Manual Samuel

Manual Samuel

I’m annoyed by the potential that’s been squandered here. The game starts out with Samuel getting smacked so hard in the head by his girlfriend that he has to start doing everything manually. What a great way to setup an otherwise gimmicky premise. But just a few minutes later, Samuel gets hit by a truck, dies, meets an obnoxious rendition of Death, and then has to agree to a day of “manual labor” to get his life back. Why did we need the Death angle, though? Not only is Death an incredibly annoying character, but his presence cheapens the opening sequence and makes the overall game feel… well… gamey.

That gamey feel couldn’t be more present than in the last two chapters, where Samuel “manually” takes over another souped-up body to do battle against robots first and then bloody demons. By then, it’s not really Manual Samuel anymore but a really bad hack ‘n slash with awful controls. The final boss battle—yes, there’s a final boss—is so wrought with quick time events that’s it’s like the ultimate “eff you.” There’s a lot of humor and cleverness in Manual Samuel, and I do like that it can be played co-op by divvying up Sam’s bodily functions, so it saddens me to see the game go the direction it did.

Submerged

Submerged

I can’t say much about this game without spoiling the ending, so reader beware. And, frankly, it’s the disappointing ending that’s got me so riled up. The actual gameplay is pretty straightforward and repetitive. Once you’ve scouted your third building to find medical supplies, you’ve seen everything the game has to offer. From then on, you’re just going through the motions—climbing more buildings—to see how it ends. Once the protagonist started showing “sores” on her body, though, I was genuinely interested in where the story was going. Would she turn into a monster, similar to the strange creatures lurking out of reach? Would she even be able to save her brother? What would happen to him if she did become a monster?

It isn’t often I stick with a game for the story, so that’s saying something about the build-up here. Because, again, the gameplay alone just wasn’t selling it. While I like the idea of exploring a flooded city free of combat, that sense of exploration boiled down to a series of the same rudimentary, Tomb Raider-like ledge hopping. And what was the payoff for shimmying across 100 ledges? Nothing. The boy is saved. The girl’s sores are magically waved away, and she and her brother sail off having learned nothing. Submerged had the chance to pull a really gut-wrenching ending, but then they went with the safest, most bland choice possible. Missed opportunity…

Little King’s Story

Little King's Story

I’m trying to make the best of a bad port. I really am. But Little King’s Story on Steam is troubled by all kinds of issues, from wonky controller dead zones to the sound cutting out to the game freezing or crashing at the worst possible moments. At times, these bugs are so frustrating that I want to just uninstall the game and be done with it. The next day, however, I’m at it again, hoping I can make it past the crash this go-round, because I don’t want to stop exploring the game’s world. When it works, Little King’s Story is a very fun and charming experience. It’s like a mix of Pikmin and Harvest Moon and is equally addictive. I can play for several hours straight and not be bored.

Well… that is, until the game crashes, a rude reminder that I am, in fact, simply playing a game and could probably make better use of my free time doing something that’s not going to periodically wipe out 20 minutes of work while alerting, “Oops, I stopped responding.” I’m at a point in the game now where I don’t think I can progress any further. Because the current crash condition takes place right after a somewhat annoying boss trial, I’ve run out of patience. No more attempts. The bugs have won. That’s hard for me to accept, though. I was really enjoying this half-casual, half-punishing adventure/strategy/sim game. How often are you even able to say sentences like that? Not often enough, my friend. Not often enough…

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

Dragon's Dogma

I expected this game to be a lot bigger than it actually was. I know people who have put 100+ hours into it, and the size of the map suggests that’s entirely justifiable. The map is deceiving, though. Most of it is purposefully unreachable with the game taking place on just a handful of the same roads. This isn’t like Breath of the Wild where you’ll travel from a desert to a jungle to a snowy mountain. Everything stays consistently “rocks ‘n trees” here, and you’ll get sick of fighting the same flying harpies over and over regardless of which mission you’re currently on.

The combat can be pretty fun, though, when you’re up against bigger monsters. Taking down a chimera or cyclops is always a rewarding experience. In fact, I think my favorite part of Dragon’s Dogma was the final chapter where you are sent to explore a dungeon full of harder monsters. There’s also a superfluous bonus dungeon called Bitterblack Isle that’s probably pretty similar, and I’m guessing that’s where players are racking up these 100+ hours of gameplay. But I never bothered to visit Bitterblack Isle, because, frankly, the main game didn’t captivate me enough to warrant staying after that really weird ending.

The story of Dragon’s Dogma isn’t very memorable, anyway, but it does hit some rather strange beats. For instance, there’s a mission that ends with the duke throwing you in prison, but when you escape, everyone’s friends with you again. The game tries to make you think your choices matter, but they ultimately don’t. And all of the story-related missions are just as fetch-questy as the actual side quests, which cheapens their impact. I feel like they could have scrapped the story entirely and just focused on designing a better variety of monsters and dungeons. Maybe that’s the whole point of Bitterblack Isle, and I’m missing out on the best the game has to offer. But then why wasn’t the main story the best?

Toy Soldiers: Complete

Toy Soldiers

There aren’t enough co-op tower defense games in the world. So if you’re anything like me and are constantly craving more, then Toy Soldiers: Complete should be right up your alley. The “Complete” version is required, though, since Toy Soldiers 1 didn’t originally have co-op and has been reconfigured here to support it. But that also means this version of the game ended up being a somewhat crummy port. Enemies are constantly falling through the map and dying or failing to reveal themselves, making it impossible to finish the level.

Fortunately, once you get into the Cold War levels, the bugs go away for the most part. And Cold War is a more challenging and intense campaign, anyway. But both campaigns are fun, especially when tackled co-op. One player can focus on keeping the towers upgraded and repaired while another player can hop in a tank to attack the enemies head-on. That’s the best part about Toy Soldiers: being able to directly control a tower or vehicle. It’s not as hands on as, say, Dungeon Defenders, but it does make the tower defense gameplay that much more action-oriented.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild is such a huge shift from the typical Nintendo formula that it doesn’t even feel like a Zelda game anymore. There are a few familiar jingles and the same goofy character designs for NPCs, but that’s about it. The gameplay is something else entirely. I wouldn’t necessarily call it original, though, because even the Wii U’s previous Xenoblade Chronicles X accomplished a lot of the same sense of exploration and adventure. But, man, I’m a sucker for adventure, and I had a lot of fun exploring such a huge map. It’s nice to be rewarded for veering off the main path. It’s not like you’re under any kind of pressure to find and beat the dungeons, either. There’s not even much guidance on which order to do them in, which is great.

That does mean the story plays out in very disjointed parts, though. But the story’s pretty lame, anyway. How many times now has a hero emerged 100 years later to defeat Ganon? I promise, if you only focus on the story-related missions, you’re gonna be disappointed. Breath of the Wild has so much more to offer. I just wish they’d found a better way to balance the difficulty with the openness. In order to keep the game from suddenly becoming too easy, most enemies do a huge amount of damage. I friggin’ hated how many monsters had that stupid laser lock-on attack. Combined with the fact that swords and shields can break and disappear forever, it was often easier to just run past enemies than stop and fight.

This isn’t a perfect game, then, so I’m surprised by all of the 10/10 love. Maybe critics have been so eager for Nintendo to make a game like this that they’re much more willing to overlook its flaws than I am. Hell, the controls alone knocked it down several pegs for me. I struggled with the button mapping for the entirety of the game. Nintendo invented the concept of “press A to jump,” so why the hell is the A button not the jump button here?! Certain areas in the game also suffer from noticeable framerate drops, and the stamina meter can be annoyingly limiting in the first few hours. I definitely hold Xenoblade Chronicles X more dear to my heart, but Breath of the Wild was still a great follow-up and the perfect way to say goodbye to the Wii U (or say hello to the Nintendo Switch, I guess).