Underneath my yellow skin

I don’t play many video games but when I do awards

It’s nearing the end of the year, and you know what that means. Countless top ten lists, best ofs, and other navel-gazing articles/videos. I did my own list last year citing my favorite games of the year, and I’m doing the same this year as well. While I enjoy me a good ‘best of’ list, I like to do things differently. I don’t think there’s an objective best, anyway, so I’m just going to list my personal favorites. As to the title of this post, it’s true. I don’t play many games, but when I do, I play the hell out of them.

The game I was reluctant to play, even though theoretically it was tailor-made for me (maybe because), and it ended up capturing my heart

Night in the Woods

When I first heard about this game early in 2017 when it was released by Infinite Fall, I immediately thought it was made for me. Indie game with a female black cat protagonist? Hells, yeah! Plus, the design is gorgeous, and it seemed like it was narrative-driven. It should be right up my alley–which was why I hesitated in playing it. Plus, it was nearly twenty bucks, and I’m really cheap when it comes to games. I like to pay less than fifteen bucks for a game (which means buying during steep sales most of the time), though I’ve loosened up on that recently.

When I finally bought it and started it up, I was immediately stumped by one of the earliest ‘gameplay’ moments. I put that in quotes because it fit the definition but barely, and it was embarrassingly easy in retrospect to figure out–if you play plenty of games. Once I got past that, however, I was swept up in the game and the protagonist, Mae. She is the aforementioned female black cat, and she captivated me in a way no protagonist ever has. A young college dropout who was consumed by anxiety, depression, and sarcasm, she was me. It was later revealed that she’s bisexual, and I felt connected to her even more strongly than I had before. Add to that her propensity towards inertia and sticking her foot in her mouth by excitably blurting out awkward truths, and I became increasingly protective of her.

I played through the game three times and still didn’t see everything in it. I only played it more than once because I watched Campster’s (Errant Signal) video on it, and I noticed things in his video I hadn’t seen in my playthrough. In addition, he said the game benefited from a second playthrough, and he was right. It was on the third playthrough that I fell in love with the game.

The art direction is fantastic, and I empathized with each of the four main characters: Mae, Bea, Gregg (GREGG RULZ OK), and Angus. Whenever I spent a significant amount of time with any of them, I came to care about them even more. The overarching story/mystery is underwhelming, but by the end of my third playthrough, I accepted it as a metaphor for what is happening in the dying Rust Belt town rather than anything literal.

I won’t gush about how lovely certain moments were or how I legit cried at the poignancy of some of the interactions. I’ve written three posts on my emotional connection to the game, and I still don’t think I managed to convey how much it means to me. It might seem ridiculous to become attached to an animated cat-girl who’s sullen, mentally ill, and a brat from time to time, but Mae wormed her way into my heart, and I’m grateful for it. I’m probably going to do a fourth playthrough before too long because there are a few things I know I haven’t seen. If there is one game that I played this year that I would recommend with all my heart, it is this one.

The best Souls-like clone from the most unlikely source

The Surge

With the success of the Soulsborne games, there have been a glut of clones. Most of them have been trash, and the ones that are not trash, well, they fall short for me. Ironically, the closer they get to Souls, the more dissatisfied I am.

One of the early clones was Lords of the Fallen by Deck13 Interactive, otherwise known as Clunky Souls. I tried it several times, but I…hated it. It was slow and lumbering, and at least in the beginning, the magic was shite. It was as if all they took away from the Souls games was that the combat was slow and deliberate. I lasted an hour, maybe two before I gave it the fuck up and called it done.

Fast-forward a year or two, and their new game, The Surge, came out. It was a sci-fi (ish) Souls game, affectionately known as Junkyard Souls. I was low-key interested when it came out, but because of aforementioned cheapness and the fact that I wasn’t that interested, I waited until the summer sale* and bought it on the cheap.

On paper, it seemed as if it were not my kind of game at all except for the Souls-like aspect of it. I don’t like sci-fi, and you can’t choose your protagonist. What’s more, the protagonist is a white dude (Warren), and the only interesting thing about him is that he’s in a wheelchair. Still. There was enough there for me to try the demo when it was on sale, and because I was between games (as I often am), I bought it and dove right in.

What’s my conclusion? It’s loads of fun, much more than it has any right to be. The wheelchair is gone within five minutes, and the conceit is that Warren has to target specific parts of the enemies to craft armor or to get their weapons. There are customized kill animation shots that never get old, and I had fun romping through the game. I unintentionally handicapped myself in the beginning by not gearing myself out (didn’t remember how to use the inventory), but once I figured that out, I was off to the races.

I mostly played with single-rigged weapons, though I did mix it up with twin-rigged near the end. A bit of heavy-duty for variety, but the game really discourages mixing weapon classes. The combat is satisfying, even if the level design is uninspired. I got lost so many times in the game because many of the areas look too damn similar. And, I never thought I’d complain about too many shortcuts, but there were several that were useless at the end of the day.

Here’s my metric for how good the level design is for games with no maps. In Dark Souls (original), I can tell you how to get from area to area, and I can tell you where every enemy is placed along the way. I can do this despite there being no map because I died so many times the first time I played the game, and now, I have each area emblazoned in my mind. In fact, I think in Dark Souls, the fact that there’s no map is one reason I know the areas so well. I can’t rely on a map, so I have to commit each area to memory. In addition, though, each area is so memorable, it’s easy to separate them. I mean, you’ll never confuse Blighttown with Anor Londo, for example.

In The Surge, much of it is played in a factory setting. Much of it is dully colored and so freaking dark. This is one game I had to crank the gamma all the way up in order to see properly. I mean, I crank the gamma in general, but not to this extent. There’s nothing to really separate most of the areas except for the executive levels, the outdoor levels, and the DLC (set in an amusement park, and one of my favorite levels of the game).

The last third or so of the game dragged on, and I was glad to put it in the done folder (though I have the second DLC to do). I had to use the wikis in the last area of the game because I kept getting lost, and the last boss was trash. In general, the bosses are not the highlight of this game (which is a deviation from the Souls formula), and the only one I really remember is the second boss from the DLC.

Still. It was a fun romp through Junkyard Souls, and a satisfying Souls-lite experience. Would hack off limbs again, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

A sweet little dating sim that pleasantly surprised me with its heart

Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator

I don’t like dating sims. At all. I’ve tried them in the past, and they are pretty eye-rolling to play for me. It’s my personal bias in that I don’t like dating in general for many reasons, but there’s also something icky about the gamification of something as personal as dating. I feel the same way about dating in video games in general because of the transactional nature of said ‘dating’. “Do these fetch quests, and I’ll have sex with you!” Saints Row IV is the only game in which I had fun ‘dating’ because it literally was walking up to every NPC and asking if you could bonk them. I had sex with everyone other than Keith David (you can’t get him to fuck you, no matter what), and I was giggling the whole time.

When I heard of DD: ADDS, made by Game Grumps, I thought it was cool that there was a dating sim specifically for gay dudes, but that was it. Then, I kept hearing about how sweet it was and unexpectedly emotional AND it went on sale AND I was between games, so I bought it. I created a dad that was basically the male version of me (fat, Asian, rumpled, unkempt, and counter-culture) and named him Morgan because that’s my favorite name. Then, I jumped into my dad-dating adventures, and I will admit that I found it slow-going at first.

There’s a lot of text. A LOT. I lasted about an hour before deciding it wasn’t for me. I let it sit, then I picked it up again, and I don’t remember exactly why. Probably because I was still hearing good things about it and because I was still between games. Much to my surprise, I really got into it the second time around. Yes, each dad is a Type with much of the stereotypical factors that go along with that type, but most of them had more depth to them than I had first imagined.

I really appreciated that there was a variety of races and body types as well as a prominent Christian (which is an important part of his storyline), and all of this unfolds as you play the game. There is no way to get around the gamefication because ultimately, it is a video game, but I found myself caring about the characters more than I thought I would.

I also found myself in an unexpected dilemma. The dad I most wanted to get with (Hugo) had the worst child of them all. I mean, I really hated his kid. Hugo was a literature-loving, trivia game-enjoying, secret WWE-type wrestling-enthusiasm man who was fucking hot to boot. He was an English teacher, which was the cherry on top of the hot hot hot sundae, but that damn brat of his. In the end, I went for Joseph, the Christian youth pastor who was married and with children, and I got an ending that actually made me sad.

I went back to finish dating all the other dads, and my ending with Hugo was really the best and my favorite. It made me smile, and I felt genuinely touched. I wouldn’t mind playing this game one more time to get the ‘good’ ending with Robert (by not sleeping with him the first time we meet) and with my daughter (though it’s not entirely clear how to get it), but even if I never touch the game again, I am glad I played it.

That’s it for part one of this post. I have more games, so see you next week for part two of my totally objective best of 2018 video games awards!



*Steam, of course.

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