Ian and I were talking last night about what our GOTY would be. I said Dark Souls III and Bloodborne, neither of which actually came out this year. That got me thinking about what other games I’ve played this year, and while I’ve tried several, the list of games I actually stuck with is depressingly short. I played The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ back when it was released, and it was OK, I guess, but I was underwhelmed with it. I loved, loved, loved The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and have put in an ungodly amount of time into the game. Like, I’m embarrassed to tell you how many hours I’ve poured into Rebirth because it far exceeds the time I’ve put into any other game–and it’s not even close. I was mildly positive about The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth, but when BoI: A+ came out, I was done. It was pure fan service and geared towards the hardcore players who have Fucking Goddamn Real Platinum Godded BOI:R and were looking for another challenge.
One thing I both love and hate about indie games is that when they hit cult status, it becomes a very insular community. Take, for example, Nuclear Throne. It’s one of my favorite games of all times, and it’s a game I never play any longer. I put many, many hours into this game as well, but I only managed to beat The Throne a handful of times. I had it while it was in Early Access, and the devs, Vlambeer, kept adding to the game. They’re wonderful about keeping in touch with their community, and they really worked to incorporate suggestions from their community into the game. This is great! To a point. They started adding things on the loop, really cool things, and I sighed because it’s stuff I would never see. You loop once you beat The Throne, and as I said, I only managed to do it a handful of times. Once they started focusing on the looping part of the game, I quit playing. I knew I would be left out in the cold, and it was time to move on.
It’s the same with BOI:R. Once Edmund McMillen started listening exclusively to the hardcore players, he put the game out of reach for the general populace. Again, I think it’s fantastic that he’s so receptive to the Isaac community, but it means that people who aren’t beating MegaSatan every run aren’t going to be able to jump into the game. I think both Vlambeer and McMillen went too far in the direction of adding content for the sake of the elite players, and I’m not elite enough to enjoy the new content.
Another game I tried and really loved, but was ultimately too hard for me is Hollow Knight. I adored the haunting graphics and my adorable bunny-eared bug knight protagonist and her trusty rusty nail (as her sword). I loved the Souls-like atmosphere and exploring all the different environments. I loved everything about the game except–the platforming. Oh, the platforming. It started out OK, but then it became tedious, quickly followed by nope, can’t do this. It’s the main part of the game, so not being good at it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the game. And so, as much as I love the game, and I love it a great deal, I stopped playing it. I maintain it’s a terrific game, however.
Then, there’s Hyper Light Drifter. It’s a beautiful game done in a retro pixel style with lovely pastels. The main character had a heart condition that made him pant after running for a short period of time. It’s a beautiful game. I loved exploring the environments. It just…lacked something. I would think, “I should play HLD. I like that game.” Then I would play a different game. I don’t know why it didn’t capture me as it hit many of my sweet spots, but it just didn’t. I would still recommend it as a game to play, though.
I played Salt and Sanctuary, a Souls clone, but 2D. I became obsessed with it, and I plowed my way through it. It’s an unabashed love letter to the Souls series, and it wears its inspirations on its sleeve. The weird thing is that the roll button was on RB (I think. Or RT) instead of B, and I was almost going to quit over this. I know the Souls button configuration isn’t intuitive, but it’s what I know. And if a game is going to be a Souls clone, using different buttons to establish its identity is not a smart thing to do. When it first released, you couldn’t change the buttons. By the time I played it, you could. After an hour of struggling with the controls, I switched to Souls controls and was much happier.
The game was solid for the first half, but fell apart in the second half when it grew more reliant on platforming. I finished it in a fairly short amount of time, and I was reasonably satisfied by the time I was done. I played as a caster, and the game was hard, but not outrageously difficult. I started a second playthrough as a tank, and it’s actually more difficult. It’s because not having the third D makes rolling not nearly as effective as it is in Souls game, and many times I tried to roll by a boss, I’d get soundly thumped. I didn’t finish the second playthrough because I suddenly got tired of the game and just quit. It’s a solid game, and I was way into it while I was playing it, but I don’t remember much of anything about it now that I’ve been away from it for several months. I can’t remember the name of a single boss for example, nor can I name any of the spells/weapons.
The one game that I was hyped for was Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! I played the first one when it came out, and it’s the only game I’ve 100%’ed. I’d been looking forward to the sequel ever since it was announced, which was over a year ago. The developer is one dude, David Galindo, and he kept pushing back the release date. My hopes dimmed further and further until I almost forgot the game existed. Or rather, I pushed it to the back of my mind because it was too painful to keep wanting to play it. Then, it was supposed to come out in August (I think) of this year. I was so unbelievably hyped. It was pushed back once again, and I was crushed. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the first game, and I needed the sequel in my life.
When it finally came out, I played it obsessively, and it was so much better than the original in many ways. I’ve written about all that before, so I’ll only briefly summarize it now. Better graphics (seriously, don’t play if you’re hungry. the food looks so mouth-watering), better menus, a restaurant designer (I’ve spent many happy hours designing my restaurants) with items you can unlock, loot crates!–who doesn’t like loot crates–and several other upgrades. Only having to hit two or three keys for each chore (except dish-washing–that’s five) is a huge improvement, and I love not having to spend too much time on the chores. The holding stations idea is a stroke of genius and adds a layer of strategy to the game, and the Chef for Hire shifts is an interesting aspect of the game as well.
There are a few big downfalls to the game that make it less enjoyable, though. One is that you can’t upgrade food. There are more food items in general, a lot more, but I miss that you can’t upgrade an individual food item to make it more expensive. That’s a smaller issue, but my biggest gripe is that the main restaurant is an endless mode. Having to play twenty days in the original in order to get another star was a grind, and it was frustrating when I’d do the rest of the objectives after nine or ten days, but still had to play ten more in order to progress. However, doing away with progression days in general was a step back. Now, you still have to grind to get your stars, but there’s less of a linear progression.
In addition, the emails were gone. Chubigans (the developer) stated that he couldn’t get them into the game in time, but they’d be included in a future patch. I was glad to hear that because they’re one of my favorite part of the game. They were hilarious, weird, bawdy, and just a hoot. I was looking forward to their inclusion, then disappointed when each patch didn’t include them.
Still, I played the game compulsively, and I managed to reach five stars. I thought that would be a momentous accomplishment, but it wasn’t. Instead, I got a message saying I was only halfway there and what? I didn’t want to grind for ten stars! It was a letdown that hampered my enjoyment in playing the game.
Another negative is that you can’t affect your buzz as you could in the original. Each food has different pluses and minuses, and in the original, you could use that to your advantage. Say it was a rainy day. There are some foods that give you a bump in buzz if you serve them on a rainy day. It’s a fun management aspect of the original that is sorely missing in the sequel. As much fun as I’ve had with CSD! 2!!, I flat-lined once I reached five stars. I mostly did the Chef for Hire shifts because one of the achievements is to get 200 bronze medals. You get a bronze medal for finishing a shift with 8 (I think) bad or average orders in the day. I have only done gold shifts (perfect days. I think you should be allowed one mistake), so it’s taken me much longer to finish the shifts. I currently have 185 gold medals, so only 15 more to go. I’m also something like level 75 which is 7.5 stars.
A big update came out on Tuesday. It included the emails, three more modes including Classic Mode (YAY!), and several other tweaks that have made me happy to play the game again. There are more items to unlock, for example, which makes me giddy. I like decorating my restaurants, and opening loot crates is still a blast. Classic Mode means I can adjust for buzz, AND I can adjust the number of prep stations (one customer per prep station) I have. I’ve unlocked 13 prep stations (I may have just unlocked the 14th and last one), but I am only comfortable with 10 – 12 prep stations. The stations are numbered so up to 10 is acceptable because there are ten numbers on the number row of keys. 11 & 12 are ok because they are next to 9 & 0, but 13 & 14 are on the row under the number row, and since I use Dvorak but still have a QWERTY keyboard, I can’t look to see which keys I’m pounding on. Plus, the more buzz I have, the less time the customers will wait. Once I have 150% buzz, the customers wait patiently for one second. Yes, that’s right. One. I can increase the customers’ patience by 15 seconds for each different side dish I have in a holding station (I can have up to 3 side dishes), but there are only a few that are instantly prepped. Therefore, the customers who come before I have them prepped only wait for the previous patience time I have and not the updated time.
All of this made me less enthusiastic to play the game. There is no reason to want higher buzz, which is a flaw in the game. There is also no incentive to get a perfect day except for bragging rights. Being able to control the number of customers I have to serve at one time is HUGE. Oh, also, it’s smarter to have less foods on your menu in order to work more quickly. That’s another problem with the game, it encourages you to take the easiest route possible. I can have up to six entrees, but it makes more sense to only have three. It also makes more sense to stick to a few foods I know well rather than to switch foods. In other words, play it safe. It’s sad because part of the fun is trying out the new foods, but it’s not much fun to continually get dinged for not filling out orders fast enough.
Zen Mode in which you don’t have to worry about rush hours and you can toggle on infinite patience is a blessing. I love being able to chill out and do my best, but not feel constantly frazzled. On the other hand, Stress Mode that starts at 150% buzz, has 14 prep stations and 8 holding stations. It’s not fun at all, and I only did it to get my achievement (doing a Stress Mode day). I don’t think I’ll get the achievement of doing Stress Mode and keeping buzz at 150%, but I’ll give it the old college try, I guess. I’m not usually an achievement kind of gal, but after 100%’ing the first game, I feel almost obliged to do the same in the second.
Oh! The emails. They’re back, and they’re more hilarious than ever. We have an ongoing poke at triple-A devs treating their teams atrociously. We have an amusing and outlandish take on Kickstarters. We have general bizarre beliefs that you often see in emails. And, we have a truly epic war between two employees who can’t stand each other. Leo and Dennis. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading about their antics (though I would hate to have either of them as a coworker), and I’m so glad the emails are back. There are roughly six hundred of them, and you get several after each day completed. Is it enough for me to keep playing? Yes, for now.
I love the changes, including being able to upgrade your equipment for chores. It gives me something to do with my money. I’m glad the dating sim part wasn’t brought back, and I’m extremely happy the emails have returned. I love Classic Mode and Zen Mode, and I’m happy to return to the game. Chubigans has gone well above and beyond what he needed to do for this game. The game on release was worth more than the $12.99 asking price and had hundreds of hours of replayability in it. With the update, it’s a no-brainer. If you like a fast-paced, fast-typing restaurant sim, this is the game for you. Just remember, don’t play it on an empty stomach.