Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2019

SNES Master KI

It’s that time again, time to list the games I’m most looking forward to in the coming year. But first, let’s look back at 2018. 2018 was something of a breather year compared to how great 2017 was and how incredible 2019 looks, but for a breather year it was really good, even if my list once again had a low accuracy rating (congratulations to Guacamelee! 2 and Mega Man 11, though). Thankfully, games like God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man that greatly exceeded my expectations, out of nowhere games like Celeste and The Messenger, and games announced during the year like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate gave it a solid showing. Still, 2019 looks set to blow it away (helped by so many of my anticipated games getting delayed into it). What’s so great about 2019? Well, let’s get to the list and let it explain for itself!

Honorable Mentions

Daemon ex Machina (Switch) – Probably the most unexpected game at Nintendo’s E3, Daemon ex Machina combines fast paced third person shooting action (I actually wondered if it was a Vanquish sequel during its reveal) and extensive mech customization. I’m not wild about the second part, but the core gameplay looks great and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on this game.

Resident Evil 2 Remake (PS4/X1/PC) – After a long, long wait we finally have details and a release date for another major Resident Evil remake. As far as I can tell, this seems to have Resident Evil 4 mechanics with original-style RE resource limitations. Going to wait to see exactly how well the balancing works, but this game definitely has potential to be another notch on the Capcom revival belt.

Animal Crossing Switch (…guess.) – We know nothing about this game other than its existence, but it’s not like I let that keep games off lists. The only Animal Crossing I’ve played was the original NA release on the GameCube, but I enjoyed it and have been meaning to try one of the newer, online enabled ones. After procrastinating for years on New Leaf, I may finally take the plunge with the Switch version.

Okay, now for the main event:

10. Mortal Kombat 11

Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment/NetherRealm Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: April 23rd, 2019

I’m still in shock that this game is actually making it out in the first half of 2019, despite not being officially announced until December 2018. Mortal Kombat 9 pushed the series to new heights, and has earned main entries places on these lists. We don’t know much about the game, but we’re sure to get another story mode that encapsulates the MK mythos that caught my interest so many years ago, long before the gameplay was actually good. Now that we have both, MK11 should easily earn its place among the fairly small amount of fighters I play.

9. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Publisher/Developer: Activision/From Software
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 22nd, 2019

I’ve said several times that I want a Saints Row to Dark Souls’ Grand Theft Auto, a similar game that fixes all my problems and imposes a new standard on the genre. Sekiro is the best contender in that area that I’ve seen so far, exchanging the WRPG micromanagment of the Souls games for pure tough-as-nails gameplay with a JUMP BUTTON! I don’t want to let my expectations get out of control, but if Sekiro lives up to its potential it could be a genre defining moment. And that new definition could be what I’ve wanted for years.

8. Luigi’s Mansion 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2019

While they aren’t Mario platformers (that was just cruel making the original fill in for one at launch), the Luigi’s Mansion games are both great and creative games that make full use of their vacuuming ghosts concept for puzzles and unique battles. We know very little about the third game, but the idea of a skyscraper-sized mansion sounds great and there’s no reason to think Nintendo won’t deliver with it. Luigi may be dreading his next starring role, but he’s just going to have to deal with it because we all want it.

7. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay, DICO, WayForward
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

The first of many repeat appearances from last year’s list, Bloodstained may have been delayed a ridiculous amount (I want to say it was originally planned for 2016), but the 8-bit teaser game for it felt exactly like a lost Classicvania game. That has raised my confidence in the final game, if it can do for Symphony of the Night/16-bit Classicvanias what Curse of the Moon did for the 8-bit entries, then we’ve finally got a Kickstarter spiritual sequel that matches the series it is meant to replace. And since I don’t have faith in Konami to revive Castlevania within the next decade, we can’t afford another Mighty No. 9 situation. It’s your shot Igarashi, give us a replacement goldfish that would make Platinum proud.

6. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 29th, 2019

This is another repeat from last year, but with how long this freaking game took to arrive, missing last year by a month seems barely worth mentioning. After an absurdly long wait (people born after the first KH came out can drive, people born after Kingdom Hearts 2 will be teenagers within a year), Kingdom Hearts III at least looks like it will deliver. Action-RPG combat has greatly evolved in the years since the last Kingdom Hearts, and KH3 seems to be running with that. If it pulls it off successfully, it could easily be the best game in the series. And no matter how it turns out, we pretty much have to buy it to see how the hilariously ridiculous and convoluted story ends.

5. Pokémon Generation 8

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Game Freak
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2019

Yeah, we know nothing about this games except its release year and series, but dammit, Super Mario Switch was one of the few things my 2017 list got right. While I’m not into Pokemon enough to give it the number one spot (yes, I would be willing to make this number one if it was the right series), I still enjoy the franchise and am very interested to see where it goes for its first main series console release. There are endless questions and possibilities for this game, and that in itself builds excitement for it. Just don’t ask us to import hundreds of Pokémon from past games if we want to catch them, even with online trading, it’s getting overwhelming.

4. Bayonetta 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2019?

Yep, I’m once again giving this game a spot despite not having any footage or a release year. But I feel more confident in it coming out in 2019 then I did for 2018, so it’s hard to justify removing it. The combination of Nintendo and Platinum is a fantastic one, and Bayonetta 3 should continue being a standard setter for character action games. So why isn’t it as high as last year? Well, back then I was really desperate for something to reignite the character action genre, and none of the potential games had much information to go on. If only there was one with lots of footage and a close release date…

3. Devil May Cry 5

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 8th, 2019

I’ve loved this series ever since the first game codified my second favorite genre, and I’ve followed it through the ups and downs. After the poorly received reboot left the series silent for half a decade, people were fearing the worst, but Capcom came back! With an interesting new looking new character who still fits in perfectly, the signature crazy action, and continued escalation of motorcycle use, Devil May Cry 5 looks like the sequel everyone wanted for the past decade, and could be the catalyst for a character action renaissance. With so many franchises that made drastic changes this generation, it feels great to get a long awaited direct sequel in DMC5. In just a few months, we’ll finally have a chance to pull that Devil Trigger again.

2. Yoshi’s Crafted World

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/ Good Feel
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2019

The last delayed game from last year’s list, this game looked even better when we finally got a new trailer after an information drought that lasted more than a year. My reasons for hyping this are the same as last year; after two decades of disappointing sequels to Yoshi’s Island, Good Feel hit it out of the park with Yoshi’s Wooly World and made a game that goes toe to toe with the legendary SNES game. Yoshi’s Crafted World looks like a direct sequel with some interesting new ideas (flipping to the other side of the stage, aiming eggs at the background) that should give it its own identity as well. And best of all, with Switch being region free, there is absolutely no chance of me having to wait because my region gets the game months after everywhere else for no freaking reason, as happened with Woolly World.

1. Doom Eternal

Publisher/Developer: Bethesda Softworks/id Software
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

In what I consider a bleak period for gaming, there were a few franchise revivals that broke through like the sun briefly appearing in gaps between dark clouds. The best of these was DOOM (2016), which I gave the highest praise possible for a sequel:it was to first person shooters what Super Mario Galaxy was to 3D platformers. After decades of FPSes getting more and more realistic and generic, DOOM 2016 reversed everything and made a fast-paced, huge enemy variety, no reloading action fest that found a brilliant solution to regenerating health that made the game faster instead of slower. I was praying for a sequel, and Doom Eternal is exactly what I wanted. More locations, more abilities and weapons, more enemies, better pacing of enemies throughout levels, just everything in general looking better than the game that redeemed the genre its series made me love (albeit kind of late, it happened in 2015). If this is the Super Mario Galaxy 2 (my favorite game of all time) of first person shooters, then we are in for one hell on Earth of a ride with Doom Eternal.

Dariwan

Another year older, another year wiser. 2018 has come and gone and has given us a lot of games that I can’t even fathom the greatness or even have enough time to play them all. Some of the games that I thought would be great this year flopped but most of them are amazing still. There were even games I didn’t even think would come out (Smash Ultimate, for one) this year that amazed me. Well as this year is ending, let’s see what’s coming out in 2019 that will hopefully wow me in the future as 2018 did for me!

Honorable Mentions

Cyberpunk 2077 (PS4/XBO/PC)– I like these kind of games, and I like the company. But I don’t know if it’s worth throwing out the money for it. It looked really good at E3. I’ll have to see what comes of it.

Dead or Alive 6 (PS4/XBO/PC) – This game has had controversy since its announcement. With the developers saying they’re going to censor the sexual nature that the game has become known for in the past and the fan base revolting over this, I don’t know if this game is gonna be any good, unless they make some big changes.

Wargroove (PS4/Switch/XBO/PC) – My teenage years were mostly spent emulating GBA games. I accidentally found Advance Wars while looking for Tactics Ogre and ended up liking it. Also, one of my favorite games on GBA was Fire Emblem with Lyn. I think this game is trying to bring that back and I think that’s a good thing. Will I buy and/or play it? Time will tell. Looks fun and a trip back to nostalgia for me though.

Mortal Kombat 11 (PS4/Switch/XBO/PC) – This game was just announced at The Game Awards as well. I kind of care about Mortal Kombat but it’s not exactly my favorite fighting game series, so I’ll throw this on my honorable mentions for now and we’ll see if it changes.

10. Indivisible

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/Lab Zero Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

The game from the same company that gave us Skullgirls (Lab Zero) comes back again with an action-RPG type game that still sorta interests me. The gameplay is appealing, even if it’s been overly copied and possibly even stolen. I think I only still care about this game because I backed this game over 4 years ago and I want what I paid for. But hey.

9. Jump Force

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Spike Chunsoft
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: February 15, 2019

This game is interesting to me because it’s another attempt by Shonen Jump to make a fighting game including many fighters that people don’t really get, like the guy from City Hunter who has guns, or Yugi Moto from Yu-Gi-Oh! They have fan favorites like Goku and Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z, Yusuke from Yu Yu Hakusho, Gon from Hunter x Hunter, and Kenshin from Ruroni Kenshin, as well as people from the new generation like Asta from Black Clover and many more. I hope this game does well because I love Shonen Jump characters and using them in fighting games and I want them to make more of these games in the future.

8. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay, DICO, WayForward
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

As I’ve only played very little of one Castlevania game in my life (Aria of Sorrow), I really don’t have the history or the nostalgia that most people who care about this game have. But this game still looks fun and I feel like it’ll be a great game to play in 2019.

7. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Team Ninja
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2019

This game was a shock to me when I saw it get announced at The Game Awards. I loved the first game and played the first game to death and almost 100%ed it. The second one wasn’t as great but it had my favorite characters so I stomached it. I’m not exactly a fan of the fact that it’s Avengers & Wolverine (who was himself an Avenger at a time) fighting Thanos and his cronies but I hope to hear more about this game that’ll excite me in the future.

6. Samurai Shodown

Publisher/Developer: SNK
Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Q2 2019

I hate the name but I love the game.

This is another series I grew up with and loved. Even though my main experiences with it was in the arcade and this one didn’t follow me on console like a few other fighting game titles, I still enjoy this series and it reinforced my love of samurai and swords to this day. Great-looking graphics and a return to the blood and gore that I remember and love is gonna make me happy, especially since I skipped Soulcalibur VI this year and that was another series I loved and grew up with.

5. Bayonetta 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: TBA

While this one may not come out in 2019, I might as well start it on the list here so I can just keep adding it until it comes out. I loved Bayonetta’s setting and themes since the first one and I’ve bought this on 3 different systems (PS3, Wii U and now Switch for the first 2) and now I hopefully only have to buy this one on one system and enjoy it this time!

4. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Publisher/Developer: Marvelous Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: January 18, 2019

I loved the No More Heroes games. It was one of the best impluse buys I ever made when it comes to Wii games. I loved the gameplay, I loved the vibe of the main character and the series in general and killing assassins just felt so good… This game looks great and even though it’s a small departure from the series that I know and love, I hope that Suda51 is still going to give me a great game to play!

3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Q2 2019

I’ve only gotten into the Fire Emblem series on the Game Boy Advance, but I’ve fallen in love with the battle system, the characters, the battles, everything. Fire Emblem Awakening was great, but I’ve yet to experience this wonderful series on console yet. In comes Three Houses: the first Switch Fire Emblem game is gonna be great and I can’t wait to experience a traditional Fire Emblem experience on console!

2. Devil May Cry 5

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 8, 2019

I’ve been meaning to play these games for years. I also bought the first 3 games of this like Bayonetta on 3 different consoles (PS2, PS3 and PS4) and on the third try I’ve finally beat the first 2 games, on my way of beating the third and finally got the fourth! I hope I can beat all 4 before the fifth game comes out. This game looks amazing and I can’t wait to play it. Fighting with crazy stuff like motorcycles and different other weapons make this game exciting. Also, the mysteriously interesting character V is very interesting to me. I like his style. Can’t wait to play this in March!

1. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 29, 2019

I’ve been waiting for this game for way too long. Sora’s journey will finally end with a great roar and it’s been a long wait. I cannot wait to play this game. The worlds are better than ever and the battle system I hope is as good as Birth by Sleep and KH2. They’ve had enough time for this game to be as perfect as it can be and it’s looking to be just that. I hope this game ends this storyline with the best ending and the next storyline is better than this one, even though this one will be hard to top, but it at least will hopefully make more sense to the general populace. I cannot wait for this game.

That’s my list for 2019. I hope none of these flop like last year (looking at you, Vampyr!) and that this coming year is as great for gaming as it hopefully will for everything else!

Johnny Bacon

Hello gang, you’ll have to forgive ol’ Bacon here for any case of brevity.  My eyewear is out of date and I can barely see what I am typing.   Without further delay, welcome to Bacon’s Top Ten Anticipated Games of 2019!

In no specific order:

10. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Team Ninja
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2019

With the death of my favorite game, Marvel Heroes in 2017, I have had short few instances where I can just run around and be dumb as a super hero.  With Spider-Man, I could swing around and have hijinks. But it wasn’t the same. Maybe that itch just might be scratched next year when this game is released: after all, MH takes the gameplay model from Ultimate Alliance, so here’s hoping!

9. Onimusha: Warlords

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: January 15, 2019

Hoo nelly! I’m wanting to play this.  It’s been over a decade since the last game was out, and though it left much to be desired, it was still fun for the large part.  I’m expecting great things from this.  I’m awfully curious about how they’ll update the gameplay for the modern game.

8. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 29, 2019

God Almighty, this series is a train wreck story-wise but I am (and have always been) addicted to its gameplay.  And this installment’s gameplay looks to be the best in the series.  I might even get enjoyment from killing all of the time travel mind clones.

7. Days Gone

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: April 26, 2019

Now Uncle Icepick may have words against this, as he’s a bit of a snob against RPGs. (Editor’s note: he’s not wrong, people. – Ice.) But I, for one, am looking forward to this.  A nifty blend of modern/futuristic military settings and turn-based mechanics.  Looks fun to me!

6. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

Publisher/Developer: Activision/Beenox
Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Release Date: June 21, 2019

Man, before Mario Kart 8, there were only a few kart racers that folks could just jump into and have an insane amount of joy in: Mario Kart Double Dash, Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed, and of course Crash Team Racing.  A trifecta of kart racers, though obviously a bit skewed in Nintendo’s favor.

5. Battletoads

Publisher/Developer: Microsoft/DLaLa Studios, Rare
Platform: Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2019

Aw man, I could squee! A modern new-fangled, hard-as-nails, insane-o, balls to the wall, actual factual Battletoads! I do hope they keep some of the British-styled humor from Rare games past, it was always something that amused me.

4. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Publisher/Developer: Activision/From Software
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 22nd, 2019

The latest game from From Software.  It looks to be another Souls-type game but with more traditional action game flair, like platforming and such.  I’m awfully curious how it will turn out, as normally I am not interested in playing these but boy howdy, this one sure is pretty.

3. Indivisible

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/Lab Zero Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

This game looks like a hoot.  The handcrafted animated characters from the guys who brought us Skullgirls with the gameplay straight out of Valkyrie Profile.  I backed this on Indiegogo some time ago and am really looking forward to finally getting my hands on it.

2. Luigi’s Mansion 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2019

Little is known about this one so far but hot damn. If it’s as good as the last two, then it’s going to be stellar.

1. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay, DICO, WayForward
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2019

The return of IGAvania proper.  This particular brand of ‘Vania has been gone so long, it will be a triumphant return indeed.  Hollow Knight may have spoiled me in recent times, so I fear I won’t enjoy this as much as that, but I’m still gonna play the hell out of it.

Professor Icepick

While 2018 didn’t quite live up to the previous year in terms of releases, I’d say we got some good games. 2019, however, looks like it’s going to be even better. I honestly tried putting off writing this list for as long as possible, just because there was a part of me expecting one last big announcement that would shake up the entire structure of the list. Fortunately, it looks like everything’s stable now, but I’m not expecting this list to remain intact once 2019 is actually upon us. Have to give a quick mention to Luigi’s Mansion 3, which very nearly made the honorable mentions until one last-minute announcement managed to take place.

Honorable Mentions

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PC/Switch/PS4/XBO) Bloodstained only manages an honorable mention this year – I’d even considered moving it to my “Dishonorable Mentions” simply to open up another slot on here. In the end, they’ve only really missed one “definite” release date, so I can’t punish them quite yet. The real reason Ritual of the Night has fallen to a mere honorable mention is because Bloodstained has been its own worst enemy. This year’s Curse of the Moon scratched that itch and delivered the “Classicvania” experience I’d been waiting for since I backed the main game back in 2015. Sure, RotN is apparently also going to have a Classic mode, but the meat of the game is going to be a Metroidvania.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (PS4) I mean, I haven’t played Lacrimosa of Dana just yet and it’s unlikely we’ll see an English release of Ys IX until 2020 at the earliest. But damnit, it’s a new Ys game and that’s what counts! Let’s just hope whoever localizes this one doesn’t botch the PC release this time.

AWAY: Journey to the Unexpected (PC/Switch/PS4/XBO) A unique first-person action-RPG with an anime-inspired aesthetic. I fell in love with this game’s entire concept back when I saw it for the first time back in 2017. Now that the game’s finally wrapping up development, I can’t wait to play it.

Devil May Cry 5 (PC/PS4/XBO) I’ve come around to the DMC franchise lately, having played through the HD Collection on livestream late in the year. Also, “crazy cowboy hobo uncle Boomer” Dante is easily the best iteration of the character ever. But I still need to catch up on two more games before I’ll be ready to give DMC5 my full attention. Yes, that includes DmC – we’re so far past from the initial controversy that I’ve got to at least give it a chance.

Judgment (PS4) This looks like an awesome new take on the Yakuza engine. But what I’m really waiting for is a PC port.

Dishonorable Mention

Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch) Two straight misses and you make it on here. I know TJaE’s had a troubled development, but that’s my criteria. On the plus side, 2019 has so many big upcoming titles, this is the only way Back in the Groove was going to make it onto this year’s list. So…if anything, I’m rewarding it for screwing up? That doesn’t seem right. Oh well, life’s not fair.

10. Catherine: Full Body

Publisher/Developer: Atlus
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita (?)
Release Date: “2019”

While the Japanese release is planned to hit on Valentines’ Day next year, we still don’t have much info on any Western releases, aside from the fact that they’re set to hit sometime the same year. Catherine was one of my favorite games of last gen and considering this release is set to offer an expanded storyline and more stages that the original PS360 release, what can I say? I do hope that Atlus finally decides to capitulate to their parent company Sega’s plans to embrace PC gaming – especially given Atlus USA’s reluctance to confirm just which platforms we can expect to see represented in the Western release – but until I receive news of a PC version, this game can only aspire to bottom out the main list at best.

9. Yoshi’s Crafted World

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2019

Well, this game didn’t quite hit last year as I expected… but at least now, we have a name for it. Like I said, I’m mainly looking forward to this one because of just how much I liked its predecessor. Unfortunately, while we’ve seen more of the game than we did when it was first revealed in 2017, there were times where I actually forgot about the game’s existence. That’s just not a good sign.

8. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Publisher/Developer: Marvelous Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: January 18, 2019

That’s right, two – count ‘em two – two repeats in a row. While Yoshi’s Crafted World was higher than Travis Strikes Again last year, I’ve got to give the edge to the No More Heroes spinoff, simply because it actually has a release date… and an early one at that. We’ve even got some new footage recently which put the game back on my radar. The only thing that really weighs the game down in my opinion was when Suda 51 recently said that he was working on a treatment for a “true” NMH3, which would only come to fruition if Travis Strikes Again sells well. I don’t appreciate blackmail of any stripe.

7. Samurai Shodown (2019)

Publisher/Developer: SNK
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Release Date: Q2 2019

I’m not going to lie, when it comes to SNK’s fighting game franchises – hell, even when it comes to all their franchises overall – Samurai Shodown is pretty low on my list. I know, that’s blasphemy. So, I wasn’t exactly excited about the outright inevitability of a new SamSho game when SNK began sharing the fruits of their Chinese-funded labor. But the good thing about SNK is that they always seem to go out of their way to try putting a smile on my face. With a slick art style that reminds me of Capcom’s calligraphy-heavy Street Fighter IV, a teased roster chockful of classic characters (but missing my girl Cham Cham) and the recent announcement that the game would be releasing on all four major platforms – along with an all-but-expected announcement that The King of Fighters XV would be releasing sooner than we expected in 2020 – has done more than enough to put a smile on my face. But SNK, please: give us Garou: Mark of the Wolves 2 soon – arthritis runs in my family and I’d like to enjoy it at full strength.

6. Doom Eternal

Publisher/Developer: Bethesda/id Software
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “2019”

Truth be told, “Doom 2016” was one of the best games I played in 2017 – just roll with it. So, I’d been hoping for a sequel for quite some time and Bethesda managed to promise one at this year’s E3. While the debut trailer was a bit lackluster, we’ve gotten a lot more information since then and I’ve got to say that I like what I saw. Despite my concerns that a new game might just be a cheap cash-in, this one looks great with the addition of new enemies and a grappling hook mechanic, as well as some humor that really rubbed me the right way. Bethesda still maintains that the game will be dropping in 2019, though they haven’t really elaborated on that point.

Honestly, Doom Eternal would’ve probably have been higher on my list if not for two major concerns I have about the game. First off, one major addition to the game that Bethesda has been pushing is their “Invasion” mode which allows players to take on the roles of demons and hunt down other players in their own single-player campaign, Dark Souls-style. While I’ve seen sources claim that this is an optional feature, actually hearing Bethesda themselves outright confirm that is what I’ve been waiting for. My other issue is probably just speculation at this point, but all too likely. Recently, Bethesda made RAGE 2 – another id Software title – into an exclusive on their own launcher. Considering the fact that Fallout 76 had a lot of technical issues, ranging from the hilarity of not allowing people who downloaded the beta to uninstall it unless they bought the full version to the downright terrifying fact that they (hopefully) inadvertently leaked customer names and addresses. So, for the love of God, Bethesda: I don’t care if it’s Steam, GOG, Discord or even that new Epic Games Store I have an irrational hatred of, release Doom Eternal’s PC version on something besides your buggy launcher.

5. Kaze and the Wild Masks

Publisher/Developer: Vox Game Studio
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Early 2019”

If there’s one game that would get me to immediately go out and buy a Switch, it would be “Donkey Kong Country Returns 3” – a game that I’d anticipate as the conclusion to Retro’s trilogy. Since that has still yet to be announced, Kaze and the Wild Masks will just have to do. A mascot platformer that borrows liberally from the Donkey Kong Country games of old, as well as other games from that era, Kaze and the Wild Masks looks like it’s set to be the kind of homage to Rareware’s 16-bit opus that Freedom Planet was to Sonic the Hedgehog’s halcyon days. If there’s any flaw I’d say the game has, it’s that it looks like it borrows a little too much from both iterations of Donkey Kong Country, at least as far as the trailers are concerned. But hopefully, it’ll manage to carve its own niche when it comes out sometime next year.

4. Mortal Kombat 11

Publisher/Developer: WB Games/NetherRealm Studios
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: April 23, 2019

Well, this certainly came out of nowhere. After a few false starts this year, most NetherRealm fans were willing to accept that the cycle had been broken but then an announcement trailer came out of nowhere at The Game Awards. As with MKX, it contained amazing visuals paired with less than stellar music – but let’s be honest: there are probably no less than a dozen edits on YouTube that replaced it with “Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)” by The Immortals. I’m not sure what this game will be packing in terms of content, but what little we know sounds great. The most important things I know are that WB Games is planning on launching the game on all 4 platforms – even Switch! – simultaneously and that QLOC will be handling the PC version. I’m just hoping those rumors about Johnny Cage and Kano’s exclusion end up being just that, rumors.

3. Shovel Knight: King of Cards

Publisher/Developer: Yacht Club Games
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (et al.)
Release Date: April 9, 2019

Originally formally announced back in August 2017, King of Cards (and the multiplayer expansion “Shovel Knight Showdown”, set to launch simultaneously with KoC) is set to finally mark the end of Yacht Club Games’ support of the original Shovel Knight. I remember back when I funded the game simply because the developer had spun off from WayForward, one of my favorite indie developers. While Shovel Knight has given me years of fun, I’m excited to find out just what Yacht Club has in store for us next, but before that we’ve got an expansion that is poised to be even more of a change from the base game than Specter of Torment, the previous expansion.

Apparently taking a few cues from Super Mario World, King of Cards is set to offer players the chance to play as King Knight, a character I ranked at the bottom when voting for Shovel Knight’s expansions. His gameplay is substantially flashier than the previous character, even sporting a familiar spin jump. KoC also changes up the format, challenging players to best over 30 courses across 4 different worlds to become make sure the gilded goon becomes the one true king. I just hope it doesn’t get pushed back again…

2. Freedom Planet 2

Publisher/Developer: GalaxyTrail
Platform: PC (maybe more?)
Release Date: Spring/Summer 2019

If anything, I’m kind of surprised that FP2 ended up taking the #2 slot two years in a row. You’d think that if I were being even remotely consistent, it should be down near the bottom of the list with Yoshi and Travis. If this list weren’t about my preferences, it probably would’ve been. But alas, the heart wants what it wants, and my heart wants a damn sequel to Freedom Planet as soon as possible. We did recently get another update regarding the game, claiming that we can expect 24 stages across four playable characters, so it’s essentially the first game, only bigger. Which is exactly what I wanted in the first place. Still no word on any console versions but considering that the fact that the original game hit Switch this past August, I wouldn’t be surprised if it and the PS4 received the game at some point.

1. Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course

Publisher/Developer: Studio MDHR
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Release Date: 2019

It really couldn’t have been anything else. Cuphead was probably my favorite game of 2017 and when Studio MDHR announced an expansion for the game at the Xbox conference this past E3, I legitimately considered calling the entire event for Microsoft right then and there – that’s how strongly I felt about this announcement. The only information we really have on The Delicious Last Course (clever title) is that it will be adding the instantly popular Ms. Chalice as a brand-new playable character and a new isle’s worth of content – or in layman’s terms, a third of the original game’s content – with new bosses, weapons and charms. While that’s the only concrete information we have about Cuphead: DLC, that’s really all I need to get that excited for it. Cuphead is one of those rare 2D games that looks as good as it plays and frankly, a “Cuphead 1.5” is exactly what I need to keep me satisfied until a legitimate sequel shows up. Granted, that probably won’t surface for years, simply due to just how much effort it takes to properly craft the game’s trademark old-school animated aesthetic.

And those are my picks for 2019’s upcoming releases, at least the ones that have been announced thus far. The truth is, I ended up leaving an unprecedented number of contenders off of this list – almost enough to make another full top 10 list on its own and that’s without the honorable mentions. And who knows? Maybe my favorite game of 2019 hasn’t even been announced yet!


But what do you think? Do you agree with our picks for the hottest games of 2019? Or did we leave off some of your most-anticipated games of next year? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

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Console Ceasefire

Throughout the history of gaming, console wars have been a constant. Sony versus Microsoft, Nintendo versus Sega, some company’s Pong clone versus some other company’s Pong clone. While people have always argued that gamers have no reason to get involved in contests between corporations, the simple fact is that people are going to get invested in their systems to some extent. If a company and/or their system gives you your favorite games, your favorite gaming related memories, some sense of loyalty is going to develop. I haven’t refused to play non-Nintendo systems since I was a preteen, but it always felt good when they were selling the most, and I hoped it would happen.

Until now.

No, this isn’t some kind of loyalty switch (no pun intended this time, I didn’t capitalize it, those are the rules), I’ve just come to a realization. When it comes to Switch vs. PlayStation 4, I simply don’t care which one sells more. If I was asked to simply choose which sold more I’d probably go with Switch, but other than that I really don’t have a notable preference.

01

Yeah, that would be nice, I guess.

Now this may sound like depressing apathy, but it’s actually the complete opposite. For several years things didn’t feel right in gaming, after 2013’s phenomenal game releases but grim future prospects, things went downhill fast. While Wii U floundered as though it had a curse placed upon it, PlayStation 4 and the platforms sharing most of its lineup went through a painful new generation slump. It felt like I could choose a system with a good present but imminent death coming, or one with few releases that I would just have to hope eventually overcame its slump. I’m not saying there weren’t good or even fantastic games released during this period (Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, Yoshi’s Wooly World, DOOM 2016, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse), but for me at least, they were far fewer in number than the feast I enjoyed in the second half of the seventh generation. This came to a head in 2016 when Nintendo basically vanished for the second half of the year while still releasing mobile games and the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X made me anxious about the future of console gaming as a whole.

Then the light came back. All at the same time, the Switch brought Nintendo back in the same phoenix-like manner as the original Wii, developers got over their beginning of the generation slump, and Japanese developers even made a comeback (I always knew you’d find your way home, Capcom). The gloom and negativity disappeared (as much as they can from the internet, at least) and we entered what I consider the good part of the eighth generation. My systems of choice (Switch and PlayStation 4, as is probably obvious) were and are both selling fantastically. PS4 is obviously well ahead in total sales due to releasing three and a half year before Switch, but can Switch catch up? Will PS5’s release cut off PS4 and allow Switch to take the crown? Should we just compare Switch to the eventual PS5 and say it’s already dominating its generation? I have one simple answer:

03

What could it be?

Who the hell cares?

Yes, I really, genuinely don’t care what the best selling system of the eighth generation is, and there are a couple of core reasons for that. One is what I’ve been discussing, I’m just happy systems and gaming in general are doing well after one of the bleakest periods for game releases that I can remember. After years of hearing that Nintendo is doomed (for real this time!), the AAA market is and always will be crap, and Japan is irrelevant, it seems extraordinarily petty to deeply care whether Nintendo gets to take that number one spot for internet bragging points. There are more important things to worry about, even within gaming, than who gets to claim the title of market leader.

The second core reason is that Nintendo has been almost completely desynced from everyone else. As a result of Wii U’s market failure (as said before, I blame Luigi), Nintendo was forced to release a new system mid-generation. Now this has been done before, but this is the first time I can think of where it worked. The Switch rebottled the lightning caught by the original Wii, and in a more sustainable way. The anti-motion control backlash may not have been justified, but it clearly happened. However, I don’t see portability meeting the same fate, for obvious reasons (just kidding, leaving home is a dying fad). Nintendo making a successful mid-gen replacement has thrown a wrench into the standard release sequence of the past few generations, where all of the surviving systems launch within roughly a year of each other. By the time we can declare a definite winner between Switch and PS4, PS4 will likely be long retired, so what’s the point in hyping up the contest?

Nintendo also broke convention with the Switch’s very nature. As a console/handheld hybrid, it has likely ended Nintendo’s pattern of releasing one of each every generation (no Nintendo, those ports on 3DS haven’t convinced me it’s not being replaced by Switch, let the system retire with dignity already). So can we even compare it directly to other systems that are solely consoles? While I personally think we probably can, it is up for debate in a way that it never was before. Whether Switch and PS4 are even competitors is a valid question.

04

The best 8th or 9th gen console or handheld you will or won’t find.

So for these reasons, I think it’s time for a console ceasefire, at least as far as Nintendo is concerned. I realize that an article about peace between consoles that pretty much ignores the Microsoft Xbox may seem hypocritical, but this isn’t being done out of malice. I don’t currently own an Xbox One (but I plan to eventually, there are several games I want that I can only play on it), so it was a lot easier for me to use the active systems I own as reference points. Xbox One and Switch (or even Steam and Switch) make a similarly effective combination compared to PlayStation 4 and Switch, and I’d love for those to be included in the console ceasefire agreement. I’ll see you next time, and I encourage you to wish for peace between consoles this Christmas. We all have to be united against our real enemies: PC and mobile. Yes, I’m kidding… mostly.

02

I haven’t forgotten, someday I will play this.

While the Gitting is Gud

There has been quite a bit of discussion, fighting, elitism, and sometimes even accusations of bigotry, over the topic of difficulty in video games. I think this can best be summed up with the “git gud” meme that the article title is referencing. The idea of fans of a series or genre responding to complaints about difficulty with nothing but “get good” (run through the internet reverse-spellcheck) has become both an insult to those who would condone it, and an actual response given by those who follow its mentality. This has caused quite a bit of conflict, with arguments over whether those who support “git gud” are elitist, possibly ableist, assholes or if the people who demand games give them options besides “gitting gud” are ruining those series and gaming as a whole. Now I’m not going to get into whether it is a sign of ableism to like difficult games (because it very clearly isn’t), but I think I can give a perspective on the elitism issue that is often ignored in the favor of simplistic us vs them arguments.

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Whoa! Slow down there, poindexter!

The supposed division that I find simplistic and inaccurate is that better players should and must dislike accommodations for less experienced players, and conversely that less skilled players resent the existence of harder games. Now I don’t like having to say this about myself, but (and let my editor object to this if he wishes or forever hold his peace) I’m pretty sure I do my part to disprove the first half of that binary. I’ve been instinctively drawn to video games all my life, and the decades of intense focus and experience has resulted in a higher than average skill level. Yet I not only don’t resent the presence of easy modes or want less skilled or experienced players excluded/hazed, I think they are beneficial to gaming and gamers who like challenging games.

Let’s start with difficulty settings. Honestly, I don’t know why I have to defend this, but the idea of easy modes has somehow become a point of contention with the more rabid parts of certain fanbases (especially one that shall not be named but that Dante should have filled with LIIIIGGGHHHTTTT!!!!). The idea, as far as I can tell, is usually that hardcore gamers should be able to keep certain series entirely to themselves, or that the near-omnipresence of difficulty settings in games is preventing gamers from improving their ability. Now there are simple retorts to those concerns. They are “grow up” and “how is that any of your business?”, respectively.

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Truly the Dark Souls of Dark Souls memes.

But let’s go a little deeper than that, and look at why difficulty settings (I’ll merge the detailed response to the argument about having games to themselves with the next section) are good for skilled gamers. Simply put, they allow games to be harder. I would think this was obvious and always was, but since it apparently wasn’t, let’s look at an example:

From early in the sixth generation to 2009, Nintendo was afflicted with what many referred to as an “ease disease.” The vast majority of their games were considered too easy, and this was probably the most consistent complaint against them from Wind Waker’s release in 2003 through 2009. What happened in 2009? They introduced the Super Guide system, which was a way to either skip levels or obtain a completely broken powerup for that stage if you died too many times in it. This was seen as the nail in the coffin for Nintendo ever making another challenging game, but you know what?

It cured the ease disease.

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The savior of difficulty in Nintendo games.

Due to the type of games Nintendo focuses on, adding meaningful difficulty settings was impractical (you’d have to essentially triple how many levels you made to give Mario an easy, normal, and hard mode that meant anything). The Super Guide acted as easy mode, or at least ensured players wouldn’t get stuck, and it freed up the levels to be more difficult. Yes, there are still people who complain that Nintendo games are too easy because they spent forever trying to beat Super Mario 64 back when they were five, and nothing out of Nintendo’s control has changed since then, but Nintendo games truly did become less easy starting in 2009. And it was because they found a way to synthesize an easy mode.

The only real counter-argument I’ve heard against easy modes is that they take up resources that developers could be using to improve the game in other ways. For the vast majority of easy modes (tweaking damage ratios, adding some extra crutch items) the effort is incredibly minimal. Games being modified enough in easy mode for it to put main game features on the chopping block is incredibly rare, genres where it actually would require significant effort to make an easy mode usually either don’t have them, or find a way around it like with the aforementioned Super Guide.

Now let’s look at the gamers themselves who would want or need an easier mode or path through games. I’ve written a lot about wanting my favorite genres and series to survive, to keep getting new games as the generations go by, and you know what you need for that to happen? New players. If you gate certain series so that only players skilled at that type of game are allowed in, eventually the player base will shrink and it won’t be replaced by potential fans who were shunned because they didn’t instantly git gud. If you want games like Dark Souls to keep being made, they need to keep pulling in new gamers, and even if you’re already good at games it’s going to take some time to adjust to a new type. Dark Souls doesn’t have to be so easy that a five year old can enjoy it as their first game, but if you do nothing but yell at people trying to get into the series to git gud and demand that there not even be options to ease new players in, the series is going to burn out at some point.

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When this was my best game, gitting gud was my only option. But I want something better for future generations.

There’s also the idea that games should “grow up with their fans,” which is patently ridiculous. Just because you were a certain age when a game launched doesn’t mean your age group owns it forever, if you got into a series when you were 10 you have no right to complain that the series is still accessible for 10 year olds when you’re 25. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be able to enjoy the series at 25, thanks to difficulty settings or creative use of optional content (Mario platformers are easy enough for most gamers to see the ending, but throughout the game there are optional objectives/items that raise the difficulty and some much harder optional levels in the post-game) a game can be enjoyed by gamers of all skill levels. And that’s worth a lot more than the satisfaction of looking down on someone new to your favorite series.

In summary, there needs to be a balance between the two sides of the git gud debate. There are people being ridiculous on both sides, responding to someone trying to understand the game with mockery is being an asshole, but so is accusing a game/its fans of being bigots because you couldn’t figure out how to do a dash jump in it. The best games can usually be enjoyed by gamers of all skill levels, and the super hard games for genre veterans should be something fans want more people to be skilled enough to play, not less. Everyone should git gud, but it’s up to them how and with what games.

The Wii: Gold Ignored By Fools

It’s been a turbulent generation for Nintendo. After Wii U’s crushing market failure, Nintendoom was at possibly its highest point in living memory, for me anyway. Then when things looked darkest, the light got Switched back on. In a miraculous turnaround that was more than I dared hope for, Nintendo once again had a system that was selling at a record setting pace. The Switch has clearly caught the attention of a mass market that ignored or just didn’t know about the existence of Wii U. And this time, the gaming community hasn’t even turned on it the second it became popular.

Wait, this time? Yeah, pretty much this exact scenario happened before. The year is 2006, and GameCube is currently the worst selling Nintendo console of all time and the only one to ever get third place in a console war. Nintendo goes batshit insane and decides that for their next generation system, they will release something barely more powerful than GameCube, depending on a crazy sounding gimmick to make people buy a new console. And they’re calling it Wii. I think you know what happens next: it becomes a mainstream phenomenon, wins its generation’s sales war despite quitting early, and becomes Nintendo’s best-selling console of all time. While being called Wii.

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The definition of successful insanity.

But there’s a big difference between Wii and Switch: while Switch has had fantastic software sales for everything from Nintendo’s major IPs to originally obscure indie games and has a legion of gamers asking for their perfect world where everything is on Switch, Wii was quickly rejected by “hardcore” gamers who labeled its controller an inferior waggle stick and dismissed its game lineup as nothing but shovelware and “non-games” Nintendo had betrayed their fans to focus on. Nothing seemed to be able to break this perception, and by the time Wii U was released the brand was somehow considered toxic despite how successful the original Wii had been. Why did people treat the Wii like this? Because they’re… I’ll avoid saying idiots, but “massively misinformed.” So what am I building up to? Well, I’ll make it as clear as I can:

As of this moment, the Wii is the second best system Nintendo has ever made.

Yes, aside from the sacred SNES, the original Wii is my favorite system Nintendo has ever made, and in my top three overall. Now there are two major reasons people would object to this claim, and I intend to argue against them for the glory of Nintendo’s fifth console.

First up is the controller. If you listen to most people, the only thing you did with the Wii controller was randomly flail your arms around while Miis laughed maniacally about how F-Zero was dead forever. That obviously isn’t how the controller actually worked, and there are two misconceptions about the controller at the root of this misinformation. For one, almost no games required or played best when you dramatically swung your arms around. Simple wrist movements were the ideal way to control almost every motion based Wii game, or at least the ones that were good aside from being “ruined” by motion controls. If you’re dying in Donkey Kong Country Returns because you stand up and heave the Wiimote in a three foot upward swing whenever you want to roll, that isn’t the game’s fault, you could have just given the controller and quick, small shake using nothing but your wrists.

But what people really overlook when it comes to the Wii controller is the IR sensor. I love that thing, it is to this day the best aiming control option I have ever encountered in a game (and yes, I’ve used mouse aiming, despite the PC issue limiting my time with it). You can almost instantly place the reticule or cursor anywhere on screen with no more “waggling” than moving a mouse. Any game where aiming is intergral to the gameplay benefits greatly from the Wiimote and Nunchuck setup. I don’t care how much HD the re-releases add, the Wii version of Resident Evil 4 will be my favorite until something can match IR aiming. While the Switch (which has turned negativity into positivity so miraculously I can only guess that Iwata’s spirit is protecting it) seems to have made people warm up to gyro aiming to some extent, it still hasn’t reached the precision and speed level of IR aiming in my opinion. People ignoring and forgetting IR aiming is one of my biggest disappointments in the direction gaming took. Seriously, go play Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition or Metroid Prime Trilogy before you dismiss the Wiimote.

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The current and eternal best version.

The other reason people don’t appreciate the Wii like they should is a universal among consoles: games. The measure of a system is its game library, and once again, there are two things people ignore about the Wii’s library. Contrary to popular belief, Wii Music isn’t the only game Nintendo made between GameCube and Breath of the Wild. If your response to this was going to be “sure, they made Super Mario Galaxy and Xenoblade, but a couple…” let me cut you off right there. Nintendo made/published a lot of fantastic Wii games that were in no way “non-games”. Metroid Prime 3, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Return to Dreamland, Wario Land Shake-It, Sin and Punishment 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Punch-Out!!, Zelda: Skyward Sword (read the controller part before yelling at that inclusion), Pandora’s Tower, and those are just ones I’ll enthusiastically defend. Just because F-Zero and Star Fox weren’t there (as opposed to Punch-Out, Kirby platformers, and Metroid being on every single prior system, apparently) doesn’t mean Nintendo abandoned their fans and franchises. The Wii was actually a glorious time for Nintendo’s first party performance.

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Yeah, this was clearly made for your grandmother.

But that isn’t what makes me so confident that the Wii is better than its non-SNES brethren. What really sets the Wii apart from the other post-SNES Nintendo consoles (currently active hybrids not included) is its third party support. Now if anyone actually read this there would be countless people ready to post images of various shovelware games that publishers lacking talent and/or ethics dumped on the system, but I’m going to let you in on a secret. Something nearly everyone overlooked about the Wii, this one weird trick will change how you view its third party support forever:

No one is making you play the bad games.

That’s right, turns out owning a Wii does NOT in fact mean you will be held at gunpoint and forced to play terrible party games by people who would go on to make those creepy YouTube shorts with Elsa and Spider-Man. You are, in fact, free to ignore those and do a little research to find the hidden gem mine buried beneath the crap. Zack and Wiki, A Boy and his Blob, The House of the Dead: Overkill, Madworld, Red Steel 2, Lost in Shadow, Dead Space Extraction, Prince of Persia: The Lost Sands, Boom Blox and Boom Blox Bash Party, Trauma Team, de Blob 1 and 2, Silent Hill Shattered Memories, Rodea The Sky Soldier (for the love of God, make sure it’s actually the Wii version), Rabbids Go Home, Epic Mickey, Sonic Colors, Muramasa, it goes on and on. The Wii may not have gotten the big AAA games, but mid-ware, often thought to be extinct, thrived on it. Not only are there tons of quality third-party games on it, most of them are dirt cheap. The Wii’s library, especially the third party portion, is one of the most underrated in all of gaming.

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You don’t even know who I am!

So there you have it, my case for the Wii being one of Nintendo’s best systems and one of the most underrated of all time. Is Switch going to surpass it? I hope so, hell, I hope it dethrones the SNES. Things getting better is always… better. But that doesn’t mean we have to just leave the Wii to its unjust scorn, or that you can’t take advantage of how cheap games for it are right now. And remember, there is a force coming to its aid far stronger than anything I or anyone could write: nostalgia. Someday people will appreciate the Wii, it’s inevitable. Even if it takes until 2026, the turnaround is coming someday, but now is your chance to be on the right and bargain-priced side of history. Wii would like some appreciation, and it deserves it.

The Top Ten Most Overrated Games of All Time and What You Should Play Instead (Part 2)

Here we are, Part 2, hopefully in a more reasonable timeframe. I’m continuing counting down my top ten most overrated games of all time and listing antidote games that do what the overrated games are doing, but better. Let’s get right into it!

Number 5: Metroid

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Told you more Nintendo games were coming. Now there’s no way to deny how important the original Metroid is, it expanded what a platformer could be with its non-linear, interconnected world and myriad of upgrades that were needed to progress in the game. But damn it, that doesn’t mean we have to pretend it aged well. Metroid laid a great foundation, but the house is absolutely not up to code. The endless stretches of identical looking rooms with no map make navigating the game a nightmare, the control is too clunky for the game’s high difficulty level and starting at the first room of the game with 30 health (out of a possible 800 by the end of the game) are crippling flaws. I’ll give it a pass on the password issue, since the original disk-based version had saving. There are plenty of NES games that are much more playable today, to say nothing of later games using the Metroid formula. This hasn’t stopped people from acting like the original Metroid is the timeless classic that later games in the series are, and that’s why I’m putting it on this list. It deserves appreciation and respect, but you don’t have to pretend none of its flaws exist just because it came first.

Instead You Should Play: Super Metroid

super metroid

Here it is, the game you remembered the original Metroid as. Super Metroid takes the formula from the original game and fixes everything wrong with it. A fun to explore world with a map, excellent controls, a balanced difficulty level, worldwide saving. Plus great new abilities that the game uses to their fullest, great boss fights, and one of the most iconic emotional moments in gaming. Super Metroid is everything the first game wanted to be, the seeds of potential that the first one planted sprouted and produced one of the best series in all of gaming. There’s even a remake of the original Metroid using the elements from Super Metroid, which I considered for this position, but using a remake didn’t feel right. But whatever your preference is in that area, there are Metroids out there that will give you exactly what you remember from the original game and require much less nostalgia filtering.

Number 4: Secret of Mana

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Yeah, this is what I was talking about when I mentioned those supposed action-RPGs that may as well be turn-based. In the 90s, any RPG that wasn’t literally turn-based would be labeled a Zelda-style game, and that’s what I went into Secret of Mana expecting. Yeah, that’s not what I got. My sword needing to recharge after every swing and magic attacks freezing everything on the screen while they connect (and this includes bosses freezing you to get in their unavoidable attacks) was not my idea of Zelda. But genre preference isn’t my only reason for putting Secret of Mana on here. You have a three-person party in the game, with the option of co-op play. But if you don’t have two friends you can summon to your side whenever you want to play, you’re going to have to deal with the AI, and dear God. Now, I understand that a hyper-competent companion AI in a SNES game wasn’t a realistic request, but my issue is that the game puts the responsibility on you for the AI characters dying. And this is one of those RPGs where bringing a party member back from the dead is a huge pain in the ass early in the game. You can swap which character you control, but there will always be two vulnerable, AI-controlled characters during fights if you’re in single-player. Oh, and you not only have to individually level up several different types of elemental spells, the game sucker punches you by basically requiring you to have maxed out several elements to beat one of the last bosses. The grinding I endured when I got there… never again. Secret of Mana simply does not deserve the praise it gets, there are so many better RPGs on SNES. But for the antidote, I decided to go with the three-person party theme…

Instead You Should Play: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

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There are a lot of great things about this game, but for the purpose of being an antidote to Secret of Mana, I’m going to focus on the combat. Like Secret of Mana, Ys VIII is an action-RPG where you have three party members fighting at once, which you can freely switch between at any time with the other two being AI-controlled (there’s no co-op option, but that allows for the single player mode to be better balanced). However, the CPU-controlled characters have greatly increased defense and can’t be knocked out while the computer is controlling them, because the game isn’t a complete asshole. And the combat, it’s night and day. Fast action game-style combat where every attack is avoidable, you can combo enemies, link in special moves, dodge and parry, even activate something like Bayonetta’s “Witch Time” mechanic. This is what an action-RPG should be, and modern action-JRPGs thankfully seem to be adopting this style as a whole. The fourth generation was a golden age for many genres, but action-RPGs are doing much better in the present.

Number 3: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

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I’m still in a dream, and I want to wake up and get the Metal Gear I loved back. I’m not talking about the universally acknowledged monstrosity that modern Konami has turned Metal Gear into, I’ve felt this way ever since Metal Gear Solid 3 was first released. After loving the first two console Metal Gear Solid games and the Game Boy Color one for their fast-paced stealth gameplay and insane stories, Metal Gear Solid 3 messed everything up and the series never recovered, although MGS3 remained the low point until Konami really went demonic. The story was much simpler than the previous games with a one-dimensional main villain, zero dimensional bosses, and far fewer plot twists with the one the game presented as its biggest being insultingly obvious. But the gameplay was worse. Fast-paced stealth? Yeah, screw that, now we have to tip toe up behind enemies to avoid alerting them and worry about our supplies so that we can micromanage camouflage and recovering health, with long load times for the menu we constantly need, of course. And we lose the radar from the earlier games while at the same time getting much more open environments that the overhead camera is absolutely not suited for. I just want the old Metal Gear back.

Instead You Should Play: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

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Well, this should have been pretty easy to guess after what I wrote above. Metal Gear Solid 2 is one of my favorite games of all time, and one of the most unfairly bashed in its heyday. Raiden not being Snake doesn’t change that the gameplay of the Metal Gear series, which is at its peak in MGS2, with fast paced stealth that still gives you real options (as opposed to “do you want to use the camouflage that the game demands on this specific texture or be handicapped?” in a certain later game). The story doesn’t give a shit about realism, and that’s exactly how it should be, and it doesn’t hinder it at all when it wants to be philosophical. The fact that this game never got a faithful sequel saddens me to this day, and I can only hope that by some miracle Death’s Stranding turns out to play like this (not like we have any gameplay information to prove it won’t). Easily the best game of 2001, and the fact that people nitpicked it to death while giving a pass to… never mind, we’ll get to that in a bit.

Number 2: The Legend of Zelda

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I’ve had this issue in articles before, the Zelda and Metroid series parallel each other so well in their early days that it’s hard to think of unique things to say about one after covering the other. The original Zelda is an incredibly important game that laid the foundation for an incredible series, but the house is nowhere near up to code and if you go into that basement known as the second quest, you’re as good as dead. The original Zelda has barely any puzzles, control that is too stiff for the level of difficulty, obnoxiously scarce resources, and cheap “do something in a random place with no indication” roadblocks that try to pass themselves off as puzzles. It not holding your hand does not make up for all of this, it does not even come close. When I first played this game (with the very much needed help of a guide) I assumed that I was just bad at it since I was still fairly inexperienced with adventure games. When I came back to it years later, I realized that it was actually just not well designed. This led to some pretty strong feelings towards it, and it was actually my pick for the most overrated game of all time for a good number of years, before a certain game (I feel like I’m trying to hide Wily or Sigma being the final boss of a game by refusing to name it) took that spot.

Instead You Should Play: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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I was originally going to put A Link to the Past in this spot, but I decided to try something different (if you want the ALttP writeup, go to the Super Metroid one and replace every mention of Metroid with Zelda). For all my issues with Breath of the Wild, there’s no way to deny that it completely annihilates the original Zelda at everything the latter game is praised for. More freedom, more non-linearity, way more open world to explore. This game was clearly made to please the people who loved the original Legend of Zelda, and while there are some parts that weren’t done as well (the original Zelda had way more dungeons and I don’t remember your sword breaking) it unquestionably obliterates the original game in pretty much category that gets it so much praise. Now just please fix the weapon durability and lack of dungeons so I can feel confident in the future of my second favorite series.

Number 1: Mega Man X

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Well, what can I say? People change. After a while you have to come to terms with what the games you played as a kid were really like, even if it means having an unpopular opinion. Yes, there was a time when I thought the control, level design, boss fights, secrets, and aesthetics in this game were enough to earn it all the praise it absorbs, but after REALLY taking a long look at it, you realize… you’re not buying this, are you?

The Real Number 1: Grand Theft Auto III

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Yeah, I know, this was a really, really obvious pick. I’ve actually called this my pick for the most overrated game of all time in previous articles. But I am not going to pretend I have a different pick just to surprise people… not for longer than it takes to set up a joke, anyway. Well, I think this is where I should lay it all on the line and tear into Grand Theft Auto III as much as I can and try to thoroughly explain why I hate this game so much.

Basically, the game has a similar decent structure but completely unsafe building issue to the original Metroid and Zelda. But this game isn’t from the 80s, it’s from 2001 and it’s not the first game in its series. Yes, it was the first 3D one, but many of its issues are unrelated to that (although some certainly are). The game not only has an appalling lack of checkpoints, it is actually designed so that even the meager checkpoint you do get is worthless. Die during a mission? You wake up at the hospital and have to drive back to the mission. Except you lost pretty much everything (all your weapons and money), so what you really have to do is load your save, which may be even farther away, since there are only three save points in the entire game. And you’ll have to drive to one after every mission, so even more pointless trekking back and forth. A Retry option would have made this game so much better, but nope, you’re going to spend exponentially more time driving to missions than actually playing them. Also, there’s no full map. Yes, you get a mini-map to guide you to missions, but I hope you never have to visit a gun store or Pay ‘n’ Spray after the one time the game points out the location of a single one to you. You’re also treated to the worst lock-on system I have ever seen in a game. Winning a firefight is nearly impossible, you’ll be quickly shot to death while the camera has a seizure and all of your bullets miss. The driving controls aren’t as bad, but they’re still lacking considering how easy it is to get caught on objects or get flipped over. And let’s talk about the hidden packages. They are the codifier for the worst type of collectable in all of gaming, tiny objects that could be hidden ANYWHERE in an open game world. And they aren’t even confined to masochistic 100% runs in GTAIII, if you want simple quality of life features like being able to restore health at save points, you’re going to need several of them.

Now, some people dismiss these issues by saying you’re really supposed to ignore the missions and enjoy causing chaos with no other objective. I have two responses to that. One, if a game puts in the amount of content and effort into its story mode that Grand Theft Auto III did, and it turns out the game is at its most fun when you ignore it, that is an abject failure on the developer’s part. Two, even this is held back by the awful controls and ultra-strict penalties for dying. And you’re going to need to find a lot of those hidden packages if you want good chaos tools without playing the story. I get it, being able to kill any character in a 3D game was mind-blowing at the time, but that doesn’t change that GTAIII is a genuinely bad game. Innovation can’t replace quality, at least not in the long term, and while the sequels to GTAIII fixed some of my many issues with it, several others remained for no reason. I genuinely think the lack of demand for Grand Theft Auto to fix its issues held the series and genre back for years. It took until Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008 for the gaming community (not reviewers, they still worshipped it) to finally say that the sandbox emperor had no clothes. Not that anyone admitted that about the prior GTA games. Thankfully, the sun was about finally rise and eliminate the shadow GTAIII cast on its genre…

Instead You Should Play: Saints Row 2

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Yep, this was also pretty predictable if you’ve read my past articles. But like my pick for most overrated game of all time, just because it’s predictable doesn’t mean Saints Row 2 hasn’t earned its spot. Saints Row 2 is incredibly similar to the PlayStation 2 Grand Theft Auto games, in most circumstances a game so similar would be a shameless rip-off. But Saints Row 2 had the radical, groundbreaking idea of making the gameplay style good. Almost every single issue I mentioned about GTAIII is fixed. Solid control in every area, checkpoints, a fully functional map, the hidden package equivalents are still there but at least the gameplay doesn’t depend on them in any way. This means you can enjoy the over-the-top story, massive gameplay variety, content packed quest, and all the senseless chaos you want without crippling flaws holding you back at every turn. Saints Row 2 is what Grand Theft Auto always should have been, and between it and the backlash against Grand Theft Auto IV, the genre finally evolved into what it had the potential to be. Saints Row 2 is not only an antidote to Grand Theft Auto III, it cleansed its entire genre of GTAIII’s illness. It earns the number one spot on its list as much as GTAIII earned its number one spot.

So, there you finally have it, my ranked picks for the top ten most overrated games of all time and the antidotes to their flaws. I’m very relieved to finally be finished, see you next time for an article that hasn’t been hanging over me for almost two years.

Turn Based #5: Losing Steam with Console Woes

Professor Icepick: Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Turn Based. Considering that this is our fifth article in this series, it seems only fitting that we tackle a topic of the utmost importance. For years, a war has been brewing within the medium of video games as a whole. One that goes well above and beyond the petty console wars of our childhood. One which both KI and I actually have personal stakes in. I speak, of course, about the schism between PC and console gaming.

Can one of our classic arguments finally settle which platform is superior once and for all? …I wouldn’t count on it, we’ll probably just end with another stalemate. Regardless, it’s a topic that is still worth exploring. With that being said, KI will start arguing his preference for console gaming.

SNES Master KI: Consoles simply work better for gaming, their dedication to gaming (yes, I know they can do other things now, but those are afterthoughts and things that take less effort than running games) results in many direct and indirect benefits. These range from the simplicity and guaranteed function of standardized hardware to the motivation for companies like Nintendo to make so many great games to support their consoles. The game library and quality of life advantages of consoles are completely overwhelming from my perspective.

Icepick: The problem with that is that the advantages that consoles once held over PCs have begun to fade with time. During the seventh generation of video game consoles — the days of the Wii, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 — consoles have become less and less “plug-and-play” devices, relying on internet connections to patch firmware and software regularly. Unfortunately, the process is hampered by the traditional “walled garden” approach that consoles have adopted since their inception.

With the current generation of consoles doubling-down on constant updates and upgrades that no longer work right out of the box, you’re probably expecting me to argue that the PC is a much more stable platform. You would be wrong. In fact, this has been how the PC gaming landscape has looked for nearly 2 decades now. The major difference lies in the more open source nature of PC gaming. Updates to games that would take weeks or even months for companies like Sony and Nintendo to approve and implement can literally be in gamers’ hands within minutes. Steam upgrades games automatically — both games that are already installed and those that have yet to be downloaded — and most other services (even GOG via their Galaxy client) offer similar user-friendly services. The PlayStation 3 and 4, at least in my experience, relied on gamers to open games before it would even consider updating them.

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Plus we don’t have to pay for cloud saves.

KI: The pick up and play potential may have been diminished, but that doesn’t change that the standardization of consoles means that playing the games once everything is set comes with far fewer issues. It’s also not all bad, although games shipping in a perfect state would be ideal, patches can often be very useful for removing glitches or fixing stupid, simple design issues in otherwise great games. If I start a new console game, there may be a wait for something to download, but once it does I know it will run and my controller will work for it as intended. And for the record, PlayStation 4 and Switch will download patches for games you have installed/in your play history even if you don’t start the game or have the physical disc/cart inserted. Xbox One may do the same, but I can’t confirm that from experience.

Icepick: The point is that consoles have moved onto providing non-gaming experiences as well as traditional gaming, and in that regard, consoles are definitely outgunned, due to their reliance on the walled garden.

Having said that, I guess it’s time to discuss some of the more objective advantages that PC gaming has over home consoles: library size. For the sake of discussion, I’ll stick to “legitimate” games — so no talk of emulators and whatnot — but even in that case, the sheer amount of content available on PC is staggering. Best of all is the sheer amount of old content available. While many consoles have essentially given up on the concept of backwards compatibility, services like Good Old Games and DOSbox allow gamers to play their favorite games of yesteryear with very little hassle. This makes the PC the ideal platform for retro gaming in general.

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Eat your heart out, Virtual Console.

We’ve also seen the rising popularity of indie games on consoles, but PC is where that revolution started and there are still many hidden gems exclusive to the platform. The sheer amount of content available on PC absolutely dwarfs all current consoles (even handhelds) combined. Gamers of all stripes can find something to enjoy on PC, which isn’t always the case on each console.

KI: Well, lots to address. Consoles are certainly outgunned in non-gaming purposes, but that’s completely expected, the non-gaming functions of consoles are a bonus. Although I’ll point out that if I actually did intend to use PC as a gaming platform, that multi-functionality would create complications since I need a PC for work/communication/general internet functions. I can’t just leave it hooked up to a TV in an area where I would want to game.

For backwards compatibility, it comes down to what you prioritize in convenience. Consoles don’t disappear when their generation is over, as my name attests you can keep and continue playing old consoles for decades, and there’s no need to mess with DOSbox to make the game run correctly. Backwards compatibility may also very well be about to make steps forward/recover for consoles, Sony and Microsoft’s more standardized system architecture could make PlayStation 5 and Xbox 2001 or whatever confusing name they give it easily backwards compatible. Nintendo was great with backwards compatibility until Switch’s hardware made it physically impossible (no dual screen set up or disc drive), I think it will come back when Switch gets a successor.

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25+ years and still working.

For sheer amount of games, PC of course wins, but when both sides number in the thousands total quantity isn’t that important, no one could possibly play everything and the vast majority of games on both sides aren’t worth playing. Consoles have made great strides in picking up the prominent indie games that were once PC’s exclusive domain, and while PC has certainly made a lot of progress in getting the big budget third-party games that used to stick to consoles, it seems to have come at the expense of PC exclusive big budget releases. And of course, there’s the old quantity versus quality argument. I think Nintendo alone more than makes up for the quality indie games that fall through the cracks and don’t make it to consoles.

Icepick: Fair point. Nintendo consoles are worth buying for their first-party games alone.

Another advantage I’d claim that PC has is a much more balanced relationship between consumers and content providers. On consoles, players have to essentially accept whatever terms first-party publishers set without question. On PC, everything’s a lot more open to discussion. While Steam controls a majority of the modern PC market, there are alternatives that offer exclusive titles (Origin, Windows Store) or other features (GOG, Humble).

This also applies to online gaming. While even Nintendo is preparing to succumb to charging for online play this year, the entire prospect of charging PC gamers for online play is genuinely considered a fool’s errand. When Microsoft launched Games for Windows Live — a sister service to Xbox Live — they intended to charge players the same price for online play. PC gamers protested that and Microsoft dropped the paid component, while keeping every other feature, including crossplay with Xbox 360.

Then you’ve got the modding community. While many of them are associated with various cosmetic mods, they also have a tendency of fixing games that are either broken at launch or incompatible with newer systems. It’s gotten to the point where fan-programmed patches have even been implemented into official releases of games. Content is much more community driven on PC and that works to the advantage of everyone. While Xbox One and PS4 has begun to experiment with the ability to download mods, it just pales in comparison: they’re strictly limited to cosmetic stuff, meaning that console gamers are generally reliant on official patches, which as I said earlier, tend to be released slower than molasses in January.

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One of my favorite mods of all time.

KI: I interpret the relationship between the platform and gamers differently. You can view consoles manufacturers as having more control over gamers, but they also have more obligation to us. One of the core reasons I don’t game on PC is because I can’t stand paying for something and then basically being told I’m on my own to make it work. If I buy a console game and it for some reason doesn’t work, that’s on the company and they have to fix it, and it very rarely comes to that. Aside from making sure I’m not putting an Xbox One disc into my PS4, I don’t have to think about whether I will be able to play the game that I buy, there’s no fear that I’ll come up short in a spec related area and not be able to play the game with no solution besides spending more money and putting in the effort to upgrade my computer. I view the “control” console manufactuers have over me as more of a contract, and it’s one I’d much rather sign than be on my own and have more control.

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The most complicated system requirements I have to deal with.

As for paying for online, I acknowledge that probably isn’t necessary and it would be better if it wasn’t required, but I will say that the perks that come with PSN+ do a good job of mitigating it for me. The amount of (conditionally) free games I get for $60 a year usually satisfies me, and with Nintendo’s much cheaper price I don’t think they’ll have any issues making me feel okay paying $20 a year.

Icepick: Yeah, but the PS+ games on offer generally lean more on the lame side most of the time. This month had some good stuff, but I think they only did that to cushion the blow of retiring PS3 and Vita games next year.

KI: Well, if they were all great, it would be way too fantastic a value for any company to agree to, I’d be saving around $1,000 a year if I actually intended to buy every game they offered. But I think it’s time for me to go on the offensive. One of my first points was that consoles cultivated an ecosystem where exclusives from the first parties are highly valued. For some reason, PC did the exact opposite. When Valve rose to become basically the first party leader of PC gaming, they all but gave up on making their own games. Jokes about Gabe being afraid of the number 3 aside, it’s more that they just make barely any new games. Steam seems to have drained Valve as a developer, while companies like Nintendo and formerly Sega put way more effort into making games when they have their own console, and Sony and Microsoft at least fund a large amount of games (well, you can argue about Microsoft, but that’s literally a topic for another time).

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Even the less supported ones made it to three games.

So my main point in this is that the state of PC exclusives is not good. In the fourth and fifth generations, PCs weren’t making the types of games I personally wanted, but there were genres PC dominated and PC exclusives that were beloved classics. This seems to have all but died off, the best PC exclusive games seem almost accidental at this point, an indie developer makes a hidden gem that never quite gets the attention and funding needed to bring it to console. In the 90s Doom 1 and 2 were out on PC first and the console versions were vastly inferior, while Doom 2016 came out on consoles the same day as PC. For all the strides PC has made in getting console games, I feel like it traded its exclusives to do so, and ultimately it’s all about the games.

Icepick: I’ll admit, Valve has definitely fallen down as an actual game developer. While they’ve recently claimed that they’re still making new games, no one believes them. At this point, they’ve transitioned into more of a PC gaming advocate, cultivating an environment that will allow for more games to reach the platform. While there are still those clamoring for new Valve games — I personally want a third Left 4 Dead or Portal much more than Half-Life 3 — most PC gamers have accepted that Valve’s days as a developer are… numbered?

I understand your concern about PC exclusives and while content in that field is clearly limited compared to the 90s and even the early 2000s, there are still PC exclusive games in the pipeline. For example, I remember you being quite distraught that Quake Champions, a class-based FPS, was going to be a PC exclusive. The Total War series offers solid real-time strategy combat. Divinity: Original Sin II is a turn-based RPG that is both critically acclaimed and massively popular, which is currently only available on PC.

Original Sin II relied on crowdfunding, which is a pretty big source of modern PC games, both exclusive and otherwise. I remember your general apprehension towards the concept, but many crowdfunded games list PC as their sole initial platform and many more list it among multiple launch platforms. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that the platform still holds weight with developers of all sizes. A Hat in Time was originally intended to be a PC-exclusive — launching on the platform first — before PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions were added due to the game’s popularity. It wasn’t the first crowdfunder that got released on other platforms after being pitched as a PC exclusive and it certainly won’t be the last. You’ve made the claim that PC relies on consoles for new games, but I’d argue that it goes both ways.

KI: For Quake Champions, I was mainly upset by their hypocritical reasoning for it not being on consoles (claiming it needed to be 120 FPS to be playable, but then assuring PC gamers with less powerful rigs that it would play fine on their systems). Honestly, id making a multiplayer focused game after Doom 2016 made such strides for single-player focused FPSes probably would have annoyed me even if it was on consoles. I know there are still some quality PC exclusives (although still in genres I don’t personally play), but I think consoles are still demonstrating a pretty massive advantage in that area.

 

As for which system relies on which for games, I don’t really care that much. Indie games need PC’s lower entry fee, big budget games need sales from console gamers to survive, what ultimately matters is what games your platform of choice gets. The issue is that consoles have games made specifically to be exclusives, and I think those give it a very clear edge in library.

Icepick: I guess that’s all there is to it. We’ve got different priorities. You tend to prefer the simplicity of a console — an advantage which I’d argue is slowly but surely eroding with each generation — while I prefer the freedom offered by PC. Still, with many more companies beginning to embrace PC, the future seems bright.

KI: Well, I’d generally say that my arguments for consoles have two main points, the functionality guarantee and the much larger number of exclusive games on them that appeal to me. After several years of pessimism applied to console gaming, I think Nintendo’s resurgence, the other consoles exiting the growing pains of the early eighth generation, and the ever-growing indie presence on consoles (“Perfect for Switch” may be a meme, but indie games really do sell amazingly on it) that the sun has risen for console gaming.

And as expected, the discussion has once again ended in a stalemate. But the arguments were elaborated on, and no one was called an elitist, peasant, Nazi, or iOS supporter. What about you, are you changing chairs to play something after this, or just switching windows? Tell us in the comments, and remember that no matter how much you disagree on a topic, you can always fake civility in text form.

The Top Ten Most Overrated Games of All Time and What You Should Play Instead (Part 1)

I’ve been wanting to do this article for a long time. Over a year and a half ago, I made a ranked list of what I consider the ten most overrated video games of all time. Due to having limited freedom in what my articles could be about at the time and then constantly feeling like I was doing too many lists after returning to Retronaissance, it has taken until now to finally give this list the articles I always wanted to. But the waiting hasn’t been for nothing, I recently (well, it was recently when I started this article, then I got sidetracked yet again) came up with a gimmick for this list: in addition to listing overrated games, I will also be including an antidote, a game that is similar to the game on the list but fixes my issues with it. So, with 20 games to cover, let’s get right to it!

Number 10: Super Mario 64

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As controversial as this choice is, I can’t help but feel that it also acts as a personal safeguard. Starting with an entry from my favorite publisher in my favorite series (on my least favorite console they made, but let’s save that for another time) seems like a pretty good shield against accusations of bias when we get to non-Nintendo choices on my list (although I promise this isn’t a token Nintendo entry, more are coming…). But while this is easily my favorite game on the list, hence it being number 10, it’s still a genuine pick. Super Mario 64 may have been a gigantic leap forward for 3D games, but damn it, it is not retroactively the sole arbiter of a “true” Mario game. It does not get to make linear Mario games a bad thing or deviation. It also isn’t an avant-garde work of horror that later Mario games ruined with their “kiddiness.” The eel isn’t trying to scare you, it just doesn’t have a lot of polygons to work with. And this isn’t even getting into the control and camera improvements that later 3D Marios made. It may sound like I hate this game, but I really don’t, it has just been given a sacred status that went way too far, even if a lot of it is earned. It’s overrated mainly in comparison to other Mario games, which is why it’s only number 10.

Instead You Should Play: Super Mario Odyssey

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While I may prefer linear style Mario games, I’m not going to use this category as a bludgeon against non-linear ones. After a decade of complaining, Nintendo made another sandbox style Mario game (sandbox Mario games coming from the timeline initiated in the Autumn World ending from Super Mario World, while the linear ones came from its normal overworld palette) and while it wasn’t my first choice, they did such a good job with Super Mario Odyssey that it was the first game I felt my old level of hype and excitement for in years. Super Mario Odyssey improves on Super Mario 64 in every conceivable way, with more jumping tricks to exploit, more actual platforming, and way, way more to do and find in its levels. 120 stars? Odyssey has 880 moons. No, not every moon matches the main stars, but SMO is still going to take much, much longer to fully complete. Super Mario Odyssey also makes exploring more pleasant by not forcing you back to the start of the level after almost every star/moon, and it is filled with the brilliant platforming that Super Mario 64 often came up short in. Odyssey may not quite be my favorite Mario, but it gives me hope that an even better direct sequel could make a style of Mario game that fully satisfies fans of both linear and sandbox style, which is not a hope that Super Mario 64 ever gave me.

Number 9: Final Fight

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I don’t really have as much to say about this as the previous entry, although I’m just now realizing it could be considered something of an inverse. While Super Mario 64’s status as the supposed unquestioned best 3D platformer of all time leads to an absurd level of worship for it, Final Fight’s status as the most iconic beat-‘em-up of all time leads to the genre as a whole being thrown under the bus. Brave journalists who want a controversial opinion that no one will get mad at them for often announce that they consider the entire beat-‘em-up genre an outdated relic that was never that good in the first place. The claims that go with this, that they are repetitive button mashers, do apply fairly well to Final Fight in my opinion. Overly large, not very mobile characters fighting a few main enemy types over and over again in levels that are mostly window dressing without much technique in combat. Final Fight isn’t a terrible game, but it just doesn’t hold my interest very well and doesn’t deserve to be considered the main representative of its genre. Sure, some people would say the Genesis’s Streets of Rage series deserves that title, but I have a different choice for the SNES’s champion in that contest…

Instead You Should Play: TMNT IV: Turtles in Time

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Now take every complaint I had about Final Fight and reverse it. Reasonably sized, fast characters with jumps that could handle most Mario levels and lots of moves which almost all have their own purpose. Tons of enemy types and level obstacles. And instead of having a watered down SNES version, the home version obliterates the arcade game with more levels, bosses, and greatly improved controls. Turtles in Time is what a classic style beat-‘em-up has the potential to be, and the greatest argument for their value. I’ve loved this game for almost all of my life, but it was relatively recently that I realized just how much it excelled compared to other beat-‘em-ups even if you completely ignore TMNT nostalgia. Turtles in Time will be just as fun as it ever was in 2020: Neon Night-Riders and beyond.

Number 8: Bioshock

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This is the game on the list that I made the least progress in. While I beat most of the overrated category games on this list and made a lot of progress in the couple others I didn’t, I just couldn’t make myself keep playing Bioshock. Yes, the story and atmosphere are good, but it had been generations since I played an FPS with such clunky control and poor hit detection. I felt like I was playing one of those action-RPGs I can’t stand where you essentially have to trade hits (yeah, stay tuned, we’ll get to one of those later). Regardless, I’m sure I could have beaten it if I really wanted to, thanks to its checkpoint system. Really, if it wasn’t for that checkpoint system, I’d almost file this game under “just not my thing” and leave it off the list. But that checkpoint system, not only do I hate it with a burning passion, it spread into and poisoned other FPSes. In its default mode (turning off this feature will result in unfairly huge gaps between checkpoints) dying in Bioshock will make you spawn at a checkpoint equivalent. However, everything except your health meter will be exactly as it was when you died. Enemies stay dead/injured, ammo and consumables you used are still gone, you just have to walk back to where you were. So, the penalty for dying is now tedium, solely tedium. Sorry, no amount of men, oceans, and lighthouses can make up for that.

Instead You Should Play: Metroid Prime

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This is probably the antidote game that’s the most different from its counterpart, but I think there are still enough similarities to justify my choice. Metroid Prime is an atmospheric, lore heavy, varied mix of weapons and abilities sort of-FPS, like Bioshock. While it trades an emphasis on direct story for puzzles and platforming, Metroid Prime shows that gameplay doesn’t have to be sacrificed for atmosphere, and that’s why I picked it as the antidote. Metroid Prime is a faithful recreation of Super Metroid’s formula in 3D, and it pulls off everything it tries expertly. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it since, again, this is more different than its counterpart than would be ideal, but if I get an itch for the type of experience everyone describes Bioshock as, Metroid Prime is my first choice for scratching it.

Number 7: Strider

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Now what could I dislike about this legendary action game with great, buttery smooth control and a high but always fair difficulty level? I guess the biggest issue would be the fact that I have no idea what game everyone praising it is playing. I’ve played both the arcade and very faithful Genesis versions of Strider, and neither one matches the game everyone else apparently played. Strider’s controls are as stiff as the original Castlevania, and the level design is definitely not built around them to the extent that it is in that game. Strider is also among the most prominent examples of one of my biggest gaming pet peeves, your character is way too big and it makes dodging even more difficult. I can’t make any progress in the game without tedious memorization to compensate for how big, slow, and clunky the title character is. That is not my idea of a well-designed action platformer, and unlike with Bioshock, this is a genre I definitely have enough familiarity with to judge. I genuinely don’t understand the disconnect I have with everyone else when it comes to this game, but it’s huge and I have to put Strider on this list.

Instead You Should Play: Hagane: The Final Conflict

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This is the most obscure antidote game on the list, but it’s also one of the most perfectly fitting. Hagane was released late in the Super Nintendo’s life, and sadly it is currently only available in that form and at an absurdly high price. Regardless, it is the game everyone seems to be describing when they talk about Strider. A very hard but always fair melee-focused action platformer, Hagane is everything you could want from this type of game. I feel like the agile ninja that everyone says Strider is when I’m slashing through enemies and dodging projectiles in Hagane. This is one of the best hidden gems of the 4th generation, and it deserves the praise and great 2014 revival game that Strider got.

Number 6: Sonic Adventure 2

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There’s a third of a good game in here. The Sonic and Shadow levels are some of the best examples of 3D Sonic platforming even to this day, but they are only a third of the game. For the other two-thirds, you get two play styles from the original Sonic Adventure, but for some mind-baffling reason they’ve been made worse. The shooter levels have become mindless and tedious thanks to your reasonably agile robot from Sonic Adventure being replaced by clunky, slow walkers. And the treasure hunting levels… someday I’m going to play Sonic 2006 just so I can justify saying they are the worst thing ever in a 3D Sonic game. Wandering around levels with a horrific camera that was not designed for any kind of backtracking, possibly walking right by a buried master emerald shard because the radar will only track one shard at a time for absolutely no reason. I don’t care how much you love the music or how you think this is the only game ever made where Shadow is cool instead of an edgelord, two-thirds of this game ranging from boring to atrocious means it doesn’t deserve to have praise heaped on it. Also, I hate the Chao Garden with a burning passion.

Instead You Should Play: Sonic Adventure

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As I mentioned, the worst crime Sonic Adventure 2 committed was making two of the gameplay styles from the original Sonic Adventure worse in every way. So it’s pretty easy to see why I’d recommend just playing the original. Sonic Adventure has the same amount of Sonic style levels, much more enjoyable versions of the other level types from Sonic Adventure 2, two other styles that are pretty fun, and one level type that is poorly executed but represents a much smaller portion of the game and can be breezed through instead of the drawn-out torture of the SA2 hunting levels. The open adventure fields aren’t great, but they’re mostly simple and painless, much better than what Sonic Adventure 2 makes you go through for the majority of its duration. The music is at least as good as SA2 and the story is similar in quality, just make sure to pick up the DX version so that you don’t have to deal with unskippable cinemas showing the same scenes in different characters’ stories. I still hate the Chao Garden, however.

Well, I finally did it, halfway there and ready to post the first part of this article. Writing about games higher up on my lists is usually easier for me, so hopefully it won’t be that long until we get to Part 2, stay tuned!

Of Axioms and Idioms: Best but Not Least

Well, it certainly has been awhile since I’ve written in this series. The funny thing about this article is that the concept behind it was originally completely different from what I’ll be writing about today: in fact, the original concept was going to be the third article in this series, but eventually, I just ended up discussing the bulk of the content in other articles. There was still some facet of the earlier iteration that I hadn’t explored, so I decided to change my approach to this whole concept and workshopped it into an entirely new direction. Unfortunately, my brain waits for no idea – I was originally going to write this up back in November but came up with an entirely new topic instead – so it just ended up sitting in my drafts folder, as I was working on other projects up until now. I just hope it was worth the wait.

It’s still difficult to articulate my thought process here, but I’ll try to summarize.  Put simply, this article’s topic is about how my favorite games in a particular series generally aren’t the ones I would consider the best. I think the most prominent example I have of this is the comparison between the second and third MegaMan games. For years, I’ve had difficulty explaining my exact feelings on the subject: the most accurate take I’d been able to articulate is that “while MM2 was a better NES game, MM3 was a better ‘MegaMan’ game”. A bold, ham-fisted statement, yes, but still the best I could do until recently. These days, I’ve got a much better handle on my thought process – my favorite game in a series and the “best” game are two distinct concepts that have been intertwined for far too long, so it’s just better to handle both of these indicators separately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always held preferences that aren’t particularly mainstream. When asked if I wanted Coke or Pepsi, I asked for Sprite – or more accurately, Lemon-Lime Slice. When it came to pizza toppings, I generally shied away from the standards of cheese, pepperoni and sausage. I’m not sure if it stemmed from a need to be different, rebel against the status quo or what have you, but I’d always pick things I enjoyed – even if it wasn’t on the menu. The thing is, this wasn’t just limited to food choices: I felt the same way about media. If there was ever anything resembling a consensus about the best entry in any fictional series I enjoy, chances are I’ll end up disagreeing. I never liked the seventh Friday the 13th film; my take on The Simpsons’ “dark age” is totally out-of-whack with the general consensus and I think Sonic Lost World may have been the best 3D Sonic since the first Sonic Adventure. At the same time, I’ve always acknowledged any widespread agreement on any such topic, albeit with varying levels of contempt. If I’m going to be honest, agreeing with it has always been something of an uncomfortable realization – even when default opinions shift with time – to this day, I feel strange whenever my personal favorite ends up being “the best”.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this distinction is by defining both terms I’ve been using so far. Let’s start with the simpler of the two: “favorite”. It’s the pinnacle of subjectivity: my personal choice for what I like the most. Given the fact that what I personally consider best can vary based on anything from my mood to seemingly random criteria at any moment – if you could see how many drafts any top ten list I’ve written has gone through, your head would spin – in my case, the concept’s far more nebulous than subjective most of the time. As such, “favorite” lives and dies by personal preference. It’s strictly a personal opinion, one that varies from person to person, one that shouldn’t need to be defended or even explained (but this world is far from perfect). In the end, it’s useless with regards to objectivity – but that’s not the point.

Conversely, the concept of being the “best game” is much harder to define. It’s safe to say that it’s a much more objective concept than being a mere favorite, but that’s a gross oversimplification. In my eyes, the title of best game doesn’t depend on things like personal preference or any sort of quality that can be concretely proven. Instead, it relies on a general consensus – and one that is outright agreed upon by those familiar with the series at large. Going beyond that, this opinion must be stated out loud, repeatedly to the extent that it essentially becomes a “meme” – of course, I’m referring to the original definition (a cultural item transmitted repeated, similar to the biological transmission of one’s genetic code) as opposed to the more commonly-known one (running jokes on the internet). For all I know, there could be a widespread silent minority that considered the second Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy VIII or even (God forbid) MegaMan X6 to be the most beloved games in their respective series, but the deafening silence surrounding such opinions disqualifies them from being considered the “best game” of their franchises.

Of course, I personally disagree with this concept, but this is my gut reaction when describing a “best game”. However, this isn’t the only way to characterize this idea. In fact, there is a much more simplistic way to look at things that doesn’t revolve around the mob mentality of my original definition, but in most cases would lead to the same results, if not choices that are much more representative of each intellectual property in question. At this point in time, the most accurate definition I have for describing the “best game” in a series would the one that you would recommend to a complete newcomer that would give them the best representation of the series as a whole. But more specifically, they serve as the best example of what you – or I or anyone, for that matter – like about the games in question regarding their core concepts. Once again, this isn’t a perfect answer to the question at hand, but it’s the best that I’ve been able to come up with when properly defining the concept at large. At this point, that’s good enough for me.

Of course, the best way to define this entire concept is by, as usual, going through various examples from my own questions. When it comes to the Ys series, the fanbase generally recognizes three distinct “flavors” – Classic (the games that use the bump mechanic, along with black sheep Wanderers from Ys); the “3D” games (utilizing the hack-and-slash Napishtim engine with pre-rendered sprites on fully 3D backgrounds) and “modern” (which utilize a party system – switching between up to 3 characters on the fly – and incorporate 3D models into the game’s themselves). While there’s a recurring joke about “every Ys game being the best game of the series”, the most vocal segments of the fanbase swear by those Napishtim engine games, specifically the second game: The Oath in Felghana, a remake of the third game. Personally? I prefer Ys Origin, a far-flung prequel to the first two games and the last game to make use of the engine. That being said, due to the sheer amount of references to the first two games in Origin, I’d generally recommend Felghana to people interested in finding out about the series. There are other cases that just boil down to preference. For example, while it’s safe to argue that both Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are among the best representations for 2D Mario games as a whole, I always find myself gravitating more towards SMB2 (or Super Mario USA, as the Japanese know it). The unique game mechanics just make it that much more enjoyable for me, but it’s probably the worst representation of the Mario series as a whole. This also manages to skew my views on even the most niche titles. Of the Darkstalkers games, I will always prefer playing Night Warriors over its more-lauded sequel, Vampire Savior – even while acknowledging that the latter has some much more interesting game mechanics.

The weird thing about this entire concept is just how much it ends up helping me understand some of my own opinions and biases. Separating my personal favorites from a much more objective ranking of things has been pretty helpful in the long run, keeping me from twisting myself into intellectual knots in order to just why I’d acknowledge other things as being better than my personal favorites. Having struggled with articulating the concept for well over a decade, it’s honestly relaxing to be done with the mental gymnastics I’d often associated with trying to justify why I liked certain games more than ones that were often considered “the best”, but the added benefits of being able to apply this to other opinions I’ve had that are out of the ordinary is a significant bonus. Thanks to this new perspective – that personal preference and widespread consensus can exist separately and simultaneously – I’ve honestly become a bit less defensive about my own opinions. Who knows, maybe the same could be true of anyone who shares this perspective. If this article causes anyone to reconsider these two concepts as being separate rather than identical, then I think it was worth the wait.

An Odyssey That Will Take Your Breath Away

Ever since those six seconds of footage in the Switch reveal trailer, I was incredibly hyped for Super Mario Odyssey (and endlessly gloated about how “Super Mario Switch” was a real game and not a tech demo as Nintendo tried to claim). I’ve wanted to write an article entirely dedicated to it for a while now, but ended up waiting until my second playthrough so that I could have maximum clarity on my feelings for it. It’s not like I could have had a review of it ready for launch day. Of course, after waiting this long and having already said that it lived up to my hype in the most anticipated games of 2018 article, I can’t just spend a few thousand words raving about it. I need a hook for this article. And during my second playthrough, it came to me. Last year there were two extraordinarily well-received games released in my two favorite game series, both of which weren’t my first choice for the series’ direction. And while I loved one of these games, the other left me very conflicted. These games are, of course, Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Why did two games that seemed so similar in basic concept, both in series I adore, turn out so differently for me? Well, that’s what this article will attempt to answer.

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Spoilers: Mario wins this time.

Let’s start with Breath of the Wild, since as always, I like getting the negative out of the way first. Now despite me labeling this “the negative,” I’d like to clarify that I absolutely do not think BotW is a bad game. Putting all fears and associations aside, I’d have to say the Breath of the Wild is my pick for the second-best game of 2017, and that was a very, very good year. If it had actually made either its 2015 or 2016 release targets, it would have deserved to be my game of the year. There are things BotW does better than any other game I’ve played, the absolutely massive open world is better and more intricately designed than I would have thought something that big could ever be. Being able to climb almost any surface and safely jump/glide from any height in a game of this scale feels incredible and earns the game the “open air” label Nintendo gave it. Tricks with game mechanics that you should logically be able to do almost always worked, even when they wouldn’t in most games. The rune powers are used to great effect in the many, many, many micro-dungeons, and the game is gigantic. It took me over 100 hours to do everything in the game I felt was worth doing.

So why am I conflicted? There are two major issues. One is that for everything the game did better than I thought possible, there was a design choice I hated and felt almost betrayed by the inclusion of. Breakable weapons are the biggest factor, I really, really hate excessive resource management. How the game can give you infinite quickly regenerating bombs, but no truly permanent melee weapon boggles my mind, and it added a constant, unnecessary level of stress. This made the somewhat clunky menu worse, since you are forced to constantly switch weapons. Climbing was much slower than it needed to be and rain disabling it was ridiculous. It felt like there was a civil war going on during the game’s development over whether to make quality of life the goal or the mortal enemy, and neither side decisively won.

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Why why why why why WHY!?

My other issue is a more subjective one, or at least it counting as a negative is. Even with all the problems I mentioned above, Breath of the Wild is probably the best open world game I have ever played. But that isn’t what it should be, or at least not the only thing. It is a Zelda game, and as a Zelda game it fell short in many areas. I don’t want 50 different equippable weapons that have nearly identical functions, I want 10 unique items used in countless ways for puzzles and combat. Breath of the Wild only had five or so things that felt like genuine Zelda items. I want full dungeons, 120 tiny ones is a nice bonus, but it isn’t worth the five “real” ones being so short and de-emphasized. I don’t want to worry about collectables and stats and weapon durability, Zelda should be about level design. I should never dread having to explore a new town or area because I’m already overwhelmed. Breath of the Wild is clearly an exceptional game, but I feel it is noticeably lacking as a Zelda game, and games of that type are much rarer than the open world games BotW takes inspiration from. Until the next Zelda is announced and fixes my major issues, there is a cloud of fear hanging over this exceptional game.

I realize that my opinion is not a divine proclamation, and clearly many people really, really liked having such a non-linear and exploration-focused Zelda. I know that pleasing every fan every time is an impossible request, but I feel Breath of the Wild went too far in one direction. I’m not asking for every Zelda to be 90% dungeon style gameplay like Skyward Sword, but there has to be a compromise, right? Could a game find a balance where even if it wasn’t my very first choice, it left me feeling fully satisfied and secure about the franchise’s future, while still giving people with different priorities than me what they wanted? Is that even possible?

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Mario can do anything.

Yep, it absolutely is. Super Mario Odyssey is the first sandbox-style Mario game since 2002, as opposed to the linear platformers that are my preference. At its official reveal during the Switch’s formal debut, the trailer made it clear that the game would be far more focused on exploration than the recent 3D Mario platformers. While this somewhat disappointed me, it wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy the previous sandbox Mario games, and there was no indication that Mario’s ability to jump could break. I decided to have faith in the game, even with my conflicted response to Breath of the Wild when it was finally released. I eagerly awaited seeing more of Super Mario Odyssey, and counted the days until E3 when we were certain to get one of Mario’s signature greatly improved second trailers.

Would posting the entirety of Jump Up, Super Star!’s lyrics be excessive padding? Yeah, probably. But suffice to say, Super Mario Odyssey’s E3 2017 trailer was one of the best video game trailers I have ever seen. The game’s main new feature was revealed, Mario’s ability to possess enemies and objects ranging from goombas to a hyper-realistic T-rex that I’ve dubbed “Yoshi Senior”. And seeing extended gameplay demonstrations revealed that the non-linear levels were full of small sections containing classic style linear Mario platforming. My hype skyrocketed, I felt a sense of wonderful anticipation for a game that I hadn’t felt in years.

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And this isn’t even Yoshi’s final form!

I won’t go into too much detail about how fantastic Super Mario Odyssey is, there are plenty of reviews that will do that for me and you’ve had months to experience it for yourself. A colossal amount of content, constant variety with new things to possess in each level, 50+ mini-stages that play in my preferred Mario format, creative and beautiful settings with a huge amount of aesthetic variety, a staggering amount of things you can do with Mario’s partner Cappy even without possessing anything, and of course Mario’s signature perfect control and exceptional level design. But what I want to really praise Super Mario Odyssey for in this article is how it managed to balance two styles of Mario game and please everyone (well, every sane person).

Super Mario Odyssey has fully explorable levels, with secrets literally everywhere (they actually put in invisible coins to let you know when you had reached an area that didn’t have a moon hidden somewhere in it). Mastering the jumping system gives you an incredible amount of freedom and makes exploring every corner of every level enjoyable. A fast travel system and levels that put more of an emphasis on being deep than being sprawling means you never feel like you’re wasting time walking to a different area. The many forms Mario must take to find every Power Moon means your generous jumping abilities don’t make platforming challenges trivial. Levels have story missions that make them play out like the linear 3D Mario games, before opening up the entire level for exploration. And your reward for exploration may be a linear platforming mini-level. Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t feel lacking regardless of whether your prefer linear or sandbox style platformers.

Now despite this, Super Mario Odyssey isn’t my favorite Mario game and wouldn’t have been my very first choice. But that leads to another thing it does much better than Breath of the Wild. While Breath of the Wild’s decisions have me holding my breath for the next Zelda to address my issues and assure me that the series hasn’t been harmed in the long term, Super Mario Odyssey does the opposite and fills me with hope. Mario games often come in pairs, and with how successful SMO was, I’m expecting the next 3D Mario to essentially be Odyssey 2. Now Super Mario Galaxy 3 would probably be my preference if I was given the choice, but… there’s a possibility. The second Mario game in a pair is usually better, and if Super Mario Odyssey 2 is a better game and improves in the right ways, it just may manage to make a Mario formula I like better than the SMG games. Maybe if we cut down the number of worlds but made the linear platforming areas you found longer, long enough to pass for Super Mario 3D Land stages, we could actually have a hybrid that I like better than the linear Mario formula. It’s not guaranteed, but I never would have even contemplated it before Super Mario Odyssey. A game giving me that kind of hope, having that kind of potential, is something truly special, and a sign of just how masterfully designed Super Mario Odyssey is.

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Mario has the whole world open to him.

So, despite how similar Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild seem in many ways, they also gave me an almost opposite reaction. Again, I’m not saying BotW is a bad game, in fact with a few changes (full dungeons in exchange for the map being Skyrim sized instead of double Skyrim sized, no more breakable weapons) a direct sequel could be one of my favorite Zeldas. The game was great and could provide a great foundation, but there is also a risk of there being long term damage. Super Mario Odyssey, however, is both an exceptional game and something that made me optimistic and excited about the influence it could have on my favorite gaming series of all time, and that’s something that truly deserves to be described as taking my breath away.

Turn Based #4: Focus Group Fantasy

SNES Master KI: Hello, and welcome to another Turn Based!  We’ll be trying something new this time, this will be a three-player round.  Increasingly prominent contributor Dari will be joining us for a discussion on how to design the ideal JRPG.  All three of us have our own ideas on how to do this, so hopefully we’ll end up with lots of bloody conflict and furious verbal combat.  Or hopefully we won’t, I forget which one we want.  Icepick is the least enthusiastic about the genre, so we’re making him go first.

Professor Icepick: I guess it could be argued that one of the most important aspects on a Japanese turn-based RPG is its setting. Due to the genre’s increased emphasis on storyline, a proper setting can create an engrossing world to explore for the 40-400 hours players can look forward to spending in the game itself. Yet roughly half of all JRPGs in existence will go for a cliched fantasy setting, taking place in a fictionalized version of medieval Europe. More recently, we’ve seen post-apocalyptic steampunk future go from a breath of fresh air to yet another one of those standard set pieces. Yet, very rarely, we’ll actually get something unique. I think the best example of this would have to be the Mother trilogy, released in the West as “Earthbound”.

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Long ago, in the far off ancient land of New York City circa 1993…

Taking place in what is essentially a contemporary setting driven more by off-the-wall humor than trying to ape the entire of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Earthbound managed to garner a cult following in the West due to its irreverent sense of humor and a setting that was, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air within the genre. As such, my ideal JRPG setting would be anything besides those two clichés that feel omnipresent within the genre. That’s not to say that it’s not possible to escape the bland nature associated with traditional fantasy or sci-fi tropes. It just takes some kind of a gimmick, like a fantasy game basing itself more on the folklore of a non-European region, perhaps a more mundane future with less obvious flaws or being developed by Nihon Falcom.

Dari, your thoughts?

Dariwan: I’d have to agree. Most of the time it takes something drastically changing in the middle of the story to make the setting be anything more than just the same old thing. Earthbound was definitely a different beast, kind of feeling like it’s in “America” which makes you feel like the game could be in your hometown or somewhere close by.

I feel like my ideal JRPG would be something like a mix of Japan or something like Earthbound mixed in with the tropes. I think that Tokyo Mirage Sessions mixed in eccentric Japanese settings and the cliché stuff pretty well, but I think we can go a bit farther than that. Not that we’re going in that far, but MMOs have the same problem as JRPGs with their settings being a bit blasé. but I feel as I said before my ideal setting is one that “lives” and changes as the game goes on, instead of being the same thing throughout.

KI, do you agree?

KI: My main criteria for a setting is that it’s different enough from reality to accommodate the variety needed for a 40+ hour game.  This seems easier to do in fantasy settings, which may be a reason why they’re such a common choice, but it isn’t necessary.  As mentioned, the Mother series was able to take neighboring towns in contemporary America and make one feel completely different from the next.  The key is that the setting can’t get caught up on feeling realistic.  You shouldn’t be confined by real life settings, or an obsessively “believable” medieval Europe expy, or rock-hard science fiction.  I want imagination and variety, and you can do that in any setting as long as you have the creativity and don’t chain it to realism, even realism attached to a fantasy setting.

I do like it when games change tone midway through as well, games like Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and 2 and Final Fantasy IX introduce settings late in the story that you see no indication of at the start of the game.  And Chrono Trigger of course has every world setting you can think of thanks to time travel.  With how huge the scale of JRPGs should be, one setting often isn’t enough for an entire game.

Icepick: Of course, JRPGs aren’t the only genre that relies heavily on story. Visual Novels are quite similar to JRPGs in terms of storyline, but the main that differentiates the two is the emphasis on gameplay. In my honest opinion, the main gameplay aspect related to JRPGs is the battle system present in each game. Unfortunately, in most cases, I’m left underwhelmed. I’ll break it down as simply as I possibly can: if the game’s concept for a battle system starts with “Attack”, ends with “Run” and can only manage to shove “Magic” and “Items” in between them, then chances are I consider you a cancer to the video game medium as a whole.

There have been a lot of games that have had interesting takes on the JRPG battle system that manage to set themselves apart from that mediocre stereotype. Games like Lunar and some of the Legend of Heroes games have turned their battles into almost miniature “turn-based strategy” segments, relying significantly on character placement to allow for more thoughtful combat. The aforementioned Earthbound sticks to a Dragon Quest-inspired battle system with one very unique (and game-making) alteration: when party members take damage, their health gradually decreases, allowing a knowledgeable player the chance to heal them before they get knocked out. I’d also be in remiss if I didn’t mention Undertale, an American indie game that was clearly inspired by Earthbound, but took its battle system in a different direction. Players can choose to attack enemy monsters, using an accuracy bar or simply interact with them to settle their conflict peacefully. But when the enemy attacks, the game turns into a sort of shoot-’em-up style game, representing the player with a heart icon, forcing them to escape injury in various ways.

Of course, my personal favorite battle system would have to be the ones found in the early Paper Marios, and to a lesser extent, the Mario & Luigi games. Relying on button presses to increase damage, extend attacks and even defend and counter enemy attacks with proper timing. There’s just something so captivating about this simple gimmick: it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to really being in control of my character in a turn-based RPG. It’s a shame that few other games have attempted to lift this system, going instead for the more traditional Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest-style of combat. The only game that really comes to mind for me is South Park: The Stick of Truth. The fact that the game is only referred to as being “inspired” by Paper Mario, rather than a “Paper Mario clone” or even its own sub-genre is perhaps one of the greatest crimes that JRPGs have yet to answer for.

Dari: I personally like turn-based RPGs simply because they allow you to strategize instead of getting hit every 2 seconds with no real chance to defend. Also, the turn-based system allows you to exploit weaknesses and keep going. I do agree that “Attack Run Magic Item” gets boring at times. That’s why games like Persona (Especially 5) and games like the Tales series definitely are different beasts of turn based games. The Tales series in particular feels like an action RPG as most of the games are open field actions in battle. You can jump and do combos almost like a fighting game and even do certain mystic arts by chaining certain moves together. I like those different atmospheres that can generate difference in the game itself. But as I said I like the standard JRPG experience except when they do it wrong.

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This is very different than the “Attack Magic Item Run” system. and that’s why I like it.

 

The game I’m currently playing is Blue Reflection it’s kind of like Persona but backwards. The battle system is…interesting to say the least. they have systems that don’t really matter until boss battles happen, and the basic gameplay is kind of easy. You also auto heal after every battle, which takes away any urgency in any battle, since you know you won’t die. It bothers me, but the story is decent enough to keep me playing. That’s another argument for another time though.

KI: I’ve recently had trouble getting into turn based games, so my ideal JRPG battle system has become the Nier/Ys style where basic combat feels like a character action game, but you still have stats and items and an MP equivalent.  As long as I’m not being harshly punished for CPU controlled characters getting themselves killed or spammed with unavoidable spells, I generally prefer action-JRPGs at this point, and my ideal one would definitely have a real-time combat system.

If the battle system is turn based, it’s important there be something to prevent it from being tedious or feel like you don’t have to really be engaged.  Semi-turn based battle systems like the Mario and Luigi games or Xenoblade games can work very well for alleviating this, with timing being a constant part of every battle.  Even something as simple as the rhythm-based damage bonuses in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 adds a lot to the battle system for me.

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This is way more like a rhythm game than it looks.

Icepick: The role-playing game designation in video games generally feels like a catch-all term: there is little in common between games like Final Fantasy, Fallout and Ys, yet no one would argue that they are not all “RPGs”. One common element all of these games share is the concept of “character progression” — simply put, as battles and other quest elements are completed, the player character becomes stronger and gains access to new abilities, much like how studying or exercising increases people’s mental and physical prowess in real-life.

I’m honestly kind of torn about this one. Generally, I like mostly random stat boosts with experience, with a handful of points for the player to assign themselves, in order to further customize their character to suit their playstyle. That’s generally what I would consider the standard, but it’s just how much control one has over these stats that I feel conflicted. I’ve played games where stat changes are considered permanent, which forces players to make their choices wisely, which I like. On the other hand, I’ve also played games that have allowed for a constant “experience pool”, which can allow stats and abilities to be changed at will, depending on the situation. For example, if one focuses on the “strength” stat in a game, to deal big damage, but eventually finds themselves in a position where an ability only accessible to characters with a high “wisdom” stat becomes necessary, the ability to shift those points around saves the player from pointless grinding — but also sort of destroys any stakes in making those decisions in the first place.

Dari: It’s a mixed bag for me– I like the usual “Level up assign stats and go” which is kind of like Dungeons & Dragons, but I like JRPGs that buck that trend. Games like Fire Emblem that just give random stats that you don’t have control over, but offer different classes at max level give you more customization than other RPGs regardless of how it looks in the start. I’m a fan of flashy attacks and big damage so character progression is really big for me. The thing that irks me more than anything is when your characters are starting, and they really don’t have much to do, so you’re sitting there attacking and praying you don’t die every battle. This goes into ‘grindin6g’ which is another thing that i actually hate about JRPGs. JRPGs that “hide the grind” are the games that I enjoy a lot more than ones where you literally have to find in a area, sit there and fight for your life until you level enough to easily beat them then move on. (FFVII, I’m lookin’ at you…damn Worm area.)

KI: I generally don’t like being overwhelmed by choosing stat placement, especially early in a game when I may not know what exactly stats do or how important they are to the battle system.  I like getting a boost in every stat when I level up, I’d rather have customization be separated from that base stat increase.  Systems like the Abilities in Final Fantasy IX or the badges in the first two Paper Mario games are my preferred way to customize characters, you have more understanding of exactly what you’re choosing and how it will affect the game.  I’d prefer that the customization system not be overly buerocratic, a skill tree where I have to essentially grind level ups to get an ability I want is very annoying.  I also like a balance between whether stats/abilities can be reassigned or not.  Permanent choices made before you understand the game should never ruin a save file, but if everything can be changed at any time I don’t want constant micromanagement required because the game didn’t bother to balance areas so multiple play styles would work.  So having experience and ability point equivalents separated is my preference.

Icepick: Another common trait among RPGs in general is that they have a tendency of adding side content in an effort to flesh out the game world and make it feel more like an organic, real place, as opposed to, well, a video game. Secret bosses or dungeons, sidequests, card games, collectables, it must be required by Japanese law for every single RPG in existence to have at least one of these tacked on.

I honestly can’t think of an example of side content that actually managed to elevate an otherwise mediocre game. I guess there’s really only one bit of non-story related content that I actually found memorable and those were the bromides in Lunar 2 on the original PlayStation. Maybe it was due to the inclusion of characters from the previous game — or perhaps it was the lewdness of a few choice images chosen — but that’s probably the only piece of optional content in an RPG that’s actually stuck with me.

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Expecting me to use one of the sexy ones? Shame on you.

Dari: I don’t think they’re exactly NEEDED but in grindy games, I think side content is good as a “rest” from the game and doing something different, keeping the game fun and not tedious and making the player hate them. One of these “side content” things I like, again from the Tales series, they have “skits” which is side stories and sometimes just random conversations that add to character development and sometimes elaborate on story. It’s really helpful to have small cute offside stuff like that to help an RPG shine and show out as a better game in general.

Stuff like sidequests can help or hinder a JRPG. They can be good for a refreshing side story or they could just open a new time hole that you want to get out of because you want to access the story. this happened to me in Final Fantasy Crisis Core. I didn’t get past chapter 2 of the story because the side quests never ended. But things like the card games in the Final Fantasy Games are nice diversions that are optional that you don’t have to put time into unless you want to. I think that’s the ideal “Side content” in a JRPG. optional stuff that has enjoyment in putting in effort, but it’s not pertinent to the story or plot of the game, just something to break the monotony of the grind or the game in general.

KI: For side content, my general feeling is that RPGs should heavily lean towards quality over quantity.  Tons of trivial (or would be trivial if they didn’t involve luck based grinding/trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do) sidequests are a very bad thing, they are tedious and overwhelming.  Sidequests should never end up being the majority of a JRPG.  It gets even worse when those sidequests are practically mandatory, meaning that you will be severely underleveled if you skip sidequests and don’t do an absurd amount of grinding.  Xenoblade Chronicles X was really bad about that, if you somehow had high enough levels doing just main story missions would take around five hours.  As it is, I spent 60 hours and gave up on the final boss because I STILL wasn’t strong enough to win.  There’s a reason I usually specific Xenoblade 1 and 2 when I praise the series.  Chrono Trigger is probably the best handling of sidequests I’ve seen in a JRPG, the sidequests at the end of the game felt as polished as the main story, they weren’t overwhelmingly difficult to track down, and they added to the characters, basically being the end of their individual story arcs.  We need more RPGs with 5 great sidequests instead of 500 mindless/frustrating ones.

Icepick: Of course, what good is world-building when the world itself is lackluster? Map design is an important aspect of any RPG, regardless of sub-genre. In the 8-bit and 16-bit era, games relied on an overhead view to create truly labyrinthine dungeons and vast overworlds, but these days they can exist at any angle. It’s tough to really quantify my ideal world in general — I think my favorite maps of all time have been in the Ys series — but rather, it’s better to define a key component: variety. Each area on a world map should feel different from other areas, both in terms of aesthetic and in terms of design. If the layout of a volcano area matches the tundra, which matches the desert, which matches your character’s hometown where your adventure begins, which matches the villain’s fortress where the game comes to its conclusion, then what’s the point of changing the setting in the first place?

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Ice slopes in a desert area, Falcom is truly brilliant.

Likewise, the setting of each area should inform the designs of the dungeons themselves. You wouldn’t expect to sink in quicksand in a volcano area, deal with water puzzles in a forest and frankly, I think Ys Origin is the only game that could reasonably work slippery terrains into a desert setting. Granted, it’s interesting to experiment with that sort of thing, but recasting existing hazards to match their new biomes is a must.

Dari: I don’t have much to add to that. except in the realm of randomized worlds. The world has to be unique each time. it can’t be the same thing with a color or tint change and pretend it’s different. There needs to be some kind of radical change for it to make sense. The Persona games do this well – at least 1 and 2 and on for sure – 3 and partially 4 kind of slipped up by having pretty much the same layout for each dungeon but just had different randomized maps each time you enter.

Stage hazards are also an interesting thing i don’t see many games pick up on. You may be in a volcano area, but the lava rarely affects you. The Desert doesn’t really do much but make you hot (Golden Sun actually made you drink water in the desert and your temperature went up the more you stayed in it which I liked) We need a sense of danger otherwise we’re just walking around through a nice-looking setting with really nothing to fear or worry about. Except the monsters/enemies which get kinda stale when they’re the only threat.

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Speaks for itself more ways than one.

KI: When it comes to world design in JRPGs, there is a gold standard that isn’t even technically a JRPG.  If asked about level design in my ideal JRPG, there’s pretty much one word I would use to communicate what I want: Zelda.  Dungeons should be intricate and filled with puzzles and obstacles.  The overworld should never have generic empty space in it, for all my issues with it, even Breath of the Wild knocked it out of the park when it came to avoiding that.  The dungeons don’t have to be exactly like Zelda, but I want something in them besides combat.  Puzzle solving, platforming, shmup sections, just anything but flat halls or mazes.

Being able to interact with the world beyond a generic talk/inspect button and fighting enemies is important to me in a JRPG.  Again, the gold standard is Zelda’s palette of unique items that can be used for both combat and puzzle solving, but anything that makes the levels more than a hall/maze/field with a graphical theme (as Icepick alluded to) will satisfy me.  If I’m going to be playing a role in a world, let me truly interact with that world.

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Just because it isn’t an RPG doesn’t mean it can’t be the gold standard for them.

Icepick: Well, I’ve got to say, we’ve had a pretty fruitful discussion about what each of our ideal JRPGs would look like. I guess, the best way to finish would be to do a quick summary of everything we like to see in the genre. I love unique settings that avoid cliches that are synonymous with the genre. Engaging battle systems that go beyond simple menu-based random number generation are a must. I’m open to either permanent stat boosts or a pool of experience that can be readjusted on the fly, but not that big on sidequests in general and love it when an area’s themes are taken into account when designing dungeons.

Dari: I love JRPGs that don’t rely on side-quests but make wholesome side content that help the monotony. Games that “hide the grind” or even change up the battle system entirely to make a change. I like “Living” worlds that change and evolve as I go through them and I like when the character progression isn’t exactly the same as D&D and can do its own thing and still be interesting and fun. Also having the world fight you too is good as well. Have something besides the big bad and his/her cronies to want me dead.

KI: So, my ideal JRPG would basically be Zelda, Nier Automata, and Xenoblade being mixed together.  Varied settings with lots of surprises as you go through the game, action game style combat, intricate, puzzle heavy dungeons.  Simple upgrade system with a separate ability customization system, a few major sidequests that aren’t forced on you under threat of grinding.  A world that’s big enough to make exploration feel significant, but not so big it all blurs together.  Put gameplay and variety over realism.

Icepick: Well, that was a successful experiment. Hopefully Dari decides to join us in more Turn Baseds in the future. (We’ve actually already got a topic picked out, just in case he does.) So, who do you think has the best concepts for the perfect RPG? Dari, who is a die-hard fan of the genre; KI who is neutral, or the radical rebel that is Professor Icepick? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.