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The End of Year Hullabaloo: Top five games of 2018, Number 4

Another day, another intro. Hmm. Yep, going to punt today as well. [You disgust me -ed.]

Check out the #4 games of 2018 after the jump!

Alex Connolly #4: Armajet

Good heavens. A free-to-play game, sullying this list with its…admittedly unobtrusive IAP and straightforward gameplay tuned to include everyone. Ban this sick filth.

No, after taking a Stately Punt after reading a brief recommendation, I came to find a fantastic little Soldat descendant. A 2.5D team-based multiplayer game of jetpacks and chunky gunfire. It might not be as fast as Soldat, but if seen as the Halo to Soldat’s Counterstrike, the pace befits the scale. Moreover, Armajet’s match brevity is what keeps it markedly fresh. These are micro-matches. A few minutes, no more. The game doesn’t cloy, doesn’t fall into boring or aggravating attrition. Clean, low-fat run-jump-n-gun.

Interestingly, Armajet offers cross-platform play between PC and, wait for it, mobile. Indeed, iOS and Android owners can scrap with the beige boxers, and while that that sounds like a recipe for utter disaster, the pacing and interface generally keeps things on an even keel.

I started out on mobile, and didn’t find my phone up to the task. But on PC, it’s a riot. Lots of clutch wins and overtimes, double-triple-spree-rampage jaunts, mid-air grenade touch-offs and the sweet chance collision of a 50. cal round cleaning up off-screen. Despite having all the accoutrements of a free-to-play game — the hooks, the rewards, the repeat customer hooks — I don’t tend to care. Benchwarmer fare that isn’t crucial to the core experience. The concept done right, at least for an action game. There’s no dirty weapon degradation, no forcing of one’s hand out of desperation. Just quick, easy business.

And I’m still playing most days of the week, parceled in a most convenient manner of ten minute bouts. And no doubt well into next year.

Kelsey Rinella #4: Ascension: Valley of the Ancients

This is sort of the opposite of the Scent of A Woman Oscar—call it the Ravnica Block award. Sure, Ascension is my most-played iOS game, and has always been a good game superbly suited to the platform, but VotA is distinctive because it’s so much better than the rest of Ascension. I’d begun to suspect that I only play Ascension any more out of familiarity, and that, if I really cared about quality, I’d be looking elsewhere. VotA, like Ravnica for Magic, persuaded me that an old system with some serious known flaws could be redeemed into something marvelously fresh by exceptional design. It plays brilliantly as a standalone expansion, completely subverting my habits from previous play, and mixes well with every other set with which I’ve tried it, making each of them seem better in the process.

Nick Houghtaling #4: PathPix

The PathPix series might be my favorite puzzle game series of all time. The concept is simple. You’re confronted with a grid of colored circles with numbers inside of them. The goal is to connect two of the same numbers with the same colors together. If you’ve got a green number 5, for example, you want to connect it to another green “5.” The number indicates the number of squares on the grid each line must pass through.

It’s easy enough when circles are placed close together, or the numbers are small. However, when things get spaced out it becomes less obvious. It requires a lot of trial and error. Eventually, you start seeing how the patterns all fit together.

There are several games in the series, each focused on a different theme. When you’ve finished a puzzle in this one, for example, you have created a (blocky) picture of a famous work of art.

Things seem a little rough around the edges, with dated looking menu options and graphics. But the underlying mechanics are quite elegant, and it does create a sense of charm. This series is a staple on my iPhone.

Tanner Hendrickson #4: Yakuza 0

Yakuza 0 got a PC release this year, so I’m going to say it counts despite playing the original PS4 release from last year. This was by far the biggest surprise of the year for me, having no prior experience with the long-running Yakuza series. After years of ignoring the Yakuza games, the groundswell of vocal support from new fans and tireless series evangelists convinced me to pick up a copy in a Black Friday sale… and then not play the game until February or March. Oops! But once I started, it became all-consuming. There’s just so much to love! The gangster melodrama of the main story is genuinely engaging, but then in between story missions you can explore a small-but-dense chunk of bubble era Japan playing old Sega arcade games or helping people out with their bizarre problems. I was going to compare the tone to a Takashi Miike movie, but then I remembered that he actually directed an adaptation of the first game.

More reasons to play: Money flies out of people when you punch them! There’s karaoke! And Out Run! And multiple distractingly in-depth subsystems that could probably be downloadable games in their own right! There really is something for everyone in Yakuza 0. And it’s $20 (or less!) for the rare 50 hour experience I found enjoyable the whole way through.

Tof Eklund #4: Extreme Meatpunks Forever

Extreme Meatpunks Forever is another G-A-Y giant robot game, except that this time the mechs are regenerating bio-organic grotesqueries. Just a weird as Heaven Will Be Mine, Extreme Meatpunks Forever trades in that game’s subtlety for bold primary colours and punk rock. Each of the game’s major characters is marked out in big, obvious ways. Take Sam, for example. He’s black and gay, and while he is a fully developed character, his cautious, guarded personality is no coincidence. As a pilot, his specialty is evasion. Cass, on the other hand, is nonbinary and doesn’t “pass,” making them a target for bullies. Cass’s specialty is toughness – they’ve learned how to take the hits. Extreme Meatpunks is set in a dystopic future with touches of Welcome to Nightvale-style humor. The bad guys in this one are the Fash, i.e. neo-nazis, and they don’t get any sympathy or significant character development.

Combat in Extreme Meatpunks is a bit like boxing and a bit more like sumo wrestling. The bio-mechs are nearly indestructible industrial and farming machines, not weapons of war, so while repeated blows can stun the other pilot, the only way to keep them from coming back at you is to push them “out of the ring” (over a cliff, into lava, etc.), accompanied by campy text overlays worthy of the ’60s Batman. It’s a perfect, blunt metaphor for the game’s antifa theme: you can’t kill nazis, but you can push them out of frame, out of the limelight, out of mainstream acceptability. You can make them look ridiculous.

Extreme Meatpunks Forever is just as niche as Heaven Will Be Mine, and lacks that game’s polish, but it’s more accessible to folks outside that tiny, devoted core audience. It’s roller derby, it’s riot grrrl, it’s old-school punk rock and new genderpunk, it’s diverse and it’s antifa as hell, and if any of those things appeal to you, you’ll fit right in at your local Meatpunks association. Come for the emotional vulnerability, stay for the ass-whupping.

Nick Vigdahl #4: Barbearian

Sometimes you just need to mess shit up. Walls. Trees. Hundreds of creatures with a mind to kill you. A pasture full of sheep. If you find yourself with such a need, real-time hack-and-slasher Barbearian is there for you. Barbearian is a fast-paced, action-packed, romp through level after level of bad guys. It’s you and your growing mob of rescued minions against a veritable horde of foes and my money is on you. Why? Well you’ve got some skills to help offset their numerical superiority, not the least of which a penchant to charge into the fray and send masses of adversaries flying in every direction. You gain new powers and weapons as you progress, and you will need them…Barbearian is a challenging game. If you’re looking for a frenetic, real-time action game that doesn’t require expert precision or fast-twitch reflexes, look no further.

Dave’s #4: Stardew Valley for iOS

Yes, I’m aware that putting Stardew Valley on a 2018 “Best of” list is a bit like saying my favorite movie of 2012 was Raiders of the Lost Ark because that’s when I picked up the Blu-Ray. With the amount of great ports heading to mobile (and Switch) nowadays, this is going to be a continuing issue that rears its ugly head every December. I was worried a little about it, but, then again, we’re not making law or a historical document here, we’re doing this for fun, and there are few games I had more fun playing this year than Stardew Valley on my iPad.

I had played a bunch of Stardew Valley before, but never made it to the endgame. Part of the problem was that I just didn’t want to sit at my desk, so I’d start a farm, get all excited and then bail when the allure of my office chair dwindled. The iPad version doesn’t have that problem, and I played it a ton. I played more, built a bigger farm, and plumbed the mines more than I ever did on my laptop and found that the endgame is so much more fun than the preliminary buildup.

I thought the port was tremendous out of the gate, but I know others hated the touch-and-go controls. Since it’s release, they’ve added multiple control schemes and fixed a bunch of the niggling bugs that could make life on the farm downright unbearable (not being able to empty/load my crab pots nearly had me throwing my iPad out the window. Yes, a sentence complaining about crab pots now exists on Stately Play.). If you haven’t played Stardew Valley before or just want to get back into it, playing it on a tablet is the way to go. (The Switch version, which released in October 2017, is a very close second)

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Notable Replies

  1. Extreme Meatpunks Forever has the best content warning:

    body horror, self harm mention, suicidal ideation, racially charged violence (i try to keep it light but it IS a game about killing neonazis), alcohol, abuse mention, gender dysphoria, loss of bodily autonomy, apocalyptic ideation, looking back on this list the game seems super grim but i promise it’s not*

  2. Ah, I see you are a man of culture as well…

    Any game where you help out a timid Dominatrix to improve on her non-existent SM vocabulary and acting skills (in front of some preschoolers nonetheless!) is top game stuff…no seriously - if you love gangster stuff, story-driven plots, beat em ups and wacky humor, Yakuza is the series for you.

  3. Dave’s ongoing issues with crab pots now being behind him (ointment?), I’m sort of surprised it’s not #1 on his list. I’m very curious to see what three games he liked more than that this year.

    I have never tried a PathPix game, but after trying some Slide Words yesterday, I can see what my time will be spent doing this evening…

    Also, GOG has launched some kind of large sale according to the email they sent me and most of my wishlist is x% off. So there’s that.

  4. Really love the Valley of the Ancients expansion for Ascension.

    I think it has to be my favourite in quite a while.

  5. I’ve been hearing a lot about armajet but it isn’t available in the US yet. You’ve got me excited for it, though.

  6. What makes the Valley of the Ancients expansion so good?

  7. For me, it’s the Serenity/Echo keywords.

    I know we’ve occasionally had a card that gave you a bonus for how many Void cards you have in your discard pile, but this one has multiple cards that do that.

    And the Serenity keyword is just great. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a card with an effect based on the discard pile and had it empty. Proceed with cursing.

    It’s nice to have a keyword that actually depends on your discard pile being empty.

    I also like the Temples. Of course, they make the game even more swingy in a way, so your mileage may vary on that one.

  8. Hardco says:

    For the opposite view, I don’t love the Valley of the Ancients mechanics. The temple of life mechanic is so much stronger than the rest of the mechanics that it ends up being a fight to buy overpriced Mystics just to stop your opponent from running away with all the Life generation.

    While generally being able to trash cards from your deck is a strong feature in deckbuilders, the Death mechanic is pretty difficult to get going, and comes across pretty weak. The Temple of Immortality brings back the worst mechanic in the history of Ascension, where you get a 1 in 4 chance to get a free card. If this happens early and gives a particularly strong card, it is pretty clear who will come out on top…

    As for the Serenity and Echo keywords, Serenity is an ability that gets worse the longer the games goes on, as it typically only does things after the reshuffle of your deck. Echo is okay, but it is paired with the other void mechanic of flipping cards into your discard pile. This can set you back a couple turns if you lose a key card on one cycle of your deck.

    My experience found that most games were decided when one player got a few uses of Temple of Life early, or when any temple is paired with a stronger Mechana construct that gives free stuff. But maybe I didn’t play enough people and got stuck in a stale meta…

  9. I really do have to thank @athros. This is all his doing.

  10. athros says:

    I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

  11. rinelk says:

    First of all, I think @Hardco’s reasons for disliking it are totally valid. But, for me, base Ascension was great for a good while, until I figured out a basic strategy that was simple and reliably as good as anything I could come up with by thinking a little more carefully. At that point, I could do better by being a lot more careful, but that paid off so rarely I virtually never tried. The early expansions shook that up a little, but not a ton.

    VotA gives me little tactical puzzles with every game. I feel like I’m constantly re-evaluating, and it’s finally worth paying attention to stuff I usually ignore. The discard pile is the obvious one when played alone, but all the cards I’d written off as underpowered in my preferred strategy from all the earlier expansions now have to be re-evaluated, and very rarely do they come out seeming exactly as good as they always did. That’s what I mean about it playing well with the other sets—it’s not that it fixes the inherent swinginess of Ascension, which is pretty well incurable—it’s that, despite the high randomness, the game makes me want to think about a lot of different things.

    That’s a pretty fragile point with me. I love games which make me feel like a insightful heuristic is almost in reach, even if it’s just a small heuristic in the scheme of the game. It’s hard to design a game so that it feels that way most of the time for a long time. If there’s too much randomness, each experience with the game simply seems like noise and it’s too hard to find insights. But that’s not the problem here—you might say that @Hardco is playing it as a game, while I’m playing is as a massive puzzle. I don’t care much about whether a game was fair and each player had a reasonable opportunity to win based on their decisions.

  12. univac says:

    I played the beta for Armajet on my iPad. I enjoyed it for a few weeks but quickly became frustrated with the cross play feature and the progression system. It was easy to determine who was playing on the pc vs mobile. And the devs didn’t seem to think it was a problem and there was no option to play in a lobby with just mobile players. And the progression system was so slow that I was only able to unlock a couple new guns/perks after weeks of play.

  13. That’s fair. Admittedly, I enjoyed a few rounds as best I could on my phone, getting kills where I could, but the frame rate wasn’t up to snuff on my mediocre device. Touch controls in action games have never been my cup of tea, either, so the comfy fit of M&KB was welcomed.

    As far as the unlocks go, they’re glacial, but I just use the stock MG and haven’t felt a need to use anything else unless the weapon in question is part of some meta objective.

    Again, though, I totally get your misgivings.

  14. Thanks to Nick H, I gave PathPix a try … started with the lite app, breezed through those puzzles, then went straight to PathPix Pro. That may have been a mistake. I want my free time back, damn it.

  15. Tamsk says:

    And once you’ve mastered the standard PathPix square grid techniques, PathPix Hex and PathPix Bubble competely change things around on you.

  16. I started with the Christmas pathpix, given the season and the 99 cent price. And I too am searching for my free time. Something rather zen-like about that game. At least at the non-crazy-advanced levels.

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