This is the third time I am doing this after last year and the year before. The difference this year is I played very few new games and all the ones I did were on Nintendo Switch. Though looking over what was released elsewhere, I really can’t seen anything I missed out on. There was Elden Ring I suppose but I played Dark Souls and while I appreciate why people enjoy these games, they don’t really appeal to me. There are a couple of other games that I would like to have played which are Kirby and the Forgotten Land and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge — which I’m sure I will get to at some stage. I was aware of both but didn’t go out of my way to pick them up. I also considered Splatoon 3 but ultimately didn’t get it as I don’t spend much time on multiplayer games these days. I spent very little money this year on games and as a result, got around to playing a few I already had and I have included the two most notable at the end.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus
I made the mistake of believing the hype that this was a genuine evolution of the formula. It wasn’t. It is certainly true that it makes some interesting departures from the mainline series but is still sticks to the same formula in all the essentials. It has the same general progression along with the same ludicrous plot only the journey isn’t to be “Pokémon Champion” this time. The main problem isn’t the gameplay (or really the narrative) but the terrible visuals, poor draw distance and buggy engine. I am still surprised that people are so tolerant of such lazy efforts made by Game Freak. Most publishers would be overjoyed with a fraction of the sales Pokémon games achieve yet every Switch title looks like it was made with a tiny budget. The most recent mainline entry was by all accounts even worse though this didn’t hurt sales so it is unlikely anything will change. All the same, I’m quite done with the series.
Mario Strikers: Battle League
This was yet another skeleton of a game released at retail and later “finished” with free updates. This is actually the third game in a series beginning back on the GameCube. The original was one of the last big releases on the system and I remember thinking at the time it was lacking in features and this game falls even shorter in some ways. There was a much improved (though awkwardly titled) sequel released in 2007 on Wii which means this is coming fifteen years after the last game. Even with all the updates, Battle League still has considerably less content than the previous entry — excepting new character customisation features and a more robust (though still very limited) online component. If you don’t have online support, this has little to recommend it even over the original. It plays well but is ultimately a forgettable game that could have easily been much better. I don’t blame the developers for this as they’re a proven company, I assume they weren’t given the time or budget to do more with the title.
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope
I reviewed this in November and I haven’t changed my mind about anything I wrote nor have I had the urge to go back to it. Although the best of these three games by far, it was still a tremendous disappointment.
Looking back over these games, I wish I had taken a chance on the above mentioned Kirby game. Though the year was generally disappointing with new releases as even mainstream game awards demonstrated, I did play a number of earlier releases and I will finish with the my thoughts on two of the most notable.
The NOT Games of 2022
Homeworld Remastered Collection
Firstly, I know that those that played the original games weren’t so happy with a number of aspects of this release. From my understanding, the absence of the original Homeworld expansion Cataclysm and the use of the Homeworld 2 engine for both titles here were deal-breakers. The former was due to the source code being lost and potential legal issues with the subtitle of the expansion from Activision. I am not sure why the latter happened but the original un-remastered games are also included in this collection too which is a decent consolation.
As someone who missed these games at the time and who didn’t know better, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them especially considering they were sitting on my HDD for a year before I got to them. Even today, they remain unique real-time strategy games and this year will see Homeworld 3 release with many of the original developers involved. The story was gripping, the gameplay was intense and exciting and both games had a wonderful soundtrack. These games aren’t for everyone but I would recommend them to anyone who enjoys the genre and who has yet to play them. This collection cost only a few dollars on sale which is how I got them and they were more than worth the price.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance
I bought this on sale in early 2020 and while I did start it, I got only about half-way through before retiring. This wasn’t out of boredom but due to the issues I had running it. My computer is getting older and this is quite a demanding game so I was encountering regular crashes. It is also has a huge scope with a lot to do so requires quite a time commitment. I decided to go back to it late last year where I left off and while it took me a while to remember many details, I was soon enjoying myself again. I turned down all the visual settings to very low and had nothing else running while playing it which made for a better experience though I still had crashes from time to time. I have just recently got to the end and I’m very happy I finally went back. I am still not sold on a lot of the mechanics — particularly with sword combat and even the fully patched and updated version has a number of serious bugs that can affect progress. Even with these issues, it was an incredibly ambitious title and anyone playing should allow for problems because when all is going well — it is great fun!
The historical setting is the big draw and I’ve not played a game that worked harder to show an authentic medieval world. There are a number of anachronisms (most glaringly the lack of children) but it is far more faithful than any Hollywood film is. The developers aren’t Christians from what I understand but they did a fantastic job of showing just how much the church was part of everyday life. The people greet you by praising Christ and make the sign of the cross and pray. There are bells rung for the Angelus and I even found a priest in the game sleeping in a church tower to be ready to ring it. There is even a Benedictine monastery with the monks going about the hours of the day as strictly as they would at the time. The people of different villages and towns also have set schedules they follow. Just watching how much effort has been put into this aspect alone is praiseworthy.
Something else is the quality of the quest design. There are to be sure, plenty of fetch-quests and such but even many side-quests have a thoughtfully written story that makes them more engrossing. Furthermore, many side-quests branch from people met or problems found within the main questline. There are often multiple ways to go about these quests as well as a number of possible outcomes too. They were really well done and I frequently found myself going off the main path.
Lastly, I initially didn’t like the progression system as Henry (the player character) starts out very weak and unable even to read. You can actually get through the whole game without being able to read any of the books in the game though the player can still read tutorials and menus. Most skills are learned by doing them so you get better at riding a horse by riding a horse. You get stronger by using your strength and so on. There are opportunities to be taught or learn from books but much of the progression comes naturally as you put skills into practice. Much later in the game, I found myself using the alchemy as a requirement for a quest and ended up using it more — and having fun doing it. So while the initial character building is difficult, there is a rewarding pay off as the game progresses.
This was a game I first heard about during #GamerGate as Daniel Vávra, the games director was one of the few developers that openly supported the movement. Although the detractors would claim otherwise, they really did deliver with this game and I’m glad I finally saw it to the end. Despite everything, it was a critical and commercial success and I expect we’ll hear about a sequel soon — quite possibly this year! There is also a great documentary that came with my digital copy which is well worth watching and gives great insight into the origins of the story and the hard-work that went into bringing the game to fruition.