Backloggery Beatdown 2022 Roundup

So yeah, I keep ending up doing these “roundup” style articles about video games because…well…a picture is worth a thousand words.

Yep, that’s right. I spent 87% of my gaming time through 2022 playing DotA 2. I played 18 games in total, and out of that, only 10 were new. It is one thing to say that I intend to play less DotA, but it is another to see the numbers and actually follow through. Therefore, even though I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions, this year, I plan to reduce the time that I play DotA, and the plan is to play only when I play with other people.

We will see how that goes, but for now, here are a few more games that got Deck’d in 2022.


Cyber Shadow going on sale and maintaining a steep price frustrated me enough to turn toward my backlog to look for a ninja game. I was not quite ready to start either of the TMNT games released in 2022, so to get in my ninja fix I turned toward a game that I must have purchased half a decade ago, Strider.

My first encounter with the character was in the OG Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes, a game in the arcade section of a Q-ZAR laser tag where my dad would take me back in the day when kids got perks for good grades on their report cards. Of course, as a (cyber?) ninja, Strider Hiru exudes cool: his scarf perpetually waves despite any presence of wind, he swings a plasma blade from behind his back Hanzo Hattori/Galford Samurai Shodown style that has an anime-like cross-screen reach, and he deploys high-tech gadgets like a mechanical panther or micro machines that shoot projectiles synchronized with his attacks. In contrast, his hang glider strikes me as a throwback from his 1989 origins. 

I did not know that Strider is (was?) a manga. I only discovered this when doing some lite research on why Russia’s architecture resembles what I would expect in the Middle East Byzantine and Persian empires. One can find buildings with “onion” domes in the backgrounds of screenshots from the older Strider games.

I heard through the grapevine that Strider is a Metroidvania in addition to an action game. I had looked forward to my dose of nostalgia with Strider (2014), but my experience with the game was underwhelming. Comparing it to a modern and 3D Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice would be unfair. However the side-scroller Mark of the Ninja exists, and Klei published it two years before Capcom and Double Helix could deliver Strider. Mark of the Ninja remains one of the best games I have ever played, and it received a remaster in 2018. Meanwhile, Strider aged into mediocrity.

It’s not a bad game. But better games exist. If Strider were not already part of my backlog and I had knowingly spent money on it, I would have been upset. Luckily, I cannot remember how much I paid for it, when I purchased it, and how long I’ve owned it. 


Ghost Song

Noticing a pattern? Indeed, Ghost Song is yet another Metroidvani; however, it Metroidvanias more than any other Metroidvania has Metroidvania’d. In all seriousness, Ghost Song intentionally mirrors Super Metroid in terms of theme, aesthetic, and gameplay. A blue exosuit powers up in front of what appears to be a spaceship’s crash site. It stands up and places its hand on an arm cannon in the way that Samus would. 

Unlike titles that claim Metroidvania mechanics while creating something innovative, Ghost Song is a game committed to its inspiration. It is the most Metroid-like Metroidvania game I have ever played: derelict alien planet, solo protagonist in a powered suit, and progression locked through upgrades check the fundamental boxes. Where Ghost Song differs from both its inspiration and its modern competition is mood.

Super Metroid fans tend to mis-remember the game for its cosmic horror. On the contrary, only the Wrecked Ship area generated any sense of (Metroid) Dread. In fact, through the entirety of the franchise, only Metroid Fusion gave me the chills. Ghost Song, though, takes great pride in its gorgeous, albeit eerie, atmosphere. Blue, as an NPC names our protagonist, is as likely to encounter a friend as a foe. Some are monstrous, while others have simply given in to their capacity for the monstrous. Some of these transformations take place on screen in real-time, reinforcing Ghost Song’s juxtaposition of the beautiful with the melancholy. The off-screen screams of a stalking enemy would give me pause. In contrast, a lategame story element gives Blue the option to commit murder—or is it fight in (self) defense of a fellow droid?

Then again, Blue’s identity as a powered suit, or husk, or bot, or droid constantly fluctuates throughout the Ghost Song. The game allows players to determine how much they would like to explore the depth of Blue’s individuality as well as those who inhabit the planet as a whole. Surely, the game would not get as much mileage from these narrative threads if Blue were as taciturn as Samus. Thankfully, Blue’s congeniality facilitates a story worth exploring, and characters worth encountering. Beware, however, of missable story elements, which I abhor. 


Death’s Gambit (Afterlife)

After Metroidvania, “Soulslike” is perhaps the most prevalent genre among indie games. Death’s Gambit says “How about both?” In fact, this game is both a Metroidvania and a Soulslike. As a Metroidvania, it features a primarily non-linear map where players overcome limitations by beating specific bosses that grant the necessary upgrades; as a Soulslike, bosses possess screen-length health bars, learnable attack patterns, and can come close to delivering OHKOs if players are not fastidious about upgrading their stats based upon their character class at shrines. 

A soldier named Sorun leads one of the Great Expeditions to retrieve a source of immortality. Mortally wounded during a battle that claims all of his men, Death manifests itself before him, promising him immortality in exchange for locating and destroying the source of immortality (after all, immortals are bad for his business). Sorun accepts because his ulterior motive during the Great Expedition was to find his mother, who was conscripted on a Great Expedition of her own when he was a child. While on his new mission, Sorun faces what are called immortals (bosses), or individuals who, as a result of gradually losing their humanity over time, have become husks of their former selves, if not outright monstrous creatures. Eventually, Sorun faces the Endless, the guardian of the source of immortality, in a plot reveal telegraphed a mile away. 

What is not telegraphed, however, is how humanity became privy to the source of immortality. Such is the subject Death’s Gambit: Afterlife expansion. A certain primordial power equal to Death itself feeds on the negative emotions of those who desire immortality, such as guilt, shame, or fear; it wishes to keep them in his thrall within his underworld. Players must decide for Sorun whether or not to break the cycle. 

Out of the available character classes—soldier, assassin, blood knight, wizard, noble, sentinel, and acolyte of death—of course I chose the one that sounds the coolest. After all, a scythe is this class’ default weapon! Though I could have changed, I stayed committed, pretending to fight like Sigma from Mega Man X4. Naturally, I also maintained my allegiance to Death.

What surprised me most about Death’s Gambit: Afterlife is its writing. And I do not mean all that lofty story stuff, but its humor comes at unexpected yet effective times. Well done, indeed!


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