Saturday, 28 December 2013

abbott_56's #GOTY

Christmas has been and gone. Hazah! I was extremely in the spirit and very much looking forward to getting my hands on some new games to celebrate the birthday of the baby jesus. There's just no better way I'm sure you (and he) would agree.

However, rather unlike me I have actually made an effort to buy some new titles for myself this year, and have played enough to feel that I can make an informed short list and choose a new title from 2013 as my game of the year. I don't have an Xbox so the titles I've picked are from Sony and Nintendo platforms only. Hold on tight now, here they come...

1. The Last Of Us (PS3)

A masterful execution of technology meets story telling and whilst it may not appeal to everyone, its exquisite looks, soundtrack and story means it's very difficult to ignore The Last Of Us as a contender for many people's GOTY lists. 

I like how this game makes you believe in the situation Joel (the main and most controlled character throughout) suddenly finds himself in. As much as I enjoy Resident Evil, it can feel a bit Haunted House, going more and more over the top with every iteration to try and scare you when actually it's in the what you don't see that creates real fear. The infection in The Last Of Us is believable, from the way it's contracted to the progressing symptoms in the infected. Rather than throwing in ginormous mutant bosses for thrills sake, you encounter different levels of the same infection, and it's more about stealth and conserving your ammo and med kits than it is about blowing the heads of as many zombies as possible.  

I thoroughly enjoyed the story. It really makes you empathise and attached to the characters right from the go. It explores morality, and has an unexpected conclusion without shoe-horning on (or creating) an alternate ending to try and please the masses. This is a story, and will be told as developer 'Naughty Dog' see fit. 

It's also about survival of the fittest. The earth is in turmoil; one man doesn't suddenly go off to rid the world of infection - people do what they can to survive, which is exactly what Joal does. This makes other humans just as much of a threat as the infected as you traverse the decaying world around you. 

Everything about this game adds to the scare factor, the environments are epic in design, and realistic in a world that's been left to it's own devices for two decades. Buildings are derelict; flooded, overgrown and capsizing. The soundtrack is minimalist, but perfect in developing atmosphere. The character design and animation really adds to the attachment - you can really see the emotion in the faces.  

It's hard to do The Last Of Us justice in just a few paragraphs, but it really did quite literally take my breath away during my first play through. It's worth adding as well that there are multiple difficulties and an online multiplayer, so it's value for money as well. If you haven't played this yet, I'd really recommend picking it up for the new year. 

(Screenshots from

2. Ni-No Kuni (PS3)

I am definitely a fan of RPG's, traditional or not. I enjoy navigating through menu's, equipping magic, weapons and increasing stats. I enjoy what is normally gorgeous art work and design throughout and I'm definitely partial to the epic sweeping scores that normally accompany the action. And though developers seem to be moving ever away from the traditional turn based RPG, there is a still a lot on the market to devote hours, weeks and even months of your life to, without even looking at the offerings of online gaming. It takes something truly special to stand out from the croud. 

Luckily, Ni-No Kuni does this from the get go. I pre-ordered the special edition purely based on how pretty it looked before even turning it on. The collectors box, plush, magic book and game are all stunningly presented and even if the game had been rubbish, I would've been happy with that purchase. 

The game delves into the world of Oliver, who through some harmless mischief ends up losing his mother in an accident. Upset as you would be, Oliver cries in his room. His tears gently drip on to his own plush which is magically brought to life. It sounds cheesy, but it is so loveable you won't mind. 

The now alive plush, Drippy, informs Oliver of another world where everyone has their own counterpart, and that Oliver's mother looks suspiciously like a great Sage that has been captured. Using his new found magical ability, Oliver and Drippy set of between worlds to rescue her, often switching between the worlds to solve puzzles and problems. 

The game looks for the most part like playing a cartoon. The artwork of Studio Ghibli is masterful, and Level 5 have done wonders in bringing it all to life. The animation, the battles, characters and even voice acting is superb, helping to absorb you into this enchanted world and story. 

The battles are fresh, and use a real time menu system, where you select abilities and attacks while the rest of your party look after themselves until you tell them otherwise or decide to switch characters. There's also a Pokemon style familiar system, where creatures from the world can be called upon to assist in battle. These too look stunning, not one looking drab or cliche. 

But it's the over world that I love most of all. After putting up with Square-Enix's desire to move from open map to corridors in FFXIII, having an old style gorgeous world map actually feels new and refreshing. The accompanying soundtrack is full of sweeping orchestral scores, making the adventure just better every step of the way. 

In fact, the only real shortcoming of this game is a flaw of my own, and that's just that as an adult I could not devote the time to it that it truly deserved. now it's Christmas, I have more time, which will likely be taken up by any presents I may receive for being well behaved these last 365 days. I will try to play through this masterpiece again, and if you haven't already, please go and buy it and encourage more games of this calibre to come into existence. 

3. Super Mario 3D World (WiiU)

Is definitely the WiiU's killer app right now. It's just an excellent 3D Mario game. Closer to a HD Mario 64 than Mario Galaxy, the game ditches the excellent gravity based mind bending puzzles from the latter in favour of more traditional go at things. This can only be a good thing, and in HD Mario looks better than ever, as do his pals Luigi, Toad and Peach, who, if you can believe it, is not who we're saving this time round!

All four characters are playable, and the game caters to multiplayer very well. Player 1 on the gamepad, further players can pick up a wiimote, with or without nunchuck, or a classic pro controller and just drop in when it suits. It doesn't feel like you're missing out playing alone at all, but things are definitely more laughable with more of you on screen.

The display is just mirrored, and actually looks excellent on the TV and gamepad (my naff iPhone screenshots really don't do it justice). The gamepad image is a slightly fuzzier version of what is on screen, but I've probably played more without a TV then I have with.   

The map looks great - like an old school Mario map, except you can move about freely. People from Miiverse are dotted around your map; move towards them and see a comment from that person, complete with unlockable Mario stamps that they've posted about the level or world they are in. You can also toggle Miiverse ghost data, which inserts Miis in to the level your playing. It's a great user friendly way to introduce the WiiU's online capabilities and the world of Miiverse. 

The gameplay then is good old fashioned fun. No gimicks like the water canon in Sunshine or Gravity in galaxy. As great as they were, it's nice to have a normal Mario game on the big screen again and it's a great debut for Mario and co to the land of HD. 

4. Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

I've already devoted a post to the latest handheld adventure, which you can get to here, but just to summarise, A Link Between Worlds is a perfect blend of old meets new. Nostalgic for Nintendo veterans, but easy to pick up for newcomers. It looks, sounds and plays great, uses Street-pass and 3D superbly and is quite simply another must-own title for the ever expanding 3DS library.  

5. Steamworld Dig (3DS)

Another game I've blogged about before here, Steamworld Dig is an astonishing accomplishment, and is making GOTY lists all over the shop according to developer Image & Form's twitter account. It really does hold it's own with some of the triple A titles, and is only an £8 download (or if you're quick, I think it's on sale for about a £5a right now). 

Again, to summarise, this is a Metroidvania meets DigDug or Boulderdash with a steampunk art style. There is an element of resource management as you strive to rejuvenate an old mining town by bringing rare rocks and gems to the surface for selling, in turn being able to buy more and better equipment to make your way further into the mines to find more valuable gems to come back and sell to buy even better equipment...ah, I think you understand. 

The look is extremely polished, and use of equipment ingenious. No two play-throughs will be alike as the map is created as you mine yourself as you mine. There are distinct levels where the look and enemies in an area will change, keeping the adventure nice and varied. There is a solid story holding it together as you hunt for clues about your Grandpas misterious disappearance, finding Metroid style powerups that have been conveniently developed just for you which again help you to explore previously inaccessible regions of the ever expanding mines. 

It's a great mix of elements and feels more expensive than it's price tag would let on. Just google it to see all the good things people have been saying about this utterly charming game. Very much looking forward to the next Steamworld outing. 

My Winner

Picking a winner for my own list is difficult - of course it is. It's my list of my favourite games from the entire year! It's supposed to be hard These games are completely different from one another and all have their own merits. In my head I feel it should be The Last Of Us, as it was just like nothing I've ever experienced before and really took my breath away. That's kind of the sensible option. But no one likes sensible, so just pipped to the post I think it would have to go to A Link Between Worlds. I just had such an immense amount of fun playing through the familiar land of Hyrule and becoming a living painting. It made me smile I think more than the Last Of Us had me terrified (just about). And for that reason, my GOTY goes to (with no trophy or anything - absolutely no expense spared) Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Now go out and buy all 5 of these games right now! 

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Legend Of Zelda #ALinkBetweenWorlds

I am an avid fan of the Legend Of Zelda series ever since my first time playing video games, and to me, they opitimise everything good about video games - They're epic, they're colourful yet broad in appeal, they involve a big sword, and most importantly, they're fun. 

If anything, I lean towards preferring the handheld games over the console endeavours, as it's just amazing how something so grand in scale can fit on to such a small screen. Links Awakening DX was the first LOZ game I ever played and is still one of the very best. 

And now, Link makes his way to the small(ish) screen yet again, in a completely original Zelda game, A Link Between Worlds, a sequel to the stunning 16bit Link to The Past. The result of Ninty's merging of the nostalgia of old with the tech and design of new is pretty much flawless, creating an instant classic; a must own title for the 3DS and certainly a good enough reason to go out  and buy a system to play it. It really is that good. 

Frequent visitors to the pastures of Hyrule will instantly recognise a lot of the musical themes in ALBW. The 16bit midi has been reorchestrated and sounds exquisit, bringing with it excitement, tension and celebration throughout. Even the sound effects used are polished, with satisfying sounds signalling skipping through text for example - not an annoying beep on earshot. 

They should also recognise the overworld map. It really is a sequel to ALTTP, and whilst the game encourages you to explore very early on, you'll no doubt be treading some familiar paths and taking a walk down nostalgia lane. And it's all presented in brilliant colours and clarity, using the 3d effect throughout. This especially adds depth to the dungeons, which make use of the effect when moving from floor to floor. Early on, Link uses springs to ascend a dungeon, bursting out of the screen before landing safely one floor up. 

As for gameplay, the traditional complete a dungeon with the gear you find within has been replaced with a renting system, making the familiar in game currency of Rupees arguably more important than before. You rent your gear, and should you die, you lose it. A nice idea, though in my first play through I only died once, meaning I soon had enough rupees to buy equipment should I have fallen. Lots of the series staples are still available to equip, such as the hookshot, the bow, and the always inessential boomerang. 

Another new mechanic is the 'as seen on TV' ability to merge into walls as a painting. Link can move left to right in this  state as long as the magic meter lasts. It makes for some ingenious puzzles and some glorious artwork. Picking up painted rupees and hearts is beautiful to behold and really put a smile on my fave when I realised it could be done. 

The dungeons then, for me at least, were tricky, but combat is not. Puzzles and routes often take a lot of scratching your head to work out but fights, even with bosses, were never truly difficult. This is not to say they lacked tension, the music and cramped arenas see to this, but Inwas still able to make my way through with few casulties. Fortunately though, there is an included hero mode which is unlocked upon completion for those wishing to test themselves. 

Finally then, there is the StreetPass. This has been used to gain hits from other 'Link's' from other people's game. They show up in yours as Dark Links in the overworld. Bumping into these triggers a 1on1 battle using your currently equipped gear and nothing else. This is an intuitive and unobtrusive way of using StreetPass and definitely enriches the Zelda experience. 

All in all then, a pristinely polished game which utilises both the nostalgia from the prequel and the new tech of the 3DS to create something sublime. A must by for anyone interested in gaming adventures. 

(Screenshots taken from Official Nintendo Website, at

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