Dear readers, I love video games and the hype around them more than I care to admit. While hype surrounding games in the form of previews and preorders has become a bit of a dark cloud of a conversation, hype surrounding eSports is thriving. This past weekend was the Evolution fighting game tournament, and it scratched an itch for hype that I’ve been having for a while. I watched a good portion of the finals this past Sunday, and I had some observations on what made the event so exciting and fun to watch.
As Black History Month marches on, I want to delve into more issues on race. I could continue with the theme of how much representation matters, but I want to sidestep it ever so slightly. It is equally, if not more, important to have good and positive representation. For example, what good is representation if only evil characters are characters of color?
Some spoilers for Hyrule Warriors ahead.
2014 was an odd year for video games. Besides the gaming controversies (sigh) there was still much room for discussion. I’d like to say it was a great year for gaming as a medium due to the amount of discussion that came from the ups and the downs—despite the downs.
As it is the end of the year, as per tradition for many people, I want to present my personal games of the year list. But the following list doesn’t come easy, or without some apprehension. I completely stand by all of the games, but what good comes from lists like these in the first place? There is no doubt that games are fun, and all the people who put in hard work deserve recognition, but what does a simple “Best of” list accomplish? Without clear recommendations or reasoning, it’s hard to navigate how any one game can stand out. We found out these last couple years that “objective quality” of games isn’t as important to many as it used to be. The EA sports games and Grand Theft Autos are typically technical marvels—AAA titles (used to) signify a high level of polish, but that isn’t enough anymore. Conversely, games like Vlambeer’s entries, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Joylancer, and Twine games have shown that “interesting” games, well, interest people more than raw power or high fidelity graphics.
Additionally, the indie and AAA spaces seems to have completely different goals with their games. We can assume that they share, at least to some degree, the goal of making some money. But besides that, indie games seem to be shooting for creative, personal, narrative, or inventive concepts. AAA, on the other hand, seems to be staying comfortable with sequels or experiences that appeal to broad audiences or attaining a sort of Hollywood-of-Gaming. Neither of these goal sets are necessarily bad, but how can you compare those in a “Best Of” scope? With the broad range of genres in both spaces, I honestly don’t think you can. Even further, there are simply too many games coming out for one person to play them all fully, let alone the year they actually come out.
The answer to this, at least in my eyes, is to simply list a certain number of games that interest you in some particular scope. This list has to be completely subjective, just by the nature of the reasons listed above. With this mindset, a Games of the Year list is basically a list of recommendations/games that deserve honor based on one’s own preference set. Essentially, it’s just for fun. So, without any further philosophizing, here are five games that stood out to me for one reason or another, in no particular order. The only rule is that I had to play the game for the first time in 2014. I’ll list a “category” for why I chose the game, and a short description and justification.
I often talk about games that are among the finest ever made—exemplars of engineering and bastions of creative storytelling in a world often chock full of diss-worthy games like Pikmin. (Yes, I am a hater. Thanks for asking.) But, that’s not just limited to Naughty Dog games, or my obsession with Pokémon, which has changed the way the world thinks about handheld gaming and game merchandising. There are also games like Shadow of the Colossus, which are an easy response to anyone who might tell you that video games aren’t art.
However, I haven’t really talked much about the funnest games ever made, and any list thereof would undoubtedly include the Super Smash Bros. series. At its essence, SSB is a response to the question “What if we took everyone’s favorite video game characters and made them fight?”
We talked about Pokémon a little bit recently. If for some reason you live under a rock, the 6th generation of Pocket Monsters’ games was released just a few weeks ago. If you, like me, are the lowest kind of nerd (besides Warhammer 40k players), you might have already played your way through the games. Let me say again how refreshing it is that the Fire-type starter doesn’t evolve into Fire/Fighting.
The Fire/Psychic combination is ideal to take advantage of a high special attack, a refreshing change from having to try split power moves between the Physical and Special categories. In short, I’ve been giggling like a kindergartener as my Delphox and I pyrokinesis our way across Kalos. This is just one of a few big changes that Gen6 brought with it. There’s also the new Fairy type, introduced as a balance for the Dragon-type (which, yes, 5 generations since Dragonite, still needs balancing), featuring a couple of old favorites were previously Normal-types like Clefable and the new Legendary, Xerneas (who will become important later).
All this to say nothing of Sky Battles, which only Pokémon that can fly or levitate may enter, or unprecedented trainer customization. There’s a new feature called PokéMon-Amie (get it?) that allows the player to pet and interact with their Pokémon. They’ve also widened and upgraded the internet-based Player Search System so you can trade and battle players all over the world. It’s a new shiny Pokémon world and I would like to take this opportunity to tell every hater who dismissed Pokémon as a fad in the 90s that they may, in fact, suck it. I apologize for the incomprehensible Pokéspeak, but I’m unaware of any other way to convey my excitement. Anyway, as I said, there’ve been some important Pokéhappenings. Masahiro Sakurai, the creator of Super Smash Bros. uploaded this image to the games official page:
Captioned as “a photo taken during game development,” it’s pretty clearly the back of Xerneas’ head. This seems like strong indication that the Legendary Fairy (not to be confused with the Great Fairy) will be present in Super Smash Brothers for the WII U and 3DS. I suppose it’s possible that Xerneas might just be a PokéBall summon, but I doubt that because no one would actually be that cruel, right? So, that’s a thing that fans of Pokémon and SSB alike can get excited for.
The second little bit of news but one of primary import to any Pokémon players who might read this blog, Nintendo has confirmed that there is a savegame bug in Lumiose City, and that they will be releasing a downloadable fix to this problem. If your save has been rendered inaccessible by this bug, the fix should also restore your previous save file. Good news all around!
It’s an exciting time, I think, for the Pokémon franchise. With all sorts of new features, Nintendo has changed the ways in which players interact with the game. There’s a library of over 700 Pokémon which is crazy if you’ve been playing since the original hundred and fifty, and the new games were so anticipated that consumes bought 4 million copies in the first two days. It’s a good time to be a PokéFreak, I guess.
You know what was a legitimately amazing game? The Last Of Us. Yes, I’m still on about this. I’m probably going to be on about it for a while. It is one of the best games I’ve ever played, hands-down, and this is as close to gaming’s “Citizen Kane moment” as many people are ever going to agree upon. I’ve heard the argument that this isn’t possible because of the way that we relate to adapting video game technology, and that older games are too frustrating, clunky, and obsolete for generations of newer gamers to play. I don’t buy it.
Let me explain, briefly, what is meant by “Citizen Kane moment.” It’s not a perfect metaphor. The film‘s 1941 release was not met with the great fanfare that our cultural nostalgia would indicate. The film fared poorly at the box office, and won a single Oscar for Best Screenplay. It wasn’t until film theorists and film history buffs looked back on the film in the late fifties and sixties that we decided that the film was a masterwork. Keep in mind that when Kane was released, Welles was a first time film director, a 25 year old theatre director a few years off the shutdown of the Federal Theatre Project. It may have been overtaken by Vertigo, but the idea is that looking backwards we see something truly great and groundbreaking. The metaphor is imperfect because The Last of Us is great right now. Continue reading