The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
As a surprise to no one, Breath of the Wild takes the cake for this year. This magical open-world gem reinvigorated the legendary series by taking it in a slightly different direction from previous titles, offering a fully open world experience and my goodness did it work like a charm! The huge world of Hyrule, while left desolate from Calamity Gannon’s attack, is bursting at the seams with life. It’s evident from the painstaking attention to detail in every inch of the world that this game was crafted lovingly for us, the gamers. From culinary concoctions and bug collecting to shield surfing and Lionel hunting, there’s an almost overwhelming plethora of activities to engage in besides the core shrine and story quests, with some of the most fun activities being the ones you invent yourself. For instance one of the most mentioned activities recently is to pluck a spinning boomerang out of the air with magnetic powers and use it to eviscerate your enemies from afar, truly some gamers are evil geniuses. If you bump into anyone playing Breath of the Wild ask them to show you their picture gallery, this will give you the slimmest glimpse of the pure adventure possible in this near-perfect game. If there was any time to get into the Legend of Zelda series, it’s now.
Little Nightmares’ certain brand of fear is as enchanting as it is harrowing. Throughout the game you take control of a character I’ll refer to as ‘Yellow’ as you explore your haunting surroundings. Each area has a distinctly creepy theme, be it a sinister prison with a long-armed, blind warden, or the intimidating ‘guest area’ rich with hordes of voracious guest. Enemies are mountainous in comparison to ‘Yellow’ and their grotesque, lumbering frames instill a child-like fear as they rush towards you, wailing and screaming. A particularly unsettling aspect of the game is the fact that the art style can be incredibly attractive at times, I recall taking a screenshot of ‘Yellow’ holding a block of soap half the size of their body, and the Tim Burton-esque design of the game made this scene especially endearing, but it’s this same style that makes your enemies so unnerving. Truly, your pursuers’ raspy, gurgling vocalizations and sloppy clay-like appearances turn this game into a child’s fever dream. While one of the biggest problems with the game is the often poor platforming, it makes up for it with its ample style and atmosphere. Definitely one to keep in mind if you’re a horror fan.
I certainly wouldn’t call myself a fighting game fan, and that’s where Injustice’s accessibility shines. From the satisfying, varied combat to the substantial narrative experience, this fighter certainly gives some good reasons to get into the genre. One of the first things I noticed about this game was the unique inter-character banter served up before each fight and it is indicative of the exclusive combinations possible in Injustice. What a roster to be familiarising yourself with as well, featuring heroes, villains and everyone in between. As a nice surprise to those looking for a new superhero narrative, Injustice 2 offers a fully-fledged story mode, a disappointingly absent feature in many other games of late. But once the reasonably sized story comes to a close, the real fun can begin. Multiplayer offers instant gratification, visceral friend punching action and a unique ensemble of DLC characters. The continued support of the developers, and the welcome addition of truly unexpected and satisfying new fighters (Hellboy and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on their way) means this game still has plenty of life in it yet. Looks like DC continues to come out on top when it comes to video games.
Do you miss the 90s? STRAFE has you covered. Kinda. STRAFE is a breakneck dive headfirst into an insane caricature of the FPS genre. You start out on your ship with an immediate choice; what gun? Assault rifle, shotgun or hand cannon? Your satisfaction at the animalistic carnage in the next few minutes depends on this choice. Next, you’re in the arena. Only seconds after booting up the game, you’re in. It’s that immediate action that makes STRAFE a perfect time killer. Once you’re into the procedurally generated combat part of the ship, the fast-paced gameplay begins. Hordes of bizarre enemies rush through corridors on all sides, shotgun blasts reduce pixelated enemies to red stains on the floors, walls and just about every surface and at the end of the short level, your combat stats are presented to you right before you hop on to the next level. The eye-popping visual style juxtaposes a blocky Minecraft-esque visual style with over-the-top blood-spurting gore that would give Tarantino a run for his money. STRAFE’s purist approach to gameplay results in an engaging soiree into the FPS genre with minimal frills. Surely this game deserves a spot in everyone’s collection for those brief windows of boredom and bloodlust.
What a gem. Cuphead successfully combines unquestionably charming 1930s art and sound design with brutally difficult boss battles to create a strikingly unique side-scrolling shooter. The first thing you may notice about Cuphead is its presentation. Straight off the bat it’s crackly static over a black screen complete with film artifacts reminiscent of the earliest animated media. Cuphead shoots for this style and nobody can deny its efficacy. From character designs and animations to backdrops and sound design, every element of Cuphead oozes this vintage charm. But it’s not all about the presentation and luckily Cuphead delivers on the gameplay front too. Battles rarely last more than a few minutes but you can bet you’ll be restarting levels more times than you can count. Fortunately, reloading a level is fairly quick and painless, which is more than can be said for the enemies within. Bosses follow rough patterns of attack giving you a fair chance at formulating a strategy, but just as you’re getting a leg up, the battle is flipped on its ear. Bosses progress through multiple stages, with the whole paradigm changing along with it. It’s inevitable that you will die due to these unexpected changes of pace, but this is the way Cuphead draws you out. Undeniably, this slow and painstaking progress towards victory is addictive, and if you’re into dying hundreds of times just for one bittersweet victory, this game has got you. Personally, I hate brutally difficult games, I never liked the infamous Dark Souls series but even I, someone who plays on easy every time if given the option, couldn’t help but keep grinding away at a boss until victory. And who knows? Maybe there’s a hardcore gamer inside you, just waiting to be forged in the fiery crucible that is Cuphead.