Dropsy

Dropsy

I can’t remember the last game that affected me this much emotionally. Dropsy was a roller coaster. It was weirdly touching, sad, and inspirational. And that makes the ending all the more bittersweet, because I really didn’t like the direction the story went. The ending kind of trivializes your hard work throughout the game, about Dropsy going around town, trying to make people like him. I love how Dropsy is so creepy and grotesque but is quite possibly the most heartwarming character of any video game. Watching him hug various animals and strangers always made me smile. The fact that he only had nightmares when he slept in his own bed was also a nice touch.

I didn’t care for the day/night cycle, though, since it was often pure luck for me to stumble across certain situations at certain times of the day. For the most part, however, the point-and-click gameplay made sense. The whole thing is played without any dialogue, which is an impressive feat, but that means there are no instructions whatsoever, not even labels for the UI buttons. Saving your game for the first time is pretty much guesswork. But I can’t stress enough how cool this game is, right down to the clownish yet melancholy jazz soundtrack. I ended up buying the soundtrack, and whenever I listen to it, I’m nearly moved to tears. How often does a game stick with you that much?

The Promised Land

Promised Land

I think this was one of the most casual games I’ve ever played. There really isn’t much room for error, since the game holds your hand through just about every step, and you have no freedom over where to build things. It’s a very light resource management sim where much of the game boils down to you watching your people work and then selling the fruits of their labor. In fact, way too much time is spent waiting around for the laboratory to finish with its research tasks. I hated how slow that laboratory was, even with 5-10 people stationed at it.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This did end up being a fun experience. I kind of needed something that didn’t require a lot of thought, and this worked out perfectly. I enjoyed juggling the different people to figure out the most efficient way to keep food supplies up, and there was some care involved in making sure those who hated chopping wood didn’t have to chop wood. However, the random, pirate-themed Angry Bird mini-games didn’t fit at all. Sure, in a way, I appreciated how they broke up the sim game repetition, but seriously… Angry Birds? You couldn’t have ripped off something better?

Pokémon Go

Pokemon Go

Pokémon Go is the most frustrating mobile game I’ve ever played. It constantly crashes or freezes on me. Now I’ve been good to cut Niantic some slack since I’m pretty sure nobody expected the game to turn into a worldwide phenomenon overnight. They’ve undoubtedly got their hands full trying to cool off the servers and don’t have time to investigate every crash on every outdated Android device. But good lord, it gets annoying having to reboot the game every five minutes, because it keeps failing to track my movement. That makes trying to hatch eggs—a very cool idea, by the way—a painful process. And there have been many times where I’ve gone to an area with a lot of Pokéstops and couldn’t participate in the fun, because the game kept outright quitting on me.

Normally, I would not be this forgiving of such a problematic game, but it’s hard to say no to Pokémon. I was a big fan of the original generation, so Pokémon Go feels tailor-made to me. And when it works, it’s a truly fun experience. I don’t say that from a gameplay perspective, either, because… let’s face it, there’s not much “game” here. Sure, throwing a Pokéball sometimes ends up being a little trickier than you thought, but the gym battles, if you even care about them (or rather, if you can even get into a gym without the game breaking), kind of take the fun out of traditional, turn-based Pokémon fights. It’s the act of collecting that makes this so exciting, that every time you boot the game up, there might be a rare Pokémon nearby to propel you into the cool kids’ club.

Unfortunately, Niantic had to remove the “nearby” feature, which makes it impossible to actively hunt for specific Pokémon. But that hasn’t stopped me from frequently checking the game to see what monsters are still within reach. Truth is, I haven’t had to walk much to accumulate a lot of Pokémon, anyway. There’s a Pokéstop outside my office, for instance, that almost always has a lure activated thanks to someone else. I’m much too self-conscious to actually go out and find this generous person, however, but I like and appreciate the social potential here. The neatest thing about Pokémon Go, after all, is how it turns real landmarks into Pokéstops, which gives you an incentive to explore and see parts of your city you previously never noticed. I’ll forgive the warts of any game that encourages such. But man… they seriously need to fix these bugs.

Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade Chronicles

It was easy to miss the original Xenoblade Chronicles game when it first came out, so I’m really glad Nintendo brought it to the eShop. It’s a good RPG and a great way to keep the spirit of the newer Wii U game going if beating that one left a hole in your heart. It’s probably not entirely fair to go from the Wii U game to the older Wii game, though. It does feel like a step back, not just graphically but in everything, as you realize Xenoblade Chronicles X improved on a lot. But the Wii version manages to stand out on its own, too.

For one, the story and characters are more interesting. Yes, it’s a typical JRPG where the “chosen one” spends most of his time dramatically grunting and yelling his friends’ names, and nobody really dies in very non-surprising twists. But the end goal was clearer, and the story didn’t hit as many lulls. I also really liked the game’s character management, how you’re free to switch around active members (even taking main hero Shulk out of the picture altogether), and how characters’ affinity towards each other allows them to share skills. Building the perfect team is quite rewarding.

The side missions, however, were pretty lame. That’s something XCX did much, much better. As for the battle system, it’s fundamentally the same but does enough differently to not be a total bore if you’ve already seen it. This is one of my favorite battle systems of any RPG, after all, so it was great to be able to experience it again in an alternate universe. I just wish the last several hours weren’t all fights against the same robots. It’s no surprise, then, that the Wii U version is still the better game, but I’d recommend newcomers start here so they can appreciate the progress the series is making. And if you’re not a newcomer, check it out, anyway.

Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim

Cornerstone

This is the kind of game that’s frustratingly shy of being great. With just a little more polish and a slightly bigger scope, it could have easily become my Game of the Year. As it stands, Cornerstone is merely “good.” It’s another island-based adventure game that will undoubtedly be compared to Wind Waker, which is also why I’m so enamored with it. I can’t stress enough that Steam needs more Zelda-like games, although Cornerstone does more to differentiate itself than the other indie homage I recently played, Oceanhorn. But it also amplifies some of the same shortcomings.

For starters, it’s easy to get lost. Not every task is put on your “to do” list, making it feel like the game has glitched out when said list turns up empty, and yet you have no idea where you’re supposed to go next. Blaming it on glitches is totally valid, by the way, because Cornerstone is full of them. Tyrim will randomly start grunting like he’s stuck on a wall, and one boss in particular had a habit of disappearing from the fight, never to return. The controls aren’t great, either, and the combat system is about as simple as it gets. Block, parry, repeat, only with the added confusion of weird button mapping choices.

But enough with the complaints. I do like the way they’ve set up the world/islands and how everything revolves around crafting from four set materials. Swords, shields, bombs, and parachutes are all conjured on the fly and can wear out and break over time. I only wish this aspect of the game were stronger, because the most enjoyable part of Cornerstone is finding a new crafting recipe and experimenting with what it gives you. I even liked the story, which is rare for me, though the way dialogue is presented is rather stale. Again, this is so close to being a truly awesome game, but even a less-than-stellar Wind Waker “clone” is still pretty cool.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

Oceanhorn

Steam has an abundance of almost every game genre now, but one thing that PC gamers are still missing out on are good Zelda clones. I seriously don’t understand why these types of games aren’t a dime a dozen. I suppose if they were, though, then Oceanhorn would not be as charming as it is. Basically, this is Wind Waker if Wind Waker had been done by an indie studio. Depending on how you feel about indies, that probably sounds awesome or terrible to you. I will admit, the game is a little rough around the edges. Your character’s movement is clunky, and some of the models and animations are cheesy. Nonetheless, this is a great homage to the Legend of Zelda series.

Well, you could argue that it’s more of a rip-off than an homage. So many things are pretty much copy and paste, right down to the silent protagonist, inability to jump, dungeons with master keys, bomb and arrow pickups, heart containers, and real-time sailing between islands. But it actually does some things better. Sailing isn’t as tedious, the achievements are fun, and the game doesn’t hold your hand nearly as much as Nintendo likes to. Sometimes I felt like I was stumbling across the right path by accident, although I kind of liked that approach. The number of islands you can explore—and the way they are introduced—help Oceanhorn feel like a true adventure. It’s still a bite-sized adventure, but any Zelda fan turned PC gamer will enjoy it.