Weekly Penguin
January 7th, 2023

Penguin DT's GOTYs 2022!

First blog update since TAGAP 4 launch!

I will do a proper big update ⁷ with a launch post-mortem – soon-ish, but a quick update on Penguin DT stuffs going on before we get to the main topic (the GOTYs).

What am I working on right now?

TAGAP 4 updates, naturally. Right now I'm looking on expanding the key bind options further by adding customisable weapon bindings. There's more to it than just adding key binds to the menu, mind you, as I want the system to be dynamic, supporting extra weapons that could be added via modding.

In addition to that; the Next Game. Yes, work has begun on the next Penguin DT project. Right now all of it is on the tech and not so much on the gameplay. For example the only art assets I've made so far are for visual effects and not sprites or textures. This, because I'm going to upgrade my development rig soon and likely saying goodbyes to sinking ship that is Photoshop. For the sake of consistency, I don't want to start working on any main assets before I've settled on what comes next.

The game itself will be revealed when we have something to show proper. I can say that it is quite a departure from the TAGAP quadrilogy, but runs on the next iteration of the TAGAP Engine.

But enough teasing. Time to get to the main topic.

Penguin DT's GOTYs 2022

GOTY 2022

2022 was very much a 'backlog' year for both me and Petja; still haven't gotten ourselves next gen system and with the praises climbing ever higher, it isn't happening any time soon, either. However, there were plenty of smaller new titles not reliant on next-gen tech preventing the GOTYs becoming all about the backlog.

Many of the games I played this year were also shorter (with some exceptions). Not a bad thing, but it means the list of games I completed this year is a lot longer, even though I had less time to play games thanks to the TAGAP 4 crunch.

Best positive surprise:

void* tRrLM(); //Void Terrarium

(runner ups: Victor Vran, Lumote: The Mastermote Chronicles)

No, that's not a HTML encoding disaster, that is what this delightful game is called.

I'm a cheating a bit with this one, as void* tRrLM(); came out earlier, but since it launched on next gen systems this year, I'll say it counts. The game is a rogue-like – a proper one, not rogue-lite – set in a world where mankind is toast, killed off by a fungal spore. You play as a robot taking care of the last surviving human child, with the aid of a lonely Factory AI.

I never thought a seemingly simple rogue-like game could have an emotional punch like this. It's been quite a while since I've cared about what happens to cartoon-like characters. It's a seemingly simple game with tons of depth and character! Don't let the game's title scare you off.

Best soundtrack:

Lumote: The Mastermote Chronicles

(runner ups: Prodeus, Elex II, Yurukill: The Calumniation Games)

There a games with great soundtracks and then there are games that ARE their soundtracks. Lumote is the latter, but not in the sense that the soundtrack is better than the gameplay. No, the soundtrack and the gameplay are so intertwined that you can't mention the one without bringing up the other. Everything you do in the game resonates in the sound design and score – which in turn feed back to enhancing the gameplay, creating a perfect 'user feedback loop'.

It seriously works so well I had to double-check that Tetsuya Mizuguchi of Rez fame didn't design it. But nope, the game is from Luminawesome Games and published by Wired Productions, whilst the great score is by Paul Ruskay. I wholly recommend both the game and the score!

Best place for escapism:

Elex + Elex II

(runner ups: Outcast: The Second Contact)

We all could've used some escapism past year, huh?

I love a well-crafted video game world that feels lived in, but often that means having to sacrifice the fantastical for 'Hollywood realism'. Not so with Piranha Bytes' brilliant Elex series. The first game was in my backlog since release and immediately after wrapping it up, I pre-ordered the upcoming sequel.

Somehow Magalan – the world of Elex – manages to feel lived in and real despite it having druid warriors, 'jedis', Mad Max bandits, dinosaurs and cyborgs – and in the sequel you add blood cultists and aliens! It's the kind of old-school sci-fi-fantasy setting you don't see any more outside of intentionally camp titles... but instead in Elex it is done with heart and character.

The setting is helped further how your decisions and actions matter in Elex. There is no way you can 100% the games on one playthrough, as you can't save the world without stepping on some toes.

Elex games are often labelled as 'eurojank' but I think that does them a disservice. They have more soul than most games I've played the past couple of years and Elex II is a strong runner up for my GOTY this year.

Best of the Backlog:

7th Sector

(runner ups: Victor Vran, Elex, Outcast: The Second Contact)

Some games really stick with you some time after they wrap up – and 7th Sector is that game for me from last year. Originally released back in 2019 and just recently arriving as a physical version courtesy of Strictly Limited Games, 7th Sector by Sergey Noskov is a narrative puzzle game set in a dystopian cyberpunk world. This is simplifying the experience, but think The Little Nightmares if it was smart sci-fi instead instead of surreal horror.

I won't go into the story – spoilers – but what really makes the game get its hooks into you are its environmental storytelling combined with its evolving gameplay. You start as a mere electrical current (really), but can soon take control of electronics around you. This in turn is used cleverly to introduce you to its setting, as well as introducing you to your new forms without 'press x to do a thing' prompts. It's really immersive design throughout.

Extra thanks to Strictly Limited Games for creating the physical edition, before I spotted it, this gem of a game flew under my radar.

Petja's GOTY:

The Dark Pictures Anthology -series

(runner ups: Resident Evil remakes, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End)

The stories told in the Dark Pictures series are without fail interesting and keep you hooked throughout each game.

– Petja

Jouni's GOTY:

Yurukill: The Calumniation Games

(runner ups: Prodeus, Elex II, Lumote: The Mastermote Chronicles)

Last year I said that Yurukill would be:

It's either a future cult hit or a glorious mess, but either way it'll be a ride worth experiencing.

Well, it's a hit alright! Such a hit I've now started to return to SHMUP genre after my almost two-decade absence!

A bit of personal backstory to this. I fell out of SHMUPs in the late 90s partly because a lot of my love for games comes from immersion to the worlds they are set in. With a SHMUP, there is only so far you can push it – either you turn it into a Metal Gear with half-an-hour minimum cutscenes between levels, stop the gameplay for dialogue constantly or the worst option, have the in-game radio chatter tell the story... in Japanese, with subtitles, during a bullet hell sequence.

Yurukill sidesteps the issue by creating a genre merger. You have a narrative mystery adventure that tells the story whilst keeping you engaged and participating, which then crescendos into a blazing SHMUP section, culminating in a boss fight that wraps back around to the mystery to see if you paid attention. It's brilliant!

Since the story of the game is an actual mystery, I won't say much about it in fear I spoil something. I will type, however, that not only does the story work really well, I really hope this is a start of a franchise. Whilst this is a perfect experience as a stand-alone romp for sure, there's some serious potential to be mined in the concept.

I urge you to give it a go. If you fear one of the game's two halves isn't for you, don't be afraid; you can enable hints for the adventure sections and separately tune the difficulty of the SHMUP parts. And if you want a SHMUP without the story, you can do that too in an arcade mode. Everybody wins!

Honourable mentions

So many great games, so few awards. Here are some more games well deserving some attention!

  • Prodeus (Bounding Box Softwar / Humble Games)

    I'm sure you know this one – an indie FPS tour de force with gameplay and production value so sublime it boggles the mind. It is also a masterclass in terms of level design, with some of the most creative campaign levels I've seen in a while.

    And of course, Andrew Hulshult.

  • Outcast: The Second Contact (Appeal / Bigben Interactive)

    Second Contact is a remake of the original Outcast, but for modern consoles. The reason I didn't GOTY this one is that I played the heck out of the original release and thus it wasn't a new game to me. However, playing the remake made me fall in love with it all over again. ICYMI, Outcast was the original 3D open-world adventure game dating before GTA3 and Assassin's Creed – and it still excels over the two in the world building and actual freedom. The only thing that hasn't aged well is the combat – but that is the case for almost all pre-Max Payne 3rd person 3D shooters. And that score is stuff of legends.

    I fully recommend you pick up some version of Outcast – either the v1.1 re-release or the Second Contact version. It's good stuff.

  • Victor Vran (Haemimont Games / Wired Productions)

    I've been waiting to get my mittens on this one for a while – I've been waiting for the Black Label Edition from Wired Productions to arrive. And yes, it is every bit as good as everyone was telling me it was.

    To describe Victor Vran to new-comers – think Diablo meets Castlevania, if the world it takes place in wasn't based on Middle-Ages, but Victorian era – you don't have have crossbows, but flintlocks and shotguns. Also the world is hand-crafted and not randomly generated, allowing for a more interesting worlds to explore. The item crafting and card systems keep the gameplay evolving all the way through, too.

    Side note; the Black Label Edition version from Wired Productions is gorgeous!

  • Earth's Dawn (Oneoreight)

    Earth's Dawn is basically what you'd get if you took Earth Defence Force and turned it into a serious side-scrolling 2D action RPG influenced by Gears of War. I originally gravitated towards it because it is tech-wise similar to TAGAP 4 when it comes to animating 2D characters with parametric skeletal animation. I mean, I wanted to see other uses for it for inspiration – but the game itself turned out to be a great time sink with a surprisingly deep and memorable story (that really creeps up on you from the background).

    Good stuff, give it a go.

And a game just barely missed this write-up is Severed Steel; it turned out to be the first game I wrapped up in 2023.

2022 games in the to-play cue

  • Shadow Warrior 3 (waiting for that physical version)
  • Evil West
  • Stray
  • Turrican Collection (avoided it last year so it wouldn't influence how TAGAP 4 is balanced)

Most anticipated games of 2023

Still waiting for the next gen killer app before I consider getting new games, but there are several I am keeping my eye on.

  • Sigil II (Romero Games)

    John 'Icon of Sin' Romero announced that Sigil II, the follow-up to the 25th anniversary Megawad Sigil, will be released for the 30th anniversary of DOOM – and that is December 10th, 2023. Hype!

  • Gori: Cuddly Carnage (Angry Demon / Wired Productions)

    From Wired and the creators of one last year's GOTYs (Apsulov) comes Gori: Cuddly Carnage. Think a love-child between Devil May Cry and Tony Hawk Pro Skater, where you play as cat on a hoverboard slaughtering zombie unicorns. It looks delightfully nuts.

  • void* tRrLM(); 2 //Void Terrarium 2 (Nippon Ichi)

    Well, obviously the direct sequel to the 'biggest positive surprise' is on here! I can't wait to see where the story goes next!

  • Alone in the Dark (Pieces Interactive / THQ Nordic)

    The new AitD looks like a brilliant take on the original Lovecraftian detective mystery of the early 90s. Though very little has been revealed so far, everything I've seen screams quality.

  • Atomic Heart (Mundfish / Focus Home Interactive)

    'Soviet Bioshock' with gorgeous art design and a Mick Gordon soundtrack? Yeah, I'm in. I've been following this one for years and I'm delighted to see it finally getting out there.

  • Outcast 2 (Appeal / THQ Nordic)

    Replaying Outcast this year made me fall in love with the game all over again and now I'm really, REALLY looking forward to the sequel. The only main issue I have with the old one – the combat – seems to have been solved judging by the gameplay reels, so I'm sure this one will be a ride worth remembering.

  • Space Marine II (Focus Home Interactive / Saber Interactive)

    The first Space Marine was one of my fave games in the 40k universe, really capturing the feel of a space marine murder machine. All they need to do is capture that vibe again and we have a winner.

  • Deliver Us Mars (Keoken Interactive)

    The sequel to the 'best of backlog' winner from last year looks fantastic! Deliver Us the Moon is one of those rare games that have stuck with me ever since I played it and really wish I can get to experience the sequel one day.

  • Anew: A Distant Light (Resonator Games)

    It is still in the works (confirmed so on Kickstarter) and I am tempting fate yet again by mentioning it. One of these years I have to be right... right?

  • That was a long one, but hey, no such thing as too many games!

    Until next time,

    Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin