#08 - Cuphead
I’ll be honest; Cuphead did not really interest me all that much. I was very impressed by the art style, but I’m not one to get too excited about “bullet hell” style platformers. I never was a big fan of games like Contra. However, after reading up about the game and hearing all the praise, I decided to give it a shot anyway. At the very least, I would enjoy the hell out of the animation. As it turns out, the entire game is pretty delightful.
The premise of Cuphead is told through an amazing song during the title screen. Basically Cuphead and Mugman are gambling at a casino. Cuphead pushes their luck and bets their souls to the devil. They lose, but instead of just losing their souls, the devil sends them out to collect the souls of other various people to repay their debt. The game starts, and you’re in a beautiful, hand drawn overworld. Each area contains a handful of bosses and one or two platforming stages. Beating bosses unlocks new routes in the overworld until you finally finish them all, unlocking a new area.
The bosses are the meat of the game. There is a wide variety, and each one feels unique. Each boss has different forms, and you must figure out where to shoot to damage each one. It’s pretty simple, but the different ways you can equip Cupheadkeeps things interesting. I also really enjoyed the parry system even if I didn’t always use it in the boss fights. Anything pink in the game can be used to parry. Basically this means that if you press the jump button again on the pink item, you will parry that thing and fill your special move bar a bit. Also, I haven’t mentioned it yet but the game is unyieldingly difficult. The boss levels will take perseverance. You will die over and over. It is incredibly rewarding, though, when you take down a challenging boss. This kind of difficulty isn’t going to be for everyone, but I enjoyed it.
The platforming levels were definitely my favorite part of the game, but not for the reason I would have thought. There is a NPC in the overworld that will mention something about beating the platforming stages without hurting anyone. Sure enough, there is a way to complete each stage without ever killing a single enemy. Figuring out how to do this in each level was a joy. It was definitely infuriating at times, but the puzzle aspect gave me something different than the gauntlet of bosses the game otherwise provides.
Ultimately, while I definitely had a lot more fun playing Cuphead than I would have ever thought, I don’t know that I will have any desire to return to it. I did not feel the need to engage with the customization in the game. There’s an item that turns you invisible while dodging, and I had that equipped the entire game. I only used two or three different guns, and I kept the original special move equipped the entire game also. I’m sure there may be benefits to the other load outs, but I could not justify changing up my playstyle. The game also ranks you after each victory. I considered going back and trying to get top marks on all the bosses, but that ultimately sounded like more trouble than it was worth. Cuphead will remain a fantastic 6 hour game that I will have fond memories about. Maybe someday I’ll return to it. It probably won’t be for a while, though.
#07 - What Remains of Edith Finch
#09 - Tales of Berseria
The latest game in the Tales series is a big game. It was the first 2017 game I played this year, so there has been a long time between finishing it and me writing this. I did not anticipate starting a blog, so I have no notes to go off, but I’m going to do my best to explain why I loved it so much.
What really makes Berseria work for me is an incredibly fascinating world and a deep and layered, strong female protagonist. Velvet Crowe could have been a very one note character bent on revenge. Instead, Velvet is a character bent on revenge that has fascinating relationships with the other members of her crew. The party you build is one of convenience, for sure. However, as the story unfolds, Velvet’s relationship with Laphicet begins to change her. You see, Laphicet looks almost identical to her brother who was murdered in front of her by her guardian and brother-in-law three years earlier.
Let’s take a step back. The world of Tales of Berseria is inhabited by humans and the once invisible, angelic Malakhim. The Malak are the source of magic in the world. Their purpose seems to be to rid the world of the daemons corrupting the world. This is going to get complicated, so bear with me a minute. When humans feel strong negative emotions, they bring an impurity called malevolence into the world. When enough malevolence is gathered in one area, humans can be transformed into daemons. Daemons and Malakhim could only be seen by humans with resonance. However, Velvet’s brother-in-law, Arthur, performed a ceremony called The Opening. To do this, he sacrificed Velvet’s younger brother, Laphicet. Velvet attempted to save him but did not succeed. Furthermore, her arm was touched by the daemonblight, turning her into a type of daemon that feeds off of other daemons.
The Opening fine-tuned human resonance. This means that ALL humans can now see daemons and malakhim. This also means that human emotion is more volatile, and negative emotion creates more malevolence. A Templar-esque group of daemon hunters, called Exorcists, is formed by Arthur. These Exorcists use the malak as familiars, suppressing their free will in the process. We eventually learn that Arthur’s true goal is to remove human emotion from the world. He believes that it is better to live without emotion than to bring malevolence to the world. I have left out quite a few (probably) vital details, but it’s dense and complex so I’ll spare you.
I don’t know how well I explained the set up there, but it is all incredibly fascinating to me. The antagonist is driven by logic, while the protagonist is all pure rage and emotion. The Tales games have a history of generally being a bit cheesy at times with a lighter tone throughout. I love that, don’t get me wrong, but I really appreciate how dark Berseria gets with its tone. It isn’t afraid to make its protagonist unlikeable at times. She can be exhausting, but it is almost always earned. The payoff is also worth tolerating her, because there are times, I will admit, where her grudge and attitude is laid on thick.
For anyone who hasn’t played a Tales game before, Berseria is a fantastic starting point. I didn’t go much into the systems of the game, but the combat is really good. It’s an elemental, combo based, action RPG. I didn’t love it as much as Xillia’s combat, but it is better than most Tales’ combat. I highly recommend Berseria to anyone wanting to check out the series.
#08 - Cuphead
#10 - HOB
Hob may have made my list by simply being in the right place at the right time. I played Hob after finishing a run of longer, more complicated, and exhausting games. My body was ready for a tight ten hour experience that didn’t require much thought. Hob was perfect for this.
Hob is a minimalistic 3D action platformer. It has a bit of a Zelda structure with some Metroid and Bastion thrown in there as well. The game starts with you controlling a character garbed in red that just woke up from some sort of slumber. You walk outside and are met with a very vibrant world. There is no dialogue or context for what is happening. The only thing you have to guide you is a robot who wants you to follow them. Eventually, you discover that the world is being overtaken by some purple goo stuff. That’s a very vague description, but I honestly don’t know what it is. Regardless, it’s not good as you soon find out by getting too close to one of the arm-like extensions growing out of the goo. You’re grabbed, and once you shake your way free, you find you’ve been poisoned by this weird goo. Your robot friend is not okay with that, though. Instead of letting the poison spread, they cut off your arm and replace it with their own arm. You then wake up for the second time with a shiny new robot arm. This becomes your “tool” for exploring the world.
Hob then opens up. Your robot buddy gives you a map and a place to go. Like I mentioned before, there is no spoken or written dialogue in the game. You are left to interpret the gestures of your robot buddy to figure out what he wants. This is a bit frustrating at first because there is no context for anything you’re doing. I will happily admit that this game does not pull this off as well as others, like Hyper Light Drifter for example. I finished the game without really understanding the consequences of what I went through. There are hidden “lore rooms” that seem to try and explain certain things about the world, but they are incredibly vague and gave me no insight into the world at all. While the nature of the world and the context for the current disaster was never made clear to me, Hob does a great job showing you what needs to be done in the moment. Through a little trial and error, you begin to learn how the world works.
Regardless of all of that, the biggest reason Hob made my list is because it’s just fun to play. The combat isn’t deep. You swing your sword, and occasionally use your robot arm to break shields. You can find upgrade schematics that you can purchase to give yourself different moves. Heart pieces, energy pieces and sword upgrades are scattered throughout the world like a traditional Zelda game. A lot of these upgrade pieces will be hidden in plain sight but will require an upgrade to reach, so I really enjoyed that an icon will appear on your map when you are close enough to them. This alleviates the need to remember where they were when you do acquire the needed upgrade. Exploring the world itself is also very fun. The map is big enough to create variety but small enough to never feel empty. You are almost always rewarded for exploring your surroundings.
Most of the gameplay revolves around environmental puzzles. The physical world in Hob is powered by an energy source. Puzzles have you connecting power sources to turn on switches that will shift landmasses in different ways that allow you to move on or find an area you otherwise could not reach. The actual puzzles themselves work well enough, but I loved the way the world was physically affected by the outcomes of these puzzles.
Unfortunately, the game does not perform well. (I played on PS4.) Too many times, the game broke in a way that required me to reload a checkpoint. There is a map glitch that turns your map into blobs of neon colors, and the only way to fix it is to completely restart the game. I also got a handful of blue screen crashes to the PS4 dashboard.
I clearly have many problems with Hob as a total package, but through a combination of playing it at the right time and just having a lot of fun exploring the world, it was an experience that I really enjoyed overall.
#09 - Tales of Berseria
Aaron (me) is a lover of games, Extra Life member, Twitch streamer, and husband. I have never written much before, so I apologize if things start a little rough. I hope to improve in time.