Unfortunately, I cannot share the same enthusiasm I had for last year’s list in my current mindset. Seeing as I’m still in an unintended semi-hiatus from the blog and the continued pressure of landing an actual full-time job that doesn’t make me want to end myself to secure a proper place in society looming, I don’t feel as chipper these days. Truth be told, I forgot about this until just a few days ago when my mind happened to linger upon the calmer years of KeenGamer’s existence. Nevertheless, sharing my opinion on games (and anything, really) is still a profitable and engaging process for me, so allow me to continue to do so for your viewing pleasure.
Not much has changed in my second year at KeenGamer. I’m writing roughly the same amount of reviews, but I’m also more reliable as a newswriter and guide writer (still fairly new on that front). Combined, I’ve written close to seventy reviews during my time there, with around a hundred articles to my name. I’ve played tons of smaller titles as well as some bigger AAA titles (most notably Nintendo) that covered a wide variety of genres. For this list, I will be adhering to the same ruleset as last year’s list: it had to be a game I reviewed (nor previewed) between late September of 2018 and let’s say the 20th of this month, current year. I will link each game’s steam/console page—in case people are interested—as well as my own reviews for them for further clarity on my thoughts on them.
[Small and maybe unwarranted note, but I don’t receive review copies for everything I review.]
Wave defenses aren’t typically my go-to game types. I blame Call of Duty’s Zombies mode, which has been an incessant part of my brother’s life and was played so fervorously in front of me during my youth that I’ve become disenchanted with anything similar. Going into Akane, I didn’t actually expect it to be a wave defense game, which goes to show how well I read up on things before reviewing them. Nevertheless, Zombies this is not, but the core survival tactics persist and are given a whole new light with subtle touches of character.
Had this just been a wave defense game with some dialogue here and there, I likely wouldn’t have cared much for it. Decent fun sacrificing any emotional attachment. Akane knows this, however, and actually does something rather neat—the game’s tutorial mode is played out like a prequel to the main game’s setting. It’s short and blunt, adorning the main campaign for only a punch of sentimental value. What it does with that punch is make the survival more personal, while breathing life into the Akane character one controls. Really cool to be able to provide enough to have a surface-level wave defense title have subtle context behind the characters’ short interactions and gloomy setting.
If that wasn’t enough, the gameplay is tight and near-perfectly responsive. I adore the feel and flow of the game’s functionality and the variety of weapons to take down incoming baddies. Goals are posted to keep people enticed to play further and a hint at an actual end only furthers that motivation. Begrudgingly so, I’ve never achieved a supposed “end,” but not from a lack of trying. Being able to flawlessly take down hoards of grunts in quick succession is a joyous feeling of power that never tires out. Akane is really good at easing that violent fix.
9. Bubbles the Cat
When I think of Bubbles the Cat, I think of the title theme. Dah-d’-d’-dun! If your game grabs me the way this game did with its catchy title theme alone, there’s a good chance I’ll hold it in high regard.
What may turn people away from Bubbles the Cat is its incredibly simple gameplay. Y’know what you do in it? Press a button. That’s it. A button. One of them. Over and over at certain intervals. That’s all that’s required. This makes it perfect for a mobile product, but also gives an erroneous image of a really benign experience. Trust me, this game does not reward catnip at every turn.
Similarly to Akane before it, Bubbles the Cat is very tight with its gameplay. Meticulously crafted platforming levels that test one’s appetite for 100% completion as well as the general get-to-the-end mantra. Collecting cat treats and collecting various power-ups to vary up the experience, Bubbles the Cat almost never makes getting from point A to B difficult, rather focusing on mastering the craft laid out for you. To 100% a level, one must both collect all cat treats AND complete it within a time limit. You better believe I go for 100% completion at every opportunity. It makes the game far more fun.
Amazingly strategic for how simple it is, any platforming fan will find some use with this title. If that wasn’t enough, you can customize your god damn cat! You can makes her wear hats!!! You can have her shoot a rainbow trail out of her butt!!! You can make her weird colors!!! It has it all.
8. Soulcalibur VI
That game has a special place in my heart. It single-handedly enveloped me in a franchise I had never heard of before and hasn’t relinquished me since. Despite the ups and downs of the franchise following Soulcalibur III, I’ve been a
blindly faithful fan since 2004-ish. Upon the foul taste of Soulcalibur V and the inclination that it would be the final game in the series, years flew by with nothing but fond memories of the past.
And so it appeared, like a dream. A miracle: Soulcalibur VI was announced. I was FUCKING HYPED.
At present, my feelings are a little dampened, but generally positive. Soulcalibur VI was a disappointment, which I discussed to some length in my formal review, but the expectations were so high that it seemed doomed to fail the moment it was announced that it would veer away from the events of V. While disappointing, it also provided me with some valuable memories of why I enjoy the series in the first place. The heavier emphasis on character and their narratives was a lovely addition, the gameplay mechanics were quick and accessible, as always, and the number of absurd playstyles were another reminder of this franchise’s greatness. I just wish they didn’t play it so safe… Also, the voice acting was mostly garbage.
It didn’t end up being the best game in the series nor did it even grasp the reaches of quality that is Soulcalibur II. For where the franchise was prior, VI was a relieving return to positivity that may just boost the potential for another sequel which could see the developers do something more with the story. I certainly hope so.
7. Wonder Wickets
So here’s an interesting conundrum:
I like this game a lot. It’s cute and fun and functions generally well outside of the random dark stages which lag like crazy. That’s the game itself, however. Outside of it, there’s been some unflattering news going on recently. Some drama surrounding the owners of the development studio, RightStick Studios, as being giant pieces of shit has made following them on social media, where they began to air vague apologetic tweets not detailing the drama firsthand, rather awkward. It’s become a “fun” example of “Do you separate the art from the artist?” Granted, it was only two people out of however many, but that doesn’t ease the darkness much.
For the time being, I’ll do such separating. Wonder Wickets was clearly made with a bunch of love and care. From what I saw surrounding the company before the aforementioned incident, the team seemed very forward and willing to listen and interact with the community. With an artistic flair of cute and a space game of golf that veers the genre on its head, there’s quite a bit to like about Wonder Wickets. Fun fact: I was actually approached to review this game. The first time as a game reviewer. It made me happy.
Much more recommendable for those who enjoy golf-like games, there’s still much to be said about the detail and commitment to making the game as best as it can be. It shows through wonderfully through its animation, art, and almost-bug-free mechanics. It’s just… the recent dilemma of choosing to support a game made by horrible(?) people makes it hard to recommend. I almost considered removing this game from the list entirely. I suppose all I can say is to keep in mind who you’re supporting by giving money to this product.
6. The Other Half
This game resonates with me because it reminded me of the way I used to be. That is not a good thing.
The Other Half is a very dark game. Not in the sense that rated-R content permeates every turn, but it deals with the more horrific mental intricacies of the human psyche. Throughout its course, it builds upon a simple premise that initially seems straightforward. Clues begin to mold an identity of tragedy that hides behind the world present, allowing the player to think about their decisions and the reason to fight against the demons in the barren, white world.
It’s a thinker. Perhaps others may not receive it in the same way I do. For me, it gave form to the darker sides of [spoiler, spoiler spoiler]. I really liked playing through this game because it paced itself well and the general chaos that embodies the play experience makes for an unforgettable finish. The Other Half is recommendable for its story alone, though it helps that the gameplay is passable, too.
And I use “passable” mildly. I personally thought the gameplay was fun, only it can wear thin after long spurts. There’s not much in terms of what a player is allowed to do in regards to the journey. Simultaneously, enemy variety is extremely limited, so while the short runtime (roughly two hours) makes it so it doesn’t drag on too long, it also makes the adventure (outside the story purposes) seem unrewarding. If a dark and tantalizing story sounds promising, The Other Half is worth the price tag. Just be wary of the limited amount of gameplay options.
5. Lingua Fleur: Lily
There is no reason why this game is up this high aside from purely personal reasons. It is not revolutionary in the slightest, lacks many features other high-end visual novels have, and features a story as riveting as “Two girls become close friends and are subtly implied to be future lovers.” It is so, so general that the most interesting thing about it on the surface is its name, which is almost laughably cheesy.
Even with all this, I adore it. It’s a great, simple game about friendship. Wholesome to the maximum level with dialogue that feels generally realistic and immersive to keep a steady grip on the heart. Reading about these characters’ struggles with their insecurities and the chemistry they have with their base opposite personalities just feels great. Cliché, but great.
With the simplistic nature of visual novels, this makes it more important to have the characters/story take center stage. And… can’t think of anything else. Just really charming and the two main characters make the entire game worth it, despite the short-ish runtime (roughly two hours).
4. River City Girls
I really like Shantae. I enjoyed Mighty Switch Force. I think WayForward seems like a cool company and that is not influenced at all by their providing me with a review key for this game, which, honestly, was a surprising gesture that I was totally honored by. Even still, my history with beat-’em-ups are spotty at best, so I wasn’t sure how much I’d appreciate River City Girls. Spoiler: I ended up appreciating it quite a bit.
At this point, I don’t think WayForward can do much wrong. While I have misgivings with various titles, I don’t think they’ve ever released an outright bad title. River City Girls, from trailers alone, seemed like a good time, but I hardly anticipated it would be so entertaining. Full of the same snarky WayForward writing, along with l-o-v-e-l-y pixel art and fluid combat that makes the game ooze with quality.
Still, there are a few things that hold it back. The ending was rather anticlimactic, there is a desperate need for a button input option, and there’s a slight repetitive nature to the game’s main campaign. Many also decry the “No online wi-fi” decision, but I’m generally a solo player, so that hardly matters to me. Little things here and there that make the game fall short of the potential it definitely has.
Misako and Kyoko are a dream team that made the adventure worth it just for their banter alone. For fans of the beat-’em-up genre, this is a nice treat, even if it isn’t all that it should be. Hell, I could see this as a fun party game for casual players. Up until the boss fights, anyway.
So, I had a conversation with the creator of this game a few months back and apparently, the sales for this game were, in his words, “disappointing.” I want to have a conversation with society, real quick. I just wanna talk. I won’t hurt you, so long as you comply, because this game here? Pretty damn good. Deserves some more love. Not as packed with content as it could be, but it has SOOOOOOOO much potential to be great. Seriously, go buy it right now. Don’t even play it. Just give the man some money.
Think Super Mario Maker, except not Super Mario Bros. Spoorky is its own unique thing involving a pig with a sword with high-flying finesse. Y’know, ’cause pigs fly? It’s more simple mechanically compared to other games on this list, but it’s that simplicity combined with the creator process that gives this game such life. I have spent a large number of hours playing through people’s levels in this game racking up points and medals and whatever else. It’s a thrill always seeing your name at the top…
I am going to brag, but this anecdote is also amusing. I was, at one point, so involved and good at this game that randomly, one day, a regular player whipped up a level and called it “Kapodaco challenge.” Playing through it, it was a giant mess of a bunch of bullshit level design designed to be unforgiving and unfair. I eventually beat it and got the high score. The level was deleted a week later. That was an awesome memory.
Upbeat, colorful, and full of effectively competitive charm, Spoorky is great and you should play it or at least send the creator money so he can feel compelled to update it HNGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH
2. Incredible Mandy
T’was said best in the latter portion of my formal review: Incredible Mandy is incredible. Not because it’s a great game, but because it’s so charming and borderline beautiful despite being a kind of borderline-mediocre adventure game. I believe I also stated in the review that my final score for this game shot up tremendously just because I loved the story and the overall dream-like tone of the game. Gameplay-wise, it’s like a 6/10, maybe.
What gets it by is through its force of will. When all else feels shaky, there is always the main character in Mandy. I love the ambition by the development team to make something akin to the magic that The Legend of Zelda provides with every game, which this game reminded me of after seeing trailers for the first time. For such a small studio, this is a massive game that, despite technical shortcomings, has all the emotive ups and downs of a true adventure tale. It’s mystical, emotional, and contains a supernatural (or sci-fi?) touch that is just too insanely painful to despise.
This game means too much to me to have me justify it in any credible way through gameplay prowess. It’s a little stiff in the controls, the combat (since removed) was awkward and off-putting, the platforming can be a little janky, the bosses can be a tad vague in how to defeat them, and the graphical capabilities are kind of an acquired taste. For me, I grew to love it, flaws and all. And I think those are the games I end up cherishing most. Like Custom Robo or Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense before it—flawed games with large influences on my life—there’s a certain magic to games that provide all experiences, good and bad, in charming ways. To overcome and to forgive, while indulging in the more gracious aspects. That’s what this game is like to me. I love it.
This is an orange best left unrotten (unspoiled).
Basically, if you love shoot-’em-ups, play this. Period. If you love old arcade shooters, play this. Period. If you want a rip-roarin’, coke-snortin’ good time, play this. Period. It has all your favorite colors so long as they revolve around the colors orange, green, and black. It has anime references and lots of weird shit. It’s awesome.
Honorable Mentions: Timespinner, Clam Man, Total Party Kill, Rainswept
For other Top 10’s on this topic, be sure to check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.