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The Best and Worst Games of 2019

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The Best & Worst of 2018 2017 / 2016 / 2015 / 2014 / 2013 / 2012 / 2011 / 2010
This is my tenth year-end, Best & Worst blowout. That's a decade of me agonising over winners and losers for a post that maybe twenty people read. And eleven of those people are me.

A lot has changed since I picked Mass Effect 2 as my game of the year back in 2010. We've had hardware successes and failures, and major franchises that have come and gone. We've seen the peaks and troughs of casual and mobile gaming, the near disappearance of game-dedicated handhelds, the growth of subscription and streaming services, the evolution of online gaming, and the continued ascendancy of the industry as a whole. And don't forget the ongoing march to all-digital, the multitude of trends that have lived and died (3D, second screen gaming, toys-to-life etc.), the indie explosion-demise-resurgence, and the death of the mid-tier game and developer. A lot has happened over the last decade.

By this …

Christmas, My Grandma and Sega Rally

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Be sure to check back in the coming days, as I'll be posting my Best & Worst of 2019 some time between Christmas and the New Year. Happy holidays!

My first console, the Sega Master System II, arrived one holiday in the early Nineties. From that point on, games were a regular Christmas fixture.

However, while I certainly enjoyed video games as a kid, I was far from an expert. I'd pick up a magazine from time to time - a Sega Power or Mean Machines - but most of my wisdom came from either the playground or the Toys R Us Christmas catalogue. Until my mid-teens, I was always a generation behind and I didn't care one iota. I had a Master System when the cool kids were playing Mega Drive; the Christmas I upgraded to 16-bit was the same year the Playstation debuted. When I finally caught up, I did so with a console that, unbeknownst to me, was already dead in the water. For Christmas 1996, I asked for a Sega Saturn.

My original thought was to get a Mega CD, but friends talked…

A Decade in Games: When Games Were Rubbish For a Bit

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It's the end of a decade! To mark the occasion, I'm sharing memories and experiences that I associate with some of the games of the last ten years. You can find them all here.

During the summer of 2012, I didn't like games. They bored me. I couldn't bear the thought of having to go through the rigmarole of starting up a new one, learning controls and systems, and buying into poorly written stories and characters.

For one summer, video games were rubbish.

I've been playing games since the early 90s, which makes me very wise indeed. I've played every genre - shooting and non-shooting - and once paid £80 for an import copy of Final Fantasy VI. In 1995, I almost convinced my parents to buy me a Mega CD. My rampant gaming can be split into four distinct periods.

Childhood: Games were just for Christmases and Birthdays. They were toys and they weren't my main interest. GI Joe, plastic guns and Boglins were.

Teens: My interest in games burgeoned. I read the magazine…

A Decade in Games: The First Few Months Are The Hardest

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It's the end of a decade! To mark the occasion, I'm sharing memories and experiences that I associate with some of the games of the last ten years. You can find them all here.

The first few months are the hardest, we were told.

You won't sleep much, you'll keep unnatural hours, and your baby will do nothing but feed, shit, sleep, throw up and cry. Sometimes it will do all of those at the same time. There will be times when you'll think that your baby is smiling at you, and it'll make it all feel worthwhile. But she isn't. She doesn't have the ability to do that yet, and that grin is just wind. Also, you're looking at a stuffed toy. Where's your baby?

You should really get some sleep.

And they were right, obviously. Those first few months are the hardest. There's plenty of joy and emotion, but for the most part you're too tired to fully savour it. You operate on instinct alone and sleepwalk through much the day. There are times when you&#…

A Decade in Games: A Summer of Basketball & Witching

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It's the end of a decade! To mark the occasion, I'm sharing memories that I associate with the games of the last ten years. You can find them all here.

It'd been an age since I'd last played basketball. A group of friends and I were playing weekly pickup games in Tokyo in the mid-to-late-2000s, but interest eventually waned, ankles got sprained, lives got busier and our meet-ups ended.

Fast forward to 2015, the Year of Luigi + 2.  We'd been back in England for a few years, and I really wanted to play basketball. I was a little overweight and in need of a new type of workout. I also wanted to get out of the house for a couple of hours a week and see if I could remember how to socialise.

On top of that, I wanted to see if I had magically gained the ability to dunk after almost a decade of inactivity. Seemed like a reasonable expectation. Maybe my hops had matured?

Someone pointed me toward a meet-up app that listed local sport groups, and I found a game nearby. I sig…

A Decade in Games: Memories of Mead

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As you know, it's nearly 2020. Which means it's time to start agonising over which games were the best of the last ten years.

Initially, I was going to re-pick my favourite games of the decade. However, I've been writing "Best and Worst" of the year posts since 2010, and will be writing another before the end of this month. So let's not do that again. Let's do something a little different.

I'm going to write around some of the games of the last ten years, instead of writing about them directly. I'll use them as inspiration and share memories to which they are intrinsically linked.

So without further ado, let me tell you about the time I got rat-arsed on mead.

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It's December 2011 and my wife and I are on our way to Manchester. We've got a lovely weekend planned. We'll meet some friends and hit the Christmas Market in the city centre. The next day, we'll do some exploring and Christmas shopping, before getting the train b…

The Twenty Year Wait: The Bouncer

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I remember gawping at the preview images in the Official PlayStation Magazine. The Bouncer was the poster boy for the next-gen jump. This is what games would look like on the PS2, and things would never be the same again.

The Bouncer, Squaresoft's first PS2 game, arrived at the very tail end of the console's launch-window, and it did so with a whimper. It received mixed reviews and was soon forgotten, replaced by equally beautiful but far more substantial games. The graphics-likers found new things to lust after, and the Square faithful put all their energy into pining for Final Fantasy X. When I finally bought a PS2 in the summer of 2001, I'd forgotten all about the game that had once made my favourite PS1 titles seem like pixel puke in comparison.

Fast forward almost twenty years, and I'm finally playing The Bouncer. In a last-gasp attempt to recapture my youth, and spurred on by a ¥55 ($0.50 / 38p) price point, I bought a copy. I hadn't thought about The Bounce…

Death Stranding: Questions at the Half-way Point

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Death Stranding is a game about delivering packages. The glorious monotony is interrupted be the occasional flourish of extreme weirdness, but mostly it's about getting a box from A to B, under duress.

Death Stranding has no business being as entertaining as it is. I'm consumed by post-apocalyptic logistics. Weighing speed against volume, planning out optimal routes, deciding whether to travel on foot or by vehicle; considering where the dead might lurk and fuck with my schedule.

I'm twenty hours in and I love it. But like any good Kojima game, Death Stranding is full of plot points and features that make zero sense. We've long wondered why the massive eagles didn't fly the hobbits to Mordor, and why the survivors continued to follow TV's Rick Grimes for several years. Likewise, we must now contemplate why Death Stranding's inhabitants didn't just dissolve corpses in acid instead of cremating them and attracting floaty, oil corpses.

I have many questio…

My Exquisite Taste in Video Games

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I have exquisite taste in video games.

When Hideo Kojima bemoaned the unrefined habits of American gamers earlier this week, I couldn't help but agree. Much like my French and Italian fellow intellectuals, I can appreciate even the most mentally challenging and innovative experiences and have nothing but disdain for the basic gamer.

As far as I'm concerned, Madden can fucking do one.

I have played all the good games and have insightful takes on each of them. I transcend the critic-hobbyist divide with my exceptional think-skills. I can smell a bad game from a mile off, and won't waste my time with anything but the best.

That being said, I spent most of the last month playing Anthem and Left Alive. Because I am a complicated boy.

In my defence, they were both heavily discounted. Rewind to earlier this year, and I was fascinated with the speed at which the price of Left Alive tanked. It was under ¥1000 within a month of release - a decrease the likes of which I had never se…

NBA Dead 2020

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NBA Live 2020 just got deaded.

It was unceremoniously un-lived yesterday, at the outset of a run-of-the-mill earnings call. It's off the table for this financial year, but EA are teasing a new direction come next spring.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that EA's once-mighty basketball franchise expired many years ago. As dead as NBA basketball in Seattle, Markelle Fultz' jumper, or Delonte West's friendship with LeBron. It has been on and off again over the last decade more times than I care to remember, and I like remembering things.

NBA Live relinquished pole position to the 2K series a generation ago. I'm assured the latest two installments were decent, but that wasn't enough to save Live '20. The series has suffered countless embarrassments, including failed soft-relaunches and a disastrous demo for what would have been Live 2011. Riddled with glitches, the trial sunk what was supposed to be a triumphant return. The cancellation was so last-minute t…

Musings

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I haven't done one of these Musings posts for three years. In the last edition, I was opining the end of my Witcher 3 DLC journey, saying farewell to the Wii U and discussing the newly revealed Switch and the possibility of it running Skyrim.

As we now know, Skyrim runs on everything. A future far greater than I could have ever imagined.

Video games, then.

1. Sayonara Wild Hearts

Yes it has a very silly name, but Sayonara Wild Hearts is a wonderful little game about pop music and moving very fast through purples and pinks. It's Rez-like in places, which I love, though the marriage between music and gameplay is not as tight. It's short, which I also love, stylish - love - and it always makes you feel like you are doing something awesome, even if you are essentially just guiding your character down a tube.

The pop-electronica score is decadent and perfectly fits the visuals - or perhaps it's the other way round? My interest never wavered, in part thanks to an ever shifti…

TGS 2019 - Project Resistance Hands-on

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I originally posted this at Critical Gamer
Project Resistance was a surprise. Announced just a few days in advance of Tokyo Game Show, it was a welcome addition to what was shaping up to be a very limited selection of demos at Capcom.

The initial announcement offered only the basic details. I understood the premise, but everything else was a mystery to me. It made for a nice change, going into a demo unsure of what to expect.

As we waited for our turn at the kiosk, we were given tablets that ran instructional videos. Only then did I start to understand what exactly Project Resistance is.

Project Resistance is a 1 vs. 4 asymmetric online survival horror. The group of four are the survivors, trying desperately to escape a trap-laden and zombie infested series of rooms. The team consists of one each of the following: a healer, a hacker, a tank, and a guy who's tasty with his fists. His name is Samuel. At the start of each stage, players race to pick their favourite; during my demo, I…

TGS 2019 - Hands-on Round up

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I've already posted impressions from Day One and Day Two, as well as previews for Final Fantasy VII Remake, PC Engine Mini and Yakuza 7, with Project Resistance to follow in the next day or two. I've used up nearly all my words, but there's still a handful of games left to discuss.

Nioh 2 was the main draw at Koei Tecmo. I haven't played the first game, so I was at somewhat of a disadvantage here. However, by the end of the demo I had definitely gotten the hang of it. Death came early and often, but each failure revealed a little more about how to approach each enemy and progress further.

Death is not overly punitive, thankfully, and the restarts are quick and painless. Our protagonist's repertoire of moves includes heavy and light sword attacks, which you can alter by switching stance, and a comparatively weak bow. You can also unleash the beast, transforming momentarily into a Yokai to deal heavy damage. This came in handy during the end of stage boss, an over-si…

TGS 2019 - Yakuza 7 Hands-on

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I originally posted this at Critical Gamer
Yakuza 7 is a departure from what came before.

Series lead Kazuma Kiryu is out, to be replaced by another hard-man with a big heart, Ichiban Kasuga, and the main location has switched from the familiar Tokyo setting to Yokohama. However, the biggest change is to be found in the combat. The series has long been known for it's free-wheeling action, but Yakuza 7 will feature turn-based encounters.

While Yakuza has never hidden its RPG elements, it has been known first and foremost as an action series. Well, that is about to change. Yakuza 7 looks to be an RPG through and through and, from what I played, it's looking very promising indeed.

The TGS demo focused on Kasuga and two of his associates, an ex-cop by the name of Adachi and a drifter called Nanba. Following some lively discussion the trio decide to head out for the day and make their way to Hello-Work, an employment agency. As you'd expect, their journey is quickly derailed an…

TGS 2019 - PC Engine Mini Hands-on

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"Push run button"

Run button? Does it mean press forward? That must be what it means. Hang on, no there is a Run button - how weird. I'd best press that then.

I had never played a PC Engine until three days ago, when I spent some time messing about with the Japanese Mini at Konami's booth at Tokyo Game Show.

I am assured that the emulation is excellent, being that it comes from developer M2. I can confirm that the games run smoothly, but I have no frame of reference for comparing them to the originals. The system looks tidy, the controller is solid, and the audio, experienced through headphones, is crisp. Despite there being 57 games available, the interface is uncluttered and the option menus are easy to navigate.

Now we've got all that out the way, let's get back to my never having played a PC Engine, TurboGrafx-16 or whatever you prefer to call it. The original console has long been a mystery to me. I have no history with it, and don't recall being aw…

TGS 2019 - Final Fantasy VII Remake Hands-on

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I went into the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo with a certain amount of apprehension. The original is one of my all-time favourite games, but I was quite content with it remaining in the past. I certainly wasn't clamouring for a remake.

Re-imagining such an iconic game sounded like a thankless task. If you keep it faithful to the original, then what's the point of remaking it? However, if you make wholesale changes you risk infuriating the fan base. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Updates were scant following the initial announcement and we all assumed, perhaps correctly, that Square Enix were struggling with their golden goose. However, SE broke its silence earlier this year, and we've since been treated to new footage and demos which have, for the most part, been warmly received. Still, I was reserving judgement until I'd tried it for myself.

So I headed straight for Square Enix at the start of TGS Day One, and I was very happy with what I found. It manage…