The Games I Played In 2019
Last year, I wrote an article going over all the games I had played in 2018. It had been a pretty bad year, so it was a big help to reflect on the good things I experienced. 2019 has been a much better year, but it's also been busy. Even so, I did take the time to play a lot of games, and I want to say a few words about all of them. Let's get started!
A friend kindly gifted me this game, knowing I'm a casual fan of the Sonic series. It's actually the first game I played this year, though I started it in very late 2018. I had an absolute blast with the game and loved exploring the new worlds and watching the spectacle unfold. Some of the musical tracks in Sonic Mania are my favorites in the whole series, like 'Dimension Heist', the special stage theme:
Sonic Mania is proof that sometimes you just need to trust your greatest fans and give them the reigns. Sometimes people do know what they want.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
Shantae is an interesting series, always balancing between a level-based structure and more Metroid-based free exploration. Half-Genie Hero was the latest game in the series when I played it, and it represented a reboot for the series, starting the story back at the beginning before Pirate's Curse. The game revolves around Shantae's ability to transform into various animal forms, each of which has its own unique abilities and mobility. With beautiful art and music, a witty sense of humor and plenty of cute characters, it's no wonder the game was a success and they have since announced a sequel which I am very much looking forward to as well!
Slay the Spire (Again!)
Slay the Spire is a card based roguelite that I thoroughly enjoyed last year... but I hadn't tried the third character, the Defect, yet. So I sank my teeth into Slay the Spire again this year and wrecked a few bosses with this highly entertaining new character.
Klonoa was another PS1 classic I tried on stream and really loved. I wanted to move on to the next game right away, but unfortunately, we ran into technical problems with PS2 streaming and had to stop after two streams. What I experienced in those first few streams made a great impression, though, so I'll probably stream it again some day when I can make it work.
The Castlevania Journey
After finishing Symphony of the Night late last year, my Castlevania journey finally continued in January and continued throughout most of the year. I would write a summary for each game individually, but I actually already did that a while ago and I don't think it's necessary to repeat it all. Please have a look at all my thoughts here: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/a-year-of-castlevania
Quiet Months (Intermission)
After playing a game games in January, there were a few months of low activity as I struggled to find some additional work. Freelance work is unstable and I needed something on the side. The search felt pretty hopeless throughout February, but I finally got that stable side job in March. After getting accustomed to the structure, I started playing games for fun again regularly in April.
A therapeutic garden simulator that allows you to tend to your own little garden. I was looking for something I could start up occasionally but wouldn't have to commit much time or effort to, and this game suited my needs quite well at that time. I wrote a full article on it just a while ago, which you can read right here:
HEARTBEAT is an adorable turn-based RPG absolutely bursting at the seams with cute characters and beautiful sprites. I enjoyed it a lot, but noted in my article that its story does burn at a slow pace, and that the absolutely huge cast of characters can make it a little unfocused. I loved it, though, and I thoroughly recommend it to any fan of RPGs. If you want to read more, please have a look at my full article:
Final Fantasy XIII (Ongoing)
Now, here's a game I know I won't be finishing this year. Final Fantasy XIII is one of the major installments in the beloved Final Fantasy franchise. The game itself is pretty controversial. I waited for all the heat to die down before finally hopping into this one so I could do it with a fair perspective, and while a lot of the criticism is valid - like the game's heavily linear structure and simplified battle system - I really love the characters and actually think the Paradigms are an interesting way to streamline battles. Essentially, rather than assigning character specific actions, you continuously shift "paradigms" where you assign each character a different strategic role like 'Medic,' 'Ravager,' 'Synergist' and so on and they will take their own actions accordingly. The game is also jaw-droppingly gorgeous and I look forward to seeing the rest of it. So, no spoilers please!
LiEat is a series of three short Wolf RPG Editor games developed by Miwashiba, a mysterious Japanese developer. The game revolves around a dragon girl called Efina who can make lies manifest as little creatures, which she can then eat. This makes her an effective lie detector and gets her involved in various mysteries across a journey of self discovery with her caretaker. I wrote a longer article about all of Miwashiba's amazing RPGs right here:
It might be a stretch to call this game, as Highway Blossoms is really more a 'kinetic novel' - that is, a visual novel with no choices or mechanics. Essentially a digital graphic novel. Highway Blossoms is the story of two girls who are both on the road, going nowhere for their own reasons, and banding together to find a legendary treasure. Of course, the treasure more serves as the background for the blossoming relationship between the two characters. I thought the story and voice acting were pretty good, and the 'joke' modes you get after beating the game made me laugh. It's not really my type of game or story, but it was fun to try something different.
The Sexy Brutale
This oddly-named puzzle game was recommended to me because I really love Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. The two games are very different, but they share this one core idea: Solving murders by preventing them using time travel powers. In the Sexy Brutale, you play as Lafcardio, a priest in a mysterious hotel casino called 'The Sexy Brutale' where all the guests are getting murdered overnight. It's up to you to prevent those murders so you can gain there powers and make your way deeper into the hotel and find out who's behind it all. I loved the game's stylized presentation, the intricate puzzles that forced you to take note of each character's movements and actions throughout the day and the game's dark sense of humour. I wrote my full thoughts down in this article:
Even though my work situation allowed me to make my own schedule, console gaming was so separated from my work (not to mention expensive) that I left it behind for a while after the disappointing lifetime of the Wii U. But in June 2019, I finally got my hands on a Switch with Mario Odyssey, and I loved it. The Mario series has a special place in my heart and I often cite Super Mario Galaxy 2 as one of my all-time favorite games, and it was a real treat to finally play the newest installment in this amazing franchise. Odyssey had bigger worlds, tons of collectibles and dropped the linear structure of its predecessors to return to 64 and Sunshine's open ended structure. I wrote some thoughts about how the game continued (or didn't continue) the trends established in the Wii-era Mario games too:
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Like so many other people, I don't really like the Rabbids. They're simplistic, loud and annoying - in essence, the Minions of videogames. But you simply can't overlook a turn-based tactical RPG with Mario characters, especially not if Grand Kirkhope is doing the soundtrack. Because it involves the Rabbids, the game's sense of humor doesn't really appeal to me, but its presentation and gameplay are very fun. I'm about two worlds in and intend to continue in 2020.
Cadence of Hyrule
I really liked Crypt of the Necrodancer and was absolutely thrilled to see the studio behind that get its hands on a genuine Nintendo IP. Cadence of Hyrule is fantastically fun, offering a new spin on Zelda gameplay and Zelda music with its Necrodanger rhythm game flair - but it also gives me hope that Nintendo may allow smaller studios to try other things just like this. It's good that Nintendo is cautious with its IPs, but they took a risk here and it paid off handsomely. Let's see how other dependable indie devs handle some of those big Nintendo names, I say!
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
The final destination of the Castlevania journey we started last October. Ritual of the Night is a huge Kickstarter success and a great revival of the 'Igavania.' I loved streaming the game and the music sticks by me to this day. I actually wrote down my thoughts in an article earlier this year: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/some-thoughts-about-bloodstained-ritual-of-the-night
An adorable, visually appealing point & click game that was on my to-do list for a long time... and still is, really. I played it for a few hours and really liked the style, but found myself frustrated by the puzzles. The game gives you a huge book with hundreds of pages, and I believe you're expected to find the right page to go with certain mechanisms you come across, but I couldn't muster the patience to get through it. I still want to give it another chance, though, and maybe I will in 2020.
Ticket to Ride
A fun digital version of a classic board game. I enjoyed a few short sessions of it, but haven't picked it up since. Read my full thoughts here: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/some-thoughts-about-ticket-to-ride
Cogs is a three-dimensional sliding puzzle game with a shiney steampunk style. I really enjoyed it, though it's the kind of game I can only really play in small doses. Read my full thoughts here: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/some-thoughts-about-cogs
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
The 'Zero Escape' series had been on my to-do list since the days of the Nintendo DS, when the game was first released. But I was not confident in my ability to solve escape rooms, especially not under pressure, and had some important plot details spoiled for me... so I delayed and delayed until I finally started on the series in 2019. I loved every second of 999, with its vibrant characters, fantastic music and inventive escape rooms. It's only a shame that the series peaked so early. Read my full thoughts here: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/some-thoughts-about-nine-hours-nine-persons-nine-doors
Virtue's Last Reward
The second game in the 'Zero Escape' series. It pushed the series forward in many substantial ways with a huge amount of story branching and an even crazier storyline, but it was held back by some tedious mechanics, repetition and an ugly presentation. I still enjoyed it, but it never quite hit the highs that 999 did for me. Read my full thoughts here: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/some-thoughts-about-virtue-s-last-reward
Zero Time Dilemma
The third game in the 'Zero Escape' series and the only one in the series where I took long breaks between sessions. The game is still alright, with some good characters, writing and escape rooms. However, it failed to live up to its role as the conclusion to a trilogy, having an awful presentation, fatal problems with its storytelling and leaving many questions unanswered. You can read my full, angry thoughts here: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/many-thoughts-about-zero-escape-zero-time-dilemma
A Sega Mega Drive/Genesis classic about a potato man that carries things and uses real physics. A technological marvel far ahead of its time with beautiful music and visuals, but some unfortunately weak boss battles. This game represents a certain milestone for me, because I've known about it for over a decade but simply never played it myself. It's weird to finally play a game when you've had some of its soundtrack in your work music playlists for years. Anyway, I streamed the whole game, and you can read my thoughts about it here: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/some-thoughts-about-puggsy
Deep Rock Galactic
A coop multiplayer game focused on doing mining missions on hostile planets. I loved that each character had a unique role and there were so many ways to achieve your goals; some characters can make platforms, while others can just dig through the ground and walls. I played a few sessions with friends during a free weekend, but I should pick it up again in the future.
An atmospheric 2D puzzle-horror game set in Taiwan under martial law. I played this game as one of my 'October' horror games, and while it fits the bill, I was surprised to see the tone shift from terrifying to tragic as the story progressed. The game wasn't all that scary to me, but I really enjoyed it. I also want to make a special note that this developer had their next game, 'Devotion,' removed from sale because some text disparaging the Chinese president had been left in it. It's especially sad after experiencing the cry for free speech in Detention; apparently it's fine to criticize any other country's regime. If you want, you can read my thoughts in a bit more detail here: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/scary-thoughts-on-detention
Penumbra: Black Plague
Here's a story for you: Before my YouTube channel was mostly a stream archive, I actually tried to make it into a Let's Play channel - hence the name 'ArjenPlays.' And Penumbra: Overture was one of the very first horror games I "let's played" along with SCP: Containment Breach. This all happened in the distant past of 2015. To get back to the present, for this Halloween I was planning to finally get back to this trilogy and pick it back up by streaming the second game. I think the game has good qualities, and the 'voice' that accompanies you provides plenty of dark comedy, but I don't know if will continue streaming it. A slow-paced third person horror game that requires you to solve puzzles while being chased around? Add an audience to that mix, and you've got a lot of stress. I may finish it on my own, however, as it does seem to be an improvement over the first 'Penumbra.'
Silence of the Sleep
A 2D puzzle exploration horror game, just like Detention. This is another game I have been aware of for some time; way back when it released, a few YouTubers I liked made a 'first impressions' video - but none of them went on to finish it. It took a while, but eventually my curiosity got the better of me, and I tried it out. The game is very impressive for a one-man project, with a fascinating narrative and some genuine scares, but it overplays its hand sometimes with monsters appearing too much and being too visible, taking away the tension and replacing it with frustration. It's probably still my favorite horror game of this year, however. Read my mixed thoughts here: https://arjenartdesign.blogspot.com/2019/10/scary-thoughts-about-silence-of-sleep.html
A puzzle 'meta' game where you try to defeat a haunted arcade cabinet. It's short and sweet and I played it through in one session, which I think is the best way to do it. The game was a bit less surprising than it could have been if I had played it when it just released, since 'meta' games are a lot more common these days. I still thought it was great fun though, and I thought the mechanic where you solve problems by "programming" them out of the game was interesting. There's also more to the story than you might expect. Read my full thoughts here: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/scary-thoughts-about-pony-island
Last October I was really on a roll with simple but effective 2D horror games like Detention and Silence of the Sleep. I thought I'd keep the train going with 'Uncanny Valley,' another game in the same genre but with a simpler artstyle. I liked the initial build up, but the game apparently glitched causing the story to never progress anymore. After a lot of random experimentation, I did get an ending, but it was absolutely horrifying and didn't really motivate me to try again because I felt I was being punished for the game's mistakes. The game has a real problem communicating, and unfortunately, the dev isn't that willing to listen to feedback. Never say never, but Uncanny Valley can stay right where it is for now. My thoughts in a bit more detail: https://steemit.com/gaming/@arjendesign/scary-rant-about-uncanny-valley
Resident Evil HD
In October 2018, I gave my Twitch channel a new direction: To stream all Metroidvania Castlevania games. With the completion of Ritual of the Night and 'Penumbra: Overture' not really scratching the itch, I finally picked up another series I've been avoiding for a long time. I started on the Resident Evil series with the HD remake of the first game. I decided to start on the hardest difficulty, and while that made the experience quite tough, it definitely helped me appreciate the 'survival' ascept of this survival horror classic. The most interesting and difficult part was definitely that saving is a limited resource in the Resident Evil games, requiring you to use an 'Ink Ribbon' on a typewriter to actually keep your progress. I described my experiences with this unique limited resource more here:
On a more personal note, I'm really happy I finally started on this series and I love it - even when it gets frustrating. It also feels good to have a clear direction for my Twitch channel.
Resident Evil 0
After having a great time with Resident Evil, I thought I'd strike while the iron was hot and started on the prequel right away. On top of the usual resource management, Resident Evil 0 also requires you to manage two characters with their own health and inventory space. Most of the game was perfectly fine, if derivative, but an overly linear structure combined with bullet sponge-y bosses made it possible to save the game in an unwinnable situation. This happened to me twice, and the second time, I used Cheat Engine for the first time ever just to be done with it, as I had spent literal hours beating my head against a certain boss and realizing I simply didn't have the firepower to take it down. Aside from those two very negative experiences, though, the game was still solid. You can read more about my experiences here:
A cute and simplistic first-person shooter by a Japanese developer. I tried this game on a whim and actually really liked its simple level structure. It's all about figuring out the structure of the level and running your way through it as quickly as you can. It did start to wear on me after a while, but maybe I'll pick it back up in the future and see if more mechanics are added.
Another puzzle platformer that's been sitting in my Steam list for many years. I tried it randomly to clear out my to-do list. It's functional, but didn't grab my attention in any real way. I might pick it up again some day.
A runner game about a toy action hero trying to reclaim his lost glory. It's all about finding the fastest, most efficient way to get through the stages with various jumps and sliding. This game has a special meaning to me because it's actually from my native country, the Netherlands. The backgrounds are nicely detailed, but the character models look a little bit unpleasant. I especially loved the music and trying again and again to shave off a second is very addictive. Sometimes the game is so fast, you need to fail a stage a few times to really figure out where to do, but this is pretty harmless because the levels are so short and restarting happens instantly. I enjoyed the game a lot, so I'm actually surprised I didn't write a full article about it. Maybe I will next year.
Spec Ops: The Line
A seemingly generic military shooter about a group of American soldiers performing a mission in Dubai, but it gradually turns into a scathing commentary on the genre. This type of 'cover shooter' isn't usually my genre, and I did have a lot of trouble with some sections, but there are many great details in the presentation. For example, the voice lines of the characters in your squad become increasingly unhinged as the situation gets messier. When it all seems simple enough, and it's you versus what seem to be terrorists, they're very professional - but as the game progresses and you've found yourself having to fight American soldiers and possibly harming civilians, the voice lines become angrier, laden with profanity and outright desperate-sounding. Because the game is known as a commentary, I was expecting ridiculous levels of 'meta,' but the 'meta' elements are actually very subtle and restrained. The game works perfectly well like a military shooter in its own right, which you could see as a positive or a negative considering its message. Either way, it was interesting!
Resident Evil 2 (Remake)
Which version of Resident Evil 2 to play was a much harder choice than for the first game. The REmake seemed like an improvement in every way, but the Resident Evil 2 remake also seemed very different. It trades the static camera angles for an over-the-shoulder third person action camera, and it's also very recent. On top of that, the Resident Evil 1 remake is a classic in its own right, but the Resident Evil 2 remake is still quite new. But in the end, I'm glad I decided to play this version - I really love the game and all the ways it reimagines the series. Even on the hardest difficulty, it is easier than 1 and 0, but I honestly don't mind - it's still hard enough! I can't offer my full thought yet, because while I've finished Leon's campaign, I still need to finish Claire's and the extra campaigns. And of course, I'm streaming it all, so do stop by if you get the opportunity.
One of the indie darlings of yore, a classic among indie platformers that I simply never tried, maybe because I got it in a Humble Bundle during time where I felt "retro style" games oversaturated the market a bit. Not really a fair reason, but when you have hundreds of games to play, you can start to prioritize one over the other for any number of silly reasons. Regardless, I finally tried it and really enjoyed it. It's a platformer where you don't really "jump" per se, but rather, each jump reverses gravity. It's a simple but effective idea that really makes you think about the level design in a different way, especially when additional mechanics get thrown into the mix. And I really loved the music.
Shovel Knight: King of Cards
Yacht Club finally released their final DLC for Shovel Knight after continously working on the game since its release in 2013 - and they nailed it, again. The 'King of Cards' expansion revolves around King Knight, a character whose movement revolves around shoulder bashing and chaining together spin jumps. It's funny, it's charming and they structured it so that it consists of many smaller stages instead of fewer larger ones. This keeps everything more varied, and on top of that, they added a genuinely fun card game called Joustus to go along with the campaign. It's unbelievable how much mileage we've gotten out of the Shovel Knight Treasure Trove pack and I look forward to seeing whatever Yacht Club works on next!
Luigi's Mansion 3
A long awaited third installment in a beloved series. Luigi's Mansion was a classic, designed with enough content to keep you busy for long time, and yet a skilled player could find their way through the mansion in mere hours. That's why the game is still well-liked by speedrunners. Luigi's Mansion 2 for the 3DS had an even better presentation and more variation, but the transition to handheld caused changes people disagreed with - like separated levels with separated missions. Luigi's Mansion 3 brings the best of both worlds and truly represents a high point for the series. It all takes place in a huge hotel, returning to the cohesion of Luigi's Mansion 1, but each floor is themed to allow for the visual and thematic diversity of Luigi's Mansion 2. I'm so happy it exists and I can't wait to keep playing it.
Phew! I never expect these articles to take the sheer amount of work they do; maybe I should spend less time on games in 2020 to make it easier next time... Regardless, I had a really great year in terms of gaming, and I'm looking forward to what awaits us in 2020 as well. 2019 had a rough start, but starting with Q2, the game train started and never stopped. I streamed many amazing games, I picked up console gaming again and I checked off quite a few games from my to-do list. A pretty big success!
To zoom out a bit, it's also been a great year for me on Steem. A lot of people have supported my articles, art and videos and it was a major encouragement while I sorted things out with my work. I've written more articles this year than I have in, well, years! And it's all thanks to your kind support. I hope you'll continue to go on these adventures with me, whether it be by reading my articles, watching my streams or enjoying my art.
I want to wish you all a beautiful and blessed 2020 - and if you have a moment, why don't you share your favorite games from 2019 right here? I'll try to respond to everyone.