Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ryan's Favourite Video Games of 2014

With the addition of a little one to my family there hasn’t been much time for gaming this year, so I barely eked out five new games in 2014. Also, of the list I’d say that I’ve only really finished two of them. I have played an extensive amount of each title, however, so I feel justified in the list. It’s about quality over quantity, right?

5. Mighty Gunvolt (Nintendo 3DS)

This one is a bit of a cheat, but it is a video game and I did play it in 2014. So there.

Mighty Gunvolt started out essentially as an “early adopter” bonus for buying Azure Striker Gunvolt on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. There will be more information on Azure Striker Gunvolt in a moment. If you bought ASG on, or around, its release you would receive a download code for Mighty Gunvolt. Both this title and ASG were developed by Inti Creates, a company best known for developing the Mega Man Zero series on the Gameboy Advance.

It plays like an old school Mega Man game and features Gunvolt - the titular character of Azure Striker Gunvolt - who can perform a double-jump and a charged attack, Ekoro from Gal*Gun - an Inti Creates developed series only released in Japan - who can float in the air and “charm” enemies to fight for her, and Beck - the hero of the yet-to-be-released Mighty No. 9, a joint project from Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune’s new company, Comcept, and Inti Creates - who has the ability to slide and perform a tackle attack. Get it “Mighty Gunvolt”?

The initial game was really short and could easily be beaten by each of the three characters in just a few short hours. It contains four stages with bosses that are found in each of the three games. It has been expanded since its release and can now by purchased on the Nintendo 3DS eShop along with DLC, which adds four more stages and four more bosses.

It’s a fun little title that won’t take you long to finish, but was very enjoyable. I’m not sure it’s worth the current price of $3.99 USD, though.

4. Azure Striker Gunvolt (Nintendo 3DS)

Azure Striker Gunvolt was the first independent project by Inti Creates announced at around the same time that Comcept first started their Kickstarter campaign to fund Mighty No. 9; the spiritual successor to the Mega Man series. It was an apt time to launch ASG, as well, because Inti Creates title is most definitely a spiritual successor to their Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX series, made popular on the GBA and Nintendo DS.

If you’ve played a Mega Man game then you’d be familiar with the gameplay of ASG, as it is a side-scrolling, action platformer. You play as Gunvolt or “GV”, a young boy who is an Adept; an individual who can command “septimal” or psychic powers. In GV’s case he can manipulate electricity in what is called a “Flashfield”.

The main concepts of a Mega Man title are in place: you choose an enemy from a list and whittle them away in whatever order you like. The differences are in the gameplay. In ASG you don’t “shoot” enemies in the typical sense. Instead, you mark them with your gun and then use the Flashfield of electricity to destroy them. Any enemy marked on the screen will be affected by the Flashfield. At first you can only mark two enemies at a time, but as you progress you can upgrade GV, and receive new guns, so that you can mark several enemies on screen.

The gameplay in ASG is very fast-paced, but I personally find it difficult to get out of the mindset of simply shooting the enemies. I don’t usually have such a learning curve with a video game, but Azure Striker Gunvolt definitely had me upside-down and backwards. When you eventually get used to it, it is a very fun and rewarding experience and one I would definitely suggest you try if you are a fan of Inti Creates Mega Man titles.

3. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

If you’ve played video games at any point in the last 20 years or so then you’re probably familiar with the Mario Kart series, as it has become a flagship title for any Nintendo console since the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. There probably isn’t much I can tell you about how Mario Kart 8 plays, so I’ll stick with my experience of the title, thus far.

From the moment it was announced at E3 2013 I was shocked by how great the game looks. It is so colourful and vibrant. Nintendo set up booths at different Best Buy locations around the US and Canada where you could check out demos of some of the games they’d revealed at that E3. I managed to find my way to a Best Buy not long after and checked out a few of the demos. Seeing Mario Kart 8 running at a smooth 60 frames per second just blew me away. It really is a stunning game to look at.

And – most importantly – it plays well! The game handles incredibly on whichever controller scheme you choose. You can play on the Wii U Gamepad, the Wii U Pro Controller, the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and several other input methods as well. I ended up finding that I preferred the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination, because it reminded me most of playing on the Nintendo 64 controller. Mario Kart 64 is my jam.

There are a plethora of characters to choose from in this installment. The core characters of the game remain in the Super Mario Universe, but with the addition of DLC packages that were released a few months ago, now Link from The Legend of Zelda can join in on that Mario Kart fun!

This is one of those games that you never just beat and put away, but you play now and again and savour. No matter if you’ve achieved everything the game has to offer you can always find a challenge and with the addition of DLC – something Nintendo is just starting to get used to – more life could be breathed into this wonderful title in the future.

2. Shovel Knight (Wii U, PC)

Shovel Knight is the freshmen release of Yacht Club Games, which is a company started by Sean Velasco in 2011 after he left Wayforward. Wayforward is responsible for all sorts of games, but are mostly known for their Shantae series on Nintendo’s handhelds, as well as several movie tie-in games, and recently an HD remake of DuckTales, from the Nintendo Entertainment System, on modern consoles.

Yacht Club Games first effort is an odd little title; a game where you play as a renowned knight in a far-off fantasy land, whose weapon of choice is, just as the name suggests, a shovel.

The game is a wonderful throwback to retro classics on the NES. It is a perfect union of the elements of Mega Man, Castlevania, Super Mario Bros. 3, and even the aforementioned DuckTales. The style of the game is in a pseudo 8-bit. Everything is created in sprite work that harkens back to the NES era, but at the same time would be far too technical to ever play on Nintendo’s oldest home console.

Shovel Knight is taking on the Order of No Quarter, a group of evil knights that are up to no good! You traverse the world in a map akin to that in SMB3, and you can take on the Order of No Quarter in any sequence you choose, much like Mega Man. In each stage you can find a relic, which if you purchase it, can help you defeat the boss for that area. Coupled with Shovel Knight’s shovel attacks, including one that is just like ol’ Scrooge McDuck’s pogo stick cane from DuckTales, he is a formidable hero!

Playing this game was a wonderful experience from beginning to end. It has a hilarious script, is perfectly paced, doesn’t take forever to finish, and it also balances its difficulty quite well, although being a little on the easy side. The music is full of beautifully crafted chiptune songs, which may make a future list, so keep your eyes peeled.

Shovel Knight is currently available on the Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC (via Steam) and has future releases planned for PS3, PS4, and PS Vita, so if you have the means to play it, you should definitely do so.

1. Bravely Default (Nintendo 3DS) 

Bravely Default is a new Square Enix-published JRPG developed by Silicon Studio, known mostly for creating game development software, but also for their only other release, 3D Dot Game Heroes. The game is in many ways a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light, which was released in 2010 for the DS and developed by Matrix Software.

Much like 4 Heroes of Light, the game uses an iteration of the famous Final Fantasy Job System - made popular in games like Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy Tactics - in which players use “asterisks” to give their characters new jobs and abilities.

This game is an odd duck, because it is a completely new title and series from Square Enix, but is in every way a Final Fantasy game. The story line starts off like so many FF titles before it, in which a young man from a small village is thrust into the role of hero to save the world.

Although that sounds really played out, you have to trust me on this: Bravely Default is a breath of fresh air in the world of the RPG. It plays on your nostalgia, giving you the same experience you came to love from the FF titles of yesteryear, but with a new refreshing story, great characters, incredible music, and – most importantly – a new battle system. Bravely Default is not just the same old Final Fantasy game you might be expecting.

Although the game features turn-based combat you won’t get very far if you simply let everyone take their turn. Enter: the Brave/Default system. What an inventive name!

This system allows the characters to pass on taking their turn, instead stockpiling it, which is known as Default. In the Default state your character goes into a defensive stance, which greatly protects you from enemy damage. You can do this up to four times at which point you can take advantage of using Brave. Brave allows you to attack up to four times. If you’ve stored enough moves thanks to Default, you can do so and then still perform another command on your next turn. If you haven’t, however, you’ll have to sit there and let your enemy unleash upon you while you wait for your turn count to replenish.

I’ll admit, I’m a bit of nostalgia junkie and this sort of thing is immediately going to be up my alley, but I assure you there is something special about Bravely Default that makes it worth the playthrough.

I can’t give this recommendation without a serious warning, though: The second half of Bravely Default does something that is pretty stupid. I can admit that. In fact, for many people, it’s enough that they won’t finish the game, nor recommend it to anyone, and I can see where they are coming from.

I don’t want to say any more than that and ruin the storyline, but there is a section of the game that can be a bit of slog to get through. In my personal opinion the game is good enough to play through the second half, even if it is rough. I would also add that a good portion of this “bad section” of the game is not mandatory and can be skipped, so if you hate it you can do the minimum amount necessary and get through it relatively quickly.

Regardless of the general reception of the second half of the game, Bravely Default did incredibly well in Japan and North America, and a sequel is in the works from Silicon Studio entitled Bravely Second: End Layer. I for one can’t wait for more!


cole d'arc said...

You may have had less time but you're still light years ahead of me in the videogames department. I think i've heard of maybe one of these, played none. I guess all i really follow these days are the big franchises which is pretty limiting but with comics and movies competing as well, I can only spread myself so thin.
Anyway very interesting list, gives me something to work from.

Shane said...

I've certainly been out of the video game loop in recent years, but now I have a desperate urge to play a Mega Man or Final Fantasy title. Thanks a lot, buddy. That's like a gamer crack addiction you've woken in me. I haven't played any of these games, but they are all ones that would be right up my retro alley.

Also, quick question: as a fellow classic/retro gaming enthusiast, which do you feel is a more essential purchase? The 3DS or the Wii U? I've been making serious consideration to get one this year.

cole d'arc said...

Shovel Knight is getting a PS3 release this week, I think, so I'll definitely be picking it up.