Xenoblade Chronicles - For a system on its last legs, the Nintendo Wii sure went out with a bang this year thanks to some solid titles. Xenoblade is one of those games, and it just may even be one of the best RPGs I've played in my entire video gaming career...if that's what you call a career, anyway! You control 7 characters lead by a time-manipulating technological genius named Shulk who wields a mysterious blade known as the Monado. You explore a massive world (which is actually composed of the corpses of two dead titans) as you attempt to destroy the Mechon, mechanical automatons (seemingly) that are out to kill any human they get their mitts on for no apparent reason. However, you eventually find out there's more to their motivation than at first seems, and the story branches out into a riveting experience made even more awesome by solid voice acting and cutscenes that drive the plot forward.
When you enter a battle, your characters will automatically perform specific actions such as auto-attacking, but there are also special attacks that you can use on command. Once you've used a special attack, a cooldown begins until you can use it again...and certain attacks will affect enemies in certain ways if they're used properly and from the right position. Battle is not simply a passive back and forth affair, but an active experience that focuses on positioning and timing, making it ridiculously fun! In addition, the world is loaded with a vast array of quests to complete, unique monsters to slay, and areas to explore. I have 120 hours clocked on the game so far, and still have a ton to accomplish! Xenoblade is more than worth its price of admission and the quality of the game is off the charts, so if you're looking for a great game to finish off your Wii collection (or even to play on your Wii U), trust me and pick this game up. I fuckin' love it!
Borderlands 2 - The first Borderlands was pretty damn good, and introduced an amazing take on the RPG formula by coupling it with a good FPS engine and randomized loot drops reminiscent of Diablo...but to me it always felt like a "first try" game. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since tons of game series have started with well-made mechanics only to have them improve in the sequel...and that's the feeling I got when I heard that Borderlands 2 was announced. Sure enough, the sequel vastly improves on the original formula and doesn't disappoint whatsoever. The game world is much larger, there are more quests with a higher amount of variety than ever before. Weapons are way more variable as well, with tons of cool randomized gadgets to get your hands on! Looting has never been as fun!
The real improvement in Borderlands 2 however lies in the gameplay itself. The overall feel of the game, such as the shooting mechanics and player movement feel WAY more refined. There's also a much larger range of enemies to blast, rather than just skags and bandits such as in the first game. Last, but not least, the four character classes are all much more interesting than the ones from Borderlands 1. With Borderlands 2, I can see myself playing through with each and every character class, which is something I never felt like doing in the prequel. Even the story is much better, with a hilarious villain named Handsome Jack and there are also some awesome sidequests that allude to cartoons and shows from the 80's and 90's! Overall, Borderlands 2 is an even more packed, refined, and polished game than the original, and a very worthy addition to your game collection.
Fez - To be completely honest, you'll never play another game like Fez. At its core, Fez is a simple platformer where you move left and right and jump, with the sole objective of collecting small golden cubes scattered throughout the world. However, the main draw of Fez is the game mechanic that the entire world is centered around: the 3rd dimension. Early in the game, Gomez (the main character) gains the ability to spin his two-dimensional world on its vertical axis, allowing you to view things from four completely different perspectives. This simple ability opens up tons of possibilities for solving puzzles and accessing new areas throughout the entirety of the game.
That's pretty much the whole of Fez, to be honest! That one simple mechanic drives the entire game while you collect parts of a large cube called the Hexahedron. Solving the puzzles using the 3rd dimension, however, is ridiculously satisfying...and that's what keeps you coming back for more. Exploring areas and learning how to use your abilities is the key to finishing Fez, particularly if you want to figure out the tougher puzzles in the game. These may involve tasks such as deciphering the in-game alphabet, inputting button commands you scan from QR codes hidden throughout the world, or traversing areas that resemble games from the Game Boy or Virtual Boy! The 8-bit art style certainly works in the game's favour as well, as charm oozes from every pixel and character you encounter. Pick this one up...there's no experience quite like it!
Sine Mora - I'm a sucker for shoot 'em ups, I'll admit. I love games like Gradius and Ikaruga where you just pilot a ship and blast everything in your way as the stages and enemies get more difficult and ridiculous. When I heard about Sine Mora and saw the trailer, I was immediately sold. The story mode has you playing as about 5 different characters as they blast through an army of cool enemies and bosses to conquer evil. The graphical style of this game is amazing, with phenomenal backgrounds and vibrant colours that really bring everything to life. The gameplay is amazing too, with responsive, accurate controls that are necessary for dodging giant walls of bullets and obstacles. Finally, the whole game revolves around time...which is both with you, and against you!
As you play through a level, there's a timer constantly depleting at the top of the screen. When this timer hits zero, you're dead, so you have to constantly replenish it by blasting enemies and picking up time-extension powerups. As you can imagine this already makes for some tense situations in which you're trying to frantically kill whatever you can to add precious seconds to the clock. However, as with any shooter, there's a constant supply of projectiles heading in your direction. This is where time is on your side, as you can use special abilities to manipulate it to your advantage. For example, you can slow time down to weave your way through dazzling patterns of coloured energy or even reverse it to bring yourself back from a preventable death. You can't use these abilities infinitely however, and they have to be replenished with powerups dropped from enemies. These mechanics make Sine Mora a very, very cool game in the shoot 'em up genre, and certainly worth checking out!
The Last Story - The Wii got a couple of great and unique RPGs this year. Along with Xenoblade, The Last Story was also finally released in North America. This is potentially the final game by Hironobu Sakaguchi...otherwise known as the man who created Final Fantasy. That fact alone makes The Last Story a pretty damn important game with a lot to live up to...and luckily, it does just that. Rather than a massive, open-ended world, The Last Story takes a more directed chapter-based approach with only a few opportunities for branching out. This works great with the story-driven gameplay, however, and so having a more restricted world actually works in the game's favour. In The Last Story, you control multiple different mercenaries, but the main character is a man named Zael. Near the beginning of the game, Zael gains a mysterious power tied to the island on which he resides...and a key to the rest of the game's plot, which is presented amazingly well!
Like Xenoblade, the battles in The Last Story are very active, with you controlling your character and attacking enemies directly, as well as casting spells and using special abilities. For example, Zael has a crossbow which allows him to fire at enemies from cover, as well as a technique known as "gathering" which draws the enemy's attention to him so other characters can focus on casting spells or performing other actions. When cast, magic forms pools on the ground. These circles of elemental magic can be dispersed using certain abilities, causing various effects...but you can only use such dispersal techniques sparingly. A recovery circle will heal everyone instantly when dispersed, whereas a fire circle will reduce all enemies' physical defense. This battle system is ridiculously fun to learn, and once you're done with the story, you can use your expertise of the battle system to play against people online! You know an action RPG has a good combat system when it can function for online deathmatch!
ZombiU - The most recent of these ten spectacular games is the Wii U exclusive ZombiU. It's been a long time since I've played a survival horror game which actually limited your resources like a game from this genre should, but this one does it damn well. Casting you as the survivor of a zombie outbreak in London, England who is taken in by a mysterious man called The Prepper. From his Safe Area, you strike out to various locations around London to gather supplies and figure out what the heck went wrong in Britain. The environments are awesome-looking and the atmosphere is nailed solid, creating a tense air as you scavenge the landscape for the essentials to survive. Supplies are limited and so is your inventory space, so you have to budget yourself like crazy and use your items wisely.
You always have a cricket bat to fall back on in a pinch, but using your weapons carefully and placing your shots to kill zombies is key. If your bullets go wild, you feel the sting of wasting precious ammo that you have to scavenge again. Watching your health is tricky as well, since even one zombie is enough to take you down if you're not extremely careful and medkits are few and far between. It's this necessity to preserve all of your items in the face of enemies that are actually a significant threat that makes ZombiU especially tense. Add in the fact that ZombiU contains some Metroid-like elements such as backtracking when you find certain upgrades, as well as phenomenal usage of the WiiU Gamepad, and you have a damn amazing game that also shows what Nintendo's new machine is capable of.
Doom 3: BFG Edition - Doom 3 is already a solid game on its own, and the expansion, Resurrection of Evil, only made it even better. Well, strap those two games together, add in an extra set of missions, and throw in Doom 1 and 2 just for completion's sake and you have the Doom 3 BFG Edition. I haven't been able to play Doom 3 for years, since my laptops have been far from capable of running it (as far as I know...I guess I haven't really tried), but to have every game in the Doom series all in one place, as well as having Doom 3 and its expansions running and looking better than ever on the current generation systems is just a damn good deal. That's a ton of gameplay!
For those who haven't played it, Doom 3 is a tad different from its predecessors. Rather than a quick-paced arcade-like experience, Doom 3 is more atmospheric and slow-paced with a frightening, tense atmosphere and revolutionary lighting effects for the time of its release. You fill the boots of the classic Doom marine as he attempts to blast his way through military installations on Mars to put a halt to a demonic invasion, caused by a mysterious man named Malcolm Betruger. As you play through the game, you pick up PDAs with people's e-mails and video journals which flesh out the story and atmosphere even further. In addition to the cool story, blasting demons with new versions of the classic Doom weapons is still just as fun and satisfying as in the original games. Overall, this is a solid package with tons of content, and a must-have not only for Doom fans, but also for those who've never experienced the series for themselves.
Spelunky - There've been a lot of cool indie games on the market recently, and Spelunky is one of the best goddamn ones. This game has a pretty simple concept: you're an explorer looking for treasure! Oh wait, I forgot to take into account the fact that EVERYTHING IS TRYING TO KILL YOU. Spelunky is a level-based side-scroller where you start at the top of a map and make your way to the exit at the bottom. On the way, you'll encounter helpful things like treasure and weapons, as well as enemies, obstacles, and traps. Being careless is a recipe for disaster however, because if you get hit even once, it could spell your demise either directly or by triggering some messed up Rube Goldberg of events that ultimately results in your death.
In any other game, this wouldn't be as much of an issue. You could just memorize the levels and learn how to deal with the obstacles as they come, right? Well, Spelunky's got your fuckin' number, because every single level is completely randomized. That means level layout, enemies, the amount of treasure, and the abundance of traps. As a result, you have to constantly be cautious and on your toes, ready to react to even the most abstract of situations. Luckily, there are items like shotguns and climbing mitts that can make your adventure a little easier...but tragedy always seems to strike when you least expect it. Spelunky is a harsh, harsh mistress...but it's a damn fun game that'll never be quite the same every time you play, meaning the gameplay value is through the roof. Oh, and don't forget that there's multiplayer as well! Have fun destroying your friends...even when you're trying your best to co-operate with them!
La-Mulana - I seriously...cannot say enough good shit about this indie game. It caters to everything that I like in a classic-style game. As Lemeza Kosugi, who very closely resembles Indiana Jones, you invade an ancient ruin known as La-Mulana. This game is an open-ended side-scroller, like Metroid or the newer Castlevania games, except much larger in scale. The game world is absolutely massive, and there are tons of puzzles to solve, items to find, and enemies to thrash. Just my kind of experience, and it's one that lasts perhaps around 30-40 hours on your first runthrough, which is damn impressive for a game that follows the Metroidvania style!
Everything is just great in La-Mulana. The gameplay is tight, the graphics are just right, and the sound effects and music hit every note you could possibly want them to. You'll get lost for hours trying to figure out exactly what puzzle to solve next, but you won't even mind because traveling around and exploring feels so damn good. This game is pretty challenging too, which gives it extra points in my book. If you want to see more details about La-Mulana, seriously go and check out my write-up on the original release...but in summary, it's a wicked game that deserves way more attention than it's likely getting.
Nexuiz - In the 90's, online FPS deathmatch was much different than it is now. Games like Quake and Unreal populated the market and provided players with a ton of cool, unique weapons, close-range arena stages with jump pads that sent you hurtling through the air at ridiculous velocities, and insanely fast-paced twitch gameplay that almost resembled an arcade game. Nexuiz follows in the footsteps of these games, bringing such gameplay to current consoles in 2012. There are a ton of cool weapons at your disposal such as an electric-sphere firing gun and a rocket launcher with missiles you can detonate in mid air, and all you have to worry about is surviving and blasting the opposing team until you win! Sounds pretty simple eh?
Well, there's one cool mechanic that increases the complexity and tact in Nexuiz, and that is the Dynamic Mutator. Dynamic Mutators are items you pick up throughout the arenas or gain by earning kill streaks or flag captures. You get to choose from 3 different mutators that will actively affect the entire match. Some of these may grant you special abilities like Super versions of the standard weapons, or the ability to fly via jetpacks, while others will make your view pixelated like in the days of Doom or reduce the arena's gravity, making the action even more aerial. These mutators can be surprisingly tactical and can sway the match in your favour, particularly when you place a shield around your flag or make the opposing team take damage when they jump. You can even spend earned experience points from your matches on increasing the frequency of specific mutators that you enjoy, which allows for some customization. Overall, this is a damn fun game and probably one of the most fun FPS experiences I've had in years, particularly when playing with friends!
There you have it! Hope you're having a great holiday and continue to have a happy new year, and I'll post again in January! In the meantime though, keep gaming!