Andrew Passafiume

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These days, it won’t take you long to stumble upon a new Metroid-inspired game. Seriously, they’re everywhere. As a result, not too many of them actually stand out or move away from the standard formula in any remarkable ways. Enter Ori and the Blind Forest, a 2D action-platformer in the same vein as Metroid and its various counterparts. It doesn’t break the mold completely, but it manages to prove you don’t need to in order to create something truly special.

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The Kirby series has a long history of experimentation. From Epic Yarn to Mass Attack, the pink puffball has been seen as Nintendo’s test subject for a multitude of crazy new ideas despite the series’ otherwise well-regarded formula. 2005 saw the release of Kirby Canvas Curse, considered by many to be the first great original Nintendo DS game and a fantastic new experimental take on a well-worn formula. It only took Nintendo ten years, but here we are with Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, a spiritual successor to Canvas Curse utilizing a new, unique art style. While it doesn’t stand up to the 2005 classic, Rainbow Curse still has plenty going for it.

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Strategy games have taken many forms over the years. From running a successful business to conquering territories or taking the fight directly to your opponents in real-time battles, it has everything you would want and then some. Now, you might be asking, “what if I want a strategy game that lets me carefully plan my escape from a highly secure prison?” First, that’s an oddly specific question which somehow only relates to this particular review. Second, The Escapists is the game for you.

While it could be described as a puzzle game as much as a strategy game, The Escapists is all about learning the ins and outs of your temporary confinement and finding a way to successfully break free.

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With so many indie games flooding the gaming space these days, it has become unsurprisingly difficult to stand out in the crowd. Thankfully, many developers are stepping up, crafting games with innovative gameplay hooks, or in the case of the new side-scroller Apotheon, unique visuals. Inspired by ancient Greek mythology and utilizing an art style which truly looks unlike any other game, Apotheon attempts to draw you in with its surface-level hooks, but doesn’t deliver gameplay to match its incredible aesthetic.

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Developers rarely attempt to focus on our teenage years in games, but when it does happen, it goes surprisingly well. I’m thinking of Gone Home or even the Persona series, which isn’t entirely about high school students yet the drama of that time in their lives is ever-present. Dontnod, the team behind 2013’s Remember Me, attempts something similar with Life is Strange, an episodic drama focused on an 18-year-old and her time in private school.

The first episode, Chrysalis, introduces us to a diverse cast of characters and a plot that seems to be heading in some interesting directions, complete with a science fiction twist that ties it all together.

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With the current renaissance of the adventure game underway thanks to companies like Telltale, it can be easy to forget the genre had dried up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Before then, LucasArts, at the top of its game, released a slew of excellent adventure titles, many of which are considered classics. The last in its long line of well-received adventure games was Grim Fandango, a neo-noir comedy taking place in the Land of the Dead.

Widely considered one of the best adventure games around upon its initial release, Grim Fandango has now been faithfully remastered, containing everything that made the original special and then some.

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Despite the overabundance of zombie-related games, Techland made a name for itself with its 2011 release, Dead Island. It was an open-world action game with some light RPG elements, focused entirely on surviving the zombie hordes. Techland’s latest game, Dying Light, is similar in many ways, but focuses more on traversal and the survivalist aspects of Dead Island, making for a more self-serious experience. In some ways it surpasses Dead Island, but its shortcomings aren’t too dissimilar.

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This medium is capable of incredible things, allowing us to not only tell a story, but also give us a chance to interact with and potentially shape it. On the other hand, games can also provide us an interactive means of learning about a specific topic, time in history or, in the case of Never Alone, a culture we rarely see represented. Based on the culture and folktales of Alaska’s Iñupiaq culture, Never Alone attempts to bridge the gap between a gameplay experience and an educational look at a society often forgotten about.

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This wasn’t gaming’s best year for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have plenty of worthwhile titles. Honestly, some of this year’s best could easily stand up against the best from stronger years. It was also full of surprises, with plenty of games that would often be overlooked during more crowded years. While my list was easier to put together than 2013’s, I still wanted to take the time to focus on both: smaller titles that might have been overlooked and also games that deserve all of the praise in the world.

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When you think of Western RPGs, the name BioWare is bound to pop up. It has created some of the finest and most well-regarded titles in that genre, turning a once-modest studio into one of the foremost RPG experts. Despite BioWare’s rich history, many fans have been disappointed in its recent efforts, especially 2011’s Dragon Age II. The expectations for the third game in its large-scale fantasy series, Dragon Age: Inquisition, were cautiously optimistic.

No matter how you feel about BioWare’s modern titles, it’s safe to say Inquisition is a return to form for the team and a shining example of what it does best.

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