- Uncharted 4 (PS4) – $59.99
- Pocket Horse Jockey (3DS) – $6.99
- Double Dragon (Arcade; on PS4) – $6.99
YTD Total: $763.48
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (WiiU): 7h 4m
- Pocket Card Jockey (3DS): 5h 4m
- Table Top Racing World Tour (PS4): 98m
- Yoshi’s Wooly World (WiiU): 44m
- Assassin’s Creed Rogue (PS3): 40m
- Batman: Arkham Origins (WiiU): 22m
- Pktball (iOS): 18m
- Double Dragon (Arcade): 17m
- Hyrule Warriors Legends (3DS): 10m
- Uncharted 4 (PS4): 4h 45m
Have you ever reached the end boss in a video game, and then found that you could not convince yourself to turn off the machine until it was defeated… no matter how long it took? That happened to me last week with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (WiiU). My final session with the game stretched more than four hours, and all of that time was focused on knocking out the game’s final enemy. It took until just past three in the morning for me to reclaim Donkey Kong’s home and banana stash. Once I got to that final lair, it would have been anticlimactic to just resign for the night and return the next day to wrap up. Besides, beating a game feels great, and being that close makes you deeply crave that particular reward.
But is it fun to go through the same boss patterns over and over again, for hours on end? No, not really. Being satisfied and having fun are not the same feelings. I prefer when the hardest boss in the game is actually the penultimate boss – the second to last one. When you reach that boss, you don’t feel like you have to push on to the end…. You’re going to be more willing to break the fight into multiple sessions. And then, you can have a splashy, spectacular end boss battle that is more about celebrating the close of the game than it is about having the fight of your life. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker did this, and I loved it: The final dungeon boss was rough, but the endgame battle with Ganon was nice and easy. The ending provided a sugar rush, instead of a brick wall to slam into.
Pocket Card Jockey (3DS) was described by an editor at Destructoid as “hitting them the same way Tetris hit millions around the world back in the 80’s.” It’s a hyperbolic quote, but it’s a great way to communicate the appeal of the title. The horse races last between 1-3 minutes, and tying the mechanics to Solitaire makes the game very accessible. My nine-year-old daughter likes the game as much as I do. Gamefreak is best known for Pokemon, of course, but their non-Pocket Monster efforts are always interesting. I had a blast with Tembo the Bad Ass Elephant (Xbox One), and I like Pocket Card Jockey even more. There is a demo on the Nintendo 3DS e-shop that lasts more than an hour, and you can transfer all of your earnings to the full game, should you choose to spend $6.99 to unlock everything. It’s worth your time. Pocket Horse Jockey will likely be a dark horse (pun intended) in many Game of the Year discussions.
The big news this week, of course, was the release of Uncharted 4 (PS4; WARNING: UNLIMITED SPEND GAME). It’s the AAA console game I’ve been anticipating more than any other this year, and it delivers. I’ve come to realize that I want games as a story-telling medium, not games as a service. I’m looking for rich narratives and interesting, flawed heroes. Elaborate set pieces, meant to be enjoyed only once – but talked about forever. A beginning, a middle, and an end. A ride that’s carefully constructed from beginning to end by talented designers. A world meant to be explored alone. I don’t want Clash of Clans, or League of Legends. I don’t want a team game. I don’t want a sport. I want an interactive movie. I want Uncharted 4. Must be the film major in me.
In the past year, story-driven gamers have actually been given a lot of great experiences to choose from. Rise of the Tomb Raider. Fallout 4. The Witcher III. Uncharted 4 tops all of those. The writing is clever and knowing. You like Nathan Drake and his brother, despite their flaws. They lie, cheat, steal, and kill, but it’s always in the service of doing what they feel is the right thing. It’s not a choose-your-own-adventure. You have no control over the characters’ motivations, or ultimately, the path they go down together. And I’d have it no other way. I tend to prefer when the game’s authors take full control of the story. That allows them to wring more highly emotional moments out of their material. It also removes the temptation on the player’s part to take ethical choices and turn them into a min-maxing opportunity for stat boosts. That’s the problem I’ve always had with Mass Effect, for instance.
Speaking of stats – there are none in Uncharted 4. You don’t level Nathan Drake up, or optimize his skills. I’m fine with that. I don’t need every game to be an RPG. Skilling up is really just about getting better at the game.
Gameplay is a lot of fun; this is probably the best cover-shooter I’ve ever played. That said, much of our industry’s output has begun to lean too heavily on Gears of War inspired action scenarios. Games are starting to feel too same-y. There’s really not a ton of distinction between the shoot-em-up stages in The Order: 1886, Uncharted 4, Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto V, etc. Sleeping Dogs was actually more forward thinking in battles than Uncharted 4, swapping out guns for Kung-Fu. But Naughty Dog knows how to keep you moving on a battlefield, and they are better than anyone at mixing up the pace with spectacular set pieces – Uncharted 4 will make you mouth the word WOW an awful lot.
Much has already been written about the look of the game. It’s beautiful, on par with The Order: 1886. When the PS4 is pressed to its limits, it can pump out games that border on photorealism. The combination of finely tuned mechanics and AAAA production values makes this game the definitive benchmark for the maximum amount a gameplay experience should cost you. According to the awesome site howlongtobeat.com, it takes the average core player about 15 hours to beat Uncharted 4. If we can accept that Uncharted 4 represents the new benchmark in quality for video games, that means no game should ever cost more than the $4/hour rate that Uncharted 4 provides. Of course, there is also the multiplayer mode, which is not included in this cost. If you end up playing that, the value of the package becomes even greater.
Table Top Racing World Tour (PS4) is one of Sony’s PlayStation Plus titles. It’s the type of game that I would not have purchased, but I’m happy to spend an hour with as an extension of my PS Plus subscription. It’s like Mario Kart meets Micro Machines. Visuals are high fidelity, but lack personality. Controls are stiff to start, but improve significantly as you upgrade your car. It’s built by one of the co-creators of Wipeout, a game that did a much better job of creating a rich, cohesive world. I probably won’t go back to it after my initial hour of play – there’s just too much good stuff out there to grab my attention – but I don’t regret the time I invested. Could you imagine getting a few free games every month on the NES when you were a kid? It really is an amazing time to be a gamer.
Yoshi’s Wooly World (WiiU) is the perfect type of game to play at a pokey pace. Every once in a while, I will pick up the WiiU tablet when my wife is watching a show, and put a little bit of time into a game that I’m in no rush to complete, but enjoy pushing through stage by stage. This one has a remarkable aesthetic, and contributes to the WiiU being the premier console for gamers who love 2D action platformers. It’s better than Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze and New Super Mario Bros WiiU, but not as good as Rayman Legends or Kirby and the Rainbow Curse.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue (PS3) is another good reason to have a PlayStation NOW subscription. It’s the great lost Assassin’s Creed game, having come out the same time as Assassin‘s Creed Unity. Since it wasn’t the year’s flagship Assassin’s Creed game in 2014, I skipped it at the time, but now that it’s no longer locked to the PS3 – PlayStation Now lets you play on your PS4, Vita, or PS3, with save states seamlessly carrying over – I’m eager to jump in. The game is the direct successor to Assassin’s Creed IV, with a heavy emphasis on pirate ship battles. If you like that mechanic in ACIV, you’ll find Rogue to be a worthwhile homecoming.
Pktball (iOS) remains the best F2P game of the year; every week I put a little bit more time into it. I can’t beat 194, a record I set last month. Not for lack of trying! Give the game a spin for free, and if you like it, buy a few skins to support the developer. They are only a buck each. I love that everything in the game is purchased with real dollar currency (no virtual currency in sight), and that the spend cap is less than $30. This is F2P done right, and Laser Dog deserves all the support they can get.
Sony has a small library of pixel perfect Arcade Classics on the PSN store, including Double Dragon (arcade). Shirl’s was the name of my childhood neighborhood’s ice cream parlor, and their Double Dragon arcade machine was a major draw for the boys attending Roselle Middle School. Once you learned that you could basically be indestructible by spamming the elbow attack, you never wanted to leave the machine. It ages terribly, of course… but playing it delivers a huge nostalgia rush. I’ve beaten it more than one hundred times in my life, on various platforms. I’m sure I’ll beat it hundreds more. I’m already planning to purchase Double Dragon II: The Revenge (arcade) next week.
Great article, appreciate the way you talk about every aspect of video gaming. You are a great asset to player one podcast.
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Table Top Racing was interesting to try, but I found it terribly boring. Uncharted 4 is going to have to wait awhile for me. I felt utterly compelled to pick up the Nathan Drake Collection after my sublime experience with the Last of Us Remastered. So I’ve experienced some Uncharted burnout, and some disappointment that it didn’t quite live up to an unfair ideal I had built up in my head.