It’s a new decade, blah, blah, blah.
Like my post about favorite books of the decade, the games list also suffers from the fact that I rarely play games as released. I’m incredibly behind on all the games I have to play, let alone want to play. Wait. Are those different?
My favorite games of the 2010s, be year published!
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
What a game. I didn’t grow up in the arcades in the 80s or 90s, but I do love a few arcade classics. Pac-Man, obviously, has always been a lot of fun. However, it wasn’t until I watched a friend stream Pac-Man Championship Edition DX that I realized how fun the game could be.
It’s reminds me of Burnout 3: Takedown in it’s unrelenting speed. It’s like a rave inside a Lite-Brite. It’s pure adrenaline when being chased and taking those turns and it’s all euphoria when the tide turns and start devouring trains of ghosts. It’s one of the few games I’ve ever score chased. It helps that the maze has patterns and systems that are understandable but also quite vicious if you make a mistake. It’s too good not to stand out in the decade.
Alan Wake is the game I would have picked without Pac-Man. It really clicked (ha) with me and I thought the structure, setting and flashlight-based combat were brilliant.
VVVVVV is a little joy of a game that’s all teeth. Starcraft 2 is great, but I haven’t finished it yet. Same goes for Red Dead Redemption. Mass Effect 2 was a lot of fun, but I’m not as in love with that series as others.
I played through Limbo in one sitting, in the dim light of my living room, while my wife napped. It was melancholy, it was dark, it was depressing. But, the need to move forward was there the whole time. The simple, shadowy graphics had personality to spare and they worked to pull out little, eight-legged surprises at the most inopportune time. The puzzles might not have been the hardest, but they left me feeling smarter than I am.
Luckily for my wife, she work up for the last hour of the game and now I have someone to share the burden of the ending with. The last moments left me with questions, but not ones I necessarily need answered.
Indie games with impactful endings were the name of the game in 2011, huh? To The Moon is one of the very few games to ever make me cry. Bastion looked and sounded gorgeous and had very cool, somber ending. The Binding of Isaac should gross me out, but it’s a lot of fun with a cool, Danny Baranowsky soundtrack. Portal 2 was no Portal, but it had some very high moments. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a seizure of a fighting game at times, but there’s not enough X-Men. And Jurassic Park: The Game would be a biased pick and wasn’t really a game anyway…
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
A lot of games fighting for this year but no other game became such an obsession to me in this decade like XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I mean, how many times did I lose and then just restart? What games prompted me to choose Iron Man mode so quickly? It was addictive, yes, but unlike League of Legends or Hearthstone, it was fun the whole way through, even when merrily destroying all my hopes of victory.
The gameplay is what kept me coming back, but the world building and atmosphere were wonderful. It’s a universe I could keep exploring and I love that modern take on 50s science fiction throughout. And, goodness, did I let a lot of soldiers with my loved one’s names die. Maybe the sequel has taken most of the replay time from the first, but it’s not an either/or situation. I could go back to this first one, just like Roller Coaster Tycoon, Starcraft or Balder’s Gate, in a heartbeat.
Telltale’s first season of the The Walking Dead is another of the rare games to make me cry at the end. Maybe I’m becoming softer as I get older. Plague Inc. is one I’ve played through on the app and on PC just to relax, which makes me think I need counseling. FTL: Faster Than Light is near-perfect and is probably still my favorite rogue-like. It’s design is wonderful and I own the soundtrack. I wanted to start a new game of Mark of the Ninja as soon as I was done, which is a bit rare for me. It’s also one of the only stealth games I enjoy. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was cool and weird, Dishonored was stylish and Spec-Ops: The Line was as interesting as it’s reputation claimed.
Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone is another single-sitting game that grabbed me by the heart and didn’t let go. The puzzles were never too difficult and the story dragged a bit at the end, but it was like an indie science fiction movie in game form. Bouncing around as a square was weirdly satisfying.
And it has to be said how effective Thomas Was Alone is at giving these basic blocks and shapes personalities. It’s almost Pixar-level. The fact that I cared so much for Thomas and his friends, and how upset I was near the end and how excited I was during the credits, says a lot about Mike Bithell’s creation.
Metro: Last Light, and it’s previous title, are games I would have eaten up as a teenager. As it stands now, they’re still well made games with an interesting world to explore. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons didn’t make me cry but it did effect me quite a bit and it’s single player coop structure was interesting more often than frustrating. I liked Batman: Arkham Origins more than Arkham City. And the 2013 Tomb Raider was mostly fun except for when it was tearing Lara up to shreds.
I’ve played a few NES-inspired games, Alwa’s Awakening, The Messenger, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Necrosphere, ect. ect. But Shovel Knight does it best. Fully aware that technology and gameplay styles have moved on, Shovel Knight plays like how we remember the original Nintendo. More fun than difficult, more forgiving than relentless. More rewarding than fleeting.
The graphics do things the NES could never have dreamed of but it always looks right perfectly in line with the tone. The level design is great, harking back to the best of 8-bit platformers without ever feeling derivative. And it’s story is charming too, helped along by a pitch-perfect soundtrack.
I think I enjoyed the actual combat and gameplay options of Transistor more than Bastion. Shadows of Mordor was what I had thought the original Assassin’s Creed was supposed to be. Ultra Street Fighter IV is awesome. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a fascinating game, but hits a bit too close to home these days.
There’s some cynicism to be had with Rocket League and it’s microtransactions. And the fact that I’m not great at it. But, it’s such a pure, arcade concept that, at it’s core, it’s almost the truest concept of video games. It’s soccer with race cars, what else do you need?
It feels like that very concept would have been right at home on the NES, with the Super Dodge Balls and the Punch-Outs. It helps that the matches go by quick, that my skill really seems hindered by my time with it and the more I play it, the better I get and the more fun it becomes. It’s never a slog, it’s always colorful and it’s just a hilariously high-octane game.
Ori and Blind Forest would be the more traditional winner this year. And it was gorgeous and exciting. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a lot of fun but I suck at it. I was addicted to the campaign of Prison Architect but haven’t returned to it much after. And SOMA has an ending that will stick with me until the day I die.
Oh, DOOM. What a beast. I don’t love gore and overly brutal violence…I used to be able to say. No matter how many times I was horrified by DOOM‘s glory kills, I still laughed like a maniac after every one and went on to the next as quickly as I could. I’ve spent so many years ducking behind corners and crouched behind various forms of cover, I had forgotten the pure joy of running circles around an enemy, unloading clip after clip, until he was dead in a glorious mess of guts and health drops. And that beautiful double jump made me feel like Mario with a chainsaw.
I never once was bored with DOOM and I wanted to start it all over again as soon the credits rolled. This game is so shark-like in it’s focus to keep moving, to keep feeding, it can’t help but become the new apex predator of first person shooters.
Firewatch was as good as it was probably because it was as short as it was. For pure Dungeons and Dragons brutality, Darkest Dungeon is a game I feel surprisingly competent at…until a complete party wipe. Stardew Valley sort of wrecked me as a person. Overcoocked is another little game that knows what it wants and how to get it. Part of me also wanted to give the award to XCOM 2, but, as good as it is, it didn’t have the same effect the first game had on me. And, if this was an award for most time spent with, Civilization VI would take home the gold.
I haven’t played Dark Souls or any game by From Software, but I doubt I’ll enjoy them as much as Nioh. It’s not just that the game is brutal and mean, it’s that it’s big and dumb as well. It’s all the messy samurai films we love, with a dash of Onimusha and a whole lost of dodging.
It might be more style over substance in some places, but I do so love the style. It wasn’t a short game, it took me quite a while to play through the main campaign. But, I always looked forward to starting up a new session. The heartbreaks of losing all your orbs can be too much to bear, but that’s why we fall. So we can learn to pick ourselves back up again and kill a whole bunch of demons until we have all their orbs.
Another Souls-like game, Hollow Knight which has one heck of an oppressive atmosphere that became a bit to claustrophobic as I went on. Other runner ups to the runner ups are Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, for being the first Mario Kart since Double Dash that I’ve enjoyed and Alwa’s Awakening for that last dungeon.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
I sort of hate giving Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon the win because I already gave it to Shovel Knight and the do a similar thing. They both recreate the 8-bit NES games of my youth, but how I remember them as opposed to the brutal reality of it all.
And, yet, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a different game with different goals. The character switching is fun and adds a new dynamic to each level. The bosses are annoying and I am filled with a justified rage when I destroy them. The music is sweeping and romantic in it’s chiptune purity. It’s more of an adrenaline rush than Shovel Knight and I was so addicted to those endorphins that I started the higher difficulty immediately after finishing the first playthrough.
I didn’t think you could update the real time strategy genre until Northgard brought in 4X-elements and slowed things down a bit. Leaving early access and officially coming out in 2018 was Dead Cells, which is great and one I’m going to be playing for a while. And, like Civilization VI, Jurassic World: Evolution gets and award for time played. But, again, I’m biased.
So, this is what I mean by behind the times. I didn’t play a single game that was released in 2019. And, even knowing myself, I’m a little shocked. No indie games, no quick little arcade titles. I didn’t play anything!
And there’s so much I want to play! Outer Worlds, Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium, Control, Star Wars: Fallen Order, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Void Bastards, A Plague Tale: Innocence, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, there’s so many…
OH WAIT! Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark officially came out in 2019! I played that! Hey! It wins by default!
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
Also, I replayed The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past this year. Any year that game is played it’s the best of the year.
Dead Space, both the first game and the series as a whole, is one I figured I would ignore forever. I don’t love horror, especially horror based on gore and gross monster designs. I prefer creepiness without the gore. But, for five dollars, and a better understanding that the games might be pretty good, I decided to try out the first entry.
I still wasn’t thrilled with the body horror, especially…the babies. However, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Most things are enshrouded in shadow and I was so busy shooting anything that jumped out at me, I didn’t have too much time to get grossed out. It still happened, mind you, but I made it out alive.
One thing I learned is that people have strong feelings about these games. I met fans of the series, of the lore and backstory. It almost seems like a modern Doom to some people, though the gameplay is nothing like that series in terms of speed and action. I doubt my own experience will ever go past the games, but it’s interesting to hear from the other side.
The weapons are interesting and definitely unique. Of course, I found two that I tend to stick with throughout the game. There’s little in the way of ammo, though, which I’m not a fan of. I get the suspense that supposed to come with that, but I’d prefer to have the ability to defend myself. My skills at these games are a handicap enough!
Unlearning the head-shot is tricky. I know it should do the most damage, but in Dead Space, you’re supposed to remove the limbs of the monsters. Suddenly, I’m aiming for arms to stop attacks, legs to slow them down, the head is the least of my worries. One thing I did appreciate is how scary the boss fights were. Either they were massive or just plain vicious. Plus, there was often a creative way to take them out, such as freezing them where they stand.
So, despite my misgivings, I will be playing the second game at some point. I hear it’s more action over frights, and that might be better for my tastes. Give me ammo and targets, I’ll do the rest!
I skipped reviewing Sword of Destiny for a few reasons. First, it’s similar to The Last Wish and everything I said about that book still stands for the sequel. It’s still a collection of short stories that are a bit more structured than the first book, in that each short story revolves around Yennifer in some way or another. The second reason I didn’t give that book a full review is because I went straight into the Blood of Elves. It was late and I finished Sword of Destiny and, without sleeping or taking a break, I opened the first chapter of the next book.
Besides the fact that the previous books were great reads, I was also curious as to how Andrzej Sapkowski would do writing The Witcher books in novel form. The character of Geralt works well in short form, with his different adventures and meeting new people around Sapkowski’s well-thought out world.
What I found is that Sapkowski didn’t change format entirely. Blood of Elves is a novel, yes, but the chapters are written akin to his short stories, with time gaps between them and not much thematically shared. Doing so allows for longer, more intimate looks into the world and Geralt, but it doesn’t create a strong continuing narrative or sense of plot. In fact, having read it all, I’m still not entirely sure where it was all going other than some people are after Geralt’s adopted daughter, Ciri.
In some ways, tries to be both a collection and a novel and both formats suffer for it. Without the connective tissue between chapters, it comes across as if the reader has missed key information between them. Without the varying adventures, the single plot thread shows it’s weakness. While I was hooked at the opening chapter with Dandelion and the training of Ciri, the book lost me quickly after that.
The previous books were interesting because of their world building, yes, but it was also how Sapkowski took classic fairy tales and myths and played around with them. The world is interesting and well-realized, but switching gears to focus on the political side of things doesn’t make for the most entertaining read.
The time we spend with Ciri and her training is great, but that’s because it’s focused and dabbles in that monster hunter lore. I wanted to see more of Geralt and Ciri together, training and going on adventures. That’s not what I got and I wasn’t convinced that what I was reading was necessarily better than that, either. I’m glad I read the previous books, because Blood of Elves relies heavily on the character connections that were introduced and explored beforehand. Alone, I don’t know if I would have liked the book much at all.
I will be reading the rest of these books, but the steam I had has been lost for the moment.
I had planned on playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt without going through the first two games. That proved to be too much for my completist heart, so I grabbed those games cheap on Steam. But, then, surprising myself, I found I couldn’t even start the games until I read the books. I don’t know why, this would have never happened when I was younger.
Here I am, then, reviewing The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. A collection of short stories that was originally published in 1993, the book tells of the many adventures of Geralt, a Witcher. Witchers are hired to deal with monsters, though the public doesn’t love them. They’re a necessary evil and that makes someone like Geralt an outsider.
Each story tells of a different experience Geralt has dealing with either monster or man. Some of the stories are dark twists on classic fairy tales, such as The Beauty and the Beast. While that might cause eye rolling normally, as the “fairy tale but…” genre is running on fumes, it actually comes across fresh in this collection, even while being twenty years old.
What makes this book so readable is that Geralt is a fascinating character. Yes, there’s that classic lone wolf element about him, but he has more depth than just being gruff. In the few stories that make up The Last Wish, we see the Witcher as pragmatic, selfish, angry, compassionate, melancholy and vicious. He’s not a closed off tough guy, even though he has a thick skin. His friendship with Dandelion is actually rather touching, as it doesn’t appear Geralt gets anything out of it other than companionship.
The style of short story works well for The Witcher, as he goes from job to job. In a collection, we get to see the different types of monsters Geralt deals with, as well as the different lands he travels across. I’m interested to see how the style changes when I get to the full novels. It also makes sense that the Witcher was turned into a video game, as it seems ripe for side-quests.
The translation of these stories does a great job. The writing comes across relatively modern and I’m not sure how much of that is the original text. I never found the book to be dense, though sometimes the action could go on for a little too long. Maybe that’s why some people like reading these books, but I tend to find sword and magic combat to be a dull read. I was much more interested in the stories surrounding the world or the lives of the monsters Geralt is sent to hunt. Even the politics are interesting, mainly because each region and member of royalty acts different and unique.
I think, even if you had no interest in reading a new series, or playing the video games, that The Last Wish is easily recommendable. The frame story is self-contained, the tales throughout are quick reads and entertaining. On my own end, I’ve already bought the second anthology and plan on reading the main series. After reading this book, I think you might follow suit.