Sunday, 11 January 2015

Feature: Geoff's 2014 List

2014. The year of the re-releases apparently. I don't think its been that bad to be honest. The WiiU had a strong year, there's been a lot to play on the new consoles (Ps4 passing 18 million in just over a year puts those 'Consoles are dying' stories from the previous year to bed), Nintendo announced yet another 3DS model, PSTV seen a release in the west that everyone called for but no one bought in to, #GamerGate exploded (It was going to happen at some point with the state of the mainstream press), the likes of IFI/NISa/Marvelous etc really stepped up their game and brought us plenty to play and we've had a decent year ourselves here as views have increased and more publishers work with us. Highlight of the year was finally taking the plunge and purchasing a moped though as it inspires an air of mobility freedom, its cheap to run so more money elsewhere and people serenading Grease 2's "Who's That Guy?" to me as I ride past never gets old. 2015 is looking like its going to be even better for games going forward, as multiple Japanese studios shift their focus to Playstation 4 and the usual suspects here in the west up their localisation drive to bring us more nich goodies. So lets see what I enjoyed last year..

Game of the Year - Senran Kagura Burst (3DS)
How could this beauty not be at least somewhere on the list, if not at its peak. This was possibly the most contentious release in the press when announced for localisation (Which is odd considering the games more fan-service orientated sibling, Bon Apetit, slipped under the radar of most websites) and turned out to be a great addition to the 3DS library for myself. I wasn't enjoying the 3DS too much at the time as its library didn't seem to have much for my quirky taste, but then Senran Kagura got a physical release in the EU during February (that a GAME representative stated to me they weren't selling on shelves due to the 3DS being 'Family friendly' when trying to pre-order) and my 3DS was revitalised for a while. Whilst the gaming press in their immaturity decided to focus on the characters bewbs - there was actually a damn good side scroller to be had for everyone else. The fast paced combo based gameplay was a joy to play on the 3DS handheld, although a little repetitive after a while, with ample oppurtunitys for the game's special moves & transformations to make good use of the 3D capabilities of the 3DS. It's not just the gameplay that was slick either, as the games writing was of a fairly good standard - characters backstorys actually had a lot of depth and attention to detail with their individual traits offering insights into their pasts. Colourful graphics, stellar use of 3D, decent soundtrack, story & character packed with depth, slick action gameplay & great moe, all came together to create a surprisingly great,and unique,entry for the 3DS' library in the west. It's still a game overlooked by many, but for those that gave it a chance - its a testament to not believing everything you read.

Notable Mentions

Wolfenstein: The New Order
With what can only be described as the glorious return of the grandaddy of the genre, there just had to be a place in the list somewhere for the latest Wolfenstein. BJ Blazkowick continues his Nazi stomping crusade, with the storyline continuing on from the 2009 Wolfenstein that sees numerous returning characters, as the developers decided to inject a little depth to the narrative & give us more of an insight into BJ's character. It was still loud,brash and packed with enough steller set pieces (A Nazi moon base!) whilst offering a little more depth to BJ's character, aside from the odd pressing-your-ear-against-the-tv-speaker whispering moments by BJ, that the stellar gunplay can sometimes be overlooked by most folk that mention the game. With a year packed with decent shooters, Shadow Warrior (you can never have too much wang) and the bargain of the year in Metro Redux just missed out on the list, Wolfenstein would've been lost in the fray easily if not for its satisfying gameplay & silly B-movie premise. Pistols, rifles and Shotguns (which all have the ability for you to dual wield) are there as you'd expect in a Wolfenstein title, but its the weapons afforded by the games alternate timeline set during the 1960's that will entertain. Laser rifles and chainguns that require recharging at wall sockets are just 2 of the examples, with weapon customisation helping you to mix & match things a little with your arsenal. Unlockable perks that are awarded when completing certain challenges can also be a life saver as there are numerous sections in the game that will test your trigger finger, and your patience, as you have the whittle down the Nazi war machine. The ID Tech5 engine is put to good use to ensure slick performance across the board,and even though its not quite a mesmerising looker, was used well to create a Nazi inspired 1960's Europe. The success of the game, especially in the UK, will hopefully bring us more Wolfenstein in the future as a year of good quality old-school shooter reboots came to a close.

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare
When thinking about Garden Warfare, one word always springs to mind - Fun. An online only title of the shooter variety pretty much lives & dies by how long it can maintain fun, and this game passes that test with flying colours. Everyones played the tower defense Plants Vs Zombies games on mobile at the some point, but Garden Warfare is a completely different beast. Whilst it keeps the tower defense aspect intact for the objective based game modes, allowing plants to grow plants in pots that act like sentries and the Zombies to raise the dead, the game is primarily a class based team s3rd person shooter. There's a multitude of classes on each side to choose from that fit a certain role on the battlefield, the Sunflower acts as the Plants medic with the Zombie scientist filling a similar role for example, but even then they have their own weapons and skills which require different tactics to succeed. Its not just the deep & fun gameplay that keeps you coming back either, as the lure of pack based unlockables will eat away at you. Completing matches earns coins which you can spend on packs to unlock costumes, perks, different class abilities & extra pots and zombies. Levelling up, done in a completing challenges way, also rewards you with packs. The use of Frostbite 3 also helps create a great looking game that has rock solid performance, with the games coop mode & offline split screen almost making the game the complete package. Fans of online shooters would be wise to give this game a go (if you didn't get your free Ps4 version that is [Thanks EA]) whilst even those not fond of online could still find hours of enjoyment, and above all - FUN, which can be had participating in the Garden Warfare of Plants & Zombies.

Fairy Fencer F
The first title from the newly formed Compile Heart brand, Galapagos, was finally released in the west last year. With the mantra of the brand being 'Japanese games for a Japanese audience', it became interesting to see how it would differ from previous Compile Heart offerings. What came to be was a Jrpg that seemed to punch above its weight, offering somthing a little more than its niche siblings and knocking on the door of the more mainstream RPG releases last year. Whilst the games dungoen crawling structure was similar to other Compile Heart titles, everything else built around it seemed more refined & focused. The story itself had a little more to it,without sarificing any of the goofy charm we usually get and the cast was as diverse in their charateristics as you'd hope. Character art from Tsunaka was also clear to see, as the games moe design rivalled their other works in Hyperdimension Neptunia etc It was the games overall presentation that seemed to elevate it, as the sparinly used in-engine cutscenes and extra care and attention seemed to be paid to the games visual & audio design. With a few staff members in the team that had worked on previous entries in the Final Fantasy series, it was easy to see where their experience was utilised at times. I had played through and reviewed Mugen Souls Znot too long before this fell on my lap, and the disparity in quality was there to see from Compile Heart. As another Galapagos title in Omega Quintet is set to land on western shores on Ps4 within the next few months, its going to be interesting to see where Compile Heart takes the brand, as Fairy Fencer F has been a surprisingly great start,

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