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.

Samus loses her boobs; fans DON’T lose their sh*t (too much)

[Disclaimer: yes, I am very late to be discussing this but I’m way behind on gaming news…]

Later on this year, Nintendo will be hitting us with another killer app for the Switch in the form of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the fifth installment in the fan-favourite smash ’em up which celebrates all things Nintendo while also managing to be a hot tournament favourite for competitive gamers. The game looks set to really live up to its ‘Ultimate’ suffix too thanks to the inclusion of every character that has ever been playable in a Smash Bros. game no matter if they are obscure, a relative clone of a more popular combatant or a licensed guest fighter. Everybody is in for the throwdown.

As you can probably imagine, there is a lot that can be discussed about such a game but surprisingly (or unsurprisingly if you’ve been around the videogame community long enough) the biggest talking point that I have seen cropping up across the internet is how Nintendo have decided to tone down the sexuality of Zero Suit Samus and…Solid Snake? The ACTUAL surprising element to this is that there appears to be greater outrage towards the smoothing out of Snake’s butt than there is for Samus losing a few cup sizes since the Wii-U/3DS Smash Bros. Yes, I have just typed that and no, I can’t quite believe it either.

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While I would love to talk about Solid Snake’s butt definition, I’m more interested in the fact that the fan outrage to this change hasn’t been as fierce as I’d expected. After all, I’d like to think I’m pretty familiar with the gaming community having being a gamer since the early 1990’s and in that time, I have seen a lot of anger directed towards developers who censor their games or tone down specific aspects in order to not offend. To name a recent example, it wasn’t too long ago that Street Fighter fans were pretty pissed when Capcom manipulated the camera angles for Cammy and Rainbow Mika’s intro animations so as to hide a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it crotch shot for the former and an ass slap for the latter.

I should know because I was pretty annoyed about it. Not because I demand games to be as gratuitous as possible for no good reason but because I am 100% against the act of censoring or modifying existing designs/products/artwork in order to pander to the easily offended “won’t somebody think of the children?!?” brigade. In the case of Street Fighter V, I felt that this is what had happened: Capcom hastily commissioning a scrappy edit to a couple of harmless animations just in case somebody, somewhere would create negative press born of the crazy idea that a bit of mild sexuality is obviously the devil incarnate. Let’s overlook the fact that Street Fighter is built upon general violence, brutal holds and genuinely evil characters like Bison and Akuma. All of that is fine but Mika giving her big butt a provocative smack is just not on. Oh no.

But I’m going off-track here. My point is/was that I have seen enough of these kinds of scenarios over the years to be genuinely surprised that the reaction to Samus becoming less chesty wasn’t as volcanic as it might have been. Sure, I have read comments of outrage and dismay but the change does seem to have been accepted more willingly than I’d anticipated.

With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to discuss it. Was Nintendo right to tone Samus’ anatomy down and does it even matter anyway?

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Samus grew even more top-heavy when Nintendo decided to give Team Ninja the reigns on Metroid Other M. Considering their Dead or Alive work, this was still quite tame.

I feel that the place to start this discussion/debate is at the point just before Samus’s Ultimate re-design. The character had steadily grown more and more busty when you look at Metroid: Other M and also her appearance in Smash Bros. for Wii-U/3DS, the latter being particularly notable considering that her breasts were pretty damn big when the rest of her was reasonably slender. The game also included an alternate costume that placed Samus in a swimsuit-like outfit, further emphasising her sexuality and giving the Deviantart crowd much to cheer about. There was nothing inheritently wrong with any of this but it has to be noted that the character of Samus Aran had changed dramatically in a short space of time.

Samus is meant to be a tough-as-nails intergalatic bounty hunter. The fact that she turned out to be a woman beneath her externally masculine Power Suit was one of gaming’s earliest twists. The fact that she was also an incredibly attractive design was inevitable in a visual-orientated medium of entertainment. However, by the time we were playing Smash on the Wii-U/3DS, Samus was less about her action-packed exploits in space and more about her skintight bodysuit and physical appeal. The problem that many have pointed out is that Samus’ design has become less and less suited for her profession and background and had begun to border on daft. After all, those Smash 4 bunker-buster boobs can’t exactly aid her agility and it’s improbable that a hardened veteran of countless cosmic adventures and deadly battles against the likes of Ridley and Kraid should resemble a flawless supermodel beneath the armour.

So when we see that Nintendo have decided to tone Samus’ figure down, should we be less concerned about meddling for the sake of satisfying Nintendo’s traditional family-friendly audience and more interested in the fact that they might just be trying to get their heroine back to being more believable? It certainly seems to me that this process already began with Metroid: Samus Returns, looking at the concept art below:

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Smaller boobs but no complaints at all.

In the Samus Returns art, the character has a flatter chest but is still an attractive design with a more than ample, womanly figure. This to me is getting closer to what a I believe a realistic Samus should look like beneath the armour. I’m all for the sexy-sexy in videogames (as my love for DoA confirms) but even I think that Samus should be an athletic woman in terms of build with some musculature. I would personally go even further with a shorter, more functional hairstyle and an even more athletic figure with more muscle.

Swinging back to the other end of the figure scale, it’s interesting to note that Nintendo originally described Samus Aran as a 6″3, 200 pound muscular woman (source: Nintendo Power) which would put her firmly in the amazonian category where you would expect a woman to perhaps have a more curvaceous, striking body. This was allegedly later re-conned to say that Samus is only that tall when wearing the Power Suit but even if we were take the original description of Samus as how she should look sans armour, the outgoing Zero Suit version from Smash 4 still wouldn’t make much sense. She wasn’t depicted as a mighty amazonian or an athletic girl – just a slinky blonde that had been given large, prominent breasts for pure sex appeal.

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The original depiction of Samus…

In this sense, it’s actually surprising that Nintendo had let us have this rendition of Samus for so long because they are traditionally a family-friendly company not known for sexualising their female characters, especially in Western releases of their games. They have also been quite strict in recent times when it comes to censoring games e.g. Tokyo Mirage Sessions (upskirt views blurred/blacked out, certain costumes edited to remove cleavage) and Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water (lingerie-style costumes removed). So you could say that this change for Samus is not surprising at all, especially when the Switch is doing so well and being marketed at an all-inclusive age range.

The flipside of the argument for greater realism is that gaming is meant to be pure escapism so if Samus has bigger boobs and the face of a model then…so what? Not much else in gaming is grounded in reality so why do we need to pick up on certain characters or games and ask for them to make more sense? Gaming is meant to be fun and it is meant to be fantasy so a push for greater realism on any level feels like a direct contradiction. A lot of people like to slate the Dead or Alive games for how their women are designed/depicted and while I am aware of a much larger and more complex debate behind the criticism, the games are ultimately daft and just harmless fun. I can only speak for myself but I don’t play these games and then have an expectation of real women to resemble the likes of Kasumi or Tina. It is escapism and fantasy.

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An ocean of sexy ZSS artwork has appeared online since the character’s debut, proving the popularity of the design regardless of realism (or lack of). [source: vengarlsolarblade @ Deviantart.com]
Of course, cynical character design and sexy for the sake of sexy is never a very clever thing. I don’t however believe that Nintendo ever set out along this path when they designed Zero Suit Samus. Obviously they must be aware of the reasons for the character’s popularity but do I think that they (or associated developers) have intentionally set out to gradually increase her bust size in order to sell software? No, I really don’t.

Ultimately (pun 100% intended!), I am fairly neutral about what Nintendo have decided to do with Samus. On the one hand, I can’t deny that I like the bustier rendition of the character and I would certainly be aggrieved if Nintendo have actioned a reverse boob-job purely to appease the easily outraged. However, they have given Samus a slightly more realistic figure while maintaining overall attractiveness so I think to get too angry about this would be a bit silly provided the reasons are genuine and not born out of a desire to sidestep potential lashbacks from pressure groups. And as I detailed a little earlier, I would happily go even further and design a sexy, athletic/muscular Samus that strikes an even greater balance between looks and believability.

Besides, there’s always Deviantart for your E-cup (and beyond) equipped Zero Suit Samus…

Nintendo Switch: A Wii-U Owner’s Perspective

I don’t really want a Switch.

“Well, why are you bothering to waste your time telling us that or moaning about something you don’t like?” I hear you ask.

Well, it’s a reasonable deal in fairness since I’ve been buying Nintendo’s home consoles since the Gamecube. I’ve bought into the platforms that struggled at market and I’ve defended the likes of the GC and it’s excellent first-party software as well as the Wii when uninformed types were saying “it’s shit” without even looking at the games. The Wii-U however? That was one child that needed the a LOT more defending than its older siblings and as an adopter of the console who stuck with it to the end, I actually feel quite aggrieved about the Switch and its success.

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Now contrary to what you may be thinking, I’m NOT the kind of person who gets annoyed or even affected in general by the success of a product that I don’t wish to buy into so this isn’t going to be one of those rants where I tell people to “buy a proper console” or whatever. No, my grievance is simply with the fact that I feel at least slightly shafted by Nintendo. After all, some of the big games that have helped make the console so popular are things that I have already paid full-price for and enjoyed on the Wii-U. Mario Kart 8 for example is a fantastic game but I’m not buying it again after paying out over £200 for a Wii-U, £40 (approx) for the game and then the DLC on top of that.

Other must-have games such as Pokken Tournament, Breath of the Wild and the upcoming ports of Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta are all things that I have already played on the Wii-U. I suppose to sum up my gripe with the Switch, I would say that I think Wii-U supporters have quickly been forgotten. The likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe weren’t marketed as brand-new games but they certainly come with that image which is – in fairness – understandable given how a lot of people missed them the first time round on account of the Wii-U being such a relative retail flop.

But I paid a lot of money for these things and stuck by the Wii-U, comfortable with the knowledge that a small but perfectly-rounded library was no bad thing. The result of my loyalty is a follow-up console that I really don’t want when the best games currently available (Mario Odyssey aside) are things that I’ve already finished with. I can’t say that I think Nintendo actually care either because a large portion of the consumer base that have made the Switch a success are bound to be new customers who didn’t care about the Wii-U or even knew that it existed. We helped keep them afloat and now we have been ditched.

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I DO want to play this but I can’t justify an entire console for one game. Last time I did that was with the Atari Jaguar for Tempest 2000 and it was daft!

That sounds more than a little bitter doesn’t it? Well, let’s continue with an open mind and have a look at what else is available shall we? The first barrier I hit is a very familiar one that blighted the early days of the Wii-U: updated ports of old games from other consoles. You have the likes of Resident Evil Revelations, Doom, Skyrim and LA Noire – all great games that won’t suddenly become rubbish by being on the Switch but I’m only interested in new experiences. Obviously, these versions of previously-available titles will be improved or more “complete” than the originals and being able to play them away from the TV screen is a fair selling point but they just don’t do it for me. Then there is the pricing issue…Doom for instance is currently £40 on Amazon whereas I can pick up a brand-new copy on the PS4 for between £10-£15.

Yes, these new versions are probably aimed at people who DON’T have loads of consoles or are Nintendo followers only but the fact remains that many gamers have multiple machines beneath the TV these days. Heck, it has become kind of mandatory since the days of the Wii to own a Nintendo console + either a Playstation or an Xbox since multi-platform releases haven’t really been possible since the Gamecube given the technical gulf between Nintendo’s hardware and those of Sony/Microsoft. When they DO arrive they are late and usually compromised in some way.

Ultra Street Fighter II is the kind of game that is certainly my kind of thing given how I’m a die-hard fan of fighting games but the harsh reality is that the game is simply an updated edition of HD Remix which came out years and years ago on PSN/XBLA. It is a superb update of Super Turbo but I don’t fancy buying it again just for Evil Ryu and Violent Ken, unless there is a bit of a bargain to be had of course.

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A favourite of mine but again, I’ve already played it. Oh and Capcom? How many more revisions of Street Fighter II have you got left in you? I mean, really!

And away from the un-rewarded loyalty complex that the Switch has given me, this is the other main issue for me: excellent games that are difficult to justify buying unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or are SO Nintendo that even the concept of holding a Dualshock controller is like being asked to stick your naked arm deep into the bowl of a public toilet that has been clogged-up for weeks.

So let’s be clear: I’m not saying that the games are shit, nor am I saying that the hardware is shit. I’m saying that there is little to entice me into getting involved with Nintendo’s latest offering. I’m glad that the Switch has been a success because things didn’t look good for Nintendo during the Wii-U days and as much as I feel part of a forgotten audience, there’s no way I’d have wanted to see them throw in the hardware towel. Ironically, it seems that the Switch is an amazing prospect if you HADN’T shown your support in the previous generation and passed-up the Wii-U because all of a sudden, you have loads of genuinely great games to play that won’t already be familiar territory.

So this leaves me one final angle to cover: looking to the future. Are there any brand-new games i.e. not ports/updates inbound for the Switch that would make me want to buy one? Well, there are some that I am aware of but possibly others that I’m not so stay tuned for a follow-up post where I will discuss my findings.