My Five Favorite Games in 2019

As with 2018, I’d like to discuss my top five favorite games that I played in the past year. These are the games that I most enjoyed when I played them in 2019; they weren’t necessarily released in that year.

1. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

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The attention to detail and careful research involved in crafting an accurate and unique depiction of the nexus of mental illness, a specific historical setting, and mythology make this game stand apart. But it’s also just short enough, with a simple enough set of moves to master in combat, that you can plow through it in a day. Even on the Switch, it’s a beautiful game. And while progression was linear, I liked that it still managed to feel like a game of exploration–aided greatly by the use of a variety of mind-bending puzzles to solve. For a game intended to feel like a new AAA title, it offered something special rather than derivative, with a memorable protagonist and story.

2. Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!

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This was like nostalgia come alive. Yes, it was re-exploring Pokémon Yellow yet again, but the new game features and bright, lively graphics made it feel more like a physical manifestation of youthful imaginings of what a Pokémon game was. It was a game aimed squarely at lapsed fans like me, and it delivered an experience that reengaged my interest in the franchise.

3. Batman: The Enemy Within

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This might be my favorite Batman story of all time. It is my favorite Joker story of all time. Even otherwise tired relationships, like that between Bruce and Alfred, feel fresh when you’re the one personally making decisions that impact those relationships. I felt like I had choice throughout the narrative, and I also knew that my choices would often bring painful, unintended consequences. I just had to do what I thought was best, even though an ideal outcome was almost never achievable in the end.

4. Untitled Goose Game

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I didn’t even make it through the opening titles before I fully embraced the persona of a dickish goose. This was a fun sandbox, and I delighted in experimentation and in solving the various challenges. Beautiful, distinctive artwork and pleasant sound and music design were soothing even as I sowed chaos.

5. Desert Child

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This is an incredibly short game. It might turn some people off because of its brevity. But the art style, music, and racing all come together to deliver a cool, stylistic, unique experience. It proudly wears its sci-fi anime influences on its sleeves. It also delivers the sort of experience that plays to the Switch’s unique strengths; I played most of it in handheld mode while awaiting flights in airports over a short trip.

New job, same site, & other news

Surprising even myself, after a few contented years working in an operations administrative support role, I’ve stepped down from my management position to accept a new role in an Indy firm’s Social Security disability department. The transition happened midweek; I left my old job on Wednesday and started my new job on Thursday. But it was about a month in the making. I’m excited and anxious and interested to see how this goes. That’s big enough news in my personal life that I felt it warranted a post. It’s been a year with a lot of big personal events, including the death of our dog, the adoption of two dogs, the purchase of a house, a new volunteer pursuit, and now this. That all said, this site shouldn’t be impacted in any way. I’m already only posting once a week, which has been quite comfortable. While it means that I certainly won’t be increasing the frequency of posts on a regular basis any time soon, I also don’t have any reason to decrease or discontinue posting. I’ve enjoyed writing on this blog, and I fully intend to continue carving out time for it.

I have a few other, much smaller, updates that are more relevant to the focus of this blog, though. I’ve finished Cat Quest. I’ve actually finished it twice now, since it provides a New Game+ mode. That’s taken me a little over 10 hours of game time. I’m a little over level 100. I’ve cleared most dungeons (maybe all, but I wasn’t very diligent in confirming that, and I know I never found all the loot locations in some of the cleared dungeons). I’ve got some high-level themed equipment (a helm of Faith, the armor of Courage, and the weapon of Willpower, resulting in my hero looking like a near-naked enlightened monk). It’s been fun, but I don’t have any particular interest in trying out the other game modes or starting over again. My opinion hasn’t changed on the game, and I’d still say it’s worth the purchase. And compared to my game time spent with Desert Child (just a few hours) or Untitled Goose Game (about five), it’s still been the longest gaming experience among the indies I’ve played lately.

There are altogether too many games available on and coming to the Switch, and I haven’t narrowed down exactly what I’ll play next. That said, Vampyr will be released for the console a couple days before Halloween, so while it may not be the next game I play, it’s certainly one that I’d like to revisit, and the seasonal timing is just perfect.

It’s not much of an announcement, but I’ve realized in retrospect that I sort of gave up on The Clone Wars rewatch. It’s sort of a silly thing to say, because I can of course continue watching or start over whenever I want, but I’ve made no effort to keep up with the official posts for several weeks now. Watching almost any Star Wars film or show will be much easier when it’s consolidated on Disney+ anyway (though it doesn’t appear that the two Endor-based fantasy movies or the Ewoks or Droids shows are dropping there anytime soon). I have been watching other things, though. Sam and I finally finished Adventure Time; that final episode was absolutely fantastic. I’ve started the television version of What We Do In The Shadows, which is fun and tonally fits with the movie, though I’m not far enough along yet to say if it really feels like it’s doing its own thing–that said, I like the introduction of the Energy Vampire concept.

I haven’t watched any particularly memorable movie lately, and my pile of books remains as thick as ever; I keep adding more to read, quicker than I can get through them! Most of my attention is currently on Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King, about Thurgood Marshall’s defense of the “Groveland Boys” in Lake County, Florida.

While I could leave it at a week’s recap post for the week, I’ll still plan on having a more “normal” post tomorrow, though I’m not sure what about just yet. And if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. Either way, I’m looking forward to what is sure to be a very exciting, very different week for me.

Review: Desert Child

Desert Child (developed by Oscar Brittain) is a slick little game. It has screens of beautiful environments, popping with color and packed with tiny little scene-setting details. The pixelated character art is simultaneously impersonal and diverse, suggesting a cosmopolitan, integrated, yet ultimately anonymous urban life of the future. Storytelling is subtle but memorable, from background elements like the partially destroyed moon or grafitti on a mecha-turned-lifeguard post to pithy newspaper articles you can purchase from a paper boy (how delightfully, absurdly anachronistic that you walk around this future cityscape with a high-tech mobile device but get your news from good old print papers). The soundtrack is incredible, often appropriately atmospheric but frequently edgy or funky or weird (purchasing the many, many tracks from the record store became an early priority). And the plot and themes of the game pull heavily from sci-fi and anime classics, with a special reverence for Cowboy Bebop.

It is short, though. While I took a hiatus from the game midway through, and only played it a little at a time, it only took a handful of hours to get from start to grand prix victory credits. The story is simple: you’re a hopeless hoverbike racer with ambitions to win the big championship race and maybe find a way off a slowly dying Earth. Most of the game is spent in a cycle of slow wealth accumulation and expenditures. Most of that time, you’re barely breaking even, as you have to pay for food, repairs, upgrades, and races. The odd jobs pay better than the races, but to get ready for the championship, you need to practice your racing, and racing is simply more fun (the adrenaline rush that the protagonist gets from the experience is captured well, and racing is absolutely the most exciting and intense element of a game that is otherwise deliberately slow-paced). At first, time seems a factor, but there’s really no rush to get to the grand prix event (I actually lost the first time, without penalty, and proceeded to lose a second time before finally finding a bike mod buildout and race style that better served me; I had much more wins than losses in the standard races and so never had to worry about bigger strategic thinking before then). As a result of the mellow pace, I settled into a slower but steadier routine, focusing more on odd jobs like kangaroo herding, pizza delivery, and weapons testing runs, accumulating cash that largely went to the bank. With the interest accrual of savings, it made more sense to just keep enough on me to keep myself fed and my bike in working order through the next race. This broke the cycle of poverty in the end and made it quite affordable for me to pursue the grand prix as many times as I needed (why exactly does the grand prix allow multiple runs without some sort of game over?).

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I don’t know if perhaps there are different endings or things to explore after your first completion of the game. My impression is that that’s not really the case. There didn’t even seem to be that many mods to customize my bike. I earned most of my mods by participating in the bike theft mini-game whenever I encountered an unattended ride (this mini-game was a clever way to have a game mechanic reinforce the theme of grinding poverty met with ambition; there are other ways to get bike parts, but the temptation to steal, and the cost of honest purchases of parts, is so great that eventually my restraint melted away).

I haven’t said much about how it plays yet. I actually enjoyed most of the game modes. Races were great fun and felt rewarding to attempt (with some level of risk, since you’ll accumulate hunger and bike damage, and even when you win, the pay-out’s not great). The other odd-job mini-games were fine but uneven; pizza delivery offered a huge payout and was soothingly simplistic, while on the other end of the spectrum, I never could find success with the bounty hunter jobs and quickly gave up on them. My favorite non-race mode was weapons testing, using a borrowed rail gun to take out a variety of enemy drones. But I also enjoyed walking around the different screens of the big city, getting “burgers” (the ubiquitous term for all food, from ramen to pizza) at little shops and stalls, and admiring the scenery set to funky music.

Desert Child is a little game, but it’s a cool game. If you come to it for an atmospheric, bite-sized good time, you’ll enjoy yourself. Don’t expect something incredibly deep or lengthy, though! This game’s more about style than layers of substance, and it works.

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Completing objectives

Over the past week, I’ve finally finished On Her Own Ground (the biography of Madam C.J. Walker by A’Lelia Perry Bundles). I really struggled with making progress through that, but the woman and the history surrounding her are equally fascinating.

That said, this post’s primary purpose is to note that I should have some additional video game reviews up over the next couple of days, having dug into a few games from the Switch’s eShop over this weekend. Those games are Desert ChildUntitled Goose Game (which I started and proceeded to complete on this Saturday alone), and Cat Quest. The first two of those games are actually quite short, but my time spent across these titles still reflects a weekend in which I devoted more leisure time to video games than I have in a while.

Outside of that, I also started my first volunteer shift at the Indy Reads Books store. It’s a bookstore in support of the nonprofit organization Indy Reads, which is focused on providing literacy programs in Indianapolis. It’s a cool cause, and the bookstore itself is full of quirky, eclectic titles (in addition to all the new and classic books you’d expect to see in any bookstore). I enjoyed my short time there today, and my biggest challenge so far is that it’s far too easy to buy more books while I’m there. I’d been so good about sticking to library loans! At least I can say that it’s going to a good cause.

I don’t have anything else to add, so I’ll just repeat that I should have reviews for those three games on the site soon.

A little here and there

I’ve had a lovely weekend. Today was really special in particular. It was a beautiful day. My wife and I put a lot of time and attention into training the puppy today, and it’s really shown off. We’re reinforcing learned tricks and introducing new ones and we’re happy with the pace, especially since she hasn’t been to obedience school yet. She seems so smart and picks up on things really quickly. Other than that, my day has been a little bit housework, a little bit yard work, a little bit of catch-up on my day job, and more than a little bit of leisure time.

If you can’t tell already, this is one of those meandering posts where I don’t have much to say but still wanted to check in. As per usual with these sorts of posts, I’ll at least briefly discuss the things I’m into that may or may not pop up on the blog in the near future.

After two months of homeownership, I finally pulled the Nintendo Switch and games out of storage in the guest bedroom. The first month was busy enough that video games were the last thing on my mind. The last month has been a little more focused on movies and reading, with admittedly way too much familiar TV thrown in. But I started getting the itch. Putting Desert Child on hold for a moment, I picked up Hello Neighbor. That’s a game that has an interesting concept but struggles in execution, and I’ll probably have more of a review when I either finish a play-through of the (relatively short) game or get exhausted by it, whichever comes first. For point of reference, I’m in the middle of Act 2 of 3. It’s a game where I wish I’d relied more on the available reviews. But of course, reviews are a subjective thing, and even a “bad” game can be something to be enjoyed. Just by way of example, I loved the simple action-RPG-lite beat-’em-up gameplay and branching story of X-Men: Destiny, even while recognizing that most of the complaints about that game were pretty valid (in fact-checking my memory of this game and reviews of the time, by the way, I was surprised to see that it had been de-listed from online stores and had unsold copies destroyed because of a legal dispute; now I really regret my decision to get rid of my copy, even though it was a game I likely wouldn’t play again and was taking up limited shelf space).

As for TV, I started The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, which I can only watch when my wife’s not around (she hates puppetry, and stop-motion as well), and I’ve continued to slowly move through the quite fast-paced and bite-sized Adventure Time because I can only watch it when my wife is around (we were stalled for a long time because she just wasn’t in the mood, which is just baffling to me).

I’m reading too many things and moving too slowly, so I don’t have any interesting updates there. I did, however, learn from my wife that Netflix is going to release a series about Madam C.J. Walker, based on On Her Own Ground, in 2020, so that’s kind of a weird coincidence.

To close out my pop culture consumption, I don’t really have any movie updates, either. I’m mostly just eager to see The Rise of Skywalker in December (though weirdly I might be more excited for the next Jurassic World movie and associated TV series, even though I’ve still got quite a while to wait on both–I do love me some dinosaurs).

And…that’ll just about do it! Have a good week, folks.

A weak week recap

I don’t know that I have much to say this week. We’re still adjusting to Rhodey’s absence in our home. After a week of struggling, we took today to get back to work on getting things unpacked, organized, renovated, etc. Today I tackled some yard work I’d let build up after Rhodey died. The previous owner kept a lovely lawn and garden, but in the months between her death and the home purchase, weeds crept in, and grasses spread like wildfire through the flower beds. So on top of the usual mowing and trimming and pruning, I’m finally getting around to beating back these vegetative invasions. My goal for this evening is to get as many of the books put away as possible. Truly, I don’t know that I’ll get that much done, or that I’ll continue it during the weeknights.

Speaking of books, I’m regaining my appetite for reading–or, really, my focus. I’m still all over the place with partially read books. Last week, I made a concentrated effort to finish A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, by Sonia Purnell. I rather enjoyed it, but my (relatively) increased reading speed was largely motivated by the return date for the library. I racked up a little bit of a late fee there. Plus, it’s in demand, so I’m that jerk delaying someone’s hold. Not the main point: the main point is that Virginia Hall is a fascinating woman, the French Resistance is a fascinating movement within a period of history shrouded by great evil, and there are interesting parallels to today. Not the sort of book I usually talk about on this blog, but given that it helped jump-start my reading again, I figured it was worth a mention. (Thanks, Mom, for the recommendation however long ago that prompted me to place the hold in the first place.)

I still have a pile of books to get through, though. The list:

  • On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, by A’Lelia Perry Bundles (another library loan, and another of those books I don’t normally write here about, but I’m a fan of nonfiction, especially histories and biographies, especially those about Indianapolis and its significant residents, and even more narrowly, the people and culture of Indiana Avenue from its segregationist roots to its thriving status as an African-American arts and business district and its eventual destruction as the result of a complex variety of factors that, in general, don’t cast the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana, or IUPUI in the greatest light);
  • Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper, picked up because a mutual on Twitter was raving about it (and I like it so far, largely due to some really wild world-building, but I haven’t gotten very far in, and this in fact started as an eBook library loan but transformed into an inexpensive purchase when the loan expired);
  • Star Wars: Bloodline, by Claudia Gray, because (1) Star Wars, (2) Leia, and (3) Claudia Gray; and
  • Star Wars: Tales of the Bounty Hunters, one of the old Expanded Universe short story anthologies and an impulse buy for nostalgic reasons while at Half Price Books for something completely unrelated.

Oh, also, I haven’t even started it, but Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters, recommended by a friend when I admitted to a lack of familiarity with this Daoist text (having only read the Tao Te Ching in college), is another book in my pile and another library loan.

I haven’t played any video games, old or new, familiar or unfamiliar, lately. Haven’t really been in the mood. I haven’t even hooked up the Switch in our new home yet. I’ve kind of been getting into the mood for mucking around in a Grand Theft Auto game. Before the move, I was playing Desert Child on Switch (which had been perfect timing, since I finally watched all of the Cowboy Bebop series), and I’m starting to feel the desire to get back to that. But I just haven’t had much of a drive to play games. Similarly, I haven’t really watched any movies lately, other than going to see a showing of Jaws in IMAX at the Indiana State Museum on Wednesday.

What’s everyone else reading or watching? Any recommendations that might tie into any of the above?

Here’s to a better week than the last one. Hopefully next week’s post, and my general mental state, will be more focused.