Category Archives: top five

My five favorite games in 2014

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Hello, end of 2014. Boy am I looking forward to seeing you come to a close. To help with that process, here’s my five favorite games from the past three hundred and sixty-five days. I know such a list is a strange thing to see this time of year and that I’m the only one doing it, but please, stick with me. If you wanna know what topped my list in 2013–and really now, why wouldn’t you–clicky click here.

If you take a look at my actual list of games played and beaten this year, you’ll notice there are not many current releases within it. That’s just how I roll, often getting to the big, new games much later in life–mine and theirs–and so I don’t have too fine of a list to pick from, but I’ll make the effort nonetheless and try to come up with some good arguments why I picked X over Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which, if you’re a good little follower, you’ll already know I haven’t touched yet.

Let me mention some of the 2014 releases that don’t get the full thumbs up below. Transistorman. I really, really wanted to love this game, especially after how Bastion mesmerized me. In the end, I just liked it, favoring the complex and constantly changing combat way more over the muddled story, though I loved elements of how the story was told, such as the terminals and polls Red participated in. And there’s also episodes two through five for season two of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which did not end up delivering well on the promise of following your Clem, y’know, the one you meticulously constructed via Lee in the previous season, through her next set of struggles. Plus, it stopped being an adventure game early on in the season and turned into a dialogue wheel selector. Boo to that. For season three, I will instead wait to see how it all pans out. As for Dragon Age: Inquisition, just insert a bunch of wet farts here.

All right, here they are, my five favorite videogames from 2014…

Luftrausers

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I’ve played Luftrausers on both Steam and the PlayStation 3, ending up stuck at the same spot for each version. I can’t get the blimp to spawn. Here’s the rub; I don’t care. I keep playing, keep dying, keep respawning and trying out new ship builds and listening in fascination as the soundtrack mutates this way and that, and I expect to keep playing Luftrausers deep into 2015. I don’t know if I’ll ever beat it or do well enough to get that blimp to spawn, which would then unlock a bunch of new missions to go after, but it doesn’t matter. The retro look, the killer soundtrack, the feel of launching up off the sub and into the sky, primo target #1 for every object loaded with a gun…it’s pure exhilaration. I’m not great, but it’s great.

Broken Age (Act One)

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Ahh. Old-school point-and-click adventure games with a modern look might be my new hot jam. Broken Age (Act One) is a whirlwind of imagination, bright colors, and, alas, pretty simple puzzles. On the surface, its story is cute and fuzzy, but quickly turns dark and upsetting once you begin to see how Shay and Vella are really living their lives. There’s also a fantastic cliffhanger that, if you didn’t know this game was divided into two acts due to financial, timing, and work issues, you’d believe it was planned. While I wish we could’ve seen the conclusion to these two kids’ journeys this year, I expect it to unfold early in 2015. Hopefully the next documentary video will shed some light on that. Oh, and Double Fine was kind enough to include a comic of mine in their weekly gathering of fanart. Obviously, I’m biased.

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls

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My history with the Diablo franchise has been like so: played the first one on my ol’ PlayStation one, using a controller to manipulate a mouse cursor, got into Diablo II a bit on PC during my college days for all the wrong reasons, and then never touched Diablo III. But then the news hit it was coming to consoles and being re-designed for controllers. I was jazzed. However, by the time I got around to thinking of it, an even newer version of the console was released, offering more content than you can shake a stick at, if you’re the shady type that carries sticks around. Anyways, I ran through the campaign once so far with Whisper, my bow-wielding, backflipping assassin, and enjoyed the heck out of slaughtering monsters, picking up loot, and upgrading her skills. I’m not even close to the level cap, and there’s a bunch of new content to try out still. Really worth the then $40 price tag.

Jazzpunk

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Here’s a wish I wish: I want to erase all memories of playing Jazzpunk. That way, in a few months, next week, or even after I’m done posting this blog entry, I can play Jazzpunk and experience everything it offers once again, with innocent eyes. The game is only a couple hours long, but it is non-stop gags and goofiness along the way; if you’re a fan of Airplane! you’ll absolutely understand what its going for. I don’t want a Jazzpunk 2, just a chance to eat it all up again, especially the Wedding Qake section.

Disney Magical World

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I was hoping to, at this point, already have written a blog post about what Disney Magical World meant to me this year. Still means to me. Unfortunately, I haven’t found the words for that yet, but let’s just say this little Nintendo 3DS title out from left field provided comfort, control, something to focus on when everything else was chaotic and spinning away. Its arrival was timely. I played it every night for a few hours for months straight over the summer and fall, putting it behind Dragon Quest IX and Animal Crossing: New Leaf in terms of hours played. It’s special, an unexpected mix of item collecting and difficult dungeon grinding, of saving up a single ingredient to make a specific recipe to give you that perfect café theme to get a new Disney character to show up and give you special collectible cards or gems to make new wands. It’s full of cycles and things to check in on, and it was a go-to when I needed a distraction. Truthfully, I could still be playing it now, today, but had to put it aside to give some other handheld games their due.

And there you go. My five favorites, with words to boot, and I expect to play Luftrausers, Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, and the conclusion of Broken Age in 2015, so that makes these games even stronger cases for me.

Here’s the real question though–did you play any of my five favs this year, and, if you did, are we on the same page? Let me know in the comments below.

Five ice stages actually worth playing

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On Monday, February 17, I left the house for the very first time in five days after getting seriously snowed in. I mean, yeah, we live in the middle of the Pennsylvanian woods, so this was bound to happen eventually. And yes, the above picture is the actual abode Tara and I live in, and that’s her Jeep there, stuck in the middle of the driveway. Anyways, she was able to eventually get out, and after some more shoveling, I too got my lackluster and turble-in-da-snow Chevy Cobalt out and was able to reconnect with society for a brief moment before returning home with plenty of yummy groceries. Alas, it was not meant to be because, while I was able to get down the snowy driveway just fine, getting back up it was another mess. Flash-forward two hours, and all is well, but now I’m thinking about ice stages in videogames that I actually enjoy spending time in, unlike real life.

Onwards, with the five chilliest places I don’t mind getting stuck in…

The Ice Caves (Spelunky)

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During my early days with Spelunky, getting to the Ice Caves was a big deal. It meant mastering the Mines and Jungle levels well enough to hit a series of levels as unlike the previous ones as possible. In the Ice Caves, you can slip and slide on blocks of ice, and so can gems and items and enemies, making it dangerous and chaotic for all involved. UFOs, yetis, and mammoths guard their territory aggressively. Also, the entire level takes place over a dark, endless abyss, meaning if you fall incorrectly, you might not ever hit ground and get back up. It’s not quite as deadly as the Temple levels, and I actually find the Ice Caves to be much more relaxing than any other section in Spelunky. Much as of that is due to the snappy, jazz-fused soundtrack, but I also think it has something to do with its unconventional openness; if you have the jetpack equipped, you can fly to and fro and see all that it has to offer, with few threats in your way. Perfect for ghost mining, too.

World 4 – Gorilla Glacier (Donkey Kong Country)

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With great snow comes low visibility. Pretty sure that’s a famous quote said to Peter Parker. And that’s what I remember most about the Gorilla Glacier worlds from Donkey Kong Country–a lot of snow, blowing this way and that. Now, the levels don’t start out that way. In fact, you begin in Snow Barrel Blast, which paints a pretty picture of a clear sky and a lot of snow on the ground. As you progress, snow begins to fall and intensify, to the point where it becomes difficult to see. Toss in some hectic, heart-pulsing music, and this is starting to sound like a nightmare–but it’s strangely not. I remember it so fondly as a sign of the power of videogames, the power of the SNES, and when the snow would start to come down heavy many, many years later in games like Skyrim, I always knew where that technique–for me–started.

The Colder Climates (Journey)

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I will keep this as brief as possible, since the snow levels arrive late in Journey‘s journey, right in spoilery territory, but man…they are something special. Especially if you are able to have a nameless co-op friend at your side, like I did my single time floating through the game. You basically have to traverse through the blinding snow, trudging up white hill after white hill, all while avoiding some big baddies soaring overhead. The controls work really well here, as it is actually so much harder to move in the snow than the desert sand, hitting home that you are in one bad place. That said, it’s gorgeous and gorgeously orchestrated. I played with another player, and we took turns checking to see if the coast was clear before chirping that it was time to dart back out into the blizzard.

Winter (Animal Crossing: New Leaf)

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There’s a surprising amount of things to do in the winter in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and that’s all on top of the general number of things one can do as mayor of a village full of spunky animal residents. Building snowmen and snowwomen opens up chances for new collectibles; the snowwoman will give you special ice furniture for bringing her a certain number of snowflakes, and the snowman plays a game of Bingo with you for as long as he is standing. But walking around is nice and peaceful, the soft crunch of boots on snow peppering the soundtrack. Plus, I’m not as distracted as much as I am in the spring and summer by a dozen different bugs and butterflies to chase after. You still gotta watch out for those dung beetles though.

Canada (Sly 2: Band of Thieves)

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The Sly Cooper franchise has a serious affection for snow levels. No, really. They are the one constant across all four titles. Here, have some proof in the form of a very direct sentence using a number of semicolons. In Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, you go to China; in Sly 2: Band of Thieves, the gang ventures to Canada; Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves has them moseying back to China; lastly, in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, the trio find themselves lost in time, stuck in the bitterly cold Ice Age.

In Band of Thieves, Canada plays home for two separate, but subsequent episodes and is visually depicted as large expanses of snow, tiny mountains, and ice-covered walls. There’s also moose carrying flashlights, but I think that’s based on actual findings, what do I know. The first Sly game was very linear, but the second outing began to open things up more, offering a hub and a larger area to explore at your leisure. And you could pick between any of the three heroes, and each traversed the snow differently. Aw, this was back before Bentley ended up in a wheelchair, too. My bad.

Well, that’s five really cold, frigid places that I’m okay getting stuck with. Do you have any others to add to this snow pile?

My five favorite games in 2013

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Well, it’s here. The end of the year. That special time when one sits and thinks about all the months that came before, and the interactive media that helped pass the hours, enjoyably or not. This post is about the stars, the winners, the smile-makers–not the clunkers, many of which I managed to avoid thanks to keen eyes and a tightened wallet.

As Grinding Down readers are most likely to know already, I’m not always able to play a lot of the big AAA titles that come out in over the swoosh of the past three hundred and sixty-five days, though I try now and then to at least sample a few of them. Click this very sentence for the full list of games I went through in 2013. For instance, this year, I did experience both BioShock Infinite and Grand Theft Auto V, but the truth of the matter is that those two titles are, unfortunately, pretty mediocre–to me. Remember, this is my list, my favorite games that I have greatly enjoyed playing and am still playing, and I’d completely understand if you’d want to fight me tooth and nail in defense of why the combat in Infinite is more than just a means to pad out the story or why Los Santos is the most sandboxy sandbox that ever sandboxed, but your cries fall upon deaf ears. I like what I like, and there’s nothing you can do to make me swing the other way.

Fine. Let’s not dress this up any more than necessary. Without further wandering, these are my five favorite games from 2013.

Doritos Crash Course 2

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I bet you’re scratching your collective heads over this one. Number five on my list is a sponsored free-to-play sequel with microtransactions to a sponsored free-to-play side-scrolling platformer that was solid fun, but limited in variety, and you probably think that sounds absolutely terrible. Maybe in writing it does, but I can’t get over how fun running, jumping, sliding, and climbing to the end of every obstacle course is in Doritos Crash Course 2. I continue to play it and earn stars, always striving for a better time on some levels or that occasionally elusive gold medal. The game is also constantly comparing your score with those on your friends list, giving you extra incentive to do better.

Thankfully, the microtransactions are completely ignorable, though earning more stars to unlock new levels or alternate paths might feel like a grind to some, but I enjoy both racing through a course to be first and going back a second time to slowly find all the collectibles. The level designs are pretty imaginative–there’s a tropical jungle and ancient Egypt and so on–and the music that plays when you cross the finish line is catchy and forever burned in my brain. If you have an Xbox 360, this is the free game to download and devote yourself to, not Happy Wars or Ascend: Hand of Kul.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

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So far, I’ve only played Fire Emblem: Awakening once, and I suspect I will never go back to it, since I played the game with permadeath on and those that fell in battle truly fell in battle for me. That’s how my story went. Just like how I play Telltale’s The Walking Dead. In fact, I documented every death that happened–21 in total, I believe was the final count–and you can read about each sad story by sifting through this tag. I can understand why many chose not to play with permadeath on or would constantly reload a previous save if things went awry, because I ended up missing out on a lot of content by losing a good number of men and women. Mostly marriage and future kid stuff, but that element of the game is fascinating and fun, thanks to really quirky, fantastic writing. I’d have loved to see more pairings.

Strategy RPGs are very hit or miss with me, but something about the rock, paper, scissors nature of the battle system was easy to grasp, even if it could lethally bite you in the ass if you moved a flier too close to an archer. Leveling up and selecting new roles added just the perfect amount of customization that I’m always looking for, and Fire Emblem: Awakening‘s presentation, cutscenes, sound, and voice acting was beyond amazing. Really superb stuff. Just ignore the fact that nobody has feet.

Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale

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Like playing a Hayao Miyazaki film. Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale is a small, quiet game, which ironically tells the story of giant monsters that eventually fight each other just above a rather quaint village. It’s a love letter to a childhood I imagine I had, even if I didn’t because I grew up in South Jersey, not rural Japan. There’s not a lot of game here save for collecting sparkly glims and battling friends in a card-based minigame, but, as Sohta, you’ll come to know the town and its streets rather intimately, as well as the relaxing drone of cicadas. Exploration, learning, and being a kid are the key themes here, and even when things get weird, they remain charming as heck. Absolutely the standout when it comes to Level-5’s Guild series, even if the digital dice-rolling in Crimson Shroud is freakishly satisfying. It’s not a long gaming experience, but rather a lasting one.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

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I just finished this up over the weekend, and I’m not even mad that it ends with a clunky, finger-tiring QTE. I’m not even mad, bro. Thieves in Time will stand the test of time as another great entry in the Sly Cooper series, and that’s saying a lot since it was not developed by the original creators at Sucker Punch Productions.

Sanzaru Games clearly saw what were the best elements from the original trilogy–open world, a variety of missions, fun-to-get collectibles–and added their own fancy ingredients, like ancestors with unique powers, to make a solid, time-hopping adventure. The cutesy, goofy characters and Saturday morning cartoon vibe is retained, as are Sly’s ability to climb up nearly everything and make a swift trip from rooftop to rooftop. Love it so very much. I have to still go back for some hidden treasures, but I’m kind of waiting for Giant Bomb‘s 2013 GOTY podcasts to go up, as I can do that while I listen to them argue with each other. This came out early in 2013 at a budget price, with cross-buy too for the PS Vita. However, it was unfortunately easy to miss. Glad I got to it this year.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

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Hmm. Where do I begin? I guess at the beginning. I’ve been playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf every day–or just about every day–since it came out. Sometimes it is only for ten minutes, which is just enough time to find fossils, hit the money rock, say hi to my favorite resident Sylvia, and visit the shop, and other times it can be around 45 minutes to an hour, where I’ll spend more time fishing or maybe visiting the summer island or just goofing off with Tara. There’s both always things to do and emergent gameplay to be found. My house is barely paid off, as I have enjoyed expanding Arni more with public projects, like building the police station, the cafe, and, most recently, the Dream Suite.

The improvements over Wild World are both extremely noticeable and great. You can now stack fruit in your inventory, select multiple fossils for Blathers to assess in one gulp, switch between tools with the d-pad, and so on. Plus, you can take screenshots and share them online on all the usual social media hotspots, which I love doing, even if they probably drive my 3DS-less sister mad with jealousy. There’s just something so amazing about a game that is more interested in constantly rewarding you for your hard work than berating you to constantly do better. With holiday events, visiting guests, and fishing/bug collecting tournaments, you’re never without something to look forward to. In fact, every Saturday night, I turn on Animal Crossing: New Leaf and go watch K.K. Slider perform to earn a new song for my astro CD player to blast out. This game is very much part of my life again, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

And there’s my list. I’m pretty pleased with it, though I do wish I had gotten to a couple other big name games–or big name indie games, if that’s a thing–in 2013. Stay tuned for that list maybe later this week. Anyways, that’s my five. What were some of your favorite games this year?

The top five job boards in videogames

I’ve been playing some Rage recently–mind you, just a bit–and once you get to Wellspring, the first main hub city, you have the opportunity to pick up sidequests from a job board located next to where everyone is knee-deep in rounds of Tombstones. Which reminded me just how much I love picking up miscellaneous tasks on an open forum. Surely there are others out there, and unfortunately the bulletin board from Animal Crossing: Wild World does not really count as it exists only to post funny, strange, and disturbing notes about your neighbors…

And so, without any further blathering on my part, here’s my top five videogame job boards. If I’m to be honest, there’s was not much to pick from, at least from my gaming experience. May I continue to find more boards in the future.

5. Rage

The job board in Rage is extremely ho-hum, but it’s still something to constantly check in on even if it ultimately doesn’t offer a ton of new quests. However, some of the sidequests, when selected, take you directly into the action, which is a nice feature considering the wasteland is a dangerous place for travelers. And yeah, I love just how big it states what it is: JOB BOARD. Otherwise, it’s perfunctory at best.

4. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Sorry about the Japanese screenshot, but couldn’t find one in English. Let me explain then. In Dragon Quest IX, when inside the Battle Records menu, you can select Quests, which brings you to another menu screen, with two more options available: Normal Quest and Extra Quest. Above these is pictured a bulletin board, with unreadable scraps of paper pinned to it. Oh man, and I just checked, and I still have like seven pages of undiscovered extra quests to do. Might have to get back into this one. Such a summer game…

3. Dragon Age: Origins

Side quests in Dragon Age: Origins pop up in a number of ways, and one of them is by visiting a Chanter’s Board. I think I found my first one in Lothering, but there’s others in Redcliffe Village and the Denerim Market District. Since these tasks are being handed out by the Chantry, most help the already rich and powerful. But they are worth doing as each task provides a monetary reward, and you need money to buy bigger backpack space as soon as you can. Also, love the parchment look of the quests, as well as the “seal of approval” at the bottom of the description page. Nicely done, BioWare.

2. Borderlands

Okay, okay, technically they call this a Bounty Board, but it all means the same: moar questz. These are scattered throughout Pandora, and when there are new quests to pick up, a giant, floaty exclamation mark stands tall, making sure you know what is what. Turning in a quest and immediately picking up another is a wonderful carrot-on-a-string tactic, and I had more fun leveling up on the side then going through the main story missions in Borderlands. Most quests found here are given anonymously, but they do offer up experience points, cash, and either a new gun or artifact. They better return in Borderlands 2 or else…

1. Final Fantasy XII

When I graduated college and moved to northern New Jersey to get a big-boy job, I went for a few months in a studio apartment without the Internet. Thankfully, I had Final Fantasy XII to obsess over. And no, this isn’t about hte License Board. Instead, I’m all about the hunts after joining Clan Centurio and becoming best buds with Montblanc. See, in the world of Ivalice, monsters are constantly causing trouble, and so people have to list Marks or Elite Marks on a board in town in hope of help; Vaan and his crew can set out to kill them when and how they please. I can’t say for certain without checking my save file how many marks I took down since I last played in, um, 2006, but am pretty sure it was plenty. These mini-bosses were adventures all on their own and made collecting and leveling up a challenge, but so totally worth it.

Okay, those are my picks. Did I miss a favorite job board of yours? Tell me about it in the comments below.

The Top 10 Videogames I Didn’t Get to Play in 2011

I did this type of list last year–and by last year, I mean 2010–and to say that it was well received is me being honestly humble; The Top 10 Games I Didn’t Get to Play in 2010 ended up gracing the home page of WordPress.com for a week and change, meaning that anyone and everyone visiting the site saw an adorable puppy with sad eyes drawing them into a post about missing out on a bunch of popular videogames. And it got looked at. A lot. Around 15,200 views and over 140 comments in just a few days, a high majority of them from really nice commenters, too. Thanks, WordPress people! We’ll see if I can bottle magic for a second time.

10. Batman: Arkham City

He may be the hope that flies through the night sky in black, but he’s also unplayed. Same with the previous game Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game(s) seem really cool, with a mix of action, stealth, and as many cameos the devs can squeeze in, but I’ve somehow managed to avoid all things batty. Not on purpose. I like Batman much more than Superman (but less than Spider-Man). Maybe I’ll grab one of these in 2012 to help get in the mood for The Dark Knight Rises.

9. STACKING

 

I like weird games, mostly because weird games take chances, thus earning the adjective of being weird. Stacking seems like a weird game, which is why it is intriguing to me. Plus, the way the characters hop around the world reminds me a little of how I design my Supertown and All of Westeros characters, even though those in Stacking do have arms, legs, noses, and ears. Good for them. The price tag (1200 MS Points) for this downloadable has always kept me at bay so I’m hoping for a sale sometime soon.

8. Aliens: Infestation

Here’s probably the first (and last) Aliens game I’m interested in. The goal is shooting alien creatures without remorse, and this objective plays out in a Metroidvania way, with a unique hook of main characters being totally and completely killable. You literally have X number of lives to beat the game, I guess. There’s some gorgeous spritework here, and the level design is ripe for exploration. Alas, I don’t know much about the source material, as I’ve only ever seen one film from the franchise, and I couldn’t tell you if it was Alien or Aliens, but it did have a robot at the end bleeding milk all over the place, but I’m a sucker for anything that shows its love for side-scrolling pilgrimages and does it well.

7. Alice: Madness Returns

I have a strange relationship with American McGee’s Alice; that’s a game that I actually played co-op with a girlfriend even though it was not a co-op game. She controlled the moving of Alice, and I used items and weapons from the other side of the keyboard. It was a disastrous time, and we rarely worked well together, but it was one of the few games she ever became interested in, and was adamant about us playing it together. Ah, young love affection. What a farce.

And so that game has been stuck in my being ever since, evoking a time I’d like to not go back to. However, Alice’s next journey in Alice: Madness Returns looks like fun, maybe even darker than before if that’s possible. The game got mediocre reviews, but I’m more interested in just going at it all by my lonesome.

6. Red Dead Redemption

Here’s a game that was also on my 2010 list, meaning a whole year went by and I’ve still not been able to ride a horse, skin a bear, and shoot a unruly vagrant. I want to, I really do, and I was close to purchasing the Game of the Year edition, which nicely collects all the many DLC packs into one package, but instead went with Mass Effect 2. I still don’t love Grand Theft Auto IV, but I named L.A. Noire as my game of the year, and have hopes that Red Dead Redemption is more like the latter and less like the former. Yeah, yeah, I know people refer to it as Grand Theft Horse, but maybe there’s more to it than that. Or maybe you’ll see this title on yet another edition of this list come the end of 2012.

5. Terraria

This year, I was able to give Minecraft a spin thanks to a free, limited-time copy with the purchase of one of the Humble Indie Bundles. I struggled at first, both with what the point of the game was and then also surviving the darkness, but that was enough for me until it comes out on the Xbox 360. Terraria is seemingly Minecraft’s cousin, but it only works on a PC, and since I use a Mac…well, you do the math. The graphics and slower gameplay seem more appealing to me than that in Minecraft, but it’ll have to wait until I can get a new pooter.

4. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

True fact: I totally skipped Assassin’s Creed II and went straight to Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and I’m totally at peace with that. Why? Well, AC:B turned out to be simply fantastic. A strong story, lots to do in a well-designed setting, and a unique take on online multiplayer stabbing. Though Ubisoft might be spitting out these games a little too fast, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations seems to be more of AC:B, and I’ve heard that the changes to online multiplayer are significant. I’ve held back because I’ve heard that for a game with revelations in its title, there is actually little to that point. Going to wait until the price drops down to $30 or so, me thinks.

3. Portal 2

So, 2011 was the year that I caught up with the world and played–and beat with minimal walkthrough assistance–Portal. Yeah, go me. However, I did struggle with a few puzzles, almost to the point of blunt frustration, and that’s been the biggest roadblock for Portal 2; I’m interested in the story and learning more about Aperture Science and their ultimate plans, but not having to deal with the mind-benders and brain-twisters to get there. Sure, I could read a wiki or watch videos online, but that’s just silly. Alas, I kinda doubt I’ll ever get to this one.

2. Kirby Mass Attack

Without a doubt, Kirby is Nintendo’s lab experiment. When they want to try something new or risky or off-the-wall, they just use Kirby as the flagship. Over the years, he’s been turned into yarn, forced to ride a rainbow, and also enter air kart races. His latest adventure on the DS (not the 3DS, mind you) involves clones. Kirby Mass Attack retains the look of those classic Kirby game, but throws in new puzzles solvable with multiple Kirby copies, and it’s all controlled with the touchscreen. This one was released right around the same time as Professor Layton and the Last Specter, and I only had enough funds to get one or the other, and so it’ll have to wait for a later date.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The last great game for the Nintendo Wii. At least that’s what journalistic people are saying about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and I’m sure they are right as there definitely doesn’t seem to be anything else in the pipeline before the dumbly-named Wii U drops. And there’s always reason to be excited for a new Zelda game, but I still struggle with the idea of actually playing this on a Wii, with a Wii controller, doing Wii-like things. Visually, it’s so pretty. Like a painting come to life. It also sounds like a mighty slow crawl for those first few hours. Going to hold off for now and wait until it drops in price, but who knows how long that could take.

Well, I think that’s it.

Other contenders that I didn’t play and didn’t make this list include Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, Dead Island, Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation, Lost in Shadow, and Rayman: Origins. Yeah, I got some things to catch up on. We’ll get there, surely. But what about you, dear readers? What games from 2011 did you miss out on? Speak up below in the comments.

The Top Five Worst Fishing Minigames

Some of my favorite memories are based around fishing, which I find funny as it’s an activity I haven’t done in many years. Or desire to do anymore. I don’t mind crabbing and pulling up traps to see if anything crawled on in, but hooking a worm and just waiting for a tug is no longer ideal for me. Plus, the last time I went fishing, I ended up standing still for so long that the back of my legs got some wicked sunburn on them, an unfortunate lesson definitely learned.

And yet, when it comes to videogames, there’s something addicting about fishing minigames and trying to catch the biggest or rarest sea critter possible. Crack-like, almost. In some games, fish means food. Others use it as just a means to money. And some have it simply for the sake of another thing to collect. To this day, I’ve still not caught a coelacanth in Animal Crossing: Wild World, but I know my sister has, and for that, boat-loads of respect. I did get every other fish and enjoyed every minute of it.

However, this list is not about my favorite fishing minigames. No, this one’s all about those that didn’t do it for me, that were too complicated or not deep enough. These are the ones that should’ve been tossed back in during development.

5. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

To unlock the fishing minigame, Link has to first complete a totally optional sidequest. One that’s easy to miss, too. Something to do with a mermaid, and I don’t remember any of the details except that your reward is a fishing rod. You can then go fishing, which uses the DS touchscreen to its fullest: tap to cast your line, then place stylus over Link and pull down on him without ever lifting the stylus off the touchscreen, and if you are good enough, you’ll snag a fish on your hook. Now it gets even tougher. Two meters pop up, distance and your rod’s strength, and you have to pay attention to both as you try to reel in your catch. LET GO and PULL constantly pop up on the top screen. It can take several tiring minutes to be successful, and I think I only caught two fish in total before not caring anymore. The minigame was too hard, too technical.

I had more fun using the ship’s crane to pull up underwater treasure chests. If only it could snag fish, too.

4. Final Fantasy XII

I spent well over 70 hours romping through Ivalice, completing as many marks as I could safely find, filling out the license board, and killing judges with extreme glee–and yet I never stumbled across the fishing minigame. Oh, it’s there. I’ve seen talk of it on the Interwebz. But like the entry just above in this grand ol’ list, you really have to work towards unlocking it. According to others, the fishing minigame becomes available after Vaan and the gang visit the Draklor Laboratories area during the main plot. However, to get the most out of the minigame, several mark hunts have to be completed, as well as the Barheim side-quest. I’m guessing I never did any of that stuff. Supposedly, the fishing game consists of a very basic button memory test, with six opportunities to catch a bottle or fish. Through this, you have the chance to catch the ultimate reward, the Lu-Shang Badge, a key component of the most powerful weapon in the game. I consider it one of the worst fishing minigames because it seemed to be dropped into the game like an afterthought.

3. Magician’s Quest: Mysterious Times

This game is, for all intents, a Hogwarts-themed clone of Animal Crossing: Wild World, which would lead many to believe that I’d absolutely love it. But no, I don’t. The devs added a middle man to their fishing minigame, one that’s fairly annoying. In AC:WW, you catch a fish and you either donate it to the museum or you sell it directly to Tom Nook for some sweet bells. In MG:MT, you catch a fish, and your only choice is to donate it to a magical book, which will then give you an item based on the type and size of the fish, which you can then bring to the local shop to sell for some money. It’s a slow, unpredictable process, but unfortunately it’s one of the main ways to make money to buy new brooms and CDs. If only you could just take the fish to the shop and cut out the middle man book.

2. Nier

My experience with Nier so far has been this, word for word, fish fail for fish fail. I’d like to play some more of the game, as there were a few interesting bits, but if there’s any more story-related fishing quests, I don’t think I can soldier on.

1. Professor Layton’s London Life

Yup, a minigame within a minigame–and it’s atrocious. Fishing seems simple enough in London Life: acquire a fishing outfit, find a good spot, and cast away. When the exclamation mark appears above your avatar’s head, press the action button to reel in the fish. The wet noodle is that it’s seemingly random. If you’re not fast enough–and you have to be super fast as one millisecond off is enough to fail–you won’t catch the fish and lose a ton of Happiness. Maybe between 2,000 to 3,000. Which only then makes catching fish even harder, as a happy fisherman is a successful one.

And right now, I have two quests for one character. Deliver a note, and the other is to catch two Thames trout. However, I can’t turn in the former quest until I complete the latter, and that might take awhile as I’ve tried numerous times to catch these special fish. It’s frustrating, and I find myself trying once, losing Happiness, and going off to do some other actions.

More than likely, I’d rather be really fishing than testing my patience with these fishing minigames. Got any fish stories of your own? Speak up in the comments below!

The top five greatest things about L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire is not Grand Theft Auto IV set in the 1940s, and for that I’m eternally happy. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted that open-world feel, but more guidance, more direction, and that seems to be the case here, pun intended. A linear game set in an open Los Angeles that, if you want, you can go explore and get lost in and attempt to run citizens over. But you’re a good-natured detective, and a detective like that moves slowly, meticulously, combing crime scenes for clues and interrogating suspects and musing with partners over possible plans of action. Sometimes action takes precendence, with Cole chasing suspects on foot or car, or trying to survive a shootout, or desperately trying to keep his hat on during a fistfight. But it’s the detective work and questioning of suspects and branching paths that make L.A. Noire its own game, and not just Grand Theft Los Angeles.

Oh, and here are five other great things about L.A. Noire:

5. Make a face, any face

This might surprise some to find my praise of the facial animation not number one of this insignificant list of mine, but that’s how I roll. I like the face work, I do. It’s very impressive, especially considering that both Tara and I immediately recognized Greg Grunberg as Hugo Moller just on his face alone. We were like, “Hey, it’s that guy!” And we were right. It was that guy. And we recognized him before he spoke, whereas it is often the opposite that confirms a suspicion about a voice actor in a videogame. And then Hugo began to talk, and it was like I wasn’t even in a videogame anymore, just a show on TV, where a guy was being questioned, and he was answering accordingly, twitching and looking away and furrowing his brow as we all do, and we had judgment calls to make.

4. All that jazz

In the late 1940s, after the horror of World War II, music reflected American enthusiasm tempered with European disillusionment. Jazz and solo singers breaking free from big band ensembles ate up the limelight, and Rockstar took it a step further for L.A. Noire‘s soundtrack, utilizing the remixing skills of some of today’s best DJs to create new versions of the old. Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lionel Hampton are re-imagined in spectacular ways. Take a listen, I promise you that the songs are intoxicating and hypnotic. It’s a shame that I don’t drive around more to listen to them, but more on that in a bit.

3. That carrot is not irrelevant

When at a crime scene and searching for clues, Cole can pick up and inspect a number of items, many of which are either red herrings or simply inconsequential to the case. My favorite pick-ups are inside a suspect’s house, where Cole will meander into the kitchen, pick up a carrot, and stare at it for minutes before finally deciding that, yes, it’s most likely not the murder weapon. I’ve also noticed his love for picking up boxes of laundry detergent. Either way, it’s nice that they kept these items in, as it does give the feeling of truly examining a crime scene, no matter how silly they ultimately are. Always examine shoes, too.

2. Baby steps up the stairs

Y’all might think the facial motion capturing work in L.A. Noire is its greatest achievement, but you’d be wrong. Somehow, after seven years of programming and coding and researching, the people at Rockstar and Team Bondi were able to perfectly capture the way people climb stairs. If you don’t hold down the run button, Cole will climb a set of stairs in itty bitty steps, bobbing his head all the way up, like a jogger running in place. It’s hilarious and at the same time instantly recognizable; we’ve all gone up stairs like this at one time or another, placing both feet on each step all the way to the top, and it only helps to nail down immersion and authenticity.

1. You drive, I’m lazy

Most cop-work is done in pairs. Partners are not just a stereotype of the cop genre, but an integral aspect of working the streets and solving crimes. Plus, they can act as a personal chauffeur. At just about any point, you can hold down a button and have your partner drive to the next location. This is wonderful. You still get to listen to the interactive dialogue you’d hear if you yourself drove, but now you can listen without worrying about running into another car or careening off a cliff. If there’s no dialogue to be had, you simply warp to the desired location via a short loading screen. Again, this is wonderful.

One of my biggest gripes with Grand Theft Auto IV is how sadistic the mission structure was, often having you drive across two bridges and many miles to start a mission. Upon death or failure, you’d have to do all that again. It was even hard to stay on track in games like The Saboteur and Red Faction: Guerrilla. Here, in L.A. Noire, arrival at your destination is guaranteed. Occasionally, I do drive, but it’s always messy, and I rear-end a lot of cars, which gets my partner all huffy and puffy. Not needed. Hopefully this is something every open-world game can implement though how is not a quick answer to me. The fact that you are constantly paired up with a second person surely helps.

Don’t think I’m 100% sweet on the game though. There’s plenty I dislike, and if y’all are good and enjoy this post and share it with Reddit and Kotaku and StumpledUpon and the whole Interworld so that I can get rich and famous fast, then I’ll do a post on the five worst things in L.A. Noire.