Gigantic Army is marketed as a return to the side-scrolling mech game popularised by Assault Suits Valken and Front Mission Gun Hazard on the SNES; functionally a 2D platformer, the emphasis is far more strongly on combat (evoking something like Contra or Metal Slug) but with a more ponderous, weighty physics engine. This sense of nostalgia shines through in advertising – which uses a mockup SNES game box and logo – and in the game’s use of achievements (names of which are a series of puns on other mech-game classics) and even the pared-back cutscenes of moving stills and scrolling text. Whereas a game like La-Mulana takes the mechanics and design ethos of retro games and builds on them into something new and ambitious, Gigantic Army is slavish in its use of past game design. Entire level concepts are lifted from the games which inspire it – given an original spin aesthetically, and designed around its core mechanical changes from the formula, but nevertheless there is a significant familiarity to it that is both a virtue and a reason for criticism.
Hoplite is a puzzle-RPG in the vein of 2013′s hugely renowned 868-Hack, mixing board game like fixed piece movements with roguelike-esque survival dungeon crawling. Much like Hack the aim is for the player to complete a certain number of floors of puzzles, all the while collecting abilities to allow them to better challenge the enemies. However, the emphasis is more on clearing floors efficiently than survival; enemies do not respawn, but instead are deployed in fixed numbers and known positions.
Saint Seiya Brave Soldiers is a tie-in to one of the iconic superhero animé from the 1980s; a team of ancient Greek themed heroes fighting mythological monsters with magic and martial arts. The series has earned a strong position within Japanese pop culture, as well as limited popularity overseas, and was recently remade with the ongoing series Saint Seiya Omega. That the recent video game tie-ins choose to ignore this modern remake – which is widely available streamed legally online in English – and focus instead on the 1986 original series makes them of somewhat more limited appeal overseas. There is not the same nostalgia – and nostalgia is vital in enjoying many of these kinds of game tie-ins – for the series among Western audiences, meaning the game must stand much more strongly on its own merits.
Hearthstone, the trading-card game tie-in to World of Warcraft, would work as well played face-to-face with physical cards as it does online. This is a good thing – it shows that the mechanics are designed well from a board-gaming perspective, and thus that it succeeds at its core design principle. On the other hand, it also creates a sense of safety – digital recreations of board-games have a much wider design space for managing variables and information availability without the need for complicated and unwieldy arrays of tokens, and Hearthstone does not explore this to any great degree. That the designers try to maintain a balace between over-simplicity and intuitivity is always in mind when playing, and much of the time this creates a game equally suitable for card game veterans and players who may not be aware of the broad board-games industry.
Trying to explain the appeal of Football Manager to a non-fan – especially a non-football fan – seems impossible. It is a visually dry, time-consuming game not far removed from a full-time office job. Yet actually playing it reveals a game which perhaps more than any gives credence to the idea that a sandbox game can create its own narratives. The progress of favourite teams at the hands of the player is as much a story emerging from the interaction of random numbers and player control as any multi-car pileup in Grand Theft Auto, or exciting shootout in Far Cry 3.
The Dynasty Warriors formula of straightforward, unproposing action games focused on providing maximum variety of characters at the expense of complexity is a natural mix for large ensemble-cast action franchises, indeed probably a more appropriate fit than the mythologised Chinese history they usually cover. A simple system of light and heavy attacks, short combos and special moves to be used on large numbers of chaff enemies with a few heavier bosses mixed in communicates effectively super-hero combat, and provides a genuine sense of power for the player. Moving away from realism into more cartoonish settings suits a game based around thoroughly unrealistic (and indeed to a degree abstracted) and gamist combat; superheroes and mythic figures can fight thousands of foes and win. Thus is One Piece Pirate Warriors 2, based on a long-running comic and cartoon series based entirely around bizarre superheroes fighting larger-than-life supervillains and hordes of disposable thugs, guards and other such workaday opponents.
The 2013 animated series Servant x Service, while being a short sketch-based series like many comedy animé, stands out in its focus on office life and government and perhaps more importantly its adult, rather than school-age, cast. It is not a strictly political comedy from its first episode – it does not set out to make jokes about ongoing events or satirise real political figures (as perhaps a programme like Yes Minister or The Thick of It does) but instead bases its humour on the stereotypes surrounding the public perception of government. As a result it is a very relatable comedy; whereas Majestic Prince was a character comedy set in a sci-fi backdrop, Servant x Service is set within a workplace and field that most viewers will be familiar with.
Hotline Miami has already been extensively discussed in the gaming media; since its original PC release, it attracted a significant fanbase. Now it arrives on consoles, and it is an engaging and unique experience within a crowded genre. Fundamentally, it is a twin-stick shooter in the vein of many others. The left joystick moves the player, the right aims. The goal of each short level is to kill every enemy in the building with a very simple combat system. One hit is almost always one kill, except if the player uses certain items to save them. Enemies can be stunned if the player only wings them or uses too weak a weapon and will need finishing off – either by waiting for them to wake up and hitting them again with a stronger weapon, or by pressing a button to execute them.
In most “dungeon crawl” type games, in which the players move around and discover a map filled with enemies while seeking objectives, the balancing of progression – of the simplified “levelling up” mechanic derived from role-playing games – is in an awkward position. A fully-fledged roleplaying game has a much longer progression track and a much wider design space for gaining abilities; there is a much larger portfolio of things to improve (base statistics, the character’s library of abilities, the efficiency of existing abilities, non-combat skills and feats etc) while a board game generally reduces the entire design to a series of, or indeed single, combat encounter. This smaller design space means that each level has a smaller number of possibilities – and thus the rate of progression is a lot faster. Similarly, a board game is designed to be played to completion in a single session – the levelling mechanics in a role-playing game are for a campaign lasting several sessions. Thus a player may well gain several levels in one game.
As a fan of cyberpunk science-fiction, the theme and the implementation of it in mechanical terms of Android Netrunner appealed greatly to me. A game using asymmetrical mechanics to represent a series of attacks on a company’s computer servers, challenging unknown defensive protocols and avoiding traps has the potential to explore a wide design space and add a vast library of mechanics. This combines with the faction mechanic, and the limitations placed on cross-faction decks, to create a game where multiple win conditions and game states are supported both across standard card game archetypes and within them. That this is all managed in a game which currently only has two viable game-winning conditions (scoring 7 points or dealing sufficient damage to “kill” the Runner player) shows the potential within the system.