Dashed Expectations

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 01, 2016 1:53 am 
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Joined: Wed Aug 22, 2012 6:32 pm
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Location: Lively Town
Image How's it going, eh?

With it now being July 1st and the 149th year of the Canadian Confederation, I thought it'd be a good idea to look back at some of my favourite games that were developed within this country. At first, I thought I was only going to get a couple, but as it turns out, there were quite a few games that had been homegrown in the Great White North.

To celebrate, here's a list of my favourite games developed from different studios, who's locations I will also provide to show that they're Canadian:

10. ModNation Racers
Studio: United Front Games
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

Those of you who remember the days before I had my own PS3 may recall my over-excitement for this racer where you can make just about anything (particularly about the sunsets). Now I'll admit I played that up, I was still legitimately excited for this game and it became one of my first purchases for the console. As a fan of anything and everything that involves creativity, this game was right up my alley. You could make your own drivers, your own cars, but the meat came to designing your own tracks for other people to race on for near limitless possibilities!

The actual gameplay, though, is fairly bare for a kart racer. Because of the custom nature of the game, all of the cars and characters have virtually the same stats all around, so there isn't any real specific "style" you can choose from. Driving itself doesn't really offer much either that other arcade racers don't do better. Not to mention the incredibly long load times. Still, just mucking about in the big old toy box to design whatever came to mind was enough fun to justify it here in 10th place.

9. Stories: The Path of Destinies
Studio: Spearhead Games
Location: Montreal, Quebec

You know what's a pretty neat idea that doesn't get explored much? Games where different choices actually change everything that happens on your entire playthrough. Not bits or pieces here and there, the entire plot! Stories: The Path of Destinies does exactly that. Taking on the role of former foxy sky pirate Reynardo, you come across a special book that, by reading it, let's you live out several possible outcomes that could occur without getting yourself killed. Upon reaching one of the over 20 different endings, you will always return back to the start and try again, attempting to get that one golden ending. In fact, by learning different "truths" by playing the game, you can even change previously visited choices with the new knowledge you gained from a previous story to pick even more paths! It gets pretty deep, even though each run takes only about an hour to finish. It's actually impossible to get the one good ending until you learn enough truths to know what the "correct" path is.

The game is very charming and pretty to look at, despite a lot of the terrible fates Reynardo could find himself in (from being behaded to unleashing the apocalypse), all of which is done in a Bastion-like way with snarky narration provided by Julian Casey (he also provides voice work for Tiny Brains and We Happy Few) who also voices the other characters as if reading a book, even the female ones. It's a brilliant showpiece. It's just such a shame the combat itself gets really repetitive after a few playthroughs and even though the plot themselves are entertaining with each change, the actual gameplay and combat variation is non-existent with you just fighting tougher and tougher enemies while traversing worlds you've seen before in past playthroughs. Still, it's rather inexpensive and worth looking at.

8. Duck Game
Developer: Landon Podbielski
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

Quack quack, motherducker! This way out 2D PvP title wasn't just developed by a Canadian studio, but a singular Canadian man (developer and composer)! Initially released for the Ouya, Duck Game is a fast paced multiplayer side scrolling shoot each other in the face while taunting with quacks simulator. Each time you go into a run of Duck Game, you never know what levels are going to load next. What level could you get into next? Perhaps one littered with grenades for explosive fun, or one with various different doors to create vantage points, or even one where there are instruments in the center for a jam session, just because? Yeah, it's that kind of game. Each duck can be taken out in a single shot from the various different weapons that you can find on each level, from simply headguns, to chainsaws, to flamethrowers, and each weapon has their own unique properties. For example, you need to remember to throw the grenade after you pull the pin, and some weapons, like a blunderbuss, might take a long time to reload so you'll need to find a safe point. And all the while, the game moves incredibly fast, with few times to take a breather save for the intermissions. You just start the game and then GO!

Being multiplayer focused, there isn't really much excitement to be had in the single player challenges, but thankfully, after the Ouya's lackluster performance, it has since appeared on PC where you and your buddies can play together through the magic of the Internet!

...By the way, did I mention there's a dedicated quack button? More games need a quack button.

7. Runbow
Studio: 13AM Games
Location: Toronto, Ontario

A colourful Nintendo exclusive (with a very recent announcement of it also arriving on New 3DS), Runbow is a multiplayer competitive platformer where you and up to 8 friends (yes, nine players, both only AND offline) try to reach the goal first. The big theme here, as you would've guessed based on the name of the game, is colour. Colour affects the environment in numerous ways. As you run across the stage, you'll notice that the background may change every so often. When the background changes, so do the objects in the level. Certain platforms will no longer be solid if they match the colour of the background, solid walls can now be passed through, lasers will become harmless. As an example, there is a blue platform and you are standing on it while the background is yellow. Then, the background changes to blue and now the platform you're on doesn't exist anymore and you fall to your doom. The game lives and dies by these rapid changes and it makes for a particularly hectic race to the finish.

There are other modes though, including a rather lengthy 1-2 player adventure mode, a Smash-esque brawler, a King of the Hill style map. If you happen to have friends to play with, this can make for a fun time. Of course, being on Wii U and New 3DS, finding those friends might be a bit tricky.

6. Mark of the Ninja
Studio: Klei Entertainment
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

It's tricky to get stealth gaming just right, but I feel Mark of the Ninja does it expertly. A 2D side scroller with some really dark colours, you sneakily make your way across different maps, avoiding detection from guards as you go on your mission as provided by your master. What makes this work so well is how you can use the different lighting and effects to your advantage. If you can find some darkness to hide in, enemies won't be able to see you, and every little sound you make can also be seen through little bubbles, showing how far the sound reaches. Here's the thing; If you get spotted, you die very quickly so it's very important that you be aware of your surroundings at all costs. In that sense, this becomes more of a puzzle platformer as opposed to a more traditional one. Trying to fight your way through will leave you in a bloody mess, but sneaking around and taking out guards from behind (while also doing a QTE to be as silent about it as possible) is the only way you'll make it to the end.

There isn't much else to say than that. If that sounds appealing, you should check it out. The Summer Sale is still on-going as of typing this and you should really check it out.

5. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Studio: Ubisoft Montreal
Location: Montreal, Quebec

"Most people think time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction. But I have seen the face of time, and I can tell you: they are wrong. Time is an ocean in a storm. You may wonder who I am or why I say this. Sit down and I will tell you a tale like none you have ever heard." These are the words that introduce you into this re-imagining of the classic side scrolling game with rather detailed sprites. After the initial attempt at a reboot turned into a giant flop, series creator Jordan Mechner was brought into Ubisoft Montreal to try again, creating a more likable protagonist and attempting to do the impossible: Make instant-death traps feel fun. The solution? Time manipulation! As the Prince, players get access to a weapon known as the Dagger of Time, which with a simple press of a button, can instantly rewind the gameplay back as if it were a film you happened to be watching, giving you another chance to redo some of those tricky moments of parkour. The parkour, now pretty much Ubisoft Montreal's bread and butter thanks to the Assassin's Creed franchise, pretty much gained its popularity in 3D action games starting with this one, where the Prince can run along walls, swing on bars, jump between ledges, and with the Dagger of Time in hand, you can even feel you can take more chances getting through. All the while, it's told through a very nice narrative as the Prince narrates some of the things that's going on as he goes about to fix a disaster that he ultimately caused.

It ended up spawning a whole trilogy of games, though how they measure up will depend on who you talk to. With that said, the Sands of Time at least is super stellar and worth a look.

4. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
Studio: Next Level Games
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

The original Luigi's Mansion, released as a launch title for the Nintendo Gamecube, was a charming little adventure that finally gave Mario's younger brother the spotlight he so deserved. It was modestly liked by fans and so a sequel was commissioned. Not by Nintendo's own EAD, but rather Next Level Games, whom Nintendo has worked with before for titles such as the Mario Strikers series as well as the reboot of Punch-Out!! But for Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, I felt they really upped their game...to the next level, you may say. Bad jokes aside, the game really does feel like a worthy sequel to the original. Rather than trying to recapture ghosts to put into paintings like before, E. Gadd has now brought Luigi (reluctantly, I might add) to solve the mystery of why the ghosts in the area have turned nasty (spoiler: It involves the thing in the subtitle). See, the ghosts used to be rather kind and friendly, which helped with E. Gadd's paranormal research, but now Luigi must recover the broken pieces of the Dark Moon to save this land, all the while being scared out of his mind.

Unlike the previous title, which had a bit more of an adventurous structure to it, Dark Moon is more mission based. You will keep going to a mansion, and then returning to HQ when your specific task has been completed. It gives it an extra dose of replayability as you keep repeating these missions after clearing, trying to get that fabled 3 Star ranking. The ghosts themselves seem more challenging as varies as well, though the lack of unique designs like the portrait ghosts is a bit disheartening. Nevertheless, the game more than makes up for it with its simple charm and actually giving Charles Martinet more to do than a simple "Wahoo" here and there. There's a pretty decent multiplayer mode in it too, if you so desire.

3. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Studio: Silicon Knights
Location: St. Cathrines, Ontario

Survival Horror can be hard to get right. Even the one I'm talking about now, Eternal Darkness, doesn't quite hit the perfect note, but the things it does well were done so well, it became a memorable experience. Considered the magnum opus of the now defunct Silicon Knights (despite what Dyack may say otherwise about Too Human), this Gamecube exclusive decided to go into more Lovecraftian horrors rather than mutations or poltergeists. These are things mankind was never meant to see, and as they say, what is seen cannot be unseen. This isn't just some narrative I'm spewing, it's a whole part of the gameplay! One of your meters is what's known as a Sanity meter, which depletes each time a monster spots you, and as it gets lower and lower, weird things begin to happen. The world looks more blurred and brown, everything is slanted, what was once a pretty picture of a peaceful meadow is now a horrid canvas of flesh and blood. You'll swear you're hearing things, such as someone banging on the door or footsteps walking, despite knowing you are alone. Walls will begin to bleed. You'll hearing constant cries of terror in your mind.

And then, the fun begins: You begin to hallucinate. When your Sanity meter is nearly empty, even more bizarre stuff happens, such as suddenly walking on the ceiling of the room, slowly losing your body parts, or even ending up in a different period of time (the game takes place across two millennium)! After a while, a bright white flash occurs and our character is back from just before the insane event happened, with them shouting out "This isn't really happening!" But the best ones of all are the ones that mess with the player themselves. These include, but aren't limited to, walking in on a bunch of zombies beating and killing your character as the words "No Gamecube Controller Detected in Port 1" flash on the screen, despite you knowing it's plugged in, having your save data get DELETED when trying to SAVE, having your inventory suddenly disappear, and even giving you the infamous Blue Screen of Death! There are nearly 30 of these things and it's pretty much impossible to see them all in one playthrough.

I rave about these effects because they are what carry the game, along with its excellent plot and fantastic voice acting. It's just a bit on the easy side with nothing really very scary about it.

2. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Studio: BioWare
Location: Edmonton, Alberta

This is the title that not only introduced me to BioWare, but stellar PC gaming in general! Taking place some 3000 or so years before the Battle of Yavin (which was the destruction of the first Death Star in A New Hope), players take on the role of a soldier of the Republic dealing with a rather strong Sith invasion led by Darth Malak. Bringing a tabletop RPG style to an otherwise 3D game, players can level and customize all their characters however they see fit to be able to handle different scenarios in a variety of different ways. Along the way, you'll meet some memorable characters, all of which have great voice acting, and travel to a lot of different lands, some we've seen from the films before, and others being brand new. What really helps it to stand out, however, is its plot. At the time, the best we had for a new Star Wars story was the Phantom Menace at that, well...wasn't exactly good. Knights of the Old Republic gives us something far deeper and even can make you question "Are the Jedi really as good and holy as you once thought?" But throughout the whole thing, this doesn't just become another Star Wars story, this becomes your Star Wars story. Different things and different quests happen depending on what you and your actions do. You will have consequences, you will deal with tough scenarios that can't always be solved by slicing off an arm with a lightsaber. And that is what makes this more interesting than most other Star Wars games out there: You aren't just playing in a Star Wars world, you are living in it.

It's a shame BioWare seems to not make these kinds of RPGs anymore, because they feel to have more heart than their more recent stuff.

1. Guacamelee!
Studio: DrinkBox Studios
Location: Toronto, Ontario

Of course I'd put a Metroidvania at the top! I'd be crazy not too! And boy was I happy to learn that developer DrinkBox Studios happens to be in Toronto! As Juan, once a simple man given incredible luchador powers, you must traverse between both the land of the living and the dead as you set out to rescue the El Presidente's daughter. And that mask isn't just for show; Our hero can stomp, kick, headbutt, and suplex just about anything that gets in his way! And unlike most games of this sub genre, he can use these exact same moves to discover new areas, both to progress the story and to get some collectibles to boost his health and powers. And the game makes no secret to hide what it's clearly inspired by, complete with whole statues that you destroy to get the new power ups from an old goat master. It's got a great sense of style in its animation with several hard lines that almost make it look paper. While some of the humor feels a bit outdated (hope you like memes in the background), it is otherwise a stellar title and one I am so glad was made on Canadian soil. My favourite of the Canucks, by far!


PostPosted: Tue Aug 01, 2017 2:27 pm 
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Joined: Mon Aug 12, 2013 10:54 pm
Posts: 908
I'm kind of interested in getting Runbow now.

And of course I've got to give it up to Next Level Games for making Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon!

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