Highlights of 2015: A selected few

I participated in this years review of 2015’s games at Haywire Magazine. Since all entries are written in English, I decided to upload them along with this English introduction for the broad audience. At least this gave me an excuse for an ‚English‘ category on the blog that I plan to fill from time to time.
I recommend you try out the games below because they are really awesome. Enjoy the read.

Kingdom

Kingdom takes me right back into my childhood. Not because of the graphics, but because it is one of those rare titles nowadays that are brave enough to leave you in the dark about their mechanics, their goals and their topics. You should absolutely start Kingdom without consulting guides. Just find out how to build your walls and kill your enemies by trying. You will die some frustrating deaths, some mechanics will seem unfair until you understand what they are supposed to do, but in the end you will be satisfied. Kingdom is about the journey, not the destination. I still don’t know what the final destination actually is.

In Kingdom, you take the role of a wandering monarch who decides to settle down with a campfire and some peasants in a forest. Capitalism is key in those realms, and everything depends on the coins in your purse. Peasants need coins to work, tools take coins to buy. Walls and watchtowers are built with coins. Monsters try to take your crown, but first they grab your coins. Farming crops actually produces coins somehow. First and foremost, Kingdom is a management strategy game, where you passively assign your peasants to the tasks you hope are the most useful. Secondly, Kingdom is a brutally difficult survival game, because every night the monsters try to breach your walls and take your royal head. Evaluation and misjudgement are part of the fun. Chop down to many trees? You might lose a peasant-spawning hut in the process, yet win land for a farm or another watchtower.

Also, the atmosphere is unchallenged. The combination of vague yet beautiful pixel painting and calm, mysterious ambient music always sets the mood for another round of „I don’t know what I do, but this time I died later than before“. Give it a try.


Published in 2015: The Year of Roguelikes (Haywire)

Valkyria Chronicles

Actually, Valkyria Chronicles is a PC port of a PlayStation 3 game from 2008 that will be released as a PS4 port in 2016. But the PC port was released 2015, so this one counts.

In Valkyria Chronicles, we take the role of a small milita squad defending its homeland in a most peculiar way: by shooting politely waiting intruders in a turn-based battle system that has little regard for turn order. So while you only move your units on your own turn, they turn, take cover, and shoot even when the enemy moves. This crossfire makes moving from cover to cover essential and let’s you make the most of the different classes the game provides.

The anime-style story of Valkyria Chronicles gels well with the exaggerated characters in your desperate little squad. Every soldier has their unique quirks and charms that make their performance in the field better or worse depending on the environment. A sniper with dust allergy? Better not deploy the poor girl on a desert mission, then. Those unique traits and personalities come together to form an incredibly cheesy but still charming story of a small country in a struggle against all odds.

As if the presentation and tactical planning weren’t fun enough, the underlying RPG systems are really good. Whenever I level up a complete division of scouts and the drill instructors shouts at me, I can’t help but feel successful. I just made a competent squad out of a bunch of farmers, hair dressers, and clerks.


Published in 2015: The Year of RPGs (Haywire)

Kero Blaster

Kero Blaster is what you get if you take Cave Story and rip out all the open world parts. That sounds quite awful, and Kero Blaster is indeed not the masterpiece that Cave Story certainly was, but the remaining gameplay and the stupidly funny story make up for the lack of depth in about anything else. Also, you play as a frog with a gun, and you can wear jackets.

While Kero Blaster is not the longest experience and the harder modes only increase the enemies’ damage and change the color palette, it is a perfect fit for score hunters and achievement addicts. What Cave Story did with its secret dungeon and its score attack mode, Kero Blaster does with its difficulty settings. Beating the game on hard without ever dying and getting the ingame achievement of Mr. Froggy in a nice winter jacket feels great. And it’s not frustrating to do at all. That is mainly because the controls are so damn good all the time. It’s just the perfect Japanese Arcade experience, if that is even remotely your thing.


Published in 2015: The Year of Metroidvania (Haywire)

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