Progress Report: The best and worst of Q3 2014

October 1, 2014


While many releases are packed into the last three months of the year, there’s more than enough going on in the rest of the calendar that can be easily forgotten by the holidays. Progress Report is our way of remembering: a quarterly look at the laudable and notable in the games industry. This edition covers July, August and September. Check out the previous installment here.

Biggest Surprise

Andrew Passafiume: While I consider myself a fan of Frogwares’ take on the Sherlock Holmes series, those titles haven’t exactly been a benchmark for high quality. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, however, is not only a competent adventure game, but it’s also surprisingly excellent. It takes all of the best elements from the previous games and spreads them around multiple cases to create one of the most diverse (and well-written) takes on the detective’s lasting legacy to come around in years.

Graham Russell: I was certainly intrigued by the art style of Metrico, but I was definitely caught off-guard by just how well it understands the Vita hardware and makes you think deeper about what the system can do on your way to solving the game’s puzzles. It doesn’t hurt that the game’s striking visuals surround these ideas, though.

Chris Ingersoll: I picked up The Fall nearly sight-unseen, watching the trailer for it literally minutes before deciding to download it while I was in the eShop anyway (new Zen Pinball tables and the Mario Kart DLC preorder were also up that day). I was expecting an indie-level Monkey Island-style adventure, but what I got instead was an intriguing story exploring the nature of artificial intelligence that paid as much homage to Metroid Prime as it did to those beloved ’90s LucasArts PC titles. This first chapter of a planned trilogy was over far too quickly and I’m eager to see where the team at Over the Moon goes from here.


Justin Last: I loved Guacamelee! Gold Edition enough that I played it to completion twice and unlocked all of the Steam achievements for it. Everything felt right, and I was honestly a little turned off at first when I heard that new areas, enemies, abilities and powers were being added. I was worried that the game flow would suffer and that new abilities would completely supplant existing ones. I was wrong. The new areas in Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition feel organic, the new boss is inventive and fun to fight and, while I don’t favor Intenso mode, it doesn’t feel tremendously overpowered. Drinkbox has successfully created a definitive edition when I was honestly expecting a collection of sub-par elements that were cut for good reason on the first pass.

Henry Skey: Finally. Somebody at Nintendo either listened to what millions of its fans have been asking for, or it realized what an insane proposition it was to leave large amounts of money on the table and not make Mario Kart 8 DLC. We’re getting new characters, new karts and new tracks for a very reasonable price, and it’s long overdue and a total, pleasant shock for me. With the first set slated for November and the second for May, who knows? This kind of DLC scheduling could appear for years to come.

Eric Albuen: I’ve always been one of those people who had a lot of trouble trying to use the Classic Controller for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, so for a while I worried how the experience was going to feel on the 3DS. Thankfully, the Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS demo didn’t disappoint. It leaves me excited for the game’s imminent full release.


Lucas White: When I rented Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I was expecting a silly game I could goof around with for a few minutes to help me cool down of the hype from seeing the new movie with my son. Several hours later, I was watching the ending credits and feeling pretty darn good about the time I spent. This 2014 TMNT game breaks a lot of the usual TMNT rules, opting for a shockingly hardcore, single-player, entry-level dungeon-crawling RPG rather than the usual button-masher. Each turtle is distinct and has a wide array of creative, character-defining abilities, and there was even a rudimentary weapon-crafting system. I can’t think of a better way to introduce a kid to the genre.

Chris Dominowski: Nintendo may have a history of baffling hardware upgrades, but the “New” 3DS line takes the cake. At once a welcome and substantial upgrade to the existing stable of 3DS systems and a frustrating division of the system user base, the New 3DS is the upgrade that everyone wanted but no one saw coming.

Ryan Dunn: Nintendo recently unveiled a “New” 3DS, and while Nintendo releasing a new SKU of its hardware is not surprising at all, the number of improvements the system boasts has actually enticed me enough that I will probably pick one up when it comes out. The biggest deciding factor for me actually is the fact that there will be games released that are only playable on the New 3DS, and so I’ve got to have one to play some of the latest releases. I don’t know what to say about that name, though…


Biggest Disappointment

I didn’t expect to adore Destiny, especially after playing both the alpha and beta over the summer, but with Bungie’s pedigree, it’s hard not to be disappointed in the final effort. It features one of the blandest and unenthusiastic science fiction stories I’ve seen in any game, repetitive mission design and a world that begs for some kind of life, yet is completely empty. Sure, I did enjoy my time with Destiny overall; I just don’t understand where it all went wrong.

As someone who really likes the interactions of cards but doesn’t want to bother with the competitive, expensive metagame of the physical product, the Duels of the Planeswalkers series has always seemed ideal to me. Magic 2015 takes the franchise in a strange direction, though, eschewing all the cool stuff in previous entries in favor of a half-step toward Magic Online that will satisfy fans of neither sort of experience.

Let me make something perfectly clear here: on a fundamental level, there is nothing wrong with Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The Layton puzzles and exploration are as good as ever, and the Ace Attorney trials give the narrative a lot more oomph than a more traditional Layton title would normally have. Being listed as a “disappointment” is more a statement of my personal distaste for how the Ace Attorney system functions. Instead of chocolate-and-peanut-butter, I experienced chocolate-and-butter. And a ton of exposition.


I like the game that Destiny is; the shooting feels great, the world is beautiful and the classes feel distinct. I wish there were more there, though. Where are Destiny‘s Miranda Keyes and Sergeant Johnson? Where are the cutscenes that endear me to the main character? And where is the split-screen support that, for me, defined the Halo experience for a console generation? Bungie’s argument of “even if you’re in a fireteam, you can go wherever you want” doesn’t really hold water, because the environments aren’t that large and fireteams are supposed to be about teamwork. Why are we encouraging the poor behavior of joining a group and then running off solo at the expense of those with friends, spouses and children who want to play together and experience the story?

After watching the Tokyo Game Show trailer for Final Fantasy XV, I’m smitten with the franchise all over again. I was never as big a critic of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy as most, but seeing what Square Enix has done with a new engine and modern hardware is absolutely stunning. The disappointment? Absolutely zero time frame for when the game will be released. Not even an estimate. The words “In Development” at the end of the trailer wouldn’t be so hard to read if the previous two and a half minutes didn’t suck me in so much.

Out of all the games I’ve played this quarter, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution takes the cake. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved the past entries, but at this point the game is starting to show its age. While I understand this is an “in-between” edition focused on adding all variations of all characters rather than one focused on gameplay innovation, it starts becoming too much when you have eight different versions of Naruto to play the missions are still plagued with the same glaring issues.


I’ve never turned on a hopeful series as quickly as I did for Telltale’s The Walking Dead. There’s nothing to say about the wonderful first game that hasn’t been said at this point, and Season Two chucks it all out of the window in favor of arbitrary plot twists and cheap shock tactics. When it wasn’t struggling to settle on a tone, it was robbing the player of agency and throwing darts at a board with its characters’ personalities. When it managed to present an emotional moment or sense of humanity, it yanked the rug out from under you for the sake of it. By the end of the season, I was okay with my ending for Clementine, but was not okay with the road to get there.

Speaking of handhelds, the biggest immediate competitor to the 3DS, Sony’s PlayStation Vita, seems to be having a rough time as of late. In particular, Sony announced that it will no longer pursue AAA development on the Vita, instead opting for smaller games and positioning it as a PS4 accessory. As a Vita owner, this is a real shame: the system has a great selection of games that simply couldn’t be done on the 3DS, along with a hardware feature list a mile long. Taking away the one thing that truly set the system apart may prove to be the system’s death knell.

Ryan Dunn: I hate to jump on the bandwagon here, but my biggest disappointment has to be Destiny. The reason I hesitate is because I actually am enjoying my time with the game, but it has fallen far short of the promises that were made in the hype leading up to release. In retrospect, though, it was probably impossible for any game to live up to the hype that surrounded Destiny. I just can’t ignore the number of times I’ve been playing and come across a developer choice that I just didn’t understand, like the lack of matchmaking in the story missions.


Game of Q3 2014

These past three months have been especially dire for new releases, with only a small handful of solid releases standing out among a field of mediocrity. Despite that, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishmentsstands above the rest as a game that not only managed to completely surprise me, but also created one of the best takes on the Sherlock Holmes series I’ve seen in a long time. It seems sometimes the best games are the ones you don’t see coming.

In what was one of the weaker quarters in recent memory when it comes to just truly amazing games, Tales of Xillia 2 managed to be exactly what I expected, and delivered a solid, lengthy JRPG experience that I could enjoy. This time of year is great for a comfort-food sort of game, and revisiting this cast with a full-length adventure was just that.

Hearing some of the other guys talk about Guacamelee! last year made it seem completely in my wheelhouse, so when a version finally became available to me, I jumped at the opportunity (even if it meant putting Shovel Knight on my wishlist instead of in my cart). Fast-paced, funny and tapping a culture not often represented in gaming, Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition hits all of the right buttons, and occasionally even demands that you do the same with a level of hardcore precision I haven’t needed in ages.


Mark of the Ninja showed me that I can like stealth games. The tool showed me that I’m a sadistic madman who likes watching guards shoot their friends and then get devoured by ravenous insects. CounterSpy doesn’t have as many options for loadout, but the weapons feel great, the aesthetic is reminiscent of The Incredibles in the very best way and figuring out which guy to use my persuader dart on makes me look forward to crowded rooms instead of dread them.

I’m still feeling the emotional impact of Telltale’s second season of The Walking Dead. It took an entirely different approach, injecting some much-needed (but not asked-for) originality and creativity into the relationships you build, the dangers you face and the choices you must make. As long as these games keep drawing me in, I’ll play whatever Telltale puts out. It’s red hot.

Every good game has a compelling plot and a unique cast of characters, and even though Danganronpa 2 can be confusing at times, it delivered on those points. There’s a princess, a Yakuza heir, a world class chef and a top-notch mechanic (just to name a few) living together on one island forced to foster hope with one another? All these clashing personalities make for some interesting individual moments, but come together to form a great story that leaves me wanting more.


I haven’t removed Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call from my 3DS since I started playing it. I loved the idea of the first game, but it failed to deliver as anything other than a fun proof of concept. Curtain Call rectified every problem I had. It’s full to bursting with content, with lots of unlockable characters, tons of songs and extra play modes (including some vicious multiplayer) doing a much better job being something better than just another excuse to play more songs. Curtain Call is a case study in value, giving so much bang for your buck. Even the add-on content feels fair and appealing this time, generally something Square Enix struggles with. Also, you cannot deny the power of Mystic Quest’s battle theme.

I have to give the accolade to Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney. Being a massive fan of both series, I have been following this game for ages. Being able to finally play it in English feels like a victory, and the game itself is everything I ever expected a crossover between the two series to be. The play style of one always compensates for the shortcomings of the other, creating an engaging experience that no fan of the adventure genre should miss.

Ryan Dunn: I’m a huge fan of JRPGs, and I’ve been as sad as anyone to see the genre’s slow death on consoles during the last generation. That’s partly the reason why I enjoyed my time with Fairy Fencer F so much. I can see the flaws in the game, and it is undeniably shallow and repetitive, but I just had so much fun playing. I loved the art style and the amount of customizable options available in the battle system.