Showing posts from 2016

The Best & Worst Games of 2016

The Best & Worst of 2015 / 2014 / 2013 / 2012 / 2011 / 2010

Well that was a year, wasn’t it? Lots of stuff happened. A big year for stuff.

Lots of games too, and most of them were pretty good.

2016 was the year that my family and I moved to Japan. After years of mulling it over, we finally decided to take the plunge. It has been tough going at times, but overall it’s been a positive change and we’re happy to be back.

In a year of so much upheaval, games have been a welcome and familiar distraction. In 2016, I finally bought an Xbox One, packed away my Wii U for good, was eventually wowed by VR but ultimately decided to pass, made my triumphant return to Tokyo Game Show and bought and played as many games as I could. I also started losing my hair, but that probably doesn’t have anything to do with video games.

These are the games I played in 2016, to completion or something resembling it.

PLAYED: 3D Gunstar Heroes, 3D Hang On, Abzu, Call of Duty: Advance Warfare, Dangerous Golf, D…

Trico & The End of Year Rush

October! Games! November! Games! December! More games! GAMES, exclamation mark. Big games, small games, bang-bang games, cat-dog games and games about Cup Noodles.

I've been trying to cram in as many as possible before I write my Best & Worst of 2016 at the end of this month (2015 is here, including GOTY links going back to 2010). I bought far too much in the Black Friday sales, and have more games coming for Christmas. Forza Horizon 3, Titanfall 2, Mafia 3, Dead Rising 4, Ryse, Quantum Break, Rhythm Paradise Megamix, and an Xbox One, of course.

And then there's my big, winter three: The Last Guardian, Yakuza 6, and Final Fantasy XV. The plan was to buy one to play immediately, get one as a Christmas present from my wife and hold off on the other until January/February, but I'm still partially undecided on which is which. My love for Yakuza is well documented and I predictably got caught up in the FF hype, despite my initial reservations. In the end, though, I sett…

Why'd You Buy That For?

PS4, Wii U, 3DS and Vita. I now have the full, current gen set. Or at least until March, when the Nintendo Switch comes out.

I am not buying a Switch.

But then I wasn't going to buy an Xbox One, until I did. In my defence, I waited three years and only pulled the trigger once the price had been slashed and there was an exclusive game that I desperately wanted to play. And not one of those it'll-be-on-PS4-in-ten-months exclusives. A proper, fuck you Sony exclusive.

The price was ¥22,000 and the game was Fake Burnout Paradise, better known as Forza Horizon 3.

Despite routinely selling less than a hundred Xbox Ones per week here in Japan, Microsoft decided to go ahead and release the S model this month, which sent the price of the original box tumbling. I got the lowest priced set, the Master Chief Collection bundle, and am now in the market for a larger living room, so that I can store this gargantuan bit of kit.

I was after a racer, something with the freedom and arcade spiri…

Valkyria Chronicles & Rethinking My List

I'd forgotten how much I liked Valkyria Chronicles. I first played it back in early 2009, but that's ages ago and my memory isn't what it used to be.

Back in September, at Tokyo Game Show, I played a demo for the latest Valkyria, Azure Revolution. It was unspectacular but served to rekindle my interest in the series. A few days later, I picked up the Chronicles remaster on sale; I finally got around to playing it this month and I'm very happy that I did.

VC still looks lovely. The beautiful, soft pencil-drawn-effect visuals are the perfect contrast to the far darker narrative themes: imperialist aggression, weapons of mass destruction, expansionism, racism and lost youth. The setting is a fictionalised version of 1930s Europe, but it's different enough that the more fantastical elements do not seem entirely out of place. The soundtrack is memorable and I genuinely cared about the members of Squad 7, working hard to ensure that not a single one perished on the batt…

Final Fantasy XV - Missing the Hype

There was a time, not that long ago, when I'd get very excited about a new Final Fantasy.
I remember reading FFIX import reviews and counting down the days until the UK release, flunking a university exam because FFX came out the day before, and queueing up at 6am one frosty December morning to get my hands on XIII. I've bought hardware for the sole purpose of playing FF (GBA for Tactics Advance), paid through the teeth for US imports (IV, V, VI and Tactics before they got a PAL release) and even attempting to understand PCs for a couple of months so I could lose myself in XI.

Despite my history with the series, I have little interest in Final Fantasy XV, and that feels a little weird.

My interest peaked during the PS1-era, but I remained an avid fan throughout the 2000s and into the teens. Things began to change with the release of XIII, a terribly flawed game that I nevertheless poured over a hundred hours into. The characters were wanky and the story nonsensical, though yo…


1. The Nintendo Switch

The NX is now the Switch, a home console/portable hybrid that may or may not run Skyrim.

It looks smart and the trailer suggests a more mature target audience than we might usually expect from a Nintendo product. That being said, I'm sure that Nintendo will also be courting their usual, youthful demographic. I like the idea of a take-away tablet that will play everything that runs on my TV, though I do wonder if I'd dare take something that large and fragile looking outside the house. In this instance, I think portable might mean play-in-bed and on the toilet.

It's certainly not something that I can imagine kids playing outside the home. The 2DS is a typical child's machine, sturdy and compact, and I expect Nintendo will continue to push that as their platform for younger gamers. If Nintendo are positioning the Switch as a gadget for adults, then it will be compared to other tablets, a comparison that may be unfair and unflattering. And I'm n…

No Man's Sky - A Lukewarm Take

I really wanted to like No Man's Sky.

It has a wonderful sense of style. I love the warm colour palette and it absolutely nails the seventies sci-fi vibe. No Man's Sky looks a treat, but I'm struggling to think of anything else nice to say about it.

Expectations were through the roof. I'm not interested in whose fault this was, who should be thrown in prison or banned from NeoGAF. What might have been a PSN gem was instead miscast as a AAA experience. Hello Games is a talented studio, but this was never going to be Mass Effect Infinite or Skyim: The Next Generation.

I was expecting something more limited in scale. I thought it would be a beautiful and relaxing game of exploration and gathering, something I could chill out to after a stressful day at work. I wanted to be able to wind down by picking some Martian flowers and discovering some oddly-shaped rocks. That sounded pleasant, and realistic, but NMS let me down.

It should have worked as an explore-and-gather expe…

I'm Buying a Dreamcast

I never really bothered with the Dreamcast. Back in 1999, I was content with my PlayStation and had lost patience with Sega, following the premature demise of my beloved Saturn.

Sega, the platform-holder of my childhood, was entirely absent from my late teens. It was all about PS1 during my final years at school, and university was dominated by PS2 and GameCube. I have hazy but otherwise excellent memories of three gloriously boozy years playing Quake Arena, ISS and Timesplitters with friends. Shen-who?

A decade later, after moving back to England after my first stint in Japan, I decided to buy a Dreamcast and catch up. It was part of a short-lived and expensive eBay infatuation. I picked up half a dozen games and played them for a couple of hours in total. I thought they were nice, but soon returned to my PS3, Wii and 360.

Fast forward another half a decade, and I'm wanting to give the DC a proper go. I'd been considering it for a while, but it was the recent Summer of Dream…

Until Dawn: In Memoriam

WARNING: This post is full of spoilers for Until Dawn
I wanted them all dead. I spent the first two chapters of Until Dawn hoping that the killer would hurry up and slaughter the cast of annoying, generic, horror-movie teens. I decided that I would do my best to speed things up, purposefully missing QTEs and choosing options that looked likely to result in death. I wanted a speedy resolution so I could move onto something else.

But I couldn't keep it up. Within an hour, I had made an about-turn and was doing my best to keep these horny idiots alive. I started to care, and enjoyed trying to keep them out of harms way.

The twists were fairly obvious but that didn't impede my enjoyment. I had the flame-thrower guy pegged as an ally from the moment he offered his hand to Emma and Hannah, and it was pretty obvious that Josh was the “killer” in the house, though the saw stunt threw me for a minute. I thought the totem pole clues were an excellent addition, providing just enough info…

A Reprise: Rez Infinite & Area X

Last month, I tried Rez Infinite VR at Tokyo Game Show. It was a very short demo of a very familiar game. It confirmed something that I already knew, that Rez is excellent, but overall I was underwhelmed by my first experience with VR.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to try Rez Infinite again, this time at a launch event. Enhance Games have set-up shop in an event space in Harajuku and are running demos into next week. It's open to the public and appointments are made on the day, so do check it out if you're in town. I arrived at 7pm and was able to claim one of the last slots of the day. With thirty minutes to burn, I grabbed a bite to eat, drank some beer and LINE'd a few friends to let them know of my evening plans, before returning for my demo. It was a rather pleasant start to my Saturday night.

I love being back in Tokyo!

From the outset, it was a much better experience than the TGS demo. Better surroundings, better explanation and set-up, a tighter fit on the head…

Close to Paradise

Something strange happened the other day. For the briefest of moments, a split second of madness, I thought about buying an Xbox One. Forza Horizon 3 was to blame.

I don't need an Xbox One. I'm quite content with my PS4, and the 3DS and Vita have me well covered when the telly is unavailable. My back-up home console this generation, the Wii U, has been boxed-up since March and I see no reason to unpack it any time soon. I struggle to put aside an hour each evening for games and, when I do play, I'm usually drifting off during load screens. So very hardcore.

Honestly, I don't want an Xbox One. There's not enough space under our TV, Yen in my bank account or games on my Xbox, must-play list. I couldn't give a toss about Halo; Gears of War bores me and I can't think of any other Microsoft exclusives of note. Is Crackdown a thing that people play? Most importantly, I don’t want to be the only person in Japan to buy an Xbox One this week, because that would be…

TGS 2016: Horizon Zero Dawn Hands-on

This is the last of my TGS 2016 posts. You can find the rest here:
Preview Day One Round-up
Day Two Round-up
TGS in Pictures
Persona 5 Hands-on
Yakuza 6 Hands-on
FFXV, XII and World of FF Hands-on
Rez Infinite & Sony VR Hands-on
Resident Evil 7 Hands-on

I originally posted this preview at Critical Gamer

Of the non-VR games on offer at Tokyo Game Show, Horizon Zero Dawn was the most popular. The wait for the twenty minute demo rarely dipped below two hours on the press days, and I imagine it was a nightmare once the public joined the fray.

It was a very straight forward demo that revealed nothing of the story. It was set in the middle of an autumnal looking map, full of trees and undergrowth, bordered by hills and a lake beyond which we were not allowed to pass. It looked lovely, if not a little bare, but the trailers have hinted at more populated areas to come. It was a very small playground, but gave a good idea as to what the larger world might look like. In this small space, I was left…

TGS 2016: Resident Evil 7 Hands-on

I originally posted this at Critical Gamer
Lantern, an extended version of the Gamescom Resident Evil 7 demo, opened with an unpleasant game of hide and seek. I was chased into a rickety old house by a lovely old crone who desperately wanted to bash my brains in. She's a bit mad, you see.

It was all in first-person and shared the same grainy visuals as the first, publicly available demo. The house was dilapidated and dank, the kind of place you'd want to avoid even if it weren't patrolled by a psychotic old lady. And it was night time, because these things aren't nearly as frightening in the light of day. I ran and I hid; I fumbled desperately for door knobs, solved a puzzle using shadows and eventually crawled under the floorboards. Inevitably, Granny caught me and that was that. Only not quite.

The demo closed with a new, minimally interactive scene set around the dinner table. The Baker family had invited me for tea, or more likely dragged me kicking and screaming …

TGS 2016: Rez Infinite & Sony VR Hands-on

I originally posted this preview at Critical Gamer
Tokyo Game Show was my chance to try VR for the first time. It was at the top of my to-do list, but getting a hands-on proved more difficult than I anticipated. This years' show was dominated by Virtual Reality and everyone and their mother wanted to try it. Appointments were hard to come by and queues were upwards of two hours. However, with a bit of persistence, I was able to secure a time slot with Rez Infinite. I was very pleased with myself.

I've been sceptical of VR games. Early adopters aside, I have my doubts as to whether the average home console or PC owner will invest in the required hardware. I also question whether people really want to be that shut off from reality and whether the intensity of VR runs counter to why many of us play games: to relax. VR always struck me as a fun looking experience at a trade show, but not so much at home.

That's what I thought before trying it myself. Following my hands-on wi…

TGS 2016: Final Fantasy XV, XII and World of FF Hands-on

I played three very different Final Fantasies at this year's TGS. I'm drawn to the series, even when I don't particularly want to be, and couldn't help but queue up for FFXV, FFXII: The Zodiac Age and World of Final Fantasy.
I'll start with Final Fantasy XV because that's probably why you're here.

I went into the demo expecting to dislike it. Everything I'd seen and tried of SE's latest epic suggested that this was not going to be a game for me. I've moved on from FF melodrama, find that I struggle with lengthy games, and I despise the look of XV's main crew. Basically, I am the antithesis of Noughties Matt, who probably would've loved this shit. Current Matt - my name is Matt - hated the TGS demo.

I had my preconceptions, was fed of queueing and was so pissed off with the demo booth setup that I almost turned around and left (standing, screen at chest height, headphones with a ridiculously short cord so that I spent the whole demo hunched …

TGS 2016: Yakuza 6 Hands-on

Tokyo Game Show just wouldn't be the same without a new Yakuza. They have dominated SEGA's booths over the years and are usually among the best received and well attended demos of the show. This year was no exception.

Yakuza 6 (Ryu ga Gotoku: Inochi no Uta) is the latest instalment. Series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu is fresh out of prison when he discovers that Haruka, his daughter or sorts, has been involved in a hit and run incident and is in a coma. Kiryu needs to find the culprit, but it's not that simple. During Kaz' time in the slammer, Haruka has had a baby, Huruto. Kazuma & Haruto head to Hiroshima in search of the child's father, which is where the demo kicks off.

It begins with Kazuma walking the streets of a small town, cradling baby Haruto. After a bit of aimless wandering, we arrive outside a snack bar, a hostess-lite establishment, where the proprietor takes a shine to Kaz and baby and invites us inside. In true Yakuza style, Kaz quickly attracts u…

TGS 2016 in Pictures

Tokyo Game Show is over for another year. Most of the foreign press are on their way home; those of us left in Japan are busy sorting our TGS swag into combustibles and recyclables. The public have filed out of Makuhari Messe for the last time.

All we have left are memories. And blisters, because we wore the wrong shoes.

I also have a phone full of photos, most of which didn't come out very well because it's near impossible to take a decent shot in the dark halls of TGS. Here are a few of them, alongside a couple from my good friend Stevie (top, P5 x 2, Yakuza 6, Phone cases, Nioh).

Ah, the giant Moogle. It was suspended above Square Enix' booth and has been a TGS fixture for as long as I can remember (since 2006?). SE had a fairly decent showing this year, headlined by a trio of Final Fantasies - XV, XII HD and World of FF - alongside whatever the latest Kingdom Hearts is. Three point something into night: Duodecim? Fuck knows.

As per usual, Sony dominated the show. Ther…