Oh. OK. I guess it’s time for me to publicly confess which games I voted for in this year’s advent calendar but that didn't get it, and without the usual protection of anonymity granted by group lists. Listen: please don’t judge me. I just want to say that up top before you find out where I live and start sending me pizzas or something. I am fallible. You cut me, I bleed red. I put my bread in the toaster one slice at a time.
Anyway, with that out the way, here’s a list of things I liked this year that no one else at RPS had a chance to play, or in one case just thought was total ass.
Monster Hunter Rise
I spent a glorious week over the summer racing through the base game of Monster Hunter Rise in order to review its Sunbreak expansion, and it was genuinely one of the highlights of my entire year. I had already played Rise on the Switch when it first launched in 2021, but I can’t say I particularly loved it. The appeal of Monster Hunter has always eluded me a bit, to be honest, and Rise had done little to convince me that Capcom’s premiere raptor battering simulator was drumming to my tempo.
But there was something about charging through the game’s most challenging missions (alone, mind, because I couldn’t play the game’s multiplayer content online using my pre-release copy) in order to hit an embargo that forced me to really engage with the game’s more complicated systems. After 40 hours, I had a notebook stuffed full of battle tactics, lists of resources I required to craft higher-level hot pants and various sketches of palicoes eating plates of delicious dango. By the time I reached Sunbreak, I had become feral. When I closed my eyes all I could see was the outline of my hunter performing their dual-blades special attack, spinning towards a big rabbit like an illegal Beyblade.
There’s a lot more to Rise than I had realised, basically. Monster battles are as much about preparation as they are about attrition. I became so familiar with the game's creatures that I was able to predict their attacks before they had even decided to use them. I don’t think I’ve ever submerged myself in a game so completely. I was obsessed. Everyone will spend awards season (quite rightly) praising Elden Ring for its combat system that compensates obsessive dedication, but honestly, I genuinely think Rise is the better of the two when it comes to rewarding mastery. I mean, you can’t skin Godrick and make a fetching chest plate out of his face, can you? Exactly. Probably for the best like, but. You know. The point still stands.
There was no shortage of rad retro-inspired first-person shooters this year, but Cultic stands head and shoulders above the rest solely due to its obsession with popping said heads like balloons full of passata.
Cultic is crunchy. Its arsenal feels weighty and dangerous. Rifle bullets fly towards hooded cultists like cannonballs, and connect with as much devastating force. If it feels good to shoot in an FPS, you’re pretty much most of the way towards success, to be honest. Yet Cultic goes a few steps further. It has a phenomenal art style that uses a limited number of colours to great effect, creating a world that feels crispy and sickly. Its levels are grounded in realism, amplifying its more supernatural themes as a result.
It’s a bit short. Maybe that’s my sole criticism. But is that really a bad thing? That it’s so enjoyable my only gripe is that I wanted more of it? Probably not. Besides, there’s more coming. This is only chapter one, after all.
Give me a chance here, will you? Look. I get it. You’ve no doubt heard rumblings online that that new 3D Sonic Frontiers game is good, actually, despite looking like a fan mod for Death Stranding. You’ve seen that the game has an Overwhelming Positive review score on Steam and you’ve probably assumed that Gen Z is doing a meme. It can’t be good. Can it? Really?
Well. It isn’t, no. It’s a bit naff. But that's not a bad thing! Naff can be good sometimes, right? If you ate at L'Enclume for three meals a day, would you truly be fulfilled? Can real satisfaction stem purely from a diet of greatness? No! If I was eating eight courses of duck hearts every night for my dinner, I’d be begging - pleading - for a Gregg’s Festive Beak. Something, anything, to break the tedium of delight.
Sonic Frontiers is janky as all hell, for a start. Rails hang listlessly in the air as a blue cartoon hedgehog runs freely through a hyper-realistic rendering of the Icelandic countryside. Sonic’s pals are an irritating blight. The game’s classic, linear levels are an exercise in frustration. And yet, there’s something here. It’s satisfying to move through these huge environments, bouncing on springs and hoovering up map-revealing mini-games. It even looks quite nice, from certain angles.
I just like a game that takes a big swing. And Sonic Frontiers swings so hard its bat flies right into the bleachers and knocks out a couple of teeth. Sonic has been a nothing franchise for decades at this point, but with Frontiers it finally feels like it has the potential to elevate itself a bit. Mario Odyssey this ain't, but there’s a good time to be found here if you have the patience for it. And if you don't at Christmas, then when?