Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Best Gaming Day Of The Year

Well, it's official: July 20 was the best gaming day of the year.

I played three absolutely tremendous new games yesterday, and they're all indie games. They're also far better than any AAA title I've played this year. Let's take a look.

Bastion (360)
This was one of my most-anticipated games of the year, based on E3 previews and videos, and man, it didn't disappoint. The game world is beautiful and vibrantly colored, the animation is seamless, and the music is first-rate. Also first-rate is the gameplay, which is thoughtful without being unnecessarily complex--an ideal balance.

Of particular note are the story and the narration. The writing, by itself, is outstanding, but the voice acting, if possible, is even better, and they are a perfect complement to each other. The original hook for the game was that the narration would be dynamic enough to comment on whatever the player was doing at the time. That sounds like a difficult feature to pull off, but they did, and it works perfectly. It's an ingenious idea, and it adds a new dimension that makes the game world even more vivid.

This is a game that never breaks immersion. There are no rough patches that take you back to the real world for a moment or two, no questions to ask about why something wasn't finished or doesn't look right. It's a fully-contained escape from this world, and it's a wonderful experience. If you love the experience of playing games, of entering another world, then you must play Bastion.

In two words: utterly charming.

Note: a PC version is coming.

Dungeons Of Dredmor (PC)
Another game on my most-anticipated list, and if anything, it's even better than I expected.

Rogue-likes are notorious for having awkward interfaces and being none-too-friendly in the usability department, but Dredmor is much, much more accessible. It also has multiple levels of difficulty, so if you'd like a less taxing experience, it's available.

Of course, in a rogue-like, less taxing often means less fun, so by all means, crank up the die-o-meter.

Mechanically, this game is similar to other games in this vein (although I think the crafting options stand out), but it still manages to be singular by virtue of its humor. Simply put, this is a damned funny game, and it's incredibly clever. It's not the occasional one-liner, either--this game is drenched with funny, absolutely soaking in it, and it makes for a lighthearted experience that still can be quite intense.

That's not to say that the game isn't fundamentally sound--it's quite sound, and it's very well-designed--but the humor really does set it apart.

Good rogue-likes generate memorable stories, and there will be a ton of memorable stories coming from Dredmor.

Plus, and this is entirely ridiculous, the game is $4.99. That's $4.99 for hundreds of hours of play, not $59.99 for a six-hour campaign. It's the bargain of the year.

I've also been waiting for this game, although it was more of an unknown quantity, so I picked it up for $8.99 when it was released on Steam yesterday. It has a Puzzle Quest feel, but with card-playing mechanics.

For this genre, the bar has been raised.

The production values of this game are off the charts. It's unbelievably impressive to see the quality and depth in this game compared to other games that are roughly in the same genre.

The best part, though, is the mechanics. Basically, it combines solitaire and poker in an incredibly satisfying way. Starting a battle, you'll have a row of single card stacks--not unlike a solitaire game--and your job is to create a five-card poker hand for each of the stacks by moving cards from one location to another (they display like a solitaire hand).

Nice, huh? Well, it gets better.

Your opponent's hand is displayed at the bottom of the screen, and for any card that hasn't been stacked with another, you can steal it for your hand. Of course, your opponent can steal from you as well, which adds a tremendous number of gameplay variations to consider.

Attack values are in line with the standard value of various poker hands.

Oh, and did I mention that there are spells you can cast during a battle, based on specialty cards? You can equip a limited number, and they have cooldown periods.

In other words, the strategic options during a battle are nearly endless.

It's a tremendous, fresh new game mechanic, and in my play so far, it's well-balanced. It's damned hard to stop playing this game, because the battles are so interesting that I find myself wanting to play just one more before I quit.

So that was July 20 for me.

Oh, and did I mention that I played one more amazing new game yesterday? That's coming in a separate post, but it's going to be on Monday.

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