have one honorable mention, and some of them may not be from 2018.

2018 Game of the Year

DUSK

Right, this was an easy choice. I love DUSK. It’s a Quake/Heretic/Blood sequel I never got. It’s ugly but fun. It’s an amazing emulation of games from the mid-90’s, but even better. Many games have tried to make neo-retro work and failed. They usually get the look right, but not the feeling. DUSK nails it all.

Runner Up: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

2018’s 2017 Game of the Year

Assassin’s Creed Origins

I’ve had a long-lived love/hate relationship with Assassin’s Creed. I almost always finish them, but I rarely enjoy them. They’re just kind of mindless filler, and after Unity, I was pretty much done with the series. Until Origins. Origins brought me back because it changed so much of the Assassin’s Creed formula. It changed so much that it’s more or less a different game entirely from its predecessors. The same could almost be said for Final Fantasy XV. This is a series that I’ve played (nearly) every game but never enjoyed them and never finished them. I enjoyed FFXV and finished it. Dark Souls 3 didn’t particularly change much of the series but it is the first one I enjoyed enough to finish

Runners Up: Final Fantasy XV, Dark Souls 3

The “I Wish I Had More Time for This” Award

Battletech

Battletech could almost go into “Wish I Liked This More” because I enjoyed the short time I’ve played it, but maybe not enough to go back. I love the Battletech world, but I’m much more of a Mechwarrior type of person. Still, I came home from Gencon and wanted to jump right into Battletech. I got humbled on my first real mission and I haven’t worked up the nerve to go back. I want to. I eyeball it. But I don’t know if I’ve got the time to invest in re-running the beginning or starting up again and seeing if I’ve dug myself into too deep of a hole to get out of.

Runner Up: Into the Breach

The “I Wish I Liked This Game More” Award

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight is the clearest winner of this award, maybe the easiest choice of the year. I really enjoyed the demo for Hollow Knight, so much that I bought it immediately upon release. But the punishing difficulty, often aimless design, and awful body retrieval mechanic turned me off eventually. This is a beautiful game, fun in many parts, and doesn’t want you to enjoy it. I love a good Metroidvania. Hollow Knight hates me and I refuse to stay in an abusive relationship with it.

Runner Up: CrossCode

The “I’m Never Going to Finish This, But It’s Still Great” Award

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

This isn’t entirely fair, because Super Smash Bros. Ultimate just came out weeks ago, but there’s so much in there that there’s essentially no possibility I’ll ever see the end of it. There’s so many character unlocks, so many spirits, so many minigames, just an unholy amount of video game. Even the World of Light seems like a nearly impossible task for all but the most dedicated SSBU player. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot. The same could be said for Forza Horizon 4. It’s a fun game, but I play racing games in 2-5 hour spurts maybe three or four times a year. When I want to play one, I enjoy it, but I get my fill of them pretty quickly.

Runner Up: Forza Horizon 4

Awards for Things That Aren’t Video Games That I Loved in 2018

Best Film – Annihilation

Best Album Single – Childish Gambino This is America

Best Novel – Peter Watts The Freeze-Frame Revolution

Best TV Show – Great British Bake Off Series 6

Ne Cede Malis