It has been a very full year for the two of us at GIMMGP Headquarters. The first three months of 2014 were rife with guest posts and collaborations with wonderful bloggers, including Voluntine’s Week and March Mario Madness.
Autumn was a wonderful time, during which we saw another successful U-Pick Marathon for Charity, an amazing documentary series on the history/impact of Japanese video game music, and I achieved one of my big writing goals: getting published on Kill Screen.
Once the spooky season of October had passed, Laura and I settled down for the long, cold, frustrating winter. Fortunately, we were blessed with a Wii-U at the start of the season. So many nights were spent huddled together under blankets, with the warmth of the fire and the light of the gamepad keeping us comfortable.
As we look to the new year, Laura and I have many exciting changes on the way. Most of these plans will have to stay secret for now, but in the meantime, let’s take a look back over the last 12 months and see which games provided particularly pleasurable playthroughs!
As per usual, the beloved games that follow may not have been released during the last 365 days, but each was a fresh experience for me in 2014. Thanks for reading, and have a safe and happy new year!
On paper, Shovel Knight sounds like so many other indie games available on the market: a retro-style platformer that features pixel art and a chiptunes soundtrack. Instead of simply slapping a coat of 8-bit paint on a modern game, Yacht Club Games uses the constraints of previous technology as a template to make a challenging and fun title. Shovel Knight stands out from the crowd as an adventure that feels like the culmination of NES design.
Tight platforming sections and a selection of frantic boss battles recall the glory days of Mega Man, while the respite of a colorful town and satisfying special weapons are classic Castlevania elements. Shovel Knight manages to pull inspiration from its predecessors and stay fresh by adding its own unique moments, like gambling your treasure based on skill and shovel-style combat. This experience seems like one I should have encountered right at the end of the NES life-cycle: a well-crafted platformer that is devoid of frustration and poor design, a super-fun game that earns a seat with the master class of the 8-bit era.
Also, La Danse Macabre is easily in the top game tunes of 2014. Well done, Jake Kaufman.
It seems like the last few years have seen a glut of puzzle games on mobile platforms. Many of these titles use the dreaded “freemium” model to entice players into spending seemingly small amounts of money to make progress in a purposefully obtuse system. Some of these games require less obvious methods of payment, like social media proliferation (read: free advertising from its players) to earn bonus turns and helpful items. Threes offers a calming alternative to the mainstream puzzle game, where careful thinking and player skill are the only tools necessary to advance.
Threes is based around a simple goal: swipe your finger combine red and blue tiles to make a numbered tile of 3. Match like tiles to create tiles of a greater number. Do this until no more combinations/moves can be made. There are no obligations to “Like” the game on your social media, no rush to invite your friends to play for an extra turn, and no micro transactions to earn a board-clearing bomb. Just a soothing soundtrack and a relaxed pace to contemplate your next move. The gradual difficulty ramp provides a steady climb in challenge, while the high score board encourages players to overcome their previous marks.
I spent several hours in 2014 (spread across 5 to 20 minute intervals) playing Threes, and I am sure I will have many more sessions of calm challenge in 2015.
Super Mario 3D World
In the eighth world of the latest Mario game, there is a stage that introduces a novel challenge. Most of the ground in this level is invisible, lit only by the impact of solid objects making contact (say, Mario’s steps or an enemy strike). The player has to use clever footing and precise timing to navigate these pathways. No other stage in Super Mario 3D World features this mechanic and it is for this reason why I was so enamored with this game.
There are so many fantastic gameplay ideas spread across this title, each of them fun-to-play and well-executed. In one stage, you will be using the classic Fire Flower to clear out familiar Goombas, only to have the next stage focus on using a flashlight helmet to ward off menacing ghosts. A mountain-top climb will require the Cat Suit’s claws to scale vertical walls, and a factory of switch-platforms needs the weight of multiple Marios (achieved thanks to the Double Cherry power-up). The variety of challenges is well-managed, so each mechanic has a chance to shine without overstaying its welcome.
Super Mario 3D World offers numerous fun and interesting methods of play without bloated tutorials or frustrating hand-holding. The drop-in multiplayer option creates opportunities of coordinated teamwork and frantic free-for-alls. Culminating in a final boss encounter that is more epic in scale than most triple-A titles, Super Mario 3D World kept me surprised and filled with glee from start to finish.