We’ve seen fewer releases this year, especially during the usually crowded festive season. Even with fewer triple-A titles on the shelves though, a fair few games still sunk without trace.
Below you’ll find a mixture of retail and digital releases that didn’t get a fair share of the limelight upon despite garnering decent review scores. Also: ScreamRide, as we thought we’d better have at least one Xbox 360 game on the list.
Yakuza 5 – PS3
The newest release in this feature, and by some margin, Yakuza 5 looks set to become one of the PlayStation 3’s last hurrahs. The reason for it escaping the attention of many seemingly boils down to SEGA keeping quiet about it. It’s only now – some two weeks after release – that reviews are starting to appear online. The Yakuza games have a cult following outside of Japan, so perhaps SEGA simply thought fans would buy it regardless if they spent money on marketing or not.
The Shenmue-like diversions in Yakuza 5 are more prominent than before. If any other franchise was suddenly bulked to the brim with mini-games many would arguably worry (imagine if the next Call of Duty focused on bomb disarmament and lock picking rather than shooting enemies) but Yakuza manages to get away with it as the wealth of extras help draw you into the experience. You can’t help but wonder what diversion you’ll come across next. It even features a SEGA Club arcade with playable Virtua Fighter 2, Taiko: Drum Master and UFO Catcher machines.
As well as a playable female character – a series first – and a story that takes place in five different Japanese cities, Yakuza 5 also sports a new game engine. Not too shabby at all for a console that’s on its last legs.
Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition – PS4, Xbox One, PC
Less of a hidden gem and more of a sleeper hit, it would seem that only after hitting the magical £20 mark that gamers are starting to take notice of Divinity: Original Sin. Better late than never.
According to Metacritic it has yet to receive a review score lower than 8/10, putting it on track to becoming one of this year’s highest rated RPGs. Its 88% Metacritic is on par with the Xbox One version of Fallout 4, in fact.
“You can find RPGs that are prettier, more accessible, or less busy, but very few are as dedicated to the true spirit of role-playing as this one is” said IGN, who handed out a 9.0. ZTDG meanwhile found that it was almost faultless: “There isn’t much wrong with Original Sin outside of the fact that there simply may be too much of it. In a time when games are releasing on a weekly basis, this is a daunting experience that requires the utmost dedication. Still, for anyone who loves the turn-based genre, it doesn’t get much better than this”.
We’re also going to give the free-to-play RPG Neverwinter on Xbox One a mention here. We were nothing short of obsessed with it upon launch back in March, notching up 67 hours of play before finishing off the final quest. It even had us up and out of bed at 8am on a Sunday morning.
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut – PS4, Xbox One, PC
What’s not to like about an old fashioned role-player from the producer of the original Fallout? Quite a bit, it turns out. The fact that the original wasn’t on consoles appears to have put some gamers off, while the price may have been an issue too – it’s an almost a full price release, despite the small file size and diminutive visuals. We think it would have had a much greater shot of success if it launched for around the £20 mark, especially when Fallout 4 was just weeks away when Wasteland 2 arrived.
The game’s quality certainly wasn’t to blame for it failing to break the UK top 40. We fail to find a single review score lower than 7/10, with the vast majority clocking in at 8/10. Reviewers were impressed by the length – somewhere between 50-80 hours – and that almost all of the kinks in the original version have been smoothed out.
“This unofficial predecessor to Fallout is more than just a nostalgia-fuelled curio” said The Metro, who also approved of the quality of writing and dark humour. Slant Magazine found the humour to be one of the game’s strengths too. “The funniest moment in 2015 video games comes hand in hand with tragedy: The last known survivor of a takeover by murderous plants excoriates the Rangers for “circle-jerking” before revealing that an infection could have spread to other areas due to spore-infected pigeon droppings. Her final words, “Fuck you,” stick in the lower right-hand corner of the screen as a bit of hilarious defiance—a true American sentiment in the midst of so much absurdity”.
Grow Home – PS4, PC
There’s a rather Nintendo-like feel to this home-grown project from Ubisoft Reflections, and that’s something that shouldn’t really come as a surprise. It was conceived in a similar manner to many of Nintendo’s most cherished titles; one small, experimental, idea that blossomed into a fully-fledged game.
It all started with a simple tech demo shared internally between staff. In this demo a tiny then unnamed robot climbed a procedurally generated rock formation to escape rising water levels. A global leaderboard was implemented and soon internal teams at Ubisoft were competing with one another.
Over time the tech demo evolved into a vertical adventure game with climbing at its core. In the full release you play as B.U.D – a small loveable robot who has been tasked with growing and harvesting the seeds from a colossal Star Plant. The adventure starts on a small, sheep inhabited, island and ends in space. Look down from the stars above and you can still catch a glimpse of the tiny island now far below.
There’s a very playful and experimental vibe present due to B.U.D receiving a number of upgrades while progressing up the almighty stalk. Plants can be used as methods of transportation too, including giant mushrooms that can be bounced on and flowers that can be used as makeshift parachutes.
Grow Home may only take around three hours to finish, but few games this year have left a bigger impression.
Knight Squad – Xbox One
We planned to review this former Xbox One freebie, but since release we’ve only clocked up around 2 hours of play. Passing judgement after such a short play session seemed unjust.
A heady combination of Bomberman and Gauntlet, it has been designed with couch-based multiplayer in mind. Almost every popular multiplayer mode around – from capture the flag to juggernaut – has been transformed into a top-down 2D experience. Some work better than others, which is perhaps expected.
The soccer game works well; two teams trying to shove a large football into a goal while picking up power-ups and maiming one another. Other games meanwhile suffer from the locations of the respawn points. In juggernaut one player takes control of a huge mini-gun, and there’s nothing to stop this player standing next to a player’s spawn point. Capture the flag has a similar problem – if a player dies just footsteps away from getting the flag back to base, they will of course spawn next to it. Your only hope is that one of the other players is either nearby or a crack shot with a bow and arrow.
By throwing everything in the pot, Knight Squad feels like a jack of all trades but a master of none. Yet during those two hours of play plenty of laughs were had. Don’t take it too seriously and you’ll have a good knight. Sorry, night.
Extreme Exorcism – PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Wii U
The first of two single-screen platformers in this feature, we’re in two minds as to whether we approve of the name Extreme Exorcism. On one hand, it sounds like one of those terrible Midas Interactive PlayStation 2 budget titles. On the other, it does suit the hyperactive and colourful nature of the game.
Like many things in life, Extreme Exorcism is best with friends. Enter ghoul filled mansions, defeat the undead and…yourself. Winning a round causes a ghost replay of your character to come back to life, firing projectiles that can kill both enemies and other players. It’s a great idea that makes matches all the more hectic. A single-player challenge mode rounds off the package nicely, with such challenges as destroying 100 chairs with 3 lives, or completing 5 rounds using only a boomerang.
Nintendo Life called it a “must-have title for Wii U indie supporters and fans of split-screen multiplayer” while Pure Xbox described it as “a thrill of a game that gets the heart pumping and pushes the player to try and conquer the level just one more time”.
Fans of Towerfall in particular would do well to give this a look. No head spinning required.
The Swindle – PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Wii U
Hopes were high for The Swindle in the run-up to its release. Certainly high enough to generate a buzz on Twitter. It then arrived to a waft of 7/10 reviews. While not a poor score, it was seemingly ‘poor’ enough to stop people from buying it. The fools.
It’s a 2D roguelike centred around stealth. Sneak into a building, hack the systems, steal the loot and get out. It all builds up to one grand heist inside Scotland Yard in order to pilfer something called the Devil’s Basilisk. You have 100 days (read: lives) to do this, building up loot and experience along the way. It’s a tall order due to a challenging difficulty level – the randomly generated stages do unfortunately place enemies and items in haphazard locations – but it’s nowhere near an entirely negative experience. You will often find yourself dusting off and trying again.
We imagine that The Swindle is a pretty good candidate for a PS Plus or a Games with Gold freebie, like Curve Digital’s own The Swapper and Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones before it. Maybe then people will play the ruddy thing.
Tembo the Badass Elephant – PS4, Xbox One, PC
This 2D smash and crash platformer turned heads when it was announced as it’s the first game developed by Game Freak – of Pokemon, Drill Dozer and HarmoKnight fame – to grace a non-Nintendo format since 1999’s Click Medic on PlayStation. The fact that it wasn’t heading to the Wii U eShop set tongues waggling too, but obviously not for the best of reasons.
The incredibly mixed reception it faced – with review scores varying from 5/10 to 9/10 – seems to have put people off trying out Tembo as after release it was quickly forgotten about. The bulk of negativity came from the fact that it’s a surprisingly tough game, even going as far as bringing back the now out of date concept of lives. Tembo can only withstand 4 hits before hitting the dirt too, and despite being rather lengthy most levels only feature 3 or 4 checkpoints.
In our eyes though, Tembo was just further proof that gamers have it easy these days – the majority of platformers released in the early ‘90s were just as tough, if not tougher.
Although only 4 worlds feature, there’s plenty to do in each – ten caged citizens to find and free and a special bonus for killing every single enemy in a stage. Progress trackers for both are located at the top of the screen and because of the non-linear level design it’s not uncommon to miss a citizen or two until well acquainted with a stage’s layout, thus providing a reason to return.
We likened it to one SEGA’s Saturn era games; a time when they were releasing such offbeat 2D titles as Three Dirty Dwarfs, Mr. Bones, Scud – The Disposable Assassin, Saturn Bomberman and the legendary Guardian Heroes while Sony was busy wowing gamers with the PlayStation’s 3D capabilities. Hopefully this provides a good idea of what to expect.
Woah Dave! – PS4, PS Vita, 3DS, PS Vita, PC, Wii U
Thanks to PS Plus we’ve built a pretty big library of PS4 games in the past year or so alone. Single-screen platformer Woah Dave! is one that we find ourselves going back to whenever our Rocket League skills start to take a (temporary) tumble. Although we haven’t played the PS Vita version for ourselves we imagine that it’s a perfect fit for the handheld too.
The key to creating an exemplary single-screen platform is to give the main character a compelling method of attack, such as Bubble Bobble’s bubble popping antics. In Woah Dave! eggs are picked up and thrown at enemies…the very same eggs that enemies hatch from. You don’t want to be near an egg when it hatches, and you certainly don’t want to be holding it.
This is twitch gaming at its best, requiring you to grab and throw eggs and jump out of harm’s way with little pause for thought. On top of all this, the lava at the bottom of the screen constantly rises and new enemy types are frequently introduced.
It may resemble something from the early ‘80s (we’re talking before Nintendo stepped in with the NES and saved the entire video game industry), but don’t let that put you off – this is proof that you all you don’t need a huge budget and fancy visuals to make a great video game.
ScreamRide – Xbox One, Xbox 360
Yes, ScreamRide was indeed released this year. And yes, we’re well aware that it arrived to a lukewarm reception. It can easily be found for around £10 these days (in fact, it was £10 within a couple of months of release), and while the fun is short lived you’ll easily squeeze some enjoyment out of it before throwing it in the ‘trade-in’ pile.
ScreamRide features three modes – arcade-style on-rails racing, rollercoaster construction and a demolition mode that can be described as Angry Birds in 3D.
The racing mode is forgettable – it’s literally on-rails and the majority of challenges can be beaten simply by holding the accelerator down and letting the physics engine do the work. The rollercoaster construction mode favours lazy gamers too; you’re tasked with creating rollercoasters of certain length, speed and ‘scream rating’ but just by starting a coaster and then selecting the ‘auto complete’ button a lot of the challenges can be beaten, albeit with a one star rating. This leaves us with the demolition mode, which is actually pretty great – the physics are spot on and new playthings are introduced at a surprisingly fast rate. Achievement hunters will approve of this mode too as there’s a few to bag by hitting the blimps and other vehicles that patrol outside of the demolition zone.
Aside the apparently very good conversion of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Microsoft’s support for the Xbox 360 has been pretty lousy this year. We’re sure we are the only ones to notice that the Xbox 360 versions of Ori and the Blind Forest, Project Spark and Kalimba were quietly cancelled. ScreamRide isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s far more pleasurable than a rainy day at Chessington World of Adventures. Or any day, for that matter.