Last week, I wrote about my year in gaming–which, let’s face it, has mostly been meh. I mentioned two Souls-like games that I played quite a bit and enjoyed until I didn’t, a game that I enjoyed and finished that wasn’t a Souls-like, and a game from the past that I resurrected as my comfort game. Then, of course, there is the one true game of the year, which I’ll get to at the end. If you know anything about me at all, you’ll know what it is, but you’ll have to wait for it, anyway. Let me quickly give the other games (hopefully) amusingly named awards before tackling the big one.
Quick note: In reading my game awards posts from last year in order to write this one, I stumble across this:
I play the hell out of each game I play. I wring every ounce of content out of it, and then I squeeze it some more. I would rather play three games a year that I really like than a couple dozen that I’m meh about.
I still feel that way, and that’s why I’m a bit down about this year in gaming. When I was thinking back on the year, I couldn’t think of many games that gave me dozens of hours of engagement. I’m hoping that 2020 will be different, but I’m skeptical. This post is for the games that hit a spot to a certain extent, but aren’t the One True Game. I have a hunch I won’t get to the big one in this post, but hope springs eternal.
The game I can’t quit no matter how hard I try
Binding of Isaac: Rebirth*
I played the shit out of this game when it first came out. I tried to play the original, but it felt ungainly, and I never got into it. That game was developed by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl. Edmund (and his wife) went with Nicalis for BoI:R and everything after. I was immediately hooked on BoI:R, much to my surprise, and I played an embarrassing number of hours. I also True Platinum Godded it before the requirements changed, and I’m only missing something on The Keeper, the worst character in the whole game. I forced myself to quit playing it and left it off for about a year. I did play again when Afterbirth+ came out, but then I didn’t. Then, for whatever reason, I installed it on my laptop (the last one). Why? I don’t remember, but I think it’s because it’s small and I can play it with the keyboard and no mouse. I do the daily every day along with a free run (usually Eden), and it’s my comfort game at this point. When I can’t play a new game or feel up to a Souls game (which, while comforting, still takes more energy), I pull up BoI:R and escape for an hour. I’m going to give it up again soon, but until then, I’m enjoying all the weird synergies.
The quirky rogue-like/lite game with rogue in the title that captured my attention
Streets of Rogue
I don’t really have a genre of games that I consider ‘my’ genre, but if I was forced to choose one, it’s probably rogue/rogue-likes/rogue-lites. Not because I actively seek them out, but because that’s what I often end up liking. I wasn’t looking for this game; more like, it was looking for me. I liked the way it looked, but I was skeptical I could handle it. I was right–and I was wrong. I could easily have slotted this into the The best game I wasn’t able to finish category if it weren’t for the mods–that the developer, Matt Dabrowski so thoughtfully included. I used Infinite Ammo/Infinite Melee and Continue? pretty much all the time. There are a few runs that were pure, but not many. My first won run was with the Soldier and Infinite Ammo/Continue. Would I have beaten the game had I not done that? Probably not. Do I feel guilty about using the mods? Hell, no!
It’s funny because I don’t want those kinds of mods in a FromSoft game. I don’t want to have it in the back of my mind that I could make the boss fights easier. Hell, I still feel guilty about the bosses I didn’t beat solo on the first playthrough. Still need to go back to Bloodborne DLC to solo Ludwig, Laurence, and Orphan of Kos, but that looks like it might never happen. However, in the case of SoR, I had no compunctions in using the mods. Why? Because my issues with rogue-lites aren’t ones that can be overcome by ‘gitting gud’. There are certain limitations due to my age (twitch reflexes, for one) that can’t be bettered. If I had a way to ‘cheat’ The Hand of the King in Dead Cells and keep playing the game, I would have. But, I didn’t, and so I had to quit the game. I’m not mad about it, but I’m not going to not avail myself to the help offered in rogue-lites so I can keep playing them.
I did quit playing SoR, and it wasn’t for any reason other than I lost interest in it. Playing with Infinite Ammo/Melee made it too easy, obviously, but playing without it except in certain cases, made it way too stressful and not at all fun. There was no sweet spot, and there was nothing else for me to shoot for since I beat the game with all the characters. I also had some issues with some of the humor, and it became harder to ignore once the glow of the game wore off. Still. I had a good time playing the game, and I got many hours of enjoyment out of it, so I can’t be mad about that.
The best game about dead children. Oh wait….
Children of Morta
Let me be clear. I know the game is not called Children de la Muerta, but that’s what it is in my brain for whatever reason. Never mind that it makes no sense or mixes languages. My brain sees what the brain sees. By the way, I still wonder why I can’t kill children in games. Anyway. This game is one I’m calling Souls-lite, and it’s a combination of ARPG and rogue-lite. The developer is Dead Mage, and mad props to them for such a solid game. It’s about the the corruption of Mount Morta and one family’s task of saving it. The graphics are gorgeous, and it’s a sprawling epic story about the Bergsons. It’s hilarious that the name of the family is so prosaic given the fantastical nature of the environment. The father and mother are John and Mary (John is playable), and granny is Margaret. The kids are Linda, Mark, Kevin, and Lucy. I unlocked the first three, and I know now that the last is playable as well at some point. Uncle Ben is the blacksmith.
I loved the first fifteen hours or so of this game. My family is the Guardian of the Mount (or something like that), and we are tasked with fighting all the baddies. John is the first playable character, and he is straight-up melee. The dungeons are procedurally generated, so no two runs are quite alike. Linda is quickly unlocked, and she is by far my favorite. She’s an archer with lots of fire stuff, and I’ve played the most with her by far. Kevin is dual-wielding, and Mark is martial arts. I’ve played a bit with all of them, and while I can see the charm of each, Linda all the way. Except…I’ll get to that in a minute.
I like that the story unfolds throughout the levels, and you have to find a lot of it yourself rather than have it handed it to you. That’s Souls-like, and I am all for it. If you explore every inch of every dungeon, you get story nuggets that you wouldn’t otherwise. One interesting game design is that boss of the level is roughly two-thirds into the level, and the other stuff beyond the boss is mostly story related. So, you can fight the boss as soon as you see it, but then you miss out on story. The story isn’t very original, but it’s expertly told.
Why did I quit playing it? Two reasons. One, you have to go through a half-hour/hour-run to reach the boss. If you die, you have to do the whole level again. I understand why it’s that way, but the last thing I want to do after laboriously grinding through mob after mob for a half hour only to get destroyed by the boss in less than a minute is to do it all over again. I’m usually drained by the end of one run, and it’s a real bummer to end on a thorough trouncing. It’s different than the Souls grind because by the time you meet a boss in a FromSoft game, you usually have a bonfire close enough to make the run not too frustrating. There are a few notable exceptions, but for the most part, it’s not something you have to worry about.
The second reason is that Linda is OP during the runs, but then feels very underwhelming in the boss fights where it’s often most ideal to get as much damage out as quickly as possible. I really felt it by the third boss, and I wish there was a way to switch characters during the level. Again, I understand why that isn’t possible, but it would be a nice option. These are the two reasons I quit the game, and it’s a damn shame because there is so much to love about it. I might try to pick it up again and see if I can go in with a better attitude.
The sequel that was much better than the original but managed to disappoint me more
The Surge 2
Oh, man. This game. I was wary when it came out because I had a lot of fun with the original despite my very low expectations–or perhaps because of it. The sequel was a marked improvement, much to my surprise, and I spent many enjoyable hours with it. Sure, there was the boss that was a hard stop, and, yeah, it was annoying that all I had to do was change and upgrade my gear in order to beat it, but that’s par the course for Souls-likes which, I hate to say it, don’t quite get the core of what makes a FromSoft game so magical. I’ve had this rant before, but it’s reductive to say that the biggest definer of a FromSoft game is that it’s difficult. Too many wannabes take that as the main tenet and create a game around the concept. In a Souls game, it feels almost incidental (though it very much isn’t).
In addition, the game drags on past the point of interest. This is a minor issue with the FromSoft games as well, but at least those have enough positives in the end game to outweigh the negatives. This game, however and alas, did not. I estimate that I was in the last quarter of the game, and I could have just plowed through it, but I hit the wall-hard. Remember I said the bit about the hard stop boss in the previous paragraph and imagine my dismay when he comes back again and again and again. The first time, I got him with little problem. But then, the second time he returned, it was in the second form (the original boss had three phases), which was the one that fucked me up time and time again. And, as we all know, I don’t parry, which is what this stage really needed. I gave up after a dozen or so tries, especially when I read that he returns again in the same goddamn arena. To be fair, all the iterations of him are optional, but it’s still bullshit that there are so many clones. Yes, it may make sense thematically, but it’s lazy programming–and, yes, I’ve complained about it in FromSoft games as well–and I was done with the game.
I quit playing, and I haven’t touched it since. I suppose I could go back and just zip through to the end, but I don’t want to. At all. It’s a shame because as I said, it’s a much better game than the original, but it completely lost me at the end.
As I thought, I won’t get to my One True Game of the year. No brownie points if you can guess what it is. I’ll write about it in another post, of course, so cheers until then.
*Afterbirth and Afterbirth+ as well, but I really think it peaked with Rebirth.