After a lackluster year in 2014, this year featured a fantastic mixture of highly anticipated AAA games and lesser known small games that exceeded expectations. Over the last few years, I’ve found myself more and more taking chances on games that I heard good things about through word of mouth rather than concentrating on those that have been marketed to me. This new strategy has lead me to experiencing some of my favorite moments in gaming and most of those games are represented on this list.
Since some of the games on this list will require longer and deeper reflection, I will be splitting this up the list throughout the week. We start today with the bottom two on the list with a couple games that came out of nowhere. One revitalized a genre, while the other made me laughed the most I ever had while playing a video game. Both are examples of games that used word of mouth to help increase their sales.
10. Cities: Skyline
With the disastrous release of Sim City in 2013, my hopes for a new competent city building game were dashed. The lack of an offline mode, coupled with the awful connection rate that left most players unable to launch the game for days, Sim City seemed to be the death of the genre. But like with any video game genre, all the city builder needed was a release that got more right than wrong and was stable enough to be enjoyed. Enter Cities: Skyline and its flawed but entertaining game.
One of the first things to remember about this game is that it is by no means perfect, nor is it to the quality level of Sim City at its best, but for a budget title ($30 at release) it does an amazing job at taking the foundation of the genre and trying to iterate on it. Some of those new ideas are well done, including the ability to designate a neighborhood and institute different taxes and laws to that area, while other are poorly integrated, such as the faux twitter. I applaud their effort even if the results weren’t perfect.
The best asset of this game is that I never wanted to stop a play session. There would always be some excuse like, I just built this road but what if I added some low-density residential over here… (cut to two hours later)…I can’t believed I filled another map square. I was instantly transported back to pre-teen days of sitting in my room playing Sim City 2000 until I feel asleep at the computer. It is definitely something I never thought I’d feel again.
Most of Cities: Skylines flaws seem to stem from a lower budget than the more well-known IPs in the genre. If you can look past the minor flaws, the game is a time sink that will swallow you if you’re not careful. And for a video game, that is a very good thing.
The idea of a cult game is not much different than that of a movie. A few early adopters and some game critics tell everyone they can about how good their experience was and thus it appears on everyone’s radar. Every with the positive reviews, most people ignore it but those that try it will love it unconditionally.
But Undertale was different because the small game from Toby Fox — who developed the game almost completely on his own — didn’t just stay popular among an educated few, but rather became a phenomenon that made it on to mainstream gaming Web sites. And like with most games that go through this process the game is either really loved or really hated; there is no middle ground.
Mostly, I believe this is because some people attempt to force their friends to like it. Those well-meaning friends don’t understand that it is really difficult to explain exactly why someone should play this game because the things that will entertain you may not be the same as what I enjoyed. Neglecting to understand this is why some feel the need to bash the game because they feel they are being told what kind of game they should like, and those that love can’t fathom why those people feel that way. It is a perfect example of how positive word of mouth could also fuel a negative response.
For me, Undertale has just about everything you want in any interactive medium, including great character development, interesting gameplay and a high replay value that will make you want to run through it multiple times. It is one of the better examples of a game that can appeal to lots of people but still make the player feel as if the game was made for only them.
My favorite aspect of Undertale is that the game remembers everything. And not in a Telltale, “he/she will remember this” way. In most games, you can always save and reload (known as save scumming) if you don’t like the outcome of a decision or want to have the “perfect” playthrough. Hell, it’s an honored tradition in Fallout games. But in Undertale, it is simply not possible to erase every trace of previous decisions by reloading an old save.
The game remembers every choice you’ve made, and while it is possible to replay the game to get every ending, some character in the world will remember that you had done that. The most notable in-game change is that you hear different dialogue from certain characters depending on how your previous choices affected them. In an even crazier twist, you can even uninstall and reinstall the game, which includes deleting all saves, and the game still remember. And if you honestly want a true “reset” of the game world, you would need to go deep into your local files and delete data. That’s crazy, and one of the reasons why I love this game.