Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tactical Insights 2011 Awards

Welcome to the 2011 Tactical Insights awards. You'll notice there are import as well as localized games given awards. However, I'm not averse to rewarding the same game a second time in the future if it's localized for North America. Each system will have a winner and a runner up, with some other deserving nominations mentioned. Unfortunately, systems like the PS3, 360, and Wii frequently only have 1-2 games per year, so I've combined them. Some systems will also have a "Dunce Cap" award. The Dunce Cap award is not necessarily for awful games, as you can find those in abundance, but awful games that have been given undue prominence or praise.

Please note that the scope of these awards only covers turn based tactical level strategy games, generally keeping within the guidelines of the frequently updated tactics game list.

3DS/DS: The 3DS hasn't been out for long, but the tactics games are already coming in. Expect the 3DS to be a haven for tactics games in the coming years. The DS is on its last legs, but remains one of the best systems for tactics games.

2011 Best 3DS/DS Game: SD Gundam G Generation 3D (3DS), Trailer

SD Gundam G Generation 3D is one of the best yet in the G Generation series, the best tactics game on the 3DS as of yet, and a good SRPG in its own right. It plays a lot like a modern Super Robot Wars game with spirit commands (seishins) for pilots, a morale system, and generally similar stats and combat mechanics. You'll find plenty of content variety, depth, units, pilots, equipment, and overall mechanics. Several challenge conditions and end of mission rankings help encourage efficient play. Other features include unit capture, group assignments, MAP attacks, and building your own space colony/base. While there's no chance of this arriving in NA, it would be nice to see a port to a region free system such as Vita, PSP, or PS3.

2011 3DS/DS Game Runner Up: Devil Survivor 2 (DS), Trailer

This sequel to the original Devil Survivor on the DS is a bit formulaic and doesn't change the core game play much. What you do get is a new storyline, new characters, skills, demons, enemies, and everything else that comes with a numbered sequel. Devil Survivor 2 includes the improvements from Devil Survivor: Overclocked including an end of game ranking system, easy mode, and demon compendium. If you loved the original Devil Survivor, you'll find more to enjoy here. Devil Survivor 2 will be arriving in NA in 2012, which will almost certainly be the DS's last tactics game hurrah. More than likely you'll see Devil Survivor 2 awarded again next year when it's released in North America.

Other 3DS/DS nominations: Devil Survivor: Overclocked (3DS)

PSP: The aging PSP is still a tactics game powerhouse even in its twilight years. If you're a tactics game fan and you don't own a PSP, what's wrong with you? The PSP easily had the largest amount of quality tactics games in 2011. Unfortunately, almost all of the good PSP games are still unlocalized. Next year NA gamers can look forward to Sting developed Gungnir, which is a fairly good, if somewhat generic, SRPG. Let's just hope we don't see too many copies of Gungnir in the 2012 end of year bargain bins, as it seems like quite a gamble on Atlus' part and not consistent with their recent sales strategies.

2011 Best PSP Game: 2nd Super Robot Wars Z Hakai-hen (Trailer)

2nd Super Robot Wars Z is polished, accessible, and features some of the best tactics content on the PSP. The 2D battle animations are so good, I even found myself watching them occasionally, which is something I almost never do. It has great production values, a polished UI, a wide variety of units, pilots, skills, skill points, and mission content. Difficulty can vary depending on skill points much like Super Robot Wars Original Generation, so beginners can get through the game fairly easily. From what I've read, the plot is decent as well, if you're into giant robots and hot headed (blooded?) pilots.

2011 PSP Game Runner Up: Senjou no Valkyria 3, (Trailer)

Valkyria Chronicles has a tragic history here in NA, a history familiar to tactics game fans. A game in a moderately successful franchise is released that isn't quite as popular as previous games, sales plummet, and the publisher decides to stop localizing future games regardless of quality or demand. It's happened to Fire Emblem DS, Front Mission 4, and now Valkyria Chronicles 2. But on to the game itself - VC3 adjusts issues that fans had with VC2, including the class upgrade system, small map and deployment size, schoolyard drama plot, and repetitive mission content. It adds several interesting features like special abilities that allow you to run around with multiple units at once or use powerful attacks. Overall it's a better game than VC2, about on par with the original VC, and it's a shame it wasn't localized.

Other PSP nominations: Legends of War: Patton's Campaign, Gungnir, Gloria Union, SD Gundam G Generation World

2011 PSP Dunce Cap: Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

Let's take a mediocre party building/sandbox RPG, slap it on a grid, give it an awful UI and slow combat pacing, and let all the RPG players who've never played anything other than Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre call it the best, most deep and highly tactical SRPG ever! Tactics Ogre also wins the award for the 'most overrated SRPG of 2011'. I could go into detail about how it's a poor quality game, but you should probably just read my review for that.

PC: The PC continues to be one of the best systems to find tactics games available in English. There's also plenty of operational or strategic level games to b e found on the PC. Although I don't cover operational or strategic level games much at all, I'll give another mention to Unity of Command for being a quality operational level game that's known for having a crafty AI.

2011 Best PC Game: Panzer Corps, (Trailer)

The developer and publisher Slitherine Games has kept the torch burning for top quality turn based tactics PC games, rising above the piles of indie games and the like. Developed by The Lordz Games Studio, Panzer Corps is a particularly great game that has everything you'd want in a tactical military simulation. It's inspired by the classic SSI Panzer General and contains many similar concepts. It's a 2D game so almost any PC should be able to run it, even netbooks. It's already got 3 expansion packs, with a 4th one arriving in 2012.

2011 PC Game Runner Up: Frozen Synapse, (Trailer)

Frozen Synapse isn't technically a turn based tactics game of the type I normally cover. In Frozen Synapse both players move at the same time after issuing commands. Combat takes on a more predictive nature, assuming that your opponent is going to move or fire here, so you'll want to counteract them from there. While the concept of both players moving at the same time isn't new, Frozen Synapse does it with a refined style and efficient UI that makes it an excellent example of its style of play. It's also a bit more exciting as a competitive game than the usual player/enemy turn based style, since both players are allowed to issue commands on every turn.

Other PC nominations: Age of Fear, Field of Glory expansion packs. Unfortunately, due to the size of the PC market, I may have missed a good game or two. If you feel that's the case please let me know.

2011 PC Dunce Cap: Grotesque Tactics 2

Holy crap this game is awful. An entirely unnecessary sequel to the rather bad Grotesque Tactics, Grotesque Tactics 2 improves in neither game play quality nor managing to tell any better jokes. It's the equivalent of watching Scary Movie: The Tactics Game, a poor self-parody that only manages to fall flat on its face and cause awkward glances around the room in an attempt at an escape strategy. It's inexplicably on Steam for $19.99, despite belonging in the doldrums of obscure shovelware. The only steam rising from Grotesque Tactics 2 is not the kind you'd like to get a whiff of.

2011 PS3/360/Wii Game Runner Up: SD Gundam G Generation World (Wii), Trailer

I would have given SD Gundam G Generation World the award in this category, but I felt giving one G Generation game an award was enough. It's a great tactics game, of course, but G Generation games are not particularly import friendly, due to their more complex mechanics and management features. It's also available on PSP with identical content and gameplay.

Other nominations: None

2011 PS3/360/Wii Dunce Cap: Record of Agarest War Zero

Apparently the hideously bad Record of Agarest War sold well enough that Aksys decided to localize the next game in the series, Record of Agarest War Zero. It's the same awful Grindea Factory crap, of course. Playing like a shovelware PC hentai/porn game hastily ported to consoles and stripped of the reason anyone played it in the first place, Record of Agarest War Zero is as bland, boring, repetitive, grindy, and ronery as the original.

iPhone: There's a constant stream of English language tactics games for the iPhone. Unfortunately quite a few of them can veer into shovelware territory, but there are usually a few good ones. The iPhone tactics library might have slipped a bit in quality this year, but you can still find something worth playing for the price.

2011 Best iPhone Game: Squids, Trailer

Squids is an interesting cross up between turn based tactics games and pool. You send your seafood flying into enemies and other objectives to complete the map, making it as much about accuracy with a pool cue as it is choosing the right targets to aim at. The controls aren't perfect, but it throws in enough variety to be interesting, and also includes an end of mission ranking. It's a good example of the kind of innovation going on in the iPhone platform, and thankfully proves that western tactics game developers aren't quite dead yet.

2011 iPhone Game Runner Up: Tactical Soldier - Undead Rising, Trailer

Tactical Soldier - Undead Rising is a solid tactics game involving lots of guns, zombies, and guts. Maybe not the most original tactics game, but it has high production values and is a fairly entertaining game. Unfortunately combat pacing does tend to be on the slow side.

Other nominations: Metal Brigade Tactics, Great Little War Game, Hunters: Episode One, Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion. Unfortunately, due to the size of the iPhone market, I may have missed a good game or two. If you feel that's the case please let me know.

And there you have it. All the best (and worst?) tactics games of 2011 squared away. Look forward to a preview of what's coming in 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dec 2011 News

2011 has been a pretty good year for tactics games. It's encouraging to see indie developers continuing to give the genre a try, and if you're willing to import you can play some fairly big releases. Working on an end of year award post for the next few days.

This Gundam Guy post covers lots of gameplay details about SD Gundam G Generation 3D. I'd like to play this but I don't feel like shelling out for a Japanese 3DS at this time. Maybe when Fire Emblem 3DS is released. It's the only noteworthy tactics game this month that I'm aware of.

Super Robot Wars Masou Kishin II 10 minute trailer.

Info on the Vita Disgaea 3 port.

Atlus is localizing Gungnir for NA, estimated 6/12/2012. Here's some gameplay footage. It's a fairly generic SRPG. Hopefully I don't see too many copies in the bargain bin next year. Maybe they'll announce Blaze or Gloria Union next? Or maybe the PS3 Super Robot Wars.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Introducing Strat

My brother Chris and I have been working on a turn based tactics game called Strat. Each level in Strat is separate with no growth system between levels, and the entire game is deterministic (non-random). It's definitely more of a pure strategy title and much closer to a puzzle game than an RPG. There are 18 playable units with 5 abilities each, along with a number of CPU only units and bosses. Each class has a defined role with unique and balanced abilities that are all useful in certain situations. It's a far cry from your typical imbalanced powers based tactics game where the majority of classes or abilities are inferior or useless. There are lots of mechanics in Strat like multiple objectives, doors and panels, triggers, reinforcements, teleports, terrain status effects, custom scripting in each level, etc. in order to keep combat varied and interesting. There is of course a scoring system as well as a real time limit per turn to keep the pressure up.

While I've been able to give feedback and advice on Strat's development, I don't have the final say on what goes into it, so I don't necessarily agree with every design decision. Most of my work on Strat has been designing and scripting the levels, which are later edited by Chris. Even with my experience playing tactics games, it's often a challenge developing and testing quality content. Please give the development build a try and let us know what you think.