- Hearthstone (2014, PC) – 46.3
Gameplay – 8.4
It’s extremely straightforward, but can be very satisfying. It also requires a casual amount of attention, depending on the game. Growing up enjoying Magic the Gathering kind of set the stage for me to dig a game like Hearthstone, and even though I have no idea who the characters are, the game’s so easy to pick up and play that it immediately appealed to me.
Fatigue – 7.3
Music – 3
The music is rather forgettable; I assume borrowed from WoW and other Warcraft games. It’s not terrible or anything, it’s just kind of background noise. I usually play with the music off.
Style – 9.4
Hearthstone is fully aware it’s a digital card game, and while they may abuse that for RNG purposes in-game, on the screen it’s a very visually appealing game that I don’t get sick of. The colorful variety of cards, vivid animations, humorous sound effects, and great voice work give a typically sterile type of game a much more striking jolt of flavor that I haven’t gotten sick of once over the years.
Challenge – 8.4
This game does have a skill curve to it, even if Team5 doesn’t want that to ever be a factor. You can netdeck all you like and get by to a point, but if you don’t know how to pilot certain decks or are unfamiliar with the competitive meta, you’ll get left behind a good portion of the time. It’s certainly not rocket science, but there is a degree of familiarity required with the most commonly seen cards in the game that is necessary to survive beyond the initial ranks.
- Minecraft (2011 – PC) – 46.4
Gameplay – 10
Minecraft has everything I could basically ever want in a video game. It is for me what Lego blocks were as a kid – here are the pieces, here is a world for you to explore, destroy, and build upon. It is barely linear or story-driven. Minecraft is simple to play for all and anyone of any age can play it and have a blast. The story told is different for every player and only limited by their imagination.
Fatigue – 8.9
Minecraft does dry up at some point for everybody, but if you’re like me and love to wear a game out until it is ragged like a new pair of jeans, it takes a long time to get to that level. I put in probably…gosh, I don’t know. 1000 hours of Minecraft? I played the game while it was in pre-release all the way through its final major “official” release right when they began to flood into the console world, and after wearing out the general building/exploring/upkeep of the initial experience, I moved on to aiming for creation and imaginative architecture. None of what I made was for anyone but me, and I loved exploring and building at my leisure. It only wore out on me when I realized the game is endless, and at some point you have to simply walk away to play something else.
Music – 7
The music of Minecraft is ambient, gentle, and non-intrusive. I love getting surprised by it after a long stretch without it in my world, and it adds just a scoop of character to the pixel-y landscape I happen to be burrowing into at that moment.
Style – 9.5
The look of Minecraft seems obvious – low-res textures, simple blocky characters, and a swirling infinite geography made up of those same simple blocks and textures, all forming a unique canvas that is ripped off ad infinitum to this day. Surprisingly lovely to look at in spite of its own aesthetic simplicity, from the purply-orange sunsets to the vivid greens and blues of the daytime, it stands atop this unusual blocky mountain, well above the imposters that so desperately want to emulate it.
Challenge – 1
There’s monsters in Minecraft, but you can turn them off. If you’d like them on, you can adjust the difficulty to your liking. You can turn all damage and gathering bottlenecks off and play creative mode, too. It’s whatever you want the game to be, and if played on the default settings, you should be just fine after spending a night or two in your dirt block house.
Meat – 10
I can’t say enough about this game’s meaning. Minecraft’s philosophy is so much bigger than the game itself, as dumping somebody into this huge randomized world to start an adventure is a very aching human desire, as we in many ways all wish to start over in some regards throughout our lives. There is simple aspects of crafting to pursue, or if you’re more of the engineering type, the extensive depth to the crafting system can be incredibly thorough, from a log cabin to a functioning calculator, the possibilities are endless, and THAT is what Minecraft means to me.
- Super Mario 3D World (2013 Wii-U) – 46.7
Gameplay – 9.8
As mentioned previously, Mario games are typically as friendly and welcoming as games can be, and 3D World is no different. Even on an awkward console like the Wii-U, the forced integration of the tablet wasn’t an issue, and I had such a damn good time playing this game from the very, very beginning. The primary frustrations were in how difficult some of the levels were toward the game’s conclusion, but it didn’t impact my overwhelming feeling of satisfaction once I was done. The game is a total delight.
Story – 6.7
TL;DR: Mario and Bowser do some shit and fight a lot, but it’s always fun because it’s Mario and Bowser.
Music – 8
The basic theme, which can sound like Sexy Sax if you think about it hard enough, is charming enough that I feel like I’m riding an elevator up to the Funth Floor after pressing a button with a cupcake symbol on it. There’s callbacks on occasion to older Mario titles, but for the most part everything is pleasantly snappy without redesigning the wheel.
Style – 8.8
From stem to stern, 3D World looks amazing. Wii-U finally got itself an HDMI out (took the company long enough), and with the improved textures, shading, and fun environment, I can’t think of a Mario title that looks as good or better than 3D World. Few games in general look this good, honestly.
Challenge – 6
Surprisingly frustrating at times for a Mario title, the troublesome levels test your patience and timing pretty astutely. A couple bosses were a thorny to deal with as well, but nothing quite tops the final three levels to end the game. Mystery Houses throughout the game can be quite frustrating as well, but are still fun as hell.
Meat – 7.3
In addition to beating the storyline all the way through, there are multiple playable characters with their own unique abilities, there are green stars and stamps you can collect to unlock the final challenging world, and if you hit the top of the pole on every level it counts toward your completion. Lots of stuff to do in Mario 3D World, and if you haven’t played it because the Wii-U sucks, you’re missing out on one of Nintendo’s best efforts ever.
- Grand Theft Auto IV (2008, X360/PC) – 48.3
Gameplay – 8.4
GTA games have always had their problems, whether it’s swimming=death, targeting while shooting, general bug-out fuckery, etc. IV is no different, but it’s not bad. Cars are a bit boat-y, but I never really cared all that much. The experience of finding yourself in what was at the time a HUGE city that felt lived-in and bustling was incredible. Driving through the middle of downtown during a sunset for the first time was absolutely mind blowing to me. I felt like I had been waiting for this game for years and it was finally here. III, Vice City, and San Andreas were fine games, bold and explorative titles, but GTAIV was polished as hell, graduating to a new tier of quality altogether.
Story – 9.6
Rockstar cut their teeth with their previous GTA titles, and ultimately went for something more dramatic than typical: A scathing exposé of the American Dream, and the realities of our country’s perceived values and violent culture. The narrative played out between Niko and Roman is excellent, and the people you meet along the way show multiple sides of all characters personalities before the storyline descends into an intense finale.
Music – 7.3
Can’t give full marks since they licensed a great deal of the audio on their radio stations, but I love how much they add to the Liberty City flavor with unique commercials, radio shows, and news reports. It’s hard not to laugh when you’re browsing through their talk radio selection.
Style – 8.9
Liberty City/New York is masterful to behold. Even today a lot of the graphics and layout of the different boroughs is quite the sight, but by 2008 standards it was a monumental feat. If that doesn’t impress you, the attention to detail should give you pause: Fast food chains with fleshed out menus, countless made-up businesses, billboards, graffiti, etc. – all of these things are finely sculpted additions to Liberty City that make it feel like you’re not being plopped into a shiny clean video game world.
Challenge – 6.7
While not terribly hard, some of the missions will test your patience and/or require multiple attempts. Standard GTA fare.
Meat – 7.4
While YES, you could go get all the pigeons, that is one of those extras that really pisses me off and the reward is really only worth it if you’re a purist. Otherwise like similar open-world titles, one of my favorite things to do with GTA IV was just drive around and see the world play itself. Following police chases is always a blast, keeping up with ambulances or taxi drivers, watching shootouts, and so on; it all gave me a feel for how big this place was and how much work the developers put into fleshing this out. There’s a TON of mods for this game, too, if you’re so inclined.
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003, Game Cube) – 48.6
Gameplay – 9.7
Ever since Ocarina of Time recast the mold of all Zelda titles to come from that point forward, very little needs to be changed, and instead Nintendo focuses on showcasing its hardware in the game itself. Wind Waker’s “gimmick” was employing the C-stick to orchestrate magical breezes at your beck and call, and while it’s a bit annoying to consult the menu to remember a particular sequence, playing the tune is never a burden. Some may find the sailing to be tedious, but as a nautical enthusiast I found it a welcome change of pace, not to mention if you look at how horrific the Epona experience was in Twilight Princess, by comparison the sailing in Wind Waker is leisurely.
Story – 9.1
There are elements of time travel in seemingly every Zelda title, but in Wind Waker you merely reference the past a great deal, occasionally viewing flashbacks to fill in the gaps of the story, and I found that enormously refreshing. Link isn’t necessarily the Link, and Tetra isn’t the Zelda – they kind of explain how it all works, but essentially everything is an incarnation of the original entities from years/games before/after…something along those lines, BUT it doesn’t altogether matter. The story is enchanting, swashbuckling, and the characters all along the way were even parts funny, poignant, and world-building.
Music – 8.5
Hearing the first drum thumps and guitar strums of the main menu music always puts a dumb smile on my face. The music throughout Wind Waker is reminiscent of older Zelda games, sure, but the original music is totally appropriate for the world of water you spend so much time in, and strikes all the right notes for every moment you find yourself in as the story unfolds.
Style – 8.8
The famous story around this game was courtesy of a demo video Nintendo that teased a more adult-oriented Link, dramatic and dark for all the fans who grew up with the franchise. Fans were surprised and in most cases disappointed with the cel-shaded “kid” version of Link that was presented in Wind Waker. Those frustrated with the look got their wish, as Twilight Princess provided them with the gritty Link game they pined for. Twilight Princess, I can firmly attest, is nowhere near as good as Wind Waker. Not by far. The move toward a cel-shaded Zelda game was brilliant, and for as good as it looked on a Game Cube, it looks even better in HD.
Challenge – 4.4
There’s a few parts of this game, like any other Nintendo core title, that will tickle your “what the fuck” bone, but they are extremely sparing.
Meat – 8.1
Get all the heart pieces! Find all the treasure maps! Seek out all the Great Fairies! Silver rupies abound! There’s tons to do and explore as you go. Do all of them. Now.