What a weak year for strategy games. The usual big names like StarCraft, Civilization, and others are missing this year. There were a few great games, but they were so spread out I started to wonder if the genre died.
Total War: Warhammer II
Warhammer II was a no-brainer this year. Being even better than the already fantastic original, it’s massive in scale and delivers all the Warhammer essentials for fans of the series. It’s deep, beautiful, fun, and challenging.
This was one of the strongest console launches I can ever remember. For a first-year, Nintendo pumped out some fantastic games, as well as the strongest third-party support they have had in a decade. The system still has room to grow, but so far it’s impressive.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild isn’t just a superb open-world game set in the Zelda universe, but it changes the Zelda formula forever. One of the most popular and well-known franchises in entertainment history has just changed everything on the Switch, which is the biggest deal since Ocarina of Time nearly 2 decades ago. It pushes the Switch to its limits, looks gorgeous, plays amazingly smooth, and is so immersive and deep.
Luigi’s Mansion was a cult hit back on the GameCube but didn’t see much commercial success. The 3DS seems like a perfect home for the sequel so Nintendo went for it. You play Luigi who is tasked with dispersing a small town of ghosts with the help of Professor E. Gadd. You take your Poltergust 5000 and suck and blow anything in your path. Be it cloth on walls, rugs, pulleys, or using your other powers to reveal hidden objects or even your flashlight to help battle ghosts. There are quite a few elements in play here and they are done fairly well. Ghosts don’t just stand around and let you suck them up. Some are protected by objects or are inside other objects and require coaxing out in various ways. This with the inclusion of puzzles makes Luigi’s Mansion a fun trip.
It isn’t without its problems and there are more than meets the eye like most recent Nintendo games. Sure the game looks great and plays well but it gets repetitive halfway through and gets frustrating. You’d expect tougher ghosts to come into play at some point, but instead, you get the same ghosts with bigger life bars and more thrown at you. As you progress you find cash throughout the game to upgrade your equipment so this isn’t a problem. I was nearly maxed out towards the end of the game. The issue is redundancy and constantly revisiting the same areas just to fight different ghosts. Some puzzles are hard to figure out and some require insistent backtracking that gets very dull. The game had the Mario charm thrown in, but I expected more variety. After the third area, you really start getting tired of the game, but that doesn’t mean its terrible.
There are some hidden items in each area and they aren’t too hard to find if you explore every little area. These range from gems to cash to a hidden Boo in each level. It feels less like a collectathon and more like exploring an area. The objectives are clear and your map is useful. With that said, many objectives are also repeated throughout like chasing down a ghost dog to find a key and getting back parts from various ghosts. It just got old and I just kept telling myself, “Not this again!”
Dark Moon is one of the best-looking 3DS games out there. The game has high-resolution textures, great-looking models, and some impressive lighting effects and physics. I almost felt like I was playing the Wii U. The 3D effects are nice but don’t add anything to the gameplay. I loved the attention to detail from Luigi’s voice to his animations. The game has great production values but could have used a better variety of gameplay elements.
I have a confession. I’ve never beaten a 3D Mario game. And I’ve never gotten a game on the first day that it came out. Super Mario 3D World changed both of those things, and I’m glad that it was the game to do that. You see, Mario 3D World is not the best 3D Mario game. That trophy belongs to Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario 64, which both have much more “open” gameplay. Instead, Super Mario 3D World is the best level design ever seen in a Mario game. Every single secret location is ingenious. Enemy locations and patterns were created with care, and platforms are always placed in locations so that they aren’t too easy to jump to yet every missed jump is a user error.
I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much in a game. Even when I was mad, I was smiling. Smiling during local multiplayer is commonplace for most video games, but I don’t think I ever usually smile when playing by myself. Super Mario 3D World made me smile even during single-player. The game is just so much fun I could hardly get myself to put it down while playing. The story is… well… no one plays a Mario game for the story. The first new addition to the franchise is that there are 4 characters (spoilers, I guess if you can call it that: there is a 5th character you unlock as well later in the game) to choose from and player one is not locked to Mario, unlike the New Super Mario Bros games. Mario is all-around good, Luigi can jump extra high but has clumsier movements, Peach (yes, you get to play as Peach this time around) can float (giving her a longer jump time) but is much slower than the rest, and Toad is very fast yet a little more difficult to control.
Luigi was my favorite character of the four, as his higher jump provided very useful in some situations. I know most people have a preference towards Mario however. This game is fantastic in multiplayer and in single-player. While the Mario platformers have often been criticized for having too chaotic a multiplayer, 3D World is the perfect balance between chaos and teamwork. Also, unlike the previous Mario games, 3D World is not ridiculously easier with multiplayer. While most secrets are a breeze when with friends, death will also be more commonplace which balances the two out.
I do have a minor gripe with multiplayer though. I do not understand why the person on the gamepad cannot stray away from the rest of the group, especially when only two people are playing. It’s annoying that the game does not take advantage of the Wii U’s asymmetrical multiplayer features. Also, the gamepad is almost completely useless in the game. It can be used to highlight invisible secrets, temporarily stop enemies, and also as a camera, but it’s much easier and more intuitive to use the right analog stick as a camera. The only levels which take advantage of it properly are levels where you must tap on platforms to make them pop out. Those levels are few and far between but are the best use of the gamepad throughout the whole game.
Of course, there is also off-tv mode however the graphics are much crisper and clearer on a television screen, where the game is meant to be played. Speaking of the graphics, this game looks absolutely breathtaking. The lighting effects are extremely well done, and rain levels, in particular, look stunning. 720p or not, this game is beautiful and it runs for the most part at sixty frames per second (only the keenest observers will notice the occasional frame rate drop). The soundtrack is also excellent and makes use of one of my favorite Wii U features- playing the part of the beat of the gamepad and the other part off the TV.
The gameplay itself burnt down to its core is extremely similar to Super Mario 3D Land, however, the level design is so fresh that I never felt like I was playing the same game again. I’m probably not the best person to comment on that though considering I only played through the first two worlds of 3D Land. Also, those only interested in the next Mario Galaxy game might want to stray away, as Super Mario 3D World shares more in common with the 2D platformers than its 3D counterparts.
The controls are pitch-perfect, as to be expected from a Nintendo game. Every movement feels right, and all errors were my fault and not the game’s fault. I didn’t really make too many errors though as the main worlds are unfortunately very easy and that is coming from someone who usually sucks at video games (you don’t even want to know how terrible I am at some games). It’s also not too long, but that’s okay because there is tons of extra content once you’ve beaten the game.
Completely new to the game are the Captain Toad levels. They’re kind of like Fez if Fez was an actual 3D game. There are only a few, but this prevents them from getting stale and they provide quite a challenge sometimes. Also, something I am surprised this game had was depth perception issues. The 3D effect really helped the original game, and it shows in the sequel as I often had to pay attention to shadows to tell where my jumps were going to land. It’s a shame Nintendo didn’t add stereoscopic 3D support.
The two major powerups added are the catsuit and double cherry. The catsuit allows you to climb up to secrets and attack enemies and is one of the most creative powerups in a Mario game ever. The double cherry creates clones of yourself which in turn can cause hectic fun during multiplayer. It’s too bad that the double cherry is level specific and very uncommon to come across. There are also a bunch of other temporary powerups like a Goomba disguise and a coin-shooting block which are fun to use.
Super Mario 3D World is one of the most fun games I’ve ever played. It’s polished and fun, and those waiting for a reason to buy a Wii U have no better reason to jump on. I’ve been disappointed with the Wii U the whole entire year until now, and Nintendo has proven that in the end, the one thing they have over their major competitors are first-party titles that are fun no matter who they are played with and will withstand the test of time.
Honestly, for such a “new” series it sure has repeated a lot. I think the New part should have dropped off long ago. We are seeing the same formula from New Super Mario Bros./Galaxy and it hasn’t changed, not one bit. There are just a few additions to accommodate the Wii U gamepad and those aren’t even that impressive or necessary.
If you have played games from the series you know what you’re in for. This time around the difficulty of the game is ramped up to 11 and the addition of a four-player co-op can either help or break the game. The biggest addition is the Boost Mode from the gamepad user. You can see everyone on screen and can tap to lay blocks that your buddies can jump on. You can defeat enemies for them, help with bosses, stop items from running away, and even help block obstacles. This is both a blessing and a curse. With just one or two people it’s easy, but with three or more you can’t keep track of everyone. If you lay successful blocks you get a rainbow star which makes you invincible and you can defeat anything. A lot of times you will place a block wrong and kill everyone because Wiimote players rely on the Boost guy a lot.
It’s also mindless fun, but the game’s difficulty will make everyone throw their controllers. I restarted levels 20+ times because I just could not get through them. Nintendo continues to offer cheats, and the worst one yet is the Luigi demo. You can literally hit a green block and watch Luigi complete the level for you so you can move on. What kind of crap is that? Is this what we’re teaching the new generation of gamers Nintendo? That games will beat themselves? Half the time I didn’t care because after losing 25 lives and rotating the gamepad to friends we just couldn’t beat the level. There is a large variety and there are some fun power-ups like the ice flower, but most people will give up early on.
Another feature added is the Miiverse. It’s honestly just very annoying. People can post what’s on their mind if they lose or beat a level and it just feels like Nintendo’s version of Twitter, but 5-10-year-olds can post on it so you get incomprehensible words, and strange drawings, and it just feels really annoying. Of course, only the gamepad player can post and see other people’s posts. You can also play as your Mii which is fun, but these aren’t anything that would make someone buy a Wii U. Once again, Nintendo fails to sell their consoles for their own games.
The graphics really haven’t changed much from the Wii, they aren’t groundbreaking like Mario 64 or Galaxy was. I really feel this series is now dead in the water gameplay-wise. Mario just needs a serious reboot. It doesn’t help that the game is overly difficult and all the new hardware features are forced and can actually make the game feel worse to play. Even the star coins are nearly impossible to get this time, and there’s still no reward for getting them all. Going from one level to level just made me feel dizzy with Deja vu.
As it stands, NSMB U isn’t a console seller and doesn’t advance the series at all. The Wii U hardware features feel forced and sometimes break the game. It’s also the most expensive Mario game since the 64 eras. $60 for a game you have played many times before isn’t a bargain. If you are already tired of the series, this won’t change your mind at all.
Here we are again. Another Mario game to prove how good a new Nintendo system is. Super Mario 3D Land is another addition to the New Super Mario Bros./Galaxy formula that pushed Mario into a new generation. Honestly, I’m tired of it, but it still proves to be solid and entertaining.
The game has 8 worlds to play through and each stage is completely different, so at least there’s variety. Each world feels like a mini one from Super Mario Galaxy mixed with a New Super Mario Bros. level. The whole point is to just get to the end, but there are 3-star coins in each level. Here’s the problem with collecting all those: There’s absolutely no reward for doing so, it’s just to scratch the completionist OCD itch. Mario has his usual NSMB abilities like the fire flower, Tanooki Suit, Boomerang suit, and the white Tanooki suit. Honestly, the game lacked any new abilities which is a shame. I found that the Tanooki suit was vital to winning some levels and to even getting to some star coins.
At the end of each world, you fight Bowser, but there’s no variety to it. You work your way up to him then you just avoid his attacks until you get to the button that knocks him into lava. Every so often you will fight Bowser Jr. or the Koopa Twins, but they are all very easy. Speaking of easy, the first 6 worlds are a breeze with nearly zero challenge. The enemies are easy to avoid, and if you die more than 5 times you get the White Tanooki suit which makes you invincible through the whole level, they basically just let you cheat your way through. I really hated this, but at the last word, I found that I needed it because the game went from super easy to extremely difficult in no time flat. It took over an hour to beat the final Bowser level.
The 3D effects are pretty nice and work well here. There are a few instances in levels where 3D will benefit you to see the level layout better, but just like most 3DS games, it’s just for flash, and not gameplay. I did find the graphics to look crisp and very pretty for a 3DS game, but they still look like Super Mario Galaxy and haven’t changed one bit, I’m bored of it. There are no extra modes, and once you beat the game it’s hard to have a reason to come back. The story in Mario games is pretty simple so I won’t even go there.
The severe lack of challenge through 70% of the game just really brings the experience down. Enemies are a breeze to avoid and there’s just nothing new to the overall Mario formula to make it groundbreaking like Mario used to be. Nintendo has been riding this formula for so long that it’s a wonder people keep buying it. I thought this would be kind of like Mario 64 in the sense that it revolutionized the genre and console, this game had that potential. While the game is just plain fun, I wanted a challenge. I wanted something new like more abilities, a new art style, new enemies, and just a larger challenge. When you hit world 7 you will be in for a world of hurt because the game is just so damn hard. It’s the way the level is laid out, enemies are placed in tricky spots, but it’s not the fair type of hard.
Overall, Super Mario 3D Land is a fun game, but not the genre changer that everyone thought. It sticks with the same tired NSMB/Galaxy formula that everyone is getting tired of. There’s no challenge 70% through the game and the bosses lack any variety. There are no extra modes and the star coins offer no reward. What we have is just a fun Mario game with great graphics and 3D effects, that’s all.
The 3DS had some awesome games this year so it was a tough choice. There were a surprising amount of solid third party games this year as well. The best 3DS game obviously has to use the new hardware well, but also be a solid game that doesn’t rely on gimmicks.
Revelations is not just a solid RE game, but the graphics are stunning for the console. The story is interesting and the 3D effects are fantastic. This won over for me because of how great of an experience it is. This isn’t just an RE console port, but a whole new experience that just rocks solid.
Wii had a very rough year with just a few console exclusives. With the WiiU out now, this may be the last year we see Wii with its own award category. The few games that were out for the Wii only were pretty strong, but I think the winner is obvious.
When a company breaks JRPG cliches and formulas you will get every RPG fan’s attention. Xenoblade has an awesome combat system, great characters, and story, plus it looks great. We need more JRPG developers following Xenoblade‘s footsteps. This is by far one of the best Wii games this year, and best on the console, period.
A great platformer must charm, be fun to play, and have some great mechanics. This year didn’t see too many good platformers, but the ones that were good were damn good. Most platformers have a problem being unresponsive, sloppy, or just not fun at all. Great controls, some very fun puzzles, challenging combat of some sort, and even a memorable story help.
Rayman won this year due to how beautiful, passionate, and charming the game was. Not only was the game chock full of smooth animations, fun combat, and a memorable story and characters, but it was a reboot of a franchise that has been doomed for almost a decade. Rayman will leave you smiling and wanting more when you’re done and that’s exactly how a platformer should be.