End of Year 2019: Deep Cuts: The Waypoint Rarities Collection

Deep Cuts: The Waypoint Rarities Collection

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the bombast, the grandeur, and, most of all, the marketing, of large triple AAA games. Though AAA games are not the only ones to have received attention as AA games and major indie games with significant backing - either in terms of money, staff, or renown - have come to attention as well.

Yet, there are games and interactive works outside of those categories, and outside of the determined area for “indie” games. We are leaving what that means somewhat ambiguous, and up to you. Maybe it was a game you found searching through a game jam on itch. Maybe it was the side project of an artist whose work you follow. Maybe it’s someone’s first game. Whatever the case, if it made an impact on you, we want to know about it!

This category is for games that might not get tons of attention, but show effort and innovation. It is to talk about and bring to light games that you have stumbled upon, that defy tradition, or perhaps show a new direction for game, one that few might know about.

Now, what’s that rarity you’re amazed everyone isn’t playing?


Discussion Thread

This thread is all about discussing your favorites! The end of the year is always a great opportunity to look back and reflect on what we loved, but it’s also a great time to remind ourselves of what we missed and want to come back to next year. So give a recommendation, get a recommendation, and above all please be respectful and have a good time!

Be sure to check the Q&A section below if you have questions, otherwise feel free to reach out to one of us! We hope you enjoy this event and we’re excited to see what sorts of discussion each category inspires!

Please Note: We’re planning to write-up a summary thread at the end of the event and include various members’ quotes from the discussion threads, just like last year. The quotes that we select will be attributed to their authors and only posted on this forum (forum.waypoint.vice.com). If you would prefer to not be quoted in the summary thread, please indicate this in your posts.


Q&A

Q: End of Year? What's that?

A: I’m glad you asked! Just head over to our pinned topic if you need a catch up! You can also find details on the process for the event here.

Q: What can I discuss in this thread?

A: Anything that you think fits the topic! Feel free to share your favorite experiences of 2019, whether they occurred in media that released in 2019 or media from a previous year.

Q: Where are the nominations?

A: This year we’re structuring things a little differently: we’ll be posting discussion threads over the second half of December, and nominations won’t begin until January. This will give you a few more weeks to play more games before you’ll need to lock in your votes. We also hope that by focusing on open discussion threads, the event will be more inclusive of folks who haven’t been able to play many games from this year.

Credits

Hey is it legal to talk about a game that didn’t come out this year? I hope so, because I started Where the Water Tastes Like Wine and I’ve played like 4 hours maybe and imo maybe played 10% of it and I love it!!

I love the writing but specifically I love the South. I went to Memphis, my hometown, and was yelling at the story they included in there!! You get to see the March of the Ducks at the Peabody! I don’t think it’s a spoiler because that’s a real event that exists, even today! Holy shit!
And Althea! The old blues guitarist from Memphis! Fuck, she’s incredible. She reminds me of a real person I know who I spent summers home from college playing music with (along with my dad and a band of awesome musicians). I dunno if Gita Jackson, who wrote Althea, knew that Memphis has had a number of incredible local black women singers who are local icons, but well, it does, and they’re part of the city’s culture, and seeing a representation of that in fiction, again, had me yelling in my apartment alone. I love the rest of the South too, from what I’ve played. I loved meeting Austin Walker’s character, a preacher who’s dad was a wrassler, and I loved the chance meeting I had with a guy in Chattanooga who gave me some socialist literature after I had just gotten my ass beat for trainhopping.

I’m so mad this game didn’t get its due. Like I said I’ve really barely made “progress” in it and I’m already in love.

8 Likes

I was actually lucky enough to meet Johnnemann at the Smithsonian Museum’s video game exhibition when he came and I told him how just floored I was at the framework he built to tell local stories in the game. It’s so so good, I need to get back to playing it!

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I wanna yell at everyone who worked on this that they made something fuckin’ awesome and I love them.

I think a lot about how the South is portrayed in video games (which is rare but there’s been more of it the last few years I think?) and this game really feels like it has deep love, respect, and understanding of the different parts of the country (I’ve not gone too far west yet, so idk something could suck over there). I love the references to labor movements and such that I’ve seen so far including in the South!.

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I played We Met in May earlier this year, it’s a game by Nina Freeman and does an incredible job of capturing the warm fuzzy feelings of a new relationship and getting to know someone. It’s absurd, funny, refreshing, frankly just a delight!

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Personally, I can’t say enough good things about NeoCab. It’s been one of the few games to make me cry, and affected me so strongly that I wrote a piece about it, which never happens. (CW for homophobia, and extremely vague ending spoilers.)

Not only is the writing sharp, it’s got maybe one of my favorite characters in games this year–in a year full of strong characters! She’s a quantum statistician named Oona, and she’s basically a numbers witch, and I love her. Not to mention its commentary on tech, emotions, and relationships in the gig economy.

Definitely worth more attention.

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This category is hard because I don’t think I’ve played anything that hasn’t received some kind of attention in the game enthusiast sphere.

Early in the year I played Heaven Will Be Mine and the story is really something quite special; weird, sad, horny and metaphysical.

Played A Robot Named Fight this year, an inspired procedurally generated Super Metroid style game which continually evolves as you play and defeat it (the dev just released more free content the other day). The concept of a lone robot vs a mountain of invading flesh is great as well.

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Eliza is a game that seems to of just escaped notice from most critics this year and that’s a shame. Because it rocketed to becoming my GOTY within it’s first 2 chapters (it’s 7 chapters long).

It’s a visual novel with full voice acting that is absolutely phenomenal. The best performances i’ve heard in games in quite some time. Only further enhanced by the writing. The premise of a near future where companies are trying to make AI counseling a thing that the main character Evelyn has to navigate is incredibly fascinating. So many of the clients you speak to in this game have intensely relatable fears and doubts and feel like real people. I spent so much time when i was done just thinking about this game.

That’s not something most video game stories can do for me. But this one really resonated.

best way to support the game since the dev gets a bigger cut:

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It’s not out properly yet (though the demo is now playable), but I thought the “Not for Broadcast” demo at Pax West was one of the more intriguing approaches to a VN I’ve run into. You’re tasked with running the cameras and censoring what’s seen and heard on a national news station during political upheaval. Everything happens in real time, which really builds tension, and the FMV of the various broadcasts is brilliant at creating a kind of behind the scenes insight into what’s really going on. No idea if it will turn out to be as interesting as the premise suggests it could be, but this was probably the most interesting deep cut I ran into this year.

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I’ve joked over on the discord that there seems to be a trend of me banging pots and pans trying to get folks to play a metroidvania that’s been generally looked over - Hollow Knight in 2017 (though it did eventually have its time in the spotlight, thank god, Hollow Knight owns), Timespinner last year, and now this year it’s Touhou Luna Nights.

Luna Nights is probably the most fun metroidvania I’ve played in terms of like second to second gameplay? the fluidity of movement and combat is unmatched by nearly every other metroidvania I’ve played, what with the way it weaves Sakuya Izayoi’s time twisting powers into combat and also uses them for platforming challenges, it feels incredibly thematically cohesive. And not only that, the way the game manages to capture the feel of the mainline Touhou games through things like a graze mechanic (i.e. you regain spent magic by moving close to projectiles) and generally just throwing a lot of bullets flying at you, hah.

but most importantly, it being a Touhou game means it comes with dope versions of Those Touhou Bangers.

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Also sliding in to give props to Eliza.

Eliza is a game about building commercial technology to heal ourselves, among many other things. It’s very concerned with tech, how we could actually help people with it and how we could make things much worse.

Eliza is a virtual counseling app, and you play as a Seattleite named Evelyn Ishino-Aubrey who has just been hired as a “proxy”, a human relay of Eliza’s messages intended to make in-person sessions easier for clients than just talking to a computer would be. From the very first session, I was desperate to reach out to a miserable person right across from me with one earnest word, knowing it would help more. I couldn’t act as a human being in this situation. I don’t think that every moment of the game hits this hard, which is a really good thing–it is not trying to be a sad, dreary game, but it does want to show you the rough side of this whole thing.

I went back and forth with how I felt about all the characters I met, much in the way that I would about real people. Though it plays like a visual novel, no one really feels just like a “route” and I think the choices reflect that well. Everyone is multi-dimensional, with a few characters being deeply relatable and widely written.

This is a game that is trying to say something, and it tackles problems from multiple angles without feeling like it’s straying from that one focus and message–just making sure you don’t feel railroaded into one reading. It’s really smart, and I think it’s once again raised the bar on what I want from games similar to how NieR: Automata hit me in 2017. But honestly, even more relatable and relevant than that game.

I’ll be recommending it for a long time and it’s not only a passed-over game I’m glad I caught, it’s my favorite of the year. This game feels like some real Waypoint deep-dive shit, and I’m sure this will be confirmed once the podcast drops.

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Neo Cab hit me so hard and Oona was one of the many characters in the game I really latched onto. Your review you linked was both spot on for Neo Cab and also made me feel much better considering how much I relate. Thank you.

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Last year the visual novel 428 Shibuya Scramble came out in the West for the first time on PS4 and PC. Nobody bothered to tell me. I got to play it in the spring, it’s quite a thing. It’s essentially a Roshamon story set around a terrorist attack, biological plague, kidnapping, vitamin scam, and the failure of a gossip rag. You have a few characters who play out their choose-your-own-adventure paths, and depending on the choices you make for one scenario, you open up paths for another. So the whole thing is one giant literary maze. It has as many wild twists as something like Danganronpa or Zero Escape.

There are some parts I don’t like. There’s a long-running bad fatphobia joke centered around one girl.

It also ties into the rather decent anime CANAAN, which I recommend you not watch before this. Because Canaan will spoil a key twist in this game.

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Also, solitare

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Unfortunately, much like every year, I haven’t been able to engage with small games on the level I’d like to. It’s always something I’d like to get better at, going on itch dives and all that. Might do some digging soon!

So this game actually is actually a couple years old, and I’m not sure how much I actually enjoy it, but Death Sword by Rani Baker has kind of made me fundamentally rethink what can be done in a Twine game. (CW for mental health stuff, I didn’t finish it so there might be more)

It was also a late release last year, but Cyberpets Graveyard by Nathalie Lawhead was an absolute delight and I would recommend it to anyone. (CW that it can be a tad dark and a tad spooky, but I still think it’s very fun!)

Hopefully I’ll have some more stuff to share very soon. :slight_smile:

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I feel like a lot of games I played that would normally fit this category ended up getting lives of their own this year. It’s weird to see the discourse stay around for a game about an asshole goose longer than any Sony title. Could be worse, tbh.

I wanna give a shout-out to Crossniq+, a game that I haven’t played that much in '19, but really want to get deeper into as time goes on. It’s an action-puzzler like Tetris Attack or Lumines that apes the Y2K aesthetic of games like DDR, Frequency, or, well… Lumines. It pulls it off flawlessly. Like, I actually got chills the first time I started a level and that turn-of-the-millennium DnB started playing over FMVs of machinery.

Just in the few hours that I’ve played, I’ve already stumbled upon a handful of things that instantly added detail to the game’s otherwise basic premise. I have a sneaking suspicion that these small things will keep piling up and I’ll have to open my third eye just to beat my high scores. But as someone who has probably played Tetris every month since I got a DS lite, I can’t say I’m not thrilled at the idea.

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I wanna echo that NeoCab has some of my favorite writing in a game this year and the ending I got gutted me, it was something that felt so real and I hated it. I had to reload and get a “good ending” that I felt the character deserved.

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I thought of another for this category that really clicked for me, and that’s Wilmot’s Warehouse.
http://www.wilmotswarehouse.com
It’s a refreshing game made by a four person team about organizing a warehouse full of picture coded boxes. Nicely fulfilled that part of my personality the loves categorizing and putting things in order (I actually LIKE the inventory management part of games).

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I’m gonna shout out Bomb Dolls. It’s 3P local coop only, which is a little tricky to get together, but like, aesthetic proc-gen lesbian postapocalyptic roadtrip, with a soundtrack by Black Dresses!

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I’ve been banging this drum for a bit elsewhere, but: if you’re a fan of JRPGs, go try out SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions.

It’s a game produced by Akitoshi Kawazu, a guy who’s been involved with the weirdest RPGs Square-Enix has ever released: Unlimited Saga, The Last Remnant, Minstrel Song etc. It’s a low-budget RPG originally designed for cellphones, and you can tell from the aggressively simplified design. There are no real shops, no items, no explorable towns and no dungeons. The game is a big world map populated with events that trigger either brief chunks of text w/ a decision to make or very tricky battles. That’s it!

The cool thing about this game is by cutting out so much of what defines Japanese role-playing games, Scarlet Grace is able to push far, far beyond the range of its budget. Every area warps and changes as you trigger certain events: one great example is a volcanic region where you can unlock a special weapon by doing actions around the map that trigger an eruption. The game also scales dynamically based on how many battles you’ve fought, which is a little scary in theory but means you can travel almost anywhere you want instead of being stuck banging your head on mandatory challenges.

There’s a strong emphasis on replayability as well. You have four main characters to choose from that cater to different kinds of players, dozens of recruitable party members hidden around the map, and several events and decision trees you can simply miss on your first time through. Characters learn skills semi-randomly as well, meaning that their loadout and usefulness may change hugely in each playthrough. In a lot of JRPGs I feel like I’ve failed if I miss a single barrel in the opening town containing a special skill, but Scarlet Grace labors to make you feel as if every choice you’ve made is yours, and that if you “mess up” there’s always the next go-around.

Last year’s Octopath Traveller was an attempt at recapturing the spirit of Kawazu’s games, but I think Scarlet Grace is better overall. The game itself is less accessible and more limited, but the writing is superior (if compact) and the world is far more reactive. Fascinating RPG! And it’s on Switch.

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