Gems of this generation: part 2

GemsHugeFixedHere’s the second part of a three-part article detailing, in no particular order, my favorite games of the 360/PS3/Wii console generation. For part one, click here, for part three, click here.

There’s nothing worse than a definitive list, one in which every entry is prescribed in advance, where the audience can yawn out each selection before they scroll downward. I feel that way about a lot of aggregate “best of” lists, whether they’re taken from Metacritic or individual review sites. Some of the soul gets squeezed out, and all that’s left is a too-obvious, pseudo-objective tallying of all-time greats.

The candidates from this generation are clear to anybody who plays games regularly. Grand Theft Auto, The Last of Us, Halo, Skyrim, Uncharted, Bioshock, Call of Duty, Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, and Fallout, with maybe some surprise appearances from Dark Souls, Journey, or Xcom.

All solid games, by critical and popular consent. But they make for tame lists, because you know what you’re getting going in. I don’t say this to elevate myself above that – my list has a number of very obvious picks – but I do think that the individual experience is much more interesting.

I’d much rather read what one player thinks are the best experiences, and their reasons why, even if they list many of the same games. You develop more of a feel for the games and the person playing them. You get an idea where that player is coming from, and to what extent their perspective is valuable to your own experience.

I hope you’re enjoying this list, whether or not you agree with my picks. Hopefully there’s something here that you like, or something great you’ve never played before. But mostly, I hope it’s just fun to read through, and not entirely terrible or predictable.

And now, onto part 2.

Spelunky

SpelunkyDamsel

Spelunky. I love Spelunky. I love platformers in general, really. You run fast, bop enemies on the head, and collect their semi-precious baubles. It’s thievery, essentially, and Spelunky involves the most time-honored thievery of all, that of stealing from the long-dead.

And our hero’s so good at it! He cracks his whip at enemies, blows through walls and floors with bombs, and runs like a rocket through levels, until he winds up impaled on a bed of spikes. The world of Spelunky is very dangerous, you see. It requires a bit of care. Watch out for that trapped chest, that spitting cobra, that angry shopkeeper.

Memorizing levels won’t help, because Spelunky’s are randomly generated. Of course they are. The levels couldn’t not be randomly generated, because then we wouldn’t be spelunking, not really. The game’s a perfect fusion of form and function. Developer Derek Yu is a pretty smart guy.

Everything fits so well. The enemies are perfectly placed, the traps deviously positioned, the treasures tantalizingly out of reach. Everything has its own role, and design complements design, each element doing exactly what it always does, only in wildly different circumstances.

Death feels like a screw-up on your part. You knew the spider would jump that way, you knew enemies trigger arrow traps, but you hadn’t realized in time that the spider-triggered arrow would arc right towards you. Tsk.

It’s fresh, unique, brilliant design. Spelunky doesn’t have quite the moment-to-moment thrills of Mario or Sonic, but there’s more pre-meditation involved, a sort of prescient awareness of what could be lurking just outside the screen’s borders.

Plus, I adore any game that has destructible terrain, especially one with 4-player local multiplayer. Spelunky is so good, in so many ways, that it really feels like I could play it forever.

And that jazzy soundtrack! I love that too. I could listen to it for a good bit, at the very least.

Mario Kart Wii

MarioWario

I almost didn’t play Mario Kart Wii. Reviewers said it was the least skill-based entry to date, with balance tipped clearly in favor of items instead of racing skills. I didn’t need those shenanigans in my life.

Then I played it at a friend’s house and ended up time-trialing Mushroom Gorge for hours. Since then, it constantly flip-flops with Super Mario Kart for my overall favorite game in the series: the tracks are near-perfect, the roster is great, and the wiimote and nunchuck controls are the best the series has ever had.

And bikes. The new driftspark system is fantastic, emphasizing sharp turns and tight race lines, but it needs bikes to feel complete. Wheelies add just the right amount of skill and min/maxing, allowing veteran players to dominate the course. It pushes the balance right back in favor of racing and, combined with tricking, makes the game feel so much more action-packed than other kart racers.

Mario Kart Wii’s accessibility means anybody can jump in, but there’s enough depth to maintain interest for game after game after game. Mario Kart Wii is an endlessly replayable, riotously fun game, and an absolute highlight of Nintendo’s catch-all design philosophy.

Eschatos

EschatosMirror

Eschatos came seemingly out of nowhere, a lightning strike to the 360’s scrolling shooter library. It’s a game that really shouldn’t be as good as it is, having been released by an untested developer and with some of the barest graphics on the console.

But Eschatos blew me away. There’s an insane amount of content, and the game seems designed to appeal to anyone who’s loved any era of shooting game. Eschatos spans the entire breadth of the genre, from Galaga’s waves to Dodonpachi’s patterns, from classic kill-em-all scoring to time trials to advanced bullet cancelling.

Drawing from an era of gimmick scrollers like R-type and Raiden where every ship had its own game-defining feature, Eschatos’ ship has a rechargeable shield that negates enemy shots. Enemies shoot hundreds of bullets, but particularly nasty patterns can be quickly cancelled away, making Eschatos much more accessible than other shooters.

And though its design may seem spartan, Eschatos uses its visuals to amazing effect. The moment when the camera pans out from the earth, revealing the myriad stars and nebulae of space, is a moment I wait for every time I play. The camerawork throughout is stellar, pulling back to provide alternative perspectives on the action without ever losing focus on it.

I won’t even start on the music, except to say that it’s beautiful, sweeping, spirited, and occasionally melancholy. Eschatos proves there’s room for original design in even the oldest of genres. And developer Qute proved that they could strike lightning twice with their fantastic follow-up, Ginga Force. Both games display such stellar, forward-thinking design that I can’t praise either enough.

But for now, I’ll praise Eschatos alone: It’s fantastic. Play it.

Resident Evil 5

REhammer

Played solo or multiplayer, the main story mode of Resident Evil 5 never really comes into its own. Rather than action horror, it plays a little too much like action action. The environments blend together, multiplayer undermines any potential atmosphere, and the bosses are just plain dull. I don’t really care for it.

But I definitely care for the unlockable Mercenaries mode. Instead of pretending at a survival horror experience, Mercenaries puts players in a high-octane gauntlet of enemies, where they rack up combos while ceaselessly moving from zone to zone in search of items and kills.

Mercenaries is stressful for something that’s so fun, emphasizing perfection in every movement. Players need to stun enemies with headshots, certain enemies kill in one hit, and maps have to be learned inside and out. But every shot is lent weight by the game’s demands, and every moment feels full of possibility.

It’s an incredibly unique, incredibly focused experience. Resident Evil 5: The Mercenaries has some of the purest score-chasing in any genre, and stands strong all by itself.

Blazblue: Calamity Trigger

BlazblueRachel

Seeing character art from Blazblue for the first time, I instantly wrote it off as pandering to the most boring aspects of anime design. If the characters were that pedestrian, then surely the game itself had to be a half-hearted cash-in, too.

But then I saw the game in motion, and I was immediately captivated. At that point I’d never seen a fighting game so fast and fluid, and to this day I don’t think I’ve played one with such a mechanically diverse roster of characters.

Granted, it needs that diversity, being a fledgling fighting game with only twelve fighters to select from. Blazblue makes it work. Thanks to its Drive system, each character has unique moves that dramatically alter play.

Vampiric heiress Rachel Alucard blows about on the wind, using gale force to rush her opponents and push them into traps. Mechanical grappler Iron Tager uses electrically charged moves to draw opponents forward into his grasp. Superhero ninja Bang Shishigami draws power from his theme song to counter any attack that comes his way.

And so on. Blazblue’s characters cover traditional fighting game archetypes, but lend their own unique strengths to each. They’re an incredibly agile bunch, air-dashing, cancelling, and bursting their way to victory, in the fast-paced designer combat that developer Arc Systems Works is known for.

Blazblue had a lot to live up to as Guilty Gear’s spiritual successor. But even if the character design and roster size aren’t quite there, the gameplay is, completely. The wheel of fate is turning. Rebel one, action.

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3 Responses to “Gems of this generation: part 2”

  1. Squire Grooktook Says:

    I can’t wait to play Spelunky. I also really enjoyed Rogue Legacy. Currently trying to do a low death run of it, it’s amazing fun.

    Also I hope you include Skullgirls too, since you included Blazblue. Best fighting game of this generation imo.

    • catstronaut Says:

      Oh man, Rogue Legacy looks awesome! I had no idea this was already a thing, will definitely have to check it out. Skullgirls is a solid fighter, but I’m not so huge on it. There are just too few characters for a 3v3 fighter. It’s also a bit too slow-paced for my taste, and I prefer 4-button fighters to 6-button, even though that’s not a huge deal. Not to say Skullgirls is bad! I do enjoy it. My favorite fighters this gen are probably Blazblue and King of Fighters XIII, though.

      Part three’s up, so check it out 😀 Thanks for commenting!

      • Squire Grooktook Says:

        Yeah, Rogue Legacy is GREAT. The randomization is great, but I feel like the game would still be top notch even without it. The controls and combat are amazingly fluid, pretty much everything I look for in an aciton platformers. The boss designs are just so smart, while still being unpredictable and reflex based as hell. And the game has amazing replay value, either going for as many New Game +’s as possible, or trying to do low death runs of the original castle.

        There’s actually a demo up on Desura, I’d recommend playing it, 5 minutes with the controls was all I needed to be convinced it was a keeper.

        Also yeah, that’s cool about Skullgirls. Fighting games are very subjective after all.

        I’m a big Marvel Vs Capcom 2 fan, so I’m used to that games set up where there are essentially 8-10 valid characters, but a tremendous number of team/assist set ups that fundamentally alter the way they all play.

        Also despite the shorter dashes, the game is actually a lot faster than it looks. The move set design has a lot of short chains and a lot of attack strings end with negative frames on block, so the opponent immediately gets to react or make a new choice. Both players are constantly making strategic choices, and since everything is unsafe in one way or another, there’s not much restriction on what you should do.

        I also feel like the characters themselves are excellent. They have enough gimmicks to all feel very unique, but at the same time they have enough flexibility so that you’re not restricted to one particular play style, and have a lot of options for surprising your opponent.

        Also I love King of Fighters XIII too, that game is awesome.

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