Itch n’ Bitch #2: An Itch.io Roundup

Every so often, we do a roundup of the best games that you can play on Itch.io. Here are three games that I think are worth your time.

Toripon

I have a deep love and respect for birds. I browse YouTube and find clips of birds making noises when I feel sad. Toripon feels tailor-made for me.

In Toripon, you explore your apartment and take pictures of birds to complete your photography collection. It’s Pokémon Snap mixed with the first-person segments of Silent Hill 4: The Room, but with birds. As you fill out your collection, more rare birds start to appear in your apartment doing cute things. There are a lot of birds, with more than 40 types to find. It’s a treat.

The game has a 3D-pixelated aesthetic that works well when paired with the minimal animations of the birds. Torpipon’s attractive but straightforward art style reminds me of Proteus. While the birds move on set animation loops, it is still adorable every time they do something, such as riding a Roomba or getting angry at a cup. Additionally, the camera overlay that appears when you go into picture mode is charming. Everything about the art style and graphics are made for my sensibilities.

Music is another standout part of this game. The menu theme is a jam, and there are several radios throughout the environment playing soothing tracks to aid you in your bird journey. You can also hear the birds chirping and quacking all around you. The music and bird chirps are a calming cacophony.

If you want to feel better about your life when everything feels like it’s falling apart, let the birds of Toripon be your wings.

Release date: 12/06/2019
Time to finish: About an hour to get all the birds
Game Dev: Victoria Smith
Itch.io: https://theladyvictoria.itch.io/toripon
Twitter: https://twitter.com/theladyvictoria

Adiasis

When I was younger, I spent so much time on JRPGs. As a jaded adult, I could not imagine spending more than 100 hours completing the sphere grid in Final Fantasy X or finding all of the endings in Chrono Cross. Even with my adult responsibilities, I can find time to play an extremely polished JRPG that can be completed in less than half an hour.

Adiasis is a style-infused JRPG with an exciting combat style and beautiful art direction. The game pitches itself as an “active battle system that allows the player to avoid enemy attacks.” This inversion of the button timing systems of series like the Super Mario RPG and Shadow Hearts works surprisingly well because it makes the time spent watching an enemy into a rhythm game. Every attack against your characters becomes a tense moment of trying to respond in time. This dodge feature should be standard in every JRPG.

The UI is another standout feature of Adiasis. The combat interface takes massive inspiration from Persona 5 and translates that styyyyyyyle into a 2D interface. The level up screen is in your face, and a satisfying onomatopoeia accompanies every attack. It is a shameless rip-off, but it works so well at conveying an emotion. 

The game is short, clocking in at less than 20 minutes if you are good at combat. There is barely a story or motivation for the characters beyond “destroying evil.” But, even with these limitations, the game knows to focus on its strengths. It does not overstay its welcome, and every encounter is unique. If you have a little bit of free time, you should give Adiasis a try.

Release date: 12/04/19
Time to finish: About 25 minutes (depending on how good you are at combat)
Game Dev: Albin Dahlheim
Itch.io: https://crepecroop.itch.io/adiasis
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CrepeCroop

Yarntown

As a recent Bloodborne convert, I will take any excuse to go back to Yharnam. I was addicted to grinding blood echoes and spent so much time running around the first few areas of Yharnam. That knowledge was put to good use when playing Yarntown.

Yarntown reimagines the first few areas of Bloodborne as a 2D action game. The game converts streets and alleys of Yharnam into a flat overworld, similar to The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past. The enemies, bosses, and key locales are well-represented by beautiful 2D art.

Even with the change in perspective, I was able to apply my previous knowledge to find the critical path and secrets. I loved the secrets that Yarntown carried over from the original game, including a certain “hoonter.”

One of the most beloved aspects of Soulsborne games are the bosses and the combat system. In Yarntown, the much loved Cleric Beast and Father Gascoigne both show up to kill your character and end your runs. I’m happy to report that the strategy of rolling behind them and “punching the butt” is still useful. The rally mechanic, which allows you to attack enemies and regain health, is also in the game.

If you have any fondness for Bloodborne, you owe it to yourself to check out Yarntown

Release date: 07/18/20
Time to finish: About 45 minutes
Game Dev: Max Mraz
Itch.io: https://maxatrillionator.itch.io/yarntown
Twitter: https://twitter.com/11mraz

Spider-Man (2018) Review

Your friendly problematic Spider-Man.

This review will contain spoilers for the game Spider-Man (2018) and its DLC

Swinging across skyscrapers in New York City and cracking bad jokes while fighting a man dressed as a vulture is an empowering fantasy. Insomniac Games nails that fantasy in Spider-Man (2018). The movement and combat system are a joy to use and there is so much to do and find. It is a well of nostalgia, as the game pulls older suits and references from across Spider-Man’s more than 50-year history. Fans get to see a new Sinister Six and a smattering of other fan favorite villians. It is not a surprise that the creators of Sunset Overdrive can make a competent open-world game. What surprised me is how little the game’s story has to say behind its veneer of political awareness.

A Working Class Hero

In this universe’s version of the Spider-Man lore, Peter Parker is a down-on-his-luck twenty-something who has given up his role as a photographer for a career as a struggling scientist. Mary Jane has broken up with him, and he cannot make his rent payments. He is evicted, loses his job, and debates if being a chef is a better career path. But, he still finds time to volunteer at a shelter, research prostheses, and mentor a new Spider-Man.

This version of Peter Parker has space to do so much good work to define the character beyond the expected tale of just fighting supervillains. The breakneck pace of the game’s story throws away this potential. The story makes Spider-Man fight a fascist private military company, an army of palette-swapped henchmen, and the Sinister Six with little time  to reflect. Peter does not have much of an opinion on how he would change the status quo and just trusts the current system to reach the right conclusions. The ending is emotional and starts to have Peter question his own ethics, but that is quickly dismissed in the DLC.

Spider-Man Is A Cop

An element of the game that did not age well, especially in the wake of the George Floyd anti-racism and police brutality protests of 2020, is Peter’s close relationship with the police. Peter works closely with the hard-boiled police detective Yuri Wantanabe throughout the game and she often acts as his main mission giver. He idolizes the cops, and there are recurring segments that involve him talking to Yuri as “Spider-Cop.” The game also paints the New York Police Department (NYPD) as a well-intentioned but ultimately harmless institution. The cops in this game never kill, and in one story mission a police officer uses only a stun gun and stun grenades when faced with deadly force.

In the DLC Yuri crosses the line into police brutality and murder. She is unabashed in saying that she did the right thing by taking the law into her own hands and extrajudicial dealing “justice.”  Peter’s proposed solution is to tell her to turn herself into the NYPD because he doesn’t want to fight her. I am far from the first person to call out this game for having a pro-police message, but it’s still shocking how this vigilante never interrogates that the police aren’t always the best solution. 

Beyond worshipping cops, Spider-Man takes some actions that enable police abuse. Peter takes a stand against fascists locking up protestors in cages, but he does not mind fixing a Manhattan-wide surveillance network run by the police. He declares that drugs are the crime that he hates worst of all, even though he is also fighting an organized crime syndicate that regularly kills people. 

Every moral option in this game is a regression of the superhero genre that feels out of place even in 2018. Peter is a white savior that goes into New York City communities based on a police surveillance network with the sole intention of fighting. His only other outlet of community service is through the non-profit, which is shown to be run by an organized crime boss. The story had all of the plot points in place to talk about how violence is a catalyst and that nonprofits have their limits in actually aiding communities. But, the game never reflects on it.

The game tepidly calls out these deeper themes through a satirical podcast run by noted Spider-Man hater, J. Jonah Jameson. Jameson is an Alex Jones-type who theorizes that everything wrong about New York City is secretly Spider-Man’s fault. Unfortunately, he is also the only character questioning why the police have a surveillance network, and if Spider-Man’s actions help the city long-term. Jameson is also pro-cop, so he’s also canceled.

Courtesy of Insomniac Games

Plenty Of Villains, But Few Interesting Ones

This refusal to engage with Spider-Man’s beliefs is such a bummer because the story does attempt to set up some villains as a foil. Sadly, the motivation of these villains are not given time to breathe. Martin Li is a non-profit director with an art degree who also runs an organized crime syndicate. The game builds him up as the “big bad” but then quickly drops him in favor of centering another villain in the final act.

The two Asian characters in this game are ultimately revealed to be villains driven by their own internal demons. But, in Martin’s case, we don’t get to see what his motivations were beyond revenge, and that leaves him as an Asian caricature who obsesses over Chinese theater masks and yin-yang symbols. It is telling that, in addition to guns, the Asian gangsters use jians (Chinese swords commonly used in martial arts) and kamas (short sickle-like weapons) while every other faction exclusively uses science fiction weapons, guns or fists. The gang is painted with a myriad of superficial Hollywood tropes related to Asian culture without explaining their history or providing a rich characterization of their leader.

The characters in this game are well established in the Spider-Man comics and have a rich history that gets into their motivations and backstories. But, I am a casual Spider-Man fan who has only read a few of his most notable stories. The way that these villains are portrayed in this story makes it hard to feel interested. It is fun to see Spider-Man’s extensive rogues’ gallery, but we barely get a payoff for the time spent building up these characters.

Spider-Man 2018 waypoints
The waypoints are just a little excessive.

A Lot Of Webbing But Little Substance

It is also a shame that the game gives you so many side-activities to pad out the completion time. You can hunt down collectible backpacks, fight street crimes, take on enemy bases, snap photos, and do a myriad of other activities. The reward for completing the side-mission is often a new suit pulled from Spider-Man’s long comic-book history. These suits unlock new powers, which can dramatically change the flow of combat. But, the required activities feel like a repetitive grind without relevant story content.

At the end of the day this is a AAA game that fulfills all of the expectations of a first-party Sony product. It’s got overwhelmingly detailed set pieces and top-notch voice acting. Peter has some quips that walk the line between barely funny and groan-inducing. The tried and true Batman: Arkham Asylum combat works well with the game and the developers have added some slight flourishes involving aerial combat and gadgets. The game performed well on my non-pro PlayStation 4. The photo mode is very cool and has a lot of stickers in it. It is a technical slam dunk.

With Spider-Man: Miles Morales on the horizon for the end of 2020, I hope that a more focused experience will give this game the pruning that it needs. It is a competent Insomniac open-world game that works well and looks beautiful. I wish it cared more about telling its own stories rather than relying on comic book tropes.

Header image courtesy of Insomniac Games

Games News Roundup 1/8/20 – 1/14/20

This week in one sentence: Sony is skipping this year’s E3, Pokémon Sword and Shield are getting an expansion pass, ADGQ raised more than $3 million for charity, Epic made more than $680 in revenue, and GameStop’s future doesn’t look bright.

Top Five Stories

1/ Sony Is Not Going To The 2020 E3: In a statement to GamesIndustry.biz, Sony confirmed that they will not attend the 2020 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) for the second year in a row. Sony commented that “We do not feel the vision of E3 2020 is the right venue for what we are focused on this year.” Many analysts and pundits assumed that with the upcoming launch of the PlayStation 5, Sony would make a return to the show. E3 is already facing a crisis of identity compared to more fan-focused shows like PAX and has lost the confidence of many games journalists after exposing their personal information last year. (Game Informer / CNET / IGN / Polygon / GamesIndustry.biz)

2/ Pokémon Sword And Shield Are Getting A Paid Expansion Pass: In a live stream on January 9th, Game Freak announced a paid expansion pass and free updates are coming to Pokémon Sword And Shield. The expansion pass adds two new locations, the Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra, and the return of more than 200 older Pokémon, new legendary Pokémon, new clothing options, and many other features. The free updates to the base game will allow everyone, including people without the expansion pass, to get the returning Pokémon. (Gamespot / Eurogamer / The Verge / GamesRadar+ / VentureBeat)

3/ Awesome Games Done Quick 2020 (ADGQ) Raised More Than $3 Million For Charity: ADGQ, the yearly speedrunning event, was able to raise $3,155,199.56 in donations for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. This is the tenth ADGQ and the highest amount raised so far. The show had a few highlights, including TomatoAngus bringing props to show how a Fallout 4 glitch works, a strange “crash” in BioShock, and a blindfolded co-op playthrough of Punch-Out!! (Polygon / Eurogamer / VentureBeat / Game Rant / GameCrate)

4/ Epic Games Store Has Sales Of $680 Million Since December 2018: An infographic by Epic Games showed that their digital storefront had significant sales over the past year from more than 108 million customers. Epic also confirmed that they will continue to give away free games for the next year and that many requested features, like achievements, are on the way. (GamesIndustry.biz / Washington Post / IGN / Gamasutra / The Verge)

5/ GameStop Had A 25.7% Drop In Holiday Sales: The already beleaguered GameStop experienced a 25.7% drop in 2020 holiday sales compared to 2019. This bad news comes after closing multiple locations last year and already down revenue from last year. The company’s stock fell 24.5% from the start of the year. (Gamasutra / Destructoid / Polygon / Forbes / Motley Fool)

✏️ Notables

  • A Bloodborne mod adds a cut boss back into the game. The modder, Foxy Hooligans, added back a boss version of the Loran Cleric. (Kotaku / Polygon)
  • The beta release date for Legends of Runeterra was announced. The League of Legends card game beta is coming on January 27th. (GamesRadar+, Polygon)
  • Grand Theft Auto IV pulled from Steam. Rockstar said they cannot make more keys because of the Games For Windows Live integration. (Rock Paper Shotgun, The Verge
  • Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is deleting the save files of PC players. The expansion is deleting older saves from PC players. (Kotaku / PC Gamer)
  • The $30 back-paddle attachment for DualShock 4 controllers is now available. Reviewers seem to like the extra triggers. (The Verge / Mashable)
  • Nintendo released a music video for their new theme park (Super Nintendo World) and it includes a song by Charli XCX (Kotaku / The Verge)
  • The Xbox Series X will not have Microsoft exclusives. First-party games will be compatible with the Xbox One. (VentureBeat / GamesIndustry.biz)
  • VVVVV is now open source. Terry Cavanagh, the creator of the game, released the source code in a blog post. (Rock Paper Shotgun / Gamasutra)
  • Steam will now sell soundtracks independently of games. Game soundtracks can now be purchased on their own instead of only as DLC. (PC Gamer / Engadget)
  • Slay The Spire received a 2.0 patch. This patch adds a new playable character, balance changes, and a slew of other changes. (Shacknews / Eurogamer)

Olivia’s Top 10 Games of 2019

I thought that 2019 was going to be a slow year for video games. After the blockbuster years of 2017 (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata, etc.) and 2018 (God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, etc.), I was kind of ready for a little reprieve. Surprisingly, 2019 was full of fantastic games that were barely on my radar before they came out.

It was both thrilling and exhausting to have this litany of games come as recommended must-plays from people I trusted. Every year, I seem to have less and less free time, which stresses me out. There were so many overlooked games that I didn’t have time to play, and I’m sure I will look back on this list as incomplete. Alas, there is only so much time in the year, and I am only human. Please forgive me for this failing.

This game of the year (GOTY) list is going to get into plot spoilers for the following games: Death Stranding, Hypnospace Outlaw, Outer Worlds, Control, and Outer Wilds.


Courtesy of Kojima Productions

10. Death Stranding

The story of Death Stranding is Hideo Kojima at his worst. The plot is indulgent, plodding, and often nonsensical. Except for one notable exception, women in this game have no agency beyond being baby-making machines and tarnished sexual beings. It’s so bad y’all. I can’t even tell you how fucking stupid this game is because it would take another 1,000 words to describe what exactly “The Last Stranding” is and how it was never explained until the last minute.

Forget about the story. The reason that Death Stranding makes this list is because of ziplines. You see, playing Death Stranding is a chore. Dodging or fighting the ghostly Beached Things (BTs) is a stressful experience that never gets easier. Many remote outposts have no roads or easy to walk paths. Ziplines are a late-game item that allows you to fly over BTs and other enemies quickly.

Building a network of ziplines across the world of Death Stranding was one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I had this year. I hated sneaking by BTs and walking across the giant map. Ziplines were my reward for putting in the time trying to understand this story and thinking strategically about my resources. Every open-world game should have ziplines that let me fly around while my ghost baby laughs maniacally.

Other things that make Death Stranding bearable are its beautiful graphics and commitment to being a literal walking simulator. The game is powered by the same technology that made Horizon Zero Dawn, so it isn’t a surprise that it looks great. The slavish dedication to creating a world where players must watch where they step is admirable even if it is sometimes annoying.

Seriously though, who the fuck thought the concept of “still mothers” was a good idea? 


Courtesy of Capcom

9. Devil May Cry 5

Sometimes, I want to turn my brain off and wail on some bad guys. Devil May Cry 5 revels in this brainless fun. I got to play as a demon hunter who has a motor on his sword that he revs to do more damage and a prosthetic arm that has an engine in it so that he can fly. Nico is a daisy-duke wearing merchant who drives her van into the bowels of demon-infested territory. And by drive, I mean that she comes flying out random holes and falls from the sky. It’s ridiculous, and I love it.

The ridiculousness of this game is epitomized in the 21st-century masterpiece that is “Devil Trigger.” I didn’t like this song when I first heard it, but the game assaults you with it constantly. When you are playing as Nero, this is your battle music. Every time you get into a fight, it starts playing “Devil Trigger.” It’s audacious. It’s over the top. I got Stockholm syndrome and caught myself humming “Devil Trigger” while not playing Devil May Cry 5.

Devil May Cry 5 also has an intricate fighting system with three different playable characters who each have their own combat system. While not every character is as fun to play (I’m looking at you, V), I can respect the developer’s commitment to trying something new. I enjoyed using most of the prosthetic arms that Nero can equip, and upgrading my skills was fun.

I also appreciate how lame and dad-like they made Dante. He’s gone from being a cocksure punk in the original trilogy to a guy who listens to Slayer while picking up his kids from soccer practice. I’m glad he is still rocking out and using his big-ass sword.


Courtesy of GREZZO and Nintendo

8. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Game Boy Color version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening won me over because of how weird it was. There was a village of talking animals that was never explained and the hint system involves calling a guy over the phone because he is too bashful to speak in person. The game isn’t afraid to be cute and strange.

The Switch version of Link’s Awakening takes this cuteness to a new high. The plastic-like aesthetic of the game’s characters sets up the world as a toy box that doesn’t need to make sense. Chain Chomps in a Zelda game? Sure! What if Kirby was an enemy? Go for it! Goombas— YES! This game is a relic from a time when Nintendo was much less precious about mixing its intellectual property, and it’s a great treat.

The puzzles can be a bit strange, and it feels old when compared to more modern games in the Zelda franchise. Additionally, the pervasive frame rate and performance issues ain’t cute. I don’t understand why this game has so many technical problems when other more graphically demanding games seem to work better on the Switch.

It’s worth picking this game up for the new version of the Animal Village song. Everything else is just gravy.


Courtesy of Nintendo

7. Super Mario Maker 2

I so badly wanted to play the original Super Mario Maker that I almost bought a Wii U in 2017. I had already bought my Switch, but I couldn’t wait to start building levels. Thankfully, my bank account and partner stopped me from making this tragic mistake. I resorted to downloading a Wii U emulator and checking out the unofficial Mario Maker subreddit to get my fix. Still, I felt like I was missing something.

Imagine my relief when Nintendo finally brought Super Mario Maker 2 to the Switch, along with a new single-player campaign. I picked up the game right around launch, and it’s been fascinating to watch the player-created designs evolve. The 20-second levels, strange puzzles, and horror-themed chase sequences are excellent examples of these new and popular level formats. The Legend of Zelda update has also completely changed what levels are popular, and I can’t wait to see how designers use these new tools.

While the single-player campaign is short, it’s still fun. We received 100 Nintendo designed levels that all illustrate the basics of creating a well-designed level. The game also includes a series of design lessons narrated by a pigeon. It’s a 100-level game design course that goes over the basics and explains that not everything needs to be a Kaizo-death gauntlet.

Super Mario Maker 2 originally was not this high on the list, but the new “Ninji speedruns” mode raised its place significantly. These speedrunning levels have multiple paths that only become clear after completing the same level many times. It’s exhilarating to watch the Ninji ghosts run the level and to pick up the strategies that the fastest players are using.

Ninji mode almost makes up for the ongoing trash fire that of online competitive racing. Nintendo, please fix the lag and make that mode playable.


Courtesy of Game Freak

6. Pokémon Sword and Shield

I’m a lifelong Pokémon fan, who keeps coming back for every other game. I loved Pokémon X and Y but skipped Sun and Moon. Grookey stole my heart in the first trailer for Pokémon Sword and Shield. Even in the shadow of “Dexit,” the newest Pokémon game still blew me away with its cute aesthetic and quality of life improvements.

For me, Pokémon games are about interacting with my adorable creatures, crushing gyms, and catching legendary animals. I am happy to report this game delivers on all these essential features. I was able to play catch with my Pokémon and make curry with them at my camp. The gym battles are framed as over-the-top soccer matches with crowds in a stadium. While there are only a few legendary Pokémon, I love my shield dog.

The aesthetic of this game is a mix of small pastoral towns in the United Kingdom and idealized coal town. You can customize your player character by equipping them with giant backpacks, gingham skirts, knit sweaters, and a million other vaguely British clothing options. I very much appreciate being able to give my character fiery eyes that show my blazing determination or rainbow eyes to express my blazing queerness. 

The lack of a national Pokédex is a bummer, and I would love to know more information about how banked Pokémon will be brought forward. But I love the new Pokémon so much that I’m fine to chill with my Wooloo and ghostly Corsola. That being said, I do want the Squirtle line brought forward. How could you do this to my squirting turtle man Game Freak?


Courtesy of Wizards of the Coast

5. Magic the Gathering: Arena

Digital card games have become a borderline obsession for me recently. Out of all the digital card games I tried out this year, Magic the Gathering: Arena (Arena) was the only one that I stuck with besides my old standby of Hearthstone. I had played paper Magic the Gathering (MTG) in the past, but the rules were so complex that I didn’t have a desire to stick with it. Having a computer mediate these complex rules and show me the ropes has been immeasurably helpful. I would recommend that anyone who has had any interest in MTG give Arena a shot to learn the basics.

The game teaches new players by having them play against a basic bot in practice matches and a free deck of every color and dual-color combination. Compared to the starting grind of Hearthstone and other major card digital card games, MTG is generous. Granted, MTG has significantly more cards than Hearthstone or other comparable card games, so it all balances out.

There are a few issues with Arena that I hope Wizards of the Coast addresses. The AI-controlled drafting mode often makes dumb mistakes. The client is also missing popular formats, like Commander and Pauper (outside of special events). Also, the abundance of expensive cosmetics, including card sleeves, pets, and hero portraits, feels a bit gross.

MTG is one of the most complex games ever created. You can literally create a programmable computer with paper cards. Arena is the most approachable and affordable version of this game.

But don’t play MTG. It will ruin your life and your bank account.


4. Hypnospace Outlaw

Courtesy of Tendershoot, Michael Lasch, and ThatWhichIs Media

Hypnospace Outlaw is a simulator of a fake 1990s internet that never actually existed. In this world, people can surf an approximation of the early internet while sleeping. This fake internet is dominated by hyper-compressed gifs, basic text websites, and auto-playing music. Your job in this dreamscape is to be a cop who hunts down copyright-infringing content, illegal commerce, and other actions that break the terms of services.

The game unironically loves the old internet that was comprised of GeoCities text websites and auto-playing music. The graphical interface is obtuse and never feels like an easy-to-use modern UI. As the game’s plot unfolds, this interface starts to become even more overwhelming as you unlock more helpful “features” and get computer viruses.

As a child of the 90s, the internet seemed to offer unlimited promise and the gateway to the future. Once I got on the internet and accidentally installed BonziBuddy, I realized that the hope of the internet was a lie. But even though my dreams were crushed, it was so cool to build an HTML website. But, My Final Fantasy X website that was comprised of a table of screenshots still feels like the coolest thing I ever created. Hypnospace Outlaw helped me relive this experience by using the built-in editor to create a terrible facsimile of a web page.

One of the best things about Hypnospace Outlaw is the music. If you haven’t heard “Granny Cream’s Hot Butter Ice Cream” or “Hypnospace Is Great,” please do yourself a favor and listen to them now. These songs have dominated my Spotify most-played songs and have forever ruined improved my song recommendations

This game was a pure shot of nostalgia with a plot that takes a turn into the melodramatic. The post-game mode of playing as an archivist who is attempting to fully backup the website is an interesting approach. It’s such a strange and genuine game that was unmatched by any other experience this year.


Courtesy of Obsidian Entertainment

3. The Outer Worlds

As I talked about in my Games of the Decade List, Fallout: New Vegas still reigns supreme when I think about the best games of the last ten years. This unabashed love of New Vegas led to me following every piece of pre-release coverage of The Outer Worlds. I thought that Obsidian Entertainment would be unchained from Bethesda’s Creation Engine and make the game they always wanted. Unfortunately for me, The Outer Worlds was never going to be New Vegas 2. It’s disappointing to have your expectations crushed, but The Outer Worlds offers a good but much different experience than I expected

The Outer Worlds is a much more focused and shorter experience than a modern Fallout or The Elder Scrolls game. This more limited experience allows the developers to give the game a fine-tuning that the Bethesda-created games never offered. Using a gun feels like a modern first-person shooter (FPS) that is comparable to an entry in the Borderlands series. The highest compliment I can give is that when you pick something up, the other objects don’t float away.

The society in The Outer Worlds is a hyper-capitalist nightmare set on a distant solar system full of deadly creatures. The citizens of the world have been so brainwashed that they refuse critically needed medical attention from non-affiliated providers. The corporations are so villainous that I never planned on ever allying myself with them. But the characters do make some compelling arguments about why you should maybe not burn the entire system to the ground. The game convinced me to choose the centrist path and not try to be a true radical. Once the stakes of the problems in the game become clear, the game asks you to make hard choices and give in to the path of least resistance.

You can see everything in the game in about 35 hours, and everything can be wrapped up cleanly. With a high enough skill level and the right choices, you can avoid most of the bad endings. Beyond the unique items, player equipment boils down to Chest Armor 1, 2, and 3. Its limited scope does function well, but I do wish the game had a little more meat.

The writing, gameplay, and general polish of The Outer Worlds make it a must-play game of 2019. At the very least, you should get to know Parvati and listen to Ashley Burch’s amazing performance. Plus, the “dumb” character options are hilarious, including a hidden ending.


Courtesy of Remedy Entertainment

2. Control

The moment you get the ability to fly in Control was when I realized that this game was more than just an art direction, storytelling, and graphical marvel. Flying showed off how complex the Oldest House was and the hidden locations throughout the world. Hovering over the Black Rock Quarry and the astral spike enemies is such a rewarding experience.

In Control, you play as a young woman named Jesse Faden, who has an entity living within herself named Polaris. Jesse has an unclear connection to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), a government that oversees the protection of powerful supernatural items. These items may have powers that can change the world in the form of an “Altered World Event.” Control is a lore-dense game, and these basic concepts just the surface of what you can expect to learn.

Control has already widespread praise from the press for the way it handles the story’s dream logic, but it’s important to stress that the story is very good. The mystery of who exactly is Polaris, what Dr. Darling was trying to do, and how the Hiss took control is engaging. The set pieces, like the Ashtray Maze, are some of the best moments I’ve had this year.

Intense plot beats aren’t the only way that this game drips out plot points. The amount of lore that you can find in ancillary materials around the world is overwhelming. That is not to say that the lore is bad. I loved these dossiers and how much we are able to learn about the world. Listening to the Mirror Debrief interview reversed is a high-point of the lore that you can find in this world.

The world design in Control is another high-point of this game. I loved how the designers trust the player to figure out how to navigate the world by reading the signs and warnings placed around the world. Like the bureaucratic leaders at the FBC, the designers expect you to pay attention and not fly off into an abyss.

The technical issues on a base PlayStation 4 are inexcusable. This problem is especially pronounced during the already challenging Hedron boss fight, which only makes that battle more difficult. Eventually, I was able to get used to the slowdown and frame rate drops, but it’s such a disappointment.

There is so much more that I love about Control. The music is awesome, Threshold Kids is all I can think about, the hints about Alan Wake’s connection to the FBC are what I didn’t know I needed, and Ahti is still a thirst trap. I cannot wait to see how the DLC expands the world and what the eventual sequel will look like.


Courtesy of Mobius Digital

1. The Outer Wilds

The Outer Wilds is one of the most demanding and intricate games I have ever played. It’s a clockwork world that resets every 22 minutes. As the player, you must find clues, takes notes, and make your own connections about how these various clues fit together. The game doesn’t dole out the clues, and you are expected to go out and find them yourself. The only mission you are given at the start of the game is to go out and explore the world.

It’s best to play The Outer Wilds with as little information as possible. Solving the puzzle box and making those connections yourself is 90% of what makes this game interesting. Because less information is better, I want to talk about a few specific moments in the game that will stay with me forever. These will not make sense unless you have played the game to completion:

  • Entering the Dark Bramble and seeing the giant anglerfish and then realizing that I could not go backwards. I didn’t expect to be scared by this game. I was foolish.
  • Getting trapped in a cave that was filling up with sand and realizing that I had no way out. I kind of gave up and let the sand take me. It was horrifying.
  • Shooting myself into the far reaches of space and thinking that I had broken the game. I didn’t figure out what I needed to do for like ten hours because I avoided the slingshot.
  • Hanging out with Chert and watching him start to lose his shit as he realizes that the sun is going to explode. I felt bad for him, so I stayed and waited for the explosion to take us.
  • Jumping into the Ghost Matter on Timber Hearth before talking to the Nomai statute and getting a surprise game over screen.
  • Jumping from crumbling platform to platform on a planet that was falling into a black hole and then missing a jump and flying off into space. Then I just had to sit there for like five minutes until the sun exploded.

There are so many other moments in The Outer Wilds that I decided not to include in this list. Unlocking the story and learning more about what exactly happened is a gift that I want to give you. The Outer Wilds is on Microsoft Game Pass. You could play this game for $1. There is no excuse not to play this game. If I can break away from my Hearthstone addiction, I know that you can find the time.


Games That I Didn’t Get A Chance To Play

Here are a few games that I didn’t get a chance to play, but I’m sure would have been notable:

  • Sekiro Shadows Die Twice: The Dark Souls of samurai/ninja games.
  • Resident Evil 2 (2019): What did they do to my poor boy Leon’s chin?
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: The Dark Souls of Star Wars games
  • Disco Elysium: Shout out to Marx.
  • Sayonara Wild Hearts: My favorite soundtrack of a game I’ve never played.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses: Teatime and war crimes

Photo by Alexey Savchenko on Unsplash

Olivia’s Decade of Gaming in Retrospect: 2010-2019

This list went through countless revisions and reshuffling. I struggled with determining, “what are the most notable games of this decade?” I questioned if I should choose games that created new genres, refined a formula to its essentials, or games that created a strong emotional connection. I decided to go with the latter.

These games all punctuate specific points of my life, and I find myself wishing that I could play them again for the first time. They either challenged my expectations, forced me to face something about myself, or created a space that I could call home. It’s saccharine and sentimental, but I can’t find any other way to decide what games meant more to me.

When I look back at 2010 through 2019, the central theme was learning to roll with the punches. This decade is when I transitioned, graduated from college, moved across the country, got engaged, lost a parent, and cried a lot. It was hellish and amazing, and I’m scared of what happens next.

Courtesy of Firaxis Games

10. Civilization V

Civilization V (Civ V) was so close to not making this list. I have put more than 200 hours into Civ V, and there are parts of the game that I still don’t understand. I tried to read the wiki and get my mind around the complexities of managing my many  cities, who each have economies and needs, while also balancing my society’s technological progress. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare.

Civ V made the 4x genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) accessible to a mass audience. Not even its sequel could usurp Civ V’s place as the king of the genre. This game has staying power because of how it ramps up its complexity. All players start building their first settlement and choosing from a handful of technologies. Most people will then begin developing the area around their settlement and research a basic technology, like horse domestication or mining. A few players may choose to start building Wonders, which have wide-ranging effects like free technology or more culture. Other players may want to militarize and start expanding their borders. Others may decide to start trading with their partners or specialize in creating great works of art. The decision tree that players can follow is massive, and no two games are the same.

Finally, there are the expansions, DLC, and mods. Civilization V has two massive expansion packs (Gods & Kings and Brave New World) and 14 DLC packs. There are 9,409 mods on the Steam workshop as of this writing. There is so much extra content, and a lot of it is good. You can even play as the characters from My Little Pony. I know that it’s a gamer sin to cheer on expansions and DLC, but I’m happy this game received so much support. Steam sales often bring the collection down to $5.

I cannot stop playing this game. It is my warm blanket of nuclear destruction and city-state subjugation. I love setting up a giant map with 22 opponents set on easy and crushing them. Sometimes, I befriend them, and we go to space or whatever. But I mostly like crushing them.


Courtesy of Toby Fox

9. Undertale

I played Undertale later than most people I know. I had already seen the memes of skeleton dudes, heard the music, and decided that it wasn’t for me. I never played Earthbound, which seemed like the energy this game was channeling. It wasn’t until a family member asked me if I played Undertale that I gave it a shot over the Christmas break. I was enthralled. I didn’t talk to my family that break but instead sat on my laptop trying to get past the killer robot with a variety show. I felt terrible when I killed my adoptive dog mom because she wouldn’t let me go through a door. Then the game laughed in my face for trying to save scum the encounter.

Undertale is a game all about subverting expectations and making you care about a strange cast of characters. The more that I say about how the story of Undertale unfolds, the less interesting it will be 

Because of this paradox, I want to talk about W.D. Gaster. Gaster is a scientist that is not referenced in the main story, but he was responsible for unspeakable atrocities that appear in the game. Players can only learn about Gaster if they meet one of three randomly spawned Non-player characters (NPCs) that appear based on a hidden value that is determined at the start of the game. Players may also be able to find out more about Gaster by examining the game’s files and using the developer tools to travel between rooms. Gaster has a secret song, a possible character sprite, and a cryptic message written in Wingdings.

Gaster is a creepypasta made manifest in the periphery of this game. You can appreciate the story of Undertale without knowing anything about W.D. Gaster. I hope that I have been able to pitch you on the mysteries hidden within Undertale.


Courtesy of Bungie

8. Destiny

I turn 30 in less than a month, and there is something cosmically horrific about realizing that my young adulthood is almost over. This cosmic horror caused me to look back five years to when I thought it was time to put away childish things like video games and focus on more erudite hobbies, like chess or reading books or eating fine cheese and knowing what exactly tannins are. I didn’t buy the latest consoles. I was ready to be a “real” adult.

Then my roommate let me play Destiny on her PlayStation 4. I felt this rush of Halo nostalgia come over me. Destiny felt great to play, and there was loot to try on. I could dress up my space wizard in ornate robes with a headdress that looked like a deer skull. I became obsessed with doing bounties and taking on strikes.

The story of the first Destiny is nonsensical, but I didn’t care because it felt so good to play. I got to team up with other guardians in this weird world that had robots full of milk and space dragons.

It was the first Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) to get its hooks into me. I got lost in raising my light levels and completing obscure quests. I remember being so proud of taking down Oryx and getting his sword as my own. I loved getting the strike specific armor that makes you look like one of the bosses (bring this back Bungie!).

Destiny 2 refined everything in the original Destiny, but I’ve fallen off it much more quickly. The new expansions and season system seems cool, but I get so tired when I imagine myself getting back on the grind treadmill.

Destiny put my life back on a collision course with video games. I would not be here writing about my games of the decade without having played Destiny. That being said, I’m still not sure what tannins are.


Courtesy of Bethesda Game Studios

7. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Skyrim) is a game that I’ve felt come in and out of my life many times over the last decade. I played a little of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but the generic aesthetic never spoke to me. The announcement trailer that showed a Dragonborn using his “FUS-RO-DAH” to fight a dragon on the side of a frozen mountain all while the chanting monks played in the background made me want to explore the land of Skyrim (I watched the trailer again while writing this, literally chills).

My first experience was getting the game in college and pouring hundreds of hours into the Xbox 360 version. Looking back, that version of the game is deeply flawed, with long load times and a multitude of glitches. Nevertheless, I played the hell out of it. I remember gawking in awe at the butterflies around Whiterun and being taken aback by how big the game felt. I beat the main story and faction quests but then put the game down.

I came back to Skyrim on the PC years later and realized how much better life could be. The load times were fast, the mods offered massive quality of life changes, and the console commands let me create whatever character I wanted. This time with Skyrim was my experimental period with the game. I started tens of characters and played with a variety of mods. It was fun, but I drifted away from it and played new releases.

The latest stage of my relationship with Skyrim involves the PSVR and Nintendo Switch. Playing the Switch version involved me making a spreadsheet to document everything in the game. I didn’t want to beat Skyrim; I wanted to finish Skyrim completely. I did learn so much about the game; did you know there is a weird light orb in a dwarven ruin called Kagrenzel that, if touched, will trap you and drop you down a pit?

Trying to learn everything about Skyrim showed me that the game is both much bigger and smaller than I thought. Sure, there is a lot of content, but it doesn’t go on forever. This in-depth documentation broke the illusion of this ever-expansive world. It was a bummer.

The PSVR version of the game gave me back a little of the magic of looking at the butterflies. It also helps that my motion sickness is so bad that I have to move very slowly in the world.


Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

6. Hearthstone

I have a complicated relationship with Hearthstone that I’ve documented in another blog post. The game has an abusive monetization strategy, addictive free-to-play trappings, and the developers have a kowtowed to repressive governments. Hearthstone is also one of the purest examples of complex design and player choice ever created. Over the last five years, the Hearthstone has released 13 expansions that each add many new cards to the game. It has also gone through more than 100 balance patches and popularized the digital card game genre around the world. Valve, Riot, CD Projekt Red, Bethesda, and countless other studios are still trying to chase the cash cow that Blizzard made.

Hearthstone is a platform comparable to League of Legends and Fortnite, with different game modes, metas, and competitive scenes. There is a subculture on YouTube, Twitch, and Reddit that uses complex tools to create competitive decks. Hearthstone is, in the words of Randy Pitchford, a “hobby grade” game.

I became part of this subculture on accident and loved how much analysis goes into the game. I feel a kinship to those nerds who would talk endlessly about their love of DotA 2 or League of Legends. I have become that nerd who annoys my partner by talking about the latest balance patches and upcoming sets.

2019 has been a big year for Hearthstone. I would guess that the Blitzchung situation and competition from Magic the Gathering: Arena has led to these changes. The last year of expansions has added an overarching story, and the newest set is overpowered and ridiculous. If you are at all interested in Hearthstone, the best time to start playing was five years ago. The next best time is now.


Courtesy of Nintendo
Courtesy of Concerned Ape

5. Animal Crossing: New Leaf/Stardew Valley

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (New Leaf) and Stardew Valley both occupy the same place in my brain, which is why they both live on the same spot on the list. I play these games when I need a moment to heal. I picked up New Leaf when I was working at a job that I hated and wasn’t sure what I was doing with my life. Being able to organize a little home and say hi to my friend was what I needed to keep my sanity.

I’ve played Stardew Valley off and for a few years, but it wasn’t until 2019 that I fell hard for it. There were some incredibly hard times this year, and all I wanted was something that felt safe and comfortable. Something that didn’t demand a lot of thinking, but instead let me take comfort in repetition. Stardew Valley was the game I needed when I could not bear to think about anything else.

Both of these games are deceptively complex life-management simulations that let me feel okay when it felt like everything was falling apart. They were places where I could hang out with those that I love and exist in the same space for a little while. There is no fail state in these worlds; your only goal is to be present.

When life gets too hard to bear, I know that my friends K.K. Slider, Blathers, and Mr. Resetti will be there to let me chill.


Courtesy of PlatinumGames

4. Nier: Automata

Brawlers like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta aren’t known for being introspective art pieces that meditate on the meaning of being human. Those two examples are loud and obnoxious beat-em-ups that revel in being “low-culture.” Nier: Automata builds on these earlier works by giving us a treatise on why we should continue to exist even if the world has no meaning. This message is delivered by a sexy anime robot in a maid costume who wields a katana. It is a silly game.

The game’s combat system doesn’t play super well compared to its contemporaries. The game’s world is a bunch of low-resolution textures with a bland art direction. I also died in the opening section of the game before I could save, which made me put it down and 

This game was created with a shoestring budget when compared to its Square Enix-published contemporaries. That low budget let director Yoko Taro and his team make something so beautifully weird that I cannot help but love it.

One of the first lines in the game is, “I often think about the God who blessed us with this cryptic puzzle [life]…and wonder if we’ll ever get the chance to kill him.” The story goes buck wild from there. The player sees snippets of the alien robots learning what it means to have a culture and to live in a society. Like a Greek tragedy, there is no happy ending for anyone beyond the player who bears witness to these bizarre morality plays.

The game’s story shifts over many playthroughs, as we see the perspective of floating pods that have gained sentience and aliens that can barely walk. The 26 different endings reinforce and change the context of each beat in the story. It all culminates in Ending E, which is set to an evolving rendition of the game’s central musical theme. It’s not just the end song that is good; the entire soundtrack is full of bangers.

Nier: Automata is a dense allegorical work told through the framework of an over-the-top, anime-inspired action game. The meaning of this game will be debated and analyzed for the next decade. All I can say is, please get through all the endings. It will be worth it.


Courtesy of Fullbright

3. Gone Home

I will admit that Gone Home is the right game at the right time kind of situation. I played this game shortly after coming out as queer and trans, I grew up in the 1990s, and have a gay sister. I am the target audience for this game.

Now that my biases are out in the open, I still believe that Gone Home is one of the best examples of a “walking simulator” out there. It is a subtle game that plays with your expectations and tells a genuine story about a queer person growing up in the 90s. You never meet another person in the game, but the small remnants of their life that you find around the house paint a clear picture of who they are.

I do need to say that I can’t handle the stress of horror games. Gone Home sets up the player to expect horrific scenes and jump scares. But, it never scares the player. This space that seemed so creepy becomes comfortable and welcoming. The shift from threatening to cozy is so subtle that I didn’t even notice it until I was walking around the threatening basement looking for clues without panic sweats.

This game was something I shared with my partner as soon as we started dating. It was an emotional and sappy journey for both of us that ended in happy sobbing. I don’t think I’ve had that experience with another game, which is the best compliment I can give Gone Home


Courtesy of Nintendo

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I didn’t finish The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time until 2019. My first Zelda game was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and I thought it was okay but not life-changing. I liked Zelda games well-enough, but I didn’t understand the fanaticism around these games. Playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BotW) felt like opening my eyes and seeing why other people loved this series.

BotW is an open-world adventure game, like Skyrim, that lets you climb mountains and explore to your heart’s content. Unlike Skyrim, BotW has been fine-tuned into a game that feels fun to live in without the open-world “Bethesda-jank.” The paraglider that Link uses to traverse the world is something that every other open-world game should steal and use forever. It is a pure act of joy to move around and take in the world.

Everything about this game feels like the perfect version of what came before it. The combat is challenging and asks the player to stay engaged. The world is beautiful, and the art direction reminds me of a Studio Ghibli movie. The music is phenomenal and understated. This game is an adventure, pure and simple. You can fight the final boss if you want, or you can explore and power up. Or you can go to Hateno Village and chill. There aren’t that many rules or things holding you back except your skill and ingenuity.

The game has a few minor issues, like climbing in rain or weapons breaking. But, those small problems pale when compared to everything else BotW has to offer. I beat this game and then immediately started another playthrough. I wanted to recapture that feeling of experiencing its world for the first time. If you haven’t played BotW, I’m jealous that you get to see this game with fresh eyes.

BotW is quite possibly the best game of not only this decade but the best game ever created. It was such a battle to choose what game defined this decade for me, and BotW almost took the top spot.


Courtesy of Obsidian Entertainment

1. Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas (New Vegas) is not the best game of the decade for everyone. The game is a bug-filled, often ugly, and obtuse game that has flying killer bugs that will poison you. New Vegas is a flawed game that I love with every ounce of my being. I will fight for this game at every opportunity that I get and have already written about why it holds up

New Vegas sets up a conflict between warring nations and ideals that goes beyond “fascists bad” and “democracy good.” There are no good people. There is a sense of history and place in this world. The NCR, a democratic republic in a desolate wasteland, committed a campaign of genocide against the locals and is being torn apart by infighting. Caesar’s Legion is a slave-holding and militaristic culture led by an autocrat. Mr. House is a libertarian who will use his vast intellect to remake the world in his image.

Additionally, there are so many smaller factions that I don’t have time to outline. All the factions are equally valid (except Caesar’s Legion), and you can decide to ally with none of them. No matter who you choose, you are going to make someone angry and have to live with your choices.

I love the desert and have only grown fonder of it after moving away. The world of New Vegas is beautiful because of its austerity. There aren’t a lot of buildings in the Mojave Desert, so you’re often fighting against the elements and wasteland critters. You may also be jumped by a crew of Legionnaires because you might have assassinated their leader. I know that New Vegas didn’t create scripted events, but it uses them so effectively to place you in this world.

The DLC is strange and great. It builds out the world and presents odd new wrinkles in the Fallout canon. The DLCs range from a horror-themed casino heist to a B-movie plot about floating robots and dating your disembodied brain. The DLC stories are tied together by an unseen character named Ulysses. His story culminates in the Lonesome Road DLC, where your relation to Ulysses and your character’s dark backstory is finally revealed. It is an audacious idea to take away a player character’s backstory and replace it with a developer-concocted one, and I love that they were willing to go there.

I found my deep conviction for New Vegas years after it came out. It was a slow burn that took over my brain and made it so that all I can think about in my free time is what happens after New Vegas? Do the Tunnelers destroy all life in the Mojave? Did the NCR win? Will I ever be able to romance Arcade Gannon? These questions keep me up at night. Bethesda you cowards. Let Obsidian make another Fallout game. I played The Outer Worlds, and it didn’t stick with me. I’m begging you.


Other Notable Games

Here are a few games that were on the list and were then dropped:

  • Mass Effect 2: I’m sorry Garrus.
  • The Walking Dead: Season One: Lee dying crushed me.
  • The Outer Wilds: This is a beautiful and impactful game that did not hit me as hard as these other games because nostalgia is a toxic impulse.
  • We Know The Devil: For making me realize that I was a snob for not playing dating sims.
  • Overwatch: Overwatch is a good shooter that I am so burnt out on and never want to touch again.
  • Super Meat Boy: For breaking my brain and making me want to grind my face against challenging games.
  • Bloodborne: It has wormed its way into my brain, and now I have eyes on my brain.
  • Minecraft: I don’t think I need to say anything else.

Header photo courtesy of  Ben Neale on Unsplash

Games News Roundup 12/4/19 – 12/11/19

This week in one sentence: Sony showed off Resident Evil 3 Remake (including Nemesis’s sharp chompers) at their State of Play event, Nintendo announced a few new indie games at their Indie World Showcase, MLB The Show will be coming to other platforms besides the PlayStation 4, Redbox is no longer renting games, and Minecraft is getting PlayStation 4 cross-play.

Top Five Stories

1/ Sony Announced Multiple Games On Their State Of Play Stream, Including Resident Evil 3 Remake: At Sony’s last State of Play stream of 2019, they showed off a trailer for the Resident Evil 3 Remake, announced that Untitled Goose Game is coming to the PlayStation 4, and gave us a first look at the new Kingdom Hearts III DLC. They also announced a new PSVR game called Paper Beast and showed off the new PlatinumGames brawler Babylon’s Fall. Finally, they ran a short trailer for Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima. (Kotaku / Gamespot / IGN / Destructoid / Washington Post)

2/ Nintendo Announced Multiple Games At Their Indie World Showcase: Nintendo showed more than ten indie games on their Indie Games Showcase stream on December 10th. A few of these new games include Axiom Verge 2, Supermash, and Sports Story. They also confirmed multiple ports to the Switch, including SkateBIRD, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD, and The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition. Also, Dauntless is now available on the Switch. (The Verge / Kotaku / IGN / GamesRadar+ / Gamasutra)

3/ Sony-Developed MLB The Show May Come To Platforms Besides The PlayStation 4: Major League Baseball (MLB) announced in a tweet/press release that Sony’s SIE San Diego Studio will bring their franchise MLB The Show to, “additional console platforms beyond PlayStation platforms as early as 2021.” This tweet was then retweeted by the official Xbox and Nintendo of America Twitter accounts, signaling that the series will most likely be coming to those platforms. (Polygon / GamesRadar+ / ESPN / Destructoid / VentureBeat)

4/ Redbox Is No Longer Renting Video Games: Redbox confirmed in a tweet that they will no longer be renting video games via their kiosks. In the past, Redbox has allowed users to rent games for $3 per day and purchase used games. Customers will be able to purchase used games at a discount through the end of the year. (The Verge / Slate / Engadget / Kotaku / ScreenRant)

5/ Minecraft Is Getting Cross-Play On PlayStation 4: Until now, the PlayStation 4 was the only major platform that did not allow for Minecraft cross-play. Sony backtracked on this position and now Minecraft has cross-play across PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Windows 10, iOS, Android, and Gear VR. Additionally, PlayStation 4 players will now be able to use the Minecraft Marketplace and purchases will be carried across platforms. (Eurogamer / Engadget / PC Gamer / Gamespot / Gamesradar+)

✏️ Notables

  • Another bug is affecting Fallout 76. This glitch causes armor to lose durability, issues with reloading, and weapons to break. (Kotaku / GamesRadar+)
  • A bundle of Bayonetta and Vanquish is coming to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. (Kotaku / Engadget)
  • Rocket League cut the prices of their microtransactions after facing complaints from players. (PC Gamer / Destructoid)
  • Grand Theft Auto V’s online mode is getting a new radio station hosted by Danny Brown. (Kotaku / Pitchfork)
  • 2K announced that a new Bioshock is coming and it’s being developed by Cloud Chamber. (Ars Technica / Vice)
  • Darksiders Genesis launched on Google Stadia with a higher price than on competing PC stores. (IGN / ScreenRant)
  • Phoenix Point missed it’s advertised release on the Windows Store and Game Pass because of delays with certification and legal documentation. (Kotaku / Polygon
  • SimulaM announced their game I Am Jesus with a trailer from the first-person perspective of the alleged son of God. (Slate, ScreenRant)
  • Fortnite is showing an exclusive scene from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker at the in-game movie theater. (Kotaku, CNET)
  • The AI generated text adventure, AI Dungeon was released. You can type in whatever and the game will do its best to make a narrative. (Polygon, PC Gamer)

Olivia’s 2019 Purposeful Gaming Challenge, In Review

I have never been good at doing challenges related to playing games, watching movies, or consuming any other types of media. My free time keeps shrinking as the responsibilities of life keep growing, especially when it comes to playing games. My pile of shame is so big that I’ve had to create spreadsheets and use tools to try to organize it. Looking at my list of backlogged games in Howlongtobeat.com, it would take 408 days and 2 hours to finish everything I want to play. That number is not counting ongoing games like Destiny 2 or Fortnite.

Having a backlog is emotionally taxing for me. It stresses me out to think about all the games I don’t have time to play and it stresses me out to say no to nearly anything. With new releases coming out all the time, my backlog grows larger every day.

Because of that stress, I fall into the games that feel the most comfortable for me. That means grinding out packs in Hearthstone or playing a game of Civilization 5. It’s hard for me to find the emotional energy to open my backlog spreadsheet.

Doing the Purposeful Gaming Challenge (PGC) this year was my first step in admitting that maybe I have a problem with enjoying the media I play and setting hard boundaries. The PGC gave me a toolset to view my backlog through and forced me to pick up a new game every week. This habit made me face the cold realization that I was never going to finish all the games on my list, and, as painful as it is to say, that is okay.

Learning To Let Go

I was extremely hopeful that I would have time to go back and finish the games that I started during this year’s PGC. I had 22 games that I marked as, “Unfinished, but will complete.” This category includes absolute bangers like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. With the current backlog that I have and the slew of 2019 releases I’ve yet to play, I don’t think these games are going to get finished anytime soon. I still haven’t updated my spreadsheet to say that I won’t finish these games. I’m working up to it, okay. Get off my back.

Currently, I have finished 13 of the games I put on my list, and I expect to finish a few more of those recent releases before the year ends. A few of these finished games include Control, Gorogoa, and another playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas. This relatively large number of games beaten is a serious accomplishment for me. I will strive to continue this greatness into next year.

I put 10 ongoing or live-service games on my list that cannot be beaten. This group includes Fallout 76 and Animal Crossing: New Leaf (ACNL). ACNL stood out to me because can you actually finish an Animal Crossing game? I would posit maybe. I have an ongoing spreadsheet of all of the items in ANCL. Here is hoping I can either “beat” ANCL or figure out how to say goodbye to it before Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out next year.

There were three games I chose not complete. These three games are Crackdown 3, Ducktales Remastered, and Crusader Kings II. Crackdown 3 was a boring game that couldn’t hold my attention, Ducktales was hard as hell, and Crusader Kings II required me to read an encyclopedia to play it efficiently. My hope for next year is that I can make this category grow the most.

I skipped one week of the year. This missed week is my eternal shame and stands empty in my spreadsheet. I pray that one day this failure will be forgotten in the annals of history.

Other Fun Graphs

Above is a breakdown of the platforms that I played my PGC games on. Here are a few takeaways:

  • I played the majority of my games (14 titles) on the Nintendo Switch. I traveled a lot and share the TV with my partner, so the portability of the platform made it incredibly useful.
  • The PC was my second most-played platform this year with 12 games. I played a mix of indie games and AAA titles on PC, both new and old. The oldest game I played on the platform was the 2010 Fallout: New Vegas and the newest was the 2018 Cultist Simulator.
  • I played a few older games on Nintendo platforms, including the Game Boy Color and Nintendo DS,. with the oldest being the original The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening which was released in 1993. The other Game Boy Color game was a ROM hack of Pokémon: Crystal, called Pokémon: Crystal Clear.
  • I was surprised that I played more games on the Xbox One (7) than the PlayStation 4 (5). Every game that I played on Xbox One was on Xbox Game Pass, which continues to be an amazing deal.

Above is a graph that shows the year that my PGC games released. A few interesting factoids:

  • 2019 was my most popular year with 12 new releases. The majority of these new releases (5) were on the Switch.
  • 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2019 were the only years that had more than one of my PGC games released.
  • I finished two games in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

You can see the spreadsheet of my 2019 PGC games by clicking here.

Moving Forward With The PGC

The PGC was my lifeline during some difficult times this year. The habit of pulling something out of my backlog and devoting a few hours to it gave me something to think about when things were dark.

Moving forward, I’m excited to put what I learned about letting go of games into practice next year. I can’t live with a backlog of 408 days. Maybe I can get it down to 407 days next year.

Games News Roundup 11/28/19 – 12/3/19

This week in one sentence: Riot Games settled a gender discrimination lawsuit, In the Valley of Gods is no longer in active development, Super Mario Maker 2 added The Legend of Zelda content, pictures of the PlayStation 5 development kit were leaked, and the FBI is using PSN to gather evidence of a cocaine dealer.

Top Five Stories

1/ Riot Games Settles Gender Discrimination Lawsuit With A $10 Million Pay Out: Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends, is settling a lawsuit that started in 2018. The lawsuit alleged that the company created a hostile work environment with rampant sexual harassment toward women. The $10 million settlement will distribute money to women who worked for Riot Games from November 2014 until the date the settlement is finalized. Payment will be based on the length of a woman’s tenure and her full-time employment status. Women who have left the company or who have signed severance agreements will not receive any part of the settlement. (Los Angeles Times / Kotaku / Forbes / Ars Technica / The Washington Post)

2/ In the Valley of Gods development is “On Hold”: Campo Santo co-founder Jake Rodkin confirmed that In the Valley of Gods is “On Hold” and that the former team has distributed among various projects at Valve, including Half-Life: Alyx and DotA Underlords. Valve acquired Campo Santo in April 2018 with the announcement blog post stating the company, “[Would] continue production on our current project, In the Valley of Gods.” The game is not outright canceled but there is no announced release window. (CNET / Polygon / GamesIndustry.biz / Gamespot / Rock Paper Shotgun)

3/ Super Mario Maker 2 Is Adding The Master Sword And Link: Nintendo announced that new features are coming in a free patch to Super Mario Maker 2. One of these key features is the Master Sword from The Legend of Zelda series, which acts as a power-up. The sword transforms the player into Link and confers the ability to shoot arrows, throw bombs, slash enemies, and block projectiles with a shield. The update also adds new building blocks, new enemies, and a speed-running mode. (Kotaku / Ars Technica / Vice / IGN / Destructoid)

4/ The Look Of The PlayStation 5 Dev Kit Was Leaked: An alleged image of the PlayStation 5 development (dev) kit was leaked into the wild. The kits are stackable v-shaped computers with large vents in the sides and center. The kits also seem to be using a controller that looks similar to the Dualshock 4. The development kit’s look is not indicative of the final console design. The twitter user who posted the image (@alcoholikaust) claimed that the photograph came from a developer who, “just didn’t give a fuck apparently.” (Eurogamer / Gizmodo / PCMag / GamesRadar+ / ScreenRant)

5/ FBI Files Warrant To Obtain PSN Data Related To Alleged Drug Dealing: A search warrant filed by the FBI in the Western District of Missouri requested all information related to a PlayStation Network (PSN) user. The FBI alleges that the PSN user orchestrated the sale of cocaine by using voice chat. The FBI is attempting to gather a wide range of information about the alleged drug dealer, including the games they played, their IP address, and chat messages. (Gamespot / Vice / Polygon / The Daily Dot / Kotaku UK)

✏️ Notables

  • The Steam Controller can no longer be ordered, with some previously confirmed orders being canceled because Valve oversold their remaining stock. (Kotaku / The Verge)
  • U.S. Congressman pleads guilty to using campaign funds for Steam games. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) spent more than $1,000 on steam games. (Polygon / Gamespot)
  • The Resident Evil 3 Remake Cover Was Leaked confirming that the game is coming soon. (Gamespot / GamesRadar+)
  • The trailer for the next season of Destiny 2 content was revealed, along with the return of Saint-14 (Engadget / Kotaku)
  • Microsoft published Halo: Reach and the rest of the Halo: The Master Chief Collection on Steam. (Kotaku / PC Gamer)
  • The original PlayStation turned 25, which led to some nostalgic reflections. (The Verge, Kotaku)
  • Quantic Dreams was forced to pay a former employee because emlpoyees and leadership shared “homophobic, misogynistic, racist or deeply vulgar,” images in the workplace. (PC Gamer, Try aGame
  • YouTube relaxed its policy related to violent video game footage and will now allow creators to show footage without automatically flagging videos as age-restricted. (The Verge, Gamasutra)
  • Cloud Imperium Games raised more than $250 million via backers to develop Star Citizen. (PC Gamer, Eurogamer)
  • Mario Kart Tour was the most-downloaded iPhone game of 2019, even though it only released in September. (The Verge, 9to5Mac)

Playing CCGs Showed Me Something Dark About Myself

Collectible card games (CCGs) often sell themselves as the fantasy of playing as the master tactician. As the player, you can outsmart your opponent and create unbelievable combos through meticulous planning and tactical smarts. I always wanted to think of myself as a tactical person who could divine the secrets of these games.

Unfortunately, my desire to understand CCGs has devolved into a dark passenger. On my journey to master the game, I found myself becoming more focused on crushing opponents rather than trying to outwit them. I’m not sure I like the person what card games make me.

Innocent Beginnings

I played Magic the Gathering (MTG) for a short time with friends in college. I always wanted to be halfway proficient at card games but never had the money to build my deck or the time to watch YouTube strategy videos.

That changed when I picked up Hearthstone two years ago. The Warcraft aesthetic and easy-to-learn mechanics spoke to me. It started innocently enough; I played the single-player adventures and learned the basics. I created a few zero dust decks and dutifully completed my daily quests. I even started watching videos and learning the metagame.

Then I started trying to play the ranked ladder. That is when my dark side took hold.

That Cursed Ladder

Playing ranked games as a CCG beginner is not a fun experience. On the Hearthstone ranked ladder, you can progress to a certain starter rank without the fear of sliding into previous levels. However, once you get past that point, any loss will subtract from your progress. The higher you get your rank, the better the reward you will receive at the end of the season. These rewards will then allow you to create cards that are even more effective.

In addition to this high-stress atmosphere, your opponents on the ladder are also playing the most effective decks in the game that have been theory-crafted by some of the most devoted players. These decks aren’t cheap, and the only way to get your desired cards is to buy packs or craft them with resources gained from destroying other cards. This lack of cards incentivizes new players to purchase random packs with real-world money

The Original Loot Box

Buying packs with real money in Hearthstone costs $2.99 without any discounts. The prices go down the more packs you purchase, with $69.99 buying you 60 packs. There are limited-time bundle, but they often cap out at $80 for 100 packs. To add insult to injury, a player may be forced to open 40 packs until the pity timer triggers to receive one of the more powerful legendary cards.

As a beginner, I didn’t have the resources to create high-powered cards and did not want to spend real money on the game. I also couldn’t quickly grind resources because my decks weren’t as effective as my opponent’s expensive cards.

Crushing Your Opponent Is More Fun Than Winning

I felt lost until I found my first aggro (aggressive) deck. Aggro Warrior was my companion during these dark times. Aggro decks use the strategy of overwhelming the opponent before they can create a strong defense. These decks have minimum tools for removing cards that your opponent plays and no backup plan if you get a bad hand. It is a reckless deck that can get quick results but can also fall apart quickly.

This aggro deck showed me the fun in crushing my opponent. I delighted in seeing them quit on turn three. I lost as many games as I won, but it didn’t matter. Watching my opponent squirm was more fun than getting a higher rank. I could even start to predict when my opponents would quit — it was intoxicating.

I didn’t troll anyone, but I wasn’t playing as a tactician anymore. I took glee in my opponent’s misery. It wasn’t enough to win, it was about leaving them with no options beyond a quick death.

What Do We Owe To Each Other?

Do players have a responsibility to not use decks with cheap and overwhelming mechanics? 

Is it wrong to delight in the utter destruction of other players? I don’t think I was being a jerk, but does this kind of aggressive play ruin the game for others?

Some CCG experts would argue that decks like Evolve Shaman are ruining Hearthstone. Evolve Shaman is a deck archetype that involves flooding the game board with numerous cheap minions. The deck straddles the line between aggro and combo. Once the player has a nearly full board, they can play the Shaman card Evolve, which transforms the cheap minions into more expensive ones. Normally, the random nature of the Evovle card is a huge drawback, but when it is used in conjunction with cards like Desert Hare it can overwhelm the opponent before they can mount a defense.

I won’t disagree with the experts who concluded that Evolve Shaman is a plague upon the game. I played Evolve Shaman for a while and had to put it away because I got bored. The fun of destroying my opponent was ruined when they would concede the match upon seeing that I was playing Shaman.

New Meta, New Me

Recently, I started playing Control Warrior. Control decks specialize in controlling the state of the board and removing your opponents cards before they can hurt you. These types of decks are often some of the most expensive in the game because they require you to have certain rare cards that have outlandish effects. For example, my Control Warrior deck uses eight legendary cards. To get the resources to make those eight cards (without opening additional packs), you would need to destroy 320 of the most basic cards.

Control Warrior is a more reliable deck that can hold off these aggressive decks with tools that clear the board and set the pace of the game. These games are slower; a game involving two control decks can take upwards of 20 minutes. That’s a far cry from the 2-3 minute games involved in playing an aggro deck. Additionally, the game is often not decided until the last few turns and even then certain cards, like Archivist Elysiana, can reset the entire deck.

Saying Goodbye To The Darkness

It’s fun to make decisions that actually impact play and not pray for the perfect hand at the start of the game. Games that I play with Control Warrior can go hundreds of different ways and actually fulfill that fantasy of playing a tactician. It’s thrilling to take control and lull the opponent into a false sense of security. 

I’m not here to say that playing cheap aggro decks makes anyone a bad person. Aggressively, overwhelming an opponent is just as valid as stringing them along with a control deck. Additionally, being able to grind resources quickly is a response to these games’ parasitic monetization strategy.

It’s up to the developers to balance their games and not let any strategy rule the metagame. Evolve Shaman should be going away with the release of the new set in just a few days. Although a few of the cards, like Frizz Kindleroost, look to create more aggressive decks. 

Moving forward, I’m steering clear of these aggro decks. A person can only get so much joy out of watching their opponent quit on turn five.

Featured image art by Luca Zontini, courtesy of Activision-Blizzard.

Games News Roundup: 11/21/19 – 11/27/19

This week in one sentence: Google Stadia is still getting complaints about graphics, DotA 2 added a grandma and another spirit edgelord, the Steam Controller died for our sins, Battleborn died because of server costs, and No Man’s Sky is getting even better. 

Top Five Stories

1/ Google Responds To Stadia Graphical Fidelity Complaints: Google responded to complaints that many Stadia games do not run at the advertised native 4K resolution with a statement that said, “We give developers the freedom of how to achieve the best image quality and frame rate on Stadia.” Google also stated that, “We expect that many developers can, and in most cases will, continue to improve their games on Stadia.” (9to5Google / Eurogamer / Ars Technica / Gamespot / GamesIndustry.biz)

2/ The Outlanders Patch For DotA 2 Was Released: Valve released Dota 2 patch 7.23 which added two new heroes to the game, Void Spirit and Beatrix Snapfire. Void Spirit is an edgy elemental melee character, and Beatrix Snapfire is an elderly woman who makes cookies and rides dinosaurs. The patch also gives every player a courier, replaces side shops with outposts, and a whole host of other adjustments to the game. (Rock Paper Shotgun / Engadget / IGN / Polygon / PC Gamer)

3/ Valve Has Stopped Making The Steam Controller: Valve’s last non-VR hardware, the Steam Controller, is dead. The divisive controller released in 2015 along with Steam Machines and Steam Link, and went on to sell an admirable 500,000 units in just a year. The controller never reached mainstream success, with most players choosing to use an Xbox 360 or PS4 controller to play Steam games. Valve is blowing out their remaining controller stock with a $5 sale. (Kotaku / Eurogamer / The Verge / VentureBeat / Screen Rant)

4/ Battleborn Is Shutting Down In 2021: Just three years after its release, publisher 2K Games announced that it is shutting down the servers for Battleborn in January 2021. The Gearbox developed game was removed from digital shelves on November 15th, 2019, and the game’s premium currency will no longer be purchasable as of February 24, 2020. The game will no longer be playable once the servers are shut down. (Gamespot / Polygon / Kotaku / Eurogamer / GamesIndustry.biz)

5/ No Man’s Sky Synthesis Patch Announced: No Man’s Sky is getting another huge update in the form of the Synthesis patch. This patch allows players to upgrade and salvage starships, edit terrain more easily, save custom outfits, and drive the Exocraft in the first person. The patch also optimizes the VR version of the game and adds other quality of life improvements. (Polygon / Kotaku / Gamespot / IGN / Destructoid)

✏️ Notables

  • Google offered refunds to Stadia Pro members who already bought the free games. The free games for subscribers this month were Tomb Raider (2013) and Farming Simulator 19. (Kotaku / Ars Technica)
  • The Pokémon Global Link Service Is Shutting Down for Pokémon Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, and Ultra Moon in February 2020. (Polygon / Nintendo Life)
  • Valve Removes More Than 1,000 Games From Steam because the publishers were abusing Steamworks allegedly. (Kotaku / PC Gamer)
  • Fallout 76 players have taken to using nuclear bombs on pacificts because the radiation can kill players who want to avoid combat. (Kotaku / VICE)
  • Fortnite held a fishing competition wherein players competed to catch the most fish to get a spray, pickaxe skin, and Llama trophy. (Polygon / Eurogamer)
  • Stardew Valley patch 1.4 was released on PC. The patch added new character events  clothes, hairstyles, fish ponds, and more. (Eurogamer / Polygon)
  • Beat Games, the developers of Beat Saber, were purchased by Facebook and are now part of Oculus Studios as an independent studio (Eurogamer / PC Gamer)
  • A new Tony Hawk game is rumored to be coming out, based on a podcast interview with professional skater Lizzie Armanto (Eurogamer / IGN)
  • Borderlands 3 has added Good Juju, a reference to the Destiny gun Bad Juju (Eurogamer / Polygon)
  • State of Decay 2 is coming to Steam, with Xbox Live cross-play (Eurogamer / PC Gamer)