Okay, I just want to say up-front that I’m not really qualified to declare a “best video game” of the year, but I did it last year, so, heck, let’s do it again.
The truth is that I have played exactly 2 video games that were released this year: The Legend of Grimrock 2 and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. This list is stupidly small for 2 reasons: I am cheap and I don’t have any time. I also don’t own any current gen consoles, but I think that’s covered in the “cheap” category.
Wait, wait, I did play a little Smash Bros. for Wii U over Thanksgiving, but not enough to speak on it. It was fun. Now that Samus doesn’t revert to Zero Suit after a smash attack, she might actually be playable again.
But, anyway, that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Because even though I’ve really only played two new games this year, I’m confident in declaring them the best games of the year. I’m confident because these are two of the best games I have ever played in my life. Like, easily top 10 – probably top 5.
Of course, these are the best games for my specific taste. Your tastes most likely differ, and that’s totally cool.
The only game I can even imagine that is also in contention is the new Dragon Age. If I wanted to lose a couple weeks of my life, I would totally play it, but then something disastrous might happen with the Kickstarter, so that is best avoided. I’ve read reviews, and while it seems that Dragon Age doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, both Legend of Grimrock and Binding of Isaac live up to and far surpass their predecessors in every conceivable way. And since those games’ predecessors were already some of my most favorite games ever, well, you can see where I’m going with this.
So let’s talk about The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth for a bit. I have always loved dungeon exploration games in the vein of the original Legend of Zelda, and when you add shooter mechanics to that, you’ve got a combination I am guaranteed to love (I have a great fondness for the old Smash TV arcade game as well). What truly sets the game apart, however, is the rogue-like procedurally generated dungeon that is never the same twice. Infinite entertainment can’t be beat.
Embarrassing confession time: I have over 300 hours logged on the original Binding of Isaac. I unlocked everything there was to unlock in the game, then I reset my data and unlocked it all again. Any time you have an hour to kill, you can load it up and have a completely new and challenging dungeon to experience. What ridiculous combination of items will you collect?
So when the new non-Flash version of the game was released a month or so ago, I was definitely eager to sit down and play it. For one, it simply offered an opportunity to run through and unlock everything again, but it also offered so much more. There’s like, twice as many playable characters, twice as many items to collect, twice as many monsters to fight – it’s ridiculous. There’s also really amazing things like extra large rooms and treasure rooms under random rocks that pay homage to the original Zelda.
It’s all there. Everything cool that you could possibly imagine is in the game, plus a bunch of other stuff. If you ever find yourself wondering, “Man, wouldn’t it be cool if there were a weapon that did this?” Don’t worry, you just haven’t found it yet.
Yeah, sometimes you just get screwed by the random number generator. Yeah, some of the achievements are incredibly tedious. But the game plays so fast, you never feel cheated. I expect this game will be providing hundreds of hours of entertainment, as well, for years and years and years to come.
So now let’s move on to The Legend of Grimrock 2, which, like Rebirth, is all about multiplying every aspect of the game by 2. The original game, an old-school first-person dungeon crawler with modern graphics, featured fantastic puzzles and plenty of character customization, but was a little drab in the environment and combat aspects. The whole thing took place in a giant dungeon and pretty much 100% of the fights involved “square dancing” with an enemy, in which you attack and side-step, then wait for the enemy to move into the square you were in, then attack and side-step again before the enemy can turn and attack you back.
So, first of all, all the good aspects of the game were made even better – loads more puzzles, loads more exploration, loads more character customization. Nothing beats a good puzzle in my opinion, and this game is always challenging you to think about your surroundings in different ways, which I appreciate. Yeah, there’s still a lot of scouring walls for hidden buttons, which I know some people don’t like, but it never bothered me. It’s always exciting when you manage to find a hidden switch. What will this open? What terrifying horde of monsters will emerge from the new passage?
Where Grimrock really excels, however, is in the new varied and lush environments. Instead of level after level of drab dungeons, the game is set on an island that feels sort of like the over-world of a Zelda game. As you explore, you’ll find many self-contained dungeons, but at least half the game is also played out in a bunch of varied above-ground maps across the island. These areas themselves are full of puzzles, monsters and traps. Plus the whole setup makes the game much less linear. Once you get through the starting area, you’re free to head off in any of 4 different directions, some more challenging than others, which gives a marvelous sense of freedom. And if you get stuck in one direction, you can always go somewhere else and come back later.
The combat, well, it is improved, but I will admit there’s still a lot of square dancing. The monsters do have a great variety of attack techniques, though, so in a lot of cases the square dance get’s a little more complicated. Sometimes it feels a little cheesy side-stepping back and forth to avoid all the enemy attacks, but it comes with the territory. It may not be realistic, but it is still interesting, especially because you have to learn the nuances of each enemy type and then react accordingly depending on what you’re fighting.
So, anyway, Grimrock 2 is absolutely fantastic. I don’t think it will provide hundreds of hours of entertainment over years and years, but it is far and away the best first-person dungeon crawl experience out there, so that is enough to put it very high in my books.
Seeing as how this is largely a board game blog, maybe I should write a blog on the best board games of the year. I might do that next week…
For now, though, I hope this post has encouraged you to go out and give those games a try if you haven’t. Steam’s holiday sale should be starting soon, so keep an eye out for them.
And what games should I keep an eye out for? What new games did you enjoy most this year?