Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Print This Out and Put It Where A Loved One Might Find It - 2011 Edition

It's that time of year again... and yet I'm somehow no more prepared for it than any year in the past. In anticipation of Steam's end-of-year sale, I usually make a list of games I'd recommend buying or asking for. I've run into a bit of a problem this year though, as I've just recently discovered the joy of console gaming. (Two consoles, really... Black Friday was particularly good to me this year.) I do feel it's my duty to bring you a list of recommendations though (not that you haven't already bought half of these games). So, in no particular order, here are some things to look into:

The Binding of Isaac - Link
After the Thanksgiving Steam sale, I found myself with a handful of new games to try, but kept gravitating back to The Binding of Isaac. In this roguelike (a new word I learned through this game) from Edmund McMillen, creator of Super Meat Boy, you play as Isaac, a child who escapes his oppressive mother by traveling through an underground tunnel he discovers in his home. Of course, no underground tunnel would be complete without a ridiculous number of enemies waiting to kill you. That's why I'm writing this review from the roof. Man, it's cold outside.

As you travel from room to room looking for a way to escape the randomly-generated dungeons, you encounter a number of enemies to fight before you can move on, as well as tons of power-ups (or occasionally, power-downs!) It's this randomness that gives this game incredible replay value, as the maze you must traverse is never the same. Sometimes you get an easier run with all the right power-ups, sometimes you get 20 keys and no heart containers. If there's one drawback to this game, it's that the fantastic gameplay is surrounded by some potentially disturbing (well, slightly disgusting, thus offensive) aesthetics. Expect lots of blood, guts, urine, feces, etc. It's certainly not a family game, but there's still a lot to love about The Binding of Isaac.

Trauma - Link
Another item I picked up from that Thanksgiving sale was Trauma, an interesting escape-room-esque puzzler about a student who needs to recover her lost memories. Each of the four separate scenes in this game are made up of a series of photographs that overlap in a three-dimensional space, which really helps to suggest that you're trapped in this small space. Navigation and item manipulation are not just done by clicking, but also painting certain symbols with streaks of light.

Unfortunately, Trauma is rather short, with four worlds that can each be solved in under five minutes, but part of the fun in this game is really taking time to explore the different environments. Each world has nine tricky-to-find Polaroid photos scattered throughout the level. Some contain instructions for navigating and manipulating objects (unfortunately, they repeat through the levels), some contain more of the backstory of your character. While Trauma might not bring a tremendous amount of novelty to the escape genre, it does have a surprising amount of replayability as you piece together all of the parts of the story, one photograph at a time. This is a must-try game if you can get it on sale.

Fractal - Link
Fractal is a tile-sliding puzzle where your goal is to clear the board of tiles using an interesing pushing mechanic that's really hard to explain well. Basically, you can place a tile (or tiles) on the board by clicking in a space adjacent to a tile(s). In doing so, you don't put a tile there, but rather, you push the adjacent tile(s) outward from that point, and adding a new tile in place of the old location of any pushed tiles. When you make a bloom (a seven-hexagon honeycomb of one color), the outer six hexagons push outward before disappearing, potentially triggering chain reactions across the board.

Okay, fess up, who gave up reading that last paragraph? If you want a tl;dr version, here's the scoop: I previously reviewed Fractal for Jay is Games, and it's been rereleased for Steam, mostly only with some cosmetic changes. If you bought it before, you can go back to Cipher Prime's website and generate a Steam key. If you're new to the game, I'd strongly recommend giving it a go, as it's quite good mental gymnastics. And yes, the rules are much simpler than I can articulate them, you just have to try it for yourself.

The "Other Recommendations" Lighting Round
Sequence - Link
Definitely a favorite from this year, and one I still return to for the occasional button-mashing blitz. Previously reviewed here.
Portal 2 - Link
Dear Modern Warfare 3 and the VGA's: Piss off, this was my most anticipated game of the year, and it didn't suck as much as yours! Previously reviewed here.
Assassin's Creed 2 - Link
After playing through its prequel and its first sequel, I can confidently say this was my favorite of the series so far. Previously reviewed here.
B.U.T.T.O.N. - Link
Have I raved about this game on this blog yet? This hilarious physical party game has you wrestling your friends for button-mashing dominance. Quite good, but I'd recommend using a junker keyboard just in case.

That's all the recommendations I have for now. Feel free to peruse all of my posts from this year for more good games (and ones to avoid). Hopefully, I'll be posting again within a couple of days with more thoughts on the console world, but if I don't before then, have a very Merry Christmas!

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