I have a huge backlog, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger as time goes on. This summer I wanted to try to weed out that list as much as possible. I had games that I’d left half unfinished, games I knew I would be buying and beating ASAP, multiple platforms to manage, and of course Humble Bundle and Steam Sales don’t help keep my list short. Surprisingly, I think I did a good job of staying focused and finishing as many games as I could. I finished a number of games that I had been playing for awhile, and started and finished a number of games that I bought and beat in a matter of days and weeks. Hopefully, you’ll find something in here you didn’t know about so I can make your list a little bit longer.
Guacamelee (Wii U)
Great Metroidvania game, solid exploration and really good humor. The jokes and references to other properties like Homestarrunner and Metroid were hilarious. I got it as part of the Wii U Humble Bundle, so it was definitely worth it. A little bit linear in terms of the game progression, but the new abilities and combat were tons of fun. Near the end, some of the combat got a little bit tedious due to the colored shields that enemies had. Didn’t get a chance to play co-op, but it looks like it could be a tremendous amount of fun.
The Fall (Wii U)
Essentially a 2D point and click adventure game that plays like a 2D action platformer. Games like this live and die on two key things: the logic of their puzzles and the quality of their story/writing. The story aspect definitely holds up in terms of intrigue and quality; it deals with the concept of sentience and AI in a unique and somewhat surprising fashion. Unfortunately, it ends on a cliff-hanger, so we’re going to have to wait for parts two and three for the conclusion. The adventure game style puzzles were pretty solid and logical for the most part, but often they would require some bizarre twisted logic rather than a simpler solution (I tried to shoot the baby, it didn’t work). Solid game, nothing revolutionary, but I’ll pick up part two on sale when it comes out, probably on Steam instead of Wii U.
Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (NDS)
I fanboy hard over the LOZ series. It’s really hard for me to find any fault in these games at all. I haven’t quite assembled my Legend of Zelda list yet, but I think this one comes in at #5 below ALBW, ALTTP, OOT, and MM (not in that order). I wasn’t super excited about the train idea at first, but as soon as I blew that whistle, I knew that this was the train game I never knew I wanted. The game took everything from Phantom Hourglass and just made it so much better. Zelda was an adorable companion, and adding her as a way of controlling phantoms was awesome. The puzzles in this game were super hard. It was definitely one of the most puzzle heavy Zelda games in recent history. Some puzzles were so hard I even had trouble figuring them out on my own (which usually doesn’t happen considering I’m a Zelda veteran. Occasionally this was because I would forget about a certain item or use for one. When you’re having trouble, try using a different item. The one true fault of the game was the Spirit Flute. It needed to require less precision, or have simpler songs to play or something. All of the spirit flute sections were absolutely terrible, despite being a great idea in concept. Functionally, blowing into a microphone and moving the stylus back and forth, hoping that you got it right without any kind of performance feedback was just a bad idea. Blowing into a microphone just doesn’t have the same kind of precision as buttons do. This Zelda also has one of the best end-games in recent memory, so if you manage to get through it then you’re in for a treat. One last gripe is that the game doesn’t pause while you’re drawing a phantom path; that one problem just caused so many other problems where you are supposed to multitask Link and Zelda at the same time, so if they ever release a new edition or remake I hope that they fix that. Overall, a fantastic example of the Zelda series, fans who missed out on the original release should pick this one up.
Shantae (GBC —> 3DS)
I wrote a full review here. TL;DR? It’s a Metroidvania game set in an Arabian Nights type world where you dance to transform into different animals with special abilities.
Gunman Clive (3DS)
A really short, western, Mega Man with unlimited lives. Fun game, got with the Nindie Bundle, worth the $2 if you bought it in the eShop. Some good replay value if you’re into that kind of thing. Otherwise, nothing uber remarkable. Also, duck mode.
Arkham Knight (PC)
I wrote a full review of this guy too, see here. TL;DR – Fantastic story, XXX was great, the XXXX reveal was lame, too much Batmobile, everything else was pretty awesome. AAA games need to continue to exist so that more games like this can exist. I really hope they patch the PC version soon (EDIT: IT GOT PATCHED! I’M SO HAPPY!).
Magicka 2 (PC)
I loved the first game, so I’m sorry to report the second one was a disappointment. The campaign wasn’t epic enough and didn’t really get what made the first game so special and unique in the first place. They rebalanced the game, which would be fine if it remained complex and variable. Instead it got “consolized” and watered down, ruining the fun spell system. I did a full review here.
Uncharted 3 (PS3)
For all you folks who liked this game...good for you. I hated this game. I kept playing in the hopes that it would get good, but it never really did. I have a feeling that whoever was working on Last of Us (In progress, is awesome), stole all the good writers because the plot in this game just makes absolutely zero sense. I was so glad when I was done with it because I didn’t have to suffer through any more meat-shield bad guys, and contrived plot devices. Everything in between Drake getting drugged and him getting to the final was absolute, contrived, ridiculous nonsense. Kingdom Hearts has a more reasonable plot than this and that’s coming from someone self-aware of how incredibly ridiculous the Kingdom Hearts plot actually is. Sometimes he was just dumb, like when he wandered around a desert for several days without hiding in the sand and travelling at night or even using a head covering. This guy is supposed to be an experienced adventurer and you’re telling me he keeps wearing this bandanna around his neck instead of covering his head? Are you joking me? That’s like basic stuff man, even Tony Stark nailed that detail in Iron Man. Either Nathan is an idiot on purpose or the writers just didn’t care what they wrote at all. For a developer who normally puts so much thought and effort into making “real” games, it’s like they weren’t even trying. The whole time I was playing, I was just so frustrated. Throwing grenades back is cool I guess, but that was pretty much the only improvement over Uncharted 2 (which I enjoyed by the way). Everything else was a step-back. It felt like a lame summer action movies which had setpieces for the sake of having setpieces. Except for getting mixed critical reviews, it got nothing but gang-buster praise and adoration. Maybe the multiplayer was just THAT fantastic, but I highly doubt it.
Borderlands 2 (PC)
After Magicka, this is my new go-to for Co-Op. It’s not particularly great gunplay, but the co-op works so well and the dialog is hilarious. The RNG for the guns is pretty awesome and ridiculous. Even the story is pretty good, with some good twists and real characters that do more than just stand there and scowl. All the DLC is pretty great too, although I haven’t finished the DnD one yet (which so far is the best of them all). The game is just so over the top and ridiculous all the time that it’s a terrific joy to play through. If you haven’t, pick this one up cheap and play it with your friends. Even if you didn’t like the first one, you’ll probably like this one. Really looking forwards to the third one when they finally announce it.
Super Mario 64 (N64 —> Wii U)
I can understand why this game revolutionized video games as we know them. I also know that it hasn’t aged nearly as well I had hoped. It was still a terrific amount of fun, but the controls that were once considered so smooth and tight now feel slippery and sloppy. The levels are all inventive, and I liked the little hints in the level description to help you find the star hidden in the virtual sandbox, but the levels themselves felt incredibly small. I’ll say it again, I really liked the game, but it just hasn’t aged that well. Banjo Kazooie is a far more contemporary game for whatever reason.
Mighty Switch Force (3DS)
A fun little indie game that inspired me to hunt down more of Wayforward’s games. Picked it up on sale and was astounded by how fun it was. In principle, it’s nothing revolutionary, but in practice, the different elements come together in such a way that it just feels good. It’s challenging, fast, smart, complicated, I just really enjoyed my time with it. And best of all, it’s super easy to pick up and play. It’s a 2D puzzle platformer with a focus on speed. You have to “switch” blocks in and out of the foreground in order to find and rescue five escaped criminals hidden throughout each level. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that covers the basic gist. Each level can “theoretically” be completed in anywhere between 1-7 minutes, but your first playthrough will usually take a little longer as you familiarize yourself with the level design. It’s real easy to pick up and put down, so it’s portable roots work for it well. I don’t replay games for high scores very often, but this one I may make an exception for. It just feels really good to beat that time trial record, and it stays simple enough that it wouldn’t be a huge commitment in order to achieve mastery. This was also the first game to support my growing hypothesis that Wayforward employs a bunch of perverts. I have been vindicated in my hypothesis since playing Shantae: Pirate’s Curse.
Shovel Knight (3DS)
I had a great time playing Shovel Knight. It’s like a beautiful blend of modern 2D platforming, Ducktales and Mega Man. It takes the thing people loved about games like Mega Man: choose your own level, tough difficulty, inventive bosses with levels themed around their gimmick or power and then merges them with modern sensibilities: tight controls, generous check-pointing, lots of health, and a clearer, more generous difficult curve. However, it also tells a simple, touching story about Shovel Knight and Shield Knight and their love for each other. I had an absolutely terrific time playing it, and I’d recommend that anyone who’s a fan of retro games pick themselves up a copy. Incidentally, it’s coming to retail later this September for almost all platforms, so you should be able to enjoy it for yourself. I’m looking forwards to the Plague Knight expansion when it comes out, especially since it’s free for anyone who buys the game.
Shantae Risky’s Revenge: Director’s Cut (PC)
Another Shantae game, another great Metroidvania title. Fixed almost all of my problems with the first Shantae, but was just too short for its own good. The director’s cut is currently available on iOS, PS4 and PC, versions for 3DS and Wii U will be coming this fall, but for those who absolutely have to have it on their 3DS this instance, the original, sub-par version of the game is available in the eShop as DSiWare. Full review over here.
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (DS)
Rockmandash has been recommending this game for a long time. I love his reviews, but don’t always agree with his taste, so I approached this game with optimistic caution. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. The game perfectly combines and balances elements of puzzle solving, and narrative exposition so that neither one grows stale. The lore of the games was entrancing and mysterious, a lot of it sounded so real that I actually had to get online and make sure that they weren’t talking about something IRL. It did such an expert job of weaving real life, possible trivia, and the constructed and borrowed fictional elements that for a while I actually believed a lot of the lore as a realistic scenario. The multiple routes that I played, Coffin, Safe, and True endings were all interesting, but many people recommend you play the ax, and then safe and then the true ending. The coffin ending is just the “True” ending that’s unfinishable without doing other routes first, so if you kind of have an idea of how you “should” play games, just don’t do that your first time through and you shouldn’t run into it. After that, use a spoiler-free guide to get the rest of the endings you want to experience. On re-plays, there is a skip text feature, but it’s kinda clunky and still takes a long time. My favorite part of the game was the true ending after you get past where the coffin ending stops, both the puzzles and the story were mind-blowingly awesome. The workshop (for people who know what that is) in particular did a good job of taking all your accumulated knowledge from all the previous puzzles and merging them into one coherent experience that made you feel like a boss. I’m looking forward to getting Zero Escape 2 when it drops in price and 3 when it finally comes out. Despite the second one supposedly not being quite as good, I’m still looking forwards to playing both. If you have enjoyed games like Ace Attorney, or Professor Layton, you’ll probably enjoy this one too. It is a “Visual Novel”, but manages to insert enough gaming elements that it keeps the pace moving forwards pretty rapidly, it’s pretty short for a VN clocking in around 6 hours for your first time through and 12 for all the routes. You will have to do a lot of reading though, it just kinda comes with the territory. Lotus needs to put some clothes on though, jeez man.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (Wii U)
The best Shantae game in the whole series. Seamless integration of the pirate gear, and pitch perfect humor were my favorite parts of the game as a whole, but there’s a lot to love in general. Read a full review here.
Oh baby, this game man. DIS GAME SO GOOD MAN, SO GOOOOD!!! It is rare that I will find a game worthy of supplanting one of my top ten, but this game managed to do it (replaced Fire Emblem Awakening). Everything in the game comes together in a seamless package of perfection. The story is strange at first, but as you delve deeper into the game and pick up on the subtle clues, the more that it reveals itself. The music is gorgeous, I’ve probably listened to the soundtrack on its own 15 times since I beat the game a couple of weeks ago. I’m going to buy the soundtrack separately once it goes on sale, something I never do for games. The combat is so complex and has so many different possibilities that you can just experiment with just about anything and be successful, but it’s stays simple enough that pretty much anyone can beat the game if they try really hard and have a lot of patience. The game actually both rewards and punishes failure at the same time by forcing you to find new solutions instead of continuing to use old combinations. The back-door/practice room/challenge room functions offer additional areas to force you to experiment and find new ways to overcome the more difficult challenges later in the game. All of that comes together in the most perfect difficulty curve I have ever seen, I died several times but never once got stuck on a game over screen. The system actually reminds me of Magicka, in that there are thousand different right answers, but very few perfect answers. The visuals perfectly communicate about the world what needs to be represented, and despite having just animated painted stills in lieu of cutscenes, those expository sections were truly beautiful and meaningful in and of themselves. This game truly is a masterpiece. I could just rant about this game for ages, but I need to move on to other important games. If it’s not your cup of tea I get it, but there’s a huge amount of people who would love this game and haven’t played it yet. That needs to change ASAP. Finally, if there’s one phrase I would use to describe it, I would say “Tragic Beauty”. If that intrigues you, then it should. Because it’s a great game and you should play it.
Kingdom Hearts BBS (PSP —> PS3)
People who didn’t like Kingdom Hearts 2 because it didn’t feel as personal and solid as the first one. PLAY THIS ONE. Birth by Sleep is a pretty great Kingdom Hearts game overall. It simplified both the combat and the story to significant effect. Instead of focusing on heavy-lifting of lore and setup future games, it once again told a story of three friends. Unlike the original Kingdom Hearts however, this game ends in tragedy. Best of all, it doesn’t succumb to the disease of prequelitis. It sets up the world for Kingdom Hearts 1, but it does it in subtle, more meaningful way. I have a couple of small quibbles with the game, but overall it’s in the upper half of my favorites in the series. I’m writing a full review, so I’ll link it here when it’s done.
Ever since I got my PS3 a year ago, I had been waiting to pick up this game. Thankfully, my brother decided to pick it up for his PS4 and since there’s cross-buy I didn’t have to spend a dime. If I had spent the money, then it would have been worth it, but since I didn’t, I’ll just say it lived up to the hype. It was a little bit surprising how short it was overall, but the game as a whole was so incredibly dense that I don’t even mind that much. Every single detail has some kind of symbolic or thematic meaning. The story, told through the moving stone carvings, was easy to decipher, but difficult to really nail down for certain what it’s trying to tell you. That openness of interpretation of the story mystifying and beautiful. Over the course of the game, it brings you through beautiful vistas, deep caverns, and snowy peaks. The co-operative gameplay is one of the most simple, yet brilliant examples of co-op I’ve seen in my life. The way that it teaches you to work together without any words exchanged is beyond genius. I’m looking forwards to going through the game and finding all the scarf extenders and my obligatory white robe. Not quite top ten, but its artistic merit alone is going to make this game a notable piece for the ages.
X-Com: Enemy Unknown (PC)
It’s like Fire Emblem, but you manage a base, have guns, and can recruit new people. X-Com is a strategy game first, its primary focus is on managing the resources available to you to make the best with what you have. Managing the needs of different countries, stopping abductions, conducting research, building new equipment, etc. One of the smartest decisions of the game is that it doesn’t actually allow you to achieve 100% success. Almost every time an invasion attack happens, multiple countries are attacked, which raises the panic level on all of them except for the one that you go rescue. Almost as soon as the game begins, it establishes that you are the underdog and are fighting for the right to survive. You will be at a disadvantage, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The combat sections are fun too, but like I said, they are only barely more complex than Fire Emblem. There were a couple of camera issues, but for a game that happens on multiple levels (stories, heights, etc.) that was kind of to be expected. Add guns, get rid of the weapons triangle, add some special abilities, fog of war and a cover system, it’s all the same otherwise. It does make a huge difference in how you play the two games, notably X-Com is extremely tense, but overall it’s easiest to just describe X-Com as Fire Emblem with guns.
That was a pretty impressive list if I do say so myself. Now that I cleaned up a lot of my old games, I’m looking forwards to starting new games in my library. Nowadays I’m working through: Xenoblade Chronicles, Skyrim, F-Zero GX, Splatoon Campaign, KH: 358/2 Days, LOZ: Link’s Awakening DX, Code Name Steam, Okami HD, Tales of Symphonia, Super Mario 3D World, Half Minute Hero, and Ittle Dew among others, though some I pursue more actively than others. I don’t think I’ll ever really get rid of my backlog as long as I can keep finding excellent games, but maybe that’s for the best. There are so many good games out there that it seems a shame you’d get to a point where you literally have nothing good to play. Of course when that happens, you could always keep playing the Splatoon multiplayer. That game never gets old. What about you guys? Did you finish any games on your backlog this summer? Some you just started? Any games in my list you had never heard of before or are going to give a second chance? Pretty much everything on this list was absolutely worth my time, so if it’s been sitting in your Steam library because of Humble Bundle you bought ages ago, maybe you give it a try. I’m really looking forwards to the day when I can pass on decades of accumulated gaming history onto my kids. Boy oh boy will they ever have a backlog. I just hope my 3DS battery hasn’t run itself into the ground by then.