My 2019 in Gaming inc. my GOTY

Yes, posts have trailed off here on Darkstalker90 Gaming but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t still being playing videogames. I’ve just been spending less time with them, and have had even less time to write about playing them. But I thought it would be a wasted opportunity NOT to look back at this year and the games I’ve played.

First of all, this might be first year that I’ve not played a single new release. Everything that I’ve spent time with or completed has been pre-2019. On the flipside, I’ve also not spent much time at all with retro games. 2019 has been about catching up on my backlog and playing stuff from recent years that I just hadn’t gotten around to until now.

My list of completed games looks like this (links to my reviews where available):

So, not very many then but that’s an accurate reflection of the sort of year I’ve had: not many games completed and most of those that were finished took me ages to get through, purely due to a lack of time and, in some cases, motivation. I can’t lie: I did fall out of love with gaming at several points in 2019 and simply couldn’t be bothered with it.

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But what I did play, I really enjoyed. Spyro Reignited Trilogy and Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy were two mighty fine remasters that I heaped praise upon. Spyro Reignited in particular impressed me no end. The Spyro games were, after all, some of my absolute favourites of all-time so I was concerned that the Reignited Trilogy might do too much meddling and piss all over my happy late-90’s memories. I needn’t have worried though. Yes, there were some unforgivable glitches and, yes, there were a few small alterations to pander to our overly-sensitive modern society, but otherwise this was how you remaster games.

I’m very much looking forward to getting around to the Crash Team Racing and Medievil remakes in 2020 when I finally pick them up. Hopefully, the positivity can continue (I haven’t read any reviews of either and I’ve mostly avoided gameplay videos).

Finishing Yakuza 5 after starting it years ago (literally!) felt like an almighty relief. I’m a completionist you see, and Yakuza 5 is possibly the most bloated of all the games in terms of 100% completion requirements. In the end, I had to just give up and complete the main game to get it out of the way but I did achieve well above 90% completion. I never did manage to catch that damn Ito fish nor beat the toughest difficulty of Winter Combat, though. As for the Japanese gambling minigames? I’ve decided that I’m never going to bother with these, even if it does mean forfeiting 100% completion in all Yakuza games going forward.

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[Image Source]
There was more Yakuza to come in 2019, however. After a little break, I decided to get into the PS4 generation of games and play Yakuza 0/Zero. What a game this was! First up, there was still a lot to do but Zero was nowhere near as vast as Yakuza 5 so it was definitely a less intimidating challenge. Again, I skipped the gambling games and just went for my own custom “100%” completion and did manage to complete everything else. The storyline – set in the 80’s bubble of real estate and excess – was fantastic and really helped flesh out the events of the Yakuza canon prior to the original game. The combat was much improved too with a selection of different fighting styles to master. All in all, Yakuza Zero was more of the same but, paradoxically, felt incredibly fresh, despite it being the sixth installment in the series that I have played. It’s a true testament to the quality and consistency of these games that I can play what is essentially the same thing for well over a decade and still be utterly absorbed by the experience.

So I give my Game of the Year award to Yakuza 0.

2019 was also the year in which I reacquainted myself with Platinum and their signature brand of off-the-wall, crazy action games. I started by replaying Anarchy Reigns (PS3) and finding – much to my pleasure – that I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around and, despite the many flaws, I was able to appreciate it for what it was. I then moved on to the Bayonetta games. Yes, I was well behind on playing these but that didn’t detract from the experience. The first game, for example, blew me away with its amazing style and challenging gameplay. The sequel was more of the same but not quite as impactful in my opinion. It was much more sedate near the beginning and, on the default difficulty, I didn’t die a single time, rarely having to dip into my swollen stash of health-restoring items. That said, I still got a lot out of Bayonetta 2 and, in a way, the lesser challenge allowed me to enjoy experimenting in battle a bit more. Overall though, I believe that the original is still the best.

Aside from games that I can actually say that I completed, I also put a lot of time into two fighting games this year: Soulcalibur VI and Street Fighter V. I won’t go into great depth about either here (because I’ve done enough of that this year on this blog) but suffice to say, I have really enjoyed both. Street Fighter V was a game that initially didn’t sit well with me at all and, while there are still numerous elements that I will likely never accept, I gave the game a second chance and did at last gel with it in terms of gameplay.

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I have put a considerable amount of time into gittin’ gud with Sophitia’s sister, Cassandra, since she was added to the game via DLC.

Soulcalibur VI, meanwhile, has retained its crown as my favourite fighting game of the current generation (out of those I have actually played of course…). The DLC has never failed to please me and the gameplay itself is just so much better for feeling closer to SCII/SCIII than the deflating SCV. The support shows no signs of slowing down either with a second season of DLC right around the corner kicking off with Samurai Shodown‘s Haohmaru, SCIV veteran Hilde, new moves and more customisation items. I can’t wait.

In closing, I won’t make any resolutions or promises for 2020 because I know that I likely won’t stick to them. However, I feel that I played far more games this year that I enjoyed as opposed to games that I didn’t, so if I can have a similar strike rate for next year then that would be enough for me.

Review – Anarchy Reigns (Playstation 3)

anarchy-1Platform(s): Playstation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360
Year: 2013
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Third-person beat ’em up

“Platinum” and “Games” are two words that should absolutely be put together, because when you do this, you get the name of one of the most interesting and creative studios in modern gaming. It’s not the done thing to include personal bias or opinion within critical assessments but screw the rules; this reviewer is a Platinum devout and will buy any new game from the developer regardless of any pre-release impressions.

I have a great deal of faith in Platinum. After all, this is the team that brought us Bayonetta, Vanquish and Madworld – all highly entertaining, off-the-wall thrillfests. Let us not forget that before Platinum there was Clover Studio, a group responsible for God Hand, Okami and Viewtiful Joe. Combine the works of both Platinum and Clover and you get one hell of a fucking resume.

So with that gushing intro out of the way, you may expect me to proceed into a glowing review for 2013’s Anarchy Reigns.

You’d be wrong.

I really like this game but, objectively speaking, Anarchy Reigns isn’t a must-play classic.

A familiar criticism

That’s not to say that the game is bad, because it isn’t – at all. But it’s certainly a case of style-over-substance. Platinum’s calling cards of over-the-top action, non-conformist game design and liquid nitrogen-cool styling are all present in Anarchy Reigns but none of this can disguise the fact that the game feels lacking in content. Essentially, it’s a case of Platinum’s signature flair compensating for an extremely thin experience. Whether this succeeds or not is down to personal opinion. For me it does, because I adore the game’s artistic design and no-fucks-given attitude but, if you prioritise gameplay over art, then you’d be forgiven for thinking, “is this it?”

Anarchy Reigns is a third-person beat ’em up. Playing as either Madworld‘s chainsaw-armed brute, Jack Cayman, or pretty-boy Bureau of Public Safety (BPS for short) operative, Leo Victorion, the player journeys through two interwoven stories. Jack’s is the “Black Side” while Leo’s is called the “White Side”. Once both are completed, you can access the “Red Side” and Anarchy Reigns‘ true conclusion. In principle this is a nice idea because you get to experience the same story from both lead characters’ perspectives.

Each character’s side of the game consists of four chapters. Each chapter takes place in a hub world containing three side missions and three main story missions. One of Anarchy Reigns‘ main issues arises straight away here: the repetitive and rigid structure. You must achieve a set amount of points, either through completing missions or beating up the respawning hub world enemies, in order to unlock the next side/main mission(s). If you are good at the game, then you can reach each point quota instantly by completing a mission with either a gold or a platinum ranking. If you just about scrape through the missions with a poor score however, then you might have to replay side missions or just keep battling the hub world enemies to build up points.

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Things can get a bit mental, sometimes. [Image Source]
I managed to achieve the gold or platinum medals on most missions so I didn’t encounter too much of the grind but on the few occasions where I did struggle, it was certainly irritating to have to replay side missions or wander around laying waste to weak enemies until I’d collected enough points.

The hub worlds aren’t all that interesting either. On the positive side, the terrain boasts some nice elevation changes and air vents/boost ramps that send your character flying through the air to different parts of the map. Also, every so often, it will start raining and much stronger enemies will replace the standard Killseeker thugs. Random hazards will also enter the map, such as an out-of-control Mad Max-style fuel tanker, poison gas or jets that carpet bomb the region. Unfortunately, all of these chaotic elements are pretty predictable and scripted, doing nothing to disguise the emptiness of the maps. Other than fighting respawning enemies to earn points, or triggering missions, there isn’t anything to do; no collectables or secrets to look for either. They remind me of the lobbies that you get in some online games where you are free to idly mess about until enough players have joined.

I don’t want  to keep sticking the boot into Anarchy Reigns‘ hub worlds but it also doesn’t help that there are only four of them, and that you will play through them again in the same order with the second character. I can’t help but wonder if this structure is a way to artificially pad the game out because a more straight-forward sequential stage/chapter structure similar to Bayonetta – to use one of Platinum’s own games as a reference point – would have eliminated the majority of the repetition, grinding for points and over-familiarity with environments.

Violence is the solution

Fortunately, the combat goes some way to redeeming the game by being satisfying, if nothing revolutionary. It’s fairly standard third person, over-the-shoulder arena-based brawling. You have light attacks and heavy attacks to construct simple combos with, grab moves and a 360 attack that saps a small portion of health. You also have access to devastating “Killer Weapon” attacks that utilise Jack’s chainsaw or Leo’s energy blades to deal out massive damage, though the use of these attacks is reliant on a gauge that is refilled (pretty quickly) by standard fist fighting.

You can also knock enemies into the air to set them up for aerial combos or drop down from above to damage multiple enemies with a ground-shattering blow. Dropping from huge heights amplifies the latter, transforming the standard drop attack into a “meteor” blow resulting in big damage.

The final ability in your arsenal is the “Rampage” mode. Fill this gauge up by fighting, and, once activated, your character becomes invincible and their attacks much more powerful. What’s more, hitting stronger enemies or bosses initiates a cool move where your character batters the enemy with a flurry of lightspeed punches for huge damage.

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Jack’s back, now in colour!

As you’d expect from a game like this, there is also a lock-on feature and the ability to roll out of the way of incoming attacks. As far as third-person beat ’em ups go though, Anarchy Reigns doesn’t really offer anything new or different but gets away with it thanks to the meaty feel of the combat and the more than convincing impact of the pain you dish out as either Jack or Leo. Weaker enemies explode beneath your fists and the Killer Weapon attacks tear them apart. There’s plenty of excessive blood spraying around too. It’s furious, crazy and pretty satisfying. It makes you feel powerful, as all good beat ’em ups do.

You do take damage from the strong enemies and bosses fairly quickly though (if you’ve played Bayonetta then this should sound familiar) so you have to be on the ball and fight a bit more tactically rather than charging in Dynasty Warriors-style as you are able to do with the mobs of weak enemies. The majority of missions and boss battles will give you a stock of three lives, auto-reviving you on the spot to continue the fight should you fall. Obviously, however, your score and resulting medal will suffer the more you continue.

As I’ve already said, the gameplay itself does do a lot to compensate for the uninspiring game structure but it isn’t all perfect. The bosses for example can all be approached with the exact same wash/rinse/repeat method, regardless of what moves they boast or how they come at you. You hit them with a combo or two, get clear, roll out of the way of their attacks or combos, then hit them again and restart the process. Oddly enough, the large Mutant and Berserker enemies are actually more of a challenge than the game’s bosses since they are difficult to stagger and can end you in a handful of hits.

The Rampage ability is also incredibly OP against bosses. All you have to do is spend a little time wasting enemies in the hub world(s) to charge up the Rampage gauge, so that you have it ready before beginning a mission. Then, you can usually rely on depleting at least half of your opponent’s energy through a barrage of Rampage combos, even if they guard against some of your punches before you break their defence.

Collectable power-ups can also turn you into even more of a powerhouse. You can only carry two at a time but rocket launchers and rifles are notably powerful. The temporary shields and invisibility power-ups are best saved for dealing with multiple Mutants or Berserkers. There is also an item that allows you launch into Rampage mode regardless of how full your gauge is. So, if you are packing this bad boy as well as a full gauge, you can unload on a boss with two Rampages in a row and make a fight a one-sided affair.

Platinum strikes again

Now we’ve come full-circle and I can talk about the positive side of the earlier style-over-substance observation. If you want style and creativity in your videogames, then Platinum always has yo’ back, and Anarchy Reigns certainly doesn’t buck that trend. The game has a post-apocalyptic cyber-punk theme going on, with its decayed Mad Max-style world design and mechanical prosthetics galore. There’s a lot of detail in the design of the maps and the enemy models, and you can clearly tell that the artists enjoyed creating the robots and mechanical augmentations for the bloodthirsty Killseeker enemies.

The main characters are a bit stereotypical in that the men have enormous muscles (that would put Arnie to shame) and the women are all sexy with big boobs. I’ve seen some reviewers marking Anarchy Reigns down for the sexualisation of the female cast but I personally just view all of that as being part of Platinum’s design style. I’m here to be entertained after all (not to care about politics and the #metoo brigade) and Platinum are all about entertaining.

Jack Cayman is as badass as he was in Madworld – a hulking “Chaser” (bounty hunter) with no fear who just doesn’t give a shit. Several other Madworld characters are playable in the game too including the hilarious pimp-like Blacker Baron, his assistant, Mathilda, the heavy-hitting cyborg, Big Bull, and the Crimson Dragon girls – Rin Rin, Fei Rin and Ai Rin. My favourite of the new characters is the BPS agent, Sasha Ivanoff but that’s just because I’m a sucker for the Russian accent and a shiny silver, clingy bodysuit.

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I like Sasha, unsurprisingly. [Image Source]
Though you are primarily playing as either Jack or Leo, some story battles see the protagonists team-up with other characters and you can choose which character to play as. This is a pretty sweet feature as it gives you a chance to play as some of these other cool characters that you’ve previously only seen in the cut-scenes. Mechanically, they all play the same as Jack or Leo but there are variations in speed, attack power, combo strings etc. As you progress through the game, you gradually unlock the other characters to use freely when replaying completed chapters. If you purchase the game’s DLC, you can also play as Platinum’s slinky, butt-wiggling witch, Bayonetta, which is pretty fun – especially if you’ve played the Bayonetta games as her Torture techniques feature in her combos.

The game’s soundtrack – a mix of smooth, jazzy notes, energetic hip-hop and industrial tones – is a varied mix for sure but it all works. Some of the battle music will stick in your head long after the game is switched off for example.

Conclusion

It must be noted that I didn’t discuss Anarchy Reigns‘ multi-player mode in this review and that’s because I haven’t played it. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t a huge seller and by all accounts, the online side is dead now. It’s one of those instances where I regret not giving the online modes a go back when the game was new but, ironically, it was only during this second play-through in 2019 that I really came to appreciate the game. The online was meant to have been very fun, however, and it was a large focus point for the game which goes some way to explaining the puddle-deep single-player campaign that can be put to bed easily in under ten hours.

Even so, that short lifespan can’t be ignored, especially if you are considering picking Anarchy Reigns up today.

This is one of those games that you will either love or hate. The thin, repetitive gameplay, questionable single-player structure and combat that can take a while to properly “feel” might leave you cold and asking, “is this it?” but, if you value the cool factor, then there is a seriously fun beat ’em up here with some hard-hitting brawling. Additionally, if you love the Platinum ‘way’ then you will already know exactly what to expect from the crazy gameplay, wacky characters and the game’s gloriously non-PC streak that offers a middle finger to sensibilities.